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Love is not blind

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WOODBURY--They met on an April Sunday morning at the Saved by Grace Baptist Church. Chris was 17. Lacey was 15.

Two weeks later, they were baptized in the chilly waters of the East Fork of Stones River.

During their late teen years, he made burgers and fries at McDonald's, and she waited tables at Joe's Place on the Woodbury town square.

At 21, Lacey Taylor married her high school sweetheart, Chris Buchanan. A year later, she had earned her pre-law degree at Middle Tennessee State University, was prepared to enter Nashville School of Law and discovered she was expecting their first child.

Everything seemed to be going perfectly, wonderfully normal.

And then their world turned upside down.

The first ultrasound hinted that Lacey might have a miscarriage.

After having her third ultrasound, she received several phone messages from the doctor's office. Two words jumped out: "CALL US."

"We called, but couldn't get ahold of anyone because it was a weekend," recollected Lacey.

On Monday, her gynecologist told her that their baby might have a cleft disorder.

"We went back in for another ultrasound later that week, and they confirmed it was a cleft. They could tell something was different. It was kind of a shock for us," said the 2005 Cannon County High graduate, who grew up in Woodbury, population 2,700, about 36 miles south-southeast of Lebanon.

Christian Buchanan was born at 9:32 a.m. Feb. 18, 2011, at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. He weighed seven pounds and one ounce and was 21 inches long.

After he was delivered, the infant was spirited away immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit. Lacey never had a chance to touch him.

She remembers asking her husband, "Tell me it's not bad." Chris responded, "It's worse."

Their son had Tessier cleft lip and palate, a syndrome in which a baby's skull fails to knit together in the womb. The visible results were a severely cleft palate, and he had no eyes.

With yesterday's release of "Through the Eyes of Hope," Lacey shares the inspirational story of the staggering experiences she, Chris and Christian have faced over the past six years.

Christian spent his first four weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. When he was released so that he could join his parents at their Woodbury home, the pressure on Lacey intensified. She had a day job, was attending law school at night, caring for a severely-challenged son, and the headaches of dealing with medical expenses and wrestling with the insurance company were chipping away at Chris and Lacey's marriage.

At three months of age, Christian underwent major surgery.

Lacey recollected, "Chris and I were struggling. I had reached my limits. I had no clue. I'd been angry doing it my way. I asked God, 'Tell me what you want me to know. Give me some peace. I'm at the end of my limit.'"

One day at work at Children's Playhouse, a daycare center in Woodbury, she had a little talk with God. She writes of that conversation in her book, "It was as if God said, to me, 'Christian is My love for you on display.'"

Remembering that moment, Lacey said, "I was asking myself 'why'? What had I done? I had a mindset that I was being punished. That He didn't love me. I came to recognize that I wasn't being punished, but that Christian was a gift, and that changed my whole attitude. I went from being angry to being thankful. The truth was I didn't want anybody else to be Christian's mom."

Another message Lacey said she received from God was He did not want her to keep her son hidden.

"There is an unspoken social pressure to fit in, and Christian doesn't fit in. I had to come to the conclusion I was OK with that. That society wasn't always going to accept him.

"I used to go out to the grocery store, and we got a constant barrage of people asking, 'Can I see your baby?' 'Oh, what's wrong with him?' It was hard emotionally to deal with, just another level of stress for me.

"I took a blanket and covered him and would go into the store, and people would come up and ask to take the blanket off to see my baby. I think that was God's way of saying, 'You shouldn't hide him. This is something the world needs to see.'"

In the meantime, Lacey started a Facebook page to update friends and family on her infant's daily struggles with his severe birth defects and the numerous medical procedures that were being done. It attracted a multitude of encouraging remarks from friends and strangers, but a few Internet trolls trounced on the young mother.

The cruelest words came from a woman who posted, "You are selfish for letting him live just so you could have a baby. You are a pathetic excuse for a mother. He will have a miserable life."

Lacey reacted to the ugly words by making a homemade video. She took notebook, scissors and crayons and produced a testimony that would wring tears from the stoniest of hearts.

She posted it on the Internet on March 9, 2012, with a note that read: "This is my plea to anyone considering abortion. Rethink your decision, no matter the circumstances. I am so glad I chose life!"

Her seven-minute production turned into a viral sensation that drew more than six million hits.

She explains, "The video was intended to be educational. The plan was to hand out business cards when people asked questions. I could tell them, 'Here's how you can learn about Christian.' Before I could get business cards made, it just blew up."

Lacey described the results as "jaw dropping."

As to the troll's vitriolic language, she said, "It opened my eyes to the fact that there were people who thought that way, that if you had a disability you should be dead."

Abortion was never an option for Lacey and Chris.

"The idea was so far from us that I was surprised to hear that person suggest it. It was never mentioned. It was so far from us that it never existed," she said.

Over the past few years, Lacey has promoted pro-life ideals by filming a video at Liberty University, speaking at Portico (a pregnancy support center) in Murfreesboro and appearing at West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco and other similar events across the U.S. The message she offers is that every human life is precious.

Among other characteristics, it was Lacey's compassion that attracted Chris.

"Initially, it was that she was a very pretty girl," confesses her husband, "but I came to find out more about her, and then I knew that I loved her. It was her personality and how good her heart was and how much she loved people.

"She has a big heart that is easily seen by how she carries herself and how she is with her family and friends. She is the type of person who would give the shirt off her back if somebody else was doing without. She's not a worldly person. She's very modest and not into the newest and hippest things. She is very humble. She works hard and is very driven. She's a good wife and a good mom and loves her family and loves her kids."

Because of his facial defects, Christian was not able to say "Mama" until he was almost 3 years old. Lacey remembers that first time and says, "I just cried because I had waited so long."

She describes her oldest son, saying. "He's got a really like silly personality. He likes to make people laugh. He likes to tell jokes."

Christian shared a couple of his current favorites. He asks, "What do you call a fake noodle?"

He answers, "Impasta," with a laugh and a grin on his face.

Next comes, "What do you call a sleepy dinosaur?"

"A dinosnore!" he exclaims with more laughter.

Quizzed about what is his favorite thing to do, Christian shouts, "Play!"

He and his little brother, Chandler, share a bedroom with an aquarium and four fish. Their other pets include two Boston terriers, Steel and Kal, and a cat named Lois Lane.

Lacey refers to Christian as "our little Superman" as he has worn a Superman cape to the hospital for his last four surgeries.

His mother shares details about several more of his favorite things, saying, "He's doing karate and testing for his first belt next week. He loves wrestling with his little brother. He likes going to Chuck E. Cheese, and he likes the 'Minions' movies. He also likes 'Sesame Street' but is growing out of it."

In other words, he's a lot like every other boy about to turn 6.

She notes that he carries a voice recorder with him everywhere he goes but to school. "He records what's going on around him, and he'll listen to it later."

However, Christian's breakfast, lunch and supper are quite different from most youngsters. At mealtime, he drinks milk from his sippy cup. He receives his nourishment completely through a feeding tube.

"He has tasted some foods and licked them. He has eaten some yogurt and pudding. We're getting him comfortable to it. Tasting it, smelling it, getting used to the texture of it," said Lacey. "I never have to worry about what he's eating because it's all healthy."

Christian is fed four times a day, at 8 a.m., noon, 4 and 8 p.m. Each serving is seven syringes full. The process takes less than 10 minutes.

Tonight, he receives a pureed supper consisting of chicken breast, asparagus, green beans, blueberries, strawberries, banana, orange and sweet potatoes.

About five weeks shy of his sixth birthday, he weighs 40 pounds and stands 38 inches tall.

Lacey rises at 5:30 three mornings a week and hustles Chandler and Christian out of bed at 6. They go straight to the car so she can make the 70-mile, 90-minute-long drive to the Tennessee School for the Blind in Donelson where Christian attends classes from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (In between, Lacey and Chandler hang out in the home of her aunt, Joan McKenzie, in Mt. Juliet.)

"He's going to kindergarten and loves school," said Lacey. "He's learning to type on a Braille writer. He's about mastered it. And he's learning to read Braille. There are two other boys in his classroom."

He also is learning a few things from little brother.

"He and Chandler spend a lot of time together, and Chandler teaches Christian how to be a typical little boy. Christian learns to mimic from what he hears and feels. He's learned from Chandler how to climb up on the sink and turn on the faucet."

And Christian has taught his father to view the world through different eyes.

Says Chris, "He doesn't see fault in anybody. He sees people for who they really are and not what they look like. He's so cheerful and doesn't let anything get him down. He's pretty much fearless. He helps me look at everything in a new light."

The 32-year-old State Farm Insurance adjuster says that his favorite thing to do with his two youngsters is "wrestle together, play on the ground and get dirty. Christian loves to wrestle and roughhouse. Chandler loves to help me fix stuff. As they are getting older, I'm trying to incorporate other things. Next spring I may take them out fishing."

Asked what has been the most difficult part of the journey since Christian was born, Lacey answers, "Surgery is the hardest thing for sure. Watching him go through it, and he's hurting and doesn't know why.

"He has had seven surgeries. We don't know how many more there will be, but it could be dozens. We know other people with similar cleft who had from 30 to 50. Christian's next one will possibly be a lip revision so his lips will be more normal. That may be in the summer."

The super mom says she draws her courage from those closest to her.

"I've been blessed with a lot of strong people in my life. My parents [Wayne and Kathy Taylor] who loved me. I think that's where it started, and over the years I've know a lot of great people," said Lacey, 29, who lived in Auburntown and Smyrna before moving to Woodbury with her family when she was 10.

About her unyielding faith, she brings up the name of Mallie Taylor, her paternal grandmother, who died in 2013 at the age of 103.

"At every birthday after she turned 90, she used to say, 'The secret to a long life is to trust in the Lord.' She always went to church. I went with her a lot when I was younger [at Prosperity Baptist Church near Auburntown].

"She would tell me that when she died she wanted to donate her eyes to Christian so he could see. Of course, that was not possible, but I couldn't tell her as I didn't want to burst her bubble."

Among the other super heroes who have provided assistance above and beyond the norm in the past few years, she names her friend, Marisa Graham, who helped Christian get reconstructive surgery in Indianapolis; Dr. Roberto Flores, who performed what Lacey refers to as "miracle surgery" on Christian; and the staff at Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center in Murfreesboro.

"Christian still goes there. He's been going almost his whole life. He now goes once a week for a 30-minute therapy. Special Kids has been a community where, when we didn't have the answers on how to help Christian, they had the answers. They are helping him learn to live in a world where everybody else has vision," said Lacey.

The rookie author began working on her book in June.

"Studying for the bar and trying to write the book at the same time, it was a struggle. It's been a roller coaster," said Lacey, who passed the bar in October and would like to open her law practice this summer in Woodbury and Murfreesboro.

"I want to do disability advising and help families who have been in positions like mine and don't know how to navigate. I want to help them navigate through it."

She said her goal in writing "Through the Eyes of Hope" is to help others understand "how God takes tragic circumstances and can turn them into something beautiful and how it applies to them. They're reading my story, but there's nothing really special about me. Tragic circumstances don't have to define us. We can overcome and come out better than we were before."

She also hopes that others will realize that families of people with special needs "are a lot more alike than different. We want the same things anybody wants. We want our kids to have friends, to be accepted and not be bullied. We want them to be successful in life. It just takes more work to get to their goals.

"I like to use the term different ability instead of disability. We've all got a disability. It's the same with Christian. He can do anything anybody else can do. He just has to do it differently than other people. I always say different is not less.

"When we choose to love others despite their differences, we glorify God in His creation," said the writer, budding attorney, wife and remarkable mother. "Instead of hearing people say, 'I'm sorry,' as if Christian had died, I want to hear, 'Congratulations! Christian is learning to survive and thrive in this world.'"


Lacey's book

"Through the Eyes of Hope," written by Lacey Buchanan with Bethany Jett and published by Charisma House, hit bookstores on Jan. 10. The 240-page hardback retails for $22. To watch Lacey's homemade video that has been seen by more than six million people, go to facebook.com/LaceyandChristianBuchanan or to www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWCbkyR0cy0.

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