Category Archives: my story

firsts

13 years ago I woke from a coma. To tears, bright light, parents in hushed voices, a sterile room. I didn’t know what had happened. I knew it was bad, but I couldn’t name it. The first words I heard were from Scott, “Heidi, do you want to live?” I understood then, I existed between life and death. I said, “Yes.”

If I could hinge my life on one word it would be hope. Hope saved me. From the firefighters who rescued me to learning the word survivor at the burn unit and taking my first precarious steps on prosthetic legs, hope was with me.

When I began speaking in front of audiences, telling my story, people asked, “Will you write a book?” I shook my head, “No, I don’t think so.” Summing up my story in 20 minutes with a positive spin came easily, but to lay out a painful past I had fought hard to overcome seemed irresponsible somehow. By dredging up every surgery, every disappointment wouldn’t I undo everything I had laid to rest?

The short answer is no. I didn’t hurt all the hard work I’d done over the years. But, it was exhausting. I cried a lot. I took breaks and deep breaths. I kept going. I carried a notebook with me everywhere. At that time I could barely contain the words in my head. This story was relentless, determined to get out. I worried about being exposed, everyone will see my insides! I swallowed doubt and continued, hoping this was right.

This week I’m taking stock, poring over my life, thinking about firsts. The first time I rode a 2 wheeler and the first time I crashed it. Being captivated by Charlotte’s Web. Getting a main part in a play. Hearing laughter from an audience. Perfecting the walkover. First dance, first kiss, first heartbreak. Choosing life. Standing on man-made legs. Losing a best friend. Walking down the aisle. A baby girl. Then, a baby boy. Using my voice. The delicious chill that ran along my spine when I fell head over heels for writing. Pitching my story out loud. Getting ‘the call’. The first time I signed my name beside Author.

A week ago I received some of the best news of my life. I’m going to be a published author; my story will be a book!!! There are not enough exclamation points to express how thrilled I am. I am honored and ecstatic to announce that Behler Publications will be the publisher of Fancy Feet! My dream come true.

In almost all firsts hope is born. And courage follows.

Swept up
in Spring! It’s finally, finally here. As proof…
Cherry blossoms in Vancouver

I’m linking up with Yeah Write this week! Come check out the gorgeous writing over there.

blog bash (I Love You)

I am joining Alison and Ado’s Blog Bash today! They are fabulous women and writers I recently met through Yeah Write. As fellow party-ers we are to include and link one of our favorite posts. In true party fashion there are great prizes. If you want to join in the fun click on the pretty badge below.

I wrote this and posted it last summer in July 2011. It’s included in a chapter of my manuscript. This is one of my favorite posts because it’s about my family, my heritage and how their lives have shaped mine.

I Love You

I come from a long line of doers. Good Mennonite stock that emigrated from Paraguay, South America. This means there is nothing you can’t fix by doing. In church circles it’s called the gift of hospitality. It was like a calling for us as Mennonites. You don’t sit around and wait for things to fall into your lap. We may be pacifists in war, but in life you cook, clean, bake! I had a lot of family who wanted to help.

When I was at my worst, no one knowing if I was going to cross over to the other side, family came out in droves. My two younger brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins parked themselves on chairs in the waiting rooms and took turns sitting with me while I was oblivious, trapped in a coma.

One of my cousins was willing to donate skin. Some were silently supportive, stoic in their pacing around the room. Others sat with me and held my hand. Some prayed and recruited their church congregations in prayer. Others had questions for the doctors. What could they do? How could they help? This is the Mennonite way. There may be a situation which is beyond our control, but one can always find a way to help. We demonstrate our love through action. The gift of hospitality is something we are not in short supply of.

Another way we help is through food. There is always more than enough food. You don’t go without, not if my mom or any of her sisters have anything to say about it. I have never left one of our family gatherings without somebody pressing food into my hands saying, for lunch tomorrow. You look down and it’s already been covered in plastic wrap or tucked into a Tupperware container. You cannot refuse. It’s not a choice. You say thank you and go, grateful for how your body will be nourished tomorrow.

I grew up in a house where you pray, but with efficiency. Short and to the point, amen. God doesn’t need for you to go on and on. He’s a busy God and not interested in flowery prose. He’s God. He knows your needs. My prayers growing up were all said in German. They were memorized, traditional prayers – one for mealtime and one for bedtime.

As a child I believed God preferred German. It was the language I learned first. If I said a prayer in English it would not be received as well as if I had spoken it in German. Our prayer at mealtimes went like this, Segne Vater diese Speise uns zur Kraft und Dir zum Preise. Amen. (Father, bless this food for our strength and to you as praise) It is said swiftly but with reverence. When we were children, to amuse ourselves, we recited it as fast as we could, picking up speed as we went along. It was a race. Who could finish first?

“SegneVaterdiesespeiseunzurkraftunddizumpreiseamen!”

My dad did not appreciate this. With a stern look and a “Nah” with the ‘a’ drawn out, so it came out a Naaah, the word coming up at the end, we shut up and looked down at our plates, very busy with our forks. This meant he also didn’t appreciate when we said it slowly enunciating each word as if we were delivering a powerful sermon, sometimes with emphatic arm gestures. This was considered disrespectful too. I’m pretty sure I saw my dad hiding a smile more than once during our attempts to spice up our prayer lives.

My dad wasn’t a man big on I-love-you’s. We were loved, so it didn’t need to be said. That changed after June 12, 1998, the day of the car crash.

When I was newly born my dad cradled me in his arms and carried me around in the middle of the night to lull me to sleep. From infancy on I liked to be near him. There’s evidence of this in photos of us sitting side by side, my dad sipping his Yerba Mate (a South American herbal tea) and me leaning into him. My brothers and I spent a lot of time on my dad’s back as he crawled around on all fours as a bucking bronco, a galloping horse! He wrestled with us, played street hockey with us, but he never said I love you. When I was sixteen I worked up the nerve to say, “I love you” and it was met with uncomfortable silence. There was no I love you too.

My dad’s very first I love you came when I was in a hospital bed hovering between life and death. He said, “When you were brand new to the world I dedicated you to God. I told Him, she is yours first and mine second.” He spoke in his well-worn German broken with English, the voice of my childhood. He cleared his throat, “I prayed, wondering if God was going to make good on the dedication. But, God gave you back to us.” He paused, looked at the floor, and then his eyes met mine. “I love you, Heidi.”

Blog Bash

something good

In the dark, near midnight where magic and reality blur, I can dream anything. “Do you think it will happen? I feel like this could happen.”

Scott’s answer is instant. “Yeah, I think it will happen.”
***

In school my favorite class was creative writing. I took on every assignment with gusto and conviction. This will be the best thing I ever write! I scratched out stories and poems on my bedroom floor. Born with longing I kept journals; logging my days, my feelings as if everything I wrote was meant to be. If I wasn’t writing I was reading, safest among words.

I wasn’t a writer. I just loved to write.

After the car crash words failed me. I had little to say, nothing to write. I couldn’t put pen to paper, afraid of spoiling the page. My fear, my pain in ink. Empty journals traveled with me from hospital to rehab to home. They remained blank and unharmed.

In May 2005 a good friend asked me to speak at a fundraiser for firefighters and burn survivors, to tell my story in 5 minutes on a stage in front of two thousand people. I picked up my pen.

Two and a half years ago on a dare and a dream I began to write my memoir. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until my very first writer’s course when all the longing I was born with shook my hands and my heart. After the first class I walked swiftly to my car, keys in hand. I slid into my seat, slammed the door shut and sobbed. I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m home. I’m home.

On March 15th 2012 I received a call from Elizabeth Kracht from Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I am thrilled to announce (because, my friends, it is an announcement) she is now my literary agent. My agent! To say I feel lucky doesn’t begin to do this, me, my life justice. I am lucky, blessed and elated! It’s another piece of redemption, something good from something bad.
***

Scott was right. It happened.

I wrote this in response to a Studio30 Plus writing prompt this week just when I thought that luck didn’t exist. I’m happy to say it does.

Swept up
In these gorgeous celebratory roses from my friend Tanya who was there from the beginning.

what to say

Last week I wrote a post on what not to say which led to great advice from so many of you, especially on what to say. So, as promised, what to say and do when someone is given more than they can handle…

I’m sorry
When you don’t know what to say these two words go a long way and cover much. When tragedy strikes we can’t make sense of it and you know the person traumatized can’t find sense. We don’t need to define the why of it all. I know a heartfelt I’m sorry meant so much to me.

This is awful
A high school friend came to see me. I hadn’t seen him since he graduated the year before I did. He stood by my hospital bed and cried, wiping his face. “I’m so sorry. This is awful. This shouldn’t have happened. Not to you.”
My friend didn’t know I needed his tears. Everybody came in strong, breath sucked in, and bodies rigid. To have someone let their emotions go unchecked relieved me. This is bad. Please, someone. Tell me this is bad. I was devastated and, for a few seconds, I wasn’t alone.
We don’t need to gush about how awful it is, but stand in someone’s pain with them. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder; ease their burden.

Help
We want to do something, anything to help. We ask, “What can we do?”
While I was in the hospital enduring surgery after surgery my parents stood guard, rarely leaving the concrete walls. They barely ate and couldn’t begin to think about what to eat. So, friends and extended family cooked and baked. They didn’t ask if my parents needed it. They just brought.
As I recovered and slowly got better, an old friend of mine baked me a pie. A pie! I didn’t know he could bake. In a place where there was little delight, this delighted me. I had a feeding tube through my nose supplying me with thick chalky nutrients. Food often nauseated me, especially hospital food, so any outside food thrilled me.
Be specific in your help. Instead of ‘let me know what I can do’, just do. Clean, cook, offer to drive, run errands. Bring me a nightgown! I was so sick of hospital gowns a few people brought me nightgowns and made my new unwanted world better. It’s the little things that can sometimes impact you the most.

Be there
My friend Tanya visited me often. Once a week, sometimes more, she drove the hour-long drive to sit with me and when I was able she wheeled me anywhere I wanted to go which was sometimes just to the floor below me. She helped put on my prosthetic legs, pulling and stretching, since I wasn’t strong enough. There wasn’t always a lot of conversation between us. Often I was too tired to speak, so we sat in companionable silence, watching a movie or whatever was on TV. She didn’t come with pat answers, but she did come equipped with homemade cinnamon buns. I loved her for it.

Sacred ground
My friend Loraleigh who was there through it all used the precious words sacred ground when commenting on the previous post. Know that when someone is in deep pain and you, with all your heart, want to be there for them remember you are on sacred ground. You are in someone’s hell, their very own hell, one they wake up to and go to sleep with. Listen to them and love them.

I have so much to say on this topic but I fear your eyes will begin to glaze over. (I’ll save it for the book 🙂 )If there is anything you’d like to add, please do. I love reading what you have to say.


what not to say

When I wound up in a car crash followed by a long recovery I had incredible support. I also encountered people who didn’t always think before speaking. These people have good intentions, but it comes out all wrong. It happens to the best of us. Indulge me in some unsolicited advice on what not to say to those who have been given more than they can handle. (For those of you who are used to more serious posts from me this is more tongue-in-cheek with a side of serious)

When someone is relegated to a hospital bed and has been for months, don’t say, “You have so much time to rest now. Didn’t you say you wanted to be ‘less busy’?”
This isn’t what I meant when I said I needed rest. Being in and out of surgery brings its own brand of busy and I would gladly trade agony in the hospital for my active prior life.

Sometimes it’s best not to relate. An acquaintance said, “I totally thought of you today when I stubbed my big toe. It hurt like hell.”
Hell is toe loss, my friend.

Don’t ever say, “God can still use you.”
Um, what? Still?

Don’t offer up clichés.
It could have been worse.
I don’t know. Losing my limbs and a large portion of skin is pretty bad.
At least you’re alive.
Refer to previous answer.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Even though I love that new Kelly Clarkson song it doesn’t quite…fit.
God won’t give you more than you can handle. Again, refer to first answer.

Don’t tell them in an outburst of love that he/she is an angel. We’re not. I’m not. For those of us who are going through trauma we are trying to get through. We do not have wings. We don’t possess superpowers, although we secretly wished and prayed for them. There are no rules for grief and we want to get to the other side in sometimes the only way we know how. By hanging on.

Give the person who is going through the worst time of her/his life grace.
We want to see our loved ones restored and return to their bright, shining selves. We want them to be okay. One afternoon, heart-deep in mourning, Scott asked me, “When will you stop being angry?” I said, “When I stop.”
Know they want to return. They want more than anything to feel good and whole again. In the 2 years after the crash I would often be in my wheelchair, my mind screaming, when? When? Because, my God, I just wanted to feel alive again. And not this half-person I’d become. Your beloved longs to be okay more than you want them to be okay.

Finally, don’t judge. No one is an expert on pain. Love, have patience, and be there.

I’m working on a guide for my book, something practical and helpful to add to the end of my story.  A little how-to with some step-by-step. So, this is something I’m trying out. I’ll write a post on what to say/do soon. For now, do you have any advice on what not to say?

changes

Benjamin lifts the blanket warm with sleep, and squeezes my arm, “Mommy, let’s snuggle.”

I open my eyes slowly, one at a time. Gray morning light peeks through closed blinds. “Okay, Ben. Let’s.”

He buries his face into my neck and he begins the day with a sigh, “I wish you had your feet.”

I look over to where my ‘feet’ reside. Made of acrylic and metal they lean against the nightstand waiting for me to slide into them. I whisper, “My feet are right there, Ben. I’m okay.”

And I mean it…

I am honored to be featured over at Studio30 Plus today! I just became a member of their wonderful blogging community for people age 30 and up. I submitted an original (not from the blog archives) piece and I am absolutely delighted to be in their magazine. I wrote it in response to their writing prompt this week which was changes. You can find the rest of the story called Whole here. Please join me, won’t you?

part 2 – be true – your life is a story

I should have prefaced my previous post with from the past. (I did change it a couple of days ago.) 2 years ago I was wrestling with writing my story. Even though I had been giving speeches I was terrified of spending time in dark places to tell my story beyond 30 minutes. Now I’m all in.

Near the beginning of a speech and toward the end I say this: Everyone has a story. This is mine. What are you going to do with your story? Your life?

Each of us has something in our lives we need to be true to; whether it’s to stay the course knowing this is exactly where you’re supposed to be or to pursue another direction or to uncover a path you didn’t know existed like finding a secret door to a secret garden where wonder and delight flourish (my childhood wish). Whatever the choice is, it’s about creating meaning in our lives. Not merely existing. Not giving up. Being true. Meaning can be found everywhere.

We live as story – as a work of art with many parts, colors, and layers. A significant word in the top corner, a ray of sun to the left, poetry to sum up your soul, a stormy cloud that threatens, roots that run deep into the earth. Parts of your story haven’t made it to the page, yet to be discovered and explored.

My story isn’t only about recovery after a devastating car crash, but about my childhood, my marriage, parenting, the wacky things my kids do that make me gasp and laugh sometimes all at once. (Oh, the day I had yesterday.) Friendships that enrich my life. Obligations I must meet. Being compassionate. Still, there is more. Destiny that begs to be drawn.

And I want meaning in it. I demand it.

Sometimes we can’t control the circumstances in our lives, but we can choose how we’ll respond. A part of life slammed into me, undid me and emptiness stalked me while I sought my version of whole. Finances continue to make me batty and I can’t chase every dark cloud away, but I can choose well and reach meaning.

While we fill in our stories and attempt to make pieces fit as others slip through our fingers, through our stories we get to help people. The meaning in our lives can be in front of us, beside us. It can be simple. Sometimes it’s picking up a friend’s child for school to help them out, buying someone a cup of coffee, being good to your spouse, teaching our kids about compassion, and noticing others. Sharing grief. Going out of our way, we let people know they’re not alone. Our stories cross and intertwine.

Your story, your life is never done with you. It’s always moving, shifting and you’ll want to be in it – right smack in the middle. So you can’t miss it. With all the cost and risk. With all the sadness, delight and wonder. With all that you have to offer. Living your story is worth it.

Swept up

In Barefoot Contessa Vancouver

Now for something frivolous and fun, and meaning can definitely be found in fun…this sweet store is one of my favorite places to shop. From clothes to belts to jewelry it is all things lovely as the ladies that work at Barefoot Contessa will tell you.

be true

Nearly 2 years ago…

I pulled out a dish from the dishwasher and banged it onto the counter. I yanked open the cabinets and shoved in the mugs until they clattered loudly in protest. When I got to sorting the cutlery tears filled my eyes and I sighed, defeated. I’m crying. Again.

I was guilty.

Exercising deep breathing I leaned against the counter, my back to the dishes and stared at my fridge.

Among school photos of my kids and their friends, photos of families that no longer lived near us, magnets with clever quotes from unknown authors the letters that spelled story stood out. Write me. Pursue me. Be true.

Story had been stalking me for almost a year. I had reasons to run. What if it’s just too hard? What if dredging up the past is damaging? What if I’m not a writer? What if it’s for nothing?

Compelled, called – whatever the word was for this thing I couldn’t escape. Passion, dream. Nothing made me the feel the way writing did, like it was an answer to every question I ever had. Could I follow a dream not knowing where it would lead? Would I surrender to the unknown? Unable to commit I became busy with a job, my family, and distraction.

Not following my heart began to hurt. Discontent seeped from my eyes, squeezed my chest in every dark corner, at every quiet moment. Be true.

I walked over to the fridge, peeled off each letter and lay story in the palm of my hand. I sorted the photos, quotes, my life to make room; and letter by letter I placed story in the center, where I knew I could find my heart.

Swept Up

In the Valentines my kids gave me
Annie made our family a giant Valentine and Benjamin handed me 7 pennies along with 3 kisses. Before you think Scott is a schlep, he gave me a dozen gorgeous red roses, which are not featured here but displayed on our mantle.

when I grow up

I strode with confidence toward my leg guy (prosthetist) and stopped in front of him to list my demands.

“I’d like a custom liner for my left leg to match the right one. Do you think I’d be eligible for new sockets because these sleeves keep sliding and the suction isn’t so great and I’d like to look into having fancy schmancy covers for my legs that have toes. Toes! My legs look like Grandma legs and I’m just over it. With the pantyhose and the lumpy ankles…”

I waved my hands around to make my point and I finished with a flourish, “Let’s look into this!” I offered a winning smile. The smile of my 8 year old that will get her way no matter what, this is not negotiable. And then I remembered I’m a grown-up. I pushed my shoulders back, “What do we need to do to make this happen?”

I didn’t plan on becoming an amputee. On my list of ‘things I want to be when I grow up’ under astronaut, nurse or teacher it didn’t say ‘person with missing limbs’. I remember being in awe of Terry Fox as a child. He was and is a national hero. In our schools, on TV, at home we honored this young man who ran across our country with his artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. He had guts, heart. As a seven year old I wondered if I could be like him – did I have guts like that?

Our schools do a Terry Fox run annually and last year I decided to join my daughter for the run, but we walked. As we did our laps around the field Annie informed her friend, who walked with us, “Do you know my mom’s an amputee? She has fake legs. Two of them!”

Her friend nodded and smiled.

Annie took a deep breath. I could see she was about to launch into how it all began. I whispered to her, “It’s okay. We don’t need to get into this now. Let’s keep walking.”

Do you know what’s weird about being an amputee? Almost everything. And, after a while, almost nothing.

Becoming an amputee was shocking, devastating. I woke up to a nightmare, to the message that my life would never be the same. “You’ve lost your right leg, Heidi. And it looks like you will lose your left leg, too.” Dreams of what I would be went up in smoke and I entered a new world of fittings, castings, new terminology and disability. I fought with my identity. Who am I haunted me with every careful step I took in my prosthetic legs.

And now, now I’ve been able to speak on behalf of the burn fund, on behalf of burn survivors to various groups and organizations, to stand in front of many people and say, you can do this. You can get to the other side. I get to share my story to further research and help raise money for people like me. Beyond that I get to live my life and it’s an ordinary one with extraordinary circumstances and moments. I could say to my seven year old self, “You have the guts.”

Thirty years later I walked around a field holding my daughter’s hand as we honored a national hero. And I’m grateful.

Swept up

In Midnight in Paris!

It’s about a youngish couple who travel to Paris for business and are forced to face the illusion that a life different from their own might be better. It’s a movie by Woody Allen starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams and it is a delight!

go where it’s warm

Grace is found under the surface, under the muck. It’s digging deeper, moving beyond and letting go. It is softness, kindness. And I think we should use it more.

We can lean on grace when we’re hurt. When it’s time to defend we can hold it up as a shield. We extend grace to those who need it, to say I see you and I’ll help. With grace we can say ‘no more’ or salvage something that has begun to unravel.

My early teen years were mostly mired in insecurity with moments of reprieve. You would be insecure too if you had the loser trifecta going on. Braces, too-big glasses and bad perm. I’m 37 and I know how to dress myself and I’ve lost the trifecta, but insecurity still flares up now and then. At thirteen I was lost in its shadow and when it shows up now it surprises me. I’m surprised that I can still want to duck and hide. Surprised that I still care that much.

I’ve learned to shrug my shoulders and say whatever. I’ve learned to say no and I can breezily say yes. I’ve learned how to spread my feelings out, explore them, and come away whole. I know when to lighten up.

But, insecurity happens. It doesn’t grab me by the throat – that would be too obvious. It’s sneaky, it creeps. It is a series of small things – a risk taken and worried it’s the wrong risk, a snarky word, an untrue friend. I’ve developed a tougher shell over the years and there are many things that hit and slide, and fewer things that land and stick. I spent a lot of time burying that painfully shy thirteen year old girl, the sensitive girl who broke easily. I’m not her today, but she’s underneath, and this is the time to use grace and say enough, be at peace.

Lately, I’ve come across situations where many of us could benefit from a little grace. I wrote this post in response to a few tweets, conversations, blogs like Kvetch Mom’s post (a great post on when bitchiness is taken too far) and my own life stuff. After pouring out my heart or rambling (easily both) to my friend Karen the other day, she said, “Go where it’s warm.” All my freaking out and oh-so-many-feelings stopped. They screeched to a halt, actually. I whispered in awe, “I love it.” Because it is simple and good and right. Go where it’s warm.

Swept up


I have to give a huge thank you to Sheryl and North by Northwest for being so good to me! The interview that aired Sunday isn’t available – the neat and tidy 15 minute one, but the longer version is up. If you’re new here and wondering what I’m talking about this is the post that sums it up. Check out my interview with Sheryl where we talk story, writing, and that Mennonite energy!