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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Thinking of Dad

I woke up today thinking of my father.  He would have been 74 years old today.  It’s been almost 11 years since he’s passed, but his memory is still vivid in my mind.  I’ll admit that I don’t think of him as often as I used to, but it’s always strongest on this day, which is the birthday that I was privileged to share with him.  Because there was no unfinished business between us, it is really just the little things I miss.  I think that something as small as sharing a ride to the Hardware store would be a great gift.  If you still have your father, please give him a hug for me.

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Child’s Cry

In memory of Kathleen Christine Walker, wife of 1, mother of 4, grandmother of 7 and sister of my mother

*

When I first arrived, you held me in your arms

It was the only place I wanted to be

Soon I was heavy and wouldn’t sit still

I wanted to get down and explore

*

Reluctantly, you had to let me go

*

Then I was able to walk, but you made me hold your hand

When all I really wanted was to run up ahead

After some years, you just tried to keep me in sight

But I was more interested in discovering new things

*

Reluctantly, you had to let me go

*

Soon, I was almost as tall as you, and you tried to talk to me

But I started having a hard time hearing you

When I took my first steps into adulthood, you tried not to be afraid

But I was too excited to notice

*

Reluctantly, you had to let me go

*

Then the years passed, and the miles came between us

And I found myself yearning for the days of just being your child

Then the day came, when I held on to your hand and watched you breathe your last

And in that moment, in your arms was the only place I wanted to be

*

Reluctantly, I have to let you go

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On Friday night (08/22/14) the families, and fans, of both the Chillicothe & Unioto High Schools got together for what was ostensibly billed as a football scrimmage.  Even though these two schools aren’t in the same conference, or even in the same division, it would not be an exaggeration to call them cross-town rivals; or to acknowledge that this rivalry isn’t always friendly.  But for this gathering, we were more of a community coming together for a common cause; and we spent our energy battling the elements instead of each other.  With thunder, lighting, and torrential rains, the organizers of this event pretty much had to throw away the script in order to keep things going, and they did manage to pack a lot into the time they had.  Money was raised for the cheerleaders, and for the football boosters, and for the ALS foundation.  There was a helicopter dropping golf balls at a target, and ice bucket challenges, and even a little bit of football.  But perhaps the most significant moment of the night occurred off of the field, in a place that most of us couldn’t see.  In a parking lot adjacent to the field, where many members of Chillicothe’s team came face to face with their fallen star, Carl Harris.

 

People from our area have likely seen it in the paper, or heard about it around town.  But since these words might reach further than that, I can tell you that Carl was to be a senior at Chillicothe High School, and until about a week ago, he was their star running back.  Those who’ve seen him play would tell you he was absolutely electric on the field.  Unfortunately, if the police reports are correct, a week earlier Carl made a very bad decision, and now he is going to have to pay a terrible price for it.  For the guys on the team, it was a shock, and I think that many were hoping to find that it was all just some sort of misunderstanding.  But coming face to face with Carl made it all too real.  The emotions that flowed out of that moment were as profound and sincere as any you’ll witness from a group of teenage boys.  Their tears weren’t for the touchdowns that Carl won’t score for the team; they were for their brother who would no longer be a part of their daily gatherings. Their tears were for the young man they looked up to, and for the realization of what has been lost.

 

While I would never attempt to defend the actions that Carl allegedly took, I can’t help but point out that he is not defined by that moment, or even by what he’s accomplished on the athletic field.  Many of his teammates described him as a “leader” and my wife, who substitutes in the school system, confirmed that Carl was someone who’d stand up for her in the classroom.  Whatever caused him to make the choices he made, there is no way to justify simply writing him off as a bad kid.  On a personal level, my prayer is that, as difficult as this season of his life will be, Carl will battle through with the same grit and endurance he always displayed on the football field.  I pray that he will find that his gifts go well beyond his athletic ability, and that maybe someday he’ll be able to help young people avoid the heartbreaking situation that he finds himself in today.  I also pray that his Chillicothe teammates don’t allow this gut-wrenching lesson to pass by them too quickly.  I suspect that there are many other young men out there who are one bad decision away from their own disaster.

 

About an hour and a half after the scrimmage finally ended, I went out to get some pizza for my family; and as I was returning home, I saw a player from the team, walking along the road in the rain.  As I gave him a ride home, he mostly sat in stunned silence.  He did tell me that his head hurt from crying for the last two hours, and we talked about how your whole life can change in the blink of an eye.  I’m not sure what he derived from that conversation, but I can’t help but think it was a conversation worth having.  We often try to get past the hard moments quickly, but if we go too fast, we fail to learn the necessary lessons.  For now, we as a community need to keep all of these young men in our prayers, most especially young Carl Harris.

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It seems that for much of this year I’ve been writing blogs about drug addicts, and drug addiction. This is mainly due to our interaction with a special family that God joined us with years ago. For those who aren’t familiar with the background story of Carleen and her three kids, you may need to go back and read some of my old posts (i.e. “4 Days & Counting” 01/17/2014, “4 Days & Counting Update” 01/21/2014, “Back to the Edge of the Cliff” 03/06/2014, “Back to the Edge of the Cliff Update” 03/12/2014, “Back to the Edge of the Cliff – End of the Chapter” 03/18/2014, and “Relapsing” 04/16/2014). When I last wrote of this family, Carleen was losing her battle with addiction, while her 21 year old son Christian (who had intentionally overdosed on heroin & had been brought back to life) was entering a rehab program. At that time, it looked as if Christian might be able to turn a corner, while Carleen seemed destined to crash; but the evidence for both of those cases would have to be considered circumstantial at best. Ultimately, it’s what’s in your heart that makes the biggest difference, and nailing that down is a little tougher. The subsequent reversal of fortunes between mother and son can definitely be traced to their individual values and priorities.

 

Carleen took Christian’s overdose hard. Part of her felt condemned, because her own issues had helped to fuel his; while a darker side of her felt abandoned by her partner in addiction. When Chris left town for rehab her struggles increased, and last month, Children’s Services took her two daughters (ages 9yrs. & 13yrs.) from her. I’d always known that this would be the watershed moment for her, and I prayed that she’d survive it. Despite her many failures, she truly loves her kids, and I knew that this would be the only incentive for her to go on. When she called, I was out of town, and unable to get to her; but when she shared her suicidal intentions with me, I told her that surviving was the best thing she could do for her daughters. By the grace of God, she made her way to the hospital, and checked herself into the Psychiatric Ward before succumbing to that little voice inside her head. From there, she began the long and arduous process of regaining herself, and hopefully (down the road) custody of her girls. Though it’s just been a few weeks, her progress has been steady, and the transformation apparent. She’s currently working part-time, attending group therapy sessions, and taking parenting classes. Every day since she’s gotten out of the hospital she’s been bombarded with opportunities to fall, and so far she’s managed to pass those tests. Not surprisingly, her biggest test came last week when Christian returned to town.

 

The trajectory of Chris’ journey has been steadily downhill since his March overdose. As I explained in my blog (from March 18th), even after experiencing death first-hand, his commitment to the rehab process quickly waned. A couple of days after leaving the hospital, he told his story at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and actually said that he didn’t think he’d hit rock bottom yet. The woman running the meeting said, “You were dead! How much lower can you go?” In working with him I found that it wasn’t his love for, or his dependence on, drugs that created the problem. Instead, it is the fact that he does not want to adhere to anyone else’s standards or expectations. He essentially believes that no one should be able to tell him where to be, what to do, or how to live. While some younger folks may be able to relate to that mindset, we older folks know that, unless you’re independently wealthy, this way of thinking leads to starvation. Since getting a job would require showing up at a certain time, wearing certain clothes, and probably doing work he wouldn’t want to do, it was off the list. Going to rehab was the same way. They had a whole list of rules, and Chris believes that he shouldn’t have to follow rules that he thinks are stupid. After getting kicked out of the first rehab, I worked hard to get him into another program. I warned him that he was running out of options and that he needed to make this work. Though he lasted a few days longer than the first time, he was again dismissed. His call came within minutes of his mother’s suicide call, and he was clearly agitated that I wouldn’t come and bring him back to town. I told him that his opportunity to get help was much better in the big city than in a small town, where he was connected to every drug dealer in three counties. Despite his anger with me, he continued to call, and he eventually hooked up with one of his cousins and was contracted to build a pole barn. He continued to search for someone to bring him back home, but no one was willing to do it. That was the case until late last week, when someone paid Carleen to take them to the city, and when she agreed to give him a ride back.

 

Though Carleen made it clear that he couldn’t stay with her, and that she wasn’t willing to get high anymore, they did decide to go for pizza & a movie on Friday night. Carleen says that everything was fine at dinner, and that he said that he just wanted to stop by the room, where he was staying, before the movie. As she and some friends waited in the kitchen, it seemed like Chris was taking an inordinate amount of time, and so they went to check on him. Upon opening the bedroom door they found him face down on the floor, with no pulse. As one called 911, the other two began CPR, and blood began to pour from Chris’ mouth. They were able to restore a shallow pulse before the Paramedic’s arrived, but as the EMT’s went to pull off his jacket, a loaded gun fell out of the pocket.   This caused them to quickly back everyone out of the room, and for the police to be called in. Upon searching the room, they found a host of other drugs to go with the gun. Chris was at first taken to the local hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator due to respiratory failure. By the next the morning his kidneys shut down as well, and he was life-flighted to Ohio State Medical Center, in Columbus. As of this morning, he remains in ICU, on a ventilator, with major organ failure. If he survives, his prognosis doesn’t look good for a normal, functional life. If he emerges from the hospital, local law enforcement is going to have something to say about his near-term future, and will undoubtedly contact law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties, where they are likely to find additional warrants for his arrest. As I’d mentioned in a previous blog, I told Chris on several occasions that he needed to, “Seize the opportunity of a lifetime within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Today, it appears as though the season of opportunity has given way to a season of consequence. That’s not to say that there may not still be some opportunities down the line, but if there are, they’re going to be a lot tougher to grab hold of.

 

For her part, Carleen is still holding it together. She loves Christian, but recognizes that she can’t lay down and die with him. Part of her feels guilty for trying to keep moving on, but that’s exactly what she needs to do. She still has a long road, and every day is its own challenge. We’ll keep doing what we can to help her, and I know that God will continue to give her grace. Some might blame her for all of this, and to be sure, she shares some amount of responsibility. But in walking through these last four months with Chris, I can say that he really owns the state of his life. Despite the bad example he grew up with, he recognized that it was a dead end a long time ago, and he’s had many opportunities to walk away from it. He was not physically addicted to heroin, he just did it because that was the culture he chose to immerse himself in. For the last several years he’s been the beneficiary of a lot of generosity, from the hands and hearts of many different people. Even today, there are people who stand ready to help him, but they may never get that opportunity.

 

In as much as this may seem like an extreme story, about extreme circumstances, I can’t help but think that we all share in some aspects of this. Regardless of where we come from, and of what we’ve experienced, we all need to take ownership of our lives. We can blame it on our upbringing, or society, or bad church experiences, or bad marriages, or our economic state, or… But in the end, our lives are more a product of our will than of our circumstances. I firmly believe that all it takes to remain firmly planted on the path to destruction is someone else to blame for your condition.I suspect that if we could be truly objective, we’d see that (like Chris) we’ve passed up numerous opportunities to turn a corner. Years ago, I felt like the Lord said, “The fact that someone makes a bad decision does little more than qualify them as a member of the human race; and that ultimately it is the unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from those mistakes that eventually brands them a fool.” If we are not careful, we too will miss our seasons of opportunity, and quickly find ourselves reaping what we’ve sown. Please continue to pray for this family – God can make a way where there seems to be no way.

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We often treat “friendship” as though  it were an introductory level of bonding.  But I believe that genuine friendship is actually an advanced form of relationship, which many people never truly experience.  With the rise of social media, we casually throw around the term “friend”, and I fear that has diminished it’s profound nature.  As I recently discussed this issue with a “friend”, I was reminded of this article from a few years ago.

A Friend to My Father

 

I was my parent’s problem child; which isn’t to imply that my brothers and sister were perfect.  We all went through our rough periods, but I was the one who consistently struggled and routinely required a lot of parenting.  To be sure, my low points reached far greater depths than I ever would have imagined and looking back, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t more permanently damaged by some of my woeful choices.

 

Those struggles were not a byproduct of passive or poor parenting; in fact, my parents were extremely proactive in raising all of us.  I was just the kind of kid who desperately needed an abundance of support, guidance, accountability and ultimately strong boundaries; all of which my parents readily provided.  I knew what was right and what was expected; unfortunately, I frequently chose to forge a different path.  If folly is bound up in the heart of a child, I seemed to be born with a double portion to work through.  Because of this, it was essential that one of the earliest revelations of my father was that of an authoritarian.  Though he was loving and caring from the beginning, recognizing him as the ultimate authority was pivotal to my early development.  Had I not been forced to adhere to some external standard, which I recognized as being greater than myself, it is likely that I would have continued to live out of the futility and chaos that has so often reigned within my own heart and mind.  I guess another way to say it is that because my will had to yield to his will, I learned that my will (e.g. what I thought, what I felt, what I wanted…) was never the final word.  Undoubtedly, few lessons in my life have been more valuable than that one.

 

Though I did eventually manage to become a fully functional adult, I continued to make questionable choices in my life, which I believe kept my father’s paternal guard up.  Though he treated me with the dignity and respect due a fellow adult, to some degree he still had to view me through the lens of his struggling child.  Though I didn’t recognize that at the time, it became evident to me, when some years later, it changed.  That change occurred when I was in my early thirties, and the life that I had carefully built crumbled before my eyes.  As I cried out to God, my will finally began to genuinely yield to His and my life began to dramatically turn.  As those changes took root in me, I noticed that it also changed how my earthly father related to me.  He was more relaxed, less paternal and more like a friend.  A few years later, when he became terminally ill, we had some amazingly frank conversations about God, life, death… where he spoke in an unguarded way; like you would with a trusted confidant.  Though my father passed away shortly after my fortieth birthday, I will always treasure the moments of friendship that we shared in his final years.  Though I was honored to be called his son, it somehow seems even more profound that he might also consider me his friend.

 

Ultimately, I believe this pattern of relationship reflects what God intends for His children as well.  He says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  If we don’t begin by recognizing Him as the ultimate authority and greater than ourselves, we never yield our will to His.  Though we may speak of Him highly and even claim to be His, we live life on our own terms, guided by our own ideas and going in the way that seems right to us (which the Bible says, “leads to death”).  When Jesus first gathered the disciples, they related to Him as Rabbi, which was a position of great authority in Jewish culture.  They called themselves His servants and referred to Him as “Master”.  It wasn’t until the night before His death that Jesus bestowed upon them the title of “friends”.

 

Unfortunately, modern philosophies on parenting favor the idea that parents ought to relate to their children as friends over the more traditional authoritarian approach; but in practice this creates destructive and dysfunctional family relationships.  Children raised in this manner remain self-centered, compulsive, demanding and disrespectful.  As in so many other aspects, Western Christianity has mirrored the culture by frequently trying to introduce the heavenly Father as “friend”; but like the earthly counterpart, this does not produce a legitimate or functional family.  If we do not first recognize Him as Lord and come through the cross of Christ, we have no incentive to die to ourselves and to live through Him.  We might call Him good and look to Him for provision, but we live in our own strength and by our own sense of righteousness.  Though I do believe that God ultimately wants to be able to relate to His children as friends, I also believe that this is a distinction that we must grow into over the course of time.  As it was with my earthly father, I would be forever humbled to one day be counted a friend to my Father in heaven.

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I thought I’d provide one last update on the situation I’ve been dealing with (and blogging about) for the last couple of weeks [see “Back to the Edge of the Cliff” – 03/06/2014 & “Back to the Edge of the Cliff (Update)” – 03/12/2014].  As I last wrote about the situation, we were facing the fact that Christian (a 21 year old boy who had intentionally overdosed on heroin, and was clinically dead for several minutes) was set to be released from the hospital, and had nowhere to go for several days, as he awaited the opportunity to enter the drug rehab program he hoped to get into.  At that time I was wrestling with what role I should play, and trying to discern how far God was calling me to go to help Chris.  Though I had no doubt that the bond we’d formed while he was in the hospital was meant to help him to the next step, I couldn’t help but question the wisdom of bringing a potentially suicidal drug addict under the same roof as my wife and children.  Though I didn’t sense that Chris posed any direct threat to them, his frayed state of mind made the possibilities a little daunting.  

Despite a lot of prayers, I still wasn’t sure what to do when the hospital called last Wednesday to tell me that they’d be discharging Chris from the psychiatric wing that afternoon.  Though I’d called several places, each one presented hurdles that I couldn’t seem to overcome within the given timeframe.  By the time I arrived to pick him up, I had only one potential shelter for him to go to and that was contingent upon him passing a drug screening.  That seemed unlikely since he’d just ODed on heroin, and was being treated with narcotics while in the hospital.  Nonetheless, I believed that if it was meant to be, God would make a way for us.  The more immediate problem was that Chris didn’t have any clothes or ID, and that all of his stuff was at his mother’s house, where she continued to succumb to her own addiction.  As I pulled up to the hospital, the snow was flying and the wind chill was down into the single digits, but Chris was wearing a pair of jeans from the lost and found (several sizes too big and held together by a plastic wire tie), an old scrub shirt, and a pair of flip flops.  Though I gave him my coat, we headed directly to the store to get something to wear.  On the way I told him about the shelter, but he made it clear that if I didn’t want him with us, he could find something on his own.  At that point, I knew that his only chance to stay clean long enough to reach rehab was to take him in.  So after we got him some clothes we headed home.

For the next few days we did our best to keep him safe and calm.  Bekah (my 14 year old daughter) volunteered to sleep on the couch, so he could have a bed; while he, and AJ (my 14 year old son) took to playing on the X-Box.  Other than those few little breaks, Christian was pretty much my shadow.  Everywhere I went, he seemed to be right behind me, and we talked endlessly, about a myriad of topics.  He really seemed to be enjoying the dynamic of being one of our kids, and I must admit that I was surprised by how well things seemed to go.

Despite those positives, there was some underlying tension for me.  One was that I wound up taking the rest of the week off without any prior notice.  I wasn’t sure how well that would sit with my boss, and it was a bit of a drain on my already depleted vacation supply.  Another thing was feeling as though I needed to be accessible to him at all times.  Given the many demands on my time, it was hard to maintain any sort of real balance or routine.  While I generally won’t allow anyone to take precedence over Anita or the kids, for these days Christian was priority one.  While I knew that was probably necessary, it was somewhat unnatural and disconcerting to me.  As the days went on, he began to stay up after we all went to bed, which also made for some restless nights.

On the less subtle side of things, there were immediate challenges as well.  The first of those came from Christian’s mother, who took offense that I was the one he wanted to talk to in the hospital, and looked to when he got out.  That offense grew exponentially when she began to recognize that, to some extent, I was shielding Chris from her.  While I didn’t keep them from talking, I was painfully aware that Carleen’s continued addiction made her a threat to his sobriety, and I would not allow them to be alone together.  As the weekend progressed, her anger and frustration continued to build.  I also looked into the rehab program Chris was holding out for, and from the criteria listed on their website, it was apparent to me that he wasn’t going to qualify.  When I told him this, he insisted that he still wanted to try.  At first, I thought this was because he really wanted that program badly, but in hindsight, I realize that he was already having his doubts and that he was simply stalling for more time.  Though I didn’t immediately nix the idea of waiting until Tuesday (or walking all the way through this program’s process), I began to push Chris to come up with a Plan B and it became apparent that he really had no interest in that.  By Saturday, the Lord was really opening my eyes to the unseen reality of the situation, which was that Chris felt pretty comfortable with us, and that his desire to go through the whole rehab process was beginning to evaporate.  At that time, I still had no real alternatives to the program he was after, and I began to pray earnestly for God to light the path for us.

On Sunday morning we went to church and wouldn’t you know that our Pastor had previously scheduled one of the men from the congregation to speak in his stead that day.  And isn’t it just like the Lord that this man (& his wife) are both recently recovered heroin addicts.  Before the service even started, and before he even knew this man’s story, Chris confessed to me that he felt like he “could go either way today”.  After the man spoke, and as we waited to talk to him, he also shared that he had a strong sense that “this day could end badly or awesomely”.  When we did get to talk to this brother, he shared his story and gave us the contact information for the rehab he went through, which Chris could immediately get into.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic, as I felt as though the Lord had spoken to us loudly and had made a way for us.  Chris, on the other hand, didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm.  He suddenly became very sluggish and non-responsive in our conversations, and for the first time, he began to leave my side, in favor of hanging out with the kids.  After we ate lunch, he even called his mother and invited her to stop by the house.  When she came by, I made sure that I was there, and I could tell that neither of them felt as though they could say what was on their mind.  His mother glared at me and after an awkward silence, decided to leave.  At this point, I knew that the tide had turned and that Chris’ heart wasn’t truly committed to rehab anymore.  Though he wanted to be free of the addiction, he wasn’t necessarily willing to go through the process to get there.  I also believe that if I hadn’t rudely inserted myself into that meeting, Chris may well have gotten in the car with his mother and headed home.

For the rest of the evening I kept Chris close to me and pressed him about what he really wanted.  I knew that we running out of time and I tried hard to get him to commit to heading up to the facility that night; but that same non-committal lethargy seemed to keep washing over him.  It was after midnight before I headed to bed, and I told him that the following day (i.e. Monday) was going to be D-Day.  Anita was going to stay with him throughout the day and I mentioned that he needed do his laundry, so we could pack him up and take him to rehab after dinner.  He didn’t really say much to that and I wondered if he might leave in the night.  But instead he spent all night playing video games and was still awake when I got up for work in the morning.  He finally fell asleep before I got the kids off to school, and sleep for most of the day. 

Not surprisingly, when I got off of work, I found that his mother had blown up my cellphone, and seemed desperate to reach him.  Just as the Spirit in me was letting me know that we were running out of time, so were the spirits in her.  When I got home, he hadn’t done the laundry and was in that same sort of stupor.  When his mom finally called the house and spoke to him, she wanted to know when he was leaving, where he was going, and most importantly, whether there would be a time when he’d be at the house by himself.  Christian’s low ebb, and lack of commitment to the plan I had laid out the night before, caused him to give her vague answers, which made it seem as though nothing had been decided yet.  Ultimately, I believe that those conversations convinced her that she didn’t really need to stop by for another heavily monitored conversation and that she still had some time.  After we ate dinner, and the laundry was dry and folded, I told Christian that it was now or never.  That if he didn’t make this commitment now, that he wasn’t likely to make it.

My old pastor used to say, “You need to seize the opportunity of a lifetime within the lifetime of the opportunity”.  I’m not sure if that was his or whether he read that somewhere, but it has always stuck with me.  There at the table, I laid it all out for Chris, reminding him of all the ways God had spoken to us both in the last few days and of the spiritual battle that was raging all around him.  I told him that the enemy of his soul wanted this to seem like a really complex decision, but that it was really a very simple one.  I explained that he was at a crossroads and that there were only two paths he could take.  One was a road he was intimately familiar with; it was in fact the road he grew up on, and the one that ultimately led him to take his own life.   And while the other road was one he’d never travelled, it was the only other alternative.  I let him know that it was alright to be afraid of what he didn’t know, but that he couldn’t let that fear drive him down the road of death.  I told him that if he didn’t feel strong enough to cross over this threshold, I was willing to carry him across if he’d let me.

I wish I could say that there was some big emotional bang, but he simply stared at me blankly.  After some uncomfortable moments of silence, he finally asked, “Do I have time for a shower before we go?” and I told him that he did.  It took awhile to get him out the door and even longer to get him in the door at the rehab, but late last night he finally took that first step down this new path.  He’s going to need to take a bunch more steps if he’s ever going to be truly free, but I can’t help but be incredibly grateful for this first one.  I’m not sure his mother will ever forgive me for “taking away her son”, but the truth is that I loved her enough to protect him from her.  I know that the mother in her wants him to get well, but the addict in her didn’t want to give up her partner in crime, and at least for now, the addict seems to be in charge.  More than ever, this family needs our prayers.  There are still two young (ages 10yrs & 13yrs) daughters living with this addicted mother, and I feel certain that God is about to deal with that situation as well.  Ultimately that will be a different chapter in this story.  Today I want to thank God for His faithfulness and patience.  Apart from Him, we are all profoundly lost!

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In my recent (17 Jan 2014) post, “4 Days and Counting” I told the story of our precious girl, Carleen, and of her efforts to kick her heroin addiction. Sadly, it is a battle that she’s still struggling to win, and her setbacks not only affect her, but her three children. Last night, we got a frantic call from Carleen, telling us that her 21 year old son, Christian, who is also a drug addict, had flat-lined (i.e. heart stopped), and was coughing up blood. He is now in the Intensive Care Unit, with an uncertain prognosis, and he is asking to see me. I wanted to go last night, but even Carleen wasn’t able to stay past 8:00 p.m. As I prepare to see him today I find myself praying hard for the right heart and words. In the midst of those prayers I recalled something I wrote for Carleen a few years ago. At that time, she too was very close to death. These words still ring true today. Please pray for all of us as we join hands and walk down this uncertain road together.

A Prayer for the Dying

You were born in the wilderness
Under the cover of darkness
With no shelter from the weather

You were raised by wolves
Who occasionally shared their scraps
But who also fed upon you

That you survived those years is a miracle
Or maybe it was destiny
Either way, the “civilized” world has never quite felt like home

You learned to adapt
And even to excel
But a full moon still stirs you in the middle of the night

We wanted to believe the scars meant that the wounds had closed up
And that your incredible strength would somehow keep you free
But now we know that the bleeding never really stopped on the inside

You’ve pressed further than most of us could have
But the pallor of death has begun to wash over your face
As the last drops of hope seemingly seep from your pores

You keep trying to remember to breathe
But because you don’t think of yourself as valuable
It doesn’t really seem to be all that important

Though you have often felt alone, there is One who has never left you
He’s watched you from afar
And occasionally you’ve caught glimpses of Him through the trees

He always knew that this day would come
And He made sure that you’d have what was needed to face it
And, indeed, you do

Call to Him
Surrender to Him
Reach for Him

He has a plan for you
A destination for your journey
And nothing from the past has the power to steal it

He will give you strength
But He will not make the decision
He will only take what you’re willing to put in His hands

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February has been pretty amazing so far. The first of the month found our oldest daughter moving into her own apartment. A week later, her water broke, and she had our first grandbaby (three weeks ahead of schedule). A week later we had to bring in hospice for my mother-in-law (Marilyn K. Messer), who passed away the following morning. With family and friends, we said goodbye to Marilyn on Wednesday and last night we watched our youngest daughter (& her teammates) win a league championship (both regular season & tournament champs @ 15-1) in basketball. And today (02/21/2014) is my beautiful bride’s birthday.

It seems to me that life is a long and eventful journey, and I’m so thankful to be able to share that voyage with Anita. We will have been married 16 years next month, and they have truly been the best years of my life. I am so grateful to God for who He made Anita to be and for joining us together. Though neither of us is perfect, and we are not “perfect” as a couple, we are definitely better together. As I tried to find some new words to say today, I found myself revisiting some words I’ve already said. They are truer today than they’ve ever been.

Looking at You

I see the reflection of your face in the mirror
As you give yourself yet another disgusted look
I can hear that little voice inside your head
As you wonder what I must think of you

But if there’s one thing we’ve never really agreed upon
It’s the question of your worth
You imagine that I simply put up with you
While I think of you as God’s special gift

You see a woman who’s getting older
While I see all the years that we’ve shared
You see the wear & tear of the miles
While I’m reminded of our amazing journey together

You see a woman who’s lost her shape
While I see the mother of our beautiful children
You see all the things you want to change
While I see the things I never want to live without

You say that love is blind
But I say that it has x-ray vision
You say that I am biased
And I wonder why I’d be any other way

How could I separate my heart from all the love that we’ve shared
Or my mind from all that we have learned together
How could I ever look at you like some stranger on the street
And divorce myself from the understanding of who you really are
How could I ever look into your eyes
And not see the soul that has so often touched my own

We are like two old trees
Whose roots and branches have become intertwined
It’s no longer clear where one ends & the other begins
And the only way to separate us would be to cut us into pieces

If you wonder what I see when I look at you
I see love
I see beauty
I see my destiny

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It’s funny for me to hear people talk about being bored. I don’t think I’ve been bored since some time in the 1990’s. It seems to me that there are always worthwhile things that need to be done, and for us that has included caring for my mother-in-law (Marilyn Messer). It all began about 14 years ago, after my wife delivered a set of twins, before our other two kids had celebrated their 1st & 7th birthdays respectively. With four kids (and three of them being less than a year old), we were in desperate need of another set of hands, and at that time in Marilyn’s life, she was in desperate need of an excuse to get out of bed in the morning. Even though she was only 59 yrs old, she was classified as disabled, and was battling severe depression and a myriad of serious health issues. Coming to live with us was a win-win situation for everyone, and for a number of years it stayed that way. Even so, while living in a house full of grandchildren bolstered her spirits, it didn’t do anything to slow the steady deterioration of her body.

From the beginning, emergency runs to the hospital were a common occurrence and in those times, my wife Anita and I had to divide and conquer. At first we thought about alternating who would go with mom and who would stay with the kids, but we quickly figured out that wasn’t the way to go. You see, Marilyn was pretty old school and there was a huge difference in how she dealt with me versus how she dealt with Anita. Because I was a man and not her child, she was prone to be more respectful and compliant with me; whereas she was often cantankerous and obstinate with her daughter. Very quickly, I became Marilyn’s official ambulance driver, and over the years, we spent countless hours and days together in emergency rooms and in hospital wings. I held her hand through more than a dozen heart attacks, triple by-pass surgery, mini-strokes and even a bout of cancer. I was the one who had to lay down the law when it was time to transition to assisted living and eventually to full time nursing care. And even then, we’d frequently have our late night rendezvous’ at the medical center. Though those times were never pleasant for me, and almost always awful for her, we managed to form a very special bond that very few “in-laws” ever experience. I tried to make her laugh when I could, and we prayed a lot. We came to death’s door on several occasions, but Marilyn was built to last and she could rebound like no one I’ve ever known. The sad thing was that she never really got better, she’d just come to some new normal that was even worse than before.

In recent years the whole infrastructure of her body was collapsing. Her heart and kidneys were barely functioning, the blood flow to her brain was severely constricted by clogged arteries, she was legally blind and unable to walk. The highlight of her week was always Sunday, when we’d come load her in the van, and take her to church and then for something to eat. It wasn’t much, but it gave her something to look forward to. We’d actually experienced a pretty good stretch over the last year and a half, but during the holidays things began to unravel. Since Christmas, she’d been in the hospital at least four times and each time there was little they could do. Limiting her fluids helped with her congestive heart failure, but caused her to be severely dehydrated and prone to infection. Dealing with the infection and dehydration normally triggered her heart. With her fluid intake limited to 1000 cc a day, she was miserable and begging for something to drink. It was clear to me in that moment that our options were pretty much limited to letting her die in a desert of thirst or to drown in a tub of infected water. After making sure that she understood the consequences of the change, we requested that they raise her limit back up 1500 cc and made the momentous decision to not send her back to the hospital. Anything that needed to be done for her could be accomplished by the staff at her facility and Medicare (or Medicaid) was threatening not to hold a bed for her there any longer. Over the years, that place had become home for her and the staff had become like family. It seemed like that was the place to make our final stand.

Like so many other times in life, we prayed and tried to make the best decision we could; not really knowing what to expect. A few days later, my wife called to tell me that our oldest daughter’s water had broken and that her baby (our first grandchild) was going to come three weeks ahead of schedule. As I said a prayer for the little one’s safety, the Lord impressed upon me that the baby needed to come early if Marilyn was going to get to see him. Our daughter Katelyn was Marilyn’s first grandchild and now her son Jayden was going to be Marilyn’s first great-grandchild. I decided not to share my insight with anyone, and for the next several days we got caught up in the magical world of a new baby. Within a few days of getting momma and baby settled back in at home, the phone rang in the middle of night and it was Marilyn pleading for help. With the nursing home only minutes from our house, I was able to get there quickly, but there was little I could do. The fluid around her heart was crushing the life out of her. I spent the next couple of hours trying to comfort her by talking, praying and rubbing her shoulders. Eventually, she slipped into a fitful sleep, with her chest heaving for more air.

After a couple hours of sleep, I got the kids off to school and then Anita and I headed back to the nursing home. There we found Marilyn in the same miserable physical condition, but sitting with our Pastor. We hadn’t called him, but he felt nudged to go there that morning and we all prayed together. I requested that they begin to give her something to help calm her and they also prescribed something to help ease her breathing. We all knew that these things wouldn’t help her get better, but at this point we were simply fighting for whatever quality she might have left. That afternoon, Katelyn and baby Jayden came for a visit, and we were able to have that moment where she held her great-grandson. It was brief and she was groggy, but it was still priceless. At the same time, and at the request of the doctor, my wife was signing the papers to allow Hospice to take over her care. Very shortly thereafter, they began to administer morphine to make her comfortable.

Anita and I didn’t really discuss it, but for the first time in a long time, she stayed with Mom, and I took care of the kids. Marilyn’s older sister Judy came and together they kept vigil through the night. Slowly, Marilyn’s breathing became less labored and for the first time in a long time, she seemed to be resting peacefully. For anyone who loved her, it was a beautiful sight. At about 6:20 the next morning (02/15/2014), she quietly slipped into the next life. I couldn’t help but be grateful because she was finally at peace. No one knew better than I what it took to get there. I was also grateful that Anita (her oldest child) and Judy (her oldest sibling), were there to share the moment. With just a week between Jayden’s birth and Marilyn’s death, it struck me that those moments are not as different as we might think. Both seem to take place at an intersection between two worlds. With all my heart I believe that Marilyn is now in a better place, and that she’s free of the dead body that was so completely worn out by the end of her journey. I won’t miss the trips to the hospital, but I will miss the special bond that we shared. Rest in peace my dear friend – you are free at last!

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Grandbabies

Grandbabies

At around 3:30 a.m. this morning, out first grandchild was born. Jayden Daniel (JD) McCoy arrived weighing 5 lbs, 13 oz. and measuring a little over 20 inches long. It feels a little deceptive to say that he’s our first grandchild, because Jayden’s dad (Josh) already has a two year old named “Nevaeh” whose been running around our house for the last several months. To her we are “O-Pa” and “O-Ma”; and to us, she is our beautiful granddaughter. To an outsider some of these relationships can be hard to explain. Katelyn is not my biological daughter (though I’ve been a part of her life since she was 3 yrs old). Josh and Katelyn aren’t married (though they’ve now had a baby together), and Katelyn is not Nevaeh’s mom (though she loves her like her own). None of this has come together in the way we would have planned it, but regardless of the circumstances, God has made us a family. So despite the actual bloodlines and legalities, I see Katelyn as my daughter, Josh as a son-in-law and Vaeh as a grandchild. We can quibble about the technicalities or we can celebrate the new life that has come to visit us. For me, that’s an easy choice.

Another cool aspect of the last 24 hours has to do with the doctor who delivered Jayden. His name is Ron Lopez. He was Anita’s doctor when Katelyn was born, and even though we moved after we got married, he wound up delivering our other three kids as well. Years later he moved to Chillicothe, but Katelyn has been seeing a different doctor within the same practice and planned for her to deliver the baby. When Kate’s water broke unexpectedly yesterday (three weeks before her due date), we found that Ron was the on-call doctor. He told us that this was the twentieth time in his career that he’d delivered a baby for a baby that he’d delivered. I guess God wanted Ron to be an integral part of our family as well.

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