Friday, June 25, 2010

Father knows best

Who could have imagined the events the last week have brought? We were living high on the continuing stream of good news trickling out from Great Lakes, Illinois. Caleb had entered Navy basic training and excelled in every way. We were shocked (pleasantly so) to see him transform from a laid-back, somewhat unmotivated kid to a man with a passion for excellence. He was at the top of his division. He scored perfectly on the tests. He did everything right.

Then last Friday, one dime-sized red spot on his belly button turned the world upside down. A referral to a dermatologist and a less than 30 second assessment ended it all for Caleb. When the word "psoriasis" was written on the record, this disqualifying condition rendered him unfit for military service. That's it. End of story. No exceptions. He was removed from his division and placed, like a leper, in a holding compartment (barracks) to wait out his discharge. Despite valiant efforts from my Navy captain brother and the commanding officer who tried everything he could to find a way to keep my son, he will be sent packing next week.

How do we reconcile what we thought for sure was God's will for Caleb and what has happened? It seemed to be exactly what Caleb needed at this time in his life. Things were going so swimmingly. The Navy was going to be his perfect ticket to pay off student loans, finish a degree, and partake in the best nuclear engineering training possible. The circumstances all pointed to the fact the God had ordained this path. But what should we think now? Were our assumptions wrong?

Does God still care? I know intellectually that He does. Has He abandoned my son? A good Father doesn't do that. Did He make a mistake or was the mistake ours to misinterpret the facts? Hard questions all in a time of crisis...except for the one about God making a mistake.

There are many instances when we can only see the work of God's hand in retrospect. Perhaps this is one of those times. It seems as though these short five weeks have developed a side of Caleb that we had never before seen. Maybe all these recent days in the holding compartment and the endless hours of introspection and conclusions reached were reason enough for this short-lived journey.

If I truly believe that God does have a perfect plan for Caleb, and I do, then I have to accept this surprise ending as a part of that plan. But it's hard. I cry because Caleb cries. I am disappointed because Caleb is disappointed. I grieve because my son grieves at the loss of a dream. I would do anything I could to "fix it." But I can't. I have neither the power nor position to fix anything.

It's easy to trust God when the way is clear and the path well lit. But do I trust Him when the road becomes shadowed and dark? I must. For the mere presence of the shadow proves the existence of the light; the light of the Father. And truly, my Father knows best.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anatomy of a DNF

I had been worried.  Worried that I had been working on a fibular stress fracture in my right leg. I hadn't told anyone about it but had done the research. I had all the symptoms supporting the diagnosis. I decided to head to Ohio anyway and hope for the best. This was to be a special run with my brother. It was to be his first 100-mile finish. I need not have worried about the leg.

I left early Friday morning for the long drive to the Mohican State Forest where the race was being held. It was a glorious day, even cool enough to wear a jacket for a time as I sped through the countryside in my little Miata convertible. As the day wore on, I thought about putting the top up to get out of the sun. But, since I had on sunscreen and drank lots of fluid, I figured I'd enjoy the wind-blown look for a little longer.

Upon arriving at the busy campground, host to the start and finish, I found my quite, wooded campsite and happily set up camp. My brother, John, had not yet arrived with his crewman, Chris, and daughter, Hannah. With tent pitched, I grabbed my phone to check messages. I listened to my husband's strained voice falter as he spoke. "Caleb called and it's not good news." My heart stopped.

Caleb has been at Navy basic training since mid-May and has excelled. He has fully embraced the training and scored perfectly on tests. He has been at the top of his division. Now, another physical for the guys in the nuclear engineering program was given.  A doctor said he had a very mild case of psoriasis on his scalp.  For that, he was immediately removed from his division and the Navy is processing his discharge from the military. End of discussion. How could this be? How could this be?

With trembling fingers, I called Gary. As he filled me in on the details, another phone rang in the background. "Let me take care of this situation," Gary said. I had a sickening feeling. It must be Seth. It was. Last week, Seth's Mac Book was destroyed with an unfortunate encounter with moisture. A photographer without a computer is like a cook without a stove. Now the news was that his professional camera and expensive lens had been stolen. No insurance. That is like a cook without the entire kitchen.

Within just a few moments, the stupid race lost its appeal. No draw at all. I wanted to get in my car and run home to cry on my husband's shoulder. I knew it wouldn't help but it would make me feel better. I felt so lonely, so isolated, so helpless sitting on that rustic picnic table. Lord, I cried out, what are you trying to do? What are your trying to teach us? I lost my appetite. I felt sick. I cried.

In time and still waiting for John to arrive, I drove to the pre-race dinner. In my arms I carried a box of new books that I hoped to sell.  But the place was a zoo and not conducive to such things. I looked for familiar faces and saw none. With dinner behind schedule, I chose to hide in a corner and charge my now-dying phone. I wished there to be a plug for me as well.

My brother and company arrived and showed me love and sympathy. At their urging, I stood in line for the few rotini noodles that remained along with a little bit of salad. I drank one glass of whatever it was. That was my tasteless and meager dinner. The pre-race briefing that followed was just as disappointing, my disposition perhaps clouding my judgment. There didn't seem to be a lot of substance or helpful course information. We slipped out before the crowd.

Back at camp, I tried to think through drop bags. I couldn't focus. It was like wallowing in mud. Eventually, I decided on two bags for aid stations inaccessible to crew.  Just a pair of socks and a different shirt. I mindlessly filled my hydration pack making sure to carry plenty of electrolytes. I was sure to need them. I brushed my teeth and drank a little bit of water before retreating to my tent.

Alone again, I cried out to God. I wondered how Caleb must be feeling, isolated from his division, his promising career being yanked out from under him.. . . and just when he had found his passion and started to excel. And Seth, my goodness. . .the lessons he has had to learn in the past few weeks. I ached for my boys; ached so hard it hurt. What more could go wrong? Drunk, arguing couples, yelling and screaming. That's what. Besides my mother's angst, the racous outside my tent and down the hollow robbed me of much needed sleep. I figure I restlessly slept for 30 minutes.

John and I took to the start line. Someone said "go" so we did. I took small sips of my electrolyte drink often. I knew I had to if I was to survive the predicted heat and humidity. At about six miles, we stopped briefly to pee. I was surprised. I could only produce a trickle and it was nearly brown. Uh-oh. At mile 11, I felt my left calf quiver. Double uh-oh. I upped my drinking and chewed on more electrolyte blocks.

John and I talked as we ran, catching up on family news and events that get lost when living miles apart. We enjoyed seeing our crew and appreciated what they did for us. I ate what I could and tried to drink substantial amounts of fluid when we saw them and at other aid stations. The 23 miles of road, some exposed to the sun, found me having to draw up to a walk with increasing cramping after short distances of running. It was in the 90s with equal humidity.

I looked forward to the crew-inaccessible aid stations with hopes of a variety of food and cold, cold drink. I was disappointed more times than not. I pulled out every trick in the book to get a handle on my fluid and food intake. My pee continued to get darker and the drips minimal. I was worried. A knife-like pain was in my distended stomach. I puked about ten times in succession and for the moment, felt better. Maybe I could pull this out after all.

At 52 miles, we met our crew. I sat so I didn't fall. I was so hot yet had chill bumps. I forced myself to drink, made easier with ice availability. The standard chips, pretzels, some chocolate chip cookies, and a few PB&J sandwiches had no appeal. But, when Chris handed me an apple, it tasted great-especially when I added some peanut butter. I took more electrolytes before heading across the road and down the other side.

Within the next mile or two, I noticed that the cramping in my calves, hanstrings, hands, and even my chest muscles was subsiding. We ran for extended periods of time. My legs even felt strong. It looked like I finally got my electrolytes levels worthy of muscle function. And yet, I struggled still to eat or drink, gagging every time. Pulling into the next aid station, I entertained them with throwing up whatever was left in my stomach. It was like I was renting the food; not using it. I was sad and distraught. I sobbed, little wussy girl that I was.

The miles seemed to be so long. The tank was empty. My gut hurt with the impact of downhill running. Back at the start/finish, which was also mile 65, the only thing I could think about was quitting and getting a shower to relieve the pain in my privates. I could not bear to think about struggling on in this 102 mile race. I know that things don't always get worse and found that to be true when my cramping went away. Still, I had not been able to eat, drink, and keep down much of anything for the last 32 miles. My pee was scant and dark yellow, the agonizing sting indicative of acidity-induced chaffing.Why should I think anything would change for the next 37?

Then, there was my brother. He had been letting me lead. I was jealous of the way he was able to eat and drink and even envied his clear, frequent, and copious amounts of urine. Yes, we had thirteen hours to do 37 miles. Should be so easy. But still, if my tank was empty and I never rebounded, I could easily ruin his buckle quest. I was tired. I was distraught. If I tried to go on, my failure might induce his. I apologized for my weakness and watched him run off into the darkness.

At 28:01 into the race, my brother and his daughter crossed the line. Tears poured out of his eyes as he ran into my arms. Hannah cried as well, looking at him and saying, "Happy Father's Day." John was exhausted, his feet a mess. But he did it. I could not have been more proud.

As I looked around the finish line, I revisited the "what ifs." What if I kept going? What if I suddenly found the magic bullet and cured my stomach? What if I could have embraced another dozen hours of pain and persistence to achieve the finish line, those hours so insignificant in the context of a lifetime? I guess I'll never know. With final good-byes, I got in my car, turned on the air conditioning to escape the heat, and started the long journey home.

Postscript:
Though I feel like a failure, there are lessons to be learned. First, I likely went into the race dehydrated. That, I should have anticipated and fixed. Second, despite all the experience in the world and trying to do the right thing, sometimes the body just doesn't cooperate. Third, you have to be totally engaged mentally. 100-milers take a 100% commitment: mind, body, and soul. I don't think I was there. The stress of knowing Caleb (and Seth's) situation weighed heavily. The significance of fighting on to complete the last third of the race seemed unimportant in the big picture. Now, should I have been able to set that aside since there was nothing I could do to "fix" things? Probably. Would it have been wise continue all things considered? Unknown.

As I watched finishers take the final steps, I wondered how many thought "no way" at some point during the race yet continued on. Maybe I should have let John go on and then continued my own race behind him. That way, he would not have felt obligated to stay with me and I could have tested my outer limits. But alas, my surmising does little good now. I came home, tail tucked, another DNF in the history books.

By the way, Caleb sits alone awaiting a final decision from the Navy. He is asking for a second opinion since a dermatologist that saw him in his high school years said it was merely a form of dermatitis. (The two look the same.) Three days of ointment application has cleared up all symptoms. There will likely be an appeal. This is one fight we cannot give up.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Letters

In this age of electronic media, we are held in the clutches of bytes and bylines on social networking sites. Sure, it's convenient. And yes, I wouldn't be able to work without the World Wide Web and everything that goes along with it. But even now as you read this blog, it's not quite the same as tearing open a hand addressed envelope to read news and notes from afar.


Our oldest son, Caleb, has been away at Navy basic training since May 18th.  After that last thirty-second phone call saying he had safely arrived, we have been in the dark zone. No phone calls. No email. No Facebook. No nothing. . .until yesterday.

Seems that the Navy wants to make an impression on these recruits. They want to strongly convey the idea that they now belong to the United States military. They want these kids to focus on the here and now; not the by-gone days of living at home with mommy and daddy. Our letters took several weeks before delivery to Caleb was complete. And although I suspected he was writing in what little free time he had, our mailbox remained devoid of any personal greeting.  But yesterday, the flood gates opened.

Four letters dating back to the first days of basic arrived in a single envelope. Each, dated so that we could read them in order, bore the details of his busy days. Hurriedly, I scanned quickly through each one before returning to slowly digest every line. I laughed at his disparaging words about those not capable of correctly making the bed, positioning the pillow, or properly folding his blankets and clothes. This, from a kid who probably made his bed four times in his life and whose room was seldom tidy, seemed very odd. He chuckled at those fellas who could not follow directions or run in formation and commented about the whole ordeal not being that difficult. Even more surprising, he spoke of how good the food was, especially supper. And he wasn't kidding.

There is just something about holding a letter in hand and reading it over and over again. You want to glean all you can, reading the lines and what falls between them like a neurotic editor. And the fact that it is written in his own hand makes it all the more special because you know that the words were carefully selected. I can come to know his character, his likes and dislikes because of what I read. It makes the heart happy and the soul content.

What if we looked forward to reading the Father's words written so carefully long ago? I must admit, sometimes that book of letters stays on the shelf way too long. Unfortunately, those letters, though bound beautifully between rich leather covers, do us little good if we don't read and digest them. I suspect I would know the Writer much better if I spent more time reading what He wrote.

And so I challenge myself to a summer of reading worthy letters from Him.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Boomerang

When I was in college I traveled with a singing group to the land down under, a huge continent surrounded by magnificent blue oceans. It was a new experience for me. Though we traveled primarily between Melbourne and Sydney, we had encounters with koalas and kangaroos. We ate meat pies with as much enthusiasm and frequency as fast-food hamburgers here in the States. And, we learned not to push back from the table exclaiming, “I’m stuffed.” To do so would have meant an admission of pregnancy. Probably not the best thing for us single women representing a Christian university.

Of course, the trip included picking up various souvenirs for family and friends. Collectible spoons, tea towels with the continent painted on it, and a few cheap pieces of jewelry embedded with small opals, a stone common to the country. But the most intriguing gifts were for my brothers: boomerangs.

Now boomerangs are interesting pieces of engineering. Usually carved of wood, the piece is designed to be thrown by and returned to the same individual. It’s a game that requires no friends if done properly. Never does a kid say to his pal, “Hey, want to play catch with my boomerang?” To do so may result in decapitation. To be honest, I’m not sure if they are toys or weapons. But I do know we had a tough time keeping those suckers from landing on the roof or getting stuck in the limbs of a tree. Once in a while, we watched as it twirled through the air and made the turn back to us. But rarely, if ever, did it return to our outstretched arm the same way it left.

Kids are like that, at least ours are. Caleb has already boomeranged. He left for college, came home, left to find work, came home, and has now left for the Navy. Not sure that he’s ever coming back. But in no instance did he return exactly as he left nor did he return to his starting position.

Then we have Seth. As we roll up Interstate 81 on the way to his graduation from a professional photography program, we wonder what kind of boomerang he’ll be. He sure had no intention of returning at all. But alas, his empty pockets have forced the arc that turns him back toward home. Will he be the same kid that left? Probably not. Will his journey to and fro be clear sailing or will he be detoured by obstacles in his way? I’m not taking bets.

This whole experience of parenting grown or nearly grown children is interesting, to say the least. We wish for them to make solid decisions and wonder why they can be so blind to the obvious. We let out the rope and hope they don’t hang themselves for that rope is impossible to reel back in. This is a process; a process each of us underwent to one degree or another. We survived. I guess they will too.