Madge and Brent Get Married

One of the sweetest notes I ever received came from my cousin, Buddy, shortly after my Brent and I were married in 2000.  About this time in 2010 he and his wife were beginning a battle with breast cancer.  It was not supposed to be too aggressive, but, sadly, she died in late January 2011. He’s a bit older than I am so we didn’t pal around much as kids, but his wedding was the first I vividly remember.  I remember how happy they were on that bright and sunny day! They began deeply in love and as she parted they were even more deeply in love along with a legacy of amazing grace.  Today, I’m thankful for cousin Buddy and his inspiring partnership with the love of his life….I appreciate the love of my life more because of him.  In honor of cousins Buddy and Mary, I present, ‘Madge and Brent Get Married’  written by cousin Buddy on our wedding day 12 years ago.

It’s a September Saturday morning, and we are on our way to attend the 11:00 AM wedding of Cousin Madge to her fiance, Brent.  Well OK, technically she is my second cousin.  You see her dad and my dad, were first cousins given that their mamas, Vera and Anita were sisters. Got it?  It’s getting to the point that you can’t tell a cousin relationship without a diagram!

We dropped by to pickup Mom and Dad because there was no way they were going to miss this special event in the life of a very special lady!  Now Dad could say that with conviction since the UGA-USC kickoff wasn’t until 3:30 PM that afternoon.  After all,  weddings are special, but this one was just a little bit special-er!

If you know Madge you know that adversity has been a more frequent visitor than any of us would ever like to see.   At the age of five, her mother died from complications of surgery.  While in college, she was involved in a car accident that left her a quadriplegic.  And in recent years she lost her dad to a heart attack and her step mom to cancer.   Yet I have never seen Madge without a smile or without that contagious positive outlook on life. (OK, so she didn’t see me that often!) So today is her wedding day!  Yep, it’s gonna be a special day.

The church building didn’t really look like a church, but it wasn’t long before you realized that God was present in that place.  As we walked in we saw Madge’s four older brothers and listened as a trio of singers set the mood with a series of contemporary gospel worship songs that once again told you, today was a special day.

The procession began with the Twila Paris song “He is Exalted” and as the minister and the groom waited, Madge came down the aisle in her wheelchair followed closely by her four brothers who ‘gave her away’. By the time she and her brothers got to the altar, there was not a dry eye in the church.  And yes, I will admit a tear as well, OK, OK, the plural form would be more accurate.  I never do have a Kleenex when I really need one.Four older brothers gave their little sister away…

During the ceremony, the couple requested we all stand and sing the Darlene Zschech song, “Shout to the Lord”.   By then I was ready for the Second Coming!   Yet the most touching moment came as the pastor related his personal comments before the vows were exchanged.  It seems he has known Madge for 23 years and Brent for over 6 years.   He shared how Madge had come to faith in Christ and how following her accident had overwhelmed them all with her never-look-back, only-look-forward attitude.  He praised her family as one who rallied around her like none he has ever seen.   Finally, he praised God for her Christ like spirit as reflected in her manner and service to the church.   Brent, he shared, was a true gentleman possessing a spirit of tenderness.  However, Brent had built up over the years such a wall in his heart that he refused to allow relationships to get very close.   That is, until he met Madge.   And brick by brick, Madge was able to tear down the wall and today they were ready to commit to a life together.

Following the exchange of vows the couple left to the tune of “Great is the Lord”.   We joined them at a nearby country club for the reception.  It was good to see the family.  Her brothers live New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Ohio.   Madge and Brent will be setting up residence at her current home.  I recall that Madge works for a software company and Brent teaches at a University nearby.

These days, gatherings of our extended family seem to center on weddings and funerals.   The former preferred over the latter.  Weddings have always seemed to be such a sacred moment for the wedding couple with the presence of family being a sign of love and support.  But today, I came away as the one who was blessed; it was a sacred time for all present.  Thanks Madge and Brent. Your wedding was a reminder that God is sovereign.  The verse on the wedding program said it all, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”.  1 Corinthians 13:7-8

Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 6

This is part 6 of a series about experiences related to a life change at age 18 when I lost control of my car and became paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. See part 1 for more background.

I hung out with a friend’s family if my family was gone. Often we dreaded time alone.

Fear and Darkness
Apprehension set in at night when all visitors and therapists vanished. Even other patients’ families were unable to add comfort and had to leave. Fear flew in as quickly as the kite on the stark wall beamed the last colorful comfort before the lights dimmed and visitors deserted.  Couldn’t someone please spend the night?  No, the rules prohibited such pampering. A call for help was as close as a simple fuzzy ball hanging from a cord near the bed! I think it had mercury in it and with a tap activated an alert to the nurses’ station.

Gone were the days of simple grunts or cries to get ‘911-like’ prompt assistance as I had at the other hospital where I was considered a ‘special’ patient with ‘special needs’. I was now another paralyzed soldier in boot camp on a road to recovery.

Didn’t they know I could barely move my arms? The fuzzy ball was an innovative and effective device…most of the time.

The nurses could not hear my faint cries for help when I knocked the ball out of reach. This was a scary, helpless feeling….I remember some dark nights…nights when it was best not to cry and get my nose all stuffy and make things worse. I couldn’t move my arms much in the beginning. Wiping a runny nose or teary eyes while laying down was impossible and tears would only provoke additional fear and discomfort.

“Let’s try positioning you on your stomach tonight,” the nurses said with enthusiasm as they flipped my body, padded me with pillows to eliminate pressure – and oh yes – positioned my head so I could breathe. I fell asleep but woke in a panic as my face felt smothered and my fancy, fuzzy ‘calling’ ball was out of reach. My already quiet chirps for help were muted by the surrounding pillows and my paralyzed prone position. Helpless and scared, I talked to the One who was with me, never leaving me alone. Of course the nurse’s help always ‘eventually’ came and I was learning new patience and perseverance. A year later I had additional in-patient rehab and loved the experience of sleeping on my tummy each night. It’s amazing what time and experience does for perspective and courage, isn’t it?

New and different realities in our lives have the potential to shift us toward bitterness, hopelessness, and anger. We can feel so helpless when things ravel out of control..conflict, sickness, grief, financial needs, scheduling difficulties, etc.…we can choose to rant about them (as I often do in my journal) but at some point the ranting loses its appeal and I know there is a necessary shift in perspective. That’s when my heart seeks to understand the potential grace and growth and moves toward wrestling for a firm grip on hope and gratitude.

Memories and Growth
As I document these memories and revisit past difficult times, I reflect on current difficulties as well. Challenging events are part of our journey and produce our legacy. I remind myself how they build strength, depth and an ability to depend on Christ in new ways. They continue to help me understand the power of James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Revisiting the past makes me much more grateful
…for the husband next to me at night
…for the provision that I continually see
…for the people I meet
…for opportunities to refresh others
…for the stabilizing Anchor of my soul
…for the encouragement that there is always more to learn.


Prayers for peace and purpose to you in your difficult hours…

Read on to part 7.


Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 5

This is part 5 of this series about my life change at age 18 when I lost control of my car and became paralyzed from a spinal cord injury.  See part 1 for background.

Puppy Contraband
My mom, dad, and youngest brother, Brian, were my steadfast visitors in the evenings and on weekends at the rehab center, along with many others. One night Mike, a pastor friend, smuggled a puppy into my room. He had read the book Joni which told of her diving accident and spinal cord injury as well as her rehab. She described a time when a friend brought puppies to visit her.

As Mike  prepared to leave work he prayed that he would be able to get a puppy to bring to me and planned to go by the local mall’s pet store to borrow one – when the unimaginable happened…

A lady at the church where he worked was looking for someone who could keep her ‘new‘ puppy for a few hours while she went to a class. He gave thanks to the Almighty and brought the puppy for a visit. What a fluff ball of cuteness and blessing to uplift all! That’s what I call an answered prayer! Today, I still love puppy comfort through my canine helper Twix and other pups.

I love June, my neighbors golden retriever puppy!

More Friends
Charlotte, one of my nurses at Shepherd, strummed the guitar for me and sang when she was off work, and she and her fiance took me to a bible study one Monday night. I don’t remember what was taught, but I remember the love, encouragement, and acceptance I felt from this wonderful, gentle couple as they managed the hassle of moving me in and out of their little car using a borrowed ‘hospital’ fold-able wheelchair.

Most of my friends were busy with their ‘normal’ lives off at a university. Some close friends couldn’t handle a visit, and others needed comfort themselves to deal with their changed friend. Holding tears back during one visit was often all they could take.

Contact was completely lost with some, and I better understand their difficulties now.  Others took the plunge and stood by and supported with energy and grace.  Gratefully, I was pretty much clueless about how disabled I appeared on the outside,  after all, I was still the same person on the inside.

Mary Hall, a friend comes to visit. I wish I had more photos of my precious visitors.

It was awkward for everyone at first!  ‘I used to be normal’,  was one of the first things I’d tell new people I’d encounter after my accident.  For a year or two after my injury, I was on a mission to ensure everyone was as comfortable as possible and knew I grew up walking around just like they did.

Then, at some point I remember having to remind myself that I might want to explain to a new acquaintance about my injury because usually if someone is over 13 or 14 they are too uncomfortable to ask.  Honestly, I would have been the same way had the tables been turned.

There are always the looming questions everyone has: ‘What happened?’ or ‘Were you born this way?’ or ‘What is wrong with you?’

Now, I try to remember to let people know at an appropriate time, but it is common for me to forget to explain because this IS my every day normal.  Really folks, if you have a question, it it ok to ask me!  Believe me, your children will ask!

I have a question for YOU today,  ‘How does it make you feel when you encounter someone with special needs?  What is your ‘go to’ reaction?’

I am not always prepared for others’ in tough situations or with special needs but have never been disappointed when I risked pushing though my discomfort and fear. Now I want my desire for connection to be greater than my desire for protection.  After all, anyone’s life can turn on a dime.

Read on to part 6.

 Blessings to you dear friends. -Madge

Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 4

The Surgery
Surgery was next on the agenda. My fifth and sixth vertebrae were ‘wire-tied’ together and bone from my hip was packed in for stabilization. As I mentioned in part 1, my father had the same surgery a year earlier and I don’t recall any fear regarding this procedure. Unlike my first head-shaving experience during preparation for traction, I wasn’t worried about my hair as Nina, my nurse, ran the sharp razor across my scalp and neck from the top of my ears to below my tanned shoulders . “You are my very first surgery prep,”  Nina confided. No worries for me, I was no novice in head shaving!

I should have been worried..this WAS the haircut of my teenage life! From the back, my thin hair would be nearly invisible after my two head shavings. Unknowingly, I had laughed and visited with Nina while she over-zealously impressed the surgeons with a MORE than adequate sterile surgery site! Weeks after surgery my brace was permanently removed and revealed my scar and peach-fuzz..

Rehab Begins
With surgery completed I was on my way to a vigorous boot camp along with twenty-five other soldiers…I mean patients…who had spinal cord injuries. No longer a special case that required the TLC I received in the first hospital, daytime visitors were prohibited during the week and exercise was required no matter how we felt. The first day after surgery, almost two weeks after the accident, I was strapped down and lifted on a dark navy, vinyl-covered tilt table that slowly raised my body from a horizontal position higher and higher until my stomach was queasy and I was on the verge of fainting. I’m sure I would have vomited if my paralyzed abdominal muscles supported such a raging reaction. Any one would feel unsteady after a couple of weeks flatly reposed in fancy hospital beds!

This day I didn’t like ‘rehabilitation’…no…not one bit.

Workout times with physical therapists maintained my range of motion and strengthened the muscles I could still use. Gail, my occupational therapist,  patiently taught me how to eat, drink, write, hold objects and navigate many essential daily activities. She and others taught me and my family how to care for basic needs like dressing, transfers, showers and using the bathroom.

We learned the importance of weight shifts to relieve pressure points and to prevent pressure sores that could put the spinal cord injured out of commission for weeks.

Weight shifts were predominately focused on the pressure points on my bottom where I sat all day, but my feet and elbows were watched closely too. The cuffs on my ankles helped prevent blood clots and pressure sores when I was in bed.

Not to happy here? Exhausted physically and emotionally and ready to transfer to bed.

We used a Hoyer Lift for transfers. I felt like a car engine being cranked out of its body!

Now, since I’m such a light weight and know how to assist, even a small woman can lift me without the Hoyer using good technique.  We still have a Hoyer for lifting emergencies, but rarely use the awkward device!  It’s a fool proof back protector for helpers.

Day after day my paralyzed friends and I attended classes and group therapy sessions to help us learn about our new bodies and to adjust emotionally. We laughed at times while we watched somewhat juvenile, yet memorable cartoon characters on video like Nick the Nerve, Belinda Bladder, Mr. Bowel and the Kidney Brothers.  They taught us the basics!

Other group sessions revealed the hopelessness so many experienced as they openly contemplated suicide. I was shocked because in my wildest dreams I had not fathomed that my paralyzed friends had the physical ability to do such a thing – much less contemplated the helplessness and depression associated with feeling like it was a way to escape this life change. Thankfully, no one I knew chose that escape, although some turned to addictions to numb their pain.

Hearing others’ hearts made me even more thankful for my faith, family and friends as I took one day at a time.

There is Hope
When our life turns on a dime the foundation we’ve built upon inevitably reveals itself.  Life’s turns may require strengthening or rebuilding with a whole new slab of concrete. My foundation was sure, but boy did I have strengthening ahead…

I’m wondering how your life might be turning on a dime…even in small ways that cause anxiety and confusion…it is happening all around us. Sometimes it’s obviously packaged in a newly paralyzed body, but more often it’s hidden in a heart pricked or paralyzed by loss, uncertainty, fear, regret or grief.

My hope is that we will turn to the One ‘who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God‘ ~2 Cor. 1:4.

Here’s part 5…read on my friends…