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.
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.
It’s Saturday, October 13, 2001, roughly 3:00 in the pm, exactly 32 days after September 11; the horror of all horrors, my deepest rung of hell to-date. We’re on highway 83, along the Mexican border, in Texas, driving 70 miles an hour.
Out of nowhere, I hear a loud Bang!
Backfire? Bomb? My head exploding?
I notice Ron out of the corner of my eye.
He is tightening his grip on the steering wheel, trying to steer.
He loses control of the wheel. We are minus the tread on our rear tire.
There is no way to handle the crisis we’re in, our family’s SUV has started to skid.
Then it overturns.
We are rolling.
The car flips three or four times. We finally slide to a stop on the other side of the overpass.
That’s when our car burst into flames!
And my family and I are trapped inside.
We rescued everyone but Ryan.He died in the hellish fire.
We experienced all the pain there is, physically and emotionally. Light couldn’t crowbar its way into the dark night of the soul.
Did I tell you that we had two more little boys–Trenton and Colton. They were, along with Tyler, at the center of our recovery.
Moving to Alabama
We were in a fishbowl in South Texas. Most every day someone would stare, or ask about the accident.
We were known around town as the “sad family.” Alabama felt like the right place to keep moving forward.
We enjoyed life on Lake Martin, homeschooling the boys for 5 years. It has been our refuge and I have done my most creative work there. It is our home and a quiet place to remember Ryan.
The boys are in school in Birmingham now, it’s where we have found community. It is also the place where we connect with pediatric burn survivors and firefighters.
I’ve been through hell and back and I’ve wondered if there is a way I can offer what I’ve learned over these 16 years. I began writing down my feelings, and thoughts.
Suddenly I realized that I had all the makings of a blog. I publish my blog every week on Thursday.
It provides a way to help myself as I map my journey; but more than that, it gives me the opportunity to help others in their struggles.
Our Epic Trip
One of our sons suggested that we take a long learning vacation.
Everybody agreed. We spent almost every evening dreaming and talking about where and when. We decided to take a trip around the world.
I had been home-schooling the boys anyway, and this would be an epic field trip. We made a list of the countries each of us wanted to visit, and everyone prepared reports on their countries.
The trip was beautiful and challenging. We were all together. We were laminated.
The Camping Connection
We knew we wanted to establish a Pediatric Burn Camp to honor Ryan, and while we were exploring our options we discovered that firefighters created and ran burn camps around the country.
They invested heart and soul into the camps and the children! That grew into a partnership between our burn foundation (RyanShines) and firefighters.
We needed chaperones for our first fishing event (“Catching Courage”).
Guess who stepped into the spotlight?
They didn’t need a lot of instruction.
They are “the naturals.”
Their way with our burn kids is enveloped in respect and genuine friendship.
Picture it: two heroes sitting together ‘sharing with understanding.’
RyanShines Burn Foundation
I love the sound of these two words that are hooked together like a train: RyanShines!
It is named for Ryan, of course.
But it comes from a work of art at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, TX.
It is a twenty-foot mosaic and the designer dedicated it to Ryan.
The mosaic is called “Ryan Shines.”
Out of that holy name came every good Gift that shines on the children and firefighters.
Our mission is that “no burned child be left behind, and no firefighter will be forgotten.”
Every year we take pediatric burn survivors and firefighters to Islamorada in the Florida keys.
The first year we took 7 firefighters and 6 burn survivors. This year, our 3rd, we are taking 40 firefighters and 10 burn survivors, from 6 states.
Peer Support Team for Firefighters
We realized that our firefighters are first to a fire. They rescue children, adults, and pets.
But who rescues the firefighters? Who stands beside them? Firefighters undergo injuries, grief, risk, fear, and death. Alabama is #2 in suicides over work-related deaths in the United States.
Ryan Shines is a proud partner in our state’s first Alabama Firefighter Peer Support team(ALFFPS). We are talking about ‘healing by listening,’ and putting them together with their peer-brothers who understand what really goes on in the body, soul, and life of a firefighter.
“Catching Courage” Events
These outdoor events consist of fishing, hunting, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and any team-building with pediatric burn survivors and firefighters.
This year we hosted our first Catching Courage Family Camp.
They are all designed to create healing, developing bonds between the participants, and building lasting relationships.
Our 5-year Plan
The future is as unlimited as the horizon. Here’s what we see ahead…
Organizing 4 Catching Courage events per year in each of the 50 states.
Taking a team of 4 firefighters from each state, each year to our Catching Courage event in the Keys.
Creating a statewide Firefighter Peer Support Team in every state that needs one.
Growing burn children into good, honest, productive and confident citizens.
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)