Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blessings and Mercies

It's been a tough few weeks to be away from home.  From illnesses to tornadoes, destruction and the death of a friend - I have never wanted to be home more.  For the sake of memory and the chance to just get it out, the following is an account of the past 3+ weeks.  This will be a pretty long post - you're welcome to click the post title and read it all if you want/have the time.  Otherwise, here is the point of it all:


I believe that through it all, God is still in control.  I believe that nothing that has happened in the last month has taken Him by surprise.  I believe and hold on to Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  I also believe that as deeply as I love my friends and family back home and want to comfort them, He loves them infinitely more than I ever could.  He is able to provide more comfort and peace than anything I could fathom.  I believe that even though I say "all I can do is pray", praying is the best and most important thing I can do to help in all of these situations.  I don't know why these things happen, but I know that somehow, someway God will use these trials for His good purpose.

There is a song that has been playing on the radio lately that has really hit home through all of this.  The final question of this song asks our Father, "What if trials of this life - the rain, the storms, the hardest nights - are your mercies in disguise?"

I have to believe, somehow, they are.




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From Holy Week to Now

Leading up to Holy Week - Emotionally I had been through the ringer and completely torn between my home here and my home in Alabama.  My specials team here at my school learned that we would be losing our PE teacher due to budget cuts next year.  This sent a shock through our entire campus because my sweet friend Karin was our Teacher of the Year and had just won a huge national award for our school because of her efforts to make us the nation's first Healthy Zone School.  We'll be getting $9000 over the next three years because of this!  Yet, she was let go and others were not.  We did not even get a say in who would be replacing her next year.  It was unjust and just sucks all the way around.  My team, our school, and especially our kids are hurt deeply - and that's nothing compared to how Karin feels and what she and her family have to deal with now.

In Alabama, our dear friends, the Gordons, were going through some rough trials as well.  Anna Gordon, the 23 year old daughter of Mrs. Pam Gordon (our favorite piano prof from UA) and Mr. Chris Gordon (the choir director at my family's church in Fayette) was still fighting for her life after having a second bone marrow transplant in hopes of ridding her of her Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  She was on and off the ventilator and deteriorating rapidly in front of her mom (who never left her side) and family.  It was absolutely heart breaking to hear her mother's updates and know that we could do nothing from here but pray.

April 22, Good Friday - After going back and forth from the hospital to the rehab wing of the nursing home multiple times since Jan 1, my grandma was admitted to the hospital again - this time with multiple blood clots in her lungs (one large one in her pulmonary artery).  My mom, an RN, hospital administrator and pastor had to rush to Cullman from a meeting in Tuscaloosa (without stopping at home first) to be with her.  (NOTE: Holy Week is the busiest week of the year for church workers - my poor mom had to miss the Good Friday service and still prepare an Easter sunrise service message!).  I couldn't help but worry as much, if not more, for my mom as I was for my grandma.

April 24, Easter Sunday - Another emotional day - but for good reasons.  I serve a risen Savior!  He conquered the grave!  This Sunday, I thought, was the boost I needed to shake off the trials of the previous week.  It was, instead, the bright spot and reminder I would need to make it through the following weeks.

Wednesday, April 27 - On my commute to work, I called home as usual (mornings are usually the one time of day I can catch both of my parents at home) but couldn't get through on the land line.  Instead I received a message that said something about service being temporarily unavailable in the area - not an uncommon message for cell phones considering where my parents live, but I've NEVER heard that for a land line.  Very strange.  I couldn't get through to my mom's cell, but was finally able to reach them on my dad's Linc phone.  My mom was very breathless when she picked up the phone and I immediately knew something was not right.  My stomach always flip-flops when someone begins a sentence with, "We're all ok, but . . ."

She said that phone lines were down across the state because a series of severe storms with high winds and tornadoes had been moving across the state that morning (with more on the way).  They had lost a few small trees, but nothing major.  My grandparents and uncle in Hanceville (Cullman County) had some damage and my uncle had trees on his house and vehicles.  Most schools in the area were cancelled either because of damage or the threat of more severe weather (this turned out to be one of the smartest things they could have done that day!).

I go on to work worried about and praying for my family and friends back home.  After school I called my dad for an update.  My mom was stuck at the hospital where she has to be present and on call during any weather emergency, and he and my sister were huddled in the neighbor's basement because there was a tornado on the ground heading for their area in the next half hour.  Then he recounted watching a live skycam feed of a tornado tearing through Cullman (his hometown) not long before I called.  The downtown area was destroyed and there were reports that it had hit the hospital where my grandma was staying.  At that point there was no word on injuries or the state of the hospital and, since land lines had been down all day, no one could get through to check on grandma.  I quickly told a few teacher friends to pray, called Brandon to tell him to watch the weather, and quickly headed to our house to join him.

Let me pause here to say that for anyone who grew up in Alabama, when there is an emergency or weather crisis happening, there is only one voice you want/need to hear, one voice that can calm you down, and one that you can trust with your life. That would be the world's best weatherman, James Spann.

Naturally, as soon as I got home, I pulled up his live feed on abc3340.com.  My original intent was to make sure my parents and sis were ok in Fayette.  Cell service was down again, but I learned that the tornado that had been aiming for them went south and instead hit several small communities and the little town of Berry.  While I was taking this in and trying to get more information on the Cullman hospital and my grandma, James Spann broke in with a live feed of a huge tornado just outside of Tuscaloosa.  Brandon and I immediately began facebooking/calling/texting our many many friends in the area telling them to take cover.  By then, ABC had switched to a live Tower Cam from the top of the federal courthouse in downtown Ttown (next door to the church where we were married).  We watched, live, as that monster went right through the middle of the town we once called home.  Once again, all we could do is pray.  Then the first damage reports started coming in . . . it was awful.

The reports from across the state from that day are gut-wrenching.  As of this past Wednesday, Gov. Bentley announced the death toll to be 238 for the state, with 41 in Tuscaloosa alone.  There are still people unaccounted for.

Amazingly, the lives of my family and friends were spared.  My grandma was safe (minus a large gash on her hand where it was caught between the bed and door as they tried to rush all the patients to safety during the storm).  Comparatively, my family had minimal damage.  Many of our friends in Tuscaloosa have extensive damage and a few completely lost their homes.  Our friends, the Gordons (yes, Anna Gordon's family) have major damage to their home and are living out of Anna's old apartment in Tuscaloosa right now.

My heart absolutely aches for my sweet home Alabama,my friends and my family.  I've never been more homesick than I am now.

May 3 - Once again, I call home on my way to work (though I'm getting pretty gun shy with all that has happened).  My sister answered the phone and told me that my mother wasn't home.  She had to go "rescue" our grandma during the night and they were now together in Fayette's hospital.  She didn't know the details and couldn't even tell me what room they were in.  After trying repeatedly to reach my mom on her cell, I called the hospital and was transfered to grandma's room.  My poor mother answered and sounded utterly exhausted.  She recounted what had happened.

Since Cullman's hospital was overflowing with tornado victims (and cleaning up the little damage they received in the storms), Grandma's condition was deemed stable enough to be transfered back to the Hanceville nursing home's rehab unit the previous Friday.  As of that Monday evening, the nursing home (and most of north Alabama) was still without power and had been running on generators.  Since Grandma still had to be on oxygen, her bed had to be left in the hallway to access the generator power.  Monday afternoon the generators began to fail.  Grandma was not receiving the oxygen she needed and was quite literally scared to death.  Around sunset she talked to my mother (via my uncle's cell phone) and tearfully begged my mom to get her out of there because she couldn't make it.  My mom had the nurses put her on an O2 tank and tried to convince her she could make it through til morning (though my mom says at that point even she wasn't convinced).  My mom made several phone calls, asked a few favors, and within a couple of hours was riding in an ambulance from Fayette to Hanceville to pick Grandma up and transfer her to Fayette.

My mom said that when she arrived, the power had been completely off for over three hours and it was nearly 85 degrees inside the nursing home.  She found Grandma in the hall, in the dark sobbing by herself - her O2 tank was empty.  (This was two weeks ago and it still makes me sick to my stomach to even type it!) Thankfully, the EMT's went straight to work and got Grandma loaded up in the air-conditioned ambulance and hooked up to their oxygen while my mom and the other nurses gathered the necessary paperwork in the dark.

They rode the hour and a half back to Fayette and arrived at some early hour of the morning.  My mom told my grandma that she really had "arrived" - that Fayette's hospital was the best hospital with the best staff in the world.  When my mom was telling me all of this, she started sobbing at this point and said that from the moment the EMT's pushed Grandma through the doors every single person they encountered truly lived up to  her words.  Thank you FMC staff, for taking such good care of my Grandma AND my mother during this time!


Later that week - It turned out that gash that my grandma received as she was wheeled to safety from the tornado wasn't healing right.  She had a large blood clot that was feared to be infected and was becoming more and more painful.  It had progressed to the point that she had to have surgery on it to remove the clot and skin around it.  The surgery went well but they're waiting to see how it will heal (there is talk of a possible skin graft - this would be her second graft this year if they go ahead with it!).  It's still hurting her quite a bit.

May 8, Mother's Day - We got word that morning that our friend, Anna Gordon, had taken a turn for the worse and was being placed back on the ventilator.  The doctors had called her family in to be with her and did not give her more than 48 hours to live (imagine Mrs. Gordon hearing this news on Mother's Day!).  We, and so many others around the world spent the day praying she would improve and pull through.

May 9 - Anna made it through the day Sunday, rallied Monday morning and fought hard throughout the day. Unfortunately, her weakened body didn't have the strength to keep fighting.  Anna Elizabeth Gordon went to heaven at 10:02 pm that evening.  So many hearts broke that night, but we are all thankful that she is at peace and no longer suffering.  Once again, I felt the desperate need to go home - to be with my family and love on them, to somehow be there for Mrs. Gordon and at least give her a hug.  But again, I was unable to go and all I could do (and all I can still do) is pray.

May 12 - Anna's funeral.  My mother officiated.  I had to stay here in Texas with a plethora of responsibilities and obligations to my precious students.  Still, I so wanted to be there - for my mom and for Mrs. Gordon and our friends.  It's so hard being this far from home.
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That brings us to today.  Today was a good day.  Today I am able to say all of this, and still say, as I said before, that I wholeheartedly believe God is in control.  I believe that nothing that has happened in the last month has taken Him by surprise.  I believe and hold on to Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  I also believe that as deeply as I love my friends and family back home and want to comfort them, He loves them infinitely more than I ever could.  He is able to provide more comfort and peace than anything I could fathom.  I believe that even though I say "all I can do is pray", praying is the best and most important thing I can do to help in all of these situations.  I don't know why these things happen, but I know that somehow, someway God will use these trials for His good purpose.

There is a song that has been playing on the radio lately that has really hit home through all of this.  The final question of this song asks our Father, "What if trials of this life - the rain, the storms, the hardest nights - are your mercies in disguise?"

I have to believe, somehow, they are.

4 comments:

Shelley Potter said...

Thank you for sharing this! I think it's good to write memories/emotions like this down. I just got back from the Third Day benefit concert in Birmingham, and Laura Story was there. I love this song, and I think it is perfect for times like these.

And I can definitely relate to the part about James Spann!

Katrushka said...

We were so lucky in Tuscaloosa. It was bad. It could've been so much worse. We have much to be thankful for.

Leigh said...

Wow...thankful to see your faith in Christ during these difficult times. Very encouraging and a reminder to pray for you. You are an amazing inspiration to me in so many ways. I thank God for you! Love ya!

Mommy said...

I am thankful for my adorable, loving daughter-in-law. I love you, Melanie<3

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