Saturday, November 3, 2007

Running for a Second Chance

On April 22 , my brother Johnathan's life was saved by a total stranger. On that day, Johnathan received a long-awaited liver transplant at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Had he not received the transplant, it is likely he would not have lived long enough to be present in the pictures shown above.

In commemoration of his transplant, and in order to increase awareness of the need for organs, on October 7th, I teamed up with my brothers Johnathan and David to compete in Southern Adventist University's annual triathlon at Cohutta Springs Camp near Chattanooga.

We had originally planned for each of us to do the whole triathlon, but various events made that impossible. Johnathan's doctor told him to avoid lake water for now, due to the risk of infection which is complicated by the high dose of immunosupressants he must take for the first year. I did not have a nearby pool to train for the swim, and dropped out of training after the first few months, due to that and a very busy schedule. Then David injured his foot, which made running extremely painful for him.

The perfect solution was for us to do the triathlon as a team: David would do the first leg, a half-mile lake swim; Johnathan would follow with the 18-mile bike ride; and I would finish up with the 4-mile run.

As it turned out, David (the ultimate athlete) was allowed to do the swim for our team and then finish the entire triathlon himself, competing both as an individual and as a team.

The day of the triathlon turned out to be a real scorcher, one of those October days that breaks all the records. It was very humid, with a high of 89 degrees, and no clouds in the sky. By the time the triathlon started at 12:45, we were already hot, tired, and sweaty. I found myself envying David, getting to swim in the cool water!

It was honestly hard to consume enough liquid to stay hydrated in that kind of heat. Waiting in the change-off area for my run to start, I kept throwing water over me to cool down. Finally, I spotted Johnathan pedaling up the road with several other bikers, his face flushed and sweaty. We traded the ankle bracelet quickly and I headed off into the shimmering heat on the pavement.

I've been running for years, but that was one of the hardest four miles I've ever done. The black pavement I was running on radiated waves of heat up into my face, and several times I felt dizzy, like I would faint. The course wound its way along country roads, up and down hills, with little shade to protect from the scorching sun. There were water-stations set up every mile, and I always grabbed two cups of water, drinking some and throwing the rest over me to cool off a little.

But finally the end was in sight, and there was my family - mother, brothers, sisters-in-law, husband, nieces and nephews, and my kids - all cheering as I crossed the finish line. Whew! It was over!

The triathlon was a great way to re-connect with my brothers and family, to do something together that we could be proud of. But more than that, it was proof of the incredible healing that someone else's priceless gift gave to my brother. Johnathan had not been able to exercise for years, as his liver, and with it his health, slowly deteriorated.

As teenagers and young adults, my brothers and I just loved backpacking or hiking in the Appalachian mountains around our home. Then, as Johnathan became weaker, there came a time that we had to stop planning that kind of weekend activity. Johnathan just couldn't do it.

With his new liver, though, he was able to regain the strength in his muscles and within just a few months, was biking, swimming and running without difficulty. This opened up all kinds of possibilities for things we could do together, and the first we planned was the triathlon.

So, this triathlon was more than just a triathlon. It was proof of a life re-gained and renewed, a promise of many more challenging, rewarding experiences like this that we will share. As I watched my family just being family - Johnathan playing with his kids down by the lake, his wife cheering as he came in on the bike - I was indescribably grateful for this gift of new life.

The announcer at the triathlon told everyone about our team, and why we were doing the race. Many others asked about our matching T-shirts, encouraging organ donation. We were able to talk to a lot of people about the need for organ donors, sharing Johnathan's story with them. Hopefully, this and other efforts to increase organ donor awareness will make it possible for many others to receive the same gift that saved Johnathan's life. I can tell you firsthand that it is nothing short of a miracle.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


In November, Ellie will attend the most fantastic, frivolous, glittering and glamorous event of the year. She's been talking about it for weeks. Scores of girls are green with envy. In fact, thousands couldn't get tickets and many of those who did paid up to $1000 or more. On November 24, Ellie, her best friend Iliana, and her valet, I mean mother, will be attending the Hannah Montana concert in Knoxville!

I hasten to add that we did not pay $1000, or anything close. In fact, we got our tickets online, in a special fan club sale, before the frenzy began (during which all remaining tickets sold out in only fifteen minutes). Since then, I've tried several times to convince Ellie that we should sell our three first-section seats, which we purchased for $156, for $3000 (which is what they're going for) - but she won't hear of it, so I guess the concert is a go.

Now, I'm not much into teeny girl bands. But I must admit that I'm kind of looking forward to this one. For one thing, I actually like Miley Cyrus's music. She's a good musician and, as teen stars go, not a bad role model for my star-struck daughter.

I'm also looking forward to having a whole day and a half of girl-time with my favorite girl (Ellie) and her friend Iliana, who is sweet, respectful, vivacious, and a good influence on Ellie and me.

Our planned schedule involves driving to Knoxville on Saturday, attending the concert, staying in a motel for the night, and eating breakfast Sunday morning before heading home - which gives us plenty of opportunity for relaxation, quality time, and downright self-pampering. I'm looking forward to such things as no charts, no alarm clock Sunday morning, and no family members of the opposite gender to care for (apologies to JD, Owen and Jonah who will be on their own!).

For these luxuries, I may just trade my hearing ability. And perhaps my sanity - consider that on the way home, I will be a captive audience to up to 3 1/2 hours of gossip, raves, and swooning over the Jonas brothers (who are opening the show). Oh, and I may just be crushed at the concert since our seats are in the section in front of the stage, and my child, along with who knows how many very determined girls, will be trying to get as close as possible to Hannah herself.

As I reflect on Hannah Montana and the meaning of life, I realize that this concert will take place just nine days after my 39th birthday. I am still not sure if it will make me feel younger or older to be there, but I am quite sure that, being there with Ellie, it will not matter. When I look at her, I see traces and threads of myself, but much younger and more energetic, and with a whole lot of improvements. That makes me really proud. And it kind of makes me forget about getting older.

So, here's to being a girl and feeling invincible. Watching Ellie now, I am quite sure that is how she feels. And who knows? In the words of Hannah Montana, "Who says I can't be a superstar?" It sure worked for her.

To me, Ellie is a superstar in the making, even if she never sets foot on a stage. The world is her stage, and I can't wait to see what she does with it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Training Wheels

Last week, Jonah got his first bike.

A surprise from his cousin (who had outgrown it), the bike was bright blue, covered with streamers and balloons, and even had a handmade name tog attached to the front handlebars. A bright yellow bike helmet completed the ensemble.

We had traveled to Fall Creek Falls, a state park several hours' drive from here, where we met my mother and two of my brothers and their families for a picnic lunch, followed by a swim in the river, then a family bike ride around the lake. The entire day was enjoyable, but my favorite part was watching Jonah as he took his first bike ride ever.

He set off down the bike trail, the smallest in the group, and I rode right behind him to make sure he was OK. Soon the others had left us behind. Jonah pedaled energetically, his bike wobbling back and forth, stabilized on either side by the training wheels which caught him if he leaned too far in either direction. Occasionally he would flash a smile at me over his shoulder. He was so proud of himself!

Often, he lost control of the bike, usually by going off the side of the bike trail where he tipped over in the uneven ground. Each time, he jumped up again, picked his bike up, and got back on the trail. "I'm not hurt," he kept saying.

Once, Jonah wiped out next to a several-foot dropoff with a steep descent to the lake. As his bike slid over the edge, he jumped off it and stayed on the trail, avoiding an accident which definitely could have hurt him. That time, I jumped off my bike to help him, but he was OK, just a little scared.

Our pace was so slow that I had a lot of time to think, and I found myself thinking about something I had read about the topic of falling. Apparently when toddlers fall, it's best not to grab them every time to keep them from getting hurt. Falling is part of the whole process of learning to walk; if we never fell, we would not learn about gravity and balance, or the body mechanics needed to prevent a fall.

It made me wonder if God goes behind me, like I was going behind Jonah on that bike ride, watching my progress but not intervening unless I am in serious danger. Perhaps when I could not feel him there, he was watching, proud of the progress I had made, but knowing I would not learn unless I did it alone and even fell occasionally in the attempt.

I have to give Jonah credit. Instead of crying and reaching for me every time he fell, he was so brave. "I'm not hurt, Mom!" He said quickly as he got back up to try again.

And even in that short ride of a mile or so, he did learn so much. By the end of the ride, he was
tearing around with his cousins like a little daredevil.

Next time I feel alone or have fallen, perhaps I should try the Jonah method - get up, assure God I'm not hurt, and keep going until I learn whatever it is he is trying to teach me to do!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Owen the Philanthropist

My son Owen, age six, had an epiphany yesterday.

I had taken him on our monthly "date," a special time I spend with each of the kids and with JD every month. He had just gotten his allowance, so after eating pizza, I took him to Target so he could look for a computer game. Owen is a very careful, thoughtful decision-maker. He slowly walked up and down the aisles, considering his options.

"Ellie really wants that game," he remarked, looking at a PC game called Diner Dash. He picked it up and scanned the cover. "She would love this," he said.

"Owen, it will be a long time before you can afford another game," I said. "Why don't you get one that you want?" Owen put the game back and walked around some more, admiring the boy-games. But he kept coming back to Ellie's game.

Finally, when I had just about gone batty with his slow, deliberate decision-making, Owen told me, "I'm getting the game for Ellie."

"OK," I said, thinking he would soon regret this choice and want to go back.

On the way out, he asked me what was my favorite Bible verse. I told him, then asked what was his. "Do to others what you want them to do to you," he said. I thought about his recent purchase and wondered when he got so mature.

At home, when he handed Ellie the game, the happy squeals and huge smile on her face made it obvious that Owen had made a good choice. Later, I came into the living room and saw them sitting together at the computer, Owen watching as Ellie played her game. And I knew that somehow this was a rite of passage, a day that would change Owen, even as it changed me. He had put a Bible principle into practice and found out how rewarding it was.

So, here is a snapshot that I want to save and pull out again in the future, when my six-year-old is a grown man. I want to remember how he looked yesterday, his blue eyes so sincere as he told me about the Golden Rule, his hair the color of tousled corn silk, and two teeth missing. I want to remember the pureness of his desire to make his sister happy. In this, he reminds me so much of myself at that age, and I hope his innocence and love will not hit against too many crushing blows as he gets older, but will find a place to exert their influence and make the world a better place, even as he grows in the art of giving.