I don’t need to look at pictures because I hold snapshots in my heart. I close my eyes and picture my son running down the hill with a star-spangled top hat perched on his toddler head. The next year he holds hands with his sister, with red, white and blue goggles flopping behind his ears as they jump into the pool.
I replay memories on this Fourth of July. I stare at my nineteen year-old son’s face. He seems so mature and contemplative as we banter about this year’s menu. I laugh at his request for sparklers again this year.
I add them to my grocery list. I suppose we’re never too old to want to light up the sky with the loopy cursive of our names. I secretly hope he’ll always want to see the fireflies awaken.
If I close my eyes I can see the scene from years earlier, when the kids were nine and seven. Dusk is just settling and we begin to see the flickering lights along the path. My son pokes holes in the lids of mason jars at the picnic table. Wooden flags are pressed into the Georgia clay around the campsite and his sister bursts from the camper, ecstatic this July 4th.
“Is it dark enough yet?” she hollers.
“Not yet, sweetie… not yet,” I answer. It’s a question of great importance to her and her brother on this day.
“Soon,” I encourage them. “Darkness will come soon enough. Go play some more in the sand.”
Although the summer solstice was a week earlier, it seems like the longest day of the year.
The arrival of the night sky drags in slow motion. Children know that its pitch black coming is the only way to see the brilliance of the shimmering lights. The two of them load the jars into a backpack along with a flashlight and glow sticks, armed for the summer darkness.
I gather the sparklers, soft drinks and snacks into a basket for later.
The lightening bugs begin to slowly appear. The two of them chase each one they spot madly around squealing: “There’s another one!” The discovery and wonder is beautiful and I watch them from my lawn chair. Each is careful not to smash the tiny fireflies and they work together to place them gently into the glass jars. When they need to catch their breath they line them up along the picnic table to show me. The glowing jars signify that the long wait is almost over. They are the first sign of hope: fireworks are coming.
As dusk settles and all lights but the campfire dim, their hands grab sparklers as fast as the adults can light them, They write their names in shooting silver over and over in the air. My son holds his sparkler up to his face and grins wide at me. His dimples glow pure and his blue eyes full of wonder shine back at me. His sun-kissed cheeks are smiling. His face reminds me how beautiful and brilliant we shine in the darkness when we are silhouetted in light.
When the sky has settled to a summer chalkboard black the sparklers have all burned out. Our eyes are tired and everyone’s bedtime has passed. My son leans back on his father’s lap and my daughter lies with her hands behind her head on the blanket, her face to the sky in expectation.
This year I will buy sparklers and check the cabinet for mason jars. Because sometimes we need the darkness to come. We need to know that our small flicker is seen in the looming wilderness and that what burns inside us cannot be jarred and taken. We need to lay on our backs in the coolness of the grass and look up long and hard, waiting for the first burst of showering light.
Maybe on Independence Day we long to remember that our mark here may seem fleeting and small, but that in truth we are bright and courageous and worthy up against the dark.
We need to know that the light of the world is inside us. Like a firefly.
I’ll light a sparkler soon and hand it to my son, and send him out.
Out into the darkness of the summer night like a shining star.
The sheet my son holds is thin and weathered from the years.
It is an inherited page from my husband’s family.
The words and songs were his as a child and are our tradition now, and we claim them in this kitchen one more year.
He is 18 and he reads Isaiah while “Joy to the World” plays.
My daughter is on FaceTime from her college dorm room and we have her propped up at the end of the table.
This is our tradition and we have vowed to call each other every Sunday in advent if we can’t be together. The lighting of the advent candles together is something we have done since they were each babies.
We remember the anticipation that lasted hundreds of years.
The waiting, the expectation.
Knowing something is coming and asking over again:
When? How long do we have to wait?
My son lights the hope candle: the first Sunday of Advent message. We are quiet and still. It’s hard to sit in the quiet.
After he reads and we pray, we all open our eyes.
I glance at my daughter there on the screen, now almost 21. She shares a birthday with Jesus.
I see her as a toddler.
I remember how we sat together in a a wooden pew on Christmas Eve, she in a white furry coat, on the eve of her 3rd birthday. A brown basket of candles was passed and we each reached for one. They were pure white, with circles attached to their bases to catch the drips. The lights dimmed. Flames were shared between us. We tipped towards each other, looking into each others’ eyes. “Silent Night” began to be softly sung by the choir and we joined our voices.
This girl had leaned in close to me.
She had whispered: “Is everyone going to sing Happy Birthday to ME?”
She thought the song was about her.
My eyes and cheeks had giggled softly, reined in only by the reverence of the moment.
I marveled at her.
“No, sweetie, we’re all singing Happy Birthday to Jesus.But we will sing to you very soon.”
I thought to myself:
“You are a miracle. But HE is the biggest miracle. This is HIS song.”
She had reminded me that year. It’s not about me.
We get up from the kitchen table, the hope candle burning.
I squint and strain to remember again.
This light marking the first week of waiting, of Advent, the candle my son lights and the faded words on the page of our family paper?
None of it has to do with my present struggles.
And nothing bought in a store can make anything sing inside of me. This moment and song and candle are about a hope that we cannot purchase or muster up.
There is no need to scurry, nothing we need to DO today to receive hope.
We won’t miss anything by being still and silent and singing to Him. And just maybe we will be found when we get lost in the light of His coming.
We are waiting for something meek and low in the dirty mess of a manger.
Someone that lays In the slivered wood.
The same wood that would become His cross.
Tonight, after we have extinguished the first candle, I take the Nativity figures out of the box that has been stored in the attic for more than 300 days.
I place the figures one by one there on the tray in the family room.
I study the faces and remember the place that surrounded baby Jesus:
3 men with gifts.
A teenage homeless girl.
A frightened father.
A stable lined with hay with no walls to keep out the night or the dark or cold.
The only things shining are Him and the star that marks His place.
It’s a reclaiming, remembering the season fresh.
“No, no” I whisper. This hope can’t be bought or found for a bargain.
And it cannot be barricaded. He is coming.
And the song that is playing in the background now is not about me.
It’s not MY song.
I’m not sure how old Shelby was when I noticed that her emotions were deeper and more sensitive than most. But I do recall arranging and rearranging her stuffed animals A LOT to get them in just the right spot so she could sleep. Perfectionism is a trait she inherited from me, but there was something more going on.
My daughter will turn 21 on Christmas Day and she has grown up to be an articulate, sensitive, self-aware, and deeply faith-filled woman. She doesn’t miss a Sunday at church or an opportunity to meet with her small group. She is a leader on campus and a mentor to children. She is studying psychology with and aspires to continue in graduate school with a degree in occupational therapy. She has always wanted to help others.
She also has generalized anxiety disorder.
It’s something we named in high school. And giving something a name is the first step in dealing with it. I am so proud of Shelby’s transparency and vulnerability in sharing and advocating for others who struggle with any form of mental or physical illness or disability.
We talked a bit about our journey here: the things that have worked, what clearly doesn’t (ways I messed way up in dealing with this) and how faith and tangible tools can make a difference. We pray that someone can see the hope and tools available in this journey.
The scriptures we mention are Phil 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:7
We wanted to have lunch together so I collected places for us to sit. A wheelchair from the hallway, one random chair outside a room, mom’s scooter and the bed’s edge would have to do for the five of us. Mom had been at the Joseph Still Burn Center for a few days, her first of three surgeries behind her. An infection that threatened to take her entire leg had ravaged. I raised her bed some and she sat up. I rubbed lavender lotion on her dry hands, being careful not to touch the iv. It was sore and painful from all the prodding.
Although mom’s injury was not a burn, the wound that she had suffered from an accident with her horse had become serious and full of infection. The services she was seeking in her small town in northern Georgia were helpful but we knew that the road would be much longer without the skill of a world-renowned wound and burn care center. How fortunate that we knew that the expertise and facilities existed just a few miles from our home. We had never utilized the center but knew that patients from all over the country were transferred here for the best care.
My son arrived in the room first, a bag of Panera salads in his hands. It was then that I noticed what a ragged collection of seats we had pulled around her bed. Being together meant everything in these moments. It was Mother’s Day. But one unlike any other we had celebrated. In room 1006 on the burn and wound unit floor, the facility was near capacity.
I remembered then how one of the staff members had told us about the Burn Foundation and neighboring Chavis House. Before the Foundation, family members were sleeping on the floor of this hospital, desiring to stay close to their loved ones who had suffered life-altering burns and wounds. Family members could now stay there, close to those they love.
My husband offered a prayer of gratitude. We knew that looking around the halls of this place that we were lucky. Perspective is a precious thing. Because when others are undergoing amputations and rehabilitation from burn wounds it will straight up awaken you to the present, to the right now, to every small gift, as humble as it may seem.
A dear friend came to visit us that night and told mom and I the story of Joseph M. Still, the hospital’s founder who had dedicated his entire professional life to improvements in the treatment of burn patients. How he partnered with Doctor’s Hospital to create one of the world’s leading treatment facilities for burn victims. His care carried far beyond hospital walls. He also founded the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping burn patients and their families with non-medical necessities.
He was a visionary, seeing the bigger picture that most could not see. Determined, generous, compassionate, hard-working, risk taking, problem-solving. Dr. Still’s dream was to provide a place for family members to stay while their loved ones were in the Burn Center. In his words “A family’s love is powerful medicine.”
It was apparent that his legacy lived on through every single worker: from the nurses and surgeons, to the care team that showed up to be sure my mom and stepfather knew that they could stay for free at the neighboring Chavis House for as long as necessary to be near the facility and receive homemade meals.
Mom ended up having three surgeries in all and did utilize the Chavis House as our home has too many stairs for her to maneuver with the wound vac that became her constant companion.
Just last week, six months after my mother’s release from the hospital, I was given a tour of both the burn unit and the Chavis House, meeting and thanking physicians, nurses, and foundation staff personally for the care that my mother and our entire family received during her multiple surgeries. Although we live in Augusta, my mom had traveled from 3 ½ hours away and the staff had made sure her and my stepfather’s needs were met with free housing and meals as needed.
During my tour my guide Sherrie remembered me and offered an open hug, inquiring about my mom’s recovery. She was on the phone coordinating the intake of a patient from the Caribbean while checking on families of children in the ICU. My eyes welled with tears as I met Katie, a former patient of the center who also joined our tour. She had been burned on 75% of her body after being set on fire with gasoline. Katie spent 7 months at the center while her family from Minnesota was housed at the Chavis House. One after another, the nurses of the ICU hugged Katie. It was the day that she announced to them all that she is now pregnant, a miracle after all she has been through.
As I peeked into a child’s room in the ICU I was overwhelmed with gratitude., that such a place exists not just for us here Augusta, but for those in need of this level of care from all over the world. . I heard stories of patients (including Katie) that were told by other facilities that they should simply make funeral arrangements. There was nothing that could be done medically for the extent of their burns.
But the Joseph Still Burn center does not turn away patients and infuses more hope into situations than I have ever witnessed. Their work is relentless and filled with genuine love with a focus on family support, all while they serve on the front lines in one of the most challenging lines of work.
I stepped into the room where triage occurs when patients are helicoptered in. I had heard those helicopter blades turning more times than I care to remember during my mother’s stay, each time breathing a silent prayer.
I was also struck that every component of care is named for a person. An individual who understood the both the power of state of the art medicine like oxygen chambers, wound vacs, reconstruction, prosthesis and other innovative procedures offered at the burn center, and the life-altering impact of family that is equally needed to support the long term recovery of patients.
The Joseph M. Still Burn Center is the largest burn unit in the United States. As the Burn Center grows, so do the needs for the Burn Foundation. In 2017
1435 guests received free lodging at the Chavis House
48% of Chavis House guests were Georgia residents
25% of burn patients were children
14,700 meals were served at the Chavis House, all prepared and donated by local churches and other organizations
The Jeffrey Vaden Chavis House which sleeps forty guests and serves as a home-away-from-home where family members are able to stay near their loved ones as they recuperate from their injuries. The house is named in memory of firefighter Jeff Chavis who lost his life as a result of burns he suffered in the line of duty.
The Shirley Badke Retreat, named for a courageous burn survivor, is home to the administrative offices
The Orlet Garden of Hope provides a place where our guests can get away from the hospital environment, pray, meditate or simply enjoy the natural beauty of the garden.
In addition to housing and meals, last year hundreds of burn survivors received assistance with:
Gas vouchers/ bus tickets
Last week my mother rode her horse for the first time since her accident. Her ability to return to activities that she loves is nothing short of a miracle made possible because of the selfless vision of Dr. Still and the staff that now assures that no patient feels alone along their long road to recovery.
I stand in gratitude and offer my voice and our experience as a testimony to the selfless work being done daily, right here in our own backyard.
To support the ongoing needs for free, supportive services for patients and their families I urge you to contribute.You can join me and Troy as we seek to further Dr. Still’s legacy by clicking this link. Every gift, no matter the size, will bring comfort to families facing traumatic burns.
I’m so honored to welcome my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee to this space today. She is a fellow lover of Iowa sunsets and dirt roads. Our paths first crossed several years ago on a writer’s retreat and God orchestrated many meet-ups since then which have included evenings at her Iowa farm catching fireflies with our girls and a trip to Haiti serving alongside each other.
Jennifer’s authentic words have spoken into my own life on so many levels and I know you will be blessed by her words, her humor, and her heart for Jesus. Here’s just a little glimpse into her heart and the heart of her latest book which releases today:
We say that God has everything under control, but we aren’t always aware in the same way that a farmer is aware. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my years as a farmer’s wife.
Farming is putting yourself in a position to trust God. It’s a way of life in which you can’t miss the truth: God is God of the clock, God of the calendar, God of the weather, God of the to-do list. God alone knows when the rain will come, when the heat will rise, when it’s time for the seed to push up from the dark into the light.
A lot of people have romantic notions about farm life. But hard things lie beneath the idyllic overlay. There are grueling uncertainties, great losses, late nights, crazy markets, droughts, insects, disease, hailstorms, equipment that breaks down when you need it most, and tragically, despair that has led to a higher-than-average suicide rate nationally.
My husband Scott says he has no choice but to trust God. For years he’s gone around this farm saying, “God’s got it.” And when he says, “God’s got it,” he is talking himself into the truth. That’s a form of what I call active trust. Active trust is proactively believing God. Active trust is giving yourself the gift of future faith, in advance.
For my husband, active trust came out of necessity, rather than some superpious gene he inherited. He is a farmer, always at the mercy of God.
God’s got it = active trust.
In Western culture, it’s tempting to say “God’s got it” but not really live it. We’re more of a “you got this” culture.
You want to pursue your passion? You got this. You want to start a business? You got this. You want to start a new exercise program? You got this. You’ve definitely got it in you to do all of those things, but how often do you and I forget that what’s “in us” is the very Spirit of God?
We live in a culture where we’ve set ourselves up to play God. The first time that I found out my mammogram was abnormal, my immediate instinct was to run for the Google machine and ask it what “asymmetrical tissue” means.
For almost every possible scenario, we have a means of control available to us: a spray to control weeds, a cream to control wrinkles, a pill to control hunger. It’s no wonder we’ve been fooled into thinking we are the ones calling the shots. It’s hard to surrender our lives to God when we’ve got everything covered ourselves, isn’t it?
This, of course, leaves us feeling on the hook for everything. And suddenly we turn around, inspect our lives, and find that we are miles from God.
What do we want with our lives? What do we really want? When we strip all the faux self-sufficiency away, we can see it clearly. We want Jesus. We are hungry for the God who first stole our hearts. We want to do the things that God wants us to do. We want to partner with him, not boss him around. When we lay our heads down at night, we want to feel the incomparable satisfaction of knowing we spent our day in the center of his will. We want to be remembered as women who did exactly what God wanted us to do—rather than as overworked, weary women who lost their joy.
Nothing else on our to-do lists matters as much as knowing we were completely obedient to his. Nothing will give us more joy than giving our yes when God invites us to be a part of what he’s already doing, knowing it deep and true:
God’s got it.
Adapted from It’s All Under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, a brand new release from Tyndale House Publishers
Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.
I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers. Email subscribers can click here to enter.