Sister Love (The Love Project, Day 21)

The Hess Girls, 1978

The Hess Girls, 1978

Today’s my sister Kathy’s birthday, third in the line of “Hess Girls,” and likely the most gifted of the four of us. My mother once told me that she decided to walk, talk, and feed herself for the first time … all on the same day. “She just kind of sat back and watched, then, when she was ready, she just decided to join the rest of the world.”

That initial promise was compromised and nearly lost when a misguided crush her junior year of high school went horribly, horribly wrong. She did not realize — none of us did — that she had fallen into the clutches of an abuser. Playing on her sympathies, giving her gifts, isolating her from friends and even family . . . then threatening to harm himself, and everyone she cared about. The smiling, carefree girl she once was disappeared, replaced by a ghost.

But my sister is a fighter, and when she finally decided she was ready to join the rest of the world again, she broke free of the man who was now her husband, taking her young daughter with her. She went on to marry a man who loves them both, had another daughter. Both my nieces have all the artistic and intellectual promise of their mother — God’s way of redeeming the past, I’d say. The scars are still there, but she has spent her life standing up for those who, like her at that time, have no one to help them break free of the hell that is domestic violence. And I am so very proud of her.

Happy birthday, Kate. I love you.

Miracle Mondays: When Courage Sags

ryans-whole-family

Last year we were blessed to have “Mighty Mom” join us each Monday here at EMN, to add a little humor and insight. At least temporarily (until someone comes along to fill those funny shoes) I’ve dubbed today the first “Miracle Mondays,” dedicated to people and stories who inspire me … and I hope will inspire you as well.

As luck would have it, today is my sister Chris’ birthday (she’s the one in blue). For the past forty years or so, my courageous sister has inspired me. She’s two years younger than I am, but she recently became a grandmother. She calls herself “Gigi” (G.G.) for “Gorgeous Grandma.” Her son Ryan married his wife Misty and adopted her days-old daughter just weeks before being deployed to Iraq.

Chris lost her leg to complications from cancer when we were children. I remember going into the hospital room a couple of days after her operation, when her thigh was encased in plaster with a metal pole and a plastic foot stuck out of the bottom of it. When the doctors came to make their rounds, they threw back the covers … and found she had put a handpuppet on the foot. She waggled it at them, and launched into an impromptu puppet show. Show off.

This was classic Chris. Instead of wilting away in the hospital, she got out of her bed and was running the halls in days, tormenting the nursing staff until they begged the doctors to let her go home. Once she was home, returned to school as soon as she could, and before we knew it she had joined the cheerleading team (if she’d had her way, she would have gotten the spot at the top of the pyramid).

She was fearless. Instead of sitting in the chalet sipping hot chocolate, she hit the slopes and skied her way down. Instead of listening to the doctors who said she couldn’t have children, she married her high school sweetheart and went on to have two amazing kids. And instead of following in my mother’s footsteps and staying at home, she went to work and has managed to juggle the demands of both home and work with great determination.

To my knowledge, there are only a handful of times when her resolve has jiggled a bit. Typically, when problems arise she digs in her heels, refusing defeat — then plunges ahead when a solution seems to present itself. Like anyone, she sometimes makes mistakes. But it wasn’t until very recently that I saw another side: when her courage actually sagged, at least for a time. All the recent changes in her life had caught up with her, and knocked her down.

Everything in me wanted to fly to North Carolina, to give her a hug and ply her with chocolate until her mood lifted. I couldn’t, but I wanted to. Instead I sent her some tea and a good book, and called every week or so to check in. And prayed. And restrained myself from driving down to see her at Thanksgiving, when she would be spending a few precious days with her son and his new family before he was deployed. My mother found another solution: She had Chris send her a dozen of Ryan’s t-shirts, and fashioned them into a little quilt, for my sister to wrap around herself when she missed her son the most.  

Even the strongest women sometimes have times when their resolution flags. Whether blindsided by tragedy, or fed up with a million irritations that fly at us until the proverbial straw lands, we reach a place where our prayers bounce off the ceiling, the walls close in, and our courage sags. I recall one such time, two years into the foster-adoption process, when a social worker informed me that a biological relative of the children had expressed interest in adopting them if and when the parents’ rights had been terminated.

For three days, it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning. The thought of losing them after two years … it was too much to contemplate. I had known going into the process that this could happen … and that, if it did, we really had no legal recourse. To lose them now was unthinkable … In the end, I had to trust. And in the end, we got our miracle.

So what do you do when you find your courage sagging?

You stop.  Don’t look farther ahead than necessary. Do not think of next week, or next year. If one day at a time seems too much, break it down hour by hour.

You discern. Try not to react until you have the facts. Focus on what is rather than what might be.

You focus.  What is God asking you to do today, this moment? Fold a load of laundry? Write an article? Pay the bills? Plan a birthday party? Channel your mental energies constructively.

You pray. God sees all, and has a plan for good. Trust Him with it.