This is me in 4th grade… a Percy Priest Elementary “Tiger”. I found the old school photo in a box in my parents’ house a few months ago.
And for one reason or another, out of all the papers my Mom could have saved from those elementary school years, one of them was this:
I remember this year in particular. I was in Mrs. Kilcrease’s class (she was actually Dr. Kilcrease but we called her ‘Mrs.’, and she was married to Judge Kilcrease, the first African-American Chancellor appointed in Tennessee). It was the year of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, which happened to take place two days after this Jump Rope for Heart event. But little did I know how much this annual childhood P.E. event would mean to me 26 years later… when my father was in critical care at Vanderbilt Hospital waiting on a heart.
Following congestive heart failure, Dad’s hope for life was a transplant. But the match never came. Days away from death, my father was life-flighted to University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where he underwent emergency surgery and received a Novacor LVAD heart pump… instead of a heart. The heart pump saved his life. And four years later in 2011, Dad underwent another grueling surgery and is now living with his HeartMate, Dad’s second heart pump. The heart pump saved his life… again.
My youngest son Charlie, who in March will turn nine, spent his first birthday by his Granddaddy’s bedside at Vanderbilt.
The story of my father’s journey over the course of the past eight years is a long one, about which I am sure I will write more one day. Many (some of you who might be reading this) have held my family in prayer over these years as we have walked Dad’s course together. It has truly been a lesson of the heart… a lesson to learn and to share.
A lesson on Faith, granting us Peace, which gives us access to Grace… in which we are able to stand.
A lesson on boasting not in ourselves and in our own strength, but boasting in the hope of the glory of God.
His power, made perfect in our weakness.
A lesson in believing that in in our sufferings, we find glory.
Because suffering produces perseverance.
A lesson that hope does not disappoint or shame us, because God pours His deep love into our very hearts, through the gift of His Holy Spirit.
…You might say it has been a lesson in finding Holy in the midst of suffering.
And in some silly little way, the jump rope becomes holy when it is used in an act of love, in order to bring someone hope in their time of suffering. So that they can persevere…
So every year as this event comes around, I become nostalgic. I remember my own days in Mrs. Smith’s P.E. Class, playing “Heads-Up, 7Up”, roller skating in the cafeteria, and yes, Jumping Rope for Heart. I didn’t know it back then, but in a sense I was jumping rope for my own Daddy’s heart. And when my Mom collected money for the American Heart Association through neighborhood mailings and going door to door, Mom didn’t know that she was raising money for a cause that would prove to be significant years later in our family’s life, either.
So why does the jump rope matter? To borrow from the AHA’s tagline, it matters because of life. Life is why™. It matters that children are still jumping and learning about cardiovascular disease and strokes, and how to make healthy lifestyle choices. The jump rope matters. It is a lifeline for education, stronger public health policies, lifesaving tools… and groundbreaking research funded through donations.
Two weeks ago, as I sat in the gym during Jump Rope for Heart, I spoke with a grandmother who was there to watch her granddaughter jump– and I shared Dad’s story with her. Nodding toward her granddaughter, she said, “I hope that when she is a grandmother and sitting in this chair, that she will remember this day and want to give back. I hope she remembers.” Well, sweet lady beside me, I’d bet money on it that she will…
Charlie and Louisa jumped again this year in HONOR of Granddaddy. We are blessed and thankful that it wasn’t in his memory. If you would like to help continue the work of the American Heart Association, so that other children can jump in honor of someone, my little jumpers’ pages will be active until Friday, February 27. You can link to their Jump pages by clicking their photos below. The jump rope matters to hundreds of thousands of faces out there. Here are just a few of them.