Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chapter 9

9.  The New Adventure
The ad touted an ecumenical music-missions group located in California that traveled around the United States and the world taking the message of Christ through song and prayer to those needing His light.  It had four full-time ministry teams and were looking for people to join three additional teams for summer tours.  Reading further, I felt that there was no way that I would ever be accepted for a group like that.  Though I’d played the piano since I was seven, the violin since fourth grade and had sung with our little family band locally since the age of nine, I was not nearly disciplined enough to make it into a professional music group.  But, shrugging my shoulders, I figured I would send in an audition tape (yes, that’s right an audio cassette tape) with my competition violin solo on it, plus a song for which I sang while I accompanied myself on the piano.  If they accepted me, then I would go.  If not, I still had my application ready to send out so that I could to go to Oxford University for summer classes – and yes, that’s the Oxford in England.

So, out went the tape and I said a little prayer as it went.  I showed my boyfriend the ad and told him my summer plans.  He was less than ecstatic about the thought of me being gone anywhere for three months but he was very sweet about it and told me that whatever God had planned was good enough for him. Or something like that anyway.

Mid-winter came and in Michigan, that can be quite a depressing and very cold time.  But I was happy, taking classes I liked, dating a nice guy, managing the illnesses and panic pretty well.  Soon a letter came in the mail and I discovered that I had been accepted to the ministry as a keyboardist.  “A keyboardist!!  What in the world does that mean?” I thought excitedly.  It appeared that the team would be made up of about ten vocalists, an orchestra of various instruments, a sound technician and a light technician.  The three summer teams would be going to Greenland, Central America and Bulgaria.  Soon I would be getting the recordings and the sheet music I needed to prepare for a ten-day rehearsal camp in the mountains of California.  I needed to be there by early June and we would be on the road performing ten days later.  What?!?!

My family and I were so very excited about this incredible opportunity. Needless to say, the rest of my second semester at college flew by easily and without my active participation.  Today when my parents and I talk about it, we laugh about how na├»ve we were.  Racing me off to the west coast to join a ministry we knew nothing about sounded a little like a cult actually.  But it all worked out for the best and I joined the Central America team.  When I discovered I would be playing not one, but two keyboards at the same time I cried for about 2 hours. But after that I did all right.  And soon we were on our way.

Chapter 8

8.  The Real Battle Begins…
I still had 3 months left of my senior year in high school and in addition to sorting out my grief, I was in the running to be valedictorian of my class.  As I said earlier, I did not have a 4.0 grade point average but I was very, very close.    So I worked hard at my assignments, tests and extra credit projects.  Okay, I worked as hard as any senior girl with a crush on the pastor’s son and who had major senioritis could work.

I remember sitting in English class taught by one of my favorite teachers of all time.  We were writing in our journals and I began taking very quick, short breaths.  I became light-headed and thought, “what in the world is the matter with me?”  Then my fingers curled themselves into the palms of my hands and I started to cry.  Trying not to make a scene, I walked up to the teacher and asked if I could go to the bathroom.  Taking one look at me, she suggested quietly that I go to the school office and asked my good friend to go get my sister to send her with me.

By the time I arrived at the office, I was completely freaked out.  I was seventeen and my hands were clawed up like an arthritic old woman!  I couldn’t breathe, thought I was going to puke or pass out and my sister was just as flabbergasted as I.  The secretary calmly gave me a paper bag and I received my first lesson in managing hyperventilation.  Little did we know that it was my very first panic attack and this would become a regular routine for me.

Because my family was very strong in spiritual matters and very Godly in many things, it never occurred to me that I might need to ask for help.  I figured, “a child of God does not have to suffer like this!”  And I would struggle for understanding, for release and for healing.  While it is true, God doesn’t want His kids to suffer, I was far too invested in the steps I could take to gain His healing to see what He had easily given for me.  Instead I lived between episodes trying to handle the symptoms of panic attacks the best I could.  I would always ask Mom and Dad to pray, I would recite my “peace” Scriptures over and over.  The attacks came at random times and it was years before we thought to look for “trigger events” or anything like that.  At the same time, I was getting quite sick each month with female issues and began having intestinal problems.  Nothing was ever quite bad enough to be diagnosed with anything treatable and so I became quite good at managing the panic attacks, monthly issues and intestinal irritations.

As the months passed, graduation loomed ahead and I would indeed be giving the valedictory speech on graduation night.  I wrote my speech, helped plan the ceremony, cried with my best friends and made my plans for college.  To this day I appreciate my high school experience and all of the friendships I had while there.  Those friends walked with me through the darkest times of my life so far and I am so grateful God had appointed them to be there for that specific period.

Of course, I still found plenty of time for fun and was still dating the pastor’s son.  By the beginning of my first year in college, we had settled into our own ways and felt quite comfortable with each other.  Physical temptation was always rearing its head at us but I’m still proud to say that God protected us.  I had chosen a college within commuting distance and convinced him that he should transfer there too.  We were smart enough to only sign up for one class together and life moved along nicely.  Then during the holidays in 1993, Dad found an advertisement in a worship magazine that he showed to me saying, “wouldn’t that be great if you could do that?”  And so began another adventure.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chapter 7

7. Senior Year
Time passed and my senior year of high school began in late August 1992.  I was signed up with 4 other classmates to take college courses at the Community College nearby for the morning hours and then return just before lunch to our high school campus.  During my junior year I had joined the Forensics Team, which competed in events for dramatic reading and acting.  I was still avoiding athletics whenever possible and had successfully managed to avoid it throughout high school.  I spent my 9th or 10th grade winter on the JV volleyball team and the coach still laughs when she remembers me begging her not to make me play but let me take team statistics instead.  She was kind and conceded but only because I'm sure she didn't want to be embarrassed by my clutziness either.  I joined the Pep Club one year and then a ballet class another year.  The people there politely asked if I played any instruments and suggested I may "want to just stick with that then".  At least, that's the way I remember it and I distinctly got the impression the other dancers wouldn't mind if I bowed out at any time.
I remained active in the music programs, however, playing in the orchestra for 3 years and then auditioning for the Elite Vocal team.  We had so much fun in that class, delivering Singing Telegrams to students during Valentine's Day, performing at local malls and schools.  I have to admit that, for a bunch of teenagers, our harmonies were pretty tight and we loved to worship the Lord together just as much as have fun.  We led praise and worship times during chapel sessions, put music to our skits, and performed musical theatre.  In the spring of 1992, the drama and vocal teachers put together our premier performance of "H.M.S. Pinafore" by Gilbert and Sullivan.  I snagged the part of Buttercup,  the rotund and comical seller of odd-bits-and-ends who visited the ships as they were docked at port, peddling food and wares they needed.  I had trouble reaching all the notes, so I transposed all of my songs to lower keys by hand for our accompanist.  A friend from the senior class showed me how to project my voice and breath properly.  I have been forever grateful to him for that!  My mother modified my costume to give me bumps and curves where I had none and the end result was great laughter when I first appeared on stage.  I accentuated my larger "behind" as I bounced around stage and loved every minute of that experience.  All of us still giggle about our memories from that play.
The fall of 1992 brought me freedom from my braces (thank you, Mom and Dad), senior pictures, mock elections and a near-win at the Homecoming queen crown.  Things sure had changed.  I felt more confident about my appearance, my friendships and my future.  After all, I'd already been through two huge, life changing experiences.  I filled out college applications, took the ACT exam (only once though I should have taken it again for a better score), cheered on my classmates at their basketball and volleyball games, socialized every chance I got and studied as much as necessary to maintain my grade point average.  I did not, I confess, have a 4.0 by then but I did have a strong 3.9.  It was enough to grant me valedictorian status by May 1993 and the goal I'd set for myself in kindergarten was achieved.
If you talk to any of our teachers from that time period, we are still remembered as the "family" class.  We had our own internal problems and no, everyone did not hang out together on weekends.  But overall, we were a close-knit group.  During high school, I had several "crushes" on the boys there and probably some of those feelings were even returned.  But since I wasn't allowed to date, I didn't have a "real" boyfriend until the autumn of my senior year.  And by "real", I mean someone who took me out on actual dates to the movies, dinner, mini-golfing, basketball games, youth group outings and concerts.  I knew my parents did not want me to date and I knew that they believed it was safer for me that way.  They taught me that it would be easier to maintain my physical and, therefore, spiritual purity if I just didn't put myself in a position where I'd need to make choices like that.  I caused a great deal of drama in our family by not heeding their advice but they were good enough not to disown me at the time.
I think it helped that the boy I developed real feelings for was the pastor's son at the church we'd been attending since my freshman year.  We had known his family since I was four years old and our parents were close friends, ministering together and fellowshipping with each other.  It felt natural to fall in love with him and we both agreed it would be "perfect" if we started dating.  He did not attend my school and was "an older man", already enrolled in college courses, about 2 1/2 years older than me.  He was cute, he could sing and, although he had odd tastes in clothing, he was a strong Christian.  I fell head-over-heels for him.
He and I respected each other and the boundaries we set as a couple helped us make good choices.  Sure, we struggled with physical temptations over the next 3 years but we never gave up our commitment to respect God and ourselves by remaining virgins.  He is now a very dear friend to my husband and me because of those boundaries we set so long ago.  I believe that God ordained our friendship and perhaps we should not have dated for so long but young love is stubborn.  I am not writing this memoir to expound on my personal romantic history so I only mention this particular relationship because he was there with me through events that formed who I am today.  My parents did allow him to take me on dates with specific parameters of time and location and looking back, I know even that was probably very difficult for them.  Especially since we were unable to tell time and I was almost always late for curfew.  Okay, always late.  I believe now would be another great opportunity to apologize to my parents.
The autumn of 1992 came and went without much to document other than my 17th birthday, the beginning of this new love and Christmas time.  The Christmas holidays began in my family on the day after Thanksgiving when we put up the Christmas tree after our family feast.  We did not spend Thanksgiving "with the in-laws" but always just the four of us together, perhaps visiting other family members later for the football game.  Our feast was, and still is, scheduled to begin just after noon and didn't really end until bedtime.  Because the greenhouse schedule was unrelenting, cut the roses twice-a-day every day, our meal times and holidays were planned around when Dad would be working next door and when he would be able to spend the greatest amount of time at home.  Mom's holiday meals are indescribable really.  She prepares the entire week ahead of time so that her homemade turkey dressing is just right, the turkey comes out on time, the pie crusts are just crumbly enough, the from-scratch applesauce is perfectly pink...I can almost smell the delicious aromas now.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the holidays.
I don't really know how to describe our home because as I've gotten older, the memories have been frosted with golden edges brightening the years past with a happy glow.  However, if you had asked me as a teenager, I would have answered, "It's not fair.  All my friends get to go places, date and do things that I can't do.  My parents don't understand what it's like now-a-days."  And I probably would have said even more with corresponding huffs, sighs, and foot stomps.  I fought with them a lot in those years determined that they were wrong and I was right, trying to force them to change their minds about what was good and what was not.  

One of my aunts asked me once, "looking back, what do you think your parents could have done better that would have helped you make better choices?"  I thought long and hard about it and I responded, "I don't think they could have changed anything at all.  They disciplined me when I needed it and when I hated it.  They were consistent and gave me Scriptures and tools to help me make boundaries for myself.  When that failed, they made boundaries for me.  I guess I just was determined to learn some things the hard way."  I know this last paragraph is full of cliches but it is exactly how I remember.  Of course, they were not perfect and I'm sure they should have "lightened up" on me in many ways but I don't fault them one bit because I certainly did not make it easy on them.
Overall, however, our home was peaceful and all the good things most families only dream about.  Again, living next door to my grandparents was a huge blessing especially during Christmas time.  We had a tradition at that time with Dad's family.  On Christmas Eve our family, with my Dad's five siblings and their families, made our way to Grandma and Papa's house.  It would be after the second cutting of the roses but just before dinner time.  I don't remember who made what except that Grandma always had a big pot of her famous sloppy joes.  There were side dishes galore and desserts of all kinds, including unsweetened apple pie.  Papa would lift the top crust of his piece of pie, sprinkle a huge spoonful of sugar on it, close it up again and give a silly grin before he dug into it.  

After dinner and clean up we all gathered in the living room.  Every seat in the house would be brought in and us youngsters sat on the floor.  Not all of my aunts and uncles were married or had families in 1992 but there were plenty of us to make the room nice and toasty.  There wouldn't be a fire in the fireplace that night!  The family wasn't so big yet that we had to draw names for a gift exchange so we each bought or made gifts for everyone there.  One at a time we would open our presents as Papa, also known as "Santa Claus", passed them out.  We had family sayings like, "Good Shopping!" after someone got excited about their gift. "Just Add Water" for a small box that we'd tease had a big item inside. "Is that really what's inside?" for boxes that looked too good to be true, and the best "oooh, Santa paper - that's a good present" because the best gifts were always somehow wrapped in paper with Santa Claus on it.  

After the gift giving frenzy, we'd tidy up the paper and boxes and Grandma would bring out a tray with communion elements.  Papa would read the Christmas Story and offer some thoughts on the past year and would pray over the little bits of cracker and the little cups of grape juice.  He would also pray over the family.  We took communion together every year and even as I write this tears fill my eyes remembering that precious time.
I do not remember any specific gift from that Christmas in 1992 but I do remember one of the best presents I ever received.  Grandma was an avid knitter, making sweaters, hats and mittens.  They were good quality and beautiful, not made with gaudy colors or itchy yarn.  But best of all, Grandma knitted afghans.  Nearly every one of us has an afghan from her.  But I like to think that ours were more special because we were the first grandchildren.  When we were little, April and I received our first afghans knitted in our favorite colors (hers, pink and mine, purple) with a soft, fine yarn.  Those blankets were our princess gowns during playtime and our cozy warmers during movie time.  We wore those gifts out.  She also made matching little ones for our dolls and I still have that one.  When we grew into young ladies, she made new ones for us (same colors) and I still have that one too, although no one else is allowed to use it.  These afghans were special symbols to us of Grandma's love for us.  When she gave me my teenage one she said to me, "when you go off to college and you don't feel good or you're lonely, you wrap yourself up in this and I'll be right there holding you."  I will never ever forget that precious promise.
Papa and Grandma were tremendous examples of Godly love, looking past faults and unconditionally trying to serve the other.  They argued, yes, but they lived the truth of God's forgiveness and restoring power right in front of us.  They were not just Harold or Jean, they were Harold and Jean.  Not a matching set but a set nonetheless.  You automatically got one with the other.  They worked together, disciplined their children (and grandchildren) together, shopped together, vacationed together.  They were good friends to my parents and a terrific influence in my life too.
I will never forget February 9, 1993 as long as I live.  That Tuesday was cold and gray but not snowy.  I was in my afternoon English class and a page came over the intercom for me to come to the school office.  Curious, I went quickly down the hall meeting my sister half-way.  April was in the tenth grade and had been called down as well.  Reaching the office, we stepped up to the secretary's desk.  She nodded and said, "Angel, you'll both have to get your things together.  Your parents called and want you home right away."  Later I discovered that wasn't exactly what my mother had requested, she had asked them to tell us to come home right after school without any delays.  Oh well, they tried.  Heart thumping wildly, I told April to get her things and meet me at the car.  I rushed back to my English class, offered some sort of explanation to the teacher and my friends and went to my locker.  

I remember having the presence of mind to gather my homework items and pack everything just as if this was the end of any ordinary day.  Meanwhile, my thoughts were careening into one another.  I thought, "well someone has died or they wouldn't have called here.  They would have waited until we got home for anything else.  Even a hospital emergency.  It can't be Mom or Dad because the secretary said 'they called'..." and so on.  All the way home April and I prayed for everyone we could think of, our maternal grandparents, our great-grandparents, our entire family.  Then I remember thinking that maybe it was my boyfriend's grandmother since she had recently been ill.  But I quickly tossed that thought because I knew they wouldn't call us home for that.  That was a terribly long 30 minute drive, let me tell you.
Arriving in our driveway we saw that our parents' mini-van was gone.  "Well, that's not a good sign," I told my sister.  We went inside the house and no one was there.  Confused, we went next door to Papa and Grandma's.  No one was there either.  We went out to the greenhouse and found Bill (you remember, the friend who prayed over me) working there.  He saw us and we immediately noticed that he was crying.  We said, "Bill, what's wrong?!" and ran to give him hugs.  He hugged us back but shook his head.  "I think your parents need to talk to you.  They are at your great-grandma’s house but will be back soon.  Go back to your house and wait."  So, we did.  

This particular lady is our great-grandmother on Dad's side.  His mother's mother.  She lived about 30 minutes north of us.  We were very frightened, thinking she had gotten ill and that's where everyone was.  But we stayed put and prayed together.  Fairly soon, Mom and Dad came home and told us the news.  They said that it wasn't about our great-grandmother at all. Instead they told us that Papa and Grandma were in Florida that day going to see our other great-grandparents, Granny and Gramps.  They had stopped for a rest and that Grandma had suddenly and immediately passed away.  No sickness, no pain, just was here and then was gone.  Papa said later that the expression on her face was just like she had opened the front door and seen someone she hadn't seen in a very long time and was so happy to see again.
I felt a million things in that moment and felt nothing at the same time.  It was my first experience with grief.  I went upstairs to my room, got my Bible, sat on my bed and wrapped myself in my purple afghan.  I cried some and prayed a lot but never opened the Bible.  I just held it.  After a while I went back downstairs and discovered what my first instincts are in a tragedy.  Help the ones who are hurting more.  Daddy wouldn't let anyone call his siblings and the rest of his family but himself.  So that left Mom.  I believe we cleaned the entire first floor of the house that evening.  
Mom and Grandma were very close, working together in the greenhouse daily for years.  

My parents united as a front and showed me how to grieve while pressing into God at the same time.  They were amazing.  Papa came home in the next days.  He and I have always had a special bond and it broke my heart to see him suffer.  I will not share my Papa and my thoughts about his experience with you but I will tell you that I learned a great deal from him over the next few years and I am very proud of him today.  I can tell you that losing my Grandma, who was like my second mother, so suddenly really hit me deeply but in ways I have only recently uncovered.
Needless to say, getting hit by a car, attacked by a dog and losing my Grandma so quickly in succession and in less than 3 years had a huge impact on me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Now it seemed that fear had become.... fear and now had morphed into.... FEAR.  And it seemed it was here to stay.

Chapter 6

6.  Repercussions
Suffice it to say, I have never been much of a dog-lover since that wintery day in January 1992.   But the whole experience did serve to instill even more fear into my heart.  I would never walk in the front yard again unless I was with someone or had some sort of mighty weapon in my hands.  And that is the stark reality of it.  I didn't care who knew I was afraid at that point, I wasn't going out there for the mail or for any other reason.  Ever.  I would make all my arrangements so I could unlock my car quickly and jump in fast.  Even though the dog died later that year and he wasn't replaced by the owner, every time I heard the jingling of a chain or keys (which sound like a dog collar), my heart would race and I would freeze.  Every time something or someone came at me from my peripheral vision, I would freak out and jump.  I still have all of these responses today but am better able to control them.  Apparently this is some lower form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but we didn't know anything about that then.  I just figured it would eventually fade and I'd be back to normal again in no time.
I'm very glad that for that season, God had placed me at the Christian high school.  During these traumatic events, it helped to be in a place where I was spiritually nurtured and protected.  Each year my entire high school went to Winter Camp somewhere in mid-Michigan for a weekend in late January.  It was a time to play but it could also be an incredible time for spiritual growth.  We learned about the Holy Spirit, about forgiveness, about God's redemption and grace, about unity and holiness.  I have very fond memories of each Winter Camp I attended.  At this particular camp, my circle of friends and I decided we wanted to memorize Hebrews 13:5, "For I will never leave you without support or forsake you, or let you down, My child.  I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree, leave you helpless or relax My hold on you, assuredly not" (NIV).  It was a Scripture that spoke peace and hope to each of our five little womanly hearts.  

So, we sat at this tinny, old, rickety piano in the common area and plunked out a song.  My friend and I began singing as I played some basic chord patterns and the Holy Spirit sparked our voices to sing the exact same tune!  The group sang it for the whole high school later at the evening chapel session and it is one of only two songs that I have written that I will actually play in public today.  We named it "Assuredly Not" and although the others may not even remember it, the little tune still ministers to me today.  It certainly has played a strong role in keeping me anchored with the Lord through many tough times.
Even today, however, I still have repercussions of both the car accident and dog attack.  These alone would have been enough to deal with spiritually and physically for anyone.  When I was learning how to drive, I was the only 15-year-old who drove under the speed limit.  Once I went to a local sports center and arcade to try out the go-karts with a youth group.  I was "lapped" by my buddies 2 times before I even tried to push the accelerator.  As of this moment, I am not quite such a 'fraidy-cat as that anymore but I still flinch whenever someone or something jumps at me, especially from my peripheral vision.  

A somewhat amusing example of this happened just a few months back at my great-grandmother's house.  My dad and I were walking up her driveway and my husband had already pulled in driving his pickup truck.  As Dad and I passed the truck I saw a dark figure move near the truck from the corner of my eye at the same time that I heard the jingling of a chain.  Since I thought Mario had already gone into the house, I assumed it was a dog.  I grabbed my father and shoved him in front of me while I ran behind him to the back door of the house.  Poor Daddy, being sacrificed like that!  Don't worry, it turned out to be Mario after all and we had a good little chuckle from it.  Still, I am pretty sure my dad will not be walking that close to me any more.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chapter 5

5.  Again?!
In the eleventh grade at a Christian high school, it was easy to feel secure and loved.  Of course, not everyone I knew liked me but I was okay with that.  After all, I didn't like everyone I knew either.  My particular group of friends had experienced some personal losses during the previous years and we were united in our quest for the Lord.  Our friend lost her father to lung cancer, we all lost a friend in a car accident and I had nearly been killed myself.  These things did not pass by us lightly and we really tried to tune our hearts into God's Word.
After the holiday break and during a particularly wintery weekend in January 1992, I was babysitting the little boy next door.  He was still a toddler and he is the primary reason that whenever I have children, I'd like to have a boy first.  That precious boy was fun, silly and cute all in one little package.  After we had been playing hard all morning, his parents were coming home from work.  So, I colored and played with him then prepared his little lunch for him.  When his mommy came home and paid me, I left and I was happy as a clam while I was trudging through the snow, across a few acres to go back home.  Why on earth I decided to go through the front yard between houses when I was so afraid of that area is still beyond me.  But I did.
Now, I've always been an avid reader all my life.  In fact, to toot my own horn a little bit here, I was always light years ahead of my peers’ reading level and teachers would often invent curriculum for me.  I absolutely adore reading.  I have no idea what I was reading on this particular snowy Saturday but it was good enough to be reading while walking home.  As I passed the huge pine tree that our neighbor narrowly missed after he hit me with his car, I heard the maniac dog from across the street barking his head off.  I paid no attention to it until I realized the noise was sounding particularly vicious and was coming toward me very, very quickly.  I looked up and to my extreme surprise and sheer terror, I saw Junior bounding my way.  Junior was a 165-pound German Shepherd mix of a dog, the progeny of his father and sister-mother dogs.  Yuck.  Not very bright but very violent.  He had already bitten other runners on this road and was supposed to be on a leash or chain.
Except on that day, Junior was not tied up at all.  Instead he was making a ferocious bee-line for me.  I didn't have time to turn or scream or anything as I stood stock still in front of our living room windows in the front yard.  Although I was shaking badly, adrenaline was pumping through my system overtime as I shouted "Junior, stop in Jesus' Name"!  Seconds were flying by and the moment I spoke Jesus' name, Junior lunged at my throat.  I screamed as I threw my arms up over my face while he knocked me down on my back in the snow.
My mother says she watched all of this in split seconds through the living room windows as she was taking down Christmas decorations.  April was there too and heard all the commotion.  Mom turned to run and save me but tripped over a box and nearly knocked herself out on the entertainment center.  That left my 14 year old sister wondering who she should save first, me or my mom.  Poor thing.  Mom squeaked out, "go get Angel" and April went running for the back door.
Meanwhile Junior was not ripping me to shreds like I'm sure he had hoped.  I have never in my life, before or since, moved so fast.  The minute he had me in the snow on my back, he wrapped his jaws around my left bicep.  But, it was a mighty cold day and so I had on a thermal t-shirt, a sweater and a huge down-filled coat.  He couldn't get a grasp of me as I kept wiggling around underneath him.  I never stopped moving, not once.  I also believe I never stopped screaming at the very top of my lungs.  Experts say to "remain calm and don't scream or run".  Well, clearly they've not been attacked by a nut-case of a dog.  Anyway, I flipped over onto my belly, curled up into a ball and placing my feet under me sprung up into a running stance.  I slipped on the snow though and Junior bit me.  He bit me in my hiney.  Not a very convenient place to be bitten I suppose but definitely one with the most padding and least amount of injury.  I was also wearing three layers and he bit my jeans pocket.  So, he never even broke through any material let alone my skin.
I began to go a little crazy I think because at that point I started running in a tight circle, around and around and around.   Still screaming.  What on earth was I thinking, I have no idea but it seemed the thing to do at the time.  Finally, I gathered my wits about me and stopped.  I stomped at him and said again, "in Jesus' Name I said Go Away!"  Believe me or not, but I saw this with my own eyes.   Junior stopped barking and jumping, looked at me for a second and turned around, loping back across the street to his own yard.  I was so mad at this point I was seeing red and could only envision finding some sort of weapon inside the house and then chasing Junior around the yard with it.  My sister met me at the door as my uncle came around the back corner of the house with a baseball bat.  Living next door to family is beneficial but only if they can get to you in time to save you.  Still, he helped my dad who called the police and animal control and took care of the details.
By that time, Mom had revived herself enough to pile me into the car for a trip to the very same ER that had treated me the previous year.  How embarrassing to say, "I'm here because I was attacked and bitten by a dog" and have them look at me and raise their eyebrows because they couldn't see any blood or anything.  Although I'm ever grateful I wasn't maimed or seriously injured, to be 16 years old and have to show your bruised rear-end to a male nurse is more than humiliating to say the least.  Nevertheless, we filed all necessary reports and got out of there, once again in awe of God's protection.  You see, my parents prayed with us every single morning before we got our day started.  They prayed specific Scriptures about safety, health, protection, wisdom, guidance and favor.  We were under the shadow of the Almighty wherever we went.  What a fantastic testimony!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chapter 4

4. The journey begins...
I admit, at first I enjoyed the local celebrity status the accident had caused.  Any teenager would like the attention that being a walking miracle brings.  But as months went by and then an entire year passed, my parents began to notice subtle changes in me.  I had received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior at the age of 4 one morning when I asked my mother if I could "ask Jesus into my heart."  I'd always known the presence of God and my parents raised us with the Bible at the core of our family, singing His praises on the platform at church and in our living room at home.  They provided excellent examples of how to incorporate the Word of God into regular life as they lived, learned and grew spiritually right in front of us.
I was a fearless child, always excited about new adventures, trying new things, walking on the highest beams, flipping off the diving board, riding my bike with both feet on the handle bars and hands in the air.  But after my accident, I could no longer even go to get the mail.  I tried, I truly tried.  But I would go stand in the middle of the driveway looking at the mailbox and start shaking.  Eventually I would make it to the end of the driveway and drag myself across the street to get the mail.  It was crazy.  I was so embarrassed that I felt this way and I pushed myself to do this without sharing my feelings with anyone.  Not even my parents.  I'm sure that my sister, April, was more than a little confused when I would beg her to come with me.  I made it seem like it was some sort of "sister time" I wanted to share with her and she always came when I asked.  She had slept in my room the night of the accident, partly because the hospital staff had suggested that someone should wake me throughout the night because of the concussion.  But April shared later that she felt more confident that I was truly okay when she was sleeping on the floor next to my bed.  April always looked up to me as the protecting big sister and being afraid to cross the street in front of her was horrible for me.  I hid it the best I could, but I wasn't only afraid of my own street.  I became nervous about crossing any street for any reason.  It was a gradual thing but became a very real inner battle for me.  I have no idea if anyone truly knew the depth of my fear because I always joked about it and made the event seem funny but I believe that fear began to set up a stronghold in my mind shortly after the accident.
As I said, my parents began to notice the changes in me but since I didn't address the fear directly, even when asked, there wasn't too much they could do for me other than pray.  I became an expert at hiding the deeper, true things that were at work in my heart and mind.  I didn't want to be a bother or to embarrass anyone, especially myself.  Meanwhile, as a teenager at a Christian school, I was experiencing the same emotional and spiritual growth as that of my friends.  We were building life-time bonds and had a very close family-type class.  I was friends with everyone but definitely had a core group that I loved very much.  Most of us are still friends today, though not to the level we once were.
Tenth grade was a year of change for me and for many others in my class.  Even though I had been excited about starting a new school, it still was a significant transition for me, coming from a public school to a private one.  It took me until tenth grade to settle on which people I would be hanging out with, with whom I would spend most of my time.  My parents were strict and protective of me so I didn't want to make friends willy-nilly if I would never be allowed to spend the night at their houses or go places with them.  We had students come and go our first two years of high school but by the end of tenth grade, we had pretty much settled into our "family" and our relationships.  As much as teenagers can settle anyway.  Our class celebrated the end of each year with a pool party at our house and it became an annual tradition.
The summer of 1991 brought me my first non-babysitting job.  I'd been a nanny for our neighbors' son since he was born and I still kept watching him on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays.  I had also "worked" with Dad at the greenhouses doing sweaty work that got dirt (or "soil" as he prefers to call it) under my fingernails and therefore made me crabby.  I still hate feeling messy to this day.  So, it was time for me to branch out into the real world of work.  I became a cashier at the local Kmart, long-since closed.  I enjoyed it because it was close by and until I could drive, my parents didn't mind taking me up there. It was fast-paced and I discovered that I liked getting to know our "regular" customers and talking with people while I rang up their purchases.  Soon I was transferred to the pharmacy department where I believe they intended to train me as a technician.  I will say that I liked being a cashier and working personally with customers.  I did not like, however, putting merchandise back on shelves and tidying up the toy department.  What possesses people to rifle through every stuffed animal and then leave them in a completely different aisle or tossed on the floor?  Anyway...
I did not stay long at the Kmart job because fairly soon I had a better offer for more money and hours that would work with my junior year school schedule.  I began to work part-time at a local fruit market and there I stayed until my second year of college.  It was family-owned and I should have known then that I was definitely not made for the corporate world.  I'll share more about that later though.  Again, I was discovering that I liked the personal connection with customers and with my co-workers.  It can not be said of me that I have ever been shy.  My demeanor was then and still is "I am who I am in Christ and I like the person I am".  Even though teenagers usually experience some sort of self-esteem issues, mine never really went beyond "I sure am skinny, my nose is a little sharpish and I hate my teeth."  It never really affected me to the core of my heart.  Of course, having a family who constantly told me how beautiful I was did help a great deal.  Not to mention the fact that my sweet Mom worked an evening job in our cold basement to pay for my orthodontist treatments.  Thank you, Mama! 
Stressing inner beauty and matching outer behavior really made an impact on me at a young age and I've been careful to pass that on to the young ladies I've been able to reach.   Of course, I did struggle from time to time but I'm grateful to say it wasn't my biggest issue as a teen.  My biggest issue really got moving in the winter of my junior year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chapter 3

3.  The Miracle
As for my part, I remember asking “where is my mom?” while riding in the ambulance and hearing her say “right here, honey”.  I remember answering questions half-way, like “what’s your name?”  “Angel Christine”, “when’s your birthday?”  “November 9th”, “who’s the president?”  “Ronald Reagan” (an incorrect answer by the way).  And then back to what I thought was a deep sleep.  I was roughly awakened when the EMT’s were taking the gurney out of the ambulance at the local hospital.  I remember thinking, “who is shaking me awake from this really great sleep?  How rude!” and then realizing what was happening.  All I could see was a bright white haze, no figures, no splotches, no colors, just white haze.  I could hear everything perfectly and do not remember feeling any fear or confusion.  That was because Mom kept repeating the day's events to me while I was in and out of consciousness.
Fairly quickly, I was settled into a semi-private ER room and there were technicians and nurses bustling around my bed.  I was still very groggy and don't remember feeling anything for a very long time.  Eventually I woke up enough to realize I wasn't able to see.  I asked my mother, "Hey Mom, are my eyes open?"  She answered a quiet "yes".  I thought a minute and then said, "are they pointed straight ahead?"  To me, this is a funny question and gives me the giggles even as I write it but Mom wasn't laughing.  She just said, "yes" a little bit louder.  I thought for another moment and then asked, "Well, are my contacts in?"  I thought that perhaps if they'd been knocked out that would be why I couldn't see anything.  At this point, Mom was standing by my side peering into my eyes (although I couldn't see her, I could feel her there).  She said, "yes, your contacts are in.  Why?"  To this day I am astounded and amazed by my mother's complete trust in God's faithfulness and her ability to remain quite calm in my presence.  I simply answered, "Oh.  Because I really can't see anything at all."  Mom then quietly turned and went in search of a doctor to explain this phenomenon for us.
It turns out that the concussion was quite severe when I first arrived at the ER and caused some temporary blindness.  In just an hour or so, I could see again.  I do not recall the moment when I could see but only remember that eventually my sight was returned.  It is possible I lapsed in and out of consciousness for a little while but as time passed the concussion dissipated enough to stop related symptoms.  At one point, my entire body was checked for broken bones and injuries to my organs.  Are you ready for this?  Nothing serious was found. 

I had a large abrasion on my outer left thigh, filled with gravel and dirt, two silver-dollar-sized scrapes on each shoulder blade, a black and blue left heel and a sprained right wrist.  The bump on my right temple became a large bruise and a nurse came in to clean my thigh wound.  Because of the concussion, I couldn't have any pain killers, so the steel-wool-type pad he used to scrub out the wound made me extremely nervous.  Instead of crying or yelling, I sang every single worship chorus I could think of from my childhood at church.  The nurses and doctors said it was the most pleasant room to work in and I believe I saw every employee on that floor at some point during my treatment.  I only remember one time when I felt extremely irritated - okay, the first time I felt that way.  I had just finished having my leg cleaned out and the person in the curtain-enclosed bed next to mine was whining.  She was an adult, this I know, but I do not know what ailment brought her there.  Now, when I say that there was whining, I don't mean anyone was writhing in pain or whimpering through a valiant effort to be brave.  This person was complaining about not getting attention.  I truly felt bad for the other patient but it became tiresome after a little bit.  I didn't say anything out loud but even now I have a hard time being patient when someone whines and complains in my presence.
Soon, an aide came to take me to the X-ray room to check out the black bruising on my left Achilles heel.  The X-ray tech took all kinds of pictures of my foot and after studying the films, asked me, "when did you injure your foot, honey?"  I replied, "uh, today."  He shook his head and consulted a partner.  Apparently the tendon had been severed during the accident and injuries like that usually take a very long time to heal properly.  "Well, sweetie, it looks to me like you've been healing for about six months here."  I was amazed and very likely said something about how cool God is or something to that effect.  The doctors then said I'd be unable to walk for a month and unable to run for 6 months.  Although I would have loved to have an excuse not to exert myself, I was running in gym class 4 weeks later with no problems at all. 
Shortly after the X-rays were taken, I was back in my room and the doctors were coming in asking for more CT scans of my head and urine samples - still checking my insides -and asking the same questions over and over again.  Fairly soon after this, I became just a teensy bit cranky because it had been about 8 1/2 hours since the accident, my muscles were beginning to ache, I was hungry and was starting to feel quite upset and scared.  I wasn't permanently injured and I just wanted to go home.  I didn't quite understand the miracle that had been lived out in front of about twenty people that afternoon and evening.  My parents had been busy filling out paperwork and meeting family members who had arrived in the interim out in the waiting room.  I know I saw both sets of grandparents, Bill and April....I think.  Although I can't remember everything clearly, I know that  I was shown much love that day and for months and years afterward from my core support group, my family and church friends.  Thank God for believers who surrounded us with their prayers during that time.
Nine hours after arriving at the ER unconscious and critically injured in the back of an ambulance, I received some crutches and hobbled out on my own, heading home to recuperate and heal from my miraculous day.  Several days later my father took roses up to the ER for the staff who had so graciously cared for us and he testified of God's miraculous work which they had all observed with their very own eyes.  The day of my accident, the prognosis was dim and experts told my parents to prepare themselves to lose me.  But God said differently.  Who knows how many lives have been touched because of His great miracle that hot, sunny August day?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chapter 2

2.  Introduction to Fear
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, my life was irrevocably changed forever.  I think the actual date was sometime in mid-August 1990 but I’m still a little foggy on that.  I just know that it was about 10 days before school started and I had been playing my violin with a school string quartet at a summer festival in downtown Mount Clemens, Michigan.  It was a bright sunny day, hot and humid as usual.  We’d come home in the early afternoon and I went over to see my dad at work.
We lived next door to my paternal grandparents and Dad was the 4th generation rose grower and manager at the family rose greenhouses there.  It was a great lifestyle that was much like farming.  They cut the roses twice a day every day, all year long and all of us worked there at one time or another as we grew up.  Dad was the oldest of six children and I was blessed to be raised by my parents alongside my aunts and uncles with a near-constant open door policy to Papa and Grandma's house.  I have extremely happy memories of that time in my life.  Besides, having my parents on-site at all times was pretty cool, unlike most of my other friends' experiences.  So, on this particular hot and sweaty day, I was headed over to see Dad and one of his employees, Bill*, to tell them all about the concert we’d played.
When I was done visiting them, I cut through the connecting yards between our two houses in front of the in-ground pool's fence.  I decided I’d be a good daughter and get the mail which had just arrived.  Our mailbox was located across the street from our house and the speed limit on our street was 45 mph even though residences lined both sides of the street.  It was more like a country road in a city setting and was a driver's short cut to the county offices and jail a few miles to the northeast.
I opened our mailbox door and took out the pile of bills, letters and junk mail.  Turning around to re-cross the road to our driveway, I looked both ways.  I promise you, I truly did look both ways.  A large bulldozer was driving down the road from my right and I paused to let him pass.  I looked into the driver’s eyes. They were a startling blue and my 14-year-old mind thought, “hmm, he’s cute.”  Looking down at the mail in my hands, I stepped out into the street.  And that’s the last thing I remember.
The following account is from my parents’ perspective and from stories I heard immediately following that day.
Mom:  April and I heard the squealing brakes and looked out toward the road. At first it looked like an elderly gentleman driving a station wagon had simply skidded off the road and nearly hit a large tree in our front yard. But the man got out of the car and moved toward the road while at the same time our friend, Bill, rushed in that direction from the greenhouse next door. They went straight to the ditch and began kneeling over something or someone. I headed out to see what had happened, as did my husband from the greenhouses next door.
Dad:  Bill, my employee and friend, and I both heard a loud thump and the sound of a car going off the road.  Running out of the greenhouses, Bill was ahead of me.  At the edge of the pool fence, he turned back to me and shouted "call 911, I think it's Angel".  So, I turned and ran back to the office telephone.  I made the call quickly and ran back out to the yard across the street from our house where Bill and my wife, Gail, were kneeling around Angel. 
Mom:  Angel was lying in the ditch having convulsions. Someone (other neighbors were gathering by now) had already called an ambulance, so we knelt over Angel and began to pray. I recalled the Biblical account of Elijah lying across the body of the widow woman's dead son and I stretched myself out, over and above Angel. (I Kings 17:21-22)  Of course, I was careful not to put any weight onto her to avoid adding to her injuries. I prayed in tongues, and I heard my husband and our friend praying aloud at the same time.
Dad:  Bill later told me that when he got to my daughter, he could hear the "death rattle" he has heard many times before.  He was praying fervently, arresting the spirit of death surrounding Angel.  My wife, was hovering over her praying in the Spirit and I heard myself praying over my oldest daughter using medical terms I did not know or understand and have never used since.  I held her head and watched the convulsions slow, then cease as the lump on her temple diminished before my very eyes. 
Mom:  When the ambulance came, in about 3 minutes or so, Angel seemed more quieted and the convulsions had stopped completely. The large half-a-grapefruit size knot at her temple had gone down visibly as we had been praying. She was placed in the ambulance and I rode along. During the ride, they asked Angel if she knew her name, and the answer was slow in coming. They asked her if she knew what day it was, and she ventured a wrong guess. They asked who the president was, and she was unsure. When we arrived at the hospital, she was taken for a CAT scan and x-rays, and I was allowed back into the room afterwards while they scrubbed the gravel and debris from the roadside out of her thigh and shoulder. I remember the emergency room nurse was very reassuring, and he held Angel (a small and thin 14 year old) in his arms as he soothed her with kind words in a gentle voice and scrubbed out the debris from her badly scraped limbs.  As she regained consciousness and her miraculous recovery continued, we were reminded once again of God's constant faithfulness when our trust is placed solely in Him.
Dad:  The ambulance arrived quickly and Gail went with Angel to the hospital.  I went inside to our youngest daughter, April.  I quickly called Gail's family and knowing they were on their way to the hospital, I left April and Bill with instructions to call the rest of my family.  When I arrived at the Emergency Room, I identified myself and began filling out the paperwork for Angel's treatment.  Gail's brother was a nurse at the hospital and was already there speaking with the staff.  Throughout the afternoon, Bill brought April in and Gail's mother arrived.  My parents, who lived next door, were not at home at the time of the accident but I remember them being at the hospital with us by the time Angel was conscious again.
As a father, you would think that I would have been anxious at the very least but God's peace sustained us right through it and His Word kept bubbling up inside of me so that it was all I could speak.  I was completely resting in the faithfulness of God, my Father, to whom we had given Angel after she was born.  I simply trusted that no one could take better care of her or of our family than He could.

*Some names have been changed

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chapter 1

1.  Setting the stage
Growing up as the oldest daughter of Christian music-ministry parents, you’d think I’d have received all I needed to know in order to not make some pretty goofy mistakes in my life.  And of course, I did receive much of what I needed.  I just decided I needed to make sure it was all true.
My name is Angel Christine and I’m somewhere in my thirties.  Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, with an average build and beautiful straight white teeth, I might be considered a good looking sort of woman.  Regardless of other opinions, I know I am treasured in the eyes of God and of my husband.  I grew up in the metro-Detroit area in Michigan.  Born in the Soo (Sault Sainte Marie) in 1975 to Harold and Gail, ages 20 and 19 respectively, I moved six weeks later to a little town in Minnesota.  My little sister, April, was born there 2 ½ years later, much to my great joy.  After all, it was awfully kind of my parents to provide me with a live doll to spoil, coach, dress up, tease and otherwise try to run her life.  By the time I was 4 years old, we had lived in Minnesota, Kentucky and Oklahoma.  We were settled into a little house in Mount Clemens, Michigan before I started kindergarten at the local public school.
Although the doctor supervising my birth believed I'd have developmental problems because my mother had a difficult and dangerous delivery, the Lord proved him wrong.  I was an exceptionally bright student, always participating in the cutting-edge scholastic programs, joining any and all academic or music programs.  I avoided athletics like the plague but otherwise was very active in the public school system through middle school.  Then, after much prayer, my family decided that April and I would be better served academically by attending a private school for my high school years while April started in middle school.  Looking back, for my sake I believe it was definitely the best decision.  I’m not entirely sure April’s experience there was quite as rewarding, however, this is my story.  Wink, wink.
I graduated from that Christian high school as valedictorian in 1993 and went to a nearby University the following autumn.  I’d like to say that I prayerfully considered many schools, applying all over the country and carefully weighing my options.  But I didn’t.  We had no idea how to properly apply for scholarships or what deadlines we needed to meet.  Even so, I make quick decisions and am well-known for thinking I know what I’m doing straight out of the gate.  This was no exception.  I enrolled in Latin American courses my first semester, as well as the general required courses but quickly decided that I would make more money if my Bachelor’s degree was earned in East Asian studies.  So I spent a great deal of time and money learning all about East Asian cultures, specializing in the Japanese language and culture.  In the Motor City, this appeared to be a wise choice and a great plan but I really had not sought the Lord as much as I should have.  I think my readers will perhaps agree with this assessment as my story continues.
All this information is great, you may say, but what about my spiritual growth and my personal experiences?  Well, I’m glad you asked.