Is a box of 🍫
You 🚫 know what you’re gonna get…..
Is a box of 🍫
You 🚫 know what you’re gonna get…..
Out here in the open desert I stand alone.
There are no trees or caves just flat open land for miles in each direction. I have nothing with me save for the shirt on my own back and pants on my legs. I am barefoot and have no purse or backpack, no person or animal around me. Suddenly the wind picks up blowing my hair behind me and on the horizon I see a great mass of billowing dark clouds swarm toward me. I hear the thunder and see the lightening rippling through the clouds as they approach. I could run, but where would I run to? I could try to hide, but under what? The dust and sand? That is all there is.
God is coming toward me through the clouds.
His power is massive. His authority, unquestionable. His might, majestic.
Suddenly, all my iniquities, my habitual sins, my short-fallings run through my mind like a Rolodex. They won’t stop spinning. I realize I am about to be in the presence of the Almighty God and wave after wave of chills run from head to toe. How can I bear to be in His presence? How can I stand before Him? I know that He cannot stand to be in the presence of sin and that the consequences of sin is death. Will this be the last thing I ever see? Will this be the last breath I ever take? A deep sense of fear rises up in me as this realization hits me.
I spin around on the spot and right behind is a storm just as massive as the one before me. Whichever way I go, He is already there, racing toward me. I realize I have nowhere to go. The sky darkens as the clouds cover up sky. The thunder pounds in my ears and reverberates through my chest. Lightning crackles across the sky and strikes the ground within inches of where I’m standing. The reality hits me that I’m in the presence of a Holy God who is to be feared! My knees buckle and hit the sand. I throw my body prostrate, my head to the ground.
Suddenly, it starts to pour. I am pelted and pounded by rain drops the size of golf balls. Instantly I am soaked. My hair is plastered to my back and cheeks. My clothes become drenched and matted to my skin. The sand around me quickly turns to mud. I cover the top of my head with my hands as I start shivering at the core and my body shakes.
I wait and wait for some type of signal or word, but nothing. Only rain… silence… and low-rolling thunder.
I am tempted to move or say something to break the silence, but out of reverence and fear I keep still and stay silent.
Then, out of nowhere, He speaks…
His voice echoes through the clouds and right into the core of my very being.
You have been called to account
To give an account to Me, your Creator, your God, for the life and the time I gave you on earth
Are you prepared to give an account to Me?
At this point I’m not sure if this is a question that I am supposed to answer, or if I should continue to keep my silence…
I await your response…
Now I know I need to speak… I open my mouth to respond, but no words come out. I try to force my voice to choke out sound, but nothing comes. With no other means of communicating I nod my head between my hands.
Yes? You are ready? You are prepared? How have you prepared yourself? Upon what base are you standing on, relying on, to face me?
At this my voice returns to me and I reply,
Jesus… I call on Jesus, my Savior… there is no other way I can stand before You…
Ah, my Son! The glorious King of Kings! So you claim to be a daughter of the King? It takes a great leap of faith to claim such a title… many have come before Me claiming as such only to be found wanting… We will see if your claim can be verified…
Immediately the rain stops. There is no more sound of thunder, no more flashes of lightening.
I strain my ears for a response, but hear nothing.
After what seems like an eternity of silence, I hear a pounding in the distance, only this time it isn’t thunder…
This is the sound of hooves pounding hard and fast against the desert sand…
I chance a look up and see in the far horizon against the billowing clouds, a shining star level with the ground shooting toward me.
As the star gets closer I realize it is not a star at all… it is a rider on a white horse racing toward me which, when compared with the bright white robe of the rider, pales in comparison.
At once I am excited and afraid at the same time. Instinctively I know who this is… it is the Holy One, Himself.
The rider pulls back hard on the reigns and the horse comes to snorting halt within inches of where I lay.
He kicks his feet out of the stirrups, swings his leg around and over the saddle in one sweeping motion and jumps off the horse. He lands hard and firm right in front of my face.
All I see from my position are His feet, a hole in each one…
The horse retreats from behind and lays down bowing his head to the ground.
My Son, is this true? Does her name appear in Our Book of Life?
I have it right here Father, let me open it that we may see if her claim is true…
I am surprised when He tucks his hand into a pocket on the inside of his robe against his chest. As He pulls it out I see him holding a little black book…
I am shocked to see this small of a book considering what it contains…
In my shock and wonder I fail to catch in time the snicker that runs across my face, which of course, He sees…
He looks straight at me and I feel all the color drain from my face… only… He snickers back at me!
You were expecting something bigger?
Soon as He loosens the leather cord the pages expand Mary Poppins style and I watch as, what appears to be, a million pages filled to the edges with lists lay open in the palm of His hand
As I watch Him flip through the pages of the Book, I feel a new wave hit me… only this time, of terror… What if my name is not there? I know what Revelation says about what happens to those whose names are not found in that Book. I chide myself for questioning… I know that I have been His for a long time now, know that I have asked Him in my heart to be my Lord and Savior… but I can’t stop the doubting questions in my head: Sure you said the words, but did you ever make Him Lord of your life?… If you really were His you wouldn’t have struggled with repeated sin even right up to your departure from Earth… Even Satan believed in God, but didn’t obey Him, how are you any better?…. On and on these questions and doubts keep going as I hear Him flip the pages, searching…
Let’s see here….
My heart sinks and a new stabbing sensation pierces my chest
Yes! Here it is!
My heart leaps and a new wave of relief washes over me!
I look up and see His finger come to a sliding halt in the center of a page…
Heather Nicole… born August 27th, 1983 to parents Floyd and Linda Thompson in Santa Fe, NM, youngest sibling to Jeremy Allen and Rebecca Elizabeth… baptized as a baby at St. John’s Methodist in Albuquerque, NM… confirmed in the faith in eighth grade at Potomac United Methodist in Rockville, MD… baptized again in college at Covenant Baptist in Shepherdstown, WV after making her informed decision to accept Me into her heart… entered into holy matrimony to Jason William Barth on April 22, 2006… It’s all right here Father, written in red ink…
Red ink… could it be? I glance upward and see dark red ink that seems to be part of the very fabric of the page itself for each word etched into it. It hits me that each name… my name… is written with His blood
Then I hear Him speak the words I had waited a lifetime to hear…
She is Mine!
After wandering through the desert alone,
I break down in the sand, and the heat…
“God I need You, oh how I need You…”
Without You I am nothing
I am weak
Your hand of discipline has been upon me
I resisted, but You were relentless
The more I resisted the more You pressed in on every side
My spirit groaned within me
A heavy weight like a brick was on my chest
For each day, each moment that I refused to speak
I was weighted down and my heart was heavy within me
Until I confessed my sins to You, and surrendered my will
I confessed my wandering and laid bare my weakness
I laid prostrate at Your feet, ashamed and disgraced…
I broke down and said, “I’m sorry, Lord, I’m so so sorry…. Please forgive me… please… I need You…”
I cried with my head to the ground
Acknowledging the foolishness and error of my ways… Of my thoughts …
I acknowledged my hypocrisy and saw my reflection in Your mirror
I said, “I deserve Your discipline… what kind of person am I?”
You responded, “You are my child…”
You picked me up in my despair and held me
Your Spirit washed over me and sent chills down my neck to the base of my spine
You let me know, in the way only You know how to communicate
That I am Yours, that You accept me
That you love me, just as I am…
You accepted my remorse, my confession
You forgave me
You had already forgiven me, at the cross at Calvary
You were awaiting my surrender, to extend Your grace to me
You exchanged my weakness for Your grace
Who am I that You would love me?
That You would die for me?
I can’t bear this weight of grace
But You did
I am not worthy to be in Your presence
To be loved by You…
The more I humble myself, the more You remind me
Of Your grace
Of how much I don’t deserve…
It’s too much to bear
But you let me bear it
The desert heat breaks and it starts to rain
It pours down in buckets and pelts me to the core
This rain is like Your grace
You pour it out more and more
You drench me in it until I am crying on the floor, crawled into a ball
Begging you to stop
But you won’t
I can’t do anything to stop this crashing in my soul
Wave after wave your Spirit slams into my pride, smashing it into pieces
My pride is shattered
My soul melts like wax before You
It is all I can do just to worship You…
I cry out, “Holy… holy…. Holy…………”
You are holy
Only You are holy
I am nothing…
“I love you, Daddy…. Thank You… Thank you, Jesus….”
In silence I stay, naked and transparent
Laid prostrate before You, soaking wet
Enveloped and wrapped in Your Spirit
You have consumed me, like a fire
There is nothing left but smoke and ash
All my energy is spent, I can barely move
I don’t even have the strength to cry anymore
Let alone hardly breathe
With absolutely nothing left, I feel Your cool breath
It hits me at the nape of my neck and reverberates down my spine
It warms up my core from the inside out
You breathe new life into me
Into my spirit
Your Spirit breathing into mine
I feel Your energy rise up in me
You raise me up
I am restored…
Suddenly I hear your voice
It echoes in my soul…
I love you… Go, and sin no more…
You send me on my way
Encouraged I go, remembering one thing…
That I am Yours,
You are… everything.
You are… the reason I breathe, the reason I am alive.
You deserve all the glory, honor and praise.
You deserve to have every knee bow down before you.
You deserve every spot and room in the hearts of all people.
You deserve all the love I can give.
You are high and lifted up, shining in the light of Your glory.
You didn’t have to, but you did.
You rose again.
You will judge every thought, word and action.
You are… King over all the earth.
I am nothing but a speck or grain of sand before you.
With one breathe You could blow me away, make me disappear.
Yet you care.
You stoop down.
You count the hairs on my head.
You record every minute and second of my life.
You know my thoughts before they form.
You know my past.
You hold my future.
You have blessed me.
I have done nothing to deserve Your love.
I have rejected you.
Rebelled against You.
Turned my back on You.
Spat at You.
I should be the object of Your wrath.
Now You call me your child.
All because of one decision.
The decision to follow You.
The choice of a lifetime.
A lifetime of “thank-you’s” would never be enough.
I’ll spend all of eternity just trying….
To show You…
How much I love You.
You are my Lover.
Lover of my soul.
How I long to be in Your presence, to sit at Your holy feet.
To worship You in your holy kingdom.
To see you face-to-face.
To feel You wrap me in your arms, and hold me tight.
I can’t wait to be there.
I’ll live my life for You.
I love You, Yeshua,
I’m not gonna repeat the whole content of the website here, but I do want to point out a few key highlights for you and encourage you to read the synopsis for yourself!
Perhaps one of the hardest things for me to get into my heart spiritually is that God not only loves me, but likes me as well. A lot of the time I find that when I repeat a sin that I’ve committed a thousand times before, I question initially whether or not I am really forgiven, first of all, and second of all, whether God is exhasperated and fed up with me and is sick and tired of putting up with me.
Sometimes I am tempted to think things like, “how many more times do I have before He will give up on me and leave me to my sin?” That is a fear of mine. Even though I know it’s not true, and that God says He will never leave or forsake us who belong to him, I, in my own guilt and shame, have a hard time getting over that. Honestly, I don’t know that I truly believe, 100% in my heart, that He won’t reject me. I am always reminded of when Jesus said that during the end times there would be many that, when presented before the Judgment seat of Christ, would say to him, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? perform miracles in your name?, (etc)…” but that Jesus would reject them and say, “Get away from me you evil doers, I never knew you!” That is my ultimate fear that He would say that to me, and I would find that my whole faith and life was a farce. I know Satan wants to bring me down with thoughts like these, and for the most part I do reject those thoughts with truth and knowing in my heart that I do truly love God, love Jesus, and try to follow Him. It’s just hard sometimes.
It’s the whole remorse vs. repentance. You can have remorse without repentance, but you can’t have repentance without remorse. The fact that I still have sins that I struggle with repeatedly, makes me question whether or not I really have repented at all, and therefore, whether or not I am really forgiven of those sins. What if I die still struggling with those sins? Will I be rejected because of it? Or will I be saved, but just not recieve as much blessings in heaven b/c of it? Those are things I question. I know I have been remorseful of those sins, I have had numerous crying sessions on my bedroom floor, laying out prostrate crying out to him for mercy and forgiveness… only to give in the next time the temptation presents itself. Only now it’s gotten to the point where I don’t have crying sessions anymore, I just say a silent prayer of “I’m really sorry I messed up again, please forgive me” and move on. Sometimes I’m lucky if I do that, and find that I try to play the “run away” game with God and see how long I can put off my confession before finally getting to a breaking point. My soul has gone past the point of being able to wretch itself open again and again every time I mess up, so it’s like it has this calloused covering to protect itself from the spiritual and emotional pain of the process of remorse.
This is exactly why I have posts on here about God being really angry with me and being harsh with me about my sin, and posts about him stooping down and brushing my hair and picking me up again. Two starkly different (yet somewhat similar) views of Him in the aftermath of my rebellion. I’m not sure which one is more true. I think it’s more a little bit of both.
I believe that God is greater than my fears, I know He is. I’m confident that I will be delivered, saved in the end because I truly honestly believe in Jesus as my Savior, have accepted him in my heart and really do desire/try to live for Him everyday and follow his commands. I know my salvation is not based on what I do or don’t do. It’s not about whether I will go to heaven or hell, it’s more about the depth and level of my relationship with Him and whether or not I will make him proud in the end. I feel I owe Him A LOT (which I do) considering where I’ve come from to where I am today, and I don’t want to disapoint him. I don’t want to have to stand before Him at the end of my life and find that my life was filled with missed opportunities and bad behaviors to where I lost my testimony that He gave me to share.
I also feel, sometimes that my testimony is too much to bear and so I drag my feet at it and don’t always give it my all. I am not an extrovert, I am an introvert and having a service dog puts you in the spotlight wherever you go. I have to make myself be assertive, make myself be talkative, make myself be patient with people’s ignorance. It’s not easy, it’s hard, and it makes it harder that I am not an outgoing talkative personality type. Yet this is still a lot better than the alternative, which is nurses. So the odds are in favor of the dog, logically, yet it puts my comfort/sense of ease at constant odds. I feel guilty that I don’t jump at every opportunity like I feel I should. God has used my testimony to help others and I feel in my heart that this is part of His plan, to have me share my story. Yet when sharing my story means having all eyes on me and being in the spotlight, I wanna run. I want to hide. It doesn’t feel right or natural. I want to cry sometimes even, it feels so uncomfortable and wrong. That’s because, like I said, I’m an introvert. I’ve learned how to handle it better, to more or less, “act” an extrovert for the sake of the conversation or other person, but inside I am cringing and want to get it over as fast and soon as possible.
One thing that gives me hope is that I know God is working in me and I can see how I have grown over the years. I’m not the same woman I was five years ago… and I hope to have grown even more five years from now.
“I have been blessed by God. And if I am blessed it is for one reason and one reason only, and that is to help others.” -Akiane Kramarik
“There are many looking for answers… Tell me who am I, to keep it to myself? I’ve grown weary of my own fears, yeah, it’s been a long time a comin’…” -Third Day
This post has been a long time coming…
I hope to be able to express, humbly, the full extent of God’s awesome power and hand in my life. It is to Him alone that I owe my life and the fact that I live is a testament to the fact that Jesus is real and the Holy Spirit is still alive and working in the world today. Before you dismiss that as another religious zealot’s iradic claim (I don’t claim to be religious nor do I like the term), please give me time to explain and then feel free to decide for yourself.
Sitting down and writing out one’s own testimony is more of a task than people realize….
First of all it forces you to be self-reflective and take time to think through your life and what events brought you to who you are in the present moment. For some that is easier than others. Even to those who find it flows easily, it still takes time, commitment, devotion and determination to see the thing through. Giving my testimony isn’t something that is entirely new to me, writing it down and posting it publicly is. I have given shortened versions or tidbits to many people throughout my daily going ins and outs. This has been required of me given the very nature of my disorder.
Yes, that’s right, I said disorder. For those who don’t know me well (or don’t know me at all), you might not know that I have one. Most that know of me know that I have something different about me that requires me to have a service dog. Some don’t even know that and assume that I am training the dog when they see me in public, rather than making the connection that I am the receiver of it. My disorder might not be that visible to the outside world in my current state, but it wasn’t always this way, and it certainly didn’t start out that way.
Perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning–for that we must go back to the moment I was born.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Saturday August 27th, 1983
Life began at St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and a new baby came into the world a normal healthy breathing girl… at least for the first 10 minutes.
Already signs of something supernatural were stirring…
Name picked out by my parents: Heather Noel Thompson
Name revealed in a dream to my mother in bold flashing lights like on an old time movie theatre sign: Heather Nicole Thompson
Name written on the forms and submitted to the hospital for the birth certificate: Heather Noel Thompson
Name printed on the birth certificate after it was recieved: Heather Nicole Thompson
Already it was apparent–there was going to be something different about this child…
Ten minutes past birth–I stop breathing completely.
A possible misdiagnosis was prevented due to my parents first child–Jeremy Thompson–who was born with a disorder called CCHS along with many other complications. Their first born, unfortunately, did not live to see four months. A second attempt at parenthood was successful and Rebecca Elizabeth Thompson (my sister and only sibling) came into the world on July 21st, 1981, a completely normal and healthy child. Jeremy’s condition and passing was labeled as a rare and tragic one-in-a-lifetime occurence, not anticipated to be repeated again…
I am immediately tested for, and diagnosed with, the same condition as my brother’s–a rare genetic breathing disorder titled Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome or CCHS (CHS for short), also known as Ondine’s curse (common in about only one in every 200,000 live births as of 2006). Included with this condition came other diagnoses such as Hirschprungs Disease (failure of the lower part of the colon, common in only one out of 5000 births) and esophageal dismotility (difficulty swallowing). The nature of this disorder stems from a mutated gene–one that has been found in the last decade–labeled the PHOX2B gene and affects the autonomic nervous system. The mutated gene expresses itself either one of two ways at birth: as a 24hr or 12hr gene. Either the patient has 24 hr dependency on a mechanical breathing machine (i.e. ventilator or diaphragmatic pacers) or 12 hour dependency. Once you are born with that particular genetic expression, you stay that way. I was born with the 24hr expression of the gene, and so at six weeks of age a tracheotomy was performed and I was placed on a mechanical ventilator. Other predictions included the inability to talk (due to the Tracheotomy) or eat (due to the difficulty swallowing) and the inability to ever breathe on my own again. The likelihood that I would even live to see my high school graduation was slim to none.
As you can imagine, this was devastating news to my parents. After recovering from the loss of their first child, they had a healthy one and thought that the nightmare was over, only now to find it happening all over again. However, instead of breaking them apart, this news sparked a deeper bond between ties as family, friends, neighbors, churches, and people reaching out to other parts of the country and world began uniting in prayer for their child. This prayer chain reached God’s ears and heart and He chose to reveal part of His plan to my Nana (Jane) in a vision. She saw me as a grown woman walking across a graduation stage recieving my diploma/degree while hearing the voice of God tell her three simple words: “Heather is blessed”
When my Nana relayed this revelation to my mother, her first response was one that any loving concerned mother would be–“That’s great that she’s blessed, but I want her to be well!”
In years to come it would become more and more apparent what those three words would really mean.
The day of my birth began with a double rainbow appearing over St. Vincent’s: the first in a series of signs giving hope for the future.
The next milestone was reached as doctors implanted diaphragmatic pacers in me at around three years of age. Pacing during the daytime and ventilation at night became the routine for me as well as home care nursing. My parents acted as the “nurse” during the weekday evenings and weekends, but since both had to work to make ends meet, a nurse came in the mornings to go to school with me and in the evenings to watch over me while I was asleep. In addition, my family would take annual trips to Chicago, IL for check-ups where the specialists for my disorder were located. Despite periodic sugeries involving my pacers and the insertion of a heart pacemaker, I was able to enjoy a fairly normal childhood which included making friends, playing on the playground and achieving good grades. This pattern alone would have been proof enough of God’s goodness and grace on my life and family, but He wasn’t done yet…
Seventh grade is a year that might seem a blur for most people… that year of middle school where you’re trying to get the hang of the whole “growing up” thing, all while battling the social pressure to be “cool” and fit in. Friendships are changing and being formed, keeping track of your classes is a chore in and of itself, and even mom and dad seem to be more “strict” than usual. For me, this year would mark the beginning of a whole new era, a turning point in my life. This was the year that God decided to work another miracle in my life. Another annual trip to Chicago for a check-up ended up in our lives being turned upside down. The doctors had found, over the past couple of years, that my breathing patterns while I was awake were changing. They wanted to try having me breathe on my own while I was awake…
Which is it easier to say to the paralytic, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Arise , and take up your bed, and walk? -Mark 2:9
A very similar question was being asked of me at this moment. Put another way, “Which is easier…continuing the way you’ve always been and in what you’ve always known, or after 13 years of 24hr mechanical breathing support, now take off your machine and breathe?”
Many can only imagine or fathom what must have been going through this man’s mind when Jesus approached him. Obviously he believed in Jesus because it was his pursuit of Him that led to his healing. Yet when being commanded by Jesus to “take up your mat and walk”, was there any doubt in his mind, any hesitancy, any backward glance at the desert before entering the Promise Land? The Bible doesn’t give us any indication of this being the case, in fact it says he did exactly as the Lord told him. He not only stood, he “jumped” (as one Gospel writer puts it) up and walked/ran! I’d like to think that I jumped and ran into my new promise as well, and I did agree to try this new possibility out, but my first reaction when being told this was more like, REALLY? I know my parents reaction was similar… I think I remember my mother telling the doctor, “You’ve been telling us her whole life that there was no possible way she would ever breathe on her own again, and now all of a sudden you tell us that you want to have her breathe on her own? How is this possible?” The doctors didn’t have an answer to that, but we knew. It is possible because with God, all things are possible. It is possible only because of Him. You can’t reverse a gene that has mutated at birth. Only the power of God can change that.
Think about what that first step must have felt like for the paralytic… how long had it been since he felt the blood pulsating through his veins, massaging his muscles. Think about feeling the bone of his heel putting pressure to the ground and seeing his body stand up erect, holding itself together rather than crumble to the ground. Was it abnormal the first few seconds or minutes? Did he have someone aid him in taking the first few steps or walk that first mile with him? Maybe he had someone there afterward coaching him on how first to walk, then jog, then run again. Having a coach would be helpful for someone like him. I didn’t have a coach. How do you coach someone to breathe? How do you explain the rhythm of breathing in an out in comparison to a machine’s vibration? No one could accurately show me, let alone explain it to me and I almost didn’t make it through the first day of this test.
The feel of a machine breathing for you is more pronounced and deliberate each time you get a breath. Breathing on your own is a more shallow yet consistent process that you do without even having to think about it. Yet I had to think about it, especially those first few moments when they first took the pacers off of me. I would breathe on my own for a few minutes, then ask to be put back on the machine. This process was repeated until the docotors realized that I wasn’t comfortable with breathing on my own. Yet it wasn’t because my oxygen or CO2 numbers were bad, in fact they were at perfectly healthy levels everytime I was off the machine, even for half an hour or more. My biggest hurdle that I almost didn’t cross was psychological. I thought that I wasn’t breathing right. I thought that the physical sensations I had when I was off the machine meant I couldn’t do it. In fact, those sensations were not due to lack of oxygen or unhealthy CO2 levels, they were symptoms of withdrawl I was experiencing. I wanted the feel of the pacers vibrating for me, or the ventilator pressurizing air down my trachea and into my lungs. That’s what I’d always known breathing to feel like. This didn’t feel like breathing to me at all, yet I was being told it was. It felt more like I was a fish out of water.
It really came down to my parents telling me that I did have a choice in this. I didn’t have to go without the pacers if I felt I really couldn’t do it. The cost, however, was much greater… I would stay machine dependent for the rest of my life, this time by my own choice. Here was the crossroads and I knew in that moment, I realized that it really was just me. I just had to either get over it, or miss out on a whole new life. That’s when I decided to tough it out and trust the doctors, trust my parents, and trust God that this WAS really happening and I WAS okay, even if I didn’t feel like it. After that, I did fine the rest of my week in the hospital study and I have continued to breathe on my own while I am awake since then. I still use the ventilator to breathe for me whenever I am asleep or if I am sick, but I have not had to go back to machines while I am awake.
One of the (many) advantages of being independent of machines while you are awake is that there is one less reason for people to gawke and stare at you. While I did (and do) still have the trach, by this point it looked almost more like a necklace or choker and so I got less sideways glances. I started to really get used to blending into the background, which fit well with my introverted type B personality. Moving halfway across the country–from NM to MD–the summer of the same year I started breathing on my own also helped to encourage this peronality type. I was able to enjoy a few years of ignorant anonymity bliss, including the transition into high school, until the summer of 2000. By this time I was halfway through my high school career and most of my friends had only known me as machine-free (unless they were close enough friends to have spent the night). That all was going to change fast.
[Insert service dog]
If I had to credit one (human) person in my life who was responsible for bringing me to where I am now it would be my mother. Not only did she care for me, love me and act as an advocate for me, she is an innovative thinker who wasn’t afraid to challenge the doctors and push the boundaries of medicine. Both of my parents did this, and they always worked together and supported each other on whatever decisions had to be made. Yet it was my mother who came up with the idea to train a service dog to replace my nurses. Once again, the doctors didn’t think it was possible, let alone wise, but my mother presented them with facts. If a dog could effectively help those who suffered from seizures, were blind or wheelchair bound, why couldn’t they train a dog to hear an alarm? At this point in my life I was breathing independently while I was awake and only had night nurses to watch my machines while I slept. I knew how to handle my medical care and machines while I was awake, but I was still dependent in that when I was asleep, I usually didn’t hear my alarms go off. Seems simple enough, but not even the dog training community had ever heard of training a dog for a ventilator-dependent person… all but one, that is.
ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), located in Dobbs Ferry, NY and Torrington, CT proved to be the exception and a pioneer in training dogs for this particular task. Lu Picard and her husband Dale were the founders and owners of the service dog program which specialized in helping to rehabilitate at-risk youth by assigning them the responsibility to train puppies to become service dogs. This particular company had trained only one other service dog for a person that was vent-dependent, but that person had other training needs also that were different to mine. At least though, they had heard of such a thing and were willing venture into new territory. We sent them an audio tape-recording of my machine alarm and told them what I needed the dog to do for me–that is to wake me up when it goes off! Six months of training and two weeks of boot camp later, and my new permanent full-time nurse was an English black Lab named Cole.
I came back to school my junior year and suddenly, it was like I was the new kid. Everyone’s head turned as service dog and master walked through the hallways and into the classrooms. Students reactions were explosive and varied from screams of shock and jumping to the other side of the hallway to non-chalant observative comments such as “HEY! THERE’S A DOG!” Any hopes of invisibility were immediately vanished. Suddenly my disorder was back in clear view. It was either sink or swim and I was determined to swim into this new life, but there were days that it felt more like I was dog-paddling (no pun intended.) What I didn’t realize, in those first few months after bringing Cole home, was how God was going to use this new attachment as a tool to reach out to others and be a witness for Him. Two years later I would surpase another one of the doctors expectations as I walked across stage to recieve my high school diploma, this time with a faithful canine companion by my side.
Cole allowed me the independence and freedom to go out into the world and pick the college of my choosing rather than be confined to the community college in MD and commute from home. As a result, I found myself attending Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) in Shepherdstown, WV in the fall of 2002. Little did I know, this would also be where I would meet my future husband. It may seem odd to link my husband in with my testimony but there is a very good and important reason. You see, while I did have one boyfriend my senior year of high school, I never really thought that I would marry or that there would be a guy out there that would want to stay committed to me long term. Truthfully, I didn’t really know what true love felt like. I liked the idea of having a boyfriend and Chuck was important in realizing that it was possible to be liked by a guy. However, he wasn’t the one God meant for me and as soon as I sensed that, I ended it truthfully and honestly with him. When I came to college and met Jason, I knew there was something different about him that I was attached to but my own fears and insecurities kept me from pursuing him (though he had been pursuing me) until the latter part of my freshman year. We (officially) started our courtship in May of 2003 and seven months later on Christmas night (really December 26th) I found myself engaged to the man I knew God had prepared for me. Two and a half years later and we would marry on Earth day, April 22nd, 2006. As the bubbles were blown down the spiral staircase outside of the Shepherd College Student Center ballroom and reception area (where we had both worked and volunteered), another milestone was passed. Only a month later I would toss my hat for the second time as I closed out my college career and recieved my Bachelor of Science degree from Shepherd.
Cole stayed by my side for 11 years until he was 13 years of age and just recently retired this past August of 2011. Since then I have had a Golden Lab named Joplin who is all of two years old and certainly knows how to act her age–in a very mature manner that is! She has a fun playful personality and a very shrill bark (for which she is properly named) but her reliance to perform her duties has been as consistent and dependable as her predecessor. Through both of these service dogs I have been blessed with the opportunity to share with others my history and my faith. I have been told that it has blessed those to whom I have told and I hope it blesses you too.
My sister’s first child and son–I can’t wait to meet him this weekend!