Longevity

A Poem

People are like trees.
I want to grow deep roots.
Be planted here and spread to the right and left.
A serious relationship with the ground and a playful one with the sky.
Tolkien named his trees and thought of them like pets.
When we buy a home, I will plant them to mark our spot,
Where we steward and hopefully bear fruit.
Live Oak, Cedar, Pecan, Mesquite, Magnolia, Dogwood, Japanese Maple, even Eucalyptus
Remembering Texas and South Carolina,
Where I’ve lived and visited and want to travel.
Having a garden means you’re staying.
Growing trees means you expect the future.

The Accident, Part 3

Who was I? What did my life mean? Why did this happen to me?

This is the much belated third installment of the story of the car accident I was in in 1995. If you’d like to refresh your memory, here are Part 1 and Part 2.

10th grade went by mostly without any problems. I’d started driving the previous summer, but I wasn’t confident enough to drive by myself yet. The day of the homecoming dance, October 1996, my dad drove me to the salon and the mall to get my hair, makeup, and nails done. On the way home we stopped by the oil change place to pick up my sister’s Toyota Corolla. I would follow Dad home in Jenny’s car, my first time behind the wheel completely alone. As I pulled out onto Beltline Road, another car changed lanes. They didn’t see me and rear-ended the Corolla, throwing me onto the grass. I had no idea what had happened. I think I thought I’d hit the curb really hard exiting the parking lot. But looking in the rearview mirror, I noticed a car following me. The cops showed up; we exchanged insurance information. I went to the homecoming dance that night with a bunch of friends. The insurance said it was my fault. I didn’t want to drive anymore.

I worked really hard that year to grow my hair long again. I wish someone had told me there are all sorts of cute haircuts on the way back to long. I definitely went through a strange Mrs. Brady phase.

I decided to be the girls’ basketball team manager to get more PE credit. I was too insecure to try out for the team and, actually, probably not physically up to par. I’d noticed a pain in my right hip and knee when running. I assumed it was the rod in my femur. As basketball manager, I shot lots of video and travelled to away games in the 15-passenger van. Looking back, it all seems really lame. But I wasn’t a cheerleader type, and I didn’t know anything about soccer. I wish we’d had a swim team. Or that I new yoga existed.

I took my first photography class with Coach Harmon that year (previously my kindergarden PE coach and 7th grade Bible teacher. TCA teachers often make the rounds). I’d dabbled in photography since I was a kid, but this was my first experience in the darkroom. I loved it. At some point I won first place in an art competition and won $100. It made my heart so happy.

The summer before 11th grade I worked at California Pizza Kitchen as a hostess. Restaurant culture was a bit shocking to me. All the waitstaff were really crass and got drunk every weekend. They invited me out once, and I politely declined. That was not my scene.

In July our church youth group drove to Pensacola for the revival. We had a very small youth group, but I was really close with my youth pastor and his wife. A trip to the beach sounded perfect. We all celebrated my 17th birthday at some seafood shack together. I ignored the fact that the day after I got back from Pensacola I was having surgery to remove the rod from my femur. My youth group came to the hospital that night for our usual weekly meeting. I started the school year on crutches again.

11th grade wasn’t really of note. It was a good year, but it wasn’t memorable. I went to homecoming with Aaron Adair, spent Thanksgiving in Kauai with the fam, don’t remember who I took to Sadie Hawkins, hated Chemistry, and Sabrina and I took two sophomore guys to prom because all the guys in our class had asked sophomore girls.

In 12th grade I got accepted into Advanced Placement Art. Each senior student worked in their medium of choice to create several pieces based on a theme, also of their choice, to be presented in an art show at the end of the year. After unsuccessfully exploring the idea of taking portraits of strangers, I settled on creating an autobiography of my life in photographs. Mr. Millet, Mr. Chu, and Coach Harmon all encouraged me to do it. Loving teachers have a way of seeing into the hearts of students they teach. I couldn’t realize then what difficult, essential therapy my art show would be for me.

I spent the 1998/99 school year experimenting with mixed-media photography, enlarging photos from my youth onto clear overhead projector sheets, and using these new images as negatives in the darkroom. Each piece was printed on 16×20″ fiber-based black and white photography paper and then drawn, scratched, written, and painted on. Recently I attended an art show at TCA for Mr. Chu, our old drawing/painting teacher, and a few alums. Ms. Dobrey, a French teacher, told me she remembers the hours upon hours I spent at the copy machine in the art department making those negatives. She even remembers my tiny closet studio where I kept all my supplies. I sifted through childhood photos and chose my favorites. I wrote to the Texas Department of Transportation requesting official photos of the accident. I blew up each one 10%, 20%, 50% on the giant copy machine next to Millet’s office. All the while processing mentally and emotionally what had happened in the 18 years of my life so far. In the three years since the accident, I’d spent most of my energy rehabbing my body and trying to live a normal teenage life. I never really considered the emotional trauma I’d need to sort through. Reflection can be a dirty thing.

Most days were fine. But there were a few I’m really not proud of. Once or twice I yelled at Millet in front of other classes he was teaching. I’m positive I yelled at Coach Harmon about something being amiss in the darkroom. Millet had to confront me about my desire to be in AP Art. Was I sure this was the right thing for me? I took the rebuke. I understood I was acting irrationally and very disrespectfully. It started to occur to me that my show was more than just an assignment.

Who was I? What did my life mean? Why did this happen to me? Every person must ask themselves these questions in various seasons and circumstances. I’d always said I’d go through the accident over again if it meant that my sister was alive and in relationship with the Lord. And I still think that’s true. Jenny’s turning point, or one of them, was that day on the highway. If not for that time, she’d probably be dead. Now as an adult, I can’t imagine my life without her, my brother-in-law, and my nephew and niece. Back in high school, I think I felt the same. Jenny was my only sister. But it wasn’t just about her. Or about my parents. The accident was for me. It happened to me and for me. Jesus changed me in that season. It is very difficult to reckon with physical harm happening to one’s own body. It doesn’t just affect your body; it affects your soul. I have a multitude of scars proving I’ll never be the same. I can choose to cherish them or not. Self-pity is much easier and seemingly comforting. Sadness isn’t necessarily self-pity. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

May 1999 finally arrived, and with it our senior show and graduation. I’m proud of how the 14 pieces I created turned out. There are 3 movements: childhood, the accident, and the aftermath. The piece above is my nod to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and my own transformation after the “death” of the accident. The quote is from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Then hid him in the fire that purifies them” (Purgatorio: Canto XXVI). In the healing of my body, I went from emaciated-looking skinny Mandy with my previously long hair to a healthier figure with short hair. Before the accident I used to have nightmares of all my hair being cut off. After I chose to cut it short, it became a metaphor of freedom. I had been transformed in a refining fire in every way imaginable.

I graduated high school. It was celebratory like any good teen movie. We had graduation parties and teas and other fun summery events. I got accepted to Southern Methodist University and deferred for a year to go to a discipleship training school in Seattle. My childhood was ending. Jenny had attended Master’s Commission during my senior year. And I was excited to follow in her footsteps.

The end.

Charitable Giving

You can entice me to give. Just don't try to guilt me into it.

The phrase “give back” has never resonated with me. In fact, it kinda makes me angry. Give back what? To whom? Did I take something? Especially that I shouldn’t have?

Mostly I don’t like being asked to “give back” or donate money to rich people. My high school, my university, some amorphous conglomerate of haves challenging me to give money to them to help the have-nots.* They do an incredibly poor job of telling the stories of the people who are being helped.

Lately SMU has been sending emails challenging me to donate so that we can get more donors than TCU. Really?? I’m supposed to give in order to boost my pride that we beat the other rich university who has a less inspiring mascot than our fierce ponies? Giving is about humility, serving. They have totally missed the point.

Entice me to give. Don’t guilt me into it.** Don’t appeal to my selfishness.***

God does it best. I have never regretted tithing or giving to the Church. God’s Word tells me to give, so my action is obedience to His command. There are a host of life-giving promises and rewards associated with godly obedience, and I gladly accept them. And, at least at NewSpring, we do a great job (and we’re getting better) of telling the stories of people who are helped by my giving.

Everyone, rich and poor, needs the Gospel. Every day. I have no problem giving to an institution, rather Body, that employs people who spread the Gospel to more and more places in the world. Here in the U.S. and abroad. Young and old. There is no one who changes lives for good like Jesus Christ. He educates, employs, gives hope, feeds, clothes, gives rest, encourages, and gives purpose to our every moment. He is not limited in any way. He is omni-present and omnicient. He knows all things for all time, and He forgives sin. There is no greater person or cause. He can have all my money. It’s His in the first place–I just steward it.

*The fact that I both went to a private high school & university and benefited from financial aid to both institutions qualifies me as a have AND have-not. Going into a significant amount of debt at the university makes me feel more the latter.

**Every day I realize more and more what a gift my high school was. I might actually give money to them at some point. God used my teachers, friends, and the culture of TCA in my life, and He still does.

***I’d be more likely to donate to specific teachers who impacted me than the whole of SMU.

OCD Packing Protocol

(or) How Not to Forget Things When Leaving Town

My mom retired with American Airlines in 2003 after twenty-two years of faithful service. Needless to say, we traveled A LOT when I was growing up. I’ve been to 41 of the United States, 22 countries, and moved houses 27 times. I’d definitely say I have some packing credentials.

Yet despite all this practice, I still forget things when leaving on a trip. Different trips to different locales at different times of year using different types of transportation require different packing strategies. For example: The TSA won’t let you take more than 3 oz. containers of liquids or gels in a carry-on, but when traveling by car or train, I can take all the liquids I want! Like wine. And if I bring or buy a bottle of wine, I need to open it. Therefore, pack a wine bottle opener. And a plastic wine glass.

So sometime last year I wrote out an official packing to-do list in an effort to remember it all, no matter the circumstances. Here it is. Obviously, if you don’t need it, don’t pack it. Like a swimsuit if you’re going skiing. I mean, but maybe you do need a swimsuit.*

One Week Before Leaving
✓ Prepare presents, especially if making anything (For Christmas, start making presents in October, period.)

Three Days Before Leaving
✓ Do laundry

Two Days Before Leaving
✓ Clean house (There is nothing better than returning from a trip to a clean home! Trust me.)

One Day Before Leaving
✓ Clean kitchen
✓ Pack suitcase
✓ Make snacks (This goes for plane trips, road trips, and train trips, especially if you have any food allergies/intolerances.)

Day Of
✓ Last minute toiletry packing
✓ Grab books, vitamins
✓ Double check packing list
✓ Water plants
✓ Leave

PACKING LIST

Toiletries:
✓ Shampoo
✓ Facewash
✓ Two washcloths (these are the perfect, natural exfoliant. Forgo if you’re staying in a hotel. Definitely pack if you’re staying at friends’/family’s houses.)
✓ Toothbrush/paste
✓ Deodorant
✓ Moisturizer
✓ Makeup
✓ Tweezers
✓ Tiny Scissors (so handy!)
✓ Comb
✓ Hairdryer
✓ Roll Brush
✓ Flat Iron
✓ Neti-Pot (The air in other cities affects my sinuses so differently than home. The neti-pot helps me avert allergy-disaster.)

Clothes:
✓ undies/bras
✓ socks/tenny shoes
✓ sandals/boots
✓ shirts/tanks
✓ skirts/shorts
✓ jeans
✓ dresses, beach cover ups
✓ slips
✓ pjs/nighties
✓ sweaters/cardigans
✓ swimsuit
✓ jacket/coat
✓ belts
✓ jewelry

Miscellaneous:
✓ wallet/ID/passport
✓ phone/charger
✓ computer/charger
✓ neck pillow & eyemask
✓ alternate purse
✓ book/journal
✓ craft (Don’t waste hours in transit, create!)
✓ water bottle
✓ snacks
✓ vitamins
✓ Christmas recipes/ingredients (Holidays in Texas mean cooking gluten-free stuffing and mac & cheese for the fam.)
✓ presents (birthday, Christmas, just because)
✓ Wine opener
✓ Plastic wine-glasses
✓ Utensils/plates

For Air Travel:

✓ Remember to wear slip on shoes. Untying laces to go through the airport scanner is very time consuming.
✓ Wear a jacket or sweater that’s easy to take on & off.
✓ Put your drivers license/passport and plane ticket in your pocket until your through airport security. Reaching into your purse and wallet repeatedly is tedious.
✓ Do not wear a belt. If you must, make sure the buckle isn’t metal.
✓ Don’t carry change in your pockets.
✓ Carry a laptop bag that’s easy to get into.
✓ Don’t carry a full water bottle–TSA employees will stare you down and empty it out.
Needlework is allowed on the plane! Expensive metal tweezers and pocket knives are not.
✓ Bring snacks and a pashmina. No one wants to pay $5 for food or a blanket.

*We haven’t taken many sporty trips, so if you do, definitely pack things like surf boards, skis, tents, etc.

How to Buy Grassfed Beef from the Farm

Farmer Billy, our guy, sells meat by the whole or half carcass.

Today we picked up our year’s supply of grassfed beef from a local farmer. This is the fourth year we’ve done it, and I can’t say enough good things about the experience. Buying local is good for the farmer, good for your health, and good for the economy. And it sure beats paying $18 a pound for a steak.

However, you have to do a bit of research to navigate the farm-to-table world. Here’s an overview of our process.

First, check Eat Wild for a local pasture based farm. Click on your state, then peruse the list of farms by city. Eat wild has a comprehensive list of farms selling beef, poultry, pork, eggs, etc. Call a farm or check out their website for more info.

Farmer Billy, our guy, sells meat by the whole or half carcass (beef), which we always split into quarters (a whole beef between 4 families, or half between 2 families). I usually place our order in March or April because I want to make sure I’m on the list before Billy finishes the cows on tasty alfalfa and other grassy yumminess around May. Once the cows are properly finished, Billy sends them to the processor at the end of May or June.*

Next I contact friends to see who wants to share the beef. A quarter beef lasts us 9-12 months and only costs between $400-500, depending on the weight of the cow. The farm charges $2.50 per pound for every cut of meat, and the processor charges 60¢ per pound + a $50 kill fee. That’s just over $3.10 per pound for tenderloin, sirloin, roasts, brisket, etc. Y’all, the national average for GROUND BEEF is $3.38. Forget about what you’d pay at Whole Foods for grassfed meat. This is a good deal, and people know it.

Judy at the processing facility is who I call to discuss how I want my meat cut. Do I want the T-bone steaks whole or separated into filets and New York strips? Do I want the round roasts whole or cut into cube steak, ground beef, or round steaks? How thick do I want the steaks cut? Judy keeps all this info in a file from year to year, so each time I call back I can tell her I want it the same as before, or “Would you mind adding soup bones to the mix this time around?” She’s great.

After Billy takes the beef to be processed, the meat hangs for 2 weeks. Then Judy and her guys cut the meat according to my specifications, vacuum pack it, and freeze it. When Joshua & I arrive to get our beef, it’s all labeled and cut into manageable sizes like we’re used to seeing at the grocery store. We pay Judy and head home in an air-conditioned car full of meats. I may do a little dance and squeal, “It’s Beef Day!”

Once we make the trek home, we quickly unload the frozen beef (you gotta be quick in a South Carolina summer), and divide the meat into quarter shares. Each share for this year received the following cuts:

3 Sirloin Steaks
3 Ribeyes
3 Tenderloins
3 New York Strips
1 Skirt Steak or 1 Flank Steak
1 Brisket
2 Sirloin Tip Roasts
2 Shoulder Roasts
1 Eye Round Roast
1 Rump Roast
2 Chuck Roasts
2 London Broils
2 Short Ribs
3 Stir Fry Meats
6 Stew Meats
34 lbs. Ground Beef

We invite everyone to pick up their portion as soon as we get home from the processor and divide everything up. Each family pays for their share then, and we mail a check to Billy. We store our beef in little half-size deep freezer (5.0 cubic feet) we bought at Sam’s a couple of years ago for $150, and it can hold up to a half a beef.

This meat is delicious and nutritious. Buying a whole beef means you get some new cuts you’d probably never choose at the grocery store. Example: shoulder roast tastes AMAZING when slow cooked on the grill. We also have some lovely marinades, or really, it’s mainly bourbon. Sometimes red wine, Worcestershire, and soy sauce. Joshua definitely likes to experiment with marinades.

I want to start saving to buy pastured chickens, pork, and lamb from a local farm too. Then we’d be totally off-the-grid, so to speak, in terms of meat consumption! Someday. One thing at a time.

*Every farm is different in terms of when their animals are ready to be processed. I’ve contacted a lamb farmer who has meat ready in early spring or the fall. So if you want to buy pastured meat but aren’t necessarily ready right now, go ahead and call the farmer to see what their schedule is. Better to get on the list early.

The Accident, Part 2

Mostly I just pressed the Morphine button because I was afraid of the idea of pain.

Jumbled Eras

As the doctors loaded me into an ambulance headed for Dallas, I remember being given a morphine pill to start tapering down the strength of my drugs. At Brook Army Medical Center I was on a morphine drip with “the button”. I could press the button any time I felt pain, and mostly I just pressed it because I was afraid of the idea of pain. The ride back home to North Texas was uneventful. I slept most of the time, Mom holding my hand as she rode alongside my stretcher.

Home for the foreseeable future was Plano Rehabilitation Hospital. Nurses wheeled me into a big white room with two white hospital beds and a big window overlooking the parking lot. Everyone was very nice, seemingly excited to see a young person for once. As I started my regimen of occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy, I noticed I was the youngest patient there. Plano Rehab was full of heart-attack and stroke victims, and a fifteen-year-old was an anomaly.

Being back in Dallas meant I could see my friends again. So many people from school and church came to visit. Some people made banners to put in my room and brought flowers and cards. Others got their whole youth group to write me letters. An elementary class drew pictures and sent individual notes. My school, Trinity Christian Academy, generously organized weeks and weeks of cooked dinners for my family. Our church gave us a journal full of prayers and thoughts people had written during a prayer meeting right after the accident. One time the worship band even came to the hospital to have a night of praise & worship.

Rehab was awful. I think anyone who has to do it hates it. Having a head injury meant I had to complete a certain amount of speech therapy. The phrase “speech therapy” really annoyed me because I didn’t have any trouble talking. It felt condescending. Mostly we worked on short-term memory exercises. Occupational therapy and physical therapy blend together in my mind. For a while I did exercises from my wheelchair, then as my broken femur started to heal, I was allowed to put a certain amount of weight on my right leg while using crutches. It is amazing how quickly unused muscles atrophy. The pictures from BAMC show a recognizable me with a partially shaved head. The pictures from Plano Rehab don’t even really look like me, I’m so skinny. Relearning to walk was strange. I will always have empathy for anyone in a wheelchair, or babies learning to walk.

I began to notice the way people stared at me. Family and friends had this sort of amazed look when they’d see me the first time, or the second, or the third. They kept calling me a miracle. I knew the Lord was working through all of this, I knew I was a miracle. Jesus saved me TWICE. I felt loved and grateful, to God and the people around me. But I was tired of being the center of attention. I wanted to be normal. Every kid wants to be normal, but I was desperate to be normal. I’d always felt different, but now I was so different. I felt coddled, which I hated. But I was also emotionally fragile and wanted special treatment. I remember arguing with my mom and sister over inconsequential things. I bossed my whole family around, sometimes even using the accident as an excuse.

I lived at Plano Rehab for around three weeks. I exercised, ate, and watched The Frugal Gourmet. My drug strength lessened from morphine, to Percocet, to Vicodin, and eventually ibuprofen. Then on Thanksgiving I was allowed to take my first day trip home. To our house. It was wonderful. Soon I moved home permanently. My bedroom was upstairs, but I lived on the first floor because I was still on crutches. Then I learned to climb stairs on crutches. Eventually I didn’t have to use crutches anymore. In December, not two months after the accident, I could walk with equal weight distributed on both of my legs. I had no brain damage. I could eat normal food.

Just a persistent, nagging pain in my left knee remained. I thought being allowed to put my full weight on both legs would fix it, but it didn’t. My “leg doctor” in Dallas, Dr. Simpson, recommended a knee specialist to check it out. After an MRI, Dr. Barber, now my “knee doctor”, suggested an arthroscopic surgery. He suspected it was some loose cartilage floating around my knee, but he couldn’t be certain without taking a peek inside. We scheduled a day surgery for December 29, 1995.

I do not recommend opting for day surgery, ever. Once Dr. Barber had the tiny cameras through tiny incisions in my knee, he saw that my ACL was completely torn. After quickly getting my parents permission to reconstruct the ligament, Dr. Barber performed the surgery. I knew something was different when I woke up in the recovery room. Dr. Barber and my parents explained what an ACL was, and I went home that day as planned. But not before bleeding through every bandage and weeping because of the pain. The knee surgery was by far the worst one I’d had.

I lived downstairs again for a few weeks, on crutches and Vicodin again. I watched reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard and Remington Steele. My friend Tori came over on New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop in Times Square. 1996 arrived. I wanted to go back to school.

Two weeks after the knee surgery, I went back to the 9th grade. I was on crutches and wore baseball hats to cover my strange haircut. Only one teacher stopped me for breaking the dress code. Our private school was small, and we wore uniforms. I politely explained to her that I was in a car accident and had permission from the dean to wear the hat. Coach Morrill invited me to share my testimony in chapel one morning. I sat on stage in front of 400 high school students and told them what happened, how God was healing me. Good thing I took speech class right before the accident.

All of my teachers were really gracious. I had done off-season basketball before the accident and would’ve made the team if it hadn’t happened. When I came back to school they let me do off-campus PE for credit. Mrs. Allen said I could read the two books I’d missed in History/English the following summer. Coach Adams excused me from doing the worldview assignment in biology. Algebra was the only subject I had difficulty with. Every concept builds upon the previous, so there’s no skipping a section. I met with Mr. Pendleton for months trying to catch up in math. I believe that people are either good at algebra or geometry. I like geometry.

In February of 1996 I got a pixie haircut. The shaved part had grown out enough, and I wanted a change. Something to signify a new season of life. Three friends from school came with me to the salon when Ron, my hairdresser for the next 12 years, fixed it. We all talked about the older high school boys we liked. We left the salon, and Mom drove us to a TCA baseball game at Jesuit.

That spring I took studio art with Mr. Millet. He was the head of the Art Department and had been my teacher in 7th grade too. For our linoleum print assignment (pictured above), I took the concepts from pieces I’d made in Millet’s previous class and elaborated them: Michaelangelo’s self-portrait in the Sistine Chapel became my own; monkeys aloft became one lonely monkey. I incorporated every scar I had from the accident as iconography in the print, every broken bone, and a few coded messages to myself. I wish I could remember what they say.

I finished 9th grade with my class. I don’t remember much from that summer. Just getting over a gigantic crush I’d had on a boy since 7th grade. Working at St. Mark’s Day Camp with my friend Lindsay. Moving into a new house with my family. Turning sixteen. Getting my driver’s license. Life seemed like it was getting back to normal.

To be continued…

The Accident, Part 1

Sixteen years ago I almost died.

In late October 1995 my uncle Ron died suddenly of a heart attack, so my mom, dad, eighteen-year-old sister, and I (then fifteen) went to San Antonio for the funeral. The morning after the funeral, on Halloween, my family headed back to Dallas in our Nissan Altima. It was a drizzly morning, and I remember waving to my mom’s mom, Grandmacita, as we pulled out of her driveway. She always stood out in her front yard when we’d leave, holding one arm up with the other as she waved a long goodbye.

When we got on the highway, the rain started coming down harder, and soon it pummeled the car in sheets. We were near the Walzem Road exit on I-35 when we hit the truck. There was a big patch of standing water on the highway because of a stopped-up drain. A woman in a pick-up truck had almost gotten hit by an 18-wheeler that was jack-knifing, so she pulled over to the left-hand emergency lane. When we ran over the water, our Altima hydroplaned too, and we slammed into the back of the woman’s pick-up truck. The airbags deployed, and the car filled with smoke and powder. We’d never had a car with airbags before, so Mom & Dad thought it was on fire. They told my sister, Jenny, and me to get out of the car immediately. I got out on the left near the median, and Jenny exited on the right near traffic. Mom & Dad’s doors wouldn’t open in the front, so they climbed into the back to get out.

A Methodist minister driving his daughter’s Chevy Blazer hydroplaned next. I was walking away from our car when he hit me, then hit the back of the Altima. Mom & Dad heard me scream, and Jenny saw me get hit; but no one knew where I was. Then out of the corner of his eye, my dad saw me through the chain-linked fence on the south-bound side of the highway. We guess that the impact of the Blazer on my body threw me over the eight-food median. Mom, Dad, & Jenny climbed the fence and found me very broken and bleeding. My eyes were closed, and I looked dead.

Our family was in the middle of a difficult few years at this point: we’d lost our home the previous year, my sister and parents had very little trust between them, and I watched things bubble up and simmer down repeatedly, trying not to get in anyone’s way. As I lay on the highway, seemingly dead, my mom prayed Job’s prayer: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Right then I opened my eyes. Then my sister got on her knees, on the highway, and started confessing and repenting from all the things she’d been involved in the past few years. Jenny was convinced the accident wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t walked away from relationship with God. Of course it wasn’t her fault, but it was an important moment for her and for our whole family.

Jeff & Anne Marie Creekmore, a deputy sheriff and former paramedic, were on their way to Oklahoma to visit family when they saw us on the highway. They stopped immediately, climbed the fence, and helped us. Anne Marie tried to assess my wounds while she asked me my name and age. I could only respond in unintelligible groans. Jeff directed traffic away from us. A hispanic pastor stopped to pray with my parents. Pretty soon the paramedics came and took me away to Brook Army Medical Center. Daddy stayed with me, while Mom & Jenny were taken to another hospital for their more minor injuries.

At BAMC things progressed quickly. Initially there was a line for the CT-scan, so I waited, sedated, since I had fought the doctors trying to examine me at the accident scene. Then my blood pressure dropped suddenly. Doctors took a sample of my stomach fluid and found a tremendous amount of bad bacteria, so they rushed me into the CT-scan. It showed that my liver was lacerated and bleeding, and that means you’re going to die. So the doctors prepped for immediate surgery. Once inside of my abdomen, they saw that my liver was perfect, completely unscathed. We believe the Lord healed it instantly. My pancreas, just behind the duodenum, was completely intact. My duodenum, however, had exploded. So the doctors re-routed my intestines. In an experimental surgery I will be forever grateful for, they put in a false part to work while my duodenum healed; but once it healed, the false part would shut down. Ostensibly I’d never have to have another stomach surgery.

My skull was cracked in two places, so the doctors shaved a quarter of my head and drilled a hole to release the brain pressure. My right femur was broken into three pieces, so they inserted a titanium rod down the shaft of the bone to hold the pieces together, the rod held in place with screws in my hip and near my knee (pictured above). My left leg was incredibly swollen, but at this point the doctors couldn’t tell if there was any serious damage. Three teams of surgeons worked for two days to stabilize me. I was in a partially medically-induced coma, and there was no guarantee I’d survive, or even come out of the coma.

The doctors at BAMC were realistic with my parents: people don’t just wake up from this kind of head trauma. If she survives, Mandy’s most likely going to be in a coma. If she’s not in a coma, she’ll likely have amnesia. Expect the worst. But Mom & Dad refused to accept this. They prayed. Our whole extended family in San Antonio prayed. Our church, my school, and all our friends in Dallas prayed. Friends in California flew to Texas to stand with us in prayer. Friends from Florida did the same. Our story got on the 700 Club prayer list. Churches and youth groups all over the country were praying for us. And it worked. God answered.

After five days in a coma, I woke up. My dad’s youngest brother, Mark, was in the ICU room with me when it happened. I looked up at him and said, “Hi Uncle Mark.” Soon my parents were with me, praising God for a miracle. One of the first things I remember is singing The Doxology by myself in the room.

After I woke up from the coma, they moved me to a regular room. It was small, with only room for my hospital bed and an awkward recliner my family took turns sleeping on every night. I was on a lot of morphine at this point, so I don’t remember much, but I do remember watching a Fabian movie on the television in my room. Jeff & Anne Marie brought me a model of a red VW bug. The Walkers came from California to see me. All of my nurses were big Army men in fatigues. My sister bought me The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and the soundtrack to Bye Bye Love on tape to play on my Walkman. I dreamt that God wanted me to go on the roof of the hospital and throw down balloons like basketballs. And I remember Lieutenant Colonel Murray, my head surgeon, telling my parents and me that I was a testament to the power of prayer and the greatest medical technology they could offer me. My recovery was going miraculously and quickly. Ten days after the accident, it was time to move me back to Dallas.

To be continued…