This is the first article in our new series called “Every Heart has a Story to Tell.” As we head towards our first Thrive Conference in October our desire is share how Every Story Matters. Please check back each week to see how God is moving in women’s lives and let us know how he’s moving in yours.
Michelle grew up the sixth child out of seven. She found her groove as a mini-Mom caretaker; her favorite dream was to someday be a wife and mommy. She had grandiose ideas for crafts and projects that were set aside, one by one, because she was told this one would make a mess or that one would cause a stir. So the projects and ideas were set aside as the next best thing. And as time went on, she found that the next best thing was oftentimes an easier path than causing strife in order to be the absolute best. She loved to sing in the children’s choir, but someone else usually got the solo. So she decided that being part of the group was probably the next best thing. She floated through school, acing the tests but never doing the homework, since she understood the concepts without all the bother. Getting the average grade just seemed like the better choice for her. She rolled with the punches of life and found that staying quiet and on the sidelines might just be the best thing.
She graduated from high school, got married, and moved away. Ramen noodles hadn’t been part of the dream, but they worked out just fine in a pinch. Michelle knew it wouldn’t always be so hard.
She tried arduously for two years to conceive a child, and was finally blessed with the perfect child. She was precocious and full of laughter and smiles. Kimberly was born just over two years into her marriage, and although she was exhausted for many of those early months, Michelle couldn’t have been happier. Her lifelong dream of being a wife and mommy had come true.
Kim was a tiny child, with small bones and a petite bearing. It was easy to see her shoulder blades when she wore sundresses or while she was changing clothes. But one day those bones seemed to have moved. The doctor said he was 98 percent certain that everything was okay, but just in case, recommended surgery to remove a small tumor near her shoulder blade. But the doctor was wrong, and the spider-like strands of the malignant, cancerous tumor had begun to wrap themselves around Kim’s tiny little spine. It was a rare, prenatal cancer that had been growing her whole little life. Holding their child close, they walked into the storm around her 18-month birthday
Chemo treatments commenced, and Michelle had to learn how to clean ports, change dressings, and dole out meds, and she did it with proficiency and grace. Then radiation treatments were added in, moving their little family a few hours away into the Ronald McDonald house for several months. Mama set up outings for their little trouper, and pushed her in a stroller all over the area to parks and zoos and malls. And as all of the blonde, wispy strands of Kim’s hair fell away, Michelle sewed cute little bonnets to cover her adorable bald head.
Michelle was so proficient in assisting with Kim’s needs at the hospital that doctors often mistook her for nursing staff, ordering her to do this and that. She was constantly beside her daughter, through every twist and turn. She created craft projects for them to make in a hospital bed, and together they made artwork of every kind. Kim was even photographed as a poster child for the Ronald McDonald House ad campaign – smiles all around. And eventually Kim was able to leave the children’s hospital, diagnosed as cancer-free.
Life continued on, with another baby (sweet Elizabeth, another dream come true), and then a move or two: a change here and a challenge there. And each time, Michelle figured out how to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.
Then divorce changed everything in her somewhat perfect little world. And there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. She packed up and moved home to her parents’ house, with only half of her dream of being a wife and mother struggling to survive.
Fast-forward several years. Another love had come, and husband Jim and his sweet children, Jimmy and Julie, gave Michelle another opportunity to fulfil her dreams of being a wife and mom. With difficulties on one side and trials on another, there were a lot of hardships in life. But she rolled with the punches and tried to make the best of each situation.
And then, through a series of visits to the doctor near Kim’s college hours away from Michelle, it was discovered that something was wrong with Kim’s heart. At first they thought it was a faulty valve, but during surgery discovered that her whole heart muscle needed to be replaced. After another few small procedures and not nearly enough time, it was obvious that both her heart and lungs were failing. Only five hospitals in the U.S. were capable of doing a double transplant, and all five of them turned her down. She was just too fragile.
So Michelle and Kim made a home of their hospital room and made the best of what they could. Kim’s tracheotomy prevented further out-loud discussion, but Michelle became an expert at reading lips and intuitive guessing. And then, per Kim’s request, Michelle set up a mini-ICU in their small-town home so Kim could go home for a few days. Heroically, Michelle made the difficult transfer from having around-the-clock nursing at their disposal to doing it all on her own, uncomplaining of the hardship. But they pulled it off. And then, as her body started shutting down, they journeyed back to the hospital one last time. Ever the fighter, Kim astounded the doctors with her stamina. Her damaged heart was working as hard as pedaling a 10-speed bike on first speed, and it couldn’t — and didn’t — last.
As she prepared to lay her firstborn to rest, she curled Kim’s hair, applied makeup, and painted her nails one last time. And she thanked God that Kim had re-established her relationship with Jesus and would suffer no more throughout eternity. That’s where her hope had always come from and where it would stay. Philippians 4:13 was Kim’s favorite verse, “I can do all things through Christ who give me the strength I need.”
She could face another day because she knew that God was with her. He had always helped her sort through the lemons well, and every time they came she had a choice to make. And once again, she chose well.
Now a pastor, Michelle has learned how to use the difficulties in her life to help people every single day. God has truly used her lemonade-making skills for his glory.
Have you encountered life’s lemons too? How can you make the best outcome of your difficult situation? God is with you, just like he was with Michelle and Kim.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28
If you’ve enjoyed Michelle’s story, you might like to read others in our “Your Story Matters” series: #2 – Carolyn’s Story , #3 – Sara’s Story, #4 – Jolene’s Story, #5 – Mabel’s Story, #6 – Carolyn T’s Story