Thursday, April 9, 2009

Color My World


Chapter 7 - The Butterflies

Christian’s Sunday school class had brought some handmade butterflies fashioned of colored paper and wooden clothes pins, to help brighten his room during one of his stays in the hospital. The first one, I think. I used them to explain what death was like.
“Your body is like a cocoon. But some day, you will be free like the butterfly. Free of the body you suffer in,” was what I promised him.
We met another couple who had lost two children and was visiting another of their children, hospitalized on the fifth floor, also. They talked to Gary and me on the eve of Christian’s death. It was their experience that somehow, someday, God would give us a sign of some kind, perhaps through an especially natural way. Maybe a bird’s song, or the way the wind blows. We would know that Christian was alright and not lost to us forever. I believed it was possible.
In the four months we had been given to say goodbye to our cherished son, God’s Grace was always with us. Christian’s funeral was packed with adults and children alike. We sang his songs with nearly the same joy as he had. Tears mixed with happiness for one another for having known that little angel while he was here among us in this world. When the last word was said, the last flower laid down, the last condolence given, sorrow set in.

Gary, the kids, and I, got into the car and headed for home - that country place of serenity. But our hearts were hardly serene. We knew we would never see that place the same way again, not without Christian there. His birthday gifts and toys would never be touched by their owner again. Gary parked the car at the end of the long driveway that separated the meadow from the house set back in the woods. We hadn’t been home in weeks. He went ahead of me to check on things in the house. Do we still have our utilities? Where are the chickens?
As I looked from outside the car at what all must be unloaded, a big, brown, very plain butterfly seemed to deliberately float towards me and rested on my bosom. I was extremely elated to have the very hand of God touch me in this way.
“Gary! Look at this!” I shouted, pointing to that magnificent butterfly. It was slowly, calmly, flapping its wings. “Yeah, but look out there!” Gary said, pointing to the meadow. There in the bright sunshine, one year after the heavens first opened up, was even more of God’s Grace. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny yellow butterflies were literally carpeting the meadow! It seemed that Christian, or his essence, was moving everywhere - all at once. I thanked God for loving us this way. I saw God meeting us at the height of our despair and give us hope. There was no place I would rather have been than that God-appointed solace from the world and pain. He caused me to bust out laughing on that totally mournful day.
Since then, I have comforted the impoverished, hungry, homeless, grieving, and even the spiritually dead, with Christian’s words. It doesn’t take a very holy person to do God’s work at all, just a very humbled soul. We can all learn from Christian that we can face the ominous and even death, with the faith of a four year old.

Chapter 6 - And the Angels Were Everywhere

Intensive Care Unit on the fifth floor was the next stop down miracle road. More lives were touched there as the newest patient in Pediatric ICU witnessed intermittently between visions of horrifying beasts and Paramount Fires blazing before him. The staff assured us his mind was functioning normally under the circumstances. He was experiencing very typical side effects from the surgery.
There are times during the day when the ICU staff requires all visitors to leave the area to better facilitate the care of the critically ill patients. It was one of those periods that Christian experienced, the nurse explained to us afterwards, another typical episode, especially for the dying children. She had gone into his room and as she approached him, he exclaimed,
“Another angel!”
“What do you mean, ‘another angel’?” she asked. He told her he had just been talking to his own angel. He said,
“The angel asked me if I was going to have a fast death or a slow death.”
“And what did you say?” asked the nurse.
“I told it I wasn’t going anywhere. I’m only four years old.” She pointed to the ceiling as Christian had, to indicate the location of the angel seen only by the child.

I hated getting the news second hand. I was insistent on being with my baby boy every possible minute and I suppose I should have been grateful that the staff and even the angels were watchful of him when I could not be there. But how could I be in control of these spiritual on-goings? I wanted to be privy to any information regarding my son’s medical welfare and it was gladly provided by the specialists.
How do I get a handle on what Christian’s mind and soul were going through? What nerve the angel had to ask that horrid question and how coolly Christian had responded. Well, I got myself down to the hospital’s pastoral care office immediately for some major-league counseling. Normal. Christian was normal, normal, normal.
I hadn’t any idea how often very small children are caught up to heaven and how some of the less inhibited tell of spiritual visitations. The Sisters from pastoral care called on Christian during the remainder of his first three week stay in the hospital. One of them, Sister Rose, I remember well. She took me aside to tell me how special my child really was.
“I am so thankful to have lived to be an old, old, woman so that I had the opportunity to meet Christian. He is so precious in the eyes of God. You must be so proud of him.” Indeed, I was.

I momentarily equated myself to Christ’s Mother, Mary, and to Abraham, who offered up his son as a mortal sacrifice because it was God’s will. Only I was not ready to give up my son. I was convinced Christian would beat the odds and be healed of the destroyer cancer.
Radiation therapy was being scheduled and we had our hopes in that. We’ll buy more time. Don’t ever give up. The oncology department was the best facility to be found anywhere. The doctor in charge was of the most experienced and renowned in his field. After many weeks of treatment, spinal taps, and poor health, Christian was re-admitted to treat pneumonia. The facts spelled a pretty grim prognosis in the case of medulla-blastoma, particularly now that the tumor had metasized and was spreading the entire length of his spinal column. Cancer was so detrimental and radiation treatments almost equally so. He had to celebrate his fifth, and last, birthday in the hospital.
The party was a huge celebration on behalf of the entire hospital. Waves of all his new friends came to wish him the best birthday ever. The university football team stopped in to present him with a football of his own, autographed by every team member! When he was well enough, the doctors and nurses sent all of his family with him to the water-park and amusement center. But, by fall, Christian was so decrepit and emaciated. He was on his death bed again.
About half way into September, Christian was readmitted for pneumonia, accompanied with many other complications brought on by radiation treatment. Before all his bodily functions failed and he went comatose, Christian said wincingly,
“I want to go to God now, I want to go home.” It seemed that I was the only one in the room with him that heard the child’s last dying words.
The huge anger I had always felt before when the heavens opened up was replaced by wave after wave of all the people whose lives Christian had touched during the previous months. On one of those final days, I was sitting with my face down in my hands wondering who would come today. There, in the darkness created by my hands, was Christian running though Heaven. I busted out laughing.

Chapter 5 - Down Miracle Road

Christian went Code Blue again during that initial emergency operation. The doctor explained that to Gary and me as he showed us the sub-dermal tubing in Christian’s chest and the shunt planted behind his ear – also under the skin. For however long the child’s illness lasted, he would be wearing this equipment.
They needed a biopsy, of course. Looking at major surgery in about three day, when he will be stabilized and stronger. He will have the best of doctors throughout the region, the finest oncologist, neurologist, pediatrician, nutritionist, and physical therapist that money can buy. About twenty-four hours after all of this begun, I knew Christian was already in God’s hands. He seemed pretty okay and was responding well to all the medical attention. In a quieter moment, when we were alone, I realized he would never be the same. His soul had been magnified and he was driven to tell anyone who came near - beginning with me.
“Mommy,” Christian said.
“What?” I asked.
“Mommy, I had a long dream.” Well, I have just lived a nightmare, I thought to myself. Maybe he’s had a nightmare, too.
“What was your dream about?” I asked casually.
“I dreamed I went to Heaven and I talked to God.”

“You talked to God?!” I asked unbelievingly but without changing the tone of my voice. He nodded affirmatively as I went about picking my teeth up off the floor. When I regained my composure, I acted very happy for him and asked him,
“Well, what did you talk about?” I couldn’t believe Christian and God were even face to face, or even imagine what the Almighty and my little boy would have said to each other had there been such a meeting.
This is how Christian’s ministry began. For the next forty eight hours, he somehow would not succumb to sedation. In between screams of pain because the filtering device on the shunt was failing, Christian repeatedly told others, as he had told me, of God’s love for everyone in the world. I found my jaw gapping after hearing that bit of news.
“God loves everyone in the world.” A prophecy! I didn’t know God loved us all. He went on to assure us God loves us and would take care of us.
“God said, ‘don’t ever give up’.”
Christian sang his favorite Sunday school songs and even made up songs impromptuously when his nurses were listening to his pure, unadulterated testimonial. The sweetness of the angels exudes from him as he graciously thanked them for every irritating procedure required to sustain his life.

“Thanks, girls, I needed that.” He was so delightful. I began to see God again in the way we do as children, before life’s cruel blows. I had grown up to believe that God was picky. Picky. Picky. Christian taught me the truth I had given up on. No matter how I strive to be holy, I am unworthy of Christ’s dying on the Cross for my salvation. Just believe. God loves everyone. Don’t ever give up.
Another minor surgery was needed to manipulate the shunt and, after his condition stabilized, the day of the six hour long brain operation came. Early on that morning Christian was on his way to pre-op, lying on a gurney, with his father walking alongside. In the moments before Gary had to leave, Christian was the one doing the reassuring.
“Remember, don’t give up,” he instructed. Gary told me what Christian said when he joined the rest of us in the surgery waiting room. I know I must have seemed almost idiotic, but I couldn’t help smiling through the entire life-threatening ordeal. God’s words, spoken through Christian, would sustain us as we endured hours of waiting to hear the outcome.

We had been made fully aware of the worst that could happen and the ramifications of brain surgery, in general. If he survives, he will continue to exhibit the same symptoms of his illness as before. The seizures, the vomiting, the headaches, and he may have to relearn certain motor skills, such as walking and speech. When Gary and I went to Christian’s side in post-op, we found him still to be 100%. His sweet disposition remained intact and he spoke in his usual way. He was as loving as ever as we all hugged and kissed one another.
The neurosurgeon had cut away grayish tissue from the medulla-oblongata. The tumor had attached to the organism that tells the diaphragm to drop, thus causing the lungs to fill with air. But the organism does not regenerate, which ruled out carving away the entire mass. A biopsy would reveal whether he had a malignancy, and if so, radiation therapy might get the remaining cancerous cells, or, at the very least, to halt their spread. The battle was just beginning.

Chapter 4 - God's Way

The view from the window was comparable to hundreds of others in the hospital. And again, I was alone and prayerful, with the exception of Christian. He was brought to this room on the fifth floor ahead of me as I had to take time for admission procedures. An hour earlier, Cat Scans revealed a brain tumor, the cause of the sudden onset of his mysterious condition. As I came up the elevator to join him, I was given to ask the Lord,
“You’ve got to teach me that faith is more than believing in fairy tales.” Hardly the thing you would expect to hear from someone considering evangelism. I had not taken communion for awhile as it had been about eight months getting over the last dose of heaven through my living room window.
Christian wasn’t able to get out of his bed. The drugs injected for the purpose of keeping him quiet and motionless for three series of C-Scans were slowly losing their effectiveness. It wouldn’t be long before screams of pain in his head would necessitate the call for more Demerol.
Just that morning, we had taken our son to see another doctor. I was sure he was dying, but all he was getting was antibiotics. This one found a blood clot or a possible tumor in the X-rays. We took a closer look at a nearby hospital. I informed the family of Christian’s latest session at the “photographer’s” and about the thirty three slices of film clearly depicting a mass growing at the brain stem.

The rest of our family had been made aware of the rapid deterioration of his health and had become alarmed to the fact that we were dealing with more than just a childhood illness. Christian’s grandmother and his Aunt Karen came immediately to his side. Their presence was enormously supportive. I could easily have dismissed the entire scene as being only a very bad dream, except that Karen was also losing her grip on reality. She needed comforting, too.
She was so afraid that her about-to-be born baby’s soul would be the one to replace Christian’s when he departed this world. Well, I was not entertaining his possible demise, whatsoever. I told Karen in simple words,
“God doesn’t work that way.” I was sure the whole idea was not exemplary of God’s Grace. But, about midnight, the morning of June 1, 1984, the entire family had gathered in a room down the hallway to discuss just that.
They had all been summoned at this late hour because Christian had gone Code Blue. He had been dosing peacefully for about an hour when he began to jerk and twitch almost unnoticeably under the covers. I had never before observed the likes of it. So much of the behavior and symptoms coming from Christian the past two weeks, I had never seen the likes of before, in anyone.

What was that? I moved closer to his face and listened at his lips. Gurgle. Gurgling was coming from my precious, adorable baby boy. At first, as I stood up and took a long look at him, I was calmly deciding to have a nurse come and tell me what I didn’t know. Is he okay? Is this more of the weirdness he’s going through?
The next minute later, I had already moved from his side, gone to the nurse’s station for assistance, and was standing way out of the way as the nurse begun to take vital signs. I had moved quickly for help because it had become so apparent that the mass found this morning was killing him, and fast. I had never before actually seen the passing on of a dying person. Christian did it so many times over the next four months.
But now, passing before my eyes was a chilling scene of a frantic nurse trying to get vital signs, any at all. Her instruments were dropped uselessly aside as she began CPR and hit a staff emergency alarm for life support. I was the epitome of mortification when the “paddles” were rolled thru the door and hospital personnel came pouring through the woodwork to save his life.
“This very bad dream is so cruel,” my mind screamed. “This can’t be happening! We didn’t even get a chance to save him! I won’t have it! It isn’t so! I can’t take losing him! This pain – this cross, is too much to bear! As a part of my mind fell away in agony, my voice was heard. Christian was resuscitated.
He was taken for emergency operating for the purpose of installing a shunt apparatus to pump off the backup of spinal fluid from his brain to the abdominal cavity. During the operation, I joined the rest of the family in the waiting room, to rest my own exploding brain. Heather, Christian’s oldest sister, came to my side and asked me in the sweetest way,
“Mommy, is Christian going to die?”
“No,” I said with that familiar complete calm. “Christian won’t die today. It’s your birthday, isn’t it? Well, God doesn’t work that way. I’m sure of it.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chapter 3 - Overheard

It was an early day in the fall, long before the holidays set in. My voice was heard. The moment seemed entirely natural as it wasn’t the first time there has come an answer to the alone and prayerful. No, that’s not completely true. God’s child was there, too. We named him Christian. Daddy was at work and the youngn’s were just up the street and heading home from school. On this certain day, I viewed them making their way through the golden leaves and bright sunshine that was matched only by the happiness that surrounded the children. I was so compelled by the sight of their sweetness to utter,
“Praise the Lord.”
“The kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
“Praise the Lord,” I said. Not spontaneously, as before, but in a more matter-of-fact way. I had just answered Heaven and it seemed the appropriate thing to say to such an announcement. It was enough to knock the smile right off my face.
“You will have your ministry, but first, there will be death.”
What great calm this disembodied voice and I had shared previously became near hysteria as I backed out of the sunshine and away from the window.

“There must be some mistake!” my mind screamed back at the glass.
“There are no mistakes in Heaven, only in people,” was the reply. That was all I heard, maybe because that was all I would listen to. What hysteria! I thought I was going to die! The voice said so. Being faithful, I quickly accepted what surely must be God’s will.
When Gary, that’s Christian’s daddy, came home, I told him of the voice and the revelation.
“If this be God’s plan, then I have one, too. Take out insurance and move the family. I want to die in the serenity of the country,” I told him. Amazingly he obliged me. Three months later we were well settled on five splendid acres of woods, meadow, creek, pond, and all the appropriate wildlife. We even had a few chickens. By summertime, I had forgotten the despair that brought us to that heaven-on-earth.
That is, until Christian, our four-year-old went Code Blue ten hours after diagnosis of a brain tumor. Again those rude words, in soft-spoken tones, came fully forward in my mind.
“You will have your ministry but first there will be death,” were the exact words and that is exactly what was happening. How I ever came to believe I could die and then have a ministry must have been the hysteria of hearing angels. After all, Christ is the only one to have achieved this supernatural feat.

And then came another shock. It was Christian’s ministry I would be perpetuating, not my own. I would spend the next four months watching the littlest of Generals for Christ touch countless lives with his testimonial of God’s love. Could it be I only overheard the angel talking to Christian some eight months ago? I am still giving that one some thought. Christian did not have to try to be holy, like I did. He was only four years old, and dying.

Chapter 2 - God, may I help You?

The year was 1983, and I was seriously trying to be holy. Only the holy ought to minister God’s Word to God’s smallest lambs. I so much wanted this to be my ministry for the Lord; thus the need to be deemed holy enough to fill the bill. I had just wrapped up an all-day soul-searching session. Had really worked up a stupor after hours of praying, singing, confession, weeping. I had really put my soul through the wringer. I walked over to the window and knowingly patted myself on the back for being so worshipful. God knows I care. Must be why He made me to be calm and listen as I watched the other children from my station at the window. I took up the Cross that day, as I had promised, and learned the difference in being Christ-like, and in being a Christian servant. Being holy came only after the crushing weight of the cross was laid on the very back I had just patted. My will was devastated and God’s will put me virtually in fear’s grip.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inherent Nature of the Blog

Winner's Circle is a blog for friends following the Calgon story. It is a short story with only 7 chapters in all. I will include illustrations as they appear in the actual publication when possible. Because of the inherent nature of blogs in general, the story will be posted from start to finish but the reader would be obliged to open the older postings beginning on April 7th and then proceed with the next chapter on the following day. Suffice it to say this is not the best format for sharing but let's give it a try anyway.

I am going to break the continuity of When Calgon Won't Take You Away today to offer up a sweet poem I wrote for a dear friend at his request which we like to refer to as the Mayberry poem - - -

The Nature of Your Child
This dirt road goes
Down to our pond.
Come along,
Scoot on down with me
Where the path
Widens into a landing
For the row boats
On the water beyond.
There is where my
Young son and I
Can be found fishing
Most all afternoons.
I do not count on
Bringing home a single
Fish, not for worms
Or jigs festooned.
Well I welcome you
To try your luck.
Hope you catch a load.
The fish weren't biting?
Who really cares?
When you have brought
Home with you a
Better understanding of
The nature of your child.

Chapter 1 - My Therapy


Occasionally I slip off in a private moment of self-indulgence, rare for a busy mother of four small children, one of which, the youngest, is dying of a malignant brain tumor, to a delicious hot bath and reflect, label, and define my emotions.

Depression can be defined as the “sinking” feeling a person experiences when studying the bombed and ravaged remains of a war-torn mind.

Anxiety is when the mentality, so pained and distressed at the challenge to cope and rebuild, the mind seeks solicitude behind walls of intellect.
Hysteria is when those walls and their foundations are razed by the same that built them and the gates that hold back emotion become swing doors left to rust at the hinges.
Escapism is when the spirit abandons the firing line: withdrawing to be freed from pain to find comfort in back alleys with numbing substances.
Nightmares fill the sleep as the mind that would lift into flight is forced to run standing still and wordlessly lasso the tornadoes that fill its stormy skies.
Even when Calgon won’t take me away from what surely precedes insanity, I say a little prayer and know that years from now I’ll look back on today and say,
“By the Grace of God, I made it.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Calgon Days N Nights

Once upon a time, long, long ago, on a website now non-existent, a lovely story was told of how God's Grace prevailed despite human suffering, devastated hopes, and absolutely wrenching despair. Have you ever known God to lift you up from the depths of sorrow so that you may praise Him yet another day? He does have His Ways, doesn't He? When the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, you will know it. Maybe, if you are lucky like I was, you will live to tell it.

And tell it I will! Stay with the Winner's Circle to read excerpts to be posted about the day Heaven's Window opened for me. This so very precious and privileged moment brought a very personal revelation of the trials that awaited me in days and months ahead. Had I not been forewarned of God's Plan for my life, I am sure I would not have survived the pain and tremendous loss that was in store for me.

If ever a soul was magnified, then I would say it was mine. If ever you needed a reason to believe, then stay in the Winner's Circle. These short stories will be lifted from a book called, 'When Calgon Won't Take You Away'. It is a faith-based publication, a picture-book for all ages, depicting the final year of Christian Dance's life (1979-1984). While he was only 5 years old at his passing after succumbing to brain cancer, his testimonial of God's love for everyone in this world has brought many many people to the Lord. I am his mother - here in the Winner's Circle - to share with you why we must never give up.

Don't ever give up on God.

Your comments are certainly welcomed and your tears as you read are simple manifestations of your love for God.