My next blog was going to be filled with tales of our travels and adventures on the road, but my heart was busting open with the need to share a story with all of you. Over these past few weeks, I have witnessed courage on many scales. But nothing compares to the courage of our dear friends, Rick and Theresa Gibson, and their granddaughter, Payton. Five years ago these grandparents received a call and were quickly on a flight to their granddaughter’s location. Their grandchild had become victim to Baby Shaking Syndrom. They remained by her side as their one-year-old was fighting for her life. Payton continues to be a fighter filled with courage and strength today. This little girl has endured multiple surgeries, illness, being poked, stuck with needles, and doctors working on her the majority of her life, yet she smiles. I marvel at her endurance as her Papa holds her up to walk around the backyard. Then with her sweet smile, she easily convinces Papa, Grandma, or both to sit on the ground and play with her and her toys. I don’t know how this young child taps into such courage and strength. The medical complications that accompany this syndrome will bring you to tears. The fact that she will never walk on her own, or that only half of her brain is being used. It is also the seizures, a frightening and complicated situation. There is the liquid medicine because she can’t swallow pills that Payton must take regardless of the taste. The capsules they call “sprinkles” that are carefully empty into a small container of applesauce. This is a daily routine no child should have to endure, yet, Payton does. All because she cried when she was a child, and her mom’s boyfriend couldn’t cope. Instead of walking away, he shook this little girl almost to her death. The courage to fight for her life is nothing that can be contained, and nothing short of a miracle. She continues to smile as she pushes through to keep muscles exercised and to learn words and tasks. She is an angel. But like any typical child, her “halo tips” now and then, a loosely coined phrase from Theresa. She is a strong-willed six-year-old, and though I didn’t witness it, apparently she has a set of lungs to prove it.
The boyfriend received a forty-eight-year sentence for his crime. He will be eligible for parole after he has served eighteen years, but Payton has no release from her prison. She was given a life sentence of disabilities for his crime. A crime that could have been avoided. I have watched her progress via Facebook over the past five years and have been amazed at her smile and spunk. Yesterday was the first time Dan and I had an opportunity to travel to their location to visit and to meet this little lady in person. Her smile is as contagious in person as it is in pictures. Her beauty is radiant and her spirit filled with love for her Papa and Grandma.
However, that is not where the story of courage ends. Though Payton’s mom is in the picture, she is not Payton’s only caregiver. Payton is blessed with wonderful, courageous, loving, and selfless grandparents. Rick and Theresa didn’t hesitate to make the decision to adopt/share custody for this little girl and take on her care full-time. Knowing Payton’s mom wasn’t able to emotionally handle the situation alone, they didn’t question what their destiny would be. Over the past five years, they have endured the unknown with courage I can not imagine. They have been Payton’s everything. There wasn’t a hint of hesitation in this decision. It wasn’t as if Rick had to convince Theresa to raise their granddaughter, or Theresa to convince Rick…there was not even a blink of an eye. They fought with everything they had in them. Then signed on the dotted line and brought their little girl home. That is the real story of courage here. Courage built on faith and love.
As a grandparent, I have been blessed with many babies to hold in my arms. I’ve enjoyed the hugs, kisses, and time with each of them, but then I was able to pass the little cuties back to mom or dad and go on with my freedom. I have the option to sleep until 4am or 9am. I have the option to go out to dinner, or a movie and not worry about a sitter. I can choose to be adventurous or have a quiet evening at home enjoying a good movie. I have options. Theresa and Rick have laid down their lives for their granddaughter and without hesitation. They simply changed their priorities, and with love in their hearts. With all the trials and obstacles they face daily for Payton’s needs, they have not escaped their own personal trials of surgeries, illnesses, and anything else life could throw at them. But they have persevered. They have overcome, and have come out the other side with even more courage and faith than before. To say I admire them would be an understatement. We have hunted alongside these two people, stayed in their home, broken bread, shared laughs and told stories. It isn’t a matter of just admiring them, we love these two people for their courage, strength, and unshakable faith. Rick and Theresa put “Grand” in grandparent in the most selfless way anyone can. As a grandparent, I know I would step in if needed for my family. I only hope that I would step up to the plate with as much courage and faith as Rick and Theresa have done.
Recognizing others courage for the strength and faith that it is will remind me daily of my own blessings. My heart is overwhelmed with Rick and Theresa’s patience and love for Payton. And I will take away the knowledge that my travels may, at times, be less about the scenery, and more about the people who impacted our lives.