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Journal entry from July 3, 2006:

“Sometimes, Lord, the effort of trying to raise kids the right way doesn’t seem to be worth it.  We do it imperfectly, they respond imperfectly by thinking we’re wrong and they know better, or by simply not obeying, and the original plan or intention is never realized.  We want to protect them or give them something good, and they don’t want it.  I’m tempted to ask, “Why bother?” 

I’ve been on that route, I know the terrain, I know the twists and turns and the road conditions, I know what kind of drivers and traffic they’ll encounter.  I offer them some helpful tools and good advice.  They smile and say, “I won’t need those, none of my friends are using them.  I’m planning on doing it this way–I figure that’ll work just fine.”  Etc, etc.

Parent: I want to spare you pain and garbage and failure.

Child: I need to experience life for myself and learn for myself.

Parent: I WANT you to experience life and to learn, I just want you to avoid some of the damaging stuff.

Child: I’ll be all right, everybody makes mistakes.

Parent: Yes, but I can help you avoid some of them.  Why make 10 mistakes when I can help you skip 6 of them?

Child: I appreciate what you’re trying to do, and I know it’s because you care about me, but I need to find my own way.  Your way might not be right for me.

I suppose, Lord, that part of the answer is that they would’ve gone even farther astray if it hadn’t been for our influence; that having a goal of 100% and making 79% is better than having no goal at all and just randomly making 23%; that yes, everyone DOES make mistakes–parents and children both, and you can’t expect an imperfect parent training an imperfect child–who isn’t even finished maturing yet–to arrive at wisdom and perfection.

But it’s still frustrating and heartbreaking.”

Note: I was tempted to edit this and do a little rewriting to bolster my argument, but I decided to leave it as is.  Since most people become parents someday and most people HAD parents, most people will be able to relate to this–at least eventually.  (And yes, this really was a journal entry from ’06)

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I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I’m a former assassin for various agencies of our government. I was cut from the program in my mid 40’s when I developed diabetes and bursitis in my right shoulder. Ever try to throw a knife or fire a high powered rifle with bursitis? It’s no fun, let me tell you. Being an aging assassin is worse than being an aging football player. And we don’t get paid to do any endorsements. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan would really take on a different meaning for us.

Many of you have seen Kill Bill and the Bourne movies where they show assassins trying to get out of the business being hunted down by other assassins. Not accurate at all. Think about it. If that got around, who’d want to be an assassin? “What’s your retirement program like?” “Um. We kill you.” Here’s what really happens. You’ve heard of the witness protection program? Where criminals who agree to testify against other criminals are given a new identity and relocated? It’s a similar program. The Former Assassins Reintegration Program (FARP). We get some plastic surgery, maybe get some vocational training, get relocated and set up in a business, etc. And then we live a normal life. The agencies we used to work for are behind the misinformation you get from the previously mentioned movies and spy novels. It’s easier to let you think they’re all killed than to think they might be your neighbor or coworker. Or the cook fixing your dinner. That kind of thing makes people nervous.

One guy I used to work with got set up in an exterminating business. We all got a good laugh over that one. The motto on his truck said: “I’ll kill ’em for you.” He figured it had been a good motto for the last 23 years, why not keep it?

Occasionally things go wrong. Like the guy in a southwestern suburb who got tired of his neighbor’s loud music and assassinated him–three bullets to the head, point blank. Very effective. After that they added a psychological dimension to FARP–Conflict Management Without Elimination. It’s always a very interesting class, especially the role playing portion.

As former assassins get older they sometimes have some special needs beyond those of normal senior citizens. To help, there are special nursing homes for them, although to be honest, they don’t live very long there. A lot of them are crotchety, set in their ways, suffering from various levels of senile dementia, and they keep killing each other.

You’re probably thinking I could get in trouble for telling you all this. Well, that’s true–if they caught me. But with all the cut-backs there’s currently only one guy monitoring the media for any leaks on this program, and he spends most of his time reading movie reviews and examining Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. He’s pretty sure some day there’ll be a security leak there and he wants to be ready. So I’m relatively safe. Plus I owe him money, so he’s not going to take me out of the picture any time soon. Besides, most of the people who could make trouble for us are afraid of us–who wants to anger a professional killer? I don’t mind angering my accountant or the receptionist at my doctor’s office, but I think twice before I get a former coworker mad. I don’t need one more reason to be looking over my shoulder (which is getting more difficult, thanks to the bursitis).

Speaking of my doctor, that’s always a touchy area for us old assassins. I mean, I’ve got a jagged knife scar on my left shoulder, a bullet scar on my ribcage, and a long, white scar on my right calf that came from a pen (Bic, I think, but that’s a long story). Those things make a doctor curious, and we’ve got to come up with reasonable explanations for all them. This French assassin I knew was bitten by a guy on his forearm years ago and had a very noticeable scar. His doctor asked him about it and he said a dog bit him. The doctor said, but those are human teeth marks. Oh-oh. Trapped. He finally just said, “Oh. I could’ve sworn that was a dog.” And left it at that.

I thought that was a pretty good answer.

 

Wolf wondered why his parents named him Wolf. 

“Mom, why did you name me Wolf?” he asked his mom.

Mom sighed.  “Go ask your dad, it was his idea,” she said.

Wolf found his dad sitting in front of the TV.

“Dad, why did you name me Wolf?” Wolf asked.

Dad glanced up.  “Huh?” he said.  Then his eyes returned to the TV.

“Why did you name me Wolf?” Wolf repeated.

“It’s a cool name, isn’t it!” Dad said with enthusiasm.  “Tough!  Masculine!”

“It’s kinda different,” Wolf said.

“You bet!  That’s what I like about it!  If  your mom had her way you’d just be another Jerry.”

Wolf nodded and went back to his mom.

“Dad said it’s a cool, tough name,” Wolf told her. 

Mom sighed again.  “It was between Wolf and Butch, and Wolf won.”  She stopped her veggie chopping and looked up at him.  “If you don’t like it you can always go by your middle name, you know.”

Wolf’s lip curled slightly.  “Leland?” he said.

Mom nodded.

“No, I think I’ll stick with Wolf.”

Just then his little sister came in.  Mom’s face lit up.

“Hi Chiffon, honey!  How’s my little sweetheart?” 

Wolf rolled his eyes.  “I’m going to Rock’s room,” he said.

Here’s the whole, unedited story of a very nasty mountain biking accident…

On a sunny–but very windy–Sunday afternoon I was taking a route I’ve taken before.  Initially there’s a lot of uphill trails, so I really enjoy the downhill part when I come to it.  I was going through fields filled with bright sunshine and wearing my safety sunglasses.  When I reached the top of the downhill section I gratefully got up some speed and felt the wind in my face.  The best part of mountain biking!

About two thirds of the way down this hill, the trail enters some woods and turns a little to the right.  Plunging into the heavy shadow of the trees, I experienced about 5 seconds of blindness (very bright to very dark instantly–with sunglasses).  I kept going fast because I knew the trail–or so I thought.  As my eyes were adjusting, I noticed a dark shape ahead of me.

What is that?  Something in the path? I wondered, squinting.

Yep.  A little bit closer and I realized a tree had come down and it was blocking the path.  I hit the brakes, but I was still going downhill and still going fast.  In my mind’s eye I can see that tree rushing towards me, and I can see my hands squeezing the brakes even tighter.  Almost there, the thought went through my head: I’m not going to be able to stop in time.  Oh man, this is going to be bad.

Just before I hit the tree I could feel my back tire lifting off the ground–stopping so suddenly while speeding down a hill caused my bike to go into a somersault.  The front tire crashed into the tree trunk and I was catapulted over the handle bars head first.  I was wearing a helmet, but still turned my head to the right to avoid landing directly on it. 

So I landed on my left shoulder instead, followed quickly by my left knee touching down.  Then I think I bounced, came down again (God knows where), and slid along the rutted, dirt and rock trail.  

You know how sometimes when you fall it takes a minute to figure out how badly hurt you are?  You sort of take a physical inventory.  No need this time–the crash landing was unmistakably hard and the pain was immediate.  I knew I wouldn’t just get up, brush myself off, and ride on.  In fact, my initial reaction was to writhe on the ground moaning (not very original, I know, but I wasn’t thinking clearly). 

I looked behind me at the tree and saw that my bike had followed me over it.  The downed tree was unable to stop our forward momentum, so we both flipped over it.  I guess I’m lucky my bike didn’t land on top of me. 

I tried to get up but got dizzy right away so I sat back down.  I noticed that not only did my left shoulder hurt a lot, but it felt lower than the right one.  I also noticed my left knee was pretty torn up and bleeding a lot.  Then I heard another biker coming.  Please God, I thought, don’t let him duplicate my actions and end up on top of me.

He didn’t.  He stopped in time, then came around to check on me.  I tried to stand again but still couldn’t.  He rode off to the ranger station for help, while I dug out my undamaged cell phone and called my daughter for a ride. 

The third attempt to stand up–about 10 minutes after the accident–worked, and I started walking my bike in the direction of help.

I went into the emergency room a few hours later, and ended up spending 3 days in the hospital.  The ground had been very unkind to me: separating my shoulder, bruising and gashing my knee, partially collapsing a lung, and slightly spraining my right wrist.  Without my bike helmet it would’ve been even unkinder, since the helmet was dented and cracked.   

I’ll spare you more detail and end here.  I’m mending, but still have a ways to go, although my doctor thinks I can be back up on a bike before the summer’s over.

Do I still like mountain biking?  You bet.

Short answer: deep in the wild, then in the hospital. 

I spent 5 days in the Boundary Water Canoe Area (in northern Minnesota along the Canadian border–“boundary” waters, get it?).  Me and my son and one of my sons-in-law went hiking and camping–the most rugged such trip I’ve ever been on.  Of course, carrying a 50 lb backpack through real wilderness can do that….

Then a few days after returning I went mountain biking and was one of the first to discover a tree had come down across one of the trails.  I noticed it when my bike crashed into it and I was thrown over it.  I landed very hard on my left shoulder, then ended up in the emergency room, then was admitted into the hospital with a partially collapsed lung.  Not to mention a very sore and stiff left shoulder and knee.  Spent 3 days in the hospital, and now I’ve spent a few days hobbling around the house with a cane.  I still can’t get out of bed without help, I’m like a beetle on its back–except I can’t wiggle my arms and legs because it’s too painful.

A lot of sympathy would be nice…

By Michael Anderson

On a Wednesday evening in late December, 1994, our family finished supper and I read from our Advent devotional. It was a lively crew gathered around our dining room table that night, made up primarily of our six children–all eagerly anticipating the arrival of Christmas. Our oldest, Katie, was 12; Trisha–her sister and roommate–was 10, Rachel was 8, Jeremy 5, our youngest daughter Kelly 3, and little Nick just six months. My wife Debbie and I completed the family.

Nick was an especially happy baby, probably the happiest of the six, and with five older siblings there was never a shortage of people willing to hold him. Katie got to him first after supper. While everyone else was involved in kitchen clean-up, she carried him around the perimeter of the activity where he could smile and flap his arms with excitement. At one point she crouched down in a high-backed chair that was facing away from everyone, and held him up over the back like a living puppet. His smiles and laughter–with the twinkling Christmas tree in the background–convinced me to run for the camera. It was the last picture taken of him alive.

I woke up early the next morning, Thursday, December 22. I had to work that day, but Friday we were closed to start off a four day holiday weekend. Our office manager had declared it a casual day, so I dressed in a red sweater and jeans. As I walked down the hall past Jeremy and Nick’s bedroom door, I had a strong urge to peek inside. But being afraid that I might wake one or both of them, I decided not to.

It was a low-key day at the office, with everyone more geared up for the holiday than for work. I was away from my desk at about 9:00 when a coworker called me over saying she had an emergency phone call for me. I went over to her desk, picked up her phone, and was surprised to hear the voice of my neighbor, John, who worked for the same company.

“You better call home right away,” he said in a guarded voice. “I think something’s wrong with your baby.”

“What is it?” I asked, getting fearful.

“I think you should call home. I’m not sure of all the details.”

I ran back to my desk, fear working on my imagination. Quickly I punched in my home phone number and Katie answered. She was crying.

“Katie, it’s Dad. What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Can you come home?” was her only response.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

She replied that something was wrong with Nick. Then someone else took the phone, and an unknown male voice identified himself as a paramedic. “Your son stopped breathing,” he said. “Your wife called 911, and we’re here now working on your son. Can you come home right away?”

“How’s my son?” I asked.

“Could you just come home right away?”

It wasn’t until I was running across the parking lot towards my car that the seriousness of the situation hit me, and then the tears started to come. All the way home I cried and prayed, only too aware that no one was answering my questions on Nick’s condition. I feared that he was already dead, but no one wanted to tell me over the phone. It was a ride I’ll never forget.

When I got home there were two ambulances and a county sheriff’s car in my driveway, creating a mini-obstacle course. I swerved around them and parked at a crazy angle. Getting out and running to the house, I noticed a number of paramedics just standing around talking. With a sickening feeling I realized none of them seemed to be in a hurry. And then suddenly I just knew. My last bubble of hope burst, and I knew my son was gone.

When I got inside the house it seemed to be filled with policemen and paramedics. Debbie was sitting in an armchair crying. She looked up at me and said simply and with indescribable sadness, “He’s dead.”

I went over to her in a daze. How many times had I heard those dramatic words spoken in movies and on TV, and now my wife was using them in real life in reference to our son. I sat on the arm of the chair and embraced her. Instantly we both began to sob heavily in each other’s arms, letting loose the emotions we had been just barely containing. Our bodies shook and gasped and cried as we poured it all out. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Over the next few days we would learn that Nick died of SIDS–Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, an unpredictable and untreatable fatal illness that mainly strikes babies four months old or younger. And being that he died on December 22 and was buried on December 27–sandwiching Christmas–we would also learn a lot about the delicate blending of celebration and grief.

Debbie and I were determined that Christmas would not be canceled in the Anderson home. As Christians, how could we not celebrate it, regardless of the sadness of our circumstances? Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are the heart of our faith, and as such we felt they must be commemorated. We continued our family advent devotions. We gathered with relatives for holiday parties–both at our house and away. We continued our Christmas morning tradition of reading the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke, followed by the family gathering at the piano to sing Christmas carols. We even arranged to have “O Come All Ye Faithful” sung at Nick’s funeral. In spite of everything, it was still Christmas. And as we told many people during those days, we wanted everyone to know that the death of our son did not detract from the birth of our Lord.

During that same period of time we also had to choose a funeral home, meet with the director, and pick out a coffin. We collected pictures for the visitation, and planned the funeral service. And we cried–a lot. The pain was always there. We couldn’t hide it, and we decided not to try.

One excellent piece of advice we received right away was this: Grief comes in waves. Let the waves carry you, go with the grief and don’t try to tough it out. We followed that suggestion to the letter, and felt that our grieving process was very healthy and complete as a result.

A second helpful piece of advice came through our reading, and that was that each person grieves differently–in different ways, at different times, to different degrees. Therefore Debbie and I decided we would not place expectations on each other. We each “allowed” the other that uniqueness–to have a good day when the other was having a bad one, to not cry when that was all the other could do, to be interested in something else when the other could only think of Nick, etc. Grasping that reality saved us from a lot of additional stress.

One evening we came home and, to our surprise, there was a message on our answering machine from a counselor with an organization called Focus on the Family. He expressed sympathy, promised prayer, and said he’d call back.

I looked at Debbie. “You called Focus On The Family?” I asked.

She shook her head. “You didn’t either?”

“No,” I said. “How did they…?”

Our 12-year-old daughter Katie spoke up. “I called them one night last week. They were closed, but I left a message on their voicemail. I figured you wouldn’t mind since it was an 800 number.”

The counselor did call back a few days later and talked with Debbie and Katie while I was at work. Focus on the Family also sent us a little “care” package. It contained some literature, a resource list, an excellent booklet by Pastor Chuck Swindoll, and Dr. James Dobson’s tape series, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense,” based on his book of the same name. We were very blessed by their compassion and generosity, and Debbie and I devoured the material. It was soothing medicine to our broken hearts.

Our church also rallied around us at that time. We were members of a very small congregation, but their collective heart was huge! We felt so loved, watched over, cared for, and provided for. Many meals were brought over, cards came in the mail, there were calls and visits, even some errands were run for us. For the first ten days or so–because of the amount of food made for us–every meal at our house was a buffet. There were so many options to choose from. Whenever anyone got hungry, all you had to do was grab a plate and browse. People couldn’t do enough for us.

Nick’s visitation was held on December 26. The line of people wishing to express their condolences stretched out the door of the funeral home and down the street. Debbie and I stood for 2 and ½ hours receiving hugs and sharing tears. Afterwards people commented on how difficult and tiring it must have been for us to do that. It wasn’t hard at all, it was selfish! Each person who hugged us seemed to impart a little more strength. Each tear shed by someone else felt like one less tear for us. The longer it went on, the better we felt.

About a week after Nick’s death the county sent a public health nurse to check up on us. She asked us about our physical and emotional health, our relationship, how our kids were doing, and our support base.

We told her how our faith was sustaining us, how we were reading the Bible and praying together, crying together, and reading lots of material on death and grieving. We told her how our church was caring for us–calling, visiting, providing meals. We told her how generous they had been with us financially–that all funeral expenses had been completely covered by their donations.

She was flabbergasted. She told us, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, and I’ve talked to a lot of people, but I’ve never seen support like this before. You two are very fortunate. This kind of support is very rare.”

It made us even more appreciative of our friends, our church, and our God.

Many times in the ensuing months people would say to us, “I don’t know how you guys do it. I don’t think I could handle something like that.”

We always responded, “We couldn’t without the Lord. I don’t understand how anybody could apart from God.” We wanted to make sure they didn’t think of us as stronger, superior people; because then we would get the glory and God would be left out of the picture. We weren’t surviving because of our resources, but because of His.

The Lord reached out to us in a wide variety of ways during that time: besides Focus on the Family’s generosity and our church’s kindness, we also felt the love and compassion of old friends with whom we had suffered broken or strained relationships in the past. They called or came to the funeral, and old differences melted away.

Unbelieving relatives began to seriously consider the reality of a living God. My mother-in-law was home alone one afternoon, feeling very sad, when she turned on the radio and reached KTIS—a local Christian radio station.  She was very encouraged by the music and Bible readings, and has been closer to God ever since. The really unusual thing is, she had never listened to that station before–never even knew it existed! She lives alone, and has no idea how her radio dial ended up there! I think I know.

I had opportunities to share my faith at work that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, while Debbie was able to talk to two women who had abortions hidden in their past, and help them on the road to healing. We even had a Christian telemarketer promise to pray for us!

Through Nick’s death we learned that, in spite of the pain of living in a fallen world, God is faithful. He doesn’t insulate us from tragedy and heartache, but He is always there with us–giving us the strength to endure whatever comes our way. We realized many times over that people who have no faith actually need to see Christians experience and survive serious suffering, because that clearly demonstrates for them the only sure foundation for life.

Life can be unfair. In fact, Jesus promised us that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Pain and suffering should come as no surprise to any of us. Christians aren’t better than anyone else, but we are better off. The very next words Jesus speaks in that passage are filled with hope, encouragement, and triumph: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Each year when Christmas is again upon us, it brings sad memories of Nick—yet also the joyful realization that Jesus Christ is bigger than all the pain this world can dish out. For us this season is a reminder that we will one day see the Lord face to face, and there in heaven we will hold our son again.

 Mike Anderson   copyright 1996             

(I wrote this story years ago for a magazine submission.  Reading it over again now I realize my style has changed somewhat and I would write this a little differently today.  But I decided to leave it as is)

Thanks to the aging of the baby boomers, we’re also seeing an increase in the amount of retired government-employed hit men entering the Former Assassins Relocation Program.  So it was inevitable I’d run into an old coworker at some point. 

Which I did last Sunday afternoon.  He’s now a greeter at Walmart (I can’t tell you which one, but don’t make any sudden suspicious moves around those greeters, just in case).  Our eyes met, then he did the classic double take.  He gave me the old signal so I wandered over to the discounted chips and stared at Doritos for awhile until he walked by.  Then I followed him casually into Health and Beauty until he stopped to look at mouthwash (which he always needed, as I recall).  I picked up some toothpaste and read the instructions (I didn’t know there WERE instructions on toothpaste; have you ever met anyone who was stumped about how to brush their teeth?).

While holding some Scope up to the light he said, “Are you here to eliminate me?”

“No,” I said, “I’m here for deodorant.”

He turned and looked at me.  “Really?”

“Yeah.  I didn’t know you were here.  Remember, our locations are supposed to be kept secret.”

“But ALSO remember that it’s the US government who promised us they’d keep that secret.”

He had a good point.  I seemed to recall a few other promises from the government that weren’t kept.  A couple of years ago a former assassin known as seven-double-0 (because he always got things backwards) had an apparent heart attack in a movie theater.  Upon closer examination he was also found to have a bullet in his head (for those of you who have no medical background, that is not common for a heart attack).  The general feeling was that the government had decided he was too risky to have around.

But be that as it may, it seemed to be nothing but a genuine coincidence that me and the Walmart greeter wound up in the same town.  We talked for a few minutes and he pointed out a few lazy employees he said he’d like to remove (in the strongest sense of the word), but since we really weren’t supposed to communicate I picked up my deodorant and headed out.

A minute later I circled back in and walked up to him.

“You’re not really thinking of doing anything to those employees, are you?”  I asked.

He smiled.  “Are you kidding?” he said.  “And spoil this set up?”

We old assassins still have a sense of humor.

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