Marriage, A Profound Mystery

“… So drag me to the altar

And I’ll make my sacrifice

Love is just a moment of giving

And marriage is when we admit

Our parents were right”

Billy Bragg, The Marriage

Per the “Law Shelf” website, “Marriage is the civil status or relationship created by the legal union of two people. It imposes certain duties and responsibilities upon each to the other and to society. These duties last until the death of one or the legal termination of the relationship.” 

Per the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Ephesus:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… He who loves his wife loves himself… ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:25-32 NIV)

The legal definition of marriage provides useful benefit in this life we live here in our time “under the sun”.  This definition sees one of its common utilities when one of the two people involved in the legal union becomes incapable of caring for themselves allowing the other member of the union to make decisions for them, financial and/or healthcare related as they may be. As this definition indicates, death of either person in this legal union provides for the legal termination of the relationship.

The spiritual definition of marriage Paul mentions, conversely, extends beyond the life of either person in this union. By this standard, successful marriage leaves a lasting and meaningful legacy for generations to come both during and after the life of either or both persons in a marriage, just as Jesus left an eternal legacy in his ‘marriage to the church’ that he gave him life up for out of love for his “bride” and gave her eternal life for his sacrifice.

While, it is a profound mystery why anyone would give up their life for a life with another, marriage teaches us in time that it is for and out of Love that is the answer to that mystery.

Highlights from Elowyn & William’s Wedding Day

I finished writing this story this weekend following Elowyn and William committing to one another in marriage on Friday!   What a joy it has been to witness the journey these two have been on over the last seven (7) years.  I’m so proud to now be William’s father-in-law.  He is an amazing man and we are blessed to have him in the family.  He truly has become someone that I have come to trust not only as a loving husband to Elowyn, but also as a son to Leah and me, and a brother to my daughter, Gigi.   He has been protective of all our hearts and well being. As a father, I am comforted to know that I am able to rely on him to look out for my family now and in the future.  

Their wedding was a unique and beautiful event.  Elowyn and William are clearly loved by their many family and friends as evident in nearly all of their invitees choosing to come to their blissful celebration. It was hosted at Ziveli, a local winery, located just off the San Joaquin River roughly 7 miles west of Fresno.   I am so impressed by all the work Elowyn and William and all the many people they enlisted to help them did to make the event so memorable.  I am particularly proud of the job Elowyn did to leverage the many generous friends who run businesses in the local Fresno area that she has partnered with in the past as a local artist.  The relationships she has developed as a professional illustrator and painter, and owner of a small studio in the Mural District of Downtown Fresno, was leveraged well to make her wedding and reception all the more special.   I share the story in pictures I took yesterday to chronicle just a few of the precious moments we got to be part of with the wedding party and guests yesterday.  As the father of the bride, there were no opportunities to take pictures during the wedding itself, so I am grateful that my brother took these and shared them with me by text. I know the wonderful photographer Elowyn and William commissioned will certainly provide many more high quality pictures of the ceremony and all the rest of the wedding and reception for later but I hope you appreciate a glimpse of the event for the time being.

Clearly having good wine is a great and key feature and benefit of hosting a wedding at a winery.  Having local wines to help celebrate reminds one of how Jesus made water in wine for a wedding once too when they ran low in supply for their celebration!  Ironically, while wine was more readily available for the guests, we had to make special arrangements to have enough water in the form of ice for keeping other drink options cold or the many guests who came as well as water for cleaning up dishes afterwards due to the limited supply of water available at the winery.   It would have been far harder to make water out of wine so we brought our own supply of ice and gallon jugs of water. There were several other benefits of holding the ceremony and reception at the same location a winery allows for.  For one, you don’t have the delay typical of having a wedding in a church and the reception at a hall that is not co-located on the same campus.  When you have to get in your car to travel from wedding to reception, this is often done at the expense of losing some of your guests who can’t easily travel or wait that long particularly when you have family and bridal party taking formal pictures between the wedding and reception as most newly wedded couples do.  While we did take some pictures after the wedding, particularly of the newlywed’s parents and grandparents, most of the pictures of the bridal party actually occurred before all the other guests arrived.  Though unusually warm for late April, having a wedding at a winery provides a great venue for our guests to sit and enjoy the late spring afternoon as the sun moved behind the large shade trees on the property. 

The wedding guests got to share in some tasty hors d’oeuvres and some delicious wine and mingle between the wedding and reception as opposed to when the reception is held at a separate location and you have the awkward time that everyone wonders when the wedding party will arrive.   Speaking of hors d’oeuvres, I was so impressed with the relationship that Elowyn and William have developed with one of their business partners, Fig & Honey, who took care of all of those delicious pre-dinner snacks that kicked off the celebration so well!   

As you see in the pictures I shared here, my daughter’s artistic skill were evident in the art she personally created.  She had the help of her amazing aesthetic decor consultant, Michelle Bishop, who complimented Elowyn’s art with other items she collaborated with Elowyn on to acquire and locate throughout the reception area.  For example, you might note the shells that held each of Elowyn’s hand created name tags, and the pots and vases that contained live plants and flowers on each table.  Michelle really leveraged the best balance of art and decor to realize the vision Elowyn had for her dream wedding mixing shells and cherub angel backdrops throughout the reception area.  I was particularly impressed with the floral theme Elowyn hand painted in the backdrop where she and William exchanged vows.  She had painted these and the other backdrops over the course of the last 6 months in between all her other art commissions and other jobs she juggled in that time.  It set the tone for other adornments seen at each table, the guest sign in table, the wine pouring station, and even the shell frames of their engagement pictures.  The placemats she asked her mother to hand-make turned out great exuding the love that comes with crafting those individually and tirelessly.   In fact, most everything was hand made at the event, but I have to say it was Elowyn’s wedding invitations and rsvp cards that topped them all.   Each person received a very well designed invitation that gave each person precise directions how to rsvp on line, and by mail.  

Unique to any wedding I ever attended, yet I understand is becoming more common, as illustrated in the last of the pictures of the invitation, was their ask to assist them as newlyweds with funding their honeymoon trip to Italy rather than spending monies on things in a registry.   As they live in an apartment they had fully furnished, there really wasn’t a need nor any room to put anything new in their home so this totally made sense to me. Leah and I didn’t register for our wedding either for the same reason, and we ended up getting many of serving plates as a consequence for not giving our guests other options that may have been of more utility. In retrospect, I wish it had been option to ask our guests to fund our honeymoon as well when we were, like our children today, much more on a limited budget.  I am grateful to all Elowyn and William’s generous friends and guests of the wedding who helped make the honeymoon they are on as I write this truly a spectacular one!

While I was worried that having a wedding in a winery rather than a traditional banquet hall would be a challenge for Elowyn’s elderly and fragile grandmothers, it turned out that special arrangements could be made for them to make them comfortable. In particular, our family is blessed to have a caregiver in ‘Dori’ who works for Everlight Care to help my mom who, with advancing dementia, needs constant caregiver attention. Similarly, Leah brought one of her colleagues from her work, ‘Elida’ to assist with her mom as well.  This permitted Leah and I, and the rest of our family, who typically are the caregivers for our moms at other times, to be able to celebrate the blessed day and evening along with all the other guests without feeling that we were neglecting my or Leah’s mother.  One learning about having a wedding at a winery is the limitations on bathrooms. As there were only two available for the 150 expected guests, we commissioned a service called “The Oval Office” (an apropos name) for the mobile bathrooms that were brought to the winery so our guests would have sufficient capacity for their needs there. Our Ziveli wedding planner, Hannah Zale, did an expert job of taking care of our every detail serving as the liaison between the winery and the wedding support team, including arranging for one of the two restrooms to be reserved for our family with the other for other handicapped guests. We are most grateful to Hannah for all the good work she did to make our family comfortable and able to fully enjoy the wedding! these next pictures capture Elowyn’s extended family in and just outside the Barn where much of the food was prepared and we could use to keep my mom out of the mid-afternoon heat.

Of course one of the most amazing thing about having a wedding at an outdoor venue like a winery in the Spring months is to catch the blooming flowers and stunning green landscape that you so see only for a few short weeks in the otherwise arid and hot Central Valley.   As cold as it has been this long extended winter, our worries earlier in the month leading up to the wedding that it would still be cold for the wedding were clearly misplaced.  It actually turned out to be 96F, the hottest April 28th since the record was set at 98F in 2007.  One negative to that heat, was it wore out my 93 year old mother who while dutifully making it through the wedding and pictures afterwards, needed to cool off afterward in the enclosed air conditioned Barn.  With her wore out by this point, we eventually opted to take her home and fortunately and gratefully, Dori and my brother, Don, were able to assist her home without too much effort as they were prepared for this very contingency given my mom’s elderly condition. 

As the sun set and late afternoon turned to dusk, the higher than normal temperatures turned into perfect temperatures into the early evening as dinner shifted to dancing.  With the wine pouring and the music playing, the bride and groom, family and friends all celebrated well into the evening. While these few pictures captured that dusk time, we are all in great anticipation to see all the many other pictures from our professional photographer yet to come.

Why Wedding’s are a Profound Mystery

As I quoted earlier, the Apostle Paul called marriage the “Profound Mystery”, the willingness for a man to leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.  He was also speaking to what Christ did for his bride, “the church”.  Today, more than ever, I think it important to model in my own 31 year marriage to Leah, what Christ said and did in Love for each and everyone of us.  The rest of this story will share what our marriage has taught me.  I will also share how this points to my Mom & Dad’s marriage as well.  My prayer is that those learnings will be remembered similarly in the years as my daughter and her new husband embark on their own ‘profound mystery’.  

With all this work to make a one night event such an amazing, wonderful, yet short-lived celebration, it makes one wonder, what did Paul mean by marriage being a “Profound Mystery”?   Is does seem somewhat apropos for one to wonder (especially us ‘guys’) why so much care and effort goes into this once-in-a-lifetime event.   However, I think that Paul meant a much broader and eternal ‘mystery’ is unfolding in each marriage.   I mean after all, we live most of our lives before marriage thinking about what it is we individually are getting out of life.  What makes us now think it is time to give up that independence and now want for another more than we want solely for ourselves?   That truly was a mystery to me, because it wasn’t something I was thinking about at all went I left home and went on to my first post high school career in the Navy.

William’s journey to court my daughter, Elowyn, began when she was just 17, him being only a couple years older. While William was in his third year of college,  Elowyn was finishing her final semester in high school at the time.   William actually had met Elowyn at Dianna’s Studio of Dance (DSD) where he had become a dance teacher. Leah has been dancing for nearly 30 years since she was roughly William’s age when he met Elowyn. As it was for William, Leah’s love of ballroom dance began at DSD as well when she first started dancing with her then (and current) professional dance partner, Franco Peraza. It was William’s mother, Sherry Van Heusen, who deserves recognition for getting William interested in dance when he was an early teen. Unfortunately, Sherry is no longer with us as she passed away due to cancer 10 years ago.  Fortuitously, she chose to put William into dance lessons at Diana’s studio and he became enamored later with the idea of teaching others to dance too.  While Elowyn wasn’t really a dancer, she would commonly come to the dance studio with Leah which afforded the opportunity for them to meet.  The maid of honor of the bride, Gigi, shared how the two met in a playful and hilarious story during her planned toast at the wedding I share here for your enjoyment. 

There’s so much more to this story worth telling but that will be for them to share another time.  I entered the story when William decided he would like the opportunity to date Elowyn while she was in her final semester in high school.  Given she wasn’t 18, and because he was a conscientious and respectful gentlemen, William asked my permission to date her by first committing to go to church with us as a demonstration of his commitment to honoring our faith in doing so.   To be fair, I probably would have done whatever would have been expected of me to get the chance to date Leah if I had to first get her father’s blessing first. That wasn’t necessary, as when  I met Leah, she was 21 and her father had already passed away in a tragic accident three years earlier.  William was successful as I have to admit his strategy to go to church with us did indeed help in gaining my trust.  

Reflecting on Leah and My, and My Parent’s Marriages

Shifting back to our own marriage story and as I shared earlier, Paul wrote that “…husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”   By that I learned that means that my wife, Leah, has become through our own marriage, as important to my life as any other aspect of it I had before marriage.  I share when I first made that commitment marriage in my story, the TWO BECOME ONE and showed how that commitment would be put to the test in MY FIRST STORY. We were 12 years into our commitment to one another, when Leah felt called to remind me that she viewed the care of our daughters to be the more appropriate center of our lives than I had made it to date at that point in our journey as their father. As Elowyn was nearly ready to start Kindergarten, I was struggling at the time with a work career that I was becoming increasingly restless and disenchanted with even as it provided a significant income that we had grown accustomed to permitting us to afford living in the SF Bay Area where we had lived since we got married. So obsessed with performing in my work role, I commonly worked 12+ hour days leaving for work and returning home before it was light outside due to my long 90 minute commute (each way) often not even seeing my daughters while they were awake in the process. When I agreed to look into alternatives to that job that would permit me some more work-life balance, Leah suggested I should consider interviewing for a job in our hometown of Fresno.  I see God’s hand at work as my resume landed on the right desk (with the help of my then sister-in-law who was an RN that worked there) preceded an interview and later an offer came from Community Medical Centers to work as a manager in their IT department.   

As I share in that first blog story, I initially thought to decline the offer to work for CMC as I had felt “my life” had thrived previously in the SF Bay Area prior to the current funk I was in. So I told Leah I was considering options that would possibly bring us back to the East Bay in the Oakland area. Leah and I had lived in nearby Alameda in my last 18 months of my Navy career and I remember fondly living in that bedroom community.  Leah than gave me what I like to playfully now call “the offer I couldn’t refuse” when she said to me in response to my lack of commitment to move with her back to our childhood home. She said, “…Well, I’m moving back to Fresno, it doesn’t matter where you are at, you will will be at work anyways.”   She went on to say even more emphatically that she “would rather see [me] work at a gas station in Fresno than anywhere in Oakland”.  Ironically, Elowyn would 13 years later attend a reputable art school in Oakland for one semester before deciding she didn’t like living there either and came back to Fresno herself.  Fortunately, conflicted as I was, I listened to Leah’s heart and acquiesced to her desire to be back in Fresno where she envisioned we would have more family support for our children.   I was also influenced dramatically by the memory of how my own father’s life was cut well short by a heart attack that came in part due to the work related stress he allowed in his life that I speak to in the story A KAIROS MOMENT.   Through both my Wife and my Dad’s influences, I made the decision that has made all the difference in our marriage.  For those who have read the rest of the story, you learned that my commitment to Leah and our marriage would later drive the circumstances that would bring us to Clovis Hills Community Church where Leah would come to know Christ for the first time, and I would renew my own commitment to Christ as well in the community that raised me.  Praise God!

As these stories demonstrate the circumstances that set the stage for Christ to re-enter my life, it makes me want to share the importance of the mystery my Mom and Dad’s life together in marriage was as well.  As I share in my Dad’s story, ODE TO GMCS ROBERT A. DICKERSON, USN, and my mom’s story, THANKFUL FOR RESTORED HEALTH, they both have had challenging childhoods up to and including World War II that ultimately brought them together in marriage while my Dad was stationed in Japan in the late 1950’s.   Their marriage brought them three boys, my brothers Don & Ron in 1962, and then me later in 1966. My Dad’s assignment as Navy Recruiter in the Central Valley brought us to Fresno initially in 1972 when I was only 6 years old. Five years later, a heart attack forced my Dad out of the Navy, and so he started his civilian career which allowed our family to remain in Fresno through the balance of us three boys’ school years. My Dad worked incredibly hard to provide for his family, but years of stress and smoking took its toll.  As he knew mom would outlive him, my Dad’s firm reminder to us boys late in his life was that we had better take care of[our mom when he was gone or he would come ‘haunt’ us, something all three of would remember being told individually well beyond his death from a final heart attack in 1996.   This mandate from my Dad has kept us three boys in alignment that we are going to do all we can to make it possible for my mom to stay in her home, the one that she raised the three of us in.  So far we have been successful in this endeavor despite her advancing dementia.  Praise God! Please pray we can continue to do so.

Today, I find it serendipitous that the key blessings of having children is to get to witness both my daughters, out of respect for their father and love for their grandmother, now each individually care for my mom two days a week helping her cope with the struggles of advancing dementia that does not allow her to be left alone anymore.  That is a revolution over what I experienced in my own childhood or early adulthood as I never remember anything beyond some very brief visits of my one living grandparent, my Dad’s mother who lived in Carthage, Tennessee.  I do recall the my Dad’s three siblings having those responsibilities for my grandmother, as they lived nearby just as my brothers and I do today for our mom. Not living in Tennessee gave us a detached awareness of how much work it must have been for my dad’s family back in Carthage to care for my grandmother.   In contrast, my daughters have spent much time observing how their own parents, aunts, and uncles have treated and taken care of their mothers.  Sadly, due to a heart attack that took his life just before his 58th birthday, my dad didn’t even outlive his own mother, and thus was never afforded the opportunity to model what it is to take care of an aging parent to me.  My mother also had parents who passed in Japan long before I had any meaningful memories of either of them and whom I never had the privilege to meet in person.

This story leads me to conclude that the contrast of my parents and our own marriage experiences serve as a foundation for Elowyn & William to build on, and I pray they can stand on our and William’s dad, Bill Van Heusen’s shoulders here as Bill has similarly taken care of his own mom and dad in their twilight years while also caring for his spouse who succumbed to cancer. God willing, the three of us will live long enough for them to helping us into our own twilight years of life without hopefully burdening them or their sister significantly.  Today, the Sunday after their wedding, I had the opportunity to drop William and Elowyn at the train station in downtown Fresno, as they head out on their honeymoon trip to Italy via a train to followed by flight out of SFO. I had the privilege of taking my mother with me to say goodbye.  I feel blessed in that we get to see how our lives have set the stage now for them to start their journey of marriage together, just as my mom & dad did for Leah and mine.  

“7 Minutes” for Words of Wisdom at Elowyn and William’s Wedding

To conclude this story, I will share that Elowyn and William invited a few of us in the family to speak at their wedding as we toasted the newlyweds after dinner and before they cut their wedding cake.   I was the fourth and last person who got to speak before William would come up and thank all of those who had made His and Elowyn’s Wedding a special occasion.  William’s father Bill went first, followed by Gigi (as shared in the Video above), then William’s Uncle Jimmy Apple. All their toasts were very meaningful. Then it was my turn. The long running joke was how long I would take to share my thoughts given my well earned reputation for being verbose and chatty. I playfully introduced the fact that Bill had gone the full 7 minute allotment and longer so I felt I should equitably speaking get the same as the Father of the Bride.  What follows here are the notes I followed for my “speech” for you to review and enjoy:

Preamble to My Wedding Advice

Many contemporary poets/song writers/rockers try to explain LOVE from their generational perspective

  • In the 50’s…
    • Elvis Presley shared that “…wise men say only fools rush in… yet he “…couldn’t help falling in LOVE” anyways
  • In the 60’s,…
    • John Lennon told us we “should hide [our] LOVE away…”.
    • A few years later, Joni Mitchell told us she “…looked at LOVE from both sides now… and she concluded that she”… didn’t understand LOVE at all.”
  • In the 70’s…
    • Stevie Nicks told us her LOVE saw her “…reflection in the snow-covered hills, but a landslide brought it down”
  • In the 80’s…
    • Pat Benatar tells us that “LOVE was a Battlefield”
  • In the 90’s and later things just got darker for LOVE… 

So… maybe we need to look to more than these songs for the true meaning of LOVE??

Here is my advice for all of you using a card with prompts to help me stay on task to share this in 7 minutes or less…

Wedding Advice & Well Wishes

My advice seemed warmly received by the wedding guests and the bride and groom. Below are the Biblical verses I based my advice on In the interest of being brief, I didn’t cite this during my time speaking but I attribute this to be why the advice is timeless and the reason they were well received by the wedding guests.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13 (NIV)

I do feel somewhat vindicated that it didn’t really take the full 7 minutes for me to share all this and still be meaningful.  I should give credit to all who know me well who counseled me to be brief, but especially my wife Leah, my daughter, Gigi, and my dear friend and mentor, Phil.  That inspired me to look for a way to be disciplined about being on point. Fortuitously, I found these fill in the blank wedding advice cards a few days before the wedding while looking for some colored index cards to invite other guests to share their thoughts after I shared my own. These Hallmark wedding advice cards not only helped me be succinct, they also permitted me the opportunity to invite 120 of their wedding guests to do the same (that’s all the cards the Hallmark store had in stock). As I shared my thoughts, I asked our wedding planner Hannah and her team to help pass the cards out to each guest who wanted to share their own advice and asked them to place them into this box pictured here.   I pray this box, now full of rich (and some humorous) advice of all Elowyn & William’s friends and family will be a treasure Jesus spoke to when he said to store in heaven to refer to for their many years of marriage ahead…

I hope you have found this story as joyful reading as I have found writing it to be.   It is a cathartic experience to know giving up for one’s life for another can be so rewarding.  Billy Bragg was right… My parents were right about their choice to get married and my I pray Elowyn and William will always feel the same way about their parents! 

The Current COVID Pandemic… How it has shown me “…a way of life that is best of all”

I am SO blessed!  

Yes, I know there is a Pandemic raging worldwide at the moment.  It is early May 2020, and the country remains very divided between those who believe we need to be cautious in returning to work and those who feel the need to return to “normal” is overdue.   If you want someone to share what you view is the right decision here, no problem, just get on Facebook, Twitter, or your favorite news media hub, scroll down a bit, and voila, you have a kindred spirit who obviously “gets it” in spite of all the “ignorant masses” or “sheep” who are fools for believing what those “other idiots” think.  

In all seriousness, I don’t really believe any of that or that there is one “right answer” anymore than I believe that either (1) we should drink ourselves with bleach to kill the Coronavirus or that (2) President Trump really seriously said we should do that.  In fact, I don’t believe that any worldly view that speaks in absolute terms as either side of that particular or other “manufactured” controversies would lead us to believe.  And if you get bored with that controversy, don’t worry, many others will be shooting off shortly like fireworks on the 4th of July, one after another catching our very short-lived attention until the next “firework” controversy shoots off and captures our interest.  And the more absurd the controversy the more attention we give it.

So… in this crazy time, how can I say I am SO blessed?   Well, let me share the obvious reasons first…

First, if you haven’t been following me on Facebook, you may not know that my younger daughter, Gigi, just received notice she was admitted into UC Santa Barbara as a Linguistics Major.

On the Pier with UCSB in the background.
Who could not want to go here for college just for that view?!

What makes news of her admission particularly special is that Gigi was “wait-listed” in her original UCSB freshmen application last year after fter attending their summer program for high school seniors and setting her heart originally on going there upon graduation.  Undeterred and while she was still in high school, Gigi began taking remote classes at Santa Barbara City College such that she finished 14 units before the Fall semester began.  Since that time, she has completed all the requisite 60+ units (including AP credits) and with a 3.94 GPA qualified for the Transmission Admission Guarantee (TAG) program… all in a single Academic Year!   

The UCSB Gaucho Mascot

That would have been a great achievement in itself alone, but a day after receiving word from UCSB, Gigi got an acceptance letter from UCLA as well. What is so impressive about that is UCLA is one of the best and most selective colleges in the nation, and because they don’t accept TAG transfers, Gigi qualified for admission to this prestigious school solely on her academic record alone. 

So many doors have now opened for Gigi academically where just a year prior, they seemingly had closed.  While the journey has been a very difficult one, God is VERY good and Gigi is VERY faithful… resulting in a HUGE prayer answered. Praise God! 

The UCLA Bruins Mascot

Gigi just announced yesterday that she has made her choice, and will be planning to join UCLA as a Linguistics & Psychology major as part of the class of 2022! Here’s her announcement on Facebook, a powerful and motivating message to those graduating from high school this year I think you will agree!

UCLA Bound!

But I am SO blessed for more reasons than that.  Let me continue…

Just as the Covid pandemic was about to unfold, my other daughter, Elowyn was able to host her Grand Opening of her NEW Art Studio with her business partner and artist friend, Annie, she met starting the local Art Coalition based in downtown Fresno.  They named their studio, Studio Van Ness, as as it is located in the Mural District at the corner of Van Ness and San Joaquin avenues, kitty-corner from Arte Americas in an up-and-coming area of the renovated Downtown Fresno area!   To be only 21 and own her own art studio/business is simply amazing!  The grand opening was a big success, with many friends and advocates of her art came to celebrate on Art Hop night in early March.  In case you couldn’t attend, Elowyn made this ‘virtual tour’ of her studio and shared it recently. Her mom and I are so proud yet in some ways we are not surprised… if you have been following me on Facebook, you know I have been promoting ‘Art by Elowyn’, my daughter’s branded website for several years now that has become increasingly well known especially in the downtown Fresno area.  

Elowyn in her newly opened Studio Van Ness
Elowyn and her Studio Van Ness partner, Annie Fugere 

So.. when the City of Fresno order went out to “Shelter in Place” just a couple weeks after their Grand Opening, it would have been easy for Elowyn to become discouraged that this would be the worst timing to start a new business.  Yet, Elowyn kept on promoting her art anyway on her Etsy, Instagram and her Website.   While it is hard for Elowyn to not be able to be at her studio temporarily, her art continues to be seen and many still order her many offerings such that it has perhaps even made her all the more visible that one can be a successful commercial artist “on line” in this day and age.   We are so blessed to know that many businesses and the art community of Fresno in general have been so supportive of our daughter to make this all possible.  

Here’s Elowyn as aspiring future artist at age 5…
Who knew then she would never change her passion to become an artist to this day!?

Click here if you want to learn more about Elowyn’s art journey story.

… And yet I am SO blessed during this Covid crisis for yet other reasons…

So far, COVID has caused much disruption in all our lives.  Working for Community Medical Centers, a reputable hospital/outpatient care services network here in the Central Valley, however, has been a HUGE blessing in this time.  First, our leadership team knew this disruption was coming so prepared all of the Information Systems department I’m part of to be ready to implement a “Work From Home” strategy for its staff.  Not only did this impact our 190+ staff, this would be something we would enable and offer to over 700+ of other department employees to do as well.  While the vast majority of our 9000+ employees are clinical staff (nurses, therapists, specialists, etc.) who have to have contact with patients, many of our support staff do not need to be in the care areas necessarily to be able to be productive.  In fact, many of our staff are located in various business offices throughout Fresno often miles away from any of the hospitals we directly support which made those roles ideal to be moved to our homes in support of the “Shelter in Place” order that Governor Newsome and the mayors of Fresno and Clovis enacted in mid-March.   I had the privilege to be part of the team that helped coordinate this effort of getting roughly 350+ people to transition their work from one needing to down form their office-based PC to one based in their respective homes.   What a rewarding experience that has been to know they all (like me) can now be at home working safely with their families and still be productive.   I have personally been home now for 8 weeks, and while I have found at times being cooped up in one of our spare bedrooms on my computer all day trying and exhausting, I do have to admit I’ve been extraordinarily more focused and thus effective at getting my work done then when I’m in the office where many more distractions occur throughout the day.  In fact, I can’t envision going back to 100% office based work ever again given how effective this has been for our IS department in particular, but we shall see.

My Work From Home Setup!

… and working from home has brought my family even more blessings that I could have ever forecasted.

Many of my friends may know this already as I told the story here about my Mom’s journey recovering from her Stroke nearly 3 years ago.   It was in one of our amazing hospitals I support in my role in IS that she was first treated and then rehabilitated from that Stroke through several weeks of focused physical, occupational, and speech therapy.  Today, my mom (nearly 90 years old) lives independently at home and still drives (despite the recommendation of me and my brothers otherwise) and does so much of what needs to be done on her own.  

This is a link to an earlier story I told about her recovery, titled, “Thankful for Restored Health

Mom on the move!
Me and Mom on our morning walk

Mom and I mom went on a 1.5 mile walk together this past weekend.  And before that, she had just cut down a tree in the backyard before I even arrived that morning!  I find her commitment to physical health so inspiring for someone her age, and it has motivated me to stay as active similarly.

When this “Shelter-in-Place” order came into effect, and knowing my mom was so very independent, my brothers and I were VERY nervous she would continue to shop and go out in the community on her own.   After all, she has been doing this pretty successfully since she recovered from her stroke. When I was afforded the chance to work from home, however, this opened the door for me and my brothers to share some of the task of doing things for her so she could continue to live alone in her house, a good thing from a social distancing standpoint, without the risk of having her go out on in the community.

I have to give my brother, Ron, the most props for taking on the bulk of caring for my mom’s day to day needs.  Currently, he visits her three days a week to ensure she has enough food and has other needs taken care of while I visit her on weekends.  He and his wife, Runy, live in an isolated part of eastern Fresno County on 50 acres of land they own.  Ron comes into town to visit mom regularly when he comes to pick up supplies and food to bring back to their home.  Mostly, tending to their large land holding and their home is a near full-time job, but Runy encourages Ron to give up a sizeable amount of his time each week to also come down and help mom out and for that I’m very grateful and love them both dearly.   

Mom and Ron at Thanksgiving Dinner shortly after her recovering from a stroke

My other brother, Don (Ron’s twin) also lives in town and helps a great deal with a lot of the work that needs to be done on my mom’s house as he has great handyman skills. For example, he came over just yesterday to unclog mom’s sink as she has a lot of routine drainage problems.  Don has been an awesome help to my mom and for this and many other reasons, I love him dearly as well.  Don has a job working at Lowe’s for the last couple years which has been a great employer.  Lowe’s like other hardware stores, have been deemed ‘essential’ so has remained open through the pandemic thus far.  Because many of their older workers had the opportunity to opt out of working due to their age related conditions, Don has actually gotten more hours assigned to work than ever.  In fact, he was rewarded employee of the month for his willingness to take on more hours with a ‘can do’ attitude they love about him.  This had the unfortunate disadvantage of making it less safe for him to be near my mom, so he has agreed to stay away (or at least outside the house) until the pandemic is over.

Thanksgiving 2019 Family Picture
From L-to-R: Jared, Gigi, Mom, Don, Runy, Elowyn, Ron, Leah, Me

While I’m in town and closer to where mom lives, I have had two reasons I couldn’t go over as often as Ron initially.  First, like Don, my work has been pretty demanding especially the first 3-4 weeks of the shelter-in-place order were in place. Second, I needed to be careful the first few weeks I worked from home about going to my mom’s because I had the added risk of being potentially exposed in my work setting to nurses/doctors or those who work with them closely who might have been exposed themselves to patients with COVID.  While that didn’t play out to be the case, I wasn’t sure, and so I actually kept to myself the room that served as my home office for the first two weeks I worked from home to be extra safe.  I have a particularly risky situation in this regard, because my wife and I decided that we would have my mother-in-law move in with us for her safety. Prior to the pandemic, she lived in a shared living situation with other elderly people who need 24/7 care, and she is particularly in a guarded health condition that would make her particularly vulnerable to being infected with COVID.   Between these two situations as well as my brother Don’s, it was important that my mom be cared all the more by my brother Ron.  Ron has been very diligent about keeping his exposure to Covid limited too as he does the bulk of the shopping for mom along with what he need to buy for he and his wife. In the last three weeks I have been able to resume visiting my mom on weekends which has been wonderful as I feel I can help out so Ron doesn’t have to come down as often and it’s been nice to have one-to-one time with mom going on walks with her. While California seems to be moving toward relaxing some of the safeguards from the shelter-in-place order, I am still in a wait and see mode about the safety of that for my mom in her advanced age.

My daughters each had their own challenging situation to deal with the shelter-in-place similarly.  First, Elowyn had been exposed to the public with her recent grand opening of the art studio.  Fortunately, for her and Gigi, their schools stopped meeting in person and went to an all-remote format. This afforeded Gigi the ability to come back to Fresno once she got furloughed from her Starbucks job she had only recently started in January. The problem became where would Gigi stay.  If she came to stay with us, she would put my mother-in-law at risk especially if she had been exposed to Covid during her work at Starbucks and was to pass the virus to us asymptotically.  Gigi had the inspiration/dedication to our wellness to decide to live in her sister’s apartment. It made perfect sense, why put either of their grandmothers at risk by being around either me or Leah?   Without asking, my two daughter made this arrangement and then called my wife and I to tell us that was what they had decided.  I know I say this a lot about them, but I couldn’t yet again be more proud of how they have matured to the point of making such effective decision making as adults.  Their mother and I know this is a testament to what God is doing in both their lives and we are so looking forward to what HE has in store for them next.

Easter Luncheon – Social Distancing Rules in Effect

I share all this background to conclude that it took a Pandemic to bring my family together in this unique way.  While this terrible virus is wreaking havoc across our nation and devastatingly killing so many, I have witnessed how it has brought my family all the more together in spirit if not physically.  While I wish a quick end to this pandemic as anyone else would, I do NOT see this as ALL bad, that God can in fact do VERY GOOD things even as bad things happen to each of us.  I pray my story helps prove this to be true for those reading this, particularly if you have found your own personal situation a daunting challenge to overcome as we have. I also want to acknowledge that my situation is NOT the same as others. Some have been deemed an essential worker, like my brother Don, but unlike him, they have children to care for as well. These are heroes as much as front-line healthcare workers as these are the folks making sure we have essential services like power, food and other products we need to live. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must be on those families, and so am immensely grateful to all of them just like I am for the medical providers/caregivers for their sacrifices. My prayer for all of them is that this pandemic would end soon so they can get their kids back into school and a routine that is more sustainable than the one we have today. I also pray that you all stay well and safe during this Pandemic, and that you too have gotten the chance to enjoy more quality time with your loved ones and that they too see the value this has brought to each of your relationships similarly.

Lastly, I want to share that I hope MOST of all that my story would be the antidote for what I shared at the beginning of this story and that is the negativity we all are too often reading about on Facebook, watching on the News, and seeing in many’s Twitter and other Social Media posts currently. In particular, I’m saddened by how many view the way the Pandemic is being handled by those responsible in our government for ensuring our public safety and wellness.   Depending on each person, one might think that it is any number of individual people or organization’s “fault” that we are where we are at today.   Some say it is President Trump and his leadership (or lack thereof) that caused this problem.  Others blame the Democrats and view this as just another means to step up their government overreach.  Yet others blame China or the World Health Organization for hiding or discounting the impact of the epidemic or even possibly engineering it, in the case of China, to cause all this worldwide havoc.   Some think that the COVID-19 virus impact has been overstated and that it really is no worse than seasonal flu.   Some have promoted the reckless use of treatments that have not been tested appropriately for efficacy despite the objection of those in authority to do so like the CDC or the FDA.  Yet others have used that to “expose” claims others have been reckless in promoted unproven or worse even exaggerated claims like drinking bleach to humiliate those who never really suggested such. 

Where did all this contempt, and in some cases downright hatred of others, come from?   Is this what God planned in allowing this virus to take route in our world?  While my faith tells me that God didn’t create this virus for the explicit reason to cause this havoc, I do think it is fair to say he didn’t stop this virus from coming to be what it has either.  So why would God allow this to happen even when HE knew many would react in such a negative way ???  I think we have to go back to the story of Adam and Eve to understand the history here.  We all know that story well enough to say that, despite God’s warning not to, both decided to take the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and become aware of the nature of Good and Evil.  It has been downhill ever since.  Though they were ashamed at first of what they had done hiding their ‘nakedness’ for the first time realizing they were so, Adam quickly took to blaming Eve citing that to God that it was “… the woman you put me with here…” as the culprit even though he watched her do it and never tried to stop her.   Hmmm… sound familiar. I am saying that the “blame game” started from the very beginning of mankind.  Can anyone really say no one knew we would have a pandemic someday?  It had been clearly predicted for many years prior to this. In fact epidemic/plagues have happened many times over the history of mankind.   We know that several hundred years ago, for example, that the Black (“Bubonic”) Plague killed off nearly 50% of Europe.  More recently, the Spanish Flu of 1917-18 killed 60+ Million.   Then just in the last couple decades, AIDS, SARS and MERS epidemics have killed many who were or became immune-compromised, in a way similar to how the COVID pandemic works as well. Those past epidemics were more easily contained than the coronavirus has been, which frankly makes this one the worst one I have witnessed in my lifetime.

So… with that history… who can really say, with any kind of intellectual honesty, that there is ONE single person or organization to blame for this without sounding a lot like Adam did in blaming Eve from eating from the Tree of Life?  Yet, many of us so consider ourselves experts simply because we know how to Google stuff and/or copy MEME’s or sensationalized news reports. In doing so, we effectively become a modern day ‘Adam’ quick to blame others while shirking our own responsibility in how to prevent the spread of this terrible disease!  The first victim of the blame game is often our own compassion for others and it this that has brought me to the boundaries of my own patience and tolerance of others who post what I consider misinformation and/or hurtful remarks on Facebook.

So while we all feel compelled to be judge, jury and executioner, yet there is a better way of life the can be found cited in the Bible…  

First, from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  

“But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1Corinthians 12:31, 13:1-7 NLT)

Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to Timothy, “The Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them” (2 Timothy 1:7 TLB).  

John wrote in his first letter a similar note, “Love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (1 John 4:18 NLT). 

Before any of those three letters were written, Jesus himself said , “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NIV)

Finally, Paul wrote to the letter to the Romans, that we “…not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Something that I do need to acknowledge is my perspective is a faith based one. Further, I have not, as a friend pointed out, been impacted as financially as others have… as yet. There is the reality all of us are dealing with is the uncertainty of whether if any of our jobs are going to be safe in the diminished economy that the Covid Pandemic has caused. As much as those factors haven’t impacted me, I believe if I had to choose losing all my wealth but keeping the health, well-being and love of my family in doing so, that would be a “no brainer” choice for me.

While some will regret the loss of some of our so-called “liberties”, I truly believe much like I have learned with my own family, that we have the potential to be a BETTER nation for the effort of working together to take care of our sickest and most vulnerable in our society… and that is something our whole nation can truly get behind independent of our political ideology.  

What do you think?  I have to believe we can do this better together with love for one another rather than we can apart with hate or contempt… don’t you?

May you stay well and healthy!


Journey to Israel – March 12-27, 2019 – Part 1 of the Story – Remembering the First Christmas

In March, my daughter Gigi and I visited Israel together as part of a trip sponsored by our church, Clovis Hills.   As many of you know, we have been attending Clovis Hills Community Church for over 15 years, and so it was truly a privilege to join some wonderful folks:  Both church leadership and attendees like us, for this opportunity of a lifetime.

It had been my plan to tell the “Full Story” of our trip to Israel by this point. However, I came to realize that to do so in a manner that would adequately share over 2 weeks of experience, I would need to tell it in parts. Thus, I decided I would share this story of just the first Christmas as a ‘teaser’ for a future story, or perhaps multiple stories that share the rest of the Israel Experience that Gigi and I had together.   In this way, I hope if I have told this story well, you might come back and read those stories later as well.  

This story is told from the perspective of someone who may have heard the more traditional story of Jesus’ birth.  I hope this to be all the more meaningful to someone new to a faith that many others of us have in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Unto you a Child is born…

Over 2000 Years ago, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph.  This first Christmas Story is chronicled in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2 (NIV):

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

One thing we learned in preparation for this trip was how this story was interpreted differently over many hundreds of years.  What I will attempt to share here is how the church has westernized the Nativity story over that time.  Modern archaeology has a penchant for exposing any flawed historical narrative, and many now question if the Church the Nativity was in fact the birthplace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about this Church: 

The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The grotto it contains holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus. The grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land. The church was originally commissioned by Constantine the Great a short time after his mother Helena’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 325–326, on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. That original basilica was likely built between 330–333.  It was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century, possibly in 529, and a new basilica was built a number of years later by Byzantine Emperor Justinian (r. 527–565). The Church of the Nativity, while remaining basically unchanged since this time, has seen numerous repairs and additions, especially from the Crusader period,.  Over the centuries, the surrounding compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters, comprising three different monasteries: one Greek Orthodox, one Armenian Apostolic, and one Roman Catholic, of which the first two contain bell towers built during the modern era.

…The Grotto of the Nativity, the place where Jesus is said to have been born, is an underground space which forms the crypt of the Church of the Nativity. It is situated underneath its main altar, and it is normally accessed by two staircases on either side of the chancel. The Grotto is part of a network of caves, which are accessed from the adjacent Church St Catherine’s. The tunnel-like corridor connecting the Grotto to the other caves is normally locked.

The cave has an eastern niche said to be the place where Jesus was born, which contains the Altar of Nativity. The exact spot where Jesus was born is marked beneath this altar by a 14-pointed silver star with the Latin inscription [that translated means] “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary”-1717). It was installed by the Catholics in 1717, removed – allegedly by the Greeks – in 1847, and replaced by the Turkish government in 1853. The star is set into the marble floor and surrounded by 15 silver lamps representing the three Christian communities: six belong to the Greek Orthodox, four to the Catholics, and five to the Armenian Apostolic. The Altar of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches. The significance of the 14 points on the star is to represent the three sets of 14 generations in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. First 14 from Abraham to David, then 14 from David to the Babylonian captivity, then 14 more to Jesus Christ. In the middle of the 14 pointed star is a circular hole, through which you can reach in to touch the stone that is said to be the original stone that Mary laid on when she gave birth to Jesus.

Roman Catholics are in charge of a section of the Grotto known as the “Grotto of the Manger”, marking the traditional site where Mary laid the newborn baby in the manger. The Altar of the Magi is located directly opposite from the manger site.

In the Courtyard outside the Church of the Nativity
Our group crowding at the the Door of Humility,
the main entrance into the Church of the Nativity
Gigi entering through the Door of Humility
The Basilica with ornament like ceiling hangings
The Altar of the Nativity, beneath which is the star marking the spot where tradition says Jesus was born. Our group didn’t reserve a time to go into this area, so I got these pictures downloaded from a website
This fourteen-point silver star from beneath the main altar in the Grotto of the Nativity marks the traditional spot of Jesus’ birth. Fourteen represents the number of generations between Abraham and David (14), David and Bablyonian Captivity (14) and Post Exile to Jesus (14) as described in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 1

While we were in Israel, it became very apparent to me how many centuries of Roman/Byzantine influence, along with more recent interests, commercialized the town-now city-of Bethlehem.   It was so busy with tour buses and vendors immediately descending on tourists take group pictures and sell their other wares; one could not help but feel somewhat like prey to those who were looking to get a quick sell to a naive tourist.   

This gives you an idea of what the area around the Church of the Nativity
looks like in modern day Bethlehem
Apparently the Starbucks Marketing has decided it isn’t worth
going after this trademark violation or those laws don’t apply in the occupied West Bank

Our tour guide, Moshe, knew full well that the Church of the Nativity was very likely not the actual location of the Savior’s birth.  He would always say things in his own unique way to debunk what we saw during our two week trip in Israel, during which we spent nearly all our time with him.  In the case of the Church of the Nativity, he would say “This is where Jesus was born, but NOT where Jesus was born”.   Yet Moshe also knew it was important that we view what many have come to visit over many hundreds (thousands) of years, to contrast to what we would see later in our time in Israel.

Our tour guide trying to explain what was going on in the Grotto below us. It was hard to hear with with another tour group next to us doing the same thing.
Christmas in the Courtyard outside of the Church of the Nativity

Later in our trip we would visit two places that make a compelling argument that the actual birthplace of Jesus was actually in a different location. Because this is a politically sensitive topic, I will omit the exact location of the supposed birth place of Jesus we visited and rather depend on scriptural references that help make the argument for us. 

One of the the first places we visited during our time in Israel was the Rock of Kathisma, also know as Rachel’s Rock. I found it amazing how accessible it was off the main highway between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This is believed to be the place that Rachel, wife of Jacob, rested before she gave birth to Benjamin and then died shortly thereafter. Nearby is Rachel’s Tomb, a holy place to the Jewish people on the order of the Temple Mount.  The reason this location is significant to Christians is that it is traditionally believed to be the same place that Mary rested en route to Bethlehem Ephrathat to give birth to Jesus.

A picture of all the women in our Clovis Hills group on the Rock of Kathisima
Gigi sitting on the Rock of Kathisima

For many years this location was revered by the Byzantines who built and expanded a unique octagonal church in between the 5th to 7th centuries to protect the location.  Eventually the church was destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again as the Muslims, and the Crusaders fought for control of the region.  After its final destruction following the last Crusade, Kathisma was buried and had long been forgotten.  Recently, it was accidentally uncovered by a construction crew that was expanding the nearby highway recently in the 1990’s.  

Outline of the Octagonal Church surrounding the Rock of Kathisima
Nearby road that uncovered the church in the late 1990’s seen in the background
A Roman built Aqueduct about a couple hundred yards from the Rock of Kathisima

Another website (cited at end of this story) shares some interesting things about Kathisma validates why the Byzantine church held this location as a ‘holy site’.   They write that “… though this rock is not mentioned in the Bible (by this name) it is mentioned in early Christian writings.  This was known as the place where Mary rested before she ascended to the top of the hill where the Tower of the Flock stood to give birth to the Savior.  This rock marks the vicinity of the original Bethlehem Ephrathat.  It also verifies the Biblical account of the birth of the Messiah.”

The second place we visited was nearby Kathisma, which puts into context the reason why we visited this first location.   Kathisma is a location in Bethlehem Ephrathat, and once again as this is a sensitive topic, I will omit some details about its exact location and instead rely on biblical verses below to cite its importance.

Gigi standing next to the Church of the Nativity. Behind her to the North is Bethlehem Ephrathat in the distance. The Rock of Kathisima is the west of the wooded area see at the horizon. This gives one a sense of how far Mary would have had to travel uphill while pregnant.

Tying Bethlehem Ephrathat to Kathisma, one needs to first read more about Rachel’s death while giving birth to Benjamin.

Genesis 35:19-21 (NIV)

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. 21 Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder.

“Migdal Eder” translated means Tower of the Flock where shepherds watched over the lambs/sheep in the area near Bethlehem Ephrathat.  These were special lambs in that were used for sacrifices at the Temple in nearby Jerusalem. The importance of these shepherds lays the ground work for why the place of Jesus’ birth holds such significance, as he would later become the “Lamb of God” and sacrificed near the same altar at his crucifixion.  

Here is a photograph with caption in Hebrew,
“A Watchtower from the hills of Samaria.”
This is an example of what a Tower of the Flock might have looked like

Another prophecy fulfilled regarding the Savior’s with are found in consecutive chapters from the prophet Micah

First this passage confirms the role of the Tower of the Flock in restoring the kingdom of God

Micah 4:8

As for you, watchtower of the flock,

    stronghold of Daughter Zion,

the former dominion will be restored to you;

    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”

Then this passage confirms that ‘one will come out of Bethlehem Ephrathah, who will rule ‘in the name of the Lord’ out to ‘… to the end of the earth”

Micah 5:2-4

2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

    one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,

    from ancient times.”

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned

    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,

and the rest of his brothers return

    to join the Israelites.

4 He will stand and shepherd his flock

    in the strength of the Lord,

    will reach to the ends of the earth.

    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.

And they will live securely, for then his greatness

What makes the location we visited so much more compelling to consider as the actual birthplace of Jesus then the Church of the Nativity are several key things.

  1. Its proximity to Kathisma.  It is a reasonable distance for someone who was pregnant to reach as compared to how far away the Church of the Nativity and the Grotto housing the cave that Jesus was presumably born in not to mention the drop then rise in elevation to get from Kathisma to this presumed location.  If in fact Jesus was born shortly after the stop at Kathisma, it would have been much more treacherous for someone in Mary’s state to get to.
  2. Its proximity to the Tower of the Flock.  While it can’t be confirmed exactly where this Tower was, it makes more sense that it would be where Shepherds watch over their sheep even to this day, which is in the area just east and south of where the Kathisma.  
  3. Its proximity to nearby water and road.  The location we visited is also where an ancient road and aqueduct built by the Romans originally existed in order to allow travel to Bethlehem.   It would make sense that Mary and Joseph would have travelled near this as opposed to going directly to where the Church of the Nativity is today to have easier means of travel and accessible nearby water.
  4. The Church of the Nativity was built in the same location that a polytheistic Greek God was worshipped on top of a hill.  Whether that location was established before or after Jesus would have been born there presumably supports the typical Byzantine strategy to build their churches over what was another worship place of greek Gods that their Roman predecessors worshipped.

So… Is where we visited truly the birth place of Jesus Christ?  Maybe.  Maybe not.   While I think the arguments above make for a compelling account of why it is where we visited or close thereto, I leave it to you the reader to consider and conclude for yourself.  If nothing else, I hope if you are considering going to Israel someday, that this story helps make a case for what you might visit and give you perspective that the world’s view isn’t necessarily a Biblical one.  My trip to Israel has given me a healthy skepticism, rather than to naively view Israel as a place that Westerners go to see all the places Jesus presumably was.

Even more important to me personally, this trip to Israel, which began with this contrast on places where Jesus may have been born, actually changed me in a more dramatic way that I hope to share as a theme throughout the stories I will tell about my daughter Gigi and my trip there back in March.  Gigi shared with the group at the end of the trip a very poignant lesson for me and maybe all us ’skeptics’ who like to over think what “really happened”.   She said to the group, “… while my Dad would say that some of the places we visited like the Church of the Nativity… were way too crowded… those places were actually my favorite because it proved the story of Jesus as told in the Bible were true.”  After all, why would so many come to visit this same location over the centuries if the savior’s birth was an unsubstantiated myth? 

She was SO RIGHT.  Here I was, in the case of the Church of the Nativity, trying to argue the relative location of the cave Jesus was born in being only at most a few miles apart from one another, and she had the wisdom to effectively ask, “Why does that matter?”  It is clear that Jesus birth and life was the fulfillment of prophecy to include as Isaiah forecasted “…Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV).   That all these “annoying” people come to worship the birthplace of Jesus actually affirms the impact his life and ultimate death on a cross and resurrection had on a broken world he came to save.   

So… since the Byzantines and all the “empires” that have controlled Bethlehem since the birth of Jesus can easily change the details of where that location to their convenience, despite what the Bible speaks to as I have tried to argue here, I challenge you all to ask yourself:  Are we Americans not just modern day “Byzantines” ourselves?  That is, should others view us as selectively changing what Jesus came to do (John 3:16-17) to what we conveniently want it to be?  Certainly we can say that is what we have witnessed even “Devout Christians” have tried to argue most recently in their interpretation of all the political upheaval going on in our nation’s capital at the moment often casting dispersions on other Christians as devout as them in the process.   Is this what Jesus would do or want?  Is this what and agape “love” looks like?

Or maybe instead, we should all ask the question my daughter did of me, “Why does that matter?”  After all, onto us a Savior was born in Bethlehem, and they called him Jesus, and he came to rescue us from all of this turmoil… and that is a Story REALLY Worth Telling… over and over!

Wishing you and your families a VERY MERRY Christmas!

References cited in this story:

 Church of the Nativity

 Migdal Eder


Ode to GMCS Robert A. Dickerson, USN

On the eve of Veterans Day and as promised earlier this year, I am writing this story about my Dad, Senior Chief Gunners Mate (GMCS) Robert A. Dickerson.   If he were alive today, he would have been 80 years old.   We have been without Dad now for over 22 years, which was also the same number of years he served our country faithfully in the US Navy from 1956 to 1977.

I have shared about my dad in several of my prior stories, probably the most poignant of which is ‘A Kairos moment‘ which if you haven’t read already, I would encourage you to read before/after this one, as it will give you context of how much his life and death changed the course of my own.   However, on account that this is Veterans Day Weekend, my main goal is to share more his story:  From the early years of his Naval career to when he retired and the civilian years that followed.  I will try to do this both in words and in pictures according to what either he or my mom has shared with me over the course of his life and beyond.

My dad was born on July 26, 1938 in Gordonsville, Tennessee.  This is a small town located in Smith County, right off I-40 about 50 miles east of Nashville.  Just 7 miles north of Gordonsville you will run into the Cumberland River and cross a picturesque bridge into Carthage, home of Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States.  Carthage is where my dad would grow up and call his home for the next 17 years.  Most all my dad’s family lived in or around this area of Tennessee, and I’ve had the blessing to visit many of them over the years especially during the early years of my own Navy career.

My dad quit school in 8th grade and started to work full time as a youth in rural Tennessee, something pretty common back in that time.  I imagine he must have felt trapped in such a small sheltered community back then, and wanted to get out and see the world.  So when he was still 17 years old, he lied about his age so he cold join the US Navy early.  I’m guessing that it was the summer of 1956 when he got on a bus and arrived at the San Diego Naval Training Center as a new recruit just as he turned 18 years old.

I don’t have much to tell you about these early years as I have no pictures of him during this time.  He didn’t share much about how these years went for him, nor did I ever ask.  I could only guess that with tattoos on both forearms and upper arms, two of them images of women, one dressed in sailor outfit and the other in bikini, that there was probably some good reason for that.  Having almost gotten a tattoo myself during my own time in the Navy, I can assure you that it was considered a ‘right of passage’ to get one, and probably no surprise to you that alcohol is often involved in manufacturing courage to go through with it.  Who knows… I still think I might go through with it someday… :o)

What I do know is that by the late 1950’s, he had been assigned and deployed to Westpac (Western Pacific operating theater) on his first ship, the USS Agerholm, DD-826.  This ship’s name would be the subject of one of his four tattoos; clearly it was an object of his affection as is typical for every sailor’s FIRST ship.  Sailors all call ships ‘her’ for a reason, and his choosing to permanently afix ‘her’ name to his arm is no surprise to me.  While I don’t know exactly the the duration of his service on Agerholm,  a review the command history shows that, after her return to the States in the early 1960’s, she was modernized, being the the first to trial a nuclear tipped ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket).  I believe all of that, however, occurred after Dad served on the command.  Nonetheless, Agerholm had an illustrious record of serving from post World War II through Viet Nam, receiving 12 Battle Stars for wartime service before finally being decommissioned in late 1978.

While on deployment on Agerholm in the South China Sea, my Dad operated in and out of Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo, Japan several times.  It was during these years that my dad met my mom, Mieko Masayama.   Mom lived near the base, working there as a waitress.  I believe they met for the first time when he was on liberty somewhere, likely outside in the local town where all the sailors routinely went.  I don’t know much of the details about this meeting, as my mom is very modest and won’t share much more than I already have here.  I will take the time here to explain that Japan, and particularly Yokosuka, a major Naval port for the Japanese Navy during the war with America, was at this time, a very friendly place at that time to US servicemen.   We were considered not only the country that had conquered them in World War II, but currently their primary protector from Communist China and the USSR.  The Cold War began right after WWII, and had those countries been able to occupy them after the war (as they did other Southeastern asian nations like North Korea, and later North Vietnam), things certainly would have not gone well for the Japanese.

I don’t mean this to be a political statement, but more a statement grounded in the reality that war always creates victims and the saddest ones are the innocent civilians caught in the path of the warriors who fight ruthlessly with one another.   Japan was no different than any aggressor nation that lost a major war.  Truth be told, they suffered their own share of innocent civilian casualties, numbering in the hundreds of thousands killed with millions more made homeless from the firebombing that American planes rained down on them for the last several months of the war.  My mom’s home city of Toyama was one of many target cities of that bombing, and she herself narrowly escaped being a victim.  This tragic war finally ended with the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forcing successfully for the Emperor of Japan to surrender.  Fortunately, it was General Douglas MacArthur who was assigned the responsibility to lead the US Armed Forces that occupied Japan.   General MacArthur expertly and graciously helped Japan restructure themselves back from a warrior nation to the peaceful nation it is to this day, with a nominal self-defense force as allowed by their own constitution.   This constitution prohibits Japan from ever becoming the major military power they once were, the one that was ultimately responsible for inflicting devastating carnage on civilians in other nations as well as being the justification for our own military inflicting their own civilian losses.

It was in this environment – the U.S. military serving as proxy steward of Japan’s national defense – that my dad found himself regularly able to visit my mother in Yokosuka, Japan.  Eventually, my dad chose to marry my mom on September 26, 1961.  On October 24, 1962, my mom gave birth to twin boys, Don and Ron, at the Yokosuka Naval Hospital.  As my dad had to continue to go to sea during these years, he wasn’t around much.  Fortunately, my mom had two very close friends, Ayako and Masako, who, along with a maid, helped my mom raise my brothers through infancy and as early toddlers.  While on leave from his ship, my dad did get the opportunity to visit her family in Toyama.  Toyama is located due east of Tokyo, on the Sea of Japan side of the island of Honshu, and I’m guessing was a several hour train ride.  While many in her family greeted her American husband and children warmly, at least one of her older brothers, my uncle, refused to meet dad because of his memories of fighting the Americans in World War II.  I would later visit Toyama too and get to meet this same uncle during my time in the Navy.  My uncle was reconciled by this time with his feelings towards Americans, and had remorse for never meeting dad when he visited.  He made up for that during my visit.  This remains a fond memory of my dad that I carry with me to this day.

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My Dad just after joining the Navy

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First picture of Dad & Mom

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R to L: Dad, mom, Ayako, and friend

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Mom with her twin boys in Yokosuka

Dad continued to operate on Agerholm and other naval ships operating out of Yokosuka in the South China Sea until early 1964 when he was reassigned to a Naval Station in Portsmouth, Virginia for his first shore tour.  I do not know the exact nature of his duty there, but I do know that, during this time, my mom and her twin sons, being new to the United States, got to meet her new American family for the first time.  It was during this two year assignment in Portsmouth that my mom experienced the full extent of American prejudice toward the Japanese being only a beginning speaker of English in the American South during the escalating Viet Nam war.

On March 26, 1966, I was born at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital.  At this point, my mom had quite enough of living in this part of the country, and demanded my father get a home port on the West Coast, else she would go back to Japan.  My dad dutifully complied and got stationed in Long Beach Naval Station, where he was assigned to ships that were home ported there.  This would include what would be his last naval command he would serve on:  the newly commissioned USS Denver (LPD-9).   Dad would deploy with the Denver in late 1969 to Westpac to deliver marines and supplies to Da Nang, in South Viet Nam, in support of the ongoing war with North Viet Nam.  During this tour of duty, my dad was promoted to E-7, Chief Petty Officer (CPO).

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Dad as GM1 in whites. This appears to be Hong Kong in the background

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Dad in his dungarees as GM1 on board his ship

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Dad after making Chief

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GMC Dickerson relaxing on his couch during his third hitch in the Navy

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Me and Dad in our San Francisco Home c.1971

In 1971, my dad rotated off of USS Denver to his next shore duty in Hunters Point Naval Station, San Francisco.   We lived there for just one year, where I attended kindergarten and my brothers attended grade school, before my dad chose to take an assignment as Navy Recruiter in Fresno, CA in the summer of 1972.  This is when my mom and dad bought their first and only house, where my brothers and I would live and go to elementary, junior high, and senior high school, and where my mother continues to live to this day.  My dad was very successful in his recruiting role, winning awards for achieving or exceeding quote on new naval recruits over the next 3 years, and was promoted to E-8 Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO) during this assignment.  As the apex of his success as a Navy Recruiter, my dad got the opportunity to speak at an event where the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was in attendance.  I share the picture of that experience here.  My mom said dad was so very nervous to be next to the top officer in the Navy.

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Dad working on me as a future Navy recruit. He eventually succeeded… 🙂

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Dad in his Fresno Recruiting Office

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Award for beating quota on recruiting goals in 1974

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Dad presenting at the downtown Fresno Hilton with CNO, Admiral Zumwalt seated to his right

When it came time for him to get reassigned to another ship and go back to sea in 1975, my dad had witnessed the benefits of his family being able to be in one location for several years, particularly that my brothers’ and my being able to stay in the same school district was very agreeable to our sense of stability.   So, he basically told the Navy that, rather than send him to a seagoing command once again, he might retire instead as he was approaching his 20 year point anyways.

My dad was a very productive recruiter here in the California Central Valley, an area rich in military service, during a time in which the military draft had been eliminated by act of Congress.  Because of the controversial war in Viet Nam, it had become difficult to get volunteers to join.  Not wanting to lose his skilled capacity in this role, the US Navy offered my dad the unique opportunity to remain a recruiter for an extended assignment in Fresno instead, and this seemed to work to both the Navy and our family’s interests.  My dad was later selected to become Master Chief Petty Officer in 1977 but to be able to take the position, he would have require him to take an assignment on a seagoing vessel as the senior enlisted representative (aka the Command Master Chief).  He didn’t have to make that decision, however.  Due to his longtime habit of smoking and other lifestyle choices, he had a heart attack at the age of 38, and was forcibly retired for medical reasons later that year.  My dad would later have other mild heart attacks and eventually undergo open heart surgery in the summer of 1983 to receive a triple-bypass.

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Dad’s US Navy Retirement Certificate

Despite these medical setbacks, my dad would eventually recover and have a successful career as a civilian, becoming ultimately a district manager of a retail auto company operating here in the Central Valley.   It was during these civilian years when he strongly encouraged me to attend the US Naval Academy.  And as he had hoped, I did indeed apply and get appointed to attend Annapolis in the Summer of 1984.  You can read more about this in the story, “My First Year at Annapolis” , but to share the quick synopsis, my dad and mom came to visit me after those first 6 weeks of ‘Plebe Summer’ that year.  Clearly seeing I was struggling there from all the hazing I had been through, they knew I was pondering whether I should quit.  Dad told me during that visit that there would be ‘no shame’ if I was to come home.  That turned out to embolden me to stick it out, not wanting to disappoint him, as well as wanting to know I could be like him:  a survivor who carried on in the worst of circumstances.   Nearly four years later, he would stand proudly by my mother on May 25, 1988, when I graduated and began my own successful Naval Career to include serving on USS Princeton (CG59) home ported in Long Beach Naval Station, the same port as my dad’s last command, USS Denver!   I served on Princeton during the Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm when it was struck by a mine in February 1991, something you can read about in “Princeton Mine Strike“.

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Me and Dad at Parents Weekend after Plebe Summer, August 1984

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Dad and me goofing off while I was home from Annapolis for the holidays: “Before and After”

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Dad and me after graduation and just before I put my Ensign shoulder boards on

After Desert Storm ended, and our ship had fully repaired from the mine damage, we were enroute back to Long Beach.  My dad flew out to meet our ship in Pearl Harbor and he came onboard with us to take advantage of what is known as a ‘Tiger Cruise’, where dads/sons got to ‘ride along’ with their family members for the last leg of a ship’s return home.  My dad got to spend some priceless moments recounting his own days in the Navy with the crew.  The other chiefs took a liking to him, understandably, and he spent much of the trip in their dining area known as the “Chief’s Mess”.   While he did seem to want to spend more time with them than anyone else, including me, I was nonetheless proud to be a witness to how special this time was for him almost as if he was back in the Navy himself.   He also got to witness Leah, mom and our friend Jennifer meet us on the pier in Long Beach, along with the group of people welcoming us back to the United States as war heroes, to include the LA Laker cheerleaders!  It was a very special homecoming, and I can’t think of anyone I would rather have shared that with than my Dad!

Dad and me in Pearl Harbor after he embarked on Princeton for the TIgger Cruise. Seen in the background is the Arizona Memorial

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Dad on Tiger Cruise. USS Ranger, CV61 seen in the background

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Dad and me next to aft 5″ Gun Mount. Dad holding a Light Machine Gun he took care of during his time as a Gunner’s mate

After my tour on Princeton, Leah and I got married in 1991 and I was reassigned to my second ship, USS Abraham Lincoln, homeported in Alameda Naval Air Station in the San Francisco Bay Area.  While I was on the last 6 months of that assignment, having memories of what my own early life was like relocating to three different duty stations, I decided I didn’t want to raise my own future family while I was still in the Navy.  So, I decided I would separate in the Spring of 1993, after my five year post Academy service obligation was fulfilled.  In March of that year, my dad suffered a mild stroke, and I was flown off the Lincoln while it was operating off the coast of San Diego at the time, so I could quickly visit him at the hospital.  It was frankly heartbreaking for him to see me in my Navy uniform as I walked into his hospital room in Fresno that day.  I’ve never seen him cry in front of me in this way, something that has left an indelible memory for me about how fragile life is.  You see, my dad gained an addiction to smoking cigarettes and had continued to do so throughout his life, ultimately causing his heart problems, and now, this stroke.  Fortunately, this stroke finally convinced him to quit a nearly 40 years smoking habit.

A few months after his stroke, I separated from the Navy and took on my first civilian job/career at Stryker Endoscopy in San Jose, CA.  I was able to drive down regularly to Fresno to visit, and I ended up helping my Dad re-learn to drive again in his post-stroke recovery which went amazingly well.  My dad enjoyed these years of full retirement, and we went golfing together regularly.  These were some of the best memories I have of our time together, as we would talk in the golf cart about life’s challenges and how to navigate them.  Sharing the same proud naval heritage made these very sage moments of Dad’s life.  I hold these times sacred now, for I saw him increasingly trying to help me avoid the mistakes he had made, especially living and working without regard to proper work-life balance.  If you have not read as yet ‘A Kairos moment‘, I suggest you do as it will help explain this near end stage of my dad’s life and what it meant to me.  In late July, my dad had a final massive heart attack.  The EMT was able to restart his heart but that resulted only in him spending a day in ICU completely unconscious and likely brain dead, a shell of the man he once was, with a machine helping him stay alive.  On July 25, 1996, a day before his 58th birthday, he finally and gratefully passed away.  I got to spend this last night of his life sleeping in his ICU room after driving like a mad man from San Jose to see him.  That moment in time, seeing him this way, began a change in my life that still carries on with me to this day.

Despite some of the bad life choices (like smoking) that my dad made that eventually killed him, I feel very blessed to be his son.  I say this not just because of our common naval heritage, but because he was a great role model in terms of what it meant to work hard and persevere through many difficult times. This included his return to health after his heart attack and later his stroke.   Though many recognize my own veteran status and I am grateful for that, it is my own Dad I think of when it comes to being a veteran worth recognizing in my family.   I hope after reading this story you would share with me that dad’s is a Story TRULY Worth Telling!

Happy Veterans Day to all have served our country faithfully.   I count myself blessed to share that privilege with you all, but most of all with my Dad, GMCS Robert A. Dickerson!

Go Navy!

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.


“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.

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

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


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.

Reception Hall picture
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.

  • 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.

Owen Connelly, Leah and me in Charleson
In the Jungle Gardens outside the Tabasco Plant in New Iberia, LA
Bourbon Street in New Orlerans French Quarter
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…

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.

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.

First baby portrait, Christmas Holidays 2000
  • Year 10 (2001) – Family Portrait in Capitola
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…

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!

Leah and I at one of our first Family Ministry outreach events
My church family at Elowyn and Gigi’s baptism
Vance and Dickerson kids
Our little “angels” at the 1st Christmas Pageant at Clovis Hills
My family next to the  Clovis Hills Christmas Electric Light Parade Float
Leah and with the Huffmans at Snow Day in Kings Canyon 
Clovis Hills Family BBQ/Tailgater at the FFD Headquarters before our Annual Family Grizzly Game
Griffins, Newsomes and the Dickerson enjoying the annual Army-Navy Game!
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.

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)

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!

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

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!

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 boy
Picture of us, our bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower girl and ring boy
The officers from Princeton serving as my ushers and swordsmen for the wedding
The 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.


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


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
Ultimate is a fast moving game!
Love watching someone make an impressive catch like this one!
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
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…


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
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.