9/11/01 ~ 15 Years and Counting

Where were you when you first heard, then watched a plane crash into one of the twin towers of the NY World Trade Center? Each of you reading this will be able to quickly bring back the place, people, surroundings, feelings, conversations, uncertainties, immediate thoughts of the safety of personal loved ones, horrific images, … and, the rest of the day as well. This is a time for each to remember personal experiences and implications – not those of mine. … … … … Vivid and poignant, aren’t they?

It is hard to think such vivid memories are from15 years ago. Aren’t there things you wish our country had done differently since then? Aren’t there things you wish our world had done differently since then? Aren’t there things you wish you had done differently since then? I do! None of that can change. We can only impact the future. The Iroquois Nation said, “In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” I believe that is wise advice. In order to do that, we must study, think on, and then teach our family and share with our friends the “true north” in our lives, what we believe, what we trust, and what we value. May it be for Good and not for harm.

This morning I received a message from Cheri Lovre, the well-known and respected expert from The Crisis Management Institute, who helped me and many school leader friends deal with school crisis situations like suicide and the Amish school shooting personally, to the Columbine school shooting on a more national scale. Cheri closed her note with the following:

“I would hope for all of you that you find time for reflection on the preciousness of every moment, the treasure it is that we have for those who love us and those to love, and the opportunity for each of us to continue to strive to make a difference by bringing more than tolerance…by inspiring love in all corners of our world…or in the words of my favorite prayer, ‘to rise above the differences and distinctions which divide us…’

 “May we all bring the light of hope to those around us, most especially to the children and youth in the hallways of our schools. Never underestimate the encouragement you bring to students’ lives by your loving presence. Live is fragile. Fill it with goodness!”

Watch for your blessings – and be sure you are a blessing to those around you.

Shalom, Collene


God Moments 1 ~ Mini

At the 2-year mark, post accident I decided it was time to share a bit more of the first days, week, and months, given the years of reflection and the healing of time. I decided I would do that through many God Moments that helped uphold us. However, a celebration blog and other important projects kept me from getting to those blogs. I’m now moved to start those but I’m kicking this off with a present-day one, and then I’ll periodically bring out the earlier ones.

This Sunday morning began with the local weather news showing a nasty band of storms with intense lightning strikes heading our way and projecting to hit just the time we typically leave for church. Remember, being in a wheelchair, which requires two hands for propelling my chariot, leaves NO hands for umbrella protection from rain so rain typically dictates we stay inside. Well, by time we were both ready for church, we had missed the window for getting to Van Gogh before the rain began. This wasn’t just a MI rain storm. This was coming down in torrents. Sitting by our open condo door, I determined I needed to stay home but just then, it slowed a tad so we decided to head out. I was most thankful for our incredible condo board members here who, despite already having the ADA required access to the raised entry sidewalk, recognized that it was across a large, open, exposed parking lot. They took it upon themselves after my accident to add a second ramp which allows me to get between the raised sidewalk to our garage with only a very short area without a covered walk and exposure to the elements, i.e. soaking rain.

Once we arrived at church, we secured one of the coveted van/ramp, blue slashes, accessible parking spots and decided to wait 15-20 minutes hoping for the rain to slow. It was getting close to the start of church and the rain let up only a bit but my husband exited Van Gogh, raised the huge golf umbrella, and came around to where the ramp comes down. The look on his face changed but was unreadable to me. I pushed the button to lower the ramp and realized his look. The water right where the ramp landed was in about 3-4 inches of fast flowing water. A quick look down at my wheels assured me that the wheels would hold me above the water, even if not the hand rims, so down I went and continued to move through the falling rain rather than sit in the rushing water while Alan pushed the button to raise the ramp and close the van door. I looked up to see two angels walking toward me from church in the form of two friends holding their own huge, golf umbrellas. They were able to keep me from getting soaked between the van and the door overhang. Mini God Moment.

As was typical, the service was worshipful and harmonized from the words of preparation through the postlude. The final message in the series on Nehemiah, Restoring Purpose, the Power of Rubble Restored, reminded me of my focus word this year, purpose. Our minister of music and his (guest) brother added richness with their musical talents on piano, organ, blended voice, and trumpet. They sang the hymn of response, Blessings by L. Story, as a dialogue between a typical person’s words and God’s response.

Revised chorus text:

Your blessings come through rain drops. (just this morning)

Your healing comes through tears. (many in the last two+ years)

A thousand sleepless nights (can’t count the number my husband has had)

Are what it takes to know I’m near.


Person’s voice in final verse:

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.

What if trials of this life

The rain, the storms, the hardest nights

Are your mercies in disguise.


Watch for your disguised blessings.

Shalom: May all be well, Collene


Creative Problem Solving: Partner Work

Wheel cover closeWheel_Table_Cockpit_Teak cupholder_InstrumentsRaftOffThere was a time I sewed most of my clothes. No one knew unless they were an accomplished seamstress themself and noticed telltale signs such as the plaids all matched. I knew which patterns fit me best. Butterick was first, followed by McCall’s, but Simplicity was better for a taller, thinner seamstress. Vogue seemed to have more complicated and sophisticated patterns. I knew to adjust the pattern and shorten it about a ½” to ¾” between the waist and hips so it fit me well. I designed and made my own wedding dress. I modeled it later in a fashion show and was asked to rent it out. (No) I took a couple tailoring classes and made dress pants for my husband. Occasionally, I made coordinating outfits for our young sons – coordinating, not matching. I recall one with marine blue shorts and multiple, primary colored, striped knit for the shirts. I made myself a skirt with a sailboat applique in the same fabric. We looked so fresh and nautical, of course.

Once a busy family and full time work were our focus, sewing became relegated to repair projects. With our sailboat in The Chesapeake Bay, the intense UV rays eventually took their toll on canvass and thread. A few years ago, the canvass and sails needed some repairs so I borrowed a heavy-duty sewing machine designed for sailors. As a paraplegic, I no longer sail but when our sailboat was launched this year, my husband mentioned that the seam on the wheel cover ripped and needed repair. I told him to bring it home and I’d give it a look. Well, stitch-in-time-saves-nine was not utilized. I realized it was simply a matter of the sun’s UV rays destroying the thread. The French seam hadn’t ripped; it has simply separated for about a 4’ length. It was a simple fix – if one had a foot to control the electric sewing machine pedal and two free hands to maneuver the fabric into place.

You need to picture the wheel cover. On a 36’ sailboat, the helm station is mounted on a stainless steel, tubular tower 5’+ tall. It holds the compass, several navigational aid monitors, GPS & radar charts, and the steering wheel which has about a 4’ diameter. There is a teak, 4-cup holder mounted high on the stand, opposite of the wheel. Best to keep the crew hydrated while sailing and the water bottles or soda secure. Below that we added a teak table which we could raise perpendicular to the floor, with sidepieces that fold out on hinges so our family of 4 could eat once we were back in port. It was a wonderful set-up for our decades of family sailing in Lake Michigan. Of course, sailing The Bay in more recent years, with regular raft-offs, the setup served well for happy hour as well. My point in the description is that the cover for this is a pretty large, fairly heavy, cylindrical piece of Captain Navy, Sunbrella fabric. When I was an in-patient in Mary Free Bed Rehab Hospital, I made a pillow cover in recreation therapy. I used the power, foot pedal on the table to the right of the sewing machine so I could power up with my right hand and guide the fabric with my left. Sewing those four straight seams on the pillow seemed quite simple even when compared to the kitchen towel and skirt I made in first year 4H. However, much of adjusting to new ways of doing things is the opportunity to try it out and give one the encouragement and confidence to take on a project, making any necessary adjustments as they come along. I made a pillow! Whoo-hoo. Why not take on the wheel cover repair project.

My husband and I decided we could handle this project between the two of us. I pinned the fabric back into place for the French seam, closing the 4’+ gap. I placed a hard, flat surface between the layers of fabric on my lap so I could carefully, neatly, and securely hand-baste the fabric in place without catching the backside by mistake.

Alan got out the portable sewing machine and placed it on our dining room table. I was delighted to notice that I had a large spool of heavy-duty, Captain Navy, thread and special needles for extra heavy fabric left from supplies I had bought when we borrowed our friends’ sail, sewing machine. We were going to be in great shape. I filled the bobbin and threaded the machine. I moved the foot pedal to the right side of the sewing machine and my husband and I wrestled the fabric under the sewing arm and needle to where it belonged. Since Alan had never used a sewing machine, we talked through how he would help me guide the fabric and keep it away from getting caught under the needle or moving mechanism. This would be an unwieldy project but we had a plan. I explained my goal in keeping the various sides of the pressure foot specifically where on the seam. The fabric was so heavy that I needed my right hand on the power foot and my left hand temporarily pushing the flywheel to get it started. Once running, we used our three hands to guide and move the competed fabric out of the way. In this manner, we managed to stitch along the right side first and then the left side, topstitching the French seam as intended. They were far from the straightest seams I had ever sewn and I wouldn’t have gotten a top rating in 4H at the local, county fair, but who really notices navy thread on navy fabric when you’re on a sailboat anyway, right? This was special thread designed to be resistant to the sun damage and it would hold for years to come. We had accomplished our goal! It definitely took teamwork and some creativity but isn’t that what life is about anyway? Mission accomplished!

Count your blessing, especially the little ones.

Shalom, Collene


How to Win …

Instead of me writing this blog, I’m sharing a blog written about me. It is from BraunAbility’s website. To read it, click the title (italics) immediately below.

How to Win the NMEDA Local Heroes Contest

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.