Saturday, December 31, 2011

So Long, 2011.

New Year's Eve, 2011.  So ends the hardest year of my life.  I have thought long about what I wanted to say tonight, how to sum up this brutal year and send it out the door.  So much loss, so much grief, not just for me and my family, but for my whole community.  Many of my thoughts have been angry and defiant--There's the door, 2011.  Don't let it hit you in the butt on the way out, and may we never see your likes again.

As good as it feels to say that, though, there is so much more to it.  As the old song says, "Where there's a shadow, there's a light."  Loss is just love turned inside out--you can't really have one without the other.  We lost a son because, however briefly, we had a son.  We hate fighting against poor health because we know very well what it is to enjoy good health.  We grieved the time away from our daughter because we have a daughter who is so wonderful we hate being away from her.  We mourned the loss of our wonderful South Elementary family because we were embraced by that family.

If we are still hurting, it is because we are still here.  If there are things we have to fight against, it is because we still have enough hope to fight.

I would not wish the sorrows of this past year on anyone, and it is true to say I hope never to see the likes again.  But just as a meal tastes even sweeter after a long hunger, so our hard times make the joys more deeply felt.  I am amazed at this:  How much richer the love between Mrs. Badger and me has grown.  How miraculous it seems just to play with my daughter and watch her grow.  How joyful it can be just to go for a walk in the mountains and breathe the sweet, free air.  And what wonderful, priceless, loyal friends we have.

God continues to do his work, turning the horror and hardship for our good, just like he promised He would. 

So, here's to you, 2011.  There's the door.  Friends, there's the door for you, too.  Please use it often.  We love you.

So, give a hand, my trusty friend, and here's a hand of mine
We'll take a cup of kindness yet for the days of auld lang syne.

Happy New Year, everyone.  May the God of New Beginnings make it rich and beautiful, come what may.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Tree

I love living close to the mountains.  People travel cross-country to see and experience what is practically my back yard.  To be able to get up in the morning and, with a minimal amount of preparation required to make the trip family-friendly, head for the hills...what a blessing.

So it was that, the day after Thanksgiving, we loaded up the Subaru and headed up the canyon to find a Christmas tree.  I love Christmas trees.  I love what they symbolize--the durability of life, the assurance that, underneath that death-blanket of snow and ice, living things are dozing and plotting their annual springtime come-back.  It is a great reminder, having something large and green in the house during these longest nights of the year.  Decorate it up with sparkling lights and shiny tinsel and it's like the stars on the snow.  Hang up the ornaments, each one of which has its own story to tell.  Then plug the whole thing in:  It's like silent, indoor fireworks.  Yes.

But since I am in serious danger of committing philosophy, here, how about I just get on with the pictures.

First, a short video.  This was actually taken the week before.  I love it when the snow does this.  The movement reminds me of ghosts on horseback.


Katito tries out the sled.  And here, I thought I was going to use it to haul out the tree!









Scouting with my Assistant Mountain Buddy 
(my primary mountain buddy is behind the camera)









Scouting...









Scouting...









Quarry:  Located!  Saw:  Dull!









While dad does all the work...









...mom and Katie goof off with the camera.












No expedition is complete without a family photo.










And the result?  Well, I couldn't get a snap with all the lights on at the same time, but maybe you can get the idea.  Beautiful.



















So, Winter isn't all about hibernating, freezing, pigging out, and being miserable.  Stay tuned for reviews of my new cross-country skis!  :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Harmony

My 2nd and 3rd graders started laying the groundwork for harmony singing last week.  One Bottle of Pop.  Alfred the Alligator.  My Dog Treed a Rabbit.  Kookaburra--both the "normal" and "naughty little kid" versions.

We talked about harmony and its definition (a room full of 2nd graders bellowing, DIFFERENT  SOUNDS THAT WORK TOGETHER!!!).  I showed them some examples:  All singing "One Bottle of Pop" is not harmony...why?  Because we're all singing the same thing.  It has to be different sounds.  Same thing, but with the guitar--is this harmony?  Yes!  The guitar is different.  Then a funny example:  Singing "One Bottle of Pop," while I play the accompaniment to a different song, in a different key and different meter.  Above the giggling and puzzled looks, I ask again. NO!  It sounds like a big mess.  Doesn't work together. 

The big punch line is happening this week, when we start applying this stuff, singing rounds and partner songs.  Some classes struggle with the team concept, getting their ears past themselves to hear the whole group.  There's a big difference between understanding it and doing itBut other classes really get it--I can hear it in their voices and see it in their faces.  It's the best thing about teaching:  Being there when it happens, even presiding over it.  That feeling is what hooked me on teaching almost twenty years ago.  It is what has kept me with it all these years.  It is addictive.

The harmony really starts happening; those different sounds really start working together.  The little light bulbs start coming on, the energy in the room kicks way up, and I don't really have to tell the kids that we're all in this together.  I don't have to tell them that they can accomplish things as a group that they could never accomplish by themselves.  I don't need to point out that our differences make us strong.  I don't have to tell them that when we really come together, we can do just about anything.

They get it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In the Open Air

The greatest thing about having so many different friends--especially the oddly creative friends I seem drawn to--is the constant challenge to look at things from a different angle, to try things a different way.

My friend Mara, the painter from Sheridan, enjoys painting "en plein air."  This is an artistic French term which means, reassuringly, "in plain air."  You grab your gear, head out under the sky, and paint nature as you see it.  If I were a painter, I would want to work this way.  It's natural, it's outside, it requires a good mix of planning and spontaneity.  Mara's work sometimes makes me wish I had time to take up painting again.

We receive Backpacker Magazine, courtesy of an outdoor gear company who apparently thinks it will encourage us to buy more stuff.  (It might be working)  I recently read an article therein about Gordon Hempton, a man who has made it his life's work to seek out wild places in Washington state that are completely free of human noise.  What with airplanes, dogs, and freeways, he has a surprisingly difficult time finding such places, even in National Parks and so-called wilderness areas. But once he does locate such an area--here's the cool part--he hauls in a semi-portable, stereo recording rig and spends hours, sometimes days, recording the silence.  Yep, that's what he does.

Why would he bother?  Well, there is, of course, no such thing as true silence in nature.  I recall, as a boy, standing in the Bighorn Basin badlands, amazed at the sounds of a mouse munching on roots under my feet.  That's quiet.  Once you recalibrate your ears to nature's level, it's amazing the things you hear.  That is what Hempton is going for--trying to get people to get away from the traffic, quit yacking, turn off the ipod, and just listen.  His recordings have won Emmy awards; they are in the Smithsonian.  No effects, no added music.  Just nature, in all its acoustic glory.

Reading that article, I kept thinking of Mara's "en plein air" adventures.  I wanted to do music this way--get out there and record my music directly on the canvas of nature's noisy silence.  So when I found myself with a free afternoon recently, I grabbed my shiny new low D, some snacks, and the video camera, and headed for the desert.

I'm fairly pleased with this maiden voyage into "en plein air" music recording.  I like the way the lighting turned out.  I like the spaces in the music where you can listen for crickets and flies.  If I had had a better microphone, you might have been able to hear the magpies squawking in the distance.  

I'm starting to look into portable recording rigs.  Thinking about locations.  Trying to figure out how in the world I'm going to do this in the winter.  Maybe my next CD will feature music recorded in the open air.  Maybe I'll get some friends together and do a series of wilderness concerts some summer.

Or maybe not. This is a good start, though, even if I'm not sure, just yet, what it's the start of.  That's another great thing about trying things a different way:  You never quite know where it will end up.  But getting there sure is fun.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Release

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come thru the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down. The thoughts are broken.
Perhaps they're better left unsung.
I don't know, don't really care:
Let there be songs to fill the air!
--The Grateful Dead

Today is the big day: After three years, The Stone of Beth El is finally available. It is up on CD baby. The website is all set up. The set list for the party is put together. Everything is ready.

I hope to see some of you at Global Arts tonight. For those of you who can't make it, I'll try to get some videos up in the next week or so: Thanks for being with me in spirit. Be sure to check out the cause this CD is supporting. If you buy a CD, check out the lyrics tab here on the website.

This recording is my best work so far, three years in the making, with an incredibly willing and able supporting cast. I'm excited to finally get it out there. It's a little scary, too, putting my skills, my creativity, my hard work, my soul out there for people to purchase. I hope most people will enjoy the music. Maybe some who are struggling will find something in there to make their journey a little smoother. Maybe those who don't struggle enough will find something to challenge them. And maybe, heaven forbid, some will not like it a bit. cringe grovel squirm

But that's the way things go. In a small way, it is sort of like being a parent. We have these years to work with our daughter, to teach her and empower her and prepare her the best we can. But just like our music, I know our parenthood is less-than-perfect. And at some point we'll have to release her, too: dress her up and send her out into this big, beautiful, scary world to use what she's learned.

My wife once asked me if I was ever going to let some boy take my little girl to the prom. My answer involved something about a sniper rifle. I'm not sure I'm ready to think about that just yet. But I know the day will come.

I believe that one of our purposes in life is to learn to sing the song God has put inside us. Whatever form the song might take, you have to let go of self-consciousness and perfectionism and fear of failure. You have to do the best you can and trust God with the rest. You have to let it go.

Whatever your song is, you have to release it.

Because a kid who never leaves the safety of home never gets to be more than a kid. And music that isn't shared is little better than silence.

Enjoy the music, folks. I certainly have!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Memories and Milestones

Note to the reader: I began writing this on Fathers' Day morning. Katie woke up and seemed to think she needed some food and clothing, so I had to set it aside. I am just now getting back to it. It is one of the joys of my extremely full, parental life: I finally have a valid excuse for taking forever to get anything done.

Two days ago, Katie, Mom, and I hiked up to Middle Fork Falls. This is only about a three mile round trip, with just under 400 feet elevation gain: Hardly worth mentioning in better days. But it was our first time hiking since all the bad stuff happened last winter, and we made it without hitch.

I was outrageously happy, whooping and laughing, and Katito picked up on my mood. Sarah was more quiet and thoughtful. But for all of us, it was a big event.

The whole way, I kept thinking of Sarah, four short months ago, unable to even get out of bed without assistance. I kept thinking about how wonderful it was to have Katie with us at this moment. I kept thinking of those pictures I had put of the wall of her room to remind her of the outside world. Several of them had been of this same trail.

Four months ago, P/SL Hospital in Denver: As the stay in the hospital got longer and longer, with no end in sight, the outside world seemed less and less real. It's amazing how the walls of a hospital room can become the patient's whole world. Thus began the "Wall of Motivation": Pictures of favorite hiking spots, of favorite camping spots, and of our beautiful daughter. Sarah, in her more aware moments, would ask me to tell her long, detailed stories about all the places we were going to hike when we got home.

When we could finally not stand it anymore, I drove back to Lander to get Katie. She was happy to see me, but she was very shy for 20 minutes or so. It had been six weeks since we had seen each other. I felt a bit uneasy; how must she have felt? The uneasiness soon melted into hugs, the Crash Into Dad Game, and belly raspberries, and we didn't feel like such strangers anymore.

It was a surprisingly uneventful drive down to Denver. Six hours is an awfully long time for a one-year-old, even with rest stops. With the help of numerous books, silly conversations, and a very comforting stuffed bunny, we got there.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot at the Ronald MacDonald House, Katie was very quiet as I put her in her stroller for the walk to the hospital. She knew we were going to see Mommy. She clutched her rabbit tightly and looked wide-eyed around her at the big city, the traffic, the elevator up to fifth floor. I suppose if I had had a bunny, I'd have been clutching it too. I was worried that Katie would be shy and distant, or worse yet freaked out by the sight of mommy so sick. I wanted their reunion to be a good thing for both of them.

When we got to mom's room, one of the nurses from third floor was visiting with her. I could see mom had been crying, and I stuck my head in to ask if this was a good time for Katie to visit.

Katie heard mom's voice and I could hear her, in her stroller in the hall, saying, "Mommy? Mommy?" Sarah heard this. The time was wrong, but the attraction was irresistible. She said to bring her in. I quickly warned mom that Katie might take a few minutes to be OK with all this. Then I went out in the hall.

It was hard getting Katie out of the stroller, with her death-grip on that bunny, but we managed. The nurse opened the door. Katie peeked in, saw mommy, and hesitated. I asked her if she wanted to bring her bunny with her.

She looked at mom. She looked at her bunny. Then she said, "Bye bye!", threw the bunny on the floor, and ran across the room and crashed into mommy's bed. It was the biggest smile I had seen on Sarah's face in weeks. It was one of the best moments of my life.

And now we were here, all three of us, hiking up to the falls. How could we not laugh?

***

We had David's memorial the other day. It was hard. I had wanted to play a song on my guitar, and when I got it out Sunday afternoon, I had completely forgotten it. It is hard to describe how that felt. But long story short, because I took so long to get myself under control, we were late for our own memorial service. When we got there, Sarah's music wouldn't work, and thanks to me, there wasn't time to fix it. Everyone was sitting in the wrong places where they wouldn't be able to hear anything, and I had to ask them to move. It was a disaster.

Except not quite.

Triston led a prayer, and things started to happen. Grandpa Wilson, Uncle Scott, and Pete shared some thoughts. The singing was lovely, despite the fact that no one had remembered to pass out hymnals. My buddy Charlie sang an Arapahoe honor song. It was beautiful. We planted David's tree, a Canadian red cherry that should be blooming in a year or two.

And at the end, we released dozens of balloons and watched them float away as Ray played "Amazing Grace" on the pipes. He walked off into the distance, the music fading out as the balloons gradually disappeared from view. It was amazing how far away we could still see them.

Then back to the house for a feast out by the pond with a few friends and family.

People talk about closure. I'm not sure what that means. It doesn't just go away because you have said goodbye. But it felt right to say goodbye.

***
Sarah and I celebrated our seventh anniversary a few days ago.

I have often wondered what it is about the number seven. Many consider it to be a lucky number. In the Bible, the number seven often symbolized perfection or completeness. I wonder why.

But in our case it's appropriate. Our marriage has been strained beyond all reasonable limits, and yes, we have come out stronger. I love my wife in a way that I never did, never could, before. I can't say we've achieved completeness or perfection, but perhaps in some way we're closer than we've ever been. I have learned that faith is not a destination, but a journey. Perhaps love is the same: Completeness comes, not in arriving, but in being on the right path.

So, here it is Fathers' Day. I have lost a son, and that loss will never go away. But I have gained a wife and a daughter: The wife back from the brink. The daughter, growing and learning so startlingly fast that every day with her is like the first day.

I am so thankful.

***
That waterfall is still up there. And we can go back whenever we want to.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What does not Destroy Me...

'Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker.'
'What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.'
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888

I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret.
I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led.
Rich Mullins, Hard to Get, 1997
Two very different ways of seeing the world. The first I myself have quoted time and again, usually in the middle of difficult rock climbs, trail runs, and similarly macho situations. It was spoken by the same man who coined the phrase, "God is dead," and who ended up going completely fruit-loops crazy in later life. So as appealingly macho as it all sounds, perhaps we aren't required to take him too seriously when he talks about that which makes us stronger.

The second was written by a Christian singer and songwriter who could have been a millionaire many times over, but who chose to spend his last years living in a hogan and giving free music lessons to Navajo kids. He recorded the song "Hard to Get" just a few days before being killed in a car accident. His songs, and this one especially, make it clear that, in the end, he had little to offer to God except his brokenness.

Our son was supposed to arrive this Sunday. God, how I miss him. How I miss what he could have been, what he should have been. How I mourn the pain my wife went through. How I miss the vision of myself with a son to raise, of Katie with a little brother to help care for, of Mom with another boy in her life. How I still hurt over this time of destruction, even now, months later. Our lives are still very much defined by what happened, and I am tired of all of it.

No, the pain did not destroy me. But for just a moment, I have to set aside my red-blooded, Louie L'Amour-style rugged individualism and face facts. The pain has not made me stronger. It has incapacitated me in many ways. It has left me completely exhausted. It has made me physically weak and mentally dull. It has made struggles out of things that used to give me joy.

I am sick of writing things that will encourage others through my pain: I just want to be happy again. I am tired of enduring patiently: I want to be well-rested again; I want my wife to quit hurting; I want my daughter to quit being freaked out because Mom and Dad are upset. I am sick and tired of facing all of this with a smile and a spiritual perspective, of talking with great wisdom about the good God brings from our pain: I just wish I could have my son back.

I try, with some success, to smile and do good work and see the good in things, of course, and there is a great deal to see. There is very much to be happy about, and most of the time I am able to keep my focus on those things. But I always see it through the lens of regret and exhaustion.

I am a tough person. It takes a lot to keep me down. That's the biggest reason I've stuck with the whole "badger" thing through the years. Badgers are indestructible. They aren't deterred by long odds. Once they get hold of something, they don't let go.

But this particular badger feels like he's been run over by a bulldozer. Several times. And even though I recognize the truth of it, my whole nature still rebels against what Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 12:
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Why does this thought stick in my throat? Because I don't WANT to be weak. I want to tell Paul no, that's all wrong. I'm not supposed to be content; I'm supposed to overcome. I'm supposed to laugh. I'm supposed to get my body back in shape. I'm supposed to be an amazing husband and have a great garden and get my kids to pull off amazing concerts. I'm supposed to tough it out, to get over it, to overcome, to get on top of all this. Of course, those are all good things, and I plan to do all of them in good time. But being strong like that? Sometimes it's working. But only sometimes. I'm still broken.

So maybe that's what Rich was getting that, and what old Fred missed, smart guy that he was. Maybe the point isn't that pain makes us stronger. Maybe the point is that it drives us to our knees. Maybe I'm not supposed to grow; maybe I'm supposed to shrink. Even though it is really, really not what I want, maybe I'm supposed to be small again.

Because it's then that I seem to find myself closest to the source of all true strength, when I find that his power is perfected in weakness.

I'm still trying to get my head around this. I think it is something I am supposed to learn...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Game Day.

Felt so good, like anything was possible
Hit cruise control, rubbed my eyes
These last three days, the rain was unstoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine

It rained all night last night. It was coming down so hard out at Wilson Manor this morning that even the meadowlarks packed it in.

Rainy days always make me feel like I can do anything. Like anything is possible. Maybe it's because they are so unusual here in dry Wyoming. Maybe it's because they remind me of my years in Portland, when that feeling was a daily thing. Maybe it's because the daffodils and tulips look even brighter; my morning cup of tea taste even better. Maybe it's the way my truck seems to enjoy splashing through the gutters and puddles. Maybe it's just because of the way I sleep when it's raining all night.

Over my morning tea, I spent some time praying and thinking about love (1 Corinthians 13, baby!), and how love plays out in this, the biggest single day in my school year.

I had a great, all-made-from-scratch breakfast, courtesy of my lovely wife.

Had some good giggle/hug time with my daughter, who cataloged for me the things she expected to see in the concert tonight. Kids! Singing! Songs! Insurments! Peepol! Gikars! Kazoos! Drums! Didgeriooo! She might be disappointed on that last one, but other than that, we're covered.

And yes, I AM wearing my lucky socks.

The kids are ready. I'm ready. Bring it on.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Apple Spice Pancakes

(by request)

Disclaimer
I mostly cook by the TLAR (That Looks About Right) method, so this is nothing like an actual recipe, and might take some experimentation. I know, because every time I go in the kitchen, it's an experiment.

Preparations
Wake up late, with a whole Saturday morning ahead of you. Put on water for tea (a good strong Assam/Irish breakfast type, of course). While chopping up your apples (see below), preheat a griddle on medium low. Rub some butter on it--the more the better, in my experience. I'm sure there's a limit to how much butter is a good thing, but I haven't reached it yet.

Pancakes
Dry ingredients:
3 or 4 handfuls whole wheat flour
A teaspoon or so double acting baking powder
A little less baking soda
A good, hefty tablespoon or two of powdered buttermilk (or you can use real buttermilk in place of milk, below; or you can throw in a spoonful of plain yogurt or sour cream)
3 or 4 dashes of salt
A couple table spoons of brown sugar
You can add a handful of rolled oats for extra texture if you want.

Mix together all the above in a big bowl. Then add:

A hefty splash--maybe three or four tablespoons?--of vegetable oil or cooled, melted butter. Mix it in, using hands if necessary, until the whole thing is about the consistency of course corn meal or cooked steel-cut oats.

Crack in two eggs (preferably good free-range eggs with bright orange yolks so you at least get some vitamins with your cholesterol) and, oh, maybe half a cup of milk or so. Mix it all together. I like my batter a little on the thick side--if it runs across the bottom of the griddle, it's too thin.

Fry up until bubbles start to appear, then flip. Don't cook too long after flipping--just enough to brown the bottom. (if it comes apart when you try to flip it, your griddle isn't hot enough. If it burns before you flip it, it's too hot or you waited too long. But you probably figured that out by now)

Apple Topping

Dice two apples. I like good tart ones for this. Put them in a bowl. Add a couple tablespoons or so of honey (er on the side of more, and don't worry about mixing it in). Season with some mix of the following. The list is in approximate descending order of how much of each I use.
Cinnamon
Finely grated ginger (preferably fresh, but powdered will do)
Allspice and/or cloves
Black pepper (you can use cayenne if you're feeling adventurous, or if your family is really sleepy)

Nuke apple mix in the microwave for 3 minutes. Stir. Nuke an additional 1 or two minutes.

By then, your cakes should be about done. Dump the apple mix over the pancakes (I like it piled high).

Eat.

Then take your spouse/kids/dog/friends (real or imaginary) to the park and work off all that energy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Pika Song

We cannot WAIT to get back up in the mountains this summer!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pre-Release!

If you are here for the pre-release, welcome! Check out the "listen to samples" link above, then get thee back to facebook and put your name on the list!

If you are here for some other reason (maybe something really crazy, such as to read my blog), thanks for stopping by, and don't worry--you'll get your chance to buy a CD when it is actually ready to release. In the meantime, yes, you too can listen to samples. Lucky you!

Thanks!
T

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Held


This song really, really says it.

Sometimes, faith means getting past the whining, getting past begging for explanations, when the bad stuff happens to you. Why shouldn't it? Isn't it sort of arrogant to see it happen to others, and then be shaken when the crap of a fallen world splatters onto you, too?

He never promised things wouldn't ever be uncomfortable, awful, painful, unfair.

He promised to get us through it. He promised to be with us in it. He promised to bring something good out of it.

And believe me, he is faithful to keep those promises, if we will only trust him.

After all, he beat death. Everything else is just a matter of time...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why I am Not Pro-Choice

There a bumper sticker often seen here in Lander, usually on gun-rack adorned pick up trucks. It says, "I'm pro-choice. I choose to hunt, fish, trap, eat meat, and wear fur." It's a fairly universal feeling around here, even among those who consider themselves liberal. This is Wyoming, after all.

When it comes to abortion, the real decision about whether to take the pro-choice stand is a bit more serious. Both sides of the issue believe strongly, and argue vigorously, that lives and basic freedoms are at stake.

The other day, a friend's Facebook picture showed an intelligent young lady at a pro-choice rally. She was wearing a shirt that said, "I trust women. Do you?" That sounds wonderful. But should trust be the main issue in this or any other legal issue? If it were, we could get rid of so many annoying and expensive constraints: speed limits ("I trust drivers. Do you?"), government oversight of our financial institutions ("I trust Wall Street Executives. Do you?"), mandatory taxes ("I trust wage-earning citizens. Do you?"), and maybe even child car-seat laws ("I trust parents. Do you?").

Of course, there is a reason we don't leave such things to trust. If I speed, blow my employees retirement funds on a new yacht, fail to pay taxes, or allow my child to stand in the front seat of my car, I am risking the safety of someone besides myself. I should have the right to decide what happens in my own car, business, or bank account. That right ends when my choices put the property or well-being of another person at risk. This is, at least ideally, why we have laws: To protect the innocent, prudent, and good from the evil, uninformed, or irresponsible.

The choice to terminate a pregnancy, the argument goes, involves a woman's own body. It is thus a personal choice. No one else has the right to interfere. I could not agree more, unless that "choice" is actually a child.

When you sweep away all the emotional rhetoric, that is what this all boils down to. Is an unborn zygote/embryo/fetus an actual person, or is it just a part of the mother's body? Because despite what the extremists on both sides would have us believe, very few people really want to murder babies or take away a woman's right to decide what happens to her own body. But if the unborn are in fact children, the decision moves into the realm of the child car seat. It is no longer a strictly personal choice. The life of another human being is at stake.

I am convinced that an unborn child is just that: A child. And as personal as this issue has recently become to me, I am not just thinking from the heart. There are a lot of facts on the side of the unborn.

I offer the following mostly to my pro-choice friends, all you wonderful people who are so concerned about issues of freedom and social justice: Please hear me out. I sincerely think you have chosen the wrong side on this one. Here's why:

Genetics

It is fairly common, in discussions about the right and wrong of abortion, to hear a semi-sarcastic defense of the rights of sperm and eggs. The argument usually goes something like this: "If destroying a fertilized egg is murder, then a man commits mass murder every time he ejaculates; a woman commits murder every month. Because every egg and every sperm is a potential human being."

Clever, on several levels. But not entirely correct.

I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence, here, but please humor me as I attempt to review some freshman biology.

Human sex cells are plentiful, to say the least. A healthy human male produces around 500 billion of them over the course of his life. Genetically speaking, each one is part of him. Half of him, to be precise: Each sperm cell contains half of the father's DNA. Exactly which half varies. A human girl is born with one to two million egg follicles already in her body. Again, the eggs contain half of her genetic material. Left alone (and given an extremely long life-span in the case of the mother), all of these cells would be eventually eliminated from our bodies.

Thus, our sex cells are disposable parts of us which contain our DNA, just as skin cells and hair follicles are. And by themselves, they have precisely the same potential for becoming a person.

When the sperm enters the egg, all of that changes. The resulting zygote is suddenly a unique organism, with a completely unique genetic code which is neither the mother's nor the fathers. Gender, eye color, and a host of other characteristics--many of them still poorly understood--are set at conception.

This zygote, while still in the mother's body, is no longer a part of it. It has become something distinct from her. It has become, on a molecular level, a unique living organism.

Brain Activity

The human brain begins forming about three weeks into pregnancy. Synapses begin firing a couple weeks later. The brain stem develops first, taking responsibility for involuntary movements and responses to stimuli: twitching, swallowing, sucking, and even hickups. By week ten--ping-pong ball size--babies might be growing as many as 250,000 neurons per minute. As the cortex (responsible for memory, conscious thought, and voluntary action) begins to develop, third-trimester fetuses become capable of simple forms of learning beyond response to stimuli.

Despite this rapid progress, a full-term human baby leaves the mother with a still-primitive cerebral cortex. This lack of development allows it to fit through the birth canal--and anyone who has been through it knows that's difficult enough as it is. This lack of cortex development is also one of the reasons human babies are so helpless, and stay helpless for so long, compared to most other mammals.

Brain development is gradual and steady, from week three into adulthood. Some parents might make the case that there are certain phases of life in which the brain quits operating (between 13 and 20?), but the fact is that there is no fixed point at which the child can be said to have "started thinking." There is no tangible difference in a baby's brain activity before and after birth. Rather than taking rapid leaps forward, the cortex matures gradually throughout childhood and into adulthood, allowing human children to grow into the incredibly complex world of humanity.

Heart Beat

Early in my wife's first pregnancy, we had a scare that the embryo might have implanted ectopically. An emergency ultrasound showed that, no, the pregnancy was proceeding properly, in the proper location. Whew. The embryo we saw was about the size and shape of a jelly bean. Even at that tiny size the embryo already had a heartbeat. It was a mere flutter of movement, but it was there, plainly visible.

This isn't just my personal experience. According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical baby's heart is actively pumping blood four weeks after conception.

Senses, Response, and Movement

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video might be worth a million. I think anyone honestly considering their stance on abortion should watch these videos first. No, they aren't put out by some crank pro-life organization, but by the National Geographic Society. Take a few minutes and watch them all (there are 10 parts). I've linked to one that shows fetal sensory development and response to stimuli. But they are all worth watching.

Note: These videos, "In the Womb," tend to disappear from Youtube occasionally, and you might have to look for them. Apparently National Geographic thinks people should just fork out the twenty bucks and buy them. I encourage you to do so.


Some Thoughts on "Viability"

Viability means the ability of a baby to continue living outside the womb. It is mostly a function of time: Before approximately 24 weeks, a fetus simply has too little lung tissue to make it in the outside world. For some, this is a good place to draw the line on the outer limits of when abortion should be permissible.

I believe this is a valid point when the life of the mother is at risk. If continuing the pregnancy will cause the death of the mother, and the baby has not reached the age of viability, it is not a question of saving the baby. It is a question of whether one life will be lost, or two. It is a bit like triage. Imagine a surgeon in a combat hospital. The surgeon has two patients, one mortally wounded and unlikely to make it no matter what he does, and another who might be saved, but only with immediate care. The only logical decision, hard though it is, is for the surgeon to put his energy into the soldier who can be saved.

So with a case where the mother's life is at risk: The baby is going to die either way, because it cannot live outside the mother. The only question is whether to save the mother. During our recent ordeal, we were spared this brutal choice: Mom's body made the decision and delivered David on its own, thus saving mom's life.

But thinking back to the triage analogy, I must ask: Is the soldier who cannot be saved seen as less of a person because he has no chance at survival? Or is he afforded all possible respect and comfort, perhaps even treated with gratitude for his unwilling sacrifice?

That is the trouble with the viability argument: It is too easy to draw the line of personhood at the age of viability. This is wrong. Consider this: Currently, 24 weeks is considered the minimum age of viability in most hospitals. Could a 24 week old premie have had any chance of survival a hundred years ago? Fifty years ago? Not likely. So, a hundred years ago it was not a person, but today it is? Is our definition of humanity to be so fickle that it changes with each medical advance?

Furthermore, if the ability to survive outside the womb is the test of full personhood, I must ask, how long? We are all born to die. My son David was born at 21 weeks, a couple weeks short of "viability." The nurses and doctors, wonderful as they were, did not even make an attempt to save him--there was simply no chance.

And yet he did live, for almost three hours. He moved. He interacted with us. He breathed. He made sounds. He received love, and possibly even gave it back in his way. And he died. A lifetime compressed into a couple of hours. Is he less of a person because he lived a few hours rather than 80 years?

For the less emotionally and more legally minded, David has a birth certificate, a death certificate, and a social security number. Both the state of Colorado and the Federal Government recognize him as a person.

Conclusions

In a nutshell: If it has a heart beat like a baby, thinks like a baby, moves like a baby, responds to the same stimuli as a baby, has the same genetic uniqueness as a baby, it is completely reasonable to assume it is a baby, and wrong to kill it intentionally.

Of course there is the tired argument about rape and incest. I'm fairly sure that every case of anti-abortion legislation has included exceptions in those cases, and perhaps that's as it should be. There is a lot to be said about this, but I must simply ask the obvious questions: Is it the baby's fault? Is it somehow justified to kill the baby to make the problem go away?

You can talk about "fetal demise" (from "What happens during an in-clinic abortion" on the Planned Parenthood website) and clean it up with clinical terms. There is a good reason pro-choice people do this. If we acknowledge the possibility that an unborn child is a person, then we accept the possibility that killing it is murder.

I have shared some of the reasons I believe an unborn child is a baby, deserving all the rights and respect we would consider due any fellow human being.

To my pro-choice friends, please explain to me why you think it is not. If you cannot, please rethink your stance. The unborn do not have their own voice; someone must speak for them. Stand up for the helpless.
Link

Monday, February 21, 2011

Angels

The other day, a hospital aid saw me reading a book on Christian spirituality, and asked me if I prayed to my angels. I sort of laughed and said, no, I just pray to God and let him sort out the details. It's so much simpler that way.

I take a fairly utilitarian view of angels. The Bible says they are ministering spirits, sent to take care of the saved. The word itself simply means "messenger," with no particularly spiritual connotation. Other than a small number of rather enigmatic, extremely intriguing mentions, not much else is said about them in the Bible. So, as usual, I am fine not trying to articulate what God has chosen to leave a mystery.

But if you change that word "angels" back to the word "messengers," you start to see them everywhere--God speaks to us in many ways, after all--and they really aren't that mysterious or fascinating anymore.

Or are they?

***Warning: Long, overly-detailed ramble follows. But stay with me, if you are able, and perhaps it will be worth it.***

When I found out, that awful Thursday night six weeks ago, that we were going to be flown to Denver, I got on the phone and let a few people know. Then, after driving home to throw some necessities in a bag, I took a moment to post a quick sentence or two on Facebook about what was happening.

That evening, shortly after arriving in Denver, we were visited by Kelsey. Kelsey is the niece of an old friend whom I have not seen in around twenty years. She did not even get to meet us that night, but she left a very encouraging note (with some of the most amazing handwriting I have ever seen!) about God's providence and provision. I wonder if she knew how prophetic her note was. Kelsey's visit was like the rolling of a pebble that precedes the avalanche...and I didn't know it, but the prayers had already started.

The following morning, Sarah underwent her first surgery. She was in very rough shape. I was contacted that afternoon by Bob and Nita, two complete strangers who had heard about our situation through the church grapevine. They took me out for dinner and a badly needed break from the hospital.

That evening, Sarah was moved to ICU. The following morning, she almost died.

I have already written about what happened the morning we lost our son, and shared my opinion of the nurses who were there. Without those sweet ladies, I truly believe we would have borne the full brunt of the horror and missed most, if not all, of the blessings. And we got through it.

Still, it didn't take long for the horrible reality of what had happened--and the horrible awareness of the challenges before us--to set in. Around noon that day, as I sat dazed on a bed at the Ronald MacDonald house, I got a call from my boss. I don't even know how he found out. He offered me whatever I needed--time off, money, anything--and told me not to give work a thought. "Just take care of yourself and your wife." How many bosses would do that, on a Saturday no less? That afternoon, Amanda, a barely-known friend whom I had not seen for several years, showed up at the hospital. I talked with her for a long time while Sarah slept. With the help of her generous ears and quiet voice, I started working through my grief, anger, and loss.

While waiting for Amanda to arrive, I had called my brother Scott, who lives in Rawlins, about a three and a half hour drive away. As it turned out, he just happened to be in Cheyenne for a big, once-a-year youth rally. An hour and a half away. Being a good brother, of course, he was already making plans to come down. On the way, he called and told me that he was bringing Kelly. Kelly lives in Cody (around eight hours away), and she is one of the only people in the world that my wife could have confided in at a time like this. She, too, just happened to be in Cheyenne.

Right behind them came Brian and Jen. Brian has been my friend for many years, and he is one of the calmest, wisest, funniest people I know. His wife, Jen, is all those things, plus she is an RN. And both of them happened to have several days of flexible time ahead.

So, Kelly and Sarah had a long, honest, loving talk that set the tone for the very long recovery that was to follow. Brian and Jen took turns spending the next several nights with Sarah. And all of them took turns cheering me up and helping me keep a good perspective.

The next few days are sort of a blur in my memory. Mike S, from Cheyenne, came down and helped out for a while. Kim and Blake, a couple friends from my Portland days who happened to have settled in Denver, showed up. They, too, were eager to help out with prayers, reading material, some great chow, and, bless their hearts, a guitar (! ! !) for me to noodle away the long days. Somewhere in there Jenny, a dear friend whom I had somehow not seen in a couple decades, showed up with her husband, Paul, and provided some much-needed cheering up. (Jenny has been an ongoing presence throughout this fight, and I can barely describe how grateful we've been for her)

After a few days, Brian and Jennifer told us that soon they would have to return to their normal lives. This posed a big problem: Sarah was very frightened and disoriented from both the pain and the pain medications, and she needed someone to spend nights with her. I knew I couldn't do it alone. I needed to get away and get some sleep at night if I was to stay in this for the long haul.

So, as soon as I found out Brian and Jen were leaving, I said a quick prayer: You've provided this far...what now?

Within a half hour of asking that question, I got a phone call from our old friend Katie B, who lives in Montana. We hadn't seen Katie in about ten years, but Sarah and I consider her a dear friend, nevertheless. Katie just happened to be in Denver visiting her sister, and she wanted to know how she could help. Stay the night? Absolutely.

I can't overstate how important that was for Sarah and me both. For someone as smart as Sarah, waking up disoriented and in great pain, unable to tell dreams from reality, was extremely scary. Having a familiar face there to reassure her has been, I believe, a huge part of her mental and physical healing. And of course, I was able to get a good rest knowing that she was being well cared for.

...and all this time, I kept hearing that people all over the world were praying for us.

After a few nights, Katie told me that she was going to have to go back to Montana. Again, I just said a prayer and, not having any ideas just where to look next, sat back and waited. About a half hour after talking with Katie, I got a call from Kate C., a childhood friend of Sarah's.

(A quick aside: You will note that people named Kate/Katie figure heavily in this story. As my friend David [married to yet another Katie] told me, "Katie makes everything better.")

Kate was living in Durango, and was headed up that day to stay with us for a couple weeks. Kate and Sarah have been best friends since second grade, and I could hardly imagine a better person to have around long-term. Whew.

But, wait. Due to some unforeseen complications, Kate was going to be a day later than originally planned. I was too exhausted, still reeling from everything that had happened, and I wondered: How am I going to get someone to stay with Sarah this evening on such short notice?

Enter Katie S., another bygone friend who, it just happened, had recently moved to Denver with her husband, and who just happened to be between jobs and eager for something worthwhile to do. She called, quite out of the blue, and asked how she could help. Spend the night? Absolutely!

Katie S., for those of you unlucky enough to not know her, is a living incarnation of the "hilarious giver" Paul described in 2 Corinthians 9. I've rarely seen anyone who gets such a big kick out of doing nice things for people. And she's a pretty darn good chauffeur, too.

Well. Once Kate C was here, things settled into a fairly normal routine. I spent days with Sarah, while Kate slept in my room at the Ronald MacDonald House. At nights, we switched places. What a blessing to have, if not comfort, at least stability of a sort. Thanks to Kate, I was actually starting to get my feet under me.

About a week into Kate's stay, she got very tired and needed a night in a hotel to catch up. No problem, I said. I was pretty well rested by then, feeling almost like a normal human being, and staying one night at the hospital wouldn't be a problem. So, Kate took off for a hotel around lunch time. Within a half hour of her leaving, the phone rang: It was Katie S (whom I hadn't talked to in about four days), asking if I needed someone to spend the night with Sarah. I said, no, I had it covered for tonight. I had barely hung up with I got a text from Kim, asking the same question. I had a good laugh. I guess sometimes even God has to resort to overkill to get his point across.

Allow me to say a few words about Kate. I've sort-of known her for a very long time, of course, and I've always considered her a nice person, but a bit of a flake. Well, yeah. I still think that. But what an amazing, intelligent, responsible, rock-solid-in-a-crisis kind of flake she is. Not only did Kate provide me with some rare opportunities to practice my combat driving skills, she proved to be the truest, most stalwart kind of friend to Sarah. And yes, to me as well. Thanks, Kate.

All too soon, Kate's stay with us came to an end, and finally I was alone. Sarah was still in very bad shape: Overwhelming pain, discouragement, nausea, you name it...and on the back burner, the grief and shock at what had happened. And I wasn't doing so great myself. After a couple days alone trying to take care of Sarah, I was a wreck: Exhaustion beyond anything I had ever imagined. Hurting body. Empty mind. Broken heart. Emotionally and physically falling apart.

I mentioned on Facebook that I was having a very bad time. My friend Heather said that, if only she had $500, she would be on the next flight out. Heather and Brian, two of my closest, most trusted friends in the world, live in southern Cal with their three kids, and there was just no way.

But wait. Did I mention that my dad had been going crazy trying to find ways to help? He saw Heather's comment on Facebook, and did the old wallet-quick draw. "You do have $500," he said. "Get out there."

So, for a week, we had Heather. I was in awe of her almost from the start. Unlike me, she seems to suffer no ill effects from spending time in the hospital. The crazy hours, the lack of privacy, the constant interruptions, the smells, the overall stress of taking care of an extremely sick, extremely unhappy person--it was all like water off a duck's back to her. And oh, how she loved Sarah, this friend she had met only once before, staying with her almost around the clock, holding her hand through the attacks of pain, breathing with her, talking her through the rough spots.

What else can I say? There is no way I can mention all of the people who have emailed, sent cards, contributed money, given medical advice, left encouraging notes on Facebook, brought food, listened to me rant and rave on the phone, sat up late talking with me and helping me find the things to laugh about. Not to mention the geese in the park. The nice lady playing Celtic harp in the lobby. The pictures and videos from my students. The new friends at the RMH. The amazing whistle-playing acoustics in the stairwell.

And through all of it, I could hear God's voice, whispering to me. I am here. I am here. I am here. You are not alone. You can do this. Don't give up. I am here.

***

We asked God to provide for our care and protection. God, as he so often does, answered by sending his people. In my book, that makes all of you angels: Messengers of God, sent to remind us that he is here. And the humanness of these particular messengers does nothing to diminish the mystery of their work: Always the right person, exactly when and where we needed them (not a moment before); no planning or smarts on my part to explain it.

So, no. I don't pray to my angels. But I know them when I see them. And I surely am grateful for them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How...?

While waiting with my beloved wife to endure her latest painful round of tests the other day, it occurred to me with great force: I think I know why the light died when Jesus was on the cross, why the earth shook.

For the past month, I have sat by watching and listening as my wife suffers through a truly horrifying series of painful illnesses, and the sometimes even more painful treatments for them. I have listened to her cry out in pain, seen her experience all the indignities common to hospitals, listened to her beg for relief when there was no more relief to give. And I have been here, offering support and encouragement, but there has been nothing I can do to stop it.

Almost three weeks ago, I held my son in my arms and watched him die. It took almost three hours. I gave him my love, of course, but when it came to the dying, there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it. I just had to watch.

Around two thousand years ago, God watched his son die a horrific death. It took around six hours. And my Bible tells me that he could have stopped it.

Oh, God in heaven, HOW COULD YOU NOT STOP IT? Was this really the only way? Am I really worth anything like that?

Sometimes I get to thinking that I am a loving person. But I know nothing about love.

Only this: I have received it.

Change me, father.

Monday, January 24, 2011

His Name is David...

His name is David. I only knew him for two and a half hours. And I miss him.

He came over four months earlier than he should have. Mom was taxed beyond her physical limits, fighting a horrific combination of pain and infection from a burst appendix. Her body decided that it could not fight this battle and still continue to grow this child.

And so, at 5:30 Saturday morning, amid great pain and horror, we had a baby.

The nurse asked me, right there in the midst of battle, if I wanted to see him. I told her I didn't know. I was crying, but I could see lots of blood; I could hear my wife screaming in pain, and I had a mental image of those pre-term babies you sometimes see...the ones that look sort of like deformed fish. I did not want to remember him as anything other than a baby. Better not to remember at all.

But I could see movement out of the corner of my eye. I could see these nurses--these beautiful, beautiful nurses--carefully cleaning the baby, wrapping him in blankets. They treated him as a precious thing, this creature that there was absolutely no chance of saving, born only to die. They treated him like a baby. And, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tiny hand move in the blankets. I couldn't help myself. I looked.

I saw, not a deformed, horrible thing. I saw a baby. A tiny, beautiful, delightful, perfect, half-sized baby, with eyes that were still fused, skin so delicate it was almost translucent. I saw tiny, perfect hands and feet. I saw an intelligent face that seemed so like my daughters, a perfect blend of mom's and dad's features. I saw my son.

I took him then, and held him, trying to memorize his face. The nurses said he might live a few minutes, or an hour. As it was, he held on almost three. Tough little guy, like his mom, like his dad. I held him. Mom held him. During a lull in the battle, when mom had been stabilized and brought out of immediate danger, a nurse asked me if he had a name. It had not occurred to me, there in the midst of all that horror, to give him his name, but I remembered what we had decided. "His name is David."

We spent the next couple hours or so passing him back and forth, mom and I. We talked to him. I sang him my most powerful, most magical songs. Mom kissed his head and told him she loved him. One of the beautiful nurses told me, at one point, that love was all this boy would ever know. She had tears in her eyes as she said it. I'm pretty sure I did too.

I could feel him getting colder. A baby this size can't generate its own body heat. I mentioned this to a nurse, and she took him, only to return him a few moments later wrapped in a warmed blanket, with a tiny knit cap on his head, tiny knit socks on his feet. Beautiful nurses. They assured me he wasn't suffering, and I believed them--his movements were infrequent and gentle, not the hard kicks we both knew he was capable of delivering when something was bothering him. Every few minutes, one of the nurses would use a miniature stethoscope to check his heartbeat. It gradually got slower and fainter. Finally, at 8:05, the nurse shook her head. "I don't hear anything."

Mom asked to hold him one more time. She didn't let go until she was darn good and ready.

And that was that.

What would he have been? Would he have been an athlete? A scholar? A musician? An explorer? A builder? A hunter? A scientist? A fisherman? A mathematician? A logger? An environmentalist? Would he have been boisterous and quick to act, or quiet and thoughtful? Reckless, or cautious? A worker with his muscles, or a creator with his mind? A rough man of the open country, or a man of civilization and refinement? A spiritual man, or a practical man of the world?

Now, he will never be any of those things. And somehow I know he is free, now, to be all of them.

Rest easy, little buddy, in the arms of the God who made you. Forever perfect. Forever my son.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome!

Welcome to my new website. Things are still pretty basic right now. Check out the links, and stay tuned for the release of my CD, "The Stone of Beth El," in late January or February!