by Lois Millsap
Is this how I will live the rest of my life... full of anger, hatred and bitterness? Will I ever be able to forgive my Dad? I hate living in this prison, but I just can't forgive him for losing my hand.
I'm a different person than I used to be, not whole any more. I feel as if I stand out in a crowd, like a "sore thumb." I feel like I'm not acceptable any more. It's as if I have to prove that I am still human; that I still have the same emotions as everyone else; that my brain still functions normally; that I can still function as a normal human being with all the needs and wants that any whole-bodied person has; that I have to work harder than others to prove that I am capable of doing my job.
Will I ever feel like a whole person again? Will others see me as a person of value? Will I ever see myself as a person of value, as a whole person, as acceptable? Will I still be acceptable to You, God?
God, are You even able to do what You say You can do? Can You change my heart, take away this pain caused by unforgiveness? All the anger, hatred and bitterness? Can You make me a whole person God?
All this, and more, ate away at me every Moment of the day. It was my nightmare that I turned on my father. The pain from losing my hand paled in comparison to the pain of a broken relationship with Dad and all the hurt I inflicted on him by shutting him out of my life in every possible way.
The most important part of that journey began on July 17, 1968, when I was 13.
In 1963 my parents, Dave and Anne Fehr, along with my brothers, Larry and Brian and myself, moved to Ft. St. John in northern British Columbia - a frontier town. As a young child, we had lived on a farm in Ontario and it was my dream to live on a farm again. I have always thought that Dad was trying to make that dream a reality. Instead, it turned into a nightmare.
I still recall the conversation my parents had just before Dad and I left for the country. Mom said, "Be careful, because people lose limbs in that kind of work." Dad's response was, "Maybe a finger, but never a limb!" Those words came back to haunt all three of us over the years.
Dad had purchased land north of town, but it needed to be cleared before it would be suitable for living. Since I was the only child at home, I was given the opportunity to go along and help Dad clear the land. It meant cutting down trees, then using a buzz saw, about 3 feet in diameter and hooked up to the tractor by a belt, to strip the bark and then turning the trees into planks. My job was to take the rough planks and stack them behind me. It was a job that would last all summer.
It was hard work, but I enjoyed being outside and helping Dad. My cousins lived near by and the work was broken up with visits to their place.
It was mid-morning when the saw didn't strip the bark off the tree the way it needed to. That meant the saw had to be reversed and the process started over. Having grown up learning to help with problems, I stepped in to lend a hand. I knew what to do... I had been watching dad guide the trees into the saw... so I stepped up to guide the tree into the saw in reverse.
I let out a scream, but didn't really know why for a few seconds. I had literally walked into the saw and now my right hand was barely attached to my arm at the wrist. There wasn't much pain as I had instantly gone into shock. I remember Dad having me lay down on the ground while he looked for a way to stop the bleeding, but we didn't have anything in the skid shack to use as a tourniquet. The best he could do was to get me to our relatives and then see what we could do.
I remember sitting in the old '50 Plymouth with my hand on the floor and the blood pooling around it. Looking at my hand as it rested on the floor it looked terribly swollen. Thinking back, it seems like it was almost triple its size in thickness and stayed in a cupped position.
It was only a quarter of a mile to my aunt and uncle's, but it seemed to take a long time to get there. The door open immediately as she was not expecting visitors. The scene that greeted Aunt Mary was not very nice.
My cousin, Debbie, remembers me sitting on their steps holding my hand up trying to keep from losing so much blood. She remembers Dad and her Mom talking in Low German so us kids wouldn't understand. Debbie was told that she had to come along and help keep my arm and hand upright and squeeze my arm really tight through the sheet that her Mom found to wrap my hand and arm in. Since their phone line was down, Aunt Mary had to go to the neighbours to phone my Mom so she could meet us at the hospital and let the doctors know an emergency was on its way.
If memory serves me correctly, it took us an hour, on gravel roads, to get to town. In my mind, I wanted Dad to drive faster and Debbie voiced my thoughts, begging him to speed up. I think he must have been in shock, too, as he had told her that "there was no sense in all of us being killed." He continued to take the trip slowly and I think that was in part so he wouldn't cause me any unnecessary pain. I wonder if he didn't think that I would die before we got to town. Dying never crossed my mind that I remember. I do know that I was conscious and aware of my surroundings the entire trip into town.
I found it interesting on the trip to the hospital, what went through my mind was an old chorus, "I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord Forever." I didn't know why that song, but God knew, even then, what was needed to comfort me at that point and what I would need to understand later. Even Dad was aware of my singing or humming songs from church on that drive in. He commented on it later to Ernie Reimer, a family friend.
My Mom, a family friend, Pastor John Schmidt and Drs. Temple and Miller met Dad, Debbie and myself outside at the hospital's emergency entrance. It was a grim situation. I think that by then the shock was subsiding as having x-rays was very painful for me. I begged them to not remove the sheet because it kept the pain at a bearable level. They couldn't x-ray with so much cloth around my hand and arm, so I had to grit my teeth and deal with it. ("Gritting my teeth" and "dealing with it" seemed to be the norm for me from then on.) After the x-rays, the last thing I saw was the sign over the door saying, "Emergency." I had lost four pints of blood.
My next recollection is of coming out of the anaesthetic and trying to figure out if they had saved my hand. When I looked at the huge bandage one way, it looked the same in length, but from a different angle, it looked shorter. I couldn't tell. I had to wait for the doctors to give me that information.
They said that they wanted to reattach my hand, but that they thought the worst would happen if they did, that I would have a useless appendage hanging on the end of my arm and I would be better off with just a stump. I accepted their answer and told my pastor at some point that God must have something special in mind for me.
I spent two weeks in the hospital, but not one time would I look at my arm. I could watch them unwrap it only to a certain point and then I'd turn away. I don't even remember the first time I did look at my stump. I thought that if I couldn't handle looking at it, then others wouldn't want to see it, either. For the first couple of months I wore an old white nurses stocking over it so no one, me included, could see it.
My Mom, who was a nurse, asked if I could be placed on her floor so she could be near me as much as possible. I was and am thankful for that. All the staff were so good to me. Several of the nurses, whom I knew, got together and bought me a transistor radio to listen to. I treasured that for years.
During my stay in the hospital, my new principal came to see me, asking which of the three shifts I wanted to be on, who of my friends I wanted in my class and bringing me a stack of books to look through. Along with that, I began the new task of learning to write, again. My doctor was an encouragement in that area. Every day I had to write a letter to him. One day he asked for a full page. I started out fine, but couldn't think of anything new to say to him. So, I got a brain-wave; I skipped every other line. I waited a few days for him to ask for my book and did he ever "hit the roof"!
"When I ask for a full page, I want a full page, not every other line!" I had a hunch that he wouldn't be happy with me and unfortunately, I was right.
I remember having a lady, Marie, next to me who had had surgery on both of her feet. She couldn't get around and I needed help with my meals. Learning how to eat, how to do everything backwards was a huge challenge that I still face. The staff wisely put our beds together during the day so she could help me and then moved us apart for night time. I ran the errands that Marie couldn't and it worked well for both of us.
Of all the things that I have had to learn how to do, I think tying my shoes was the hardest. It seemed to take me forever to get them tied at the start. I had to get up so much earlier on school days so I would have enough time to get ready. I even had to learn which arm to put into the sleeve first. It was all the little and big mundane things we do every day that I had to learn how to do with my left hand.
Often people make disparaging remarks about not being able to do things with their "other" hand and they don't really appreciate my comments that they would learn how if they had to. I don't say it lightly, but with a certainty from having lived so many years still learning how to do things backwards.
Something I have been told many times is that when others are trying to do something and they want to give up, they think of me and decide that "Lois would find a way with one hand, so I can do it with two!" I have struggled to accept the fact that my relearning everything is an encouragement to others. I have always brushed off their comments regarding that, saying, "Either I do things for myself or I let others do everything for me." If you know me, you know I won't let others wait on me.
I have been told that my brothers, and Larry's fiancée, Kathy, all cried when they heard the news. Brian remembers that he was glad it wasn't him, but felt bad for me. I'm okay that he felt like that because I have that at times, too.
Others have said how sad it was for us; how strong I was to adapt so well, but wondered if I had really adjusted to it inwardly. I hadn't, but I sure put on a good show of being okay with it. In any telling of it, everything was matter-of-fact. I never even cried over losing my hand - tears were a sign of weakness and I was not going to be weak! My cousin, Verna could hardly believe that I hadn't cried in all these years. Still others have said that something so major doesn't mean that your dreams have to die... in part they do, but only if you let them.
My "adopted sister," Lesa, remembers her Mom coming from Dawson Creek to stay with my folks for a few days while I was in the hospital. Then, back at home, Sarah and the family prayed for me for years. It is no wonder that there has been a closeness to the Klassen family all this time.
It have also been told that it was good for my church family in that it brought them together to pray for me. I wasn't aware of it in that way till now. So, to all who have prayed for me and still are, thank you. God has been faithful in answering prayer.
I have a vague recollection of being at Rock of Ages Bible Camp that summer after I lost my hand. I think I went to camp before we went to Saskatchewan... my times are a bit hazy there. My counsellor was a family friend and remembers me climbing in bed with her every night and crying from the pain. She had to answer some of the same questions that I started out with. Evelyn said I often kept my arm close to my chest to keep it safe or kept it at an awkward angle instead of letting it hang by my side naturally.
It wasn't long after I was released from the hospital that my parents and I went to a family reunion in Saskatchewan. I remember that where we stopped for night, we had to go to the hospital during the night because the pain was so intense. I had a lot of "phantom" pain, which pills could not ease. Phantom pains come after losing a body part and can last for years. Your body tells you that it is still there because your nerve endings are still alive, receiving messages from your brain. Reality vs. the emotional.
When we got to the reunion, I remember hearing my parents tell my aunts and uncles not to talk to me about losing my hand. I'm not sure why we weren't to talk about it, but we never did... not my Dad and I, my brothers, or friends. Everything got buried so deep within me that I thought I was okay. Over the years, Mom and I would skirt around the subject, but never talk specifically about it.
I remember that while we were in Waldheim, Sask., I decided that I had to learn how to sweep the floor. I know I was very stubborn about it because I rejected all offers of help, telling everyone that I had to learn how to do it sometime, and to just leave me alone.
I did sweep the floor and I did get the dirt into the dust pan by myself. As awkward and clumsy as I was, I did it. I was rather proud of myself. In many ways, that determination has served me well. It has kept me learning how to do everything in a different way, something that I will continue to do for the rest of my life. At the same time, though, it keeps me from being willing to accept help - even when I need it. I find it hard to let others bless me with their help. I'm learning and have been reminded of that again during the writing of this.
It wasn't long after I lost my hand that Mom gave away my piano books, to the Klaassen family. I didn't need them any more and they did. (Sherridan became an accomplished pianist). However, God put a love for music within me and gave me the ability to play both the accordion and the piano after losing my hand. I may be mainly self-taught, but the words to hymns and choruses have ministered to me during many days as I have sat and played. Even this past Sunday I played the offertory at church, which was a first for me. It was a part of giving my arm to God as a sweet savour. (Exodus 29)
Something you need to know is that I had been "daddy's girl" and somewhere after my accident, all that changed. I became angry at Dad, blaming him for losing my hand. When anger is left unchecked, it turns into hatred and then bitterness. It is no wonder that we are told in Ephesians 4:26 to "...Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." My feelings toward Dad were never questioned. I have spoken with some long time family friends who never knew I hated Dad. Others, including Kathy, wondered right away how it would affect my relationship with Dad. Aside from God, maybe Dad, Mom and myself were the only ones who really knew how I felt.
I don't know when these horrible emotions took hold, but they came in full force. By the time I realized that they were present, I only wanted to nurse and encourage them. I built huge walls around myself. I wouldn't let any one in. It formed how my friendships went... I'll drop you first so I don't have to deal with "being dropped" and all the aftermath that comes with it.
By mid-October, I was in Winnipeg at the Shriner's Hospital to be fitted with a prosthetic hand. It was not the best of times for me, but hearing my name called out by a familiar voice was so encouraging. A friend from Ft. St. John was there! Had it not been for Joann, I don't know what I would have done. We spent many hours together in the school room; we sang together and she encouraged me as she listened to my tale of woe.
In talking with Jo (sweetheart), she reminded me that I would sit on my bed for hours and look out the window. She was stunned by the depth of my anger. I wouldn't get close to any one nor let them get close to me. If any one asked me about my hand, I was curt and pointed in my answers to them. It was also while I was there that I must have sunk into a deep depression. I remember that for the two months I spent in Winnipeg, every evening I would eat six pieces of toast while watching TV. The view I had of how I saw myself must have been devastating.
There were two couples in Winnipeg at that time whom I knew as well. One was George and Carol Born (I had known Carol since we moved to Ft. St. John). The other was my cousin Gladys and her husband Bert Esau. Spending time with them on a couple of occasions was a big help, as well, there was an acceptance which I needed at that point.
I never did adjust to using the prosthetic hand. I believe that there is more than one reason, but to this day I continue without the use of one. Brian wonders if it is because I never really accepted not having a hand and that wearing one would re-enforce that fact. It is a thought.
I vividly remember one time when I was wearing the prosthetic hand that my anger boiled over toward a class mate. I was so angry that I took a swing at her face with the hook. I am so thankful that I missed. Maybe that is the reason I quit wearing the prosthesis.
I can remember many times hearing children tell their parents to look at me because I only had one hand. Naturally, they wanted to know what had happened to me. Rather than me taking time to say what had happened, my anger would peak when a lie was given as the answer and I would turn around, lash out at the parents because they lied and turn back just as quickly, heading away from them, never saying what had happened. I didn't know how to tell others about it.
There were other times when parents would have to leave my work place because the children would scream at the sight of me. It really hurts to have people scared of me because of missing a hand. I try to talk with them - even letting them feel my arm if they want to, so they can see that it feels the same as my other arm. Sometimes it works, but there are also refusals to come near me.
Other times I've been told that kids think I'm "really cool" and they go around with their hand pulled up in their sleeve to try looking like me.
One little girl thought her Grandpa and I were cousins because we were both missing a hand.
I don't remember asking God, "Why me?" If I wasn't angry at God, I wasn't angry, right? I found out that damaging emotions could creep into my life without my being aware of them and then when I did become aware of them, I just let them build and my parents let them build, too. No one told me that my feelings toward Dad were wrong. I thought that the way I felt was all Dad's fault. After all, if he hadn't made me help him... if... if... if! I was fine. I didn't have any issues to deal with. It was Dad that needed fixing, not me. It didn't matter that I wished he would just drop dead. I couldn't stand him.
I watched every day as anger and hatred turned to bitterness. It was so bad that if Dad was driving and I was the only one with him, I would squeeze myself as close to the door as possible. If Mom was along, I would sit behind her, regardless of her driving or being a passenger. I could barely speak to Dad in a civil manner. It was all his fault! At least that's what I told myself. I couldn't forgive him, I just couldn't.
I wanted to forgive him in one sense, but in another way, I didn't. In part, I wanted to make him pay for what happened to me. I just didn't understand it. I thought I was a Christian... I grew up in church, read my Bible, prayed, was even baptized, took communion, sang in the choir, went to Bible Camp... you name it, I did it. I must be able to do something to get rid of all the horrible emotions.
I thought that if I went away for my last two years of high school, then things would be better between Dad and myself. I was 18 by the time I graduated from Prairie High School in Three Hills, Alberta and should have thought the world was at my finger tips. It wasn't. By the time I moved back home, I was just as miserable as ever. My relationship with Dad was still surrounded by anger, hatred and bitterness. I didn't love him any more now than I had before. If anything, it was even worse.
I had wanted to follow in Mom's footsteps and become a nurse, but I felt that the loss of my hand killed that dream. I got a job at the Medical Clinic, which was a "God send." With losing my hand, I thought that this was the next-best to nursing I would come.
However, the job didn't make me any happier. My friends didn't make a difference in my life. I spoke to others of how badly I thought Dad treated me, but all to no avail. He didn't treat me badly, he hurt just as much as I did and didn't know how to reach out to me. He never did return my attitude with the same kind. He had every reason to treat me the way I treated him, but he never stooped to my level.
God knew what was going on in my life and in my mind as I started looking for another place to live. I was encouraged by Mom to find my own place if I couldn't abide by the house rules. God knew what and who I needed in my life at that time. One of the doctors at my job was a Christian and when he showed up unexpectedly one day, I took my lunch hour to talk with him. I don't have any idea what he said, but it got me to thinking about my relationship with the Lord.
That Saturday, with only myself at home and the cleaning done, I decided the time had come to figure out what to do to change things with Dad. I took my Bible and started reading all the underlined verses beginning in Genesis. I went page by page, thinking that there had to be an answer somewhere in the Bible. If it wasn't there, then I had no place else to look. I went through every page and with many verses underlined, it took me a couple of hours.
I was getting discouraged because I was into Corinthians and still nothing. What was I going to do? I was desperate to find an answer. I had to finish my task of checking all the verses that meant something to me, hoping to find the answer.
Then it was there! 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." That was it! I was so excited. The answer was in the Bible. Right there in my room I confessed my sins, asked the Lord into my life, to take away my horrible attitude toward dad and to take over in my life.
What a relief! The load lifted; the dark cloud of desperation was gone; I was free! It was easy to tell Mom, my pastor, even the whole church the next day... but how was I going to tell Dad? What would I say to him? I was actually scared to tell him... I was afraid that he would hug me and I didn't want to recoil from his touch like I had been doing for five long years.
It was a few days later that I finally had the courage to tell Dad that I had given my life to the Lord. His response shocked me. "I can tell, because there is a change in your attitude toward me."
I couldn't believe it. God had done instantly what I couldn't do in the last five years, even though I had tried to forgive him many times.
Though our relationship didn't go back to where it had been as an adolescent, I saw God work a miracle in my life. I learned to love Dad, to appreciate him, to have long talks, to have music sessions again, with Dad on his guitar and me on the accordion. I came to understand that it wasn't his fault I lost my hand - that it was an accident, that I had walked into the saw; not something he ever would have wanted for me. I learned to appreciate his knowledge of and love for the Word of God. I got to watch him give me memories with his grandchildren, my children.
The best reward? I have the knowledge that I will see him again in heaven.
Here I am, almost 44 years later and I am seeing that God does have something special for me. As I have been preparing my story for Reflections (westerntractmission.org), the Lord has opened many doors for me to share this part of my life with many people. He is showing me and helping me to accept the fact that He is using me to encourage others. God alone has taken me from a life of desperation and unforgiveness; taken the anger, hatred and bitterness and put His love within my heart, making it possible to forgive Dad. Instead of being angry with Dad, I hurt for how I hated him, for the pain that I caused him by my unforgiving attitude.
It is almost six years ago that my brother-in-law, Ted, took my arm and prayed for healing from the Great Physician. God revealed to him that there was an inner healing that needed to take place. Thank you for that prayer, Ted. The healing has begun.
Now I am starting to tell others of His mercies. Lamentations 3: 21-26 tells us: "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."
It is only now, as I have been writing about this part of my life that the Lord has impressed on me that I need to offer Him the loss of my hand, my arm as it is, as a sweet savour (Exodus 29) to Him to use as He wants to use it. It seems, in many ways, that the real healing is only beginning.
My prayer is that the Lord be able to use my life to point others to Himself. Only God can change your life. Only God can do what you can't do, just like He did for me.
It is because of the Lord Jesus Christ shedding His blood on the cross, giving His life for me, that I am who I am today. I have never been able to make the changes in my life that need to be there, but as I ask God to do what I can't do, I see Him change me into His likeness. He loves you enough to want to do the same for you.
Will you let Him?
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