Uh What?

My daughters and I recently attended a 6 year old birthday party for one of Lila’s classmates in a local park.  After arriving back home from the park, Ava (my 8 year old) informed me that she had left her flip flops.

I was irritated about retracing our steps and lectured her about her lack of responsibility.  It is not unusual for her to be so caught up in what she is doing that she loses track of her things.  We drove back to the park where she was required to get out of the car and retrieve her flip flops.

She wanted me to retrieve them, but I emphasized that she needed to take responsibility and get them herself.  My irritation at back tracking was mollified by this valuable parental teaching opportunity.

About 15 minutes after we came back home (for the second time) my neighbor brought by the folding chair that I had left in the same park.  I did not remember it when we left the first time nor did I notice it when we went back to retrieve the flip flops.  My daughters watched as I opened the door and I stammered out, “Uh, what? Uh, oh thanks”  to Michael for bringing my forgotten chair.  I apologized to Ava for the belabored lecture, and she was good enough to forgive.  It turned out to be a very different lesson than I had planned.

My brother once told me that he and his youngest son are so alike that he occasionally (in jest) apologizes to his son for his inherited brain.  I may have to do that as well with Ava.  We both tend to lose track of our belongings.  Jesus did say something about throwing the first stone, but uh what?IMG_1315

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Legacy of Love

My kids call you Gramma and Papa.  My wife calls you Mom and Dad.  I call you Jim and Nanci.  By what ever names you are called, it is clear that you have left your family a legacy of love.

I first met Jen when she was in her early 20’s.  One of the things that struck me about her (and often differed from her peers) was the amount of love and respect that she had for her parents.  She liked going on vacations and spending time with you, and always spoke well of you.

From the moment that I met you I understood why.  You were both incredibly accepting of me and made me feel like a part of the family long before I actually became a member.  In fact, on my first visit to your home in Redding you included me and Robin (who wasn’t yet a family member as well) in the formal studio family portrait.

You have been a great help to Jen and I over the years.  Moving us from one place to another and another etc.  Helping us to get set up, including painting and maintenance.  Thanks for all of your helpful advice on housing, finances, and other important marital topics.

Over the years that you have been part of my life I have marveled at what great parents you are to your kids.  But it is as grandparents, that I have seen you particularly shine.     You have been energetic and enthusiastic co-parents to your four grandchildren.

You are not only willing to help out but actively look for ways to spend time with the kids.  You are always planning trips, sleep overs and grandparent outings.

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Through your committed service to your church and your charities you have given all of us an appreciation for the benefits of ministering to others.  In his letter to the church in Philippi Paul wrote that it is “love that compels me.”  There is no doubt that you can say the same, and it is that legacy of love that you have instilled in your family.

You have raised two very emotionally sound and loving children because you have surrounded them with the security of unconditional love throughout their lives.  Now you are doing the same for your grandchildren.  Thank you Jim and Nanci for your legacy of love, and thank you for allowing us to be a part of your 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

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Ya Ya Do It

When Ava was a toddler “Ya Ya do it” was one of her favorite phrases.  She used this expression as an ongoing declaration of her independent abilities, whether she was actually able to “do it” or not.  She has always been a determined, strong willed child with a somewhat exaggerated sense of accomplishment.

This “can do” attitude has lead her to excel in many areas over the course of her eight years, and has contributed to her enthusiastic sense of adventure.  She has always been willing to try new things and has generally worked hard at mastering new skills.  This sense of independence, pride, and accomplishment will hopefully serve her well in the coming years.

 

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I have been contemplating Ava’s example along with the relationship between independence, pride, and humility as I work towards recovery from my recent surgery.  Almost 5 weeks ago I had the implant in my left hip replaced.  My initial implants were put in 27 years ago (please see previous post for details) and now require revisions.  The plan is to do the right one in 6-12 months after my left is completely healed.

The surgery was successful, and after spending four days in the hospital I am now on the mend at home.  My wife and daughters have been excellent and diligent nurses and have been incredibly helpful in my recovery.  I have been back at work for the last 2 weeks and I am beginning to feel more productive.

However, my recovery has been much longer and more difficult than either I or Jen had anticipated.  When the surgeon went in to replace my plastic socket with a new one he discovered that there was not enough bone to attach it.  The plastic that was originally put in almost 3 decades ago was made up of a chemical which gradually ate away at my bones.  As a result, before replacing my hip, my surgeon first had to do a bone graft, making my healing much more of a careful and fragile enterprise.  I have ongoing weight bearing restrictions and movement limitations and I have yet to be cleared for physical therapy, though I am hopeful that this will change soon.

These past few weeks have been especially hard on my wife.  Jen has not only been attending to all of my needs but has in many ways been acting as a single parent.  She has been doing many things for me that I would naturally do for myself, including making my meals, helping me to dress and shower, and helping me up and down the stairs to my office (the lift does not work) on my crutches.  She has in addition, had to take over my usual household chores.  My nephew has been mowing our lawn and some of our neighbors and relatives have been helping out with the kids.  We have also enjoyed some timely cooked meal donations from friends and family.

All in all I have been incredibly blessed by the ongoing help, support, and encouragement of my wife, daughters, family, and friends.  However it has been very difficult for me to be so dependent.  I have found it to be humbling, and in some cases humiliating.  Many simple things like dressing or showering independently are still beyond my reach.  Being in a place of humble dependence, regardless of how eager folks are to help, is a difficult place for me to be.  It runs completely contrary to my “can do” prideful, independent sense of myself.

I also realize that none of my real successes have been independently achieved.  There were always teachers, friends, co-workers, or family members helping me along the way.  And of course all of my gifts are ultimately God bestowed and my ultimate dependence is that of a creature to his creator.  But this realization has come into sharpened focus generally in times of clear weakness and pain.

I find that I am much like my daughter.  I have this “Patrick do it” attitude which has helped me throughout my life, but it also may bring with it an exaggerated sense of accomplishment and prideful independence.  I am thankful for the lessons of humble, weak dependence, and my hope is that their effects continue to tenderize my spirit, as I become stronger in the coming weeks and back to my usual course of activity.

 

 

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Crippled in Portland

It was early 1986 when the doctor told me that I could no longer work. I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 3 years earlier and it caused me considerable trouble in most of my joints.  But it was my hips that suffered the most damage and by the time I was told to quit the disease had eaten away at almost all of my cartilage.

I was raised in the gourmet restaurant business and I was fortunate to make a good living working in fine restaurants.  But it had became increasingly difficult to work on my feet and I finally had to give it up.  I quickly went through my savings, sold my car, and I had to give up my place.

My friend Gerry took me in and provided me with a place to live.  He would often drive me to doctor’s appointments and other places I needed to go.  I was reduced to living on welfare checks ($230.00/month) and food stamps.  Gerry would buy groceries with the stamps and often cook the meals.  The only place that I found that would give me some physical support and comfort was his reclining chair, where I pretty well camped out 24/7.  It seemed to take me forever to get back and forth to the bathroom with the use of my cane.

Doctors prescribed some anti-inflammatories which did not seem all that helpful and I stayed away from pain pills for fear of dulling my mind and turning into an addict.  I was told that hip replacements were out of the question because at the time they only used bone cement for the adhesive which would last only a few years and then have to be redone, making my condition worse in the long run.  I was deemed too young for the procedure.

I spent much of my time reading, when the pain didn’t inhibit my ability to focus.  I watched a lot of television and played a lot of chess with Gerry.  There were times when I remembered to be thankful and prayerfully trust God, and I took comfort in knowing that many others were praying for me as well.  But there were other times when I was depressed, angry, and anything but thankful.  I struggled with the thought of my future as a single, broke, wheelchair bound, fat (due to no exercise) cripple in chronic pain.

My miracle was preceded by a phone call from my mom.  She told me that she was having lunch with her friend Mary (in Southern Wisconsin) who told her that her brother was a famous orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic and was part of a group of surgeons that had recently invented hip implants.  Mary put my mother in touch with her brother who explained that he recently trained a Portland surgeon to do the procedure.  She gave me his name and he agreed to replace my hips.  My social worker signed off on it and the state of Oregon paid for my new hip implants.

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My surgeon wanted to do my hips separately because he was afraid that I would lose too much blood and that they would come out uneven, but I insisted they both be done at the same time.  He acquiesced and had me bank some of my blood, which I had to use the night after my surgery because I lost too much blood and ran a very high fever.

My social worker sent a physical therapist to my place who taught me how to walk on my new legs. Oregon state vocational rehabilitation provided the funds for me to finish my bachelor’s degree allowing me to go on to Seminary.

Six weeks after my surgery I got a call from my social worker, who explained to me that she had made a big mistake authorizing the state to pay for my new hips.  She told me that I had already transferred from Social Security Supplemental to Social Security Disability Insurance before the surgery, and whereas Supplemental insurance pays for surgery, Disability insurance only pays for doctor’s appointments and medications.  I did not give her my hips back and Oregon ate the costs.

I am amazed by the confluence of events that allowed me to regain the use of my legs:  What are the chances that my mother would know the sister of one of the inventors of the procedure that would allow me to walk normal again?  Or that he would have recently trained someone in my town to do it?  Or that I would either have a very generous or incompetent social worker during that small window between social programs?  And if I had not had both of them done at the same time I would have been limping all of these years on the un-repaired hip, since even if I had found work with insurance my bad hip would have been considered a pre-existing condition.

I would like to think that if I had remained a fat, wheelchair bound cripple that I would have found a way to be an ongoing example of grace and gratitude, much like Joni Erickson-Tada, but God allowed me to live a very different life.

When I had my hips replaced the surgeon told me that they would last about twenty years.  It has been twenty seven and I have long realized that I have been walking on borrowed time.  I discovered earlier this year that both of my hips are loose and need to be redone.  I am having my left one done in a few days and my right one in about six months.  I take comfort in the fact that the technology has increased considerably in almost three decades and God has given me increased assurance of His grace.  God has given me a very different life than the one that I had when I was crippled in Portland.

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Sweet Revenge

The Seattle Seahawks are in the upcoming Superbowl game.  Folks in my town and the rest of Washington state are very excited at the prospect of the Seahawks donning the NFL championship crown.  I know of no one in my immediate circle more excited than my church pastor.

Pastor Ryan is a staunch, enthusiastic, and loyal Seahawks fan.  I am happy to see the home state team in the big game, but my own loyalties lie with the Green Bay Packers.  I grew up watching the Packers in Wisconsin and I am still a big fan.  Pastor Ryan and I have teased each other over the years about what team was better, particularly when they played each other.

During the Packers last Superbowl appearance I walked into church wearing my cheesehead, just to rub in the Packer’s dominance over the Seahawks.  That was the year the Seahawks quarterback assured us during the conference championship coin toss in overtime that they would score against the Packers, only to throw the game losing interception immediately after his boast.  Thank you Matt Hasselbeck.

My daughters have become enthusiastic Packer fans as well (they were given no other choice) and have been active in teasing Pastor Ryan.  My older daughter Ava was particularly upset by Pastor Ryan’s most recent practical joke.

Pastor Ryan arranged for the contractor remodeling our bathroom to write “Go Hawks” on the bare walls before covering it up with drywall.  He took a picture of it before covering it up so that we could see what he had done.  Both of my daughters thought that Ryan had gone too far, but it was Ava in particular who began listing out ways to retaliate.  We settled on the following plan.

We gained the key to his office from our church secretary (thanks Sue) and replaced Ryan’s miniature Seahawks helmet with a miniature Packer helmet.  We then wrote “Pastor Ryan loves the Packers more than the Hawks” on a white board and took a picture of my daughters holding up the board wearing Packer shirts and cheesehead in front of the Packer helmet.  We then arranged to have the photograph inserted into the Sunday service powerpoint (thanks Zach) right before Pastor Ryan rose to take the podium.

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I realize that God reserves vengeance for himself.  I also realize that it may not be good parenting to encourage my children in their “get back” efforts.  It is true that if an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is taken literally the world would be blind and toothless,  however, it was a fun family project and we all enjoyed the feeling of sweet revenge.

 

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Christmas Star

Every year my church does a children’s Christmas program.  We have children dressed up as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wisemen, and angels as they reenact the Christmas story in front of a baby Jesus doll, laying in a prop manger and stable.  The children sing Christmas songs throughout the story and recite the pertaining Scripture.  It is always filled with an overabundance of child cuteness and is generally the favorite service of the year.

This year a star was added to the program.  The star was played by my 5 year old daughter Lila.  I was told that it was added for two very good reasons: (1) Lila wanted to be a wiseman, like her 7 year old sister, but that would make 4 wisemen, violating the 3 wisemen tradition, (2) The wonderful woman in charge of the play thought that making my daughter the actual star of the program might temporarily ease my ongoing nagging about making my daughters the metaphorical stars of every program.

The program went great and all of the kids were incredibly cute.  Lila was happy to play the star instead of a wiseman, and played her role befitting a true star.

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This is a Christian counselor’s blog, so at this point I should transition to the clear importance of the Christmas story.  I should write about the significance of God taking on human flesh and becoming one of us.  I should mention the hope of redemption that this event affords us and the joy that should be ours as a result.   And though I could go on at length about this and deem it the most important event of human history, doing so here would be somewhat disingenuous.  Because my clear, obvious intent in this post is to once again celebrate the great gift of my family, bask in the glow of my Christmas stars, and to wish all who read this a Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year.

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Untimely Death

November 22nd of this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the death of a remarkable twentieth century literary giant.  Although he has been gone for a half century, his influence seems to increase with each passing year.

The death of C.S. Lewis would have been major news on November 22, 1963 if it had not been over shadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Nonetheless the life of this gentle Oxford professor has had a major impact on twentieth century culture well into our current time.

Professionally he was an expert in medieval literature, but he is best known for his fantasies in which he spins modern-day parables aimed at presenting the deep truths of Christian Scripture.  His best known work is “The Chronicles of Narnia,” however he produced other fiction/fantasy books such as “The Screwtape Letters”,  “Till We Have Faces”, “The Great Divorce” (see my earlier post about this) and his science fiction space trilogy.  He was also well-known for his non-fiction books such as “Mere Christianity”, “Miracles”, ” The Problem of Pain” and “The Abolition of Man.”  As a teenager “Mere Christianity” introduced me to a clear and logical rationale for Christianity.  His life and his writings have had a profound influence on my life.

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C.S. Lewis was an atheist during his early life and eventually embraced Christianity, partly due to the influence of fellow professor J.R.R. Tolkien.  Tolkien, Lewis, and others would gather on a regular basis to drink brandy and share their latest writings.  The extent of their collaboration on such stories as Narnia and The Lord of The Rings may never be known but the scene clearly awakens my imagination.  Interestingly, Lewis’ protagonist in his space trilogy was a linguistics professor, just like his friend Tolkien.

Lewis lived most of his life with his older brother Warren (aka Warnie) and spent his early mornings faithfully writing to the over one hundred people with whom he regularly corresponded.  One of those was an American Jewish poet named Joy Davidman.

While on vacation in England she became very sick and was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Lewis married her on what was thought to be her death bed, as a favor to keep her from being sent back to the U.S.  Soon after the hospital wedding she made a miraculous recovery from cancer and the couple spent the next 3 years of her life learning how to genuinely love each other.  A marriage based on the loan of Lewis’ citizenship turned into a strong marital love.  The story is recreated in a 1993 Hollywood movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger called “Shadowlands.”  Lewis painfully reflects on her death in “A Grief Observed.”  He died three years later from renal cancer at the age of sixty-five.

C. S. Lewis will always be remembered as a prolific author and the most popular Christian apologist of the twentieth century.  He lived a quiet, humble and generous life, giving ninety percent of his book proceeds to charity.  While the media rightly spends this  day focusing on the tragic death of a young dynamic president, November 22nd always gives me occasion to reflect on the life and work of Clives Staples Lewis.

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