Exploring Death and Life: I Thought My Son Had Died

Last week, listening to an NPR story on C-Sections reminded me of the day I thought my son had died.

Caeden playing the guitar

It had been a long night of labor and my wife was absolutely exhausted. I held her hand and tried to keep the nauseated tightening of my stomach under control. This was not fun.

When our first was born, our daughter, it was the most placid experience imaginable. We were like, “What is all the fuss about?” The Dallas Cowboys were playing the Raiders, and they won. As the game ended, her contractions began to kick in hard core. What a child! Wait for the game to end before you disturb Daddy. Perfect!

The epidural was working just fine.

Mad About You Ent Weekly We were waiting for the bluebirds to fly in with the fluffy bunnies and deer. Our beautiful child was born, we packed up, went home…then wondered, “Now the hell what?”

Fortunately, Mad About You was still on TV. Paul and Jamie had just had Mabel, so we learned a lot from them! Seriously, there were actually times when I backed up my suggestions with, “Well, on Mad About You, they…”

But Caeden, our second, was a whole different thing.

I think our Baby Doc had a flight to catch, or a tee time or something. She wasn’t happy with the rate of delivery, so she gave my wife the hurry up drug, to induce heavier contractions. It worked-ish.

Hours and hours later, we went full throttle, but things didn’t open up the way that they were supposed to. I was dropping bricks. My wife was in pain, the doctor was wherever doctors wait for the screaming to stop and my son was beginning to crown.

He got stuck. Stuck!

I could see his head, but he wasn’t going anywhere. So my wife is in excruciating pain, my son is face down with no reverse and I am more afraid than I have ever been in my life, before or since. I guess we won the lottery, because the doctor showed back up and said, “Ok, there are complications. Prep for surgery.”

“Complications.” That word pressed the mute button in my soul. I couldn’t breathe. The situation was completely unreal. Unreal. I didn’t think I would ever feel more helpless. I was so wrong.

My mind started to do that thing where it makes a list of all the worst things that could possibly happen and then makes stuff up that’s worse than that. The fun little games we play…

I walked with Rebecca as she was wheeled to the operating room. As they were putting her under, one of the nurses said, “Sir, you have to leave now.”

“No,” was the last thing my wife said before she was out.

They walked me to just outside the door and closed it. There were these two little windows through which I watched the whole process. I started to feel a bit better. She was where they could help her and my son. She was surrounded by medical professionals.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a C-Section, but it’s a pretty violent deal. More than just cutting the womb open, they have to heave that baby out of there. There was a lot more aerobic pushing than I imagined there would be.

And then, they huddled around her. I could tell that they had delivered the baby, but I couldn’t see him. I wish I had opened the door at that point, but I was thinking all, “I’m not wearing the blue pajamas. The blue pajamas keep her safe. Stay outside.”

I found, during this time, that I was plugged into prayer like an iPhone on 4G. There was no thought that didn’t dig deeper into the God reality. Every breath begged for God to do something. Anything.

After what seemed like an hour, two nurses walk by the window with this purple fleshy thing limply cradled in two hands. Time slowed to a glacial crawl. That was my son. Purple. Lifeless. Dangling between the nurses fingers. They were talking intently and didn’t look at me or anything.

thunderstorm Tears fell from my face like there was a thunderstorm in my eyes. I didn’t understand. Was my son alive? Was my wife. The doctor was still working on her, it looked like something else was happening. A whole new team had come around her and they were poking and prodding and sewing and stuff.

I don’t know what it feels like to lose a child, and may I never, but this was close. I looked over to my son and saw him lying lifeless and still purple on what looked like a music stand for babies.

Finally one of the nurses saw me. She ran to the door. Why was she running?

When she opened the door, I punched her in the nose.

No, I didn’t. But I had the impulse.

“Everybody’s fine,” she said.

“Why is he purple and all dead looking?” I asked.

“When we anesthetize the mother, the baby gets some of it. He’ll wake up any second now.”

“What’s wrong with my wife?”

“The C-Section revealed some damaged caused by the pregnancy. The Doctor is fixing everything right now. Everybody’s going to be great. We’ll bring your son to you as soon as he wakes up.”

I waited for him to wake up, just like I do to this very day. And I was very glad I hadn’t punched her in the nose.

It’s in a moment like that, that you realize a lot of things. I found out that I have a deep capacity for love and because of that, I have a deep capacity for pain. You don’t get one without the other. So, all of you out there wondering why God allows us to hurt, why God allows bad things to happen, shut up. Ask another question, why does God God allow great things to happen? Why does he let us smile and laugh milk out of our noses? Why do we get to enjoy the things and people and places around us? That’s a much better question.

People Having A Good Time

Everything happens. Then there’s a reason.

The C-Section turned out to be a great thing. At the point of “complicated,” the procedure uncovered a deeper problem that was able to be addressed. I needed to go through this because our boy had colic and cried for three months straight. If I hadn’t thought that I’d lost him, I might have actually followed through with the idea, “I think we should just let him sleep outside.”

Just kidding. No, I’m not. I really did think that. After no sleep for four weeks, a person kind of changes.

So, thanks CNN for bringing up a memory I needed to remember and another reason I have to be thankful today.

What stories do you have where the worst things turn out to be the best things?

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A Tie That Testifies

You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children.” Rom 8:15

Ethiopian Tie

I know a thing or two about adoption.

Three years ago, my wife, Rebecca and I adopted a baby from Ethiopia. The process is daunting and grueling. It requires passion and persistence. You have to want to be a parent. You have to want that particular child. You have to want him more than anything else. Your heart bears down on that baby like a needle bears down on true north.

Adoption is not casual and it’s not accidental. It’s one of the most intentional, committed things I’ve ever done. And now that we have our third child, our life involves loving him as our own, with no distinction or unequal favor. Our life involves including him, learning how to create space for his uniqueness and the change he brings not only to our family today, but the generations of Harrisons that he will produce.

When we were in court, finalizing the adopted, the judge said something I will never forget, “I now dissolve the relationship of ‘adopted’ and confer upon Desmond the rights and privileges of natural sonship.” That court date dissolved the label “adopted.” After that, Desmond was our son, with no added titles or distinction. It still brings tears to my eyes…even as I type.

When Paul writes that we have been adopted by God, he means by way of assertion, that God has gone through all of this for us. The very same process and adjustment that I have experienced: the shift, the space, the love, the learning; all of this God has gone through for you.

And yet, I know that we don’t always “feel” like we have been adopted. We don’t “feel” like a child of God. We are disconnected from our sonship, our daughterhood.

It doesn’t have anything to do with feeling.

Adoption is a reality, a deep and profound reality. One day, my son might come to me and say, “Dad, I don’t ‘feel’ like I’m a Harrison.” In fact, I expect that day. He has some identity challenges ahead and my job is to ready myself so that I can lovingly and firmly walk him through them. Because I know as his Dad that he IS a Harrison. There is no one more Harrison than he is.

God agrees.
The court agrees.
Homeland Security agrees.
My tie agrees.

I bought this tie on the flight home with our new son. It has the Ethiopian alphabet on it. I thought that one day it would encourage him in some way. But still, the tie is a monument that affirms who he is: the son I flew across the world to call my own.

When Paul writes these words, I believe that he needs us to understand the context of adoption. We need to hear a story like this to understand all that God, the Father, is please to go through to call us his own.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine that God wears a tie. Something that testifies to my being. Something close to him, that I can look at when I need to remember everything he went through to call me his own.

Is there anything that you have that reminds you how much God has gone through to call you his own?

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Resting like a sleeping Gandalf


A smart man knows when to rest.

After a season of crazy busyness and constant motion, I’m giving my systems a well deserved rest. I’ll be back soon with some new focus, new freshness, new mini-packs of awesomeness and new plans for global domination.

See you when I wake up!

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A Good Idea For The End Of The World

Caeden's Art

Last week, my son’s classroom did this art project.
The goal was to turn a memory into art.

I happened to be in the classroom helping my wife lead the project. As I walked by his desk, this is what he had made. I asked him to explain it to me and he told me that his memory was the time I took him down to Verdugo Park and played football with him. I had to hold back tears…the other kids would have laughed at me.

The hard part is that in almost three years, I’ve made time to do that with once.
The great part is that it’s a memory that he wanted to turn into art.

If you had one day left, what would you do?

How much trivia and busywork keeps you from creating art in someone’s life that matters to you?

Anybody can lecture.
Anybody can give advice.
Anybody can give time when there is time.

But it takes a memory maker to create art.

If I had one day left, I wouldn’t blog, I wouldn’t read, I wouldn’t worry, I wouldn’t plot, I wouldn’t try and make million dollars or start up an online empire. I wouldn’t email, I wouldn’t text, I wouldn’t message on facebook or even twitter (that much).

I’d take a boy on a bike ride.
I’d take a young man to the park and throw a football.
I’d take a daughter to Starbucks and triple decaf mocha her into knowing how incredible I know she is.
I’d take a wife for a walk on the beach so we could dream, hold hands and BE.

So, today, I’m going to get out calendar and plan for the end of the world.
Find space to make some art in the lives of my family.
Perhaps my good idea for the end of the world,
will start a brand new one.

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Caption Please


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Book Review: Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing Pop Culture For The Better

Writer and essayist Jonathan Fitzgerald has done me a favor: defined a new movement I’d never heard of and written a brief, but dense, e-book about it.

True Confession

As immensely popular as Judd Apatow’s films are, I have never been able to understand their appeal. 40 Year Old Virgin took me four attempts to watch and I still haven’t gotten over the horse sex jokes. I liked “Knocked Up” quite a bit actually, but the observation still holds.

So I find it odd that Fitzgerald uses Apatow as an anchor for the New Sincerity. The New Sincerity is a movement, a generation, a perspective that puts morality on the main stage of pop culture. Fitzgerald puts it like this:

“Our fashionable idea, I believe, is the “New Sincerity,” in which an emphasis on being sincere and authentic creates a space for frank discussion of morality in popular culture.”

The world outside the Church is desperately hungry to understand, express and embrace morality, which is something that I believe the Church has largely dropped from its call list. Perhaps we reason that all the “right” morality is already out there, everybody has heard it before and it’s so deeply engrained that it’s not even worship mentioning. Fitzgerald reminds me that this just isn’t the case as he writes:

“An unadvertised side effect of this trend away from organized religion is that the transmission of ethics and morality—which has long been the domain of the church—has fallen to other institutions. Here, popular culture has stepped in and become a prominent transmitter of morality, as well as a more liberated space to explore our ideas about all things spiritual outside the constraints of a dogmatic religion.”

“Pop Culture has stepped in and become a prominent transmitter of morality.”

As much as society at large has it our for “kids these days,” something pretty exceptional is happening. When I think about it, Apatow does care about morality, perhaps even more than I do. In the 40 Year Old Virgin, there is a forty year old virgin, a man who values the gift of his sexuality – his physical being – so much that he waits. Can you imagine that? While embedded in the authentic language of the times is a morality tale that raises the bar on popular culture. Knocked Up is another film that Fitzgerald mentions as upholding a high standard of morality. Yes, an unmarried woman gets knocked up, but it’s what comes after that that should make us pause and think about the morality of “unvirtuous” Hollywood.

I had never listened to Pedro The Lion before I read this book. I’d heard of them, but quite frankly, the name didn’t inspire me to press play. Yesterday, I listened to them all day long. Pedro was led by singer David Bazan, a Christian who left the faith publically documenting it on his album, “Curse Your Branches.” I was pleasantly entranced by Pedro’s post REM/Smithereens mashup sound. For a Christian artist, I was amazed! They didn’t rhyme “love and dove” once. They didn’t do the traditional and necessary “grace and God’s face” rhyme. It was sincere. Things normal people say. Even Christians. Even me. There’s a line in their song “Foregone Conclusions,” a song for those who think they know everything about people who have (and dont have) faith, that goes:

“And you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord
to hear the voice of the Spirit, begging you to shut the f#ck up.
You thought, it must be the devil, tryin to make you go astray.
And besides, it could not have been the Lord because you don’t believe he talks that way.”

Now, whether you believe “christians” ought to talk like this…they do. And that’s what the New Sincerity is about, being real. Christianity has a reputation for closing the blinds on what’s inside the house so that the outside keeps up the appearances. What the New Sincerity aims to reveal is that what is on the inside is OK, too. In fact, the more real the better.

Look at the hit TV show Modern Family. While it has gay people, whom we Christians love to hate, it’s a much more accurate look into the life of a real family than say, Happy Days. The reason it’s so funny is that it’s so close to home. And we can care, in fact, one of the hallmarks of the New Sincerity that Fitzgerald point out is that

It’s Cool To Care!

Not Your Mother’s Morals is a great piece of journalism that highlights a movement I wasn’t really aware of until I heard Fitzgerald being interviewed on the Homebrewed Culturecast. The important thing to catch is that pop culture is engaging morality on the other side of the line the Moral Majority drew in the 80′s…you know…where the people are.

Good Read. It’ll make you think.
And it will make you want to catch some Full House reruns.

What examples of “The New Sincerity” moral model have you experienced?

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Insanity Workout For The Soul: Slow Down

If you didn’t read last week’s Insanity, then you can take a quick look here. This week, the Lenten Exercise for the Soul is “Slowing Down.”

i am slowing down

When John Ortberg was about to begin his ministry at Willow Creek, he called his friend and mentor, Dallas Willard and asked him what he should do to prepare for his new call. Willard’s response was immediate:

Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry From Your Life

Ortberg wrote it down on his yellow pad and said, “Great! What else?”
“That’s it” Dallas replied, “ruthlessly eliminiate hurry from your life.”

That’s advice for all of us.
We live in a hurry hurry rush rush culture.
Personally, I’m addicted to hurry.
I actually apologize when my 4G takes to long to load something I’m trying to show someone. Even though, as Louis C.K. reminds us, my phone signal has to travel all the way to a satellite in outer space and back. I need speed.

We all do, I think.
We dream of travelling faster than light,
we make snap decisions,
hope games go into sudden death,
speed read, speed skate,
put our kids into accelerated learning
and want all responses As Soon As Possible.

We want As Soon As Possible to happen so As Soon As Possible
that don’t even bother to say the whole phrase.
We abbreviate it.

We want our fast food so fast, we don’t even bother to go inside,
instead preferring to just ‘drive thru.’

Our need for speed has created a society
where productivity determines human value.
What you do and how much you do it
is far more important than
Who You Are.

This is not the way we created.

Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not OF the devil, it IS the devil.”

In Psalm 46, God speaks these words,
“Be Still, And Know That I Am God.”
The NASB translates it, “Cease Striving.”
We were created to take a break. To stop chasing the second hand.

This week, if you are looking for a way to join into the Soul Exercises,
I challenge you to ‘be still’, ‘cease striving’, ‘slow down’ in one of the following ways:

1) Don’t use contractions.
2) Don’t make authoritative “You Should…” statements,
Ask more questions instead.
3) Walk slowly.
4) Look around. Notice things you wouldn’t normally notice.
5) Breathe. Are you aware that you are breathing right now?
6) Drive in the slow traffic lane.
7) Jump in the longest line at the grocery store.
Let someone go ahead of you.
8) Men, ask for directions.
9) Read the instructions
10) Bonus Round: turn off notifications and check email and texts once a day.

Any one of these may really work out your soul.
Lent is a time for the discomfort of the new,
to allow your soul to paint the world with it’s left hand…or right, depending.

Before Jesus fed the 5000, he was speaking to his disciples:

“Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, ‘Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.’” Mark 6:31

When Jesus speaks in a secluded place,
it’s a place that’s empty of external distractions that pull us out of the present.
There are no weapons of mass distraction.

weapons of mass distraction

Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them. via John Ortberg

Find your secluded place.
Be Still.
Slow Down.

What do you need to do in order to Slow Down?

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Changing The World With Four Sticks Of Gum

True Story:

The other night before my daughter’s youth group,
I brought her and her BFF to In N’ Out for some pre church grub.

In N Out Double

While I was waiting in line, my daughter’s friend turns to be and asks if I have 29¢.
I scour my pockets and realize that I only have a pack of gum,
so I said to the awesome customer service representative
(who shall remain unnamed),

“I don’t have 29¢, but how about four sticks of gum?”

I was about to bust out my debit card to cover the damage when he said,
“Sounds good to me!”

I thought he was kidding.
He wasn’t.

Four pieces of gum went into the till.

Wouldn’t it be great if more people solved things like that?

Like when countries line up for war,
One side says, “How ’bout free ice cream for everyone?”
Devastation averted.

Here’s to you,
Super Awesome World Problem Solver
In N Out Customer Representative!

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Modern Family: Another Year…Older

Growing up doesn’t just make great TV, it makes some great people!

modern family new years eve

The long awaited return of Modern Family hit this past Wednesday with a strong ode to: Getting Older.

I wish that I could say I couldn’t relate to this episode, but as a husband of seventeen years, father of three, from fourteen to three, oh…and right just on the other side of forty, it resonated deep within. Add to that the fact that I’m just now feeling recovered from staying up until New Years 2013, I’m the target audience.

In this episode, Jay Pritchett (the patriarch) invites his kids and their families to join him in Palm Springs for New Years. He wants the whole gang together. In itself, this wouldn’t be so funny, but since I just got an email from my Dad asking for all the kids to get together for his 60th birthday, I laughed myself silly.

Jay invites his family to join him in the Starlight Room for dinner and after they all bail out on bailing out, they all have to sit and listen to Claire tell the same story she’s told at the last two hundred family gatherings. Which wouldn’t be funny, except, when my family gets together we do the same thing. It’s like we have to wade through all the things that unite us before we even get to ‘Hello.’ It’s charming and endearing, and annoying and crazy. It’s like…family.

Our recurring storytelling involves quoting Fletch and Annie Hall. You know the way dogs sniff each other? Fletch and Annie Hall are how we make sure we know who we are.

The kids, who are babysat/sitting at home, are going through their own ‘growing up’ realizations. The Dunphy’s are fighting the affects of aging and an aging marriage on sexuality. Where this theme gets the funniest, and most real, is in the Mitchell/Cameron storyline. Mitchell is tired of feeling old and tired and wants to go to a ‘young’ gay bar. The trouble is, he’s too ‘old’ to even get noticed. So they leave, and like Goldilocks, go in search of another bar. The second one is to freaky, but in the third one, he gets his wish. The third bar is a lounge full of old gay men who could be their grandfathers.

billy dee wms At the comedic core of the Pritchett family is the age gap between Jay and Gloria. It’s hysterical to see Billy Dee Williams, Jay’s hero, cop to the fact that Gloria has absolutely no idea who he is. That’s funny…don’t care who you are. I mean, who hasn’t seen Empire?

For the Modern Family, getting older is difficult.

Just like it is for me.
Just like it is for you.

You can’t stop it.
Getting older is something each of us has to find a way to accept,
even Lily, who got worried about the fact that she wasn’t being watched.

In the Bible, one of the Proverbs says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is found on the path of righteousness [Pro 16:31; CEB].” I think what this means is that “Growing Up is a great thing; you do it well when you pursue the things that create a life that is good.

How do you pursue the things that create a life that is good?

Do you take time to rest/reflect?
Do you enjoy the moment when you are in it?
Do you say the kind word when you have the opportunity?
Do you value everything God has given to you?
Do you work to see wrongs righted?
Do you see the people around you as worthy of love and grace?
Do you create space for prayer and gratitude?

Growing up doesn’t just make great TV, it makes some great people.

Growing up reminds us that there is a horizon in life and today matters more than we think.

Things change like crazy, but the fact that today counts stays the same,
regardless of your age.

So, it’s a new year and today is pretty special…
What are you going to do with it?

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How To Be Even More Like You…Choose Your Hard

Since I started this series, it’s become obvious that there’s more than three ways to skin this cat. First, the way to be more like you is to be honest about what you believe. The second thing was ‘stop caring about what other people think about you.’ Today we’ll unpack the phrase, “Choose Your Hard.”

choose rock and a hard place

Do you know anybody who has a hard choice to make?
I bet you do.
I bet you’re one of them.

Hard choices are just a reality of life.

The thing that makes choices so difficult is that we know that
when we choose one thing, we don’t choose the other.
We lose the choice.
And no one likes to lose.

Ultimately, we’re afraid to make choices because
every choice has consequences.
Good and Bad.
What if I make the wrong one?
How can I make the right one?

Choose Your Hard

If you’re an adult, every choice has a difficult side to it — not bad, just difficult. Regardless of which job you choose, it’s going to be hard because you have to do the work. Regardless of who we choose to love and be faithful to, it’s going to be hard because we can’t control them, we can’t change them, we have to love, accept and forgive. Every time we choose, we choose a hard, something that’s going to require a lot of work and create discomfort. While it may look like it’s going to be easy, it’s not.
You just haven’t seen the hard yet.

If you want to be more of you are, who you were meant to be, you have to know yourself well enough to understand what you are willing to put up with. You have to be wise and Choose Your Hard. When you look at a choice you have to make, get honest about the downsides that are going to inevitably show up. Who are the people you are going to be around? Can you stick with them when they act insane? Can you do the work even when you don’t want to? Can you keep showing up, even when it’s hard? If the answer is ‘Yes,’ and that’s a hard you’re willing to live with, own that!

When we are able to own our choices, we are the most ourselves.

In the words of J.K. Rowling:
“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, what are you going to do?
The choice is yours.

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