How a compassionate nurse changed her life and inspired her career—and the surprising way they met again.
- Posted on Oct 24, 2017
Angels of grace. That’s what I called the foster family agency that I founded in 2000. Then, 14 years later, in 2014, we caught the attention of the local Rotary Club and I was invited to speak. I was always happy to talk about our work.
Angels of Grace took children out of dangerous environments and found them safe, nurturing places to grow up. We prioritized keeping siblings together and reuniting children with their families or placing kids into permanent homes.
I was up next to speak, after the policeman finished. As I waited to be called to the podium, my mind went back to a night many years before. That night it was me who desperately needed to find a safe place. I sat alone in the busy ER at the county hospital. My body was sore. Broken ribs made it hard to breathe. A split lip filled my mouth with the taste of blood. My face was swollen and bruised. When I caught sight of my reflection, I saw the handprints. The handprints of my husband, the man who’d put me here.
"Thank You all. Every book, magazine, and letter means a lot to us when we are away from home. It gives us hope, confidence, happiness, strength and pride that someone is there for us." - Former Navy Sailor, Part of Operation Gratitude
I looked around at the others in the ER. Two sailors in uniform injured in a bar fight. A kid on a bike, hit by a car. An asthma attack. Chest pains. Overdoses. The staff was stretched to the limit. One nurse in particular seemed to be everywhere at once, checking on each person and reassuring them.
“Hi,” she said, coming over to me. “Your name’s Lisa, right? I’m Jena. You’re going to be okay. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”
I nodded. She’s so smart, competent and strong, I thought. Everything I wasn’t. Everything I could never be. I had people depending on me too: a four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. And another baby on the way. How was I going to take care of them on my own?
Now here I was at the Rotary Club. It seemed almost like a miracle. The police officer spoke of fulfilling his boyhood dream, leading a life of service. From an early age, I knew I wasn’t allowed to have dreams. I followed the plan laid out for me by my parents, my church. God’s plan, they said. I got married right after high school, everyone anxious for me to start a family. Almost immediately my husband became abusive. It was my duty to make it work, I was taught. That was what God wanted.
I stuck it out. For my family, for my God. And then, while I was pregnant with my third child, my friend was killed by her abusive husband, her children left motherless. I held my own children’s hands at the funeral. That can’t be what God wanted for her, I thought. It can’t be what a loving God wants for me.
The next time my husband attacked me I gathered up the kids and left the house in a bathrobe. At three in the morning I found a pay phone on a deserted street and called a women’s shelter.
They took care of my kids and sent me to the hospital. That’s how I ended up in the ER, watching Jena care for all those patients. Even now, all these years later, safe and waiting to speak at the Rotary Club, I remembered how scared I was. I’d thought leaving home would be the hardest thing I’d ever done, but facing the future seemed even more impossible.
All night long Jena checked up on me. One by one the other patients were cleared out. Eventually I was moved to a room. After I was settled, Jena came to find me. “Just wanted to make sure you were okay,” she said. She cupped her hands around my face and looked right into my eyes, as if she had something important to say. “You’re beautiful,” she said. “You’re smart. You’re courageous. This is just a bump in the road. We’re going to get you to the other side.”
I had to be those things. It was the only way my kids and I would survive. But I wasn’t Jena. I wasn’t strong or courageous. Before I could stop myself, I grabbed her hand in mine. “Pray for me,” I whispered.
Jena didn’t miss a beat. “Dear Lord, I ask you to take care of Lisa. Send your angels to watch over her. Wrap your arms around her. Protect her. Give her wisdom and insight. Help her to know how beautiful she is.”
The memory of Jena’s prayer came just as the officer was finishing up his talk. Any nervousness I had slipped away. I felt strong and hopeful, just like I had that night Jena prayed for me. Like I could face anything. After all, I had angels watching over me.
With my notes in order, I stood up before the crowd at the Rotary Club and told them about the work we did at Angels of Grace. How I was on call 24 hours a day, ready to go get a child whenever I was needed. “The first thing I tell every child I meet is that they are beautiful and they are safe,” I said. “I make sure they know this is a bump in the road and promise we’re going to get them to the other side.”
I talked about some of the children I’d met, the families we’d created, about our annual fund-raiser coming up. The audience seemed enthusiastic about our mission. Several people approached me after I finished to ask more questions. One woman looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. “My husband was the police officer who spoke before you,” she said. “That’s why I’m here tonight. But I want to help you with your fund-raiser any way I can.”
Her voice was familiar. I realized where I’d heard it before. In a busy ER on the scariest night of my life. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Were you ever a nurse?”
“I was,” she said. “A trauma nurse at the old county hospital.”
“Jena, do you remember a little Mexican girl who came to the ER? Her husband had beaten her...”
“I prayed for her,” she said. “I mean…for you!”
All these years I’d thanked God for the nurse whose kind words had given me the courage to face the future. The same words I’d passed on to hundreds of children since then. Now God had brought Jena and me together again so she could see herself what angels can do.
Learn more about Lisa's foster family agency, Angels of Grace.
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