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Archive for May, 2011


A Father’s Heart Opens

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011


1963 Chevrolet Corvette

1963 corvetteWhen I was about 10 years old my dad and I began going to the car dealerships to see the newly revealed models each fall.


We also went to the local car shows each year that were held in our local coliseum. We would walk and walk just looking at all of the shiny steel and chrome.


I remember one year sitting in a really sporty pure white Corvette coupe. It must have been 1963 because this lovely specimen of American sports cars had a split rear window.


corvette sliding door handleInside I saw a red ball that slid sideways to open the door. I thought that was so unique and yet strange and uncomfortable to manage for my little hands.


None the less, cars followed me with my dad all through the years. When I was older, in 1982, my dad asked me to go with him to buy a car. He wanted to trade to a new car and it was so cool that he asked me to go with him to pick it out.


1981 celebrityWe decided on a Chevrolet Celebrity. This car was somewhat of a new design and name for Chevrolet. It was a mid-sized sedan. As I looked at the options available I picked out a car that was a beautiful mix of two shades of copper. The interior was a new ribbed fabric and darker, almost like a rust color. So, off we went with dad’s new car.


My dad retired when he was just 52 years old. He had some problems with his feet that limited his ability to walk and stand. This was a challenge since he was a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. He looked forward to retirement because in his mind he could spend more time with his kids and grandkids.


This became difficult because my sisters and I were in the throes of building our own lives and we were all busy with so many things. I remember my sisters telling me that dad would stop by their houses as odd times of the day and how this had become kind of a challenge. They were in the middle of things that had to get done and dad would stop by and want their attention which was awkward for them to manage.


Retirement Didn’t Set Well

A few months into his retirement we could see dad getting depressed and frustrated with his life. We didn’t know what to do other than to suggest that he get involved in volunteering to take up some of his time. He kept trying to build his life around us and got more and more bitter because it wasn’t working to satisfy his many hours of open time.


One day he came to us and said, “Well I did what you wanted me to do.” He found a home for developmentally disabled children that was led by a nun, Sister Evangeline. The kids went swimming several times a week and dad decided to go swim with the kids. In time he found odd jobs that needed to be done at the home and began to spend time there regularly helping in any way he could.


On his birthday that first year Sister Evangeline sent him a plant. He commented sarcastically, “Oh, they just want more work out of me so they sent me this plant.” He was truly not into this volunteer job and seemed to be doing it out of an attitude of spite since he wasn’t with us kids he had picked a second option. This was hard for me to hear but at least he was doing something.


My dad’s church began a helping ministry called “Stephen’s Ministry” which offered training for people to learn how to help people who were going through difficult things in their lives. Dad decided to go through the training. It involved bible study and small group interaction.


I had just become a Christian at this point and was excited that he was in a bible study. So, I bought him a new bible to take for his bible study. I knew he only had a larger “coffee table” sized bible so this surely would come in handy. I had stopped by his house one day and he sat down with me and told me about something he was learning in his training about servanthood. His eyes had been opened to what it meant to listen to others and serve them from his heart.


Dad Began To Change

I began to see a turnaround in his attitude about many things in life. He showed a sign of the resentments leaving that he had been carrying around with him. He began to show true joy in spending time with the kids at the school and a real thankfulness for his connection with Sister Evangeline.


After several years of seeing a great change in my dad I was getting ready to move to California to work with Love In Action. I came home to visit several times.


When I stayed with dad we had several late night conversations. This was very new for us to talk that much and I really enjoyed hearing his heart. One night I asked my dad why he never dated after he and my mom got divorced. It had been over 25 years since they separated.


His response was, “John, I didn’t want to be tempted. I am afraid I might find someone I am attracted to”. My dad whole hearted followed his church’s teaching that unless your marriage was “annulled” by the church then you were not able to remarry. I found something deep in my dad’s heart that amazed me. He was so convicted to submit his life to what he believed in, that he sacrificed his own personal desires for many years.


As I thought about my dad and women, I couldn’t forget all through the years that he had often talked about a lady named “Monica”. He had a green army trunk that had all of his life memorabilia. In it were pictures of many people from his past and he always pointed out the pictures of her. When he was nineteen years old he was engaged to her. He went into the Army Air Corp during World War II. He told us that when he returned home she didn’t want to marry him. I think his heart was crushed and he moved on to never talk with her again.


Teenage Love Rekindled

My dad’s cousin, Merc, maintained a relationship with Monica through the years so he heard a couple of things about Monica but never pursued knowing more because again, he was guarding his heart and I actually think it was too painful to know more.


I never heard my dad talk about any other women. He married my mom just a few years later and that was it for 16 years until they divorced. My mom as a very complicated woman to be married to and their relationship was very painful for my dad. So, I think he also didn’t want to go through that again. So, my dad was a confirmed single adult. I think this is why he had so much focus on his kids. We were all he had in life to put his time into until God began to work something new into his heart.


Dad called me one day and said he was going to go to International Falls Minnesota. “Really? What are you going there for?” ” I called my cousin to see what had happened to Monica and I found out she is a widow, and that she is there visiting family.” I hadn’t seen dad so strangely excited in my entire life. Dad went on this trip and came home like a teenager in his heart.


He had learned that Monica had also lived in Denver for a season when he lived there. She had married and had several children and then after many years of illness her husband had died just a few years previously. He said they also talked about the last conversation they had had, Monica straightened him out on one thing. She had not said she didn’t want to marry him, she said she “didn’t want to marry him at this time.” She told him she just didn’t feel ready for marriage at that point.


All of a sudden, dad was consumed with trips to Las Vegas, where Monica lived and letter writing back and forth. He had found his childhood love had been stirred again. I knew that he wasn’t compromising his morals in the least bit but it sure was interesting when he said he was going to Las Vegas to stay for a month!


As I reviewed the ten years prior to his reunion with Monica I saw that the affirmation from Sister Evangeline, the unconditional love from the kids there and his Stephen’s ministry and bible study all worked to soften dad’s heart and allow him to once again search for love. His call to his cousin came from this internal desire.


They Get Married

dad smile at monicaSo, after a few months, dad and Monica decided to get married but they had a hurdle. Dad’s marriage to my mom wasn’t annulled by the church. So, they pursued an annulment through his church in Omaha. Through a lot of paper work and interviews with family members who knew my mom and dad when they got married, the annulment was not approved. So, again, my dad wasn’t satisfied with the process and chose to try again through Monica’s church in Las Vegas. More paperwork and interviews occurred and during the process the priest at her church told them to go ahead and get married by the Justice of the Peace. He said they would continue to pursue the annulment and could get their marriage sanctioned by the church in time but for now his advice was to go ahead.


Well, my dad got some approval from someone he trusted and took advantage of the opportunity. Dad and Monica got married in 1989, the year after Vileen and I got married.


Everyone was ecstatic for them. They really loved each other. It was all positive! After a few months had gone by they got the word that dad’s marriage to my mom had been annulled. Now they could get their marriage fully sanctioned by the church and it was all good.


monica-smile at sinkVileen and I took a trip to Las Vegas to see them. I could hardly believe my eyes! I had never known my dad as a happily married man. They were so devoted to each other, sacrificed for one another, and were very affectionate with each other. I saw them pray together each night on their knees. They held hands every time they could.


My dad was now not only a model of faith for me to see, but he was modeling a godly marriage for everyone to see. They were both so happy. It wasn’t all a fairy tale, however.


They went through many very challenging circumstances together. Monica had cancer and two knee replacements. Her daughter had severe illnesses and passed away. Her son’s life was a challenge for my dad to experience and found he had to lay down some boundaries to keep their home peaceful. But through it all, their love grew and they had a wonderful marriage and life together.


My dad’s health was a challenge as well. He had a lung disease that he had suffered with from being in India during the war. He had a debilitating chronic cough that had caused emphysema and several bouts with pneumonia. Monica was by his side and always seemed to manage his life, her life, and that of her kids with such grace.


Dad Passed Away

In 1997 we got the call that he was once again in the hospital with pneumonia. It was really severe this time. My sisters and I went out to Las Vegas to see him. He was on a respirator which was very troublesome for him. He got so frustrated that he couldn’t talk with us and writing notes was a real challenge due to having to lay on his back.


The doctor came in to give some tests and we asked him if my dad’s lungs would heal. He said that the disease had caused a hardening in his lungs that would never get any better. He told my dad that he would have to live with a respirator.


After the doctor left dad said he would not live this way and that he was going to have the doctors remove the respirator. We all knew that this would cause his death but my dad’s desires came first. Shortly he communicated his desires to the doctors and they did as he wanted. Dad passed away in about 24 hours.


His plans were to donate his body to the University of Nevada for science. So, there would be no traditional funeral. They had planned to have two memorial services to remember his life. One was in Las Vegas for their friends and Monica’s family there. The other would be in Omaha for all of the other family and long time friends.


As I thought about my dad, I wanted the privilege to eulogize his life. So, when my wife and I arrived we went with Monica to talk to the priest about what I wanted to do. I was honest with him about what I wanted to say. I wanted to reveal my dad’s character through the way he handled life challenges. I said I wanted to talk about how he handled my homosexuality with such grace.


The priest sat there with a pondering look on his face and finally said that he would give his blessing to my plans. Then I took it a little further and also asked if I could take communion at the memorial service. I had not been a practicing Catholic for many years which could make this a challenge. But, once again, the Priest said he would definitely allow me to do that. It seemed that God was in the plan and Monica thought it was all a very good idea. So, I drafted an outline of what I wanted to say.


While my sisters and I were in Las Vegas following the memorial service Monica asked us if we wanted to go through dad’s things to sort out what we wanted. As we searched through his papers and personal things we discovered more of his character. We looked through his cancelled checks and saw our names written on many of them. We discovered that he had helped us out when we needed it. We learned that we had no jealousy or comparisons that caused any problems. We even joked about how we were each his favorite child. We found that dad had the gift of loving each of us as though we were his only child.


We Saw His Character Through His History

When we sorted through things that were his we were able to completely defer to each other and compromise for one another. If I wanted something specific, my sisters would agree to me having it and the same was done for each of us. We were amazed at how much we were able to do this without any difficulty and attributed this to what we had gained from being children of our father. He had raised us to know this kind of integrity because that is the way he lived.


The second memorial service took place in Omaha and I asked for the same permission and the local priest gave his approval. So I was allowed to share my heart once more before my own family and long time friends. As people entered the church I wanted to greet them personally. When my female cousins came in one by one some would stop by me and show me a special “angel” pin they wearing and said, “Your dad gave me this pin.” It became kind of funny because three cousins did this in a whisper almost to hide that they felt as though he had only given them a pin like that. Again, I saw the say my dad could unconditionally love people a though they were the only one he loved like that.


As I spoke for this second time, I knew that my dad was in his eternal place with God giving whole hearted approval for what I was sharing. This gave me the courage to speak. I just knew it was ok with him because he was in a place where he would know the whole truth of his life, and mine.


It was amazing that God had opened up such a door to talk about His grace through my own dad finding it for himself. After I returned I wrote my notes into a Tribute to my Dad which has been publicized in many periodicals and remains on my own website today.


Monica

dad and monica and johnThrough the following years I often grieved but also recognized Monica’s loss. She had a very tumultuous marriage with her first husband much like my dad had. He struggled with many things as well as severe health issues and she had come to find such joy with my dad. They only had seven years together and it would have been so wonderful if they had more time to enjoy their love for each other.


Since my dad’s passing, Monica lost another daughter to cancer and her son died far too young. Her sister in law from her only brother passed from a severe disease as well. She has one daughter left that fortunately lives near her.


It has been humbling to know her. She has faithfully acknowledged all of the special holidays each year for all three of us kids as well as many of our children. No matter what was going on, we knew we would receive a card every year for birthdays, Christmas and often our anniversaries. Monica was just like my dad. They were both cut out of the same cloth. Her faith in God has never wavered and her love for people has revealed that all through the years I have known her.


She is now living in an assisted living community home because she has struggled with TIA’s, or mini strokes. She still is able to talk and remember but physically she isn’t able to live alone any longer. Her fortitude remains strong!


Servanthood

It seems that serving others and learning how to sacrifice was the turning point in my dad’s life. Giving to the developmentally disabled kids even when he did it out of spite began to change his life, it seemed to do something in his heart. Sister Evangeline’s gifts to my dad, even when he received them with a blocked heart, changed his life.


Every time my sisters and I get together or talk, my dad comes into our conversation. We remember how challenged his life was and how he ended it with such grace and joy.


One of my cherished possessions happens to be a rib that was removed from my dad’s chest during a lung surgery when my dad was in the Army. It was kept in the green trunk with all of his other life memorabilia. When I was a boy I used to ask him to see his “rib” and we would open the trunk and go through all the stuff there. When he passed I asked my sisters if I could have the rib and they let me have it.


Although it may seem strange to some of you, I have continued the practice of showing the rib to my grandson, Devin. He has now begun to ask to see the rib from Grandpa Norm. Oh, I have other things like a pocket watch that was my grandpa’s that my dad had restored to give to me. I also have his army jacket and the American flag from his funeral. And his green army trunk sits in our guest room.


He (John the Baptist) will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17




 

“Buddy Boy” Comes to Help

Friday, May 6th, 2011


spirit of fearFor all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Rom. 8:14-16


In March of 2010 our little Spencer doggie was killed after he strayed out of the yard and was hit by a car. It was Easter morning and we were devastated. I questioned all of the things that had preceded his accident wondering what I could have done differently……? If I had only seen him wandering off…… ? He was elderly and may have had some dementia and got lost, but that didn’t seem to calm my internal guilt.


I experienced a lot of internal pain from the grief of our loss. The ache was tremendous and surprised me. I thought, “he was a dog.” But that also didn’t make any difference, he was a significant part of our lives and we really missed him. For weeks the pain lingered and tears formed daily as we both processed through what had happened. No other dog could possibly replace Spencer. But our future was to include another lesson in life that would again, surprise us!


We weren’t sure what to do and questioned whether or not to get another dog. We talked about how it would be so much easier to not have to deal with a pet. We also became frustrated with each other over the decision that we weren’t ready to make and was still filled with the pain from our loss.


A New Doggie, A Teaching Moment


Mollie2 8-22-2010One day, we were both on the same page and decided to pursue another little doggie. We decided on a rescue poodle that had been raised in a cage in a puppy mill as “breeding stock” and had never been socialized with humans. We felt confident in adopting her but had no idea what this was going to be like.


After seeing how wounded she was I remember thinking, “we may never see her skip and run, but she is worth taking the time to love her anyway.” We loved her unconditionally without expectations of her actions changing. We knew it would be a sacrifice to work with her. Soon, we became quite attached to her and began to love her and uniquely our hearts were knit to her little life.


After months of trying everything we could think of to help her, we sought the help of a professional dog trainer. He gave us two pieces of advice. One was to put a “thunder wrap” on her. This was a tight sweater that would hold closely to her body. He said it may give her a sense of security that may help to calm her fears. Then he said to walk by her bed and each time let a treat roll off of our hand without any eye to eye contact. He said this may begin to symbolize for her that we aren’t so bad and she would see that each time she is in contact with us, a treat seems to come her way.


So, first came the sweater. In just moments she actually chose to come out of her bed! Mollie began to explore the house. She ran upstairs and checked out her full environment. We were shocked!  The change was immediate.


Then, the treats. This didn’t seem to have the same effect. We dropped treats for weeks. The goal was to get her to finally take a treat out of our hand. After a lot of work, we finally saw her take a treat out of our hand but not every time. So, we continued to practice the treat routine with the hope that it would make a difference.


Progress Along the Journey

Mollie-Couch

“Mollie” had finally gotten into a routine with us that was working to bring improvement, but she remained severely cautious around us, or any people for that matter. She seemed to find ways to stay her distance as she sought “safe” places to calm her own fears. The living room couch and chair seemed to be her favorite place to find some sense of security. When we would ask her to go to “her chair” and she would most often jump up there. This was the only way we could pick her up or have any physical contact with her. She would run from us whenever she wasn’t in her safe place.


In our continued process to work with her to eat out of our hands, I developed a little game with her that we practiced every night. I would sit in a chair and toss a kernel of her food out onto the floor and she would search for it and eat it. Night after night I would literally toss every bite of her evening meal out onto the floor. She got excited to play this “game”. After days of this little game, eventually she would come to my feet and I would hold my hand out to her with a handful of food and she would cautiously grab bigger bites. Progress was seen! This became a playful interaction with her that included a person.


One problem that persisted was that she would bark loudly every time I would enter the room or come into the house. No matter if I had just been there seconds before, it seemed she wanted me to know that she didn’t want me around. We learned that if I would get her onto the couch, while she was barking, then sit down next to her the barking would cease and I would hold her close and love her up. This seemed to work every time, so to keep her barking down, this was the practice.


In the morning, and evening, her personality would change. Mornings she would race around the table in a circle and then into another room and back again. My wife would begin to chase her and she would run even faster. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast inside the house! It was so much fun to watch her chase around and play. Her tail wagged as fast as she was running throughout her play time. We were thrilled because we finally saw her running and skipping more than we had hoped for.


In the evening, she would jump on our bed and for some reason she seemed to want to play with me! Even though I was the most feared, she wanted to run up to me and nip at my hands and jump around with me. At no other time of the day but this time, she seemed to find me to be her favorite play mate.


Vileen was overall, her “alpha dog” so to speak. She followed Vileen all over the place. When she would go to her office, Mollie would follow her and sit on her lap. That was a very safe place for her to stay for long lengths of time. She didn’t bark at me if she was there.


We’re Stuck

We continued to try everything we could to help her, but as we watched her grow day by day it seemed she had reached a point where the growth seemed to stop. She was stuck in a pattern that didn’t seem to be changing anymore. We had often wondered if maybe a second little dog would be helpful for her. At one point we went back to “Sunny Meadows, A Safe Haven for Pets” and took a look at several other dogs. Each one seemed to be as emotionally damaged as Mollie and we knew that would not be helpful for her. It seemed she would do better if we had a healthier dog for her to “learn” from. We didn’t find any there so, we left without another dog and forgot about it at the time.


Recently, we brought up the subject again concerning a second dog and I found two possible choices on the website. I ran through the criteria and found that each of them seemed to be socialized, one being a little 8 month old puppy and the other one was a stray that had been brought in. So, off we went to meet these two dogs.


We brought them home to our own back yard for a test run with Mollie. As soon as we put them on the ground, Mollie and the other two dogs began to run playfully around the yard. Mollie came to life with these dogs and there was no jealousy or fighting from any of them.


Bringing A Friend to Help


BuddyOur hearts went out to one in particular, the 8 month old puppy was so cute. He seemed amiable to everything and there were no problems between him and Mollie so we decided to adopt the puppy. After several options, we decided to name him “Buddy”. I call him Buddy Boy.


So now we began the process of adjusting to two dogs. Mollie stayed a little distant but not for long. As I played with Buddy Mollie came to join us. She ran up to me, to him, and pushed her paws towards us, ran away and ran back to us again. Mollie hasn’t run up to me in the entire 9 months we have had her! Then the two ran away and played with each other. When I called Buddy back to me, Mollie ran as quickly towards me as he did.


When it came time for bed, we put them both in Mollie’s bed and they each fell fast asleep curling around each other. My wife said, “I think we definitely made the right decision.” Mollie was at the right place in her growth process to take advantage of a new little brother. We have had Buddy for two days now and we have seen a significant growth in Mollie’s social development. She is out amongst us more. She is much friendlier towards us. At times she jumps on the couch since Buddy can’t quite get up there yet, to find some relief. It seems she has to stop and process what is happening in her life.


As I have thought back over what we have seen in Mollie and now in Buddy, I can only look at our own human experiences. Mollie had been so wounded by a lack of personal attention and human contact that her fears became the controlling factor of her life. She was living each moment with the question, “Do I feel safe?” and seemed to often come up with the answer, “No.”


While we have been kind to her and tried to love her deeply, she remained cautious around us. I could see in her actions that she wanted to be closer, but her internal fears kept her away. She seemed to know internally that we weren’t going to hurt her, but her past life was dictating to her to stay away.


On the other hand, Buddy, was a normal puppy. He immediately runs up to everyone energetically! He licks our faces, jumps to us when we enter a room or return from being gone. He has no fears of people to keep him away.


When Mollie sees Buddy’s playful response to me or my wife, she wants so badly to fully engage but for now, she can only come so close but still her face shows a little more joy and less fear around us. It is our hope that in time she will be able to move closer to us on her own and enjoy a fuller life and relationship with those around her. Buddy’s ease seems to help her and hopefully will continue to do so.


Human Application


I am seeing some things about wounded people, fearful little ones, people who live by a daily struggle with fear. I am learning that maybe for some of them, they need mostly, a safe place to build confidence. Safe places may be places that aren’t necessarily the best places in our minds, but to them, it may feel safe. Going to them in their safe place may be one of the only ways we can begin to show them we love them.


Practicing kindness without any demands of a return may also be necessary. Looking for their love language of words of affirmation, gifts, acts of kindness, physical affirmation, or time; is very important as long as we don’t overwhelm them more than they are comfortable with.


Seeing that it may take a tremendous amount of patience to walk with them. It may take much longer than we would have imagined. Each one of us has a different time line with regards to our growth here on earth. I also have to learn that only God knows what each of us need and when we need it.


Everyone Needs A Friend


Something that has come to me in our recent experience with Mollie is how important is it to find camaraderie with others who understand.


Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3


I also see such a tremendous lesson and value in the need for relationship with each other. Mollie now has a friend who can relate to her much more than any of us humans can. Buddy has given her the courage to face some of her fears.


How about our connection with God? How comfortable are we to run to Him quickly?  Do we remain distant and fearful?  I have my own personal experience with feeling distrustful and somewhat fearful about relating to God. Maybe you do as well. I see two significant sources of courage to draw nearer to God personally.


Jesus came to us in humanity so that he would experience our humanity and die in our stead.


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8


The other source of courage will come from being close to others.


And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25


Mollie’s story continues to give me insights and things to contemplate regarding my own life. It helps me to think of others that I know and learn to be patient with. It gives me hope that all of us will grow and that our loving Father will bring to our lives just what we need when we need it.


Mollie and BuddyMollie consistently runs up to each of us now filled with such excitement, with her little button tail wagging as fast as it can, as if she is saying, “Thank you so much for bringing my Buddy home.”


It seems that God has led us to just the right friend at just the right time in Mollie’s life. But it isn’t only for Mollie, Buddy is now trying to adjust to his new home and Mollie is bringing Him alongside her as she runs and skips around the house. He is her “little brother” and she is doing a great job as the “big sister”.


Can we trust our Father to do that for us too? He knew the timing was right to save us. At the right time our Father brought to us our own Friend, Jesus. Are we ready to receive Him?


And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:5-6


But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

face of Jesus