Turning Disasters into Timeless Memories

They say there are two things we can be certain about in this life: death and taxes. Well, I don’t know who “they” are, but “they” left out a bunch of stuff . . . by a long shot.

Last month we spent a weekend away celebrating my son Jon’s 21st birthday. Jon has numerous disabilities, and my definition of a normal life dramatically changed 21 years ago. At first, the challenges and changes left me feeling lost and terrified.

Nothing was certain anymore. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and now 21 years later, confusion has been replaced by continued growth in confidence and certainty.

In fact, Jon’s birthday weekend offers a fantastic picture of what life has been like in raising Jon. That weekend, a few things went as planned, but a lot of things happened we didn’t expect and couldn’t control.

It was wild! In reflection, the ups and downs are what made it a memory we won’t forget. Count on this . . . life unfolds as we never expect.

Unplanned and Unexpected

Jon looks forward to his birthday about as much as most people look forward to the return of Christ. However, due to his disabilities, trying to have a delightful celebration takes a ton of planning and creative execution. Since I’ve been at this for 21 years, surely everything would go as planned . . .

. . . or so I thought.

The plan was to stay at a lakeside Airbnb. A weekend in the water, playing games, and ordering food worked for everyone. My husband and I made a deal with Jon’s older siblings as well; we were given one night to ourselves in return for renting jet skis. Deal!

Prior to the family arriving, the first 24 hours of Toban’s and my time together were stellar. We were like teenagers who had been given keys to a race car. Three hours on a jet ski zipping all over the lake was priceless.

We delighted in dining quietly by the pool, taking care of renting stuff, laughing, and resting before the gang arrived. Things couldn’t have been more perfect!

The day arrived, Jon’s birthday. All seven of us walked onto the dock for jet skiing at 9:00 am. Like kids at Disneyland, we hopped on those things and sped off. However, the events that followed were NOT planned.

We rented three jet skis for seven adults, thinking three people on one jet ski wouldn’t be all that rough. Evidently we thought wrong. On one jet ski, my daughter and daughter-in-law were in first and second position.

Clinging for dear life, I brought up the rear.

Image from Pixabay

The next hour was full of hitting wakes and whipping around like a wet sock in a washing machine. After an hour, I needed a break. Jon said he was seasick and needed to go to the bathroom. When you’re on a lake 30 minutes from the dock, number-two has to wait.

We headed to an area for cliff jumping so Jon could rest on the rocks while others jumped off a 30-foot drop. I was climbing mid-cliff when I saw Jon—who is NOT a great climber—making his way up the rock face.

After I plunged into the water, I yelled over a bazillion other people. Sore all over from the three-story plummet, I swam to shore to rescue Jon from the side of the cliff only to hear my older son Austin splat on the surface of the water.

He apparently landed wrong and thought he had busted an ear drum because he couldn’t hear and said his head was full of water. We needed a medic, a chiropractor, and a bathroom . . . immediately.

It’s hard to find these resources in the middle of a huge lake, so I gathered the gang and said we were D O N E! Clambering onto the back of my husband’s jet ski, Jon between us, I took third row hoping to help Jon keep his balance.

Now, my husband is not a small man; he is a 6’2” bodybuilder, strong and thick. Balancing a jet ski on rough waters with three exhausted adults is an impossible task, but we had no choice.

At 35 miles an hour, I stood up to shift my balance just as Jon lost his grip. I lunged to grab him when our jet ski hit a huge wake. Like dominos, I slammed against Jon who slammed against my husband who could do nothing but brace his arms and try to balance. Last thing I remember was three bodies flipping over the jet ski and into the lake.

I whacked my head on something hard, then flailed my way to the surface. Bursting for air, I noticed my husband’s silence after learning that Jon’s brand-new glasses had flown off into the murky depths.

My head hurt, my back ached, and I was mad at my husband for hitting the wake without warning us (as if that was possible).

We got to the dock looking like washed up sea animals. Austin still couldn’t hear, Jon had a migraine, and my husband was silent. I assumed he was mad, which made me mad too.

Then I discovered that the hard thing my head hit in the water was Toban’s ribs—a few of which were now cracked. No one talked much at lunch. This was Jon’s 21st birthday BASH . . . which had fallen apart in under two hours.

Reframed Response to the Unplanned

Twenty-one years ago, I would have said, “What a waste . . . all this time and money down the stupid drain.” In my discomfort, I would have focused on Jon’s endless needs, Austin’s ear issues, my husband’s broken ribs, my bruised body—how their struggles interrupted my plans for fun—and me, Me, ME!!!

It was tragic to let such an attitude affect our trip; years ago I would have spiraled downward like a spoiled brat.

There were other challenges that could have sucked the fun out of Jon’s birthday celebration 21 years ago, too, but we’ve learned a lot through our challenges.

Family Fun
Image from Pixabay

Death and taxes are certain, as are the following truths I’ve learned in raising my son with disabilities.

  1. Something unexpected will happen to every person in life. The unexpected isn’t the problem; it’s our response to the unexpected that matters most.
  2. Life is going to whip us around like a wet sock in the wash; those who have grit and struggle through end up stronger and more resilient.
  3. There will always be someone who needs help balancing and holding on. Are you willing to step in, slow down, shift, and adjust? We learn the most when helping others.
  4. New events seem insurmountable. Climb the cliff one step at a time. Ask for help when needed.
  5. Sometimes we land harder than we thought. We splat and make a mess. Learning how to recover and jump again is key.
  6. Like losing new glasses, some lessons are expensive. The cost is far less than the experience gained. Calm down and move on.
  7. Everyone has pain whether we see it or not. We’re surrounded by broken bones and broken souls. Be kind and gentle with everyone you encounter every day.
  8. Blaming others for what didn’t work as you planned leads to pointless anger. Learn to solve problems by asking what you can do now.

Let Me Hear from You

We can count on death and taxes always. What we must remember is that our confidence is found in Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.Very few people are given the life they planned for; however, we are all offered a life to surrender to Jesus.

Let’s connect this week about how you can find ways to celebrate your life in the midst of unexpected challenges.

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