Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"It's Hope!"

This morning, after Hopey's morning bath, I lifted her in my arms wrapped up in a big old towel and allowed her to peek at herself in the mirror.

"Who's That?" I asked.

"It's Hope!" was her reply.

Today, for the first time, Hope said her name.

Thank you, Lord!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Free Speech. Our First Amendment Right.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness"....the Declaration of Independence.

Hopey is one of God's creations; however, handicapped people are seldom treated as "equals".

In fact, over the years, people like Hopey have been forced into institutions, tied to chairs against their wills, locked in rooms until their bodies are bruised from attempting escape, used as experiments, over medicated, sterilized, and sexually abused. For them, education has been something fought for while pity is something fought against....friends are a gift longed for while bullies are a dreaded part of everyday life. An overwhelming majority of these precious ones are still aborted every single year, because they are portrayed as "baggage" by far too many in the medical community.

Free speech affords us the right to use derogatory words that hurt others, but that does not mean we should utilize the freedom. The "R" word is in the news again. It should be "old news" by now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Teen Worship

"Extra Excited" this evening:

Caleb has become so pumped about the youth group he is attending on Wednesday nights (http://www.journeyfranklin.com/). Last week, he and his sisters came home ecstatic as they relayed to me how they truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit around them during praise and worship time. Caleb, who typically doesn't show alot of emotion, said he couldn't keep his hands down no matter how hard he tried. To a worship song about being set free, my 15 year old raised his hands to the Father and belted out songs of praise from his heart with tears streaming down his face. Unashamed. Life being changed. His words to me that night: "I'm telling you mom, it was real! God was there!"

He and his sisters described the evening as teenagers praising the Lord with no reservation, overcome with tears, and some bowed down on their knees with their faces in their hands sobbing. The presence of the Lord is a powerful thing, isn't it?

In all of the anticipation and excitement about tomorrow night's youth service, Caleb asked if he could extend an open invitation to his facebook friends to come gather at our house for food and then ride to youth group together after dinner. He thought it would be "awesome" to get a group of kids from high school worshiping together and wants to make it a weekly event. So far he hasn't received a huge response, but who knows? Sometimes these things just take a little time.

God is doing something amazing and spectacular in our youth. They are expecting Him and He is not disappointing them....He is showing up big time. The word "Revival" was used to describe an evening like this when I was growing up. I like the word, because to me it symbolizes bringing new life! I guess the modernized word today would be "Revolution"???....so Lord, bring on a God Revolution that will change the world!!

The meaning of life? The youth at Journey are learning it: It is all about getting to know HIM! "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you....so abide in My love....you are My friends." (words spoken by Jesus from John 15:9-15)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Something is wrong with that little boy....he is one year old and still can't sit up. His parents are in denial or something, but there is obviously a problem and the baby needs some help."


Do you hear them?

Really? How about the word: DENIAL???

I could be re-named "Denial". The word encompasses my being every single day. Each morning before pre-school, Hopey begins her day splashing in a warm bath with bright smiles. Daddy, who has been at the gym, enters the house just as she is leaving. She watches for him with eagerness, because she knows what he is going to say. He says it every day: "Where's my beautiful girl?" before planting kisses all over her sweet face. I drop her off at school for four hours only anticipating the hour when I get to return to her hugs at pick up. At dinner, she proudly sits in her own chair and eats heartily like a big girl, sometimes having daddy zoom her fork around the table with a loud "vrrooom" until it plants itself in her wide open mouth. The game excites her so much, she literally flaps her arms like a big old chicken.

Play time. Hugs. Laughter. Games. The most dreamy green eyes you have ever seen. Our Hope.

Hope has a chronic heart condition. Hope has an aneurysm in her heart that is growing. Hope's life will be shortened because of her heart.

I hear those words. I speak those words. But they are only words to me; words from a doctor. Those words are not anywhere near my soul. Each moment, I only long for more moments.


When I learned of the little fella who is one year old and still not sitting up, I didn't fret or worry. Are his mom and dad in denial? Probably. His momma is completely missing the disability, because momma's eyes only see their precious baby. I am convinced God wipes away every ounce of sensibility from a gal when she becomes a mom---from that point on, her little brood is perfect. Flaws? She can't see them. Mistakes? She's ready to forgive them. Grudges? Never. Hope? Always.

If you are a momma who is living in denial today.....I get you. And while I don't have the answers, I do know the ONE who does. He doesn't promise to fix things, but He does promise to be so very close, He is the shade on our right hand. In fact, stop for a moment and be still. Can you feel Him? He has His arms around us right now. And better yet, He gets us too.

Psalm 121:5 "The LORD Himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Finding Her Voice

I have been doing flashcards with Hope all summer. We do flashcards in the morning when she wakes, again after lunch, and a third time before bed. When we began making "cards" a real routine, Hope initially enjoyed the lone attention from me, but wasn't too interested in the cards. However, recently, she began to make real attempts to say the words on the cards along with me. This morning, she attempted to say ALL the words. I ran to get my camera, but when I returned, she was "all done" with "cards". Check out a few seconds that I taped to hear her assert herself:

I don't know if you could tell, but when I asked if she was finished with the cards, she turned her head from me and said "no cards" (sounds more like "bah ardss").... I know you could plainly hear "done" and "eat"...but also, when I asked her if she wanted a drink, she tried to express "no" to that as well (sounds more like "naaa"). Hope is not much of a drinker; she'd prefer eating to drinking any time and was stating her preference beautifully.

We have waited to hear Hopey's voice for nearly five years. Through the process, God has taught us about patience and grace. While most on-lookers have seen a little girl throwing herself onto the floor in Target in a rage, I have seen a little girl wanting to tell her momma that she wants to go look at the Elmo toys but can't make her mouth say the words. At times, spectators probably didn't understand why I would drop to the floor beside her in the middle of the store to calmly say: "I know you want to tell me something, so let's go through the store and find what you want to show me" before gathering her up into my arms and carrying her to find the aisle that sells all stuff "Sesame Street". Perhaps I have been called an over-indulgent mom who needs to discipline her child. I don't care. We have persevered and words are coming. Hope is finding her voice. Pretty soon, I can be a mom who hears Hopey tell me what she wants, and I can choose to say "sure honey" or "not right now".... the anticipation is nearly more than I can handle!

I am reminded of the words of Isaiah: "Those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."

There are two paths in life, and we are all on one of them. The journey is long and difficult, and when life lessons teach us patience and grace, as an added bonus, we gain new strength. This momma could take on a giant today!

Love to all who love my Hope!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I LOVE Hope and Charlie's Extra Chromo-Joy!

Today was Natalie's first day of 6th grade.....and Caleb's first day of high school. (sigh)

I homeschooled both of them for 5 1/2 years, and even though they were in the public school system from January until May of this year, today was still tough for me. I miss them.

The day might have been a bit easier if I hadn't left Caleb limping into the gigantic Franklin High School with a heavy backpack on his back; he injured his calf muscle in last night's football scrimmage against Ravenwood High and can hardly move his left leg. I saw it happen. He was tackled from behind, the whistle blew, then he raised to get up when another player jumped on for a late tackle. He hit Caleb's leg the wrong way leaving Caleb limping into the next play. Somehow he managed to get through the rest of the game, but was wincing with pain all night long. I love football when it is someone else's kid playing the game.....but I HATE it when Caleb is on the field. The entire time he is playing, my hands are balled into knots and my chest hurts. In complete seriousness, I tell him he should quit for my health, but he rolls his eyes and smiles. After running into the end zone with football in hand, putting 6 points on the scoreboard, I think any attempts to dissuade him would be pointless.

As for Lydia, she has decided to homeschool another year, and we won't begin homeschooling until next week. The video link is a look at what we decided to do with our partially empty house and sorta sad day...it never ceases to amaze me how Hopey and Charlie spread joy when it is least expected and most needed...they are just so darn cute!

Which do you think Hopey enjoyed the most? Lydia's very long braids or the music??? She is a pistol! Never a dull moment around here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Facts The Disabled Community Needs To Know---Pass Along

HR4247, called the "Keeping All Students Safe Act" or "Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion In Schools Act" passed the house with a 262-153 vote.

238 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted for the bill
145 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted against the bill

Sadly, Marsha Blackburn, U.S. Representative from my district, voted against the bill. I was never contacted by Marsha Blackburn's office for my opinion about the bill, were you? Funny, but I thought her job was to "represent".

"It is hard to decide which is more shocking: the fact that 153 members of congress would see fit to vote against such a bill, or the fact that it was needed in the first place." (Solitary Watch--by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella)

Before making a judgement, take a few minutes to chew on a few of the following facts. Yes, the list is long, but EACH situation deserves to be read and pondered, because each represents a child's life that was impacted forever BECAUSE of his/her disability:

*7 year old girl from Wisconsin diagnosed with ADHD and an emotional disturbance died from suffocation after being pinned down to the floor in prone restraint because she was blowing milk bubbles instead of following the time-out rules regarding movement.

*15 year old boy with Autism died while being physically restrained at school by four school employees who pinned him down for 60-70 minutes on his stomach---the second child from Michigan to die from use of restraint.

*A 14 year old middle school student in Texas was killed after crying out "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" while his teacher held him down. The boy with a mental illness and other disabilities had been denied food as a form of punishment that day, and when he tried to leave the classroom to go to the lunchroom, the use of deadly restraint by the teacher ensued.

*A 13 year old from Georgia hanged himself in a small concrete-walled, locked seclusion room. The eighth-grader had pleaded with his teachers that he could not stand being locked within the small seclusion room for hours at a time. The boy had threatened suicide in school a few weeks before his death.

*A 9 year old from Alabama with ADHD and depressive disorder was held in a supply closet in a remote area of his school library with no supervision for extended periods of time.

*A 9 year old girl from Arkansas with developmental disabilities was suspended from school because she refused to go into a small wooden box in the corner of the classroom. The isolation box was completely enclosed with slide and turn locks on both the top and bottom of the door.

*A padded seclusion room was built into the special day classroom at one public middle school in California. To prevent students from leaving the room, classroom personnel held the door shut. Students were placed in the seclusion room daily, at times all day, for not completing work like writing 50 sentences apologizing for rule infractions.

*An eight year old in California with ADD was routinely locked in a school seclusion room. The room was approximately eight feet square. The boy would throw himself against the walls and attempt to scale the walls to get out of the room. The room had been built on the recommendation of the school's consulting behavioral specialist.

*In Colorado, P & A (Protection and Advocacy) launched over thirteen investigations of restraint and seclusion in the state. Children were physically placed in a "time out" room and not allowed to use the restroom, forcing students to sit in their own urine. Food was denied to students in "time out" and some were forced to wait until the end of the day to eat.

*A second grader in Florida who has bipolar, OCD/ODD, seizures and heart problems, was placed in eight open door seclusion time-outs and two closed door seclusion time-outs during the first four weeks of school resulting in trauma so severe, the family moved to another county that did not use seclusion tactics.

*A young girl with a seizure disorder and developmental disabilities in Iowa was isolated for several hours at a time at her school in a so-called "ticket booth" which had exposed wiring, baseboard heating, and a lock on the door. Claw marks were visible on the door as a result of the girl attempting to get out.

*An eight year old in Iowa who is autistic was confined alone for three hours in a storage area under a staircase at her school for not finishing an assignment.

*An eight year old in Kansas with Down Syndrome was not allowed out of isolation during the entire school day and was forced to eat and work on the floor where he was periodically observed by teachers from outside the room.

*A child with CP, which affects his ability to use expressive language effectively, in Kansas was secluded and isolated in a restroom at school all day, even being forced to eat meals in the restroom.

*A nine year old in Kentucky with autism was placed in a closet on seventy eight occasions when he did not comply with the teacher's directions.

*A six year old in Massachusetts with autism was placed in a small closet for fidgeting in circle time. He severely cut his hand on a glass pain and had to be transported to a hospital.

*A high school student with autism in Oklahoma was placed in a corner of the classroom inside a so-called "cottage" constructed of plastic pipe and mesh.

*In Tennessee, in an elementary school, students were held in stark plywood seclusion boxes measuring 4 ft. X 3 1/2 ft. a square covered with glass was carved out at the top of the box and gravity locks were used on the door. Twelve schools in Sumner County were found to be using the boxes.

*A young girl in Wisconsin who has Down Syndrome and autism was routinely placed in seclusion for hours at a time because she did not follow classroom instructions.

*In Wyoming, a 12 year old boy was repeatedly into a locked seclusion room for his failure to make eye contact with the teacher, complete math assignments on time, or promptly respond to the teacher. The child sustained bruises and was left locked in seclusion for hours at a time on multiple occasions.

*In Arkansas, an eight year old girl with autism was tied down into a wheelchair when she resisted being placed into the "blue padded room". She was wheeled down the hall, screaming, and was placed into the seclusion room.

*In California, a 10 year old non-verbal boy with multiple disabilities was tied to his wheelchair and left on the school van in the parking lot for hours on two separate days. His wrists were tied to the arms of the wheelchair, and his legs were bound together at the ankles with a nylon velcro strap. On an unscheduled visit to the school, his mother was outraged when she found him.

*In Delaware, a 10 year old boy with emotional disturbance was sent to a seclusion room and later physically restrained when he allegedly tried to kick his teacher. The boy suffers from trauma due to a history of abuse that makes him unable to tolerate adults touching him. His act was in response to his teacher touching his shoulder.

*In Florida, a 12 year old girl with autism was forced to the ground and held there 44 times during a school year. She was held once for an hour, and on average, twenty-two minutes at a time. Why? She repeated names of movies, shoved papers off her desk, or waved her arms and kicked her legs toward approaching teachers.

*Discovering bruises on her daughter's hips, a mother in Hawaii contacted the school where they admitted that the seven year old with developmental disabilities and deafness was frequently tied to a chair. In addition, her hearing device was removed by school personnel when she would not stay in her seat.

*In Kansas, a school resource officer handcuffed a child to the radiator until his mother arrived because he allegedly would not stop fidgeting.

*Also in Kansas, a three year old with autism was routinely left alone and strapped to a wooden postural support chair while other children were playing or doing group activities.

*In Maine, a child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to earlier child abuse was placed in prone restraint by the school principal which re-ignited night terrors with the child.

*In New York, a 12 year old boy with Asperger's Syndrome was afraid to go to school because he thought the school was trying to kill him. His father discovered he was being held down on the floor by teachers to "calm him down" when he became confrontational. On at least one occasion, adults held the boy prone for 20 minutes until he stopped struggling.

*In North Carolina, children with mental illness were being taped to chairs and locked in closets by teachers. Students at one middle school were subjected to abusive restraint or seclusion including handcuffs.

*In Pennsylvania, for over two years a young boy was kept strapped to a positional support chair for two to three hours a day, receiving no instruction. A tray and three straps were placed across his chest, waist and legs to keep him from moving.

*Also in Pennsylvania, a teacher was convicted on charges of recklessly endangering students. At least six students with autism were abused by the teacher, who hit and pinched them, pulled their hair, and restrained the children in a special chair with bungee cords and duct tape.

*In Rhode Island, between 500 and 1,000 reports of restraint or seclusion have been submitted to the state department of education.

*An eleven year old with Asperger's Syndrome was frequently subjected to face-down prone restraint in South Carolina.

*In Texas, a seven year old boy with mental illness was restrained at least 75 times during the school year and endured isolation from his peers on a regular basis as punishment. The little boy was so impacted by the ongoing restraints and seclusion that he was afraid to go to school.

*In Wyoming, a parent was shocked to arrive at her child's elementary school and find five adults restraining her screaming and crying child in a facedown prone restraint position on the seclusion room floor. The child sustained multiple rug burns and bruises including finger marks around his neck.

(the above is a partial list from the National Disability Rights Network site)

While I firmly believe in the individual state's right to govern themselves, I just as adamantly believe when states fail, the federal government has an obligation to step in and make sure every citizen's rights according to the United States Constitution are protected. The list above is an accumulation of abuses that were reported. How many abuses happened that were not reported? Consider this: many disabled students lack the ability to communicate making it impossible for them report abuse.

For first time blog readers, I have joined the TN state senate race, District 23 encompassing Williamson County and a small part of Davidson County, as a write-in candidate for the November 2nd, 2010 election. When I learned of my state senator's bill ( SB2517) that if passed, would have allowed educators to RESTRAIN AND LOCK special education students in isolation rooms, I knew I could no longer sit on the sidelines and do nothing. Like Representative Blackburn, Jack Johnson NEVER contacted me to ask my opinion about his proposed bill to LOCK special education students in isolation rooms. If you live in Tennessee, were you contacted?

I received a phone message from my opponent, current state senator of district 23, Jack Johnson, last week. A bit heated in nature, this is what he said:

"I was informed today of something you posted on the web that was an outright lie; and I understand you have been informed of that by the Disability Coalition folks who I met with last week."

I am not one to lie; in fact, I am honest to a fault most of the time. So, surprised by the accusation, I went back and re-read everything I have posted on the web to see what could have been misconstrued as an "outright lie". On occasion, I have stated Johnson proposed the "Locked Isolation Room" bill to be used as a form of discipline. Be aware, politicians who support this type of legislation DO NOT like the word "discipline" to be used with the words "Restrain and Lock". My guess is they think it sounds a bit like torture or something. Just a guess.

In contrast, supporters of this type of legislation like to make the tactics sound more tolerable by stating, with grave reservation, that the adverse measures of "locked isolation rooms" should only be used in cases of emergency. They suggest situations arise where "special education" children need to be physically restrained and then sentenced to a locked isolation room in order to protect themselves and others. (Isn't it so nice that they want to protect mentally disabled children by locking them in rooms? sounds warm and fuzzy even!)

The exhaustive list of noted abuses above describes what the perpetrators considered "emergency situations". Each abuser defended his/her case. Interesting how "emergency situation" is subjective in nature, isn't it? In my opinion, most all of those "emergency" classroom instances could be more adequately described as "discipline"; which, by the way, Webster describes as "Strict control to force obedience". Can you get more strict than to lay on top of a child until he/she cannot move or to lock a child in a confinement cell? C'mon!

As individual members of the special needs community, we are but small voices amid the throngs of millions who do not stop to consider the disabled each day. However, I would like to suggest that as a team, united, we are a great and mighty force! Our passion to defend the weakest among us will prevail when we realize we are not a separate "Autistic Community", "Down Syndrome Association", "Angelman Syndrome Foundation", etc.....but a community of passionate individuals who are all standing for the same thing: making sure the special ones in our lives receive hope and opportunity for the brightest future possible!

It is for Hope and Charlie with Down Syndrome that I fight! And it is for Natalie, our adopted daughter from Russia with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that I fight! Who are you fighting for?

For those citizens who live in the 23rd district of Tennessee, if you would like to become a part of my campaign and be a voice for the disabled, please email me at melaniehollis@comcast.net. I would LOVE to get a magnet on your car and/or a sign in your yard to support our campaign. I have no campaign money other than what is in our own personal bank account, so my money supply is limited at best. However, I have found a company who will make car magnets for $4.00 for me. If you would like to have one, please let me know and I will place an order!

Rest assured, if elected, I will REPRESENT my district by asking those affected by potential legislation what their opinions are BEFORE PROPOSING A BILL OR VOTING FOR A BILL. I will not be found guilty of assuming I know what is best for all without asking first.

To all citizens in the United States who care deeply about the disabled community, please let your elected officials know that you support the "Keeping All Students Safe Act"!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Lesson From Heathcliff

Heathcliff is such a horrible monster in "Wuthering Heights". How depressing to believe any human being could be so absolutely treacherous. As I read the novel, I actually found myself looking forward to the page where he would get his due.....right in the teeth. As for Cathy, Linton, and Hareton who were tortured by the man, my heart hurt for their tribulation and the abuse they endured.

I read the final page two days ago and have pondered the work of art intermittently since. Anyone familiar with the Bronte sisters knows their lives were tragic. The authors each shared pieces of their own stories through their brilliant writing. Their father was a pastor who enjoyed spending the majority of his time in solitude (even meals) and who occasionally displayed harsh temperment with the children. He was left with the sole responsibility of raising his kids when their mother died very early in life, however his lack of physical attachment to his offspring, left them to rely solely on one another. The girls were sent to a boarding school that was so harsh, two of the sisters died. And their brother was a calamity, a misfit, and an alcoholic. Isn't it fascinating how much our "rearing" impacts the people we become? Heathcliff. How is it possible to write such a deranged figure?

A thinker, I have disected Heathcliff a couple of hundred times by now. He was an abandoned orphan taken in by an established family, favored by two in his new home but greatly disliked by the others. He looked different and had a mischievous spirit which caused some trouble. He suffered much hidden abuse and torment at the hand of his elder brother and was eventually banished from home as a young teenager following his father's death. Heathcliff wasn't seen again until years later upon his mysterious return. And the icing on the cake: his one and only true love, his best friend and "sister", ended up married to another. A knife in the back, she married one who believed Heathcliff a rogue. But, still, I question: why all the abhorrent violence and hatred from this character?

I know the readers are probably questioning why I care so very much about a fictional character. I guess my quandry is that I believe the infamous Heathcliff isn't so "fiction". I have witnessed anger like Heathcliff's. I have walked in Cathy's shoes.

My mom has worked in the public school system for over 30 years. Her school, presently, holds all the elementary aged "behavior" children in her county. While all of the children exhibit issues with obeying authority, most have also been abused....some physically, others sexually, but most all have experienced emotional abuse. The impact on their lives can be seen when they self-mutilate or when they exercise "power" by refusing the teacher's plea. Broken children exhibiting broken behavior. I guess a better question should be: why would anyone be surprised by questionable behavior exhibited by children who have endured abuse?

I decided to enter the State Senate race because our present Senator, Jack Johnson, proposed a bill that would have allowed educators the right to restrain and lock special education children in isolation rooms. My choice was to either stand on the sidelines and talk about the upside down nature of the bill or to "act" and attempt to do something about it. I have a tough time understanding why anyone would want to restrain and lock an already abused child into a room when statistics prove this type of "intervention" only serves to exacerbate the subject more. In the thought process, it has occurred to me, this type of "intervention" could possibly create real-life "Heathcliffs" of the world. Abusing the already abused doesn't seem like a workable remedy to me.

Through Natalie, I have personally witnessed a transformation from "old" to "new" that came through countless days of patience and restraint on my part.....days of searching for and then affirming the positive in Nat's life while avoiding the long list of negatives that stared me in the face each day....offering silence when I felt like screaming in horror....being a shoulder to lean on instead of a shoulder that shuns....and an ear who will listen even when the ramblings did not make alot of sense. Little Natalie was tortured with electric shocks in an orphanage in Russia for three years before we were able to rescue her. The shocks were used as a form of "discipline". Today, I do not have a doubt, she would be a very different person if she had been left in that pit. Who knows? She might have become a "Heathcliff" herself.

Today I was deeply moved as I walked out of our local meat and three restaurant, one we frequent nearly every day of the week. As usual, we were greeted by owner Tim who loves to give Hopey "knuckles", only today was different, she threw her arms around his neck for a big old hug. Our food was superb as expected, topped off by the best strawberry shortcake in the world. Linda, an employee and chief baker, made her customary stop at our usual table to say hello and request a Hollis Family update. After a few moments of exchange, she mentioned: "Looks like we will be adding two more."

I knew what she was referring to and quickly retorted with: "Hey, you told me to remind you it would be insane to ever add anymore children to your home if you said those words again."

Linda has the sweetest smile. She placed her hand to her cheek and said in her laughing way: "Oh, I know, but these two really need a chance."

The two brothers, ages fourteen and sixteen, will make foster children number 64 and 65 to enter Linda's home, to experience her hugs, to sit at a meal around her table.

I walked out of the "Cool Cafe" today with a skip in my step. There are hundreds of Heathcliffs and Natalie's in the world who are longing for that four letter word, they just don't know about it until it is shown to them. Restraining Heathcliff and locking him in an isolation room wouldn't change Heathcliff.....the love and hope of God shown through a believer might though.

What a privilege it should be for us to look for ways to spread hope to the world. Call me a dreamer if you like, but I tend to think of myself as a "faither". In my string of thoughts ranging from Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" to Natalie's adoption; from a lunch at the "Cool Cafe" to the impending State Senate Race, I have come to one firm, unshakeable belief: I, Melanie Hollis, absolutely believe in an Almighty God who DESIRES to bring about change, ushering hope into the lives of the ones others consider hopeless, working miracles and touching lives through the vessels He affectionately calls "the redeemed" every day. I want to be that vessel, don't you?