Archive | Favorite writings by others RSS feed for this section

One of these days . . .

8 Jan

Whenever I listen to this song by the Christian contemporary group FFH (Far From Home), it always makes me think of Sammy and others who are challenged by physical bodies which limit their abilities and freedom.

One of these I’m gonna fly
Over the mountain
One of theses days I’m gonna ride
On the silver lining
One of these days I’m gonna witness
All I’ve been missing
One of these days

One of these days I’m gonna do
All the things I’ve never done
I’m gonna finish all the races
That I’ve run but I’ve never won
I’m gonna see a million faces
And recognize every one
One of these days

One of these days
I’m gonna see the hands
that took the nails for me
One of these days
I’m gonna hold the keys
to the mansion built for me
One of these days
I’m gonna walk the streets of gold
that were paved for me
One of these days
I’m gonna see my Savior face to face
One of these days

One of these days I’m gonna see
Just what became of me
On the day that I believed
And you took myself from me
And I believe that I will see
What I’d have been if you didn’t save me
One of these days

One of these days I’m gonna talk
With all the saints that have gone before
In their sandals I will walk
And we will sit upon the shore
And I will learn all the things
That I never knew before
All this and more

One of these days I’m gonna be
In a place where there’s no more need
No more pain and no more grief
No more foolish disbelief
Ah the joy that there will be
When at last we finally see
One of these days

I’m gonna see my Jesus face to face
One of these days

Dandelions from Heaven

11 May

Dandelions from Heaven (Author Unknown)

Mothers Day is coming…and I wanted to send you a sign…
Something you can tell others…”Is from an angel of mine”.
So I searched the Heavens high and low for that perfect thing…
And low and behold I found it….and a smile I hope it will bring.

So when you look to the Heavens and see the yellow stars in the sky.
Just think of me…your angel…in the Heavens way up high…
And just imagine those stars…are dandelions up above…
Yes! Dandelions are also in Heaven, which you know how much I love.

So on this Mothers Day…when you awake and feel blue…
You will notice those yellow stars…are no longer in view…
So just look to the meadows and the dandelions you see…
Are the ones I’ve tossed down this Mothers Day from me!

And when you find a dandelion that has turned from yellow to white…
You’re supposed to make a wish…and then blow with all your might.
For you will be blowing kisses…to me in Heaven above….
And I will be catching them and blowing them back…sent with all my love.

Please know that I am with you…on this Mothers Day…
And also in the days ahead…God and I will never stray…
We will be with you in the morning…when you wake and see the sun…
We will be with you when you say your prayers…when the day is done.

For God and I will never be…very far from your side…
For I can now be everywhere…and God will be your guide…
So…remember when you see dandelions…it’s your guarantee…
That I am always close to you…For dandelions are free to roam…now just like me.

The Power of the Powerless

1 Sep

This is dedicated to Oliver, Sammy, and all of those who are perceived to be powerless, yet have great power and influence on the hearts and lives of the people who have had the privilege to hear their stories.

Photo by JJ Kaplan – Color My World Studios

THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS – by Christopher de Vinck

I grew up in the house where my brother was on his back in his bed for thirty-two years, in the same corner of his room, under the same window, beside the same yellow walls. He was blind, mute. His legs were twisted. He didn’t have the strength to lift his head or the intelligence to learn anything. Oliver was born with severe brain damage which left him and his body in a permanent state of helplessness.

Today I am an English teacher, and each time I introduce my class to the play about Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker, I tell my students the story about Oliver. One day, during my first year of teaching, I was trying to describe Oliver’s lack of response, how he had been spoon-fed every morsel he ever ate, how he never spoke. A boy in the last row raised his hand and said, “Oh, Mr. de Vinck. You mean he was a vegetable.”

I stammered for a few seconds. My family and I fed Oliver. We changed his diapers, hung his clothes and bed linens on the basement line in winter, and spread them out white and clean to dry on the lawn in the summer. I always liked to watch the grasshoppers jump on the pillowcases. We bathed Oliver, tickled his chest to make him laugh. Sometimes we left the radio on in his room. We pulled the shade down on the window over his bed in the morning to keep the sun from burning his tender skin. We listened to him laugh as we watched television downstairs. We listened to him rock his arms up and down to make the bed squeak. We listened to him cough in the middle of the night. “Well, I guess you could call him a vegetable. I called him Oliver, my brother. You would have loved him.”

One October day in 1946, while my mother was pregnant with Oliver, her second son, my father rose from bed, shaved, dressed, and went to work. At the train station he realized he had forgotten something, so he returned to the house and discovered the smell of gas leaking from the coal-burning stove. My mother was unconscious in her bed. My oldest brother was sleeping in his crib which was quite high off the ground so the gas did not affect him. My father pulled them out of the room, through the hall, and outside where my mother revived quickly. And that was that.

Six months later, on April 20,1947, Oliver was born. A healthy-looking, plump, beautiful boy. “Oliver seemed like any other newborn,” my mother and father told my sisters and brothers and me over the years, as they repeated the story with their deep love and joy. “There was no sign that anything was amiss.”

One afternoon, a few months after he was born, my mother brought Oliver to a window. She held him there in the sun, the bright good sun, and there Oliver rested in his mother’s arms, and there Oliver looked and looked directly into the sunlight, which was the first moment my mother realized that Oliver was blind.

My parents, the true heroes of this story, learned with the passing months that Oliver could not hold up his head, could not crawl, walk, sing; he could not hold anything in his hand; he could not speak. So they brought him to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City for a full series of tests to determine the extent of his condition.

The only explanation anyone could agree upon was that the gas, which my mother inhaled in her sleep during the third month of her pregnancy, had reached Oliver and caused the severe, incurable, hopeless condition before he was born.

At the end of a long week of waiting, my parents returned to the hospital and met with the doctor, Dr. Samuel De Lange.

When our children are in pain, we try to heal them. When they are hungry we feed them. When they are lonely we comfort them.

“What can we do for our son?” my parents wanted to know. Dr. De Lange said that he wanted to make it very clear to both my mother and father that there was absolutely nothing could be done for Oliver. He didn’t want my parents to grasp at false hope. “You could place him in an institution?” “But,” my parents answered, “he is our son. We will take Oliver home, of course.” The good doctor said, “Then take him home and love him.” That was sound medical advice.

Dr. De Lange speculated that Oliver would probably not live beyond the age of seven or eight; he also suggested that Oliver be taken to another neurosurgeon to confirm the diagnosis. This is what my parents did and, yes, the second doctor repeated the first verdict; Oliver’s case was hopeless.

While he scanned the forms my parents filled out, the second doctor noticed that both my mother and father were born in Brussels, which led the doctor to say, “During World War II my parents were taken in, fed and protected by a Belgian family for we are Jews. Now it is my turn to help a Belgian family,” and the doctor didn’t charge my parents for all the tests, the care and medication.

I never met these two doctors, but I loved them all my life as a child loves the heroes in a fairy tale.

Oliver grew to the size of a ten-year-old. He had a big chest, a large head. His hands and feet were those of a five-year-old, small and soft. We’d wrap a box of baby cereal for him at Christmas and place it under the tree. We’d pat his head with a damp cloth in the middle of a July heat wave. His baptismal certificate hung on the wall above his head. A bishop came to the house and confirmed him.

Oliver still remains the most hopeless human being I ever met, the weakest human being I ever met, and yet he was one of the most powerful human beings I ever met.

As a teacher, I spend many hours preparing my lessons, hoping that I can influence my students in small, significant ways. Thousands of books are printed each year with the hope that the authors can move people to action. We all labor at the task of raising our children, teaching them values, hoping something “gets through” to them after all our efforts.

Oliver could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight. For me, to have been brought up in a house where a tragedy was turned into a joy, explains to a great degree why I am the type of husband, father, writer and teacher I have become.

I remember my mother saying when I was small, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can see?” And once she said, “When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is ‘Thank you’.” That leaves an impression on a boy.

Of course it is I who must thank Oliver and my parents for defining for me the boundaries of love which were the house, the yard, the woods where my sisters and brothers and I ran in and out all day long, the fields where we ice-skated in the winter and caught snapping turtles in the summer, and all the time Oliver laughed and slept between his fresh sheets, under the window day after day.

I remember, too, my mother explaining to me that we wore blessed with Oliver in ways that were not clear to her at first. We were fortunate that Oliver’s case was so severe. The best we could do for him was feed him three times a day, bathe him, and keep him warm. He did not need us to be there in the room all day. He never knew what his condition was. We were blessed with his presence, a true presence of peace. So often parents are faced with a child who is severely retarded, but who is also hyperactive, demanding or wild, who needs constant care. So many people have little choice but to place their child in an institution. Each circumstance is different. No one can judge.

I have come to believe we are here to tend to the lilies of the field. We do the best we can. If you have a boy or girl like Oliver in your home, you will know what is best for him or her, for your family. The decision is never easy.

I asked my father, “How did you care for Oliver for thirty-two years?” “It was not thirty-two years,” he said “I just asked myself ‘Can I feed Oliver today?’ and the answer was always, ‘Yes I can’.” We lived with Oliver moment by moment.

I remember once when I was a little boy sitting down beside my brother. I was alone in the house, and l wanted to see if Oliver was really blind, if he was faking it, so I spread my right hand over his face and shook my fingers close to his open eyes. Of course he did not blink, did not move. His eyes were brown, like mine, yet so different.

Often it was my job to feed Oliver supper: a poached egg mixed with cereal, warm milk, sugar, a banana. Yuck, I often thought I wouldn’t eat this stuff. Feeding Oliver throughout his life was like feeding an eight-month-old child. His head was always propped up to a slight incline on pillows. A teaspoon of food was brought to his lips. He would feel the spoon, open his mouth, close his mouth, and swallow. I still, today, can hear the sound of the spoon ticking and tapping against his red bowl in the silence of his room.

” ‘Oh, Mr. de Vinck. You mean he was a vegetable’.”

When I was a child I was afraid of the dark and shared a room with my younger brother. Our room was separated from Oliver’s room by a single wall. Five inches of wood and plaster divided us from each other during the night. We breathed the same night air as Oliver did, listened to the same wind, and slowly, without our knowing, Oliver created a certain power around us which changed all our lives. I cannot explain Oliver’s influence except to say that the powerless in our world do hold great power. The weak do confound the mighty.

When I was in my early twenties I met a girl, and I fell in love. After a few months I brought her home for dinner to meet my family. After the introductions, the small talk, my mother went to the kitchen to check the meal, and I asked the girl, “Would you like to see Oliver?” for I had, of course, told her about my brother. “No,” she answered. She did not want to see him. It was as if she slapped me in the face, yet I just said something polite and walked to the dining room.

Soon after, I met Roe, Rosemary, a dark-haired, dark-eyed, lovely girl. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. She bought me a copy of The Little Prince. She loved children. I thought she was wonderful. I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. The introductions. The small talk. We ate dinner; then it was time for me to feed Oliver. I walked into the kitchen, reached for the red bowl and the egg and the cereal and the milk and the banana and prepared Oliver’s meal. Then, I remember, I sheepishly asked Roe if she’d like to come upstairs and see Oliver. “Sure,” she said, and up the stairs we went.

I sat at Oliver’s bedside as Roe stood and watched over my shoulder. I gave him his first spoonful, his second. “Can I do that?” Roe asked. “Can I do that?” she asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion, so I gave her the bowl, and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time.

The power of the powerless. Which girl would you marry? Today Roe and I have three children.

**********************************************
Christopher de Vinck is the author of The Power of the Powerless published by Doubleday and reissued by HarperCollins, and two books of essays: Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them (which won a Christopher Award) and Songs of Innocence and Experience, both published by Viking.

I am the Child

22 Aug

After jumping onto my soapbox earlier this week about the use of the word “retarded”, I thought I’d share something that I’ve had on Sammy’s website for several years now.

I am the Child (Author Unknown)

Photo by JJ Kaplan, Color My World Studios

I am the child who cannot talk. You often pity me, I see it in your eyes. You wonder how much I am aware of — I see that as well. I am aware of much, whether you are happy or sad or fearful, patient or impatient, full of love and desire, or if you are just doing your duty by me. I marvel at your frustration, knowing mine to be far greater, for I cannot express myself or my needs as you do.You cannot conceive my isolation, so complete it is at times. I do not gift you with clever conversation, cute remarks to be laughed over and repeated. I do not give you answers to your everyday questions, responses over my well-being, sharing my needs, or comments about the world about me. I do not give you rewards as defined by the world’s standards — great strides in development that you can credit yourself; I do not give you understanding as you know it.  What I give you is so much more valuable — I give you instead opportunities. Opportunities to discover the depth of your character, not mine; the depth of your love, your commitment, your patience, your abilities; the opportunity to explore your spirit more deeply than you imagined possible. I drive you further than you would ever go on your own, working harder, seeking answers to your many questions with no answers. I am the child who cannot talk.

I am the child who cannot walk. The world seems to pass me by. You see the longing in my eyes to get out of this chair, to run and play like other children. There is much you take for granted. I want the toys on the shelf, I need to go to the bathroom, oh I’ve dropped my fork again. I am dependent on you in these ways. My gift to you is to make you more aware of your great fortune, your healthy back and legs, your ability to do for yourself. Sometimes people appear not to notice me; I always notice them. I feel not so much envy as desire, desire to stand upright, to put one foot in front of the other, to be independent. I give you awareness. I am the child who cannot walk.

I am the child who is mentally impaired. I don’t learn easily, if you judge me by the world’s measuring stick, what I do know is infinite joy in simple things. I am not burdened as you are with the strifes and conflicts of a more complicated life. My gift to you is to grant you the freedom to enjoy things as a child, to teach you how much your arms around me mean, to give you love. I give you the gift of simplicity. I am the child who is mentally impaired.

I am the disabled child. I am your teacher. If you allow me, I will teach you what is really important in life. I will give you and teach you unconditional love. I gift you with my innocent trust, my dependency upon you. I teach you about how precious this life is and about not taking things for granted. I teach you about forgetting your own needs and desires and dreams. I teach you giving. Most of all I teach you hope and faith. I am the disabled child.

Some Mothers Get Babies With Something More

16 Aug

Physical therapy with Miss Gayle

Written by: Lori Borgman
Columnist and Speaker

My friend is expecting her first child. People keep asking what she wants. She smiles demurely, shakes her head and gives the answer mothers have given throughout the pages of time. She says it doesn’t matter whether it’s a boy or a girl. She just wants it to have ten fingers and ten toes.

Of course, that’s what she says. That’s what mothers have always said. Mothers lie. Truth be told, every mother wants a whole lot more. Every mother wants a perfectly healthy baby with a round head, rosebud lips, button nose, beautiful eyes, satin skin and straight feet.

Every mother wants a baby so gorgeous that people will pity the Gerber baby for being flat-out ugly. Every mother wants a baby that will roll over, sit up and take those first steps right on schedule (according to the baby development chart on page 57, column two). Every mother wants a baby that can see, hear, run, jump and fire neurons by the billions. She wants a kid that can smack the ball out of the park and do toe points that are the envy of  the entire ballet class.

Call it greed if you want, but we mothers want what we want. Some mothers get babies with something more.

Some mothers get babies with conditions they can’t pronounce, a spine that didn’t fuse, a missing chromosome, a palette that didn’t close or a tiny crooked foot or two.

Most of those mothers can remember the time, the place, the shoes they were wearing and the color of the walls in the small, suffocating room where the doctor uttered the words that took their breath away. It felt like recess in the fourth grade when you didn’t see the kick ball coming and it knocked the wind clean out of you.

Some mothers leave the hospital with a healthy bundle, then, months, even years later, take him in for a routine visit, or schedule her for a well check, and crash head first into a brick wall as they bear the brunt of devastating news.
It can’t be possible! That doesn’t run in our family. Can this really be happening in our lifetime?

I am a woman who watches the Olympics for the sheer thrill of seeing finely sculpted bodies. It’s not a lust thing; it’s a wondrous thing. The athletes appear as specimens without flaw — rippling muscles with nary an ounce of flab or fat, virtual powerhouses of strength with lungs and limbs working in perfect harmony. Then the athlete walks over to a tote bag, rustles through the contents and pulls out an inhaler.

As I’ve told my own kids, be it on the way to physical therapy after a third knee surgery, or on a trip home from an echo cardiogram, there’s no such thing as a perfect body. Every body will bear something at some time or another. Maybe the affliction will be apparent to curious eyes, or maybe it will be unseen, quietly treated with trips to the doctor, medication or surgery.

The health problems our children have experienced have been minimal and manageable, so I watch with keen interest and great admiration the mothers of children with serious disabilities, and wonder how they do it.

Frankly, sometimes you mothers scare me. How you lift that child in and out of a wheelchair 20 times a day. How you monitor tests, track medications, regulate diet and serve as the gatekeeper to a hundred specialists yammering in your ear.

I wonder how you endure the clichés and the platitudes, well-intentioned souls explaining how God is at work when you’ve occasionally questioned if God is on strike.

I even wonder how you endure schmaltzy pieces like this one — saluting you, painting you as hero and saint, when you know you’re ordinary. You snap, you bark, you bite. You didn’t volunteer for this, you didn’t jump up and down in the motherhood line yelling, “Choose me, God. Choose me! I’ve got what it takes.” You’re a woman who doesn’t have time to step back and put things in perspective, so, please, let me do it for you.

From where I sit, you’re way ahead of the pack. You’ve developed the strength of a draft horse while holding onto the delicacy of a daffodil. You have a heart that melts like chocolate in a glove box in July, carefully counter-balanced against the stubbornness of an Ozark mule.

You can be warm and tender one minute, and when circumstances require, intense and aggressive the next. You are the mother, advocate and protector of a child with a disability. You’re a neighbor, a friend, a stranger I pass at the mall. You’re the woman I sit next to at church, my cousin and my sister-in-law. You’re a woman who wanted ten fingers and ten toes, and got something more. You’re a wonder.

What do children do in heaven?

13 Feb

We have been amazed at the number of messages we have received from total strangers who have stumbled across Sammy’s website. Last week, Monica from Alexandria, Indiana, sent us a passage from a book entitled, “Letter from Heaven”. This passage is a fictional answer to the question of “What do children do in heaven?”

…The first thing you might have noticed is that heaven is filled with their singing and laughter. They play together in grassy fields, catching bright-colored butterflies, giving them a quick kiss, and watching them fly away. In heaven, children can soar with the birds over a rainbow. Their laughter rings out like silver bells. Small groups of children sometimes spread out on their tummies on the velvet grass, coloring pictures with crayons of iridescent colors only seen in heaven.

During my long walk, I passed one little boy who was lying in a flower-covered meadow reading a book with his head resting on the back of a lion. A tiny lamb, pure and clean as snow, was curled up next to him. What a picture of total peace, security, and contentment. I saw the pleasure the animals bring to the children as they played together. Rosy-cheeked children were shouting merrily as they played hide-and-go-seek with baby kangaroos. Two little boys were taking a ride on the back of a graceful tiger. Another pair of adventuresome little girls were soaring through the cloudless sky on the wings of an eagle. Their hair was blowing straight out behind them as their joyous laughter rang through the pristine air. What a sight!

Are you surprised we have animals here in heaven? Why wouldn’t there be? When God first created the human race, He put the animals under our protective care. Animals are very special to God. The children are able to enjoy their playfulness without any trace of harm or danger just as God intended when He created them. Never forget that animals had a special place in the garden, they have a special place there on earth, and they have a special place here in heaven where you can enjoy them in complete safety forever.

…..Children in heaven are joyfully cared for and tenderly loved by Jesus, the angels, and their many friends. As part of God’s family, they’re never sad or lonely. They love their family on earth but now with an intense, perfected love that is eternal. And one day, as they are swinging on the garden gate, they will see their parents and other loved ones who accepted God’s gift of forgiveness step over the border into heaven!