Golden

On this long-distance journey I often grab bits of encouragement from people in whom I see qualities I want to, indeed, must emulate if we are going to reach our destination. Amazing people like Brian Kajiyama who show what is possible. Other brain-injury families who model commitment and stubborn hope. And, yes, given my bent for enjoying sports, our new Little League World Series Champions from Hawaii, who embodied “No Quit!”

This Friday, however, I was so blessed to spend time with one man who underlines the word “Persevere” for me. Bryan Clay was in town to celebrate with family, friends and supporters after winning the decathalon gold medal in Beijing. Because one of Ray’s hospitals, Straub, is Bryan’s long-time sponsor, we went to many events in his honor, beginning in the afternoon. By late evening we were sitting with Bryan’s doctor and his wife, and a very weary Bryan and Sarah Clay at dinner. Their graciousness, in the midst of their current whirlwind astounded me. I was surprised that Sarah recalled so clearly having dinner with us a couple years ago, and still knew how old Abbie is.

As the dinner was winding down I wanted to get a picture with Bryan, Sarah, and Michelle, Bryan’s sweetheart of a mother.

After we snapped this photo, Bryan and I stepped into the corner to chat for a moment. His weariness melted away as he began talking about what is deep in his heart. He described his amazement at the doors his gold medal is opening. Not the one that found him hanging out with Tiger Woods a few days ago. Not the one leading to a scheduling conflict between appearing on the Oprah Show or at the Republican Convention. But, rather, what animated Bryan was the opportunities he is going to have to do good on a scale he could not have conceived. As he said, “I was thinking about Hawaii…now people are talking to me about global projects!”

At this point Michelle walked up and said something like, “Oh, Bryan, she is so good with words…you should read her site.” To which Bryan answered, “Oh, no, Mom…I have..we have.” I was stunned, and then he turned to me and said, “I recall it being something that really impacted Sarah and I.” I was almost humbled to tears, but this gave me a chance to relate his journey to ours, and ask him the question on my heart.

“How?” That was it. How to persevere when the challenge is only met day by day, by a “long obedience in the same direction?” He spoke of the crushing weight on his shoulders, as a husband, father, and provider, in the year leading up to Beijing. If he did not win, would his wife have to return to work? Would he have to quit track? This was not just an athletic competition, this was a lifetime turning point for the Clay family. I feel his struggle wanting to measure up to both potential and requirement, and empathize with being overwhelmed. But, what he said next will stick with me forever.

“I knew God had told me I was going to win the gold medal…it was so clear.” “Wait,” I interrupted, “Did He tell you that before you won the silver in Athens?” “Yes, ” was the reply. ” So, even after the silver, or ‘un-gold’, and through all the challenges that followed, you kept believing what you heard?” I asked. “Yes,” again.

What seems so expected now, a natural outcome — Bryan won by an impressive 240 points — is really the culmination of a journey of twists, turns, challenges, and God’s faithfulness. Who would think that the world’s greatest athlete would come from Hawaii, from tiny Azusa Pacific University? But, the same God that chose David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, chose Bryan. And the same God that made promises to Bryan, fulfilled through hard work and dedication, is the same God that has made promises about Abbie, which we pursue in like manner, with perseverance and hope.

I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this. An Olympic gold medal tucked into his back pocket…

The boys also got to meet Bryan. RJ and Matt both happened to be wearing red, white, and blue shoes, which they had Bryan sign.

The events of that evening didn’t really sink in until I returned home, to Abbie’s room. There, mounted in the corner, was the ancient TV on which we watched Bryan compete, win, and receive his medal just the week before. Abbie had been so excited when I told her Bryan won, and her face showed the same thrill when I told her that I had seen him and touched that very medal.

Champions inspire us, pushing us to dig for that same chord of greatness within ourselves. Spending time with Bryan and his family tonight was a divine gift to spur us on, and to help us remember that long-sought promises are especially sweet when they arrive.

/All photos rights reserved, property of Tiffany Vara

Seven!

8/23/01 — How incredibly many times I’ve written that date on medical forms, insurance forms, therapy forms, so many times that it just becomes a jumble of numerals, not a remembrance of an amazing day for our family. Truly, the day everything changed.

I went to a 3:20pm OB appointment two days before her due date, thinking I was in labor, but agreeing with the doctor that the baby probably would wait for the appointed day. Three hours later, before the doctor could get to the room, Abigail Faith blazed into our lives, painting them pink (and purple!) So blessedly shocked to receive a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter (the one and only on my side.) Our world was rosy without the glasses.

5/3/04 — The date that sometimes eclipses the joy of our August surprise. Recalling the tears when we first held her, the utter disbelief at the pink pom-pom on her cap, often leads to a creeping dread because we “know how it all turned out.” We didn’t get to keep our little spitfire, not the way we had hoped. But looking back now, still without the glasses, the changes in Abbie’s life don’t steal the joy she brings, the rosy hue she spreads, and the abiding gratitude we have for the gift God gave us in her.

Today we celebrated her birth and her life quietly at home. I realized that trying to make her birthday seem “normal” by having a typical seventh birthday to-do would simply overwhelm her. Instead we chose to just have two girls who know Abbie well come over for a Girl’s Day. I may be the girl who had the most fun!! We created paper flowers for a mobile for Abbie’s room, and made bracelets.

Before she even started on her own, Keiko said, “I’m going to make Abbie’s first!” What a tender heart… She spelled out Abbie’s name and added her trademark, the ladybug.

Abbie was enjoying it all, but tired towards the end of the projects. As she drifted toward a nap I said, “Abbie, it’s a good plan to sleep now and rest up for opening presents.” “YES!!” came the voice from her switch, and her eyes flew wide open at hearing the P-word.

She actually provided a lot of laughs through her strategic switch usage, particularly as I was reading the titles of books she’d received as presents. I came to “Is Your Mama a Llama?” Immediately, “YES!!” rang out again.

As I said, there were no tears this day, but I came dangerously close when I opened this card.

This verse on this card was an Abbie verse before I knew she was an Abbie. You see, I was perfectly happy being the mother of four sons, and didn’t have a deep longing for a daughter…until we decided we were probably done having children. Then a pink stake was driven deep into my heart, and we began researching adoption, figuring that we weren’t any good at making girls. As those of you who’ve adopted know, it is not a simple process. It was stressful, exciting, scary, and sometimes led to tense discussions when I would push and Ray would not move as quickly as I wanted. In the midst of this a verse came that basically told me to chill out and get my priorities straight. The next month I was pregnant, so I knew this baby, whoever he or she would be, was an answer to Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Our friends didn’t know this story when they picked out the card, so it was just another wink from God reminding me that He, too, remembers our journey together.

I wanted to get a cake Abbie could enjoy, so I was planning on picking up an ice cream cake this morning. Then, her nurse, Rae, arrived toting a beautiful, absolutely perfect cake she’d made for Abbie. What an angel!! Layers of moist Devil’s Food cake, chocolate pudding and whipped cream made Abbie’s lips smack (and mine, too!) I am never able to adequately explain how overwhelmed I am by the kindess of those around us, with this being yet another example.

Upon opening presents a theme appeared: Abbie the Schoolgirl.

She got lots of art supplies and many books, along with a DVD learn-to-read program. I’m excited for her, and must also admit how nice it is to give her something beyond toddler manipulatives and light-up toys. Every time I challenge her, she exceeds my expectations. Last night I wanted to “teach” her the numbers one through five. A few minutes of work with her switch made it clear I am once again lagging behind, as she knows them cold. So, we are going to be fingerpainting and flashcarding our way through first grade this year!

The boys were insistent that Abbie needed to wear all the princess regalia, so we added her new sunglasses for the finishing touch. Here she is as the Queen of Accessories:

The pink pom-pom has been replaced by a tiara, and she no longer fits in the crook of Daddy’s arm, but our little girl remains the joy of her family and a light in the world. We pray that God would bless her mightily in this coming year, and thank him profoundly for Miss Abigail Faith.

Everything’s Going to be All Right

Last week I decided to go to a grocery store a little further from the house to see if they had one particular flavor of yogurt. This gave me time to turn up the stereo and jam a little, especially when “No One” by Alicia Keys came on.

People keep talking,
They could say what they like.
But, all I know is,
Everything’s gonna be alright
.”

That last line became a melodic motto as I sang it to Abbie a hundred times during the week. Each time it left my lips, a little off-tune but heartfelt, I was speaking to my own spirit as well. The recognition that truly, one way or another, everything is going to be all right quickened my heart and released me enough from the strain and seriousness to laugh with, play with and truly enjoy Abbie.

After church on Sunday a friend caught up with me from behind, calling out my name rather insistently. Roberta said, “Oh, Tiffany — those pictures…that one of Abbie in the pool. The only word that keeps coming to me is “Alright!” “Everthing is going to be alright. She is right there, she is OK, and this is all going to be alright!”

I giggled as I told her about the song, and how it still astounds me how God can use one chorus, one word to remind me that He sees, He knows, and He cares.

Yesterday I got an email from Roberta. Without knowing anything about our exchange on Sunday, a friend of hers had been compelled to send her the following devotional.

The Response of Faith
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 1 by Os Hillman
Monday, August 18 2008

…”Everything is all right”…. 2 Kings 4:26

The prophet Elisha often would travel through the town of Shunem, and in that town was a well-to-do couple who extended hospitality to him. At first, they simply offered Elisha a meal when he came through town. Then, seeing that Elisha needed a place to stay and study, they built a room for him above their house so that each time he came through town, he had a place to stay. He was so appreciative of their kindness that one day he asked the wife what he could do for her. His servant Gehazi later informed Elisha that the woman was barren and her husband was old. ” ‘About this time next year,’ Elisha said, ‘you will hold a son in your arms’ ” (2 Kings 4:16). A year later the son arrived.

One day the father was working in the field, and the son became ill and died. The woman ran to meet Elisha to inform him. When Elisha asked what was wrong, she did not panic and react in fear. Her response to Elisha seemed almost unnatural. “Everything is all right,” she said. Elisha went to the boy and raised him from the dead. It was a glorious miracle. (See Second Kings 4.)

Faith looks at situations through God’s eyes, not the eyes of our limited understanding. This woman did not panic, for she knew something more than the current circumstance. Faith does not panic, but realizes that what looks like devastating circumstances may be God’s plan to bring glory to Himself by demonstrating His power. When Jesus appeared on the water to the disciples in the middle of the night, they exclaimed, “It’s a ghost!” (see Mt. 14:26) First appearances can bring great fear upon us even to the point of paralyzing us. Find the Lord in your circumstance today. Exercise your faith today and trust Him for His outcome in the situation.

I just had to giggle again.

I think this trio of messages was the perfect lead-up to scheduling Abbie’s surgery, which we did yesterday. We’ve set it for September 29. This will give us a couple of extra weeks to work with the neurologist to get her tone as under control as we possibly can.

Abbie’s song continues, more beautifully every day, and you know how each chorus ends.

Brothers’ Love

As many of you know, my sister, Tara, is a very gifted professional photographer. She took these pictures during her visit to Hawaii back in February, but we finally had a chance to go through them at her house in Seattle last week. I thought that they were too good not to share, even if they are six months old. True love never ages….

Back From Vacation

We’ve been missing in action for a great reason. At the end of July our family embarked on our first true vacation in seven years, heading to the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. Ray put in weeks of planning to coordinate all the details with what Abbie would need, and his work paid off in spades. The trip could not have gone any better or been any more enjoyable for us.

Because we wanted a direct flight to Seattle we had to fly on Hawaiian, the only catch was, they don’t offer oxygen on their flights. This was a hurdle since the only other time we’ve taken Abbie to the mainland, she needed up to four liters during the flight. To get around this we rented a tiny little oxygen concentrator, which worked brilliantly and quietly, and which Abbie had no need of! She did awesome during the flight, praise God! I was so proud of her.

The next eight days were filled with fresh mountain air, sunshine, swims in the pool and hot tub, and lots and lots of time spent lying in front of the fireplace…Abbie’s absolute favorite thing! There are so many of you in the Northwest that I would have loved to have seen while we were there, but we really wanted to give all of ourselves to the boys during this vacation. I hope to catch up with you next time, since we are planning many return trips to this destination!

What, or rather, who, made this trip so incredible for all of us was Genevieve. She accompanied us so that we could enjoy being together as a family, but then still be able to do things like take the boys horseback riding. She is truly our angel, and so beloved by Abbie.

Snapshot memories are the 2-hour trail ride through the forest to Pete Lake, framed by mountains with snow remaining on them.

Having my whole family together for a wonderful dinner. The boys staying up too late to play cards together. Seeing my nephews ride their bikes, clothing optional. The boys learning how to fish, and catching their first ones. Being silly with friends good enough not to care.

The kindness of strangers: a woman who, having heard Abbie’s story while we were in the hottub, stopped me in the lockerroom to pray for her and our family; the police officer who let us park at the curb while we checked in for the return flight (for 40 minutes!!).

I don’t think any of us realized how much we needed this — to just get away from every appointment, meeting, practice, shift and phone call, and really enjoy each other. What a tremendous blessing!

Meanwhile, we continue to work with Abbie’s new neurologist to begin treating her dystonia. He touched base with me while we were away and asked me to double her Baclofen dosage. She is SOOO happy, so much more relaxed and very, very “with it”. Her communication has been very quick with her switch, which has eased my concerns about her being too drugged. I’m so grateful to know that when we reach the point with Baclofen, as we have in the past, where Abbie gets worse, it will just mean it’s time to start the drug (Artane) to treat the dystonia, rather than meaning that we’re just stuck with no solutions.

I am hoping to hear from her orthopedist tomorrow to set a surgery date. I am feeling very positive about this, as we are now dealing with the underlying cause of the subluxations, so that after recovery Abbie will have a fresh start, with a minimized risk of ending up right back in this same position down the road. She is looking so healthy and strong, interacting so much and so appropriately, I am just filled with confidence and faith that she is going to come through the surgery very, very well. But, as always, we appreciate your continued prayers as we prepare for the day.