Flashback—25 years

The weekend of January 31, 1993 looked to be an interesting football weekend. The Buffalo Bills would face the Dallas Cowboys. Having been an “anti-Cowboys” fan since the early 1960s, there would be no doubt who I would cheer for. That was my expectation.

But before the game ever started there was another battle that would dominate that weekend and month. I was not prepared for this battle, I felt totally overwhelmed by it. And yet…

Our older son would turn 23 just a couple months after the Super Bowl. He had been involved in drugs since 1984, spent more than a year in a psychiatric hospital before his 18th birthday, in jail/prison two different times before he turned 22. He was married at age 21, married an attorney who was an addict. Not a good mix.

The Accident: 9:30 AM

On Friday, Jan. 29, about 9:30 AM my wife received a call from an ER nurse at the closest hospital to where our son lived, about 6 hour drive from where we lived. The nurse asked my wife a couple questions, readily acknowledging that she had reached the right people. She said “there was serious car accident, your son and his wife were involved. We are just starting to treat them in the ER.” Then she stopped, shouted in the phone, “Oh, no! He’s gone critical, don’t leave!!” Click

Now what? We couldn’t drive 6 hours on that information. What if the concern wasn’t that bad? Or what if we would be too late to see them, even if we left now?

We immediately began calling our prayer chain at church: prayers for his life, for the surgery, for his wife, for peace in the midst of the storm.

The nurse called back about 5:30 PM and explained a little. Our son showed signs of deteriorating quickly. He had broken three ribs, punctured his lungs, had a broken clavicle, had broken his pelvis in three places. Most urgent, however, his brain began to swell. They rushed him into surgery by the neurosurgeon, who removed ½ of his skull.

At the hospital: 11:00 PM

Later that night, when we drove there, we discovered that the neurosurgeon had injured his hand and had been out for several months. This was his first day back, and his first surgery. Not the weekend we expected!

We arrived about 11 PM and began to receive the reports about his injuries before they would even let us see him. The surgeon said: “To be honest, we don’t know how this will go. But, it will be 4-6 weeks before we know whether he will live. It will be at least a year before we know how much of his motor skills he will retain. This is best case scenario.”

A slam to the gut! But he was alive, step one. And then they let us go into the critical care unit to see him. Yep, as you would expect, tubes everywhere, monitors for every part of his body, his body and head wrapped. No visible response from him at all. 

We learned from police reports that he had pulled out to cross a highway, right into the path of a car going 55 mph. The impact was right at the post where the driver’s door would open. We saw the car a couple days later. We still can’t explain how he survived. The door and frame were shoved half way across the front seat where the his seat had been. I still couldn’t visualize how his body wasn’t torn apart. It was a miracle that he was even breathing.

His wife had been injured but in a different way. Her brain was suffering from “shaken brain syndrome.” Outwardly there were no broken bones, no lacerations, but the brain injury was harder for them to treat. Measurements were not in noticeable terms for us. But she was recovering slowly.

Recovery Begins

By Saturday he recognized us, and he could hold a pen and write on a note pad: “I love you” and “God loves me.” At that point that response was sufficient for us. By Sunday he was able to remove the breathing tube long enough to say a couple words. Not much, but far more than we expected. In fact, that afternoon, he was able to watch a little TV and could follow the Super Bowl. Even the neurosurgeon was surprised at his progress.

He had another surgery on Tuesday, We had to leave on Wednesday, but kept in contact with the hospital and the doctor. He had another surgery on Friday to replace his skull that had been taken out initially, and another surgery the following Monday.

You have got to be kidding me!

10 days after the accident, our son was released from the hospital. The surgeon couldn’t believe the progress. We told him it was a miracle; he said he couldn’t argue with that.

But all was not well with our son. He tried walking with crutches (broken pelvis, broken ribs do not make good companions for recovering from surgery). By that next Friday he had fallen in his home and couldn’t get up. His wife was still in the hospital. So he managed to pull the telephone to himself (the days before cell phones) and called me. I immediately left, drove all the way up, got there about 11 PM, cleaned/showered him, cleaned their house, got breakfast for him, and immediately I turned around to bring him home with us.

It took him about a month living with us before he was able to do most things for himself. I took him back to his home, and he wife was released and they settled into their recovery together.

Not exactly the Super Bowl weekend I had anticipated. But we were thankful for him being alive. The road gets dark over the next 25 years, including him going missing for 18 years.

But I will always look back to this Super Bowl weekend and marvel at God’s surprising (to us!) goodness to our son and his wife. No, not what we expected. But isn’t that life in this world, even with God?

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Depression, Worship, and Liturgy

This past week I participated in a Twitter dialog with several people regarding: #abuse, #depression, #trauma, #mentalhealth. I so appreciated the other people who endured one or more of the situations, and who shared their insights, questions, concerns, and especially their care for one another.

I commented that I had to step away because the discussion was becoming a trigger for me regarding depression. Another commented that maybe a better word to use is reflection. As I thought about (reflected) that, I see a distinction between the two: trigger is not something I can control. It happens, there is a reaction. Reflection is something I can do to think about what happened.

Today as I was reflecting on that and the triggers, I also thought about how as a Christian, is there something long term that can help put all of the experiences (the trauma as well as the triggers afterward) into perspective? So I will try to explain what has been my life and at times my only consolation.

The Liturgical Life

For me, I have spent my entire 69 years (except one year) within a (Lutheran) liturgical church environment. Thus, while my parents didn’t worship, they made sure us boys were there or our grandparents took us. I had all three liturgies memorized before I started school (Divine service, Matins, and Vespers). When I dated my future wife, she belonged to a church within same church body. It has been part of our relationship for 51 years.

Some might see a problem commenting that it becomes “just routine,” no thinking or engagement necessary. For me, that has never been an issue. In fact, just the opposite. Regardless of the year, circumstances, challenges, devastation, the constancy of the liturgy was a welcome relief. The liturgy invites me to speak and sing with others; it became a way to be part of something that was not affected by my personal challenges. 

In the worst times, I would be there, not speaking or singing, but I was part of a group expressing and sharing (speaking and singing) the Christian faith in the fullness and breadth of life itself. To be in their presence was reassuring, comforting. Eventually I could join in again. Not because someone demanded it, but because the invitation throughout was a call to me to be part of the church, the broken, messy, church. And at that time I was really broken, messy.

The Christian and Lament

When I was recovering from my complete breakdown I had friends who encouraged me to go to a contemporary worship service, to “cheer me up.” They said that the liturgy and hymns were too “dry, stale, even depressing.” I attended a few months, but in reality, the “cheer me up music” lasted only a day or so. I went back to a liturgical service. And I was at home.

I realized that the hymnal provided the liturgical framework and the hymns that addressed all aspects of the Christian life. Yes, days of rejoicing (Easter!!), but it also encompassed days of repentance (Ash Wednesday) and days of mourning. 

Here is one example of a hymn that reached to the very depths of what I was experiencing.

“Lord Jesus, Think on Me”

by Synesius of Cyrene, c. 375-430
Translated by Allen W. Chatfield, 1808-1896

1. Lord Jesus, think on me And purge away my sin;
From earth-born passions set me free And make me pure within.

2. Lord Jesus, think on me With many a care opprest;
Let me Thy loving servant be And taste Thy promised rest.

3. Lord Jesus, think on me Amid the battle’s strife;
In all my pain and misery Be Thou my Health and Life.

4. Lord Jesus, think on me Nor let me go astray;
Through darkness and perplexity Point Thou the heavenly way.

5. Lord Jesus, think on me When floods the tempest high;
When on doth rush the enemy, O Savior, be Thou nigh!

6. Lord Jesus, think on me That, when the flood is past,
I may the eternal brightness see And share Thy joy at last.

7. Lord Jesus, think on me That I may sing above
To Father, Spirit, and to Thee The strains of praise and love.

Notice how the hymn writer from the early 5th century captured what I was enduring in the 21st century. This is not a musty, soon to be forgotten “happy song” but a deeply reverent, powerful, and encouraging hymn for the broken. 

Even the melody reinforces this. Here is a beautiful a cappella (shortened) version: 

https://youtu.be/NqQ1IPOIZwA

I have more to write about the relationship between depression, etc. and worship. This at least gives you a sense of how I appreciate the sometimes somber, sometimes, heavy sense of life and how worship expresses that for me.

Our prayers continue

Adoption: First Three Weeks

After our eventful trip home, that first day was pure joy. The boys seemed to want to explore everything. And they did.

The first two weeks opened our eyes to what they had lived through. We weren’t prepared for one.

Food for next meal

One of the first things we discovered is the meals: they ate a lot! In fact, usually they would get up from the table to go to the bathroom, then return to the table to eat more. It wasn’t until a couple days later that we found the hidden aspect of meals.

After a couple days as we were cleaning in their room, we discovered little food stashes, slightly hidden around the edges of the beds or frames or cabinets. 

They were storing extra food in case there was not enough to go around. A habit they had picked up in the orphanage. We had no clue beforehand. But it did make sense. It took the boys 2-3 weeks before they felt they didn’t need to do that any more.

Unexpected Nights

We knew that the boys might cry some, getting used to us, our home, the food, etc. And they did. 

But by the third night that all changed. We were shaken out of our bed soon after they went to sleep. Our older son, Ille, was screaming, not a quiet fear by a deep, long horrible scream—it shocked us how loud and how intense it was. We had no clue how to deal with this.

It scared us as much as it seemed to terrorize him. We immediately went to the room, and he wasn’t really awake. We tried to hold him, yet the screaming continued. After an hour or so he would settle down. But the next night the same thing.

We lived in a complex of military officer families, and they had thrown us a wonderful adoption party that included the four complexes around us and friends from the Navy Chapel. It was great to be welcomed into the community, especially for the boys. We met one couple, he was an Air Force officer and his wife was from Korea. 

Finally one night I asked her to come to our apartment (about 10 PM) when he was screaming. She began speaking to him in Korean, and it seemed to settle him a bit. We never really knew what bothered him.* But that drastically helped him. He still screamed for a few nights, but nothing as loud or long as before.

Fun activity

My wife has been baking goods for our entire married life (and before that while living with her parents). Very soon, she was letting the boys help her. They would stand on the dining room chairs around the kitchen table and help her bake. They loved it and wanted to help her as much as possible. They continued for about a year until after we had moved for the Navy. But this was really enjoyable. Flour on the face and clothes—normal. Smiles wide—normal.

School

My wife began introducing the boys to words/objects using English and pointing to them. They learned quickly and a lot. But they were missing out on interacting with other children. By the end of the third week we realized that it would be better for them to be in the school on campus. 

It was an ideal situation because there were many international officers on campus with their families. That meant that the school was used to having children who did not speak English, and they were well equipped to teach them. The speed and growth in language surprised even us. 

For a few months the boys continued to speak Korean at home, especially when they didn’t want us to know what was going on. So we soon told them they had to speak English around us. It took 4-5 months before that was fully part of their life. It did help them assimilate the language, and it helped solidify their bond with us.

A chaotic, delightful, challenging first three weeks. Our lives went from 0 to 100 mph in the blink of an eye. Fond memories, growing bonds between us.

* I have recently learned from the older son, Ille, what was behind his screaming. I won’t go into details, but family life before their lives in the orphanage was much worse than we were told, even the orphanage workers did not know. No wonder he screamed—I would have too!

Adoption Day 1 and 2

Our Travel Home

As we left LAX, the travel was heavy. We finally stopped for supper in Thousand Oaks about 8-9 PM. We decided that since the boys had never eaten American food, and the restaurant didn’t have oriental food, we would order a burger for each of them and a glass of milk— I ordered the same.

For the next hour it was like there were two little mirrors sitting opposite me. I would pick up the burger, then they would. I would take a small bite, then they would. I would pick up the glass of milk and then they would. I would set the milk down, then they would. Every move I made they imitated me. ❤️

As we sat there, we could look over the interstate, and the boys were confused (they didn’t tell us until months later). But they couldn’t figure out why there were red lights all in a row and then white lights in a row. They didn’t realize that the interstate had two lanes going in opposite directions.

Our Hotel Stay

So we stop in Santa Barbara for the night at about 11:30 PM. The boys were getting tired—and so were mom and dad. Check in went smoothly, but we couldn’t understand why they looked so frightened. We didn’t know until a few months later when they could speak English, that they had been told that if they misbehaved, we would immediately send them back to Korea. 

So at the hotel, guess who is running the front desk? A Korean woman. She began speaking to them in Korean, asking them “what they were doing with us? They didn’t belong to us.” The boys were scared that we were returning them to Korea, and this was the exchange site!

My wife and I slept fitfully, and I am not sure the boys slept at all!! 😨😨

Our Lunch Stop

We ate breakfast and began traveling by 8 AM. At noon we stopped at a restaurant halfway between LA and SF. We go into the restaurant, and guess who are waitress is? A Korean woman, again! She was more bold than the one the night before. She totally ignored my wife and me.

She began speaking directly to the boys in harsh tone: “Why are you with them? They are not your parents!” The older boy, Ille, was sitting to my left. As soon as the woman began her “interrogation” he pushed closer to me and grabbed my leg just above my knee and squeezed in fear— it hurt my leg—it was that intense of a squeeze. But that was what he needed, a safe reassuring presence with him.

I finally interrupted her and told her we wanted menus so we could order!

Yeah, this was the joyful reunion that we as a family were looking forward to!??!

Home at Last!

About 4 hours later we pulled into the Navy housing unit. We went up stairs to our 3 bedroom apartment. The boys followed us in and saw how we were moving, like we knew this place. Within 5 minutes they began running to every room, excitedly chattering about everything they saw. They couldn’t wait to see the next room, and off they would scurry!

It was as if they knew—this was home. Even now writing about this 40 years later I am still choking up with tears about these memories. Yes, they were home. We were all home! A new life for them, a new life for us.

❤️❤️❤️❤️

More adventures to follow….

Adoption: A Beginning 1978

Adoption has been part of our lives for more than 40 years. We first considered in 1976, while I was stationed in San Diego. We knew little about adoption, except our pastor and his wife had adopted two girls from Korea. They were in their late teens by that time. 

We had considered adopting an infant, but we were told that the wait in the U.S. for infants would be 5-7 years, with no guarantees. So we considered international adoption, contacting Holt Adoption Agency in Eugene, OR. We began preliminary home study, but by that summer we moved to another naval station. A lot of uncertainty whether we should or could move forward. After much discussion with the local California Child Care agent, we decided to try the international adoption route (Korea as 1st choice).

Final Process Begins

That was in September 1977. Holt asked whether we would consider siblings. After much prayer, we said yes. In late April 1978 we received photos of two brothers: Ille (8 years old, weight 38 lbs.) and Joon (6 years old, weight 33 lbs.). Would we be willing to adopt? The answer was Yes!

The next four months were times of nervous energy, worry, questions, etc. We lived 280 miles from LAX where the boys would fly into. But we could not leave until we got the call that the boys had boarded the plane in Korea. Faster than we expected, anticipated, Holt called us on  Sep 12 to be at LAX the morning of Sep. 13, 1978.

Not so fast

We left early, arriving at LAX at 10 AM. The plane was due in at noon. A representative from Holt was to meet us to prepare us for each step. No Holt rep ever showed up. The plane was delayed 3-4 hours. But because we had not officially adopted the boys, the airlines would not tell us whether they were even on the plane, nor when they would be expected. And with no rep from Holt, we were left wondering, concerned, fearful that we had missed the boys.

So, my wife stayed at the international terminal, and I began running back and forth to the baggage claim. I did that for 3 ½ hours. On one of my runs from the international terminal, a guy was going in the opposite direction, holding an adorable Korean girl. He stopped and called me by name! Who in LAX would know my name??

I asked him that question, and he said I had the two most adorable little boys. How did you know it was me? The boys each had a photo of both of us, and the man recognized me from the photo. So I asked where they were. He said at baggage claim, but we should hurry (???) because the escorts were so late they had to get another flight and would be leaving soon.

We meet the boys

So we both made the dash (well, not that fast!). We saw the escorts and two little boys in the jam packed baggage claim area. The woman handed us a little carry-pack for each boy, told us their names, and added that one was taking medicine. That was it, they turned and boarded their plane. 

By this time it was nearly 7 PM. Hmmm, two boys who speak no English, and we speak no Korean and now we are on our own. So I took the boys to the restroom, ya know, just in case. Good thing I did! Then we brought them to our car and strapped them into the backseat. And headed for home.

It was 7:30 PM

But that is not how the day ended….

When Winning Isn’t

Part 1

My father died in 1991. We had never been close. A family friend who had known my father from 1931 to 1991 said in 1993, “Your father was a hard man.” I knew that from a lifetime living with my father.

From my earliest recollections of my father, I never would describe our relationship in loving terms. I was in my early 20’s before he ever quietly said, “I love you.” Not much ever said after that. He was indeed a hard man. I respected him. But I have many memories of his volatile outbursts of anger. Thankfully, he never hit us boys. But fear was our common response to his anger.

Through the years of school, I did relatively well, consistently an honor student. My father never said a word of appreciation or congratulations. In sports I was far from a good athlete, but did well enough. Not a word from my father. That pattern continued through college, Naval service, commissioning, graduating from Naval Postgraduate School, and early selection to LCDR.

In 1961 I began learning to play guitar. My father had a 1934 Montgomery Ward guitar but never played it. That was my first guitar. Finger action was so bad that my fingers bled consistently for the first few months of playing. But I stuck it out. My father passively supported my attempt at playing.

Two brothers, my mother’s age, were superb guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin players. They began to invite me to sit in with them. I learned much about music and complementary styles blending with all instruments, and each session was a joy. My father and mother would drive me there every week. He seemed to enjoy, but he never said a word.

The lack of acknowledgement was discouraging, but I grew to expect nothing. By 1971 my wife and I began our moves as adults as I found work away from that part of the state. But each year we would drive home and get together with the two brothers, and often others joined us. It was always a highlight, and my parents were always there.

My father never said a word about whether he enjoyed it, but his expressions seemed to indicate he did.

Then 1983

In 1982 I entered seminary. My time was consumed with seminary studies, part time job, and raising two boys entering their teens, one of whom was beginning to cause major problems for us. Meaning, I had little time to keep up with my guitar playing, much to my dismay because I loved playing. I missed it.

In 1983 we went back home at the end of summer Hebrew. So we managed to contact the brothers and set a date to play. My parents also came. After an hour of playing, my lack of practice over the previous two years was evident, certainly to me and the brothers. But nothing was said, we were enjoying and reminiscing, and I was able to keep up with all of it. We still had fun.

That was when my father made his only comment ever on my playing. “Boy, you really are rusty, aren’t you?”

I was so stunned, I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. For 33 years he had never said a positive word about anything I had done, especially my guitar playing. And now in one night he mentions my failure to play well in front of about 15 people, close friends. I swore that I would never let that happen again. For the next 8 years (until he died) I wasn’t going to risk another public humiliation. Hence I never played guitar in front of him. I wasn’t going to let him “win” this.

And I became the hard man.

So who won?

My father never mentioned my lack of playing again. Years after he died, my mother said he noticed that I never played. I began to tell my mother… and she stopped me, saying that she knew exactly when I stopped playing because she had heard my father as well. She cried that night (I didn’t know that).

So who won? Certainly not me. In the short run, I “won” because I never faced his public disapproval again. But my mother did not win because she loved my playing and missed it. And my father did not win, because he did like my playing but he could never say the words.

Part 2

From 1983 to 1989, our older son was getting into further trouble: drugs, stealing, etc. By spring 1988 we had asked him to leave the house (he had just turned 18). He was then arrested, and he spiraled out of control.
In 1989 my father and I began to have an uneasy but unspoken truce; we spoke politely, but nothing serious. My parents came to visit that summer. They had taken a day to travel to a larger city in that area to shop, etc. When they came home, my father was very different. They had seen and met our older son in that city.

In previous years, he had made comments about how disruptive teenagers could be. One time when I was about 11 years old, we had seen teenagers causing a few problems, but nothing out of hand. My father commented, “If you ever see kids acting that way, you can definitely blame the parents.” That assessment hung over my head when we adopted the boys in 1978. As it got worse, my memories of that comment intensified, causing me guilt and shame.

I had never seen my father shook up, raging anger, yes, but never this way. He spoke first: “I never realized how bad it has been for you these past years. I am so sorry.” And he had tears in his eyes, something I had never seen. He apologized, which I also had never experienced.

They visited two years later for our younger son’s high school graduation. They usually stayed two days because the altitude affected his breathing. But after two days he talked to my mother then asked me if they could stay another day or two because they enjoyed our time. We gladly agreed. And we did have a good time.

Three weeks later my father died. I am so thankful that our last time together was not clouded by all the distance, lack of words, lack of showing affection. When they left, he hugged me seriously and thanked me and said he loved me. How could I not also say the same thing? That’s all I wanted.

Who won then?

I think finally we all did: my father, my mother, me.
My only regret is that I didn’t play guitar for him and my mother. But we did mend a rift that had festered for 42 years. For that we all won.

I learned to say many things to my sons. No matter how bad our older son got, sometimes behind prison bars, I always, always told him I loved him. So also with our younger son when he deployed and was in combat, the last words he heard from me were “I love you.” So also my words to his wife and our grandchildren. There is no doubt that such will be the last words they hear me say: “I love you.”

And we all win!

I am sorry

Over the past five months I have offered prayers for those who had been sexually abused in the MSU/USAG/USOC scandals. My intent was to daily remember them before God.

Yet, I was just made aware that I had spelled the abuser’s last name incorrectly during that entire time. I have since corrected that error. I ask those who were affected for your forgiveness.