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Marching Orders

April 8, 2017
Photo Credit: Angelo Amboldi

Photo Credit: Angelo Amboldi

I now have two adult daughters. Lydia turned eighteen a year ago, and Jessica turned eighteen three days ago. They are both spreading their wings in completely different ways. It is a beautiful thing to watch. I’m not going to get into the details of what they are both doing. Not because it’s a secret, and not because I’m avoiding comparing one to the other. I’m not going into details because there is really just one thing they both should be doing. There is one thing that they need to measure their lives by. It’s not how much time they spend in ministry. It’s not whether or not they are going to college. It’s not about what kind of job they have. It’s not even about what kind of relationship they are in. They need to take the following verse and spend every day living it to the best of their ability.

Matthew 22:36-40New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus summarized the entire bible with this one statement. He was trying to communicate that the best way to follow the commands of the Bible is to love God and love everyone around you. Jesus didn’t make demands on church attendance. He didn’t make demands on ministry. He didn’t demand career success. He didn’t demand political affiliation. He wanted everyone to know that following Him was really about loving God and loving the people around you.

Lydia and Jessica, this is my only expectation of you both. Measure your success by how much you love God and how much you love those around you. I believe you both already do this to the greatest of your ability. In this next stage of your life, can you take it to the next level? I don’t care about your choice of political party. I don’t care how much money you make. I don’t care how much you go to church. I don’t care how much you volunteer. I don’t care how many missions trips you attend. I want to know if you are loving God and loving those around you. That is how you need to measure your life. That is the filter by which you judge yourself.

And one last thing. Please know that no matter what happens. No matter how bad it gets. No matter what you have done. You can always come home. You will always have a bed to sleep on. Until my final breath, I will be proud to be your father.

Grand Prix

My new job as a hospice nurse comes with the need for reliable transportation. Since starting this job at the end of this last January I have put a lot of miles on my 2001 Ford Focus. That poor thing has over 235,000 miles on it. It almost feels like a miracle when I pull back into the driveway after a day where I’ve put another 100 miles on it.

Several months ago we decided it was time to get a replacement. I’m a brand new graduate and spent the last three years in school. Due to financial restraints, we were worried that it would be impossible to save enough in a short amount of time. Julie and I refuse to ever have a car payment again. Our goal was to save enough to purchase something with between 110,000 and 150,000 miles on it. Hey, when you are buying with cash you have to temper your expectations. Originally, I wanted a Chevy Impala. I wanted something that was large enough for all six of us in case our LeSabre was broken down. After looking at an Impala last week, we realized that the interior design of an Impala would not easily accommodate our six-person family. That freed me up to choose an Impala that didn’t necessarily have a front bench seat.

I have spent the last two months looking for an Impala with fewer than 150,000 miles on it. I have watched Craig’s List daily for two months to get a feel for what something with less than 150,000 might cost. I’ve practically driven off the road checking out used car lots all throughout the city. I’m all over the northland and northeast Independence all week long. I’ve stopped into many used-car lots and looked in windows and opened unlocked doors on empty corners. Most days I didn’t have enough to even get the car I was looking into. I was okay with that. My goal was to get a feel for what was available at our target amount.

This last Wednesday, Julie decided she would help me out. Apparently, she had an opening in her schedule. She jumped on the Oak Grove Swap and Shop page on Facebook. About twenty posts down she spotted a 2006 Grand Prix in Odessa. She tagged me on the post and sent me a text message letting me know what she had found. What took me two months, she accomplished in five minutes!

To be clear, I never even considered a Grand Prix. I’ve never even seen one I thought was nice looking. Well, I never paid enough attention to find one I did like. Even after sitting in this one, I wasn’t head-over-heels with the thing. Logically, it was a smart purchase. It had just over 123,000 miles. Consumer reports had some nice things to say about it as far as reliability. It wasn’t on the “never buy this as a used car” list, which is good. What attracted me to the car was the color and tinted windows. Those were two things I wanted on the Impala, although I wasn’t convinced I would end up with those options. I wanted remote start above all else but had also waved goodbye to that since my overall goal was something with fewer than 150,000 miles on it. I was going to say no to anything over that and yes to anything under.

Lord Vader

This car has turned into everything I wanted and more. It has tinted windows, a nine-hundred dollar paint job and new tires. They just had it tuned up with new brakes and an alignment. When they handed me the key fob, I was shocked to discover it even has remote start. They even came down $800.00 on the asking price.

This wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was exactly what I needed. I couldn’t be happier.

If anybody can rock ugly jeans, it’s you!

Said Julie about my cargo jeans

The One

April 4, 2015
Photo Credit: David

Photo Credit: David

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus does something unusual. He tells three parables in a row trying to make a single point about God’s love. He tells the story of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. These stories involve loss, celebration and, to a certain degree, neglect.

Jesus states that if one of a hundred sheep were missing he would leave the ninety-nine to find the one. He states that if He loses one of ten coins He would turn the house upside down to find the one. He explains that if He lost one of two sons He would fret over the missing one until he returned.

Nothing could be more opposite than how we behave now. We don’t leave the many for the one. I am reminded of the famous quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

Spock: “The needs of the many, outweigh…”
Kirk: “…the needs of the few.”
Spock: “Or the one.”

It sounds good in a movie, but it is completely different from how God treats us. God sees the needs of the one and He is bothered. He can’t stand to see one person lost. He can’t stand to see one person without His love and affection. He can’t stand to see one person lost without an overpowering desire to have them rescued. He was so bothered that He stopped at nothing to rescue the one lost person. He was so bothered that He gave his own son. He spared no expense. He gave it all.

That is how I am supposed to be as a father. If I have one child who is lost, I must do everything possible to see them rescued. This means that I need to be willing to divert all my energy to the one who is lost…the one who is in danger of destruction…the one who is at the edge of destruction. I need to be so committed to their rescue, that it almost looks like I have abandoned everyone else.

Over the last few years I have had to grapple with this principle in ways I never imagined. I have been forced to divert much of my attention to the one. In those moments of great inner turmoil, when I am struggling with how lopsided my attention must appear, I have had to face myself in the mirror and ask, “Am I making the right choice?” Often times I would go back to Luke 15 and remind myself of how God has treated me. When I was the least deserving, He pursued me. When I was the most lost, He pursued me. When I was in the most danger, God abandoned all else to see me safe.

In God’s world, there are only two categories. There is lost, and there is found. My world will emulate God’s world. In my world, I will do whatever it takes to see the lost one found. Even if it looks like I have abandoned everyone else.

Photo Credit: Kevin Harber

Photo Credit: Kevin Harber

Last Monday I took my first position as a Registered Nurse. I started at NorthCare Hospice and Palliative Care.

I have had a lot of different jobs in my lifetime. Half of them are in the medical field, and the other half are spread across construction, printing, self employment and retail. At no time during the last 24 years did I feel like any of those jobs had any spiritual significance until last week.

Hospice was on my list for a couple of reasons. The first reason was simply the schedule. I’m a family man, and I have no desire for rotating twelve-hour shifts like nurses work in the hospital. The second reason was because I was really interested in work that was more relational in nature. So many nursing jobs are too fast paced. The goal is to get the patient in and out as quickly as possible. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with this type of medical career. Short hospital stays are an essential component to healthcare. I had decided that I just wanted something different.

Over the last few months I have shared my interest in hospice nursing with friends, family and coworkers. I have received a wide variety of responses. People who have no experience with hospice just say that it sounds like emotionally draining work. When I talk to someone who has first-hand experience with hospice they usually get emotional, start crying and share about family or friends who received services from hospice. When I talk to someone who works in hospice they get a smile on their face and simply say, “Hospice is more than a job. It’s a calling.”

After a week of orientation at NorthCare Hospice I understand the designation, “Calling.” Before last Monday I understood hospice to involve helping people die as comfortably as possible. After a week of general orientation I understand that hospice is so much more than that. Hospice doesn’t just focus on keeping patients comfortable, even though that is an important aspect of hospice care. No, hospice isn’t only about death. Hospice is also about life. Hospice is about helping patients function at the highest possible level during their last months of life. Hospice is about empowering people to identify what is most important to them and helping them engage their last days in a way that is the most fulfilling to them.

Hospice is a calling because I will be a pivotal figure in the final chapter of someone’s life. I will manage their overall care. I’m responsible to make sure that my clients are equipped with everything they need to live their final days with dignity. I will be a central figure in the lives of immediate family as well. I will have at my disposal a team of professionals whose only concern is the care and comfort of my client. We will leave no stone unturned to make sure that our clients and their immediate families feel the support they need to manage the most challenging time of their life.

I have had a lot of jobs that I didn’t feel really mattered beyond providing for my family. For the first time in my life I feel like I will be doing something professionally that really makes a difference. For the first time in my life I feel like I will have a job that God has called me to do.

“You can’t take a selfie with a horse.” – Pat Watson

Overheard at work

New Beginning

January 25, 2015
Registered Nurse

Registered Nurse

It’s been three and a half years.

Three and a half years ago I was closing down my company. Julie and I were staring into an unknown future. We had no clue what we were going to do to provide long-term financial security for our family. I had a part-time job working at Comprehensive Mental Health as an LPN. We both knew that our options were limited with that type of medical license. After an evening of intense conversation we made a final decision. We decided that I needed to begin the process of bridging from an LPN certificate to an RN degree.

Tomorrow marks the completion of that goal. Tomorrow morning I start my first job as a Registered Nurse at Northcare Hospice.

Our family has made great sacrifices to achieve this goal. Julie has spent hundreds of evenings and weekends as a single parent as I have either been studying or out of town. The girls have had to have just one parent at their activities. They have had to leave me alone for many hours as I have studied in the basement. Friends have had to help pick up kids from school and be a sounding board for many a frustrating night. They have all done it willingly and without complaint.

Tomorrow it all becomes worth it. Tomorrow I get to just focus on my new career Monday through Friday without significant incursion into my family life. No late nights studying. No long trips out of town for more clinical rotations. No more of my poor wife trying to keep everyone upstairs so I can study for the next test. We get to have a regular schedule like regular folks.

There are too many people to thank for all the support over the last few years. You know who you are, and believe me when I tell you that your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed. To Julie, it is completely impossible for me to express to you my gratitude. You have sacrificed more than anyone can even begin to imagine. I owe everything I have accomplished over the last three-and-a-half years to your incredible support.

I love you, Julie. You are my best friend, and nothing will ever change that.

Rainout

October 13, 2014

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Julie and I have celebrated a lot of anniversaries. For the last 10-15 years we have made sure to spend a weekend out of town. We have stayed as far away as Mexico, and we have stayed as close as the Sheraton on the Plaza.

This year doesn’t get to be like any of our last few anniversaries. This year we are buried in my college experience. This month I get to spend three weekends in a row out of town right in the middle of our anniversary. I have also had to use all my vacation time for my trips out of town for school-related activities, so we won’t be taking any time off during the week either.

We are trying to stay focused on the task at hand. We are trying to remind ourselves that it is just this year that we have to sacrifice our yearly celebration for a more immediate goal. This year our anniversary is simple.

Today we celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. It won’t be the most exciting anniversary we have ever celebrated, but it’s not our yearly celebrations that have made this relationship what it is today. It is our unwavering commitment to each other and our faith. In our 24 years together we have never once used the “D” word in a conversation. Neither one of us has had to sit and wonder if the other person was considering calling it quits. We have faced all of our challenges together. We have always believed in each other, and we have not been afraid to verbalize our support and love for each other.

We get a lot of compliments on our marriage. I’m here to tell everyone that our marriage is every bit as great as it looks like it is. We are really still in love after all these years. We have always described ourselves as a great team. That hasn’t changed at all. We continue to support and love each other in all circumstances. We continue to look the other way when our faults flare up. We continue to forgive unconditionally. We continue to love deeply.

Julie, I’m so very happy to be your husband. May the next 24 years be just as much fun and a lot less dramatic!

Training Day

August 1, 2014
CPR Saves Lives

CPR Saves Lives

It has happened to a lot of medical professionals. We are sitting in CPR training and thinking to ourselves, “I am never going to use this stuff.” Something happened a couple of weeks ago that will keep me from ever thinking that again.

It was an afternoon just like any other. I left work at my regular time. Since I live out east, I always drive by Blue River Community College here in Independence. As I turned the corner on Jackson DR, I noticed a couple of ladies standing next to a man who was on a bicycle. As I got closer one of the ladies waved at me, and I noticed a look of panic on her face. I did a U-turn in the elementary driveway, drove back down Jackson and pulled into the college driveway.

When I got out of my car, I noticed that the gentleman was no longer on his bike. Instead, he was lying on the ground.  One of the ladies told me he was bleeding, so I looked at his head first. He was bleeding, but on closer inspection I noticed that his color was incredibly pale. “Hello, sir, can you hear me,” I asked him? There was no response. I rolled him onto his back and put my ear next to his mouth, and I tried to feel for a carotid pulse. I couldn’t find one. He was dead.

“I’m going to have to do CPR,” I thought to myself. Just as I had finished checking for a pulse, a Jackson County Sheriff Deputy came around the corner. One of the ladies standing next to me ran out into the street and flagged the officer down. The officer put on her lights, pulled over, got out and grabbed an emergency kit from the trunk of her patrol car.

“I rode an ambulance for nine years before I became a police officer,” she told me.

“I’m an LPN,” I responded.

“Okay, let’s do this,” she told me.

She instantly moved over to the gentleman’s chest. She found his xiphoid process and began chest compressions. I grabbed a CPR mask from her emergency kit, and we started CPR.

“Help me count,” she told me in a very calm voice.

“One, two, three, four, five, six…” we counted together till we reached thirty.

“Breathe,” we yelled in unison and I gave my two breaths, blowing oxygen into his mouth twice.

We continued thirty-to-two cycles for a couple of minutes until Independence Fire made an appearance. We continued CPR while the paramedic on the fire truck got the gentleman connected to a defibrillator.

“He’s in v-tack,” he called out to us. “Get clear so I can shock him.”

He administered one shock and told us to continue CPR, and we did. After a couple more minutes the paramedic informed us that the gentleman was still in v-tack, which is a rapid heart beat, an irregularity that often results in death. He needed another shock.

“Clear,” he yelled and delivered another shock. “I’ve got sinus rhythm,” he called out to us.

I looked at the gentleman and the paramedic was correct. He was breathing again. The firefighters got him onto a backboard just as the ambulance showed up. The paramedic from the ambulance quickly checked things out, look at the sheriff deputy and me and said, “You guys just saved this man’s life.”

So the next time you are in CPR class, and you’re tempted to feel like you are wasting your time, think again. You never know when a complete stranger will need you. On that day, you will be glad you paid attention on training day.

Memorial Day 2014

May 26, 2014

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The man on the right is my father-in-law, Brian. In 1968 at the age of 17 he lied on his entrance paperwork and joined the Marines. He was at Camp Lejeune.

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He was at Camp Pendleton.

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Then he traveled across the Pacific Ocean and joined the most notorious war in US history, Vietnam.

The marines are notorious for being sent into an area first. Because of his job as a heavy equipment operator, he had the daunting task of being the first of the first. It was his job to dig artillery emplacements and clear fields of fire around small bases.

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By his own accounts, as he operated this heavy machinery, he could hear the constant sounds of bullets whizzing by his head. He doesn’t talk about Vietnam much. I don’t think it’s because he won’t. I think it’s because he doesn’t want to burden us with what he saw and experienced while he was there.

After two years, in 1970 he returned to America. As he got off the plane he couldn’t even get a cup of coffee because the American Red Cross was charging $0.10 each. He returned home to his family in Odessa Missouri, and without any fanfare, and without any thought for himself, and without crawling into a corner like so many of us would, he went to work.

For the next 40 years he provided for those he loved. He worked in factories and machine shops for the first 20 years. Then he got a position at UMKC in Kansas City and worked on the college’s boilers and in maintenance for 20 years. During all this time he has suffered the lasting effects of Agent Orange. He has suffered severe hearing loss due to artillery fire and small arms fire. He has suffered a variety of physical limitations. He didn’t complain, he just did what a man does. He provided. Last January, after 40 years of work, he retired.

When I first met Brian I was kind of afraid of him. I have family members who were in Vietnam but Brian was the first man I knew who was willing to talk about it a little. He didn’t share a lot with me but when he did, and I realized how much he had been through, it just made me nervous. Simply put, I was intimidated.

It’s not like that today. I truly enjoy being around him. I can see the love for my family in his eyes. In the way he treats my daughters so well. Never a cross word, never an insult. I see his love in the way he bends down on a knee and checks the tomato plants my daughters are helping him grow. In the way he rubs the leaves between his fingers to gently smell the odor of the tomatoes that will eventually grow. The way he watches them work the ground, and the way he coaches them in the fine art of gardening. Something he is learning with them.

He’s a man who does the best he can with what he has. That jungle so far away tried to steal his spirit, but it couldn’t. He’s still a strong man who knows his place in this world, and he isn’t going to stop living his life.

Today I honor this man. I honor this man because 40 years ago, before I was even born, he honored me.