Monday, December 1, 2014

Strongholds, Spaghetti, and a Savior

One white Christmas tree. That's all it takes for everything to hit in full force. It's been nearly 17 years since I had a white Christmas tree. The last one will forever hold a special place in my heart.

I was three years old and we had arrived home with our real tree (everyone is normally using artificial trees these days, including ours. Such a shame really). I was so excited, I loved our Christmas tree. Dad got it all set up: stand, skirt, water, all the fixings. Then he pulled these cans out of this white bag and asked if I like snow. It gets a little cloudy, but the next memory I have is of being really high up. Dad is holding me and I'm sitting almost on his shoulder. There is white snow everywhere, and our tree is beginning to be more white than green. My laughter and his laughter mixing is what I remember more than anything. His rich, boisterous laugh that would make anyone else laugh too. The head-rearing, beautiful laughter that only comes from true joy. That's all I remember from my man-made snow night. Love and laughter. 

Flash-forward to November 30, 2014. I am home with my little people, Lauren, Alexis, and Cody, my siblings. Mom's out visiting a friend. Its a Sunday night and everything is cozy and just feels like home. I'm in the kitchen making turkey spaghetti, Cody's sitting on the counter visiting with me about his weekend, the girls are cackling like two hens in the living room. It suddenly dawns on me. I remember the white Christmas tree that Mom and Dad had bought on clearance after last Christmas. I leave Cody to stirring the sauce, and I hustle my way outside to get the tree from the shed. Lugging it into the living room, I call for all my siblings to come help me. Before I know it, we are all trying to get this artificial, snow covered tree situated in our living room. I hurry to the kitchen to stir my sauce, and I hear it. That care-free, loving, happy laughter that only comes from total happiness. And it's coming straight from my three siblings. Lu, Lex, and Codyman are everything that Dad was. I hear the tone of his voice, the teasing jests, the love. I'm overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment. 

I won't lie to you. I miss my dad more than a simple blog post could ever describe. I miss the way the gold flecks in his eyes would dance when he was happy. I miss the casual way he would wink at me when I was getting a lecture form mom. I miss every single on of his, at-the-time, repetitive lectures. I miss the way we use to play phone-tag. I miss calling him about classes. I miss his loud boisterous laugh that made me feel like I actually could say something funny. I miss him telling me that my brown eyes were beautiful...with a tad bit of mascara. I miss the way he would hug me so tight that my jaw would pop. I miss how he would cover me up with a blanket when I feel asleep reading a novel. I miss him making me watch those tear-jerking classics. I miss him crying with me in them. I miss him telling me goodnight, every single night. 

There are countless things, situations, hugs that I miss, but in that one moment with my siblings I realized that there is a part of him in each one of us. Although he is physically gone, there is something about each one of his kids that will always be him. 

I know the holidays are going to be difficult for a lot of different people in a variety of ways. Thanksgiving was its own unusual day, and Christmas will be like that this year too. All of the firsts will be difficult, and that is okay. As Matthew West (singer, songwriter) says, "I'm not strong enough to be everything that I'm supposed to be, I give up. I'm not strong enough, hands of mercy won't you cover me. Lord right now, I'm asking you to be strong enough, strong enough, for both of us." And the beautiful part of that, is that God is completely and totally strong enough for everything. If we give our lives, our bodies, our minds, then we armed with everything that we need in Him. He'll bring us through to a better day. He'll bring light to the darkness. He'll bring love in the midst of anger. He'll bring faith in a day of doubt. I encourage everyone to give their moments of hardships, sadness, difficulties, and doubts to our Great Creator and let Him be strong enough for both of you.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Looking Around

Hi everyone! It's been a little difficult to write the next part of my story. Lets be honest, it has been a lot difficult considering I can't remember it very well. I can't remember the details of the three hour conversation that Steve and I had. I can't even remember the first words he said to me. I can't remember all of the different things the other men were saying. I can't remember what all they tried to do to get me out. 

But I can remember the feeling of safety. I can remember and to this day still feel the safety in Steve's voice. The safety I knew I was going to get to. I can remember the darkness.The darkness of the walls. The darkness of the water. The oil seeping into my skin, my hair, my lungs. I can remember the feelings. The hope. The tangible assurance in Steve's voice that God had provided a way of surviving. Of being rescued from my dark, watery compartment. I remember the cautionary way he warned me of all the noise once help had arrived. I can remember the screeching of the metal being cut. The tattoo on the left elbow of one of the fireman, the pendant on the others necklace. I can remember being lifted up, and breathing fresh air. 

So many hands holding me secure. Someone taking and saying they would hold onto my little piece of metal. With my legs pulled up to my chest, my eyes remained forward and I looked at our shrimp boat. As the men continued to talk and make whatever kind of transportation arrangements they needed, I watched the water lap over the white letters "Mr. Anthony." Looking up, I recognized the red, white, and blue colors of my grandfather's shrimp boat. Making out three silhouettes, I remember pointing and calling out, "Thats my pawpaw. There he is!" Then it hit me. 

The white clouds were gone. The rain had cleared. A deep, blue, the sky was a clear looking glass. The water was absolutely calm. Silently still. A lingering yellowy, orange light told me it was getting to be that perfect time of the day. My favorite time of the day. The moments of the day when the heat had dissipated and it had finally cooled off enough to go throw the softball around, or work on my swing in the backyard. The kind of summer weather where my hair didn't explode into a curly, frizzy mass--well not too badly anyway haha :)

My favorite memories with my dad happened during this perfect early evening stage of the the day. My first deer I shot was during an evening hunt. My first softball practice, game, tournament. Daddy was always one of my favorite and least favorite coach. He'd push me so hard, that I would end up beyond annoyed and ready to just swing my bat at him instead of the softball. Yet, even later when he wasn't coaching me, he was my biggest supporter. Sometimes he was the only parent in the stands, and my teammates loved him all the more for it. Anyways, back to looking around.

From the moment they put me on the next boat and strapped me into the protective seat, I can remember every single person's name. Steve said that my senses were extremely enhanced due to the accident, but even a month later, I feel like they still are. People say near-death experiences make you appreciate life more. Sure, that's true. But what those people really don't understand is what it means to look around more. To notice the things you never thought as relevant before. On the boat ride to the dock where the ambulance was waiting, I remember watching a lone seagull glide through the sky. Just a casual seagull. No big deal. Not like I hadn't seen THOUSANDS of seagulls before in my life. However, this was different. I noticed the way it turned its head from side to side as it was choosing a landing spot. As it settled itself down with poise on a tall piling. I will never forget that sight. 

And in the days since the accident. Walking on campus, driving around town, eating dinner with friends, watching the kids get ready for school in the mornings, laughing with my mom. All of the normal, everyday activities that I have done for years, all seem different now, I notice so much more. Details. My mind is often unfocused as it skims from one little detail to the next. Its as if all of my "spidey" senses are completely on point 24/7. I get lost in the scene of things. And I love it. I love thanking God for the little specific things. I love recognizing and giving God those little "I see what you did there, and I love it" moments. 

Yes, I appreciate life more. I am more than grateful for what I have been given. But I don't see it as just an appreciation that I have for the gift of life. I see it as a recognition of the life I have been given. Maybe its the fact that I was in almost total darkness for nearly four hours, that now my eyes have become so enraptured with the colors of the world we live in. Maybe its just my way of "appreciating." Maybe its just that I have always noticed nature, and I am more than grateful that I can continue to experience it. Maybe its a combination of these things. But even now, as I look around at the quiet study hall I am sitting in, I believe that the biggest thing I have learned from the accident, is that we should all look around more. Truly observe the world we live in. Recognize the life we have been give. And find your joy in it. Find a joy in everything. Find the joy that God meant for you to experience in this breathtaking world He has created. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15;13

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Light as Seen Through a Bilge Pump

Screams ripped through my abdomen. Water rushed through the hole I just came through. Where was I? I could hear the rain echoing off the side of the boat. It was so dark. Smelly. So much oil. I could feel it seeping into my clothes. Wait, my shirt was gone. It must have hung on a nail when the boat flipped and I tried to get to the surface. I whipped my body round and round. Looking for light. Looking for a hole. Looking for the hatch. I took the side of my hand and swung my best swing. The kind that sucked in your chest and made your breath go whoosh though your lungs. I continued to bang on all four walls. Kicking my feet, I noticed a throb starting in my left shin. A deep ache that made my toes tingle. 

"Dadddddyyyyy, SAAAAVVVEE MEEE!" I still hear my own screams in my sleep. When I'm in a quiet room. When I'm alone for more than four or five minutes. Showers are hard; I hear the water falling against the walls and the curtains and am reminded of the rain I could hear falling from inside the hull. I just recently was able to shower with the curtain closed. Towels used to cover the floor as I relished being able to see light and an escape route while water touched my body. Touched my memories. My screams will be something I live with for years to come. I will never forget them. I don't want to. 

I remember the pain I felt in my throat as I realized fumes burned my lungs. I didn't care. I continued to scream. Over and over again. My cries overpowered the sound of water rushing into the boat and the rain. I continued to bang. I thought of the drumline of the band as they used to walk down the hall signaling a pep rally with the heavy banging of their drums. It was a deep bong, bong, bong that continued to reverberate through me.

I touched every inch of the walls around me. With my back to the hole I came through ( being the floor of the cabin), I faced unknowingly the starboard side of the bottom of daddy's boat. My eyes began to adjust. My left contact was gone and I could feel it swelling. Small cut directly on the crease. I didn't think twice about it. I started to do an assessment of my injuries. Eye swollen, lip busted and swollen, leg sore, and hands bruising from banging. I suddenly realized that there was glitter. Sprinkling around me. Reflecting over the pieces of metal the bobbed in the small space. 

Light! There was light! I looked up and saw a 4-5 inch long, 1.5 inches wide plastic tube. Opaque in color, the tube had a small glow of light. It was made of heavy plastic. The end was clamped with a cloth-like piece. I wrapped my hands around and pulled. Twisted. Pushed. Hit. Bent. Yanked. Wrenched. Tore. Heaved. Jerked. I put every inch of my muscles into moving that tubing to get to the light. And it didn't even budge. I was frantic. My strength wasn't enough. I was frustrated.

I yelled at God to save me. To please save me. To help me think. Help me get out of here. In between cries to God, I yelled for my daddy. I kept pushing my self down into the water and debris to find a hatch. To find an opening to the surface. Items began to float up and fill my space. I got distracted by the little reflection of the pipe light glittering off of metal. I reached out numerous times thinking that it was an opening to the surface, but my hand always connected with metal. I felt like Merida from the Disney cartoon movie, Brave, following the will-o-wisps. Except mine weren't leading me to safety, but to more darkness. Despair. 

To my left was wall one. Directly in front was wall two. To my right, wall three, and behind me, the entrance to the cabin floor was wall four. Wall number one had particle board covering it. I wrenched the boards away looking for a hole. Tore fingernails and skin. I would have broken bones to find a hole behind those boards. 

I stopped and told myself to think. Sabrina you know this boat like the back of your hand. Your daddy's taught you a lot about this boat. Think about where you could be. The front boat has a hatch to the surface. There is a connecting opening between the cabin entrance to the engine room and the opening in the front of the if boat. 

I suddenly registered that Cody was screaming my name. CODDDDYYYYY. My cries changed instantly. I began beating on the boat again. Screeching his name. He was closer. He was right there. I could hear him walking on the boat; his footsteps echoing lightly. Watching the light, waiting for him to just pull whatever the tube was out and devise a plan on how to get to me free. Abruptly all of the light vanished. My heart stopped. My stomach twisted. My chest seized. Shrieking I told him not to block the light, I'm right here, don't take away the light. Instantly the light was back and Cody was speaking to me. "Sabrina the boat is filling up with water, you have to get out. You have to swim to the hatch in the front of the boat. You have to get there. The boat is filling up with water." I frantically cried to him that I didn't know which way the front of the boat was. 

Back to the walls, wall number 3 was solid until about the middle of my thigh and towards my hips. Then there was an opening that I could put the end of my legs in. I kept kicking my legs inside feeling to see if I could find a hatch. To find the opening. Cody kept telling me to swim to his voice. I yelled that I was in a compartment, there wasn't any way out but the way I came in. ( Plus, if you, the reader, don't already know this, I'm partially deaf in my right ear. Locating noises is not one of my strong points. At all.) I yelled this to cody over and over again. So he told me to follow the sound of him hitting the boat. "BANG BANG BANG" the noise reverberated through my compartment. The boat is thirty-six tons of metal, all Cody's banging did was echo through my head and body. 

He was so calm, and I was so frantic. I kept asking him where Dad was. Where he came out at. Cody kept saying "I don't know Sabrina, I don't see him yet. You have to get out. You have to swim to the hatch. The boat is filling up with water." The peace in his voice was so calming. He was so calm. How was he so calm. How could he be? I pushed myself down to the opening in wall number three and went as far as my feet could go and felt nothing. I began to push myself up when I felt the rope maliciously wrap around my throat. I couldn't get it loose. I wanted to scream but was still holding my breath. I thought "Okay God, I think I'm coming to see you. I gave this life a good try but at least I know where I'm going." I continued to struggle and felt the last bits of my lungs giving way. Arms flopping around for something to pull me up-feet kicking to find something to push off of. Nothing was working. Then suddenly there was air. I was spitting diesel, oil, and muck from my mouth and my lungs, but I was breathing air. I did not know how. I didn't know how I got back up. 

The rain had quieted down. I called to Cody, " Codyman, I love you so much. I don't think I'm getting out of here okay? But I love you so so much." "Sabrina I love you too, but you are getting out of this boat. Now hush and swim to the hatch. Now." He was still so calm. I pulled my hands up to grab the plastic tube again. Except my wrists were wrapped in sewing twine for the net. Burning and cutting into my flesh, I looked at the two pieces of green twine wrapping my wrists. 

Which one was loudest? What if I cut my wrist and bled out instead of screamed for air as Cody listened? What would be the easiest death for him to hear/witness? It took about 3 seconds for me to say, "but what if Daddy and Cody get to me and I'm already dead. There's still a chance. I am not doing this." 

I tore the twine off of my wrists and began talking to God. I don't know if many of you know but since last August I have struggled with depression. A deeply rooted, twisted depression that tries to steal the joy from the life I love. The pain of losing two friends to suicide, one in March and one in August, was so profound  that I struggled with my anger at God. Then another friend passed away in October. I finally broke down in November of 2013 and admitted to my parents that I was struggling. I had found a good outlet to help me, volunteering as a mentor to high school students. It was during a volunteering event that I knew, I needed help. I loved God and I wanted to live for Him, but I was angry. I was mad. I was frustrated. All feelings that I had never possessed towards God before.  

In the bottom of that boat, I broke the last piece of my anger away and told Him how sorry I was. How much I loved Him. That my life is Yours. Do what you want. At peace with my decision, I tried to swim back into the cabin to see if I could find an opening. It was then that I felt something solid, but soft push against my left arm and left leg. I reached for it, thinking it was a person, maybe they were trying to pull me out. But as I reached, the thing floated out of my reach and I pulled myself back into my compartment. I blocked the idea that it was daddy out of my mind and focused on Cody's voice and getting out. I scoured the walls, looking for an opening. Crying out to God for the hatch. I broke away all the particle board and placed my hand on every inch of the walls. No openings except the way I came in. 

Cody's voice was always there, talking to me, comforting me, but still commanding me to go towards the hatch and the front of the boat. All at once, I couldn't make out Cody's words anymore and it sounded like he was going away from me. Thinking the wind, water, current (and/or sharks, because lets be real, we all watch shark week, and the thought crossed my mind) was sweeping him away, I went bezerk for him to hear me, to swim towards my voice. His stern voice interrupted my cries, "Sabrina there's a boat, I'm yelling for them, be quiet." When a 13 year old little brother, tells you to be quiet when you are trapped inside the hull of your families shrimp boat  so that he can flag down a boat, then you be quiet and wait for your next instructions. 

Within seconds, I met Steve. Another Saving Grace. Another light as seen through a bilge pump. 

This has been difficult to write. And I hope that my fears show you, that I am not just naturally strong or putting on a front. My strength comes from The Lord. I relied on Him through the darkness in the hull and in the twelve days since then. By no means, could I do this alone. I am ashamed that suicide even crossed my mind. In the moment, it was justified. I was going to save Cody the anguish of hearing my death. But I realized now that this is how suicide works. It takes a small thought and manipulates it into an idea and then transforms it into a plan of action and then eases your conscience so that there is justification. But that justification is only a manifestation of your own weakness. We all struggle. I think we are meant to. If we did not have struggles, then when would we have a chance to lean on God's Grace? On Jesus's love? 

This blog sums up the first 45 minutes of being trapped. The next three hours were rough, but I had an amazing lifeline who talked me through the whole time. I will write about that next. Thank you for reading, and again, if you have any questions please feel free to ask. 

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Deceiving Moment

I'm sure you have heard the story by now. May it be from a friend, a family member, an article, and soon, channel 13 news story. And if you haven't, you are reading this to find out the story. Well here it goes.

Ten days ago, I was floating with my salvation. I know it sounds a little quirky. And probably a little too into context. But on Monday, August 18, 2014, I was floating in the bottom of a 36 ton shrimp boat, with nothing but my God, His son, and my own salvation.

Weather is a normal earthly occurrence. Something most people who are on land a lot, usually don't give  second thought to. Well on the water, it is a different situation. There are no trees, no large buildings, no barriers to slow the wind, slow the onslaught of rain, slow the brute amount of force. Daddy, Cody, Manuel (our other deckhand), and I had been watching the weather roll in from the La Porte/Bayport area. I didn't think twice because Daddy always took care of us. The wind was strong though, it started to cool off the hot, muggy air that had plagued us that day. My hair began to whip around my face as Cody and I cleaned the back deck of fish and crabs, and then we dipped shrimp from the tanks into baskets to unload at the dock.

Daddy called to us from the cabin doorway that he was going to do a few circles at the hole (which is where the Houston Ship Channel branches into Cedar Bayou), wait for the weather to pass. "It's a bad blow, I want that to get out of the way before we head in." He casually grabbed a water and went back to his tall, captain's chair, and settled in.

Laughing, I put my arms up like the classic Titanic pose as the wind pushed hard against my face. I told Cody, "Put your arms up! It's just like Titanic!" Cody immediately hollered, "Sabrina! No! That boat sank!" I laughed harder, thinking of the absurdity of our boat sinking. Gave Cody a big, I-love-you-for-saying-something-so-silly hug and finished up unloading the shrimp. Just as the rain began to release, all three deckhands walked into the cabin and dad steered the boat into Cedar Bayou.

Lightening flashed up ahead. It was so beautiful. Purple and just.. breathtaking. I felt a twinge of fear but remembered that Daddy always took care of us. The weather wasn't something to be feared. Dad stood at the helm and was watching the beacons, his line up, his depth meter. Everything was normal. Lightening struck ahead of us. "You should take a picture, Brina. It's really pretty." And just like that, I grabbed my phone from my purse on the bunk and turned back to Dad's side. My spot. Always my spot. That little corner where the dash nestled into the starboard window. Right next to the wheel. I swiped my screen to unlock it just as the clock changed to 2:12 p.m. "I sure wish we were already at that next beacon. It would make me feel better with all this wind," and just like that Dad was on his feet, spinning the wheel deftly to the right. I looked over my left shoulder to the back left of the cabin out the door. The boat was laying over to the left and the water was at the bulwarks. The white box (large tank that holds 700 pounds of shrimp) slid to the edge and was going over.  I cried out that the box was going over as dad yelled to grab a window. Pushing me against the corner, Dad wrapped his strong arms around me as we both clung to the window sill. Just like that, my hands were the only thing touching the cabin as the boat capsized.

Water rushed in, rising to my neck. I began screaming to God. It didn't seem real. It didn't seem possible. This doesn't happen in real life. If you don't already know, I have night terrors. These have happened long before the accident. I wake up in a screaming/crying mess, reliving the terrible images of a dream gone wrong. Screaming to God to save me was the only way I could awake from them. Daddy always said I read to many Nancy Drew books when I was younger, but who knows the real reasons. They are always extremely vivid and real. I thought this was just another vivid night terror haunting my sleep. But as the water swirled around my face, the light inside the cabin began to dim as the boat filled with water, and I knew it was not.

I immediately kicked my boots off. Just like my daddy taught me. Swimming to the surface, I felt disorientated. I was at the front of the cabin, Manuel in front of me, Cody next, then Daddy had some how ended up on at the back of the cabin. He came rushing out of the water with a big gulp of air. Thrashing his head around, he cleared the water from his brow, his necklace whirled around his neck. The gold crucifix anchor spinning and catching what little light was left in the small space. "I found the door! Come to the door!" And with that my head fell under the water as the boat rolled over.

Spluttering for air, I found myself near Cody and Manuel. "Break a window!! Break a window!!" Cody continued to scream, as Manuel moaned and clamored for something to hold onto. the water reaching our necks again. I screamed for Dad. Ceaselessly. "I broke the window, we have to climb out. I broke a window!" Cody had broken a window. Suddenly Manuel accidentally pushed Cody underneath me. I could feel his head beneath my socked feet. With knife-cutting screams, I wrenched Cody from the water below me and shoved him through a broken window. Grabbing Manuel by the back of his shirt collar, I yelled, "Your next! Go! Now! Out the window!" I forced him through the small space, and tried to come out too. One arm, my head, and part of my chest were through when I felt something hit me in the mouth. I tasted blood. Falling back into a completely submerged cabin, my left hand found an open space. Reaching inside I felt air. Thinking I had found the door, I pulled myself into the open space and upto much needed air. Opening my eyes, I expected to see the whiteness of clouds, the glow of the sun, my brother, my daddy, the world I loved.Yet all I saw was blackness.

A simple moment of pure beauty changed to tragedy with just one simple second of time. A simple deceiving moment.

I need to gather my thoughts before I talk about what happened for the next four hours while my life was shrouded in darkness with just a small glow from a three inch bilge pump pipe. Thank you for reading. Feel free to ask questions about what has happened up until this point in the story. I want to say now though, that my faith in God is stronger than it has ever been. It is not even because I feel like I owe God my life since He spared me. But because I was content with dying and was at peace with whatever He wanted of me. That peace was from the knowledge that I loved my Savior and knew I was going to be with Him for forever.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understand. Proverbs 3:5