Our Stories

Don’t Live Defeated: Finding Joy And Fulfillment In Service To Others

Brianna Lynn Graham
Brianna Lynn Graham

Brianna is a force to be reckoned with- a true success story who has persevered through optimism and a deep desire to do good in the world. Her early life wasn’t easy despite growing up in a middle class white family where her parents were very involved in her life. Brianna recalls that they showed up, physically, but emotionally it was a different story. They didn’t set the framework for developing healthy relationships. Behind doors alcoholism, drug addiction and depression ran rampant. How Brianna’s childhood appears depends on what filter you use to view it. It is supportive at first glance but if you dig deeper it was wrought with loneliness, and despair.

Brianna’s aptitude for self caring became apparent at a young age. She went to school and worked full time, paying her own way with help from her grandparents and scholarships. Brianna fell in love and married at the age of 22. She had only known her husband for four months when they married, and their eight-year marriage was marked with tragedy. She lost three babies including one just three days before her marriage. Fortunately, the marriage also bore two amazing children, but even that wasn’t without uncertainty and fear.

Five doctors told me to abort or I would die”

Brianna recalls a terrifying moment when she almost died while  pregnant with her daughter. “I had sepsis, which is an infection that travels throughout your body. My liver failed, and my thyroid went toxic. I had a one-year-old at home. I knew what I was facing because I was an ICU nurse at the time. Five doctors told me to abort or I would die.” To save her husband from the stress and agony of the situation, Brianna chose to withhold exactly how bad the circumstances were.

The hospital bills put a huge financial strain on the marriage and Brianna wishes that she was more transparent about the severity of the circumstances. “I regret that to this day,” she says. In the end, Brianna did not choose to abort. Her daughter survived and is a thriving child today. The medical team still has no explanation for how Brianna and her child lived. But Brianna doesn’t need one.  “God is still in the business of miracles”, she says.

Although their troubles ultimately led to the dissolution of their marriage, Brianna doesn’t bear any grudges. “I don’t hate him at all, he loves his children, he never neglects taking them, his wife is absolutely amazing,” she says. Brianna has glowing words for her first husband’s new wife. She says she “trusts her implicitly,” and “couldn’t ask for a better mom to share my kids with.”  Brianna’s ultimate goal is to create a system for her children where they can be nurtured and loved.

Brianna strives to create a positive environment for her children, shielding them from the nastier elements of divorce and never involving the children in their parents’ squabbles. She recalls her own parent’s divorce as being ridiculously petty, and made a decision long ago that her kids would never have to deal with that kind of situation. She uses every opportunity to show that they are loved and teaches them to be well-rounded. At nine-and-a-half and eleven they understand the sacrifices she’s made to create a harmonious household and living environment. Brianna’s philosophy on child-rearing is simple.

 “Everything I do, I do with them at the forefront because I get one shot to make sure they turn out OK. I always say, I’m not raising kids, I’m raising someone’s future parents, husband, wife, or coworker. This life isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do to serve others.”

When asked about the challenges of being a single mom, Brianna mentions her work/life balance. “I succeed some days better than others.” She ensures she has the financial means to care for them and thinks she’s lucky to have joint custody. She’s worked hard to make her story atypical and maintained a good relationship with the father of her children.  Brianna says, “I recognize how good I have it, but I also wasn’t handed this.  I really had to work for this.”

Brianna and her kids at Halloween
Brianna and her kids at Halloween

Still, even with a supportive co-parenting situation Briana notes that it’s not easy and that there are a lot of times when she questions her abilities as a mother. “My faith has played a huge part in knowing that I have to surrender this situation to God because God has given me more than I deserve. Remembering that it’s the kids first. Once you have a child it’s no longer about you, period.”

Brianna struggles with her surrender as much as the next person, but credits her involvement with her ex-husband as instrumental in the way her children have thrived in the world. “Everyone compliments these kids for being selfless, servant leaders. I’d like to think that our co-parenting has helped with that,” she says.

Brianna is passionately involved in issues of racism and works to increase her cultural IQ. Brianna works with doctors who are Muslim and seeing how they are hated makes her sick. “They’re doctors, they’re here to help people,” she says. She’s passionate about anyone who is treated like they’re different or ostracized. “Jesus was a refugee so how can we turn others away? We are here to help and love others,” she says.

“I recognize that as a white woman with white privilege I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, but I can be open to being educated and empathetic,” she says.

The most rewarding part of her job is impacting the lives of others. She is the Supervisor of Clinical Staff Development and oversees the team that teaches incoming nurses into the health system. She empowers and inspires new nurses with an exercise designed to make improve the way they practice nursing care and better empathize with others.  “If you became a nurse for any reason other than to serve others, get out of my hospital,” she says.  Brianna lives by the Thomas Merton quote, “your job is to heal without stopping to decide if they’re worthy.”

Brianna’s beautiful parting words speak to how special and valuable we all are. They’re also reflective of her personal philosophy and desire to be a vessel in service of the Lord.

“You matter. How you are raising your children, matters. God trusted you with a miracle and he doesn’t make mistakes. That miracle is your children and how you love them. How you send them out into the world to love others matters. That’s how you can assist God with a miracle. I promise you, he sees you even when it doesn’t feel like it. He’s right there with you. He loves you no matter if no one else does. I promise you he will make it worth it. If you live defeated, you will stay defeated. Don’t live defeated.”

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Elizabeth Lavis
Elizabeth regularly writes and blogs on issues of political and social importance with clients world wide. Check her out at www.elizabethlavis.com.

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