Second Chance

Have you ever wished for a second chance at something?  I am sure that I have wanted chances at many things throughout life, but I trust that the Lord granted me the chances (and second ones) that were best for me and that provided the opportunity to do what He desired for me to do.

Last year, I got my second chance at thanking my former pediatrician for the care he gave me.  Dr. Hamburg had been my pediatrician ever since I was a little girl.  He happened to be gone on vacation the week that I became incredibly ill.  I lay in the hospital slowly dying while various doctors tried to figure out what was going on with me.  My mom told me that as soon as Dr. Hamburg arrived back in town, he immediately came up to the hospital, read my chart, took one look at me, and then panicked.  He quickly ordered a CT scan which revealed a mass in my abdomen.  This in turn led to exploratory surgery to find what was believed to be a mass.  The mass was actually my uterus which was extremely swollen and filled with massive infection.  Dr. Hamburg also called in a new ob/gyn surgeon with wonderful credentials to perform the life-saving surgery.

I know, or at least, firmly believe that if he would have waited just a few days to return to the “office” after his vacation, I would have never made it.  There were many hands that touched me during that time and all of them played a part in saving my life.  However, I know Dr. Hamburg did not accept not knowing what was wrong.  He hastily came to the hospital and did not stop until he found the reason why his otherwise very healthy patient lay withering away.

That is the back story of Dr. Hamburg.  I also want to share what I believe is the Lord’s gifting of a second chance for me.  Here it is….

My first chance at something I had wanted to do happened at a local grocery story about a year and a half ago.  I looked up while pushing my cart around and saw my former pediatrician, Dr. Hamburg, shopping.  I studied him closely.  He is probably close to 80-years-old now and even though I knew it was him, I just wanted to be sure.  While I was trying to get the nerve up to go talk to him, I lost sight and, like that, he was nowhere to be found.  I hastily walked from aisle to aisle looking for him but could not find him.  My chance at telling this doctor who had a huge part in saving my life was gone.

As I walked out of the store, I felt the Lord saying to me “Caroline!  I gave you the perfect opportunity and you blew it!”  Oh my…I am sure our Heavenly Father just wants to throw His hands up sometimes with frustration!  I know this is something that He wanted me to do.  I have felt so led in the past few years to reconnect with pivotal people in my life who were in the trenches with me and my family during and after my hysterectomy.

The rest of the night and several days…okay months…passed and I could not get Dr. Hamburg out of my mind.  Last summer while heading into a store I looked up and there he was carrying a bag of groceries to his car.  I walked past with my sunglasses on so that I could give him one last look just to make sure.  As I was getting closer to the door of the grocery store, I realized this was the second chance I had been hoping for.

I immediately turned around and scurried as fast as I could to his car.  Nervously, I walked up and said “Excuse me, are you Dr. Hamburg?”  He said “yes”.  I then said “I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Caroline and I was one of your patients.”  He studied my face closely, but did not seem to be quite sure of whom I was.  He then said “How are you?” I said “I’m doing really well.”  He said “You have a sister right? How is she?”  I said “Yes I do. She’s doing well.”  He then introduced me to his granddaughter.  Now at this point, I could tell it was about to get awkward as he just kept searching my face trying to recall who I was.

I took a deep breath and said to him “I don’t know if you remember this but I am the girl who had the hysterectomy when I was eleven.”  In a split second, he turned and looked at his granddaughter and then looked back at me with an expression of “aha” mixed with excitement and concern at the same time.  I said “Dr. Hamburg, I am so glad I ran into you because I want to thank you.  I know that you played a very big part in saving my life.  And, I just want to let you know how grateful I am for this.  You saved my life.”

Of course, by this time, tears were streaming down my face.  I looked at him and his eyes that were filled with wisdom from the years began to well up with tears that eventually made their way to his cheeks.  He leaned forward and hugged me saying “thank you”. As I told him about being the mother of two wonderful children adopted out of foster care, he just stood there, staring, with tears rolling down.  His granddaughter was smiling from ear to ear.  We said our goodbyes and I turned around to enter the store.  I felt like I was flying.  My heart and mind were so excited, thankful, emotional, and in awe of what just occurred.  

I am so incredibly thankful for the second chance God gave me to run into Dr. Hamburg again.  I don’t even know if chance is the right word though.  I have learned through the years that nothing really happens by chance after all.  I believe that  our Heavenly Father is and always will be the creator of opportunities, and the writer of those golden moments where we can shine for Him, show love, and express thankfulness for the works He set His children to do on this Earth.

PSALM 107:1

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.

Best Teacher Ever

Here in my little corner of the world, school is getting ready to start back in session.  My son will begin kindergarten this year and, needless to say, I’m filled with excitement and a little bit of dread all wrapped up together.  We get to meet his teacher next week and I hope I see in her or him the kind of energy my son thrives on and that every parent desires for their children’s teachers.  I do know one thing though, the school district will be missing a great teacher and counselor this year.

Mr. Martin retired at the end of the 2011/2012 school year after 30+ years of teaching and counseling kids.  He was my 6th grade teacher and turned out to be one of the best teachers I have ever had.  I remember getting him for my 6th grade year and being so excited about it.  Male teachers seemed to be a little bit of a rarity back in the early 80’s.  Looking like he had just stepped off the college campus and into our classroom, it was always exciting to see how he was going to try to teach us.

I became ill early in the school year.  The morning that my illness struck, Mr. Martin noticed that my color was not right.  I was normally a talkative girl, but on that day, I was quiet and different.  He sent me to the nurse’s office to be checked out and the decision was made to call my mother.  Not long after this, I was in the ER and, of course, the rest of my story unfolded.

Mr. Martin came to the hospital nearly every day after school to check on me and keep me up to date on school work.  He was ever-present and truly wanted to know what was happening and if I was recovering.  He provided support to my parents and family members as well.  If it had not been for him I would probably have had to repeat the 6th grade.  After all, I was only in school less than a week or two before I became ill.  I ended up missing between nine and twelve weeks of school due to it.

He tutored me while in the hospital and at home while I was recovering.  I laid in bed the whole time while he read the lesson plans to me.  He would stay at least an hour at a time twice per week.  I was so ill that I do not specifically remember each time he was there, but I just knew he was.  It is like my subconscious has always known.  The image of this teacher sitting by the bedside to teach a gravely ill child brings tears to my eyes.  How lucky I was to have him.

During my recovery, he gave me the book “The Littlest Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as an assignment to read and write a report on.  Inside the front cover, he wrote a note to me that this book had always been special to him and to make sure I paid attention to what the fox says.  I remember reading the book and writing my report but to be honest, I really did not understand it fully.

Many years later, I found the book among the trinkets of my childhood and reread the conversation between the fox and the little prince. “Goodbye,” said the fox.  “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so he would be sure to remember.  “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” “It is the time I have wasted for my rose” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.  “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.  “But you must not forget it.  You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.  You are responsible for your rose….”  “I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember. 

A few years ago, I met with Mr. Martin at his school.  It had been nearly 30 years ago since everything happened.  I had run into him from time to time throughout the years, and gave him the standard and very brief update that I was doing well and what my job was at the time, but I really did not discuss much.  This time though, I purposefully sought him out.  He is a part of my memories of this time in my life.  It would be an incomplete history without him.

I asked him why he assigned The Little Prince for me to read.  He said, “It is a book that was always special to me and has meaning that translates to different moments.”  It is not just a book about survival, but a book about overcoming and transcendence.  I get it.  I may not have gotten it as a child, but I get it now and what great insight and foresight he had to assign this book to me.  I now see the great meaning behind seeing truth with the heart and not the eyes.  My rose, the one that I am responsible for, the one that I have spent time on, the one that I have tamed is really not a rose at all.  It is the way I have handled my life – the goodness and the tragic.  I am responsible for all of it the rest of my life.  My rose is myself.

I learned that the other children asked about me and were told I was recovering from surgery, but were not aware of all the details.  He described me as being girly, but like a little tough bull and seeing me one day like this, and the next minute close to death was difficult.  He recognized that I had to deal with adult issues and that “strange time” of my life was taken from me.  By strange time, he meant when our bodies are changing and puberty is starting.

The most important thing for me to accomplish when meeting him was to tell him that he was the one teacher I will never forget.  He was the teacher who showed care, kindness, and empathy to me and my family during a very difficult time.  We all have that one teacher who inspired us, who mentored us, or who held us accountable.  Mr. Martin was all of these things, but for vastly different reasons.  I could see how it would have been easy to either totally disengage while I was in the hospital or to just pass me along out of sympathy, but he did not do this.

He got paid a stipend for tutoring me and with the money he bought a clock for his mantle. He told me he would have never let anyone else teach me, and regardless of where I needed to go, he would have followed me.  The clock, kindly referred to as “Caroline’s Clock”, still sits on the mantle of his fireplace.  His family knows this and refers to it by my name as well.

Mr. Martin’s teachings were more than just academic.  His actions showed more to me than any school lesson he could have taught.  When we talked about this time back in our lives, both of our eyes welled up.  I had been wanting to reach out to him for years and let him know how thankful I was and still am for what he did.  When I told him how I felt, he responded “a part of teaching is showing your heart and once in a while a person or kid comes along that is special that you share your heart with, and you were one of those persons.”

I think he basically summed up why he was the best teacher I ever had and why he has left an endearing imprint on my heart and life, and I am sure, on the hearts and lives of many other children he has taught.

Happy Retirement, Mr. Martin.  Thank you for the positive influence you have made in the lives of hundreds of children throughout the years.

 

Room 452

Envelope kept from my hospital stay in ’83

Room 452 is where my life lay in the balance back in 1983.  The beeps of machines and buzz of nurses and doctors scurrying in and out of this room were a stark contrast to the isolating existence of being stowed away in the hospital.  In this room, prayers were said, tears were shed, lives were changed, and courage was shown.  In this room, a miracle occurred – the miracle of my life being brought back from the thin edge of death.

My mom kept every note, card, picture, and letter sent to me while in the hospital struggling to survive the ravenous bacteria that had already killed my uterus, right Fallopian tube, and right ovary before the doctors discovered it.  It was working its way to my bladder and throughout my abdomen when found….just in the nick of time.  Looking through these mementos of that fragile time makes me realize how very fortunate I am.

Of course, I am extremely blessed to be sitting here typing my story.  I am also even more encouraged by the faithful loving Father who gifted me with the adoption of my children despite the barrenness that entered my life.  But, I am not talking about these things when realizing how fortunate I am.  I am talking about the kindness, encouragement, generosity, compassion, and faith-driven prayers that were lifted up to our Father in Heaven in room 452.

The notes from my schoolmates were all very sweet and humorous.  They still show the type of innocence that made up typical eleven and twelve-year-old’s back in 1983.  Their wishes for a speedy recovery and for me to get back to school to play paled in comparison to how desperately ill I really was.  While I enjoy glancing through these scribbled and colorful letters, I find myself most moved by the cards and notes from adults.

Several of the cards and notes were from adults with-whom I had never met.  They were friends of my parents, friends of my extended family, and other adults who had become aware of a girl whose life had just been turned upside down.  These loving letters were sent to lift my spirits while they lifted me up to the Lord.

Years ago the wife of the doctor who performed my surgery disclosed that she led a small prayer vigil in her home that fateful night in 1983 when her husband had to perform one of the most difficult tasks in his medical career and adult life.  Again, there was a group of adult strangers tucked away pleading with the Lord to bring me through the surgery and for complete healing.  It blessed me immensely to hear she this.  I know the surgery greatly affected her husband as well.  He will always be one of my “angels on Earth”.

I do believe that prayer is quite simply one of the most authentic ways that Christians can express their beliefs in a loving, powerful God.  It is a mighty powerful thing, and I believe that the Lord listened to the cries of those who loved me during those days and nights while I fought to survive. It continues to make an incredible impression on me twenty-nine years later when coming across prayerful messages jotted down and sent to me during that time.

My life was forever changed in room 452.  My life was greatly impacted by my name being whispered to Heaven by the lips of adults.  As an adult now, I hope that I do not fail in lifting up children to the Lord.

In a world where it seems that children are the last things on politicians, leaders, and adults minds, we need to commit ourselves to being mindful of their futures.  We need to pray for this generation of young ones growing up in a fast pace, quick fix, and digital world.  Children need this now more than ever.

I wonder how many lives could be changed if Christians remembered to pray with purpose and passion for youth of this world.  It matters to people to know they are being prayed for.  There may not be a room 452 where a child needs prayer.  It could be in a hut, one room apartment, mansion, or even a street.  Will you commit yourself to lifting up children to the Lord?  You never know what kind of eternal impact can be made in the life of just one child in need.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Mother’s Resilience

During Mother’s Day weekend, one might expect me to write about my adoption experience and the incredible love I have for my kiddos. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on my own mother. Mom is quiet, doesn’t seek attention; yet, strong. She is stronger than she gives herself credit for being. She is also faithful and fiercely loyal. It was not until I became a momma that I realized her resiliency, courage, and unselfishness.

To say I was blessed growing up is an understatement. My childhood home was often filled with the smell of sugary sweetness from mom’s baked goodies. It was fairly common to have homemade French toast waiting for me when I woke up. I did not just have a mother; she was a “mommy”. Often, she would be waiting after school to walk me home, after having made a sweet surprise that would greet me when I got there. Fresh brownies, hand-made ice cream sandwiches, and sugar cookies drizzled with icing that spelled out my name were all part of the wonderment of my mom’s love through her baking. I would collapse onto the soft couch with a morsel of something delicious, feeling the love and comfort of home. It does a child good to feel as though she is the center of someone’s universe.

My mom, though reserved, was also very much liked by the kids in the neighborhood and dance studio. Girls would stay the night with me and thoroughly enjoy the vast array of mom’s meals and desserts. I just assumed every mother was like my mom. Although on a tight budget, I never went without anything. She often bought second hand clothes for herself, so I would have the best. My hair was always fixed, clothes clean and ironed if needed, and shoes matching… Mom took pride in taking care of my needs.

Life was pretty normal for us until my illness at the age of eleven. Now, I’m not talking just a little sick. I’m talking going from running in the countryside while visiting my uncle at his farm to facing certain death. A week passed by and all my mom or the doctors knew was that I was dying from massive infection. Exploratory surgery had to be completed to try and figure out what in the world was going on with me. They suspected cancer, but were not certain.

During the surgery, mom escaped off to a room and sat by herself for about three to four hours pondering the thought of losing me to cancer. She tried to prepare herself for the grim news. “How can it be?”, mom must have thought. It was so out of the blue. With the exception of the previous surgeries (appendectomy and adhesion’s), I had been healthy, active, adventurous, and full of life. How do parents truly prepare themselves for hearing the worst possible news about their child?

Once the surgery was over, mom was told devastating news. The doctors had to remove my uterus, Fallopian tubes, and right ovary. It was not cancer though. They had not figured out what type of bacteria it was or how I got it, but if left in, I would have died. Not long after she was told, she and my dad went off to a room by themselves and let out a wail. I wonder what this sounded like. It must have been one of those guttural sounds that come from deep pain…not just the ones you can hear, but ones you can feel. Yes, I was alive, but the impact of what had occurred was life-long.

Sometimes I close my eyes and picture mom and dad huddled in a sterile white hospital waiting room. They must have been holding on tightly to each other. I wonder if they were shaking out of anger, fear, or exhaustion…perhaps all of them out the same time. My seemingly normal life had just come to a screeching halt. It would never be the same. But, neither would theirs. Their daughter’s tragedy; their own parenting experience forever indented with sadness.

Three and half weeks passed by while I was in the hospital fighting the infection. Mom was there all of the time. She put on a brave face, smiled at me through her pain, and held my hand during those long days in the hospital. Her daughter went from being vibrant and energetic to lying in the hospital bed with one foot in this world and the other in Heaven. Yet, she never let me see her scared.

Mom was also grieving as she knew what the surgery meant for the rest of my life. It was more than just a brief illness that I would hopefully recover from. She grieved for the fact that something very special was taken away from me. People would try to tell her things or come up with “reasons”, but she was still trying to figure what the purpose of it all was. Yet, she knew it was important for my life to go on and for me have a sense of normalcy. This must have been difficult for her. She carried this burden by herself so that I could get back to being a pre-teen girl. I was not aware of the full gravity of the situation, but she was.

Mom fought to regain life for me. She made sure I went right back to doing the things I loved; dancing, socializing with friends, etc. However, the surgery did not just affect my life. Through my tragedy, she had to bear witness to and experience the impact of infertility. She too had just been dealt a huge blow. She would never have a biological grandchild. This must have saddened her. Yet, there she was strong, silent, and smiling.

Mom might say that I am the one who was the most resilient during that fateful time in my life. I definitely had the fight in me to survive. Yet, she’s the one who had to navigate raising a daughter who was unlike any other girls. She had to walk through life parenting a daughter who would never experience the joy of announcing a pregnancy, the surprise of finding out the gender, and the moment of seeing her child be born. My mom would also never hear the delightful words of “You’re going to be a grandma”. She would never be able to await anxiously to find out the gender. And, she would never have the opportunity to sit in a waiting room for hours before gazing upon her grandchild for the first time.

But, mom is also the one who modeled how to face the darkness with courage, how to look to the future, and how to seize control back from something that was totally out of control. She’s the one who held in her fears so that I would not absorb them. She’s the one who told me “if you want to achieve something, put your heart into it”. She’s the one who went right back to being the mommy who made home made goodies that brought great comfort and sacrificed her wants so that I would have the very best. She’s the one who never allowed herself to be victimized by this; thus, teaching me to not be a victim of my circumstance. And, she’s the one who didn’t run away from her faith in God.

So, mom, thank you for being resilient. Thank you for modeling to me that when life deals you a blow, you just get up, dust off, and walk strong. Thank you for showing and telling me that I was the most important thing in your world. Thank for you giving me security when the floor fell out from under me. I know your grandma experience started out different from others, so thank you for standing by and supporting me while we were foster parents, and for the love you give my children.

See mom? The Lord does work all things for good for those who believe in Him. My story didn’t end with infertility. Oh, it may have altered it. It may have brought doubts, anger, and tears. But, my story is now filled with love, hope, grace, faith, and your sweet grandchildren.

Happy Mother’s Day. I love you…Caroline