Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

“Lucy means light and additionally (the name) carried extra significance as my maternal grandmother, Lucille, was a spiritual rock in our family, before her untimely death on my birthday in 2009. I loved that the strength of my grandma might have an opportunity to live on in her great-granddaughter and was very pleased when Jaime was the first to suggest that we name her Lucy.”

Our shining star's bright light

Lucy – our shining star’s bright light

Four days before The Amazing Home Birth of Lucy Fisher, amidst a second blizzard in as many weeks during the relentless January snow of 2011, we received a visitor.

I was standing at the changing table situated directly under a window facing our backyard. Perched confidently outside our second floor apartment, overlooking the children’s bedroom, was a breathtaking cardinal against the backdrop of snow. I called the attention of the whole family to come marvel. But it wasn’t just the cardinal’s symbolic beauty amidst the storm that was so captivating, for as in continuing to observe it I felt strongly that it had arrived here on our branches purposefully.

A symbol of beauty amidst continual storm may have been something even more

A symbol of beauty amidst continual storm, this cardinal’s arrival may have been something more

I am not sure I would be able to explain it to a skeptic, but as has occurred to me on previous occasions, I sensed that this particular bird in this exact moment was there specifically for me. That it was present to deliver a message and would be content to remain watching over my household until I received it.

The cardinal stayed long enough that I eventually was compelled to grab the video camera and record it’s appearance. The picture to the right is an actual screen shot from the recording on that winter day. I could not shake the feeling that this sighting was not simply fortuitous but meaningful in some way. I have never been inclined toward interest in animal spirits, but decided out of curiosity to Google possible meanings for the overt arrival of a cardinal.

The first website I found spoke of a cardinal as potentially representing the spirit of a deceased loved one signaling that they are still with you. I immediately thought of my grandmother Lucille, who had very unexpectedly passed away in her sleep two years prior in January 2009 on the birthday I share with her husband Vern.

Grandma Lucy and Vern (or Pops as we called him) had been very formative in my life, despite living some distance from us. It was Pops that gave our family our first computer and Grandma Lucy made a habit out of sending the whole family homemade birthday cards printed on her PC. It was humbling to think that I may have been the last person she wrote to while still alive. After receiving notice of her passing earlier in the day, one of my grandmother’s signature “Lucilove Creations” birthday cards arrived in the mail for me. Inside was a clip art picture of a bursting balloon with text that said, “Popping out of the balloon to wish you a Happy Birthday!” and a handwritten note that read, “Love, G’ma + Pop – thanks for the Holiday picture of your family. – Clara is so cute. –” It was not only a balloon, but our hearts that had indeed been burst.

I had been unable due to finances and work responsibilities to fly out to California to attend her memorial service and regretted that. I felt maybe in some small way that Grandma Lucy was trying to tell me that it was okay. I went and found the birthday card she sent me in order to re-read her last words once more.

It was not until much later upon revisiting that birthday card that I noticed the sticker seal (pictured) my grandmother had used on the envelope and my eyes widened.

Cardinal Stamp

Did the last piece of mail my Grandmother sent before she unexpectedly passed away contain a meaningful sign of things to come?

Maybe it had been my grandmother after all.

This notion was not dispelled at all within me when a few years later, I noticed again on my birthday and the anniversary of her departure that a Facebook friend had unwittingly changed their profile picture to an image of a solitary cardinal perched on a snow covered barren tree branch.

However, it was not until this week that a greater picture started to come into view. My wife was out on a winter walk with the two little ones when a cardinal flew up to them and landed right next to our daughter Lucy, who carries the name of her great-grandmother she was never fortunate enough to meet.

Or had they met?

Was it possible that our blizzard cardinal had arrived in anticipation of our little Lucy just days before her birth? That even before we had decided on her name, Grandma might have known? That perhaps her presence was in some way paying another birthday visit the day before Lucy would turn four years old?

I am not one to put much stock in fortune tellers, mediums and the sort, but I found it strangely compelling when someone very close to us recently paid a visit to a psychic and was told, with no inquiry at all, that my deceased grandmother was watching over Lucy.

And why not?

Jaime and I had often joked that in the transition from two to three children that an extra set of eyes would be helpful. The reality of having three small children within the span of less than three and half years is that you cannot attend to all of them the way you would like. You give it your best shot and pray to God it works out. Is it possible that God in His infinite wisdom and boundless sense of humor may have answered our prayer by letting Grandma Lucy look out for her namesake on occasion?

And if so, what is it that Grandma Lucy has seen?

LucyLove

LucyLove

I imagine she is seeing what the rest of us have been fortunate to experience, a wildly determined yet emotionally sensitive little girl with a heart full of love. Lucy is a scene-stealer in the best sense of the term.

My grandmother was a huge college basketball fan, perhaps she has laughed along with us enjoying every moment of Lucy’s annual March Madness NCAA bracket picks, including “Hot Mexico” in 2013. Maybe it was my grandmother who put in a good word for Shabazz Napier and UConn last year which resulted in our whole family losing to a 3 year old.

The Bracket champ gets to choose the lunch of their choice at the destination of their own choosing. In true Lucy fashion she selected to eat Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches at our local children’s museum Kid City. Even better was the time she won our “Easy A” inspired Family Member of the Week vote and decided we would all eat hot dogs and rice as her celebration meal.

As the third child, Lucy is regrettably and constantly subjected to influences we never would have let our eldest children be exposed to. But as the older kids reach new developmental milestones and as our hands have become increasingly tied, she is most often right there in the mix. Last year as the big kids discovered Star Wars, the result was a phase where Lucy would make her presence known by singing the infamous Darth Vader intro “The Imperial March” followed by mechanical breathing at the dinner table.

She seemed to struggle a bit naturally with the arrival of our youngest Miles. They are 32 months apart, the largest age-gap between any of our four, and I think she enjoyed be the littlest. But her infectious giggle and sharp wit have carved out a place all her own. Just a few months ago she began playing nicely with her baby brother and then remarked to Jaime, “I am not jealous of Miles anymore. I know I am everyone’s favorite!”

Never have we met a more fiercely independent young lady. I have worked with many kids over the years in various capacities and found that the vast majority can be convinced to alter their behavior given enough time and the right approach. Lucy defies the odds. Once she makes up her mind, you will not be able to change it in the interim.

Before she even had teeth she wanted to brush them alone. Just last week she had nearly psyched herself up for a visit to the dentist before changing her mind onsite. I had to hold her straight jacket style against me a week ago, wrapping my legs around the feral beast and holding her jaw open in order to get a halfway decent dental cleaning. To her credit, her oft-independent brushing has yielded no cavities. These tendencies along with her strong joyful passion for dancing through life has earned her the family nickname “Wyldstyle”. photo 2

But be not fooled by her rough exterior. She is a true romantic at heart, magnetized to love stories and dreams of being a princess. Whereas I made a semi-intentional effort to squash some of this in her older sister, I have Let It Go with Lu-Lu and enjoyed watching her be herself. The theme of her four year old birthday party was “Pink.” We decided to play with some Power Rangers action figures the other day and when in character as Troy the Red Megaforce Ranger I asked her Pink Ranger what we should do today, she replied, “Maybe… get married!”

I will have to keep my eyes on her and welcome any assistance from Grandma Lucy in this task.

But ultimately, what I admire most in our little girl is her kind hearted and loyal servant nature. She loves to help Jaime bake in the kitchen. She is so infatuated with her BFF that she goes about re-naming everything in our home “Shianna” in her friend’s honor. She even passed a test of Dumbledore’s earlier in the week.

I recently started reading through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with the kids knowing that my 7 year old bookworm Clara would latch on to the compelling story, and in true fashion Lucy came along for the literary ride, though she would have probably preferred nightly stories about princesses. After we finished reading the book, we rented and watched the movie.

The next morning we ran into a bit of inter-sibling conflict over which show they would like to stream on Netflix while I got ready for the day. Clara and Shepard were arguing over which of their selections should trump Lucy’s desire to watch Strawberry Shortcake. I decided to employ a little Harry Potter parenting and see which of the kids may have been able to internalize one of the major messages of the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I will make no spoiler apologies for a book that will reach the age of adulthood this summer, so as more of a refresher, Harry stumbles upon the Mirror of Erised with an “inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.” Ms. Rowling does not spell it out, but the cryptic inscription when read backwards says, “I show not your face but your hearts desire.” At the climax, Harry uses his familiarity with the mirror to foil the villain and secure the titular Stone, but is somewhat confused as to how he accomplished the feat:

Harry: “How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?”

Dumbledore: “Ah, now, I’m glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that’s saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it.”

Using this little nugget of wisdom I designed a test for my children. I first asked them, “What do you want to watch?” and all three provided their individual answers with no overlap. Next I posed the question slightly altered, “What do you think would be best for you all to watch?” Child One and Child Two maintained that their selections would not be only in their best interest but also for the greater good. Only Lucy deferred her personal preference. Therefore, much to the chagrin of the older siblings, Strawberry Shortcake it was.

Lucy wins again.

My prayer is that my daughter will be able to maintain her fiery independent spirit in balance with her demonstrated ability to sacrifice her own desires for the sake of community.

Grandma Lucy – Any assistance you can offer in helping your namesake and this little light of ours shine along the way is genuinely appreciated.

Lucy wins again!

Lucy wins again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading.

If you are interested in watching Lucy in action, here is a little impromptu interview we did last week recapping life as a 3 year old when Wyldstyle got out of bed reporting she wasn’t “sleepy”:

 

“I’m so humble, it’s crazy. I’m like the Kanye West of humility.” – @AnnaKendrick47 tweet 4 Nov 2014

My wallet is more Hoarders than Mise-en-place, full of just as many memories as items of practical use. Among the bank and insurance cards, there is a note from my son scrawled in blue marker that reads (with an inverse P) “Sheq I ♥ You” and a mini-letter that my Mom snuck into my belongings when I first went off to college, always good for getting choked up, “I love you more than words can tell. My oldest son who was once so shy that he wouldn’t leave my side. You have grown up and become a fine young man. Thank you for being you! I’m proud to call you my son”. Others can have their streamlined wallets and flat pockets, but I prefer the Oompa Loompa look if it allows me to carry precious people with me wherever I go.

But also buried in my wallet is a token of a different type. A grayed parking garage ticket from the Woodland Hills Cheesecake Factory stamped 9/27/03 PAID: $5.00, overlaid in bold faced red crayon print, a loud reminder from my past self that “I AM AN IDIOT!!” I AM AN IDIOT!!

We were in the valley that evening to celebrate our good friend Wednesday’s birthday. Jaime and I were just six months away from being engaged, but you never would have known it judging from my behavior and her justified disgust. I am not the most self-aware guy even now, but over a decade ago I was certainly blind to the sheer intensity of my own faults. We had gotten into an argument of some sort walking back to the car, flustering me greatly. As a result upon getting into the car I was unable to locate the parking ticket provided to pay the attendant. There was a sign up that noted loss of a ticket would result in paying the maximum garage price, and as we were in L.A., this was an unreasonable sum for borrowing some concrete real estate for a couple hours.

So I did what any hot-headed, arrogant, complete jerk would do. I quite naturally assumed, genuinely believed and was outrageously adamant that this was NOT my fault. Clearly, the parking garage attendant had neglected to give me a ticket. I stormed over to the poor fellow who appeared to be a immigrant from either the Indian subcontinent or Asia-Pacific, but I couldn’t tell you definitively because I was clearly not preoccupied in any way with this gentleman’s humanity. I absurdly bullied this man with a lie I believed and did not relent until my parking had been validated, though my version of events had not. I found the actual ticket in my car later that evening much to my dismay.

What had I done? What kind of man treats another human being that way? How could I expect to be in a relationship with this woman I loved when I could not look past myself to listen to her advice? Advice which had been loud and clear in both speech and body language in that garage.

I could not. So I wrote myself a note on the fabricated ticket I paid $5 and took someone’s dignity for and decided to carry it around for the many times I need to be reminded of my great tendency to get in my own way, despite the best intentions of those around me willing to help. This week was one of those times.

You would think, especially seeing as I officially lost the first 17 disputes of our marriage as confirmed by Google and phone-a-friend tactics, that I would have wised up to the reality that not only is my beautiful wife a good-willed person, but she is most often right. Both first-born siblings, she was the first to regularly call me out on the use of what she deemed “big brother facts”, the times when elder siblings use their aged status as pretext for fabricating all manner of knowledge in order to increase or maintain status over younger siblings. She would have none of my confidently asserted falsehoods, for she too had played that hand.

But approaching 10 ½ years of marriage, I still can act quite the fool, as evidenced at least three times just this week:

Sunday evening – Against All Odds: Wham! Lamb! Thank You Ma’am

With my brother-in-law Robert in town for a visit, we settled in for some Catan on our well-worn board. Early on I felt confident of my positioning, with settlements on all five resources and a couple of prime probability real estate properties including an “8” Wheat hex. With the first Development Card action of the evening Jaime deployed the robber though not to the Wheat of higher probability, but instead blocked accumulation rights on a less probable “9” Sheep patch.

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

I literally asked her, “Out of curiosity, why did you place the robber there?” Insinuating the Wheat stoppage would be better game strategy, after all “No Wheat Means Defeat.” Jaime was unfazed and said she felt like blocking the Sheep. I made an offhand comment that it was a move I wouldn’t have made. Insert foot in mouth here.

As fate would have it, that Sheep would remain blocked for the majority of the game along with a plethora of “9” dice rolls. Without an ability to collect Sheep I had little D Card prowess, thus unable to deliver my Sheep from the thief. Meanwhile, my vaunted “8” Wheat produced a grand total of three rolls throughout the entirety of the game, solidly cementing me in last place while Jaime and Robert vied for the title. In retrospect, I should have asked my wife, “Out of curiosity, with your brilliant unorthodox strategy there, should I just retire early to bed? Because you have effectively and preemptively shut me down. Well done.”

Tuesday morning through Wednesday morning – Out in the Cold

Even after a decade of living in cold weather climates, I still have a tendency to act foolishly when it comes to the bitter winter months. My wife of more practice and wisdom often tries to help my ignorance, which I then foolishly ignore.

Monday was my 32nd birthday, Jaime and Robert tag teamed to prepare fish tacos and mint chocolate chip/chocolate/coffee milkshakes affectionately referred to as Dead Frogs. We then went out to see Selma capping a lovely evening. Earlier in the day, Jaime had gifted me a nice shell jacket, which is basically shorthand for something you could wear in the Fall on its own merit, but should practically be used as a layer in winter months. But because it was new and I am an idiot, I thought “Hey, why not wear just this?”

Jaime of course, quickly caught my mistake and warned me it was cold out. I big brother fact-ed that it was indeed warmer out, based not on any meteorological evidence or research, but more on the feeling I had that I wished it was warmer out. While I did not freeze, I certainly was not comfortable at various points in the day, which easily could have been avoided. Rather than immediately admit my mistake, I elected instead to focus on the relatively little time I had to spend outside.

Even better, the temperatures dropped into the single digits overnight. Sometime in the early morning hours, Jaime whispered. “I hope our pipes don’t freeze.” I immediately responded that they would most certainly not, for just last week the temperature hovered at zero for a day or so and the house had handled things just fine. Predictably by now, I ate a large helping of humble pie for breakfast upon waking up to find toilets that would not flush due to frozen pipes. Cue flashback of parking garage ticket.

Friday night – Don’t Bring a Baby to a Gunfight, Please

So even after I thought I had re-learned my lesson, Jaime and I were lounging on the couch last night putting the kids to bed when she stumbled across one of those terrible Buzzfeed car wrecks that you cannot not click on.

This one was a series of pregnancy announcement photos with the tag line, “Some things you can’t unsee.” Aside from one strangely mesmerizing photo of what appeared to be a pregnant mom draped in a white satin curtain flowing in the wind, atop a horse somewhere in the Shire, there was all manner of pictures I wish I could remove from my memory. Not the least of which was a picture of a man pointing a gun at the photographer while reaching around to caress the pregnant belly of his lover. This was so alarmingly bizarre that when a second photo later in the collection showed a similarly dressed bare bellied mom-to-be with her admiring gaze on her man and her hand on a firearm in his waistband, I could not reconcile that this could possibly be two different couples. I said as much. Jaime countered and of course was correct upon review.

So what have I learned?

Being wrong is a part of life. But the manner in which I am frequently, confidently and immediately wrong, especially in interactions with my loving and patient wife is something I am dedicated to improving on. As much as some of the above may seem trivial or laughable, the fact that my behavior has been consistently poor in this regard over the span of a decade is not funny. It does not amuse me when upon finally apologizing to my wife for not listening to her, she is able to matter-of-factly state that she is used to my foolish attitude and actions.

Jaime deserves better. My children deserve better. Our son Shepard who wrote me that little note in my wallet is now 5 years old. He crawled up on my lap at one point while writing this. He is watching how I treat my wife and taking notes about how to value the thoughts and input of women, of his mother. Much the way his younger brother Miles will as well. My daughters Clara and Lucy are also watching, looking to see how it is they should expect to be treated by men in their lives. If I hope for better behavior and action for my sons, in their interactions with women and significant others someday, I must model it for them. I cannot simply hope to change. More so, I cannot only hope my kids will see my foolishness for what it is, folly and not a blueprint. They will repeat and replay whatever it is I show them.

Often before the kids leave for school we review our family rules. Rules I unapologetically lifted and revised from friend Bret Wells of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. “Pay attention. See Jesus. Be Jesus. Do not be afraid to mess up. When we mess up, we help clean up.” The monastic wisdom gleaned from the Rule of St. Benedict teaches the need to listen to the people we live with, that life together is an opportunity for the presence of God to be made manifest. As Joan Chittister continues in her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, “Not to listen then, is not to grow. But more than that, to be unable to listen is to be unable to give as well.”

I pray that I can pay attention to my wife, see Jesus in her, be Jesus to her. To model this for my children.

But prayer without action is empty, so In an attempt to clean up my own mess, I am trying on a new philosophy of saying yes. Much to my initial chagrin, Jaime proposed completing a video workout together. Whereas my Seasonal Affected self would much prefer to only bundle up and eat chocolate, I agreed. In so doing, I discovered that apparently jogging a 5K once a quarter does not translate into physical fitness. After 20 minutes of a rather basic cardio workout, plus a push-up challenge I was so physically spent that I had to lie down for the next 20 minutes in order to avoid vomiting. I’d say it was embarrassing, but the glowing look in my lover’s eyes communicated, “I am being heard.”

Maybe there is hope for this idiot after all. I certainly have more to give.

“Sports fandom is a fantastic gift with almost immeasurable value… it’s a proxy for real life but better, it renews itself, it’s constantly happening in real time, there are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t, it’s war where nobody dies, it’s a proxy for all our emotions and desires and hopes. I mean, heck, what’s not to like about sports?”

– Steven Dubner, author of Freakonomics , on the 8-23-11 “Games” episode of NPR’s Radiolab

Sports run in my blood.

Both my parents were collegiate scholarship athletes and long advocated that if I was to afford a postsecondary education at a University that it would have to be on the back of my own athletic full-ride. In the first grade I was bribed to start playing Tee-Ball with a box of unopened baseball cards to begin tapping into my athletic potential. As a third grader in flannel shorts, I started playing in the Boys and Girls Club basketball league. I played sports, both organized and recreationally, throughout childhood, into high school and beyond with some success. But looking back, as much fun as it was to play, I think I was always equal parts athlete and sports fan at heart.

As a kid I played out entire Major League baseball seasons in my front yard using a wiffle ball bat, baseball glove, tennis ball and a box score inspired imagination. I loved going with family and friends to Jack Murphy Stadium hearing “Line Drives and Stolen Bases, Diving Catches, We’re Goin’ Places, C’Mon!” before the announcement of the Padres’ starting lineup. I would constantly beat out the Pistons and Celtics in my driveway for the Larry O’Brien Trophy as I became Magic, Kareem and Worthy. I recall repeatedly chanting “Go, Chargers, Go! 6 and 0!” before climbing into bed as the Bolts got started on their only Super Bowl season in ’94-‘95.

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Sports were more than a pastime for me; they were part of my identity.

It’s been a while since those days. Making the decision to get rid of cable years ago certainly drastically reduced time spent watching sports, but for a good portion of the last decade I still found solace in the box scores. At the end of a long day or when avoiding important tasks, ESPN.com or CBS Sportsline provided a window into another world. A world where “pitchers and catchers report” is synonymous with hope and the Opening Day bunting whispers anything is possible.

I found this to be especially true every time I moved farther away from home. As awful as the Friars have been, without a No-Hitter, a batter hitting for the cycle or a World Series trophy since their inaugural season in 1969, as heartbreaking as the Bolts have been over the past decade with McCree season ending fumbles and Kaeding missed field goals in the playoffs, these were my teams. Checking the scores, reading the game recaps, watching the highlights were all measures of solidarity with friends and family in America’s Finest City.

When Jaime and I were first married I would frequently sit in our Montana apartment literally watching a pitch-by-pitch Gamecast of Padres games on the internet. For non-sports aficionados, this basically entails sitting by yourself waiting for small dots and sentence fragments to appear on the screen and relay what is happening in a game you are not actually watching. Thrilling, no?

In the years to come we would move four times and add four children to our growing family. I slowly came to admit that in my life circumstance, spending significant amounts of solitary time watching other people playing sports was irresponsible when I have a family of my own that needs my limited energy and attention.

Thus, my 2014 New Year’s Resolution was to stop watching sports.

I was not going to stop watching sports because they were evil. I was going to give up watching sports because I had become dependent on them and my addiction had become an evil. If sports were in my blood, then perhaps it was time for a transfusion.

I had also become concerned at the role sports have come to play in our American culture and society. Is it possible that our major sporting leagues and events such as the NFL and Super Bowl are the magician’s wiggling fingers on one hand to draw our attention away from the other covertly covering the severity of our nationalistic xenophobia and military industrial complex?

But as happens with addicts, my inner voice of rationalization was at the ready once treatment had been seriously proposed.

Aren’t sports a great source of recreation and bonding? Sports are a form of social currency – if I give them up, I will lose opportunities for relationship building and a basis for camaraderie. What if my team finally wins after three decades of disappointment? What about the moments that transcend sport such as a reconstructed Drew Brees and the Saints providing a welcome distraction and Super Bowl ring to rebuilding New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina?

I found confirmation of my resolution though when I cracked open theologian Walter Brueggeman’s most recent book and read, “Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’”

I resolved that I was ready for an alternative rest.

I set out some ground rules in hope of getting into balance and having a realistic shot of fulfilling the goal:

#1 I would not watch/follow any professional sports or participate in any corresponding fantasy leagues (including game highlights or reading recaps, box scores or standings)

Note: College athletics would not apply. Not being a college football guy, I spend zero percent of my Autumn Saturdays watching football. However, the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tourney, aka March Madness, is one of my favorite things ever (in large part to my kids bracket picks each year). I agreed I would not watch any regular season NCAA games, but for March and March only, all bets would be off (or should I say on).

Likewise, from the outset I granted myself permission to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as I am not normally a huge Fútbol fan, and the World Cup is both a global and time-limited event.

#2 I could however talk about sports with others, and if others were to inform me of an outcome of a particular game or play, then I would be able to engage in that conversation (Similarly, if someone made a comment on social media about a game that would be fair game – though following teams on Facebook etc. would not be allowed).

# 3 Should there be a good opportunity to hang out with a friend revolving around a sporting event or attend a sporting event live, consideration would be given to allowance of a limited exception to Rule #1.

#4 Playing sports would be allowable under all circumstances

That’s it.

The goals weren’t meant to eliminate sports from my life, just to eliminate my dependence on them.

Test number one came early with the Chargers improbably making the playoffs and scheduled for a first round game at Cincinnati in the first week of January. I got some grief about my decision not to watch, follow or read anything about the game. I did happen to call my brother Eric late in the day just to “see how he was” and found out we had won, but received little additional detail. I was saved any further temptation when San Diego lost the following weekend.

March Madness came and went with my 3 year old daughter Lucy besting the entire family with her bracket picks on the back of a UCONN National Championship. The family winner gets to pick the location and lunch menu of their choice. Lucy went with Peanut Butter and Jellies at the local children’s museum KidCity. Yes, I lost to a toddler and it was awesome.

I didn’t miss much in the Spring with Lakers eliminated from playoff contention by March. Though San Diego State alum Kahwi Leonard apparently reportedly played out of his mind as part of a beautiful Spurs team performance in the NBA Finals that thwarted the Heat attempt at a 3-peat. Maybe I’ll catch it on ESPN Classic someday.

My heart stung a bit not watching on baseball’s aforementioned Opening Day, which should easily outdistance Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday. No qualms not paying attention to the mediocre Padres though. Early in the season Matt Souto came over and started talking baseball. I informed him I wasn’t watching this year, but that after a quarter-century of supporting for the Padres I could probably guess their record. Matt informed me San Diego’s season was 19 games in, I figured that likely meant we would be about 9-10. Nailed it.

My first real Major League Baseball news of the year came as a result of the unfortunate passing of Mr. Padre himself. Tony Gwynn lost his battle to cancer this past June and an entire city and sport fell silent.

The following month it seemed no one was silent as LeBron James announced he would be leaving Miami to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll confess this seemed bigger than sport, a narrative that transcended the NBA into meta-Prodigal Son territory. Four years after making himself a spectacle and a fool with The Decision, the best basketball player in the world was this time quietly making the tough decision, the right decision, to go home to Ohio in an effort to bring a title home to one of the few U.S. cities with a more pathetic pro sports history than San Diego. I followed the story, but there were no games being played so I considered myself in the clear.

Football season rolled around and I backed out of all Fantasy leagues. Since I started playing Fantasy Football back in 2001, I have learned that most often the real Fantasy isn’t the make believe stat-based point system as much as the idea any time invested after the draft is actually yielding deeper relationships with any of the folks your playing with. Competitive juices end up far more likely to bring bad blood than a sense of deeper friendship and thus I signed myself up for a season-long bye from even the family league. I bequeathed my team “Christopher Walken” to my little sister Miranda and did not miss playing. In fact, without Fantasy Football as a distraction I went entire stretches of the season actually present enough with my family and church family that I didn’t even know who the Chargers were playing, let alone if they won. It was liberating. In the meantime, my sister brought more cowbell and won the league title in her first attempt.

In the end, it turned out to be the Kansas City Royals that made me officially relapse.

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League!

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League upholding the legend of Christopher Walken!

 

My good friend Nathan Miller’s favorite team, the Royals told a story too good not to follow as summed up in an article entitled, “These Royals Make You Believe in God” by Angela Denker. Ms. Denker wrote “It’s been said that sports are America’s religion and that this idolatry is our downfall. Maybe that’s true when the Yankees win the pennant or the Patriots take the Super Bowl. But when the Royals win the Wild Card and play in October for the first time in 29 years, Jesus smiles back at George Brett and James Shields. Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from.”

Making their first postseason appearance in nearly three decades, I read the KC playoff box scores, watched the highlights, changed my Facebook profile picture, and basically broke all my rules. I did everything short of contacting Nathan directly because you don’t jinx a no-hitter in progress by talking about it and up until the World Series, the Royals went a perfect 8-0 in the Postseason. Their magical run finally ended with a runner on third in a one-run loss in Game 7. Despite not taking the crown, the Royals were my sports story of the year. Nathan summed up the journey nicely, “If you would have told me in March the Royals lost game 7 of the ‪#‎WorldSeries, I would have kissed you on the mouth. ‪#‎CelebrateNoMatter Thank you ‪#‎Royals

If new General Manager A.J. Preller’s aggressive offseason moves pay off in similar fashion for the Padres in 2015, I’ll be in a kissing mood myself.

In the end, I almost made it a year.

Seems I can’t get sports out of my blood entirely after all. But I do feel more in balance and that the progress made in addressing my dependency on sports was a step in the right direction for our family.

On deck?

A big league challenge to outsmart a growing dependence on my smart phone.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

– Kahlil Gibran “The Prophet”

On August 7, 2009, our son was very nearly born in the back of our Ford Explorer during what my wife refers to as “the worst hour of my life.” After an hour of unexpected stop and go traffic during what should have been a twenty minute drive to the hospital, Jaime was exhausted after completing the most difficult phase of labor in the back of our SUV on her hands and knees, bracing herself on the support of her arms amid intense contractions as the vehicle could only inch ahead. My intrepid partner was worn down. In desperate whispers she asked for either drugs or death as a substitute for the pain. I remember looking back at my wife in the rear view mirror with tears in my eyes, feeling entirely helpless as I could not comfort her in her agony and I could not push through the wall of traffic blocking the last mile to Yale New Haven Hospital. Prayers were plead for immediate deliverance and mercy, but God knew that the sorrow being carved into our being that hour was necessary in order to forge a well deep enough to contain the boundless joy that Shepard Lincoln Fisher was about to bring into our lives.

The traffic miraculously parted like the red sea and we arrived to the hospital just minutes before our son was born. We were rushed into Labor and Delivery where we were informed that while our baby was about to arrive, our doctor was not yet present. Foreshadowing the relational nature of the child that was about to enter the world, nurses from different practices and offices quickly formed an alliance to become our delivery team. Even in his first moments, he was able to bring about unity through a time of suffering, leading to the selection of the rather intense middle name Lincoln. His first name, Shepard, had come to us with great resolve shortly after we found out we were having a boy. We were not sure how we would spell it and had not officially decided on it, but I remember praying that God would send us a special soul capable of exemplifying Kingdom leadership in a world and church so frequently found lacking. Wouldn’t you know it, but almost as if sealed for this purpose, the young man was born with a heart shaped birth mark on the top of his forehead. A Harry Potter of Love, destined for a story worth telling.

Shepard sucks people in with his friendly big blues

I do not know what my son will become, but I already know he has the gift of love and I know he is already a tremendous blessing to all those he encounters. Shep acts as the official town greeter, frequently offering unsolicited hellos and smiles to friends and strangers alike in an attempt to brighten their day. He has proven himself truly a shepherd in his constant care and compassion for the family flock; he keeps tabs on everyone’s current location either in or out of the house and does not like to leave anyone behind. Shep often feels lost himself when someone is missing, especially if he is without the company of his sisters. When I must leave for work, Shepard is the one who will run out onto the porch with smiles, blown kisses and waves with shouted requests that I have a good day and that I say hi to the “woo-woos” (fire trucks) for him on my way to the office. He is so empathetic, that he frequently elects to punish himself when big sister Clara gets in trouble, just to demonstrate sibling solidarity.

As soon as he started talking, the little guy could often be found giving unprovoked and incessant hugs while telling us “I wuv you.” One of his first sentences was an exclamation of “I happy!” When Shep wakes up in the morning or from an afternoon nap, he just wants to bury his fuzzy little blond head into your chest for a while to snuggle himself fully awake. He is always quick to follow up a denied request with a doe-eyed “pwease” and genuinely says “thank you” after any form of compliment or gift, frequently making me laugh when his gratitude is contextually unexpected.

Shep and Mom: Two Peas in a Pod

Just like his momma, Shep Shep has a gift for smiling bigger than you would think his face would allow and as a result brightening an entire room. Just like his momma, he would rather be playing outside “barefeet” than staying indoors. And just like his momma, his has an incredible ability to watch something a few times or even just once and be able to replicate the action with uncanny precision. This can be cute and impressive like when at a very young age he would build very tall block towers, when he potty trained at 18 months, or when he seemed to figure the tricycle out before Clara. Still impressive, but less cute when he grabs my keys, opens my driver’s side door and places the right key into the ignition with confidence. Also, just like his momma, Shep also has an incredible sixth sense for sweet treats, one time deciphering that we had hidden a cookie in a brown bag at Panera and wildly celebrating with fist pumps and shouts of joy while pointing at the bag before we even revealed the secret. It is also not uncommon to think you have been successful in sneaking a bite of ice cream from the freezer, only to hear Shep’s little pitter patter coming around the corner only to be found out by his finger pointing directly at your stuffed mouth while curiously asking, “What’s that? Can I have some?”

Of course as our boy nears the Terrible Twos, he is not without a defiant streak which we are working on with him. I do not think it is at all humorous when he does not immediately respond to my commands, but I’ll admit I have to try hard not to laugh out loud when I ask him to take another bite of dinner and he says stuff like, “No thanks Daddio. I’m all set.” I know this stage is fleeting and that much will get more complicated from here, but for now I am thoroughly enjoying his floppy self and his audible gasps of excitement for life. And when times get tough my boy, I’ll keep singing to you every night, “You cannot lose my love” and I’ll keep praying that I can be a better follower of Christ, so that you might have an example to grow beyond. As someday you will again be asked to lead toward unity through suffering and sacrifice, and your unique gifts of love and shepherding the flock will be needed in His service. But I know you will succeed, because God has plotted your path out before you, even when you were in the womb. You were marked for this my son and I am proud of you. Happy Birthday Shepard.

Happy 2nd Birthday Shep!

I concluded my previous post, “Snow Place Like Home”, with my resignation and late realization that I had absolutely no control over when our third child would arrive and placing faith in God that he would allow our little one to be born as perfectly as possible in the midst of record snow storms, family illnesses and inaccurate due date information. Just minutes after writing the final sentences of that reflection, Jaime called at 12:12 am on January 30th from her mother’s home and told me to come back over to the house. Our baby was coming.

*****

August 2005 marked the end of our first year in Montana and our first wedding anniversary. It was also the month we ran across an article in the Missoula Independent entitled, “Let Your Monkey Do It.” The article was authored by a husband and first time father who wrote about the experience he and his wife had in deciding on a home birth over a hospital delivery. The piece was our first exposure to Ina May Gaskin and her natural childbirth philosophies including her encouragement to women to not let “your over-busy mind interfere with the ancient wisdom of your body.” In her recommended book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Gaskin observes, “Monkeys don’t think of technology as necessary to birth-giving; Monkeys don’t obsess about their bodies being inadequate… Monkeys don’t do math about their dilation to speculate how long labor might take… Monkeys in labor get into the position that feels best, not the one they’re told to assume.”

The author summed up Gaskin’s advice, “Your monkey is a way to remember in the throes of labor that natural childbirth is not only possible, it’s, well, natural.” Despite Jaime being told in her teens that she may not be able to get pregnant, it appeared my wife was a perfect candidate for a home birth. In addition to being a strong, adventurous and vibrant young woman, a home birth would prevent her from succumbing to “white coat syndrome” and her rational fear of unnatural medical interventions. After reading the article we quickly became convinced that home birth was for us; a decision facilitated by living in granola-friendly Missoula.

But our home birth plans were arrested when in January 2007, we learned we were pregnant, just one month after moving to the East Coast. Natural childbirth took a backseat to simply finding someone willing to provide prenatal care despite the fact that my new employer-based health insurance would not be activated for another month. God guided us to a practice, who medically-minded as they were, assisted us with Clara’s arrival at Yale New Haven Hospital on September 30, 2007. Though the birthing experience was beautifully memorable, we had to constantly fight to protect Jaime’s space and our birth plan during the delivery and were less than enthused about returning to a hospital for our next birth experience.

Despite being well insured throughout the second go around, Shepard was also born at Yale New Haven Hospital as the highly litigious and traditional New England culture yields very few midwife/home birth practices and there were no such practices accepting new mothers at the time. I should add Shepard was nearly born in the back of our Ford Explorer, as he entered the world less than ten minutes after our arrival to the hospital. Our doctor had flatly declined to acknowledge that Jaime was in active labor just four hours before he was born and then on the way to Yale we got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour resulting in what Jaime refers to as the “worst hour of my life.”

Needless to say, when Birth and Beyond contacted us midway through this third pregnancy offering an opening for their home birth and midwife services, I could not have been more eager to sign up. However, insurance only covers the cost of one midwife and for safety purposes, the practice requires two midwives to attend and assist the birth. The out-of-pocket cost for a second midwife plus all of the supplies, kits, herbs, etc. totaled over $800, and thus the mutual decision to move forward wasn’t automatic as there were brake rotors in need of resurfacing, a dental crown in need of fitting, an oil tank in need of refilling, student loans in need of repayment etc. I felt strongly this was the path we should be heading down, but I also wasn’t the one about to give birth.

Jaime maintained a positive view of home birth, but presented a number of realistic barriers and concerns at our particular juncture. In addition to the financial setback, she was right to point out that our century old home is not an ideal place to give birth to a child in the winter. However, she was most concerned with losing the opportunity to get some rest at the hospital for a couple days away from Thing One and Thing Two and the associated trappings of motherhood. Noticeably, our initial reservations failed to include the incessant record setting blizzards and the resulting transportation dilemmas that would present themselves in late January. Despite these concerns, we decided together to move forward with Birth and Beyond feeling that a home birth was the best choice for both baby and mom.

*****

Jaime’s contractions started on Friday evening, January 28th, four days after her “due date”. We took Clara and Shepard over to Nana’s house believing we were in for a long but memorable night. As we prepared to head back home after dropping the kids off, Jaime received strength-giving hugs from her mother and Garrett, the type of embraces that emanate the deepest love and transcend words, thus none need be spoken. We arrived home ready to deliver but our little one was not yet ready to arrive. Jaime’s contractions remained 10 minutes or more apart lasting between 20 and 30 seconds, but did not progress. Jaime made the decision to lay down to rest and fortunately rest became a few hours of needed sleep.

Saturday the 29th began with contractions starting again at 3:00 am. But for the next six hours, the contractions remained at least 10 minutes apart. We prayed, ate breakfast and Jaime commented how nice it was to be able to drink her tea while it was still hot, as the kids were still at Nana’s and not present to demand multitasking. On both Clara and Shepard’s birth days we had done a fair amount of outdoor walking prior to delivery, and we decided to take a winter approach to this tradition by heading to Planet Fitness in Meriden in an attempt to walk the baby out on treadmills. We walked for 45 minutes, but instead of progressing labor, the exercise appeared to be stunting it. Unlike our first two children whose arrival was hastened by movement, this baby seemed to be of the opinion that the right time to be born was a time when Mom was not shoveling snow, carrying 30-plus pound children up and down the stairs or participating in any type of aerobic activity whatsoever.

As it seemed Baby Fisher 3 might just be waiting for Mom to just sit down and relax, we attempted all manner of lazy recreation. We heard once on NPR that hens are more prone to laying eggs when listening to the Blue Danube Waltz, and Jaime derived so much joy from this fact that she periodically would listen to the composition while pregnant with Shepard. However, with a recent computer crash limiting our music library, we instead sought birthing inspiration from Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” with lyrics such as “I’ll find strength in pain.” We resorted to a favorite pastime of watching movie trailers online. Jaime took particular joy in watching the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean 4, strongly identifying in labor with Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow who self-referentially exclaims, “Did everyone see that?! Because I will not be doing it again.” Finally, Jaime got cozy on the couch and started reading “The Invisible: What the Church Can Do to Find and Serve the Least of These” by Arloa Sutter, easily trumping my decision to get in touch with my inner child while playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii. But the authentic inner child seemed no closer to coming out.

At the end of the reproductive process, lounging about the house had Jaime feeling lazy and extremely unproductive. She cited the old adage that a “watched kettle never boils” and grew visibly restless. I believed Jaime should continue to rest, but consented to actively waiting for the birth of our child by continuing to live our lives. We ordered Trackside Pizza and headed back to Nana’s house to feed and pick up the kids. After dinner, we made the decision that I would head back home with Clara and Shep while Jaime would remain at her mom’s home for the night to relax. I put the kids to bed and got to work writing “Snow Place Like Home.”

Just as I put the final touches on the blog entry after midnight, I received a phone call from Jaime. It was time. There was determination in my wife’s voice and I quickly got ready to leave by packing all of our home birthing supplies and extra bed sheets. Nana and I would trade places, she would come over to be present for the sleeping kids and I would help Jaime with welcoming our newest one. Early on, we had entertained the idea of the home birth occurring at my mother-in-law’s home before deciding on our place; evidently our decision had been overruled. This was comforting though, as there was sufficient winter parking at Blair’s place for the midwives and her home already had positive birthing vibes from our previous pregnancies as Jaime had completed the majority of her active labor there on both occasions. As I left to meet my wife Nana reported Jaime was humming the “Happy Birthday” tune through contractions to welcome the baby.

I arrived shortly after 12:30 am to find my wife kneeling in the living room with her head on the couch, quietly breathing through a contraction. Jaime had again been woken up by her contractions and they had been rapidly increasing in frequency and intensity. The midwives had already been called and the first arrived close to 1:00 am when Jaime’s contractions were coming only three minutes apart and over a minute in duration. However, the introduction of a new energy into the home seemed to slow Jaime’s labor down.  As the midwife checked my wife, her contractions slowed to a pace of every five to seven minutes.

Jaime decided to take a shower and headed for the bathroom. The midwife consulted with me and gave her estimate that Jaime would give birth around 9:00 am. I had seen my wife do this before, so I politely disagreed knowing we were close, but apparently I was not convincing as the midwife called her backup and advised a delayed arrival to get some additional sleep until Jaime’s labor progressed. I checked on my love as she continued to hum “Happy Birthday” in between contractions during the next half hour. The midwife asked Jaime how many contractions she had during her 30 minutes in the shower, and Jaime replied there were four but did not elaborate. Based on this report, the midwife was confident her estimate of the birthing process was accurate, but did not take into account that Jaime is not one to care about statistics nor is she prone to letting on to pain. My wife later told me there may have been more than four contractions and that at least two of them had been extremely intense signaling things about to come.

The midwife suggested Jaime lay on her side to get some rest. I sensed Jaime, now deep into stealth transition mode, wished to express vehement disagreement with this plan, but did not have the energy to do so and instead chose to comply with the proposition. She laid down embracing a pillow and closed her eyes. Like the eye of a storm, Jaime’s face swept over with calm and she appeared to be falling asleep. As we approached 2:45 am, I remember thinking that perhaps the midwife was right. Maybe my wife was asleep, the midwife certainly seemed to think so as she headed for the kitchen to prepare some food. Then I saw Jaime’s hand. While her face remained serene and she did not make a noise, her hand was slowly yet powerfully grasping the pillow in a downward stroke that reminded me of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Jaime later reported she had read it would help while giving birth to think about other sensations in an effort to take her mind off the labor and she was fiercely trying to experience the softness of that pillow in lieu of birth pangs.  She also informed me that when she appeared tranquil and silent, she had been internally repeating her favorite birthing mantra of “Open like a flower” trying to embrace the pain and refusing to be afraid. During this period of pseudo-sleep Jaime reported there were another four contractions, the worst of the worst, throughout which she remained stoically focused on her work at hand without making a sound.

With no overt signals to interpret, and Jaime seemingly resting, I decided to make a quick trip to the restroom. After a minute or so, I started back for the living room only to meet my wife in the hallway as she was on urgently on her way to the bathroom. I assisted Jaime with getting there where she sat down on the toilet in reverse placing her head and folded arms on the tank. Jaime quickly but quietly whispered, “I hate this part.” I began to suggest that she could change laboring positions, before realizing that she was talking about the actual birth itself!

I looked down to find our baby’s amniotic sac still intact, but about to burst and when it did, I won’t lie, for a split second thought perhaps our child’s head had exploded. I quickly came to my senses as Jaime yelled for help from the midwife. Jaime was now standing and began to lean on me for support. I crouched down a bit to help her rest on me as the midwife sprinted into the bathroom. I was awestruck as I saw our baby begin to enter the world; a scrunched beautiful face captured my heart and attention. Jaime gave her last energies to pushing the child completely out as gravity helped expel the newborn inches from the ground before some fine receiving work on the part of the midwife caught our baby and handed her to mom.

There can be no more heartwarming experience than to watch a mother hold her child for the first time. Jaime beamed at our baby with genuine unconditional love that immediately melted away all of the pain and discomfort of the pregnancy. The child took its first gasp of air with a who-sized yelp. Our midwife was visibly in shock at Jaime’s incredible delivery and stated she would catch 18 more of Jaime’s children. She admitted to thinking Jaime had been asleep and that she had not caught a baby without gloves in a decade, but had responded in the moment with incredible skill and decisiveness. I could not have been more in love with my wife and was eager to find out whether our child was a boy or a girl.

From the beginning we had decided to wait to find out the baby’s sex, but I never wavered in believing the child would be a girl based on a number of similarities to this pregnancy and Jaime’s pregnancy with Clara. Therefore, I was elated, but not surprised, when I confirmed that we had a little girl. She was born at 2:51 am and weighed in at 8lbs. 6oz. using the midwife’s old school fish scale which looks a little like the baby bags storks are always depicted as carrying. The little one was 21” long, but I don’t remember her head circumference as after three children I remain unsure about why it is an important statistic. They don’t even make Padre hats that small.

As all of our incredible kids have done, the baby alertly and immediately began to breast feed and was already forming an amazing bond with her mommy. Jaime was already beginning her recovery process by downing “Labor Aid”, an electrolyte replenishing salty lemon water and honey concoction she described after birth as “everywhere I want to be.”As the midwife began asking Jaime if she would like a tour of her recently delivered placenta, my mind began to be occupied with names.

Mom snuggles Lucy shortly after her arrival

We have waited to name all of our children after meeting them and stand by this process. The front runner going into the birth had been Evangeline, whose meaning is derived from “The Gospel”, and we had planned to call her “Evie.” But as we met the little one, it quickly became clear that this was not Evangeline, but was naturally Lucy.  Lucy means light and was a natural etymological match to Clara which means bright, fitting as every night before bed since Clara’s infancy I had been singing, “See you tomorrow morning, light bright” in a remix of sorts of a line my father used to sing to us before bed. Additionally, Lucy carried extra significance as my maternal grandmother, Lucille, was a spiritual rock in our family, before her untimely death on my birthday in 2009. I loved that the strength of my grandma might have an opportunity to live on in her great-granddaughter and was very pleased when Jaime, who had the last say on this final round, was the first to suggest that we name her Lucy.

The next two hours went by in a blur as we enjoyed our time alone with Lucy and processed her amazing home birth, a process that had been truly protected by God and come about at just the right time. Perfectly as possible indeed. Jaime began getting some much needed and well deserved rest and I dozed off for about an hour around 5:30 am, waking up at 6:35 am again just to hold little Lucy. Not one to waste an opportunity, Lucy warmly greeted me by peeing all over my stomach. I like to think she was marking her territory and I must confess my little girl, I’m all yours.

A San Diego native, I have never seen anything like this. I was somewhat comforted Thursday morning when Jaime, a long-time New England resident, conceded that she has never seen this much snow, and wondered out loud if we had unknowingly been transported to Buffalo or perhaps Alaska.

As it turns out, no one in Connecticut has ever seen anything quite like this. The snow began falling again last Wednesday night at the rate of 1-2 inches an hour and by the time the flakes stopped Thursday morning, the 15 inch measurement brought Connecticut’s total accumulation for January to 59.8 inches! The five feet of snow shattered the previous record of 45 inches in the month of January set in 1945, with four days yet to go in the month.

In the midst of the unyielding snow storms, my wife and I have been preparing for the birth of our third child and our first home birth. Our first two children were born at Yale New Haven Hospital, but after Shepard was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital the last time around, we were excited to pursue our longtime goal of a home birth and have the midwives come to us.

Oh, it all seemed so simple at the time we made the decision. Our first two were born on beautiful and warm late summer/early fall days, and the thought of a winter arrival this time around seemed quaint. We would fill our oil tank and run our heaters until our 1910 apartment, sans insulation, reached a temporary but toasty temperature to welcome the child. The labor would occur quickly and without complication and life with three children would get off to a nice start. I would take off at least two weeks after the baby was born to assist both mom and kiddos #1 and #2 with the transition to a family of five. Yep, the plans looked nice all drawn up.

But nothing this time seems to be going according to my plan.

Let’s start with the snow. First snows are always somewhat magical and this month started out in enchanted fashion. The snow was soft and plentiful, floating down in big sparkly flakes. I took Clara out in the middle of a snow shower on the evening of January 7 when the ground was already covered in a blanket of frosty white. We had fun traipsing toward the backyard leaving footsteps in the virgin winter cover.

January 12 was a day to remember as my 28th birthday brought over two feet of snow and a resulting paid day off from work. Granted, I did spend hours outside shoveling ourselves and neighbors out of the overnight snow pack, but it was a good day. Our Maxima was so completely covered by the snow drift that when Clara came out to assist the clean up effort, I was able to help her sled from the roof of the sedan down the windshield and hood of the vehicle and then down the hill into our backyard without ever having the sled touch the surface of my car. Good times. Another highlight was teaching Clara that snow of the fresh white variety is edible and watching her test this out for herself (below).

But then it got messy. First came an ice storm which covered the existing snow walls and landscapes with two solid inches of ice creating a deadly beautiful scene. The ice put a choke hold on the trees and our homes while glistening in the morning sunlight. The added mass of the frozen water began to cause branches to snap off and fall in the roads.  Massive icicles over six feet long attached themselves to our house and were the death of our rain gutter which came crashing down two stories under the weight.

Then the ice was covered over by another two snow showers. As we ran out of places to shovel the snow, I was reminded of my friend Jason Stewart’s recent description of falling snow as relentless beauty. It was that unrelenting nature that helped me welcome age 28 by overworking my rotator cuff from unnatural movement related to repeatedly scooping pounds of snow and catapulting it over my head to the only places the snow could still be piled. By the time this last storm’s carnage was manifest, the snow pile up in our front yard could have buried Yao Ming.

Every intersection has become blind due to the snow barriers and all streets have been narrowed to the width of a single car due to the insurgent precipitation. Perhaps most worrisome to us, should the baby decide to come during one of these storms, would the midwives be able to get to us? I played a decent center field in my day and feel confident about catching the kid, but would prefer not to break out my glove. Even if the storms passed, as our town appears to be under siege from a near-permanent parking ban, will there be a place for the midwives to park upon arrival?

As if the snow is not a formidable enough obstacle, our family has been hit with consistent illness throughout the month. First Shepard and then Clara came down with an RSV-like respiratory infection and we were advised that such an illness contracted by a newborn would likely be an automatic hospitalization for the little one. We began considering splitting the family up postpartum and having Jaime rest and take care of the infant over at Nana’s house while I would take care of the sickly elder siblings in our apartment until the tide of infection should pass. But in between storms, Jaime’s due date of January 21st came and went with no sign or contraction of a baby.

Jaime’s pregnancies with Clara and Shepard both went beyond their “due” dates by a couple days, so we were not alarmed when the 23rd arrived without a baby, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to get a check up with the midwives when the 25th came around without so much as a labor pang. At the exam, Jaime was informed that apparently our due date had been revised to January 26th after the last ultrasound performed by our previous practice, and that in the process of switching to our current midwife/home birth practice this information had somehow not been relayed to us. We were relieved that the baby was not yet “late,” but I admit I was a little perturbed as I had planned my paternity leave off the due date being the 21st and had already begun my limited leave of absence with no child yet in tow. I attempted to get over it and chalked up the miscalculation and mishandling of information to something that must happen when you have three kids and not one (or two) and attempted to embrace my new reality of plans being readily flushed down the toilet in favor of chaos. I reset my anticipation clock and again prepared to wait.

I have been leisurely reading through Ann Lamott’s Traveling Mercies over the past six weeks and have found the title chapter to be especially insightful. In the essay, an acquaintance of Lamott’s is complaining about her recent run of bad luck when she runs into a gentleman who works with the Dalai Lama. The gentleman then shares his perspective that, “when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that it trying to get itself born – and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.” In light of the incessant blizzards, the relatively serious household illnesses and a miscommunicated due date, I decided that something big and lovely was indeed trying to get itself born. In this case, not much metaphor deciphering was necessary, obviously it is a big and lovely baby. A child in God’s hands, waiting for the right moment to arrive.

I felt strongly this said arrival would occur on Friday the 28th, if not before. Then when contractions did finally begin on the evening of the 28th, I felt certain that our son or daughter would be born on Saturday the 29th at the latest. We took the kids over to Nana’s house for a sleep over, we cleaned and prepared our home (again), we walked on the treadmill at Planet Fitness, we relaxed, we rubbed big toes, we waited and waited. We still are waiting. And the longer we wait, the greater my realization that I have no control here. And perhaps, this, my consistent desire for control, has been the obstacle that needed defeating, above the snowstorms and the illnesses. Perhaps now the baby can be born, perfectly as possible, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

“Good evening. The first clue anyone had was the woman at the bank; she came to the window to withdraw $15,000. Then in a calm manner, she told the teller that men were holding her family hostage in their nice suburban home. Tonight, a Connecticut jury has done something very rare. They’ve handed out the death penalty for one of two men charged in one of the worst home invasions in memory. That woman at the bank was later murdered back at her home. So were her two daughters. Only her husband lived after a savage beating.”

– Opening lines from November 8, 2010 broadcast of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in a segment titled “Killer at Peace with Death Penalty Verdict, Says DA”

The 2007 Cheshire home invasion Brian Williams spoke of involved the brutal torture, rape and killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley Petit (17) and Michaela Petit (11) by two men, including Steven Hayes who was sentenced to die this week. The crime and the resulting criminal court proceedings have received a fair amount of national news coverage as demonstrated above and have been especially heavily reported on here in Connecticut as the tragedy occurred in our own backyard. The crimes were committed approximately eight miles from where I and my family live, but the case hit even closer to home on Monday morning.

I work in an unpredictable field and can honestly say that three and a half years in, I have not had two identical days on the job. But some days journey beyond unpredictable into the unbelievable and November 8, 2010 was that kind of day. Through a series of highly improbable circumstances, I found myself in the cell block of the New Haven District Courthouse Monday morning with the same Steven Hayes that would later headline the evening’s national news.

I had been escorted into the holding cell area by an attorney and was told I would have to wait to complete my affairs, when I looked up and locked eyes for a brief moment with an inmate that seemed strangely familiar. The man was pacing in a holding room less than ten feet from me and I nodded in his direction as an acknowledgment of his presence and a sign of basic male respect. He faintly narrowed his eyes in receipt of my gesture, but his response was not one of contempt as much as it seemed to be one of bewilderment. As if he had not received so much as a non-threatening glance in some time.

I knew from entering the Court earlier in the day and walking past a dozen local and national news trucks that a jury was deliberating this day on whether Steven Hayes’ October 2010 conviction of six counts of capital felony charges warranted execution. I also knew from a previous visit to this same Court holding cell area, which room was designated for holding Mr. Hayes when he was not present in the Court room and this man was occupying that room. Instinctively, I knew it was Hayes, but could not be certain as the appearance of the man before me did not exactly match the mug shot of the completely bald and overweight criminal that has been so widely circulated in the press. The man before me had unkempt dark hair growing from the sides of his head and appeared much thinner and unhealthy than the photo of Hayes we have all seen in these parts. I wanted to ask one of the correctional officers if this was indeed the notorious Hayes, but thought better of it as the door to the unidentified inmate’s door was open and I was easily within earshot of the man.

While waiting for further instruction from the Correctional Officers about how to proceed with my own task, I found myself convinced the crazed man nervously pacing back and forth in the tiny room must be the convicted killer. He had a bestial quality about him; specifically striking were his cold and beady eyes that seemed to dart between the area’s inhabitants and yet simultaneously presented as distantly focused on heavy and sorrowful thoughts far from his current material reality. I felt pity for the man as it was apparent his spirit was not well.

My own thoughts drifted briefly and I thought of our new friend Robbie James of the Higher Point Christ Fellowship in the Northeast Denver area. Robbie was present at the Mission Alive Theology Lab last month and is the type of guy that you decide you like before you even get a chance to speak with him. My intuition was confirmed when shortly after his arrival, Robbie asked if he could borrow a copy of The Message from our table and I granted him permission but noted it was a only a copy of the New Testament. Robbie just smiled and replied, “That’s okay. I like the New Testament. It’s in my top two Testaments.” Robbie then went on to share that practicing the presence of the Mission of God begins by consistently being in an intimate relationship with the Father and being attuned and attentive to the Holy Spirit. Robbie said that practically he asks as he comes into each place, “Father, what are you already doing here?” Followed by the question, “Father, what have you authorized me to do here?”

I asked God what he was doing here and became distinctly aware that as I could not explain how or why my life path was crossing with the path of Steven Hayes at this moment, that perhaps God had ordered my steps in this direction on this day for a reason. In asking what I was authorized to do, I felt compelled to pray peace into this man’s life and found myself attempting to literally breathe the Spirit in His direction. I prayed that whatever he was being haunted by in the moment, that he might be able to experience a wave of peace, a release from the grip of anxiety as he awaited his fate. I wanted to speak to him, or perhaps to even physically touch him, but thought either of those actions were sure to get me kicked out of the Courthouse.

It was then that a Correctional Officer invited me to sit and pointed to a chair just outside the door of the inmate’s room. I suppose I should have felt fear, but instead readily accepted my seat and continued my prayer. The atmosphere reminded me of the film Dead Man Walking and of my interaction in 2002 with Sister Helen Prejean, the nun on whom the story is based, which forevermore changed my thoughts on capital punishment.

The Correctional Officer sat across from me looking directly at the prisoner and confirmed that the inmate was indeed Steven Hayes. I now fully realized that only a wall separated me from the killer, as he paced less than a yard away at times. I could see his reflection in a glass pane across from me and found myself studying him. Despite the awful atrocities that the man has committed, he appeared to be consumed with despair and perhaps remorse and I found myself wanting him to find forgiveness. Yet, feet from the man, I asked myself, would I die for him? Would I trade places with him if it meant saving him?

I thought of my beautiful family. Of Shepard, who at fifteen months gives Howard Dean-like squeals of delight when he sees a cookie or ice cream cone and wants to follow me wherever I go, including to work each morning. Of Clara, who proudly reported to strangers last weekend while visiting a children’s museum that “me and my dad, we’re two peas in a pod.” Of my strong and amazingly beautiful wife Jaime, who is my anchor and motivates me daily by the way she picks up her cross and yet still shares her contagious joy by laughing so genuinely that she inspires everyone to laugh along with her. Of our unborn child, whose own blessings we are just beginning to experience through fervent kicks from the womb. And quickly and resoundingly I knew that I would not die for this man Steven Hayes. Yet, the mind blowing truth is Christ did.

I was again struck by the amazing grace of our Lord and Savior. I was so dumbfounded for a moment that I barely registered the presence of four Correctional Officers who congregated to escort Hayes back to Court. Eventually another man, sharply dressed, referred to later by a Correctional Officer as the “Boss” entered the room. His pointed confidence was only briefly deterred when he questioned who I was, rightfully questioning the presence of the only non-officer to share this moment. A moment that I realized shortly thereafter, was the last moment Hayes had before learning that he would be executed by the State of Connecticut. Hayes walked inches in front of me as he was taken back into the Court to face his sentence and Dr. Petit, the man whose family he killed.

The experience of being in one’s presence while their fate is being decided by others, and knowing you are free to leave, is extremely powerful and humbling. And thus, in a strange way, I felt grateful to have been there. I could not however escape the weight of the encounter which affected the remainder of my day. Especially so, as I considered the fact that perhaps I had just participated in some level in a very real spiritual battle and hoped that I had acted as an acceptable proxy for the Kingdom of God. Therefore, I found solace in news that perhaps others found disturbing when I learned later that Hayes had reported after the sentencing that he felt “at peace” with the death penalty decision.