I watched a movie today about 22 year old Susannah Cahalan who was stricken with a rare autoimmune illness called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Watching the depiction of this young woman suffering the nightmare of being stolen away by this illness brought back painful memories for me. I did not have the same form of encephalitis that she had, but in 2010, I did suffer from a nasty bout of encephalitis, although the doctors were not able to decisively determine which kind of the illness I had. One big difference between Susannah’s experience and mine is that, while she suffered a slower, steady encroachment of this illness while doctors struggled to figure out what was attacking her, my pre-hospitalization period was brief but also traumatic, and happened while I was in the Gaza Strip.
I had gone to Gaza for the third time in August 2010. I wanted to be there for a few reasons; I had met online in 2001 and then married in 2009 (in Gaza) a man who I believed to be who he portrayed himself to be; I was deeply interested in knowing and understanding more about the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbours in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; I loved to learn about and experience other cultures and this was my chance to really do so; and I wanted to make a difference for the children there so I organized a child-focused delegation of people who also wanted to go.
When I was purchasing my airplane tickets, the travel agent asked me if I wanted to purchase medical insurance. I laughed and explained that travel insurance very specifically states that it will not cover any injuries due to war or to terrorist actions. Because of my destination, and my current state of good health, I really believed that my only risk was from activities that the insurance wouldn’t cover anyways, so I declined coverage.
I landed in Cairo, excited and eager to continue with the next leg of my journey, but first I had to get our groups’ paperwork in order. This meant finding a translator to translate all of our letters from English to Arabic, taking everything to the appropriate government office to confirm the approval that I had been given weeks earlier by phone, and then getting everyone onto a bus that would take us from Cairo, through the Sinai to the small border town of Al Arish, Egypt and from there, to the Rafah border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, by taxi.
I had made this trip twice before but had never been the organizer. I had observed the process on my prior trip so felt comfortable enough with the steps to proceed on my own. Everything was in order. Or so I thought.
When we got to the Rafah border, the border guard started telling me we had to go back to Cairo because of some problem with our paperwork. My translator, Ayman, was nervous about arguing with the border guard but I pressed him to explain that our paperwork was, indeed, in order and that the border guard needed to confirm that without sending us all the way back to Cairo, which is approximately a 6 hour trip back through the Sinai. That would delay our entry to Gaza by at least a few days, days that we were not willing to waste on unnecessary red tape. I knew I had everything that was required and I also knew that it was common for Egyptian officials to interrupt people attempting to travel to the Gaza Strip.
My translator reluctantly relayed my replies until the border guard called his office in the border terminal and we were finally granted entry.
(to be continued)
Everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page in the story of your life. You can not choose the circumstances which surround the events of your life, but you always have a choice with your responses, your mindset, the development of your skill-sets and the people you surround yourself with. Choose to believe in you!
Remember, you have something special, you have GREATNESS within you
I just had my 35 year grad reunion. It was an event that was so full of love, it was amazing.
Being me, I had to write about it to express my thoughts and feelings. Here is what I wrote:
Seeing you all again has really touched me, so much so that I need to say this:
When I was growing up, we moved a lot. I started out at Carleton School where I was classmates with some of you. Then I moved. A few times.
I came to Killarney in 1979, in time to start grade 10. By then, I didn’t know that I knew anybody. I was starting a new school – again. And I felt so alone, again. Then I started noticing familiar faces. I had been out of the loop for years and I had learned not to get too attached to people because we were just going to move again. I did move again, right after grade 12. And I continued to move, never quite feeling like I had one place to call home.
Throughout the years, I have experienced things that I really needed to have friends to call on, but didn’t know that I had those friends. When I was recovering from my illness and brain injury that went with it, I was so vulnerable and afraid. I pushed through it.
Last Thursday, I suddenly got very nervous about going to the reunion. I was afraid I’d be alone in a room of people who didn’t remember me, to be honest. My whole life has been a continuous series of “passing through”. I told my daughter to make sure I went lol She’s a good kid and made sure I got to the reunion.
Then I walked in the room and saw familiar faces, friendly faces, inviting faces. As the night wore on and we talked and laughed and caught up, it was a feeling of true connection that has been such a rarity for me, but felt like an oasis in what has too often been a parched desert. My daughter even texted me on Saturday night to make sure I was having a good time. I assured her that I was having a GREAT time!
Having old friends gives life a depth; a solid and safe harbour, so that we know that no matter where we roam, we always have a place to come home to. Seeing all your beautiful faces has given me that and I can’t thank you enough.
I know we’re all busy and have busy lives, but I do hope we can plan yearly events, at least, and whoever can come will and whoever can’t, will come next time.
If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that YOU, those old friends we grow up with, are some of life’s finest treasures.
I am so grateful to have connected with you again.
And so it begins......
This is the first installment of my very personal story. This is, by no means, all of the story or even a large part of it. But I have to start somewhere.........
It’s time for some raw vulnerability. Without it, I believe I will always run into mental and emotional blocks in life.
My reason for writing this is to allow room for healing; to stop being afraid; to bare my soul in the hopes that someone will read this and say “I thought I was the only one” and so start on her own path to freedom and healing.
I have been reading a book called Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz. It was given to me as a gift from Focus on the Family. Although Marilyn and I have lived very different lives, we were both suffocated under the weight of shame – a shame that Jesus came to free us from, but the enemy kept convincing us that the shame is ours to carry, to be smothered by; a shame that means we will never be good enough as long as we live.
I’m taking you back to the 80’s, when I was still married to the father of my first 4 children. We were active members in our local church. What nobody saw was how we struggled in private. I’m not going to say much about him because he too, is a child of God and therefore not mine to judge.
In the 9 years we were married, I never once felt that I was in his heart, never felt that he was in love with me, never felt cherished. Even when he proposed, it was only after I had suggested that we need to figure out what we’re doing in our relationship; that maybe we should break up in we didn’t want to move forward. That was the moment when he proposed. I was shocked because I was expecting a conversation, not a proposal, but I accepted, believing that he couldn’t bear the thought of losing me.
Perhaps in that moment, that is what he was thinking but I’ll never know. A few years later he told our pastor that he felt that I had forced him to marry me, effectively extinguishing any romantic notions I might have told myself about how much he wanted me.
I longed to be noticed, to be loved and protected. I kept hearing how God shelters us in the “shadow of His wing” and that marriage is a representation of the relationship between God and His people. My marriage was no such symbol of love. I was painfully lonely.
I thought that having children would endear me to my husband. Our first child was born on my husband’s birthday! From my hospital bed, I sent my mom off to buy my husband a sweatshirt for his birthday and have it embroidered with the message “I’m Zack’s daddy”. I was sure that such a sweet thoughtful gift would stir up love towards me. He loved the sweatshirt and wore it until it was worn out – but a few years later, he told that same pastor that I had rushed him into having children before he was ready. Again, my fault. Again, extinguishing any romantic notions of any loving thoughts I thought he might have been having towards me.
I began to break down. It happened slowly (though not very slowly) and under the stress of the day to day so I didn’t know I was breaking. I kept trying to get his attention. He wasn’t willing to give it. I was no longer hoping he would love me but just that I would matter enough that he would notice the details of my life.
During my second pregnancy, my husband began renovating our house. I was excited to see how it would look once it was done! The day I went into labour, he wanted to buy the supplies to make the fireplace mantle so we were at the lumber yard. I kept telling him that I needed to go home as I stopped every few minutes to breathe through another contraction. His reply was always that walking is good for me, and we kept hunting for the perfect piece of wood to go above the fireplace. Even the salesman was getting worried for me but we kept walking around the lumber yard until we found what we’d come for. My husband kept asking for my opinion of different pieces of wood but I was in so much pain that I really didn’t care. I just wanted to go home.
Once we got home, he continued working on the fireplace. He had stacked our couches and chairs in the dining area to give him room to work. The only chair for me to sit on was a hard wooden kitchen chair. My contractions were coming closer and closer together. He kept working on the fireplace. Finally, I asked him to get me something more comfortable to sit on but he informed me that everything was stacked and out of the way. I lost my cool and demanded that he put one of the couches down for me. Finally he did and I was able to find a more comfortable position to sit.
Because I had been induced with my first child, I didn’t know what to expect from natural labour so I called the hospital to ask a nurse. She told me that labour could take hours but that I should come to the hospital whenever I feel too uncomfortable to stay at home. When I got off the phone, my husband asked me what the nurse had said so I told him. He looked at his watch and said “Good” and went back to the fireplace. I protested and explained that she had also said that I should go to the hospital whenever I felt I needed to, but he responded with “a few hours” and walked away.
I made my way downstairs to where my parents lived, pausing every couple of minutes due to ongoing contractions. My parents saw how much distress I was in and asked why Brent wasn’t taking me to the hospital yet. I explained what the nurse had said and his response to it and shrugged, in tears. My dad blurted out that if Brent wasn’t going to take me to the hospital then he would, because it was obvious that I needed to go.
I quieted my dad and told him that I would go tell Brent again, that I was sure he would take me (although not really being sure at all). I went back upstairs and told my husband that if he wouldn’t take me to the hospital then my dad would – either way, I had to go NOW. He finally offered to take me and told me “just a minute”. I was relieved! He was going to take care of me!
I went back downstairs and told my parents not to worry because Brent was going to take me to the hospital. My parents then asked me where he was if we were supposed to be leaving right away. I listened for any sound of him upstairs but heard nothing, so I dragged myself back up the stairs and looked around. Nothing. I was at a loss when I confessed to my parents that I didn’t know where he was. They were just as puzzled. We all looked around, calling his name, but couldn’t find him. Finally, my dad went outside and found Brent cleaning out the old wheelbarrow he had been using for concrete. My dad was shocked and angry. My husband’s reply was that the nurse said I had a few hours and the wheelbarrow needed to be cleaned.
My dad offered to clean the wheelbarrow and insisted that I be taken to the hospital immediately.
Our drive was painful but we finally got there. I was rushed in and given a room to finish out my labour and delivery. He was there with me and suddenly I had a strong and painful contraction. I reached out and grabbed the only thing within range – the front pockets of his jeans. I held on and breathed to get through the pain.
He looked down at me and exclaimed “What are you doing??” and grabbed my hands, pulling them off him and pushing them back towards me. I was crushed but had to get through my contraction before I could answer although no words could make their way through my heartbreak and disappointment. What did it look like I was doing? I was in the process of giving birth to his child!
Four hours after my labour had started, our beautiful baby girl was born! Life was good.
About a week later, something was amiss. She seemed to have a cold or some kind of respiratory trouble. I called a doctor to come to our home because I couldn’t get to a doctor and her symptoms were worrying me. The doctor said she was fine but that I should just keep an eye on her. Over the following weeks, she got progressively worse. Her bouts of coughing became more frequent and closer together, then her coughing fits would be followed with her choking. Then her choking fits would happen without her coughing first. Then her choking fits became silent so I wouldn’t even know unless I was looking at her.
All this time I just kept resuscitating her and taking her back to doctors who would assure me she was fine and that her inability to properly clear her airway was just due to her being a newborn and not a real cause for concern. I didn’t believe that but no one would take a closer look at her.
My new routine was to care for my 2 year old son and resuscitate my baby all day until that was my new “normal”. Again, I went back to the doctor. Again he told me she was fine and to just take her home. Again she got worse. That was a Wednesday. By Friday she went into a choking spell and, try as I might, I could not clear her airway. I kept trying, flipping her on her tummy against my leg for delicate back blows then laying her on the floor to give her mouth to mouth. I couldn’t get air into her body and I couldn’t push out the phantom that was bent on choking the life out of her.
I was on the floor trying over and over – back blows, mouth to mouth, yelling at her, back blows, mouth to mouth, yelling at her….. no response. Her colour was getting worse as she lay lifeless on the floor in front of my. I kept looking up at the phone, hoping I could will it to call 911 for me at the same time being sure that if I left her to go make the call, I would come back to a dead baby. I was frantic.
She had been fighting this phantom since she was a week old. I had tried everything within my power to help her but now we were at the end. She was so tiny and fragile. How could I demand that she keep fighting when no one was coming to help us? I scooped up her lifeless little body in my hands and walked on my knees over to the couch where I gently laid her down.
I told her that she didn’t need to keep fighting. I told her she’d done such a good job and she’d been braver than I could have asked for but I knew she was tired now. I told her I wouldn’t ask her to fight any more. I sat back on my feet and looked at my sweet angel who by now had not breathed for several minutes. I honestly had no idea how much time had passed. It felt like a very long time and I knew that her brain could not survive prolonged oxygen deprivation. As all these thoughts were racing through my mind, suddenly another thought came roaring in like a freight train – “NOOOOOOOOO I CAN’T LET YOU DIE!” so I tried again to resuscitate her but to no avail. I put my hands on the couch beside her body and cried out in a shaky voice “Jesus, PLEASE make my baby breathe!”
Suddenly – and I mean IMMEDIATELY – I saw her tiny chest rise. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me so I held my breath and watched carefully. She took another breath! In that moment, the words from Genesis 2:7 popped into my mind “(God) breathed into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life” and I knew that God had done it again right there in front of me. I picked up my daughter and made sure she was breathing and responsive, then I called 911. The firemen and ambulance came and they all agreed that she was fine and that I should just take her to the hospital myself if it happened again.
I was so happy and relieved that my baby was still alive but also sure that as much as we’d been given a reprieve, it was time to act. My husband was convinced that the danger had passed and there was no need to go to the hospital that night. I was convinced that if I closed my eyes for a second, I would open them to find that she was gone. I spent that night with my baby girl right in front of my face to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
The next morning, I insisted we take her to the doctor again so we did. As before, the doctor told me that she was fine and that I should just take her home. He did say that if I was still worried about her on Monday (it was Saturday) that I could bring her back to see my regular doctor. His words hit me like a slap in the face. Monday?? By Monday she would be dead. Today was the day she needed to be hospitalized. I burst out crying. Not weary tears, no. I was a gushing fountain of gasping, choking tears and frantic ranting. I recounted to the doctor her journey for the past few weeks (she was 4 weeks old by this time) and told him about calling 911 the night before, told him I hadn’t slept because I was afraid she’d die if I closed my eyes. All the while I was sobbing uncontrollably.
The doctor softened and put his hand on my arm and said “I can see that you’re tired and you need to sleep. How about if we put her in the hospital for the night so you can go home and sleep?”
I didn’t care that he had just insulted me. I didn’t care that he still didn’t believe that she was sick and dying because I had heard him utter those magic words – she was going to be admitted to the hospital!
I caught my breath and nodded, totally unable to speak. I picked up my daughter and my husband and I got in the car and drove to the hospital.
As I was sitting with a nurse answering questions for Celeste’s admission, she suddenly had a very loud, very ugly choking spell. I got her through it and turned back to the nurse who was sitting with a horrified look on her face. “WHAT WAS THAT??” she exclaimed. “THAT is what I’ve been telling doctors about for weeks now! THAT is why we’re here!” I replied.
The nurse’s simple reply gave me such great comfort “You have a very sick baby”
FINALLY!! Someone else saw it and believed me! She would finally get the help she so desperately needed.
The nurses hooked up several different monitors and sat her up in a cuddle seat because every time they laid her down, her oxygen level would drop down and she struggled to breathe. She had a monitor to track the level of oxygen in her blood, a monitor to measure her breathing, a heart monitor as well as an IV in her head to rehydrate her.
It didn’t take long before her alarms started ringing and 5 nurses came running to her bedside. One operated the suction, one watched the monitor screens and the others helped to resuscitate my baby and get her stable again. I stood back and watched, frozen as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
As they were leaving the room, one by one they passed me and each of them paused and looked me in the eye with such deep compassion. They touched my arm gently and asked me “Did you see what we just had to do? How on earth were you able to do this at home?” All I could do was shake my head and mumble “I just didn’t want her to die”
After a few initial choking spells, the nurses had their routine worked out and they assured me that they would take good care of her. I could see they were telling me the truth.
However, I had been on such high alert for so long by that time that I didn’t know how to back down. I needed more assurance. I was exhausted and broken but relieved that my baby was finally in good hands that would give her more than I had been able to.
The nurses told me that I could go home and sleep and come back whenever I was ready, but that I needed to sleep. They were right. I was so grateful for the way they were taking care of me too.
I was almost ready to calm down and go sleep when my husband walked up to me, standing very close, making him tower over me – “You stay here and keep an eye on them” he commanded. My heart sank. I knew I couldn’t leave – no matter how badly I needed some rest, no matter that my 2 year old son was at home – I had to stay.
When I told the nurses I was staying, they got me a bed but were visibly upset that I was not able to go home for a bit of respite after everything that I had been through with my daughter. They were more than capable of taking over for me, at least for a time, but I wasn’t going anywhere.
I slept in her room almost every night. The guilt was piling up on top of my trauma. When I was at the hospital, I felt that I should be home with my son. When I was home with my son, I felt that I should be at the hospital with my daughter. There was no right place for me to be, only wrong places. No peace and rest, only guilt and anguish.
After a month, much of it in ICU care, Celeste was discharged from the hospital. My sweet baby was alive and well. A well experienced pediatrician diagnosed her with a bad case of Pertussis (whooping cough). I also learned that because Pertussis had been all but wiped out prior to this, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar when I showed up with a sick baby. After Celeste’s hospitalization, I learned that there were several more cases of Pertussis in the following weeks, much to everyone’s surprise.
The doctor warned me that, due to the fact that this illness was very hard on Celeste’s lungs, I should expect her to be hospitalized for about a week out of every month for the next year. It sounded a bit overwhelming until I asked him “But she’ll be ok, right?” He assured me she was definitely out of danger but would just need medical support to get her through those expected periods of respiratory illness. His news suddenly didn’t sound bad at all. I smiled and told him that would be no problem at all. I would watch for any difficulties and bring her back. Everything was going to be okay after all.
It was 2 whole months before she showed any signs of cold-like symptoms but my reaction caught me off guard. I rushed to the hospital with her and when they were asking me to describe her situation, I was stammering and stumbling over my words and crying. I remember saying “You said that I should bring her back if she gets sick again! She’s sick again!” I was in full panic mode and they saw it and graciously admitted her as promised.
As I was sitting by her bed, the head nurse on the children’s ward came to see me and asked if we could talk in her office. I followed her and we sat down close to each other. She started “You have done such an amazing job taking care of Celeste. There is no doubt that she wouldn’t have survived if you hadn’t done what you did. You’ve take very good care of her”
I sat and listened, gratefully soaking up her affirmation. Then she continued “After taking such good care of your baby, I have to ask you – Who’s taking care of you?” I was startled by her question and looked up at her, unable to speak right away. Then I started to cry and shook my head. She was so kind. She listened as I cried and explained my marriage and home life, my guilt and anguish. She encouraged me and urged me to find someone to talk to.
Once Celeste got through her week of needing a bit of extra help, we went home and life went on.
This morning I was treated to a beautiful message of hope as I sat in the Sunday worship service at Immanuel Baptist Church here in Abbotsford.
Pastor Kyle Corbin preached on John 21, which covers a miraculous catch of fish and Peter's reinstatement after denying three times that he even knew Jesus in the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion.
It was the latter portion of the sermon that really caught my attention. Let me tell you why.
After denying Jesus three times, when we get to today's story, three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Three times Peter said that he did.
I mulled over this on my way home. The cynical part of me says that of course Jesus asked Peter three times. What a perfectly passive aggressive way to stick it to Peter so he feels appropriately ashamed of himself for his triple denial. After all, isn't that what many of us do? Isn't this what many of us have had done to us? Our mistakes, our failures, our shame - is forever waved at us, making sure we never really lift up our heads again. And why not? It's what Jesus did to Peter.
Or is it??? When you read that passage, although Jesus does ask Peter 3 times, at no point does Jesus make any reference at all to Peter's failure. In fact, quite the opposite occurs!
Each time Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus instructs Peter to "feed my lambs", "take care of my sheep" and "feed my sheep".
There were no hoops for Peter to jump through. No long drawn out period of restitution. Peter was not required to prove himself or to earn his way back to being used by Jesus.
This message of hope, as demonstrated by Jesus, is what we need more of in our churches and in our communities.
Failure visits all of us. We all stumble and fall and get up again. Jesus asks "do you love me?" and when we answer "yes", then His restoration is immediate - and complete.
How many of us have struggled along after failure, being reminded constantly of our shame as if to make sure we never dare raise our heads again.
Take comfort, my friend. That is not the way of Jesus. It is the enemy who wants us to feel like we have become second and third class citizens in God's community.
My challenge to you - and to myself - is to move forward in faith, believing that Jesus' message of hope, love and reinstatement is for YOU (and for me).
Jesus was not addressing Peter with cynicism or in a passive aggressive manner. Not at all - Jesus doesn't play games with our hearts and minds. He offers true forgiveness, true restoration, true reinstatement. Jesus does not sentence any one of His followers to live in the wilderness, living from one day to the next on whatever scraps of kindness "better people" toss our way.
We are all failures. We are all loved, forgiven and redeemed. 100%.
Not one of our failures is hidden from His sight - yet He says as He said to Peter "Do you love me?" That is the only question. Therein lies all of our hope.
Yes! My answer is Yes!
Today I have exciting news! I am the new VP of Education for the Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters club!
I look forward to what I can give to this club to help them achieve their educational and leadership goals as part of Toastmasters International!
Several years ago I had the privilege of being VP Ed for the Surrey Taxmasters; the corporate Toastmasters club of the Canada Revenue Agency Burnaby-Fraser Tax Services office in Surrey, BC.
It was very rewarding to see the growth in skills and confidence of the members of our club.
I am eager to see the Abbotsford Sundown club also grow in skills and confidence!
Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to serve!
When I was talking to someone yesterday who had never heard my story. I told her everything - the miraculous way that God enabled me to work through my recovery when recovery seemed like an impossibility. I love this story! My God specializes in the impossible, so I love that aspect of my story.
That same woman then asked about my speaking career. She wanted to know what I'd be speaking on. I told her that my theme is to "be the author of your own story and write yourself a legend!" I told her that through my illness and recovery I had learned to never accept the limited expectations of others, to press forward and keep pushing the limits to meet the expectations I have for myself and to always have faith that more IS possible.
She paused then asked - "Where is God in all of that?" I was stunned. Where is God? Was she not listening? It was God who pulled off the miraculous and kept me alive when there was a 95% chance I wouldn't make it. It was God who mingled my DNA to create a warrior who never gave up, never accepted the limits of others. It was God who gave me the faith to believe that my story would not end in a hospital bed in Gaza, or even in Tel Aviv. It was God who gave me the strength and determination to research and think creatively to come up with treatments and therapies that would bring my brain back from wherever I had lost it so I could be myself again.
I'm not very good at being religious but I am good at knowing that I am in God's hands wherever I go. I also know that He expects me to have faith in times like these, faith to know that He's got me, no matter what.
I was very disappointed with her question. "Where is God in all of this?" so I did some research. I wanted to know how many times the Bible refers to "your faith" (MY faith) as a pivotal factor. I found 70 references to "your faith" in the New Testament alone. So I looked up those.
Time after time Jesus said "Your faith has healed you". There are many different references in different ways but all talking about the importance of "your faith" and the difference that makes in our lives.
YOUR FAITH HAS HEALED YOU. Let that sink in for a minute.
Being a Christian doesn't mean laying back and waiting for God to do all the hard work. He expects US to have a faith that changes us.
Matt 9:22 is a good example: Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
Jesus himself said to her "your faith has healed you". Did he say "I healed you"? Did he say "God has healed you"? He sure could have - but he didn't. His words are clear - "your faith has healed you".
If your God is so small that you cannot imagine that His reach goes beyond Himself, let me tell you about my God!
My God works through those who love him. He works through everything he chooses to work through. My God tells me that even my faith can heal me! He doesn't need to suck up all the credit directly for everything good that happens. Jesus' own words indicate that I have a part in the outcome of my life. So do you.
So hold onto that pen, be the author of your own story, and keep writing that legend!
I'm going to start giving space for guest posts. I have met so many wonderful women with their own powerful stories to tell. I know you will find them encouraging and inspirational.
We all need to be the author of our own story because we are all capable of living our own legend.
If you would like me to share your story, please contact me through my contact page and we will talk.
This is the speech I gave as the student speaker and my University of the Fraser Valley 2017 convocation ceremony on Tuesday June 6
Honoured guests faculty, staff, volunteers, and fellow graduates, family and friends, thank you for this opportunity to share a little of my story with you – and thank you for sharing UFV with me!
The bottom line of what I want to tell you is this – Be the author of your own story. Hold onto that pen with all your might and make sure that YOU’RE the one who decides what happens next. Be the author and write yourself a legend.
First a very brief history – with a lot of interesting bits missing
In 2010, I had the opportunity to go and work with children in the Middle East! The Gaza Strip, to be exact. I went for it. Over there I became very ill – I was hit with encephalitis which is a brain infection and sepsis, which caused multi organ failure because of the infection. I was in a coma for almost a month - my brain sustained serious damage. My prognosis was grave. I was told later that I’d been given a 5% chance of survival and zero chance of making a meaningful recovery.
My neurologist told me the damage to my brain left it more like she sees in her elderly Alzheimer’s patients. I was devastated.
I worked hard to rehabilitate. I began learning to walk again by using one of those “old lady” walkers. I’d keep falling over. I fell over when I’d try to sit up in bed. I fell over a lot. I didn’t know how long my recovery would take, but I just knew I could never give up. Plus, my kids needed me to recover.
And here I am! Eventually, I was ready to get back to work but the job market had changed. I couldn’t rely on my good looks and charming personality to get a decent job anymore. I struggled from one job to another until finally facing the reality that I had to go back to school.
One of my daughters, Emily, attends UFV as a kinesiology student and she had so many great things to say about UFV. With my background in working as an administrative assistant, plus my lifelong interest in all things medical, I decided to apply to the Medical Office Assistant program. The wonderful people in the Continuing Education office helped me through the registration process. It was all so new to me!
Now, I’m done and I achieved a final grade of 96%! Hmmm…Interesting numbers: a 5% chance of survival plus a 96% grade – that makes me 101% grateful!
I loved the challenge of school, the wonderful instructors, the staff, my classmates – and the fact that I finally get to enjoy an honest to goodness university graduation ceremony! UFV has given me so much more than my doctors could ever promise!
I’m motivated to reach higher. I’ve taken a course that has landed me a great job, absolutely, and now, I want to go after my dream. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Until now it just never seemed to be “my turn”.
I’ve applied to enter the BA in Adult Education program here at UFV. It may look like I’m about 33 years late for my turn at university but I am right on time! I’ve been an “accidental teacher” for as long as I can remember. Soon I’ll get to become a real one!
Remember - Nothing is permanent. Not the highs and not the lows – no matter how they may feel in the moment. Take that next step – whether it is a big leap or a small baby step, it’s still progress! I love the words of Sir Winston Churchill, when he said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”
Our time here at UFV was not permanent, although there were days when it certainly felt like it. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. I urge you to meet them all with hope and courage. The future is unknown, even though some of you probably have a very clear idea of where you want to go. Life has a way of surprising us. Making us work harder, think more creatively, be bolder – than we ever thought possible. But I am here to tell you that it’s worth whatever it takes to keep going.
Whatever happens, be the author of your own story. Be the one who decides how this chapter will end and how the next will begin.
Remember: the ONLY true failure is to give up. If plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 more letters in the alphabet!” Start writing your story over. Be creative. And flexible. Plan M or Plan W might be the real breakthrough!
Every morning when you wake up and feel your heart beating in your chest and your lungs filling with air, know that that is a day full of possibility! Be proud of yourselves and of what you have done – and of what you will continue to do.
I am extremely grateful to have the honour of addressing you today – my classmates, family and friends, my fellow UFV graduates, honoured guests, faculty, staff and volunteers – and especially my kids who are my biggest encouragement, motivation and inspiration, my parents who always believed I could do this and my wonderful Steve who always has my back - this combined abundance of love, hope, and expectation is what makes me excited for what will happen next.
Hold your pen tightly and go write your next chapter!!
Linda blends warmth, wisdom and humour into every presentation. Enjoy the ride!