It is my honor to introduce you to two living miracles, my sister Tiffany and my niece Raegan. Tiffany and Raegan are thriving against all odds.
My sister has given permission to share this story, and my parents have given their blessing as well. If you start reading this post, I suggest reading to the end to ensure you hear the story in its entirety, but warn you it is much longer than any blog post I ever intend to write! Here, I attempt to reduce a six-year story, (originally documented by me in a raw, unedited, 200-page single-spaced document) into a readable blog post. When I first started writing this post, I spent hours crafting sentences to summarize ugly details of the first half of the story. While referring back to my journal and writing about the events of December 2007, I couldn’t endure the raw pain, couldn’t relive the unbelievable details of that month, couldn’t believe what I was reading in my journal actually happened, couldn’t bear to lay out for the entire world the worst moments of our lives. I just couldn’t bring myself to put it all out there. I am confident I have been called to share the story, but for now I must omit details and summarize the events of those six years as simply and with as much heart as possible. It is my desire that you will see this is ultimately a miraculous story of triumph over extreme pain and suffering.
It is difficult to know how to begin to tell the story that forever changed my life. The events that occurred with my sister over the course of six years impacted my family in ways I never, ever want to experience again. To retell the story means to open my heart, make myself vulnerable, bring to the surface feelings of desperation and helplessness, to put myself, my family, and my sister at risk for criticism and judgment. However, it is impossible to deny that God performed miracles in my sister’s life, so I feel compelled to tell everyone the story no matter how much it hurts to recall the details, no matter how much I want to hide it away and never talk or think about it ever again. I share the raw and real details of these worst of life’s trials in an effort to help you realize that God is still in the business of performing miracles, and that joy and healing are available to everyone regardless of their particular set of circumstances.
Let me step back and tell you a little about my sister before the chaos and destruction began. Tiffany…daughter of public school teachers, my younger sister, sister to our “baby” brother, blonde, beautiful, part of the popular crowd in high school, participated in band and choir, worked at a renowned resort where she earned large tips waiting tables, graduated from high school with honors, given a large scholarship from Minnesota Broadcasting Association, graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in communications, and held professional jobs the first two years after graduating from college.
And then it all came crashing down…the snares of addiction and mental illness were about to trap my sister.
Herein lies my sister’s six-year journey from June 2004 through July 2010 and just a taste of its impact on me and my family, told in as few words as possible…
Quit her job in Minnesota, moved to Los Angeles to attend fashion school, dropped out within weeks, family unaware. Spent thousands of loan money. Experienced a crash due to drug use, let homeless people in her apartment who trashed it and robbed her, claimed she was being chased by men and was going to be killed.
Entire family flew to Los Angeles in attempt to coerce her to come home. Venice Beach, homeless, theatrics, people claiming to be Jesus Christ and the “real” Christopher Robin, momentary show for tourists but real life for us. No thrill of Hollywood here. Walking ahead, running, chasing for one week. Let it Be. Heart-wrenching and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to coerce. Left her in Los Angeles in very poor condition.
Crashed again due to drug use, family convinced her to fly home to Minnesota, drugs coming out of eyes, hospitalized until stable.
Back in Los Angeles, crashed in drug-induced psychosis, driven back to Minnesota by mom.
Seven person, seven hour intervention in Minnesota, difficult to tell if psychosis due to mental illness or drugs, emergency room, hospitalized for two weeks. Chemical dependency rehab, diagnosis of bipoloar disorder, began medications.
Suicide attempt via overdose, hospitalized, outpatient chemical rehabilitation, stabilized with medications.
Another suicide attempt via overdose, hospitalized in intensive care for three days and nearly died, seven additional weeks in the hospital, back on medication, frontal lobe damage, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Prayer requests abundant.
Ward of the state, monitored by nurse and social worker for months.
No longer ward of the state, suicidal, emergency room, discharged and diagnosed as having “insomnia” and told “get some therapy for her drug use.”
Back to Los Angeles in apartment, an extra in TV shows and movies, healthy and productive for three months.
Living in commune, psychotic, not reachable. Did not recognize our dad. Hospitalized four days, back on medications, psychotic again just as dad was trying to bring her home, Christmas presents in the rain. On drugs, kicked out of commune, homeless in Los Angeles. Missing for two days then shows up at commune intoxicated, fight, police. Hospitalized again for five days, discharged. Bill collectors calling. Family in turmoil trying to figure out how to get her home, calls to say she wants to come home, mom flies to Los Angeles, mom drives her home to Minnesota.
Car repossessed. Suicidal, hospitalized three days.
Dysfunctional, confrontational, argumentative, moved in with boyfriend.
Brother in accident & hospitalized for a week, going downhill fast, given medication, scenarios that felt like episodes of the “Twilight Zone.”
Moved back home, talking non-stop for two hours, hospitalized, diagnosis changed to schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.
Tells sister she is pregnant, tells mom she is pregnant, tells dad and brother she is pregnant, family devastated, appointments, ultrasound, fights, not sharing due date.
Visit to emergency room, discharged because “not suicidal” and “not needing immediate medical attention.”
Considering adoption, arguments, searching,15 weeks into the pregnancy.
Arrested, on 72-hour hold, mom visits social services offices, court hearing Christmas Eve morning, ultrasound indicated she is having a girl, ordered to lock-down facility, packing for long stay, parents fighting, family in upheaval. All during Christmas and New Years, just as two years prior.
Ultrasound revealed mass in baby’s lung, mass pushing other organs out of place, appointments with specialists made, dad with stress and rare lung disease moved to another state.
No longer considering adoption, confusion, arguments.
Appointments with perinatal specialists, soul damaging conversations, messed up relationships, court ordered and transferred to different facility in metro closer to hospitals and perinatal specialists.
Yelling, arguing, disrespect. More appointments with perinatal specialists, cardiologists, baby diagnosed with biggest Congenital Cystic Adenomatoid Malformation (CCAM) they’ve ever seen, baby’s lungs might not have room to form enough so baby can survive, baby might not have enough lung to ventilate or keep baby alive. Tears. Devastation.
Heads swimming, more ultrasounds, appointments with surgeons and perinatal specialists.
Special pass granted for pregnancy photo shoot arranged by me, one normal joy of pregnancy. Living with no regrets.
Agitated, leaving facility without permission, on lock-down.
Appointment with surgical director, team of doctors, review of baby’s case on weekly basis, surgical options reviewed, mass has remained stable in size.
Accusations, tears, insecurities, distrust.
Baby registry, preparing for the unknown, rejection.
Fighting, phone calls, tears, anger, perceived failure, dysfunction, longing for normalcy.
Ultrasound, stress test, perinantal specialist appointment, social worker, mass in baby’s lungs still stable.
Another appointment. yelling, more feelings of “Twilight Zone,” unhappiness.
Released from facility to visit my house. Chatter, disturbances, opening and closing of doors, intense words peaking, disrespect, accusations, back to the facility we go.
Phone call, has not slept for two nights, in poor condition, brought to emergency room, admitted to hospital, praying for peace and God’s will. Tears, exhaustion, frustration, regret, longings. Fear of failing. Asked us to consider adopting baby. Doing better. Discharged. No longer considering adoption.
More appointments. Preparing for birth in hospital where there is better equipment for delivery and baby with special medical needs. Discussion of c-sections, MRIs, heart-lung bypass machines. Told “there is nothing sure with this baby.”
Confusion. Compromise. Pastoral promises of a better future in eternity with God, suffering will seem like a blip in time compared with glory of eternity we will spend with Him.
More doctor appointments, mass same size, heart moving to left where it belongs.
Heated discussions. Accusations.
Baby shower in the facility. Expectations adjusted, this is real life at this moment. Kind women. Humbled.
Five appointments at the hospital. Feelings of neglect, mean words, more dysfunction. Laughing at inappropriate times, paranoid. All preparing for worst-case scenarios.
More doctor appointments. Baby’s mass appears to be reducing in size.
Mental health declining, inappropriate comments, laughing, humming, singing, talking, manipulating objects inappropriately. Deteriorating, wondering.
Praying and reciting Philippians…“Do not be anxious about anything…” Overwhelmed. Needing resolution.
Claiming the baby’s mass has disappeared. I heard reduction, not disappearance.
Staff in facility no longer able to provide care needed. Asked me to bring her to the hospital, emergency room. Agitated, crying, trying but unable to reason. Passage from Matthew about healing. Admitted to hospital. Agitated, asked me to leave.
Told she will be in hospital until baby’s birth. Transferred from one unit to another.
Frustrations, hurts, boundaries set.
Arguing disappearance of mass vs. reduction in size of mass. Persistence from both sides. Me feeling crazy, knowing I did not hear wrong. Lack of trust. Setting boundaries.
Preparing for baby, yet still a possibility the baby might not live.
Perspective, boundaries. Fatigue. Fights. Fear. Accusations, misunderstanding. Not feeling heard or understood by anyone; one, Kelly.
Still in hospital, baby overdue. Family fights, feelings of inadequacy.
Prayers. Lots of prayers.
Induction. Unexpectedly, me as birth partner. Mom on the side longing to be closer. Demands, panic, escalation. Two doctors, mental health assistant, three nurses, staff waiting for baby. Forcepts, vacuum. Raegan was born!
Three nurses to baby’s table, baby to special cares nursery with me, mom stayed as post delivery companion, blood analysis, x-ray, monitors, neonatologist. x-ray showed there was a good sized cloudy white mass on lung.
Another x-ray and CT scan for baby. Surgery for mass removal scheduled three days after birth.
Disrespect. Guards up. Boundaries need to be set. Nurses strike adds to dysregulation.
Private baptism. New mom discharged. Radiologist and surgeons met, baby’s mass bigger and more complicated than originally thought. Going to remove entire upper left lung lobe.
Baby transferred to NICU. Insecurities. Pre-op, baby in isolette. Surgery, upper left lung removed successfully!
Protection vs. paranoia.
Two living at hospital for days, one getting a needed break. Baby on oxygen and ventilator. Unfounded beliefs. Accusations of selfishness. Confusion.
Baby fully recovered. Baby discharged. Drove home, baby and new mom living with our mom. Dad still living out of state. Regrets. Anger. Marital discord. Deadlines created. Exhaustion.
Propping up and enabling vs. supporting. More discord. Crying.
Weekly home visits for baby by nurse. Very little sleep. Pacing. Confusion and clarification of identities and roles. Control. Psychiatrist appointment, new medication.
Visit to the house. “Take her.” Wild goose chase to AA meeting. Break time. Mom overworked and stressed, very alone, crying, red face. Drove away, helpless.
Baby shower discussions. Guilt, principle, confusion, longings vs. reality, too much to process. Grateful for others stepping in.
Accused as paparazzi. Argumentative, isolated from baby. Losing energy. Artificial deadline looming.
Break needed, unexpected request to come and take baby for a week or two. Urgency, prayers, phone calls to in-laws, phone calls to mom to verify need. Plan for next day. Baby sleeping peacefully. New mom with mom. Phone call, “major problems here.” In and out, lethargic sounding, pottery broken, crisis in the background. Offer to come now for baby. Baby still sleeping peacefully. Calm after the storm. More phone calls. Verify plan for next day. Husband makes trip for baby. Baby at our house for one week. Contact nurse to communicate temporary transfer of care at new mom’s request. Many calls from new mom to check on baby.
Series of last minute unfortunate events leads new mom missing baby shower. The show must go on. Drive baby to shower. I’m not mom. Old friends. Gratitude. Grace. Forever a memory.
Blankets and onesies prepared for arrival back home. Missing baby. Baby transfer. Met half way. Wandering, wondering. Baby back home in mom’s arms.
Ongoing discord. “God, I lift this to you.”
Visit. Things are good. Haven’t seen her like that for six years…
You might be asking, so that’s it? That’s the end of the story? Yes and no. That is the end of my sister’s six-year saga of trauma that forever changed the lives of every individual in our family.
I choose to view this story as one in which humans were brought to their very end, not once, but on multiple occasions. As humans, we had done all we could do, tried as hard as we could try, worked as hard as we could work, tapped all the resources we could tap. It was during the moments that we were at our very end, that the only hope, the only option that was left, was to pray and leave it in God’s hands. God saved my sister’s life and brought her restoration, not once, but on multiple occasions. This is truly a miracle. Not only did God save my sister’s life, but he also saved the life of my little niece Raegan. Humans, very educated ones, told us repeatedly over the course of months that little Raegan may not survive. Humans were preparing for the worst (possible death), while God knew all along that Raegan was going to be here on earth to live a great, divinely inspired life of her own, but also to bring my sister real hope, love, a reason to live, and promise for a better future for our family.
This month marks two years of my sister’s health! Tiffany has been virtually drug and alcohol free for two years, and with the help of a good psychiatrist, has found a medication that is working very well to control her schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany and Raegan live in Minnesota in the same city as my dad and mom who provide her and Raegan with a strong support system and love. Tiffany and Raegan have their own apartment, and they spend a chunk of every day at my parents’ home. Life is certainly not perfect, although is it for any of us? Raegan has a clean bill of health and just celebrated her second birthday. Raegan’s dad, paternal grandfather, uncle, aunt, cousins & great aunt love Raegan and are a part of her life as well. My parents (married 39 years this summer), although torn apart and very close to the end of the road through this ordeal, are now back together in Minnesota and have been navigating a path back to marital health. I am so proud that they managed to walk through this trauma, and wish them a lifelong marriage that they so deserve. I have been blessed with the sister I missed those six years, a beautiful niece who has brought joy to our lives, and the freedom to do what I needed to do to enhance my own well being, including pregnancy and birth of our third child and following my dreams to write.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that I believe with all of my heart that my sister is living for a reason. I believe she is meant to do something awesome with her life. Maybe it is as simple as being an example of a miracle for those who doubted, maybe it is as simple as being a great mom to Raegan. Perhaps she can use her passions to start a tie-dye business, or maybe God wants her to volunteer at Teen Challenge and become a mentor. Could it be possible that God wants her to tell her story to youth and families, to share hope with people who struggle with mental illness and addiction? Maybe God wants her to go back to the streets of Venice Beach and reach out to those in need. I do not know what it is, but God knows.
Finally, although Tiffany is not currently dating anyone, I want to say to any of her future suitors…do not be overly afraid of my sister’s story. Yes, it might be scary to hear what has transpired in her past, but you have the opportunity to date a real, live miracle. God thinks Tiffany is special. God thinks she is worthy. God thinks her life is precious. And I hope you think she is precious too. I hope you love her and care for her from the depths of your heart, that you see Tiffany for who she is and not what she has experienced, or what labels she has been given by humans. God has labeled her as special, precious child. Love her, care for her, cherish her, empower her to grow and use her life, lift her up, treat her with respect and dignity, and do not be afraid. You have the opportunity to fall in love with one of God’s miracles.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I can honestly say that I am feeling good about myself right now. I love my family and have so many wonderful friends. We are now working on my anxiety and independence. I’m working on making a life not out of worry. Working on staying positive. I learn more about myself every day. I always jeopardize good feelings by thinking of something negative. Why do I do that? Seeing myself as beautiful. I’m beautiful and I have reasons to live. I need to tell myself that more often. Life can be good. I have reasons to live. I am loved. My heart is big, and I’m a friendly person. I am more than just a face. That is what this message is all about, and it feels good.
I told my psychiatrist how I wish that my mental illness would just go away. It’s the constant conversations that stop in only at times. I can’t fall back, ever! I have to stick with a routine and be the person people know I can be. It’s tough at times, but I must stay strong. DO NOT FALL! For years, I was trying so hard to prove that I was successful. I did not want to give up on my lifestyle. I had to give up that past lifestyle to begin to be the true person that I was meant to be. I am happy now without the drugs and numerous relationships. My new life has been a time of self discovery. I know that the right opportunities will come around if I stay strong and true to myself.
The reasons to live are so powerful and real. So good! Life is wonderful. There are so many beautiful people in this world. We should enjoy what we have. I feel that the only true feelings come when there is a love for what you’re doing. That love may come and go, but you have to cherish it while it’s there. To never give up on what’s there. We have to enjoy each moment. I used to just live. Now I am living for a purpose.
UPDATES AND ADDITIONAL POSTS ABOUT MY SISTER ON THIS BLOG: