One spring morning on our RV book tour, Frank and I turned off the main highway and meandered through Texas countryside for an hour or so, letting back roads lead us where they may. As we entered a small town, a handmade Burma shave-like sign invited us to lunch at Granny’s Barbeque. A second, third, and fourth directed the way. Following those signs, arriving early for the mid-day meal, we were the only two customers in the establishment.
After serving us a copious amount of delicious barbeque and iced tea, Granny sat at the table next to us to chat while waiting for other customers. After awhile she rose and joined us. Sharing stories, we learned that Granny was a retired schoolteacher who loved to cook and had opened her restaurant just a few weeks ago. We described our tour, where we had been so far and where we were headed.
Appreciating her food and friendly hospitality, before driving off, I fetched a copy of The Twelve Gifts of Birth from our RV and gave it to Granny. She asked us to remain a few more minutes while she looked through it. We sat together again as she read the book slowly, considering each gift and commenting, “Ah, yes…This is true…Praise the Lord…Amen…Ah huh…Yesiree.” She made an affirmative comment after each gift. Until faith. “No,” she said. “Not every one has this one. Not my husband,” choking back tears. We stayed some more and talked about faith.
What is faith? The word has many meanings and the topic is often highly charged when it refers to religious belief. The dictionary tells us that faith is: first, “complete trust or confidence.” It is also: “unquestioning belief, religion or creed, as well as loyalty and trustworthiness.” When we left, Granny was still concerned because her husband did not share her religious beliefs, but she and I agreed that faith transcends religion and that faith is both about God and not about God. We also agreed that we all have the capacity to believe in things that cannot be seen and that what we believe matters. Every day we take actions and make choices that are influenced by what we believe. And, every emotion we feel, every response we have to every event…all of our experiences on the emotional level are influenced by the beliefs we hold. For example, do we believe that this world is essentially an unsafe place with a lot of ugliness? Or, despite hardships and challenges, is this world beautiful?
Andrea’s story shows her faith in the beauty of life, no matter what.
I met Andrea when our paths crossed at “When a Child Dies” grief conference at which I had been asked to speak about The Twelve Gifts. Literally, Andrea and I bumped into each other as we approached a display of photos. After exchanging “excuse-me’s” and introductions, Andrea led me to the area where her son’s photos were featured. “This is my miracle boy,” she said, tenderly touching a picture of her son, Arthur, taken on his 11th birthday, shortly before he died. Leaning in to see that photo, what I most noticed was a pair of brilliant and expressive blue eyes. Later that day, in a sharing workshop and in conversations that followed, I learned why Andrea called Arthur her “miracle boy.”
After a normal and easy pregnancy, Arthur was born at 8:15 am on October 5, 1993 at an army hospital. “Holding my newborn son, I experienced perfect peace. It was as if everything is right in this world even though military helicopters were hovering outside the nursery window and the Gulf War was raging on the other side of the world.”
Andrea didn’t worry that her son displayed weak sucking tone or that his cries were quieter than those of all the other screaming newborns. As weeks passed, although Arthur was not meeting the milestones outlined in all the parenting books, Andrea trusted the caveat phrase that appeared in all those books: “Of course, your child could be different.”
He’s just progressing at his own rate, Andrea assured herself.
At the four months mark Arthur was diagnosed with infantile spasms and Andrea was told that 95 % of all babies born with this condition will be profoundly retarded and disabled.
Not Arthur, thought Andrea. He will be in the 5%.
“I was determined to ‘fix’ him,” Andrea said and described myriad treatments suggested by specialists and performed by her and a team of volunteers. But, instead of showing signs of improvement, Arthur got weaker and weaker. When blood appeared in his stools and Arthur was hospitalized, the doctor said, “He’s not going to live long; I advise you to take him home and just love him.” Andrea and her husband agreed and did just that. Abandoning the special diet and physical therapy, they simply cuddled, cooed, and loved Arthur while waiting for him to die.
After weeks of sleeping nearly 24 hours each day, Arthur suddenly “woke up.” Slowly, day by day, he became more aware. He was not thriving – he still could not hold his head up on his own – but he was surviving. Clearly he was not ready to die. Praying for guidance, Andrea continued to look for the treatment that would “fix” Arthur.
One day, when Arthur was three years old, after asking Why, why, why aren’t you helping him?Andrea received an answer in the lyrics of a song on the car radio. Hearing “God doesn’t have grandchildren” Andrea suddenly shifted into the perfect peace she had felt when she had held Arthur in the hospital nursery.
“I understood immediately that Arthur was perfect just the way he was. He was on his own life course, in his own relationship with God. I’m not in charge here and there is nothing to fix.”
Even though Arthur had no muscle tone, even though doctors did not know for sure what he saw and heard and experienced inside himself, Andrea knew for sure that there was intelligence, wisdom, love, and beauty in Arthur’s body and consciousness. Those around him could easily tell from his expressions and sounds when he was happy and when he was not.
“He definitely showed joy,” Andrea said, “Lots of joy. Often at night we would hear him laughing and we wondered, ‘What is he experiencing? Is he visiting with angels?’”
According to a Yaqui Holy Man, he was.
When Arthur was four, Andrea arranged for a Shaman to visit. Communicating with Arthur, the Shaman had a convulsive seizure. Coming out of that, the Shaman explained that, although Arthur’s outside world seems small, his inside world is vast and rich. Andrea had been concerned that Arthur was bored. “He is definitely not bored,” the Shaman assured her. “Inside he is living fully, visiting with Spirit. Meeting him has been a great gift to me,” the Shaman said. And he explained further to Andrea, “He is here because he is in awe of you. He is here in service to you.”
Arthur died while sleeping peacefully at 5:18 on December 9, 2004, two months after his eleventh birthday. Andrea noted the numbers of his birth and death: 8:15 and 5:18. “Arthur’s whole life was filled with mysteries and miracles,” she said. “And they continue.”
“I miss him so much,” Andrea said. “I wish he was still here physically but he still affects me daily and I sense him often. For example, at work one day, while suctioning a child with cerebral palsy, I distinctly heard Arthur say, “Mom, take care of these kids,” which led me to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner specializing with children with special needs.
“Another time, I was hiking the floor of the Grand Canyon. At one point, to rest a bit, I laid on top of vacant picnic table, closed my eyes and talked to Arthur as I so often do. Then I fell asleep. When I woke, I noticed a butterfly resting nearby on my back pack. I tried to shoo it off, but it would not move. Finally I knocked it off and it fell to the ground. It looked lifeless. Reaching for it, however, I saw that it was not dead, just kind of floppy. Like Arthur. Then, the butterfly flew to my boot and stayed there. Amazingly, that butterfly accompanied me for almost a mile while I walked. Was that Arthur? Had Arthur somehow sent it to me? I don’t know.
“This I do know,” said Andrea. “Life is a wondrous mystery. And having Arthur was the most wonderful, beautiful, magical, blessed experience of my life.”
For reflection, journaling and discussion:
1. What is your foundational belief about the world?
2. Recall a time when you took a “leap of faith,” a time that required faith in order for you to go forward. What were the results? What did you learn from that experience?
3. Recall a time when you changed a belief and experienced greater peace as a result.