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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

During a time of prayer, I was reminded of a particularly painful moment in my life involving our youngest daughter Rebekah.  As I remember, she was somewhere between her first and second birthday, when our household got hit with a particularly bad bout of the stomach flu.  I’m pretty sure that all of us took a turn with it, and in the midst of that time, Bekah (who weighed less than 20 lbs.) began to turn blue.  Needless to say, we were more than a little concerned, as I rushed her to the emergency room.  Immediately, they determined that she was severely dehydrated, and that they needed to start an IV.  They wanted me to wait outside while they executed that plan, but I calmly (& firmly) assured them that I was quite unwilling to leave her side.  As they went about the task of trying to locate one of her tiny veins, Bekah fought like the warrior God made her to be, which made the already daunting task nearly impossible.  It literally took four adults to hold her down, and it still required eight tries before the nurse was able to connect with a vein.  As Bekah screamed out in pain, her beautiful gray eyes were fixed on me, and as near as I could tell, the question in her tiny heart was, “Why are you letting them do this to me daddy?”  In her short life, no one had ever really hurt her, and in as much as a baby can, she trusted that she was safe with me.  Now, I not only stood by while they pierced her over and over again, I was actually one of the people holding her down while they did it.  It was an excruciating moment, and one that I’d long since pushed out of my mind.  Bekah is now in High School, and she has grown into a strong and beautiful young woman.  So why go back and revisit this awful memory?

 

As I meditated on this scene, I found myself wanting to answer her inferred question.  “I let this happen because it was the only way you were going to get better,” I thought.  And while I know that is the truth, I also realized how little difference that would have made in the midst of her pain.  In her tiny heart it must have seemed that I was allowing them to torment her, and maybe even that I was helping them.  My heart ached at the remembrance of the hurt and confusion in her face; and as I pondered what the Lord was trying to show me, I realized that He was helping me to understand what it can be like for Him, and with His children, as we experience painful and/or difficult situations.  Like baby Bekah, we don’t necessarily see or understand the bigger picture; we simply know that we don’t feel good, that our sense of security is quickly evaporating, and that we are in genuine pain.  Such instances can breed doubts that linger long after the moment has past.  We may feel abandoned in our hour of need, or betrayed by the one who was supposed to protect us, or maybe we conclude that there is something so wrong with us that we are beyond help (or at least unworthy of it).  These kinds of thoughts tear at the fiber of our faith, and distort the nature of who God is, and who we are to Him.

 

The Bible says that God works all things to the good of those who love Him, and who are called to His purpose.  I believe that we often twist those words to imply that we should never suffer, but clearly that’s not what it means.  In fact, the scripture tells us that “Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered.”  If the Son of God, a man of perfect faith, had to learn that way, how do we think that we can avoid it.  God views us, and our lives, through the lens of eternity; so just as it was with Bekah, a relatively brief period of suffering can produce a harvest of life and wellness.  In His humanness, Jesus spoke directly to this issue in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He essentially said, “Father, if there is some other way to achieve Your eternal purposes for my life, I’d rather not endure what’s about to happen.  But if this is the only way to orchestrate the redemption of mankind, then so be it.”  The scripture tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, despising it’s shame.”  We too will have to endure some things, and we may also despise the process, but instead of being discouraged, and feeling abandoned, we need to remember that we have a Father who is able to work all things to our eternal good.  And just as I was unwilling to leave Bekah’s bedside, we also need to remember that He is a God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

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Recently, an associate of mine shared some negative perceptions that they’d heard others express about me in the workplace.  And while it’s never pleasant to hear that bad things are being said about you, I believe that my co-worker’s intent was to genuinely help me.  Undoubtedly, receiving criticism can be very challenging, and I must admit that I’ve cycled through a range of emotions.  Part of me wants to make the case that these folks really haven’t taken the time to get to know me, and part of me wants to explain that I’ve been placed in a somewhat precarious job position in recent years.  Yet another part wants to be offended, and to vehemently deny that there is any truth to these viewpoints.  But ultimately, all of those actions would prove to be counterproductive.

 

When I take a deep breath, and try to look at things objectively, I can understand how someone, who has only seen me in my current job context, might draw some negative conclusions about me, and my work ethic.  Though I don’t feel that these are representative of who I really am, or what I’m capable of, I do have to accept some ownership of the fact that my handling of this situation has not been sufficient to quell these unflattering perceptions.  I guess I have to ask myself, “Can I do more?” or “Can I do better?”  And the answer to those questions is “Yes, I can.”  So instead of defending, accusing, rationalizing, stewing, or complaining, I just need to step up, and prove these criticisms to be invalid.

 

These folks are not particularly interested in my almost 25 years of performance at the plant, they want to know what I did yesterday, and what I’m going to do for them tomorrow.  Generally, that’s how real life works.

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15 years ago today, two very special people came into my life.  Though they arrived only a minute apart, and were almost exactly the same size, they’ve grown into two completely unique individuals.  I can’t imagine what my life would be without them, and the world is a better place because they’re here.  Happy Birthday Andrew and Rebekah!  I’m so proud of who you are, and of who you are becoming.  Remembering your arrival will always be cause for celebration.

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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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