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Archive for the ‘Tributes’ Category

Now that I am on the other side

And the relentless pain is gone
Now that I am free of that broken body
And my tormented thoughts have been stilled
Now that my hope has become my reality
And I can view it from above
*
I can see the times it was difficult
And you responded with patience
I can see the times you were exhausted
And you found another bit of strength
I can see the times it was hurting you
And you refused to leave my side
*
In a season when my world got small
You chose to be a part of it
On the days I couldn’t remember who you were
You simply served in anonymity
During the most difficult miles of my journey
You decided to carry my pack

*

There are no words to do it justice
But there is a special gift waiting here for you

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This is something I wrote many years ago, as my father battled ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  At the time, we were about six months in to what turned out to be a two year battle.  He called that day to let me know that he’d lost use of his other arm, and was worried that my young children wouldn’t understand why he wouldn’t hug or hold them during our upcoming visit.  I held it together while we were on the phone, but afterward, as I sat in the dark, these words were the cry of my heart.  I realize that it’s not the most artful writing, but it is an honest portrait of what I was feeling.  I share it now in hopes that it might help those who are currently living through this kind of moment.  I encourage you not to let your grief turn into distance.  Run to them, even though it hurts.

 

My father’s hands always seemed big to me

In the first moments of my life, I just fit in them

Throughout my life, they have been a source of strength, guidance and love

Even as I’ve become a man, my father’s hands seem big

 

A year ago, my dad still had the strength to carry me

Today he doesn’t have the strength to grip my hand

My heart struggles to contain this thought

It somehow makes me feel like a little boy again

 

The hands are but an extension of the heart

And my father’s heart is still strong

When we speak of the heart, we’re really speaking of the spirit

The spirit of my father still towers over me

 

It is just like my father not to consider himself

It is just like him to be concerned with everyone else

It is just like him to spend the time he has left getting things ready for when he’s gone

My dad’s body is failing him, but his spirit is not

 

But my own heart falters at the thought of losing him

It is tempting to be angry about what he’s facing, but with whom could I be angry

Certainly not the God who gave me such a wonderful father

This would not be such a hard thing, had God not made him to be the treasure he is

 

So what shall I do with all these overwhelming feelings

What shall I do with the days that God grants me with my father

I will put my hurt in the hands of my Heavenly Father

I will thank Him every day for the gift of my earthly father

 

While my father’s hands have lost the strength to grip me, his heart has not

He is still guiding me, teaching me, protecting me and loving me

He is still a source of strength for my life

He is still a living testimony of God’s love for me

 

In the days that we have left on this earth together, I want to celebrate my father

As his body fails, I want to see him handled with the dignity & tenderness that he deserves

I want my hands to be a source of strength & love to him, as his have always been to me

I want to grip his hand and walk with him for as long as I can

 

Someday, sooner than I’ll be ready, I will have to let his hand go

On that day, he will be in the hands of “Our Father”

It will be both a glorious and a terrible day, but that isn’t today

Today, I thank Our Father for another day with my father

 

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psp5Eighteen years ago, I remember driving through an ice storm during a Level 3 Snow Emergency, in the middle of night. Your mom was in labor, and Mamaw was clinging to Katelyn in the backseat. Looking back, I had no real concept of how much our lives were about to change, and then you arrived.

I was amazed by the beautiful complexity of your being, and am even more so all these years later. From the beginning, you were anything but typical, and I knew that God had something special in mind when He created you. Even in your childhood, I’ve seen Him use the special gifts He’s given you, and I believe that they will only get stronger.

I know that the world has not always been kind to you, but never forget that this is not your home. I wish I could promise you that things will get easier, but it’s doubtful they will. Just know that God has made you strong, and that with HIm there isn’t anything that you cannot overcome.

You were always in a big hurry to grow up, and as of today, the world recognizes you as an adult. But remember what I told you, “You’ll know that you’re grown up when you can take care of yourself, and you’ll know that you’re a man when you can take care of someone else; because God never made a man to simply take care of himself”.

It’s hard to know that you’ll be leaving in just a matter of months, but you were born to fly, and I would never want to hold you back. Please know that wherever the road takes you, my prayers will go before you and that my heart will be with you.

You’ve never taken the easy road, so it’s not surprising that you’d become a Marine. I believe that you’re up to that challenge, and I’m proud of your strong desire to serve.

Though I was given the great privilege of being your dad, never forget that you have a Father that is greater than I. He loved you first, and He loves you best, and long after I’m gone, He will remain. Let His voice be loud in your ears, let His light illuminate your path, and let His heart beat in your chest. He will never leave you, nor forsake you.

I always knew that it was my job to guide you towards manhood, but I guess I hoped I might have a little more time. I’m so proud of the man you’ve become, and I believe that you are ready for what lies ahead. .

Happy Birthday Patrick! Know that I am here for you, and that I will always love you – Dad

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Last Friday evening was Senior Night for the football team, and we parents were encouraged to write a letter to our Senior player.  I’ve pasted a copy of that letter below.  Though his mother is just as proud of him (and he knows it), we agreed that some things need to be said in a father’s voice, and so I wrote it from that perspective.

 

Dear Son

 

Well, here we are closing another chapter from your childhood.  I feel like we’re going to do a lot of that this year.  It seems like you’ve been playing football forever, but I remember the beginning as though it were yesterday.  As much as I was surprised by your brother sticking with the game, it was a no-brainer that this would be a part of your journey.  From your first day on this earth, you were long on passion and short on fear.

 

I remember you playing on the line during Pee-Wee ball.  You were really undersized for your position, but that never stopped you from taking on the biggest guys on the opposing team.  I specifically recall a Unioto scrimmage, where you got low and lifted a kid, who outweighed you by at least 50 pounds, off the ground.  It was just one of those pictures that will forever be etched in my memory, because it helped me to understand who you are.

 

I remember the year when you decided not to play because some of your teammates made you feel like you didn’t belong; but when Coach Bonner called and said the team needed you, you stepped right up.  I remember the year, when the team only had 13 players, and everyone had to play both ways.  Somehow you guys still managed to have a winning season.  And I remember last year, when your arm was shattered in the Clinton-Massie game.  Though people on the sidelines and in the stands were horrified at the sight of it, you never made a sound, and wanted to stay until the game was over.

 

As much as I love football, your participation in the sport has never really been about the game itself.  It was about getting stronger and pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do.  It was about sticking to a commitment, even when it was hard, and overcoming adversity.  It was about being a part of a team, and making sacrifices for something bigger than yourself.  Ultimately, it was about preparing you for life, and from that standpoint it has been an unmitigated success.

 

Even though we place a huge emphasis on education, life isn’t much like a classroom.  In truth, it’s a lot more like a football field.  The classroom is a controlled environment, with a set script and a seat for every student.  But life is not something we can control, and it cannot be scripted.  It comes with bad field conditions, and injuries, and adversaries who hope to stand in the way of our victory.  It comes with dropped passes, and interceptions, and blindside hits.  In the end, it is our ability to deal with these hardships that sets the stage for our victory.

 

I know that in some ways the final chapter of your football career has been a disappointment.  I know that you never envisioned spending your senior season on the sideline in a cast, but as I’ve watched you cheer on your teammates, and lift your younger brother up, I want you to know that I’m not disappointed.  It takes a far bigger man to celebrate other people having the success they hoped would be their own than it does to make tackles or to catch passes.  I can’t help but admire a man who can set aside his own disappointment and lift up the people around him.  From where I sit, that is the sort of man that you’re becoming.

 

Tonight, as your mother and I walk across the field with you, I will surely shed a few tears (because that’s how I am), but I won’t be sad.  I will be grateful for the years you’ve played, and the teammates and coaches you’ve played with, and the things you’ve learned, and the strength you’ve gained.  I will be thankful for the injuries that never happened, for the care you received for the ones that did; for all the wins, and even for some of the losses.  But most of all, I will be humbled by the privilege of being your dad, and for the man God made you to be.  I love you son, and I couldn’t be more proud of you. 

 

Love Always – Dadsenior-night-16

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Yesterday, as I combed the internet looking for contact information for my best friend from high school (Mike), I came across the obituary of his mother, Laura McAfee.  Apparently, she passed back in August, which shouldn’t have been surprising, as she was in her eighties.  Yet, I was somehow caught off guard, and a profound sense of loss swept over me as I looked at her picture.  My association with this remarkable woman dates back over 35 years, when her son became my closest friend.  It was a season in my life when I was floundering to find my identity, and this wonderful family turned out to be a God-send.  Though Mike and I didn’t necessarily make great decisions together, our friendship was as substantial and genuine as any I’ve ever experienced.  At a time when I desperately needed someone (other than my own family) to believe in me, he did; and so did his mom.  When I joined the military, it took our lives in different directions, but whenever I was trying to get in touch with Mike, I always knew to start with Mrs. M.  She and I had many wonderful conversations over the years, and I sensed an incredible depth to her being (i.e. intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually).  As a black woman, born in the south, during the 1930’s, I can only imagine the tales she could have shared; but this highly intelligent, highly educated woman never let our conversations be about her.  Instead, she was a fountain of warmth and wisdom to and for me.  I suppose that shouldn’t have been surprising either, as her life’s work had been that of a teacher.  Last night, as I sat at my computer, I found myself wishing that I had asked her more questions about her life, and had thanked her more profusely for her generosity toward me.  I can’t help but lament that the opportunity to do so is now lost.  Thankfully, I’m the sort of person who believes that there is another life that comes after this one, and I have every confidence that this beautiful soul has taken up residence in that place.  Her legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of her two amazing kids (Mike and Michelle), and in her grandchildren.  Her memory has haunted me today, and so I decided to pen this little tribute.  For me, it is not sports figures, celebrities, or heads of state that have ever been my heroes, it is people like Laura McAfee, whose amazing heart touches the people around them.  Rest in peace my dear friend.

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Clearly, I meant to post this yesterday.  But, as is so often the case, things got away from me.

 

Over the years I’ve written a few tributes to my father, but I don’t recall ever doing so for my mom.  I’m sure this has to do with the fact that my dad contracted a terminal illness (and passed away) at a relatively young age.  But honor shouldn’t be reserved for the dead, and kind words ought not be saved for eulogies.  So on the occasion of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to share a few thoughts about my mother.

 

My parents had four children, three stair step boys, and then, more than a decade removed, a daughter.  I was the bottom rung of the first wave, and easily my parents most challenging kid.  My oldest brother was one of those precocious children, who talked as though he was 35 years old by the time he was six.  Our middle brother was quiet, but did well in school, and excelled at every sport he ever played (My grandmother actually referred to him as her “Golden Boy”).  And then, I came along.  Blind as a bat, emotionally unstable, and full of imagination; I was literally walking into walls by the time I reached school age.  Between struggles in the classroom, skirmishes on the playground, and little brother meltdowns, I was a kid who required a lot of parenting.  And because of my father’s demanding Air Force career, the lion’s share of that fell to my mom.  I have no doubt that it was at times exasperating, and exhausting to deal with me.  Lord knows, that was the way it felt to be me.  But my mother was never one to shrink back from a challenge, and she wouldn’t let me do so either.  As much as I wanted to accept the rather overwhelming evidence that I was simply an inferior model, she was having none of it.  She made it her mission to ensure that all of her kids would be ready to face to the world, and little by little, I began to pull out of my tailspin.

 

Unfortunately, just about the time I grew strong enough to stand on my own two feet, I began to drift into things that my parents had strictly forbidden.  My weak sense of identity caused me to look for the place that I fit in, and resulted in me trying a little bit of everything.  In those years, I made many disappointing and hurtful choices, but my parents stuck with me.  My mom’s persistent belief, and her prayers of protection, were without a doubt a key to surviving that season.  Though I broke her heart many times, she refused to give up on me.

 

It took some years, but the seeds that were planted throughout my life finally took root, and things began to turn.  God finally convinced me that my mother had been right all along, and that I wasn’t some sort of defective piece of machinery.  In His grace, God allowed me to become a father, where I gained a new appreciation for the kind of love it takes to raise a kid like me.  As I look back, I can’t help but think that God gave me to a mother that He knew would be strong enough to fight the battles, and persistent enough to go the distance.  Indeed, my mother is an extraordinary person, whose love for me has made all the difference.  If not for her, I would not have become the man that I am today.

 

As I look back, I thank God for the love that she and my father shared, which showed us that marriage was meant to last a lifetime.  I thank God that she refused to raise boys who sit around in the underwear, watch cartoons and don’t know the first thing about taking care of themselves (or anyone else).  And I thank God that after years of dealing with my disarray, He rewarded my parents with their best kid, my sister.

 

Happy Mother’s Day mom!

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Given the requisite age of rock stars from the late 1960s, and early 1970s, it’s not really surprising that many of these pop culture icons are passing away.  This last week has seen two significant figures from the world of rock and roll step into the annals of music history.  Last week is was David Bowie, whose eclectic collection of musical styles, and personas, made him impossible to categorize.  If you’ve never listened to his music, here are ten cuts worth seeking out:

 

  1. Space Oddity (from the 1969 album, “Space Oddity”)
  2. Changes (from the 1971 album, “Hunky Dory”)
  3. Ziggy Stardust (from the 1972 album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars”)
  4. Suffragette City (from the 1972 album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars”)
  5. Rebel, Rebel (from the 1974 album, “Diamond Dogs”)
  6. Fame (from the 1975 album, “Young Americans”)
  7. Golden Years (from the 1976 album, “Station to Station”)
  8. Ashes to Ashes (from the 1980 album, “Scary Monsters”)
  9. Fashion (from the 1980 album, “Scary Monsters”)
  10. Under Pressure – w/Queen (released in 1981 as a single, and included on the 1982 Queen album, “Hot Spaces”)

 

in recent days, Glenn Frey, of the band “The Eagles”, also passed away.  After starting out as background singers for Linda Ronstadt, Frey and drummer Don Henley went on to form what became one of the most successful rock bands of all-time.  Though detractors have often criticized the groups soft-rock, country tinged sound, the music buying public devoured their records, and turned out in mass for their concerts.  If you’ve never listened to their music, here are ten cuts work seeking out:

 

  1. Peaceful Easy Feeling (from the 1972 album, “Eagles”)
  2. Desperado (from the 1973 album, “Desperado”)
  3. Bitter Creek (from the 1973 album, “Desperado”)
  4. Best of My Love (from the 1974 album, “On the Border”)
  5. One of These Nights (from the 1975 album, “One of These Nights”)
  6. Lyin’ Eyes (from the 1975 album, “One of These Nights”)
  7. Hotel California (from the 1976 album, “Hotel California”)
  8. Life in the Fast Lane (from the 1976 album, “Hotel California”)
  9. Wasted Time (from the 1976 album, “Hotel California”)
  10. Seven Bridges Road (from the 1980 album “Eagles Live”)

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Happy Birthday My Friend

Today is my dear friend Jeff’s birthday.  We’ve now worked together for over twenty-four years, and in that time we’ve become like brothers.  We started out as peers, both working as supervisors in the plant’s decontamination facility.  He ran the crew that worked the large parts, and I had the crew that did the smaller parts.  Jeff had started out as a worker, years before I got to the plant; and I started as a supervisor, after finishing my time in the military.  The first thing I noticed about him was his pension for practical jokes, and I quickly assumed that he just wasn’t a very serious person.  But in the years since, I’ve discovered that he is actually one of the most thoughtful and diligent people I have ever known.  He is passionate about the things he believes, and he tries to live his life by them.  After a few years, Jeff became my boss, and working for him was a real pleasure.  Because he believes that family comes first, it was never a problem when situations arose at home.  No matter what that cost him in terms of the work, it was a price he was willing to pay so that people could be there for their families.  That is typical of my friend Jeff.  He is a man of principle and character.  Being around him caused me to take a hard look at my own character, and I didn’t like what I saw.  His example convicted me, and was a meaningful part of the inspiration that eventually caused my own life to turn.

 

Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was always taught that Saint Jude was the patron saint of lost causes, but I’m pretty sure that Jeff has now taken that baton.  He always seems to find himself at the helm of some ship that appears to be headed for its doom.  Whether that’s putting a new engine in some ancient mini-van, or running an old, under-staffed, & perpetually under-funded facility; or pastoring a church that has only a handful of congregants left; or giving a second chance to people who everyone else has already written off; or reaching out to families in a local housing project that have long since been forgotten by their neighbors; or running an annual Vacation Bible School to teach under privileged kids about Jesus. He instinctively steps up to take the job that no one else really wants, and holds out hope where there seems to be none.

 

Through the years we have labored, learned, and laughed together. We have embarrassed ourselves just to get a laugh, and we’ve prayed through tears for our family and friends. Hanging around Jeff has inspired me to be a better man, and our friendship continues to be a source of great blessing in my life. My hope is that I could one day be as good a friend to him, as he has been to me. So today, on the 61st anniversary of his birth, I celebrate, and thank God for my dear friend Jeff. Happy Birthday Brother!

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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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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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