Amy Skiing!

Amy Van Dyken Rouen (another Dutch girl & 6x Olympic Swimmer) had her devastating accident about a month after mine. I kept hearing from family and friends that, “On a recent interview, Amy Van Dyken said … just like you’ve been saying, Collene.” I tried to send her a message but couldn’t find a way to contact her at that time. A message I started to her remains on my desktop under her name. That keeps her on my mind and recently I’d begun to wonder how she’s doing. Yesterday I heard another interview of her on the Today Show. I went online just now to find that interview. First, I happened on an interview done a couple months post-injury. Watching her struggle to pull her useless  & “dead weight” legs onto the bed brought instant tears to my eyes as I flashed back to  myself in those difficult days. I quickly fine-tuned my search and brought up this link:

http://www.today.com/video/watch-amy-van-dyken-rouen-ski-for-the-first-time-since-near-fatal-accident-918601795513

As I watched Amy ski, adaptive of course, some tears continued but I realized these were tears of joy over feeling so very proud of Amy – for her determination and what she was overcoming. You will be delighted that you took a couple minutes to view her interview – seeing and hearing her joy while skiing. Listen closely to her comment on how she (read: we) meets walls. We figure out ways to go under, around, over, or break through. We somehow overcome the walls and challenges. Go Amy!

Not sure I need to add the reminder to all of us to watch for our blessings.

Shalom, Collene

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Tears

Here we were on this lovely cruise. We were well fed, well taken care of, in an accessible room, relaxed, sunning, entertained, reading, … But, yet, as I read my book, I was tearing up for the second day. The book was historic fiction set near the end of the Civil War and slavery, written from the viewpoint of the slaves. I have read plenty of books about slavery, slave trade, Nazi suppression of Jews, Dutch suffering when caught for hiding the Jews, Japanese Internment camps, Native American suffering based on the US government’s broken promises and white western expansion, … lots of books about some of the worst examples of humanity. Why were the tears continuing to stream down my cheeks while reading this book, I wondered?

The slaves in this book kept supporting each other with promises from God. Promises like “his eye is on the sparrow” sustained those who were suffering. They had faith that, in the end, God would provide Glory. Eventually it dawned on me. Now that I am living in a wheelchair, I feel imprisoned in a body that no longer works. I have a small sense of what it must have felt like for slaves. In a way, I was like them with no way out of my paralysis, here through no personal choice, benefiting from the love of family who also had no ability to change my situation, … I thought I had always felt empathy for others. What I felt in the past wasn’t as real as it was now to feel the pain of others in similar groups.

Maybe the worst hurt came when I realized that a then-Presidential candidate was mocking others with handicaps like me. Not only did he think it was funny and ok to mock us (or anyone), but he did it while trying to impress and earn the support from voters who also thought it was ok. And, it wasn’t only those of us with handicaps but other groups were purposely targeted and disenfranchised.

Another realization was “in my face.” There was not one excursion off the ship in any of the six countries included on the ship itinerary that was wheelchair accessible. I was told by ship staff that one particular city we visited, of over a million people, did not have one bus in the city that was accessible. How challenging it must be for those with handicaps in such countries. It made me grateful for the many people before me who fought long and hard for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Fair Housing Act (FHA). I also wondered what America some people wanted us to go back to when America was greater than it is now. Prior to ADA or prior to more fair civil rights?

I am reminded of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I pray for America, Americans, and our leaders. Jesus ate with Samaritans and tax collectors. Our command is to love others as ourselves. Isn’t that how we work to help His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven?

Give thanks for your many blessings.

Shalom, Collene

A Story of God’s Grace

A Story of God’s Grace

Stories make truth come alive. The larger context is The Best News Ever. As part of that, I was interviewed about my story, focusing on the last 1.5 years since the accident. My story was entitled – not by me but appropriately – A Story of God’s Grace. The interview follows:

  • Collene, you were in education all your life. Where and in what capacity?
    1. I started teaching kindergarten and remedial reading in Hudsonville in a joint position between the public and Chr. schools.
    2. We moved to Lansing and …
      1. I taught first at Lansing Chr. in primary grades and reading support.
      2. When our children were born, I taught a variety of classes, part time at Lansing Community College, teaching adults to read.
  • When the boys were in school full time, I began at Waverly Community Schools focusing on K-12 reading support and became the curriculum director.
  1. When we moved to Harrisburg, PA, I became the Asst. Supt. and ultimately the Superintendent in the Palmyra Area School District.
  • What happened that put you in a wheelchair?
    We had just retired mid summer of 2013 and begun to sail The Chesapeake Bay and to travel. We moved our belongings to Holland in November. On March 19, 2014 I was hit by another car in Florida. I broke about a dozen bones from my scull to my left fibula, had 2 collapsed lungs, required 7 units of blood, and was on life support, but most severe was the spinal cord injury at T-6. I’m paralyzed from the chest down.
  • Such a major change, how do you handle it?
    1. First, I don’t want to minimize how difficult this is. Everything I do from the time I get up until I go to bed, including how I sleep is different and more difficult. That said, from the day of the accident, the word miraculously spread and many, many people were praying for me. A girlhood friend got the word out to our graduating class from Unity Chr. HS. The accident happened on a Wednesday and Alan’s sister is in the choir here. They began praying. Prayer groups I didn’t even know about meeting that Wednesday in Palmyra prayed for me. An order of Nuns in Lansing was praying for me. Of course, we also had our family and their friends from across the country and world praying. Our daughter-in-law began a CarePage which had over 900 followers. I firmly believe that the prayers are why I am alive, why I don’t have brain damage despite having had a closed head injury, why I have my arms and hands, and why we can deal with this. It is a 180* turn but not the end of the road.
    2. We have seen God Moments throughout this journey.
      1. One of my nurses in intensive care in FL had Jeremiah 29:11 tattooed across her lower arm. That became my special text. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
      2. Our two sons and daughter-in-law came when I was in intensive care, along with my sister and Alan. Our children are all in the area of science and they reminded me from Day 1 that “I am an N of one.” “N” stands for a critical number in research and science. If 5% of people can improve with this injury, I can (and will) be that one of those 5/100. I am an N of one.
      3. A very special physical therapist was placed in my life at Mary Free Bed. Marium was raised Muslim but is now an amazing Christian. She was there to say the things I needed to hear on difficult days. One day she climbed onto the therapy table with me, grabbed my hand, and said, “There is a difference between fact and truth. The fact is that right now you have a spinal cord injury and cannot move below the T-6. The truth is that God can and does perform miracles and I believe He can do a miracle in your life.” Over the next couple days she shared miracles she had seen in her own life. We keep praying for that miracle which could be in the form of medical breakthroughs.
  1. During our years in Lansing, we kept our sailboat at Anchorage Marina. We first heard about Christ Memorial from our friends Ron & Sherrie. We attended Christ Memorial several times each year when we were out here. The preaching always spoke to us and was true to the word. The music was excellent. When we moved to Holland in retirement, this is where we wanted to join. Before we were even members, Bill Boersma met with Alan after my accident. He then began to meet with both of us and we appreciated him so much. Quality music is important to us so we’ve always belonged to churches with beautiful music. The thing about Christ Memorial is how naturally and beautifully the music blends with the sermon and the liturgy. It is seamless.
  2. My SCI happened to me but it really happened to my family and friends as well. Each one of their lives has changed, especially Alan and our children. Family and friends support us with prayer and in countless ways. We are given grace to make it through one day at a time. I am an N of one. Glory be to God.

To hear the entire context as well as the interview in my own words, click below. You won’t want to miss the message by Dr. Bill Brownson, former voice of Words of Hope radio. At about 88 years old, he speaks without a note in front of him.

http://www.christmemorial.org/weekly-info-watch-service/best-news-ever

Trying to Say Thanks

The gift of the modified van as prize in the National Mobility Equipment Dealer Association (NMEDA) Local Hero contest is such a rare occurrence. It was wonderful and exciting to actually receive the van from NMEDA! There are many people to whom we wanted to say thank you. Words seem inadequate but this is how I tried.

First, those who donated so much made this all possible. You can’t help me stand or walk but you are certainly making this part of our lives much easier.

  1. NMEDA – Dave Hubbard, from your first phone call to let me know we had won, your gentle voice and respectful manner struck me. When we met in Florida, I knew you were proud of what your organization does for so many people. Leadership style makes a difference and you set such a kind and gentle, giving tone. Thank you for this experience. Cheryl and Donna from evok, thanks for taking care of all the details so this could happen.
  2. Toyota – Bill Burris, without Toyota donating the Sienna, this wouldn’t be happening. We are so grateful. It is beautiful and full of safety features which amaze us. Early in our married life we owned a little, yellow, Toyota Corolla which we just loved. We named him Tommy Toyota. This van deserves a more mature and sophisticated name. Plus, being in Holland, she needs a Dutch name, so everyone, meet Van Gogh. Thank you for the van.
  3. BraunAbility – Brian Harper, you welcomed us as we walked into the dinner for the winners in Tampa. You shared the amazing, major changes you would make to the Toyota to make it usable. You explained about Mr. Braun and how he designed and developed the modifications – always remembering to make the modified vehicle look normal as well as functional. He lived with Multiple Sclerosis so he understood that more than anything we need normalcy and independence. We can go for ice cream at 8:00 at night if we want. For those who are visiting, Hudsonville Ice Cream is the best ice cream around but Tommy Turtles at Capt. Sundae are not to be missed! Thank you for the major modifications.
  4. Clock Mobility – Mr. Clock and Kadi, thank you so much for coordinating everything on this end. You started by getting the word out on the contest and ended just this week making the final, necessary modifications and making sure everything was just right. Thank you.
  5. Crown Motors – You opened your beautiful facility, and we’re all so excited to be here.
  6. NMEDA Dealers: B&D and MPS ~ We are grateful for the donations your organizations provided for the B&D transfer seat platform and for the hand controls. Without those, which Clock installed, I would be unable to drive.

Second, Friends and Family!

Wow, you all came. This is so moving. When Cheryl asked about how many people would come, I said, well a lot of the voters are from Harrisburg, Palmyra, Lansing, Florida, California, and spread all over the country and world. Most people won’t be able to come. But, look at you. Y’all did! Thank you and a special thank you to our children who live too far away to be here. You have supported us for over a year now. You were faithful with your prayers and caring – and for this van with your daily votes. Many of you said you voted so regularly that it seemed odd when June arrived. It seemed you were missing something each day. I think we all learned a LOT about mobility and options in the types of modifications that are available because of the daily questions and research we did to get those extra points. Again, thanks for your perseverance. It is just so great to have you here. Alan and I are delighted to thank you in person and also have you help us thank the rest of these wonderfully generous people. You all know that we watch for our blessings and see Van Gogh as the greatest blessing we’ve had in a long time. Thank you!