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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chapter 1

The Worst Day of Our Lives
Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death... Psalm 23:4


It was 1:04 AM. I know the exact time because we have an old Howard Miller clock on our dresser that has to be wound up. There are 3 separate springs. One turns the hammer that strikes the chimes every 15 minutes. I must have forgotten to wind it up. When the chime prepared to strike, the hammer made a single click on the hour and 4 minutes later the ticking stopped. I woke straight up and got out of bed. I took a look at the clock and decided to wait till morning to reset and rewind. I was getting back into bed when a small voice inside my head told me not to. It was quiet in the house. Too quiet.

I woke Tom and told him to check on our son.

Micah had suffered from nocturnal seizures for 14 years. After his marriage ended, he moved back home to go to college. We convinced him it would be unsafe to live alone and have no one there at night to monitor his seizures. Reluctantly he moved back home.

The fierce snoring and sudden gasps for air were part of the ordinary nighttime sounds in our house. It was my job to hear when Micah had a seizure and wake Tom up. Tom would leap out of bed from a sound sleep and rush to his side. There wasn't a lot Tom could do for him except turn him on his side, make sure his airway was clear and talk to him while he passed through the awful jerking and guttural cries that go with grand mal seizures. That and pray.

I used to go in, see the ashen color of his face, his fingernails turning blue and I would cry the rest of the night, knowing the toll it was taking on his body. I felt totally helpless.

Then, I had Tom to worry about. When I woke him at night, he'd rouse suddenly from a sound sleep and jump out of bed like a fireman on his way to a blaze. I learned to wake him gently, usually by rubbing my hand over his heart and whispering his name until he woke up. I was afraid I might lose both of them if Tom had a heart attack from being waked so suddenly. Still, he would jump out of bed and run to Micah's side. Each time, I lay in the bed waiting and crying and praying for God to heal our son if it was His will.


I was awake and halfway to the floor before I became aware of what Sheila was saying. Fourteen years of springing out of bed from a sound sleep to go to Micah when he had one of his seizures had taught me to bring my mind into focus quickly while navigating my way through a dark house.

"Something's wrong with your son, I heard her say.

It was too quiet. When Micah had a seizure you could here him all over the house. I tried to dismiss the whole thing as just Sheila being over-cautious, but I knew something was not right. I couldn't hear him snoring. In the next 30 seconds, my mind fractured. One part watched as I entered the room, saw my son lying face down in his pillow.

"No," I told God. "I can't lose them both!"

As I felt his warm skin, I climbed over the wooden rails we'd installed on his bed to keep him from rolling out onto the floor during a seizure.

"If he's gone, I'll have to bury his mother too. She'll never make it. I told Micah that. I told him to remember to put on his mask before he went to sleep!"

I rolled him onto his back and felt frantically for a carotid pulse.


He was staring blankly at the ceiling through half closed eyes. I laid my ear to his massive chest and thought for a second I heard a heartbeat.


"Dear God, I can't lose him. Please, not yet!"

I pulled the pillows out from under him and got him as flat on his back as possible. You're not supposed to do CPR on a bed, but I knew there was no way I'd be able to lift his 300 pounds and get him to the floor.

"I'm a big guy. I can press hard enough even with the mattress. I'm trained. I can do this!"

I gave him two quick breaths and started chest compressions.

I heard Sheila call me from the other room. I didn't really hear what she'd said. I was too busy trying to breathe life back into my son.


I waited in our bedroom. Tom didn't come back. I finally forced myself to speak.

"Is he okay?" I called out.

"Call 911."

I began to pray and dial the phone. Taking it with me, I stumbled toward Micah's room. It took just one look through the open door. I'm a nurse. I know what death looks like and I knew he was gone.


The next 20 or 30 minutes were a blur.

"I can help," Sheila told me at one point.

I didn't know how to tell her to help. There wasn't room on the bed for all three of us. Not with the rail. I just kept up alternating chest compressions with deep breaths. A couple of times I got in a hurry and blew air into his stomach. I repositioned his head and he threw up. I thought he might be coming around. I turned his head and cleared his mouth and airway. I pressed his stomach and got some of the air out.

Then I repositioned his head and started breathing for him again. Then chest compressions, then air. Back and forth.

"Come on, son. I'm here. Hang on. I'll breath for you. Just hang on. Help is coming."

I put everything I had into the compressions to compensate for the soft mattress underneath. I tasted vomit when I breathed for him and checked his airway again. I missed the next breath and blew into his stomach again. I repositioned his head again and kept going. I could here Sheila praying aloud in the next room. I knew she was watching for the ambulance, so I didn't even think about that.


What I told my husband, what he doesn't remember was, "Honey, he's gone."

I didn't know how long he'd been without oxygen. Even if Tom revived him, he might never be the same.

Death didn't scare Micah, but the idea of waking up from a seizure without his mind did. Tom just couldn't think that yet. He had to try and I knew there was no talking him out of it. I didn't want to talk him out of it. I didn't want to lose him either. It seemed like it took hours for the EMT's to arrive. While Tom kept doing CPR, I turned on the porch light and cleared furniture away so they could get the gurney in and out faster.

I choked back the shock and horror rushing in to drown me. I prayed.

"Please God, don't take him now. He's so good with children. He worked hard to get his scholarship. He's only 28. He'll graduate soon and be a fantastic teacher..."

Finally I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights through the window. As they came up the walk, I opened the door and pointed to his room.


The next thing I knew, the room was filling up with people in scrubs. I kept working till they gently asked me to move aside. I moved out of their way and stumbled to the doorway of his room. I watched the paramedics moving among Micah's pictures - his stacks of schoolbooks. Someone set his backpack on top of the dresser out of the way. His clothes lay draped across the chairs. I noticed his baseball glove sitting atop the television.

They weren't starting CPR fast enough.

"Hurry up, hurry up, he needs air!" my mind screamed. I realized Sheila was clinging to me, but I don't know what she was saying. I think I said something reassuring. At least, I hope it was reassuring.

"Please God, not yet."


I watched the medics setting up their gear. Getting him out of his bed wasn't easy, but finally they managed to get him on the stretcher, never stopping CPR. Tom and I stood outside the ambulance looking through the window. We saw the shot of adrenaline going straight into his heart. The electric paddles came out and then someone pulled me gently away and began asking questions. I knew they were trying to distract us - to help us focus somewhere else. I didn't want to focus somewhere else.


Once he was in the ambulance, we stood at the end of the driveway waiting. I could catch glimpses of the paramedics hooking him up to monitors and things, but I couldn't see them doing CPR or using the paddles or whatever they were supposed to do. I only knew from TV what that was supposed to look like.

They'd evidently assigned a kid from the fire department to talk to us. He told me I'd done well with the CPR.

"If I'd done well, he'd be breathing on his own now," I thought.

He explained that Micah's core temperature was good.

"That's a good sign. Maybe we didn't get to him too late."

Soon the ambulance was ready to leave. We told them to take him to Mother Frances hospital where our daughter worked as a respiratory therapist. Then we ran inside, threw on our clothes, grabbed some things and got into the car. As the ambulance pulled out, we were right behind them. The trip to the hospital was a blur.


As we drove to the hospital, we were both in shock. I called my daughter and told her to put our son-in-law on the phone. She didn't want to, but I insisted. I told Will we were on our way to the hospital. "Micah's had a seizure. I don't think he'll make it this time. Drive carefully."

He asked a few questions, but I couldn't think anymore, so I said, "We'll see you there."
I called Matt, our oldest son, who was at the children's treatment center where he works that night, working an emergency they were having. He made it to the hospital later, I don't know how.
As Tom, said, it was all a blur.


We parked in the hospital lot and rushed inside. A chaplain from our church who happened to be on duty that night ushered us into a waiting room where we spent long minutes pacing back and forth waiting for news. Our daughter and son-in-law arrived shortly thereafter followed by Micah's girlfriend, Mindy with her parents. She was not in good shape and we held her there in the dimly lit waiting area and waited for the news. I was wasted, worn out from doing CPR, confused, desperate. I kept yelling "No", aiming in the general direction of God.

Another part of me felt God's presence around us.

"Why don't you do something? Help the doctors."

Time dragged on. We got a report from a nurse who said they were working on him. She said they wouldn't be doing that if there were no hope. I believed her because I wanted to. In some other place inside me I believed she was stalling having to tell us the truth to give us time to get our minds around the inevitable. I thought about Meghan, how she often worked in this E.R., how she knew people here. I watched her buttonhole nurses like the professional she is.
Matt came in. Sheila was worried about him. He looked like he was in shock.

"Oh, God, please let him be okay."

But there was an empty hole in my very soul and I knew what it was. Micah was gone. I could feel where he was missing. The nurse called us out again to report. She started out vaguely reassuring, but it didn't sound like the truth to me. I knew, but she wouldn't just come out and say it.


After about 45 minutes in the waiting room, I stepped outside into the hall and grabbed a passing nurse. I asked her if she was working on our son, Micah. She nodded. I told her I was a nurse and asked her to tell me honestly what was going on.

She looked me up and down, sizing me up.

"We don't know how long he was without oxygen before Tom started CPR," I told her.

She considered what I told her. He hadn't had a systolic heart beat since they'd brought him in, she told me reluctantly. They had been working so long because they didn't want to give up on such a young man.

I asked to speak to his doctor. She agreed. We waited another agonizing 45 minutes before he came into the waiting room and introduced himself.

"Your son is gone," he told us gently. Micah was 28.


The next three days blurred into one long day, punctuated with brief exhausted snatches of sleep. I did what I usually do and coiled up within myself and wept. I pulled together Micah's pictures for a video tribute my daughter was doing and helped gather his trophies and memorabilia for something Sheila was putting together. Everybody worried about me, but I was really better off than I appeared. My response to grief is to go ahead and get it all out so I can get to where I can think again. I can't dribble out grief. I take it hard, then get on past it as quickly as I can. I've always done it that way and I've had plenty of practice.

The visitation the night before at the funeral home was very hard, but by the day of his memorial service, I was ready. I asked to speak at the service. I saw the raised eyebrows. I know they were worried about me, but I knew I could do it. I had to do it. I wanted everyone to know how proud I was of my son. I wanted them to remember what a fine and funny man he was. I wanted to tell them what they already seemed to know. I needed to speak for him and nobody was going to stop me.

Sheila scared me a little bit. It was as though there were someone else in her body. She should have been paralyzed with grief. I'd expected that, but instead she swept in and took charge in a way she never does with these kinds of public events. She hates crowds and big events. They give her panic attacks. I wondered how we'd ever put together a memorial service at all, but my sweet wife rose to the occasion magnificently. She gritted her teeth and decided that if this service was going to be Micah's last - his wedding, graduation and every other birthday he would ever have had, then she planned to make it the best service she could.

She did the boy proud. The night before when Micah's Boys and Girls Club kids and their families were coming to the funeral home for visitation, Sheila went early. I arrived later and found her taping pictures up all over the walls and windows and setting up displays in the halls and in the chapel. There was a huge spray of flowers across the front of the chapel atop an empty coffin. We'd had Micah cremated because he wanted to be an organ donor.

An attendant at the funeral home tried to stop Sheila from taping up the kids cards and drawings, but she got right back in his face and told him she WAS going to hang up every single cards he got from his kids at Boys and Girls Club (and there were hundreds). She told the man that she would remove the tape and wash the windows afterward if she had to, but the kids' tributes WERE going up. He retreated shame-faced.

This was not the shy, accommodating woman I married. She'd become a tigress fighting for her cub and no one better get in her way. The resulting visitation and memorial service proved one of the most incredibly hopeful things I've ever witnessed.

(c) 2009


Thursday, June 25, 2009

When you need one....

God has worked a couple of small miracles for us this past week. They weren't quite what we asked for, but then miracles from God seldom are done the way we would do them. One of these small miracles happened today.

Sheila and I have never owned a dog. We had a sweet little beagle that belonged to my daughter, but we've never owned one ourselves. We're not cat people, so we've owned a half dozen or so one time and another. Go figure!

Madeleine L' Engle wrote that you shouldn't look for a dog. God will send you one when you need it. Sheila and I subscribe to this view. Dogs are a lot of responsibility and we were pretty sure we weren't up to the responsibility.

Apparently, God disagreed. This morning while doing my semi-regular good deed for the elderly woman my wife takes care of, I was minding my own business pressure washing Miz Mary Bob's house. As I turned toward the patio to fetch another length of water hose, I saw a black shape moving through the grass on its belly. As soon as I spotted it, the shape rose up and staggered toward me grinning.

I swear, she grinned at me. It was a skinny, lop-eared, part labrador puppy (I think) with enormous feet and ribs showing through thin fur. She approached me like a long lost friend and threw herself down on her back in front of me and begged to be scratched on her belly.

"Hello," I said. "Where'd you come from."

I couldn't resist and scratched her belly. She jumped up against my legs and put her head in my hands and began licking and nuzzling against me.

"Oh, no, you don't," I thought. "Nice dog," I said giving her a dismissive pat and turning away. As I climbed up the porch I realized she was right at my heels. I sat down in a chair and she came over and laid her head in my lap, looking up at me with these sad brown eyes.

"Sheila, help," I called out.

Sheila was out the door in a couple of seconds expecting to find me bleeding on the porch. She took one look at the dog, opened her mouth and no sound came out.

"I think I'm in trouble, here," I groaned.

"Don't look at me," she said, coming over beside me and stroking the dog's head. "What are you going to name her?"

We have decided that we didn't have any choice in the matter. This little girl needed us and apparently, God had decided we need her. God immediately provide us with enough money to get her basic equipment - we are so broke right now, that we'd never have excepted the responsibility without a clear sign that God knew we'd be able to take care of her.

Besides, she likes to lie beside my chair, sit in my lap and comes when we call her. Our kids don't even do that reliably. I think this dog was meant for us. She followed me around lying in the various flower beds about the place where she could watch me scrubbing down the house. As I was finishing up, I looked over at where she was lying amongst the lantana. She had her head draped across the border of the flower bed, one ear lopped over and grinned stupidly at me with those big watery eyes.

I sniffed in disgust, "You had me at hello!" I told her. She jumped up and loped unsteadily over for another head rub. She is so weak from hunger, her muscles aren't very strong and she's kind of unsteady on her feet. Sheila will fix that though. Fattening up starving creatures is her forte'.

We tried out names all morning. I thought of calling her "Angel" and then "Honey" and then "Babe". Finally I realized I was trying to name her after Sheila.

She suggested flower names and thought Gladiola might be good (we'd call her 'Glad' for short). I thought, "Hmmmm?" and then tried out Gardenia, Rose, Chrysanthemum, Magnolia (Maggie for short) and Indian Paintbrush, but nothing seemed to fit. That made me think of Sheila's old college nickname (Indian Wheezer), then I thought of "Daisy".

It sounded right. I called her that and she responded a little. Probably my imagination, but that sealed it. We spent the rest of the afternoon giving her a flea bath, brushing and treating her for ticks. We fed her a little at a time. She was starved and ate every bit. She was dehydrated too and her body temp seemed high so we gave her water with bits of ice in it which she drank down eagerly.

It's nice to be able to do things for a creature that appreciates your attentions. She didn't much enjoy the bath, but she never snapped at us or growled. I haven't heard her bark once. She spent a good deal of the rest of the day sleeping in Sheila's lap, her belly full and warm. She was very reluctant to go in the house at first, but she's decided our room must be our den and since she's apparently joined our pack, she's taken up residence there. Sheila made her a bed and then got down on the floor to show her how to use it.

She's such a sucker for anything that needs to be fed. She spent the rest of the day worrying about how the dog was breathing, her temperature, her heart rate and whether she had Parvo, heartworms, Rickets or Scurvy. I had to look up on the Internet, whether she should give Daisy an aspirin or not. My oldest son Matt's comment when we introduced him to Daisy this afternoon was, "Well, at least Mom will have someone to obsess over besides me!"

Little Miss, Matt & Nancy's cat hasn't stated her opinion yet. We're delaying formal introductions because she's currently in her psycho cat phase and she hates dogs anyway. I think she'll like Daisy, though.

Mom passed out around ten o'clock tonight, exhausted from worrying over the dog. They're both sleeping soundly as I write this. Daisy has decided on her own sleeping spot and it's not her bed. Sheila may have a rival for her recliner.

Meanwhile, I better log off and go to bed too. Apparently, God wants me to take regular walks.

I'm just sayin'


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Signs & Wonders

Where is God when everything goes wrong?

This week I have received two signs from God. He told me first what I must do next and then He told me He loves me. He told me what to do next by forcing me into a corner where I have little choice but to do as He says. Then He began showing me where to find the resources to do it with.

He showed me he loved me by answering a prayer my wife and I have been praying for most of a decade.

Yesterday I began writing a new book called "Signs & Wonders". God has been hitting me over the head with this for some 8 weeks. I tell my wife that when I teach my Primary Class at church, God always has something specific to say to me that's fundamental to what I'm teaching the children. In the past two months we've studied Joseph, Moses and Elijah.

There are two ways you can view those stories. These three men were either cursed by God or blessed by Him. Most of their lives these guys endured great trial and hardship. They were imprisoned, hunted, sold into slavery and chased through the wilderness by soldiers who wanted to kill them. They all lost everything they had at one time or another. I sometimes laugh to imagine them sitting in church listening to a preacher telling his congregation that if they just pay their tithe or think positive thoughts or enlarge their tents, that God will shower down riches upon them. I suspect the three of them would rise up as one from the pews, drag the preacher from the pulpit and dump his fuzzy keister somewhere out in the nearest wilderness. They'd hand him a walking stick and a field guide to edible locusts and tell him he needs to actually meet God before he tries to preach about what God WILL do for those who serve him.

I think it's a message that needs to be told, what with the world going to a very bad place in a hand basket in a big old hurry. We all might need a few wilderness woodcraft skills before very much longer.

That's what our book is going to be about. I say "our" book because God doesn't want me to write it alone, so my wife, Sheila, will be right there beside me keeping me real. Here is the preface to the book. I hope you'll find it helpful if you, like us, have experienced what C.S. Lewis called God's "severe mercy".

Signs & Wonders

by Tom & Sheila King

Author's Notes:

Jesus was crucified. So was Peter. John was boiled in oil. Abraham Lincoln was shot. Isaiah was sawn in half. Huss, Jerome and Joan of Arc were burned alive. John Cooper was hung, drawn and quartered as was Scotland's William Wallace. Even in the civilized 20th century, the list of those who lived well, did much good and died badly is discouragingly long.

Col. John Boyd, arguably the finest military aviator and tactician of the last 100 years used to tell young Air Force officers that one day they would come to a fork in the road and they would have to choose whether they wanted to "do something" or "be somebody".

Down one road, he told them, you compromise, turn your back on your friends and violate your conscience. In exchange you'll get choice assignments, promotions and power. You'll belong to an exclusive club. You'll get to be 'somebody'.

Down the other road, he cautioned them, you can do something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself, but if you decide to 'do something' you may lose promotions, get lousy assignments and be constantly in trouble with your superiors.

Boyd explained that the reward for an officer who chose to "do something" would be that he could remain true to himself, his friends and his beliefs and that he just might make a difference in the process.

Boyd, himself, received high honors and accolades as well as a string of poor fitness reports. He left dozens of angry colonels and generals in his wake over the course of his 30 year career. He was threatened with court martial, demotion and transfer to Alaska. At the end of his service he was denied promotion to general. John Boyd chose to "do something".

God calls each of us to 'do something'. If we answer that call, we are promised that "All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28). Those of us who gladly answer the call of God, expecting our "burden to be light", soon discover to our discomfort that being 'called according to His purpose', may also mean struggle, hardship, pain and trial. Where are the "showers of blessings" we thought we were promised. If my cupboards are bare, why should I be "enlarging my tents"?

Christian preachers often tell us to count our blessings as though our blessings are the only road markers along the Christian path that count. We talk about the trials of the saints with awe, but most of us have this vague idea that nothing like that will ever happen to us, because God loves us and wants to bless us. We count those blessings as evidence of His divine protection. We want to hear testimonies by people for whom God has parted the Red Sea before them and turned water into wine as though the Christian life were expected to be a history of unbroken triumph and success.

Then, the sky falls in on us! In the aftermath, we're left sitting by the ash pile wondering why God doesn't love us anymore and thinking that maybe "Curse God and die!" might actually be some pretty good advice.

Well, I'm here to tell you that sometimes the clearest evidence that God approves of what we're doing comes to us when troubles start piling on. And I'm not talking about just a couple of life's little irritations. I'm talking big soul-shaking, earth shattering, fire, flood and famine type disasters. My experience is that if you try to do the right thing, to do what God wants you to and to really trust Him, that you can just about count on a visit from the devil and as many of his henchmen as he can spare.

It does make sense, I'm afraid. Why would Satan bother with folks who would jump ship the first time the bacon isn't crispy? He's already got those guys in his pocket. In fact, it's in his own interest to keep those people fat and happy and napping. The ones he really wants to go after are those that really do sincerely want to trust God no matter what. As this sort of Christian spends more and more time with God, he or she is molded and fashioned by Him into a new creature. As this happens, such people become ever more a threat to Lucifer's little plot to "take over the world". It's little wonder that he spends so much time tormenting really nice people.

I am convinced that if we're really looking for God's guidance in a troubled and confusing world, we are going to find that the signposts He puts up for us will be stained with buckets of blood, sweat and tears - often our own.

Carl Sagan used to argue that if God existed, he'd have found some indisputable way to leave his signature upon His creation. Sagan proposed some mathematical anomaly like a big digital smiley face in the computation of the value of Pi!

Well, perhaps God has signed his work after all, even if he didn't leave big smiley faces in Pi, but in ways a bit more fundamental. When I became a Christian, I told God that I wasn't sure about Him. I liked the idea of God alright, but I wasn't 100% sure he even existed. I was, however, willing to be convinced. I asked Him to show Himself to me. I didn't specify how, just told Him that I'd do my best to spend time with Him, learn about Him and do what He told me to. In exchange, God was to give me some evidence. I was the prototypical 'doubting' Thomas.

Since then I have found evidence everywhere I turn - in nature, biology, physics, history and scripture as well as in little miracles done on my behalf. As I approach the end of my earthly walk, however, I have begun to discover God's face is even found in the almost unbearable experiences through which He has carried me and those I love.

Maybe, we all need to take a hard look back at some of those signposts we've passed in our lives; not just the ones that say "blessings", but also at the ones that mark the tribulations as well. In doing so, we might just see where God has left us a message or two along the way.

God's very name is, in itself, a hint at the nature of that message - I AM. Maybe God's message to us, his signature on the signposts, is simply, "I am!" or "I am here!" In the end it may be that we have already passed some important signs without noticing. Perhaps, what our battered faith needs is simply for us to stop and take a little closer look at all of the signposts along the way, not just the pretty ones.

Even David, whom God called a "man after His own heart", wrote, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death". It was as much his experience in the valley that guided David home as it was his time on the giddy mountaintop of God's blessings.

It was 1:00 am, January 26, 2006. The house was eerily quiet....




Note: I apologize for the multiple posts you may have received. I was having trouble with html code - don't ask!


Monday, June 08, 2009

Time to Fill the Feeder

Time to Fill the Feeder

By Tom King

Time to fill the feeder
Greedy little buggers come and gone
Left only dark husks on the ground and flew away
Once in a while they come and thump the window
They're mad at me.
I'm forgetful and it's late winter
And they like the sunflower seeds
Particularly well

I stall a bit and let them thump
When the tray is empty they have to fly further
To other feeders; even to dry fields and emaciated weeds
To stoke the little fires
That keep their bellies warm
And give them wings in winter

Oh, I'll give them a break soon.
Just want to make sure they understand
The proper use of wings and beaks
And brains and claws.
In case something happens to me.
And no one remembers about the feeder.