Kirstie Alley: Surviving the awful

My husband was a nearly perfect boy, as his mother would gladly tell you. He never got into any trouble whatsoever. Well, there was that time he locked his sister in the dryer, or was it him that was locked in the dryer? Oh, well, at any rate that’s how those stories go. What was  at one time a troubling story evolves into a raucous tale that the family loves to tell over and over again.

Our children love it when I tell the story of how our son opened the car door and tumbled out into oncoming traffic when I was driving on a very busy four-lane road, but at the time it was the scariest thing ever.

Stephan was 3. We had been to a store to pick up some groceries and there was some toy he wanted that I wouldn’t buy. He was still pouting on the drive home. I was approaching a red light that was turning green at Portland’s 181st and Division Streets when Stephan announced that he was going to just walk home.

Since I have always been the sort of mother who doesn’t take to being threatened, I replied flippantly, “Okay.”

He opened the door just as I began the turn left. The force of the car turning flung him out into another frightfully busy lane of traffic. Since I was fully pregnant with twins at the time, I about lost my water. I slammed on the brakes and started screaming. I thought I was going to see my son get smashed like a grape under the wheels of some automobile.

Instead a man in the far lane hopped out of his truck ran across to where my son was, scooped him up and nearly threw him back into the car. I was so hysterical that I didn’t know what to do. The whole right side of Stephan’s face was bloodied from where he’s skidded across the asphalt face first.

Should I drive straight to the doctors? The hospital? Home? You know how faces bleed so profusely. I decided to go home first because we were only half-a-mile from the house. After I got the bleeding stopped, I could tell he didn’t need stitches. It was more like  really bad rug burn. Sorta. I was so thankful he wasn’t dead, I couldn’t yell at him, but I did give him instructions to never ever do that again.

“But I told you I was going to walk home,” Stephan replied in his defense.

He had a point.

But stories like this one are only amusing when told in retrospect over Easter dinner. Had Stephan died that day I would be telling you a completely different kind of story.

Much of life is like that — more amusing in hindsight than it is when we are in the muck of it.

I can laugh now at the time the police met me and a girlfriend at the house because it looked like someone had broken in while we were at youth group — and indeed they had. You should have seen the look on my brother’s face when he opened the door to see a a 300-pound  police officer on the other side with a flashlight drawn and a gun at his side. But at the time it was scary for Brother John,  for me and my girlfriend. (The officer looked a little scared, too, when Brother John showed up on the other side of the door of a dark house.)

And we all laugh, even though it’s really not all that funny, about the time our 3-year-old Ashley had to be medicated so doctors could do an MRI on her. She was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder that at the time was crippling her. Instead of the medication putting her to sleep as doctors had hoped, it only made Ashley high as a kite. As she was flailing about in her father’s arms at midnight (there was only one MRI machine in all of Oregon at the time so they ran it around the clock), she looked at me from her upside down viewpoint and declared, “I’m H-A-P-P-Y, Mama. Are you H-A-P-P-Y?”

Tim and I laughed then and have laughed numerous times over that moment over the years. It’s become a family saying: I’m happy, Ashley. Are you H-A-P-P-Y?

Within an hour of that moment, however, I was in the bathroom  crying and throwing up because the doctors had discovered a black mass in Ashley’s spine. Thank God and the angels who ministered health to her, Ashley’s fine today, though her disorder is something that will be a life-long issue.

I was thinking about all of these stories because of that fall Kirstie Alley took on Dancing with the Stars last night. Did you see it?
It’s painful to watch, right? Makes a person dread the demeaning “dropping the fat girl” jokes that will surely follow.

But, just you wait, the day will come, maybe not soon, but down the road, when this stumble will be transformed into spontaneous laughter. It won’t be the kind of laughter that comes from demeaning another, but the pure, unadulterated sort of laughter that comes from having survived the awful.

Whether we are tumbling tail-over-head in a dryer or flying willfully headlong into danger, or stumbling awkwardly over one another, we need to trust that the day will come when all of these moments will be filtered through the lens of grace:  “He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” Job 8:21

Even the midst of the muck we can say to those around us:

I am H-A-P-P-Y.

Are you H-A-P-P-Y?

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  • WandaV

    “…these moments will be filtered through the lens of grace…”

    Sweet, Karen, sweet.

  • Cathy Hickman

    Thanks for your ” filtered through the lens of grace..” May we have grace to get us through our time here on this earth.

  • Gloria

    Love this post and the “filtered through the lens of grace”, but I also need to point out that Tim locked me in the dryer first. He just knew how to open it and I didn’t. So yes, I did lock him in the dryer and he almost suffocated but can’t I still blame him for doing it first?

  • Living only a few blocks from SE 181 & Div., I am amazed Stephan survived. Our vocabulary has no words for what happens to a parent’s heart and stomach. I remember the summer night our 16-year-old daughter walked out in platform shoes and a sun dress at 2:30 AM–and didn’t come home until mid morning. To paraphrase an Ann Landers line from long ago, teenagers are capable of danged near anything but actually able to handle much less. Laughter about this later? Not so much. She was in far graver danger than your son in that intersection. And it was only a bare primer for the coming years. One of the odd definitions for grace that I’ve acquired is this: that the heart still beats faithfully even when it feels like 100% scar tissue.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yes, I’m surprised as well. It was terrifying. Parenthood is full of such moments.

  • Karen,


    One of these days I will actually post the surveillance camera video of my fall at the curb on the way to the mail box. I look like one of those old rag dolls being thrown down — with arms and legs bouncing up and falling back down….it just might be worth $100,000 on AFV!

    What I was really shook about (besides the killer concussion and gash over my eye that bled like you know head wounds bleed) was what if this fall had broken my neck and my two younger boys (7 & 9 at the time) got off the school bus 3 minutes later and found their mother face down in the street in a pool of blood — paralyzed or dead. YIKES!

    As it was, my 7 year old was matter of fact about the whole thing. He walked in the house, saw me in the bathroom, and asked me what happened … and all I could say, with the cold, wet towel over my bleeding eyebrow, was: “uh … uh … uh …” To which he replied: “Mom, you’re just saying the same thing over and over.”

    Clearly, he didn’t recognize shock! LOL!

    I resonate with you, and every mother/father out there with children on auto-destruct…and am grateful that I have gotten very good at McGyver-Mom-Triage.

    I will definitely write all the stories down when the children are grown and off to college. They are getting funny now, but they will be better as fodder for embarrassing them in front of their girlfriends :^)