Sometimes prayers get answered in the best way possible

Parents have differing ambitions for their children, one supposes. Everyone wants their kids to be happy, to live fulfilling lives and to avoid the mistakes that they themselves have made.

However, one also harbors the suspicion that those with more temporal aspirations for their offspring – riches, marrying “up,” political ambitions – are more likely to keep such objectives to themselves, their spouses or a tight-knit group of friends who think along the same lines.

My hopes for my six children have always been the same: good health, happiness and holiness (I like alliteration). That’s been my prayer for each of them every night. If they can achieve a modicum of those three, their lives will be rich beyond measure.

For daughter No. 3, who I will refer to as Caroline, since that’s her name, my prayers have already been answered many times over. Not only is she a happy young lady and goes to church on her own, but she has overcome a host of early health issues that left her life in jeopardy from the moment she was born.

Caroline was diagnosed with a congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation before she was born. Because she was a twin, there was no chance of doctors performing surgery while she was still in the womb. The congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation, or CCAM, prevented one of the lobes in her right lung from developing, leaving it instead a mass incapable of functioning like normal lung tissue.

Daughter No. 3 in action earlier this year. And, yes, she will exact revenge upon me for using this photo.

Fortunately, she was delivered at one of the best hospitals in the Southeast, the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. Within moments of her birth, she was whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit. Almost immediately, because the CCAM was preventing her from getting necessary oxygen, she was placed on a frightening piece of equipment that provided extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, called an ECMO machine.

ECMO is a heart-lung bypass that oxygenates the blood. It is described as “advanced life support technique used for patients with life-threatening problems.” It is used “only when all of the standard treatments for those problems have already been tried.”

The goal is to support the patient while doctors try to treat the underlying issue. Unfortunately, the longer a newborn is on ECMO, the greater the chances of bleeding in the brain, which can cause brain damage or even death.

My then-wife, having given birth to twins by caesarian, was recuperating and understandably unable to visit Caroline in the hours after her birth. I was able to see my daughter within an hour after she’d been born, and she was already hooked up to the very large machine, with oxygenated blood being circulated into her body through a cannulae in her neck. Standing there alone, with just a nurse monitoring her, as machines beeped and blinked over my tiny baby was very sobering experience.

Even more difficult was what occurred a short time later, when a nurse asked if I had a priest I wanted to call. She knew we were Catholic and that if things didn’t look good for Caroline that we would want her baptized immediately. I said yes, and made the call.

The priest showed up a short time later and not only baptized my hours-old daughter, but also gave her extreme unction, better known as last rites. Caroline had been born at 1:01 p.m. and I distinctly remember more than once praying that she make it until at least midnight, so that no would think she had been a stillborn. It’s odd what one dwells on in times of crisis.

My mother had flown out from California and my ex-wife’s parents were on hand, as well. As excited as everyone was about the second baby, who I’ll call Abby, since that’s her name, there was a definite sense of foreboding as we watched little Caroline struggling while hooked up to the ECMO.

We would visit her regularly, and I was there one day by myself when she opened her eyes for what I believe was the first time. She was looking directly at me. I have no idea if she could focus on me or even knew of my presence, but it was a positive development. It was on that day that she was able to grip my finger with her tiny hand for the first time.

However, attempts to take her off ECMO weren’t progressing. Because of the danger of brain bleeds, the maximum time a newborn is allowed on the machine is three weeks. As we passed the two-week mark, Caroline’s compromised lungs still were unable to take the strain of her breathing on her own. Doctors had removed the mass, but each time they tried to take her off the machine, she wasn’t able to get enough oxygen into her bloodstream on her own and would have to go back on ECMO.

Walking outside the hospital one late spring day, I distinctly remember asking my mom if we would have to look into organ donation. She said we should wait and see what happened.

As the third and final week of Caroline on the machine came to a close, things were not looking particularly good. But just as we were preparing for the worst, Caroline’s lungs improved enough that doctors were able to remove her from the heart-lung bypass and she was able to breathe on her own. It seemed like a last-minute reprieve.

There were more challenges ahead. Did she have brain damage from her extended stay on the ECMO? (no, fortunately); she had had so many surgeries that she had become addicted to morphine, which she had to be weaned from; she would spend more than three months in the neonatal intensive care unit before she could come home and join her twin and older sister and brother, and she needed physical therapy because her neck muscles hadn’t developed, leaving her unable to hold her head up, because she had had to lay in the same position on the heart-lung transplant machine for three weeks.

Why do I write this today? Last night Caroline attended her high school cross country team’s annual banquet. The girl born without the middle lobe on her right lung spent the last five years running cross country, and another four years running track.

She wasn’t the fastest, but she worked hard, didn’t complain and developed a love for a sport she will likely enjoy her entire life. Ironically, it was eight years yesterday that she went for her first run, with her stepmother – my wife – who took her and her sisters out for a jog to introduce them to the sport.

Over the past few years of attending my daughter’s cross country races I’ve seen parents yell at their children for not finishing as well as the parent would have liked. I’ve seen parents say how disappointed they were with their kid’s performance, turn their backs on them, walk away from them and even make them cry.

Me? I was grateful for every time Caroline got out there and ran. She made some wonderful friends, was part of a good team and learned lessons that will serve her well through life. Many a time as she ran past me I thought back to that spring when all I wanted was for her to live to the next day, or to open her eyes just once so she could see me.

Needless to say, many times over the past five years I’ve thanked God for giving me the chance to see my daughter run, and last night, when she walked up and received her school letter from her coach, culminating years of hard work, I said another prayer of thanks that she has come so far.

She is a good person with a good heart, as are all of her siblings.

It is said that we often don’t know what we have until we’ve lost it. Having nearly lost a daughter at birth, I’ve long recognized and appreciated what I have with my children.

Facebook: Dumbing down everything since 1355

Friend%20Request%20-%20Jesus

As anyone involved with Facebook for any amount of time knows, the social media site has become increasingly polarized on topics of politics and religion in recent years.

Early on, Facebook seemed to be particularly proficient at allowing users to portray unrealistically rosy views of their lives – wonderful spouses/significant others, above-average children, superior pets, etc.

But beginning with the 2008 presidential campaign, things seemed to take a rather vitriolic turn. Of course, it’s relatively easy to ignore those who still want to debate whether the current president of the United States was born in a foreign nation or is a non-Christian.

What’s become increasingly prevalent, at least from what I’ve seen, are inane postings related to religion. I’m not referring to all religious posts, because I’m of the belief that the Bible or various other holy books are filled with words that can prove helpful during difficult times, even for those who may not be particularly devout.

One doesn’t have to agree with another’s post to understand that a bit of faith-based prose can be well intended.

No, what I’m referring to are the all-or-nothing chain memes being shared on Facebook, similar to that above, with such wording as “You have a friend request. Jesus (Son of God) wants to be your friend. Confirm?” (There’s a helpful picture of Jesus included, in case the name “Jesus” or the words “Son of God” in parenthesis didn’t make it clear that the individual sending the meme was talking about Jesus of New Testament fame rather than, say, a Latino baseball player.)

Not exactly on par with Augustine's "City of God".

Not exactly on par with Augustine’s “City of God”.

The implication being that if you aren’t willing to “confirm” your “friendship” with Jesus, you’ve turned your back on God and, therefore, your chance at eternal salvation.

What I find particularly distasteful is a meme which shows an image of Jesus with the words, “I will bless anyone who types amen”.

Now I’m no expert in canon law but this would appear to border on the sacrilegious or, at a minimum, the ridiculously superstitious.

I don’t pretend to know the ways of God, but I’ve got a feeling that He’s going to bless those with a good heart who do good in the world, whether or not they type “amen” on a silly social media site.

Who comes up with this foolishness? Can there really be those so devoid of reasoning skills that they believe that it betters their chances at redemption to devise such tripe?

And, just so we’re clear, I’m not interested in a debate on the merits of social media evangelism. I have my faith and you’re welcome to yours, or not, whatever the case may be. But don’t insult my intelligence by telling me that the path to Heaven can be widened by a few “likes” on Facebook.

Fifty years of good fortune, deserved and otherwise

tredagar iron works

I have absolutely no recollection of the event, but I know exactly where I was 50 years ago today: In a Catholic hospital in San Luis Obispo, Calif., being born. At least, that’s the story I’ve been fed over the years.

Since I don’t put much stock in the idea of changelings, I’ve gone along with this line and must say the first five decades have been interesting, perhaps even more so for those who have found themselves forced into extended proximity with me for an extended period.

The old phrase “Some are confused, others bitter” often seemed to best sum up the effect one was left with after a stint with yours truly. It might be added, however, that with the confusion and bitterness nearly always came no small amount of entertainment.

Highlights over the first 50 years (none of which are recommended):

  • A narrow escape from Mexico after trashing a hotel room with friends, ala The Who. It would be nearly a decade before I returned South of the Border, for which Mexican authorities were likely quite grateful;
  • Getting my first and only tattoo in North Hollywood, Calif., the night before the 1994 World Cup final, without telling my then-wife. She learned about it when I got home and found a small pamphlet titled “How to Care for Your Tattoo” while cleaning out my travel bag. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth afterward, all of it on my part;
  • Shooting out the back window of a fraternity brother’s car with a pistol because I wanted to see “if the gun worked.” Fortunately for me, the vehicle was DOA anyway and ended up being towed away. Overall, the less said about college the better;
  • Catching a cotton rat, and then losing it in my house for a week before finding it in a pile of dirty clothes;
  • Spending a night in a Durham, N.H., hoosegow after having been “overserved” at a local drinking establishment, then sitting in said jail cell between two knuckleheads who spent the better part of two hours yelling at each other about who was tougher. Talk about an experience that made me particularly proud of my life choices; and
  • The “Hull, Quebec, Incident,” details of which will remain unspecified for the sake of all involved.

There are others – too many to detail, sadly – but you get the drift.

Fortunately, for all the dozens of stupid, inane and half-witted decisions I’ve made, I’ve gotten a few things right.

Some were out of my control, such as being born of loving parents. Others were blind luck, such as after my divorce I stumbled upon a wonderful woman who is now my wife. And then there is the good fortune that one can only chalk up to Providence, such as being blessed with wonderful children, whose goodness and love helps me to realize that no matter how difficult things can be – and they have been very difficult at times – there is always something for which to be thankful.

So, while I’d wager that the next 50 years will almost certainly contain far few hijinks and shenanigans, I’ll also guarantee that they’ll be more fulfilling and rewarding.

As the old saw goes, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.” The good news is that this blind hog has finally wised up to the fact that he’s got a pretty good deal.

(Top: Photo of Daughters 2, 3, 4 and 5 at Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va., last summer on a vacation arranged by their history buff father. Not surprisingly, they were good sports.)

Zealots: tragedy always equals opportunity

simpsons-mob-torches

This blog isn’t big on examining life’s more crucial issues. There are plenty of other folks who do that, and do it with far more acumen than yours truly could ever hope to muster.

Once in a harvest moon, however, something sticks in my craw and it becomes necessary to put aside the desire to delve into history, economics and whatnot to address the truly idiotic.

Case in point: within hours of the horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school last Friday, myriad half-wits were hard at work on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter doing their best to show the world their inept grasp of theology, common sense and overall human decency.

I write of those who posted such foolishness as the image which showed the following rhetoric: “Dear God, why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed, a concerned student.” To which God responds: “Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in schools. God.”

Insulting, insensitive and illogical, all in 25 words.

First off, I write what follows knowing full well that those who forward such ill-conceived Internet memes aren’t going to be swayed by any amount of reasoning. Most aren’t even interested in being swayed; they’re simply seeking to push a point of view and will use whatever means available.

As the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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