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.
(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.”
It’s a strange moment in the Christmas jingle when they sit by the fire in winter and dream of facing the future without fear.
We sit together this week, basking in the soft glow of candlelight, our hearts warmed by old, old stories and familiar faces.
It’s easy to think that the Christmas Season is mostly about the size and temperature of the stable, the wisdom of the three kings, about Mary’s hope, the innkeeper’s hospitality, the songs of angels, and the birth of the child.
The main characters of the Story wrestle with a lot of fear, even terror.
It’s true about every one of us.
We read about Mary’s anxiety, Joseph’s fear of marriage, the shepherds’ fright over the angel-choir, King Herod’s anger, the wise men’s terror of King Herod’s wrath.
Every scene in the Story moves between fascination and fear, between terror and wonder.
There is no emotion in this Story that we haven’t felt.
The question posed to each character, and to each of us is this: “will we, at this crucial moment in our lives, be frozen in our fear, or lured on by the “Wonder of the star?”
We at RyanShines are committed to riding the emotional roller-coaster with our dear burn survivors and firefighters.
We stand by our purpose that “no burn child will be left behind and no Firefighter is forgotten.”
Happy Holidays to everyone, from Ron, Dawn, Tyler, Trenton, Colton & (angel Ryan) Hirn
A 12-year-old middle school boy, Fernando Castro, was killed as a fire ripped through his family’s home.
To everyone who knew him, he was affectionately known as “Nano.”
The night of the fire, Nano and his young siblings – three-year-old half-sister Esmeralda (“Esme”) and five-year-old half-brother Luis (Junior)– were home with a babysitter and her boyfriend, when a fire sparked inside their home.
The children’s mother, Juana Vasquez, was away driving her daughter back to college after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The babysitter told the police that one of the children moved a ‘space heater’ into their bedroom.
She thought that was how the fire started.
The fast-moving flames engulfed everyone inside.
The thick, black smoke hindered the Firefighters, but they worked through it and found Nano’s body inside the burned-out home.
Esme and Junior survived but suffered critical injuries that left them both hospitalized, with Esme suffering from burns over 40 percent of her body, while Junior has burns on over 70 percent of his body.
They were burned so badly that they had to be placed in medically induced comas.
Doctors have told the family that each child would need more than 80 operations between now and the age of 18 to fully recover from their severe injuries.
Nano’s mourning mother, Juana, remembered how he would always turn to give her a big “thumbs up” every morning before getting on the school bus.
She clings to this image of her boy who seems to be saying here, with his thumbs up, “I’m OK, Mom, everything’s OK.”
I remember meeting Esme and Junior along with their aunts, at the Phoenix World Burn Conference, who are taking care of them now.
Let me tell you what’s really amazing that has come out of this tragedy.
It is the power of love in a larger family.
These 2 aunts are bringing deep emotional and physical healing to their niece and nephew. (I remember the nights after Ryan died when I had my two sisters, Dianne and Darby, and my parents surrounding us with their love).
Now, I look at this photograph and see that the same thing has happened for this little family.
They are encircled by a love that will never let them go.
There’s a message for all of us in this.
In an age where we are losing a sense of the ‘nuclear family,’ it’s sad, isn’t it, that it often takes a tragedy to shatter the walls we’ve put between us and open our eyes to the best gift God has given us.
The Gift of Family.
BTW-(If this is something that you would like to support, please visit us at www.ryanshines.com or follow us on FB and IG @dawnraymondhirn)