A few days ago, I was with my sister in Branson, Missouri. We were being silly kids again and attending Motown concerts put on by some of our friends. One night, we were sitting on the front row of a show when a lady in a wheelchair pulled herself into the seat behind my sister. I glanced over my shoulder and smiled. She didn’t look like everyone else in the crowd. Her clothes were rumpled, her movements jerky and her voice disjointed and loud. But it was apparent she wanted to be friends and immediately began talking to us. Her questions, and rather boisterous outbursts, continued after the performance began. People in the audience started giving her dirty looks and saying unkind things just loud enough for her hear, but she tried to ignore them. When one of the performers asked a few couples to come to the stage so he could sing to them while they danced she wanted to be spotlighted too.
She got to her feet with such wobbly movements I thought for sure she would topple over, but her husband let her lean on him while he got her up the few steps. She came alive for just a few minutes, moving around to the melodious strains of a love song, but I knew she was in trouble when her knees began to shake. I wanted to rush up and lend my support since no one else on stage appeared to notice that she was in trouble. But before she collapsed to the floor the performer helped her husband get her back to her chair. She apologized profusely for not being able to stand longer and asked for a soda. I left to get it for her while the performer told the rest of the audience that she had only been able to walk for a little over a year.
It was during intermission that I learned more of her story. She was the poster child for MS when she was a little girl and got to go to Disneyland and meet a bunch of celebrities who paid a great deal of attention to her. But when her cuteness faded, she was basically tossed away to make it on her own. She lived on the streets, doing anything she had to for survival, until the man who became her husband saw her. He told us that he really didn’t want to become involved because he had other ideas for his life, but God told him he would be giving up a great many blessings if he walked away. He decided that God knew more than he did, and since this life was a test he was willing to take the challenge. He worked with her everyday for several decades until she could finally stand and then walk short distances. His love and support helped her reclaim as much of her life as she could. She had two seizures before the show was over but didn’t let that take away any of her joy at just being there. That experience gave me a lot to think about when I went back to the bed and breakfast that night.
I had been taught that strength comes through adversity, and I realized early the next morning that I had seen one of Heavenly Father’s most choice spirits the night before. She had been given a test I would never want or be able to handle, but she was doing everything she could to rise above her challenges. That awareness was followed by a true epiphany. I saw quite clearly that I had come to define my life by all the really bad things that had happened since I have almost complete memory loss when it comes to the day by day experiences most people are able to recall without any effort. Even when my kids bring up something fun or unusual that happened when they were growing up, I can’t remember it. But I know that somewhere in my genes is an incredible gift – the ability to keep moving whenever life seems determined to push and keep me down.
I know we all have times of great adversity when the pain is almost more than we can endure – times of death, illness, heartache and loss that zap us to the core. There are also times of challenge that make us dig deep to find the strength and courage necessary to even get out of bed. But mostly, there are just unrelenting irritants like broken water lines, flat tires, unruly children, allergic reactions, lost items and requests from others that we really don’t have time for. But regardless of what we’re asked to go through by a loving Father who knows what we need to become more like him, or simply the things we bring on ourselves through carelessness and plain stupidity, how we react to the unpleasant will determine where we ultimately end up.
I learned about adversity and how it can destroy an entire family when I was five. I'm sure I've related this experience before, but I think it warrants retelling since it has much to do with the topic. It was the spring of the year and my father was getting the tractor ready to plow the fields. We were poor dirt farmers, and I was sent outside with my three year-old brother and told to watch him. I suppose I did for a time, but kids minds can’t stay focused for long and he was determined to be with our dad. He slipped away and went to the field. But our father didn’t see him, and the tractor lunged forward just as he was trying to climb on the neck of the disk. One of the blades ran over his neck, another his chest, and a third over his legs.
He was lifeless when our father, through super-human strength, lifted the disc with one hand and pulled him out with the other. He came running towards the house, shouting for the keys to the jeep and saying that Sandon was dead. My mother took one look at me and said. “If you would been watching him the way I told you to this never would have happened.” Then she turned her back on me and disappeared. That was the day I became a little adult who allowed the cares of the world to settle directly on my shoulders.
My little brother was in a coma for six weeks, and the doctors had no idea how to help him since all the medical marvels we have today had yet to be invented. His trachea kept collapsing and they had to operate several times without being able to transfer him to a sterile environment. We three girls were sent to stay with family and friends because our mother needed to be with him.
When he woke up, the right side of his body was paralyzed along with the accompanying brain damage that made it so he had to learn how to walk, talk and do even the simplest things again. We were thrilled when our parents were finally able to bring him home, but it was a scary experience too. His crib was set up in the living room and he became the center of our lives because there was nothing he could do for himself. Several large and noisy machines were in the room with him and our mother had to learn how to use them, especially the one that suctioned out the mucus that formed in the hole in his neck where the doctors had inserted a tracheotomy tube. Each accomplishment he made was celebrated, but the strain his partial recovery put on each member of our family was great.
The doctor and hospital bills were enormous, there were no physical therapists or specialized who knew how to help him because no one with his kind of injuries had ever survived before and someone had to be with him every moment because scar tissue would grow over the end of the tube in his neck that had to be surgically removed. He couldn’t speak unless the hole was plugged, and he couldn’t breathe if it wasn’t.
I became his personal guardian because I blamed myself for all he was going through, but he never complained about anything. He taught me more about building strength through adversity than anyone else ever has. We could never have a pet because he tripped over everything. He had to do special exercises several times each day to help strengthen his stiff and shrunken limbs, and he had to wear a heavy metal brace on his right leg until adulthood. He never got to play during recess because his teachers spent that time trying to help him understand his lessons. He fell down constantly and always had holes in pant legs and scraps on his arms and legs. Kids were cruel and made fun of him continually, but there was always a smile on his face, even though I knew his heart was filled with pain because he understood that he would never be able to do the things others could.
But despite his disabilities he set goals and accomplished some of them. He graduated high school, married a girl he had grown up with and had 6 children. Unfortunately, a lifetime of pain, rejection and self-doubt caused him to lose his way and he forfeited association with all but one of his daughters. He ended up marrying a young girl who had some serious issues and when they broke up he got involved with more bad people and fell into a fire pit while he was at a party. He couldn’t get out, and the people he was with waited until they thought he would never survive before dropping him off outside the emergency room doors without any identification. It took three days before any family was notified. When I saw him in the burn unit his face and body were swollen to twice their normal size.
Because he allowed his faith to waver, he spent his last 15 years in a nursing home in incredible pain because some of the burns never healed. But he recognized where he had gone wrong and never blamed anyone else for where he ended up, not even the people who put him there. He spent his time cheering up the other residents, studying his scriptures and praying for help, strength and forgiveness. I lost him the day after Thanksgiving last year. And while I take comfort in knowing that he is now able to run and feel the wind blowing through his hair like he couldn’t do in this life, I miss him every day. He was, and is, an amazing man, and I admire him more than ever for his willingness to accept and even flourish in the face of what I consider true adversity.
Personally, I don’t particularly enjoy adversity, but I recognize its purpose and the gifts it offers if we’re smart enough to recognize them. Sandon’s accident gave me a love for the disabled because I can see their true value and what strong spirits they have to be given such difficult challenges. They’ve already proven their worth and their reunion in heaven will be glorious.
There have been many defining moments in my life. I’ll share just a few and what they taught me. When I was in the third grade I contracted Rheumatic Fever and spent six months in bed. I could only get up to go to the bathroom or for my weekly visit to the doctor where my blood was drawn. The disease damaged my heart, and I have never been able to participate in strenuous physical activities. But those long months without seeing anyone other than family taught me to love the printed word and gave me the desire to express my thoughts through writing.
When I was thirteen, my father died quite suddenly from a massive heart attack leaving seven children behind. I found him lying on the bathroom floor, but couldn’t open it because his body was blocking the way. His death was too much for our mother and she had a complete nervous breakdown a short time later. Those were awful years. She came after me with a butcher knife when I was a senior because I wouldn’t support some of the truly horrid things she was doing. I ended up running away a couple of months later, but was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to attend college. I never went home again, but thanks to a loving grandmother I was able to see my younger siblings a couple of times before she died during spring semester of my freshman year.
I’ve often wondered what possible purpose God had for taking our father when we needed him so much, but I suppose it kept me from making more mistakes than I did because I knew he might be watching me. His death also taught me how to love my Heavenly Father more. And over time, I learned to talk to him like I would have talked to my father. He has been the only one in my corner most of my life since I’ve spent the majority of it alone.
With no one to give me advice, support or love after the age of 19, I ended up marrying a man who said he needed me to help him become the man he really wanted to be. I knew how to be needed and take care of others, but I didn’t know anything about being love. I could never do anything right with him, and he let me know it on a daily basis. I was terrified of his ability to reduce me to just a shell of the person I was before we met, but in those days girls just didn’t walk away from a marriage.
I tried to give him a family that I hoped would make things better, but each pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. He blamed me for all of them because in his own words, “he could me pregnant. It was my fault I couldn’t carry them.”
When I knew Heavenly Father wanted me to adopt, he said he didn’t want someone else’s children, but he would sign the papers if I would do all the work and I did. I lasted 22 years with him before my body started to shut down from all the abuse and stress. The doctor told me I would be dead in 6 months if I didn’t do something drastic. It was hard walking away with nothing, but Heavenly Father gave me the strength to start over again.
My daughter had already graduated from high school, and my fifteen year-old son said he would go with me as long as we had a place to live. But my ex-husband bought him a pickup he could drive to school each day, along with all the spending money and freedom he wanted. I was in a small basement apartment and making $17,000 a year so all I could give him was love. Those were the hardest days of my life being away from the children I had fought so hard to have.
But Heavenly Father was my constant source of strength. He helped me move 4 times that first year, and hold my head up at the high school where I taught after my principal called me into his office to tell me to watch my back because the good people from my home community were out to crucify me. He helped me find a job in a different town and my son came to live with me. He helped me through graduate school while I was working full-time, find summer jobs so I could make it financially and make several additional moves. He gave me the courage to walk into the unknown over and over again, and taught me how important it was to stay close to him.
We live in both perilous and exciting times, but I feel calm when I'm doing what I know is right. And I know there are many people in the life that comes after this one who are lending whatever support they can as we navigate some very difficult journeys. May we remain strong, teachable and loving in a society that calls evil good, encourages hatred and division and tries to silence those who appose what the people in power are trying to promote. It is a beautiful world, and there are amazing people everywhere.
In case you find time for additional reading, I'm enclosing a list of the books I've written, along with a brief synopsis. Each book is built around family, searching for truth and overcoming personal struggles and opposition. They can be found on Amazon Books in both print and Ebook formats at https://amzn.to/2BXNSdv
Stay happy and know that the answers to most of life's problems are just a prayer away.
Kismet Finds a Way: by JS Ririe
Andrea Halbert always lived by the rules, but she’d never found Mr. Right. Then one dark a stranger entered her life. He was handsome, charismatic, and had a passion for living that made her head spin, but he also had a dark past and secrets he was unwilling to share. Her head told her to be careful, but her heart didn’t want to listen. Will a whirlwind romance, and some choices she did not see coming, cause her to fall from grace, or will she be able to help a man she can’t forget find his forgotten dreams?
Crossfire at Bentley: by JS Ririe
Jada Sloan spent four years at the university in love with a professor – seven years her senior - who hopped in and out of her life like a yoyo. Ten years later, after a rocky road to success and a failed marriage, she found herself back at Bentley as a guest lecturer. But a new friend, a conspiracy and a chance encounter with her old flame threaten to destroy her purpose-driven life. Will she find the inner strength to let go of her past or become part of a puzzle no one seems capable of solving?
Rivers of Rage: by JS Ririe
For Rani Wade, it was far from easy knowing that her parents had dropped her off at a stranger’s house with no intention of returning. But left with the will to survive, she embraces a new life that unexpectedly takes her to the mountains of Colorado and an adventure that causes her to reevaluate everything she believes about permanence, hope and the reality that people are seldom forced to be alone, even when abandoned by the people who should love them the most.
Beyond the Glass Doors: by JS Ririe
Maya Kincade was used to taking risks. That’s how she claimed the perfect life and how it ended. But she wasn’t ready to have her world torn apart and be left with two children to raise. That’s when a long-lost relative enters her life with a proposition she is unable to refuse, and she must dig deep into her soul to decide if her husband’s death will be the worst loss of her lifetime.
Final Allegiance - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 1: by JS Ririe
Reagan Sinclair defies her family’s wishes by joining the FBI. While her motives are pure, her first undercover assignment proves that true bravery comes from the heart. Loaned out to the Drug Enforcement Agency to infiltrate a compound in the Colombian jungle, she is forced to face her own mortality when the mission is compromised and she attempts a daring escape without the necessary backup.
Resilience - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 2: by JS Ririe
Life is beginning to return to a semblance of normalcy when Reagan is approached about another undercover assignment with the DEA. Seeing her former partner again is intriguing, but she will never forget his cold arrogance and ruthless behavior in the Colombian jungle. Pull off the role of his make-believe wife won’t be easy.
Safe Haven - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 3: by JS Ririe
After trying to come to terms with more than just the fallout of a challenging assignment, Reagan returns to FBI headquarters with a new price on her head. Eloise Seville has vowed to destroy her life, and with a mole somewhere within the ranks of the DEA, she knows that discovering her true identity won’t be hard.
Unsheltered - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 4: by JS Ririe
Stunned, hurt, and afraid after the tragedy at the safe house and a brutal demand, Reagan is forced on the run with baby Sam knowing they might never see their family again. A strange and unnerving encounter gives her the ammunition she needs to start a return battle against the evil monsters that have stolen so much of her life.
Welcome Redemption - Reagan Sinclair, FBI - Book 5: by JS Ririe
Not wanting to spend time in a Mexican prison, Reagan agrees to testify at Eloise Seville’s trial. But her uncanny ability to see things others often overlook tells her that the subpoena was merely another ruse. Her journey takes her back to Colombia where she and Agent Fielding go up against their ruthless and formidable enemies in a calculated showdown where only one side will be victorious.
Indecision’s Flame - Book 1: by JS Ririe
Brylee Hawkins was prepared to enjoy a bright, hopeful future until her fiancé convinced her to return to the Australian Outback to confront her father. On her own in a harsh and unforgiving land, she is forced to face an unsavory past and an even more disturbing and dangerous present filled with unrelenting lies, secrets and cover-ups.
Lost - Indecision’s Flame - Book 2: by JS Ririe
Torn between her family and the obligations of a promise made to her father, Brylee longs to return to the United States and to her fiancé, but fate has other plans. Jake, the brother of her father’s wife, decides to take her under his wing and teach her the ropes of running the ranch—mostly in an attempt to get rid of her before she learns of her father’s legacy and the part she is to play if she wants to help keep it alive.
Exposed - Indecision’s Flame - Book 3: by JS Ririe
With LeAnn gone from the ranch and the aftermath of the flood to contend with, Brylee is forced to assume more responsibility than she is prepared for in raising her little brother and trying to keep the family heritage intact. Her troubles deepen when a secret she was keeping from her fiancé is revealed through an unexpected source.
Betrayal - Indecision’s Flame - Book 4: by JS Ririe
Despite a fractured heart, Brylee forges onward in support of her cousin, Molly, who suddenly decides to get married. Tension and violence quickly ignite in the outback when a nugget of gold is found on a neighboring homestead, and Brylee and Jake are forced to put aside their differences as they are pulled deeper into a web of misunderstandings, cover-ups and danger.
Reawakening - Indecision’s Flame - Book 5: by JS Ririe
Jake’s cryptic note forces Brylee to reconsider remaining in the outback where personal heartbreak and unrelenting responsibility are reducing her to a shell of the woman she has once been. But the arrival of an old aborigine from her past whose revelations about her childhood and omens for the future make leaving impossible.
Unraveling - Indecision’s Flame - Book 6: by JS Ririe
Brylee’s avoidance when it comes to revealing parts of her curious past lead her back to the cave of drawings. While Trevor’s disappearance fuels LeAnn’s involvement with their neighbor, Raymond Tucker, whose only goal has been to acquire every ranch in their part of the outback by whatever means is necessary.
Destiny - Indecision’s Flame - Book 7: by JS Ririe
Beth effectively ruins Christmas with an unexpected visit and Raymond steps in to save the day, further ingratiating himself into the family. LeAnn’s accepting behavior towards their unwanted benefactor causes additional rifts as Brylee and Jake race to figure out what he’s up to before the secrets of the mountain are revealed.