Monday, June 16, 2014

To my daughter: How to be incredible

It is one of our last days driving home from the city together; in less than two weeks, Bonnie will marry Jared and begin her own commute from his apartment in Springfield. She is chattering on about the wedding, and her students, and things she is worried about. I am half-listening because sometimes it is just best to let her spin instead of trying to make sense of it all. I am still trying to reach the MICU nursing station at Hahnemann, where my husband is receiving ketamine infusion treatments. But then my daughter says something that makes me put my cell phone away.

"I don't think I can do it," she says. I am on high alert now. Do what? What part of the dialogue
 have I missed? What can't she do? Marry Jared? Teach special needs students? Finish her degree?

Casually, I try to pick up the thread. "You never know until you try," I say.

She shakes her head, her ponytail moving from side to side. Her freckles stand out from her pale face. "I just don't think I can do what you have done. What you do."

I want to laugh with relief. "Not everyone needs to get a doctorate, " I say. "Or teach college."

"Not that," she says. "What you do with Dad. How you take care of him and all of us. How you have for years. Frankly," and she shakes the ponytail again, "I don't know how you do it. You are the strongest woman I know, but I don't think I could ever be that strong."

It is hard to know how to respond. Certainly, in the last fourteen years, much has been required of me. It is not easy--and never has been--to take care of Ron's physical needs, work to support us all, and provide for the kids as well. I work too many hours and have too little rest, but I somehow manage to be there for each of my family members. I am pleased that my daughter recognizes what I have done. But have I set the bar impossibly high?

"I didn't know I could do it," I remind her quietly. "When Dad was first injured, when everything first fell onto me, I was certain I would crack in two. But God gave me strength I didn't know I had."

I hear the tears in her voice. "I love Jared so much," she says, "that I do not think I could stand to see him injured or in pain."

Immediately, I am transported back to March 1, 2000, and the recovery room at Crozer Hospital where Ron lay after the surgery, so still and gray he might have been carved from marble. I reached out to touch him, but there were tubes and monitors everywhere. My knees buckled and Pastor Lou grabbed my arm. "You can do this," he said. And I did. I found a spot by my husband's left shoulder and touched it lightly, then bent and kissed his dry lips. We were told that Ron would be hospitalized for several weeks, but would likely make a full recovery.

Fourteen years and twenty-six surgeries later, and I am still leaning on Lou's words: You can do this.

I clear my throat. "I don't do it alone," I say. "God gives me what I need."

She looks at me for a moment, then turns her eyes back to the road. "See," she says, "you and I look alike and talk alike. But I think I'm more like Dad in some ways. I don't know that I could trust God to get me through what you've had to do. I think I would crumble."

"I thought I would, too," I say. "I still do, sometimes. And I am not saying it is easy, Bonnie. I am saying that with God all things are possible." I try to remind her of her own strength that has seen her through heartache and loss, of the love she shares with Jared that will strengthen them both. But she remains unconvinced. Our conversation moves onto other things and eventually we are home and she is heading off to meet her fiance. She kisses me first. "I love you so much," she says. "You are an incredible woman."

I watch her drive away, a wave of emotions hitting me with scenes and sounds from the last few years. As I walk into the house, I become convinced of this: she will be strong enough for whatever life brings her way. She herself needs to know this.

So, this is for her, my beautiful daughter, light of my life. I may be the strongest woman she knows, but she is the strongest one I know.

Dearest Bonnie,

Your strength does not come from your freckles or your blue eyes or your wonderful laugh. These are things that attracted Jared to you, but what he fell in love with was much, much deeper. It is your faith and your trust that makes you the woman that you are, the woman he wants as his wife. He, with a disabled father, knows as well as anyone that life has no guarantees. The only thing we can count on is God and our love for each other.

I pray that you never need to experience the ongoing illness of your husband. I pray that he will continue to be strong and healthy, but I cannot promise you that it will be that way. We live in a world in which accidents--such as red pickup trucks running red lights--happen. People we love get hurt.

I have no doubt at all that God will equip you with whatever you need, whenever you need it. I believe it because I have seen it. I have seen you take over as Allen's mother when Dad was first injured, making sure that he had supper and did his homework. I have had you by my side throughout many of Dad's surgeries. I have seen you share your deep faith in God with those who came to inspect our knitting and crocheting as we sat in many waiting rooms. I have seen you through the heartache of loss of a dream and a home and a job. I have seen you turn to God to help you rebuild your life and allow yourself to love again.

I know you better than anyone else does. I knew you before you took your first breath. And I know, without any doubt at all, that you are strong and capable. I know that your love for both God and Jared will allow you to do things you do not think you can do. I know that you will face the unknown future holding tightly to your husband and your faith.

I wish--oh, how I wish!--that I could promise you light and roses and all good things. I wish I could protect your from the evils of the world. I wish I could wrap you in a hand-knitted cocoon of the softest yarn and keep you always safe. But one does not grow in a cocoon and one does not get to experience all the joy that God has for us. 

And here is the secret to being strong, dear daughter. Even in the midst of chaos and tragedy, even as I struggle to help your father with yet another hospitalization, yet another recovery, I have joy in my heart because I do what is right, because I honor my marriage vows, because I continue to trust and believe in God. When we give ourselves in marriage, it is for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. It is a promise that is difficult to keep. While I am sometimes physically exhausted by all that is expected of me, it is always well with my soul.

It will be well with yours as well.

Always and forever, to the moon and back,


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