Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Price

"...a friend till the end
That's the kind of girl she was
Taken away so young
Taken away without a warning"

Think Of Laura - Christopher Cross

Two weeks ago it happened again. Someone close to me passed away. With it comes the almost all too familiar Kubler-Ross five stages of mourning. It also has a even more painful and tragic spin as this was a friend who took her own life. A huge host of additional questions rise when this happens. It's a more sudden type of shock and there's no way to prepare or quickly come down from all of the emotion you feel. To make things worse, she was a co-worker and so each day going to work for the rest of the week triggered the feeling of reliving all of the emotion of that day. It was pretty horrible and I had to take moments through the day just to process the emotion of it all.

For the first time in my life I was to give a eulogy. Some of my words are folded in below along with thoughts now that I have some distance from the situation.

Her name was Sarah Robertson. She came from the roughest of backgrounds. She survived abuses too numerous to remember. She had both a rough and soft exterior. On the rough side, she wore too much makeup, had tattoos and piercings. On the soft side, she had an infectious laugh, a great sense of humor and was kind and generous. With those with her background it's easy to write her off as a wasted life. On the contrary, she was trying her best to make something of herself. She had become a marketing coordinator at our company, she was a loving mother and was very intelligent.

I described her in my eulogy with three words:

First was a peacock. Colorful, impacting and daring. She had the personality that you couldn't easily forget.

Second was Dharma from the TV show Dharma And Greg. Free spirited, artistic, generous, intelligent, loving/loveable, kind, cheerful, sensitive, persevering and compassionate. I once called her that and she really liked the comparison.

"I will fly away to them, to the royal birds; and they will beat me, because I, that am so ugly, dare to come near them. But it is all the same. Better be killed by them than to be pursued by ducks, and beaten by fowls, and pushed about by the girl who takes care of the poultry yard, and to suffer hunger in winter!" And it flew out into the water, and swam towards the beautiful swans: these looked at it, and came sailing down upon it with outspread wings. "Kill me!" said the poor creature, and bent its head down upon the water, expecting nothing but death. But what was this that it saw in the clear water? It beheld its own image; and, lo! it was no longer clumsy dark-gray bird, ugly and hateful to look at, but a - swan!
It matters nothing if one is born in a duck-yard, if one has only lain in a swan`s egg.
It felt quite glad at all the need and misfortune it had suffered, now it realized its happiness in all the splendor that surrounded it. And the great swans swam round it, and stroked it with their beaks."

The Ugly Duckling

Third was a swan. Grace, purity, beauty, elegance and mostly transformation. She once said she wished she was the swan in the story of The Ugly Duckling. I think it fit her life quite well. She grew up an outcast, abused and despised. But when she takes a deep look at herself, she had transformed into a swan. The important part was that all along the Ugly Duckling was always a swan. My deepest prayer is that God will now reveal to Sarah that she was a swan all along.

As with any suicide, there's so many questions. There's truly no answer to all of those questions. Also, there's the feeling of deep hurt and anger. I know it's selfish to think but when someone takes their own life it hurts those around them. My biggest hurt is wondering why she didn't reach out to those who truly had her best interests at heart. It's something that I will have to live with and be OK without an answer.

In search for an incomplete answer, I found it helpful writing her a letter. I also talked things through with close friends. It took me a while to just come to the conclusion that the weight of the life she had lived had been too much and she was likely battling depression. She was under a great deal of stress and the people around her and from her past were a great burden on her. In many ways, she had lived a full life.

Hebrews 10:19-25
 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

My biggest take from all of this: drop your guard. Be transparent and find friends that you can really confide in. Lay all of your burdens before a Loving Heavenly Father where you can find the deep healing you need. Depression is a terrible condition and one you cannot deal with alone. The price of staying isolated from friends and God is far greater than the cost of transparency. The losses will continue and the price can be high. May we all find the healing that our Father so richly wants to offer us.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reelin' In The Years

First, a happy 50th birthday to Shawn Hillegas. In 1992 on our birthday, I saw him pitch in Yankee Stadium. He didn't fare well in that outing but it is a unique memory to have the guy who shares your birthday pitch in the House That Ruth Built.

"Are you reelin' in the years
Stowin' away the time
Are you gatherin' up the tears
Have you had enough of mine"

Reelin' In The Years - Steely Dan

This week marks a big milestone in my life as I turn fifty on August 21st. One half a century, the big Five-O. I can light my birthday cake on fire pretty easily now. Yes, a colonoscopy is on the horizon. It's also a time of introspection. What did my time on earth mean? Some thoughts: It means I remember the Beatles when they were still together and I watched Willie Mays play ball in Candlestick Park. I'm a Baby Boomer and a GenXer - which probably explains a lot of my confusion of who I am. I grew up during the Wonder Years when they weren't just a nostalgia show. That show more than anything else, described my childhood. It means I lived through hippies, disco, New Wave, Grunge and Hip Hop. It somehow allows me to have some sort of perspective on the world and hopefully some wisdom. For some reason, people look to me for that. I hope I don't steer them the wrong way.

"Your everlasting summer
You can see it fading fast
So you grab a piece of something
That you think is gonna last
You wouldn't know a diamond
If you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious
I can't understand"

Reelin' In The Years - Steely Dan

I don't think this is a "been there done that" mindset, but I also notice things that I thought was really important, has become less so over the years. I used to spend tons of time playing, watching and reading about sports. I spent tons of money on movies and music. Now I see them being much less a part of my life. Things are part of life, but they're not the most valuable. How I spend my money and time has changed focus. Time especially, is getting shorter for me, I hope that this changing perspective is helping me get my priorities straight.

"Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends."
It's A Wonderful Life

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:43-47

What do I treasure most now? The people close to me. I think mostly of my children and how much they have shaped me, challenged me and somehow loved me through all of it. I think of my friends in the same way. Over the years I have had friends come into my life that have become lifelong adopted family who have supported me through some of the darkest and brightest times of my life. I think of the fellowship and care during college that came as close to the Acts 2 model that I have ever experienced. It seems during that time I was fully alive and each day was pure joy to live. It was an amazing gift from God and acted out in the most generous way with friends who are still to this day close to me. God has also graciously added friends along the way. I can't say enough about several co-workers who have become close friends of mine as well. It makes the long days at work not only bearable but joy at times. I am truly blessed.

"There's a fire burning in my soul,
It keeps a man warm and it makes a man whole,
When the sun goes down and the day is through,
To live and walk like Jesus did, is the best a man can do."

God Fearing Man - Joel Weldon

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:14

So what do I see looking forward? With a mixed past of hurts, difficulties, outright screw ups along with some great triumphs, blessings and joys I see that life is long narrow road. At times, it's tough, lonely and with missteps along the way. Sometimes we get lost. On the other hand, the views are great. The few that walk with you are the most amazing people you can have around. I think my life calling is still about a Savior and investing in lives to help them find the healing and wholeness we all desire. Those like me who have experienced much failure are the ones who know what it's like. I have many relationships to try to reconcile and much forgiveness to seek. But I know what my measuring stick is and even though I'll fall short, I know that it's about keeping my heart right and continuing to heal and hopefully bring healing to others. There is no ego in this as I know that in the end Christ will get the properly deserved credit. I'm only there to experience the blessings that come along with it.
This week marks a moment of transition and in many ways things are the same. I will check a different age box when I fill out a survey but I'll also be doing a lot of the same things I've been doing for that past 50 years. People come and go through the years but many will stick around for the journey. I'll continue to need to seek forgiveness and reconciliation but I'll also hopefully be the one to help others find it along the way. Mostly, I have a Father who is showing me the way, forgiving me when I screw up and healing my heart. Because of Him it makes it all worth it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pain And Loss

Ecclesiastes 1:18
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

"I look around and I see these young faces and I think I mean I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh.... I pi**ed away all my money believe it or not.
I chased off anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately, I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.
You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff."
Al Pacino - Any Given Sunday

If there's something that we all go through in life, it's pain and loss. The effects are deep and can last a lifetime. For me, on a physical level my thrice operated on ankle causes me constant pain. I've only recently learned that just about every other ache and pain in my body traces back to me dealing with that pain. The injury also has caused loss: I can't play sports at the level I used to and I've had to stop playing some sports completely because of it. On a larger level, that's just a small example of what goes on when we live life. It seems that everywhere I look I see pain and loss.

Running on - running on empty
Running on - running blind
Running on - running into the sun
But I'm running behind
Jackson Browne - Running On Empty

These past few years have been heightened with pain and loss as I walk through life. It seems that I've endured the difficulties of twenty years in the past two. With it has come stress, deep bouts of depression and anxiety, loss of sleep, nightmares, and just general lack of energy. I tried reading a book recently and just can't seem to focus enough to get through a chapter. I've seen so many other people suffering and I either feel it so deeply that it brings me down or I just shut down. I keep thinking just how low my tank has been and yet somehow I continue on. It even has taken its toll on me physically as I have suffered from Shingles last year. My friend Phil said that it's part of the cost of intentionally ministering to people: it's full of pain and loss and you're going to feel it. I continually find myself skimming over Ecclesiastes relating to what Solomon had to say and was only subtly able to answer. What do we do with all of this pain and loss?

Well, people got used to seeing them both together.
But now he's gone and life goes on, nothing lasts forever, oh no.
She gets the house and the garden, he gets the boys in the band.
Some of them his friends, some of them her friends, some of them understand.
Lord knows that this is just a small town city, yes, and everyone can see you fall.
James Taylor and JD Souther - Her Town Too

I've been hesitant to write about this but I'm in the final stages of my impending divorce. It's been a painful journey. I know that I'm very much responsible for not dealing with my junk over the years and people have suffered for that. I know that in many ways I deserve the full force of the fallout from this situation. I now live a life seeking new structure. It's full of emptiness and loneliness. It's a situation of my own doing. It's consequence of hurting those I was called to love. It's full of pain and loss.

Ecclesiastes 3:20
All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

Psalm 90:10
Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 

I have covered in great detail the ongoing struggle my precious daughter,Amanda is going through. I think of her and the pain she goes through. It is a helpless feeling knowing there's little I can do to alleviate it. Even worse was the time that I had to face the possibility of losing her. It's a thought no parent even gets close to entertaining - it's just too painful. Yet, one day in April I had to really look that possibility in the face. I'm seeing now how deeply that impacted me. It has taken me to a place that I never wanted to go to and now that I have been there it haunts me with the pain of the possibility deep loss on the most personal level.

I'm not sure if this is a new pattern (and hope not) but these past two years have also had the pain and loss of death on the forefront of my mind. I recently had to put my beloved dog Dorcas down. It was the right choice, but it was painful. I still come home and realize she's not there to greet me. I think of holding her as the life in her ebbed away. I cried over my dog knowing how good she had been for me. I knew I had suffered a great loss. I think of Will Patterson and young man with a very difficult past who died in his mid thirties. You'd like to hope that his life would have ended with a great triumph. It seems that it was more of a merciful homecoming. He suffered greatly and it seems the pain far outweighed whatever he had done in this life. He was guy you had to like and I feel sad that in this life he didn't find healing he deserved. My friend Chris Drake was a co-worker who was a kind and gentle soul who had a heart to help others. I knew him for over 20 years and I don't think I ever saw him express any ill will towards anybody. Yet cancer knows no boundaries. It is a cruel disease that painfully takes everything from you. There's almost too much to say about the loss of my dad. His influence is deeply imprinted on my life. No matter how old I got, he was an anchor point in my life. That secure tether is no longer there. Shockingly, my cousin Ron died only a few weeks after my dad and of the same ailment. Aneurysms are ticking time bombs. Ron was unlucky enough to have his time bomb go off at the age of 55. He was only a few months away from escorting his daughter down the aisle. Like my dad, he was an anchor in my life. His faith in God, wisdom and kindness were something I could rely on. His family has felt the pain and loss. His passing has deeply altered my view on life. We're close in age, are Christians and share the same ancestry. I realize my time on earth is precious so how do I live in the midst of all of this and continue to find a way to go on?

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
Jackson Browne - Running On Empty

Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small. I mean
one half step too late or to early you don't quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game every minute, every second...
I'll tell you this in any fight it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.
And I know if I am going to have any life anymore it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.
Al Pacino - Any Given Sunday

Warning: this video has cursing in it:

John 15: 1-4
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."

Psalm 90:14-17
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

So what do I make of all of this pain and loss? It's an incomplete set of answers but it's the path I choose to be on (and many times stray from). God is still good. I live with that premise. He suffered great pain and loss for me. He loves me and I'm going to stand by that. Loss is part of the process of stripping away (or pruning) of the good things in life. Good at times is the enemy of great. My time on earth is precious, how am I spending it? Pain is a teacher. It is clear the we learn the most when we suffer. Life's truths are very much "easier said than done". Truly living life involves pain. What are we doing with it? Are we running from it? Ignoring it? Or do we enter into it and feel the depth of it knowing that we will learn the greater truths of life? I see that the deeper we feel pain is also a path to the deeper we feel joy and love.

I see my challenge to continue on with that context. That is the "six inches" in front of my face. At times I can see the whole picture and at times I can only see what right in front of me. At best we get an incomplete view of the life we are living and it is full of pain and loss.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thank You For Being A Friend

This picture best describes Dorcas: Always happy to see you.

"Thank you for being a friend, traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant
I'm not ashamed to say, I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off won't you stand up and take a bow"

Thank You For Being A Friend - Andrew Gold

A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

Haciko, Where The Red Fern Grows, My Dog Skip, Marley And Me, and Old Yeller. If these stories and films have one thing in common, it's about a boy/man and his dog. I admit that I am an avid dog lover. One person observed that for males, dogs are the one safe being that we can turn to to help us express our emotions in a very safe and accepting manner. Dogs are the most loving, most caring and most forgiving pets in my opinion. They possess qualities that Christ has in the most pure way. Growing up, my family dog's name was Cindy. She was a German Shepherd with a deep loving loyalty and smart beyond compare. She seemed to always be happy to see me, play with me and just allow me to be me. I think it was in God's mercy I had her growing up to help me through so many troubled times. I loved that dog and still have a picture of her on my desk at work.

As an adult, my beloved dog's name was Dorcas. I've had her for over 17 years. She was the first dog that was my own. It is hard to think of life without her. Today, I am facing that reality. 17 years for a dog is an almost unthinkably long time. Being a mutt, she clearly had genetic blending in her favor. I think her sweet personality had a lot to do with it as well. But as pet ownership requires, there's a day when you have to make the hardest choice. It's a day that I knew was on the horizon but just waited in denial that I'd have to face it. It's the very difficult day in which you have to choose to put your dog down. Sometimes I just wish in this one time I could hear her loud and clear and tell me that she's ready to go. I only can look at her very arthritic hind legs and just recently her limping on her right front leg. She was clearly in pain. All the pain medications didn't help. It was clearly nearing that difficult time and I had to say goodbye.

The process was difficult. She was given a sedative. As I held her, I started to cry. Was I really going through with this? I knew that in a few moments I would never see her again. It was a huge emotional weight on me. After she fell into a sleep, the second shot was given. In a short few moments she was gone. She went peacefully and without and pain. Unfortunately, I was feeling all of the pain. I know that it was the right thing to do, but it was the hardest thing I had to do for her.

Looking like a fox in the wild...

I'm writing these memories (long winded as they may be) only because perhaps it gives me some closure. Yes, I'm eulogizing a dog. For me, it's a way to stay engaged with what I'm feeling and go through the mouring process. So if you'll indulge me...

In 1997 Ariel as a little 7 year old ask me to get a dog. Not soon afterwards they met Poochie who was owned by two college aged girls who couldn't keep Poochie because of their apartment rules. I was asked to meet this dog and see if I wanted her. Sure enough this little red ball of fur was running up to me and licking me in the face. To be honest, I'm a sucker for a puppy. I'm also too easily wanting to make my daughter happy so after a weekend of deliberating I decided that we were getting Poochie with the one condition that I got to name her...

Acts 9:36
"In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor."

Knowing that the girls loved the movie "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" (Julie Newmar played Dorcas) and knowing that the name was a Biblical one I landed on Dorcas. Of course I didn't want to tell the girls that there was another reason - I wanted to be able to call her a dork if I needed. I later thought just how kind and loving Dorcas was that the name fit the historical woman in the Bible.

They picked up Dorcas and brought her home while I was still at work. Knowing I had my own dog at home to meet me, I was like a little kid waiting to see my new puppy. I still can see the little red ball of fur running towards me jumping on my lay and licking my face. She was so excited that she peed all over me as well. For some reason, I didn't mind.

As she grew she morphed into such a strange combination of looks that the vet kept changing his mind as to what kind of dog she was. She eventually grew in to looking like a red fox. That is pretty much the theme whenever someone sees her - "She looks like a fox." Ironic that we ended up adopting a son named Fox. Today, I live in Fox Den Village.

One time in San Jose, she broke into the neighbors yard because they had chickens. The roosters were crowing at 4AM so even though it scared the chickens, it gave us the chance to tell them that they couldn't have livestock with in the city limits. When she was really happy and wanted to express her love for you, she'd give a deep "roo roo". We decided it was her way of saying "I love you." When we moved to Sweetwater, the DirecTV installer left the back gate open and she got out. I was really upset since this was wide open land and she could be anywhere. Stragely enough I found her in the installer's van sitting in the front seat. She was waiting for him to take her for a drive (or "car go bye bye"). She loved riding in the car! On the campground she was the host dog. We even had treats for pet owners with a greeting from Dorcas. Since the campground was out in the pastures of Sweetwater we would have cows wander onto the property. This was a special treat for Dorcas as she had the natural ability to herd cattle. She was very happy doing in and would guide them home. After that she came running back happy and very excited. She truly loved her "moo moo cow" friends.

When we moved to Knoxville, she once again became the suburb dog. As a testament to how sweet she was, she used to wander over to our next door neighbor's house. Ivan was deathly afraid of dogs from a childhood attack that he went through. She was so kind and sweet to him that he ended up enjoying her visits and even took care of her when we were away on vacation. He said how much he loved Dorcas and even asked for me to keep him posted if and when the inevitable day came about. Sadly, he was out of town on business.

"And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it's hard to hear
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend."

Over the past few years her walks got shorter. He limping became more pronounced. She slept more and was deaf. I knew at some point the eventual was getting nearer. How do you decide to say goodbye to a pet that was always happy to see you, loved you unconditionally, loyal to a fault and friendly to all? You have to talk yourself into the truth that she was in pain. That she really wasn't living much at all anymore. It's hard stuff to look at, but you also need to decide that she's just not the same anymore. Even then, I know I second guess myself. Perhaps I'm in the denial stage of grief.

I guess I just know that through my adult life, like my childhood it's nice that God had given me a wonderful pet to help smooth over the rough spots. Dorcas was always there and happy to see me. She had a love that only can be described as unconditional. I will miss her dearly.

"And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You'll hear me call as we ascend
I'll say your name, then once again
Thank you for being a ... friend!"

Friday, May 16, 2014

But Those Dreams Have Remained And They've Turned Around

Amanda, Gabriel and Jiichan

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
Luke 1:19

This is the moment where life and death meet. This is what we are - warriors. 
Worf - Star Trek: The Next Generation

There's so many emotions when it comes the birth of my second grandchild. Gabriel's life has been anything but ordinary. My daughter, Amanda, had severe complications at seven months that it required emergency c-section to keep her alive. At first, I was so scared for Gabriel. I knew he would be so little and his life would be at stake. But the little guy showed that he was tough and ready to enter the world and he would be able to survive just fine. Considering the circumstances, his progress has been extremely uneventful. He's just plain growing and getting stronger as the days go by. In my eyes, I see him as having the heart of a warrior. In geek terms, he has received the birthright of a true Klingon. To his successful arrival I give a hearty "Qaplah!"

The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise.
Miguel de Cervantes

Gabriel's name was decided a while before his birth and so I find it quite prophetic that his middle name is Phoenix. It show so much of how God does bring forth things from the ashes and "rebirths" them. My grandson has been birthed from some very difficult circumstances. Like his mother, he has risen above. I can't say too much of how proud I am of him knowing that he is a fighter and survivor.

In honor of his birth, here's the list of interesting events and births on his day, April 26th:

1986 – A nuclear reactor accident occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union (now Ukraine), creating the world's worst nuclear disaster.

121 – Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (d. 180)
1564 – William Shakespeare, English poet, playwright and actor (d. 1616)
1900 – Hack Wilson, American baseball player (d. 1948)
1942 – Bobby Rydell, American singer and actor
1943 – Gary Wright, American singer-songwriter, keyboard player
1955 – Mike Scott, American baseball player
1960 – Steve Lombardozzi, American baseball player and coach
1963 – Jet Li, Chinese-Singaporean martial artist, actor, and producer
1965 – Kevin James, American actor, screenwriter, and producer
1977 – Kosuke Fukudome, Japanese baseball player

1984 – Count Basie, American pianist, composer, and bandleader (b. 1904)
1989 – Lucille Ball, American actress and producer (b. 1911)

I mention these two people's passing as they have a connection to the family. I share my birthday with Count Basie and was going to see his band perform at UC Davis in 1984. He took ill a few days before the performance and passed away soon after. Lucille Ball is by far my favorite comedienne as my mom, Gabriel's great grandmother had a very similar sense of humor. I hope that some of what was her, will be in him.

I have to admit that whenever I hear his name I track back to one of my favorite TV shows as a kid: Welcome Back Kotter. I guess the only Gabe I can think of is Gabe Kotter (aka Gabe Kaplan). The theme song for the show rings in my ear although very little of it could apply to my grandson. I guess that continues to reinforce that I'm becoming the old crazy grandpa!

My hope is that with a grandson, we can take in ball games, play catch, go to the gun range, ride motorcycles and play catch. I know that he's the son of two artists so he may end up being more interested in "right brain" things. That's just fine with me. I'm hoping whatever the activity is, it's quality time spent. I want him to know how much I love him and that through all of what he's already been through, I'm proud of him. He is my second generation Ichiro. I hope that he knows that he's number one in my heart.
My Friends Toasting And Sharing Cigars To Celebrate Gabriel's Birth

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Greatest Gift And Honor

My Beautiful Daughter, Amanda While She Was Carrying My Grandson, Gabriel

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this."
Job 38:16-18

“Where is your faith?” He asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Luke 8:25

I believe I have had a truly unprecedented week. This is the type that changes so much of how your life is lived and your perspective on what priorities one has. With Amanda expecting her first child and my second granchild, my thoughts and expectations of my relationship with her were exciting and filled with anticipation. I knew she was carrying a boy and my thoughts of having someone to play catch with and ride motorcycles were my "happy thoughts". I know that he would likely be like his mom and dad and be more of an artist which I would enjoy as well, but of course I had some selfish hopes of my own. What thought never entered my mind was what would happen in the last week in April; something no parent ever fathoms. What started as some concerns and pain during pregnancy quickly unravelled into a major crisis.

Late in the week I was told that Amanda will need to be observed and tests would need to be done to be sure any of the pain wasn't serious. That led to a Friday night stay in the hospital with the thought that she would need constant observation. For some reason I felt at peace and that she would just get through this and in late June all would be well. I think your mind would like to believe that things are always precautionary and that we can control our outcomes with forward planning.

Saturday, April 26th would be for me the longest day of my life. It began with a phone call at 4AM saying that Amanda was having seizures and that an emergency c-section would need to be done. The news that they will "have to take the baby" put me in this heightened and helpless situation. Even with prayer and getting to a point of knowing the truth that God is in control and the outcomes are not ours to determine cannot mitigate the emotion or the mental preparation of the worst case scenario. I kept thinking of how I would deal with possibly never meeting Gabriel and the lost chance of playing catch with him. The thoughts were frightening as you think of the fragile life that was at stake. After what felt like an eternity I got the news that he was OK and that this should help Amanda recover from what was diagnosed as Eclampsia and HELLP. Already Jodi had booked an early morning flight to be out there with her. For the moment, I felt great. Amanda would get better, my grandson was doing well so when I get some rest I could celebrate Gabriel's birth.

The next piece of news broke any happiness I had. Amanda was getting worse and having more seizures. To be honest the timeline gets really fuzzy for me since I think my deep concern started to really give way to all of the fears a father can have. She had a brain clot that threatened her life and that emergency brain surgery would be needed. The procedure went a lot longer than they anticipated which only prolonged the agony of waiting. The news kept coming in small doses and with breaks that would only allow me to process some of the worst of the worst case scenarios.

When you're in this situation you really can't think straight. I also kept preparing for some of the worst possible things I could imagine. How much pain was she suffering through? What if she ends up a medical vegetable? What if she came out of this severely impaired? What if she ends up being an entirely different person from the girl I know and loved? The worst of all, what if she died? Could I find a way to move past this? Could I even face the possibility of burying my beloved daughter? I am so thankful to so many friends who were kind enough to talk me through this, think for me and just hang out with me. The friends I have are second to none.

I finally got the news late in the night that she survived. They had not been able to remove the clot so they removed a portion of her skull to relieve pressure on her brain. How she would fair after this is anyone's guess. The doctors recommended one week just to get her "out of the woods" (it's just too hard to say what that means but it's pretty obvious). My prayers during this time went along the lines of trust with a tinge of pleading. I know that God is good and I can accept His will and plan even if it ended up being painful but I prayed that He would grant me just one more minute with the Amanda I knew and loved. I delight in her and her wonderful personality. I wanted to enjoy even just one more time with her that way.

Sunday through Thursday was mostly spent waiting and hearing some good news. Jodi sent me a picture of her out of surgery that was painful to see. Even if you know just how bad things will look, when it's your own daughter any pragmatic logic goes out the window. Seeing her with all sorts of tubes and wires attached to her and bandages wrapped around her is so difficult to see but also necessary. I needed to see my little girl no matter how difficult it was. I booked a flight to see her for Friday hoping that she would make it through the week. Thankfully, each day came some good news: she's breathing on her own; she responds to voice commands; she recognizes people. These were baby steps that were like drops of refreshing water in the desert. On Friday, as I prepared to leave I called to check in. I got the question: "Would you like to talk to her?" I was happily shocked. I said "Yes, definitely!" For a few minutes I got to hear her beautiful voice. It was like I was floating and suddenly peaceful. After so many sleepless nights, I suddenly had a burst of energy. God granted me not only one more minute with her, He was blessing me with the joy of Amanda being back!
I knew things would be alright when I could see that she could still work her iPhone

Walking on her own!!!

Our visit was filled with lots of conversation and the absolute joy of meeting her newborn son, Gabriel. We talked about things, joked around and she even got up and walked! I write this with a huge smile on my face and choking back some tears. God has not only spared her, He's performing a miracle before my eyes. This is God's blessing in action. I am in awe and I praise Him.

Going forward there are so many challenges ahead. But knowing that my daughter and grandson are improving makes everything pale in comparison. Adjustments will have to be made.

In one conversation with her I recalled one moment in one of my favorite Disney films, Mulan. There's a deeper sense of family and love in this film that makes it stand out above the others. Mulan is a classic square peg who triumphs through adversity. With it she becomes a hero and receives the gift of Shan Yu's (the villain in the story) sword and the honor of the Emperor's Crest. when she returns home to present the gift and honor to her father, Fa Zhou, his response is powerful and one I shared with Amanda. I believe that any father of a daughter can resonate his words:

"The Greatest Gift And Honor Is Having You For A Daughter"
Fa Zhou

I could never say it any better. Amanda is an amazing gift from God and it is an honor that I have the role of her father. I only have had this magnified to me through some very serious adversity.