I am going to take a break from writing my blogpost every week. We’ve been at it for more than 4 years!
Can you believe it? Me neither.
Like most every college student, Tyler is home from Auburn and our family is all together here in Alexander City, Alabama. Every chair is filled with remarkable young men, and a couple of ol’ schoolers.
Our blessings outweigh any of our own fears because we know that God has the whole world in his hands.
My singular priority during these uncertain days is my family. Talk about limitless family time!
I will return when everything is clear.
In the meantime, we, at ryanshines.com, will continue to abide with you in unbreakable faith, hope and love.
There are so many heroes, like our firefighters, who are taking intentional strides into this pandemic, and at great personal risk.
I would say they are coming “out of the woodwork” to serve, but, truth be told, they’ve always been at the forefront during local and national crisis’s. “We simply cannot stay home with our families, like we are asking everyone to do.”
“We’ve been here before. This is not our first walk around the block. We accept the challenge and we are, day-after-day, moving out into our nation’s neighborhoods!”
Post-9/11, firefighters answered the call in our first taste of biological terrorism with the anthrax scares. “White powder” calls became commonplace. Our identified, detected and mitigated hundreds of calls (both real and fictitious) without a single injury or fatality.
“During this pandemic, our job necessarily requires us to enter unknown buildings, residences, and business retail establishments, and come in direct physical contact with the public,” said a Florida Fire Chief.
Firefighters place a premium on being adequately prepared, equipped and attired for every type of call we respond to. Every single fire response carries the added risk of deadly virus transmission.
“We need to increase the equipment necessary to protect ourselves as much as possible, so our healthy and resilient fire departments continue providing emergency services,” an Alabama firefighter said.
All over the nation firefighters are posting photos where they are holding signs saying: “I came to work for you, please stay home for me.”
Here is their bottom line: “We are the fire service and we put our citizens first, as we’ve sworn that we will do. We will not back down.”
We at RyanShines are deliberately moving in gratitude toward these fighting men and women by purchasing protective materials, and by giving encouragement.
Why not join with us in our creative responses to our first responders. Ask me how.
(I am going to take a break from writing my blogpost every week. We’ve been at it for more than 3 years. Tyler has come home from Auburn during this chaos and our family is all together. They are my singular priority. I will return when the smoke clears. We, at RyanShines, will continue to abide with you in indestructible faith, hope and love).
I’m sitting here tonight thinking of the Asian artist who was commissioned by a Texan to paint a picture. When the picture was complete, over in the left corner of the canvas was the branch of a blossoming cherry tree, and a small bird was perched upon a branch. The whole rest of the painting was a vast white space. The Texan was very unhappy with the outcome. “Please fill up this canvas. That’s what I am paying you for!”
But the artist refused, saying, “Sir, if I do that, there will be no room for the bird to fly.”
In our rewarding work at RyanShines we welcome so many fragile little birds who have been grounded by their burns.
Each one is an original–a one-of-a-kind Child of God. Every pediatric burn survivor is sent to us without “operating instructions.”
We discover their unique needs by loving them, listening to them and by witnessing their innate instinct to spread their wings and fly.
Not one of them has lost their wings. No fire can touch the gift of wings they were born with.
It takes tender care and fierce love to help them grow. These are all normal little children no different than yours and mine.
We work with them and their parents to restore their dreams of flying without fear.
In the past year, we have introduced you to Jenna, Brantson, Cameron, Kaleigh, Louie, Jadah, Brody, Lucas, Lovely, Alex, LeDreshia and so many more of our burn children.
These brave girls and boys have shared their frighteningly sad stories to hundreds of strangers. They have endured unimaginable pain.
Many will undergo multiple surgeries that could continue throughout their childhood.
Every week we will paint their profiles in courage for you. As always, you will admire them and draw rich inspiration from them.
But every last one of us must take a step beyond admiration.
To be blunt, we cannot meet the deep needs of these special children without you.
As you invest your time and treasure in what you believe in, allow your personal vision to include the earthy and air-born mission of RyanShines.
On April 5, 2003, J.R. Martinez, a 19-year-old infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division, jumped into the driver’s seat of a Humvee to lead an Army caravan into the city of Karbala. Suddenly, a landmine detonate beneath his feet.
Fuel-fed flames seared his clothes, burned his skin and incinerated the dreams of this high school football star from Dalton, Georgia.
While he was trapped inside the truck, he thought: “This is where my life ends. Everything I wanted to do no longer exists.”
He first felt sharp pain on his face, then, nothing. The flames had destroyed every nerve ending.
“I honestly thought it would be better if I hadn’t survived the accident.”
They placed him on a ventilator because of severe smoke damage to his lungs, and, then, began the excruciating ritual of removing dead, burned skin and surgically grafting healthy skin from unaffected areas of his body.
He sucked it up through more than 35 surgery procedures.
After all that, therapists put him through months of painful stretching exercises so he might once again lift his arms, straighten his elbows, open the fingers of his contracted hands, and turn his head from side to side.
He had to re-learn to walk. He spent 2 1/2 years in and out of the hospital. “It was tough, it was painful, but because I did those things, because they pushed me to do those things, is why I am where I am today.”
After seeing his face for the first time, he fell into a deep depression, uncertain what his life could hold.
However, one day, after speaking with his mother, “I made a choice that I was going to get through every single day. And the answer would come to me, and it did.”
He visited another burn patient and realized that was helping him, too. He began making regular visits to many patients. “That,” he says, “is when J.R. Martinez was born.”
He competed on “Dancing With the Stars,” and won.
As he raised his right arm and extended his left to clasp the hand of his partner Karina Smirnoff in an emotional salute to fallen servicemen and women, he symbolically reached out to fellow burn survivors, demonstrating with his scarred face and body that it’s possible to move beyond the dark days of doubt, despair and depression and reclaim a meaningful life.
You can help burn survivors, too. Ask me how!
To support us, please visit us at www.ryanshines.com or follow us on FB and IG @ryanshinesburnfoundation)
“My name is Jenna. It was Memorial day, and my mom and dad were getting ready for a cookout. I was three-years-old at the time.
Somehow the gas can in the garage got knocked over and leaked underneath the water heater. It started a flash fire.
Over 95% of my body was burned with 3rd and 4th degree burns.
My doctors and nurses did not expect me to make it through the night, but I survived.
It’s hard to believe it has been 15 years and 70 surgeries later. Through it all, my parents told me how hard I fought, and how I stayed strong and kept coming back! I am doing most everything I dreamed in my life.”
Jenna is like any other teenage girl, playing sports, going to prom, and having fun. From those first few wobbly steps she took after getting out of the Shriner Burn hospital, to her fancy footwork on the soccer field, Jenna is a walking and running miracle.
“Its been a real and scary roller coaster! I’ve had ups and downs. My focus is on what’s ahead for me as I get older.”
Jenna is taking almost everything with an openhearted attitude of gratitude, and so is her family; but she says what keeps her going are the friends she’s made along the way.
“I’ve gotten used to the stares, because I know it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But at our burn camps, I feel completely ‘normal.’ It’s like we are not so burned. We’re our own society pretty much.”
“I’d like to start a burn camp of my own in parts of the world that may not have one. That way I can motivate and inspire other burn survivors just like me!”
There’s something about living in a state of of gratitude, counting our blessings one by one.
The trick is to take those blessings and bless others like Jenna.
If you need some direction in how to help, feel free to contact me thru ryanshines.com.
(This is the speech I’m giving tonight at our first annual Gala. It’s the next best thing to being there.)
It’s best to begin with the children–our burn survivors. I hope you have had some time to see and engage our burn children.
They are our galaxy of bright stars.
Have you heard their stories? Many of our burn-kids had never told their story before, to anyone. Some of the stories seemed impossible to be built into words. But we knew the words were there and by listening attentively in a safe harbor of non-judgmental love, the stories began to surface at an event that we call “Catching Courage.”
Their courage was tangible though it’s hard to speak when your spirit has been broken.
Our family has a story and it was very hard to tell even to ourselves at home.
Here’s our story.
It was a typical family Sat. afternoon going from a swimming meet to a soccer match.
We were on the expressway when our tire detreaded and the car started flipping 3/4 times.
There were 4 of us in the car–Ryan (7), Tyler (2), Ron and me.
The car burst into flames. Ryan and I caught fire first. And then it spread thru the car.
We were all burning. Ron was able to reach Tyler and pull him out of the fire. But Ryan was stuck in his seat belt and there was no way to pull him free before the fire took him.
Ron, Tyler and I were flown 600 miles away and a quarter of our bodies were burned.
Even though we know we’ll never get over this, we’re still here and our family is getting stronger at the broken places.
15 years after Ryan died, we saw it was the right time to build our foundation–Ryan Shines–in honor of our son.
One purpose of our foundation is to ensure that no burn child is left behind.
We have created a safe place where burn survivors can heal.
It’s a place where we don’t run ahead of them demanding they keep up with us.
We communicate face to face on the same level.
And when we hear them begin to talk about their day from hell, when the world reversed its rotation, we are there with them.
And not only us, but the firefighters were in the center of everything.
There are few men and women who wake up every morning to an unscripted day; a day that could be their last.
Firefighters are born, they’re not made. Their kind of courage and two scoops of craziness is deep in their DNA.
They run toward death while everyone else runs away. They have the gift of not thinking about themselves first.
Compassion is at the heart of their work.
And compassion is at the heart of our work with them. When I first opened my eyes to it, I had no idea that Alabama is 2nd in the nation in suicide over work-related death.
You understand I’m talking about our firefighters.
It breaks my heart.
So many mothers losing their sons and daughters fighting every day like our family did to make sense of it. But, you know, it doesn’t make sense.
Now. Imagine these 2 groups–our pediatric burn children and firefighters–spending a weekend or week together. Without saying a word, they recognize that they are standing on common ground. It creates a whole ‘new normal’ for them.
The bond that began the day of the fire, continues even thru tonite.
It happens at all of our Catching Courage events.
And the bond between them is indestructible.
One thing I’ve learned over these years is that when something awful happens,
“Why?” is almost always the wrong question.
When the roof caves in or a trap door springs, the only question worth asking is “Where do we go from here?”
And however we may answer that question, part of the answer will always be “together.”