CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the category “Family”

I’m Batman.

You know how some folks are afraid of things like spiders, or worms, or such? Well, to me those are clearly irrational and rather amusing.  NOT like if someone were, say, afraid of wasps and bees. That particular fear is clearly rational and understandable, because ANYTHING THAT NATURE MADE WITH A NEEDLE IN IT’S BUTT IS UNNATURAL AND NEEDS TO DIE!!!!!!!! DIE!!! DIE!!!  Ahem. Yes. Anyhow. Beth (my long-suffering and amazing wife) has one of those amusing irrational fears, and that happens to be bats.  You know, those little mousey things that fly around and eat bugs. Or rather her, um, “distaste” for bats would be amusing, but I don’t know if you ever noticed that for some reason bats tend to come out at night. So when they decide to have a friendly visit, it’s when we’re sleeping. And I hate to be awakened, except for emergencies. Like an infestation of maddened, man-killing hornets or something like that.

Since Wednesday I’ve been on day shift for the week. And on Tuesday night, we had a little visitor. At three in the morning. So I very calmly and sweetly (ok, maybe I was a tiny bit crabby and said one bad word) got up to look for the cute little rodent. Beth helped (you looked so cute all bundled up in every robe you own and three towels wrapped around your head, too), but we couldn’t find it, even after a half hour, so we went back to bed. No flying mammal issues for the rest of the night, but I couldn’t get back to sleep, resulting in a net loss of a couple hours sleep for me. Wednesday was just tough. I was tired all day, but I had lots of coffee and kept myself moving, so I got through the day.  I was just looking forward to crashing that night.

Wednesday evening, Beth and I decided to close the door to the bedroom, so if the little guy was still around, the odds were that he would not get in the bedroom. We went to bed around nine o’clock that night, and looking forward to a good night’s rest, I was ecstatic. Until 10:30. When our little visitor showed up. In our closed-in bedroom. So maybe I was a tiny bit MORE crabby and said TWO bad words. Little batty-boy had gotten himself into our wastebasket and couldn’t get out. (side note: bats can’t take off from the floor. They actually have to crawl up a wall, tree, or whatever and jump. They have to swoop into flight; they can’t lift off from a “sit”) Beth had heard something, and thought it was our dog scratching or something, so she had been snapping her fingers at Gracie to get her to stop. And then Gracie “nosed” Beth’s hand and the noise continued. What Beth heard was the little rodent scrabbling, trying to get up the sides of the plastic wastebasket.

Now, I want you to understand, I LIKE bats. They eat mosquitos. And since mosquitos usually choose me to munch on, I truly like bats; they eat about their own weight in bugs every day.  I mean every night. So I like them. Just not in the house. But I don’t go out of my way to kill them, so when the little guy found himself trapped in the wastebasket, I was able to trap him between a racquetball racquet that we keep in the bedroom for just such occurrences and a piece of cardboard. I took him outside and let him go, making some little joke to Beth about seeing him the next night. Bats are very smart, and I actually was a bit concerned that having found a way into the house, our bitty little guest would make his way back, but I wasn’t really that worried. What’re the chances, really?  We went back to bed, but once again, I had a hard time getting back to sleep, and I figure I lost another couple hours sleep.

That was Wednesday night. For me, Thursday was REALLY difficult at work. Having lost a couple hours sleep on Tuesday, and again Wednesday, I was just whupped all day. I drank tons of coffee just to stay awake. In fact, Beth was worried it would keep me up. Not a chance. I was whiny tired, and those that know me know that I don’t even know how to whine. Ahem, again.

Anyhow, we got to bed relatively early Thursday nevening, and I slept the sleep of the dead. I remember a couple things through the night, but for the most part, I was unconscious. I actually pulled an all-nighter. And at my age, that means I didn’t get up to piddle even once! In the morning, Beth got up a few minutes before me, and went downstairs, maybe a quarter to five this morning. I laid there and dozed, figuring I had a half hour to sleep before I got up.

About five-o-five, I felt Beth throw my clothes on the bed in a lump. She doesn’t usually wake me up like that, but I figured she was being playful, so I smiled and opened my eyes. However, it was dark, and no Beth. Huh! Weird. I figured the wind did something goofy, as we have an open (and screened) window at the head of the bed. Counting on sleeping another twenty minutes or so, I forgot about it. For a couple minutes. Then I felt the wind do something behind my head. I was lying on my left side, the window was above me and kind of “in front” of me, but somehow the wind had gone past me and ruffled the covers behind my head. And then I thought of the bat from Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and thought, no! Not possible! I rolled over and looked, but nothing. Whew! Ok, false alarm. I STILL have about twenty minutes, so I laid back down. And heard something scrabbling on the nightstand behind me on my side of the bed. Son of a…!!! I do NOT believe this! I rolled over, turned on the light, and started looking. On top of the nightstand. Beside and behind the nightstand. On the front of the nightstand.  In the light on top of the nightstand.  Nothing. I laid back down, on my right side this time, and the light still on. I looked over the edge of the bed and toward the floor. And what do you know! Maybe four inches below me, and kind of tucked in between the mattress and the box springs was this furry little guy with a mousy little body and leathery wings. He was looking up at me and I assume he was talking to me. I can’t hear worth a crap, so I don’t know for sure.

Anyhow, it was weird. I seriously wasn’t freaked out, more cranky about a freakin’ bat three nights running. I hollered downstairs for Beth to bring up a pair of thick leather work gloves. Beth, being really smart and intuitive, didn’t even have to ask; she figured out out little visitor was back, and happily (I think) got the gloves for me.  Meanwhile, I kept an eye on our tiny little guest until Beth brought the gloves up. After putting them on, I was able to reach down and grab him. He and I then took a one-way trip (for him) outside where I rather forcefully advised him to not come back into the house again. I doubt he will. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw a couple crows a bit later this morning invite him to their nest for breakfast.

Needless to say, I. Am. Tired… PLEASE no bats (or bees, or wormers, or anything) tonight! I just wanna sleep! *sigh* Another night like the last three and I might really start thinking I’m Batman.

I Buried my Mother Yesterday

I buried my Mother yesterday.

Those that know me might have some confusion at that statement. “Wait just a minute. Your Mom died three years ago.” Yep, that is correct.

Or, they might be creeped out, thinking that we either just now buried Mom after three years of waiting, or the poor woman was exhumed and re-interred.

None of the above would be correct.

I was adopted into the best family an adoptee could hope for. I have frequently commented that I was adopted into the Cleaver household, making reference to the TV show, “Leave it to Beaver.” I was raised well, given an education, and loved my entire life. Unfortunately, my Dad (John Peters) died in 2000, my Mom (Myrtle Dillaman Peters) in 2011, and my only sister (JoAnne Peters) this year. Weird to think I’m an orphan.

But the story doesn’t end there. Since my youth, I have known I was adopted. I guess Pop knew of other adopted kids that learned of their adoption from other people when they were teens or later, and had a bitter time of the knowledge. He was determined that would not be the case for me.   I remember he called me upstairs and sat me down and told me of my adoption. How when a baby is born, the parents love the child that was given to them, but they didn’t know anything about the baby before the baby was born. But sometimes, a family gets to choose their baby, and that’s what he and Mom did with me. They were lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose a baby to love as their own, and that was me.

I guess the words sunk in, because I recall them fifty-some years later. At the time, I just remember thinking that somehow this must be important to Dad, because he’s being so serious, but for me, he had interrupted me in the middle of a TV show, and could I please get back to “Lassie?”

Mom and Dad could have easily shut out all discussion or speculation of my birth Mom, but they did not. My entire life they made sure I honored her, that she was a good woman who had been in difficult circumstances, and did the best for her baby that she knew how to do. Bit by bit, piece by piece over the years, I put together a lot of the story. It had been a private adoption. My bio Mom had personally contacted Mom and Dad, asking them to adopt her child when born. Mom and Dad ultimately said yes. I was born in Spencer Hospital in Meadville, six weeks premature, and with a blockage between my stomach and small intestine that very nearly ended the story before it barely had begun. That at about three days old, a Nun ran down the hall to my parents, and with joy was repeating over and over, “He had a bowel movement! He had a bowel movement!” And that at five days old, my birth mother walked down the hall, put me in my adoptive mother’s arms, hugged my Mom, turned, and walked away.

My biological mother, Wilma Angerer, had been previously married and lived in Ohio as Wilma Scranton. She had six children, Barb, Tim, Mike, Bob, and most recently, twins, Bonnie and Becky. Her husband was a truck driver by trade, and although the details are a bit sketchy, the bare facts were that he was in an accident, and killed as a result. Wilma, left without a husband and with six kids, moved back to Pennsylvania to the family farm with her folks. Grief works its way through different people in different ways, and Wilma eventually found comfort for a time in the arms of another man. When she became pregnant, it became apparent to her that the man was a cad, and he was basically dismissed from her life. However, she was in a predicament. Pregnant, without a husband, and caring for six kids, the youngest three (including a set of twins) in diapers. It turns out that my folks lived a short distance from her, just a short walk through the woods. Wilma approached John and Myrtle with her dilemma, and my adoption by them was the solution.

As I grew older, my parents occasionally advised me that if I wanted to look up my bio Mom, that I should think about doing it, as “She wasn’t getting any younger.” (Really, Mom and Dad? I wasn’t sure that’s how it works, but thanks…) I happened to see in the newspaper once that pre-adoption birth certificates were available for my age range, but not for much longer. I sent away, paid the costs involved, and received the certificate in the mail. I didn’t open it for some time, but I had it by, for when I was ready.

I’m not very skilled at remembering ages, dates, and so forth, but my wife assures me that it was a little over seventeen years ago that I decided that I needed to find my bio family. I called and talked to my parents, advising them that I was ready to meet my birth Mom. After a brief search, they got me her address, and I wrote to her, explaining the situation, and where I was. I remember the stress and fear that accompanied that letter: what if she rejected me; what if she didn’t want anything to do with me? I needn’t have worried, that was far from the case. She wrote back, and we corresponded a couple of times before we were able to meet. I was a secret that she had carried for forty years. She said that she had to “explain a few things to her family,” and after that, we met. Beth and I drove to her small home in western PA, and for the first time in forty years, I saw the woman who had carried me and bore me, and had the courage to let me go when she knew she couldn’t care for me as she wanted. After that, she wanted me to meet my brothers and sisters (I have brothers and sisters?) and extended family, and it was arranged. Beth and I drove to the fire hall, and met her family (MY family!). My parents were also invited, and it was with much fear and trepidation that we got together. It was a good meeting, and after, my Dad said (one of those things I treasure) that he watched me interact with my biological family, and he was proud of me.

Over the years, we got together with my bio when we could, and learned some of the family history. We have met some family that are more than family; they are friends, and folks I we would hang around even if not related. The fact that we are, just makes it better.  There are many that I want to get to know better if time permits.

But the problem with time is that it continues to pass (Really, Clark? Nobody knew that’s how it works, but thanks…). Nobody gets younger, and last summer we got together with the Scranton/Surrrarrer clan, with the matriarch, Wilma, present for the last time. She knew then that she was slowing down, and started her preparations then. Since then the slow-down spiral picked up its pace, and five days ago, my Mother left this plain for the promise of a better eternity.

Yesterday, on a beautiful, chilly October day, we laid our mother, our sister, aunt, and grandmother to rest. I reflected a lot yesterday, amid tears and pain, comfort and emotions. I wished that I had more time with her, to really get to know her. In my experience, life and distance are do not cooperative toward that end, and I will carry this regret with me the rest of my life. Of course, that isn’t the only regret, I will just add that to the pile, I guess.

I am proud of my adoptive family, proud to be a Peters/Dillaman. My cousins are precious to me, and I am grateful for their friendship, and the memories we share. I am a product of the nurture I received from my parents and extended family.

And I am proud of my biological family, proud to be a Scranton/Surrarrer. With all the drama, with all the emotion, this is the stock from which I came. This mix of chromosomes and genes are part of what makes me who I am. I have my mother’s ears. I have my Uncle’s smile. My oldest sister and I have the exact same eyes. I have my brothers’ temper. I am the product of a nature, a lineage that is good, is bad, and simply is what it is.

I buried my mother yesterday. This woman carried and bore me, and with regret and pain, give me up to be raised by the best family I could have asked for. For my whole life, my biological Mother never demanded a thing from me, and waited until I was ready to develop a relationship, waited for me to see her, allowed me to set the pace of the times we were together, loved me, loved my wife and my family. She gave me a family, and friends that I treasure.

I have visions of both of my mothers meeting and hugging, thanking each other, one thanking the other for raising her son in such a wonderful home, and then in turn the other thanking the first for giving up her son so their family could have a son to treasure the rest of their lives.

Most people love their families, and are proud to associate with them. I am luckier than most. I have two families of which I am proud. Proud to belong, proud to share. One family I get to share a history memories. The other I get to share blood. I AM a Peters/Dillaman. I AM a Scranton/Surrarrer. And it is good.

Rest well, beautiful woman. Rest well, my Mother. You were proud, you were strong. You faced hardships and pushed through them, raising the strongest bunch of hard-headed hill folk that I have ever known, and I am PROUD to be one of them, just as hard-headed, just as hill. You done good, you fought the good fight, and you have earned your rest. But you are not gone, and will not be forgotten. A part of you lives in me, in my brothers and sisters, in our kids and in theirs. I miss you, and I mourn not for you, but for us. Vaya con Dios, mi Madre. Walk with God. I love you.

“I am the grandson of Oscar, the spitting image of Wilma my mother, and when nighttime comes my Daddy John is still my biggest fan.  That’s who I am.”  Jessica Andrews here: http://youtu.be/Jd9zYKLepCw

I Hate Goodbyes

My sister died today.  She was born on October 28, 1942, to our parents, John and Myrtle Peters.  Like parents everywhere, they were excited, and could not wait to see their child.  However, medical practices were different then, and when our Mother had a hard labor, believing in “letting nature take its course,” her doctor let it go on.  When JoAnne was born, her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, shutting off oxygen for some period of time.  She was still alive, and in an effort to help, they put her in an oxygen tent.  However, that day harmed JoAnne in two ways.  First, her brain had been starved of air to the point that she was mentally handicapped.  Second, medical science found later that pure oxygen has a very harmful effect on a newborns’ eyes; JoAnne was also visually impaired as a result of the oxygen tent.

Dad was away fighting in World War II when JoAnne was born, and I was told that when he came back, he was unable to have more children.  Which was lucky for me, since fifteen years after JoAnne was born, they adopted me.

Growing up, JoAnne was no different in my estimation than anyone else’s older sister would be.  She was a pain.  Fussing at me, pointing out to our parents that I hadn’t taken my required vegetables as they were passed, preempting the TV to watch Lawrence Welk when there were shows on that were much more appealing to a teenage male.  But she was my sister.  I loved her, cared about her, and I can say that I was never embarrassed by her at school functions or anywhere else when we were out in public.

I grew up, graduated High School, went to Penn State, found the love of my life, married, got a job,  had kids, matured.  JoAnne stayed the same.  Folks with mental disabilities (or challenges, if you prefer) are people just like any others.  Some are nice, some are not.  Some are loud, some quiet.  Some sweet, some, well, more vinegar.  JoAnne was the sweetest person I have ever known.  Mentally, she was maybe five years old, but she was always simply a sweetheart.  I don’t know how else to say it.  Beth said it better than I when she wrote, “She was selfless and taught me much about the inner beauty of individuals by looking beyond the outward appearance and seeing their hearts, the way that God sees and values them.”  But as sweet as she was, JoAnne also knew she was not like other people.  I remember when my own children were born, JoAnne said, “I hope they don’t grow up different like me.”  My heart broke for her.

As my parents aged, they realized that at some point they would not be able to care for JoAnne, so they were able to find a home for her in the L’Arche Community in Erie, PA.  L’Arche is an amazing organization started in France by a Catholic priest for the express purpose of caring for the mentally handicapped.  And what a home it turned out to be.  Absolutely dedicated to their “core members,” the staff (they call themselves assistants) are the most zealous advocates for their charges that one could ask.  Each core member lives in a home with a few other core members, and assistants to provide any services needed.  With the help of L’Arche, JoAnne travelled, going to Nashville a couple of times, California, Branson, Florida, and she even got a passport and went to France twice.  I know I have probably left some out, but you get the idea.  They took her bowling during season, and heaven help me if I tried to get her to miss her bowling night.  Each core member cooks a weekly meal, helps with laundry, shopping, you name it.  The assistants will see that each core member goes to the church service of their choice, if they wish, and JoAnne did.  She went to church every week.  In other words, she led a “normal” life.  And she was happy.  She blossomed living in the L’Arche community, and was even sweeter as a result.  She could be funny, making cracks (usually at my expense) that never failed to make me laugh.  She enjoyed our company, and we enjoyed hers.

Life is as it is, and we didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I would have wished, but I guess that’s the case with most siblings.

JoAnne had been sick for the past couple months, getting better, then worse, into the hospital, getting discharged, and then back in again.  She was finally diagnosed with Addison’s disease, and started the necessary medication to treat it.  However, last week she wound up back in the hospital, and they simply couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  She started slipping, and it has been hard to watch.  Her discomfort, and confusion were hard to bear.  She started retaining fluids, and she began to shut down.  Finally, the only thing left for the hospital to do was to release her to her home, as she had been wanting.  Monday evening she was released and went back to her home, with hospice caring for her as needed.  As soon as she got home, JoAnne was nearly instantaneously more relaxed and easy.  However, each day she continued her decline, and this morning we received the phone call letting us know she was gone.  Beth and I went in to see her and say goodbye, smoothing her hair, weeping.  We made it through the day, thinking mostly of JoAnne and being sad.

During supper, I was stunned when I realized that this is permanent.  I’m not going to hear her voice again.  We won’t have her out for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years.  I’ll never again be able to tease her about her most hated food, sauerkraut, and she will never again remind me, “Don’t forget to shave,” her standard post script when we were saying goodbye after a visit.

My sister is gone now, and I must let her go.  I do believe in an afterlife, and I do believe in the saving grace of Christ our King.  I believe that JoAnne is whole now, not in pain, not “different,” a perfect soul, created in God’s own image.  I believe she has a better understanding of heaven than I ever will in this life.  And for her, I could not be happier.  As for me, and Beth, and Sarah and Laura, JoAnne’s L’Arche family, our Aunt Phoebe, our cousins and friends, we are the ones left behind.  We are the ones that must mourn.  And I miss my sister.

Caught in the corner.

Hang on, dig in, strap down, get set.  I am going to state a truism that may just rock your world.  Ready?  Here it is:  Life is hard.  Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.  Life is hard and there is nothing to be done about it.  “Life is pain Highness.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

When I was young (Wait.  I meant younger) I thought I was ready for anything that life had to throw at me.  I thought I would chew it up and spit it out.  Little did I know just how painful life can be.  Let me describe what I mean.

I met Beth at Behrend College of Penn State in 1975.  Through her feminine wiles, we soon fell in love and planned our life together.  Long walks, long talks, gazing into each others’ eyes, we did all those dewy, romantic and saccharine things that young couples often do when they fall in love.  Objectively speaking, our romance was (and remains) the best and finest romance in the history of the world.  And I wouldn’t trade one single minute for anything.

We married in 1978 (see, Beth?  I do too remember) and started with nothing more than an old Chevy Impala given to us by my folks, a cat, and love.  What a grand start to a marriage!  We moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and I found a job in, of all places, a donut factory on my way to my life-long dream job of being a policeman.  I got into police work over thirty years ago, and the trials and travails Beth and I experienced could have wrecked us multiple times.  But from the beginning, we both loved God more than anything, and have worked to make Him, and Him alone, the focus and center of our marriage.

Children came along, planned and anticipated.  Loved, adored, and our pride and joy.  We raised them “purposely and intentionally,” a catch phrase with a set of our closest friends; a catch phrase, but describes our parenting very nicely.  Everything we did with them was intended to be a life’s lesson, to instruct them and to train and prepare them for everything that life was going to throw at them.  Clearly we were not perfect, and there are innumerable moments I wish I could take back, change, re-do.  But we’re not given that option, are we?  Even so, no one has ever loved their children more, or worked harder to raise their children to be the best they could be.  I went back to school part-time, and worked toward my Master’s Degree from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.  I found that I enjoyed my class work (as opposed to my undergrad experience) and excelled.  Of course, I devoted a ton of time to my school work to do so, but enjoyed it none the less.

In the mid-1980’s, I joined the Erie Police Department in Erie, PA.  Having come from a small police department where every sneeze and belch was noted and scrutinized, when I moved to a larger department I was like a kid in a candy store.  I had more fun than anyone had a right to.  But all things change, and even good things have a habit of diminishing.  I finished my Master’s degree program and eventually left the street to become a detective, then a Detective Sergeant working Homicides, bank robberies with FBI agents, Presidential protection details with the Secret Service, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT),  just about any cool thing that one could desire.  I had a “patron” that was guiding me in the ways of politics within the city, and I was moving toward higher ranks; meeting people, shaking hands, joining clubs and organizations.

During this time I also worked in our church.  I found myself elected to the Deacon board, which at the time was kind of a combined Elder/Deacon position.  We made policy for the church, as well as watching for the immediate spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in the congregation.  As was typical, I threw myself into it, and spent a lot of time working for the church.

As are many men, I am driven to excel at whatever task I take on.  And for most of the things I try, I push myself until I’m pretty good at whatever it is I am doing.  However, as I pushed and struggled to advance, I noticed something.  My daughters were in High School, perhaps only a few years from graduating and moving on.  And I hardly knew them.

I remembered some of the ideals that Beth and I had as young marrieds and as young parents, and I did not want to look back and regret the time that I devoted to my job; I did not want to regret the time that I should have given to my children.  So I did something that was very difficult for me.  I took myself off the fast track at work.  Man was I disappointed.  But, I thought, at least I had my church and my family.  Family, church, and work.  I measured myself as a successful man by these three things.

Oops, one down.  I intentionally gave work away, but that’s ok.  I still had the other two.  I convinced myself that as long as I “succeeded” at church and family, I was ok.  Work was actually the third on the list anyway, so I could be less than at the pinnacle there and still be a success at the other two.  However, church is a funny thing; it’s filled with people.  And people are the same no matter where they happen to be located.  I dealt with good folks and mean folks all across the spectrum.  I dealt with issues that I wish I had never known about.  Ultimately I kind of flamed out with leadership in church, too.  When my term as Deacon expired, I did not seek re-election, and I am not sure how eager I am even now, twenty-something years later, to repeat that experience.

Two down.  But I still have my family.  And this is the most important of the three.  As long as I “succeed” at family, I still have worth in my eyes.  I am still a “successful” man.

You kind of see what’s coming, right?

I had read a book once that described a father’s raising his family, and essentially his thoughts were that no matter what success he had elsewhere, if he didn’t raise his children well, what good is he?  I agreed with that, and worked accordingly.

Now before I continue, I want to make clear that I love my children.  With my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Nothing has ever changed that, and nothing ever will.  Further, I need not detail more than this.  They are good people, working to be the best that they can envision themselves to be.  I am proud of them and their accomplishments.  Suffice it to say here that they have chosen to walk a couple of paths that I would not have chosen for them.  Their lives, their decisions.  I respect that and will support them, love them, help them to the best that I am able.

I think that at least in part, I took their “contrary” decisions personally, that it was my responsibility for where they have chosen to be.  Of course, each of us will ultimately take ownership of our choices and decisions, but at the time, I keenly felt that I was an abject failure as a father.  And for me that was strike three.  I was a failure as a man.

Some people turn to drink, some people may become even more spiritual, some turn to other outlets to ease the pain.  I have had several.

For years I have struggled with, shall we say, less wholesome outlets.  I honestly don’t know how teens can cope with the internet.  One can instantly find just about anything one would care to find.  With all that one can access today via the internet, I wouldn’t have survived as a teen.  Anyhow, through a lot of prayer, working with several dedicated and spiritual men, this particular area is much less difficult for me than it once was.

But there were other ways that one can feel momentarily better.  Food is one of my biggest struggles.  I love food.  I love the smell of good food, I love the taste of food and its texture as I roll it through my mouth, I love the satisfying feel of a full stomach.  And Beth is honestly the best cook I have ever known.

For a while this wasn’t as big a problem as it could be.  Although my metabolism had been slowing down, I was pretty active.  Being on the SWAT team was pretty demanding, and I had to stay in some semblance of shape, so even though I ate big, I burned a lot of it at the same time.  Also, at 6’3″, I can hide it pretty well.  This changed a bit when I retired from the team.  I ballooned to an all-time high of 260 pounds of unadulterated cellulose, and looked every bit like the chubby hubby that I was.

I had other outlets as well.  I am a very sensual guy.  I love taste, texture, beauty, scents.  I love trying new things.  I love learning.  So when I find something new that tastes great, smells great, and has nuance, I dive in.  Especially if it’s not something that a ton of people do.  I discovered craft beer and I discovered cigars.  Both are topics of endless discussion for me, I can talk for hours about either.  For the record, my buddy Matt makes the best beer I have tried; second is Founder’s Breakfast Stout or perhaps Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stouts.  Oh, man!  For cigars, my go to is always an Ashton, and specifically an Ashton Double Magnum, although I love all kinds of cigars at different times.  If you’re interested, go see Chris at Leaf Lover’s Tobbaconist in North East, PA for a great cigar.  And remember my advice.  If you can buy cigars and gasoline at the same location, don’t buy the cigars!!

Anyhow, along with Scuba diving, these were the outlets I used to “cope” with life’s little surprises.  I was a far cry from that twenty-one year old that thought he could handle everything.  Essentially, it looks like I can’t handle much of anything.  Or maybe life just kept throwing its little surprises until I was broken down.  Whatever, I was at a point that I needed help with coping.  But I didn’t like where I was.  That having been said, I think I need to clarify here.  As long as this post turns out to be, it is still a very abbreviated version of all this.  This entire process kind of evolved over the past twenty years or so, and I am condensing it here to a couple of thousand-ish words.  Also, it may look like I was just a total wreck.  Not so, but I had come to lean on tangibles, not on inner strength and God’s power.

So, here I was.  A failure at work, a failure at church, a failure with my family.  “Needing” food, scuba, beer, and cigars.  So what happened next?  Earlier this year I looked at a couple of photos taken of me, and man, I did not like what I saw.  This guy’s a fatty!  Beth and I both decided it was time, so we embarked on a weight loss and life style change.  Although I started at a lower weight than my all time high, since May, I have lost about thirty pounds with ten to go to my goal.  Beth has done even better.  I think we both look great, and the next step is to get back to the gym and get in shape.

Food’s gone as a crutch.

Beer has been assuming an increasingly anticipated portion of my life.  And I don’t mean nasty or cheap beer.  You folks that drink Bud lite or Coors, well, you have my pity.  Micros are the bomb!  So many different breweries, so many different styles, combinations of hops and malts, I could easily live in a Brewpub.  Wait.  Clark, what did you just say?  Did you hear yourself?

Beth pointed out to me a bit ago that I was consuming more beer than I had before.  She wasn’t yet alarmed exactly, but she was kind of concerned.  Her concern was justified.  Although in comparison to many I didn’t drink much at all, and although in comparison to Europeans I hardly drink anything, I was still using the beer as a crutch.  Clark, what are you doing?  Yep, I need to cut back.  And although I have no intention to cease, my beer consumption has hugely diminished.

Beer’s gone.  But I still have my last stronghold, I still have my cigars.

You can see what’s coming, right?  Hey, didn’t I already say that?

Many people would say this explains a great deal, but as a teen, I fell on my head a couple of times.  Looking back, I probably fractured my spine, but as I could get up and move, I never went to the hospital or even saw a doctor.  Fast forward four decades or so, and I now have two degenerative discs.  After several years of chiropractic therapy and numerous pain shots, I had my neck fused four months ago on two levels; C-5 to C-6, and C-6 to C-7.  The surgery went great, the chronic pain is gone, and the healing has been fine.  But.  My scuba season ended on the date of my surgery, and I probably won’t get back under water (except for assisting classes of new divers in the pool) until spring.

We went back to my surgeon last Monday.  After x-rays, he showed me that the higher level is about 99% healed; essentially completely healed.  The lower level, not as much.  He gave me a few restrictions, and said that he wasn’t concerned at all, and that the only way he would be concerned at all is if I was a smoker, which I am not.  I told him that I haven’t touched a cigarette in my life, but that I do have an occasional cigar.  At that point he kind of stared at me, hesitated a second, and said, “You need to stay away from those.”

Ok, I get it.  Nicotine restricts blood vessels and inhibits the uptake of oxygen, both needed for healing.  I won’t smoke a cigar for months.  But that was my last tangible support.  I am now officially left with nothing to fall back on, nothing to look forward to (And let’s be totally clear.  When I say that, I mean outside my marriage.  Our marriage is still great, and getting better every day!).  When he said that, I felt like my last pillar was knocked down, my bridge was collapsing.  I was bereft.  Even Beth felt bad for me, and she is not, shall we say, the biggest fan of my cigars.

So what do I do?  As I see it, I don’t have a lot of choices here.  My only choice is the one I should have made long ago.  My only choice is to depend on God’s grace; first, last, everywhere.  A few years ago I coined a phrase that I have tried to utilize.  I kind of forgot it, but I’m gonna pick it back up.  That phrase is this.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  So this is what I am left with, this is what I want to do, what I want to continually tell myself.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  I need to give it to God, let it go, live in Him.  Fill me Father.  Fill me with You.  You God.  All You.  Nothing but You.

I don’t know why it is necessary to be painted into a corner to see that one cannot “do this” on one’s own, but I would not be surprised to find that this is rather common.  Even if not, I often find that it is the case for me.  I’ve been cornered, and I have nothing that I can use to defend myself.  I figure I can go in one of three directions.  I can collapse into a puddle of emotional plasma, I can fall back on one of the less healthy things that I used to fall back on, or I can let go and look to the Author and Protector.  I think I’ll look to Jesus.

But boy do I want a cigar.  Let it go, Clark.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Yeah, I know…

Interesting.

“May you lead an interesting life.”

I have no proof of this, but I have always been given to understand that this is an old Chinese curse.  I used to think that such a thought was silly; who wants to lead a boring life.  Then I understood just how stressful and difficult it can be when one’s life is “interesting,” and I longed for a life that was perhaps a bit less “interesting.”  I even found that for a while.  However, I find myself at a place now where my life is again a bit interesting.

For a while I’ve been in a bit of a quandary.  I have wanted to post here, but was finding it difficult to develop a relevant topic.  And then I heard Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken” on our local Christian radio station, WCTL (BTW, they also stream and can be found at www.WCTL.org).  This song touched me, and after pondering for a while, I realized why my life is currently interesting and why this song resonated at this point in time.  There are several components to where I am right now.

First, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an odd state of mind.  It occurred to me that I was quite frightened of a situation in which I am close to finding myself.

In previous posts I have discussed our Pastor, Bob Klecan in one reference or another.  I have had the privilege of grabbing an occasional cup of coffee with him on several occasions.  We have discussed everything from theology and “the church” to The Beatles, Vietnam, and sports.  And two things I have noticed: First, Bob Klecan is extremely smart.  And second, he is often underestimated.  He is a very humble man, able to discuss a variety of topics, understands deep issues, and can preach the word in a way that is understandable both in theory and in application.

I once asked him, “How do you deal with people underestimating you all the time?”  The look on his face was priceless.  He was shocked, first of all because it is true, he is consistently underestimated, but also because someone noted that fact.  He asked me how I knew that.  My reply was that it was easy for me to recognize that in him because I am underestimated all the time as well.

Note to all.  I am not bragging here, and this is not a “How cool am I?” piece.  Puffing myself up is not my style, far from it.  But I need to acknowledge  some things in this post which could look like bragging.  Not so.

Anyhow, with that proviso, I admit that I’m a fairly smart individual.  I enjoy learning and I enjoy experiencing new thoughts and new situations.  However, I come from a blue-collar family, solidly middle-class; not intentionally identifying ourselves as intellectual.  My Father was a non-commissioned officer in the army in WWII, and after that a farmer.  After selling the farm (where I grew for the first six years of my life), Dad purchased a service station in Springboro, PA.  He later took a job as a tool and die maker, working in that job until he retired.  Dad also did tax work on the side, which is about the only post-High School education he had.  Mom, due to family situations prior to marriage, did not have a chance to complete High School.  Relatively common in her era.

My point in giving some description of my family’s levels of education is to show that I do not come from a background of  higher education.  Some people come from families of doctors, attorneys, accountants, whatever.  Those families more or less expect their children to also get an education, the key word being also.  I did not grow up in that situation.

Although they had no college background, my family expected me to go to college, and it was just understood that I was going to college my entire life.    It wasn’t until decades later I discovered that when my parents adopted me, the judge granting the adoption made my parents promise that their son would get an education.  My parents were two of the most honest and honorable people I have ever known and when they made that promise, they were determined to keep it.  And they did.

My high school years were spent in Saegertown Area High School (they called it Penncrest, but we that went to Saegertown knew better).  I kind of coasted through high school, and struggled through my undergraduate work at Penn State.  I wasn’t much of a student at that time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find new stuff fun.  I did.  Leaving home and going to Behrend College of Penn State for the first time was cool!  Going to Main Campus from Behrend was cool!  Getting into my major class work as a junior and senior was cool, and I did a lot better, gradewise.  Within a few months of graduating from Penn State, I got a job as a policeman, my dream job, and I have been a policeman for over thirty years.

All this background is to get to this:  my entire life I have hidden my intelligence, my drive, and my love of learning and knowledge.  Cops are the best bunch of people one could ever find outside the military, and I am honored and privileged to belong to that fraternity.  And cops hate a peg that sticks out.  If someone is unique, cops will do whatever it takes to pound that person back into the hole.  This isn’t necessarily an “I’m threatened” kind of thing, either.  We depend on each other for our lives.  Very few professions worry about some knucklehead deciding for whatever reason to put a bullet into them because they had a bad day.  Cops have to know, viscerally, that the guy next to them is dependable, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.  A fellow officer’s oddities and uniqueness makes cops nervous, so they do what they must to feel secure that they are safe.  And that includes figuratively beating on intellectually minded people (I was also different from most cops because of the “peculiar and strange” values I brought with me due to my understanding of Christianity, but that isn’t what I’m discussing here).  So I learned (at least to some degree) to suppress that part of me.  Note:  This is not a value judgement or a criticism.  I understand the necessity of what cops do, and it is what it is.  It’s just not all that pleasant sometimes.

So here I am, thirty (plus) years later, and I find myself in a new position.  I am the Chief of Police at a University in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University of PA.  I enjoy this stage of my career, partly because of the position, of course.  I think I am doing some good where I am, and I have the chance to make a great police department even a bit better.  But for me, part of the uniqueness is being on a college campus.  I am an administrator at an institution that not only appreciates intelligence, it encourages people to apply that intelligence and to develop it.  I have found myself on various committees that I would have never dreamed of a few years ago, and I am enjoying that.  I find myself in debates with friends on the far end of the political scale from me, and have loved the debate.  My wife and I have visited an “Athiests and Agnostics” meeting, and I now have a couple of acquaintances that intrigue me and I look forward to developing a relationship with them.

And here is where I found myself frightened.  I find that I am close to being seen as a “smart” person, someone who, if not exactly an intellectual, enjoys intellectual debate and can hold his own in that area.  And not only seen as smart, but valued because of that.  I have suppressed that part of me for so long that it is scary to tap into it.  As a couple of examples, when we attended the Athiest and Agnostic meeting, the discussion was based on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” an essay he had written in 1849.  It is a philosophical treatise on Utilitarianism, and definitely not light reading.  I read it for the discussion, and I loved it!  I have not participated in philosophical readings or discussion in over ten years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that.  I also took college level Spanish 101 and 102 this summer, and my comprehension of a foreign language was better than I have ever experienced.

There are also a number of events occurring this summer.  I am stepping out on a number of issues: instead of sitting in one place, Beth and I took the conscious step to confront some issues that had been effecting us.  So instead of just passively standing still and taking shot after shot from life, we decided to deal with it, and consequently we are in a much better place now.  I decided to have needed corrective surgery that I had been putting off for some time (healing nicely, thank you).  We are dealing with the loss of my Mother last fall, as well as other family issues.  I volunteered to be on a council that is quite frightening in and of itself, but I felt led to do volunteer, and so was obedient.  And we are going back to the Dominican Republic in January.

If you have read my posts regarding the one-week missions trip to the Dominican Republic which started this blog, you already know how astounding it is that I would want to go back this year.  I didn’t just kind of not want to go to the DR, I did not want to go, and I was angry that I had agreed to go and was being held to that agreement.  But, being the son of honorable people, I was determined to honor that commitment, even if I hated every single second of the time I was there. Read my posts in chronological order to see the progression, but suffice it to say that God worked in amazing ways in me over that week. I came back from the DR with a renewed spirit and huge gratitude for God’s love for me.

This year, I felt that we needed to go back.  However, no one at church had made any effort for that to happen and I felt God’s prompting to be the driver.  I contacted our team leader from last year, we conferred with Pastor Klecan, and we got a game plan together.  Last Sunday at church I made an announcement regarding the trip, and seventeen people showed up to discuss their participation in the DR trip in January.  Fifteen want to go, but only four can fund the trip for themselves, and the deadline for the down payment (and thus one’s ability to go in January) is two weeks from tomorrow.  This past week, an anonymous donor paid for five to go.  We have six to fund.

I have been battered and bruised.  Crushed, numb.  But I see changes in me, in the way I view things, in my outlook.  I see healing and the return of my desire to excel, to learn, to push myself and to “push the envelope.”  Although I am more than a little uneasy at where I am right now, I feel my sense of God’s presence returning and it is far from boring.

An interesting life?  Yeah, it sure is.  And for now, I love it.  Sweetly Broken?  I’m not sure I completely understand that concept yet, but I’m far closer to understanding it than I was.

Check out Jeremy Riddle’s song “Sweetly Broken” here: http://youtu.be/fyJuKHvoPGc.

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

Chorus:
At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

Chorus:

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness

(2x’s)
Chorus:

Oh, I am REAL good at right and wrong. But nicey-nice? Uh…

I have been corresponding with a friend for a while on an issue that we both are working on.  John is my accountability partner with internet use and so on, and I would be so far from where I am if not for him.  Over time I have had several guys to whom I made myself accountable, and I am so grateful for their work and prayers.  So, thank you to Randy, Carl, Doug, and John.  May God richly bless you for taking the time to work with a hard head like me on such a difficult issue.  I remain a “work in progress,” but any success I have had is due to your prayers and work.  Thank you.

Anyhow, my correspondence with John took a turn in an interesting direction the past couple days.  We have come to a point in our discussion where the focus is on matching Biblical Grace with Biblical Truth, and not as separate issues.  This is what John said:

“Grace and truth often appear to be in conflict with each other and yet Jesus was FULL of both at the same time.

At the risk of offending you and apologies if I do, you are FULL of truth and light on grace. We need to be FULL of both and that’s so very hard (seemingly impossible) to do.”
A couple of weeks ago our Pastor, Bob Klecan, gave a message that I discussed earlier (see my earlier post, “Exclusive? Definitely.  Inclusive?  Even more so,” put up on August 19).  In just a sentence or two, his point was basically this: do I want to win a point, or do I want to make a mark for eternity?  And this is a difficult issue for me.
This past Sunday, Pastor Bob made a point that I paraphrase in this way:
“Christianity is unique from other religions in this way: other religions offer advice on what I must do so that in the end God may accept me.  Christianity says that I CANNOT earn my place with God.  ALL I MUST DO is accept the gift of God’s salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  All I must do is repent, NOT first from my sins, but from my righteousness; from that which I think makes me ‘good enough’ to stand before God.  THAT is the ‘gospel;’ THAT is God’s Good news.”
Although the previous point is no problem for me, the others above are issues I have struggled with for a long time.  If one is familiar with the Bible’s New Testament, one is familiar with various personalities.  The Apostle John is rather a dreamer, a mystic.  He appeals to many “artsy” people, but for me he’s a bit too touchy-feely.  Ick.  At the risk of catching rocks, I just don’t identify with John.  Paul, I like.  Straightforward, intellectual, I like to read his stuff.  I like his mind, and I like his logic.  But of all the characters in the New Testament, I probably identify with Peter the most.  Peter, the impulsive one.  Peter the hard-head.  Peter the one-hundred percent committed one that was willing to jump into a sword fight and die with or for the unmistakable Messiah.  Peter, the one who denied that same savior not once, but three times in a matter of a couple of hours.  That’s me.  So the issue of grace and truth is a difficult one.  Truth?  Easy!  Grace?  Not so much.  Also, I want to point out that there are people on Facebook in particular that I really care about and although we disagree, I would never want to hurt them.  With them, it is no chore to be “nicer.”  I love them, and enjoy the debate, but harsh?  I just don’t want to be that to them.
In this post, I talk about two issues: divorce and pornography, and I need to make a couple of points now.  First, I think pornography wrong in each and every instance.  It’s pretty clear according to scripture that looking at someone not your spouse with lust is as destructive and sinful as adultery.  So in no case is porn ever ok.  Divorce is not so cut and dried.  Scripture maintains a few instances where divorce is acceptable, if not ideal.  For the sake of brevity, I would count those reasons as a partner’s infidelity and one suffering abuse.  Further, if one is divorced, so be it.  I have no condemnation for anyone in that place.  But I think in our “no fault” society, we are far too quick to dump someone for any reason what so ever.  And that is what I’m talking about below.
Edited, I responded to John’s email (above) in this way:
Ok, pretty much my whole life I’ve been angry, but I’m not sure exactly at what.  My Dad used to tell me (a lot) that I was going to wind up in jail if I didn’t get my temper under control, so this is not a new phenomenon.  Further, I have always had a strong sense of justice.  Mom used to tell of me coming home from school and after watching kids pick on other kids that were weaker or whatever, talking about how that wasn’t fair.  Finally, I do tend to see things in black and white.  It’s right or it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.  Period.  This part serves me well with things like fidelity and purity, but maybe not so much in my relationship with people.
Now, that having been said, I have long maintained  that I don’t care what you think, or what I think, or what anyone thinks; what does the Word of God SAY?  And if something is spelled out as right or wrong, then there it is.
And here’s where all of the above clashes.  On controversial issues of the day, I have little patience for a unitarian approach, whereby if that’s what one wants to do, well, that’s just fine.  But I also recognize that the “hammer” approach doesn’t often win a lot of converts (or friends for that matter).  So, where does that leave me?
I think that with people whom I trust and feel comfortable with, like Beth, and those of you in Small Group, I feel free to just say what I think, and not hold back.  But that doesn’t really give an accurate representation of what I think, who I am, how I respond, and what image I put forth to the world.  I was talking about this to Beth and she observed that I seem to have “a public face and a private face.”  True.  Especially after Bob’s sermon two weeks ago, I have been trying to be a bit “softer” in my approach on Facebook.  And for a long time, I will rant about our daughters to Beth, but when talking to them, I am much more subdued.
I think I have two issues here.  First, quite honestly, I get tired of taking it.  I get frustrated with people taking foolish or just plain wrong positions, and acting like they are morally or intellectually superior to me.  Makes me nutty. The example I gave Beth was, so if someone says, “You know what, I don’t believe two plus two equals four.  I believe it equals five,”  the response I want to give is, “Idiot, NO IT DOESN’T, AND YOU ARE DEMONSTRATABLY WRONG!!!”  But I’m supposed to say, “Well, that’s interesting.  How do you come to that conclusion?”  That is hard for me.
Second, I really struggle with this:  Who is really served by soft-pedalling the truth?  I’m just not sure.  I know I am harsh, but I struggle with being “squishy” when “capital-T” Truth is being discussed.
One example from Sunday night.  As you said earlier, I am not trying to offend, and I apologize if I do.  I noticed something that was said.  The statement was made that she has no problem with people who are divorced serving in church.  Actually, I don’t either, but like I said then, it depends on why they were divorced.  Referring to what I said above, I don’t care what anyone thinks, what does the Word of God say?  And God says, “I HATE divorce.”  Now that is pretty strong coming directly from God, and I think we are a bit cavalier about divorce.  Is divorce the unforgivable sin?  Certainly not.  But it is a serious topic that we should not just gloss over.
Most sin, I think, affects me, and only indirectly others.  Gluttony or lying being examples.  Both are wrong, both are sin, but often the main effect of either sin is directly on me.  I bear the brunt of the crushing effect of them.  But pornography or divorce very often hurt people right next to the one committing that particular sin.  I recognize that in terms of value all sins are the same, but the ripple effect, I think, is much more striking in some sin than others.
 So, where do I go from here?  Hard to say.  I am trying to be kind.  I am trying to be less harsh, less of a hammer.  But how well is that working?  I don’t know, and I am still so conflicted.  In issues where it is so clear to me, how do I let it go?  How do I show love when I think a slap is more appropriate?  It’s not enough to say that God didn’t treat me like that, or any other similar platitude.  I know these things in my head.  but I am far more a “soldier” than a “diplomat.”  God help me!  I just don’t know how to spare the sword and offer a hand.

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part II.

When Dad died, Mom immediately packed her stuff and moved closer to us.  We had counseled her to wait a while, but she was determined.  In retrospect, I think she had always had a man to take care of her (she did, after all, grow up in that era), and it seemed she wanted me to kind of take over Dad’s position in her life.  I think she was always a bit bitter that I would not do that; I had my own family, my own life that I had to take care of.  On the other side of the coin, she was proud of the fact that she did so much that she didn’t know she could on her own.

But try as I might (and I tried a lot), I couldn’t get Mom to integrate into our lives.  Multiple times we asked her to bring her crocheting or knitting (she was phenomenal) to the house and just spend the evening, but she couldn’t do that.  So, as time went by, I think our relationship suffered.  There was never any doubt of my love for my Mom, nor of her love for me.  It’s just that our worlds didn’t seem to ever mesh.  The “Dillaman guilt” definitely had a field day with me.

And it was difficult.  As Mom aged, she got more “old lady-ish;” set in her ways, demanding, and a bit mean.  Everyone loved Mom, and I frequently heard how sweet she was.  But I think it’s often different for close family.  I’m not saying she wasn’t sweet, she was, but I didn’t always see that side.  Being my Mom, she never hesitated to criticize me, or let me know I wasn’t calling or stopping in enough.  But from my perspective, I was doing what I could.  It’s just that Mom had never made a life for herself without her family.  To Mom, (and I suspect the Dillaman family of Oscar and Inez), family was everything.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my extended family, but I also have a life; full, busy, interesting.  And it was hard to reconcile the two.  When Beth and I would go on vacation, I would always call my mother to let her know we were on the way, having discussed our vacation plans in advance with her.  She always said, “Have a great time, don’t even think about me.”  No manipulation there, boy.  It took a long time for me to realize that what she was actually saying was, “I depend on you, you’re all I have.  What if something happens to you, who’ll take care of me?”  It made me sad, because Mom was capable of so much more, she just didn’t know it, believe it, or try for more.

And as she got older still, it got more difficult still.  Beth, having the more flexible work schedule, bore the brunt of Mom’s doctor appointments, dentist, eye doctor, whatever.  Beth was fantastic with Mom.  And as much as Mom loved Beth, it was me that she talked about.  Kind of hurt Beth a bit.  But when Mom was with me, I only heard critiques of my driving, handwriting, whatever.  And “the old days.”  She talked a lot about when I was young, but did not much talk about her memories as I got older.  I think when I got to about age ten, it became so hard for Mom to let go that she just treasured the earlier years and pined for that “golden time.”  She used to say that I was “their whole world.”  A lot.  I just wanted to be their son, not their “whole world.”

Her dying was no less difficult.  Age 90, she fell and cracked her pelvis.  The doctor said that structurally, she was no weaker than Beth or I, but that the pain associated with walking was terribly intense.  Mom had been living in Brevillier Village in Erie, PA for a while, in independent living up to this point.  However, after the fall they moved her into nursing care for rehab.  She tried, but the pain was so bad that she had a hard time coping.  And this was a woman who even at her age could handle pain like no one I’d ever seen.  No matter what, Mom was no whiner when it came to personal pain.

She also had a problem with her white blood cell count; Strike two.  We had known about this for some time, but she had refused any treatment, deciding to let it run its course.  I wasn’t really happy with this decision, but it was hers to make.

After the injury, her white blood cell count went through the roof.  Additionally, due to the fall, Mom had a section of her bowel go necrotic.  Strike three.  The doctor said Mom would need an operation to remove that section of bowel, but with her white blood cell count in the stratosphere, it was pretty much a done deal that she would not survive the operation.  With these problems, the doctor said it was just a matter of time, that she could not come back from this.  I took as much time off work as I could, and Beth and I sat by her bed, playing music she would like, talking to her, and just being near.  As she slipped away, she could only rouse herself when company came, especially her granddaughters.  She loved them dearly, and smiled for them, enjoying their company like nothing else.

As time moved, Beth and I got exhausted, and Mom’s sister, my Aunt Phoebe, came to the hospital to spell us.  I cannot say how helpful that was, that Beth and I got a chance to sleep in our own bed at home.  But my Mom was slowing down, like a grand old clock who’s spring was tired, and simply could not be wound up again.  Mom slipped more, seldom rousing for anything.  It was hard watching my Mother die, but this was the last thing I could ever do for her on this earth, and I would not have been anywhere else in the world.  Beth and I sat by her bed, twenty-four seven.  We took turns sleeping; the staff at Ball were amazing, and more helpful than I can describe. They would make sure that we had coffee, snacks, juice.  Beth or I would get tired, and one of us would go to the library and sleep as best we could on the sofa, and then switch off so the other could get a few hours sleep.  Somehow, at some point, a hospital bed appeared in the library, and we took advantage of that.  It felt so good to stretch out.

There is a cat that prowls the halls of Ball Pavillion.  She is friendly, but not overly so.  However, as we talked to the staff, they told us of one of the cat’s peculiarities.  It seems that, although she was friendly with many, when one of the residents were failing, the cat spent a great deal of time in that resident’s room, often being there for hours on the day that the resident finally died.  Not one to put a ton of stock in stuff like this, I did notice on this one particular day that the cat was in Mom’s room quite a bit; rubbing on Mom’s bed, jumping on my lap and staying for quite a while.

That night, I was beat and at one point went to the library, just down the hall from Mom’s room.  I might have been asleep for half an hour when Beth woke me and said that I better come to Mom’s room, something had happened.  Getting out of bed, I staggered down to Mom’s room, and found that as Beth had observed, Mom’s breathing was ragged and irrhythmic.  We watched her breathing slow, and finally stop.  The grand old clock was tired and had run down.  I closed my Mother’s eyes as I had my Father’s, and we mourned.  We stayed with her for a while, and walked down the hall with her to the funeral home vehicle, where she would ride to get prepared for her funeral.  The staff and Mom’s best friend at Brevillier lined up and sang farewell as Mom was escorted out to the waiting vehicle.

A number of relatives and friends came to Mom’s viewing, and Mom had been made up beautifully.  Beth had picked out one of Mom’s favorite dresses and jewelery, and she looked at peace.  We got through the day, as all do who have to lay a loved one to rest, and went home.  The next morning, I got a lawn chair and a cup of coffee and drove up to the cemetery where my Mom and Dad were once again side by side.  I opened up the chair and sat there, watching the sun come up.  I talked to Mom and told her how beautiful she had looked, that her hair was done just like she would have wanted, that Beth had picked out a wonderful dress.  I told her that I missed her, and wished that things had been different.  But I was glad for how nice she looked on her last day.  Weird, but right then a shooting star arced its way across the sky.  I don’t know if there is that kind of communication from “the other side,” but it was nice.

I sometimes wonder what Mom said to relatives and friends, if she praised me or pounded me.  But I guess in the final analysis it doesn’t matter.  I did the best I knew how with what I had.  I loved my Mother the only way I could.  We were who we were.

I still miss my Mother, no surprise there.  I think of her, and although I am sad for me, I am happy for her.  For years all she professed was that she wanted to be with my Dad again.  Now she is.

A lot of people hated their mother.  Due to abuse, neglect, whatever, they are cursed with memories of evil incarnate instead of a loving mother who did all she could to raise her children.  Others put a photo of their mother on an altar, elevating their mother to near deity, refusing to remember any blemish, any imperfection that their mother may have had.  My mother was neither saint nor satan.  She was a flawed human that loved her family with everything she had.  She raised her children, loved them, and cherished them with her whole being.

May God bless you, Mom.  I owe you and Pop everything that I am, all that I turned out to be.  I hope you are proud of what I have accomplished, and I hope to see you someday again, when we are all exactly what we were created to be.  I can’t wait to look into your eyes again, and see the Mother that raised me, loved me, taught me.  You were the best.

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part I.

My Mother grew up during the depression, getting married just before World War II.  Dad was drafted, and Mom bore my sister while Dad was fighting in France.  My sister is what is now called a “Special Needs” child, and Mom took the brunt of caring for her without Dad for a while, in a time when such children were viewed with suspicion; my Grandmother, Dad’s Mother, told Mom once when JoAnne was little that, “Nothing like that had ever happened on Dad’s side of the family,”  not so subtly indicating that it was Mom’s fault that JoAnne had the problems she did.  In reality, when JoAnne was born, Mom had a doctor that believed in “letting nature take its course.”  JoAnne was born after an extremely long labor with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.  Not Mom’s fault, but I wonder if she harbored guilt over that the rest of her life.

Actually, that’s not much of a stretch.  Guilt was one of the driving forces in my Mother’s life.  She felt guilty for everything.  I once observed to her that she felt guilty when the sun came up in the east.  She didn’t really get it, but it is near fact.  For some reason, she always felt guilty about something.

Mom was the second youngest of five born to Oscar and Inez Dillaman, the oldest being a boy, the rest girls.  Certainly not uncommon for the time, she grew up on a farm.  They were located a few miles north of Meadville, PA, and the daughters did chores just like the men.  When she became of age, she got a job at Talon, met my Dad, fell in love, got married, and got pregnant.  With Dad off to war, she lived with her folks, taking care of her ailing mother (and handicapped infant daughter) for a time.  Once, Mom used to tell, JoAnne had a seizure.  In the dead of winter, they didn’t plow the roads as they do now, and no vehicle they had would get through the snow.  JoAnne wouldn’t come out of the seizure, so Mom bundled her and JoAnne up, along with Mom’s father and brother.  They carried JoAnne for miles until they could get someplace (Coon’s Corners, PA, I think) where they got a ride and got JoAnne to the hospital.

Another story she liked to tell was when she was thirteen.  Mom developed appendicitis, and it got bad.  They called the doctor, who gave no hope that she would live.  I believe it actually burst, as they opened her up and rinsed her out with salt water, leaving a drain in her to drain the nastiness out.  Of course she lived, growing, maturing, and becoming the woman she was.

Mom was “made of stern stuff” we like to say.  Strong genetic material, shaped by the hardness of the life in which she grew.  Mom was also blessed with beauty.  As a young woman, she was gorgeous, and Pop got quite a catch when she “hitched her wagon” to him.  Mom was aces with family stuff, but not so much with studying and learning.  Growing up in a time when school wasn’t mandatory as it is now, Mom got a ninth grade education before having to drop out; she never did get her high school degree.

After the war, Mom and Pop moved all over this part of PA, Dad taking different jobs here and there.  He was so disillusioned with having to take orders in the military, he swore he wouldn’t work for anyone again, and used the GI Bill to learn animal husbandry, becoming a farmer, like his ancestors before him.  Sidenote: Pop was extremely smart.  Up to his late 70’s he could do algebra in his head.  I asked him once why he didn’t take accounting with the GI Bill, and he said that at the time he didn’t even know such a field existed.  I wonder how life would have been different sometimes.

Mom and Pop settled down near Springboro, PA, where Dad bought a dairy farm.  And that’s where I enter the picture.

After the war, Dad couldn’t have any more kids (I never did  learn what that was about).  I think they had disagreements over adopting, as Dad apparently didn’t think he could “love someone else’s child as much as his own.”  However, they cared for a young kid, and Dad grew to love him.  When he went back home, Pop allowed that he could, indeed, love another’s child.

My biological mother had her own issues.  Married with six kids, she lived in Ohio until her husband was killed in a trucking accident.  Moving back near her folks outside Springboro, she took up with a jerk who got her pregnant but refused to be honorable about it; she threw him out, a pretty gutsy move in 1956.  However, she was in true dire straits.  Six kids, including the youngest a pair of twins still in diapers.  Recognizing that she couldn’t give her new child the life she wanted to give him, she approached my parents, and asked if they would consider adopting her child.  Timing is everything, and my parents said that yes they would.  Three days after I was born my bio Mom walked down the hall of the hospital and handed me to my Mother.  How poignant was that moment?  I cannot even imagine the emotions from each mother.  Another sidenote:  I looked up my bio family several years ago, and that will, I’m sure, be a blog post sometime in the future.

My early years were on the dairy farm that my parents lived on until I was six.  I remember Mom doing all the Mom stuff, and canning everything that could grow.  I remember her holding my head when I was throwing up; holding me when I had bad earache(s).   Giving me waxed paper for the slide in the back yard; giving me fresh peaches in season.  I remember her being Mom.

Just before the dairy farmers in PA got their act together and actually started making money, Pop sold the farm and we moved into Springboro, where he bought a gas station.  And Mom still did all the Mom stuff.  I remember picking dandelions for her in the spring, and how she would always “Ooh” and “Ahh’ over them, like they were the most beautiful bouquet she had ever seen.  I remember coming home from school and popping my paper lunch bag; she pretended to be startled and scared every time.

Of course my relationship with my Mom changed over time.  I grew more independent, and Mom got older.  She helped teach me to drive, and held me when I cried, but as I grew and tried to establish a relationship with her, she would shift me to my Dad.  I’m not sure what that was about, but I don’t think I ever knew my Mother, adult to adult.  It was about this time that things got a more difficult.

…con’t. next time…

Fusion. NOT the nuclear kind.

Ok, now this has been an experience.

My neck has been a sore spot with me for years.  Literally.  It got to the point that maybe twelve years or so ago, I decided to go to a Chiropractor for a consultation and adjustment.  For me that was a big step.  I always was a bit snotty about Chiropractic, but boy was I wrong!  One of the guys I worked with really talked up Dr. John Cassara (Erie, PA), so I made an appointment, and went to see him.  He first took a motion x-ray of my neck, and showed me exactly where the problem was.  He then described what he could do for me, and I decided to go for it.  My first adjustment was about as scary as anything I have ever done.  Here’s this huge guy (John is a body builder and formerly excelled at the  shot put in college) bending over me and messing with my neck.  He got me loosened up, and let me know he was about to do the adjustment, and CRACK!  My neck sounded like a stick breaking.  I remember a minor explosion of air shooting out of my mouth, and as unobtrusively as I could, I wiggled my toes and moved my hands around a little.  Ok, I guess all is well.  Whew!  But as I drove back down Peach Street, I realized that the lateral range of motion in my neck had just increased about thirty percent.  I drove down Peach Street just moving my head side to side saying, “Look at that!  Hey, look at that!”  I hadn’t been able to move my neck that well in a long time.  Well done, John.  My Chiropractor has become my friend as well, and our mutually beneficial sessions were regularly scheduled.  I have no idea how the past decade or so would have been bearable if I hadn’t had my neck adjusted as much as I have.

Further, when Chiropractic couldn’t do it on its own, I went to see Dr. Joseph Thomas, also in Erie.  Doc Thomas specializes in pain management, and I received steroid shots for the past several years.  They also have been helping control the pain.  However, a couple of years ago, Doc Thomas advised me that my neck was getting to the point that I would need more.  “Need more” is code for surgery, and he referred me to Dr. James Kang in Pittsburgh.

Beth and I travelled down to Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, and met with Dr. Kang.  He went over my x-rays, and explained what the root problem was.  I had two discs, C-4 and C-6 that were degenerative.  Basically, they were slowly melting.  This is what he does for a living, and he was pretty matter of fact about the whole thing, which I found reassuring.  What he explained was that at the time, I was in a gray area.  At some point, surgery was going to become mandatory.  I wasn’t at that point yet, but I was well within the range of “it could be done, no question.”  I opted to wait, which he supported.

This changed late last year, when I went to get a shot from Dr. Thomas again.  He realized I had not had a series of x-rays in some time, and so we x-rayed my neck.  I’ll not soon forget the appointment when he looked at the x-rays with me.

Thomas is an interesting guy, profane and funny.  But this day, he was all serious.  He looked at the x-rays, looked at me like I had just sprouted a second head, looked back at the x-rays, and then back to me.  In a totally serious voice, he said, “Do you want something for the pain?”  I answered that no, I was ok.  He said, “Are you sure?”  When I again answered in the negative, he just looked at me like I had suddenly changed form into a mutant.  Apparently, my neck had degenerated to the point that he believed I should be in major pain, or perhaps not even mobile.  I told him that no, I was in pain, pretty much always, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  Doc Thomas immediately set up a new appointment with Dr. Kang, and Beth and I went down again to Pittsburgh.  We looked over the x-rays, and although Dr. Kang felt it was no emergency, we agreed that the surgery could take place now.  Beth and I returned home, having set up a tentative date for surgery for the end of summer 2012.

It seems the timing was very good on the surgery.  I have written about my new V-Star, and how much fun it has been to ride.  But about a month and a half ago I could feel that my left hand was not gripping as well as I thought it should.  Further, when I qualified two weeks ago, we had to set up the range.  I grabbed two 4×8 sheets of fiberboard to take down range (we use these to tack the targets on).  I easily picked up one using my right hand alone,  but not so my left. I couldn’t pick it up at all.  Further, I have noticed a bit of tingling in my left arm, and my left hand has had a minor case of “the shakes” starting up as well.

My degenerative vertebrae have their genesis back to when I was a teenager, maybe 16 or 17.  My family went to Kinzua Bridge with another family, just to look around and have a nice time.  The other family had a son, Dale Shatto, that I had become good friends with; his family and mine camped in the same location for several summers.  We had gotten close, Dale called my folks “Mom and Dad,” and I did the same with his.

Well, on this day, Dale and I were ahead of the old people, and went out on the observation rock to look at the bridge.

Kinzua Bridge, near Kinzua Dam in PA,  is an old railroad bridge spanning (you guessed it) the Kinzua River.  At one time it was the world’s highest, longest wooden railroad bridge, and the view is amazing.  The railroad had largely abandoned it, and it had been renovated into a tourist attraction.  One could walk across it, and look up and down the valley.  Especially in fall when the leaves turn color, the view is stunning.  Unfortunately, a tornado has claimed half the bridge, and I have no idea what its condition is at this time.

In any event, there was a large rock that kind of hung over the valley.  The Park Service had cleared brush from in front of it, and it offered a great view of the bridge.  Along the trail, and on the top of the rock was a fence, designed to keep people from falling over the edge.  Being teenagers, we were clearly smarter than the Park Service, so Dale and I jumped the fence and stood on the edge, looking out, looking down.  We couldn’t actually see the bottom, so I have no idea how high we were.  Dale had the genius idea to stand on the edge with our hands on the top, and wait for the parents to come down the trail.  He told me later he meant to go to the top beside the rock and walk down to the point where we could reach up and put our hands on top, but he didn’t say that at the time.  Thanks, Dale.  Your great idea led to my stupid decision, so naturally I’m blaming you. 🙂  Down about six feet, I saw a little ledge, probably three or four inches deep and a foot wide.  I figured I could easily get down on it, so with Dale’s suggestion still clearly ringing in my head (Thanks, Dale), I sat down, aimed for the ledge, and launched.  Well, I hit the ledge alright.  With my heels.  And I slowly, slowly toppled forward and fell off the rock.  Now a lot of people would say this explains a great deal, but I remember doing a pile driver, and landing squarely on my head, as straight as if I had planned it.  I think I blacked out for a minute, but I remember Dale screaming for the parents, that I had fallen off the rock.  I yelled up that I was ok, and climbed up beside the rock (where Dale had actually meant for us to stand), and back onto the trail.  In those days, people didn’t just dart to the Doctor, and this was no exception.  My Dad basically just called me a Dumb Ass, and told me to get in the car.  Well, I was, and I did.  In retrospect, I’m fairly certain I cracked a couple of vertebrae, as I couldn’t rotate my neck for about a year.  It finally loosened up, and all was well (not).  And then I fell on my head a second time, but we don’t need to go into that.

So here I am, fifty-five years old, needing surgery, and scheduled for it.  I got all the advance preparations done, and once again, down to Pittsburgh we went on August 6, with the surgery scheduled for August 7.  I wasn’t really worried, I knew the surgery needed done, and the pain and necessity came from the sins of my youth, so what can I say?  I was concerned, as there is always a chance of “something bad happening,”  but I trusted my surgeon, and knew I needed the procedure, so let’s get ‘er done.

The technical name for my procedure is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF).  I went into the prep room, and when they were ready, I was wheeled into the Operating Room.  I already had an IV in, and some blood drawn, so when we went into the OR, we were pretty much ready to get the show started.  The anesthesiologist gave me a shot, and said that it would take effect soon.  They then put the oxygen mask on, and I remember saying, “Whoh!  There it is,” and that’s it.  Gone.  Lights out.  My next memory is…I don’t remember what my next memory is!  Boy, that stuff did it’s job.  However, while I was unconscious, Dr. Kang opened up my neck from the front, laterally on the left side.  After I was intubated, they then moved my trachea to the side, and exposed my vertebrae.  They then removed the spongy bone in vertebrae C-4 and C-6.  He also removed a couple of bone spurs that had conveniently decided to grow into my spinal column, and were causing pain.  He then fused C-4 to C-5, and C-5 to C-6.  Many surgeons use cadaver bone, or even artificial joints, but Dr. Kang uses bone from the patient’s hip.  It is inserted into the spot where the old spongy bone used to be, and held in place.  I now have a titanium plate in my neck that I had not had before.  Kind of like Wolverine, but without all the cool stuff that goes with it.  And from what I understand, this is what the fuss was about.  Fusing on two levels is geometrically more difficult that fusing one vertebra.  So.

The next day was kind of pain filled.  Hip, neck, upper back, shoulders.  Dr. Kang came in and explained that the discs had degenerated so badly that he had to build them back up to where they should have been.  In order to do this, they (in essence) had to push down on my shoulders and pull on my head.  I am now about a half-inch taller than I was a week ago.  Dr. Kang said this explains the pain in the muscles in the back of my neck.  They are basically confused, and spazzing, trying to get back where they think they should be.  Honestly, that was the worst of the pain.  My hip hurt, my neck hurt, but no big deal.  But the back of my neck!  Wow!!  I was more than happy for the pain meds for my neck.  I had one of those push button happy shot things that I could use to self-medicate.  I used it more for the muscles in the back of my neck than anything.

The surgery was on Tuesday, and I came home Wednesday.  The pain was manageable, and the physical therapist was satisfied that I could navigate walking and stairs as needed.  I think several people were surprised that I got out of there as quickly as I did, but I attribute this to two things.  First, I was on the City of Erie’s SWAT team for a long time, and one of the things I learned was to fight through the pain.  Too many people, I think, get all whiney about pain, but really, it’s no big thing.  The human body is capable of so much more than any single person believes.  Just gotta keep going.  And second (and most importantly), I had so many people praying for me.  Friends and family in church, on Facebook, and over the country have been lifting me up in prayer, and it shows.  My recovery is still slower than I would like, but it has been so much faster than most who have this surgery.  Many people are in the hospital for days.  Many are on huge doses of painkillers for a week or longer.  Me, I got out of the hospital the next day, and my use of painkillers even now is judicious.  I pop ’em when I really need ’em.  And that’s not so much.

Right now, Beth has taken off work to be with me for the week, and her care has been both amazing and appreciated.  I will be off work until the August 28, which is my followup appointment with Dr. Kang.  My hugest worry now is that I do nothing that will hinder the bone grafting to the vertebrae, and fusing as it should.  I do not want them to have to go back in.  I am wearing the collar as they required.  I am walking every day.  I’m taking all prescriptions as directed, and behaving as much as possible.

Already I feel better.  I think the procedure did what it was supposed to, and I am hopeful for a complete recovery.  It’s kind of exciting to think of my neck being pain-free for the first time in (twenty?  thirty?) years.  My range of motion may be somewhat limited nodding up and down, but I couldn’t touch my chest with my chin before the surgery anyhow.  I don’t wanna look at my toes, so what’s the big deal with that?  I know my scuba season is done for the year, as likely is my motorcycling, but I am hopeful that I will be up and ready to go for next season.  I am grateful to all my doctors, and to God for His benevolence.  I am grateful to friends and family, for their thoughts, prayers and support.  And I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Beth for her attention, hovering, and reminders to behave.  She’s the best.  Now I just gotta be patient for the next few weeks.  And that could be a problem…

Useless.

That’s me.  Useless.  Worthless.  Incapable of measuring up, of succeeding at…anything.

These are the thoughts and attitudes I have had nagging at me for pretty much my entire life.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a few ideas about that.

I am adopted.  My bio Mom approached my folks when she was pregnant to ask if they would consider the adoption.  So, not only was I “chosen” by my parents, my parents were “chosen” by my birth mother.  I grew up knowing of the adoption, and my parents always made sure I honored my mother, even if at the time I did not know who she was; that she had made some very difficult choices under very difficult circumstances in order to see me thrive in a home that I couldn’t have had otherwise.  I looked up my biological family a few years ago, and it has proven to be wonderful.  My adoption and bio family will, in all likelihood be topics of future blogs, but for now I offer it as background.

I cannot speak for all adoptees, but in my case it was difficult on only a couple of fronts.  My parents were fantastic, and I am so grateful to have been their son.  I did, however, sometimes wonder why my mother had given me up.  I knew from my folks that it was for good reasons, but still I wondered.  And part of that, I think, lead me to wonder if I somehow didn’t measure up.  If somehow, it was my fault that I wasn’t found “worthy.”

Growing up it was generally unspoken, but I knew much was expected of me.  I rather coasted through school, with mostly B’s on my report cards, with a couple C’s and A’s thrown in.  It was sufficient, if not outstanding.  My behavior was good, no real delinquency apparent, and I was kind of a “church kid.”  But for some reason I was always striving for more, better, faster, funnier (not attained by studying, are you serious?  Get real!).  I just knew that I kind of disappointed, that I didn’t quite bring home what was expected.

I remember one time, my Grandmother was visiting, and she was standing by the upstairs stairway talking to my Dad.  She turned to me, and looking at me said, “If you ever go to jail, it would kill your parents.”  I laughed at the time, and made light of it, but that has stuck with me for over forty years.

I have worked hard to be approved of by authority figures as long as I can remember.  Not to suck up in an Eddie Haskell kind of way (for you children under thirty, that would be a Leave it to Beaver reference, Eddie being an insincere flatterer), but to perform so that I would be found acceptable.  And that is hard work.  In my case, I could never do well enough at any given task to satisfy my thirst for excellence.  No, that isn’t quite correct.  In truth, I could never do well enough to satisfy my need for perfection.  And therein lies the rub.

Any time that I failed at a task (and in my personal lexicon, the word fail means that I didn’t do it perfectly; I didn’t do it “right.”) the words “idiot!” and “moron!” would ring through my head like the words of a relentless, cold judge pronouncing sentence on a convicted felon.  Over and over, time after time, year after year.

And if this sounds like I’m whining, I do not intend it as such.  I am merely relating how I have lived for most of my life, and actually for as long as I can remember.

I serve a loving God, one who has sent his Son to save me from myself.  And through Christ’s sacrifice, I am whole, unspoiled, in a love relationship with my God and my King.  I think of Jesus as Boromir thought of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings.  I look at Jesus and see “my brother, my Captain, my King.”  And intellectually I know that all is forgiven, all is forgotten.  I know that God has chosen to forget my failures, my imperfections.  But I seldom feel it.  Idiot!  Moron!!  FAILURE!!

Beth and I are currently on Grand Cayman for a long anticipated vacation, with some of our favorite people in the entire world.  And this is paradise.  We have relaxed (I read a book!  Due to responsibilities, I cannot tell you the last time I had a chance to read), gotten in some amazing scuba dives, and spent some fantastic time together.  But even here I have had some roadblocks.  We got a flat tire.  Idiot!  I have lost my cool a couple times.  Moron!!  I have been short with Beth once or twice.  FAILURE!! 

I love the ocean.  When we are at the shore, I customarily park myself near the shore and just experience that point where wind, water and land meet.  I feel small, and yet comforted at the same time.  It is one of the few times I feel content.

One of my favorite things to do when vacationing at the ocean shore is to have my devotional time on the sand or on a balcony where I can see the ocean, hear it, smell it.  Where I can feel the breeze and see the waves, the colors, the horizon.  I have done so this week, and devotions have been good.  However, I have felt a nagging “something” that I could not pinpoint.  I have been looking to God to help me let go of…whatever this is.  And I think today I have a clue.

I decided to not open my Bible to a particular passage to read this morning.  Instead, I really felt led to focus on a bookmark entitled “My Identity/Who I am in Christ” which contains a number of key passages under various headings.  (The bookmark is published by Freedom in Christ Ministries, and as far as I know can be obtained at www.freedominchrist.com.)

Under the first heading, “I am Accepted,” it starts out with John 1:12; I am God’s child.  Comforting, but not awe-inspiring.  Ok, next, John 15:15: I am Christ’s friend.  Huh.  That’s right, I had forgotten that.  Christ looks at me as His friend.  Friends with the creator of the universe?  Nice.  And so on for several more verses.

The next heading, “I am Secure,” was the crux of the time I spent this morning.  And it only took the first verse to shock my system like a glass of ice-cold water after mowing the lawn on a hot August day.  It came from Romans 8:1-2, and it told me that “I am forever free from condemnation.”  And I stopped dead in my tracks.  I looked at the water and the waves, the perfect blue skies with perfect white clouds, and whispered, “How can you not condemn me, Lord?  I condemn myself!”  And as I pondered that, I felt the merest touch of God’s finger deep inside me, and He answered me and He said to me, “How can you condemn yourself when I do not?”  Loved!  Cleansed!!   ACCEPTED!!  NOT condemned.  NOT  a failure.  But a child of the Master.

Useless?  Yeah, probably.  Left to oneself, one can live four score years, and by strength of will maybe a bit more.  For what?  To accomplish a bit, die, and after a time, be forgotten.  But not so in Christ.  I am not condemned.  I am loved, I am accepted, and I am paid for, purchased with the most precious commodity in the world: the priceless blood of Christ, shed for any of us who recognize our hopelessness, and who long for something more.  Christ’s blood shed for me.

I expect I will still struggle with the relentless judge, pronouncing sentence upon me, with the words “Idiot, moron, failure. Useless!!”  But I don’t have to listen to the accuser.  I can rest in the promise, and wrap myself in the truth.  I am not condemned!

What a great vacation.

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