burn survivor

Behind the Story of Transforming Tragedy #3

Behind the Story of Transforming Tragedy #3

What does drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes have to do with my book cover? Please join me for this fun “Behind the Story” story to find out!

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Behind the Story of Transforming Tragedy #2

Behind the Story of Transforming Tragedy #2

Welcome Back Blog Family! We’re up and running again with our second behind-the-scenes story of what unfolded during the writing of Transforming Tragedy. Please join me!

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Behind the Story of Transforming Tragedy #1

Behind the Story of Transforming Tragedy #1

Coming up to our book release I’m sharing some beautiful “Behind the Story” stories. Did you know I didn’t WANT to write this book? This story is what got me to change my mind and jumpstarted this journey!

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Living: Thirty Years After Tragedy

Living: Thirty Years After Tragedy

Tragedy isn’t a one day event. It marks life forever. I pray this post speaks to you as I share my thoughts on this 30 year anniversary after our accident.

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More To The Story

More To The Story

Have I ever shared my story with you?  Well, even if I have this post is that plus much more.  It is a post for so many people-- those who face loss and grief, those whose plans haven't come to fruition, those looking for direction, those who have dealt or deal with depression, those who question God’s plan for their life, or those who just love a good story!  Please take a moment to read, listen and share with a friend.

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An Empty Shell

An Empty Shell

Do you feel like you’ve just run out? Have you given all you have within you? Join me for this vulnerable post about some things I'm gaining from my empty-shell experiences of my body, my writing and my husband's physical health.  

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GUEST POST: The Morning of March 3rd

GUEST POST: The Morning of March 3rd

Our November guest post is from Stephanie Shingleton sharing her and her husband's stories of surviving burn injuries, the challenges in the days that followed, and the happily ever after in store!  Theirs is the most beautiful love story, a Thanksgiving post you will want to read!

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Tarnished

Tarnished

I wrote this guest post for The Essential Life.  In this post I share my story and what it was to live tarnished, the realities of grief and the darkness of depression.  Thank you to The Essential Life for contacting me to contribute.  I never know how these guest pieces will unfold, but I believe these words are for those in the midst of their toughest battles desiring to know there is a hope for tomorrow.

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Gaining Hope in Difficult Days

In our home, we have this approach to bad days: go to bed early.  Our thought is, “the earlier we go to bed the sooner the day will be over, getting us to tomorrow, a brand-new day with brand-new beginnings.” Lynn Anderson was onto something when she sang, “I never promised you a rose garden.”  Bad days are as much a part of life as the good ones.  Thankfully, however, the good ones do overall outweigh the bad.  But sometimes the bad are more than bad.  They’re horrific.  And those are the seasons a simple turning-in-for-the-night won’t fix.  We wake up to the nightmare we long to escape.

..........Read The Rest of The Story at JaynePatton.com

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Today I Took A Walk

Today I took a walk. I’ve taken this walk countless times in my mind, but today I physically took the steps down the road. It’s an emotional journey. A journey I’ve traveled for 29 years today.

Some years are more difficult than others. This year falls on the more difficult end.

The walk came to me as a thought, but I dismissed it, as my to-do list automatically started rolling like end-credits in a movie.

  • Work on the PowerPoint for presentation.
  • Scan documents on the desk.
  • Go through mail.
  • Reply to text messages.
  • Start a load of laundry.
  • Send email.
  • Finish writing chapter for book.

I had too many things to do for a walk. But the thought came to me again. Instead of a to-do list, I got a little real with myself.

I don’t want to go for that walk today. I don’t want to revisit it today. I just don’t think I can.

Still the thought lingered. So I put on my tennis shoes.

Taking Ruby seemed like a good idea. The weather is so beautiful and I never just take her for a walk. I could take this walk and spend some time with my dog. But no. I began to understand this thought to go for a walk was more than a thought. It was a prompting. And the Lord was calling me to go alone.

I got in my car and drove to the road I needed to walk.

The road I needed to walk today.

It’s not like I never pass this way. I drive this road several times a week on our way to soccer practice and baseball practice and games. But today, my mind was in a different place, not hurried by the schedule, not distracted with conversation. I was completely present, willing to face my memories, my pain, my disappointments, my grief, as I physically put my body where the Lord challenged to take me today.

The comfort of the sun shining, the gentleness of the soft breeze, the sweetness of the bobwhite’s chirp accompanied my steps. My pace was slow; my spirit was strong as my thoughts went back to April 27, 1988.

It’s been a lifetime, but the memories are so vivid.

God called me to write a book. Seems like a bigger deal than simply being called to go for a walk. But there’s a critical component to both. Obedience.

Because the Lord called me to write this story of overcoming life’s darkest moments, I’ve needed to learn details I never knew from the accident. The accident that happened on the very road I walked today.

Those details. They are specifics I’ve learned from interviews over the last few months. The scene was playing out in my mind walking step-by-step this morning.

Jon and I—nine and seven years old, riding on a motorcycle, coming home from visiting friends, behind a truck, on a dirt road, unable to see from the cloud of dust. Swerving to the left and the right, and the left, and the right and the last swerve to the left lane we hit an oncoming truck. Gas leaking. A fire igniting. Tragedy transforming our innocent world.

I walked that road today. That road where my brother died. That road where I laid burning on fire. I walked that road today.

Yes, I physically walked that road today, but I have walked that road every single day of my life since April 27, 1988. I have walked that road every single day of my life for the last 29 years. I’ve looked at this scarred body every single day and remembered that day, every, single, day. No escaping the memories. The memories go with me wherever I go. The tragedy is etched throughout every piece of my existence.

Which is why I’ve reflected on a question we’ve all considered. If we could go back and change just one thing in life, what would it be?

If I could just have one, just one do-over, I would go back to April 27, 1988 and make one decision differently. I would choose against going to a friend’s. I would push and persist, as my personality naturally did and does, for us to instead play at home. One decision. One decision would mean I would have my brother alive to meet my husband and my children. He wouldn’t just be a photograph on my dresser whose name I share in stories. One decision. One decision would mean I would not have experienced a life-threatening injury, enduring indescribable pain, countless surgeries and challenging recoveries.

I stood for some time today at the place known as the scene of the accident. My mind was clear. I felt such peace and stillness. There were no words in my heart or my mind to speak, no prayers, or requests, pleas or questions. I began to think about the brief time I was alone on that road 29 years before. The driver of the truck used a blanket to smother the fire on my burning body then ran to call 911. Jon was gone. I didn’t know it then, but standing there alone today in that place I thought I’ve been alone here before.

Memories can be a source of much hurt and sorrow. Quite naturally, we want to avoid what hurts. We aim to box it up, set it in an area of our heart for pre-planned, scheduled moments to revisit. Some give much effort to that approach. Had it not been for the burn injury’s physical reminder, maybe I would have done the same. But that wasn’t an option. And what I’ve learned because of it is: there is strength in remembering. There is hope in remembering.

Lamentations 3:20-24 NLT I will never forget this awful time,     as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope     when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends!     His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness;     His mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;     therefore, I will hope in Him!”

On my walk back to my car, I looked at the fence posts and the telephone posts and thought how so much stays the same as so many things change. I looked at the field where the helicopter landed to take me to the hospital. I looked at the cattle, picturing the scenes of spring calves in the pasture as the events unfolded that day.

As I walked alone back to the car, I instantly had a vision of people walking behind me. The man who took the first step to save my life and put out the fire. His brother who ran out to help. The man who stopped and held my hand while help arrived. The officer who worked the accident, and carried the memories for decades following. I had a vision of them there with me, walking behind me.

Walking back to the car, I could feel my doctors, my nurses, my physical therapists. I could feel my friends and my mentors. I could feel my nursing school class, my educators and the amazing NICU team I get to work with today. I could feel the presence of countless people who have walked into my life because of the journey on that road. And there I began to cry. As I walked I could feel in this group of people the Lord brought to me through this tragedy and in that group I could feel Brandon, Brooklyn, Jaron, Caden & Gavin.

I can’t help but believe that our journey that day, led to this journey today. I can’t help but believe that the tragedy which changed the trajectory of my life, was setting the scene for God to introduce His greatest miracles to my life. My heart, my mind and my spirit are inclined to believe that the source of my greatest pain is also the source of my greatest joy. I don’t see them separated. I see them connected, one leading to the other. It’s what God does. He brings good things out of the worst situations.

It’s why I can’t see the word tragedy without thinking triumph. It may take a lifetime, but know God is working during that time. Sometimes it’s a big job and it takes a lot of work. But He’s a big God. Maybe we can’t see what He’s doing, but He is doing. He is working. He’s working all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

It’s why I remember. There is strength in remembering, even if we feel weak. It’s okay to cry. In fact, I believe our tears are important to God, because the Word tells us He bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). There is hope in remembering. I have a glorious hope, not just hope, but a glorious hope of seeing Jon again. And I pray the days I live bring honor to the life he lived and to his memory I’ll carry forever.

It’s why today I took a walk.

 

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Abandoning the Imperfections

Let’s talk about comfort zones. Or risk zones. Or danger zones. I feel like there are signs regarding all three just sitting here composing this post. The thing is, I’m willing to stretch myself to share my experiences, feelings and thoughts to encourage others as the Lord directs me, (see that comma? It’s the contingency mark to this situation), I’m willing to stretch myself as long as it’s not too far outside the comfort zone and as long as I don’t merge over the line into any risk or danger. Let’s keep it relatively safe and dignified.

Well, I’m nearly one hundred words into this and there’s a photo attached, therefore, I’m already very much outside the comfort zone.

Over the last fourteen days my requests for the Lord to speak the next post into my heart have returned quite silent. I wanted to set this particular one on the back burner and share it another day. Okay. Possibly never. It wouldn’t be the first post I’ve written that I never published. But above my dignity is my desire for Him to use this blog to encourage and inspire others when they need it most. In order to receive the next one, I must be obedient to share this one. This post is my abandonment of self for His glory. This post is my David-moment, dancing with all my might.

2 Samuel 6:14-15, 20-22 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

For most of my life I dreamed of the day when medical advancements would remove my scars. In nearly three decades, that day hasn’t come.

In that time I’ve given much effort to covering my body and hiding my scars. No matter how many years and how much I’ve grown I’ve never got used to people staring. For the most part, when people see me they don’t notice my scars too terribly much because of my clothing. Actually, some don’t realize the extent of my injury. Until…..

Until I wear a swimsuit.

My backyard is a safe place surrounded by people who know me and love me, and while yes, they do obviously see my scars, they see me first. A public place is just the opposite. People don’t know me, therefore, they see the scars first. The looks could be categorized as curious or puzzled, but the expression I receive is negative and uncomfortable.

I’ve even experienced a couple individuals sharing those very thoughts with me. One random lady came up to me in the grocery store asking if she could pray with me for the Lord to take my scars away. Another was a man who went to our church attributing my scars to a lack of faith. I think Taylor Swift could have also been inspired by the super-spiritually-detached when she sang Shake It Off. In those situations there’s nothing else to do. Just go your separate ways picturing Olaf in your mind when he said, “he’s crazy.” (You should totally click here and watch the short clip.)

These instances explain why a baggage of inhibition accompanies me every time I put on a swimsuit, including recent events when our beach-loving family went to Hawaii for this year’s vacation. But as if it wasn’t enough to merely go in my swim shorts and tankini, the Lord challenged me with my very own David-moment….take pictures in a TWO PIECE!!!

And that’s only one part of the story (as you know, there’s always more than one part).

The other is that it is October. It’s been a couple months since this body has seen sun, especially my torso! So there I was, out on the beach for the first four days of our vacation, for the very first time in my entire life wearing a two-piece in public! While there was never any strolling along the beach, I was jumping hurdles of insecurities just sitting there in my lounge chair.

The third part of the two-piece swimsuit challenge was the day we actually took the photos. We got to the location and snapped a few photos in my dress. Nice, peaceful, no-people-around place. No. Not a soul. God honoring my obedience, right? Well, maybe Him challenging me more. It’s the only reason I can conclude as to why the moment that I was just pulling my dress off here came a wedding party! A WEDDING PARTY!!!! You’ve got to be kidding me! Talk about a test of commitment. I nearly bailed. And nearly vomited.

So why do it?

While I was incredibly inhibited I envisioned the image as a very powerful illustration of not only survival, but of overcoming. The Lord put it in my heart to share these scars for the power they portray. His power. There is a story in them. A story not about me but all about the evidence of His faithfulness.

This location the photographer chose with the black rocks and crashing waves made me feel brave. Brave enough to stand there and share my vulnerability, the imperfections I prefer to hide believing there are others who relate to doing the same thing. Believing that God truly can place some beauty in what’s damaged.

We have so many things about ourselves that we don’t like, but that we can change. It gives us ambition, hope and joy pursuing self-improvement. But what about the things we can’t change?

I’m not happy with my body, but I’m happy with me. Growing up damaged on the outside motivated my development of who I am on the inside. My goal was for people to see me, not my scars. When we’re standing in an elevator, or the grocery line, or even at the pool, people merely see our shell. And we know, the pretty shells are the ones we search for on the beach. No, I’m not happy to have scars. I don’t love my body. But I am happy and love who God has made, and is still making, me to be. It is possible to be happy, even in what we can’t change.

This was one of the most uncomfortable and yet most meaningful things I’ve ever done. It felt serene. It felt sacred.  It felt liberating.

It’s my hope this speaks a message to your heart, like what it spoke to another girl on the beach. Brooklyn was quite aware of the unwanted attention during my time tanning. One afternoon she came to walk the short distance with me from the chair to the water. I noticed her effort in blocking my view walking into the ocean. I said, “Thanks Brook. You’re amazing.” She replied, “I think you’re amazing.” Is it because I am, and have been, amazing? No. She of all people knows that’s not true. I think it had more to do with the courage to be seen when I really wanted to hide.  That's a message I'm honored to live out before my kids.

For fellow burn survivors, those with psoriasis, vitiligo, rosacea, surgery scars, breast reconstruction, varicose veins, stretch marks, and any other imperfection, take it from my daughter, you’re amazing! And you feel nothing less in your own David-moment glorifying the God who brings you through it! This photo is for you.

*thank you to Anthony Calleja for his talent and heart in capturing this message *thank you to Athleta for swim wear for all women, for everyday-life women *The song I sang during these moments- You Make Me Brave

As Your love, in wave after wave Crashes over me, crashes over me For You are for us You are not against us Champion of Heaven You made a way for all to enter in.... You make me brave You make me brave You call me out beyond the shore into the waves You make me brave You make me brave No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Mark your calendar to join me for a Women’s Night at Coweta Assembly of God on Sunday November 6th at 6pm as we dig in to the words we need to receive, repeat and those we need to rebuke in order to walk in the label the Lord has given us. All are welcome to attend. And if you know a teenage girl, bring her along too!

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Everyday Easter

A grave can be beautiful. When Brooklyn was little she loved to go with my Mom to the cemetery to decorate the graves. It was a peaceful place, with beautiful flowers and meaningful stones. People visit to reflect on the life once lived. It’s a physical resting place in tribute of the one who once walked the earth. But I don’t like cemeteries. I can count the number of times I have visited my brother’s and my dad’s grave sites. My very first memory of a cemetery came the day I was discharged from the hospital on July 11th 1988. You may have pictured a grand departure from the burn center, but it wasn’t. It was somber. My dad was there to take me home. (side note: my mom was home preparing the welcome home celebration).

On our way home, Dad turned into the cemetery. We pulled up beside the steps opening to the sidewalk which led to Jon’s grave. I don’t remember how my dad physically got me up to the grave. He probably carried me from the car. I do however, remember him kneeling down beside me and touching Jon’s marker. I took in the dates- January 18, 1979 to April 27, 1988. I remember Dad crying. I remember hurting inside more than the hurt I had sustained on the outside. I remember feeling empty, alone, and sadder than I believe many adults have ever encountered. I was seven.

Death didn’t claim me on April 27, 1988, but death, nevertheless, overwhelmed my life. Death has a sting. It’s realized in the days, unguaranteed and the questions, unanswered.

When we feel the grief of the grave, it is then, that we can understand the significance of an empty one.

When I celebrate the empty tomb on Easter morning, I’m celebrating from understanding the grief of a filled one.

For me, knowing Jesus overcame the grave means He overcame that dark day my brother was put into one.

In life, there is no greater defeat than death. Death is final. My mom has frequently said, “as long as we’re breathing, there is hope,” meaning, things can always change. It’s encouraging to think on such a statement when things are awry.

When the job has been lost; when the diagnosis has been given; when the spouse has forsaken or even abandoned the covenant; when the child is rebelling; when the flood waters rise and the storm keeps raging, we can remember there is still hope for better, because there is still life.

But actually, there’s more. There is hope beyond life.

We all aim to make choices we feel will result in a happy life. Even the most self-destructive of choices are made not necessarily to create misery but to escape it; all for the desire to just be happy.

So what helps us to be at peace with the life we have on this earth, even when this life has seemed pretty crummy?

It’s knowing that this isn’t all there is.

No matter what trials we face in this life, this life is nothing compared to the next.  (James 4:14)

It’s a truth applicable for every day we live, not just on Easter Sunday. It may be Wednesday, but He is still alive! The celebration isn’t confined to one day a year—it’s continually realized in the face of life’s darkest days and hardest places.

Rejecting the gift Jesus provided to us on the cross, and the victory He established on Resurrection Morning, is allowing death to accomplish the intended purpose. One choice, one choice, to accept and pronounce Jesus as Lord and Savior, conquers death and the grave forever.

This knowledge allows me to walk as an overcomer. This knowledge gives me the stride of a victor.

Scarred bodies, loved ones dead- not the end, because He rose again!

Philippians 1:20-21 NIV~ I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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The Good Things

This week we had the opportunity to sit in our kitchen and visit with some fine folks from a local television show. After the microphone was tucked away, the camera packed up and the vehicle pulled out of the driveway, I got to thinking about how God doesn’t just open doors, He opens them in ways we often don’t even anticipate. The Explore Tulsa show door opened because of a thank you note. Over the summer I had written a thank you note to Video Revolution. They’re people who not only know cutting edge electronics, but they have heart too. Almost a year ago, Brandon shared with them how the Lord was calling us to share our story, and our need to video the events. They captured the vision and met the need. The least I could do was write a thank you note. Well, who would’ve known Video Revolution sponsors the Explore Tulsa show? That one note led to an email, a phone call, an interview, and soon a segment to air covering our story. God is so creative.

It’s a statement I find myself repeating over and over again. The creative plans of God are far above what we can think or imagine. I certainly would’ve never imagined how He would take such tragedy, loss and sadness and bring life, joy and abundance out of it.

One of my favorite, slightly embarrassing, but really funny stories about God’s creative plans goes back five years ago. I was in my first semester of nursing school at OU. I was in the 3pm-11pm clinical group. We had two back-to-back clinical days each week. The patient I was assigned to on day one was going into surgery the next day. As a student I desired the chance to observe the surgery. When the elderly patient asked me if I would be there, it gave me the motivation I needed to inquire of the possibility.

The next day, we’ll call surgery day, was the day the nursing students were assigned to be working a health fair for the Tulsa Run registrants. It was a late night before, and an early morning start. That may not sound like pertinent information, but it explains why I never took the time to eat. I stayed at the health fair until my clinical instructor gave me the green light to leave a little early, making it to the hospital for the patient’s surgery.

I checked in at the OR where I was escorted to change out of my nursing student scrubs and into surgical scrubs. Afterwards, a nurse accompanied me to the OR where I was encouraged to find a place out of the way, and not to draw any attention, or ask any questions, because the surgeon didn’t like students. Wow! Talk about intimidating. But I found a corner, where I assumed I’d be able to see, and I planned to be inconspicuous.

Shortly thereafter, the door swung open and a man walked right up to me and asked, “Are you the student?” I said, “Yes, I am.” Then another question, “Do you want to see something you’ll never see again in your life?” I said, “Absolutely.”

I walked with him over to view an X-Ray as he explained to me that the patient had an amyand hernia. Then this surgeon, who supposedly didn’t even like students asked, “do you want to scrub in?” WHAT?!?! No. That’s what I said on the inside, but allow me to use quotations so you’ll realize how composed I was on the outside. “What does that entail?” He said, “Come on. I’ll show ya.”

So over we went to scrub in. As I washed and washed, up to my elbows, Dr. Johnson inquired of my burn injury. The questions, “how were you injured?” and “where did you receive your care?” revealed that Dr. Johnson not only knew my surgeons, but remembered my case. It was a neat moment to say the least.

Do you feel all the nice warm fuzzies? Hang on to those. It gets better.

There I was all scrubbed in, donning the sterile gloves and sterile gown, we moseyed up to the surgical field. Dr. Johnson instructed me to put my hands right up there by his. The surgery started, the incision was made and the cauterizing began. Now is the time I should remind you I hadn’t eaten that day. As the fat was cauterized the smell overwhelmed me. I remember the voice of Ms. BDub (our nickname for our clinical instructor) ringing in my head, “Don’t let anyone take away your opportunity to learn.” I was telling myself to pull it together, not wanting to throw the opportunity out the window from my own doing.

I’ve never completely passed out, but I was on my way that day. My head was sooo light. I was trying so very hard to hold it together. I believe I took a step back, keeping my hands in position on the sterile field, I then leaned over about to go down. Dr. Johnson yelled, “Grab her.” Suddenly, someone’s arms were around my waste and everyone was asking, “what’s her name,” “what’s her name?” I answered in a barely-with-it slur, “Heeeaaattthhherrrr.”

Oh dear. There was a whole need to scrub back in. Not for me. No, they found me a little stool to sit on for the duration of the surgery. Nevertheless, I was shocked when Dr. Johnson invited me in for the next case. It was nothing I could’ve ever anticipated. It was a skin graft on a burn patient.

What an incredible moment seeing for the first time what I had experienced so many, many times before. It was surreal. In my spirit I prayed for the patient, anticipating his pain upon awakening for him. Bless his heart. Skin grafts are not pleasant.

Couldn’t get much more incredible than that could it? One wouldn’t think. But with God life holds incredible moments when we least expect them.

A few weeks later I got a call from the marketing team at Hillcrest, the hospital I had received my burn care and the same hospital I was then doing my clinicals at, over twenty years later.

Dr. Johnson had suggested me for a marketing campaign they were launching.

Who would’ve ever thought? The girl who got excused early from community nursing hours to attend a surgery where the surgeon had a reputation of not even liking students, to getting an invitation to scrub in and practically blowing it by nearly fainting, to getting another invitation for a very personal experience on another surgery, to topping it off with a request to be a part of a television commercial and newspaper ads? You’ve got to be kidding!

Only God. Only God.

Every door He opens I know is His equipping of every good thing to accomplish His will.

In this post I hope you’ve had a little laughter and received a lot of hope.   The Lord uses everything. His ways are higher. His plans are creative. He wants you in the middle of it all!

Hebrews 13:21 (NLV) May God give you every good thing you need so you can do what He wants. May He do in us what pleases Him through Jesus Christ. May Christ have all the shining-greatness forever! Let it be so.

Explore Tulsa airs locally on: Saturdays Channel 19 at 6pm Sunday Channel 6 at Midnight Wednesdays Channel 47 at 10pm segments are also on their website  www.exploretulsa.com

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personal messages welcomed to speaking@heathermeadows.com

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video from the Hillcrest Changing Lives Campaign

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfkDF46M5z4

Exlpore Tulsa- interviews December 5th 2015

Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGAKaCUpvDI

Part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mZTganfOVM

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Deflated

*please note: this post is from the heart of a woman, for a woman—may the men not be uncomfortable, but gain deeper understanding, value and appreciation for issues women confront and overcome.  additionally, may each reader see what it means to be a burn survivor, still now, over twenty-seven years later. All my life I’ve listened to comments about how wonderful boobs are.

My problem is, I don’t have any. I never have.

They would have been nice to have when all my friends were growing their own set. You know, to at least have some clue to what they were experiencing. They would have been nice to pull out on my wedding night. From what I understand, it’s a pretty exciting component. And for certain, they would have been beneficial to have had when my children were born.

I’ve lived hearing about boobs, seeing paintings and sculptures of boobs, commercials about bras supporting boobs, reading scriptures about boobs, and helping NICU moms use their boobs for their babies.

So how does a woman feel like a woman without them? Without having ever had them? What does femininity mean to a woman who never experienced an obvious development of becoming a woman?

They’re not questions you would necessarily ask a thirteen year-old, or a sixteen year-old or a twenty year-old. They probably wouldn’t be able to answer them. These are deep questions, difficult for me to confront still, at thirty-four. But ones I’ve spent a lifetime attempting to answer—for myself.

These are questions I’ve brought to the Lord numerous times through my life, and many times again just in the last few weeks.

They do say when it rains it pours. Honestly, it’s all a matter of perception and experience. My family and I have endured the rain. I’ve witnessed others withstand heartbreaking circumstances. Therefore, when things feel like they’re falling apart, I cope from the reality that things could always be much worse.

But an attack is an attack. We have to see it for what it is to know how to battle it. At a time when we in our home were experiencing a storm, a time when our vulnerability to share it caused our character and integrity to come under fire, a time when my Mom was recuperating from a fractured wrist and my Aunt from knee replacement, I noticed a subtle change in my body.

Let me say, when we’re broken, we don’t know if what we’re seeing really is what is.

I was feeling weak, discouraged, and heavy-laden. During my shower, I thought, “My left implant seems smaller.” But I hoped my perception was affected by my state-of-mind. You know. I hoped I was just seeing things.

Over the next few days it became pretty obvious I wasn’t. My left implant had ruptured.

Seems like a simple fix. Go see the doc and get a new boob.

That may be somewhat of a straightforward solution if I actually had breasts to begin with. But remember, I don’t. I never have.

Breast reconstructive surgeries started for me when I was fifteen. My first surgeon didn’t educate my parents on the process. Tissue expanders would have been a nice option, but in his defense, there wasn’t an industry then like there is now. Therefore, implants were inserted in my chest with minimal ability for the scarring to stretch. It was one of the most painful experiences. You’re probably thinking, “Really? Compared to third degree burns?” I can say, my first breast reconstructive surgery ranks up there with some of my most terrible memories over the years.

Up until eighteen, I went through several more surgeries for my breasts. The implants kept falling; lack of support to hold them. There was even an attempt to make nipples for me. Let me say ladies, looking back now, I would decline that option. But as a young teenage girl, whose body didn’t look anything like it was suppose to, I was desperate for whatever might help make me look a bit more normal. However, I’ve seen lots of nipples in my line of work, and even though it was a detailed process of grafting and tattooing, the fact of the matter is, they don’t look like nipples.

Not long ago, I spoke with a woman who underwent breast reconstructive surgery after her battle with breast cancer. She opted out of the nipple construction and decided to get her own tattoo. She had her favorite flower tattooed over her reconstructed breast. Obviously, it’s not an art everyone can see to appreciate, but it’s special, because it’s for her. It’s something beautiful in place of what would only be an attempt for normal. As we know, “normal” takes on a new meaning after such a loss.

From eighteen to twenty-eight, I was breast surgery free. That is, until after Gavin’s birth. My left implant ruptured and it had to be replaced. However, ten years wasn’t too shabby for that set. (Reread that last sentence as if you were talking about tires. It adds an element of humor that is a must in situations like these). The surgery was out patient and took longer than anticipated. Brandon’s concern heightened when the staff started turning the lights off in the waiting room to close and he still hadn’t heard what was going on with me. The surgery took four hours. Shortly after I was awake, vomiting post op, we were booted out with an emesis basin and a cool washcloth for the ride home. That was just the beginning of an unpleasant recovery. The amount of scar tissue made it a challenge to replace the implants, and I felt it in the days following.

These are the reasons for my tears. I get so frustrated with it all. Honestly, I just wish I had my own. At some point in my life, I wish I had had my own. I wish I experienced that effortlessly natural development of a woman’s body. I wish this was an issue of enhancement and not reconstruction.

These are the reasons for my tears. I don’t know how many times these suckers can be replaced before I hear something along the lines, “I’m sorry, Heather. All the previous surgeries have created too much scar tissue and we’re not going to be able to replace them.” I don’t know there will ever come an age I’ll be okay without having anything, because come on, it’s not like they look normal anyway, but at least in my clothes I have the normal shape of a woman. And while there are some women rendered flat chested without a hint of breast tissue with no desire for reconstruction after surviving cancer or injury, I can say, I don’t want to forfeit this small piece of femininity that I never experienced on my own.

So here we go, back to the OR today for a piece of femininity. My surgeon is practical, and yet super sensitive to my concerns. We’re giving it a go with some ADM, specifically Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix derived from porcine tissue used to reinforce my weak scar tissue,  and some silicone gel implants. We’re hoping for a good twenty-five years for the next set. Which would be five times longer than the ones I have now. I’d say that’s something to be optimistic about!

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So what about those questions? How does a woman feel like a woman without breasts? Without having ever had them? What does femininity mean to a woman who never experienced an obvious development of becoming a woman?

Remember how I said that I was broken when I realized my implant was ruptured?

It is such a metaphor. Life had me completely deflated. At the same time I realized my boob was too!

While some of you may be reading this not having experienced the loss of your breasts, you have experienced those feelings of deflation. Nothing is left in you. You’ve lost your volume. Your excitement is nil, you’re running on empty.

Again, how does one feel like a woman when one is deflated? When one is broken?

Last spring, Brandon and I had the opportunity to meet Bob Goff. After meeting him, I just had to read his book. My Mom got it for me for my birthday and I was able to get into it this summer. God’s timing is….well, timely.

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In his book, Love Does, Bob shares the story of his wedding cake. It landed on the pavement before it made it to the table. They served it anyway, gravel pieces and all! Bob used the experience to make an analogy to life. He says, “I simply decided that I wasn’t going to let the residual rocks and small pieces of gravel get in the way of me getting served up and used.”

Isn’t that good stuff? Well, take this in. He proceeds,

“It has always seemed to me that broken things, just like broken people, get used more; it’s probably because God has more pieces to work with.”

Now that changes the outlook of being deflated!

When I acknowledge the reality that my body isn’t what it was born to be. When I recognize there is not much of my body that is natural. When I get fed up with the reminders of my injury, I remind myself what a testimony it is and how God is using all my brokenness to connect and reach out to people in theirs. Deflated boob and all.

I’ve seen many women with boobs of their own, who didn’t have an ounce of authentic beauty, and I feel more sorry for them than I’ve ever felt in my own moments of self-pity.

Beauty is a mindset. And when the world comes in attack against your beauty, acknowledge your imperfections, be realistic with what is in the mirror, but remind yourself that God can use every piece of you, especially the broken ones, as you give yourself to Him. And He makes ALL THINGS beautiful!

Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

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Why, Oh Why?

Last night I packed for a trip. I’ll be gone for three to five days. And while I know I’ll be taken good care of, I’m not too excited about going. But I grabbed items which bring me comfort and encouragement; my soft navy blue polar fleece blanket, I’ll take my pillow before leaving, and I packed three pictures from my house; one of our trip to Hawaii, one of our last visit to see Mickey, and one of us from last year taken at home by our fence. The photos help me focus on what I have, over what I’ve lost. Has their been loss? Immense. Has their been pain? Excruciating. But I’ve experienced a far greater portion of joy, peace and happiness. And that is what gripped my heart as I was pulling out of my doctor’s office last week after scheduling today’s surgery. Before my most recent surgery, I had a very small area of scar tissue tear on my back. This was a reoccurring problem after my injury during the rehabilitating years, and on into my adolescence as my body was growing from that of a child to an adult. However, this was a scenario I no longer anticipated having over twenty-six years later. Regardless, it had to be addressed, so when my surgeon came in to do surgical markings for the last operation, I asked him if we could have an “adder” and take care of that area. He examined it. He then informed me it would be more than a simple release of scar tissue. He said the dreaded words, “We need to do a skin graft.” Yuck. To say those are painful is a bit of an understatement. It’s surprising to some when I explain that it’s not even the area released which causes such discomfort as it is the donor site.

Addressing the issue is always more than the obvious. Having another surgery this year was not in this planner’s plan. It meant making arrangements for the kids, missing activities with them, along with all the holiday parties during my most favorite time of year, and, it meant regrouping my commitments at work. I was bummed. I was frustrated. I was disappointed. Those emotions came in to check quickly.

I left my doctor’s office, pulled out on Utica, stopped at the light, and began crying. Through my tears, I sang, “Thank you, Lord. I just want to thank you. I just want to thank you. I just want to take a little time right now, and say, ‘Thank you, Lord,’ for all You’ve done for me.” It’s a minor inconvenience to spend the last part of my year recovering from what is, yes, a highly unpleasant procedure, but not a complicated one with uncertain outcomes. This trip to the hospital and stay in the burn center won’t necessarily be fun, but it will all be okay. In consideration of this beautiful life God has provided me to live, it’s petty to complain about it, even to grumble about it in my own heart.

The “why such emotion and tears” thought may arise. Why cry? Why sob? It was out of my immense gratitude and deep conviction, because there were so many, many times I begged the Lord to allow me to die. I didn’t want to live a life in this body. I didn’t want to walk the road ahead of me. I didn’t understand why I lived and my brother died. I couldn’t imagine a future for me. I didn’t have life experience to help me reason it out, and even at that, I don’t know if I would have ever been able to find reason. I didn’t have coping skills to work through the physical, emotional and psychological trauma. I asked God, “Why?” I prayed prayers, “Please let me come to Heaven and be with you, let me see Jon. I don’t want to live here.” For years, I mean for years I prayed like this. What came out of it wasn’t pretty, but necessary. Much of what I felt, I internalized. Being the brave little girl was a role assigned to me early, and one I felt I had to uphold. Which is why an eating disorder was the outlet for me to channel my emotion privately. The path was ugly, depression was as real as the sun in the sky, but a light I couldn’t see.

But the uglier it got the more I cried out to my God. And the entire time, all those years, He was listening. All those years, all that time, He had a plan. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude that He didn’t allow me to die, not from the physical trauma of that tragic accident, and neither from the emotional wounds thereafter. No, He held me. He never let go. And He was speaking, “Heather, I have a plan, to prosper you and not harm, to give you hope and a future.” He was saying, “All things work together for those who are called according to My purposes, and my child, I have a purpose for your life.”

I am going on this trip today. I am going to be back in the place where it all began so many years ago. I’m going to stand in awe of what the precious people there did to save my life. I’m going to meet some new faces, learn some new names and thank them for caring for people like me, whose lives are forever changed, but whose lives are always worth living, because God is greater, His ways are higher and His plans are perfect.

In my distress I called to the Lord;

I cried to my God for help.

From His temple He heard my voice;

my cry came before Him, into His ears.

Psalm 18:6

NIV

*scriptures mentioned: Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28

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No Big Deal

“Hey baby. I was just calling to let you know I am saying prayers for you for tomorrow. I love you. You’ve been on my mind a lot, and everything is going to be just fine, I just hate that you have to go through this. But anyhow I love you and call me if you have time, if not, I totally understand. You know I’m with you. Bye baby.” This was the message I received Monday night after my shift. It was my Aunt Donna touching base with me before my 9am surgery on Tuesday. I hadn’t given the procedure much thought. I had acknowledged it with my co-workers through casual routine conversation of when we each worked again. Nurses frequently ask, “When are you back?” It’s nice to know if you’ll be working with the same team, especially if our days are scheduled in a row. You get in a groove with those you work with frequently, which can help make things go smooth. But apart from a few mentions of being absent a couple of weeks, I hadn’t really discussed this surgery.

Is it because I consider it confidential or feel it exposes my privacy? Not at all. I didn’t call and tell anyone, or make a post, because it feels, after this many surgeries, it’s just not a big deal. I assume people probably get sick of hearing about it. I’ve got oodles of scar tissue, tightness and constriction, and sometimes it seems never ending. Same song. Five hundredth verse. [Not really, but too numerous to count.] I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I have a pity party. Sometimes I get so sick of this. No matter how many years go by, one surgery takes me back to the thoughts I had as a kid. Detesting the fact I was hunched over, barely walking, feeling like an old woman. As active and mobile as I normally am, one surgery takes me back. I try to minimize the dread. I try to focus on the perks of surgery, the nap and those warm blankets. And after reminding myself about some of the health issues people are facing, these surgeries seem like a breeze.

Nevertheless, I was reminded Tuesday how blessed I am with so many people who care. By way of my Mom’s Facebook post came numerous messages, calls and texts, even a pie, cupcake and flowers from my sweet neighbor. It got me thinking… how often do we cut ourselves short of love? By keeping quiet I was cutting short the care and concern people I love wanted to show.

While there are some things I hold personally quiet, most of life I feel blessed to share. After all, life is about living, and living encompasses the people we’ve been given to share this life with, so why put up barriers? Disconnection happens when we guard ourselves and it can fade into the dangerous effects of isolation. What an opportunity for the enemy to convince someone that no one cares.

We told the kids a few days before about my surgery. We discussed the plans for the time I’d be down. Mom having surgery can be scary for kids, but they handle it well when they know there’s a plan. And I was surprised when my daughter asked if she could go with me. I had never given it any thought that she had no idea the processes involved in going in for an operation. So Brandon and I told her if it was okay with her teachers and her schoolwork, then absolutely she could go.

This time was very different for me. It’s what I would even consider special. Mothers always want to be the caretakers, the comforters, the one in control. The tables were turned for me Tuesday. My precious girl walked through the doors with me when they called my name. She sat near when the nurse started my IV, something Brooklyn had never seen before. She watched as Dr. Kirk came in to make his surgical markings. She prayed with her Dad and me before I headed out of the pre-op area. She waited those three hours of my operation and listened intently as Dr. Kirk drew explanations of the procedure. Brooklyn helped me get dressed and put my shoes on for me. She escorted me to and helped me in the car. As humbling as it was, I am grateful for the opportunity to have seen my daughter as I did the other day.

In the realities of this injury, stood the miracle of it. While twenty-six years ago my family was focusing on when it would be “over,” the reality was never. My life will never be what it would have been. Life will never be the same, but life is still good. In some ways, I think it is even better. When faced with never walking again, being able to is treasured. When weighing the chances of a fulfilling relationship, having one is gold. When accepting minimal possibility of pregnancy, children are everything. While most people don’t set their minds on mobility, marriage or children until the topics present themselves, I thought on them from the delicate age of seven. I feared I had lost everything, before I had the chance to live it. Therefore, today, it’s hard to focus on that which was lost when there’s so much that’s been given.

The focus isn’t on the scars or the pain, the repetitive surgeries or the inconvenience of recovering. For me, the gift isn’t merely about living and having survived the injury. My focus is on what I thought I’d have to live without. And both were represented and very present with me on Tuesday, the hope of a family, my husband and my child.

It is a big deal. Surgeries can be complicated. None are without risks. But what’s a bigger deal? Having the strength to face them. Having the love of my family and my friends. It’s a big deal to my heart having others concerned for me. I am filled with joy for what I’ve been given, overwhelming joy.

Colossians 1:11-12

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people, who live in the light.

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Tough Cookie

A few months ago I received a message from a reader asking me to write about a subject I’ve had some experience; pain.  I’m deeply touched by messages I receive from readers, and I began seeking the Lord to direct my heart to share what would minister to hearts regarding this subject. Can you recall your first memories of pain?  My earliest memory was when I was five years old.  After a family dinner, several of us decided to walk down to the bridge.  My Grandma lived across the driveway from us and we had stopped at her pear tree before beginning our stroll.  I must have piddled around, as was very typical for me, because everyone had started off out of the driveway.  I ran to catch up, slid on the gravel and cut a gash in my right knee.  The beautiful sunny afternoon ended with a trip to the emergency room and my very first set of stitches.  I was terrified and experiencing the worst pain in my life.  I knew the scar it left would be permanent, as would be the memories.

As you can imagine, that experience wasn’t enough to prepare me for the tragedy to come on April 27, 1988.  I remember the sting in my eyes from the dust as my brother and I traveled on our motorcycle behind the little red truck that sunny spring day.  I remember the blur in the flame as I lay in that fiery ditch.  I remember my face feeling so hot as I was grabbed underneath the arms and drug out of that blaze.  I remember that terrifying helicopter ride, telling my Mom I wanted to go home, thinking that if I could just go home it would all be okay.  These were my first encounters with a pain that, although I experienced, I still cannot fully comprehend.

I spent many years trying to understand something senseless.  How could I possibly make sense of an accident?  It was an accident.  But how difficult it was to let go of the desire for answers.  The question I kept asking was “why?”  I had to stop thinking about the “what ifs.”  While many different small things could have prevented our accident, nothing was going to change it.  My life was changed forever.

But you know this story.  You know how this story ends; with a little girl who overcame the odds and lived and walked again.  This story ends with a sweet boy who fell in love with a girl for who she was instead of seeing the scars she bore.  This story ends with a marriage and four precious babies.  This story has what I would consider, the perfect ending.

It’s much more pleasant to focus on the end.  It makes me happy.  But surprisingly, so does every detail in between.  And that in between time was filled with pain, with years and years of pain.

There was the physical pain.  The bandages being ripped off.  The scar tissue tearing.  The surgeries.  The procedures.  The tests.  Then there was the emotional pain.  The loss of my brother.  The loss of my carelessness.  The loss of my mobility, my hair, my skin, my body as I’d known it.  How I would have loved to have seen that small scar from the fall on the gravel road.  I searched for it, but there was no trace.  Only burns.  Only smelly ugly mushy burns.

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Words cannot describe the range and depth of pain.  There are years and years I would never want to revisit, but make me happy.  “How?” you may ask.  Because I overcame.

My Aunt Donna gave me a t-shirt when I was in the hospital that said, “Tough Cookies Don’t Crumble.”  She explained the shirt to me, but at seven years old, I didn’t completely understand it.  All I knew was that she thought I was tough, but I didn’t get what that really had to do with cookies.

Well, that right there is what makes me happy when I think about all the pain.  I was a tough cookie, and I didn’t crumble.  Even years later, when I was still asking God, “Why didn’t I die too?” He was carrying me, and I didn’t crumble.  I overcame.

Pain teaches us a lot about ourselves and more about our God.  And I know in the darkest moments, in the hardest years, in the scariest times, my God was there.  I was never alone.

Many people are hesitant to ask me what happened.  They want to know, but they don’t want to hurt me.  Usually it is phrased like this, “So what happened? If you don’t mind me asking.”  And I don’t mind, because I overcame.

The Word tells us in Revelation 12:11 “They triumphed over him
 by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much
 as to shrink from death.”  I recommend reading the verse in its context, but take this to heart, we overcome by the victory Christ provided to us from His sacrifice on the cross and by our testimony, which is why I absolutely love to share with others what happened to me, because although it’s the most physically and emotionally painful story, it’s my testimony and I’m so grateful to be alive to share it.

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Work In Progress

There is something I’ve been doing for nearly twenty-six years that I’ve never enjoyed and still don’t.  So why do I keep on doing it?  Improvement.  What in the world is it?  Surgery. I’ve seen cardiovascular surgeons, plastic surgeons, general surgeons and orthopedic surgeons; and they’ve all invested their knowledge and skill into getting me where I am today.  There are memories of going to physical therapy and periodically having my range of motion measured.  I’m sure the memory is somewhat skewed from my childhood perspective, but it seemed that when they broke out the goniometer, I’d have another surgery follow soon.  I had such dread and anxiety the night before my surgeries.  I’d sit in the bathroom and stare at the location to be operated on, whether a leg, an arm, my abdomen.  I’d mentally try to prepare for the pain I’d experience in the hours to come, upon awakening from my anesthesia.

And yes, there’s the anesthesia.  Most of my surgeries I went to sleep without a hitch.  Didn’t always wake up that way.  Like the time I had told my brother, Barry that I’d love to have pizza when I got back to my room.  As soon as they walked in with it, I began vomiting.  Such an unpleasant feeling when one’s been cut open and stapled up.  Lesson learned.  Don’t skip the transition back to solid foods.  But there was a time the going to sleep part was terrifying.  It still bothers me to this day.

Even still, pleasant recollections of my operating room nurses come to mind.  They had the most beautiful eyes from my experience.  I couldn’t see the rest of their face or their hair, covered by their mask and hat, but I could see their eyes and I studied their eyes.  I always found what I was looking for: kindness, tenderness and safety.  They would visit with me, and once the anesthesiologist had placed the mask on my face, I’d begin counting backwards with my nurse.  But one time, I didn’t go to sleep so easily.  Once my eyes closed I began feeling like I was falling down a black tunnel and the tunnel would expand with every beep of the pulse ox.  I could hear the voices of those in the surgical suite, and I felt absolutely terrified.  I was probably about eight or nine at the time.

Those few moments of an unpleasant drifting off to sleep may have only been that; just moments, but it changed the way I like to go to sleep.  When asked if I’ve ever had complications from the effects of anesthesia, I don’t hesitate to share that story, along with the common side effect of nausea and vomiting.  I’m aware they may think this nearly 33 year-old woman is insane, but oh well.  Now I prefer to visit until I go to sleep.  No counting and no masks until I’m out of it.

And here I am, about to head into town for yet another surgery.  By the time this post is published I will be on the other side of the operation.  The side I still dread, but I know is beneficial.  My dear Dr. Norberg use to say, “Heather, no pain, no gain.”  He had a lot of sayings.  I despised hearing them as a girl, but as a woman, they’re my motivation.

Dr. Norberg passed away almost thirteen years ago.  I loved that man.  For all he did for me.  For pushing me.  For believing I could live the life my parents and I dreamed, of walking and having children.  To this day I am motivated to gain a better outcome.  And over the last ten years, Dr. Robert Kirk has tediously worked to help me on this continual journey of improvement.  Dr. Kirk is on the brink of retirement.  He has benefited countless lives, and I’m deeply grateful mine was one of them.

Dr. Kirk and I had a good conversation before scheduling this procedure.  He explained to me that as I age and the effects of gravity take place, I will most likely have areas which will continue to be somewhat deformative.  It reminded me of  what Dr. Norberg said to my Mom when she asked when I would be finished with surgeries.  He told her I would wear out before I’d ever be done.

There’s a lot of truth in what he said.  And there’s a lot of reality in what Dr. Kirk said.  I am getting tired.  I space these surgeries out farther and father.  I put these “improvements” on the back burner because I don’t want the inconvenience of recovery.  I don’t want my kids to see me lying around.  I don’t want them to see me in pain.  And it gets old having to ask others for help.  So Dr. Norberg is quite right.  I am slowing down.  But as Dr. Kirk and I discussed, I long for it to be better.  I know my body will never, ever look anything like what it would have looked had the accident never happened, but I know that it can look better than what it does, and for that this woman is grateful to have the strength, the love and the support for this continual WORK IN PROGRESS.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

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The Gift of Belonging

Every group I’ve been a part of started with some anticipation of not being received.  It must be a little natural to assume the possibility of not fitting in.  After all, there was a time in my early adolescence that I couldn’t seem to find my fit.  In the fog of trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, I had this longing to belong.  It can be a dangerous place for young people; the reason why I’m deeply grateful for how the Lord orchestrated my steps and the people who helped me walk them. I’ve heard people refer to groups as being clicky.  The word carries a very negative portrayal of a cruel, obnoxious group of people.  But that doesn’t necessarily fit all the people who have been labeled as such.  I wonder how many people evaluate a group and conclude that they’re not accepted because they didn’t put themselves out there to take that first step, to face that possibility of rejection or perhaps the wonderful gift of belonging.

I remember my first day working in my unit.  I was super nervous about nursing alone.  I mean, I had the BSN education behind my name and that RN certification, but I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and for some reason I had this fear-- as if I was going to need to resuscitate a baby on my own the first day (I didn't really think that, I just felt THAT nervous).  Coupled with anxiety was concern I wouldn’t be received.  I had signed a two-year contract.  I was committed to this place come rain or shine, and nothing would make that time inch by more than a cold hearted atmosphere.

My approach was to show myself friendly; don’t wait for others to introduce themselves to me; don’t wait for someone to roll out a welcome mat; just put myself out there and start learning this new group of people who were now my co-workers.  I spent the day saying, “Hi.  My name is Heather.  I’m new.”  There’s no telling how many times I shared that bit of information.  Everyone was warmly receptive.  But it wasn’t until I was in the break room and introduced myself to one of the ladies in housekeeping that I was told, “Yes.  I know.  You have a yellow badge.”  Oh my goodness!  My temporary new employee badge was this bright yellow, which screamed, “I’m new!”  And there I had been including that bit of information in my introductions.  So embarrassing, but so funny!

At this time of year when I’m evaluating all the gifts so meaningful to my life, I count the gift of belonging to such an incredible group of health care professionals as one of them.  I work with wonderful people!  And work is only one area.  I’m prompted to reflect on the groups I’ve had the privilege of belonging during the course of my life, the ones that played a role in who I became.

Why does this matter?  Because we all are designed to be loved.  Genesis 1:27 says that we were created in the image of God, and I John 4:8 tells us God is love.  Therefore, we are all geared to be loved.  To be accepted.  To be well received.  Anything less is a wall of protection and fear.

People give meaning to one another.  Being apart of something provides purpose.  The challenge is finding where is our niche.  And thankfully, we have the perfect Navigator to guide and direct us where we will be most effective for Him.  It may take some closed doors, but our ultimate goal is to be right where He wants us when He wants us there.

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My Gift of Belonging:

Age 11

Oklahoma Kids ~ George and Rose Earley’s “Rock On” group

This group came along in God’s perfect timing.  I had great difficulty connecting with my peers at school and never felt that I fully re-assimilated with them after my accident.  Once I returned to school, I was constantly in and out for surgeries.  It was like the first day of school several times throughout each year. I just didn’t feel a part.  Then I found I really loved to sing.  I was nervous and shaky getting on stage, but still loved it and wanted to keep doing it.  George and Rose Earley gave their time to drive nearly an hour one way to work with a group of young performers in creating a show titled “Rock On.”  We practiced several nights a week and had shows on the weekends.  I found purpose and meaning during that time.  And above all, I found acceptance.  I experienced the wonderful feeling that comes from the gift of belonging.

My Gift of Belonging:

Age 13

Frontline Youth Ministries ~ Coweta Assembly of God ~ Steve and Michele Lee (click to visit Michele at her blog)

Yes, this was the age that things really started to unravel.  I was increasingly aware of my body, as many young people are at that age. The image I had of myself was very negative.  I detested the scars covering my body.  And insecurity paved the way for me to believe that those scars were what people really saw when they looked at me.  This led me down a path to take control of what I could control- my weight.  And it got ugly and dark.  I experienced that deep place of depression and that spiral fall of an eating disorder.  My youth pastors constantly spoke God’s Word into my heart and challenged me to see myself the way He saw me.  They allowed me to experience what it was to serve in ministry through music, singing praises to Him in our worship services.  It was a long road.  But my youth group provided me warm memories of fun, laughter and purpose through the many activities we shared together.

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My Gift of Belonging:

TABS ~ Tulsa Area Burn Survivors

From the time I was injured in 1988 until now, my family has been involved with TABS.  When I was young we had consistent support group meetings, which was a magnificent blessing to my family.  My parents were greatly involved with giving of their time coordinating an annual 5K run, and constantly giving of their hearts, sharing their pain of loss and their obstacles of my recovery.  The time in TABS kept me close to the burn center where I received my care.  Literally.  The meetings were always in the burn center and that consistent return allowed me to see my nurses and meet new ones.  It kept the place that was home for a few months, feeling like home.  And that’s how it remains when I return today.  I’m proud to have the gift of belonging to such strong and brave people.

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My Gift of Belonging:

OU College of Nursing

When I started to pursue the calling God had placed in my heart to become a nurse, I did it with complete focus on accomplishing exactly that-- becoming a nurse.  I didn't even consider the possibility of building special friendships with those along the way.  And I got more than friendships from the experience, I got a family.  We spent countless hours together in the classroom, in lab, in study and in clinical.  Nursing school was so taxing on my family.  It was a very difficult two years.  By the time we got to the end I told my husband, "I am so done.  I just want to be finished.  But I'm afraid that when it is, I will miss what has been one of the greatest seasons of my life."  Yes, I did say that it was a very difficult two years AND I said that it was one of the greatest seasons.  And that is because of the people who I spent it with.  Only God could have assembled our group the way He did, and the memories I have, the friendships I carry, the bond we share will be a most treasured gift of my life.

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My Gift of Belonging:

My Family

God gave me a custom made group; my lil’ family.  Mark Batterson said something in one of his podcasts along the lines of the people who know you the best should love you the most.  My husband and my children see me.  They see every angle of me; the good, the bad and the ugly.  And they love me.  These people within the walls of the house I live in are my drive, my ambition, my joy, my pride, and they give the greatest meaning and purpose.  God wrapped up a gift in each of them.  I get to belong to them and them to me.  My precious gift.

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25 Years Later

When I Google “anniversary” beaucoups of definitions pop up; like, “the annually recurring date of a past event, especially one of historical, national, or personal importance.” Anniversaries roll around causing recollection of the day’s events.  It’s one of the things that make wedding anniversaries so special. Today marks the 25th anniversary of a past event of personal importance.  This day never rolls around without some recollection of events, but this year is a milestone, this year, my mind is being flooded with memories both tragic and uplifting.

I’m remembering that beautiful spring day, April 27th 1988.  I remember the sun shining. Records indicate that the high was 75 degrees with winds at only 5 miles per hour.  My brother Jon and I got off the bus that afternoon and I’m sure did our little chore list that my Mom had on the fridge.  Although it doesn’t stand out in my mind, I’m sure we did them, as was routine for our after school activities.  What I do remember is putting on my play clothes; my shorts and t-shirt and those ever so popular 1980s jelly shoes.  I loved mine, and had them in a few different colors.

I remember Jon and me standing in front of the shed behind my Grandma’s house.  The driveway beside our house wrapped around the back of my Grandma’s and there was a shed and storm cellar right behind her house.  Jon filled up our blue two-wheeler motorcycle and then we proceeded with our plan to visit our friend’s house.  We anticipated no harm on our nearly 3 mile ride away.  We felt so big to see our friends on our own will and at our own convenience. After some time, Jon said it was time to go and we swung our legs over that bike, revved it up, and headed back home.

On that country dirt road there was a factor present which was not present before.  The travel back coincided with travelers returning home from work for the day.  Jon pulled out onto the road behind a small red truck.  The dust stirred up from the truck made it so difficult to see.  My arms were wrapped tightly around Jon’s waist and I turned my head to my right, attempting to avoid the dust that stung my eyes.

It was such a challenge to see.  No goggles.  No helmets.  We were just two children, innocent to the danger that surrounded us.  Jon swerved to the left and all life changed forever.  We hit an oncoming truck.  Jon was killed.  The bike went under the truck.  A fire ignited.

I remember lying in the ditch as flames engulfed me.  I don’t remember pain from my body being on fire.  What I remember is the blur in the flames.  It distracts me to this day when I become mesmerized by the bright colorful light fires produce.  I remember my face feeling unbearably hot.  And I remember someone grabbing me under my armpits from behind and dragging me out of the fire.  That man was my first hero.  That man was the first person who took action to save my life.  It just so happened to be the man we hit.

For the memories being so choppy, I still have a bank of them.  I don’t remember the helicopter ride to the hospital, but I do remember telling my Mom that I wanted to go home.  I remember feeling that if I could just get home that it would all be okay.  She told me that we were going to see the doctor and then we would.

I remember being in a tiny room in the Alexander Burn Center at Hillcrest with a multitude of stuffed animals and posters around me.  Someone put a turquoise My Little Pony on the far left shelf for me.  Those little tokens were a small part of the many gifts I received from my injury.  Yes.  I said gifts.  And the greatest of those were the intangible kind.

Something about tragedy brings out the purest, most kind parts of people. For instance, my Dad’s brother stood on the left side of my bed and promised to take me on a camping trip when I got better.  He made good on that promise.  I remember that big red heat lamp being positioned over my bed in ICU and one of my doctors, on a few different occasions, holding my hand through those excruciating bandage changes.  I remember my brother, Barry and his friend, Chris coming to watch Wheel of Fortune with me.  I remember Barry bringing the entire collection of Alf dolls that Burger King featured.  I remember my friend Brad coming to visit me in ICU.  Brad was our neighbor, and like a brother to me, even more so after I returned home from the hospital.  He had his head shaved to match mine on that visit to the burn center.  He was the only kid allowed to come see me while in ICU and it was perhaps the greatest gift the staff could have given me.  His small amount of time with me reconnected me to who I was—a kid.

So many times I am asked if I remember that day.  Oh how I remember that day and many others.  But I wouldn’t change that.  I wouldn’t want to forget.  If I forgot how bad it was, then I’d lose sight of how great God is.

Memories can be painful, but comforting as well.  We can’t appreciate where we are if we don’t remember where we were.

O Lord, I will honor and praise Your name, for You are my God.  You do such wonderful things!  You planned them long ago, and now you have accomplished them. Isaiah 25:1 (NLT)

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Barry_Heather_Spring_1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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