Sunday, December 31, 2006

Making a Difference

Don’t we all just want to know that our very existence isn’t just for naught? I mean, my brother is an actor/writer/director… He creates because he feels passionately, and he wants to bring meaning to life’s experiences. At least that is what I have always believed about what he does. My sister is a nurse. Her life is about assisting those in moments of great vulnerability. My cousin is a plumber. She works with her husband, and together, they strive to improve the quality of life for customers by helping fix pipes. Lots of times, they manage to ensure that the aroma of human waste isn’t the first thing people experience in the morning. These roles that my family members play are important in society. They make a difference. I can see it.

When I first started teaching, I was filled with all sorts of notions about “making a difference”. Maybe that is what everyone strives for in life… A sense of meaning… A sense of purpose… But, as with everything, I carried this idea of making a difference to a whole different level in my own mind. I wanted every student who passed through my door to develop a sense of self-worth, a love of learning, a respect for life and the miracles that it holds, a feeling of security and independence, and knowledge that they were the masters of their own destiny.

This is my seventh year of teaching. Tonight, I ran into a former student at the mall… A student from my first year… “Joe” transferred to me from another school toward the end of the school year. I only had him in class for about 4 months. However, his file was probably two inches thick. In special education, I suppose the student with the thickest file wins. Joe’s file was rife with reports about his horrible behavior problems. As I read through the file, my head was certainly filled with visions of terror… “Jumping from the tops of file cabinets…” “Cursing…” “Threatening to ‘dismember’ the student teacher”… Those are just the bits that I remember all these years later. But, amidst all of that, I saw that the kid had an I.Q. of 135. And, given my clientele that first year, I figured he would fit right in. The students I had my first year had horrible behavior problems. Many of them hailed from the projects and are now known drug dealers in our fair city. So, Joe didn’t really seem too different from any of the rest of my students, and I was questioning whether or not I was going to continue teaching after that first year anyway. I figured he could ride out the rest of the year with me and maybe I could find out why this bright kid, with unlimited potential was a) in special education, and b) saddled with a file that read like a rap sheet.

The remainder of that year was a wild ride. I was just holding on for dear life, doing the very best I could with a whole gaggle of very difficult students. And, for some reason, Joe never gave me a lick of trouble. He would find reasons to come back to my class in the afternoon. He was supposed to return to his homeroom class for Science and Social Studies, but usually he would meander in and we would talk. Honestly, I was grateful for his company. He was so smart and funny. One time, I even had an opportunity to show him his file and ask, “What are these reports doing in here, Joe? I don’t get it. You don’t act like this in my class.” He would just shrug and say, “I never felt like I needed to do that here. You get me.”

Joe moved before the end of the school year. Maybe that was part of the problem. He moved quite a bit during his elementary years. But, his mom had said that they were staying in Gautier, so I hoped he would get a chance to finish middle and high school with the same group of kids.

Tonight, I saw Joe at the mall. He is running around with the “gothic” kids. He looked basically the same, and I had a chance to speak to him.

“Joe Neely,” I called.

“How do you know me?” he responded. He looked at me, snapping his fingers trying to put a name to my face.

A friend joined him, who was a former student of our school and prompted, “She’s a teacher…”

After much struggling with his memory, I let him off the hook and told him who I was. I don’t honestly believe that he remembered me. He just said, “Teachers and me did not a good team make…”

I asked him how he was doing and he revealed that he has quit school. He is sixteen now. He never made it to high school. He quit in middle school. When I asked what happened he said, “I just wouldn’t do the work.” He says he plans to get his GED and go to college. I encouraged him to do just that.

Obviously, I didn’t really make the type of difference I had intended for Joe Neely. He didn’t even remember me. But, maybe Joe made a difference for me that year. I remember contract renewals came around at the end of my first year and I did not sign mine immediately. My co-teacher, and now friend, Kenna, kept telling me that I couldn’t quit. Still, I thought, “Like hell I can’t quit… This is too hard. It isn’t worth it.” Then, I thought about Joe and kids like him. I thought, maybe I can make a difference for those kids. At least he went to one school where someone “got him”.

I’m sad that I didn’t make a bigger difference for Joe. I want him to get a high school diploma. He is probably still the smartest kid I have taught. But, maybe kids like Joe are just thrown into the mix so I can make a difference for some of the others. I don’t really understand how God works it all out or keeps it all straight.

At the end of each school year, I write my students moving on to the middle school a letter. The letter is personal for each student, but usually I tell them the story of Albert Einstein… Here is a portion of a similar letter to another student: “Being a person of true character means meeting your disability with an attitude of gratitude. Being grateful for the gifts and abilities you have, rather than focusing on the areas you are lacking will help you build your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Albert Einstein (one of the smartest men who ever lived) had a learning disability. His mother did not listen to the teachers who told her that he did not have the capacity to learn to read. Because Einstein's mother believed in him, he began to believe in himself. If I could give you any gift in life, it would be the ability to believe in yourself. I believe in you. You can be your own worst enemy or your own greatest ally; the choice is yours.”

Interestingly enough, Joe’s presence in my classroom led me to conclude that I have certain gifts and abilities to offer my students. Because my class was the one place he didn’t exhibit behavior problems, I thought that maybe I could offer something to others with significant challenges. I think I have gone on to offer something. I’m not sure it is as grand and wonderful a something as I had hoped it would be in my first years of teaching. But, I know for sure that the choice to continue trying and believing is mine alone.

And, who knows… Joe and I have crossed paths again. Maybe that diploma is on the horizon for him. (Wink.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Love and Betrayal

Recuperating isn't my strong suit. Yesterday, I got up, tooled around the house and did some laundry. Last night, my abdomen and some other unmentionable areas swelled up, giving me the appearance of a woman six months pregnant. So, today, I have decided to actually rest.

Dave tried to talk sense to me... Really he did. "Honey, you have got to stay in bed."

I stubbornly replied, "Why? I feel fine!"

"Because you have been stabbed three times." Dave has such an eloquent way with words.

I didn't really listen yesterday. Today, I think I will. Thus, I'm sitting here in bed while my family went off to church. I'm really glad they went. It is so wonderful that Christmas Eve is on a Sunday this year. We do a beautiful candle lighting service at church in which people sign up to light a candle as a disciple. I signed up to light a candle. I can't remember which disciple I was supposed to represent, but Danielle is going to stand in for me.

In Unity, each of the disciples represents one of the twelve powers of man. I have always found it so ironic that Judas represents life. Judas... What in the world was wrong with that guy? He betrayed Jesus by identifying him to the soldiers. And, it wasn't just any betrayal. It was a betrayal with a kiss. In reality, that is probably how betrayal happens most often in this life... We usually hurt the ones closest to us. And, not because we want to hurt them... We are just so wrapped up in our own lives that we incidentally hurt the ones we love. Perhaps that is why Judas represents life. Life happens amidst the betrayal. Rebirth happens despite the betrayal.

Dave's sister, Deb, and her children were supposed to join us for Christmas this year. Unfortunately, illness has struck and they won't be able to make it. I'm really sorry they won't be able to come, but grateful they aren't coming if they are ill... We really can't handle any more sickness exposure with the girls. But, at the same time, I hurt for my husband. Dave has very little family left. His parents have both passed on. He has a brother and a sister. His brother is very ill right now. He was really looking forward to seeing his sister and spending time with his niece and nephew. I'm sure we can reschedule the visit for another time, but I just hate to see Dave disappointed.

My marriage to Dave isn't exactly a typical love story. I met Dave two weeks before he was scheduled to leave the U.S. to move to Italy. He was an officer in the Navy. We met and established a friendship. And, truthfully, I fell for him instantly. Plans were made for me to visit him in Italy. Dave claims that I began stalking him. I suppose one could call it that. I wrote, e-mailed, and made him tapes every day. He was pretty much the exact opposite of any man I had dated previously, and that was exactly what I was after. After visiting Italy in June and experiencing a whirlwind romance, I returned in November and we agreed to be married. I wish it was more romantic than an agreement, but it really wasn't... We were just being practical.

I was still legally married to Randy, even though we had been separated for about a year... Because of the girls, insurance was a major consideration. Randy was getting out of the Navy and the girls would no longer be covered. Thus, Dave and I decided to get married right away so the insurance coverage wouldn't lapse. Some people would probably be horrified to hear that I married my husband for the insurance, but truly, that was the reality at the time.

I do know that I earnestly prayed for God's will in my life every day after Randy and I separated. Dave and I certainly had our ups and downs that first year of marriage. We were living apart and he was getting out of the Navy. He was also seeking to become a more spiritual person each day. I watched him grow and struggle from afar... And, I began to know this man who was my husband.

Dave is dedicated and predictable. He adheres to a routine with an autistic-like fervor, at times. He is able to get the girls up each and every morning, making sure treatments and vest are started before he makes his way to the gym. He is thoughtful. He calls if he is going to be late, and does little things he thinks might make me happy. He is funny. Every day is full of laughter because of Dave's sarcastic wit. He is also smart. He is a brilliant math teacher, but he also knows lots of other interesting bits of information... And, what he doesn't know, he delights in making up.

The thing that most people don't know about Dave is that he feels deeply. I know there isn't anything Dave wouldn't do for me and the girls. He is completely dedicated to us. He signed up for this life. I was a single mom with two daughters with cystic fibrosis. Most men would have kept walking without a backward glance. But, he stayed and despite our quirks and idiosyncrasies, he loves us more than anything in the world. He usually doesn't say it. He isn't a "gusher". But, he shows us love each day by being there and walking through this life with us. Family is important to him.

That's why I'm sitting here in this bed today. It is part of my own weird love story. Dave and I haven't been able to have a baby thus far... This surgery was intended to repair problems that are causing infertility for us. Probably, a lot of people think I'm nuts. "You have two kids with cystic fibrosis... Why in the world would you want to have another baby?" I can answer that question... Because of Dave Maxwell... Because of all the times he has stayed at the hospital with Sarah and Dan... Because of all the times he has done the "one more thing" so I didn't have to... Because of this love that started off as a simple agreement about insurance and has become the deepest, most important commitment of my life.

I guess that is why Judas represents life... Life endures betrayal. In fact, sometimes betrayal brings us into relationships with people. I honestly believe people are basically good at heart. I know in my own life, I don't seek to hurt the ones I love. Sometimes it just happens because I am caught up in my own needs and wants in the moment. I'm certain that very concept was behind any actions I might perceive as betrayals toward me. But, love... Real love surpasses all that. And, fortunately, in my life I get to experience lots of little moments of real love strung together. The betrayals sometimes lead the way to a greater love. Life marches on.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Roto-rooter Procedure Completed

I had laproscopy surgery yesterday to remove some things that were growing in places where things shouldn't be growing. The doctor got almost everything straightened out, with the exception of one small item. However, after 3 hours into the operation, one of the pieces of equipment broke, people were frustrated and snapping at each other, and Dr. Koulianos decided that it would be best to continue on another day. I'm really grateful for his decision. I don't want to go back and do this again, but I also don't want negative vibes entering my body either...

Dr. K said that he has done a lot of these types of surgeries and I am now in his top 2 patients of things that can be wrong with someone all at the same time. I have always been an overachiever! It is amazing to me that things can grow wildly inside my body out of nothing. At the same time, however, that reaffirms my belief that things can heal wildly out of nothing too. Tumors and cysts and extra growths spring forth from our regular body processes. If this can happen, it makes perfect sense to me that spontaneous healing can occur too. Believing and manifesting are two different things, though. So, I continue to trust the process with all the doctors in our lives.

The girls are doing much better, although Sarah has a slight cold right now. Keep her in your prayers. I am giving them some immune boosters from the health food store. They seem to be helping. We have also increased our prayer time and recommitted to our daily affirmations. Whatever the reason, the girls have improved and I am totally grateful.

I have so many things for which to be grateful... My husband, Dave, has been taking extra good care of me as I recover. My girls have been quiet, and are getting along with each other. (I told them that fighting amongst themselves would stress me out.) My parents are helping take care of the girls while I am out of commission. I have wonderful friends who have been checking on me... Kenna and her mom had a lady come and clean my house yesterday. I am just so overwhelmed with goodness.

In just two days, we will have a wonderful Christmas celebration. This year, I am resting in the spirit of hope and renewal that Christmas brings. I have brand-new, squeaky clean insides... I have the peace that comes with trusting the process. I am healthy, whole and well today. And, for that I am thankful.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

40 Days in the Wilderness

Fear is a terrible thing. I don't usually walk around in the world afraid. Thankfully, almost twenty years ago, I began a path that served to alleviate the gut wrenching fear I lived with daily. I made a choice that I wanted to live a spiritual life. If you had asked me at the time, I probably would have denied that is what I was doing. But, I can assure you, that is how my life has turned out... A spiritual walk with my Creator.

So, why was it so very easy for me to fall into a pit of despair and terror this week? We started off the week with CF Clinic. Sarah had begun running a fever, and that continued when she went in to see the doctor. As a result, her pulmonary function tests, or PFTs, had fallen by about 50%. This, naturally, resulted in a hospitalization for her. Both girls had been hospitalized the Monday before Thanksgiving, but were allowed to go home on I.V. antibiotics. Given that this course of treatment is usually successful, I was very concerned. Serving to further alarm me, Dr. Sindel reported that Sarah was growing not only Pseudomonas and Alcaligenes Xelodan, which is fairly normal for her, but something different called Trichosporum. However, after further research, Danielle is also growing all three, but her pulmonary functions had improved with I.V antibiotics.
Sarah was admitted to the hospital on Monday, and being the CF Mom extrodinnaire that I am, I promptly got out my handy dandy laptop and googled Trichosporum. The information I read scared the willies out of me. Usually, cancer patients or patients with immune deficiencies contract this fungus. Thus, most of the articles were citing morbidity rates. I was absolutely beside myself. I did learn other helpful information about treatment options, but I was still so terrified that something awful was going to happen to my child.

Dr. Sindel ordered treatment with Voriconazole, which is an antifungal medication. After a couple of days, Sarah developed terrible itching and began breaking out in hives. Evidently, this can be a side effect of this medication. So, they changed her to Itraconazole in an oral medication. She is also taking I.V. antibiotics: Maxipime and Azactam.

And, we waited... Randy, Dan and Sarah's Dad, stayed at the hospital with Sarah on her last night. I was so relieved to get a phone call from him yesterday morning, as I blogged this entry, telling me she was being discharged. Danielle is still on I.V. antibiotics, but is currently under no treatment for the Trichosporum. She is scheduled to be seen at CF clinic on Monday, so we will address that issue then.

To further shake my foundation, in the midst of Sarah's hospitalization, I learned that my dear friend, "Mama Jane", had been in a terrible car accident and flipped her car three times. She had to be air lifted to USA Medical Center right near USA Women and Children's Center where Sarah was staying. I felt so fortunate to have been able to go see her in the hospital. She has a broken arm and a broken leg, but proclaimed that God was with her through the entire ordeal. She also said that three flips in a car makes for a really long conversation with God. I can only imagine! Thanks so much to the young men who stopped and pulled her from the car.

Emotionally, I was feeling so overwhelmed with fear and worry. I started feeling better Friday, but I really wasn't myself all week. Tears were apt to spill at any time, and fear gripped me in a way that I haven't known in so many years. And, I prayed. I have been in constant communication with God, but I continued to feel so far away. I just couldn't seem to get back in contact. I felt absolutely lost. I was reminded of the Bible story in which Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and was tempted by the devil. When he returned, He was stronger and ready to pursue his ministry. I suppose it was a choice for Him. Which life do I choose? Do I choose to live a spiritual life in faith and trust with the Father or die a non-spiritual death? Jesus, of course, chose the spiritual life in faith and trust. And, I suppose if Jesus took forty days to figure it out, why should I expect to be any quicker about it? Still, I wanted to have that peace and serenity. I don't like feeling afraid. And, I feel so responsible for the climate that is set for my girls. I want them to embrace the Truth of God's Healing rather than the seeming realness of all of these appearances.

So, yesterday, I wrote the above paragraphs right before leaving for Mobile. (I edited them a little today so they would make more sense in the current context.) I had to stop for gas prior to the drive. As I pulled into the Fast Track, a gentleman approached me and said, "Excuse me, ma'am. May I give you my testimony? It will only take a minute." I looked at the man, who was a tall, thin black man with gold on his front teeth. The initials "J" and "K" were carved into the gold. To the casual observer, we were from completely different worlds with nothing in common. It would have been so easy to judge, but given my current crisis of faith, I knew that I needed to hear testimony from somebody so I said, "Sure. I would love to hear your story." He introduced himself as John. John began telling me that his blood sugar dropped to 20 in June of this year. During this time, he had an experience in which he was visited by the Holy Ghost. He experienced a tingling sensation and was given a message that he was to share this healing with as many people as he could. He told me to read John 5:1. He also told me to keep on the "right side" of Jesus, as that is where the spear was inserted when he was on the cross. John said a lot of other things, but I really was just so overwhelmed that God had sent this angel to me at the precise time I needed him, that I couldn't absorb everything.

However, I got the message loud and clear. I understood that God is with me. God is Health. The girls continue to astound us all with their overall health and ability to live life in the face of the disease called cystic fibrosis. But, there are times when it is so scary... Keeping words of faith and health in my mind and mouth are precisely what I need to do during those times. Usually, I'm pretty good at keeping focused on God. This time, I allowed the fear to wash over me and drag me to a place where I couldn't feel God's presence at all.

Not feeling the presence, didn't mean that it wasn't there. Sarah's pulmonary functions improved while she was in the hospital. Both girls have a significantly decreased cough. Yesterday, Dan marched in the Gautier Christmas Parade with the rest of her bandie friends, and Sarah was miffed at me because I wouldn't let her march with her dance troupe. They wanted to go to Moss Point's Christmas by the River last night, but I insisted that we stay home because it was so cold. Still, my girls are ready to get back out and embrace life. And, I am proud of them for that... And, funny enough, that was Jesus' message conveyed in John 5:1-9:

The Healing at the Pool
1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.[b] 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 7"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." 8Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Now, curiously enough, because I sometimes get things backwards, and again, because I was so overwhelmed that God sent me an angel precisely when I needed him, I looked up John 1:5-9:

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[a] it.
6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.[b]

And, so, I learned some things about trust and faith. I also learned about that light within each of us... For today, know that the light in my heart bows to the light in your heart.