Friday, July 15, 2011

A Christmas Lamb

Most people don’t have lamb at Christmas, and besides, it isn’t really that kind of story. Christmas has always been a special time of year for me.  When I was a little girl it was the time of year when my dad, who kept an apartment in Chicago and traveled constantly, would come home and spend up to two weeks with our family spanning Christmas to New Year. 

After I moved on from my first marriage and created a life of my own, Christmas took on a new meaning.  It was a time to celebrate the love and camaraderie created in my own home.  When Chelsea died and Nic came into my life, it also became a time to honor her final gift to me by celebrating Nic’s birthday.  Each year, I fill his stocking with toys and treats and, of course, give him a special white chocolate-covered dog bone in honor of the day, which also happens to be his birthday.

I feel closer to Chelsea on that day, like she dips down from heaven and the veil thins between her world and mine.  I sometimes imagine her sniffing around the living room after Santa visits on that late Christmas Eve night.  During the night, I have heard creaking of the floorboards outside the bedroom, where Chelsea used to curl up.  It startled me at first, though now I just accept it as her settling in for the night to keep her post on that very holy night of the year.

If you also believe that miraculous things happen during this blessed season, then you will understand the serendipitous joy of the Christmas lamb and receiving a gift one never expected.  These stories, as you know, come to me in the most unusual of places and this one is no exception.  And, while working for the phone company, representing us to the communities we serve throughout rural Washington and Oregon, I often attended local events and celebrations that we sponsor.  Here is where the Christmas lamb and her story came to join this collection. 

Each spring, I traveled to Eastern Washington for an annual livestock show organized by the Junior Livestock association of Spokane.  Kids that are members of 4-H and Future Farmer of America (FFA), in this case raising cattle, lambs, goats or pigs as projects, bring them to the “Junior Show” as it’s called for some friendly competition.  These students learn tips from those that are judging the quality and care they put into their livestock and then they sell these animals to help defray costs of raising them as well as to save for their education after high school graduation.

In H. Jackson Browne’s “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” lesson #20 calls for us to attend 4-H and FFA competitions to restore our faith in young people.  I completely agree.  The life lessons these students learn in caring for their animals and the camaraderie of doing so as a team fundamentally transforms them into confident, compassionate and goal-oriented young adults. 

Treva Norris’ Grandson, Robert, is no exception. 

I know Treva because for many years she served as the executive director of this great organization, making sure that all of us sponsors are engaged in a myriad of ways to support the student-participants of Junior Show.  So, on this one particular Friday night as we stood together during the fitting and showing competition, I noticed that she was just about walking on pins and needles.

“Treva,” I say.  “What’s going on tonight? Is there something special coming?”

She smiled affectionately, and explained that her grandson, Robert, would soon be showing his lamb that he raised for this competition. 

“Oh, is this his first year participating?”  I ask, thinking that’s why she’s so ebullient. 

“No, this is his miracle, this lamb.  You see, we didn’t know that he’d make it, that he’d live, or walk again after the accident last year.  Robert being here tonight is a miracle, because of this lamb.”

Ah, there it was, a too perfect story about a lamb and a young man inspired to overcome great odds.  So, in the time we waited for his round in the competition, Treva Norris granted a moment of grace to share her story about this miraculous Christmas Lamb. 

Treva’s son, daughter and their two kids, including their oldest, Robert, celebrated Thanksgiving that year by vacationing on the Washington Coast.  They drove from Spokane, nearly 600 miles round trip and were on the last leg of their return, about 30 miles from home, late on a Sunday evening.  The weather, true to Murphy’s Law that things happen at inopportune times like holiday weekends, was horrible and a snow storm nearly blinded the path ahead of them. 

As Treva’s son crested a hill on interstate 90, a huge Super cab F350 Ford truck lost its traction on the ice, crossed the center line and broadsided the family car at top speed.  Robert sat in the front passenger seat and was by far the most injured in the wreck.  At the scene, it was moment-to-moment whether he would survive.  While his father, mother and sister were transported by ambulance with their substantial injuries, Robert was whisked away via a rescue helicopter life flight in order to save precious time.

As a mother now, I can easily imagine the sheer panic and worry Robert’s mother must have felt at that moment.  Even though she suffered from her own injuries, and knowing those of her daughter and husband, to wonder if that was the last time she would see her son must have brought an overwhelming sense of helplessness when his rescue helicopter lifted away.

However, we people of faith understand that God has his own timing.  And, with that understanding, it was not time for Robert to die. 

The first sign of hope for Robert came with the delivery of his FFA jacket to his hospital room.  People throughout Eastern Washington understand the pride and commitment students have as members of their FFA club.  Their jackets sport patches and ribbons similar to a high school lettermen’s sweater.  Somehow Robert’s jacket remained unscathed in the wreck that totaled their family vehicle and the oncoming truck.  The paramedics found it and kept it safe until they could personally deliver it to its owner.  How that happened amazed everyone, even Robert. He took it as a sign of hope.

From his hospital bed, he assured everyone that he would recover.  Moreover, he insisted that he would be entering a lamb in the upcoming year’s junior show, which was his senior year of high school and last as a member of FFA.  These were bold statements. 

While in the hospital every doctor assured him it would be a tremendous accomplishment to ever walk again, and if he could, Robert would most surely remain in a wheelchair for at least the next six months.  Again, where miracles are concerned, never underestimate the power of inspiration and the determination of the human spirit. 

“We didn’t want to discourage him,” explained Treva.  “But Robert’s injuries were so severe and the odds were not in his favor.  His grandfather and I kept saying ‘honey, we’d love you to show, but you may not be recovered yet.’”

Moreover, she explained to Robert that they didn’t breed their ewes to deliver lambs in time for the show in mid-spring.  “We bred late that year,” she explained.  “But Robert never wavered in his assurance that he would be ready and would take a lamb to that Junior Show the first weekend in May.”

Everyone was out of the hospital by mid-December, including Robert though he was the last to be released.  The severity of everyone’s injuries, by necessity, sent the entire family to Treva and her husband Frank’s home for their long-term recovery.  Robert, who was confined to bed, was set up in the sun room, a converted porch that overlooked the pasture. From his perch, Robert could keep an eye on the hundred or so ewes that comprised his grandparent’s flock of sheep. 

He kept vigil, waiting for his lamb to arrive.  Treva kept apologizing for not having bred any of the ewes sooner.  But of course, the livestock angels had another plan and on the 23rd of December, out of nearly eight dozen ewes, one of them gave birth to a lamb. 

“Well, it was just nothing short of a miracle,” Treva explained with her arms outstretched in exclamation.  “From that day forward Robert continually improved.  It was simply amazing to watch. By February, less than three months after the accident, he was out of his wheelchair and able to attend some classes at school.”

Of course with his injuries, Robert could not last an entire day there.  So, to help him complete his senior year of high school, all of his teachers pitched in.  Often teaching and tutoring him from his hospital bed overlooking the field where his Christmas lamb grew and played.  As he felt better, Robert would feed and care for the lamb, gentling it and preparing it for show ring competition. 

Along with his studies, his Christmas lamb gave him purpose and focus and an ultimate goal to strive for on his road to wellness and recovery.  By that first weekend in May, as I stood with Treva, seeing tears in her eyes and those of her daughter’s, I knew was truly fortunate to witness what I saw.  It was a magical moment, with angel dust sparkling the air around that barn.  There, before us, stood Robert, helped by his younger sister in the show ring.  It was the culmination of a miracle along with determination and hard work on the part of this earnest young man. 

“The recovery he made after that lamb was born was just dramatic,” said Treva. “Robert went from a person who could not even stand – who needed full-time care – to a recovering, walking person.” 

Robert is still healing from his injuries, though doing infinitely better than on the interstate that night. “He’s still not one hundred percent,” Treva explained.  “But we’re hoping that he’ll be back to normal.” 
I often ponder if there is such a thing as “normal” in life.  In one of my all-time favorite movies, Tombstone, Val Kilmer’s character, Doc Holiday, said to his friend Wyatt Earp, played by Kurt Russell, “There is no normal life Wyatt.  There’s just life.  You get on with it.”  And so is Robert after the inspiration of his Christmas lamb. 

Robert’s plans include attending a gunsmith school along with his father.  After the accident, Robert’s dad, a long-haul trucker, decided that life is too precious to be away from those he loves the most.  They will eventually go into business together, in order for this father and son to spend their days with one another. 

“This experience filled us with love, hope and the knowing that there is a higher power inspiring us all,” said Treva. 

“In this case it’s through our animals,” she observed thoughtfully.  “The angels knew we needed this very special Christmas lamb.”

I caught up with Treva just before publishing her story…Here’s what she had to tell me:

We are doing well. I am still very active as you know with Spokane Interstate Fair. My husband and I [still] have a small farm with sheep, and we also own a convenience store/cafe which keeps us way too busy for a couple of old folks. I work part time with WSU teaching nutrition to kids in 3 area schools. (Just have to stay involved with kids!)

My grandson still has many problems which were a result of the auto accident… but helps us out with the sheep and other odd jobs. The rest of the family recovered almost fully. We count our blessings!!

Sincerely, Treva

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