In a Few Short Moments

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.

12 thoughts on “In a Few Short Moments

  1. I read Carmen’s story and was moved to tears. Her resilience is extraordinary and an inspiration, but I can’t help thinking about all those moments in her day that must be pure struggle. Her daughters must have extraordinary stories too. Thank you for sharing.


    1. Me too– I have tears just reading your comment. And had the same thoughts about those moments of the day when it’s a struggle to keep going. My sense is that you know something of this sort of struggle. You too have in fathomable courage. Blessings to you across the ocean.

      Marilyn Gardner Sent from my iPhone


  2. Oh how my heart is heavy. So very tragic. It caused me to recall a young woman here that I have had interactions with through an immigrant ministry who was lit on fire by her husband. she is sweet and delightful, but not without the ever present reminders she sees daily in her physical body. I appreciated the focus on the resilience and the inner person of strength and not merely the package we call our bodies. May God extend greater grace.


    1. Untold horror – I also thought of the number of acid attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere and the brave women standing up for justice and speaking against these. Thank you Lou Ann.


  3. I wish God would stop the horror before it happened. As a chaplain, sometimes this really gets to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts..


    1. Oh that’s something that I’ve struggled with forever and will continue to. It gets to the heart of why so many don’t believe. I don’t think I can give an adequate response but in recent years I’ve read some of Peter Kreeft’s work and words on evil. I’ll link one essay here – to me it was one of the most readable I have ever seen. I’ll entice you with this excerpt
      “We do not worship a deistic God, an absentee landlord who ignores his slum; we worship a garbageman God who came right down into our worst garbage to clean it up. How do we get God off the hook for allowing evil? God is not off the hook; God is the hook. That’s the point of a crucifix.
      The Cross is God’s part of the practical solution to evil. Our part, according to the same Gospel, is to repent, to believe, and to work with God in fighting evil by the power of love. The King has invaded; we are finishing the mop-up operation” would love to talk more….


      1. Thanks Marilyn. I read the article. Interesting. I guess my real problem is that I know it’s possible and have seen God work miracles; I just have a problem is wondering why for some and not for others. I find some theologies about theodicy to deny that God can do anything. I guess Kreeft was getting at this by saying we just cannot know God’s reasons. It’s just ultimately confusing to me. I like the idea of free will, but I was raised a Calvinist. Anyway, God is good and I love your blog.


      2. If you’re like me though, you hate that people add glibly on to the end of God is good – all the time….thus the cliche. It just doesn’t help folks when they’re hurting and I didn’t hear Job say it! He said “Oh that my words were recorded – they were written down on a scroll, they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead- engraved in rock forever. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end I will stand. After my skin’s been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God ” And as much as I scream, and yell, those words of Job come back to haunt me. And reform theology with a big R can make one a little crazy don’t you think. Thanks for a great conversation and thank you SO much for reading my blog!!


    1. Valerie – A resounding “Yes” to your words! Thank you. It is so easy to turn a blind eye based on appearance instead of being ever watchful and ready to defend, advocate, or listen.


  4. And here I am moping over life’s injustice.
    Stories like that gives us strenth and inspiration to go on… to make us realize there worst tragedies happening all around us. We have to be thankful for what we have …
    nice share :)


    1. Amira – me too! I see injustice when someone cuts in front of me….oh how much I have to learn. When I think about this I think about how we all have a limit in our minds of what we could handle, live through etc. And yet when tragedy comes, this resilience comes through that to me is none other than a picture of man being made in the image of God. It’s mind-boggling. Thanks so much for reading!


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