Posted in Faith, Healthcare, parenting, The DJ Journey

20 Years of Loving DJ

A doctor, we’ll call Dr. S, said awful things about DJ. Things no one should ever say about a child let alone a patient. She felt compelled to perversely tell me how inadequate my baby was. She ended with words I never let permeate my heart. “He’s a blob. He’ll always be a blob. That’s all he’ll ever be.” Dr. S lives today because my husband physically restrained me long enough for her to scuttle from the hospital room never to be seen again.

Each candle added to DJ’s birthday cake serves as a tangible reminder of an invisible faith manifested through the most unlikely of people and circumstances. So, on his 20th birthday, I want to bring Dr. S up to speed on her dire predictions. And remind her that while she looked into this little face and saw doom and hopelessness I saw potential, love, and hope incarnate.  382819_2066102232110_512707139_n

DJ demands personal growth. You can’t be too cowardly to look boldly within. You must forget what you want, expect, and plan. Me holding onto expectations and comparing us to others propelled us nowhere. So, when public school and DJ weren’t a love match I became what I never wanted to be – a teacher! No offense to teachers. I just never fancied being one. As a little girl, I was the only one on our street who preferred being the student when we played school.

It took us a couple of years to find our groove but DJ thrived in homeschool. Shock to me, but I enjoyed teaching him. The fuel to higher learning is individualization. Crafting lessons to his needs, incorporating sensory-rich field trips, and teaching by a grasp of subject matter rather than a perceived grade level, proved to be the ladder to his higher learning window.

 

With education came books. Books taught me as much about DJ as they did him about the world. Through books, DJ told me how he loved Kentucky history and opened a path for me into his nonverbal world.

 

DJ views history as a learning tool. Dr. S viewed history, at least medical history, as an inescapable future. Dr. S’s encapsulating DJ into a sports-less world only made us determined to try it all. It should be mentioned that Dr. S did not include sack racing in her list of sports DJ couldn’t do. DJ and his Daddy just threw that in as a show-off manner for Aunt Neen and Maggie.

 

He also learned to swim, ride a bike, and even find his way around a kitchen.

 

It didn’t take long to figure out that the best things for DJ, cost us the most. Giving DJ basic life experiences we all take for granted, means expending physical stamina, mental stress, and emotional shifting. Yet, it’s menial compared to love. The more experiences DJ has the more he learns. The more he learns the more he grows. The more he grows the more he overcomes. And the more he overcomes the more hope he infuses into our crazy world. So, we do the things Dr. S said couldn’t be done;  eating out, camping, peaceful public outings, air travel, and even a journey across the Purple People Bridge.

 

It all matters; dressing up and turning his wagon into part of his Halloween costume, riding a scooter board, carving a pumpkin, reaching higher for the elusive Easter egg, training a service dog for him, building therapy tools like a platform swing for him to chill on, it’s all relative. Nothing is too much. Dr. S’s medical knowledge may have been correct. She didn’t factor in how life-altering unadulterated love is.

 

Of all Dr. S’s wrongs, her greatest was predicting I’d never hear I love you from DJ. Granted, I’ve never heard it verbally. But what I’ve learned is that the deepest of love isn’t said, it’s shown. And no one shows his love better than the little boy who supposedly never could.

 

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Posted in Church, Faith, Healthcare, parenting, Special Needs Kids, The DJ Journey

Even Wonder Women Needs An Oxygen Mask

Moms of special needs children tend to downplay or outright ignore their health. The needs of the child are so great we master the art of caring for them even when our needs are greater. We become so adept at neglecting ourselves for our child we do it without thought. It’s not an attention seeking action it’s survival mode.

Several months ago, I had the unsettling notion something was not right with my health. At first, I had no symptoms. By the time the symptoms arrived, I was in the middle of writing, directing, and choreographing our church Easter play.  I love working with the kids and doing dramas.

This one was extra special because it was the first one in which DJ participated.

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In God’s providence scheduling conflicts led to the play being done a week before Easter.  Any other day and the play would have been canceled.

By performance night, my body screamed for attention.  My health refused to be ignored any longer.  In a span of about 36 hours, I went from feeling like I might have the flu to unable to get out of bed. IMG_9242

What began as me ignoring a typical kidney infection morphed into a full-blown medical crisis.  Words like platelets, blood cancer, leukemia, heart attack, stroke, and premature death engulfed my conversations.

Restricted from any activity, I had ample time to contemplate how I landed on this crudely constructed road.  How did I become so violently ill?  It didn’t just happen.  The answer was clear.  I sacrificed my health in the name of being a strong, nurturing mother giving all and taking nothing for myself. Then came the day when the tatters of my Wonder Woman mentality were strewn about my sick bed.  Everything changed.

There is a reason airline stewardess instruct us that in the event of an emergency we put our oxygen mask on before putting one on our child.  On the surface, the command contradicts the mommy code of putting the child first.  However, the point on the plane should be the same in our everyday lives.  If we do not take care of ourselves, we will be unable to care for our child.   Ignoring our health increases the risk of prolonging or intensifying our illness.  By seeking medical care at the first sign of illness we significantly increase our chances of surviving the monster seeking to destroy us.

I’ve not yet fully recovered.  Don’t know I ever will.

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What I do know is that for ever how many days God gives me upon this earth, I want to encourage others through my mistakes and accomplishments.  So, get that mole checked, stop making excuses for the lump in your breast, don’t assume it is a cold that won’t go away and get a physical every year.  We take the best care of our kids when we take care of us.  Cause to soar as high as she does, even Wonder Woman needs oxygen.

An earlier version of this blog appeared in the Winchester Sun.

Posted in Bullying, Holidays, parenting, Special Needs Kids, Winchester Sun Columns

Are You the Reason Your Child Was Bullied?

Yes, I see my glaring error.  No, I was not drunk when I wrote this.  Maybe, I can blame it on the holidays?  Once you get past it the column isn’t bad.  Enjoy.

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Posted in Faith, parenting

What it Really Takes to be a Good Dad

My husband is a phenomenal human being. That is not an exaggeration. It is, in fact, an inadequate description. He’s not perfect, none of us are. But when he makes mistakes he will not only apologize but brainstorm about how to avoid them in the future. When I met him, he was beaten down about a failed marriage and stressed about the best course of action most beneficial to his kids. Repeatedly he took the road of significant heartache in order to do right by his sons.

In the past 20 years, I have stood mesmerized by his love and lack of retaliation. He never harped on what others said to his kids about him or their judgment. I, however, am not that mature. I’ve committed seven hundred different kinds of sins trying to defend him and provide what he longed for. Bad idea. As sin always does it bred more sin.

In one heated exchange with a person, I said, “I don’t need my husband to take up for me.” The response was, “Because your husband can’t.” At that moment it became a funny sadness. Our world wants us to believe retaliation, anger, and even violence is how to solve problems. It’s how we demonstrate our strength right? Wrong! There is no strength, love, or integrity found in allowing our emotions to dictate our actions.
True strength is found in restraint. When you sacrifice your desires and emotions to better your child, you hit a pinnacle of parenting seldom achieved. True, love is buried in sacrifice. We must be willing to not only hurt for our kids but allow them their missteps. That is the epitome of my husband.

He loves his kids enough to not force his will upon them. He lovingly allows them space to grow, respects their decisions even if he disagrees, and knows, under God’s watchful eye, he has trained them up in the way they should go so they will not stray from it. (Proverbs 22:6) Kids cannot cope with the world if they have not learned how to grow from mistakes and overcome loss. It’s a heart-piercing truth my husband knows well. And one I am trying to achieve.

On this Father’s Day, as in all others, I celebrate my husband and his ability to put himself on the emotional cross for his boys. Outsiders may see his lack of helicopter parenting as standoffish, or uncaring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He falls to his knees multiple times a day trusting God to mold him into the father his kids need.  Some may perceive him as weak for following the God he is sold out to. And that’s okay with him. He will forever be the parent God wants him to be and reject the misconstrued parenting of the world. Why? Because he loves his children more than himself. My prayer is that someday I will be half the parent he is today.

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Posted in Beauty For Ashes

The Shaping of a Life

I have wonderful memories of my Papaw McLaughlin, even though he died when I was about four.  My grandparents lived in a huge farmhouse in High Bridge, KY.  He nursed any injured animal back to health.  Whether it was a squirrel who later bit him for his efforts, or an unwanted dog abandoned by cruel owners, my Papaw took care of them all.  He was a minister at the Nazarene church just a short walk down a gravel road from the house.  I have fond memories of us walking to the church and just talking.  To show my appreciation, I bought him huge sticks of the peppermint candy he so dearly loved.
When he had a stroke, I didn’t fully understand what had happened.  But even then he thought of me.  A hospital bed was moved into the living room of the house for him.  He insisted Mom put me in the bed with him.  As sick as he was, he played dolls with me for hours.  Mom warned me before visiting him that I wasn’t allowed to ask for snacks from my grandmother or to play with my Papaw.  I obeyed the rules, somewhat.  Simply asking an innocent question about some sweet treat I spied in my Granny’s kitchen got that treat placed in my hands immediately.  When Mom tried to chastise me, I would respond in my most innocent voice, “But Momma, I didn’t ask for it. Granny just gave it to me.” Score: me one, Mom zero.

But when it came to Papaw, I followed Mom’s instructions.  I wanted him to get better and take those precious walks with me.  Looking back, I think those walks meant so much because, in my world of chaos, he was the only person who took the time to focus solely on me.  I wasn’t a burden to him.  Walking to the church I had his undivided attention.  The only thing that gives me pause is I don’t remember him talking to me about Jesus.  Maybe he did, and I just didn’t hone in on that as much as I did the attention.  In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you a single thing we ever talked about but in my mind’s eye I see those walks and remember the feelings.  Knowing what I know now, I believe that some of my passion for Jesus came directly from Papaw McLaughlin.

Mom, however, would staunchly deny that.  Her vision of my Papaw, her father, was tremendously different from the doting grandfather I loved.  For someone who never lived her life according to it, my mother knew a tremendous amount of Scripture.  She always blamed her father for her lack of faith.  Which seemed odd to me because she could just as easily blame him for the faith she did have.

Mom claimed her father was verbally and physically abusive.  She told stories of how strangers would show up at the door looking for ministerial advice and he would show them kindness then close the door and abuse the family.  Not once did I ever see traces of my Daddy in my Papaw.  But I was very young.  Perhaps, he hid it from me.  Daddy certainly had the ability to morph into someone I didn’t know for complete strangers.  It was sickening.  Even thought Mom displayed signs similar to my own she seemed, at least to me, blind to them in me.

It wasn’t long after Papaw’s stroke that Mom dragged me with her to Daddy’s new apartment.  He had not returned to our house since my surgery.  He had a live-in girlfriend who with only a few words from Mom made herself scarce.  Mom told Daddy Papaw McLaughlin was not doing well.  Right then, in a rare moment of compassion, Daddy packed his stuff and left.  I’ve always wondered what in the world the girlfriend thought when she came back to find Daddy gone.  But my life was marching on and there was no time to contemplate her.

Peculiar things began happening.  Mom was suddenly leaving immediately after work and I was left in the care of Brenda and Daddy.  Brenda, I could understand.  But Daddy? Mom never left him in charge of me.  When I voiced my concerns to Brenda she let me in on the plan.  Papaw McLaughlin was dying.  Mom and her siblings were taking turns sitting up with him at night.  Mom gave Brenda money and a plan.  If Daddy flew into a drunken rage, we were to run up the wall which aligned the town branch, to a pay phone.  Brenda had the number to call Papaw Noe.  Mom instructed us not to run across the street, which was our normal safe haven, because she feared what would happen to the neighbors.  I slept with Brenda every night.  Because of that, I had the most restful nights of my life because I completely trusted her.  Brenda was twelve.

My world was suddenly different.  Daddy was different.  What a peculiar thing to associate death with peace.  Then came the night I realized I was still up and Mom was home but nowhere to be seen.  When I asked about her both Daddy and Brenda, a little too forcefully, told me she was in bed and not to bother her.  In bed?  My mother was never in bed.  I became alarmed.

The more questions I asked the more adamant Brenda and Daddy became that I should not bother her.  Me being me, I went to Mom’s bedroom.  Sure enough, she was asleep.  I woke her up and asked her why she was in bed.  Very gently, crying the entire time she told me Papaw McLaughlin had died, and she was just so sad all she wanted to do was sleep.  In all the beatings Daddy gave her, Momma never cried.  In fact, this was the first time I saw her cry.  I was not equipped to deal with it.  It is an image to this very day that remains hauntingly in the hallway of my mind and forever shaped who I would become.

Posted in Church, Faith, parenting, Special Needs Kids, The DJ Diariers, The DJ Journey

The Vision of God

The vision was as clear as it was murky. The image was of DJ walking to the front of the church toward the pulpit. I could make out nothing more than the church had two aisles leading to a step up to the platform where the podium stood. That made sense because it was the exact layout of the church we were attending. What made little sense was that even at two-years-old DJ could not walk.

That vision, like most of the others pertaining to DJ, was given to me when DJ was the sickest. He was in and out of the hospital sometimes multiple times in a month. It was terrifying, stressful, and more than a little taxing on my faith. Yet, whenever I was about to crash God always came through with a vision of hope. He always showed me something that seemed impossible with my current circumstances but instilled profound hope that kept me pressing forward.

I have no explanation for why or when God chose to show me these future events. Not one of them occurred in the midst of fervent prayer. Instead, they came out of the blue. Sometimes I hadn’t even prayed specifically for what God showed me but the vision was an extension of my heart’s desire. That was the case with this vision.

I was busy trying to keep DJ alive. His inability to walk was a low priority. Obviously, it was something I wanted for him but in the big scheme of things, I just wanted my baby to live. I had the vision twice, first at home and then a few days later at church. Me being me; I came up with a reason for it. I determined that one day DJ would walk to the front of our church and reveal to us what God had been doing inside his nonverbal heart and mind.

Fast forward about 15 years. We’ve moved to a different city and no longer attend that church. DJ is walking, but he is still nonverbal. Though the vision was anything but forgotten, there was certainly no evidence that it was about to be fulfilled. But isn’t that just like God?

This past Sunday we were at a church we had only been to once. No one in that church had an inkling as to the vision I had so many years ago. But this church was one of the most loving churches toward DJ I have ever encountered. I’ve had pastors and others love and accept DJ. But the entire congregation at this church has such genuine love and acceptance it stands above all others. Knowing that I was still unprepared for what was about to happen.

Just before he was about to deliver his message, Pastor Rick approached Steve and me. He asked if it would be okay for him to take DJ to the pulpit with him. I’m not sure exactly what he said but something that indicated this was not his original plan. Though we had no idea how DJ would respond we consented. Rick turned to DJ and asked him if he wanted to go to the pulpit with him and DJ agreed. It was when Rick took DJ’s hand in his and they started toward the front that it happened.

IMG_1727In the blink of an eye that long ago vision came to life. What I had failed to notice before, was how much the sanctuary at Bethlehem Christian Church resembles the one at Hill-n-Dale where we attended when I had the vision. They are practically identical. I suppose since it had been so long since I had been to Hill-n-Dale I missed the similarities. But at that moment, it became clear.

The vision wasn’t of the aisle at Hill-n-Dale. It was Bethlehem. And DJ didn’t have to speak his testimony he was living proof of it. I don’t know why God made me DJ’s Mommy. I’m certainly undeserving of the task. I understand even less why God gives to me these glimpses of the future. The only thing I know for certain is that DJ is God’s instrument to reach an often cold, hopeless, and cynical world. But in the process of doing so, he gives me what I need to carry on each day. No matter how hard and painful it is sometimes to parent DJ, God provides me the exact measure of hope I need to carry on. And more love than I can fathom.

Pastors like Rick are far and few between. They may love the Lord, but understandably they are leery of anything that may disrupt their message. Rick invited DJ up with him not knowing how DJ would respond but accepting that if DJ took the limelight from him, it would, in fact, be Jesus stealing the show. IMG_1736

Posted in Beauty For Ashes, The History of Me

Physical vs Emotional Pain

I have always had a myriad of health issues.  Within hours of my birth doctors discovered I had elliptocytosis, a blood disorder in which my red blood cells are half moon shaped rather than oval.  Since the condition is rare and the majority of sufferers have no symptoms little is known about it.  There is more information available now than in 1969 but it is still cloaked in a great deal of mystery.  Mystery that created a lot of heartache for me over the years.

Besides elliptocytosis, I was also born with partial nerve deafness.  My ears became a constant source of illness.  According to my mother, it was rare for me to go a month and not have double ear infections.  Back then there were no ear tubes to help decrease the infections nor were there hearing aids to help improve nerve deafness.  Like elliptocytosis, it was just something with which I had to learn to live.

In addition to those issues, I had trauma induced stuttering, requiring six years of speech therapy.  The trauma was evoked from the terror I had of my father.  My Dad frequently launched into screaming tirades if I was talking to my Mom and he wanted to say something.  That screaming often devolved into physical violence.  Those events were so common that I developed a fear of speaking to anyone.  The first memory of my life involves one such event.

I was three-years-old.  My Mom was cooking dinner, and I was standing in a chair next to her “helping.”  I was chatting away about the dandelions I had plucked from our yard to make a necklace for her.  Daddy came in and as was his habit poured himself a drink the moment he walked through the door.  I suppose he attempted to say something but if Mom heard him I saw no indication of it.  I certainly didn’t hear him.  All I heard was glass shattering against the wall.

The sound caused me to jump and topple from the chair.  It took me a moment to figure out Daddy had hurled his drink across the room.  In horror, I watched the amber liquid slide down the wall.  For the briefest of moments, the only sound was my own heartbeat.  I could not only hear it but feel it in my ears.  Then Daddy erupted.  He began screaming about “that damn kid” who wouldn’t “shut the hell up.”  On and one he went cussing and never calling me by name.

A chill swept over me as Mom moved me behind her.  But that put me in a corner.  With only the kitchen cabinets behind me and Daddy between me and the door, I was cut off from any escape route.  Brenda, my protector, the big sister I looked up to, wasn’t home.  I was on my own.  I could do no more than stand there and watch as my Dad grabbed Mom by her hair, dragged her across the floor and flung her like a rag doll out the back door.  I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out.  In that instant, I lost my ability to effectively communicate with anyone outside my family and friends.  And it would be many years before it would be recovered.

It wasn’t long after that event that I had an urgent physical ailment to accompany my traumatic one.  My elliptocytosis was of the most severe form.  I had far more abnormal blood cells than I did normal and they were accumulating in my spleen.  My spleen was so enlarged that it rupturing was a certainty.  My life was in danger and my spleen had to be removed immediately.

I recall more about the incident with Daddy than I do the drama surrounding my health.  One clear memory is of Mom’s face when the doctor told her they would need to cut me from bellybutton to backbone.  It was something I heard her say several times but didn’t fully grasp.  I was far more concerned about having to remove my panties before going into surgery.  Mom and I were at the hospital with totally different mindsets.  She was on the phone crying about me being cut half in two and I was crying about losing my panties.  Finally, the nurses agreed to let me keep my panties on until I was under anesthesia.

I have two clear memories when I awoke.  The first was that the searing pain in my side made it clear why Mom was worried about my incision.  The second was that no one had put my panties back on.  They were hanging at the end of my bed and I wanted them.  For years Mom told the story of how I had complications during surgery and her first sign that I would be fine came when I asked for my panties.

After a week or so in the hospital, I was discharged.  Once at home, I learned what Brenda already knew; Daddy was gone.  He had demanded Mom leave me at the hospital and come home.  When she refused, he got himself a girlfriend and moved in with her.  Despite Brenda only being 11 years old, he left her alone then called to tell her to inform Mom and me.

Later, as adults, Brenda would tell me how painful that was for her.  She said that even though she knew I couldn’t help being sick she still resented me and that somehow she blamed me more than Daddy.  As for me, I thought the surgical pain and having my panties removed was well worth the price of getting rid of Daddy.

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Posted in parenting, The DJ Diariers, The DJ Journey

God’s Painful Lesson – The DJ Journey 3

To understand why Steve and I were so confident in a message from God that was in direct opposition to our baby’s doctor, you must know where we had been. Steve had endured a painful divorce that drove him to his knees and closer to God. I was a wild child with a wilder past who finally accepted the call of Jesus at nearly thirty-years of age. Though our pasts were different, we had one thing in common. We had discovered a life-altering faith that would never allow us to be the same again. It was our faith in God that bonded us and within eight months of meeting we knew we had discovered a love of a lifetime. Everything we had ever wanted and joy we had never imagined we found in each other.

I had two sons, Colton and Dalton, from a previous marriage, which Steve would later adopt. He had two sons, Nathan and Jacob, from his previous marriage. Despite all the odds agains us our life just worked. Our family blended as if they had been born to be together despite outside influences that tried to tear us apart. We could not have been happier. Our lives were perfect. We were serving God faithfully; we were living a romance novel sort of love and our kids were happy and connected. So, when a surprise pregnancy arrived we thought it was a perfect addition. We were wrong.

Due to complications during pregnancy from a blood disorder I have, I was already in the hospital. I was resting comfortably in my hospital room. Steve left to go take care of our boys. Suddenly I had a cramping in my abdoment that felt more like I needed to go to the restroom than anything else. Able to walk on my own I unplugged my IV and made my way to the bathroom. Halfway there a mass slid to the the floor with a sickening thud. I let out a blood curling scream and yanked the emergency cord which brought a multitude of nurses to my side.

There was not one of them who wasn’t certain I had just miscarried. Tenderly they got me back to bed and told me to call Steve. I was so hysterical Steve couldn’t understand anything I was saying. He only knew I needed him and rushed to my side.

I was a complete werick. “He said it would be okay!” I screamed repeatedly as I thrashed in my bed.

“Who?” A nurse finally asked.

“God!” Well, you could have heard a pin drop at that proclamation. All movement in the room ceased. It was as if every previously confident nurse had lost her way. No one knew what to do with me as I kept screaming my statment of faith over and over.

Someone eventually stepped into the hall to call my doctor and literally ran into a female minister of the hospital. The minister was immediately hustled into my room in an attempt to calm me down. The nurses worried over my mental state. After all, not all patients proclaim to converse with the Almighty.  They were certain I had just miscarried my child yet I was ranting about God saying the baby was okay. They were counting on this female minister to talk me off the proverbial ledge.

Instead, the minister became so convinced by my faithful shouting she launched into prayer. Suddenly, she was thanking God for saving my baby.  Now, no one really knew what to do. My doctor arrived into the chaos to do an ultrasound and prove that I had lost my baby. However, to the shock of everyone, the baby’s heartbeat filled the room. Whatever had slid mercilessly to the floor was not my baby. I was still pregnant.

By the time Steve arrived mourning had turned to joy and shocked gasps had become the talk of the floor. Suddenly, complete strangers appeared in my doorway just to say they had heard of my faith and how God saved my baby. It was more than a bit surreal.

The next morning I was still the talk of the labor and delivery unit. The day shift came in to celebrate with me, I received gifts and was very overwhelmed by the attention. My doctor rolled in the ultrasound machine once again. This time it was a prcaution as I was about to undergo a blood transfusion. There were three or four nurses in the room and the female minister from the night before. We were all still talking about what a miracle God gave us when I noticed my doctor’s face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked but hated myself for it. I already knew.

My doctor, close to tears answered, “the baby’s heart isn’t beating.” And just like that my miracle turned to tragedy. My precious little baby, who I was certain was a little girl, was gone.

Where did I go wrong? Why had God said the baby would be okay knowing she would die? It was the first test of my faith and the questions kept me up all night. I sat staring at the wall asking the same thing relentlessly. Finally, somwhere just before dawn, God answered me. “I said it would be all right. You assumed ‘it’ was the baby.”

Was that true I ran it over in my mind. Not once did I hear God say to my heart the baby would be okay. He only said “it would bne okay.” Obviously, “it” now meant my situation no the baby. Talk about a wake up call.  It was the firt time I realized I could hear from God and still get it wrong. It was a powerful, painful lesson that is very much a part of my faith today. And what makes me always get clarification before I start putting words in God’s mouth.

 

 

Posted in Beauty For Ashes, The History of Me

Seeing Me

I can see me as clearly today as I did that night. It was pouring rain pitch black. The rain was exceptionally cold or perhaps I was in a sort of shock that had me experiencing the rain at a much cooler temperature. The rain pounded relentlessly against the windows of the car. I sat alone in the backseat and my sister Brenda, who was eight years older than me, occupied the front passenger’s seat. While she had her eyes deadlocked on the front door of our house, I stared out the window in the opposite direction.

Daddy was not just a drunk. He was a mean, merciless, abusive drunk. We never knew when the whiskey would go down wrong and he would turn on us. Sometimes he didn’t. Most times he did. That particular night the drinking prompted Mom to accompany me to bed. She wasn’t the sort of mother who tucked in her children so when she took me to bed I knew what it meant.

“Sleep in your clothes and put your shoes by the bed so that you can slip your feet in them. And no matter what stay with Brenda. Don’t come back into the house.” Her instructions were unnecessary at this point. Despite not even being school aged, I knew what Daddy’s drunken rants meant. In a few hours I would be awakened by a ruckus that would be my parents literally fist fighting.

True to form, I hadn’t been asleep long when I heard it. The sound of your father slamming your mother into a wall while punching her viciously is unique. One that I can’t describe and one you should never know. I barely had enough time to roll to a sitting position and shove my feet into my shoes before Brenda filled my doorway. There were no tears or words. She simply snatched me up and ran. Mom made sure the three of us were a well-oiled machine highly skilled in escaping.

As Brenda carried me to safety she never glanced to the kitchen to see exactly what our parents were doing. But being carried with my head over her should I had an uninterrupted view of the violence. Some nights the three of us got out before Daddy threw the first punch. That would not be the case that night. Mom was taking a beating though I had no time to react to it. Mom’s mantra was no emotion, stick to the plan.

And the plan was that Mom would keep Daddy from attacking Brenda and me. Our job was to get to the car, lock all the doors except the driver’s side, start it and wait exactly five minutes. At the end of that five minutes if Mom hadn’t appeared we were to get out of the car and run across the street to our neighbor’s house. If the worst happened, Mom was badly injured or dead, and Daddy appeared I was to lock the driver’s door and Brenda would blow the horn relentlessly until someone rescued us. Under no circumstances were we to get within reaching distance of Daddy.

Once Mom made it out, she would slide into the driver’s seat of the car and off we’d go to a hotel. How long we would stay in the hotel would depend upon Daddy’s rage. Most times it was only overnight but other times it would be days weeks or months. Yet, we would no doubt return. And that fact often left me hating my mother for returning more than I did my father for drinking.

On that night, however, there would be a new addition to the routine. Through the rain, just outside my window, I saw an older version of myself. Her facial features were obscured but her hair was the same wild mass of curls I currently had. I was transfixed.

“It won’t always be this way,” she spoke to me. I blinked a couple of times thinking I was hallucinating or dreaming but Older Me remained. “There is someone who loves you and will take care of you. Be strong.” Before I could respond or at least ask Brenda if she saw Older Me, Mom exploded through the front door and Older Me was gone. Never to be seen again.

Not until I was grown and married did I recount this story. The moment was so profound and personal I wanted to be the only one special enough to know about it.  Many times later, in great fear of my father, I would try to conjure up Older Me. I never could. Yet, one very distinct message remained. Daddy wouldn’t kill me as I feared. Older Me was proof that I would live to adulthood.

Posted in The DJ Journey

The Glorious First Sunrise -The DJ Journey 2

“Your baby may not survive the night. So, I will sleep on a couch in the NICU so I can be close to him when he needs me,” the neonatologist said to us.

My husband, Steve, and I glanced at one another. I had just given birth to our son DJ, nearly two months premature. Doctors and nurses immediately whisked him away to the neonatal intensive care unit. NICU is where only the sickest babies go. Although the NICU staff is the most highly skilled, it is not a place you want your child to be. If the neonatologist thought DJ wouldn’t survive the situation was about as bad as it could get.

The doctor stood obviously waiting for our response. When none came he said gently, “Do you understand what I just said?” He received our nod and continued.  “Your son will not live to see his first sunrise. Do you understand?” He wasn’t being cruel. His voice was gentle and cracking a bit with emotion from the blow he was delivering. I think he thought we were in a state of shock and not comprehending the circumstances. He wanted to make himself perfectly clear and prepare us as best he could.

“I understand what you’re saying. But that’s not what our God said.” My voice was as gentle as his. But unlike him, I lacked any inflection or hesitation.

The look which crossed the doctor’s face actually made me pity him for a moment. Here he was, with all his medical training, doing the worst possible thing (trying to prepare parents for the death of their newborn) and here we were not responding as we should. Our response was that our unseen, unheard, God said the doctor was wrong.  He looked quite desperately between Steve and me as if hoping one of us would come to our senses. It took less than a heartbeat for him to see that Steve agreed 100% with me. With nothing more to say, he turned and left.

374888_2066195994454_259002162_nAs the door closed behind him Steve and I looked at each other and grinned. We knew the doctor thought we were crazy. But we knew what we knew. And what we knew was that we had seen far too many miracles concerning DJ for him to die a few hours after birth. God was doing something well beyond our comprehension and unlike the many trials that would come later. This time God’s word was crystal clear.

The doctor filtered in and out of my hospital room all through the night providing updates. There were a couple of moments that scared the medical staff as DJ seemed to decline only to rally again. He did nothing to improve his status in the NICU except continue to have a live. The only change was his steadfast defiance of his death sentence. The medical staff was at a loss to explain it.

When the sun rose high in the sky on December 8, 1999, the exhausted doctor made his way into our room. I was sitting up in my bed beaming a thousand watt smile at him, for DJ was indeed seeing his first of many sunrises.

The doctor stared at us for a moment as if trying to understand us before he spoke. “Your son is alive. I’m not sure how or how long he will stay that way.” He rubbed his forehead, still trying to shake off his sleep deprivation and lack of understanding.  “But for now he is alive.” Despite all his expertise, it was all he could say.

It was enough. Later that day I sat beside my very sick three-pound miracle and had to smile. DJ was a mess. He was wrinkly and angry at being born too soon. There was a tube in every orifice possible. Breathing was a monumental chore for him. The tiny baby who had only the word of God in his favor was making fools of well-educated men. But it wasn’t for naught.

On DJ’s first birthday we received a card from that neonatologist. In the card, he 388336_2065986549218_990363180_nexplained that he too was a Christian. He wasn’t aware how far he’d strayed from his faith until DJ was born. The doctor recounted not only that first night and our unshakable faith about what God had said to us but other occasions when DJ declined and we still rejected their prognosis. He informed us that he never expected DJ to go home from the hospital but our faith had him hoping for a miracle.

Once the miracle arrived and DJ went home, the good doctor made a promise to himself. To our surprise, he said he would never again factor out God. No more would he go into a hospital room and pronounce a death sentence over a baby. His patients would know everything his medical training permitted, but he would always allow room for God to work because a tiny infant named DJ taught him to.

What the doctor still doesn’t know is that our faith in the message from God about DJ’s birth wasn’t easily accepted. No, far from it. We had seven months of training, seven months of fear, and seven months of doubt that led us to this beautiful conclusion. And what we didn’t know at that moment, was that this excruciatingly painful Merry-Go-Round of faith was only just beginning.