Red High Tops

As I rounded the endcap at Wal-Mart, there they sat:  red canvas high-tops.  Laceups, exactly like the ones Doug bought when sent to buy sturdy shoes to support Sharon’s faltering steps.  His wife loved them.  Their sporty appearance seemed to cheekily say, “Come on!  You can do it!”  They were her emblems of hope; she was ours.  The lessons we learned that year are forever written on our hearts.

We became friends when I, the mother of two toddlers, discovered I was once again pregnant.  Sharon provided support for my bouts of morning sickness.  She became “auntie” to my kids – sitting with them during church services while I played the piano, babysitting while I ran errands and encouraging me in my mothering trials.

When Jenny, the new baby, was only four days old, we bundled her in a blanket and made the 60-mile trip to Denver to be with Sharon while she had an MRI.  The unexplained numbness spreading down the right side of her body was discovered to be a form of spina bifida — undetected since birth.  With the passing years it had degenerated her spine to the point that she needed surgery or would die. The surgeon assured us it was a routine operation.  She could expect to be home a week after surgery.

However, it didn’t go as planned.  In disentangling ganglia from her brainstem, the surgeon had to cut more deeply than he intended thus erasing her motor skills.  In the waiting room we listened to his report. “Will she recover?” Doug inquired steadily.  Not easily upset, he just wanted to know what to expect.  “Of course,” the surgeon assured us, “it just means she will need intensive therapy before she can go home.”

All through the long summer, Sharon stayed at Rose Medical Center, attending therapy sessions several times a day.  Each visit would bring an improvement.  She first learned to control her flailing limbs, then to feed herself, followed by sitting, crawling — the red high-tops laced snugly around wobbly joints.   She’d laugh and say, “Jenny and I are twins, we learned to crawl at the same time.”

Four months after the surgery, she was allowed to go home on the condition that she would return for therapy three days a week.   Doug, a school administrator, had already taken many hours off in order to be with his wife.  With school starting there was much he needed to accomplish to get ready for the upcoming year.  Once September came he couldn’t leave his job three days a week to transport her to the doctor.  There had to be a solution.

I sat in our women’s Bible study the week Sharon went home and laid out their dilemma:  There wasn’t insurance coverage to keep her in the hospital; it had to be outpatient  therapy.  Doug couldn’t transport her three times a week; what could we do?  The Bible is practical, it says, “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it mightily unto the Lord.”  So we did.  We formed a carpool.

If you drew lines between our church, Sharon’s house, and Rose Medical Center, it would create a near perfect equilateral triangle, each side approximately 45 miles long.  On Monday mornings, at 7:30 a.m., with Jenny strapped  into her car seat and three-year-old David in his (leaving behind five-year-old Jana to wait for the bus with Dad), I would head out Highway 105 to Sharon’s house.  Upon arriving, I’d help her into the wheelchair, pulling it awkwardly out the door, over the rocks and tufts that pass for grass in high-altitude Colorado, maneuver her into the front seat, fold up the steel and leather contraption, wrestle it into the trunk, and set out for Denver, another 45 miles away.

Once at the medical center, the kids and I would wait in the waiting room.  If the weather was nice, we’d go to the park or do a little shopping.  At the end of her session, we’d repeat the trip in reverse, arriving back at our house about 2 p.m.  An entire day that exhausted the kids, Sharon, and me, but necessary to her recovery.

John and Mary, a retired couple in the church, made Wednesday their day.  The most faithful of friends, they never missed one week of taking Sharon to therapy.  Upbeat and optimistic, they provided a lot of encouragement when progress seemed slow.  On Friday, Karen, a home-schooling mom, and her three children did the trip.  The kids practiced times tables or spelling in the car and continued lessons in the waiting room during Sharon’s sessions.

Whenever regulars had other commitments there was an assortment of friends to step in.  Sherrie or Donna was happy to pinch hit.  A second Karen took over halfway through the year when home-schooling Karen needed a break.   By hook or crook, we saw that Sharon got her therapy.

We shared in all her firsts:  First time standing alone, first steps, first time fixing dinner for her family.  The first Sunday she returned to church was a milestone for our congregation.  Doug wheeled her up the stairs and down the main aisle, the high-tops peeking demurely from under the edge of the lap quilt.  We stood and cheered; exuberantly congratulating ourselves for the part we had played in her recovery thus far.  As the months progressed and she got stronger, the sessions were reduced to two days a week, then one day.

One long hard year later, she was finished.  Every time I see Sharon walk, I am reminded of loyal friends who stood staunchly beside her, putting aside their own pursuits for a year to help her regain her life.  I see in living color, love in action: the growth of a church body that learned when a member is hurting, we all hurt, and in order to be whole, we all must engage in the healing process.

[Reprinted by permission from The Pastor’s Wife newsletter]

One Reply to “Red High Tops”

  1. I really needed to read this today. It makes me stop and see what authentic community in a church body actually looks like. Now THIS is fellowship! Thanks for expanding on what little I remember of this time…

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