You Are Stronger than You Know
When I was very young, if I had a nightmare or became scared in the middle of the night I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom and stand at my father’s side of the bed. I am not sure why I chose my father’s side since my mother was usually the “softie”. Perhaps I knew instinctively that she couldn’t get up easily and help me back to bed. Truth is my father never got up and walked me back to bed either but I still went to his side of the bed. I was never invited into the bed or tucked back in. I am not even sure if my father woke up fully. He would just say “You are fine. Nothing is going to bother you. Go back to bed.” I would walk back to room, grab my pillow and bedspread, wait just long enough to be sure he had fallen back to sleep and then head back to their bedroom and sleep on their floor. Depending on how scared I was, how bad the dream might have been would determine where I slept. If I was truly in a state of terror I would sleep on my father’s side of the bed because it was farthest from the door. If I was only slightly terrified and felt that my mother might need some protection, I would sleep at the foot of their bed, sometimes holding my mother’s iron to protect us if someone crossed the threshold.
I spent many nights afraid of my own shadow. My father would call out to me and my sister: who left the light on downstairs?” and we would both shout “not me.” My father would respond “well we must have a ghost in the house. Someone tell him to turn the light off” which didn’t really help my fear of the dark…
Some nights I would leap from my doorway onto my bed to avoid being grabbed by the ankles by some unknown creature residing under my bed. Some nights I would make my father check my closet to be sure Darth Vader had not taken up residence. But in the morning the light would replace the darkness and Darth Vader would no longer be lingering in my closet and strange creatures were never found under my bed.
Those night time fears eventually faded. I came to realize Darth Vader was really just misunderstood and that nothing could survive under my bed with all the dust bunnies and dirty clothes hanging about. My mother always said there was nothing to be afraid of. My father always sent me back to my bed. I survived on their courage. I navigated life pretty well. I survived high school and all the teen angst that comes with it. I made it through college, which was anxiety producing on a weekly basis. I managed to travel in my 20’s and live in a few states, alone. I had relationships that didn’t pan out. It was life. But there was always a common denominator…my mother. She was always the voice of reason. She could tell by the sound of my voice when I was worried or scared. She would pass her strength through the phone with the sound of her voice. Amazing.
In 2005, when my mom ended up in the hospital and they finally figured out it was her heart that was causing all the pain she had been having for more than a year. They scheduled her for a cardiac cath. The night before the procedure I went to the hospital to stay with her. She was asleep when I got there. I pulled up a chair next to her bed and watched CNN. She loved CNN. This was the week that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. My mom woke up with pain and after the nurse gave her some medication I climbed into bed with her and we watched the news. My mom said,’ Karen look at all those poor people. I hope they get out okay.’” The cameras were on the traffic that was heading out of New Orleans. All you could see were red brake lights. It was bumper to bumper and no one was moving. I thought – “why are you not afraid right now?” Here she was in pain, a procedure scheduled for the morning and she was feeling empathy for people she didn’t know. Then I realized she wasn’t afraid. but I was. There I was 35 years old and afraid of the dark. very selfishly I asked her not to give up. I told her I didn’t know what I would do without her. She said “Oh Karen, you’ll be fine. You’ll be just fine. You…are...stronger than you know.”
Aren’t mothers always right? We are! I tell my kids all the time that I am right even when I am wrong! It is the best perk of mother hood!
After my mom died, we sold our little house in New Britain, we had Cooper and we moved to Portland. I found myself in a much larger house in a town where I knew no one with a colicky 3-week-old and a rambunctious 3-year-old in the darkness of January. I cried. I was sad and I was afraid we had made a terrible mistake.
Light always follows dark, just like morning sun takes away nightmares, spring came and the days got longer. We planted a garden and we met our neighbors and we found nice people who became good friends. And 3 years passed and more light came in the form of our daughter ,Piper.
When Piper was 4 months old we found ourselves at Children’s in Hartford. Our pediatrician had found a “click” in one of Piper’s hips. He said “I’m not worried it’s probably nothing but let’s get it checked out.” I thought a quick trip for an x-ray and we’ll be on our way home. We had been scheduled for an ultrasound but the wait was horrendous. When we finally went into the room my thought that this was nothing was fading quickly. The ultrasound took a long time. Greg who can talk paint off a wall just kept chatting away, asking the technician about her kids and how she likes her job. I was studying the screen and the technician. Not that I knew what to look for and not that I thought I could read anything on her face but something didn’t seem right. When she left she told us she would be back with the radiologist and I knew something was most certainly wrong. When they came back the doctor did the ultrasound himself and explained they would send us to orthopedics. That it looked like hip dysplasia. I didn’t know what this meant. I understood that something was wrong with her hip, I understood the anatomy of it but I had no idea how it would be, or if it could be fixed. My over active imagination took flight and I saw her little legs casted. Then I thought what if she needs surgery to fix this? What if it can’t be fixed? And the darkness came, fear filled me.
A couple hours later, they fit Piper into what is called a Pavlik harness. It is all cloth and Velcro. Now Piper hadn’t eaten in hours, literally. I had brought one bottle thinking we would be done quickly. She had been so good, smiling and sweet but when the APRN pulled the Velcro apart and it made a loud rip, I felt Piper ‘s body jolt and her face scrunched up and she wailed. Her cry hit me like a thunder clap and I started to cry. I just fell apart. Greg nudged me and gave me a look that said “hold it together” so I tried. The APRN was very kind and she told this harness would most likely fix the problem. She would have to wear it 23 hours a day for about 6 months but it should do the trick, she said.
We left there and went out to the parking garage. It was a drizzly day, damp. And so cold for July. Piper had fallen asleep in my arms all tucked into her harness and I stood at the elevator my mind still swirling with questions I didn’t think to ask and questions that there weren’t any answers to. While my mind was dancing around in its dark thoughts, a mom came up to the elevator. I glanced over at her and she was pushing her son in a wheelchair. I looked at him and realized his situation was not temporary. He would not ever be without the wheelchair. I tried to smile at his mom but I am sure it was a weak, pitiful smile. Her eyes slid to Piper in my arms and her harness and then she smiled at me. A beautiful smile full of grace and compassion. And in that moment, she shared a piece of herself with me. Her smile gave me strength. I realized in that moment that a harness for a few months was nothing. I felt God speaking to me in that moment. he was saying," We can handle this." You can handle this."
Courage is not the absence of fear, it is forging ahead in spite of feeling afraid. Jesus told us not to be afraid, not to worry about our lives. Life can be full of things to worry about, things to fear. But we don’t have to face any of it alone. We aren’t here on earth one at a time we are all here together. When we allow fear to take over, when we give in to darkness and block out the light it keeps us from reaching our full potential. It keeps us from finding our purpose. And sometimes our purpose is as simple as sharing ourselves. When we share ourselves, when we share our stories, we share our courage and our comfort. We help others find their strength. Think of it if you will as spiritual osmosis.
Light always follows darkness and it is just as my mother said, you are stronger than you know.