There are moments when I realize how much I don’t get about courage, about resilience, about living in grace despite circumstances. In my sometimes whiny little world and mind I think I know these things, I think I can explain and write about them, analyze and describe. And then I hear a story that expands my thinking so hugely that in a pause my perspective changes. I realize I know so little and I move forward not quite the same. Those moments come when I am least looking for them;they are here, then gone.
The following story is one of those moments.
She was a single mom of two teen girls working as a nurse at a large medical center on the New Hampshire/Vermont border. She had separated from her husband and he, in a fit of abusive rage, showed up one night. After beating her senseless he sprayed industrial strength lye all over her body.
In a few short moments all of life had changed.
Lye continued to eat away at skin and tissue for 72 hours so initially it was a waiting game. In the end, 92% of her body was burned.
And the resilience of the human spirit kicked in – for she didn’t die. She lived. She fought with body, mind, and soul. She fought through over 45 surgeries and almost as many skin grafts. She fought, and still fights, through unimaginable pain and emotional suffering. But she survived.
I heard the story from her mom. We were in Thetford, Vermont with my niece and her husband.
Thetford is quintessential New England with miles of rolling hills, white-steepled churches, and small gas stations that, in lieu of local grocery stores, sell milk costing massive amounts of money. It’s a place where you bask in quiet and hospitality, and,if you’re lucky, a Labor Day parade and fire department sponsored chicken barbecue. Thetford is picture-postcard Vermont; an unlikely place for a horror story.
While in line for the barbecue my husband began joking with a woman who looked somewhat lost as she wandered to where we were. We made a space for her and began talking. By the time we arrived at the tables laden with chicken, baked beans, coleslaw and home-made pie we heard the story.
“I learned what living hell on earth was” said the mom, shaking her head.Her voice trailed off “But I also learned what Heaven was. Seeing her walk through the door when she came home from the hospital? That was Heaven.” I looked at her and had nothing to say. All I could think was how little I understand of the resilience of the human spirit – that spirit that reflects the image of God.
Into this unimaginable story of living through abuse, living through the healing and scars of burns that cover your entire body, living through the moment by moment nightmare that is survival, comes a will and a strength that can’t be stopped. Blind, disfigured in a way that makes people recoil, but facing this with courage and resilience. This is the wild grace and spirit of God.
The interaction was a few short moments. I lost sight of the woman as we looped around tables laden with home-made food. But a few moments is enough.
Enough to burn 92% of a body; enough to think your life is over; enough to know life will never be the same; enough to be given the will to live. Enough to have a conversation that reminds you how little you know of Strength and Resilience, wild Grace and God.
Bloggers Note: The woman who survived this act of violence is Carmen Tarleton. You can read her story here.