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Archive for the ‘Tributes’ Category

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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Today is my son Patrick’s 14th birthday and as my first (biological) child, it’s hard for me not to reflect on the day that he was born. It was a moment that I will always cherish. Looking back, it’s amazing to realize all that led up to that day and all that I didn’t see coming on the horizon. Just ten months before, I’d become a husband to Anita and a father to Katelyn (who had her twentieth birthday yesterday); and eleven & a half months after that day, we’d welcome the twins (Rebekah & Andrew). Life has never been the same and I’d never want to go back. All of our kids are beautiful in their own unique way and each have been a special kind of blessing. I’ve attached a letter, that I wrote back in the day, in an effort to capture the emotion of that moment. Happy Birthday Son; I love the man that you’re becoming!

Son Dearest Son,

It is very late in the evening, and as I write this letter you are sound asleep. The truth be told, you’ve been asleep for hours, but it was only in the last few minutes that I managed to let you go. I knew that becoming a father would be very special, but I never knew that my heart could be so full. It’s as if I’ve lived in the same two-story house for my whole life, only to discover that there’s actually a third floor. Your arrival has broken something open in me and I can’t seem to stop it from spilling out. I’ve barely been able to speak all day, but in this late hour I feel the need to try to put some things into words. I don’t know that what I’m about to write will make any sense, but it is my heart in this moment.

I guess that I should start by saying that you are the most precious thing that I’ve ever held in my hands. You have a face like an angel (just like your momma) and as your tiny hand wrapped around my finger, I just knew that you were a miracle sent from heaven. I guess that since babies are born everyday we don’t tend to think of it as miraculous, but now I understand that it is. I marvel that anyone who’s experienced this could doubt that there is a God. I feel humbled that He allowed me to be a part of it all. He surely could have given you to a better man; I hope that I don’t disappoint Him and I hope that you’re not disappointed either. I feel ill-equipped to be all that you’ll need me to be, but I am resolved to give it everything that I have. If I succeed at nothing else, I pray that you will grow up knowing how special you are and how much you are loved.

As much as I want to do & be everything for you, I realize that my influence on your life will only be for a season; and that long before I’m ready, you’ll be a man, making his own way in the world. In the time that I have, there is so much about life that I hope to teach you. I wish that I could tell you that it is how I’ve lived my life, but sometimes the way to discover what is true is to first figure out what is false. Unfortunately, I’ve learned many things that way in my lifetime. It is my hope that you will be a better man than I have been, so I will try to teach you the truth, even the parts that I haven’t lived yet. The thing about truth is that even though it can be a hard pill to swallow, it ultimately sets you free. I pray that the truth will always be welcomed in your life, because a man who deceives himself is incapable of being honest with anyone else.

I wish I could tell you that this new world you’ve come to is some sort of paradise, but honestly this life can be pretty hard. There is fear and pain and evil here, and things aren’t always fair. But son, there is also goodness and beauty and love in this world, and if you’ll watch for it, you’ll find it everywhere. God left His fingerprints on everything and if you’ll notice them, it will remind you that He’s always close by. Try not to keep score on how many good things or bad things happen in your life; be quick to forgive and to admit when you’re wrong, so that you can move past the hurtful things; and take time to enjoy and celebrate what is beautiful. Try to be the kind of person who builds up instead of tearing down, and who gives more than they’re looking to get. Always remember that the most miserable life you can live is one that is all about yourself.

As I held you today, my mind was filled with images of all the things that you might become; but honestly, I just want you to become whoever you were created to be. And the only one who can really get you there is the One who created you. Don’t worry when people tell you that believing in God is a crutch; the truth is that we all need something to lean on and if you look closely, you’ll see that everyone has some sort of crutch. The difference is that those other crutches don’t have the ability to bring peace or hope into your life. God means for us to lean on Him, which is why He only offers “daily bread”; because He wants us to come back every day. You see God is love and in the end that’s what it all boils down to; it is our deepest need, our strongest motivation, our greatest joy and ultimately what life is all about.

I guess it seems strange to be thinking about the end of your life on the day that it’s beginning, but if we understood from the start what will matter at the end, I think it would change how we lived in between. Don’t worry about what you don’t know; that’s what faith is for. Don’t worry about the ways that you will fall short; that’s what grace is for. Don’t worry what other people believe about you; just be careful what you choose to believe about yourself. Don’t get caught up in what this world calls success, because a man who is driven by the need for success is destined to be pursued by the fear of failure. Don’t let your heart be swayed by this world’s conception of beauty; the most beautiful face you’ll ever see is the one that looks back at you in love. Don’t be afraid to believe in what you can’t see or explain; it’s only the invisible things that really last and only the things that are bigger than we can comprehend that stir up our ability to hope.

I guess I can’t try to fit a whole lifetimes worth of advice into your first day. Now that I’ve written all of this down, I’m not really sure what to do with it. Maybe someday you’ll read it and more than heeding all of the advice, I hope you’ll have some greater understanding of how your arrival changed my life. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be called your father, but I also know that before I held you in my hands today, you were in the hands of “The Father” and long after I’m gone, He will still be your Father. I pray that nothing I ever do will distort your view of Him, because even if I fail you, He never will. I love you son, I’m so glad that you’re here. God sure did a great job when He made you. I hope you will one day understand the miracle that you are.
With All of My Love – Dad

* * The sentiments that I expressed in this letter are no less true for any of my other children (including my step-daughter), but you can only experience the” first time” once and so this writing simply centers on that moment

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Today is my brother Kevin’s 50th birthday and it seems like a good time to reflect on all that his life has meant to me. I suppose that I could do what a lot of siblings do and wait until his funeral to say something nice, but for me that is a trend worth bucking.  Kevin is just 372 days older than me and through a quirk in the government education system (we lived in Germany at the time) we wound up in the same grade throughout school.  For most of those years we shared a room, played on the same sports teams and had a lot of the same friends.  Despite that closeness, no one ever mistook us for twins.  Kevin was a blond haired, blue eyed, athletic type; who looked a lot like my dad.  While I was a smallish kid, with much darker hair and looked a lot like my mom.  Beyond just our appearance, Kevin seemed to be almost stoic compared to my emotionally volatile persona.  Generally, you had to pull words from him, whereas you’d be more apt to stick a sock in my mouth just to shut me up.  He tended to do most things well, while I frequently turned things into somewhat of a crisis.  As I watch my own kids interact with each other, I have a new appreciation for how patient both he and my brother Tom were with me.  I had a big time chip on my shoulder about being the youngest and I deserved a thumping a lot more frequently than I got one.  Despite the occasion scrum, I derived a great deal of security from my relationship with Kevin; as a matter of fact, when we were little, I’d crawl into bed with him when I was afraid.  In those moments, he could have paid me back for my often bad attitude, but I never recall him making me feel small.  I doubt that many annoying little brothers could make such a claim.

Surprisingly, Kevin didn’t stick with college any longer than I did and shortly after that, we joined the Navy together.  Just after boot camp, we went our separate ways, as I headed for the submarine fleet and Kevin headed for an aircraft carrier (i.e. the USS Enterprise).  We’ve not lived in the same area for any appreciable amount of time since then and we’ve both stayed busy raising our families.  Despite the miles and years, our sense of closeness has never really diminished.  Kevin is good about keeping in touch and we see each other when we can.  Both of our lives have taken some unexpected turns along the way and it’s been good to have someone you can trust in those seasons.  At 50, Kevin finds himself at somewhat of a crossroads, which I pray is the opening of a great new chapter in his life.  Whatever the coming days bring, I am grateful for all the years we’ve already had.  God knew from beginning that I’d need a lot of help and Kevin was undoubtedly part of His plan.  As we share the journey of discovering who God made us to be, I feel certain that He will continue to meet us along the way; and I pray that I can be as big a blessing to Kevin as he has been to me.  Happy Birthday big brother!

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Today we said goodbye to our dearest Grandma Kate and in her honor I wanted to repost a couple of things that she helped inspire.

True Strength

(Inspired by the life of Kathryn Fowler)

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True strength does not intimidate

It does not act in fear

It does not draw attention to itself

And it does not fight for its position

*

True strength serves without being served

It is the first to get up and the last to sit down

It only eats after everyone else is served

And it loves without regard for itself

*

True strength is rare and beautiful and generally goes unnoticed

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The Silent Goodbye

(Ode to a Passing Generation)

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I’m not sure why I never noticed it

when I passed you on the street

But now that you’ve gathered together

I can see it in your collective stare

*

You still have something to say

but there’s no one there to listen

You have been called “The Greatest Generation”

and I don’t doubt that it may be true

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You have known times of great sacrifice

and believed that the needs of the many outweighed those of the few

You fought wars in the hope of ending all war

and believed in giving more than you expected to receive

*

You worked hard

You stuck together

You fought for freedom

You hoped for tomorrow

You stepped into the unknown

You did all that we could ask of you

except produce heirs who truly appreciate the value of their inheritance

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It is a perilous generation that spurns the wisdom of the past

and fails to recognize the founder of their feast

I come from such a generation

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It is a frivolous people who hold nothing sacred

save the pursuit of their own happiness

I come from such a people

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It is a vain man who believes that he can redefine truth

and control his own destiny

I have been such a man

*

Each time that I walk by you

I notice that a few more of you are gone

And I can’t help but feel

that we are losing far more than we understand

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Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my forty-seventh birthday, and it’s been a good day.  Despite the issues I’m facing in this season on my life, I wouldn’t trade this birthday for any of the ones that came before it.  I’m blessed to have found my soul-mate and together we have four incredible kids, that I love with all of my heart.  We are rich in the things that truly matter.

We’ve been really busy today and I haven’t had much time for reflection, but just now my baby girl (Bekah) hugged me, wished me happy birthday and looked up toward heaven and said, “Happy Birthday Grandpa”.  I almost burst into tears at the realization that today would have been my father’s seventieth birthday. 

One of the great joys of my life was sharing a birthday with my dad and I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t thought about him today.  God knows I miss him and would have loved to have shared this day with him.  He was a fine man and incredibly patient with me; unfortunately, I was a kid who required a lot of that.  In honor of him, I wanted to re-post a tribute I wrote for him just before he passed away.  It’s probably not my best writing, but it was (and is) certainly the cry of my heart.  Happy Birthday Dad – I love you.

  

I Never Saw My Father Dunk a Basketball

I never saw my father dunk a basketball

and he never became a CEO

But I saw him live by what he believed

which showed me what was important for my life

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I never saw my father hit a home run

and he never held a public office

But I saw him serve his wife, children, church, country…

which showed me that life was about something more than myself

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I never saw my father make his first million

and we never lived in a mansion

 But I never knew what it was like to miss a meal

which showed me the difference between wants and needs

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My father wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth

and he never won the lottery

But I saw my parents build a life for their family, with little or no help from anyone

which taught me that where you come from is no excuse

*

I never saw my father’s name in the headlines

and he never made it onto a highlight reel

But I watched him support others and be a team player

which showed me that secure people don’t need the spotlight

*

I never saw my father lift a weight

and he never made the Olympics

But I saw him be committed & work hard at every endeavor

which showed me that strength has more to do with character than muscle

*

I never saw my father receive his degree

and he was never deemed a Scholar

But I saw him lead his family through the good and bad times

which showed me that wisdom isn’t what you say, but how you live

*

I never saw my father paint a picture

and he never wrote a song

But I saw him cry & say “I Love You”

which let me know that it was OK for a man to do that

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I never saw my father overpower anyone

and he wasn’t much for intimidation

But I saw him be patient when others struggled

which showed me that exposing others weaknesses, doesn’t make you strong

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I never saw my father in the pulpit

and he wasn’t one to quote you scripture

But I saw him pray to God

which showed me that God was real & that I needed Him too

*

I never saw my father run a marathon

and he never climbed Mount Everest

But I saw him endure a cruel terminal illness with grace and perseverance

which taught me that you have to keep running until you cross the finish line

*

My father wasn’t above losing his temper

and I saw him take some missteps along the way

But I heard him say “I’m sorry” & watched him learn from his mistakes

which showed me the way I needed to handle my failures

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My parents didn’t have a perfect marriage

and I can’t say that there was never a struggle

But I watched them stay together for 48 years

which taught me that love is like a garden & it requires regular tending

*

I have often disregarded my father’s advice

and I have many times made disappointing choices

But he never made me feel like a disappointment & loved me anyway

which taught me about the love & forgiveness of a father (& “Our Father”)

*

As I reflect on my father’s life, I realize that he was never what this world tells you that you “need” to be, but that he was in fact what God made him to be. If my father had been rich or famous, I doubt that I would have learned so much and I know that my life wouldn’t have been better. Reflecting on my father’s life shows me that I shouldn’t waste time worrying about what I’m not and what I don’t have; but to make the most of everything that I’ve been given. At the end of my life, I would be pleased if it could be said of me that, “he was a loving, committed husband, father, brother, son, friend…”; “you could always count on him”; “he loved God and tried to live for Him”; “he served his family, his church, his country…”; “he made a difference in my life”. I guess for me it would just be easier to say, “he was just like his father”. Yes, that would please me.

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True strength does not intimidate

It does not act in fear

It does not draw attention to itself

And it does not fight for its position

True strength serves without being served

It is the first to get up and the last to sit down

It only eats after everyone else is served

And it loves without regard for itself

True strength is rare and beautiful and generally goes unnoticed

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