Friday, December 10, 2010

Apples and Oranges

This is that time of year when local schools sell fruit boxes to raise money for local band programs, sports programs, etc. Mark and I ordered our share of fruit this year from a nephew and kids at church. I love to get the fruit and then share it with others because we can never eat it all before it ruins.This is also the time of year where apples and oranges that I normally see in the grocery store at every visit, take on a more special meaning for me and bring back Christmas memories.

You see, when my sister Amy and I were growing up, we always awoke on Christmas morning to find an apple and orange along with tons of delicious candy in our overflowing stockings. The apple and orange were always at the bottom of the stocking, tucked down in the toe. I know I took those poor pieces of fruit for granted and a lot of times left them stuck in the toe of the stocking. I mean, to me they were pieces of fruit that I saw everyday in our fruit bowl on the counter so they sometimes went neglected on Christmas day and  ultimately ended up back in the fruit bowl instead of being devoured along with the Hershey's kisses.

It wasn't until a little later when I was older, that I discovered the reason for the the oranges and apples being in my stockings all those years. I don't think my parents intentionally meant to place the everyday fruit there for a specific message to me and my sister Amy, but years later it always serves as a powerful reminder to me of a simpler time.

My parents would be the first to tell you that their childhoods were not easy ones. Maybe not as hard as other children's, but difficult nonetheless. My dad was one of three children and they moved a lot, often to wherever my grandfather could find a job. Daddy's favorite place of all to live was a house known as the Castleberry Place near the railroad tracks in Eldridge, Alabama. Daddy and my aunt Mary Jane and uncle Landon became favorites of the train engineers and they would throw candy, coins, and fruit to the brothers and sister who would often stand nearby to watch the trains pass.

My mother was one of ten children and knew what it was like to have to share clothing, belongings and to work hard in the fields picking cotton. Treats for a family of ten children were few and far between. To walk to the nearby country store to get a bottle of soda was an event and even after you got the soda, it wasn't entirely your own and had to be shared with siblings.

Apparently in those days, apples and oranges were real treats to have because they were not as readily available as they are now. They usually only made an appearance around this time of the year. Both Momma and Daddy remember getting apples and oranges on Christmas day in their stockings and if they were lucky, they might get a piece or two of peppermint candy.

That tradition was passed down to my sister Amy and I and I don't think it was necessarily intentional. I believe to my parents, those pieces of fruit reminded them of happy Christmas mornings in a day and time where Nintendo or iPhones didn't exist to compete with the simple fruits. A time when you couldn't go to a local Wal-Mart and find a row of every kind of candy imaginable in every flavor imaginable. So, when they had children of their own, they naturally did what they remember had made them happy as a child on Christmas morning.

I haven't been as faithful as my parents about putting an apple and orange in my own children's stockings. I mean, it's hard enough already to fit a bounty of candy and goodies in a cramped stocking and then trying to fit two pieces of fruit is near impossible!

This year however, with our first grandchild coming in May, I want to renew this humble tradition to keep us grounded so that we remember just how blessed we truly are. I plan to tell my grandchild (grandchildren) about their great grandparents and the apples and oranges and hope that the simple fruits will always serve as a reminder to always appreciate God's blessings in their lives and to learn and practice the true art of contentment. I hope it will also serve as a reminder to them to look around and remember those who are less fortunate not just during the Christmas season, but every season.

Just simple everyday fruits that you can purchase at your local grocery store on any given day of the week, but not so long ago those fruits brought much joy and excitement to a lot of little children in rural Alabama and I suspect many other places.

May we never over look the simple joys in life, a warm home, a good job, a cozy bed, a loving church family, loved ones to see at the end of a long work day...joys too numerous to name, but if one were missing, we would give all we owned to have it back. Let us never forget to give thanks to the One who gives us everything we need.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

Marlene

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Glimpse Into Another World...A Soldier's World

He was a young man in his early thirties... a handsome young man with a wife and children and he had just recently served time in Iraq and was now back  at home with his family.  The day I met him, he was preparing to have surgery.

We nurses took an instant liking to him. He had a great personality and was "cracking" jokes constantly.

We rolled him back to the Operating Room with him smiling, joking and laughing even until the point he was placed under anesthesia. The surgical procedure went well and was uneventful until it was time for us to wake him up from anesthesia and move him over to his stretcher.

We were calling his name, and became slightly amused at the expression on his face. We were expecting to be able to laugh and joke with him once more, especially because the stress of impending surgery was now over. He, at first, looked at us with intense confusion on his face and then he started yelling "What!" over and over as if he couldn't hear what we were saying. We still thought him to just be joking with us, but it soon became apparent that he was in another world...one we as nurses and civilians knew nothing about.

As I was wheeling his bed into the recovery area, he started asking me with great urgency, "Am I in the green zone?" I believe those were his words. I apologize to those with military experience who may read this if I am not using the correct terminology. I later discovered he was asking me if he was now in an area that was considered safe by his military unit in Iraq. In his mind, he thought he was there...in Iraq.

Several times I had to firmly hold him back in the bed because with great terror in his eyes he would say, " I've got to go see about my unit...I've got to go see about my men."  Sometimes he would ask with fear in his eyes and voice, "Did I miss a bomb?" There was nothing I could do or say as a nurse that would convince him that he was safe in his hometown in the states and that he had just had surgery. If I mentioned he was at home he would want to know if he had been wounded so badly that he had been sent home. If I mentioned he was safe in a hospital, he wanted to know if he was in Germany in the hospital. Time and time again he would briefly lie back in the bed for a few moments and then suddenly bolt up in the bed holding his stomach wanting to know once again if his unit had been hit by a bomb and was that why he was hurt. This would lead to him, once again, begging me to let him go see about his men to make sure they were all okay.

At one point, I called his wife back to Recovery hoping she could orient him to time and place, however this only caused him more stress because he thought she was in Iraq with him where it wasn't safe! He thought she had been flown over to be with him and he begged her to leave saying, "It's not safe over here for you." She held his hand and tried to reassure him over and over and he finally he began to relax somewhat.

As I monitored his vital signs and watched his reactions, it became obvious to me, and the nurse anesthetist, that he was having a post traumatic stress incident that had been triggered by the anesthesia.

His wife talked to him and reassured him and stayed so amazingly calm as he asked her the same questions he had asked me with the same stricken look of fear in his face. It hurt me as a stranger just to witness the fear in his voice and his face, but what was it like for her as his wife? His reactions and statements had to have confirmed a lot of the fears she had dealt with night after night as she waited for him to come home safely to her and the children.

I was struck with amazement at the integrity and courage this young man displayed. He thought he was injured yet he felt compelled to go see about his men, to make sure they were okay. He felt responsible for them. He never once exhibited concern for what he thought was a bomb inflicted injury to his own body. His wife later told me that he had been over a unit in Iraq that would travel up and down the roads looking for roadside bombs. A young man from our area that had been killed by a roadside bomb a few months earlier, had been a part of her husband's unit, however her husband had not been on duty that particular night. She said he had always felt that if he had been on duty that night, he might have been able to prevent that young man from being killed.

I had to leave the soldier and his wife to take another patient back to the Operating Room, but I checked in on him about an hour or so later and he was in his room seemingly back to himself except groggy from the anesthesia. His wife later told me he had no remembrance of what had taken place in Recovery.

He may not remember, but I always will. For almost an hour, I got just a tiny glimpse of the fear and stress that a soldier endures while at war. The intensity of his emotions were so strong, I felt as if I were in Iraq with him. I just simply cannot fathom the courage it takes for men and women to willingly put their lives in harm's way day in and day out to preserve our freedoms and way of life.

That young soldier and his wife will never have any idea of the impact they made on my life that day.Before that day I thought I appreciated the men and women who serve our country, but because of them, I have a far greater idea of the sacrifices they have made. Undoubtedly, he saw things and endured stress that was such that it will remain with him the rest of his life.

As this Veteran's day approaches, please go out of your way to thank those you know who serve or have served in the military. You may see a tear or two of appreciation well up in those eyes that have seen and  experienced so much.

If you are a veteran and reading this...thank you from the bottom of my heart and please know that I do my best every day to take advantage of the great freedoms you have so bravely protected and will never take them for granted.

Thanks for reading!
Marlene

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Now,When You Say for Better or for Worse...How Bad are We Talking Here?

I'll never forget a certain man that I had for a patient. He was in SICU bed #7 for several weeks. I admitted him the night he came in via helicopter from another facility here in the state. He had had a hemorrhagic bleed on the brain, a subdural bleed, and had been so combative he had been paralyzed and intubated by the flight nurses so they could get him to our hospital safely. The next day the tube was removed from his airway and he was allowed to regain what would be, at that time,his normal level of conciousness. His normal level was not a good level. He constantly thrashed around in the bed and had to be restrained. He moaned very loudly especially if you tried to reposition him or touch him. I had to apologize to the patients next door to him for all the ruckus. He was a very tall and lanky man and we had to dodge getting whacked by a big hand or a big foot that would come swinging out of the bed. He hardly ever said intelligible words, but he could make some of the loudest most dramatic yelling sounds if physical therapy came in to work with him, or if we tried to turn him so we could clean up his frequent bowel movements!

To spend a day taking care of him would be exhausting! He was what I called a "Houdini" and could wrangle those long lanky arms out of any restraints. He had a foley catheter in his bladder draining urine, a tube that went into his rectum to collect the copious amounts of liquid stool, and a PICC line so we could give him his medicines IV and he seemed to strategize for hours on end just exactly how to get his hand on one of those tubes to pull something out. Grant it, part of me doesn't blame him. I wouldn't have appreciated the tube in the rectum either, however it saved a LOT of mess, sheets, time and loud yelling by him to have that tube there. Most importantly, it kept his skin from breaking down so easily.

Even though he was a handful to care for, you couldn't help but develop an affection for the man. For the longest, he would not say a word except for "uh-uh" and that was when we were asking him to cooperate. If we tried to feed him, he would clamp his lips down in a flat line and refuse to open his mouth. If we asked him to sit up on the side of the bed, he would balk by yelling and pulling away and saying a long drawn out "uuuhhh-uuuhhh."

One particular day, I had spent all day strategically placing pillows to try and prevent him from pulling something out. I would catch him a few times with a death grip on the rectal tube and pry his hand away in the nick of time. I could tell he probably was a character before he had been afflicted with brain bleed, because he would always laugh this low villanous laugh that sounded like "ahhh haaa haaa." On some level, he knew he was being a handful, and he was getting a kick out of it!

When we have a patient for a long length of time like him, we nurses develop an affection for them and they sort of become everybody's "pet" so to speak. Eventually every nurse in the unit had taken care of "Houdini" so he sort of belonged to all of us.

On one particular day when he was my patient, his wife made a memorable visit which had been prompted by our Case Manager Carolyn. You see, when a patient has been evaluated and determined to no longer need to stay in intensive care, Carolyn begins to work with family members to develop a plan of care for when the patient is discharged from the hospital. His wife had arrived reluctantly to discuss this with Carolyn at the patient's bedside.

I'll never forget that day, becuase I heard her high heels clacking on the tile floor long before she arrived at the room. She was dressed very fashionably, her hair perfectly coiffed, and she reeked of perfume. My patient was 78 and this lady appeared to be about 50! She stayed close to the door of the room and would not go near his bed or even touch him. She kept saying over and over, "There's no way I can take care of him like this! He smells so bad! I've got my own stomach problems and I'll make mine worse if I have to take care of him!" She would then give a few obligatory dry heaves as if to prove her point to us. It was evident she wanted nothing to do with him anymore now that he was in this condition. He was an inconvenience to her now and she wanted no part of it.

The part of this meeting that tore my heart out was as she was leaving, without saying goodbye to him I might add, he got very still and with his head leaned against the bedrail in her direction he moaned out a pitiful, "Mama". She responded by saying roughly, "What? What do you want?" He again moaned, "Mama." It was all he could get out, but it was evident he was pleading for her...wanting her to come near him...to accept him. She, however, ended her conversation with us and clacked her high heels down the hall, out of the unit.

We hardly ever saw her after that, and her response made us pet and pamper him even more because we felt so bad for him. For all intents and purposes, he had been abandoned and we became his temporary family.

Now , I don't know what kind of husband he had been prior to his illness. His wife never verbalized that he had mistreated her and after having met her, she seemed the type who would have let us known. Even if he had been a difficult person to live with, she still had made a vow to "love and cherish for better or for worse." Clearly, she must have never thought the "worse" would be like what it was.

As a preacher's wife, I have attended my share of beautiful weddings. The young couple stands facing one another with love and admiration glowing from their faces as they repeat the vow to love one another "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health." I cannot help but wonder, "Do they have any idea of how bad worse can be?" Not only do I wonder that, but I also wonder if they realize just how quickly it can get to that point. "Worse" doesn't happen just to elderly after a long, full life together. It can happen in the twenties when you are full of life and growing a family or forties and fifties when the family has become just you and your spouse and you are enjoying the fruits of several years of hard work.

I am always reminded of this when we admit young patients such as 23 year-old mother of a newborn who has been brought down by a fatal brain aneurysm or a young mother who suddenly has her body wracked with blood clots of unknown origin that leave her in a comatose state. I have even seen a young man stand beside the bed of his young wife with bewilderment on his face because he just doesn't know how to handle taking care of a wife who has just tried to commit suicide by taking a drug overdose.

I stand in awe and admiration of husbands and wives who keep vigil at their loved ones bedside. I can't imagine what goes through their mind when they see the one they love lying in a bed with several of tubes coming out of what seems every opening in the body. A lot of times they are on ventilators to help them breath with secretions oozing out of their mouth because the tube is irritating to the delicate tissues. To see a loved one cough and gag because a tube is in their airway is not a pretty site. Because the person is so sick, hygiene is probably not as good as it may have been before the patient became sick. As nurses we do the best we can, but there is just so much cleaning that can be done for someone who is confined to a bed with tubes and monitors. The body is amazingly designed by God, and when it is sick, it has ways of letting you know something is not right. A person may sweat profusely, the body doesn't have the most pleasant odor, and the breath can be horrendous. Still, despite all the things that may seem repulsive and offensive to others, I see husbands and wives on a daily basis come in and lean over the bed of a loved one and kiss their face and stroke their hair seemingly oblivious to anything being out of the ordinary.

I can not tell you why, but for some reason the palms of the hands in someone who has been bedridden and very sick for a long time, can be the most malodorous part of the body! It is a very strong, pungent smell that will remain on a nurse's hands if you don't wear gloves.We try to wash the hands repeatedly using good smelling soap. We apply lotions, I have even tried shaving cream to try to cut the smell, but it still remains! The best explanation that I can offer is that it must be a combination of bodily toxins, medicines, and sweat that secretes in the palms of the hands and causes an offensive odor.For some reason, however, even though it may smell so badly, the hand is one of the first things to be touched and held when a spouse walks into the room. Some will never let go of the hand until they have left the room! It's as if they are oblivious to anything being out of the ordinary! All they know is that is that is the one they love lying there in that bed and they just plain old don't care how bad they may smell or look!


Thankfully, and suprisingly, we don't see many patient's abandoned by their spouses the way my patient was that day. We, as nurses however, don't necessarily always know what goes on after our very ill patients leave our facility.

Our little unit "Houdini" did make a fairly good recovery from his brain injury and even went home to his wife who accepted him back provided he "was able to take to take care of himself." Recently, his doctor showed us a video that he had recorded of him at a follow up office visit which showed him standing straight, smartly dressed in a sweater and dress slacks and he was vigorously waving with a big grin on his face and saying, " Hi nurses! I'm doing good! Thanks for taking care of me!"

(Sigh)...that's what makes this job worthwhile...

Thanks for reading!

Marlene

Friday, October 22, 2010

Your Mother Was Right...Make Sure You Have Clean Underwear!

Before moving to Jasper, Alabama to work with Midway Church of Christ, Mark and I lived in Atwood Tennessee where he was both the preacher at Atwood Church of Christ, and in the latter part of our nineteen years there, he was the town's fire chief. That made me both the preacher's wife AND the chief's wife!

I tried to support him in both efforts and when he suggested that we become licensed First Responders, I was right beside him. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term First Responder, it is basically a person (lots of times a volunteer) who has received medical training to administer care to a person until EMS can arrive on the scene to provide more advanced care. We had to take classes and actually take a test to become licensed to respond. We were not as advanced as an EMT, but we had to have pretty extensive training to be allowed to respond. It was much more than applying a band-aid to a cut! We dealt with horrible vehicle accidents, suicide attempts, cardiac arrests, you name it, we saw it.

As a part of being a First Responder, we had jump bags about the size of a back pack in which we carried all kinds of medical supplies, we had radios so that we could update the incoming EMS unit with medical information before arriving on the scene, we had an oxygen tank, and an AED. Most of the time when we made calls, Mark and I would divide up the supplies. I usually assessed the patient and he set up the medical equipment. This worked great...most of the time.

One Sunday morning during Mark's sermon, the pager tones went off calling out Atwood First Responders to a possible cardiac arrest. Anyone in the medical field knows that when a cardiac arrest call goes out that seconds count. Every minute that goes by, means a greater reduction in being able to resuscitate a person.

Here I am decked out in my Sunday best with high heels on and I head out the door leaving Mark at the pulpit doing his job as preacher. I am not sure where our other first responders were that day, but it was soon evident that for whatever reason,I was the only one in route to the call.

On the way to the address, I am reviewing in my mind what will need to be done to help this patient. I am even more nervous because I am by myself and may be having to perform one man rescuer CPR! I quickly pull into the driveway of this little house out in the country and a middle aged woman meets me at the porch and tells me, "I think he's gone." I ask her, "Is he breathing?" to which she responds, "I don't think so."

I just wish you could have been there to see me in a dress, pearl necklace, and high heels, lugging a jump bag, oxygen tank, radio, and AED into the house. I ran quickly to the back room clanging and banging down the hallway. I run into the room and briefly see a little withered old man lying on his back in the bed with his eyes closed. A man is standing next to the bed and I tell him that I may need him to help me get him on the floor. He looked at me with astonishment at the thought of placing the man on the floor. What he didn't understand is that you cannot do effective chest compressions with someone lying on a soft bed. I was getting prepared to do what I thought was needing to be done!

I dropped all my medical paraphanelia to the floor, grabbed hold of the blanket and briskly yanked it back revealing this tiny little frail man, naked, except for THE whitest little cotton briefs I had ever seen! I guess he felt the sudden rush of cold wind and suddenly his eyes were wide open with shock. I just sheepishly covered him back up with the blanket and patted him on the arm and told him, "I think you are going to be alright...the ambulance is on it's way..." I proceeded to check his blood pressure which was fine, and his pulse which was fine, and his respirations which were also fine. Why this family thought he was about gone...I will never know.

One thing I did learn as a First Responder was to be careful about accepting information from a bystander at the scene and to rely only on my assessment of the patient.

The lesson to be learned from this experience that applies to other areas of life as well? Be careful about believing or repeating what you hear until you have checked it out fully to know if it is even true.

And another lesson to be learned that holds true...make sure you are always wearing clean underwear.

Thanks for reading!

Marlene

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Way It All Began

Yesterday, Mark and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary so I thought I would share with you all our cute love story about how it all began:

Our first encounter with each other was not necessarily pleasant, at least not for me. I grew up in a small country congregation called Tidwell Chapel Church of Christ and Mark grew up in another small country congregation called Hillcrest Church of Christ. As is common, our congregation had held a meeting and one particular night Mark visited with his family and like most kids, we played in the church yard after services. My mother says she remembers me running to her crying and saying Mark had pushed me down. Mark says he was just trying to get me to leave him alone...Whatever!

Time went by and one Sunday morning I remember a man announcing that a young preacher would be coming each second Sunday night of the month to preach. Our congregation was great about giving young men the opportunity to preach. That night, I remember a twelve year old boy stepping up to the pulpit wearing a navy blue suit with his black hair parted to the side. He could barely see over the pulpit and his sermon only lasted about five minutes. He was twelve and I was only ten. I learned quickly that in the summertime when Mark Howell came to preach, I would get to go home early from church and could ride my bike a while before it got dark.

That didn't last long...the older he got, the longer the sermons got and the better speaker he became. He also got taller and could see well over the pulpit. I would catch him looking at me sometimes at church and he would quickly turn his head. Finally, the summer before my senior year of high school he asked me out on a date to go to a Sunday afternoon singing at a nearby congregation. Since there were several small congregations holding meetings all summer long, we were with each other what seemed like nearly every night of the week that summer.

On Christmas Eve that year he proposed to me by asking, "Do you think we could love each other and help each other get to heaven someday?" He had picked out a ring all by himself and it was perfect. Of course I said yes and we were married a little less than a year later on October 18, 1984.

It has been a wonderful life. Always easy...not necessarily, but worth every struggle. When we married, I was 18 and he was 20 so we have grown up with each other and made mistakes and learned together, but not for a thousand lifetimes would I change a thing. We have had almost a dream life together. We have two wonderful children, Daniel and Rachel who have made us so proud. They wisely chose christian spouses for themselves and we have welcomed Martha and Brandon into our family. In May, we will reach a new milestone in our journey as a couple together...Daniel and Martha will bless us with our first grandchild.

I would have to say life as a preacher's wife has been a very good thing. Little did I know when I saw that little 12 year old boy stepping up to the pulpit, that I was seeing my future husband. I thank God everyday for Mark and the wonderful husband and father he has been. He truly is my very best friend and made me a far better person than I would have been without him in my life. I hope I make him as proud of me as I am of him.

Here's to another 26 years as a preacher's wife and all the wonderful twists and turns that life will take us on! I love you Mark!

Marlene

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never Underestimate a 100 Year Old Woman

Okay, my first two posts have been very serious in nature and lest I get the reputation for being a depressing person I am going to share with you a very funny nursing story.

About two years ago, when I was working in the Surgery Department, we were very privileged to have a 100 year old little lady as a patient. I was working in the recovery area that day and when they wheeled her into the recovery room  after surgery, I got busy doing everything possible to make her comfortable. I especially love to take care of little elderly patients. I just think they are cute as a button and nothing makes me happier than to care for them. Even the grouchy ones can usually be won over with a warm blanket and extra TLC.

My little woman was lying there peacefully sleeping. I brought extra warm blankets to add to the ones she already had to make sure her frail little body stayed warm. I tucked them gently around her neck and wrapped them around her feet. I stroked her hand and softly gave words of reassurance that she was going to be fine. All was going very well until her eyes fluttered open and she woke up.

Now I was standing on her right side and her IV was in her left hand. The first thing she did was to instantly starting pulling at any wire that might be attached to her body! The IV in her left hand was one of the first lines to go. Of course when you pull something out that has been implanted in a vein, you are going to bleed and when you are waving your arm around hysterically you are going to make it bleed even more. So here I am on her right side leaning across the bed trying to somehow hold pressure on her left arm which is bleeding. I am telling her the whole time in a reassuring voice, "You are okay, you've just had surgery...let me see your arm." She however cannot hear me because she is partially deaf and also she is repeatedly yelling something that sounds like, "Eldabewz! Eldabewz!" over and over. When she is not yelling, she is trying to bite at my arm which is extended across to her other side trying to hold pressure on the IV site that is bleeding. I wasn't too concerned about her drawing blood because every time she opened her mouth to chomp down, all I saw were shiny pink gums. I'm sure if she could have made good contact she could have done a pretty good job of pinching a monster bruise on my arm. During this granny wrangling episode, it occured to me that what she was actually yelling was "Elder abuse! Elder abuse!" This 100 year old little woman was trying to defend herself from me by biting and yelling, "Elder abuse" for help! Not only that, she was doing a pretty good job!

Finally after a while she settled down and went back to sleep. I had managed to avoid being gummed by her, but I was so disappointed that I did not get the opportunity to pet and pamper her the way I had imagined I would get to pet and pamper a 100 year old little woman. She had looked so peaceful while she was sleeping!

Two lessons may be gleaned from this particular experience:

"Things are not always as they first appear"
                and
"Let sleeping grannies lie."

Thanks for reading!
 Marlene

If Only I Had Known Then, What I Know Now

You know that old saying "hindsight is 20/20" is so true. There are many things that I wish I could go back and do differently based on the knowledge that I have now. I guess that is very much human nature, and normal as we look back and evaluate how we have responded to different situations in our past. Sometimes we can be pretty hard on ourselves by not taking into account that we didn't have the experience or maturity that we do now.

Now, I have my share of wishing I had done things differently with my kids. Maybe if I had been more patient or maybe if I had let some things go so that I could have spent more time with them. The list is endless, and again I think it is normal to think about the past and ponder and have a few regrets. I am like most people, I think I did the best I could with the knowledge and understanding that I had at that time in my life.Well meaning people in their forties and fifties would say, "You better enjoy them while they are little because they'll be grown before you know it!" I knew that was true...they would indeed someday would grow up and leave home, but at that time in life, my mind just could not grasp that concept!

Oh, do I so understand now! I am now one of those forty somethings quoting that familiar phrase "they'll be grown before you know it" that I heard a million times in my twenties when I had babies. Sometimes I really stop to wonder, "Where did the time go and how did I get here at this time in my life with two married children and a grandbaby on the way!"

In spite of Mark and I being very young parents, (He was 21 and I was 19) we seemed to have caused little damage to our children. I often joke that we all four grew up together. Daniel and Rachel have married wonderful Christian spouses, are faithful and actively involved with the Church, and have occupations that are honorable. I could not ask for any finer children.

My lack of experience and regret as a young parent and preacher's wife came back to haunt me though, one day not too long ago...

I'll have to set the scene for you by explaining events that took place almost fifteen years prior.

We were your typical parents of school age children and like a lot of children at that age, Daniel and Rachel played baseball and softball. It was the passion in that particular town and Mark being the wonderful dad that he is, volunteered to be a coach.

The coach usually ended up also being the chauffeur to some of the children were on the team. We've all seen these poor kids...they are the ones who never have a parent show up for a game or school event. We would pick them up and drop them off after each game and practice. As a result of doing this, they would always be invited to attend church with us and we would offer to pick them up.

One little boy with tousled hair, freckles and a stained uniform and ball cap took us up on the offer.

Now, as the preacher's/ coach's wife, it usually fell my lot to pick up the children for church services. Mark was usually over at the building preparing for the worship service, I was at home with the kids so it just made the most sense at that time. I was your typical frazzled mother who would try to roll my daughter's hair, scrounge up breakfast, find church shoes that had gone missing, etc. and try to get myself ready for church. We had to do all this earlier in the morning so we could get out the door to make a pretty good little drive to pick this little boy up for church. I was not the most organized mother in the world.

You may be asking, "Couldn't you have gotten a member at church to pick him up?" The answer is "Yes, I could have." For some reason I hated to bother others to pick up a little child for church even though it would have been giving them an opportunity to serve and help as well. I thought I had to be the one to do it. (Another lesson I've learned over the years...give people a chance to serve.) I'm sure I was trying to keep others from being "inconvenienced."

This little boy lived way down a country road. Now, I was raised way back in the country so this was all very familiar to me. It was so far back that the old hound dogs would lay in the roads because traffic was so slow. They knew you would just drive around them instead of running over them. The most they would do, is raise their heads just a little to look at you as you drove by. We would pull into the drive and the full length of the dirt drive was not lined by neatly cut grass or shrubs, but old rusted cars, bicycles, every kind of car part or machinery known to mankind was rusted and strewn out across the yard all the way up to the trailer door. The trailer door was always hanging open with another old hound dog laying with it's head partially hanging out the door. I would tap the horn a little and the little boy would come bounding out the door with hair sticking out all over his head, food still crusted around his mouth, and dirt from playing outside the night before still on his face and clothes. He never wore a pair of shoes. I'm not sure he would have worn shoes if you gave him a pair. His poor little feet were filthy and he almost always had big cuts on his toes and some I worried were infected. He would bound into the car and away we would go in a cloud of dust with dogs barking and running along behind us. I never in all the time we picked him up for ball practice or church, saw a single family member.

Church services could be a bit challenging. I had two small children of my own and their daddy was the preacher so that meant he didn't sit with us very much during the service. The little barefoot boy who lived such a carefree life without parental guidance liked to sit at the very front of the auditorium and would get very frustrated if I made him sit with me. This developed into a war of the wills and he was pretty strong willed. I didn't mind him sitting at the front of the auditorium per say, however when he got bored such as in the middle of Mark's sermons, he could provide a lot of entertainment for all those sitting behind him! He could be exhausting to keep an eye on while at church. I, for whatever reason, would not ask for help from other members.

Time went on, me being the frazzled young mother that I was, did not question or worry when my little barefoot boy slowly stopped coming to church after ball season was over. I guess, in my own selfish mind it was sort of a relief. All I had to focus on now was my own family.I didn't have to frantically get the kids ready for church early each Sunday morning to make the drive to pick him up.

I had talked to some of the teachers in our congregation who knew him and knew about his home life and they said Department of Human Resources had been contacted about him and his living conditions, but nothing was really ever done. Time just kept going by and occasionally I would see him at school and we would exchange a few laughs with each other and go on with our lives.Foolishly, I never said anything to him about coming to church.


Time passed by and our paths didn't cross until early one morning, about two years ago, I was working at the hospital and called a young woman back to preop to prepare her for surgery. When she came around the corner, she had her husband with her as well. This man who towered above me, smiled down at me with a freckled smile and wanted to know if I remembered him. It was my barefoot boy all grown up now, and he was wearing shoes! Upon talking with him I learned that he had graduated from high school, gone on to college and he and his wife both were about to graduate! His wife had just recently gave birth to a little boy and they had bought a house in a nearby town.

I was so thrilled and amazed to see the man he had become, but on the other hand, I was so disappointed with myself for not trying harder to keep him coming to church. Why did I selfishly just let him drift away? In spite of all odds, he had managed to complete high school, college, marry, have a baby and purchase a home to care for his family. The only thing he lacked that would have made it all perfect was being a Christian.

Now, I'm not going to think myself such a great person that I might have had enough influence to have kept him coming to church. I do wish I had tried a lot harder. I think I did like a lot of us in church do. I gave up because it was too hard and too much work to keep a little child coming to church. I just could not see the whole picture at that time in my life. I just saw him as a little child, and if truth be told, probably thought that as he got older, he would simply revert to the ways of his parents. I have never been so wrong.

Because of this lesson which was about fifteen years in the making, I have learned the following:

Never write someone off as unreachable or unchangeable due to the circumstances in which they were raised. It is true, most follow the example the were given by their parents, but some when given the chance, want better for their lives just like my little barefoot boy.

Barring some exceptions, a child will one day grow up and become a parent. Make the most of every interaction with them and influence them for the good. Help save their soul now, and you may save countless souls in the future. Jesus knew how important a little child was. (Mark 10:13-16) Could it be He wanted them to come to him so He personally could have a chance to influence their lives for good? Maybe those little children got to tell their own children how Jesus took them in His arms and sat them on his lap when they were little. Talk about a story to tell your grandchildren!

Never be afraid to ask for help when it comes to preserving a soul's chance at eternity in heaven. I should have asked for help from others. If it was too much for me to pick him up for church, I should have asked someone else. I deprived others from being able to influence this child's life for the good. I deprived others of the chance to grow as a Christian.

Some lessons are learned in a few minutes, some a few hours or days. This lesson took a good fifteen years. I know that at age twenty-five I did not understand fully how the act of carrying a little boy to church could greatly impact his future. I just had not been on this earth long enough to follow a small child through it's life until it had grown and become a parent itself. I knew intellectually that they grow and that is what is supposed to happen, but until you actually experience the wonderment of trying to figure out how that little baby all of the sudden became an adult with children of their own you cannot fully appreciate just how quickly it takes place. At age forty-four, however, I have experienced seeing many little ones grow up and establish families of their own. I have learned through life experience to no longer see a little child as just a child, but a future adult, parent and leader in the Lord's church.

We have since moved away from the area where my little barefoot boy lived. I have mentioned him to members of the church that live in his little town. Maybe there is hope yet for he and his little family. Maybe just maybe, I did some good in what little time I spent with him...I know one thing for sure, he taught me a lesson that I will never forget as long as I live.

Oh! One important detail I saved for last! Guess what he told me was going to be when he graduated from college? He answered, "I'm going to be a social worker and work in Children's Services." Who better to understand the plight of a neglected child than my little barefoot boy with freckles?

Thanks for reading,

Marlene