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Out of Category

I climbed a mountain on my bike yesterday. It was a birthday present to myself. Mt Diablo rises to an elevation of 3848 ft just seventeen road miles from Kristi’s parents’ house. Once you enter the park proper, the road climbs over 3000 ft in 12.5 miles. In the cycling world, climbs are rated from Category 4 (lowest) to Category 1 (Highest). Climbs harder than 1 earn the HC rating. That’s an abbreviation for the French term Hor’s Categorie. Simply Beyond Category. Mt Diablo falls in the HC group.

It wasn’t an easy climb, but I did it. I didn’t race to the top; I simply kept moving, willing my legs to keep pumping up the final 14% grade on the last pitch to reach the summit. And then it was over. The end of the pain, 360 degree view, the breeze and the endorphin rush were a great reward.

Today we reach another HC summit. But instead of 90 minutes of pedaling, this has been two and half years of life lived Beyond Category. From the shock of diagnosis to the immediate intensity of the fight, from the elation of “remission” to the wrenching reality of the ICU and finally to the surreal celebration of Kristi’s life well lived and then somehow, someway waking up and moving forward each day this past year. Some days I’ve had to simply will the legs to keep pumping as the pitch seemed too steep and the summit insurmountable.

My climb yesterday was alone. Just me and the mountain and a handful of other bikers. Thankfully we have been surrounded by friends and family during this entire HC ordeal. And you’ve been praying. And the Father has carried us. Thank you! When my head was ringing from the pain, or my heart rent from loss, you were there for us. You helped us conquer this year of firsts.

And here we are on top. All our birthdays have now been celebrated one time. The wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving and more have come and gone. They’ll come again and with new challenges each year, but we’ve made it around the sun one time. And as I reminded the children on our last morning at Mount Hermon, not only did we make it, we’re in pretty good shape too!

Today is the last first. Thanks for continuing to walk this road with us. You have loved our children, loved me and been a visual and personal reminder that the Father is working together with those who love Him, with those called according to His purpose to bring about every good thing. What the enemy meant for evil, we are turning into good. What was intended for harm will be used to bless. It is only possible through Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, as we follow the trail he blazed into the Father’s heart.

The Tears Began to Flow

as the music started on Monday morning last week. It was the first day of family camp at Mount Hermon, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Kristi grew up going to family and youth camps there. She loved it. Time spent there played a key role in who she was as a child of God. As a family we enjoyed our own trips we made to Mt Hermon over the years. We always had a fondness for it because it’s where we first met and the spark ignited between us. I knew the week would be good and I knew it might be hard, but I knew it was the right place to be as this first year without her draws to a close.

When the tears came along with the first strains of the song, I didn’t try to hold them back. I let them roll. There was sadness in the tears, but healing was there too. I worshiped. Peace was found. Joy too.

It helped that the children were completely engaged in the camp experience, wringing enjoyment out of every minute and activity. Together, we conquered the climbing wall, the ropes course and the canopy zip-line tour. Together we boarded the train for the winding trip along the river to the beach in Santa Cruz. Together we wandered the cool trails beneath the giant redwoods, exchanging exclamations about their height or girth or the hole in the trunk we could all crawl in. Together we sang, we laughed and we worshiped. Together as a family we laughed and cried. I reveled in the children’s eagerness, excitement and enthusiasm.

Friday morning found me down at the front of the meeting room, kneeling in prayer at the close of the final teaching session. The tears came again. This time the Lord gave me a small understanding of the volume of prayers that have been lifted up this past year for me, for my children and for our family. I realized that we have navigated these first twelve months because of grace poured out on us from family, friends and the Father above. Thank you for praying. I am beginning to understand just how much we’ve been held in His hands.

But the seminal moment of the week was a short, thirty-minute meeting I was blessed to  share with Roger, the director at Mt Hermon. A friend and colleague from camp days, he is currently dealing with his own stage 4 cancer battle. He allowed me to pray for him as we shared about our lives over the past few years. The prayer was precious, and lovely. It was authentic and flowed from deepest compassion, bathed in tears. And as it flowed, freedom came. Freedom from fear. Freedom from having to be right. Freedom from having to hold it all together. Freedom to just be present with the Father. Freedom to be joyful. That’s what I needed most.

Saturday morning, just before we departed, I gathered the children in a quiet grove of redwoods and encouraged them that we’ve made it through this first year. Not that its some sort of magic demarcation line for never feeling sad or lonely, but that its a stake in the ground moment, that we’re going to make it…as a family and individuals. That we’ve taken one of the hardest hits you can be dealt and not only survived but done pretty darn well! I’m so proud of who they are, and told them so. It was a peaceful and encouraging time, even with the boys fidgeting with sticks and the dirt. Doves flitted around the low branches above us. I reminded them that in the Bible the Spirit often came in the form of a dove.

“God loves you, accepts you, forgives you.” I echoed the lessons they learned this week in day camp and the youth gatherings. Christ fulfilled the law and through his death and resurrection he broke the power of sin and death. I finished by reading from 1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?”

I knew it would be a good week. But to be able to proclaim that, here on the cusp of one year apart… that made it a great week!

The 20 Year Trip

Yesterday would have been our 20th wedding anniversary. I always assumed we’d get there and then some. But we didn’t quite make it: Nineteen years and three months. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle the day. It turned out to be quite benign. Hmm, I wasn’t planning that word, it just sort of popped out there. Then it jumped off the screen and hit me between the eyes. It was two years ago today that we found out the lump wasn’t benign…

Back to yesterday though. I liked to surprise Kristi on our anniversaries. Not every year necessarily as that would have become predictable. On our first we escaped to the Napa Valley, on our fourth I surprised her with a chauffeured car to see Phantom in San Francisco. On our 10th we planned an east coast tour of Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. But that was for the fall. So on our actual 10th anniversary we headed back to Napa for a couple of nights at a little place tucked in the hills. But the surprise was a new diamond and ring. Boy, did that put a smile on her face!

As we approached our 18th anniversary two years ago I was starting to think about how to celebrate #20. I was thinking about a trip back to Montana and Glacier National Park (where we started dating), or possibly somewhere in the tropics (where we honeymooned). Of course all that was lost in the haze of the ensuing health battle that started the day after our 18th. (18+1)

As this 20th anniversary inexorably approached I thought I’d be wistful for the trip that wasn’t to be. Then about a month ago I realized that the trip had already taken place! Our romp through tropical Australia, the adventures of New Zealand, the children learning to ski at Lake Tahoe in January…That was ultimately a celebration of our life together, a joyful declaration that her life lives on in our children. She would have loved it.

That realization released me to focus on the joys of the day and good memories from years past. I went for a bike ride in honor of Kristi, coached Matt’s baseball game and then went to dinner with friends. The day was actually better than benign…it was good.

Accepted!

Thanks for your prayers. The meeting last week was fantastic! I received the acceptance packet from the school on Friday. I am impressed by their care and concern for each of my children and their educational success.

The elder three will attend class three days per week while Matt will only attend two days. That means I’ll have him all to myself on Mondays. I’m already looking forward to those days together. And I can already feel some of the weight lifted from my shoulders as well. Katie will be in full bore college selection mode next year. That would have all fallen on me. Now she’ll have expert assistance guiding her through the process. Yes!

I know the children are nervous about the new situation but I also know they’ll adjust and thrive. I’ve talked to them about how we’ve all had to deal with tremendous change the past two years. I’ve explained that this schooling change is different than what we’ve been used to, but that on the grand scale of change they’ve experienced, this is on the lower end.

Now pray for diligence as we press through to finish this year’s lessons by late-June before we head to California for a family camp at Mt Hermon.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed…Its a way of life!

The Interview

I heard from the school and my interview with the leadership team there to discuss how the children and our family fit (or not) will be this coming Tuesday morning at 8:15AM. I am relieved to have the meeting scheduled and am now looking forward to it. Please continue to lift up the entire application process and for continued understanding and grace.

Educational Change

“Well, one good thing about a Christian school is that the kids can’t have a potty mouth.” said Luke reassuringly. “…or they get kicked out.”

Matt pondered that statement and then produced this gem, “Well then I’m just going to say a bad word so they’ll send me home!”

“Nice.” I responded. “You’re not even enrolled. This is just a placement test to see where you might fit.”

Today was tough. The placement test proved to be more a gauntlet of emotions to navigate rather than a knowledge challenge. I think we all cried at some point during the day.

I have no idea how they performed, I just know it was stressful on them all and that pulled on my heart. Yet, this feels like the right direction to go. I’ve been exploring this school for a couple of months now and have received a green light at every turn. Today was the next step in the application process. Now I’m waiting for a call from the school to set up an interview to go over the tests. Its my turn for a knot in my gut.

But that means I want this to work out. It is a 2 or 3 day per week program (depending on the grade) and the rest of the lessons are completed at home. Plus we can still be involved in our homeschool co-op. Could I ask for anything better?

Pray for grace…From the school, from the children and for our family. I think this is an environment where they could all really blossom and continue to excel. Its obviously a huge change for us. But its one we need to make.

Mission Accomplished

“To be honest, I’m not really ready to come home.” quipped Katie as I picked her and my parents up Saturday night. “I was just getting to know the students and staff and it was hard to leave.”

I’m sure it was. She witnessed several students and staff receive a healing touch from Father God through prayer, participated in multi-lingual worship, provided international babysitting, whipped up and served late night pancakes (twice) for the staff and students, and survived several Romanian cab rides, just to name a few highlights of the week!

I’m thankful to have Katie home, but more grateful still that she was able to meet and interact with an international cast of believers from Romania, Switzerland, Finland and The Netherlands. While my dad provided the primary teaching at the school for the week, Katie was in a support role, soaking up the Spirit and serving as needed.

I think maybe she realized that people are the best gift you get when traveling for mission work (or any travel). Its not the scenery or the adventure…the mission is the people. To connect with them is crucial if any ministry is to take place. And connect she did. I’m proud of her.

You go girl!

Mission Cluj

Katie and my parents are safely in Cluj, Romania for a week of teaching and ministry at the YWAM base there. You may remember that my dad and I made the same trip back in March 2012, right before Kristi was diagnosed. You can find a video and brief story about that trip by looking at this post from June of that year.

Please pray for all three of them this next week as they bless those around them with the love of Jesus. Pray that they would hear and respond to the leading of their Heavenly Father.

My dad is once again teaching on healing and the foundations of spiritual warfare. Pray for open hearts, open minds and an open atmosphere in which to minister.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed….Its what Jesus prayed.

Choose Yourself

You’ve been picked! You are chosen. The question is, will you choose back?

God, through Jesus, has chosen you. Awesome, right!? But here’s the catch so many miss. He’s waiting for you to choose back. Not just to choose him…that’s the message we hear all the time from the pulpit… but to choose yourself too. We love to say, “Yes, I choose God! Now He’s in control! I’m off the hook.” Its a “whatever happens now is God’s will for my life” outlook. Nice. You just embraced fate.

Your Father isn’t looking for fatalists. According to Jesus he’s looking for friends. Fatalists are a drag, constantly offloading responsibility. Friends walk side by side, sharing the load. Friends are mutually engaged in the relationship. But to genuinely and authentically engage another, you must first engage yourself. Choose to feel, choose to be open and vulnerable. Choose to commit. Choose to trust. After all, you can’t follow the command to love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself.

Kristi and I were friends. I think that’s what I miss most. One year ago today, her cancer showed up again after its brief hiatus. All the surgeries, the chemo, and the radiation had failed…utterly. It was a scary day. We started out the door that morning for her bone density scan when we got the call that her brain MRI was positive for a tumor. Stunned by the news we quickly changed plans and went to my parent’s place to process and pray. While there Kristi had a debilitating pain attack/seizure that demanded a 911 response and ambulance transfer to the ER. As I followed the ambulance on the freeway, tears soaked my shirt while I sobbed/screamed out “NO!” until I was hoarse.

I just looked back at my post that day. It was quite sedate compared to the emotions surging through me. I was frightened, I was hurting for my wife, and concerned about my children. I was angry too. But the crisis demanded focus to deal with the unfolding events. We got the worst possible diagnosis. It was nip and tuck as to whether she’d even pull through the first two or three days. I wept in the arms of friends and family as the process of losing my wife began.

After that she couldn’t choose herself anymore, relationally anyway. I understood. Her focus was on basic physical tasks. As she regressed from mobile adult to requiring infant level care over the next three and a half months, it was that loss of a friend that hurt most. That loss of intimate confidant. The loss of one who vested her full trust in me and I in her.

I’ll be honest, I still miss that today. I think that’s natural. But it left a big void. One that I’m just now starting to fathom in its entirety. And the thought of choosing myself again? Intimidating. Trusting a broken heart is like standing on a broken leg. The pain shoots out, the leg collapses involuntarily and down you go. Yet, making that choice is the only way forward. If I don’t choose myself, I can’t fully engage with my Father. Healing is there in that relationship. Hope and restoration are too. Those have all felt distant recently. Some nearness would be golden right about now.

So I’ll continue to do the heavy lifting of choosing me. Of being present and honest to not only my Heavenly Father but to myself. Choosing yourself means no hiding…especially from yourself.

The apostle John said “God is love.” His compatriot Paul said “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…Love never fails.” That means that as I choose myself and Him, that he’ll bear me up when my strength falters, believe in me even when I don’t, impart hope when mine wanes and stand with me through all the hurt. He won’t fail me.

Kind of sounds like wedding vows doesn’t it? Hmm, maybe that’s why He instituted marriage! But that’s another topic for another day.

Will you choose yourself? If it feels too vulnerable or exposed, I get it. It feels like too much responsibility. But that’s life as a lover. Vulnerable, exposed and responsible.

God has made his choice. What’s yours going to be? Will you choose you? Choose love, choose life.

PS- If you hurt too much right now to be open and vulnerable, that’s ok. Start there. Choose yourself by simply sharing with Him how much you hurt. He’ll take that as a starting point. His specialty is restoring brokenness and healing the hurt. He’s dying to lead you out of that place… I for one am glad to be on that path!

Go for the Gold?

Mikaela Shiffrin capped a stellar year by winning the women’s slalom at the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia yesterday. Already the reigning World Cup and World Champion in the event she added Olympic gold to her collection. Her star is going nowhere but up in the alpine skiing community. Everyone expects her to continue on her rising path, and barring injury, she could become a star in other events as well. There’s a good article on the young lady here.

But what if she made a different choice? What if she said, “You know what, I’ve hit the pinnacle of slalom skiing. Its been amazing! I’m still young, healthy and my life is ahead of me. I want to give back by becoming a teacher and coach.” She certainly has the credentials to do that. Any ski academy would love to have her. I wonder how the press would react. Social Media? I honestly don’t know. It would shock a lot of folks. Someone willingly laying aside the adulation of thousands, a career and endorsement deals and seeking to lift others up.

What if she said this, “I’m retiring. I want to get married, settle down and raise a family. I’ve become the best in the sport, now I want my children to have that same opportunity. I want to be there for them. I want to coach them and nurture them and give them every opportunity to reach their dreams.” Can you imagine the reaction?

Yet isn’t that exactly what her mother has done for her? She has traveled with Mikaela for the last two years on the World Cup, defying the circuit officials in the process, so her daughter had the full support and care she needed as a young teen on the road. Her father was weeping when she won. He’s no doubt been busting his behind to pay the piper for the world cup tours. A prodigious amount of commitment, self sacrifice and love had gone into achieving that win. In fact the article linked above notes how both her father and mother were very deliberate in guiding her to this success.

How would her own parents respond to Mikaela stepping aside to coach or raise a family? After they had labored so many years to get her to this point only to see her lay it aside in order to give back and teach others how to do what she does or pour into her own children…how would they feel?

I don’t have an answer here and I’m not pushing for Mikaela to choose one way or another. I’m simply posing the question to make us think. We love a hero. But a hero who steps aside to lift up others? We’re not sure what to with that.

I’m reminded of this passage: “Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but relinquished that, emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant, clothed in humanity.”

It was that type of life that actually beat death. That one who had been at the pinnacle of all things and yet gave of himself to make that life available to all people. And many folks still don’t know what to with Him either.