I recently had the opportunity to interview Jen Hill who is a personal friend and hero of mine. Her family’s story is one that will undoubtedly inspire. I asked her to take us back to life in 2014 and explain the events that unfolded and how God has been miraculously been leading and providing every step of the way. Here is part of Jen’s story.
The year prior to the summer of 2014 had been a fairly rough stretch for me personally. I was pregnant with our fifth child, and I felt pretty lousy for months. I was homeschooling the kids, and the winter just about did me in that year! Thankfully, as the winter turned into spring, I started to turn a corner myself and we entered into the homestretch of the pregnancy.
By June 2014 we were hoping for a break. My husband Greg was settling into a new career in health insurance an there was a hope that life might finally be settling down for us. Surely there were better days ahead.
On June 21, 2014, we woke up ready to conquer the world. Baby #5 was due at any time. Nesting was in full force. Greg had noticed that the riding lawn mower wasn’t cutting the grass well. It was decided that he would run the blades over to a repair shop, come home and get us, and we’d swing back to pick up the blades and head to Costco for groceries. I’m not sure either of us really know how to process the fact that those blades got sharpened on that morning, but it’s part of the story, and we’ve been committed from day one to tell the story authentically and with open hearts.
We finished our errands and got back home. I laid our daughter down for her nap, and the rest of us headed outside to do yard work and clean up the garage. The three boys were outside with us. Our youngest son, Jude, had always been Greg’s sidekick. Jude was a helper.
At three and half years old, he was just the right size to fit in Dad’s lap while Greg mowed the lawn. So Greg took Jude and they began mowing the lawn. Jude even fell asleep that day. We have the pictures to prove it. He was wearing Greg’s ball cap, completely asleep on his lap. I snapped a picture of the dynamic duo and then carefully took Jude from Greg’s arms and sat on the swing in the backyard with Jude.
Jude woke up and we chatted, waved at Greg as he finished up the yard, and made funny faces over our excitement for the fancy ice cream sandwiches that we had purchased at Costco that morning. The plan was to enjoy the ice cream as soon as Greg was finished mowing.
Greg was nearly done so I left Jude sitting on the swing and headed into the garage to wrap up my work.
When I heard Greg screaming I felt like the world slid into slow motion. I knew by the sound of Greg’s scream that our world had just completely and forever changed. Greg had backed up the mower to go back over a spot in the yard, and unbeknownst to Greg, Jude had run up behind him.
When I walked out of the garage I could see that Jude’s left foot was completely gone and his right foot was severely damaged. Greg, screaming, was running towards me with Jude’s legs facing out. Even as I began to scream too, and react to the horror before me, I felt the Lord speak to me.
As we worked to get Jude stabilized, Greg was beside himself. I grabbed Greg by the face and told him that God was writing a story for us. Bottom line. God was still in control. Who says that in a moment like that? I can’t take credit for it! God was faithful. It was a lifeline for us from that moment on. It’s been our only rest.
Because of that day our vibrant, healthy three-year-old son became a double amputee. We spent nearly a month in the hospital, delivered his baby sister on Day 26, and all of us went back home together on Day 28.
Those weeks were incredibly full. Full of emotion, trauma, questions, grief, joy, pain…
We determined right away that the only way we could get through it was to face it head on.
We initially opted to stay local for Jude’s prosthetic care. Some of the medical team that were overseeing Jude’s care told us that where we went for his feet didn’t matter. They said product options wouldn’t vary. Considering our context, especially with a newborn, it seemed like a no brainer. Of course we would stay local! Why travel if the magic could happen locally?
Naturally, this was a total misstep. “Where” we went absolutely mattered. So much so that I’m not sure I can emphasize it enough. His first set of feet just did not work out. We were stunned. What of all those well-meaning people that said “kids are so resilient”. Why was he not up and running?
We learned pretty quickly that the medical world is not a clear, set path. Who knew? We had to stumble our way through and persist to figure out what Jude needed and where he could get it. The world of prosthetics (when done correctly) is this beautiful mix of art and craft with the required technical knowledge. We feel like we took the long way to find the right setup for Jude, but when we found it, we had a deep, deep joy.
I’m very grateful for the experts that we rely on. However, interestingly enough, it has been other parents that have played pivotal roles in our quest to get Jude the right kind of prosthetics. I tracked down another mom, and with her input I was able to get connected to Jude’s awesome prosthetist, “Mr. Dave,” in Chicago.
The rest is history. Less than 9 months after the accident Jude was running and playing soccer.
He now has two sets of feet: an everyday pair that allows him to run and walk and running blades for when he wants to go “extra fast.”
Jude had the grit and ability to do it all along, but we needed someone to give him the right tools. That’s how we view his special feet. They are tools that allow Jude to be Jude.
So that was the prosthetic side of things…but what of the emotional?
Coming home from the hospital was scary. We felt abandoned by all the medical care we were used to receiving in a hospital setting. No one was in charge. We were in charge! And that felt a bit scary. We’re the type of parents that want to be involved in every discussion, every decision, every step of the way. But we felt like our safety net was gone, and the whole transition home was jarring. Those were hard, overwhelming days. We had five children! One a newborn. One a double amputee. Three that had been separated from our close-knit family for weeks. A grieving dad. A grieving, post-partum mom. It all felt over the top.
Somehow I’m writing this and it’s been over three years. We made it through that. Grace upon grace upon grace. I have no other explanation. Jude is a beautiful picture of resilience. He has a gregarious personality, he’s a gifted athlete. He loves Jesus. He’s still Dad’s sidekick and helper.
My brain is now appalled that we allowed the kids outside while the yard was being mowed. I can easily recall the insensitive comments by people who hear our story and declare that they would never do such a thing. But my social media feeds tell a different story. Lots of people do it. Even people that know our story continue to snap the pictures of their cute kids on the mower with Dad.
Honestly, I can’t imagine our mission in life being centered on lawn mower safety. I refuse to let that define us. We can’t ever go back and change the events of that day. Yet, we hope people will realize how many children are injured every year because of lawn mowers (thousands upon thousands). We hope people will keep their kids inside while the yard is being mowed. But more than anything else, above ALL else, we hope anyone who hears our story knows that Jesus is enough.
Suffering has made our world so much bigger. Strange how that happens! My social media feeds are much more diverse. We’ve had the privilege of traveling to special events across the country with Jude. We’ve met so many incredible people, from United States senators, Paralympians, veterans, and everyday heroes that are the perfect picture of perseverance and grit.
The people we’ve met, and the widening of our world, is an aspect of all this hardship that I’m very thankful for…it is a beautiful thing to behold.
In all of this I am also learning that trauma takes time. We peel back layer after layer, only to find more there. Three years out and I honestly still feel like we’re only at the beginning. This has been a tough element! We feel very weak. We’re tired. Finances have never settled. We believe, but oh, Jesus, help us in our unbelief!
Jude faces constant stares and comments. It’s a lot for a 6 year old! He has days where he’s unable to wear his feet, or he is sore. He’s facing a surgical revision this winter. We know it’s just his reality now, and he’s a tough kid, but it’s hard.
I’ve always prayed that our kids would love Jesus with all their hearts and all their souls and all their minds and all their strength. So convicting to my heart! I must do the same! We know Jesus is our treasure. I don’t understand why a horrible lawn mower accident is a part of this story. I don’t get it. I just know that Jesus is writing a story, and ultimately it’s not even about us. It’s about Him.
I read Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer early on, after June 21. It struck a chord in me. All the words of scripture, Jesus’ life on earth, His example…it all came together for me.
This whole story is one of weakness. WE ARE WEAK.
But, oh friends, in our weakness, HE IS STRONG.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 English Standard Version (ESV)
Team Hill recently moved away from the rental house that they lived in at the time of the accident and became homeowners. Their lovely family has now expanded to a party of 8. Three boys and three girls. Jen still homeschools all of them and as their story unfolds their family motto continues to be “Jesus is Enough”