Twenty-three years ago today, I was a young child sitting in church when my mom suddenly told me to call an usher. Here is what happened the day I almost lost my mom and brother… and how that traumatic experience still impacts my perspective and priorities.
My mom was 29 weeks pregnant, and I was a spunky six-year-old. It was a Sunday, so my mom and I were in the morning church service (typical). My dad was out of town on business (also typical). It was November 11, 1990.
The kind ushers had just taken up the offering, and that day I had emptied my piggy bank of all my coins. Just a few moments after the offering plate passed by, I looked down and my mom was sitting in a pool of blood… it was all over her, the pew and the floor. I was horrified. She calmly told me to call an usher, so I did. A nurse named Saundra Brett providentially happened to be at church, and provided direction and care in those critical moments. The next thing I knew, the paramedics arrived, put my mom on a stretcher, and hurriedly carried her out of the sanctuary balcony – all during the church service.
After watching all of this in disbelief and confusion, I was left alone. Well, not alone exactly… First Baptist Atlanta was a mega-church, even back in 1990, so there were hundreds – maybe thousands – of people in that sanctuary. But I felt alone. Thankfully, the church functioned as the body of Christ, and a sweet lady who was sitting near us took me under her wing. "We'll take care of her," she told the usher. "Sugar, you just stay with us until we figure out what's happening."
"Will my mom be okay?" I asked. "We'll pray for her," was all the lady said. "What about the baby?" I continued, growing more concerned. "I don't know, honey, but let's pray."
Looking back, that was the day I grew up. Until then, I was the pampered only child – always the center of attention. But on that day and in the days and weeks that followed, many things changed. My mom had several other complications with her pregnancy and my dad was still traveling frequently for work. There were three more times when my mom encountered emergency issues and faced massive hemorrhaging, each time traumatic and uncertain. In every instance, I was by her side alone and had to take charge of the situation. I clearly remember calling 911, assuring my mom that I would be okay, and staying at home with police while she was rushed to the ER and we tried to get a baby sitter. A few times I was even late to my First Grade class because I was helping my mom at home.
Those were dark and difficult days, but they taught me a lot. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I personally experienced the power of prayer and was humbled by people literally all over the world who were lifting us up amid those precarious circumstances. I recognized the importance of making family needs the number one priority, and acquired a keen sense of loyalty and responsibility towards those around me. I started to develop empathy and compassion for weak and hurting people, as my mother – who had always been superwoman in my eyes – was suddenly a weak and dependent person in so much pain whose future was hanging in the balance. I gained a burden for the sanctity and fragility of human life, as I witnessed firsthand both the tension and the miracles in a pregnancy journey. Most importantly, I learned to trust Almighty God as my Heavenly Father and personally cling to His promise that He will never leave or forsake His children. All heavy and challenging lessons for a six-year-old to learn, but lessons I'm grateful have stayed with me to this day.
When my little brother Paul finally arrived in the world 77 days after November 11, I felt such a sense of ownership. So much so, that when a family friend brought me a button that said "I'm A Big Sister," I crossed out "Big Sister" with a Sharpie and wrote "Co-Mom." I still remember the nurses teasing me about that in the hospital.
"We thought all was lost, but God preserved me and the baby in a miraculous way," my mom, Veena, later wrote in her journal. "It was a defining time in the life of our family, a time marked by fear and faith, hope and surrender."
When Paul entered college in 2009, he asked me to attend his Freshman Orientation and I went to the parent meetings (some people thought I was his mother – after a day of that, I traded the suit and portfolio for jeans and a backpack, and people thought I was a new freshman myself – I just can't win)! I grilled the Resident Assistants about campus rules and gave Paul last-minute advice on everything from grades to girls. When I dropped Paul off at his dorm before heading back home, this kid – not usually sentimental – thanked me for helping raise him and told me something that made my heart smile: "By the way, Ruth, you're awesome… I love you and I trust you," he said. "I'm pretty sure I would fail at life if I didn't have you as a big sister." Hearing that from my crazy little brother was more valuable than any award or accolade I could ever receive.
Every year, when November 11 rolls around, it's still somewhat emotional for us. I find myself recounting that traumatic experience in my own mind and trading reflections with my family and those who walked with us on that day. Most of all, we give thanks for the fact that Paul is a miracle child and think about the ways he brings tremendous joy to us and countless others… and though the doctors feared he would be small and weak, he's now big and strong and six feet tall!
In recent years I have been invited to participate in various family-themed initiatives and organizations, and at times I have been a bit apprehensive about getting involved. With the frequent focus on parenting in religious and political circles, I've sometimes wondered if I would be able to contribute anything relevant or insightful given my lack of experience in the motherhood arena. Lately, however, I've started to see the bigger picture and come to realize that family relationships and responsibilities can and should always be a priority, no matter what our age or stage in life.
You see, we all have the potential to play significant roles in our families and communities… married and single, with kids and without, older and younger. Many of us may not have kids of our own, but we each possess the capacity to reach out, care for, invest in and influence children in our circles of family and friends. Sometimes we are suddenly thrust into that position out of sheer necessity – as I was at a very young age – and other times, we must intentionally make an effort and seek out opportunities to help mothers and fathers in need and impact kids at pivotal points in their lives. Whatever your relationship status and current responsibilities, embrace your role, expand your circle of influence, and commit to being a life-giving individual to those God brings along your path.