Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Amazing Send-off, Eventful Road-trip

We left Ithaca almost two weeks ago to come to New Mexico for a while.  Prior to leaving town we had some awesome times with our friends and our students at Cornell. 

Ned LaCelle with our kids 

Anna-Kate and Lucy Sheehan with Jack
After our Fall retreat the Sheehan family stayed with us for a day.  Their kids and ours had so much fun, Jack busted his teeth out!  They were apparently ready to come out, though in fact they weren’t actually loose yet.  Nothing brings excitement to a cup of morning coffee with friends like a kid walking up to you with blood dripping from his mouth looking bewildered and saying “uh oh.” 

Sam Ramsey got to be there for the family memory too.

 That Tuesday night we filled our home with students for a time of celebration.  We gathered in our living room to spend time praying and singing and thanking God for all that He has done in our midst throughout the first 6 weeks of school.  We also feasted on desserts and hung out til late in the night.

One Cornell Cru tradition is called “caking.”  I don’t know where it started, and I don’t claim any responsibility for it’s continuation, but it involves smashing cake on a person’s face on their Birthday.  It’s something the students do to each other, and it’s typically pretty entertaining.  It’s always a “surprise,” and the planning and execution of it are always eventful.  The students have never caked me……until now.  My birthday fell during fall break, but that afternoon a bunch of students came over to hang out and help us pack up some boxes.  By evening time we were eating some Pizza, and Jorge came up behind me with some cheesecake for my face!  Jack loved the whole idea and so he joined in as well.

We planned on leaving the next day, but it took a little longer to get say goodbye to people, get organized and pack the trailer.   Friends came by to lend a hand and hang out.  People graciously gave us cards full of encouragement and prayed with us.  Some even blessed us with gas money, which was very, very helpful.   Adam and Nic came over and we loaded our trailer and helped me get everything lashed down and ready to go.  It seemed good…but the only problem was how heavy it was. 

The next day we got a late start; around noon we hit the road.   But our minivan was not happy about pulling that trailer.  Our suspension was bottomed out and we were creeping down the road shaking and straining our transmission.  We made it to Elmira, NY which is about an hour down the road.  We ate lunch, and then after brainstorming different possibilities, we finally resigned to the fact that this was not going to work!   We were going to have to bring my truck.   Steph compared our van trying to pull that trailer to a dying bumblebee who’s just stung someone.   We drove back to Ithaca, quickly tossed everything from the trailer into my truck and took off in caravan.   We only made it to Jamestown, NY.

The next morning, we got up and drove to Erie, PA.  But we barely made it because the truck started freaking out!  We had to have it towed to a shop and we ended up wasting the whole day waiting for it to get fixed.   All in all the trip was starting out terribly!  Thankfully it wasn’t too expensive and we only needed the distributor to be adjusted.  So, that night, we made it to Cleveland.

After that, things went pretty smooth.  We were bummed to have to drive across the country in separate cars, but we switched the kids around, fired up the ol’ walkie talkies and it all turned out o.k.  And, it’s actually pretty handy to have both our vehicles here in Santa Fe right now. 

We made a lunch stop in Kearney, NE at Luke & Jakes BBQ with some friends and then spent a couple of nights with family in Colorado before we came down here to NM.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This Season of Suffering

In this post I want to give you an update about our current life situation.  (updated 1/30)
This summer we got to spend time in Santa Fe.  In these previous posts, (post 1, post 2) I updated you about my dad’s declining health status; he has recently died from ALS.

Here we are together at my parents home in Santa Fe, NM
Though my dad had been struggling since the fall of 2010, it was difficult to imagine or comprehend exactly how the disease was destroying him until we visited and saw him in person.  Although his speech had been degrading throughout the year, we’d been corresponding on the telephone and without seeing him, we could not fully understand all the ways his body was being affected.   Seeing him at home when we visited this summer was thoroughly shocking.  We were consumed with grief for days, even as we tried to hang out and interact with him and enjoy our time together as a family.

My dad required full-time around the clock caretaking.  As the weeks wore on his body became more and more paralyzed.   In December, he lost his ability to  support any weight at all on his own two legs.   He got an amazing wheelchair, but his decline was so rapid he barely got to use it at all.   It was motorized and  using his head, he could adjust the foot rest and the reclining features of the chair.  He only went outside one time in that chair; just to the porch.   ALS took away his ability to speak; which was by far the most terrible affect.  He also was unable to eat and had to receive nutrients thru a tube.    His arms ceased to work and his body atrophied and collapsed around him.  Physically he was completely debilitated.   We had to help him do everything and he was totally bed-ridden for almost two months.

With ALS, one’s mind is generally un-affected though current reasearch is showing that approximately 50 percent of the time, ALS is accompanied by some degree of frontotemporal lobar degeneration.    Mentally my dad is still basically there, although we've observed what we believe are some cognitive affects which are altering the way he currently interacts, communicates and relates with us.    
My mom, dad, sister (Leslie) and me in Pecos, NM this summer
My mom was functioning as his primary caregiver, but we could see this summer that she needed a lot of help.   Relatives and friends have graciously pitched in to help her and my sister Rachel put her classes at UNM on hold to be at home.  But during our visit this in the summer of 2011 it became clear to Stephanie and I, that somehow we also needed to be there.  We need to be in Santa Fe with my dad, serving him and helping my mom during this season of suffering. 
We borrowed a wheelchair and went downtown this summer.
We returned to Cornell in August to get ready for our fall kick-off.  We did not know exactly what the future held, but we did want to proceed on campus with our students and get the school year rolling.   Together with our staff team and regional supervisors, we decided that we would get things going on campus and then leave after our Fall Retreat.  We were  granted a medical leave of absence in order to help my father in Santa Fe. 

The first 6 weeks on campus were some of the absolute best!   While living here we have maintained close contact with our staff team and have been coaching from a distance.   Right now the rest of our staff team and our CRU student leaders are trusting Jesus and doing an amazing job of shouldering the leadership burden.

We are currently living in New Mexico.  My father passed away just over a week ago.  (1/19/12) 

Along with the physical caretaking, it was critical during our time together to come around my dad and remind him of the hope of the Gospel.  Spiritually he is o.k.  He loves Jesus, and knows the comfort of God in the midst of this affliction, and yet, it is so easy to be overtaken with fear, attacked by anxiety.  As total paralysis and death draw nearer and nearer it is easy to get discouraged and depressed.     While with him this summer, we spent time reading from the Bible, reading Christian books and praying together.  We continued to do that together when we returned this fall.  Reading God's word and praying together were some of the best times that we had.  

You can read more about ALS disease here: