Cyndy’s Blessed Assurance
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This is the inspiring true life story of an amazing child with disabilities who changed the world around her in profound ways. Told by her mother and beloved doctor, this story takes us from Cyndy’s troubled birth, the incredible medical treatment and care given by a trusted doctor and staff and her entire family, to her heart rending death. Read the terrible story of the family losing (then regaining) their other children after Cyndy’s death due to misinformed local authorities. Witness the deep and abiding faith that carried Anne and the family through the highs and lows and finding the blessed assurance of Cyndy, an unforgettable angel of God.
Larry E. White is a practicing child neurologist at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, certified in Pediatrics and Neurology/Child Neurology. In practice now for over 30 years, his medical school training was in Memphis at the University of Tennessee, followed by pediatric training at David Grant USAF Medical Center in California. After four years in general pediatric practice he did additional training in neurology and child neurology at the Medical College of Virginia and Eastern Virginia Medical School, serving as a child neurologist in the Air Force. After a 14 year military career, he returned to Norfolk as a civilian in 1988. Dr. White’s prior writings include pamphlets for new parents, guides for pediatric house staff, one book chapter and two dozen abstracts and articles. This is his first book.
Anne H. Harrell is a wife to Mark W. Harrell Sr, and mother of six children. Five of Mark and Anne’s children have mild to severe mental disabilities. Anne is presently a student in Ashford University and is double majoring for a BA degree in English Communications and Journalism, and is expected to graduate in the spring of 2013. The Harrell’s lost their oldest daughter Cynthia on January 1, 1997 to a seizure disorder. Anne has written many articles for print and the Web. This is her first book.
“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
The moment your child dies, there is nothing that family members, friends or strangers can say that will take the pain away. My husband and I weren’t able to comprehend that our daughter Cyndy was really gone and in heaven that New Year’s Day 1997. We couldn’t find peace; we wanted our child to be with us here on earth, not somewhere where we could not see or touch her.
My name is Anne Harrell and this is my story. It has taken me a lot of years before I was ready to talk or write about Cyndy’s death. When the Lord placed a heavy burden on my heart to write a book on the life and death of His special servant I argued with Him. I did not know when to shut my mouth; I dug myself deeper and deeper pleading with Him “I am not an author…I do not know anything about writing a book! I am not worthy of writing a book for Your glory Lord.”
The truth is it hurt me too much to write about Cyndy. My heart bleeds every time I think about her…how could I put into words the blessed assurance and grace and love she had for people? For several restless nights I got on my knees and pleaded with the Lord, “You are the author of the beginning and the end; the Alpha and Omega…You Lord would have to help me, guide me, and hold me when the pain becomes unbearable…if it is Your will for the book to be written, I will abide.” Having no idea where to turn or which direction the book should go, I decided just to do as the Lord had called me to do.
When I finally gave in and agreed to write the book the Lord swung doors wide open. I contacted Cyndy’s pediatrician Dr. Bobby Garrison and he liked the idea of honoring Cyndy with a book on her life. He was willing to help by giving me Cyndy’s medical charts and he encouraged me to ask Dr. Larry E. White, Cyndy’s pediatric neurologist, to help as well. Dr. White knew Cyndy well and loved her dearly.
When I called Dr. White it had been three years since Cyndy’s death. He didn’t know that the Lord had laid it on my heart to ask him to coauthor the book with me. I told him about wanting to write a book on Cyndy’s life and that I had some medical questions about her death.
He answered my questions and then when I got to the big question about wanting him to co-author the book with me he blurted out yes he would love to coauthor the book. Dr. White told me whatever it took to help me deal with Cyndy’s death he would help me through the grief and pain. God had already prepared him to accept my offer. He did not even think about it for a second before yes slipped out of his mouth.
Our family at Calvary Presbyterian Church has also been a great encouragement. Pastor Bender and Gina Tuck from Calvary became involved in this book and many friends shared touching stories of how Cyndy touched their hearts, like our close friend John Leggore who said:
“I’ve heard some people say that children are the flowers of a couple’s love. You can tell a lot about a couple by the way their children act and react to the world. When I first saw Cyndy Harrell at our church in Virginia, I knew that her parents must be loving and kind people. Cyndy seemed so content and happy, and she was warm and friendly to strangers. I did not know the Harrell family then; when I finally got to know them, I found out that my first assessment was correct. Mark and Anne love all their children equally, regardless of how God made them.
As I watched Cyndy play in the church nursery, I could see how different she was from the other children, yet how much she was also like them. Cyndy showed me that I did not have to be nervous or uncomfortable about approaching people who are not ‘normal’ by the world’s standards. One time at church, there was a shortage of people who were available to hold and rock the children to sleep. Something compelled me to offer my lap and shoulder to Cyndy so that she could sleep. I believe God was working on me that day, through Cyndy, to help me become a better person. She sat on my lap without a word and accepted me for who I was, though she did not know me. Talk about a humbling experience. When the service was over, I gave her to her parents and felt much better about life.
Since then, whenever opportunities arise, I try to do at least a little something for others. I even volunteered with Special Olympics. I do not think I would have without my experience with Cyndy. If children like Cyndy have a purpose here, I think it is to humble the rest of us and remind us what is important. I hope God continues to use Cyndy’s memory to remind people like me how to truly love others.”
It has taken 10 years to write this book. Countless times it seemed like we would not be able to complete and publish it. Yet all along I had an unwavering faith and felt that God would remove any hurdle to make our path smooth. That has been proven true. God has held this book together. We give God the glory for this book and pray that you will be blessed as you read about one of God’s servants, a severely handicapped child, who did His will by touching lives throughout her life and even now many years after her death.
The working title of this book was “All for the Love of Cyndy” because everyone could see Cyndy’s love for people. But after years of working on the book we realized that it was not Cyndy’s love that made this story so special, but rather it was the Lord’s love for this special child. Cyndy showed us God’s special love and what childlike faith is all about.
We changed the title of the book when Dr. White heard my youngest daughter Katie play the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” on her viola for offertory at church one Sunday morning. He leaned over told me to listen to the lyrics of the song. As I turned and looked at him, he was crying. I listened closely and realized how beautiful the song is. Cyndy has that assurance now that she is with her Lord. She is at rest with her Savior in perfect peace and happiness. What could be a more appropriate title than “Cyndy’s Blessed Assurance?”
So go get your box of tissues, have a seat, and enjoy getting to know Cyndy as we knew her. You may cry a little and I hope you laugh a lot. You will see unbelievable things that happened over Cyndy’s short life. I hope the next time you hear “Blessed Assurance,” you will stop and listen to the lyrics and let Cyndy come to your mind. Be grateful for the assurance she has now, the assurance we can have in Christ.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3-4
Thank You Father for the love you have shown us through the loss of your special child. Give us the strength to take one-step at a time and know that You are there with us. You are the ONE that holds our hand when the tears fall. We know that joy will come in the morning.
In Christ only,
We all have, in our individual or collective memory, dates that bring to mind great joy or sadness: birthday versus tax filing day for example or December 25 versus September 11. Until 1997 January 1st was for me, a day of parades, overeating, and football; but that particular day, part of me died.
My name is Larry White, and I am a doctor specializing in child neurology, treating youngsters with a variety of problems caused by faulty or injured brains, spinal cords, nerves, and muscles. I have been a doctor for over 30 years and a neurologist for over 20, and I love every one of my kids (as I call my patients). They have given me love, joy, patience, confusion, aggravation, frustration, despair, and hope; I have tried to return the love, joy, patience, and hope. Rarely, one of your kids gives you something you never expected: they connect with you in such a way that a physician should never let happen, because you know things you shouldn’t know, and likely cannot change. For me, that was Cyndy—with a Y.
I was introduced to Cyndy when she was two years old, after she had one in a series of prolonged, life-threatening convulsions. She wasn’t responding well to medications to suppress her seizures, especially when she had a fever or was sick, so I met with the family to outline a strategy. That meeting started a long relationship between Cyndy, her parents and me. Our relationship grew to involve Cyndy’s many crises, her brothers’ issues with autism and mental challenges, her mom and dad’s health issues, and coordination of age-related therapies with her pediatricians, therapists, and social services. Over those years a lot of things happened both good and bad, and as she and the family grew, I grew as a physician and advocate. By her 10th birthday, we thought we had things under control. Then she died…suddenly…unexpectedly…except to me. I had sensed something bad was coming but could not prevent it.
Cyndy’s mom, Anne, struggling with her own problems with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, reacted predictably and heroically at times. However it wasn’t possible for her to manage her own health issues, her grief over Cyndy, as well as her other children and her own husband who became disabled with heart disease. She couldn’t handle everything at first, but slowly things changed. With help from the church, the Bible, friends, doctors, and psychologist/therapists the family reunited, her other kids grew and time passed. But Anne needed closure and an answer to the question we struggled with the day of Cyndy’s burial: “What has happened to Cyndy?” As Christians we knew she would be welcomed into HEAVEN because she was an innocent child; apparently not everyone thinks so. No, some feel that if you do not profess Christ as your Savior verbally or by writing then you are not saved. I don’t understand that, since if God knows what is in your heart what does it matter?
Anne turned to the scriptures; the Bible seemed to have a scripture for most torments. When she asked for help writing the book I agreed enthusiastically feeling my only input would be regarding medical explanations. However the question I thought we could answer quickly – what happened spiritually to Cyndy – proved to nag at us, particularly me, since it related to many of my patients that have passed on. The thought that if my patients couldn’t acknowledge Christ in a traditional way they would be prevented from going to HEAVEN never occurred to me; on more than one occasion I would speculate how I would know them. Should I as a Christian believe that infants, premature babies, brain-injured children who could never understand Christian teachings, or that people never exposed to Christian teaching in their lifetime, are denied Paradise?
Since Anne and I both have obsessive compulsive disorder and different agendas for this book, it has taken a dozen years to finish. During that time medical science has evolved tremendously, attitudes in Christianity have changed, medications to treat OCD have improved, but some things haven’t changed. Parents still bury their children, Christian beliefs are still fragmented by politicians and others, and despite our scientific achievements we are still left with the 3 questions of the ages: How did we get here? Where are we going? How long do we have? After you finish this book, you will know the answers for our little Cyndy; and hopefully acquire some knowledge, inspiration, and strength to find them for yourself.
Heir of Salvation
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own
understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
New Year’s morning 1997 seemed normal. Mark and I slept in. The children woke us eager to see the Rose Bowl parade and wanting breakfast. Katie and Joel had gotten up and come downstairs; Katie told us Cyndy was still sleeping. Mark made breakfast and began giving out medicine for the four of our five children who have physical and mental disabilities. Eleven year-old Cyndy still hadn’t come downstairs. Katie wanted to play nurse and give Cyndy her meds since she was always an easy “patient” for her younger sister. She took the medicine that Mark measured out for Cyndy and ran back upstairs.
A few moments later she was back saying she couldn’t get Cyndy to take her meds. Mark went up to wake her. Suddenly I heard him shouting “Cyndy is gone!” I wondered what he meant. Where is she? I ran upstairs and saw that she was still…her face was blue…ashen…
My first thought was to move her – to bring her downstairs and do CPR. I leaned over to give her four quick breaths. An odor escaped from her mouth. Her arms and hands were in mid-body position as they would be in mid-seizure. I tried to move them down to her side, only to realize they were stiff. My mind was racing…no heart beat! Not breathing! No this can’t be happening to me! My daughter Help! Help! My baby is gone! No this can’t have happened! No God No!
As I tried doing CPR once again I heard a voice. “Leave her alone now, she is Mine! She is healed now.”
In a moment I felt a strong grip on my wrists, as if Cyndy had grabbed them, something she used to do when she wanted me to clap my hands together playing patty-cake with her. Patty-cake was Cyndy’s way to let us and her doctors along with others know she was okay after a seizure. The more I tried to stop her from clapping my hands I couldn’t. Then a peace came over me beyond my understanding. I knew that Cyndy was okay. As I got up off the floor, I knew that Cyndy would never seizure again! Cyndy was healed. Cyndy can walk and talk now and forever. I knew that Cyndy was gone to a much better place.
In a matter of minutes, my house was full of cops, firemen, paramedics, neighbors, church family, police chaplains, and social services. Questions were being fired at me left and right.
“Why did you move her out of her bed?”
“Why is your house in such a mess?”
“What do you have to say for living in conditions like this?”
My head was spinning. What was happening? Panic rose in my throat.
“Don’t cover my daughter’s face.”
“She’s not dead!” “I want my little girl back.”
“Please God let me wake up, this is just part of a nightmare.”