Shared Suffering

“What doesn’t tear you apart will make you stronger.” I think I’ve read something like that once…

There’s nothing quite so sublime as to share suffering with another. Eric is the only person this side of heaven who understands the pain of the last 5+years. It is a shared suffering.

There was a time that the pain of Anne’s brain injury was so intense that it could not be shared but only endured. But now, as time and experience have numbed the sharp pain of loss, we have regained the capacity to carry one another’s burdens. This sharing of burdens is a door into deeper “oneness.” For Eric is the only one who knows the depth of loss and indescribable joy.

If shared suffering is our glue, then God is our rock. We stand on his sovereignty. We trust that all that led us to this present – the accident, the suffering, Anne’s recovery, and her new life – are all part of God’s perfect plan, not just for Anne, but for our whole family.

Somehow, we believe the accident saved us from ourselves – that God is using Anne’s brain injury and recovery to change the course of our lives for the better – even Anne’s life! For as hard as it is for her to live with a brain injury, for all the ridicule that she receives from her peers or the frustration she endures at not being able to control her own body, we trust that she is closer to Jesus because of it. And so are we – Eric, me, Canon and Kate – we are closer to Jesus. And we are grateful.

Years from now when Canon and Kate are gone, Eric and I will still have Anne. Sweet Anne. She is our glue. But we stand on our rock. Thank you Jesus.

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19 years later…

Today is my birthday. I don’t write this to elicit tons of birthday wishes. I just want to savor the day.

20 years ago, I was 24 and very sad. I felt like a failure because I was still living at home…an over-achiever with two college degrees – but not a clue what to do with my life.

But what a difference a year makes!

By my 25th birthday, I had secured a satisfying job as a high school science teacher and in my spare time, I was spending lots of time with Eric, my future husband :)

However, at that time, my relationship with Eric was complicated – mainly because he was the primary caregiver to his mom, who was suffering from brain cancer. For the previous two years, she had fought valiantly – enduring experimental treatments, but two months before my birthday, the tumor had returned, and she waved her white flag. In the months leading up to my 25th birthday, she stayed in bed – limited by the growing tumor. But on February 24th, 1996, she made a decision to celebrate me.

As soon as my work-day ended, I drove to Eric’s condo where he lived with his mom and brother. She had ordered her sons to go to the grocery store to prepare for my birthday. I walked in to see yellow roses and store-bought cupcakes. She was sitting on the living-room sofa. This was the last time I saw her out of bed. She would die at home, four months later.

Fast forward 19 years and this is still my favorite birthday memory. Eric’s mom didn’t know me long, but she instinctively knew I was the future-wife of her first-born son. Her name was Anne. Our precious Anne is her namesake. I’m so thankful for Eric’s mom!

Happy 44th birthday to me. I’m sure Eric’s mom is celebrating from heaven, cheering on her precious Anne, laughing with Kate and being proud of Canon. I can’t wait to see her again!

The fight for our marriage

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I took this picture in church this morning (when I should have been listening to the prayer!) It absolutely melts my heart. Eric is the best of the best. I’m so thankful to be married to him… But our marriage has been severely tested since the accident…

I now understand why so many marriages crumble after tragedy – especially if the tragedy concerns your children. The grief is so heavy that it can take all of your energy just to get through the day. There is rarely emotional energy left over to connect with your spouse.

The problem is compounded by the fact that everyone grieves differently. Yes, I know most people go through the five stages of grief, but people go through the stages at different rates. The wife might be stuck in denial while the husband is in the anger phase. One spouse might get to acceptance quickly while the other stays in depression for years.

Meanwhile the marriage suffers because it just takes so much more effort than it used to – and who has that much energy? It’s definitely easier to give up than to fight to sustain the marriage.

But I married someone who refuses to give up. My grief after Anne’s accident was so thick at times that it would have been easy to give up, but Eric was committed to pursue me, and God gave us the grace to fight.

Now that we’ve been through our darkest days and come out on the other side together, I figured it was time to celebrate! So for Eric’s birthday, I gave him 12 pre-planned date nights* – one for each month of the next year. Every date is different. Some are extravagant and others are just simple nights at home – but every reservation has been pre-made and pre-paid, so we have no excuse… we must go!

Eric's birthday present

Eric’s birthday present

Our first date was last night. We went to the Atlanta Fish Market and then to the Aquarium. Eric said afterwards that it was rejuvenating, and that was my hope…. that as we take time to have fun together, this will give us energy to manage our little family – because parenting is harder now. Well… Everything is harder now. But that just makes life richer :)

Here’s to a great year, and the fight for a great marriage!

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*And by the way… I stole the “date-night” idea from a friend’s Pinterest Board. Here’s the original link :)

All things new

Eric was reading to Anne from the “The Jesus Storybook Bible” again. Tonight’s story was from Revelation and it described heaven…

Anne got real excited and said, “When I go to heaven I want to be a doctor because if anybody that’s sick goes to heaven, when they get there, I’ll make them well again. I will take their temperature and tell them that they’re okay and that will make them soooooo happy.”

And then she changed her mind… “No, I want to be a teacher in heaven.”

But then she said something profound… “But Daddy, what I really want to be when I get to heaven is… ‘me.’ I want to be the ‘old Anne’ when I get to heaven. Daddy, will I get to be the ‘old Anne’ when I get to heaven?”

Wow. What would you say? This is an interesting question. One that I’ve thought about often. Yes, Anne will have a new body in heaven, but her spirit – or soul – will have the effects of having to live with a disability on this earth. Her character will be refined and strengthened from the hardship of having a brain injury. She will be beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

But I wasn’t with Anne when she asked this question… Eric was. And I think his answer was perfect. Eric said,

No, you won’t be the “old Anne” in heaven. God makes all things new. You will be made new!

I like that. Don’t you?

Bedtime Prayers

Eric puts Anne to bed every night, and each night he prays the same prayer…

God, please give Anne self control, please be in her heart and please help her to be helpful.

And each night Anne prays too. Her prayers are typically silly, off-topic comments mixed with serious, profound requests. But tonight, she prayed…

God, please give me self control, please be in my heart and please help me to be helpful.

So sweet. And so essential. We know Anne needs God’s spirit to give her self control. We know Anne needs God’s spirit to live in her. We know that Anne needs God’s spirit to help her do the right thing. It’s just another example of how Anne is not so different than you and me :-)

Lost December

I’m just tired of being sad. This December, I sorta went into an apathetic shell. Thinking back, I think I was just protecting myself from the grief that comes around the holidays. But that shell just got sandblasted. I just need to learn that it is okay to be sad during December.

In 30 short minutes, a new year will be here, and I feel a bit sad. But I’ll say that sadness is a notch better than apathetic, because at least I’m feeling something :-)

But don’t worry. God is here. He always is.

May Anne continue to make progress in 2013! And here is my list of “gratefuls” for 2012.

Key Lime Pie
Good neighbors
Anne’s crooked smile
Eric’s job
Canon’s enthusiasm
Special time with Kate
Therasuit Therapy
Erin and Stacy at church
French Horns… (I love the melancholy tone of a french horn)
Late night movie watching with Eric
My Wednesday bible study group
Mrs. Bush (Anne’s para-pro)
my new iPhone

and finally… the story of Joseph (from the Bible).

God is good. Happy New Year.

Kate is six.

Today is Kate’s sixth birthday. To be frank, I’ve been very sad in the weeks leading up to this day. The old Anne never reached this milestone. On her sixth birthday, she was struggling to write the letter “A.” Kate has perfect, beautiful handwriting and can read 2nd-grade-level-chapter-books.

Oh, I know that comparing is futile. But I wonder if Anne will ever get to where Kate is right now – at the ripe old age of 6. After many tears, I’ve come to the conclusion that Anne is on her own track… Her “progress” can’t be measured by the typical standardized tests. She is measured using a different standard – a “Kingdom of God” standard. She might not be able to read and write as well as Kate, but she’s good at encouraging others. She can’t walk on her own, but she is tender-hearted and kind (well, most of the time ;-)

And because of Anne’s disability, Kate has the opportunity to advance in “Kingdom” lessons too…. like sacrifice and patience.

We celebrated the stuffins’ out of Kate’s birthday today. We did and ate all of her favorite things – surrounded by all of her favorite people. Ironically, we celebrated Anne’s sixth birthday with the same people. This is what Eric wrote about that day:

This morning Anne was surrounded by the Bratcher and McKinney girls – they all loved on her and cuddled with her and talked to her. God had a good plan before the foundations of the earth and in that plan included a morning such as this – all for little Anne – just to bless her and show me that HE cares about even the little things, and especially Anne.

I could write the same thing about Kate today! Though Kate and Anne share different skills and strengths, they have one vital thing in common – they both have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, and He has a good plan for each of them. They are both good… just different :-)

A conversation with daddy…

Our “new” Anne is very different than our “old” Anne, but some of those differences are good… Anne has much more freedom of expression, and she has been much happier lately. When she’s happy, she squeals… literally, she squeals with delight! This is a conversation that Eric had with Anne during one of her “squealing” sessions…

Eric: Anne, God has shown me something about you.

Anne: What daddy?

Eric: God has given you the gift of joy.

Anne: But daddy, my name means “grace.”

Eric: You’re right! It is by God’s grace that He has enabled you to have much joy!

Anne’s joy in the midst of struggle is a picture of God’s amazing grace to us!!! That’s something to squeal about :-)

Happy Anniversary…

to me!

Eric and I are celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary today. I confess, I’m not that great at celebrating. I’ve always been a bit boring in that category – or maybe I should spin it as “low maintenance.” Yeah, that sounds better :-)

Mile markers are healthy. I’m thankful I was blissfully oblivious to God’s plan for us when we married that day. Thankfully, tragedy hasn’t split us apart, and we continue to fight to stay connected.

This week is marked by a different type of celebration though… a much sadder type. Eric’s grandmother, we believe, is living the last few days of her life under hospice care. She is 96 years old, so we are thankful for her long and full life! Eric was always especially close to his grandmother. He has spent too many hours bedside… First was his mom (named Anne), who died at home after years of fighting brain cancer. Then there was our second little Anne – and all the hours wondering if she would die too – and now his grandmother.

Years after his mom died, I was sorting through her old photographs and found a picture of Eric in his college days. She had hand-written on the back, “My sweet Eric.” …my sentiments exactly!