Leaving something for my son

We dropped my son off at college this past weekend. He graduated high school earlier this month and he’s taking two college classes over the summer to get a head start on his degree.

With his bags dropped off in his new dorm room, his clothes hung up and put away in his closet, his desk supplies prepared, and his laptop set up for the first day of class, I wanted to leave him something that would help him through any challenging times he might run into and to remember us over the next four years. I had been thinking about the question for weeks. We had dropped our oldest daughter off at college two years ago. I wrote about that day previously in “The Challenges of Move-in Day,” so I knew what to expect. 

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Finding the middle ground

My wife and I have much in common.

We like to take long road trips. We like similar music. We both like a range of singers and groups from U2 to Tim McGraw, Classical to Broadway, harder edged alternative to even metal. 

And we both like to read for enjoyment, her, mystery and crime novels, me, biographies, historical fiction, and fantasy.

We have one major difference.

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Living with the unknown, living with MS

We drove home in silence. My wife didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. We were stuck in rush hour traffic and I searched for the right words to break the silence, but they never came. We had seen the umpteenth doctor and we still had no real answers. We had sought answers. We left with more questions.

traffic-jam-688566_1280For the previous three months, my wife had been experiencing pain and loss of feeling in her arms and legs. She would be fine one minute, the next her leg would give out underneath her. She complained constantly of her arms falling asleep or simply feeling like 20-pound weights.

We went first to our family doctor, then to a specialist. They gave her one test then another, and another. In particular, each time they would ask her to close her eyes and touch her nose. Each time, she would miss completely, touching her eyes, lips, ears, but nowhere near her nose.

doctor-563428_640The search for answers

We continued onward in our quest to get answers, traveling to some to the most respected hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After one such visit, we finally got the answer we had been searching. The doctor walked in the room and let us know that he thought my wife suffered from Multiple Sclerosis.

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Love, laughter & tears each day?

The speaker droned on. His presentation lacked any real substance, I was already tired from staying up late the night before to take care of a work-related fire, and I was eyeing up the “X” button on screen to click out of the training.

And then he said something that caught my attention.

“You should always be willing to tell people what you stand for. They should know instantly what you believe in and what you’re made of and where you draw a line in the sand.”

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The point being that the stronger our believes, the stronger the presence and commitment that we give off.  He soon went back to into sales mode, trying to get you to sign up for his next talk, instead of offering any key takeaways and I once again lost patience and went onto more productive tasks, but I pondered the question for the rest of the day: Do people know what I stand for? Do I spell it out?

My answer: Sometimes I’m good about spelling it out, sometimes I’m not. So here it is, here’s what I stand for, for better or worse. Some full of clichés, some not:

  • My top four priorities are God (God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit), my family, being a “good person,” and my country.
  • I try to live my live ― not so successfully mind you ― with Christ’s commandment of “faith, hope, and love.”
  • I believe in the power of my wife’s hug to turn a crappy day into a memorable one. I believe too in the power of my daughter’s smile, my middle son’s laugh, and the twinkle in my youngest son’s eyes.
  • Each day I try to love, laugh, cry, and smile. I try each day too to learn something, to improve myself, and to take another step toward my life goals.

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  • I believe in working hard and making the most of your talents and opportunities; being authentic and who you say you are; living your life with virtue, including integrity and trustworthiness; honor; patience; fairness and justice; humility; charity and kindness to others; treating people the way I want to be treated; courage; perseverance, and humor. (Yes, humor. I’ve written it before, but I’m convinced that God has a sense of humor. At least that’s my hope.)
  • I believe in the written word and how it can move us to emotion ― be it laughter or tears, happiness or anger ― and then to action.
  • Finally, I believe in miracles. I’m convinced of them, because God gave me my beautiful wife and kids. They are infinitely more important to me, than I will ever be to them. They inspire and make me a better person. They challenge me and love me for who I am.

I stand for other things too, but these are what stand out today. I’ll leave the rest for another day.

Proving the experts wrong: Celebrating graduation

I like to go back and read the 25-page report.

It’s written in a medical, matter of fact tone. Large sections of the report are highlighted and my wife has written comments in pencil on several of the report pages. I read it over-and-over again and I remember the intense fear and worry we shared.

The report gives a full medical history, lists the tests the doctors gave and how my son fared, who was present, and finally a summary and recommendations. I’m barely a page or two into the report and my head starts pounding.

“(My son’s name) is still fairly young and so, needs intensive work in reading. He needs to be taught the basics, phonetics, and decoding skills.”

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When I get to this next part, my reading slows. I pause after every couple of words to take them in and ponder their meaning in my mind. They pack a powerful punch.

“However, we are not very optimistic about his ever acquiring these skills. The time will quickly come when we need to focus on circumventing the lack of decoding skills. He most likely will do better at sight word recognition and working to expand this skill. Also, he will need to begin using technology to essentially read and write for him.”

My breathing is deeper now. If I close my eyes, I can remember the doctor’s face when she handed us her preliminary report at the end of our visit.

“He will have trouble reading stop signs. He seems to be a strong listener, but he’ll never be able to enjoy a book, other than maybe a picture book, or function as a normal adult.”

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Never give up, great things take time

I like to play Chess with my son. I’m a novice and he’s a much better player than me, but I still like to play him. I like the ebb and flow of the game and how you need to be thinking two or three moves in advance. I find too that it’s a great metaphor for life.

My son will inevitably take the early lead. He’ll take a couple of my pawns and then he’ll get my Bishop or Knight. He’ll get a big devious smile on his face and he’ll start to rub his hands together. He can’t wait to throw his arms in the air and scream out to anyone who’ll listen that he “owns me” or some other boastful claim.

Fortunately for me, I’ve been around the block a time or two. He’s the better player than me no question, but I know a thing or two that he doesn’t. For example, I know that a few early losses doesn’t mean the game is over. I know too to be patient and to see the game through to completion. I’ve won more than my rightful share of games by simply following this strategy.

In short, I’m resilient.

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Babies are such a nice way to start people & other stories

My three kids have “big people” problems.

–Dad, I’m going to need a car to get around for my summer internship, what should I do?

–Dad, which meal plan should I choose for college?  I’m thinking about Meal Plan #3, but it costs $800 more than the other two. What do you think?

–Dad, I’m thinking of joining the marching band in the Fall, can you give me $150 to cover the middle school activity fee.

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A mother’s faith

When I think of Mother’s Day, I think of another day, a lifetime ago, when my mother picked me up from college and took me out for dinner.

It was a Friday. I remember being tired from staying up late the night before to finish a 10-page paper and study for a test. I walked out of the test thinking I had bombed it and felt pressured to use the weekend to come up with a plan, any plan, to somehow salvage my grade.

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I can’t tell you much else about the paper or the exam, but I remember walking to the edge of campus where my mother met me. She had called me the previous day and asked if I wanted to get together for dinner.

We went to Elby’s Big Boy restaurant, a chain long since shut down, where she fretted over me. I had lost more than 15 pounds since the Autumn and looked pale. She worried that something might be wrong. I shushed her. I told her I was just busy. I didn’t have time to be sick. (It would turn out later that she was right. I was anemic and doctors were able to get me back on the right track with the right prescription, but that’s a story for another day.)

In any event, my mom chatted me up and made sure that I ate, ordering me a fudge brownie sundae when I went to the restroom. She updated me on the local gossip and peppered me with questions about my classes and my friends.

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My biggest regrets

When I was in the seventh grade, I should have asked the girl in my English class to our school dance. When I was in college, I should have been more persistent and found a way to pay for the cost of a semester studying in Manchester, England.

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In my mid-twenties, I should have stood up sooner to a bully manager who treated his team like hired servants. In my thirties, I should have taken more time off from work when my kids were born. (I took time off, but I should have forgot about checking email and voice messages until I returned to work.) In my forties, I should have learned how to let worries fall off my back.

In the grand scheme of things, my regrets are minor. We spend our lives running from this to that. We turn 13 and can’t wait for our birthday so that we’re another year closer to 16. If not old enough to drive, then we want to turn 18 or 21-years-old. We get a new job and can’t wait for a promotion.

If we don’t watch, it’s over before it even started.

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Life’s unwritten rules

A couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Edubray Ramos threw a 96 mile fastball over the back of the head of New York Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. The two glared at each other, tempers on both teams temporarily flared, and the Phillies manager got ejected, but the game soon continued.

The Phillies would go onto lose the game 4-3. Ramos claimed the pitch got away from him, but it more than likely was in retaliation for the way Cabrera handled himself after he hit a game-winning three-run home run last September. Cabrera celebrated the home run by tossing his bat and throwing his hands in the air.

While a little out of the norm, because of the close game, baseball has dozens of unwritten rules. If a pitcher hits one of yours, you hit one of theirs. When a pitcher reaches the fourth or fifth inning and has given up no hits or walks, be sure to not mention it, lest you jinx the pitcher. If you’re up by five runs, do not show up the other team by stealing second base. The list goes on and on.

Life is not all that different. It has some of the same type of unwritten rules. We all follow them. Some more diligently than others. Many are just good manners or common sense. Others are a little more complicated. When we follow these rules, everyday life tends to work like clockwork. When we fail to follow them, all hell breaks loose.

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