Seven Years

This morning, Kate woke up and said, “Mom, it’s the 13th and I’m sad.” This is the first time she’s acknowledged the anniversary of the car accident. This is good progress for Kate as she continues to grow in grief.

Anne before the accident

Anne after the accident

As Kate was crying, Canon offered these words of comfort…

When blacksmiths crafted swords thousands of years ago, when the sword was first made, the metal was very brittle. The blacksmith would dip the sword in fire and then in cold water over and over again until the metal was strong. It says in the Bible that God is with us in the fire. This is your fire, Kate. God is with you and he will use it to make you stronger.

God is with us in the fire. He is sovereign and good! We are thankful for God’s faithfulness to Anne and our family over the last seven years. We look forward to seeing how God’s goodness is revealed over the next seven years!

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

 

A Three-Year-Old’s Journey through Grief

This is a story that needs to be told. It’s intricate, subtle and beautiful. And hard to write. Bear with me…

The story starts with sadness. I opened the results to Anne’s neuropsychological evaluation which reported her IQ. I refuse to type the number, but in the out-dated standards, she would be labeled as an imbecile which would be one step below a moron. Words. They are so powerful. In this case, I purposed to put the number and its hurtful words aside. They do not define Anne. But the sadness lingered.

Reading Anne’s irrelevant IQ score helped crystallize a thought I had been struggling to grasp. I realized that behind Anne’s sharp-witted tongue is a little girl who, despite her changing body, will always be a little girl. Some parts of her brain have changed – but the innocent child remains. Anne will never stop saying, “I love you, Mommy,” in her sweet, sing-song way. This is my greatest joy and my deepest sadness.

This is the backdrop for the typical Sunday evening when I was kissing my two girls good-night. My 10-yr-old daughter, Kate, shares a bedroom with Anne. Kate’s journey through grief has been complicated and incomplete. As a three-year-old, her tiny mind struggled to reconcile the truth of Anne’s condition. Kate went through a stage believing that Anne would recover completely. A few years ago, this lie exploded into many healthy tears as she accepted that Anne would always be physically disabled. But Kate wasn’t ready to accept that Anne would be cognitively different. So for years, Kate coped with her brain-injured sister by thinking that she was the same in every way as her – except that she couldn’t walk.

Imagine the hurt that piled into Kate’s heart as I, her mom, comforted Anne first in every sisterly argument. I didn’t know. I had no idea the stories Kate weaved in her mind to cope with her loss.

Until that Sunday evening.

Kate and Anne had argued. I comforted Anne first. I always do. Kate should know better, right?

This night, God gave Kate the words that opened my eyes. She said, “Mom, it hurts me when you comfort Anne first.” And then I understood. I saw the tangled stories in Kate’s heart. God used my sadness over Anne’s IQ report to speak truth to Kate.

Kate, if you were a mom and you had two daughters – a five-year-old and a ten-year-old – and both were crying, who would you comfort first?

Kate, not understanding the implication, simply answered, “The five-year-old.” Then I delivered the hard news, “Anne is like the five-year-old. She always will be.”

The truth is painful, but it is freeing. Kate’s heart burst and all the years of tangled stories to cope with her sister’s injury came tumbling out as gut-wrenching, grief-filled sobs. She doubled over in tears as her whole body convulsed. The loss was so palpable. So painful. She cried out in broken speech, “I want a regular sister. I miss my regular sister.” And she sobbed – healthy, cleansing tears.

This is what the bottom of grief looks like for a three-year-old girl who lost her typical sister. Seven years later, she accepted the truth. Her sister is like a five-year-old child with a teenager’s sharp wit. Anne is complicated- just like Kate’s grief.

Now begins the hard work of back-filling Kate’s heart with the truth that I love her just as much as Anne – even when I comfort Anne first. It will be a slow, complicated work, but it is based on the solid ground of truth. No more stories. No more three-year-old coping strategies. Kate can peel away her three-year-old self and walk forward on the bare, stone ground of truth. We’ll rebuild her heart – one warm word and hug at a time.

Saturday Extracurriculars

Most of my friends spend Saturdays with their families…soccer games in the fall, baseball games in the spring. Some swim all year long or attend gymnastics meets every weekend.

My typical daughter, Kate, would love to play soccer in the fall and spring, go to dance-lessons 3 nights a week AND be a competitive gymnast. Her energy and drive amaze me. But our family isn’t able to live at the same pace as typical families.

We are able to participate in one extra-curricular activity per season. Kate was in gymnastics in the fall. Canon played basketball in the winter. And Anne is in robotics therapy this spring. This is how I spend my Saturday mornings – watching Anne in CHOA’s multi-million dollar robotics lab!

This is not the typical “extra-curricular activity,” but it is for our family! Even though I know this is what is best for Anne, I still struggle with guilt. I worry that I’m cheating Kate out of opportunities that would develop her natural athletic ability.

All families struggle – our struggles are just different than the typical family. But the joys far outweigh the struggles. I just hope Kate feels the same way.

Valentine’s Rant

Valentine’s Day is not at the top of my list of favorite holidays. Its saccharine commercialism turns my cynical stomach. Besides, I’m a middle school teacher, and we middle school teachers KNOW that it is best to avoid all references to romantic love of any kind!

So. I forgot all about Valentine’s Day. Which is not good when you have kids in elementary school. In case you didn’t know, there is an unwritten rule that says that all elementary school-aged children must bring every classmate a special valentine – preferably with candy attached.

This day started as usual – with me waking Anne up early to get ready to catch the bus. Anne’s first words to me were, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy!” This is from the girl who struggles with memory and knowing the days of the week. She confuses “yesterday” and “tomorrow” on a regular basis. But she knew it was Valentine’s Day. She then asked to wear her “love” shirt to school. “You know the one, Mommy – the blue shirt with L-O-V-E spelled out with arrows!!” Really? Who knew Anne loved Valentine’s Day so much?!

I felt like a total mom-failure when I realized that I would be sending my Valentine-loving-Anne to school with NO VALENTINES. How does this happen? How do I forget a MAJOR HOLIDAY?! Anne’s sister, Kate, was not happy with me when she realized that she would be hand-writing each Valentine on note cards on the way to school. No fancy-schmancy store-bought cards for the Jackson girls. It’s hand-written or nothing!

Oh… In case I forget,  Happy Valentine’s Day ;)

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Silly Jackson Girls

Ordinary Moments

This morning, I was reading in my bedroom and I could hear Kate and Anne talking in the living room. Anne was confiding in Kate the way typical sisters do.

“Kate, my friend at school can walk. She doesn’t have a wheelchair like me. I don’t want this brain injury anymore.”

“I’m sorry Anne.”

“Please don’t ever leave me, Kate.”

Then I heard giggles, whispering and Kate’s footfalls approaching my bedroom. “Mom, can I make pancakes for me and Anne?”

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This is my view…Anne in her chair watching Kate work in the kitchen. An ordinary moment between sisters.

The ordinary moments are beautiful. They aren’t frenzied, anxious or forced. They remind me of God’s grace – often overlooked in these ordinary moments of life.

God’s mercies are new every morning!

Anne Unfiltered

Anne has very little ability to filter her own thoughts. This results in her complimenting strangers and interrupting conversations. Most of the time, she is delightful, but then there are episodes like today…

This morning, I started a new adventure in our new church – teaching a 5th grade leadership/discipleship class. My experienced co-leader warned me that this year’s class could be the biggest EVER. Kate and Anne – both being 5th graders – get to have me as their teacher. Lucky them ;)

Anne, Kate and I arrived early to church to welcome the 5th graders to class. Imagine my surprise when TWENTY NINE crazy kids showed up. Consequently, I decided to begin the year with a serious talk about behavior expectations ;) As I began my spiel, literally, as if she had planned it, Anne began SCREAMING at me. Seriously. Screaming. “Stupid, mom! I want a snack!!” Kate tried to calm her down which only made Anne madder…”KATE, STOP. I HATE YOU KATE!”

There I was – with 29 pairs of eyes staring at me – right in the middle of me trying to act all strict when my own daughter started yelling. This is what “No Filters” looks like sometimes.

I made a silly quip about how Anne was demonstrating how “Not To Behave” and gave her one of my mean “mom” looks. Miraculously, Anne calmed down. Just a few minutes later, Anne raised her hand when I asked why we needed to show respect to others. She said, “Because if you disrespect others, you are not obeying the Holy Spirit which lives inside of you and helps you to follow God.” Wow. Good Answer. This is also what “No Filters” looks like sometimes.

We survived church and had a relatively quiet Sunday. But tonight, as I was getting her ready for a bath, Anne said,

“Jesus has a good plan for my brain injury. When things are at their darkest that’s when I have to believe the most.”

This profound thought was sandwiched between excitement over new bath toys and wondering whether she had to go to school the next day. Just another thought in an unfiltered day.

I wonder what I would look like “unfiltered.” That is a very scary thought! Most of my thoughts center around myself or are critical of others. I have small moments of thankfulness and/or God-focused thoughts – but not as many as Anne.

In some ways, I believe Anne’s brain injury is an asset. She’s not self-absorbed or bound by the fear of what others will think of her. In other words, she is not encumbered by self-consciousness.

I think Anne’s secret to an unfiltered life is that there’s less of herself to get in God’s way. He works through her more powerfully, because she surrenders herself so effortlessly. I get to see ALL of her joy, sadness, anger, wonder, disappointment and excitement. It is beautiful to me – because she is wrapped in the fragrance of Jesus.

Celebrating Kate

A few nights ago, after all the kids were tucked away in their beds and I was reading in my big cushy chair in my room, I heard the pit-pat of little feet on the stairs. They were too light to be Canon’s, and since Anne hasn’t gone pit-pat on the stairs for years, I knew it was Kate.

Kate was holding the old picture of Anne – the one with eyes bright – a picture from before. And Kate was crying. “I miss Anne, mommy. I miss my big sister.”

I opened my arms and was thankful as she climbed up in my lap and I held her and let her cry.

Kate has a difficult job. She has to flit between the roles of big and little sister depending on Anne’s mood and circumstance. When Anne needs help, Kate has to switch to big sister role. When Anne wants to play, Kate switches back to little sister and lets Anne direct their play. Sometimes Kate gets it wrong, and Anne gets mad. But most of the time, Kate gets it right. It’s amazing, really.

That night, Kate was tired of the dance. She just wanted her big sister back. She missed the ease of just being.

As I held her, it occurred to me that Kate was especially crafted for this dual-role. So I lifted her chin and looked into her eyes, and this is what I said…

Kate, you are the only person in the world who could be Anne’s sister. God created you in such a way to be able to be both Anne’s little sister AND her big sister. He gave you a sensitive, nurturing spirit. But he also made you fun! You are both responsible and playful, nurturing and joyful. That is a rare combination. God knew before you were born that you would be born into a family that would need you…You are the perfect sister for Anne!

Those words brought life to little Kate’s eyes. She asked me, “Could Natalie or Shaylyn be Anne’s sister?” (Natalie and Shaylyn are Kate’s very sweet friends.) “No! Only you, Kate. God made YOU to be Anne’s sister, and nobody else, not even Natalie or Shaylyn could do it as well as you.”

Kate smiled and looked at Anne’s picture with a new perspective. She kissed me goodnight and practically skipped up the stairs. For now, she’s found her purpose, and she is full.

Here’s a video of Kate imitating “cups.” She spent hours practicing to be able to do this (the inspiration for her efforts is below)! If you listen closely, you can hear Anne singing along in the background. Normally, I wouldn’t post a random family video on Anne’s blog, but I just wanted to celebrate Kate :)

Kate’s grief

Kate. She was only three when the accident happened. And she’s had tearful moments, but tonight – I think she faced the truth.

The truth that her sister will always be different, and the truth that her life changed dramatically on that sunny day in April. She misses her sister.

As she was crying – deep, guttural, painful sobs – I knew her pain. The sadness is so heavy you feel like you can’t breathe. My sweet Kate.

And then there’s Canon – who bravely walked through grief at the ripe, old age of seven. I listened as he quoted Scripture to Kate…

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7).

And then he explained, “Kate, God gives us hard things in life because he loves us and he wants us to be more like Him. It’s just like a spanking – it hurts, but it makes us better people.”

Sweet AnneAnd Kate cried and held the old picture of Anne. The one where she’s smiling with her whole mouth and her eyes are bright and full. And Kate cried and cried. And she went up to lay next to Anne and Kate cried and cried some more. And then I took Kate and put her in her bed. The bed next to Anne’s. And I laid down with her – and heard her sobs turn to whimpers and slowly her breathing calmed – and she was asleep. Sweet sleep. Sweet Kate. Heavy grief.

Anne Kate high quality

Anne & Kate then (ages 5&3)

Anne & Kate now (ages 8 & 6)

Anne & Kate now (ages 8 & 6)

Sister love

Sister love

What God has prepared…

Today, as Kate and I picked up Anne from school, Kate listened to Anne’s teacher give a good report on Anne’s day. Kate said,
Great job, Anne!!! …even with your brain injury!” Kate was sincerely proud of Anne – but Anne responded as she always does – truthfully with no filters…

I hate that brain injury… That stupid brain injury. I just want it to go away!
-Anne

Anne has not lost her sass! Her spunk made me laugh :) I feel the same way as Anne. And you know what… I think God agrees and can’t wait for us to see Anne made whole in heaven!

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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.