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- Chris Fabry
- Married to Andrea since 1982. We have 9 children together and none apart. Our dog's name is Tebow.
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I talked about our Christmas of 2008 and what a disaster it was. We had mounting pressure on all sides, not the least of which was our health. We had a mountain of medical bills and no clear direction. The world was one big question mark with a lot of little question marks behind every cactus.
Sometimes life can’t be spun. All of the little things that happened to discourage us seem distant now, and this Christmas was so much better, but most of the question marks are still there. There is this feeling we get that I call the "if onlys." If only I didn't have this situation. If only I didn't have this spouse. If only I didn't have these bills. If only I had a better car.
That's why I like the message of Christmas. Jesus burst through the barrier between heaven and earth and tossed the "if onlys" out of the manger. His father had questions. His mother had questions. I'm sure his brothers and sisters wondered about him. When they had to flee south to Egypt to protect the baby, I'm sure they wondered why that road was not easy.
They did not know the whole plan. They did not know "why." Their lives could not be spun any more than yours or mine. I think that’s the way God keeps us on the path. We only know one step at a time. He wants to keep us close to Himself so we don’t stray. In truth, the questions keep us right where we need to be. Dependent. Not relying on ourselves, our strength, intellect, or sufficiency, but on His strength and guidance and mercy. The star pointing the way.
God is the author of our question marks. If you’re struggling with life and if things have not turned out like you had planned, it’s okay. You’re in good company with most of the people in the Bible. You’re in good company with Joseph and Mary.
Ask your questions. Questions are a gift from the God who created us.
Medical bills were threatening. A mountain of them already. There was no clear direction. The world was one big question mark with a lot of little question marks behind every cactus.
We didn’t have the energy or the money to “do” Christmas. So on Christmas Eve we went to Walmart and told the kids, “Pick out one thing you really want.”
Then we went back to the house we were renting and while the little kids played with their toys and the older kids stood in a daze, Andrea cried. I think that’s how it happened, I’m not sure. Andrea cried a lot during those days. It wasn’t Christmas Eve at the Emergency Room but it was close.
The next day we woke up and tried to put a new spin on life, but we couldn’t. Sometimes life can’t be spun. Our big outing was dinner. We found a restaurant that was open and everyone agreed to, but then we got lost and couldn’t find it.
We wound up at Denny’s.
Nothing against Denny’s, but it was crowded and there were people eating, leaving, being replaced by other people and our food remained absent. We dosed Colin for his insulin and then he went low so we had to get some orange juice to bring him up and then he went high. The kids got crabby. Our server was on a smoke break, I think. It was just a disaster.
This year is better. Some of the question marks are gone, but most are still there. We’ve actually done shopping and have a little tree. The kids made ornaments out of dough and put them over the fireplace. Friends and family have given generously and we have a few surprises up our sleeves. (Short sleeves because it’s Arizona.)
But I was thinking this morning about another couple with a little baby who had a lot of questions. They were in a small town because they had to be. There was grave danger that caused them to flee south to Egypt to keep their child safe. The road ahead was not going to be easy for them. And Mary had some knowledge but she didn’t understand the whole plan. Their lives could not be spun any more than yours or mine.
I think that’s the way God keeps us on the path. We only know one step at a time. He wants to keep us close to Himself so we don’t stray. In truth, the questions keep us right where we need to be. Dependent. Not relying on ourselves, our strength, intellect, or sufficiency, but on His strength and guidance and mercy. The star pointing the way.
I would rather have Christmas dinner at Denny’s with a million questions about life than have the perfect Christmas with every need satisfied and no questions. God is the author of our question marks.
If you’re struggling this Christmas, and if things have not turned out like you had planned, it’s okay. You’re in good company with most of the people in the Bible. You’re in good company with Joseph and Mary. Pull up a chair and have a warm cup of coffee.
Ask your questions.
They are a gift.
Here's the blog from 12/4/09.
I have a new wish list this Christmas. Usually I don’t like to have someone buy clothes for me. I buy what’s comfortable. Plus, I like games and toys and gadgets and things you can actually play with after you open them up. Clothes make me yawn. Clothes are so…useful. They’re with me all the time. I want something special at Christmas.
But the more Christmases I experience, the more I wonder if I really understand what it means that God came to earth. I know that in my head. I believe it in my heart. Still, I can’t grasp it.
So as I have pondered more about the incarnation this year, I have decided to let you in on my list. We are told in scripture to put off certain things and clothe ourselves with certain other things. When Jesus came to earth, he unclothed himself of the spectacle of heaven. You and I grasp at power and position. He let it go and clothed himself in human flesh. He humbled himself and voluntarily put aside what he could easily have kept. What was his right to keep. And he did it out of obedience to the Father. He did it because of his love for you and me.
Here is what you and I need to put off. Greed. Evil desires. Impurity. Lust. Sexual immorality. Anger. Rage. Malice. Slander. Filthy language. Lying.
Does any of that sound like your workplace? Maybe a church meeting?
All of these things and more are part of the nature you and I were given by the first man, Adam. But in Christ, we have an alternative. Because he put on flesh, we can also put on a new nature.
Want to know what that’s like? What’s it like to live in a home where there is rage and anger and malice and impurity? Maybe you do.
This Christmas, and every day, we have an entirely new wardrobe available not because of Christ’s good example or a wish we may have, but because of his sacrifice. The power to put these clothes on and wear them comes from him.
Let’s deal with undergarments, for these are the first things we put on each day. The T-shirt and boxers. I call these the underwear of humility. For at the heart of every person who really wants to follow God, you have to understand who you are in relation to him. And don't make the T-shirt a V-neck, I want one that covers everything.
Now I love new socks, so I want a whole package of them. I want to shod my feet with the socks of Kindness this year. So I have humility close to me and I have kindness with every step.
Now for the dress shirt, I’d like something by Croft and Barrow (I love saying that), with a button down collar of Compassion. For slacks, might as well make them pleated and woven with patience. And even though I’ve lost weight, I need a belt. Gird me with the belt of gentleness.
So I have Humility close to me. I wear kindness on my feet. I have compassion, patience, and gentleness, all because of the new nature we are offered in Christ. All because he not only came to earth and lived as one of us and had a perfect record, he also gave himself as a ransom.
What are the results of this new clothing. Well, sure, I can look good. But even more important, where once there was strife and division in my life, I am given the ability to bear with those closest to me. I am able to forgive whatever grievances I may have with someone else. I forgive, I can have compassion, because not only am I wearing compassion, but I have been worn out by the compassion of God to me.
Now, what is missing? Ah, the sport coat. (Of course, this works with females and dresses and skirts. Or you could toss in a scarf.) Whatever you wear over all that I have just described, I put on the coat of love. This is what makes everything work together, because sometimes compassion can clash with patience. But the coat binds all of these things together. Love is the scarlet thread through this new nature, this new suit of clothing.
This is what I want to unwrap this Christmas. Not a Wii or a Nintendo or Playstation. And the good news is, they’re available to me right now. And I can unwrap them any time I’d like because of what God has done.
But it’s not enough for me to unwrap them and just to have the clothes hanging in the closet. Unless I put them on, they do me no good. Access is not what it’s about. I get the benefits of the outfit only when I wear them.
Where should I wear them? I’ll wear them when my teenager has an accident and sends my insurance higher. I’ll wear them when someone at work upsets me and treats me in an unkind way. I’ll wear them when my neighbor says bad things about my fence. I’ll wear them to church even though I’d rather leave the love at home.
There’s not a place on the planet where this new suit won’t be in style. Down in the trenches with friends who are having marriage troubles, or at a football game cheering my favorite team. They are perfectly suited for any occasion, though I dare say, there may be some places you wouldn’t want to wear this suit. You might be tempted to take it off and wear something else. My guess is, if I’m in that situation, I should either not go to that place or I should keep my new clothing on.
My prayer and hope this Christmas is that I will remember this new suit Christ offers. And that each day I will put on these clothes one piece at a time, for my sake, for the sake of those I love, and for His sake.
Enjoy the suit this Christmas with those you love and remember they never wear out.
I remember the hotel room six months later. It was on the south side of Chicago. She was curled up in a ball on the bed, weeping because we had no place to stay. We had sublet an apartment from a young lady, north of Moody, and when we arrived with all of our worldly possessions in the back of a 1978 Toyota Corolla (that was a great car), the lady changed her mind. Gave us all our money back in cash in an envelope at a restaurant. Every night there were tears. A few days later we were in an apartment on campus at Moody that had miraculously become available. There were tears of gratitude.
Andrea cried every time she held her newborn children. She also screamed at me and told me never to do this again to her. But then she’d see that little lump of flesh and hold it for the first time and all the pain melted, if only for a moment.
I remember other dark days of tears, when she didn’t think we were going to make it. When she wanted more in the marriage and I had no idea what she was talking about. She had vision through the tears.
She cried when we left our little home in Bolingbrook, Illinois and drove west to see what God would have for us there. She cried over lost friends once we got to Colorado because it took so long to make new ones.
She wept bitterly over sick children and the unexplainable illnesses they had contracted in Colorado. She spent sleepless nights looking for answers on the Internet, working through the tears and finally finding the truth. Tears can help you do that.
She cried the night we vacated out of our house for good. And every night immediately following. Those were desperate tears that seemed hollow and unseen by God.
She’s cried a lot in the desert, separated from friends, lost in decisions, searching for a way.
Tears can draw you close to God. They can also bring you closer together with the one you love. Of course, tears can tear you apart as well. There's no magic in the tears themselves. There’s something underneath them, a well from which they spring.
That well is the heart. Once it turns toward something, an objective, a desire, a passion, a person, it is difficult to thwart. It is difficult to kill. It beats on with purpose. That's where tears originate. Andrea’s tears have watered our marriage. Her heart is magic.
Today we celebrate 27 years together. I’m thankful for the laughter. I’m thankful for the times of joy. But I wouldn’t trade the tears. When they spring from a heart of love, tears can change the world. They can change destinies. They are the overflow of the prayers of worried parents and injured spouses. They fall because we are alive, because we are made in the image of the author of tears.
I don’t pray for tears. I don’t ask God for more. But they come anyway. And I'm comforted to know they are from him and are ultimately for his glory.
I’ll bet she’s wiping one away as she reads this. That’s just the way she is.
A word about how the reporter, Heather Sells, found out about us. Heather’s niece lives in Wheaton, Illinois, and listens to WMBI in Chicago. The niece told her mother that “Aunt Heather” ought to do a story on the Fabrys. Heather began reading my blog and heard some of the radio show and became interested in our journey.
I think the report takes a lot of information and tells the story of our plight pretty well. It gives an overview of what we’ve been through and even shows us walking in the desert. Heather put a lot of work into those six minutes.
Over the past few days I’ve been looking at our bare walls here. There are shots in the video of our home in Colorado. They show how much Andrea put into the house. Her creativity and design abilities surfaced. But now we’re focused on other things than decorating. Things like getting physically well again. Eating well. She spends so much time in the kitchen, preparing meals and lining up the herbs and supplements and juices for the kids, that we don’t have time to hang pictures—plus, we don’t have any pictures. The art work we see is what God is doing in our lives.
I hope you get to see the story. You’ll get a glimpse of our journey and be able to put a face with the voice.
I must add that one lawyer cautioned us not to do this interview. He also said we shouldn’t be blogging or talking on the radio about it. Since we are involved in legal action in Colorado, anything we say or that is said about our situation, can be used against us. To that Andrea and I have said all along, so be it. There is something much bigger in our story than what happened at the house. I really believe the pain and hardship we’ve been through, the things meant to tear us down and that could have destroyed our lives, were meant for ultimate good. If one person can be kept from that kind of experience because of our story, we want to tell the truth in all of its ugly glory.
I hope someone sees our story and wonders, “What makes those people keep going?” It’s because God has given us this experience for a reason, to showcase his strength in weakness. To give hope amid some hopeless days. To know that God is still in control, even though the events that surround us make little sense.
A few days a week I drive our elementary aged children to school. It gives them about a half hour more of sleep and it gives me a morning break from whatever I’m working on. I remember my first day driving them. I was unprepared for what I was about to experience.
The school at that hour is packed with buses, children swinging lunch boxes, parents waving and hugging, and a long line of cars trying to get in and turn around in the parking lot to drop children and then get out of Dodge. There are orange cones to help you navigate in a circular manner. Signs say, please pull all the way forward. The general tenor of those standing to wave traffic on is, “Let’s keep moving, people.”
Incredibly, what I saw was moms pulling up, stopping, saying goodbye, giving final words of affirmation, handing out lunches, almost every one of the five love languages. In some cases, moms stopped, got out—a clear violation of protocol—and herded the kids to the sidewalk and then got back in. I could understand the physical touch and the words of affirmation, but to tell you the truth this was not a place for quality time.
One trip with my wife was enough to show how differently we approach such things. She lovingly made sure each was buckled BEFORE we drove from the house. She talked with them about their day, what they were looking forward to, acknowledging each teacher and the special events of the past or coming up. When we reached the 20 mph flashing yellow in the school zone, she made sure they all had their mittens and hats on, their coats zipped. Then, in line, she told them what they’d do after school. It took a couple of minutes after she stopped to get going again because she had to kiss them and wave and smile and wipe a tear from her eye.
This is not the way dear old Dad drops the kids off. We approach this in vastly different ways. Here’s how I look at it. I am on a sacred mission behind enemy lines to perform a drop and escape. I am not there to stroke egos, I am not there for their self esteem, my sole mission is to safely get them into that place of education and RETREAT. Pull back outside enemy lines. Period. As soon as everyone gets in the car, I have it in reverse, telling each of the soldiers to buckle up, buckle up, buckle, buckle, buckle.
I go the back way which is a little shorter and cuts about 22.3 seconds off the trip. I flip on the radio so the children can get up to date on the latest news, so that if a teacher brings up something like the economy or what Ben Bernanke said this morning or the war or whatever the hot topic is, they’ll be ready. I don’t have time for chit chat. This is war.
As we pass the flashing yellow light, I bark, “Unbuckle, unbuckle, unbuckle.” It usually takes about 18 seconds for them to get the belt undone and pick up their water bottle that falls from the backpack, and then we’re in line.
“All right, everybody have everything?” I say, as if it mattered at this point. There’s no way I would turn around, even if one of the kids had forgotten their pants.
Making the turn into the parking lot, I see those moms trying to nurture and love in the middle of this childhood warfare. There are a few guys in line who glance my way and give the secret dad signal.
“All right, 30 seconds, side doors ready?”
“Side doors ready,” Kaitlyn says.
“Okay, have a good day, don’t poke anybody in the eye, or kick, or bite or scratch. Unless you absolutely have to.”
“We won’t, Dad.”
“Bye Dad,” Colin says, leaning forward and giving me a kiss on the cheek. I allow this physical touch as long as it’s before we actually stop.
We’re halfway along the sidewalk, about 20 yards from the front, but I can tell by the moms ahead that this is our moment. This is our small opportunity to make things for the people coming in line a little easier and the opportune moment to disembark.
“Hit the beach, hit the beach, hit the beach,” I yell.
The door flies open, the troops pour out of the landing craft, the last one out closes the door and waves. They’re up the sidewalk and almost into the school and I am still in line.
This is not the way my wife does it. But it works for me. At least it did until Sunday when I pulled up to our place of worship to let my wife and children out. There was a car right behind me and Brandon was dawdling in the back seat. I looked sternly at him as he casually unbuckled and said, “This is church, Dad. We don’t have to hit the beach.”
To which my wife said, “What’s hit the beach?”
Yesterday, Kevin Leman was here for the program, and in the breaks he was asking about the children that he passed when he walked through our rental house here at the Cactus Compound and Detox Center. “So, what’s the prognosis?”
I have to think quickly because I don’t want to burden people with too much information. I had to think through the best way to describe it. “A year ago, those kids you passed, who all loved to read, couldn’t. Reagan’s head was spinning with vertigo. Kaitlyn, who was reading books almost as heavy as she was, had an eye problem where she got headaches looking at the pages. Colin and Brandon couldn’t focus.” That was a microcosm of the mess.
Now they’re all reading in long stretches during the day and before bed at night.
We have a teacher who, this week, began coming to our home to teach them three hours each day. Because of the chemical sensitivity they can’t go to school. They can, they just come home with headaches and stomach aches and... those of you who know about chemical sensitivity know what I’m talking about and those who don’t are saying, that can’t be true. But that’s okay.
So the kids are doing better. We’re not out of the woods by a long shot, but we’re progressing.
More good news. I think. I stepped on the bathroom scale today. I have told you before that I gave up my soda a year ago in October. I loved Dr. Pepper, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Coke. I haven’t had a soft drink in more than a year. At my top weight, or what I think was my top weight, I got the nerve to go downstairs in our old house and weigh myself. And as I watched the numbers whiz by, spinning like the Tilt-A-Whirl at the carnival, I thought, “I need to do something about this.”
But I didn’t. I stayed at that basic weight for a while.
Then the mold thing happened and we moved out. There was so much stress in our lives that I lost some weight. And I cut out the soft drinks and that helped. I’m just drinking water now and I feel a lot better. And the new diet Andrea has us all on has really done its job. I stepped on the scales today and I am 45 pounds lighter than about a year ago. And that is my weight loss plan. If you want to lose 45 pounds, get mold, lose your house, your pets, move to the desert, and eat gluten-free food. It’s really easy.
Maybe the weight loss is not good. I guess we’ll know that down the road, too.
Now if I were to take a picture of me today and post it on the blog, you would say, “Wow, you lost 45 pounds?! You must have been a real porker a year ago.” The truth is, I hide it well. And I hearken back to my mother telling me when I was young, “Chris, you’re not fat, you’re just big-boned.” Right. The fact that I ate Little Debbie cakes for breakfast had NOTHING to do with it.
That’s the update from the desert. I hope your weekend goes well.
He wrote me back yesterday and I wanted to let you in on just a portion of what he said. I think it will encourage you whatever situation you find yourself in today.
He mentioned this was a difficult week for Shirley and him. They feel God is moving them in a new direction and toward a new endeavor, but the grief of leaving a ministry and friends and colleagues after 32 years is difficult.
You can believe that those who worked with him closely feel the same way. There will be a hole in those studios that can't be filled. Not that they won't move on and work diligently. Not that they won't help listeners and perhaps even see the work expanded, helping more people in the future. It just won't be the same.
Dr. Dobson wrote the following:
What I am saying is that we are of two minds about this event in our lives, one characterized by sadness and the other by settled peace. Jesus expressed that contradiction when He said, "In this world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world." How could those circumstances coexist in the minds of His disciples? I don’t know, but they did, and for us, they do. It is as if the Lord is saying, "Your hearts are about to be torn out of you, but it’s fine because I have a better plan for you and will go with you."
How can you have peace in the midst of turmoil? How can you not grow bitter and angry in a circumstance you don't understand, no matter how well the situation is handled? How do you put things in perspective when, as JCD's book has said, "God doesn't make sense?"
If you really believe there is a God who loves you and who is for your good, if you really believe he cared enough for you to die for you to give you new life, is it all that hard to believe that in a difficult circumstance he is there working things for your good as well? The truth is, he is every bit as present in the hard times. He is moving in Dr. Dobson's life. He is giving him an opportunity to grow even closer to Him than if this hadn't happened.
I'm praying for God to move in my life and yours as well. I'm praying we can see those stumbling blocks as potential stepping stones to know God more deeply and depend on him more fully. If we can do that well, God will receive the glory. Which is what all this is about anyway.
My parents were watching TV when I arrived. We watched a lot of football over the weekend, which was fine with me. I helped out very little and we talked a lot. And ate.
I'll keep this brief for now, but my father is doing okay. He did get me mixed up with my older brother, asking my mother, "Where did Johnny go?" But all in all, he was right there with us and even made a call or two the refs missed. He's slowing down, missing some teeth, and moving a lot more slowly, but he gave me his trademark goodbye when I left--what he says each time before we hang up on the phone. "Love every bone in your body!"
The feeling is mutual.
Thanks again for praying.
I AM POEM
I am athletic and outgoing
I wonder about the golden streets and the pearly gates
I hear birds chirping through my window
I see the sunset setting over crystal blue water
I want to live life to the fullest
I am athletic and outgoing
I pretend to be a flower raising up to the sky
I feel wind blowing beneath me
I touch the strings of my guitar as I play a "D"
I worry about people who don't know Christ
I cry for orphans
I am athletic and outgoing
I understand why I am on the Earth
I say words that motivate and help friends and family
I dream of reaching my goals
I try my hardest in everything I do
I hope to be in the presence of the Lord someday
I am athletic and outgoing
Written by Hallee Cartwright, July 29, 2009, for her grammar class
Copyright Hallee Cartwright 2009
It used to be very scary to admit I was working on a book. The fear is that you won’t be able to finish what you start. Or that it won’t be any good and when someone asks about it you’ll have to say, "It didn’t work out."
After 60+ books published, I still sit with that fear each time out. Part of the fear of this new book is that its scope is so much broader, more encompassing than my other adult novels. The new fear is that I won’t do the subject justice. I want readers to be moved by my story, to identify with the characters, and to come away from this one knowing that God is sovereign. He is at work in the big and small aspects of our lives. It’s more than I can do with the talent I’ve been given—which is a good place to be. Every time I sit down I am dependent on the Master Storyteller to infuse me with memory, insight, and truth.
So if I’m not as diligent with my correspondence in these next few months, now you understand why.
I’m heading back to WV to visit my parents and family. It has been a long time since I’ve been there. My father has some health problems so it will be good to see him again.
It’s scary leaving the Cactus Compound, even for a few days. Though we are improving, any day can present problems. We’ve been on a stringent diet that has helped, but deviation from it brings complications. So I’m praying things will go smoothly while I’m gone. If you think of it, pray for Andrea and the kids while I’m away.
I was at Walmart a few days ago. Here’s what I bought:
5 bottles of White Vinegar
Lined paper for school
6 Jr. legal pads
3 kitchen towels
2 oven mitts
A 2-cup glass measuring cup
You can tell this was Andrea’s list. Other than the hat, of course. Total: $46.74.
I used one of the gift cards we’ve been given. It still has $61.65 on it. We’ve been so blessed with the generosity of God’s people. We can’t thank you enough for your kindness and prayers. They are a HUGE part of the story God is writing with our lives.
I’m confident that story will finish well. Thank you.
Those of us on duty rotated stations each week. There was the water fountain duty. The next week we’d be on the playground. But the plum assignment, the one that everyone coveted, was out front at the line of buses, taking care of the younger children as they walked home or stood in line.
I’m not sure how many lives I saved, the number is really not important now. No, what is important is that I was one of many who wore the sash, and I was one who was in line for the possibility of being Patrol of the Year.
At the end of that long, arduous battle known as 6th grade, still at the top of the heap in elementary school, the teachers and administrators at Culloden elementary decided to bestow this honor on one person. There was no participation trophy. There was just a hard-fought battle over who would be chosen as THE patrol, the one who exemplified justice and honor and the American way and kindness and honesty and valor.
We sat, breathless, as our principal took the stage. Kelson Cooper was his name. And he used to come to us during lunch and pass out extra pigs in the blanket and hot rolls. I loved that man. Kelson Cooper stood before us and held up the award, which was a little hard to see from where I was sitting, but I knew it would be wonderful. Tension mounted as he asked all the patrols to stand and thanked us for our efforts. We did so to the applause of teachers and custodians. All the dehydrated kids who hadn’t been able to get a drink that whole year scowled, but there was polite applause from them as well.
And then we sat and waited for the announcement. And the award for Patrol of the Year, the POTY, goes to… and then he said it. My name. Chris Fabry. I rose, and because I wore husky pants and shirts, I waddled to the front of that gymnatorium, my face red-cheeked. And I looked at that little pin that was a replica of our own badge that we wore. A very tiny replica. I’ve lost it now. Can’t tell you where it is.
But to this day I remember what the room felt like as I made my triumphant waddle back to my seat. Other patrols around asked to see it. I was actually embarrassed, thinking my friends probably deserved it more. I had done no lobbying. I had just done the best job I could at what I was given to do. And the older I get, the more I realize THAT is the best award of all.
Oh, the difference a year can make. If you had told me last year in July or even in September that our family would leave our home, lose most of our worldly possessions, and live in five different houses in two states, I would have said you were crazy. No way. Can’t happen.
It did. And we’re still going through the fallout. I am still paying on the laboratory bills our health insurance didn’t cover. The legal battle over the house continues. The lawyer for the other side called our case “frivolous.” I guess that’s a lawyer’s word. It’s not one I would use about our situation.
Those first few days of vacating our home were shocking. Neighbors rallied around us. The manager of the hotel gave us a break on the two rooms and our church paid for a few of the nights there. When we found a house to rent, I took everything we owned and moved it in less than five minutes. All we had were in Kohl’s and Walmart bags and some food.
There were many tears and questions. We had no idea what was ahead. I remember telling the kids about our pets, Pippen and Frodo. That part I haven’t really dealt with. They still haunt me. I’d put my head down at night thinking about them, not knowing what the next day held, praying for the strength to get up and do the work I felt God had given.
I continued working in the office in our garage, opening the garage door with the opener I kept in the milk container outside the front door. I’d change into the full chemical splash suit each day and walk inside, hoping the room wasn’t contaminated. I wrote the rest of June Bug in that room, wading through the story with the plastic crinkling around me. I did the daily radio show there as well. In December, upon the request of friends who cared, we tested the room and found high levels of toxins. I left it and all the equipment. (The radio stuff was later cleaned and salvaged.)
In January a friend loaned me his pull along trailer that we parked in the driveway. I did the radio show from there that month, then moved all of our mattresses and a few belongings to Arizona to meet with Andrea and the kids who were getting treatment. The house had recently been sprayed inside with pesticides and we lost those mattresses. We lived in hotels for three weeks and finally found a small house we called our own for a few months.
This has been a long journey and none of it has been easy. The treatments in the early days, drinking the clay and taking the prescribed medication did strange things to our bodies. The mold inside has done even stranger things. Psychologically we have been traumatized and just the thought of mold brings reactions.
However, on this anniversary, I’m thinking of some good things that have happened. All of us are together. How would that have ever been arranged? All of us are progressing. The children are able to actually read again and do school (though the teacher comes to our house and puts on scrubs before she begins). We’re not in the “fog” that we called our lives in Colorado. We don’t have resolution on the home in Colorado and all the stuff inside, but we do have a place to stay that is big enough for us and we even own a couch and loveseat. Though we feel alone, we know we have friends who pray for us. We have had so many people send gift cards it’s ridiculous. I still have many we haven’t even touched.
My son, Reagan, is playing baseball. The ringing in his ears has lessened somewhat. He’s still dizzy, but there have been times in the past few weeks of driving him to practice or games when I almost feel like a normal dad.
There are actually moments in the day when I don’t worry about the bills and what lasting effects the mold will have on us. I treasure those moments because it’s so easy to slip back into unbelief.
We haven’t arrived. Many days are horrific. Symptoms return. Andrea is caring for all of the specialized meals and the herbs/supplements and she sometimes gets so exhausted she can’t function. The kids have intense nosebleeds. They miss their friends. They miss Pippen and Frodo. They miss a “normal” life.
Throughout this past year I have felt God walking through the fire with us. People from his family have given and given. I have learned God’s grace is sufficient and I have to cling to that every day. These events have caused me to be more aware of the pain of those around us.
This is not the life I signed up for, but it is the life I have been given. And by God’s grace I will live it to the full today and pray that He gets the glory for anything good that comes from this journey.
After all, Jesus said that he came to give life. He came to give it abundantly, overflowing, springing up from someplace deep inside. That kind of life can’t be explained by merely pulling yourselves up by your bootstraps. It’s not something you can do on your own. It’s given. My job is to receive it. That’s my new full-time job.
Don’t get me wrong, I love non-fiction. I love biographies. Those fuel the creative fire for me as well. But real change can come from fictional stories told well that elicit an emotional response from the reader. I’ll give some examples of that from my own life on Prime Time America on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 Central. Plus, I'll tie in some Old Testament Scripture. Can you guess which story I'll give?
I used to do a morning show with Greg Wheatley so my goal is to make him guffaw at least once during our time together, even though the subject is serious. You can hear the segment on the Prime Time America website if you’re reading this afterward.
Whether or not you like to read fiction, I think it’s a worthy pursuit to talk about the changes a good story can make in our lives. I’m working on one right now that has me coming back to the computer screen each day, wondering what new things I’ll discover about the characters.
If you’ve read some good stories over the years, let me know which ones have “connected” with you the most. I’d love to hear about them.
This just shows that when you're photographing something "big," you don't have to have the best equipment.
When he returned, he had the photo enlarged and framed for a dying friend. At that time his friend wasn't responding much to God, the Bible, or Jesus. He added a caption that said, "On this trail, which is life, we sometimes are forced to take a path that we must hike alone. Know that in this time there are many of us with you in prayer."
That friend is losing the battle with death. But from what Jimmie says, he has now conquered it through the power of Christ. Jimmie wrote, "I listen most everyday as I go about my seemingly mindless job of painting. You are a bright spot in my afternoon. I really just wanted to show you some of the beauty that is kinda/sorta in your neck of the woods. But in light of your program on Tuesday, I thought you might enjoy my friend's story as well."
Actually, it's the other way around. Jimmie is the bright spot. I'm just tagging along for the view.
I was driving with my son, Reagan. The cell phone rang. It was the lawyer I had hired to respond to the landlord's termination of lease letter. They had given us 30 days to vacate the home where we're living.
"Bottom line," he said after explaining the arguments the landlord's lawyer had written, "they have withdrawn their termination letter. You get to stay."
Withdrawn. I like the sound of that. I think our landlord will realize we are good tenants who leave properties in as good if not better condition than when we moved in. And I look forward to being in one place for a few months rather than moving so often.
Thanks to those of you who prayed for wisdom for us!
I was struck this morning anew by something in Psalm 34. In verse 9 David writes, “Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.”
I don’t see a demon behind every cactus. I never have. But with the way things are going, Andrea and I believe we are up against more than mold, a negligent builder in Colorado, and a bad insurance company. We are not fighting against flesh and blood. At every turn we have seen trouble and discouragement. After leaving our house last October and everything we owned, we focused on the mold and what it was doing to our family. We found medical help. Now, we are in a place where we know almost no one, where we can count our possessions, and where at times it seems as if an unseen world has been unleashed.
We both feel the plot points of our story have been designed to discourage, demoralize, and make us want to give up. Stay quiet. Cower.
We will not.
And the reason we won’t is because we see this battle isn’t about us anymore. It’s not about the realty company and the owner. It’s not about the builder in Colorado or the remediation company that botched the job. This is about something much bigger, much darker, and more important.
I’ve been praying the past few days for the owner of this house and for the realty company owner and her workers. I honestly feel sorry for them because I see them as people who have no hope. I prayed not just that they would relent in this action, but that they would come to know God who loves them and wants them to be in a relationship with Him. Perhaps He has put our family in their lives to help.
But the larger hope is that the story of our lives reaches beyond our family, friends, and those we come in contact with here in Arizona. From the reaction we’ve gotten when we tell our story, I know there are other people who are struggling. Mold is like sin. It cripples and debilitates. It invades every part of your soul. And if you don’t do something about it, it leads to death. Someone wants that truth suppressed.
It’s interesting that this would happen right now. Today, 9/23/09, a film crew and reporter from CBN are in Tucson to shoot a report about our story. Interesting timing. I’m also working on a book that details our journey and the things we’re learning. Writing it has been the most difficult assignment of my life. I’m not being paid as I write it, but I have a strong urge to complete it. Sometimes we are called to do things that aren’t easy.
So I would like to ask you to pray for us. I know many of you have been doing that and we really feel your support. Pray that we would tell our story well, that we would make good decisions about the legal matters before us, and that most importantly, as we put on the armor for warfare, we would be faithful in the battle. That we would not cower or back down. That we would be strong, though we feel very weak. And that we would fear God and Him alone.
What is your battle? Some thing, someone? Finances? A relationship? Perhaps your battle is not really about you or that other person/situation. Perhaps there is something bigger God is doing in and through your life. Don’t cower. Don’t be discouraged. God will be victorious in the end. Be faithful to tell the truth and never back down from it.
I don't know where the story arc will take us from here, but I am confident we will have all we need. Thank you for standing with us.
Have you heard about June Bug? (This is the place they always put the commercials on TV, so I thought it might work for me.)
When you get an air test, well, first you pay a lot of money. But second, the technician measures the mold outside the house to get a base line score. What you want is less mold inside than outside and none of the icky, yucky, stinky bad mold at all.
The outside mold registered high for this area of the country. 1,787 was counted outdoors. We tested five separate areas inside the house. The highest level inside was 187, about 10% of the outside count.
We had 0 icky, yucky, stinky bad mold.
“I can’t imagine your house being any cleaner,” the technician said. “Ten percent is awesome. This is good news for you guys.”
Now we have peace of mind that we’re not going to get sicker because of this environment. We don’t have to move. We don’t have to throw away the things we have acquired since our last move. We can relax and continue our treatment.
I’m reminded of our impromptu prayer meeting last week. We asked God for peace and a sound mind. I think he answered today.
Ain’t a that good news?
That’s how those old movies went. Just when you thought the hero would never be able to escape certain death, he pulled out a specially made weapon and zapped the villain.
We don’t have a specially made weapon.
We only have the truth.
So, believing the truth would set us free, we called a mold inspector to do a test on the house we’re renting. It’s not cheap, but it’s what we tell people who ask us, “What can I do?” He came and conducted the air tests and inspected the house visually.
“Wow, this shower pan is really nice,” he said. “I tried to pour one a couple of years ago and I couldn’t do it this well.”
He looked the house over, up and down, and sideways while his machine was going. “If this place has mold in it, I will really be surprised.”
That was great news to us. We don’t have the tests back yet, but they will either confirm or deny the previous test.
Some people would say we’re crazy to spend hundreds of dollars on such a thing. They haven’t lived what we have. They haven’t carried their child to the bathroom because he was unable to walk. They haven’t gone to 30 different doctors over various symptoms. So while I can understand their incredulity, I’ll say it again, the truth sets us free. Free from the trauma of wondering if this house is contaminated. Free from the fear of what may come next.
There’s a scripture that says we haven’t been given a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind. When I know the truth, I don’t have to be afraid. I can deal with what IS rather than what might be. The truth may be hard to take, but it’s something I can bank on. I’ll sleep well the night I know the truth.
Here’s something else the truth will do. It can save you from a lifetime of hurt. I received this e-mail today.
Thank you so much for getting the word out about the hazards of mold! My niece and her fiance had completed the paperwork and were within days of closing a loan on a house. I had mentioned to my sister what happened to your family, and she insisted that her daughter and fiance get the house tested for mold. Sure enough, it came back positive for the stachybotrys and aspergillus. After checking your website and Andrea's blog again to confirm that these were the disastrous molds, they called their realtor and have told him they DO NOT want this house. You have saved them years of heartache. Thank you and God bless you!
The truth is a wonderful thing. Sometimes it comes at a great cost. Sometimes it’s free.
After moving in and overcoming the fears we had about the place, we began to nest. We bought a kitchen table that we left outside to off-gas for several days before we brought it in. Andrea found a leather couch and loveseat at Lazy Boy. I made two trips in the Honda Odyssey to bring it back and Ryan helped me move them in. And we bought a TV at Target. It seemed like the horror was dissipating.
Andrea and I had met with representatives of the local school district and the younger kids had begun school in the home. A teacher, Miss Collins, came to our house and taught our sponges—for that’s what they were. They were so eager to learn.
I had cut a hole in the master bedroom wall, into the closet, and put my computers and the ISDN unit in the bedroom while I strung the cords through the wall into the closet. It cut down on the heat and the noise of the computer fans. Things actually felt like they were becoming “normal.” There were nosebleeds and sinus problems, but we had that in the other house that checked out fine. Now, with the mold diagnosis again a reality, the questions came back like a flood. Do we do more testing? Do we spend more money to find out what type of mold it is? Do we leave tonight and get to a hotel? Can we take anything with us?
A mold survivor has all of these questions constantly running through their minds. It is a post-traumatic stress reaction that comes up every time you think about another purchase or another move.
We gathered, all 11 of us, on the couch and loveseat. Andrea cried and the kids tried to comfort her. The enormity of what was happening came at me like a flood. Another change of address. Another ISDN connection. Cleaning computers and equipment. The cost. The upheaval. The loss. The mental anguish. Disconnecting the electric and water. Telling the owner of the house what’s going on. It feels like some curse is following us, some attack from a malevolent demon who cackles as he sprinkles mold on any dwelling we choose.
Erin said to Colin, “Go get everybody and have them come to the living room.”
I was at the kitchen table eating a bowl of chicken soup. When a few came in Erin said, “I think we should pray. Let’s get in a circle on the couch and hold hands and pray.”
Brandon began a halting prayer, with a few giggles around the circle. Soon, the older kids were praying, thanking God that we were all together, thanking him for their parents who were strong and loved them. Asking God to please help us find a safe place. Soon. The kids prayed about their “stuff,” tennis shoes and a foam pillow. But we all agreed that stuff is just stuff and God owns all of it.
The verse that came to me was from 2 Timothy 1. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I thanked God that he is bigger than mold. I thanked him for bringing us together and keeping us together. I asked him to give us a sound mind about the new direction we need to take.
It was difficult to look around that circle and not weep. No, impossible. But though there is heartbreak, there are still tears of joy. We are perplexed and anguished, but we are not crushed. And we are not without hope.
Thank you for your prayers.
This morning, after several phone calls to people who know more than we do, we've decided we need more information. There is a chance this is outside/inside normal mold. We won't know the severity until we have the tests done, which is exactly what we tell people who call us in crisis, wondering what to do. If we can get the testing done, we'll know the verdict next week.
Why so many bricks? For a wall. Why build a wall? To keep the critters away. And there are many critters. And there are many walls in this area. Just about everyone has one.
So I watched with interest the past couple of weeks to see the big square pallets of bricks unloaded and put in the back yard. Some were stacked on top of each other on the uneven ground. Others were left in single piles.
A few days ago dark clouds formed over the nearby mountain and there was pelting rain and lightning and thunder. The monsoon was intense. The water began to rush in the wash behind us, surging through new channels it cut between the cactus.
The next day I looked at the bricks, arranged in squares around the back yard, and noticed something strange. One pallet had fallen to the ground and lay in a heap. Bricks lay broken and scattered on the hard ground. Useless. They will have to be thrown away.
Then I looked at the brick walls around us and the many bricks that were still intact after the storm. What was the difference? One brick was strong and doing its job. Another brick was in pieces on the ground.
The difference is that the first brick was placed side-by-side with other bricks, fitted perfectly and with cement around it (or whatever they use to seal bricks these days). The wall is only a single brick thick, but fitted together with others, it forms something stronger than itself.
Bricks don’t have feelings, of course, but if they did, it probably wouldn’t be comfortable for them to go through the process of being made into a wall. It is hard work for the laborers. But the end result is something not only pleasing to the eye, but also useful.
I know God has placed us where we are for a reason. The storms of life are still raging. This process is not easy, but I believe we are going to come out of this much stronger than we were. I believe something good is going to happen.
I don’t know where you are in this process. Maybe your life feels like a pile of bricks on the ground. Man may discard the broken pieces, but God can use them for our own good and for his glory. If the ground underneath you feels uneven and shaky, a solid foundation is available. You were made for the wall.
Laughter seems the furthest thing from my mind at times. We just bought a new kitchen table for $174, half price at World Market. We’ve been eating around a card table, so it’s a huge step up for us. However, the table has formaldehyde in it and a funky smell of some kind of third world lacquer that we can’t abide. It’s been outside for two days now. Still has the funky smell.
It’s stuff like this that steals my joy. And sick kids who have nosebleeds or can’t sleep or have migraines. In the midst of a difficult day, I walked into the kitchen. Andrea was helping Kaitlyn make “energy bars” without gluten or high fructose corn syrup. I spotted an egg on the counter and thought I would do my duty and put it in the fridge. I put it in the door and closed it, then thought better of it because someone might not know it’s there and then we’d have gnashing of teeth during the cleanup. So I opened the door again and bent over just as Andrea was coming by.
When the door is opened, no one gets by easily. But with me bending over, looking inside for the egg carton, trying to figure out if I can get one more egg in there, not even an ant could pass.
I sensed someone behind me. I knew it was Andrea, patiently waiting. I bent over a little more and began singing. I can’t recall the tune or even the words, except for one phrase at the end, “…get by my fat rear.” Only I didn’t say “rear.” I used the word we do not let our children say for that part of the anatomy. The donkey word. And I kind of danced back and forth in front of the fridge while I sang.
At the time, Andrea did not really react to the song. When I stood up, she moved past me with a hint of a smile. I kept singing, making up verses 2 and 3. Saying all manner of things that could not get past my fat rear.
The day wore on and we made it through dinner around the card table, looking longingly at the one outside. At 10:30 Andrea and I crawled into bed and after a few still moments I felt the air mattress shake. Sometimes in the night I can feel the same thing—and she is crying. I reached a hand over and said, “What’s wrong?”
She turned, her face red, her mouth turned up in that Kessel smile of hers. “I can’t get that song out of my head.” She giggled and chuckled and shook the bed some more. “It was an awful day, but that made me laugh.”
I read in Ecclesiastes today that there is a time for everything. “…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” And there is a time to block your wife in front of the fridge, a time to shake your fat rear, sing a silly song, and call it an answer to prayer.
When I talked with my mother over the weekend, she took the call from the bathroom. My father who is 89 was watching the Reds game in the other room. I don’t know if I’ll be watching baseball at 89. I hope so.
So baseball has this mythical hold on me, and when I told the kids about the Rockies and their 14th inning comeback against the Giants last weekend, I felt the passion rising. There’s something about a comeback I can’t resist.
Two years ago Reagan had severe ringing in his ears. It was constant and getting worse. We thought it was tinnitus, which many people have. But when vertigo came, mind-numbing, brain-searing vertigo that did not let up, we went to more doctors, tried more medication. The vertigo led to severe vomiting. Reagan lost weight. His eyes would shake in his head. They would roll to the left, then reset in the middle, like a computer that’s lost its hard drive. It became so bad he couldn’t walk. We had to carry him to the bathroom so he could vomit. He would sit on the couch, look out the window at his siblings, and weep because he just wanted to get up and go outside to play. He wanted to be normal.
The doctors… I can’t go there. We had several doctors who said we were the problem. We didn’t push him enough. He couldn’t have constant vertigo. He needed a psychiatrist. Andrea finally talked with a doctor who believed her and said something was going on that wasn’t what had been diagnosed. Rabbit trails led to questions about our environment. The mold exposure. What mold can do to the brain, especially stachybotrys.
Wednesday night I took Reagan to his first baseball practice here in Tucson. I worried that the coach might push him too far. He’s not full strength. He’s skin and bones, really. But I let him go, knowing he has severe hearing loss on one side.
Another member of the team is deaf. He’s very good—he just can’t hear. You have to make sure he’s looking at you when you throw the ball to him. He just loves baseball.
So I watched Reagan run and throw and catch and do the drills the coach put them through. I remembered carrying him downstairs. The tears. The helplessness we felt each day his body withered. The prayers we prayed.
And now the hope we feel. He’s not there yet. Neither are we. But we’re on the field. We have a good coach. And a lot of people cheering. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to baseball.
The nosebleeds returned with a vengeance yesterday. But we think it may have been caused by some ant traps we put out. One bathroom and a bedroom had these tiny ants crawling around. Andrea put Borax down but the ants put on skis. Megan put down Apple Cider Vinegar and I sprayed them with soapy water. I think the ants are getting the hint.
There are other niggling things that make life harder, but I won’t go into those. I just want you to think of what my friend wrote me after he heard the litany of angst in my recent email. He wrote back and said, “I wonder how God is going to use the ants?”
I had to think about that a minute. He added that he does not believe things like this happen without a purpose. God can even use ants for his glory.
At the same time that email came in, I was having send issues with another email. I wrote my friends in IL, the Parmelees, about a person I tried to reply to but my email was blocked. They looked into it and solved the problem.
This morning I got an email from Sherry saying she was so glad the email came to her, she’d been praying for the listener who wrote and wondered if we could put a request on the “Make a Difference” page on my website.
It struck me. God is using that problem to alert others about this dear lady who’s struggling.
I wonder how he will use the ants?
I’ve dreaded this move for months. I arrived back in February with eight new mattresses and box springs. I lugged every one of those inside a nice home in Tucson. There was a pool in the backyard. The kids swam in it on Saturday. Then they began reacting to the house. On Monday we moved out because chemicals had been sprayed inside. We didn’t know we were chemically sensitive back then, but the stinging eyes and the blotchy skin left us no alternative but to leave. And we left the new mattresses. We slept in hotels and searched for a new home for weeks. Finally, we found a 3 bedroom house with all tile. It was still scary, but we had a home.
I knew then that we would need to move in six months. As the family adjusted and we crammed eight of us into one bedroom, Andrea began thinking of the next house. We had hopes of turning around physically and heading back to Colorado. It became clear the desert is our home now. I had no idea how hard, scary, or rewarding this move would be.
Even though we don’t have that much stuff, we still have stuff. It doesn’t take a U-Haul to move air mattresses. But when you add the baskets of clothes and the camping chairs and three small TVs and stools and a card table—it’s depressing to write this, to put down the true state of our existence, but I learned long ago that the truth sets you free—and a box that holds everything Colin owns and insulin supplies and dishes…we needed a truck for all of that.
I rented a U-Haul and began the task of loading up the desk and filing cabinet we’d been given for my office, Andrea’s small desk, my office chair, and then the big deal, the washer and dryer. Our neighbors back in Colorado pitched in and bought us a brand new washer and dryer. If there’s anything that scares the mechanically challenged, it's hooking up a washer and dryer. But we got it in the truck, hauled it to the new place, and I managed to put the hoses on without much problem.
We slept in the new house Thursday night. Most of our stuff was in by Friday night. It is Sunday morning and the sun is coming up over the cactus. The coyotes are running through the wash with fresh kill. We have had no nosebleeds so far, a true miracle. Megan and her friend, Beth, were here to air the house out and they cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. That’s a big reason we haven’t reacted. I’m sitting in my new “studio,” a rather large closet at the eastern-most point of the house, a lot more secluded than the previous studio.
And last night, after I cooked onion-filled burgers on our electric grill, the kids got on their scooters, Ryan pulled out his skateboard, and we walked the neighborhood. Everyone was gone or doing something inside, or maybe it was too scary to come out to meet the tribe. I waved to one jogger who wore a Texas Longhorn shirt. The Ohio State hat must have been the reason he continued and just waved.
A walk around a neighborhood is foreign to our lives. We have been so consumed with the next step, the next treatment, trying to get better, trying to get the toxins out, switching electric and water companies, searching for answers…a walk in the neighborhood at sunset is what normal people do. And we have felt anything but normal.
It feels like we have turned a corner. God has given us a desert place to rest and recuperate and rejuvenate. He has given us laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, and baseball.
I almost forgot. In the midst of the move, Colin and Brandon’s final game was Saturday. I wish you could have been there. We won one game all year. One measly game. One wonderful game. The most players we ever had was six, while other teams were filled to overflowing. The boys progressed in their fielding and understanding of the game. We got some hits, played through the injuries, and survived the sweltering heat. And I survived as a coach, along with some great help from my friend, Jaime, and in the end it was all about the kids.
Tomorrow, one of our daughters is actually going into the local high school to her drama class. She has one class in the school. The kids will be taught at home the rest of the time by tutors provided by the local district. We don’t know what will happen with the house in Colorado. We don’t know how long this will take. We don’t know how much we’ll be affected by the toxins or if something will turn up in this house and we’ll have to move again. But we do know that today we have a place to sleep. A safe place with running water and three full bathrooms. And beautiful sunsets. And mountains. And wildlife. And rest from moving.
Thanks for journeying with us.
A watch is a friend. On your arm. Ready to tell you the time. Ready to beep at you when you need a beep. For some people a watch is a status symbol. For others, it’s a fashion statement. To me, my Casio Databank is a tool I use, something I miss if it’s not there.
I found this picture on my daughter’s Facebook account. She snapped it as Andrea and I were walking in an undeveloped area, all paved and ready to go, but the builder ran out of money and abandoned the place. The kids ride their scooters and we walk on the paved circle and talk or don’t say anything. Here, I’m rubbing the back of Andrea’s neck, which she likes.
I discovered the Casio Databank through my friend, Wayne Shepherd. He had a silver one, but I preferred the black. It cost less. It boasted 150 contacts in its databank, but I never even put one in. I use it for the stopwatch (when I record timed spots), the alarm function (which awakens me easily without overdoing it), the calculator (I add up all the money we’ve lost), the light (at 4:30 I can tell what time it is and won’t awaken the whole room), the “world time” function that lets me know the time in Bangkok, and its sleek design.
If I were to wear a Rolex, my arm would look like a matchstick. But the Casio Databank doesn’t care that I’m not buff. It just rests there on my wrist like a friend.
I think I bought my first one back in the mid-1980s. I’ve owned about three since then, and the only reason I’ve bought a new one was when the battery install fritzed the display. Once, it happened in Walmart and they gave me a new watch. It felt like Christmas.
My watch is like that wedding band about five or six inches away. It’s always there, always working for me, always ticking—even if I don’t realize it. I’ve worn it so long it feels like a part of me. I’m not trying to impress anyone with it. It’s just part of who I am.
Maybe someday I will get a fancy watch that makes me look important. If so, I’ll probably put it in a drawer. My Casio Databank works for me. I don’t need a watch to make me feel anything. I need it to do what it’s supposed to do.
Still, there are things to be thankful for. When we first moved into this house it was scary. We were worried about neighbors and their pesticides. We were worried about a hole in the bathroom tile and mold growing in there. We were worried.
But something happened last night that was pretty neat. I’ve been reading to the little kids from a book by Cathy Gohlke titled William Henry is a Fine Name. She won the Christy award for it last year in juvenile fiction. It’s a story set just before the Civil War and the follow-up has the main character and his life during the war.
We’re about 80 pages into it. The younger kids are on their air mattresses, listening. The older kids are reading something of their own or listening to a book on CD or their iPods. Last night we get to a particularly tense part of the story. The slave master is coming back, a mean man named Jed Slocum. I closed the book and said, “We’ll pick up from here tomorrow.”
Brandon, 8, sighed and put his head on the pillow.
Kaitlyn, 11, sighed and pulled the covers up over her arms. “That was a short chapter. Can we read another one?”
The answer was no. I had just bought a new novel I have been waiting to read for more than a year. The anticipation is killing me. But before I could say anything, another of the kids, and I will protect that person’s anonymity here, raised up and said, “Yeah, can we read another chapter?” I didn’t even think he/she was listening!
I gathered myself and said, “No, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
I pulled out my new novel, opened it to cover my face, and smiled. Tonight we’ll find out about Jed Slocum.
All of us.
We met while I was in college. She had graduated UVA the same year I graduated high school. When she moved to West Virginia to take a job at a local radio station, she decided to get involved with the youngsters over at the University because she had been spiritually affected by a campus ministry (FCA) while she attended school. (She was an accomplished tennis player.)
I still remember seeing her that first night as I led songs for our InterVarsity meeting. Those blue bell-bottoms and the blue shirt with the stripes. Ahhh. She was lovely then and she hasn't changed much at all, even after bearing nine chirren.
Our wedding was on the anniversary of our first date. (Gary Chapman would not have approved of such a short engagement.) We've lasted 26.5 years and if I had known what we would have to go through, I could not have picked a better person to be my wife. Adaptable. Giving. Loves to laugh. Empathetic. Interested in my favorite subject: me. Always looking out for the interests of others. Has a heart that yearns for God. Loves her children, long walks in the desert, and birds. Has become an expert on mold because she had to. Saved our lives with her tenacity. I could go on and on.
This is her first birthday without her mom, so I know it will be bittersweet. Join me in wishing her a Happy Birthday.
Bob and I talked about how to choose a person to date or court. Is your boyfriend a Boaz or a Bozo? Is your girlfriend a Ruth or a Ruse? That was the content and we had a good time discussing the qualities we should look for in the character of a prospective spouse.
At the end of the program, right as I concluded, Tricia McMillan said in my headphones, “We have a caller on the line you have to talk with.”
I know her name and where she was from, but I’ll make her anonymous. She said she had hit the scan button on her radio and came upon our conversation. She had never heard our program before. It was by “coincidence” that she tuned in.
She was in the parking lot of the airport waiting to pick up her fiancé. They’re getting married this Saturday. At least, they were before today’s program. She described her situation, the conflicted feelings she felt about her future husband, the good things about their relationship and the problems. In the end she had to admit that she just couldn’t go through with the wedding.
“But what about the family?” she said. “What about those plane tickets and all the money spent?”
As Bob said to her, many people get married to save face. They don’t want to upset people. And then they pay for their mistake in the following years. Bob and I encouraged her to do the difficult thing and live with the problems she will face in the next 48-72 hours. Much better to call a halt to this now and spend some time thinking, praying, and getting help for their relationship than just going through the motions. Sure, people will be mad and hurt and angry. But to ignore these facts (and I won't go into them) and feelings would be disastrous for her.
Pray for our friend who, moments after she hung up, had to meet her fiancé and talk about what she had just heard. Pray for the family that they will understand. Pray for the prospective groom who is going through such heartbreak and is probably wondering what yahoos on the radio turned his future wife against him.
It’s easy to make people mad in talk radio. Hosts do it every day. It’s much more difficult to listen to the hurts and give good advice that will lead to hope and healing. I pray that happens for our caller. I pray it happens for her fiance. And I pray that no matter what hard decision you face, there will be someone there who can walk and talk you through the problem.
Sometimes, it's as easy as hitting the "scan" button.
I helped write The Winners Manual after a month and a half flurry of interviews and back and forth emails with Coach Tressel. When it was completed I was exhausted, but it felt like we had accomplished something that would help a lot of people.
The hardback has sold more than 100,000 copies. It is out in paperback and I just received my copy in the mail yesterday. Because of the situation with our house, all of my copies have to be destroyed, so I’m glad to have access to this material again.
I was paid in a lump sum for my work on the book. It was like a gift from God. We had some emergency fund money, something to stash away, a cushion. A month later, we again found mold in the house. The cost for the remediation ate all the cash. At first, I was really upset. Then I saw the book as a gift God provided to take care of our needs.
I had no idea the adversity would continue, the kids would get sicker, and we would eventually have to leave that house and everything in it behind.
Today I picked up the paperback and flipped to the section on adversity. I wanted to see if there was something there for me. I wanted to see if I had learned anything over the past year. I came upon a story that is one of Tressel’s favorites called “Woohitike.”
“The ancient Lakota hunter warriors handcrafted their own bows from seasoned ash wood. There were two ways to acquire the proper wood. The conventional way was to find a young ash tree, harvest it, and let it dry for at least five years. But the hunter warriors were always on the lookout for a mature ash tree that had been struck by lightning. Such a tree had been dried and cured in an instant by the awesome power of lightning, and any bows made from it would be much stronger. Such trees were rare, but they were preferred because they had suffered the ultimate adversity, and ultimate adversity produces ultimate strength.”
The other team only had 5 players. We have not won a game all year. I had a good feeling about this game. But as we scored a few runs, I rooted for the other team to get a hit. To get on base. After all, it's about the kids. It's about them learning and growing and having fun. Our team beamed afterward talking about the win and the runs scored. It feels good to have at least one win under our collective belts.
The rest of the day was spent recovering from the early game AND going to a new Walmart I heard about from our assistant coach, Jaime. It was crowded but nicer than our regular Walmart.
Ryan made dinner and afterward Andrea took Kristen to a bookstore and some of the other children and I went to the park. We threw the baseball, tossed a football, walked, and played.
A mom and dad and two young girls came near us with two small dogs. One of them barked at me and edged closer on the leash. (The dog, not the girls.) The little girl wore a pink nightgown and let him come over. I held out my hand and the dog, a Miniature Schnauzer, submissively sniffed it and put his ears back. I petted his fur and he licked at my hand and I couldn't help thinking of Pippen and Frodo. I'm still having a hard time with the memories.
"What's his name?" I said.
"That's a good name. It fits him. He looks like he just got a haircut. Did you cut his hair?"
"No speak Englais."
"Oh," I said.
I petted Jack some more until she took him away. I don't think she understood any more of my words. I think Jack understood. His lick and the wagging tail spoke volumes to me.
The sun set on another desert Saturday. Only two more weeks of baseball season for our team. And August is here with many miles to go. Thanks for taking this journey with us.
Andrea wrote some friends in our old hometown to give them an update on our progress. It helps us to take a hard look at our situation. And it shows our progress. I thought you might like to peek over our shoulder and take a look at what we've told to friends who have been so dear to us. It hurts not to be able to enjoy their company and laugh with them.
Here is my edited version of her letter.
We signed a 12-month lease Friday and it became real that Monument will not be our home for awhile. I knew, then, that I wanted to update our community of friends who have offered such support these last two years. It's hard to believe that school is beginning soon for all of you. I will so miss that first day of school.
(By the way, Andrea always had a tea/coffee event on the first day of school in August. Women filled the house to overflowing and there was such life there. Pippen and Frodo went wild with all the attention and shoes to sniff. Andrea loved getting new people together. I loved the pastry left over afterward. That is a big loss this year.)
We continue to progress here. The climate is a contributing factor to this, even in the dog days of summer. We were at 107 yesterday. The progress is slow. Very slow. Some days I can't see it. Last night, as I watched all of them play at the park, I saw it.
Photo by Edward McCain
Brandon: His neurological recovery continues. He's much calmer and able to sit still. His rashes have greatly improved. He is extremely sensitive to any and all chemicals and his eyes will redden immediately. He continues to suffer severe nosebleeds.
Colin: his migraines are infrequent. Abdominal pain is rare. His blood sugars are still erratic. And just last week colonized fungus appeared all over the backs of his legs. This shows the de-tox is working. It also shows how far we have to go. He and Brandon are on a baseball team.
Kaitlyn: is extremely sensitive to the environment. Her immune system is so taxed that we had to stop her horseback riding lessons for awhile. She struggles with rashes and strong allergic reactions. Her vision has improved and she is back to reading! She has two friends and is excited about our new house.
Reagan: his light sensitivity has improved. Rarely has a migraine. Is still dizzy and struggles with the tinnitus. We are going after this intensely and he has had moments of no dizziness. This is very hopeful. He has become quite the magician and has some amazing card tricks up his sleeve.
Kristen: is chronically fatigued. Her pituitary was hit hard so we have been working on this. Her peripheral neuropathy is still an issue. She may try a few classes at the local high school. She loves photography--especially the Arizona sunsets.
Ryan: has decided against the conservatory in New York for financial and logistical reasons. The focus of his future has changed as well. He has responded well to the de-tox and is the healthiest I have seen him in years. He is meticulous about his diet. No gluten, sugar, etc. His digestive system was hit hard by the mold. Some exciting opportunities have already come his way.
Shannon: is working hard at her recovery. Her dedication is an inspiration. She loves the hiking here and is looking into possible classes in the fall.
Megan: is struggling. Her road to recovery will be long due to the complications from her Africa and Peru trips. Exposure to toxic mold becomes a breeding ground for parasites and other microbes. She has done some amazing video projects and continues to persevere.
Erin has decided to join us for a few months. Her rashes continue (which simply means there are more mycotoxins to come out) and her fatigue level is abnormally high, another common occurrence after a mold exposure. She is going to miss Rosie’s terribly. And I know many of you will miss her.
Chris is doing well. Dogwood won an award recently and he's excited about his new book, June Bug. He is the most chemically sensitive of us all. I am so grateful he can work from home in a "known" environment. He has been an amazing rock of support for me. He has gotten me up off the ground many days by his wisdom and humor. I don't know what I would do without him.
(I resisted the urge to embellish the above.)
As for me, I lost my mother unexpect-
edly on May 21st. She died of a brain hemorrhage following a severe coughing fit. My brother, my dad, and I were all with her and I am grateful I had the opportunity to say goodbye. She was a tremendous support to me these last two years and I miss her. A lot.
My health has been more of an issue in this last month as I have taken the much needed steps to recover. I am focusing on clearing my liver of mycotoxins, something my blood testing showed was a serious issue, and it has created a "die-off" which means the microbes are killed and then create sickness. My memory remains an issue and I miss it! So do my kids!
(For some reason, she is still able to remember why we fought during Christmas, 1984, etc.)
I continue my blog and have met other mothers just like me. I have secured the website "Moms Against Mold" and will continue my passion to get the word out.
We have been living in a 1700 square foot home in the middle of nowhere. Eight of us sleep on air mattresses in one room. There are two bathrooms. Our next home is about 3500 square feet and the good news is, we gain 1 more bathroom! It is on an acre and backs up to a sandy area known as a “wash” where rainwater rushes through after a monsoon. It stays sandy most of the year. We walked through the home with the builder last week. He agreed to rent to us even after hearing our story. I have a good gut feeling about the home as it is all electric and lots of tile and it has never been lived in. Still, a move brings back lots of fear and trauma. We have to continue to move foward, however, and this is a good next step.
Our home in Colorado remains just as we left it. A friend is cutting the grass for us. The home is still contaminated. We have a forbearance on our mortgage which enables us to pay the rent here. If anyone would like either of our trampolines let me know! We are pursuing legal action as this is what keeps the forbearance and keeps us from foreclosure.
I don't know what our future holds. I do know that my faith is not in the legal system or the medical world. It's definitely not in myself. I do believe that our story is bigger than our present circumstances and all of you have played an important role in it. You came alongside of us in critical ways in the days following our evacuation from our home. Thank you.
I conclude with this quote by Albert Einstein which has meant a lot to me.
"Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”