Monday, April 15, 2013

Memorable Moments

Happy Monday everyone! I know it's been a while since I posted to the blog - sorry about that, life's been busy. Today I'd like to share something with you not necessarily related to Red Letter Ink, but it's something that's been on my heart. So here goes ...

We all have times in our life that we'll never forget. A special time as a kid where you got the PERFECT gift you wanted for your birthday, your high school graduation, your first day starting a "real" job after college, your wedding day, the day your child(ren) were born or brought in to your life through the gift of adoption. Life is full of memorable moments as we all know. And while many of these memorable days and occasions are wonderful, let's be honest, some of the details and excitement fade a little as the years pass no matter how hard we try to keep them vivid in our minds. It just happens as our lives and minds are filled with more and more stuff.

I've got so many wonderful memories of growing up. My husband often gives me a hard time because I remember and talk about detailed things from when I was ridiculously young...don't ask me how I can remember that far back, but I can. Growing up in small town Wisconsin with my 3 brothers was great. We had {and still have} two loving parents who instilled Christian values into our lives, pouring everything they had in to us. My grandparents {Grandma & Grandpa Peterson - on my dad's side} lived just a few minutes away and we spent countless hours at their house playing games, singing along as Grandma played the organ or harmonica, helping split firewood for the winter, working in the garden picking cucumbers so we could make dill pickles with Grandma, going for walks down the dirt road to the creek where we'd fish or swim. When we got bored with all of that, we'd go out to my favorite spot - the woods. I remember spending hours upon hours out there with my brothers, building tree forts, catching critters, climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek. Such great memories! We were such a close-knit family growing up.

A day that changed our family's lives forever and one that I will never forget was Sunday, November 19, 1995. I was 16 years old. It was the day after my Mom's birthday. As a surprise, my grandparents {on my mom's side - Grandma & Grandpa Cromley} from Colorado had flown in for a visit and we had all gone to church together. We didn't all fit in one car, so we'd driven two vehicles to the Sunday evening church service. My two younger brothers, Jesse {13} and Brandon {11}, were anxious to get home after church. My twin brother, Aaron, wanted to stay a bit longer after church so him and Grandma Cromley could play piano together {Grandma was an amazing pianist and often played for Billy Graham revival meetings when she was young}. We asked my parents and they gave me permission to drive the full-sized Chevy family van home, promising they wouldn't be too much longer. I remember my younger brothers fighting over who got to sit in the front seat...Brandon won the front seat spot, his head resting just below the top of the seat as he climbed in, and tall, lanky Jesse scowled, but buckled up his lap belt in the middle spot on the bench seat behind us. We thought we were rebels turning on the radio to a station we were usually allowed to listen to. All of us were singing/humming along to a Beatles song. Earlier in the day, it'd rained, so the roads were a bit wet. I'd done a couple "brake checks" like my Dad had taught me to make sure the roads weren't slippery. They seemed fine and we headed home. About a mile from home as we were in a low spot with a marsh on the left side of the road another car came up alongside us as if it were going to pass. I let off the gas and the other car just kept right along side us almost as if they didn't really intend to pass us, then backed off their speed a bit. We were coming up to a hill, so I put my foot back on the gas pedal to accelerate. As I did, our rear-wheel drive van started into a spin. We ended up spinning on the icy road doing a complete 360º, then another 180º before rolling down the embankment towards the marsh. As our tires caught the snowbank on the other side of the ditch, I remember seeing our headlights in the tall pines as we rolled over. I remember crunching sound of crushing metal as we rolled. I remember all the dust and debris as we landed on our wheels. I remember a crushing pain in my head and an awful throbbing in my knee which had gone through the steering column. I remember turning off the van and quickly turning to ask my brothers if they were okay. I remember seeing Brandon's seat laid almost completely flat backwards from the roof of the van coming down on it as we rolled. I remember him saying he was okay but his arm hurt and he couldn't get his door open. I remember turning around and seeing Jesse's head covered in blood and debris as he laid on the bench seat underneath the crushed roof, and the big round shattered pattern in the glass where his head had gone through the side window, his body being thrown back and forth like a rag doll with just the lap belt on. But the thing I remember most vividly is the horrible sound he was making as he gasped for breath. I remember screaming his name asking him if he could hear me. I remember kicking my door open and the cold snow on my bare legs that weren't covered below my knee-length skirt as I slid out of my seat. I remember somehow climbing back through the van to where I could reach Jesse. I remember finding something I could place under his head/neck as I unbuckled his seat belt and turned his slumped over body on to his back in an attempt to help him breath better. I remember praying. I remember trying so hard to keep it together. I remember the EMTs arriving and helping me get out of the van and to the top of the embankment where Brandon had already been taken. I remember someone holding my arm helping me across the icy road to a waiting ambulance where Brandon was laying on a stretcher. I remember the loud grinding sound of the jaws of life as the EMTs worked to free Jesse. I remember seeing my Dad come walking and sliding across the icy road, pushing a police officer out of the way trying to get to the top of the embankment as they'd just come upon the accident on their way home from church. I remember seeing my Mom's tear-stained face through the window of the ambulance as she came to check on us. I remember the floodgates opening after seeing my Mom. I couldn't stop crying. I remember the ambulance ride to the hospital which was about 25 minutes away. I remember being separated from my family as they stitched up my head. I remember being brought out to a waiting area and seeing my brother Aaron, hugging him and crying together. I remember my Dad's stoic face as he came and told us they were airlifting Jesse to the Twin Cities. I remember a dear family friend from church walk in to the hospital saying he had an extra car we could borrow to get home after my parents had left for the Twin Cities to be with Jesse and had taken the only other car we had. I remember the silent drive home in Chad & Dorothy Diehl's car, driving right past the spot of the accident. I remember showering when we got home and washing the blood out of my waist-length hair. I remember laying there on the air mattress in the family room staring all night at the beams on the ceiling crying, praying that God would spare Jesse's life. I remember trying to pull myself up off the air mattress the next morning when the sun finally came up,  and every inch of my body screaming in pain as I finally brought myself to an upright position to stand. I remember the horrible black/blue/green bruises in the perfect shape/position of a seat belt across my hips/lap and torso/shoulder. I remember my parents calling and saying Jesse had made it through the night. I remember my poor baby brother Brandon and how pathetic and beat up he looked that morning. I remember sitting at the dining room table with both sets of grandparents, thanking God for his blessings and protection. I remember my parents coming home to change clothes and grab a few things...and them asking if I wanted to go back down to the hospital with them. I remember a very quiet 1.5 hour ride to the Twin Cities. I remember my hands shaking and my stomach twisting in knots as we walked down the hallway towards Jesse's ICU room. I remember standing in the doorway and seeing him, completely unrecognizable, looking more like an alien than my brother, with his bruised swollen head and tubes everywhere. I remember completely breaking down, feeling like this was all my fault.  I remember when Jesse woke up and I was able to talk with him for the first time. I remember the doctors saying it was a miracle he'd survived. I remember taking Thanksgiving dinner to the hospital with my grandparents so we could be together as a family, giving thanks once again for God's provision and protection. I remember back at home making welcome home signs and "Happy birthday, Dad" signs that we hung on the front door when Jesse wowed the doctors even more by coming home not even a week after the accident {on my Dad's birthday - November 24th}.

The months and years after the accident were a challenge. Brandon ended up having the most serious long-term injuries with a broken shoulder and elbow which required surgery due to the break being so close to the growth plate in his shoulder. Jesse's personality was different after the accident. He was much more serious and seemed angry about a lot of things. I remember numerous times being pulled out of class in high school by the guidance counselor and being told, "Your brother is out by your locker and needs you". I remember sitting out there with him, my arm around him as we cried together. I didn't know what to do or say, but hugging him and sitting with him was what I think we both needed. He just seemed sad a lot, definitely not the happy, fun-loving kid he had been before the accident and his head injury. As the years went by and my twin brother and I left for college, Jesse continued to have a difficult time. I remember being at college getting phone calls from Jesse. He was often upset, asking when I was coming home and confided in me about some of the poor choices he'd begun making during his last couple years of high school. All I could do was assure him that I loved him and was confident God had a plan for his life...and I prayed for him. My Mom would also call saying her and my Dad were struggling trying to deal with Jesse as he rebelled and chose to do things his way. I remember countless times hanging up the phone and crying because I felt guilty, as though I was partially to blame...because of the accident.

Jesse went off to college and ended up getting kicked out of school {on academic probation} after his first year. I tried to be as involved in his life as he'd let me, but I was finishing up school myself and was newly married. We received news several months later that Jesse had joined the military. Once he left for training, we lost touch for a while - I'd get updates from my Mom and would occasionally get an email from him but they were usually pretty brief. My heart still ached as I knew he wasn't making the best decisions. And I knew he wasn't walking with the Lord, so I continued praying. Then Jesse was deployed to Germany for 18 months. His drinking and drug use increased when he was away from family and friends, and again, I felt partially responsible. He returned from overseas and eventually went back to school for nursing {after being an Army medic}. He also met and married a wonderful girl named Jodi who our whole family loves. Jesse and Jodi welcomed a beautiful baby girl in 2010. Life has been busy for all of us now that we have our own families, but we still try to get together when we can. Most of the time when we'd get together Jesse seemed irritated or frustrated with something. And once again, my heart ached to see him unhappy. He had this beautiful family, a good job, and had started attending a great church {after an invitation from my brothers}...yet he still seemed unsatisfied and often angry. In the spring of 2012 Jesse and Jodi told the family they were expecting again and we were all very excited for them. Then we found out they were having TWINS! Wow, exciting news! Shortly after learning they were expecting twins, Jesse and Jodi were told that their boys had Twin-to-Twin Syndrome {TTTS}. After what seemed like a successful endoscopic laser treatment to even out the blood flow for both of the boys, on May 19, 2012 Jesse and Jodi learned one of the boys {William David Michael} had not survived. While they were heartbroken, their focus began on their remaining son and getting him as close to full-term as possible. I remember finding myself somewhat angry with God after receiving the news that William hadn't made it. I remember talking to God and saying, "How on earth could you allow this to happen - especially after we've been praying for years and YEARS that Jesse would come back to YOU? How? And WHY? What good could possibly come out of this???". I was so frustrated and emotionally exhausted. But after I calmed down a bit, I once again prayed that God would work in Jesse's life somehow through this. I also added this situation to our church's private prayer chain. I remember getting an email a few days later from a dear prayer warrior {love you, Grandma Janice!} at our church saying she was praying over this situation and had specifically called on God to bring something beautiful out of this.

On August 28th Jesse and Jodi welcomed Isaac Andrew. While they were so thankful that Isaac had safely arrived, they also now had to start {again} the grieving process from losing William. My husband and I went up to meet Isaac in NICU shortly after he was born. His tiny 4lb. 11oz. body looked so frail in the little isolette. We praised God for him and prayed that he'd grow stronger quickly so he could go home. And we continued praying that God would comfort Jesse and Jodi and somehow make something good come out of this heart-wrenching situation. As a mom, I cried thinking about the loss Jodi must be feeling, and as a big sister, I cried wanting to make everything better for my little brother and his sweet family. It didn't make any sense at all. But we kept praying.

A few months later, I started hearing about little changes in Jesse's life. He had stopped drinking. He was getting more involved at church and seemed to have connected with some great guys there. He was going on a missions trip to Ecuador this summer with my younger brother Brandon. He seemed a lot happier, as if he had a purpose in life. I was cautiously hopeful, but kept praying. Then a couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from my sister-in-law Jodi, inviting us to come and attend Jesse's baptism. I'm not gonna lie, I almost dropped the phone when I heard those words come out of her mouth. I hung up the phone. And cried {contrary to what this blog post probably will lead you to believe, I'm not a "cryer"}.

This past weekend, we headed up to Duluth for the weekend with the rest of our family. We had a great time with all the cousins together, and the 4 siblings and spouses were able to catch up a bit in person. Sunday morning came and we all arrived at Rock Hill Community Church in plenty of time to get seats together. As we started the worship time, I couldn't help it...the tears started flowing. Standing there thinking back over the past nearly 18 years, and here I was - about to see my brother, who I'd been praying for this whole time, get BAPTIZED, declaring publicly that he had finally decided that walking with Christ was the only way he'd truly be happy in life. Jesse stood before hundreds of people and shared his not-so-pretty testimony. He didn't mention our accident, but in my head I couldn't help but think back to November 19th, 1995 when I laid there on that air mattress in the family room feeling horribly guilty, praying through the night that God would spare Jesse's life. I had a rush of all the feelings of guilt and responsibility from the years following our accident. But as Jesse was lifted out of the water of the baptismal tub, I felt an overwhelming weight lifted from me as I witnessed with my very own eyes, my "little" 6'4" brother choosing to live his life differently, following Christ and finally realizing it really wasn't all that bad submitting to authority, when it's the ultimate authority. THIS was the "something beautiful" we had all been praying that God would bring out of all the heartache and hurt of losing William. Jesse shared as part of his testimony that what finally helped him come to the realization that he'd been living his life headed in the wrong direction was seeing how the body of Christ {specifically at Rock Hill} had come around, loved on and support him and Jodi as they grieved. After the service, I'm pretty sure my Mom and sister-in-law Katie thought I was losing it...the tears of joy and honestly, relief, wouldn't stop, and I could barely speak. I know Jesse will still face difficult days like we all do, but what a wonderful answer to prayer. Later on, back and Jesse and Jodi's house, watching the little cousins run around laughing and playing together while Jesse and Jodi visited and fellowshipped with some of their "church family" and "blood family", I whispered a quick thank you prayer, acknowledging that all the heartache, frustration, and uncertainty over the years was part of HIS plan and timing. I no longer needed to carry around this burden feeling as though I was partially responsible for Jesse's poor choices in his life. Instead, I could rejoice and celebrate that we serve a God who loves us more than we could ever imagine, who has a plan for our lives, and who never gives up on us! A memorable moment, for sure. Thank you, Lord, for your perfect timing...even when we can't see it. YOU make all things new and bestow on us endless "fresh starts". I love you "little" bro, and am so excited to continue praying for you as you start fresh - I know God's going to use you and your family in a powerful way!

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us."
1 John 5:14


 {Sharing his testimony}
{I love how Jesse came up out of the water with a HUGE smile on his face!}




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2 comments:

  1. I remember this accident - such a sad day. Amazing how God has worked through all of this. It's all in His time. So happy for Jesse and his family and his growth. Tears of joy with you in this.

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    1. Thanks Leah & Rachael!! Miss you guys! :)

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