Thankful for Restored Health

On the occasion of this past Thanksgiving weekend, I thought I would share a very recent story how VERY THANKFUL I am.  That is because, my Mom is today is in very good health considering that just over seven weeks ago, she was rushed to the emergency room after having a stroke.  As proof of her remarkable recovery, here is a picture of her having a great laugh with my brother after our Thanksgiving Dinner this weekend.

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“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”  James 1:12 (NIV)

Before I tell the full story about her stroke and road to recovery, however, I think some background will be helpful to understand how my Mom’s journey has been so impactful to my own.  I introduced my mom here in My First Year in Annapolis.   As I shared in that story, her love for me is what helped carry me through my freshman year at the Naval Academy.   What makes my mom’s story unique is that she is a Japanese immigrant who lived there until her early 30’s.  She grew up in Toyama, a coastal city located on the Sea of Japan west of Tokyo.   During World War II, her city was firebombed by the Americans late in the war.  My mom narrowly escaped the bombing as she had been working in a uniform factory in that city during this time.   After the occupation by American Forces, my mom chose to move to move to Tokyo in the mid-1950’s.

It was there where she she met my Dad while he was stationed at the time on a US Navy Destroyer out of Yokosuka Naval Base.  They were married in 1960, and had my brothers, Don and Ron (twins) in 1962.  Then my Dad changed duty stations to Portsmouth, Virginia in 1964.  I then came along in 1966.  Shortly after my birth, we moved to Long Beach Naval Station where my Dad served on Amphibious Transport that carried over Marines to Vietnam.  After that tour of duty we moved to San Francisco for the year I was in Kindergarten.   We then moved again to Fresno, California where my Dad served as a Navy Recruiter.  This became the last time we would move as it turned out, as my Dad ended up having his first heart attack and was forced to retire in 1978 at the rank of Senior Chief.  It worked out in that he and my Mom decided that it was good for us to kids to be able to stay in the same schools and he had just been promoted to Master Chief and would have had to back to sea duty.  The context of my Dad’s naval career and how that influenced my joining the Navy myself is a story for another blog post later.

My mom’s story is one that really inspires me as I know having to learn a second language in life, particularly English, as it is the native language is particularly difficult.   To be able to fit in with a community like the one she landed in the mid-1960’s in Virginia was particularly a challenge.  There were not a lot of Japanese immigrants in Portsmouth and with both the past World War in the Pacific Theater, Korea and now the Vietnam War ramping up, it was particularly hard for anyone of Asian background to feel welcome in that particular part of the country.  The honest truth is my mom was discriminated against during our time in Virginia being called things that I will omit here out of politeness.  She became so uncomfortable that she convinced my Dad that he needed to be re-stationed back to the West Coast else she would go back to Japan.   My Dad graciously supported her wishes and got reassigned to Long Beach Naval Station.  Learning all about what my mom had endured later only after I had my own children made me truly appreciate how we treat immigrants to our country today.  It certainly has made me think twice about presuming that those who come here to escape persecution should be considered perpetrators of the very things they seek refuge and acceptance from.   Our country is a nation of immigrants, and I am proud and grateful to say my Mom is one who has made that transition in her own lifetime quite successfully, but it hasn’t been without its trials and challenges.

My mom’s transition to life in America steadily improved once we moved to California.  In Fresno, one of her first jobs was waitressing at Tokyo Gardens, a restaurant in Downtown Fresno, which is still there today.  Back then, she wore a very traditional Kimona each night and the atmosphere was very surreal, almost like what I imagine it would have been like in Japan.  They had the traditional Tatami Rooms, where you took off your shoes and sat on mats on the floor.  I have many fond memories of going to Tokyo Gardens when I was in my pre-teen years for lunch or dinner while my Dad worked at the nearby Navy Recruiting station down the street.  In fact, I still go regularly to Tokyo Gardens where Toshi-san, the cook back when my Mom worked there, now owns the restaurant.   

My mom would go on to work in other Japanese Restaurants over the next 10+ years.  One of the last places she worked was Furasato’s, owned by our dear family friends, Jack and Hiruko, who hosted a Karaoke night most every weekend.  I would go there regularly with my parents and even later after I joined the Navy came back with my now wife Leah who would sign along as well.   My mom is a very accomplished singer, but my Dad not so much, yet he would sing most every night, the “Green Green Grass of Home” off key of course.  That memory is so strong for my Mom that she has other men sing that song for her and it always causes her to tear up now that my Dad has passed.

Over the last 20 years since my Dad passed away, my Mom became involved in a group of traditional Japanese cultural singers who sing in a style called “Shigin”.  It’s much like acapella singing, done completely without instruments.  Shigin singing requires much training and discipline to sing well and my mom has become very accomplished in this.  She is highly regarded in the California Shigin community for her abilities which makes me quite proud of her given almost all of this she learned since my Dad passed away while she was in her late 60’s.   Because of all her ties to the local Japanese community in Fresno, my Mom now enjoys the company of many Japanese friends and even attends Japanese Chapel held in the back of the North Fresno Brethren Mennonite Church in Fresno, where she was baptized back in Spring 2012.  I know she is truly loved by these folks and I have felt the power of their many prayers for mom have been answered.   Praise God!

I share all this background on this story worth telling because it provides backdrop to the trial our family has been through over the last few months.  On Friday, October 6, 2017, my mom while at home alone experienced severe disorientation and slurring of her words.   While she had been dizzy getting up in the morning in the past, she knew immediately that this was much worse than anything she had ever experienced.   She immediately called both my brothers separately.   Ron picked up the call first while Don heard the frantic message on his voicemail and immediately sped over to the house on his bike (he lives roughly 5 minutes away).  Knowing she was having a stroke, Ron got off the phone and called me knowing I could drive and possibly get over there right away.  I was in a business analysis course I was taking at Fresno State at the time.  I  saw him call in and texted him see if it was an emergency.  When he indicated it was, I excused myself from the class and called him back and confirmed I was in a place where I could drive over to her house right away and that I would head over immediately.   Not knowing each of us had already done so, we all three called 911 and gave them notice of my mom’s emergency.   I’m sure I broke a few traffic laws rushing to her house, roughly 5 miles away, and it turned out that her front door was in fact locked so the 911 dispatcher called me back to ask when I would arrive.  I was by that point only just a few minutes away, and just as I arrived Don had gotten there as well, but in that time my mom, still conscious, managed to get to the door and open it for the ambulance.   

As I arrived, the ambulance ET was tending to my mom and then asked me where I would like her taken.  My immediate instinct was Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in Downtown Fresno as I know they have a world-class Stroke Unit / Program so I instructed the Ambulance team accordingly.   Don got into the ambulance while I went separately in my car to meet them at the hospital.  Knowing she was on several medications, I also grabbed her prescription bottles near her bed to ensure I had those to show the doctors in the emergency room to confirm they knew what she was taking at the time.  I caught up with her and Don in the “Red Zone” of the emergency room, the area reserved for those requiring the highest level of attention.   

Her ER bay is where my brothers and I would stay with mom for the next 10 or so hours.  In that time, the emergency room physicians confirmed by CT imaging that mom had indeed had a Intracerebral Hemorrhage (ICH) Stroke on the right side of her brain.  Less common than an Ischemic Strokes (blockage of blood flow related), ICH strokes tend to occur due to Hypertension which my mom is diagnosed with and being treated for with blood pressure medication.  Thus, the immediate goal was for the ER doctors was to get her blood pressure stabilized which took much of the day to confirm.  In fact at one point, her blood pressure got too low and they had to back off on the medication they administered to her through IV.  The other condition that was important to confirm was whether the size of the blood pocket that had entered the brain had grown or not.  If so, then this would be evidence that her stroke condition was worsening.  Fortunately, the size of the hemorrhage was small and got no larger then the original CT showed.  Thus, the on-call Neuro-Surgeon evaluated that surgery would not be needed.   That prognosis was promising, and my brothers and I began to breathe a sigh of relief.   As the day wound down, I remembered that I had bought tickets for Leah and I to see Chicago at the Fresno Fair as an anniversary gift.  Our anniversary had actually been the day before all this had happened, and it was pretty evident that our $250 tickets were not going to be used unless I could find someone else to go.  Mom’s ER nurse, Natalie, who had spent most of her 12 hour shift caring for my mom was about to finish up, and so I offered the tickets to her and she gratefully accepted and ended up going to the concert with her boyfriend.  At my request, she took some pictures of the band, and a short video to text to us later.  I was so delighted someone worthy got the tickets as she had done such an excellent job caring for my mom.

By roughly 7:30pm, mom’s blood pressure had stabilized well enough to transfer her to the 10th floor Neuro-ICU unit where the after effects and consequences of her stroke could be monitored and a longer term care and recovery plan could be formulated by the Stroke Program experts.  Exhausted by the long day spent in the ED, my brothers, our wives and I were relieved to have my mom in ICU where she would be carefully monitored and allow us to leave with some peace-of-mind until the next day.  When we arrived the next morning, we were relieved to find out that she had been quite stable and in fact there was already discussion about moving her to the Neuro ‘Step-Down’ Unit given her situation did not require the careful monitoring that a patient with a more serious stroke would require.  By that evening, mom was moved to the 9th floor step down unit where they would continue to monitor that her blood pressure remained under control.   Mom continued to get excellent care from the nursing staff and patient care assistants including Mike in the Neuro-ICU, Nancy, Theresa and Charlene during this time.

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Elowyn shows her recent artwork on her iPhone to mom while she recovers in Neuro-ICU

As mom recovered, I began having discussions with Jeff, the In-Patient Rehab Unit Liaison.  I had worked on a project with Jeff, and so I was relieved he remembered me and was very helpful in arranging for my mom to get set up to move into the 6th Floor Rehab unit as soon as the Hospitalist determined my mom’s blood pressure was stable enough for her to be discharged.  While we had the option to move her to an off-site Rehab hospital, I knew the care she was getting at CRMC was world class, and that it would be safer for her to be in the hospital should her condition worsen during the course of her rehab.  After spending her second full day in the Step-Down unit, the Hospitalist gave the order to have her discharged and transferred the following morning to the 6th Floor Rehab unit.

Mom’s stay in the Rehab unit ended up being for a total of ten days.   The recovery we witnessed there over this time was nothing short of miraculous.   Though her blood pressure had been quite stable and the size of the hemorrhage stayed stable up until arriving in Rehab, we were really initially quite unsure how the rest of mom’s recovery was going to go.  She had trouble with swallowing and was on a very limited soft food diet.  Even drinking water or other viscous liquids was quite a challenge for mom.   Initially, for the first day in Neuro ICU she was required to use a bedpan.  By the step-down unit, she was able to go to the bathroom only with careful supervision as her balance was very tenuous.  The first evaluation of her condition was the first Tuesday morning she was in the unit.  Each Tuesday, Dr. Edwards leads a multi-disciplinary team to evaluate each patient’s condition.  My brother was able to witness this and saw that mom’s recovery, though promising from when she first arrived in the ER, still had a significant way to go before it would be safe for her to go home.   As mom was at CRMC, near my office, I was able to regularly visit mom and monitor her progress with my brothers and our wives each regularly visiting her during this time.

Despite how well mom’s rehab PROGRESSED, it was in these ten days, that our family relationship were truly tested.  Up to this point, I had felt a lot of control over the course of my mom’s care.  As an employee for over fourteen years for Community Medical Centers (CMC), the hospital network CRMC was part of, I naturally felt I knew a good deal about what unit my mom should be in and what care/treatment was available to her.  While that knowledge did factor into ensuring she got the proper care initially, it was becoming obvious that these decisions were beyond what one person can shoulder alone.  Initially, I did make it an objective to ensure that my brothers were involved in every decision impacting mom’s course of care.  We talked through the decisions about her getting care in the In-patient Rehab Unit rather than some other location, for example.   While in-patient care, treatment and therapy was an easy decision, what was much less straight-forward was what would happen to mom once she was discharged.   My chief concern was how we would provide 24/7 care for her which she would clearly need until she could be independently mobile once again.

Fortunately, with ten days in the In-patient Rehab Unit, we had time to figure things out, and it turns out we needed every one of those days to be ready as a family for mom’s eventual discharge.   I have to give much credit in this to the combined care team made up of our Case Manager, Laverne, mom’s Rehab Physician, Dr. Edwards, and the many Therapists, Nurses, and Patient Care Assistants (PCA) that provided their amazing skills and experience in helping my mom’s recovery as well as factor in where our family was in being involved in each care decision.  This included in particular, Mai (RN), Megan (PT), Janet (PT), Shannon (OT), Susan (SLP), Diana, RN Supervisor.  Speaking for our family, we are extremely grateful to these rehab professionals for all the wonderful care they provided mom!   

While mom’s recovery was noteworthy with each passing day, we came to the increasing realization that this improvement was only going to be sustainable if we, her family, became more educated on what care was going to be needed for mom once she got home.   This is where I realized my biggest shortcoming on being focused primarily on what care she would need in the hospital.   This is not uncommon as not many people know how to handle someone with a stroke until you experience this as a family member for the first time.   Here are a list of three lessons we quickly learned

  • Immediate Goal fixation, getting Mom to a safe place first, left tending to our others loved ones needs and other less urgent matters unattended
  • Letting go of control is difficult when you view your decisions and perspectives errantly as flawless
  • Thinking the crisis was just mom’s health alone was a shortsighted view that deferred/masked a more underlying problem in our extended family’s interrelationships

The most important lesson of all we learned in time was that we, the Family Caregivers for mom, ALWAYS will hold the most important role in the “Care Team”.  The hospital team to include doctors, nurses, therapists are absolutely essential initially to stabilize mom’s safety, to this fact there is no argument certainly.   However, once the patient recovers well enough to be discharged, family loved ones MUST remain an integral part of recovery for gains to continue and become sustainable beyond the hospital stay.   And for family caregivers to be most effective to recovery of a loved one in a crisis such a stroke, their relationships between one another being healthy becomes critical.   To this point, initially my brothers and my focus on mom encouraged us to be cordial to one another, but the demands on each of us individually strained those relationships to the point of conflict.

My brothers and I were all in agreement that mom first needed to be first and foremost safe.  Those first few days mom was in the hospital, we worked hard to ensure we were in alignment on mom’s care.  However, as things progressed, many years of neglected investment in our relationship with one another became increasingly evident as the decisions that faced us became more complex. I think it important that I own my negligence here, first and foremost.  I fell short in particular with my active listening skills lacking particularly with both my older brothers.   As things progressed in mom’s care plan, I tended to want to expedite decisions rather than talk things out first.   As my mom transitioned to less intensive care in the hospital, I knew that my brothers and I needed to talk through what mom’s care would like post-recovery, so I suggested we meet and discuss privately.   Feeling justified by my working for the hospital my mom was in, I felt the need to control decisions impacting her care.   While I say I ‘suggested’, I’m sure they both felt it more a ‘mandate’ that we meet.  This effective demand served only to stress our already strained relationships.  My brothers and I had for ten straight days not taken more than an overnight break as we each wanted to be present for key decisions being made leaving very little chance for downtime to have anything but short conversations in the hallway between our overlapping visits of mom in her hospital room.

Things came to a head when my mom asked for over the counter sleeping aids that were not prescribed to her in her first week in rehab.   She was having trouble sleeping each night, and having grown accustomed to using these aids at home, she asked me (us) several times to bring them to her in the hospital which I knew was not allowed.  Feeling very stressed and accountable for what might happen if we allowed this, I was rude to my brother, Ron, and his wife, Runy, rebuking them for what I had presumed was their involvement assisting my mom in this and not complying with hospital policy.  After a few heated words, I left the hospital room angrily my mom in tears.   I later found out I had made this accusation unjustly, worried more about what might happen to me in my work role, rather than the damage it might due to my relationship with my brother and his wife.

While making a tough situation even more strained, I believe it was a pivotal moment when things got to this point.   My brothers had agreed to meet to discuss things out at my mom’s home which we were readying for her return to later that week and Ron made it clear that he and Don wanted this to be one of several topics about my controlling behavior.  This would be a chance to talk through what had happened with this conflict as part of a larger discussion in general about how we would care for mom once she got home.   I already knew in my heart, however, that I was wrong in how I handled this situation, something that was affirmed when I went to church that Sunday and heard a message from our pastor titled “Communication Breakdown”.  As had happened before to me and many others who go to my church, I felt the pastor and his sermon was speaking directly to me.   That sermon inspired me to own my role in causing and now how to best improve the situation.  I asked for prayer of several of my closest confidantes that God would use this situation to HIS purposes and NOT my own.

My brothers and I met on a Wednesday.  Inspired by the sermon, I deferred leading the conversation but accept the direction my two brothers wanted the conversation to go.  We first agreed on principle that support of mom’s recovery was the absolute non-negotiable goal and that we would keep any disagreements we might have from impacting this objective.  I then received what I had earned which was a healthy rebuke of all the things I had done wrong in this particular situation as well as other past conflicts where I chose to view myself as “justified” in making the decisions I felt were in mom’s best interest.  While humbling, I felt it important to accept their joint rebuke of my behavior.  I truly was culpable and thus accountable for those past actions.  I sorely needed to be a better active listener not only at this moment but in most moments where i have a habit of communicating my being right on things.   Prior to discussing and accepting their rebuke for what I had done wrong here, I did choose to share what both my brothers have done well in the care of my mom over the years, as a means to avoid suggesting what I might have felt justified myself for doing.

Two days after that meeting, and exactly two weeks after her stroke, my mom was discharged and we took her home.   Her progress in that first few days home continued to be quite remarkable.  While we were either issued at discharge and/or purchased safety equipment for her, mom was committed to not needing much of it.   For example, her wheelchair was not immediately available when we left the hospital on Friday, so I had to pick it up the following week.   Mom ended up never needing it and would become discouraged to even see it in the house.   She saw it as a victory to get rid of it, so I returned it unused as it was a rental piece of equipment anyways.   By the second week of being home, mom began to assist in cooking her own meals and cleaning up afterwards.   She diligently did her daily exercises that she learned to do from her in-patient Physical Therapist (PT).   Even the belt she needed to wear around her waist and her walker to prevent an inadvertent fall, mom was ready to get rid of by her first scheduled outpatient PT appointment, scheduled exactly two weeks after her discharge.  Mom was too proud to be seen with either of these outside her house and since she felt she was ready to go for a walk by this point, we took the risk of letting her walk with just her cane.  Fortunately, we gambled the benefits outweighed the risks correctly, and her outpatient PT, Amy, remarked that she would just need one more PT session to just confirm her balance and body strength remained sustainably stable.

This left the balance of her therapy that Medicare would permit to be scheduled with her Speech Therapist (ST) to focus on her swallowing difficulties, and slurred speech, and with her Occupational Therapist (OT) to evaluate her readiness to resume driving.   Mom’s eye sight after her stroke, complicated by double vision caused by a cataract surgery that did not go well long before her stroke, limits her ability to immediately return to driving.   We are hopeful, with the OT’s help, she will correct her eyesight well enough to have the option to drive again early in 2018.   Her speech, remains, her greatest challenge ahead as mom is quite an accomplished Shigin singer and would ideally return to doing this again in the coming months.  We are prayerfully optimistic that with her commitment here, she will be back to where she was at before the stroke as well.   As with the inpatient rehab care team, we are very grateful to the Neuro Outpatient Rehab Center (NORC) for the excellent care they have provided to continue the recovery process for mom. Specifically I would like to thank Anna (Scheduler), Amy (PT), Erin (ST) and Charles (OT) for their excellent service and compassion they have shown mom!

Here are some more pictures of us all at our Thanksgiving 2017 Gathering

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Mom, Runy, Jenny (Leah’s mom), Ron, Don, Hiruko, Leah, Jack, Gigi, Elowyn, and me

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Jack, Runy, Don, and Jenny

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Mom, Elowyn and Gigi

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Hiruko and Jack

As for me and my brothers, I believe the dialogue that we had before mom returned home has helped build a foundation on which our relationship can now improve beyond where we began before my mom’s stroke.  We are planning to meet again for the second time to continue the dialogue going forward.  There is still room for improvement in our relationships and our actions in the days, weeks, and months ahead will speak more loudly than our words can do alone.  That said, I feel we are in a position to be not only a healthy support to my mom and her recovery but a more loving support to one another in the years ahead. 

I am grateful to my brothers for coming alongside me in this time as we seek to not only improve my mom’s health but our brotherly relationships as well.  I am also grateful to my church family from both Clovis Hills Community Church and the Japanese Chapel at the North Fresno Mennonite Brethren Church as well as my Christian brothers at work for their continued prayers for my mom, me and the rest of my family.

Also, I want to recognize my CMC Management Team, and specifically Brandon, Director of EHR Support Services and my direct supervisor for helping direct me to use Family Medial Leave to take care of my mom, and his team, particularly James, Reporting Team Supervisor, and Greg, Reporting Team Lead for offering much support and encouragement during this life transition for our family.

Above all, I praise God that HIS word as heard through my pastor’s sermon spoke directly to my heart in this.  I also praise God that he used a tragic circumstance in my mother’s stroke to help bring our family closer together.   That she is today back to near full health is a small miracle in itself, but that it also predicated our family coming alongside her and one another in the process demonstrates God’s PERFECT plan at work.

“And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

I stand amazed and grateful to our Lord and His Love for all of us! 

TRUELY a MOST memorable HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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Quarter Century and Still Going Strong

Well… it’s been a year since I wrote a story here.  I had grand plans to tell some other stories to include my last game of Ultimate Frisbee after 32 years of playing the sport, and seeing my daughter off to the California College of Arts this Fall…  But time has flown, so those stories will have to wait.  So as it was one year to the day that I told you the Story how the Two Became One, I thought it be worth sharing today, on our 25th Wedding Anniversary, the abbreviated story of our last 25 years in pictures.

They say life changes after marriage.  That’s very true for most couples, but it didn’t for me us much.   You see, I was in love with my wife, Leah, long before marriage, and that truth just didn’t change much when we went down to the courthouse in December 1990 to get “legally married” before I went off to the Gulf on USS Princeton.  Then later, when we got married before God and family on October 5, 1991, that was just an affirmation of love that had already carried me through the war in the Middle East.   

The same love that carried us through the first years of marriage has remained with us to this day.  My love for Leah has not only sustained me in times of crisis, it has saved me from the biggest single competitor for that love and that is my own self-centered ambition and pride as you read about in My First Story.  Fortunately as our Lord taught us through his Son, Jesus Christ, Love always wins… eventually.

This ‘story worth telling’ will be a year by year review in pictures and memories of our past twenty-five years Leah and I have spent together and how our love has grown from the ‘two’ of us to the ‘four’ of us.   Some of these stories have been told here already, others yet to be told.   I look forward to sharing the latter sometime in the future.

  • Year 1 (1992)- Marriage and Move to Alameda

After our wedding in Fresno, Leah and I moved to Alameda, CA where my ship, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was homeported.   We lived there for 18 months as I finished up my five year obligation to serve in the US Navy.

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A picture outside the wedding reception hall…

  • Year 2 (1993) – From Navy to Civilian life

Though we both loved living in the Bay Area a great deal, I spent a considerable amount of the time working on the carrier as it went through a significant maintenance period after its first deployment to the Arabian Gulf.   It became evident to me that my career wold be more time away from Leah (and thus our future children) as the nuclear aircraft carriers often spend up to 9 months or more on deployment to be on station most often in the Arabian Gulf the whole time.   The thought of leaving Leah and my future family for that long was not something that got easier for me to accept, so in May 1993, I resigned my commission as a US Naval Officer and I returned back to civilian life for the first time in 9 years.   This is a picture of me the last day in the Navy.   Leah shared this picture in a US Navy Career scrapbook.  Our USNA ’88 Class motto is “Sibi Aequum” which is latin for “To thine own self be true”, so Leah wrote this in big bold letters next to this picture which affirmed how much she knew that it was time for me for the next chapter in life.   I’m so blessed to have someone who loves me as much also know me as well as she does.

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  • Year 4 (1995) – Anniversary Trip to the Antebellum South

One of my favorite places to visit has always been the Antebellum South.  I became quite an avid reader of history after leaving USNA.  One of my favorite books in this genre was “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson.   After reading about all the historic battles and all that led up to the Civil War, I greatly wanted to visit various places in the South I hadn’t seen before in any depth.  So, I took 2 weeks off and took Leah to go on a 3-leg trip starting in  Nashville, TN where my Dad’s relatives live.  We went to the Grand Old Opry, the original one in Ryman Auditorium to see a show there that included Martina McBrideto get a taste of where country started.  We also went to visit Opryland .   I would later revisit Mufreesboro to visit the historic Stones River battlefield with my cousin Terry. Leah and I then flew on to Charleston, SC, to visit one of my Abe Lincoln shipmates, Owen Connelly who lived in nearby Columbus.   We visited the old Charleston area as well as Fort SumterFrom there we flew into New Orleans, LA where we met up with Al Perpuse, a classmate from Annapolis (we were actuallly in the same Plebe Summer squad) and eventually my best friend from the Navy and roommate on Abe Lincoln, Al Perpuse.   It was during this time I also made my transition in my civilian career from the a manufacturing supervisor role to a role in research and development that would set my course into healthcare eventually.

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Owen Connelly, Leah and me in Charleson

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In the Jungle Gardens outside the Tabasco Plant in New Iberia, LA

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Bourbon Street in New Orlerans French Quarter

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Leah, Al and I at Pat O’Brien’s having some hurricanes… those were way strong!

  • Year 4-7 (1995-97) – Ballroom Championship Years

Leah is an amazing ballroom dancer as many people know.  What they may not know is that she won several Pro-Am American Rhythm Ballroom championships before we had kids back in the mid-1990.   From the Embassy Ball in Los Angeles (1995), International Grand Ball in San Francisco(1996), to the Embassy Ball in San Francisco (1995) and the Autumn Classic in San Francisco (1997), Leah dance and won top honors in her age/skill category all dancing with Tony Delgado.

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  • Year 5 (1996) – Dad passes away

In July 1996, I lost my Dad to a final heart attack.   He was much too young to lose as a father.  I was devastated but tried my best not to show it when I was around others.  It took a long time for me to be able to truly grieve his loss publicly.  Frankly, I still struggle with not being able to say ‘good-bye’ or ‘thanks for everything you did for me’ to him in person before he left the world.  I know, now that God had a plan however even in this as you’ve read about in A Kairos moment…

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Dad’s US Navy Veteran Memorial Headstone

  • Year 7 (1998) – Elowyn is born

On July 10th, 1998, life changed forever for Leah and I.  Up to this point, we lived a very independent lifestyle where while we both were very much in love, we also got to do what we loved to do on our own.   But on this day, this amazing young baby girl came into our life!   Though we lost our independence, Leah more aptly at first as Elowyn’s mom, and me scratching and kicking later as her Dad, we learned how a third life would make our lives so much more meaningful that they could ever be alone.  Elowyn coming into my life is a big reason I re-found hope after losing my Dad.

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Elowyn our bed in our home in Santa Cruz, CA

  • Year 9 (2000) – Gigi is born

And if one baby girl wasn’t enough, this little bundle of joy came about 2 1/2 years later on November 22nd, 2000, Thanksgiving Day!   … AND were we so very thankful.   Though Gigi’s childbirth was a little more challenging (it turned into an emergency c-section),  she came into our lives just when we thought we had a handle on one.   We know now that God had even more plans for us to give up what independence we had and I’m more than twice as grateful for all he’s done with both our daughters since they came into our lives.

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First baby portrait, Christmas Holidays 2000

  • Year 10 (2001) – Family Portrait in Capitola
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Fall 2001 – 1st Family Portrait

  • Year 12 (2003) – Moved back to Fresno / (Re-)Commitment to Christ

Two years after Gigi was born, it was clear that I was no longer able to properly balance my work with my responsibilities at home.  I was driving nearly 3 hours a day round trip between Santa Cruz where we lived (which was affordable when we first moved there in 1998 before Elowyn was born) and San Jose where my job was. I really had become obsessed with wanting a change so I took on a lot of risks not rally caring what might happen.  Mostly, I just knew I needed to get to a place where my work wasn’t the center of my life anymore.  Leah asked me to consider getting a job back in our hometown of Fresno and so I interviewed there somewhat to just acknowledge her without really being 100% thrilled with the idea of leaving the Bay Area.   But God had different plans than I did, and I did indeed get the job offer that led us back to Fresno and eventually back to church where Leah made a 1st time commitment to Christ and I a re-commitment as you read about in My First Story…

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Family Portrait in Clovis, CA next to Fresno where we ended up moving to in May 1993

  • Year 13 (2004) – First Year at Family Camp

Though the first year back in Fresno was a struggle both professionally and personally for me, I did have one pivotal experience besides recommitting my life to Christ and that was going to Family Camp at Lake Sequoia for the first time in the summer of 1994.  Fortunately, my best friend from high school and my best man in my wedding to Leah, Mike Ringer invited us up with our family to go here.  He had been a camper himself here as a kid and later a camp counselor and life guard on the waterfront while he was going to college in the early 1990’s.   We’ve been taking our kids up her ever since.  We just finished our 12th family camp this past June and we are prayerful even as Camp Sequoia is going through a major change that we will still be up here decades from now except as grandparents.  You can read more about how special it is here in this story Family Camp at Lake Sequoia

  • Year 14 (2005) – Family Ministry Years Begin

In my first couple years in Fresno, I just tried to get my bearings right.   In 2005 however I met Patrick Vance who eventually became the CM Pastor at Clovis Hills.  He invited me to take on Family Ministry as the coordinator and later the Director to help engage other young families such as mine to be more purposeful in raising kids God’s way.   This was a crucial time for me and I’m forever grateful for Patrick and his wife, Valerie, for hosting us in their home in their growth group until 2007 when we embarked on leading our own growth group.  God led this investment in my family spiritually to include several families that would become our “village” to help raise our children to become the spiritually mature Christ followers they are today!

 

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Leah and I at one of our first Family Ministry outreach events

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My church family at Elowyn and Gigi’s baptism

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Vance and Dickerson kids

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Our little “angels” at the 1st Christmas Pageant at Clovis Hills

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My family next to the  Clovis Hills Christmas Electric Light Parade Float

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Leah and with the Huffmans at Snow Day in Kings Canyon 

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Clovis Hills Family BBQ/Tailgater at the FFD Headquarters before our Annual Family Grizzly Game

 

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Griffins, Newsomes and the Dickerson enjoying the annual Army-Navy Game!

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    Griffins and the Henrys at Elowyn’s Purity Ring Ceremony

    Year 15 (2006) – Gigi’s Soccer Years Begin 

When I first moved back to Fresno, Leah signed Elowyn up to play soccer as a U8 player.  Problem is we were a little behind as other kids had started playing in kindergarten as U6 players.  It didn’t matter to me much as I wasn’t even sure what I was doing here yet more or less having to figure out how to teach her to play soccer.  So I settled down into my lawn chair under a tree thinking I would just sit and watch some one else coach her.   When one of the other Dad-coaches saw me relaxing, he asked why wan’t I coaching.  Not having a good answer, I found myself helping out as assistant coach for Elowyn that season.  When she said she didn’t like it much and decided not to play the following year, I though I was “off the hook”, but then the following year after that it was Gigi’s turn to try out and she started at U6.  Guessing she would only do it for one year, I went back out to help Mike Fennacy to help co-coach our two kids and the other kindergartners.   Six years later after becoming the head coach and later back to assistant coach again through U8, U10 and U12 age groups, I finally stepped down out of soccer once Gigi decided she would switch to Tennis.  By this time, I was actually hoping Gigi would continue to play but that’s how life goes I guess.  It was a great run while it lasted.

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Garfield U6 Co-Ed Soccer Team.  Gigi is 2nd from the left

Below are some shots of the Fresno State Women’s Soccer team with my daughter and her other Garfield “Shooting Stars” U8 Soccer Team (1997)

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Here is the U10 Hot Shots in 2009

  • Year 17 (2008) – Annapolis 20 Year Graduation; Visit Annapolis / Washington D.C. /  Disney World

20 years after graduating from USNA I decided to take my first trip back to Annapolis to visit and bring my family along.  Afterwards we went to visit Washington DC and also Disney World down in Orlando, Florida.  It was a very special trip to spend such quality time with the kids and Leah.

Annapolis 20 Year Reunion Pictures

Washington D.C. Pictures

Disneyworld Pictures

  • Year 19 (2010) – Elowyn’s World of Wonder at Fresno Woodward Park Library Branch

In 2010, Elowyn at age 12 and in 6th grade, became really fascinated with polymer clay.  She began making figurines with it.   Later in the year, she was invited to put all her creations on display at the Fresno Woodward Park Library Branch and later the Old Town Clovis Library as well.  It was at this point that Leah and I realized how truly artistically talented Elowyn truly was.  It has set her on a path that she is on today at California College of the Arts.

 

  • Year 20 (2011) – 20 Year Anniversary in Maui

5 years ago on our 20th wedding anniversary, I took Leah to Maui.  Leah had never been to Hawaii and the only times I had been there was in the Navy.   This was a special vacation.  Leah and I had a wonderful time together.

  • Year 22 (2013) – Gigi’s Roger Rocka Junior Company Years Begins

Unlike discovering Elowyn’s love for art where we know she had this passion from when she was in Kindegarten, Gigi’s love for musical theater kind of surprised us.  We began to see the spark when she got the role of Grandma Fa in Mulan at CalArts, but it was when she auditioned for and got in to the cast of Junior Company at Roger Rocka’s in her first year of Junior High that we saw this become her passion.  She has now been in Junior Company nearly three years and has many pre-shows and soon three main-stage shows in her portfolio of experiences.  We are so proud!

  • Year 22 (2013) – Elowyn shows her art at Franco Peraza Production’s “Baila Imagine”

I will always be indebted to how much Franco Peraza invests in both my wife and my daughters who’ve been able to do what they do best as he has stewarded their talents these many years.  This Baila “Imagine” show is just one of many examples of how a great performing artist takes care of other artists.  As a result of seeing Elowyn’s art here in the Star Palace, Michelle Swift invites her to show it each month at Frank’s Place for Art Hop!    Thanks Franco and Michelle!

 

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Leah and Elowyn in front of her static art display

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One of my early favorites of Elowyn’s art

  • Year 23 (2014) – Leah and Gigi dance in Franco Pedraza Production’s “Cirque de Masquerade”
  • Year 24 (2015) – Gigi performs in ‘A Christmas Story’, her first main stage performance at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater

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  • Year 25 (2016) – Elowyn graduates from Buchanan High School and begins college at California College of the Arts in Oakland/San Francisco

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October 5, 2016:   Twenty Five Years and she still loves me.   

I took the day off on our anniversary Wednesday so I could be Leah’s chauffeur for the day.   For all she has done for me, I thought it was only right that I serve her for the day!

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Very few of these pictures share solely my own story.  That was intentional.  Though I remain proud of the accomplishments of my careers in the Navy, at Stryker and wth my current employer, Community Medical Centers, I value more that those same accomplishments taught me how much more impactful investing in another life  besides your own is.  It is called ‘Agape Love’ or as I shared in the Power of a Sacrificial Love, a love that will make an eternal difference as compared to the finite nature of our worldly accomplishments.   My continued prayer is that Leah and my examples as wife and husband, mom and dad, and fellow sisters and brothers in Christ will be demonstrated in the lives of our two daughters and how they love others as they are loved by us and God.   

After all, that is what our creator designed us to be and do and I will forever praise, thank and glorify HIM for that.

TWO became ONE…

On the occasion of Leah and my Anniversary today, I thought I’d share with you all the story of the two of us becoming one

This story picks up where my last story about Engagement to Leah left off… We planned quickly for my pending departure to what looked like would become war in the Persian Gulf with Iraq.   My Mom and Dad were very supportive of Leah and my decision, so much so, they suggested that perhaps we should consider buying a house together rather than live in two separate apartments.  I lived in a Long Beach studio at the time, and given how often I was at sea, it made sense not to keep the place while I was going to be deployed for 6+ months.   So, we began to look around for houses with a friend of the family who was a realtor.   We found a place near Toby Lawless elementary in Northwest Fresno and decided we wanted to make an offer on it.  As we planned to buy it with my VA Loan eligibility with no money down, our realtor advised that it was going to be difficult with a lot of extra paperwork to buy a house given we were not as yet married.   So after briefly deliberating about it, and with the blessing of my Mom and Dad, Leah and I quickly decided to go ahead and get the local justice of the peace to marry us “legally” so we could make power of attorney’s a lot easier to close.  This had the added benefit of ensuring Leah would be taken care of if something should happen to me during the inevitable war with Iraq.  So over the course of two weeks between Thanksgiving and the first week of December when my ship was scheduled to depart for the Persian Gulf, we made three major decisions one makes in a lifetime!   I know this is quite a surprise to many who would go to our ceremonial wedding in October the following year.   So it is clear to all, Leah and I celebrate to the latter wedding day as we both believe that is when we made a decision BEFORE GOD to honor one another in marriage.   We view the legal union as exactly that, something we did as an means to expediently complete a real estate transaction.  I hope those learning of this for the first time would understand and forgive us this discretion for this reason.

We both moved out of our respective apartments and while escrow closed on the house we had made an offer for, Leah moved in with my parents.  This made me feel very grateful to Mom and Dad in that they not only took her in but showed that they were very supportive of her as their NEW daughter-in-law.  I am very blessed for the loving support they showed Leah and me during this time of transition in our lives.   To this day, I remember fondly how much my Dad showed he loved Leah and I think she too feels a great connection to him as she had lost her own father prior to my meeting her.

The Gulf War had some pretty exciting events as I’ve shared earlier in my Princeton Mine Strike story.  One part of that story I’ll share again here happened as I returned back to our homeport at Terminal Island in Long Beach in May 1991.  Given we had been in combat action,  there was much excitement about our return.   I have a very special picture of the moment I stepped across the gangway to hug and kiss Leah I share here with you in this post.   To me this memory exemplifies the love I know Leah had for me and still does.   I cherish this photo and the women in it dearly.

Leah giving me an emotional welcome home hug after my ship's Gulf War deployment.
Leah giving me an emotional welcome home hug after my ship’s Gulf War deployment.
Leah and I holding the sign she, Jenn, and Mom made for our arrival home. Dad was onboard too for the last leg of the trip.
Leah and I holding the sign she, Jenn, and Mom made for our arrival home.  Dad was onboard too for the last leg of the trip.
Leah and I sit for a picture in my stateroom after our return from the Gulf War
Leah and I sit for a picture in my stateroom after our return from the Gulf War

During the time I was gone, much of the burden of preparing for our wedding was carried by Leah.  She chose the chapel and reception hall as well as the minister who would officiate our marriage ceremony.   As most people were not aware at the time we had already gotten married, we wanted to ensure the wedding was considered the very special and sacred event it was.   By providence and without my knowledge, Leah chose Northwest Church in Fresno to have the wedding ceremony.  I had originally gone to church as a young teenager and in fact, I played basketball for the church’s junior high team.   I also knew well the pastor and founder of the church, Buford “Bufe” Karraker as his church was one of the first “Mega-churches” in Fresno and was known for its progressive approach to making church comfortable to seekers, much like my current church, Clovis Hills.   Bufe knew me as well as one of “Bob’s boys”, a reference to Bob Ennen, the man who had led me to Christ.   Bufe told me during our pre-marriage counseling session that I would need to rise up and be the spiritual leader of the family, something I promised to him I would do.   Little did anyone know then that it would take nearly 12 years of marriage to make good on that commitment.

This is page 1 of our Wedding Ceremony Outline that Bufe Karraker officiated

This is page 1 of our Wedding Ceremony Outline that Bufe Karraker officiated

Page 2 of our Wedding Ceremony Outline. Bottom of the second panel represents the promise that took me 12 years to honor.

Page 2 of our Wedding Ceremony Outline. Bottom of the second panel represents the promise that took me 12 years to honor.

Leah and I were married on October 5th, 1991 at the smaller chapel on the corner of Northwest’s campus at Barstow and West avenue.   It fit roughly 200 people and that is how many we invited to the wedding thinking that not everyone would show up so there would probably be ample room.  To our great surprise, everyone showed up and it ended up being standing room only.  I had invited the wardroom officers from USS Princeton and they served as my uniformed ushers so we could have an “arch of swords” as part of the ceremony.  I wore my Service Dress Whites for the wedding and then my Dinner Dress Whites for the reception which made for an impressive look especially rare in the landlocked Fresno area / Central Valley.   Several of my close friends from high school, the Numb Boys, and my brother and brother-in-law were my groomsmen.   My best friend (to this day), Mike Ringer, was my best man.   Mike and his wife, Theresa, are also the godparents to our children.   All in all it was a VERY blissful marriage ceremony.

Picture of us, our bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower girl and ring boyPicture of us, our bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower girl and ring boy
The officers from Princeton serving as my ushers and swordsmen for the weddingThe officers from Princeton serving as my ushers and swordsmen for the wedding
Walking down the aisle with my NEW bride!Walking down the aisle with my NEW bride!
My gorgeous wife reflecting ...
My gorgeous wife reflecting …
A first public kiss outside our chapel..
A first public kiss outside our chapel..
A picture outside the wedding reception hall...
A picture outside the wedding reception hall…

At the reception, we had so many guests, I don’t remember much as it was all so much to take in.  I know some people came solely because we would see them later in the pictures taken.  I felt sad, but I couldn’t do much more than say hello and thanks for coming to many as they came up to our head table.   Regardless, I was very grateful to all that came.  It was a very joyful celebration!  Leah and I choreographed our wedding dance to Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie’s rendition of “Unforgettable”.  For the entire wedding day it seemed like the time flew by.  To cap off the reception, the Numb Boys and I even slammed danced to REM’s “It’s the End of the World and I Feel Fine” which I’m sure made for quite a sight to my fellow Navy officers still there given I was still in uniform.

As an aside, there was an Amway convention in town that weekend, there were no hotel rooms to be found in town.   Many of my Navy friends, thus, had to stay at our house, which meant I needed to find somewhere for Leah and I to stay on our wedding night in town.   Through some fortunate connections we had, we got a room at the Airport Picadilly Inn and when we finally rushed away to be alone, we decided to cap off the night at the local nightclub/bar there.   As she remained in her wedding dress and I in my uniform, we weren’t allowed to buy a single drink and had people buying us shots until we both knew it was far past time to go back to our room.   Interestingly, I had been so busy at my own wedding, that I had not had a drop to drink.  I was so joyful, however, at the wedding reception it didn’t seem to matter and many claimed I must have been drunk.  It took getting back to our hotel room and a trip to their bar however for that to really happen.  Leah and I exhausted by the events of the day passed out on our bed bringing a quick ending to an otherwise perfect day!

We drove out the next morning to our honeymoon which began in Napa Valley, and moved down the coast to San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and ended in Monterey.   We had a wonderful time celebrating our new life together and plan some day to have a repeat of this honeymoon on our anniversary.   This year, we celebrated our 24th year of marriage.   Though we had to go through the trial of my reconciling my life to Christ to find true work-life balance and lasting joy later, I will always view our wedding day as when God showed me how much he loved me by allowing me the privilege to become one with the woman he designed to love me just as he does for JUST who I am and not what I do for her or anyone else.

I’m truly blessed…

"Twenty-four"... Celebrating our 24th year of marriage at the Wild Ginger Restaurant in Cambria, CA

“Twenty-four”… Celebrating our 24th year of marriage at the Wild Ginger Restaurant in Cambria, CA

The Power of Sacrificial Love

“Love never fails…. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:8,12-13 NIV

No doubt, 2015 will go down in the records as a very turbulent and traumatic year for my family and friends…

On Saturday evening, February 21, 2015, Molly Griffin and her friend Emily Krieghoff were struck by another car as they were turning on to Friant Road off Copper Avenue. The car that struck them was driven by a person under the influence of alcohol.  Molly was killed instantly and Emily was critically injured. There was a passenger in the other car who was also killed in the accident.  Prior to this tragic accident, Molly had just graduated from the Nursing Program at Fresno State and had earned a full time job as an OR Nurse at Madera Community Hospital.  She had a very exciting career caring for others yet ahead of her.

Molly’s dad, Doug Griffin, plays a key role in our church, Clovis Hills Community Church.   Doug has been a longtime lead teacher in our children’s ministry. Doug’s wife, Doris, is also a long time member and volunteer in our church.  Doug has helped disciple many children over the last two decades most recently through a program called Disciples Next Academy (DNA) that Doug felt called to start. Many generations of kids can recount that their start in their walk with Jesus began under the care of ‘Teacher Doug’. This includes my own two children, Elowyn and Gigi.  It is no surprise that Molly also chose to serve in children’s ministry.  Doug and Doris are blessed with a son, Joe, who is pursuing a successful US Navy career and another daughter, Paige, a young beautiful pre-teen the Griffin family adopted from China at the age of two. The Griffins are quite loved by our church family.  Doug and Doris have been part of different family groups committed to the Lord over the years they’ve been at the church.  Doug and I have known each other and served together over the last 10+ years volunteering in various family and children’s ministry roles.  Over the past several years, Doug has joined and remained part of a growth group that we both meet in every Monday night.

On Friday evening, July 17, Jason Newsome passed away at the age of 41 after an 18 month battle with Pancreatic Cancer. Through the prayers of many and his own strong and committed faith, Jason outlived this very aggressive form of cancer by nearly three times the average patient with this same cancer.  Prior to his diagnosis, Jason had made many changes in his life.  In 2011, his son, Markus, a young teenager convinced him and his wife, Stacy, that he wanted them to try out this new church he had visited, called Clovis Hills.

They began attending, along with Markus and their younger son, Zach.   A few months later, Jason recommitted his life to Christ, and later got baptized with both Stacy and Markus.  Zach was also baptized shortly thereafter.  They began to participate in other church sponsored events and met others who like them were trying to raise their families to be followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jason and Stacy joined a growth group in early 2012 that meets every Monday night, the same one that Doug was a part of.  Leah and I have also been part of this same Growth Group for several years.

About a year after joining the group, the Newsomes became the leaders eventually hosting the group each week in their home. Sensing the needed to take better care of his health, Jason stopped smoking and started jogging.  Before his diagnosis, he was running half-marathons.   Over the past four years, Jason and Stacy have served in various volunteer roles in the church.  Stacy worked alongside Doug in children’s ministry with other kids Zach’s age, while Jason focused on those Markus’ age in youth ministry. They both have volunteered often in various leadership roles to help those in need in our community with events such as Morning with the Homeless at the Fresno Rescue Mission, Faithful Feet at El Encino Church in SE Fresno, and World Changers each summer, and other similar mission events.   Their son, Markus, just recently returned from a youth mission trip to Swaziland, Africa. Because of their love for others, the Monday Night Growth Group that meets in their home has grown to nine couples and over 15 children who regularly get together to serve in all the events that Jason and Stacy would volunteer for.

Growth Group Picture in April '14 Left to right standing: Grady, Dustin, Kat, Jason, Stacy, Leah, Jeff, Holly, Joe, Camille, Jenn, Matt Left to right kneeling: Jerry, Laurie (on iPad), Julia, Chris

Growth Group Picture in April ’14
Left to right standing:
Grady, Dustin, Kat, Jason, Stacy, Leah, Jeff, Holly, Joe, Camille, Jenn, Matt
Left to right kneeling:
Jerry, Laurie (on iPad), Julia, Chris

I can’t explain all the reasons God permits a life like Molly’s or Jason’s to end so prematurely.  Having been a direct witness to their families lives all these years in this growth group, I can say with conviction and certainty that God has a MUCH greater plan than I can ever put to words here (see Romans 8:28).  I’ve learned to say about both of these tragic losses, that God is doing a miracle that is still unfolding in the lives of all that Molly and Jason touched.  This past weekend, Pastor Shawn recounted the story found in Mark 2:1-12 where friends of a paralyzed man dropped him through the roof of a house where Jesus was so that he might heal him.  The man was healed, and told to get up, and pick up his mat. The lesson Jesus taught was that if he can help a paralyzed man to walk upon a simple command, how much more than can our Father forgive us our past sins. By learning to “pick up our own mat”, we demonstrate to other who are ‘paralyzed by their own by sin’, what God can do even in our greatest weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  That we have close friends who treat us like family in our growth groups gives us all much hope that we too will be lowered into the hands of Jesus gently ourselves whenever we need it.

Shawn’s message on Sunday included sharing how the Griffin and Newsome Families demonstrated this model of overcoming their past.  Shawn also shared about an unnamed third family who have been through a similar crisis as the Griffins and Newsomes.  The difference is this family was not connected with anyone else in the church and so they left feeling neglected in the church’s response to the crisis.  It would seem for this third family, they had not (as yet) found ‘friends’ who would be willing to ‘drop them’ into the presence of Jesus Christ. My prayers go out to the third family as I could not have imagined what it must be like to have gone through what we’ve been through if our Monday Night Growth Group had we not had been there for one another.

… And there, in that lesson, lies the miracle that God has shared to be discovered in the loss of Molly and Jason.   While we all clearly wish with they were still with us, we see their lives and their spirits still very MUCH alive in our hearts and that their families give us hope that we too can overcome any crisis through our Lord who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13)

Having witnessed the outpouring of love that has been received in reaction to Molly’s passing, I am humbled by just how much Doug and Doris have been able to handle the loss of their daughter. First and foremost they have forgiven the man responsible for her death.  Such an act is in keeping with their strong Christian faith that teaches us all to forgive those who wrong us just as God through Christ, forgives us.  Doug’s initial public interview with the press after the accident as well as his follow up interviews demonstrating his family’s forgiveness has really changed the focus of this tragedy from the accident to the vibrancy of Molly’s life. In fact, the way the Griffins have handled this tragedy, has amplified the light of Molly’s life such that as she is now known by many people who only came to know of her after the accident. In particular, Doug and Doris have chosen to continue to celebrate Molly’s life by declaring her birthday, August 26 as Molly Day!   We were all asked by the Griffin family to participate in “random acts of kindness” that day to help us remember who she was to others. My wife, Stacy and I decided to pass out donuts to those in the ICU Waiting Room in the hospital I work at.  Doug tagged along as well. Here’s some pictures showing how we all celebrated Molly Day!  What a marvelous way to help ensure Molly’s light continues to shine in this world.

Molly and me on the 5th Floor Post-Partum Unit at CCMC when she was an RN Extern

Molly and me on the 5th Floor Post-Partum Unit at CCMC when she was an RN Extern.  I posted this picture as my profile picture on Molly Day!

Molly Griffin being an inspiration for Kindness

Molly Griffin being an inspiration for Kindness

Leah, me and Doug handing out donut to those at the CRMC ICU Waiting Room on Molly Day. Molly's friend, Emily, spent several weeks in this ICU in recovery from the accident

Leah, me and Doug handing out donut to those at the CRMC ICU Waiting Room on Molly Day. Molly’s friend, Emily, spent several weeks in this ICU in recovery from the accident

Doug hugs one of the family members after praying for their loved one in the ICU

Doug hugs one of the family members after praying for their loved one in the ICU

Stacy, Leah, me and Doug with the donuts we brought to share with those in the ICU Waiting Room

Stacy, Leah, me and Doug with the donuts we brought to share with those in the ICU Waiting Room

The Molly Day Card showing the Griffin Family invitation to practice random acts of kindness. Click the picture to see all the other Facebook posts for those who chose to 'Live Like Molly' that day! May this be an inspiration for us all to be kind EVERY day!

The Molly Day Card showing the Griffin Family invitation to practice random acts of kindness. Click the link to see other Facebook posts for those who chose to ‘Live Like Molly’ that day!

Stacy has been touched and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love over the last several weeks from when Jason declined and eventually succumbed to cancer and left us to be with our Lord on July 17th, 2015. The following week Jason’s employer Fresno State flew the American Flag at half mast.  An honor guard attended Jason’s funeral to honor a man who had served to the country during his time in the US Navy.  During the holidays, Jason had served alongside the same group that this honor guard came from at the Wreaths across America event honoring all those who served our country.  That event was hosted in the same cemetery Jason would eventually be interned in.  This coming holiday we will honor Jason at the same event.  It was particularly comforting to see how many of Jason’s shipmates from the USS Curtis Wilbur reached out to Jason and Stacy during his final days.  In memory of Jason, the Clovis Hills Military Ministry will host a Veterans Day float featuring the Curtis Wilbur   The love for one who served others is evident in those who memorialize us once we are gone.  This is very obviously the case over the several decades that Jason lived.

Overarching all of this has been the love that I’ve witnessed Jason and Stacy’s families and our growth group have shared for Jason, Stacy and their two sons. Honestly, it would have been hard for an outsider to distinguish who was actually related to Jason or Stacy the last week Jason was with us.  I’m so proud to be part of a group of men and women who love Jesus and know that love so well that they demonstrate it in a sacrificial love for the leader who has faithfully cared for them over these past two years.  It was our privilege to be invited by Stacy to help ‘lower him into the arms of Jesus’ in his last moments. On August 14, we celebrated what would have been Jason’s 42nd birthday by posting our favorite memory of him on his FB site.

Speaking to my own personal relationship with both families, I know God has connected the Dickersons to the Griffins and Newsomes in amazing ways.  I can now say these separate stories have become our combined story of finding hope and redemption in our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, Doug has led both our kids through the prayer asking Jesus into their lives setting them on a course that brings them to this day as committed believers in our Lord and Savior.  In my “My First Story” I shared here in this blog a couple years ago, I told how Leah became a new believer in Jesus and I recommitted my life to Jesus.   This happened upon both of us hearing a very moving testimony of a women who lost her baby due to miscarriage… I shared this during one of the growth group meetings and Doug made the connection that we were talking about Audrey Reischauer.  Doug had been very close friends with the Reischauers even after they moved to the mid-west, and had been for some time wanting for us to meet them because of the connection that their lives had made with another pivotal relationship Doug had with us.   When Molly’s memorial service was planned, the opportunity came to connect the two families which Doug arranged.  Below is a picture of these two families with Doug connecting how one family’s loss brings life to another often unbeknownst to the first family’s awareness.

Gigi, Leah, Elown and Jerry Dickerson to the left and above Doug Griffin, Kaley and her father Dana Reischauer to Doug's right (not pctured Audrey, Christian and Shawn)

Gigi, Leah, Elowyn and Jerry Dickerson to the left and above Doug Griffin, Kaley and her father Dana Reischauer to Doug’s right (not pctured Audrey, Christian and Shawn)

Molly will always be remembered similarly by us all as a model of what we would want our daughters to become and will live long as the hope and light of peace and love available to us all through our Lord Jesus Christ

The Molly Griffin Family Doris, Joe, Paige, Doug and Molly Go Giants!

The Molly Griffin Family
Doris, Joe, Paige, Doug and Molly
Go Giants!

The Newsome and Dickerson Families were connected before we ever met through the Navy, which both Jason and I served in. When we first met together in our growth group at our house where we hosted it at the time, Jason noticed a picture on my bookshelf of a man in uniform getting married.  I was one of the groomsmen in the picture.  It turned out that the person in the picture ,one of my best friends from the Navy, Al Perpuse, was also one of Jason’s department heads on the USS Curtiss Wilbur. Because of the common bond we had as Navy veterans, I found it easy to want to be around Jason these past four years.   We hung out for Army-Navy games, watched war movies together, and attended various events to honor our military that our church’s Military Ministry hosted.  I witnessed Jason being mentored by Phil Dodd, the same man who came alongside me as I shared with you in my story, “On a Journey“.  I then witnessed Jason become a mentor himself for another Navy veteran, Brian Winter, the son of Holly Cline, one of our Monday Night Growth group members.  More recently, I have watched how Jason and Stacy have come warmly alongside our latest growth group leaders, Dustin and Kat Seabolt.  It is amazing how God took a commitment to serve our nation and inspired Jason to serve others he loved through his church in the name of his Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.   Watching Jason serve others in this way even knowing that the cancer in his body was increasingly limiting him physically has strengthened my own faith in Jesus.   I’m a better man because of Jason Newsome’s life and the courage and deep conviction he demonstrated even up to his death.

Jason, Stacy and Zach at Morning with the Homeless near the Fresno Rescue Mission

Jason, Stacy and Zach at Morning with the Homeless in the winter of 2012 near the Fresno Rescue Mission

Jason and Stacy baptizing Zach at Clovis Hills

Jason and Stacy baptizing Zach at Clovis Hills

Jason washing a child's feet during Faithful Feet at El Encino Baptist Church

Jason washing a child’s feet during Faithful Feet ’12 at El Encino Baptist Church

Jason poses with medal after finishing 1:2 marathon with Zach and Markus

Jason poses with medal after finishing 1:2 marathon with Zach and Markus

Jason and Stacy Newsome, Leaders of the Faithful Feet 2014 Event

Jason and Stacy, Leaders of the Faithful Feet 2014

Jason serving with World Changer teens helping repair house in SE Fresno

Jason serving with World Changer teens helping repair house in SE Fresno, Summer 2014

Brian Winter, Jason Newsome and Bobbie Winter at the Fall '14 Men's Retreat

Brian Winter, Jason and Bobbie Winter at the Fall ’14 Men’s Retreat

The Men from Jason's Growth Group at the Men's Retreat '14

Several of the men from Jason’s Growth Group at the Men’s Retreat ’14.  From left to right:  me, Jeff Cline, Grady Rhoads, Brian Winter, Jason, Bobbie Winter, and Dustin Seabolt

Families from Jason's Growth Group at a BBQ at the Holsteins. Phil Dodd seated in front of Jason.

Families from Jason’s Growth Group at a BBQ at the Holsteins..  From Left to Right:  Standing: Chris and Garrett Richardson, Stacy and Jason, me, Dustin & Kat Seabolt, Camille and Joe Holstein.  Seated:  Judy and Phil Dodd and Laah

Jerry and Jason rooting for perennial winner Navy during the Army-Navy Football game in 2013

Me and Jason rooting for perennial winner Navy during the Army-Navy Football game in 2013

Jason and Jerry at the Wall of Remembrance in November 2014

Jason and me at the Wall of Remembrance in November 2014

Jason and Jerry at the CHCC Military Ministry Veterans Day Parade Float

Jason and me at the CHCC Military Ministry Veterans Day Parade Float

Jason will be remembered similarly by us all as a model of what a father, husband, son and shipmate should be to their family and friends.  His memory and influence continues to live on in each of us who know and loved and were loved by Jason.

Newsome Family in Disneyland

Newsome Family in Disneyland ’14

In this story, you see that God chose to love us unconditionally… and understanding that love was sacrificial, we choose others over ourselves in the name of the same love…

I praise God for giving us Jason and Molly’s lives are a testimony to this love.

Reflections on the Year 2014

WWJDD ("What Would Jerry Dickerson Do?)

Here we are on New Year’s Eve, and several attempts to write stories since my last post this summer have remained conceptual at best with my never really getting past an opening paragraph written for any of those stories.  So given my time constraint (it’s less than 6 hours until the New Year…), I’ll use the balance of the post here to share my reflections on the Year 2014 and “resolve” to tell more stories worth telling in 2015…   

Though I could share my musings on a controversial topic, such as the happenings in Ferguson and New York City in the past several weeks, that would likely only serve to enflame further controversy particularly with those who perhaps who have opposing views to my own.  Instead, I will try to keep this last post for 2014 a bit lighter and more introspective as I hope you have found my past stories to be.  

I start by sharing the meaning behind the opening picture above and the acronym I jokingly coined WWJDD or “What Would Jerry Dickerson Do…”.   The context for this came up when my wife and I decided to take a break this past August from meeting weekly with our “Growth Group made up of some dear friends who like us are couples with children of various ages.   We get together every Monday to share the trials and triumphs of parenting, marriage and other family matters.  I love and value these folks greatly and attribute much of my ability to be real and authentic here on this blog to the security I find in being loved and cared for as dearly as I am by these folks.   

Having hosted/led this group in our home for nearly seven years, Leah and I thought it was time for a ‘sabbatical’.  There were many reasons to justify this break but the main one I will offer here is that we both viewed it as a chance to focus more on raising our two daughters as they enter their waning years in public school.   Our Growth Group understanding we were overdue for a break were very supportive in this decision to take a sabbatical.  In my ‘farewell for now’… message to them, I posted the picture you see here as a way to help them laugh at how I thought I would be missed.  The truth is, in so many ways, I’m certain that we have all grown all the stronger for the experience of Leah and I stepping out of the group temporarily.  To say “… Absence makes the heart grow fonder…” is an understatement.

As God would have it, our vision of this being a ‘break’ changed when an number of different events occurred to change our focus from what *we* or specifically *I* wanted to get out of these fall months.  These events would take too long to explain here, so I will leave those perhaps to some other future story worth telling.  Suffice it to say, the wisdom comes from realizing WWJDD is for different than WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”… and Did).   

This past Sunday at church, our very own Pastor Dave Love took advantage of an opportunity to be our teaching Pastor.  We have other designated Teaching Pastors who typically give the sermon so hearing Pastor Dave was a real treat to end the year. He gave a very meaningful sermon titled “I Resolve” which focused on the topic of how we go about making New Year Resolutions.   An impactful illustration he gave was when he shared an “I” Chart, a play on the Eye Chart you use when you visit your Optometrist to check your vision.  

"I" Chart

  “I” Chart

As you see from this picture, it suggests that we often see the world through our self-centered point of view rather than how God sees it.   It is this contrast in how we view the world that makes all the difference between our finding disappointment OR our finding joy in life.   Not getting a key job assignment you worked hard for OR being able to afford the car you’ve always wanted OR not really getting the perfect spouse you thought you married are all found in the DOMAIN OF MISSED EXPECTATIONS where may be found all life’s DISAPPOINTMENTS.  Conversely, being forgiven a wrong by a family member or close friend that you clearly deserve to be given the cold shoulder from OR finding hope in the diagnosis of cancer for yourself or for a loved one as others come alongside you that you never knew loved you or that person as much as they did OR seeing the silver lining in being passed up for a promotion or even losing a job you are not sure you even wanted are all found in the DOMAIN OF NEVER-ENDING HOPE where may be found all life’s JOYS.

Pastor Dave’s “I” Chart has remained a visual in my mind this past week and is the inspiration for this reflection.   I am so delighted that I get such reminders as to avoid the trap of forgetting that it isn’t what I do as much as what God is doing in my life that really makes a profound difference in the lives of others.  It is with this reflection that I invite you to take the year’s events, whether they be like those that occurred in Ferguson or those of your own personal life, and ask really what is God doing there and then ask what do you think that means to you personally.   My hunch is if you view things through God’s “eyes”, that hopefully you will see that it is far more powerful to do the things that impact your local family and friends in a manner that helps you and them find the DOMAIN of NEVER-ENDING HOPE then it is to join the pundits who simply exacerbate those in other communities that are mired in the DOMAIN of MISSED EXPECTATIONS…

My hope and prayer for you all is that you find JOY in 2015 whether that is through the fulfillment of a desire you’ve long pursued or by overcoming some significant setback or disappointment that you may be currently mired in. 

Until I get to share my next ‘story worth telling’, I bid you adieu and much love!

Happy New Year!  

Jerry Dickerson

Family Camp at Lake Sequoia

One of the joys of parenting is taking your family on vacations together. Our family’s favorite vacation place in the world is one we visit annually and that is Lake Sequoia near Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  About a month ago in mid-June, our family spent a week here and I thought I’d share that experience in this ‘story worth telling…’

My "porch" view each morning lakeside

My “porch” view each morning lakeside

We have been attending YMCA Family Camp at Lake Sequoia since 2004 when my best friend from high school and godfather to my children, Mike Ringer, first invited us to join he and his family here. Mike has been coming to Lake Sequoia since he was a kid as a youth camper. Later in the 80’s, he worked as a camp counselor and life guard. Now with his own kids and family, he’s back again but as a parent and family camper.

This year was particularly special in that we got to celebrate both my wife’s Birthday and Father’s day in the same weekend. It was also the 100th anniversary of when the YMCA first started camping at Lake Sequoia. We’ve matured as a family up here so much especially me as a Dad. I have been so profoundly moved by this experience over the years, I decided to tell the story of why this lake and the surrounding wilderness is such a special place for families like mine. I hope you find this inspired to cherish your own family vacation each year similarly…

There are so many stories to tell about being up at Lake Sequoia all these past years. It will be difficult to narrow this particular blog post and not miss an important aspect of this place. I’m going to share mostly recent experiences that capture the main highlights why this place is so meaningful to my family.

Hiking

Camp Sequoia sponsors various hikes as one of their daily activities. Over the last several years, this has become for me personally my favorite activity at Lake Sequoia. It is not only very healthy exercise, this wilderness is amongst the most coveted natural wonders in the world. Being located near Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, I’ve been able to hike in some of the most amazing and beautiful locations fortunately all within an hour or two of my home in the Central Valley. The two main hiking enthusiasts who lead these hikes each year, Phil Dixon and Gary Potter, are long time volunteers and stewards of Lake Sequoia and advocates for the camp. Phil leads the more difficult hikes and likes to go ‘off-trail’. Thus, his hikes are more adventuresome and physically taxing. Gary is more a historian and botanist/photographer. His hikes tend to be less arduous but you have more time to learn more details of the places you visit. I like hiking with both these gentlemen for their contrasting styles. This year I went on four hikes and one on my own with Leah. In all, I walked over 20 miles during the week we were up at Lake Sequoia.

Our first hike was with Gary, Leah, and several other campers. This was a pretty easy hike around the lake but one that we walked on a pretty fast pace as we all got caught up in talking to one another during the hike. One of those campers I got to spend a considerable amount of time talking to was a young lady about Gigi’s age named Sarah. The most memorable part of this hike treat was getting to listen to a 14 year old’s view on the world. I’ve known Sarah since we first started coming up to camp when she had just turned four. My how has she grown up to a bright young lady… She told me about her reading the teen version of the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” written by Stephen Covey’s son apparently. I was so impressed with her understanding of such a mature subject. She shared about the habit, “Seek to Understand then be Understood” using the analog about the difference between being ‘like water’ and ‘like soda’. As we hiked, she explains that some people when you shake them up, remain calm like shaking a bottle of water and opening it. Other people are explosive when you shake them up like a bottle of soda and open it… How true! I told her that “…though I like to think I’m mostly ‘water’, I have to admit I’m ‘soda’ at times.” It made me really inventory my reactions to some things that have happened more recently… Wow, who would thought one my age can learn something so profound from someone so young… By the end of that conversation, we found ourselves back in camp. How time flies!

The most difficut hike I went on this year was Phil Dixon’s hike from Grant Grove to Millwood back to Lake Sequoia. A 6 mile hike that covered about a 2000 ft elevation drop. The trail initially was challenging in that it hadn’t been serviced for years. The Park Service actually discourages hikers from using these trails, but because Phil knew the trail well enough, he navigated us through fallen trees and the shrubs and foliage that overgrown the un-serviced trail over the years. I have to admit it was quite disconcerting to be walking over or under fallen logs and shrubs. These hazards had to be carefully navigated to avoid cuts. I proceeded for a time thinking if we figured out we couldn’t go this way at some point, it would be quite painful to have to return the way we came. Eventually, Phil navigated us through this and back to an old service road used for fire access and we made the rest of the hike without much trouble. Though it may be a nuisance to some (including my wife who now opts out of such hikes) to have to work so hard to go for a walk, I find these hikes exciting as they meet a need for me to live the ‘adventure’ and so I look forward to Phil’s hikes each each year with great excitement and anticipation. In contrast, Leah so dislikes going off trail.. After the last two year’s hikes one, a 6 mile hike turned into an 8 mile one in Redwood Canyon, and another where we slid down some large granite rocks trying to find the trail we went off, she decided to write and sing a humorous song to the tune of Gilligan’s Island about it at campfire (more about that activity later…)

One of the last hikes I went on this year was Gary Potter’s morning hike to Lion Meadow. It’s nearly a 6 mile round trip and a pretty steep climb up roughly 1000 feet to the crest of the mountains that overlook Lake Sequoia. Lion Meadow is located roughly a 1/2 mile west of Grant’s Grove, where you find the largest grove of protected Ancient Redwood trees, some nearly 2000 years old. Not only are they some of the oldest trees in the world, they are also some of the largest both in circumference and height. We are so lucky to be co-located close enough to this grove to be able to walk to them. I could spend the whole day here wandering amongst these great giant trees. An amazing thing about the Giant Redwoods are how much they are part of the greater eco-system. Their roots are so extensive that they require many smaller trees and other plants intertwined root systems to keep them stable. They in turn provide great shade and protection and thus create a micro-climate under them for other wildlife to flourish.

I share here the hiking experience here in pictures to capture the highlights. As they say, this will say a ‘1000 words’…

Group embarking on Phil Dixon's adventure hike on the northern loop from Grant's Grove

Group embarking on Phil Dixon’s adventure hike on the northern loop from Grant’s Grove

Sun peeking through a pair of redwoods

Sun peeking through a pair of redwoods

Phil showing us some Redwood pine cones where he collects seeds to plant each year

Phil showing us some Redwood pine cones where he collects seeds to plant each year

Phil taking us off trail...

Phil taking us off trail…

THis tree fell across the trail

THis tree fell across the trail

Climbing over logs on the trail to adventure...

Climbing over logs on the trail to adventure…

Hikers walk up to the burnt redwood and gives one a sense of how giant these trees are

Hikers walk up to the burnt redwood and gives one a sense of how giant these trees are

Phil using his pocket hedge clippers to cut away small tree branches crossing the trail

Phil using his pocket hedge clippers to cut away small tree branches crossing the trail

At the crest of the trail before heading down to Millwood Flats

At the crest of the trail before heading down to Millwood Flats

Gary stopping at the head of the trail to Lion Meadow

Gary stopping at the head of the trail to Lion Meadow

Old road to Grant's Grove before Hwy 180 was put in.  Now a fire access road.

Old road to Grant’s Grove before Hwy 180 was put in. Now a fire access road.

Example of a dead tree along the trail from a controlled burn last year

Example of a dead tree along the trail from a controlled burn last year

Trees killed during a recent controlled burn.  They start these to help prevent a real fire from spreading rapidly

Trees killed during a recent controlled burn. They start these to help prevent a real fire from spreading rapidly

View of Lake Sequoia from the trail to Lion Meadow

View of Lake Sequoia from the trail to Lion Meadow

Fallen redwood at Lion Meadow.  Several of us are walking to the other side of the meadow on the tree.

Fallen redwood at Lion Meadow. Several of us are walking to the other side of the meadow on the tree.

Matt Ward on Hike from Panoramic Point

Matt Ward on Hike from Panoramic Point in 2012

Dr. Utecht, Chief Quality Officer from CMC, pointing out the sites from Viola Falls to Andrew, Matt's son

Dr.Tom Utecht, pointing out the sites from Viola Falls to Andrew, Matt’s son in 2012

Me and Leah pose at Ella falls on a hike in 2013

Me and Leah pose at Ella falls on a hike in 2013

Campfire

Most every evening at camp, all the campers gather at the amphiteater around a campfire ring just as dusk is approaching. We open up with the same “Y-M-C-A” camp song (NOT the one by the Village People) that ensures anyone running late knows we are starting this evening’s festivities. As this is the highlight of the day we all can share it at once, our families look forward to this time with great anticipation. The last evening in camp usually brings the most creative skits and songs like the one my wife sung last year. This year did not disappoint. The highlights were one family who sang about Bible Stories, a duet signing “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men, and my own kids and Mike’s family doing the great enlarging machine with Gigi the magician who announced and performed the tricks. We ended the evening with a story from Cheryl about the classic tapestry made up of knots that doesn’t look like much from the underside but from the top was beautiful much like our lives when we run into difficulties turns out ok in the end. It is during these special moments we get to see how much our children have matured and how much parents and especially Dads get to be whimsical and funny.

Our kids getting ready for campfire

Our kids getting ready for campfire

"Yeah Bo!"

“Yeah Bo!”

I share here a ink to a compilation of skits of some of the funny campfire skits our family has been involved in.

 

Ultimate Frisbee / Disc Golf

Lake Sequoia hosts two activities that use a Frisbee. One I like, and one I love. I like to play Disc Golf. There are nine holes setup on the mountain next to Camp Tulequoia. It is a course with many trees, large granite rocks, and manzanita bush hazards to contend with. Several of the campers like to play and so we go over a couple times during the week to play on the course. What I love to play is Ultimate Frisbee and I have the good fortune to have gotten a group of campers to play with me each year as well. I also have the good fortune to have camp staff who love the game as much as I do and in fact they play a lot in the evenings when they are off-duty. Given the situation, I naturally felt called to organize a camper vs staff game the last few years and for me it has become a highlight of the week for several campers and staff alike. We had our first game on Tuesday was mostly campers (17 of 20) and it was a great time. I’m so delighted that many of the teenagers to adults love this game that I have no trouble getting a large group to play. The 2nd game was on annual camper vs staff game. The campers prevailed 11-8! What a blast! What I value the most in this is the camaraderie we have learned to share between campers and staff players. Though there is a little ‘trash talking’ about having won these past couple years, it was obvious that there is much good will generated between players. I look forward to keeping this tradition going in the years ahead!

My fellow Disc Golf Competitors at Hole 8

My fellow Disc Golf Competitors at Hole 8

Al Gushurst throws frisbee @ Hole 9 of the Camp Tulequoia Disc Golf Course as Jon Ringer looks on

Al Gushurst throws frisbee @ Hole 9 of the Camp Tulequoia Disc Golf Course as Jon Ringer looks on

Ultimate Frisbee Team 1

Ultimate Frisbee Team ‘shirtless’ – 2012

Ultimate Frisbee Team 2

Ultimate Frisbee Team 2 – ‘shirts’ – 2012

Playing Ultimate in the field next to Camp Gaines

Playing Ultimate in the field next to Camp Gaines

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Ultimate is a fast moving game!

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Love watching someone make an impressive catch like this one!

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Looking to throw it deep!

Craft Shack

This is my two daughters favorite place to hang out, especially Elowyn. Here you can make all sorts of different crafts ranging from clay figures that you can glaze, to leather and other wearable products. Gigi made herself a pair of Mocassins this year for example. I like to solder the glass/rock items “Grandpa” Ross brings up for us to work on each year. I’ve made night-lights and other wall hangings here. Elowyn can always be found here drawing/painting very unique art projects here most days. She is so talented and hopes to come back up and work first as an intern before she turns 18 and later as a summer employee of the camp working in the craft shack, nursery and other areas they need her too. I hope she gets to do this too as she would be awesome at this!

Elowyn and Gigi goofing off during a craft shack project

Elowyn and Gigi goofing off during a craft shack project

Our kids working on projects at the craft shack

Our kids working on projects at the craft shack

Gigi working on moccasins at the Craft Shack

Gigi working on moccasins at the Craft Shack

Popsicle Stick Regatta

After Ultimate, we had the Popsicle Stick Regatta, the annual tradition where campers build a boat with a stack of the same number of popsicle sticks, a single rubber band, a paper clip and a piece of notebook paper. Most build a boat with the sticks powered by a sail using the paper. Many will use the paper clip and rubber band to create some kind of propeller system. The two competitions they have are age categories 11 and under, and 12 and over. They have a third category that is for all ages called “anything goes”. That category permits you to use anything you like on your boat so long as you use at least one popsicle stick. My friend Michael made a pontoon boat made up of two plastic Pepsi bottles and a rubber band driven propeller system using fishing hooks glued to the bottles to tie the parts together.  He got really into it this year and it paid off as he wins the race in the anything goes category! I’ve built a boat each year but despite my Navy background tend to over-engineer it and usually my boats sink before they make it to the finish line. In the end, the simplest boats tend to win.

Gigi and her Popsicle Regatta boat

Gigi and her Popsicle Regatta boat

Mike and his sons getting their boats ready for the Popsicle Regatta race

Mike and his sons getting their boats ready for the Popsicle Regatta race

Mike's winning 'anything goes' Popsicle Regatta Boat entry

Mike’s winning ‘anything goes’ Popsicle Regatta Boat entry

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Winners of the 2014 Popsicle Regatta

My Popsicle Regatta Boat, the Jolly Rancher, back in 2010.  It was more something to look at than it was seaworthy…

My Popsicle Regatta Boat, the Jolly Rancher, back in 2010. It was more something to look at than it was seaworthy…

Waterfront

One place Leah and I both like to relax at is the Waterfront. This is the where kids of all ages can swim, boat/fish, or just sit and enjoy the view of the lake. Leah and I like to do the latter mostly. Depending on how warm it is, you have choices to sit under one of the many lakeside trees that keep things shady and cool or out in the sun closer to the water or on the boardwalk. This year was particularly cool, so many including us could be found sunbathing on the boardwalk while watching our kids play in the nearby swimming area and diving platform. Also available to use on the lake are rowboats, kayaks and canoes for fishing and exploring the other parts of the lake.  The lake is stocked each spring with trout from a nearby fish hatchery which makes for a special treat for those who choose to catch their meals.   Once each day, they have a lake swim where those who want to can swim from our diving platform to Indian Rock. I’ve only done it once several years ago and decided I don’t swim enough to do that again, although I do get asked to row a boat alongside othe swimmers who do so they can ‘spot’ for one another in case of emergency.

View of the waterfront early morning

View of the waterfront early morning

Jumping into the lake from the swim platform

Jumping into the lake from the swim platform

Canoeing on Lake Sequoia

Canoeing on Lake Sequoia

Canoeing 2

Elowyn canoeing on the lake

Elowyn canoeing on the lake

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One of the campers doing the Lake Swim

One of the campers doing the Lake Swim

Gigi shows off her catch while Elowyn and I look on back in 2012

Gigi shows off her catch while Elowyn and I look on back in 2012

Gigi and I out on the lake fishing

Gigi and I out on the lake fishing

Mike with his on Jak after they caught their first fish together, a very special moment

Mike with his on Jak after they caught their first fish together, a very special moment

Gigi showing off her first fish caught in 2009

Gigi showing off her first fish caught in 2009

Dining Hall Activities

The Dining Hall is the equivalent to one’s Family Kitchen.   Every morning, noontime and early evening, families gather to share time and their day’s experiences with one another over a meal.  After campfire each night, the last event of the evening is games in the dining hall. There are many different board and card games to choose from. Earlier in the week many of those games are played by families who came up together as this is a chance to hang out together. Much like Ultimate Frisbee breaks down barriers, however, by later in the week many families parents and kids alike are intermingling with one another as new friends are made through other activities. Unique to this year, is the realization that my kids played well beyond Leah or my ability to stay awake so we crashed earlier than them on several evenings and they came to bed much later. I think this is in part how much they’ve grown up that they can outlast us in this way, and in part the fact we’ve grown older and need more rest too. I hope it’s more the former.

Ringer/Sutton/Dickerson kids

Ringer/Sutton/Dickerson kids in the Dining Hall Porch

Celebrating Leah's birthday at Dinner!

Celebrating Leah’s birthday at Dinner!

Mad hat night at the Dining Hall

Mad hat night at the Dining Hall

Our kids playing cared games after campfire

Our kids playing cared games after campfire

One night during the week, we have Karaoke and Ice Cream Sundaes.  Sugar and singing area a "dangerous mix"

One night during the week, we have Karaoke and Ice Cream Sundaes. Sugar and singing area a “dangerous mix”

Our kids belt out "Under the Sea" together.  Walt Disney would have been proud!

Our kids belt out “Under the Sea” together. Walt Disney would have been proud!

On the last night we team up to play Sequoia Squabble, a version of Family Feud.

On the last night we team up to play Sequoia Squabble, a version of Family Feud.

Other Adventure Activities

There are a lot of other activities that we don’t always participate but worth mentioning that include ropes courses, wall climbing, and other high adventure sports. I say we don’t participate as there are just too many of them and if we did everyone, we wouldn’t have time for the other ones I’ve mentioned thus far. I think, however, they are quite popular with they younger kids and especially the teens who like to challenge themselves physically at their age.

Quiet Time / Meditation

One thing I like to do while I’m at Lake Sequoia is getting up early morning and spending some alone time with God in prayer and meditation. As this is the most time I take off from work each year, this time is very important to me to reflect on all my blessings and ‘weed out’ the things that might be causing me worry or anxiety at the time. When I get to see the peaceful stillness of the lake, I always find it easier to hear God. This year I reflected on the quote “Press on”… it’s what I wrote on the rock I was given at last year’s Men’s Retreat along with the verse that ispired it (Philippians 3:13-14). The larger verse reads, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” I think at times I get mired in the past as I’ve seen with a recent hurt that surfaces other past hurts. This verse reminds me of what the ‘goal’ truly is, and it definitely is NOT what the world would have me believe it is. My prayer is that I continually remind myself to ‘press on’ toward the prize that God has planned for me in Christ Jesus!

Cross at Camp Sequoia Chapel

Cross at Camp Sequoia Chapel

Sun rises over the lake at Indian Point

Sun rises over the lake at Indian Point

Sunrise on the Lake

Sunrise on the Lake

Elowyn on Indian Rock looking toward Camp Sequoia

Elowyn on Indian Rock looking toward Camp Sequoia

Early dawn picture at Indian Point

Early dawn picture at Indian Point

Internet Connection / Cell Phone Access or more the lack of it

One thing I really wrestle with up at Lake Sequoia is how to really disconnect from the outside worlds and hence mostly work related matters or other distractions. Fortunately there is NO cell phone access at least for my carrier AT&T (Verizon Wirelesss apparently does work lakeside). Internet connection was somewhat intermittent, but eventually I figured out how to connect to the somewhat discreetly provided WIFI site they provided by the end of the first weekend so I could monitor work e-mail for any emergencies. It also permitted me to check SF Giants scores which were terrible by the way the week I was at the lake this year… :/ So I went roughly 36 hours being out contact with the outside world which was a good thing mostly. I try to be careful not to fall into the habit of checking e-mail and FB too much. Good to be able to share some of the slice of joy it is to be here, however, with my friends back home and elsewhere. I have to admit I did share my ‘porch’ view of Lake Sequoia the first morning I got internet.

Though all the years I’ve been up here have been cherished, I will admit the the first year we came up wasn’t as wonderful as all the subsequent years. I was in the midst of a career transition having moved back to Fresno the year prior and I wasn’t exactly feeling all that secure in my new position as yet. Further, I was trying very hard (in retrospect too hard) to reconcile the neglect of friends and extended family by inviting up others besides my own family to join us that first year. In all I asked three other families to join us that year and it turned into quite a chore for me to feel I was being a good Dad, brother, brother-in-law, and friend to those we had invited. By the end of that week at camp, I was ready to go home and never come back, but I’m glad I have friends like Mike… He made sure I got through the first tough year up here feeling all eyes were on me as a Dad, a typical first year experience for the NEW father. He had a very healthy outlook on work-life balance and I admired him for what he saw as the true value of being up at the lake. He also had the tenacity to sit at checkout until I put my deposit down for year two. We are now up here for our 11th consecutive year so I guessed that strategy worked.

Each year ends with check out day… the toughtest part of a great week at camp is having to say goodbye to all the old and new friends. It is bittersweet. First, I’m so glad to say I’ve met and gotten to know so many different and unique families who make the week so special, but then I think I will not likely interact much with many of them again for a full year since most live in a different geographic locale from me. Hanging out with my best friend since High School, Mike Ringer and his wife, my kids God parents, and their twin boys, Jak and Jon, and their nephews and nieces who share their cabin are amongst the biggest reasons I come to Camp Sequoia each year. It is special to see how much our children have grown up each year. It’s like capturing a still frame in your mind of what you remember about each child.

Stewards of Lake Sequoia

Before I end this story, I would like to take a moment to thank and honor some very important people I call ‘Stewards of the Lake’ in that they’ve been coming up to Lake Sequoia for decades (50+ years for one of them) and cherish this beautiful creation God has given us as much anyone else.   Without these folks I don’t know we would have what we have today to share with our children.   Thanks to Russ & Jan Sudyam, Cheryl Sudyam-Taylor, Gary Potter and Phil Dixon for all you do to make each year such a blessing for all of us Family Campers!  I also like to thank my best friend, Mike Ringer, his wife Teree, and my wife Leah for making this journey each year about not just us but our families.   I look forward to some day us being ‘stewards’ up here too.

Cheryl Suydam -Taylor, Camp Director and great family friend.

Cheryl Suydam -Taylor, Camp Director and great family friend.

Leah after Cheryl Taylor gave her her blue rag in 2010

Leah after Cheryl Taylor gave her her blue rag in 2010

Our most honorable stewards of Lake Sequoia at chapel:  From Left:  Russ Sudyam, Jan Sudyam, Gary Potter and Phil Dixon

Our most honorable stewards of Lake Sequoia at chapel: From Left: Russ Sudyam, Jan Sudyam, Gary Potter and Phil Dixon

Mike Ringer and me on the Dining Hall Porch

Mike Ringer and me on the Dining Hall Porch

Mike and his wife Teree snuggling in the Dining Hall

Mike and his wife Teree snuggling in the Dining Hall

Leah and me in the Dining Hall.  Leah is wearing her blue ragger bandana

Leah and me in the Dining Hall. Leah is wearing her blue ragger bandana

It is my desire and prayer that we continue to come up to Lake Sequoia each year even into my kids adult years and if we are fortunate when they too have children. There are a few other families that have come up multi-generationally and I’m hopeful we will join them some day in that legacy.

Raising our young family in Clovis…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”   Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

A few months ago I came across this website and found the conclusion VERY affirming about the blessing it has been to live in Clovis, California these past 11 years.  If you don’t have time to read it, the quick summary is Clovis is ranked the #1 town in California to raise a young family!

That discovery is the inspiration for this story in that (1) I haven’t talked much thus far about what I’m doing in the present tense on this blog and (2) I think understanding this particular aspect of my life will put perspective on what you have heard thus far in my past stories.

Why I think Clovis, CA is such a great place to raise a young family…  In late 2002 early 2003,  it was clear I needed a change from my career working for a Medical Device Company in the SF Bay Area.   Amongst the reasons it was time to move on, one of the most pressing was how it had become at increasing odds with my time with my family.  Living in Santa Cruz and commuting each day to San Jose meant I was on the road often as much as 3 hours going to and from work.   As I was typically working 10+ hour days, I found myself often leaving for work before the sun rose and getting home after it had set.

The person who got the shortest end of that situation was Leah.  Though we were at first delighted to be living 5 minutes from the beach in our home in Soquel, during the early years of our daughters Elowyn and Gigi’s life, there wasn’t much time nor was it safe for Leah to be alone with two toddlers down on the beach while I was at work.   Basically, without any family around to help her, Leah felt quite isolated and alone raising two toddlers despite being in a place others might call the most beautiful place in the world.

So… when the job opportunity to work at Community Medical Centers came up in Fresno, Leah’s heart leaped.  She knew there would be family close by to help her.   Her Mom and her Sister and family live in West Fresno.   My Mom, and my brother also live nearby  in Central Fresno, and my other brother and his wife live in the foothills northeast of Fresno.   With so many family members and other old friends nearby, she knew she would have more help nearby if we needed it.   As importantly, my commute would go from a 3 hour round trip to about a 1/2 hour one which would permit me to be more involved in the midday kids activities that I was missing out on due to the distance work was from home.

After the decision about moving back to Fresno was settled (see MY FIRST STORY… for details), it came down to where we might live.   When Leah shared with her longtime friend that we were moving back to Fresno, she told Leah that she should move to Clovis because the schools were really good there.   I would have chosen NW Fresno actually as that is where I grew up but I didn’t really want to come back here originally so it really didn’t matter to me where we landed.  I just wanted Leah to be happy and letting her choose where that would be was my attempt to reconcile not being around much for her and the kids those early years of their lives.

So… I engaged a realtor who was the sister of my CPA and we targeted various Clovis neighborhoods.   Thinking we could get a pretty good deal compared to what our house in Santa Cruz cost us, we started off in the $250k+ as our target cost.    I knew we could afford more giving we owned a home that was half the size of what we were looking at for over twice the cost in Soquel.   I just felt at the time it would be good to save some of the cash we would get from selling our home and we still had it on the market at the time and wanted to ensure we didn’t find ourselves owning two mortgages.   I also knew it was easier to go up in price then down so felt it important to be conservative at what we looked at initially.

The problem was that all the houses we looked at either were a great home but not a great location or great location but a modest home.   So our realtor getting to know what we were looking for had a house in mind for us by the second day of looking and she brought us to it as the last stop of the day.   It was near the Buchanan Education Center which at the time was the most recently built high school in the area.   We both looked at our realtor questioningly as I knew this was going to be more expensive, but we looked at the house anyway.   It was a half-block from the Alta Sierra Intermediate School and even closer to a public park with playground.   The house itself was spacious and had a great room that immediately drew you in as it was so light inside with vaulted ceilings and high windows.   The cost was higher than our original budget range.   Leah thought we can’t afford this but I knew we could.  It was clear she loved the home and location so we chose it and this is where we live to this day.

Selling lemonade at the neighborhood park near our home

Selling lemonade at the neighborhood park near our home

 

Another great feature of living in Clovis is the number of other larger public parks and biking trails that are intertwined throughout the various neighborhoods making it possible to ride you bike practically to any location in town on VERY safe family friendly trails.   Biking around the neighborhood, has become a favorite pastime for me and the kids to do.   I can see why many families find our town so family friendly when you bike around and see so many parks filled with kids playing safely.   Those who planned Clovis anticipated well how important that trails and parks go together.  Several of the trails were designed with tunnels or flashing pedestrian walkways at busier roads to make travel between parks safe as well.

Gigi next to the Railway Bike Trail Marker near Old Town Clovis

Gigi next to the Railway Bike Trail Marker near Old Town Clovis

 

Waterbirds of the Central Valley

Waterbirds of the Central Valley

Gigi trying to spot one of the migrating birds on our bike ride...

Gigi trying to spot one of the migrating birds on our bike ride…

Cottonwood Park Entrance, one of a half-dozen parks within a mile of one another

Cottonwood Park Entrance, one of a half-dozen parks within a mile of one another

Clovis Botanical Garden - A Community Garden funded by local benefactors

Clovis Botanical Garden – A Community Garden funded by local benefactors

Clovis - Gateway to the Sierras!

Clovis – Gateway to the Sierras!

Old Town Clovis - A Way of Life...

Old Town Clovis – A Way of Life…

Elowyn and Gigi at a Bike Ride Pit Stop in Old Town Clovis

Elowyn and Gigi at a Bike Ride Pit Stop in Old Town Clovis

With all the amenities of living in Clovis understood, what made the decision such a good one was not just that it was a great location and home, but that it was walking distance to all three schools our daughters would eventually go to, Garfield Elementary, Alta Sierra Intermediate, and Buchanan High.   Garfield is a Blue Ribbon school several times over and to this day have some of the best teachers in the area.   We have been very blessed just how much the teachers have treated our children with such love and expert care and teaching particularly in their youngest years.    Both Elowyn and Gigi have thrived in the schools and have won several academic and extra curricular awards for their various activities over the years.    Leah and I feel truly blessed for what a partnership it has been with all the teachers of all three schools we have had the joy to meet and work with in raising our children.

Typical Garfield Elementary Awards Ceremony.  Standing Room only for the parents...

Typical Garfield Elementary Awards Ceremony. Standing Room only for the parents…

Elowyn is now a Sophomore at Buchanan High and Gigi is a 7th grader at Alta Sierra.   When I go to the various events where the kids are getting awards or the parents are getting oriented to different things the schools offer, it strikes me just how engaged all the parents who have children in these schools are.   These events, especially the awards events, are ‘standing room only’.  For example, just a few months ago, Gigi’s Science Fair Project was on display and we went to take a look.   We could barely walk around and get to her display and were constantly having to step aside so other parents could get through the narrow passages where the projects were on display.  It must be heartwarming for teachers to see such encouragement and engagement from the parents of the kids they teach each day.   Likewise, in a virtuous cycle, it is with a real sense of perceived value that us parents see what we are getting from the school system.  When you see the job the teachers are doing, you just know you are giving your children the best shot at making a difference in their lifetime.

Yet, Clovis is not just a place where schools value young families.   We also see that value in the way our young families are sought out by the local church.   Our church, Clovis Hills Community Church, for example, celebrated recently with our young families by holding a ground breaking for our new playground designed to make our church more kid friendly and inviting on the outside as it already is on the inside.   We hope to see the project complete around Easter time when we expect many new families to come visit.  Our church knows that NEW families is what fosters healthy growth to any community and we are eager to ensure that those new to the area know we are here for them.  It is this value on young families, that drew us to Clovis Hills to begin with when we landed there nearly 11 years ago.

Ground Breaking for the new Clovis Hills Community Church Playground, Winter 2014

Ground Breaking for the new Clovis Hills Community Church Playground, Winter 2014

In fact, we found our church only after trying out a couple others that didn’t work out for one reason or another.   Out of ideas where I might take my family, I suggested to my wife we just try the church that met at Alta Sierra Intermediate School gym.  With it being only about a 1/2 block from our house, at least it would be a short walk home if it, too, didn’t work out.   Our community of Clovis is very church friendly with the public schools permitting church plants like ours use to be to meet on their campus on Sundays.   It turned out that moving to our home was most providential for the proximity to what became our first family church; we fell in love with the church the first day we visited it and both kids did as well.  We’ve been attending Clovis Hills ever since!

In 2004, a year after we started to attend, the church acquired and moved on to 40 acres of land across the street from what is now Clovis North High School and the local 2 year community college, Willow International.   They had just completed a large sanctuary and two separate classroom/smaller worship centers for the children’s and youth ministry.   The church is now in the middle of a campaign titled, FOR HIS CHILDREN, and is the source of funding for the playground and renovations of our children’s area.  We also plan to build a shaded meeting area outside our entrance to make it more inviting for visitors to come and stay afterwards.   Clovis Hills is always being innovative in being family friendly.   They hold regular carnivals and festivals for kids of all ages.   They invite Parker, the Fresno Grizzlies AAA ball team mascot, to the campus to promote a Family Game Day at the ballpark.   This coming Easter weekend, they will have a helicopter come by and drop eggs on our campus!   How fun is that!

Parker greeting kids in the Clovis Hills Courtyard

Parker greeting kids in the Clovis Hills Courtyard

Kids painting pumpkins at the Clovis Hills Pumpkin Party

Kids painting pumpkins at the Clovis Hills Pumpkin Party

End of Summer Party Bounce House Extravaganza

End of Summer Party Bounce House Extravaganza

Flyer for the upcoming Easter 2014 Services

Flyer for the upcoming Easter 2014 Services

Beyond these renovations, there is much excitement about what lies ahead for the remaining 40 acres that have not as yet developed.  I’m certain that God has even bigger plans for us now that we’ve landed in one of the more under developed parts of Clovis.   Over the last several years, I’ve served in various volunteer roles for the church to include Family Ministry Director, Trustee and now Elder.   It is exciting to be a part of it all.

I share my story to affirm Clovis as a great place to raise one’s family, and to share my gratitude to The Lord for helping me find such an amazing place for my family these past 11 years.  I don’t know how I could have engineered it better than God did to make it possible for my family thrive.  In fact, I’m reticent to take any credit for landing here so safely in Clovis; after all, as you may have read in my earlier story, I didn’t even want to move back here originally.

Yet God had other plans,… plans to prosper me and my family, and the blessing is He used the love I had for that family to draw me not just back to Clovis but back to Him!

My Family @ Clovis Hills Community Church, Christmas 2014

My Family @ Clovis Hills Community Church, Christmas 2014

Engagement to Leah…

Well, it has been several weeks  since you heard from me on this blog.   It’s been a pretty busy month or two but I thought I would take this moment,  on the occasion of Valentine’s Day, to share how Leah and I came to be engaged and I, thusly, became the luckiest guy in the world…

In my earlier story, How I Met Leah, I shared up through Leah’s first visit to the Naval Academy and our trip back to Fresno during summer before my Senior year.   Over the course of the next year, Leah would came to visit me two more times while I was still at Annapolis, once for Columbus Day, and again for my graduation that Spring.   She would also come visit me in the three duty training stations I had after commissioning.   I’ll leave those visits and experiences for later stories.

In March 1990,  I was on assigned my first ship, the USS Princeton (CG-59).   Life was good from my perspective.   What Leah and I had was awesome.   I cherished each of her visits and always longed for her whenever we were apart.    One day when I was home for a weekend my ship was in port, my Mom and I had a conversation.   Knowing I was very committed to Leah, she got straight to the point and asked was I going to marry Leah?  Before I could answer, my Mom further emphasized that if I wasn’t going to marry her, I should “…let her go”, as it wasn’t fair to Leah to make her think I was only interested in dating a woman that I had no intention to marry.   To be frank, I hadn’t really thought about the timeline on marriage.   I truly loved Leah and could see us married at some point but I guess I wasn’t aware that I had hit some time threshold until challenged by my Mom in this way.   The best part of my Mom’s question, however, was that I knew at that moment she was blessing the choice of Leah as my wife.  Given Leah wan’t Japanese like her, this was a major milestone for my Mom.

I then began the plan on how I would propose to Leah.   A friend of mine from high school’s Mom was a local jeweler, and I knew they had a pretty classy store over in Fig Garden Village.   I went there and met with her and her expert designer to craft a custom engagement/wedding band for Leah.   To this day, Leah is complimented on how beautiful the ring is.   I wasn’t making all that much money as yet, but I still wanted to buy something memorable and so dipped deep into my savings to buy the ring.

Being the romantic sappy kind of guy I am, my plan was to propose to Leah at Christmas.   Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, a tiny country in the Persian Gulf, in August of that year and that changed my plans dramatically. My ship, USS Princeton, had been scheduled to have a port visit to Vladivostok, USSR as part of an exchange of ship visits between their ships visiting the port of San Diego, CA.  Upon completion of that visit, our ship was scheduled to visit other countries on the eastern coast of Asia and return back to our home port in Long Beach, CA.   I was calling it “Peace and Love Cruise 1990” as we as a country were enjoying the blessings of the end of the Cold War with Russia.   The invasion of Kuwait changed that plan.   We would cut our cruise after the Vladivostok visit short and then return immediately back to the U.S.  and through the months of  October and November, ready the ship to be deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm by December.   I share the rest of that story in my earlier story, Princeton Mine Strike

With these change in plans, I had to rush the custom ring I had designed and being made for a Christmas engagement to be ready for a Thanksgiving timeframe instead.   Leah and I had Thanksgiving together with my family and that night after a romantic evening watching Cinderella on on her couch/futon at her apartment, I slipped the engagement ring on her finger.  Of course, she looked quite surprised as I had made no hint about the engagement.  Upon her seeing the ring, I then asked if she would marry me to which she said, “Of course!”   I exhaled with relief… yes, she wants to marry me too!

Our Wedding Bands

Our Wedding Bands

Much has happened since Leah told me ‘Of course’.   I know I haven’t always earned those words during my time as her husband, but I do know that God had a plan in that too.   To this day, Leah is always the person I go to find truth and meaning in my life.    She is both frank and honest yet ever loving and protective of my heart.   I am certain I would not be here writing these stories today if I had not heard the Lord echo her words, “Of course she loves you… just as I do…”

Thank you, Lord, for the example that we don’t always get what we deserve, but what your mercy and grace allows us to have anyways.   Being married to Leah reminds me daily how deep God’s grace truly goes.

…but I’ll leave those stories to another day.

Have a wonderful St. Valentine’s Day!  I pray you get to spend it with your loved one and celebrate the gift she (he) truly is!

A Kairos moment…

At church this past Sunday, our youth pastor, Jon Annin, gave a remarkable lesson on the the two ways we can view TIME.  CHRONOS or chronological is the typical way we view time.  In chronos time, one uses words like “second to second”, “minute to minute”, “hour to hour”, “day to day”, “year to year”, etc. to explain the passage of time.  Another view of time is called KAIROS.   Jon describes kairos time as “… when God infuses meaning into a moment”.   Jon further explains that  “…If you are just trying to get through time, you may miss the moment.”    I’m sure we’ve all had the experience from time to time stopping our busy day long enough to reflect on something that was said to us.   Or perhaps it was something we just read that had some poignant truth to it.   Or maybe it was just a meaningful song that evokes tears or a joyful memory.   Maybe it happens when we have a spiritually touching experience walking in the great outdoors.    On the occasion of Christmas day, I thought I’d share with you a KAIROS moment from my life.

This story goes back over seventeen years ago to the summer of 1996.   I had just turned 30 and was about 3 years into my second career working as an engineering manager for Stryker Endoscopy, a medical device manufacturing company in the Silicon Valley.   Leah and I had been married nearly 5 years, but as yet had no children.   I wasn’t really conscious of this at the time, but this was something that I learned was starting to become bothersome for my Dad.  He so wanted to have grandkids, my Mom would share later.  He particularly wanted grand-daughters and told Mom that whoever of his three sons did that first would get his “inheritance”.   I didn’t quite get why he wanted that so much at the time.   I was in the ‘zone’ at work and found what I was doing there more engaging then the thought of starting a family of our own.  Leah and I seemed to have the ideal work-personal life balance so there didn’t seem to be an rush to have children.   My role had recently changed from supervising in the production area of the facility to some more exciting career opportunities in research and development.   I had the trust and respect of the VP who oversaw R&D and he was not shy about loading me up with increasing responsibility as I took on the supervision and management of the technical staff who supported the rest of his engineers.   I was also just getting to work more regularly on software automation projects which was where my passion was at the time.

With this as a background to this story, I remember spending some time with my Dad one dusk weekend in the summer of 1996 in the backyard at his home in Fresno.   Seeing that I had been working pretty hard on my career aspirations, Dad thought he needed to share his thoughts on making work such a high priority.   He said, “Son, I see you working real hard.   I know you think that will make a lot of difference in your life, but I think there is something you should know…”   My dad had a glass of ice water which he lifted up with one hand and said, “Son, if this glass of water represents your job…”  He then put his index finger on his other hand into the air and said, “… and if this finger represents you…”.   He then put that finger into the glass of water and then pulled it out  and said, “… you’ll notice when you leave work, there is no ‘hole’ left behind.”

He paused after that illustration for effect.  He continued,  “… you know they won’t miss you when you are gone, right?”   I reflected on what he said knowing the question was rhetorical.   Now, I would like to say at that moment, the sun parted the clouds and I had a moment of clarity that changed my life, but that isn’t what happened.   In fact, I felt quite the opposite.  I felt my father was trying to tell me something he himself never practiced.   I remember thinking (but not saying out loud), “How hypocritical!…”  For you see, making work a primary focus is exactly what my Dad had done most of his life (and most of us Dads do if we were honest). Further, I admired him for being as industrious as he had once been.  I would regularly describe to others that my Dad was a ‘self-made man’ and, in that dimension of life at least, I wanted to be just like him.

Like father, like son...

Like father, like son…

Some quick history on my father may help explain this view.  Dad quit school in the 8th grade, then joined the Navy in 1956 at the age of 17.   He was VERY driven to succeed despite all the challenges that not having a high school education makes for someone.   Despite this constraint, I truly believe he became a greater success than many those who did have such an education.   Eventually, he would go back and get his GED and later do some college level work in business to train for his role in managing a district of retail stores that sold auto parts.   Along with working hard, he also played hard.   Dad smoked 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day for most of his life.  He also had a taste for beer and a habit for having a few to several each day.   Having his first heart attack at age 38 didn’t change that lifestyle.  He ended up having two more minor heart attacks each weakening his heart a bit more than the last.  A year before I went to the Naval Academy, he got a triple bypass and that seemed to help for a time.   Finally after having a stroke about 10 years later when I was 27, he finally figured out that he needed to quit smoking which he did as he also became forcibly retired.  For the next 3 years, he actually began to live what I would call a well balanced healthy life.   He took up the game of golf and played several times a week.  He truly seemed to be enjoying retirement.

Which brings me back to that fateful conversation in his backyard.   For what I didn’t know was that Dad must have been feeling regular pains in his chest because he said things that were uncharacteristic of him.   One conversation was about how I had better take care of Mom when he was gone or else, “… I’ll come back and haunt you”, he emphasized.   I dismissed this talk as just ‘passing time’ that warm summer evening but in retrospect I think these were premonitions of things to come.   A month or so after that conversation, Dad tried to call me at home. In the middle of that call, I received another and told Dad to hold on as second as I clicked over to the other caller.  I don’t remember who I was talking to but apparently it was more important to me at the time, as I forgot Dad was on the other line.   Eventually Dad gave up and hung up telling my Mom I later found out that he was really hurt by my forgetting about him.   Clicking off my Dad on the phone was the last time I spoke to him.  For you see… (forgive me as I wipe away the tears as I write this…)… he would have his fourth and final heart attack later that month, a day before his 58th birthday.

The next several days were a blur.  I rushed home from our Bay Area home when I got word of his heart attack.  He didn’t die immediately, but because too much time had passed before the EMT’s from the ambulance arrived and got his heart beating again, he was in ICU with what was most certainly permanent brain damage.   He was being kept alive through apparatus that breathed for him.   Seeing him like that remains a very difficult memory for me to share.   Unlike the last conversation I had with him, he had nothing but my attention from the moment I walked into his hospital room.  As the rest of my family needed to get some rest, I told them I would like to stay with him overnight and would call them if anything changed.   I sat there besides his ICU bed on a chair until 8am the next morning.  I don’t remember sleeping much that night. When my Mom came back in the morning, she forced me to go back to her home to get some sleep promising me they would call if something happened.  On the way back to the house, they called and said I needed to come back right away.  By the time I got back, Dad had passed away.  Despite knowing this was inevitable, I was still absolutely devastated that, again, I wasn’t there when it happened.

Not having Dad around became a very difficult void to fill in my life.  I did my best to ‘work my way’ through it, by owning all the preparations for Dad’s funeral and follow up memorial service.   I guess I thought If I was busy no one would ask how I was doing or handling all of this.  I remember at the funeral/memorial service several people came up to me and said things that worked against this strategy.   One person said, “… you know he so wanted you to have some grandchildren for him”.   “Really?!  Do I need to have that guilt right now?!”, I thought to myself.  Another said, “you know your Dad told me he learned a lot raising you kids…”   Again, I thought, “Really??  I never remember having that conversation with him. That sure would have been nice had Dad said that to ME instead of just his friends…”   My memory of learning things with Dad was that it was more one-sided meaning I was the one getting all the learning.   That is a lesson I have tried to carry over to my own kids and that is to tell them when I learn things from them so they hear it from me directly.

The biggest lesson from my Dad passing away become a KAIROS moment several years later.  I have come to the realization that Dad was really reaching out to me in a way only his passing shortly after that last conversation could teach me.   If you wait too long to be “in the moment” while you put in “your time” into your job, you risk missing out on the blessings God intended for you.   These blessings can be shared between any two people for a time, but ultimately is ONLY sustainable if BOTH people are committed to the relationship.    My personal experience has been that adding additional loved ones into the mix makes this exponentially more difficult.  My faith tells me that ultimately my capacity to love another can only be sustained if I first have a committed a relationship with Jesus Christ.   Until my Dad died, I would never understand that work would never give back to me in the measure I gave it.  In contrast, Jesus death on the cross gives back to all who believe in Him consistently and immeasurably regardless of their past efforts or their transgressions.   A belief in Jesus then permits me the capacity to love others as He loves me while putting work into its proper place in a well balanced life.   As the apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

Jon closed his sermon on Sunday with this thought,  “Jesus invites you to take this time and make it a moment”.   Being conscious of being in the moment is a discipline one can hone through prayer and thoughtful reflection on the promises God’s makes to each of us in his Word.   My own father’s passing began the process that has taught me discipline as you have read in “My First Story” in this blog.   I am so grateful to both Our Father in heaven and my biological father for making the sacrifices that made my life redemption possible.  It brings a smile to my face to think my Dad is with the Lord and they are having a nice chuckle together as I share this story with you.   He can’t but be beaming with joy as he too sees the grand-daughters he had so hoped for be the appropriate priority in my life.  I prayerfully work on ensuring my children continue to witness my actions and not just my words alone honors that my Dad’s early passing was not in vain.  I invite you, my dear friends, to hold me accountable to do the same.

I pray this Christmas day that my story may also help some of you find your own KAIROS moment this holiday season…

Merry Christmas!

On a journey…

Last month, over fifty men from our church, Clovis Hills Community Church, participated in the annual Hume Lake Men’s Retreat.  There were over 700 attendees from 26 churches from around the state of California there with us.   Our church this retreat each fall either a Hume Lake or Wonder Valley since I began attending in 2003.  The first retreat I attended was in October 2003.  As I reflect on the seven retreats I’ve attended over these last ten years, I realize how much my view of this event and my life in general has dramatically changed. Each year I go, I return charged up again to meet the challenges of the world that await me as we return “to the valley” from being “on the mountain”.  On this Thanksgiving Day, 2013, I want to share with you this story about my first retreat I attended to express my deep gratitude for how much the Lord has blessed my life since that time.

This story picks up where my FIRST story in this blog left off.  Though it was a huge burden lifted off me that my wife had found The Lord at the same moment I had recommitted my life to Christ, I still felt unsettled.  Knowing the amount of time I had been away from any church influence had been roughly 20 years was very convicting.   I never felt more isolated and alone those first 6 months living back in Fresno.  As most all of my closest friends at the time still lived elsewhere, it just seemed like I didn’t have anyone to share my burdens with besides Leah and by this point she had grown somewhat weary of my neediness for comfort and reassurance as I adjusted to my new career in a Healthcare IT role in Fresno.

My work situation in Fresno was becoming increasingly stressful as I knew I was not as much a fit in the specific role I had been hired for.   My role with my prior employer in San Jose grew to involve my managing engineers, machinists, technicians, networking specialists and other skilled engineering support staff involved in medical device and software development.  In my new role in Fresno, I was now managing very seasoned caregivers (nurses, therapists) who were assigned as Information Systems Analysts to ensure our systems considered how clinicians worked not just those who had saavy info-tech skills.   The types of temperaments between my prior work and this group and the work each did were considerably different and I was having difficulty adjusting to leading this team.   It was a trying time for my new direct reports as well as they adjusted to my style of management honed over years of working for a for-profit medical device company and prior to that as a US Naval Officer.  Yet, I attribute this misalignment to be all God’s plan in that (1) I would not have moved back to Fresno EVER if I waited for a Medical Device or other engineering role to open up there and (2) He had plans beyond simply carrying my own sense of self reliance / self worth in work that I had developed in my past two careers.

I had been going to Clovis Hills for nearly 3 months by the time I recommitted my life to Christ.  The church met in the gym at the middle school we lived near which was in part one of the reasons we had tried it out.  I liked to “hide” in the bleachers as to avoid being spotted by someone spotted me from my past.   I forecasted being asked “… where have you been???” and then find myself having to explain the long neglect of my faith.  Even after God restored me and my wife through the acceptance of our Lord Jesus Christ, I still had this haunting sense that I had to make restitution for my past neglect.

In this context, my life came to a pivotal turning point the week after that Sunday in October over ten years ago.  Knowing I was feeling isolated from my former friends and colleagues in the Bay Area, Leah suggested after church that I consider going to the church’s Men’s Retreat to meet some NEW friends.  As I was still feeling apprehensive about meeting anyone I might know or worse exposing my sense of vulnerability to a bunch of men I didn’t know, I meekly acknowledged her counsel saying I would check into it at the retreat info table outside the gym.

Checking out the materials on the retreat felt akin to being in the self-help section of a book store where you hope no one would notice you standing there.  It turned out there was a gentlemen behind the table who would not make this experience just a self guided one.  While looking at the brochures and the information at the table I tried to look like I didn’t notice him.  After a moment of silence, he asked the inevitable question, “… so what is your name?”   “Jerry Dickerson”, I answered sheepishly, expecting a cordial if predictable, “Well, it’s nice to meet you…”   Instead, his answer was a very emphatic, “… THE JERRY DICKERSON?!” indicating surprise that someone he knew so well went to church here.  I looked up and realized it was Phil Dodd, the father of a longtime school friend, Patrick Dodd.   Patrick and I had attended the same churches through much of my junior and senior high school years.  In fact early in my faith journey, Patrick and I played church basketball together.   Knowing Patrick was a young man of great faith during those years, I naturally remembered that having much to do with the influence of his father.   And here was Phil at that very moment recognizing me when no one else had for nearly the entire time I had been at Clovis Hills thus far!

This was a providential moment as my drift from faith began my senior year in high school.   My not having a regular mentor to hold me accountable as I went on to the Naval Academy, however, was a big reason I stopped viewing that going to church as important.   In fact, I started to coin the phrase “… MY church is wherever I go…” to suggest I didn’t need to be at a single church to be faithful.  I think this is a trap that most college age Christians fall into.  At this age, we tend to think our ability to reason things out amongst our intellectual peers is indicative of “enlightenment” and that “religion” is for those who have less capacity to think things out for themselves.   The way we rationalize (read ‘rational lies’) during these early college years is a subtle but common tool that Satan uses to encourage our self-deception thus making us less impactful to the Kingdom of God for this period of our lives.  Worse, not only does our self-deception hinder our own spiritual growth, it influences those who once looked up to us for our faith in God.  I personally know of several friends who observed my walking away from faith my senior year in high school as in part a rationale for their own drifting.

… yet God had a plan even in this!   For the moment Phil Dodd saw me at the Men’s Retreat table that fall Sunday afternoon, I felt “found again”.  For such a Man of God to still recognize me had to be God’s hand!  For the next half hour or so, Phil and I talked about all sorts of things.  He showed genuine interest and compassion for me personally and spiritually, something that I hadn’t felt for some time.  He never judged me for the past as I had feared might happen and in fact made me feel like it was just yesterday the Patrick and I had just graduated from high school.  As I reflected on the profound spiritual influence he had on Patrick and the reality of the loss of my own father seven years prior to that meeting that afternoon, I immediately viewed Phil as someone who could mentor me in a father-like way.   Longing for the conversation not to end, I helped him pack away the Men’s Retreat table materials and talked with him all the way back to his car long after everyone else had left church.    He had clearly made it seem very reasonable to get over my apprehension about going to the Men’s Retreat and so I signed up that afternoon!

At the Men’s Retreat the following weekend, I spent the couple days trying to meet and get to know other men who went that year to Wonder Valley.   This is where I met Patrick Vance and Doug Griffin, two great Men of God, and in a later Retreat, Tim Henry all of whom would later have great influence in my spiritual walk.  The main friendship that was deepened that weekend, however, was with Phil.   It was an experience I will always mark as the ‘low water mark’ in my descent into spiritual irrelevance and a deep depression about a life that seemed to have become inconsequential.  Feeling my life was ‘in the weeds” and very vulnerable, I asked Phil to help me find what purpose God had intended for my life going forward.   I did this in writing on a feedback card I think was meant to give to the Men’s leadership team for the retreat but I chose to give it directly to Phil instead.   He kept this card in his Bible and showed it to me again later this card as I think he cherished the sincerity in which I wrote it.

Phil’s response to my card was to invite me to go “…on a journey” together using a study called Operation Timothy (OT) as our guide.  Phil had been inviting many men on such a journey successfully in the past though I was unaware of it at the time.  He was known around the church as “Obi Wan” after the Jedi Knight who mentored Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.  I could not have chosen a better partner for this study as it turned out that Phil was the ministry leader of OT with 85+ men he’s taken through it to date!  He holds the title of “Elder Emeritus” for Clovis Hills Community Church having helped the Senior Pastor, Steve Davidson, along with their wives found the church over 20 years ago.  Phil was Steve’s original high school church teacher and mentor in Dos Palos many years ago.   Like me, Steve sought out Phil’s mentoring early to start the journey they are on together at Clovis Hills to this day!

Operation Timothy is a study designed to take two people through a spiritual walk together with the intent to have the typically older and wiser ‘Paul’ disciple the typically younger ‘Timothy’ much as the original two apostles did together helping plant churches along the way.  When I accepted Phil’s invitation to go on a journey with him, he became my ‘Paul’, and I became his ‘Timothy’.   For the next 18 months, Phil stepped me through each of the four books of the study, each going succeedingly deeper into scripture and how to apply it in one’s life.

During this 18 month journey, I began the transition out of the work role that was not working out and into my current role of Project Manager (PM), a role I truly God designed me for.   Fortunately, God was also looking out for me in my work setting for he brought around me a couple very capable executives who had tremendous capacity to mentor me professionally, David and Darrick.   Both of these men had served in Chief Information Officer roles prior to coming to Community Medical Centers.  They both saw I would be a far better fit as a PM then a manager directly of Clinical Analysts.

David at the time had been a contract Project Manager himself, taught me how much more influence one can have through projects without necessarily having the authority one has with Direct Reports.   I am very grateful to David particularly for having taken a chance to hire me out of a Medical Device engineering role straight into Healthcare IT largely on the basis of finding out I had graduated from Annapolis.  It turns out David, a former Army officer himself, lived and commuted from Annapolis, MD each week in his contract role with our hospitals.  He not only admires the Naval Academy for what it produces in future Naval Officers, he also sponsors midshipmen to visit his home as part of a program to give those far away from their families a home away from home.   It is by God’s hand I am certain that I met David, as I’m sure anyone of faith knowing my story would agree that my resume would have likely been overlooked if David specifically not made that connection.

Later, I met Darrick who took over as the Director of our Clinical Systems team and became my Manager as David returned to the Project Management role he was originally hired for.  Darrick, a man of faith and deep conviction himself, had a long successful career in Healthcare IT and helped me adjust to this new role of Project Manager.  I am very blessed to have had his support during this tumultuous time in my life.  His affirmation was a huge reason I didn’t simply give up and quit during this transition.   Between Phil’s spiritual mentoring and the professional guidance of these two men at work, I have landed well in my work, ministry and other roles in the community.

In quick summary of these past ten years, I found work life balance at last which in turn has permitted me to focus on my marriage and my role as father to two daughters who have personally witnessed my life change in becoming a dedicated disciple and follower of Christ.   I view the life change of my wife and daughters, in turn, as the VERY BEST demonstration of God’s plan to redeem my past life.   For you see, God has purpose even in our deepest most troubling times in life as evident when you see those you love come to find the same hope you have in Christ.  My return to Christ is living proof that fathers/husbands can and often do have the greatest influence in the spiritual walk of the rest of their family.

This story of the prodigal son is a timeless one and I believe my story is a retelling of it.  I saw recently a post by a dear friend who shared a link about why millennials are leaving the church in increasing numbers.  The statistics are pretty sobering… Over 90% of our youth leave the faith for a time as I once did.   Fortunately a similarly high percentage ultimately return to that faith.  This return happens at some time in life… some sooner, some later (… after 20 years in my case), but the key is that it happens quite often as Grace makes it all possible.  We are all in need of a Savior who doesn’t care as much where we’ve been but where we are going.   Fortunately, Jesus Christ came to save the world not condemn it (John 3:17 NIV).

I am VERY blessed that I re-learned the nature of my personal relationship with Jesus.  To prove that HIS Grace was real, I truly believe He arranged the circumstances which I would not only recommit my life to him but that I too would be refound by my friend and mentor Phil Dodd.  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV).

Phil remains my mentor and dear friend to this day.   Each year, we take a driving trip to either one of the wildlife preserves on the valley floor or to the foothills near Fresno in the early Spring to reflect on what God has done in our lives the past year.  Seeing the birds thrive in the wetlands, the flowers bloom and the normally brown foothills green at this time of year is a great reminder that our Lord grows things quite well after a long cold winter.  There are other stories of my desire to ‘press on’ that stem from this providential meeting with Phil at the Men’s Retreat Table in October 2003… but I’ll save those stories for later.  Until then, I encourage you too, to reflect on what you are most thankful for and PRESS ON…

Patrick Dodd and me c. 1978 on the Northwest YUG (Youth Under God) Church Basketball Team

Patrick Dodd and me c. 1978 on the Northwest YUG (Youth Under God) Church Basketball Team

Phil and I "birding" at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge in January 2009

Phil and I “birding” at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge in January 2009

Phil Dodd, Tim Henry and me at Hume Lake Men's Retreat,  October 2010

Phil Dodd, Tim Henry and me at Hume Lake Men’s Retreat, October 2010

Phil and I on our continued journey in the Foothills near Hensley Lake, March 2011

Phil and I on our continued journey in the Foothills near Hensley Lake, March 2011