Monday, February 21, 2011

One year ago last night. . .

It had been a funky week, with schedules flopping around like a 9” freshly stocked brown trout that decides his first lake meal will be your #14 bead-headed, weighted prince nymph with a caddis-pupa dropped 6” behind. The night went fast and I crawled into bed, exhausted and wondering if my daughter was going to be ok. No one knew so I went to a place that I liked in the mountains.

The trout were hopping, once landed it served as a slight relief of the heat of the morning sun as it got higher in the day. Splashes from the crisp mountain lake felt good on the hot face and arms. A biker speeds by along with a down-hill skier. Aggie was snoring as well and we both rambled through our memory banks like two lost people trying to find their car in an airport parking lot. The visions of camping, barking, chasing cats and sky-diving raced through our tired minds almost in synchronicity. Perhaps we were inside each other’s dream?

BANG! BANG! BANG! NOISE THAT IS UNUSUAL. Jim, you need to wake up.

I ambled out of bed in one fluid motion with the rehearsed scene now being played on center stage and it was my time to act. I instinctively grabbed my .380 automatic hand-gun, which contained 6 rounds in the cartridge. Should I take the second cartridge? NO. Just make it downstairs, don’t turn on the light and let the dog keep barking behind. I venture to look outside and see some car in my drive way. It is 2AM and someone is violently rapping on my front door. I peek around the stair case and put the gun down in a nano-second. It ‘s my son, Nathan and his wife standing on the front porch.

They look upset.

Almost before I could open the door Nate lunges through along with Lindsey telling me to get dressed. “Aimee’s in trouble. We don’t know if she’s going to make it. We have to leave now.”

Those cold and truthful words severed me in a new way. The trout were now really a dream and reality sucked. Then it hit me; this is what other people felt the night I got hit, and this is equally painful, except in a mentally torturing way. Questions were rapidly exchanged and dogs were watered, fed and let out by Lindsey as Nate escorted me upstairs to get dressed, informing me of the changes in Aimee’s condition even just since I’ve fallen asleep. I escaped in a dream, turned my phone off and thought things would be fine. Beth was with Aimee. Turns out things were almost as bad as they could get.


Wrong. It turned out totally different. It’s never like you imagine, I thought. Never. What is going on? Thoughts, confusion, prayers and emotions cave in as my grogginess and fantasies of mountain fishing in Wyoming are soon replaced with immediate male problem-solving thinking. But I could not solve this one. All I could do is watch and I’m not even close enough to do that yet. I need to get to Boulder.

At faster than the posted speed signs, we traveled together to the hospital in Boulder, Nate continuing to answer my insisting questions. It was 2:30AM, cold, dark and my daughter was 40 miles away and dying. I could not drive fast enough. Emotions continued caving, prayers were violently launched and an email barrage was sent as we sped through the early morning ink. I called my mom to pray, which is to say we brought in the heavy artillery. We ignited the world to pray for my daughter and her baby, not to mention what JD must be going through. We have ignition. We have lift off. Almost immediately, replying emails from all parts of the globe were coming back and now we had the first glimpse of the army of God unleashed, yet we still were afraid.

My thoughts kept surging back to that other evil night on 3-August-07 when I got hit by a car. This feeling I’m experiencing now must have been how they all felt when I was in my accident. I keep trying to figure out which is worse; the physical pain of going through such an ordeal else the mental anguish of watching, helplessly. Both ends of this stupid spectrum suck, so I dismiss the analysis.

We finally arrive at the hospital and make the journey through the stale and empty corridors that would soon be filled with UPS drivers, doctors, patients, visitors and the occasional clergy. Hospitals all have the same ‘fragrance’ of sickness, health, pain, love, happiness, grief and despair all blended together. They all smell the same just like airports only different.

We made it to Aimee’s room and then Beth informed us of the set of events that transpired just hours ago where Aimee began bleeding internally, unknown by any nearby medical employee. As it turned out, had Beth not have spent the evening with Aimee, this note would have certainly taken on a much different twist and one that I care not entertain in my mind for more than a few seconds. When my wife discovered Aimee listless, pale and with blue colored lips a bit after midnight, she became a 5 Star General commanding a platoon of medical staff. Not only did my wife give life to my daughter, she saved it again some 30 years later, and this time along with our grand-baby.

Aimee eyes were closed, yet she peered out from under her (still) beautiful eyes every so often to see who was around. I could tell that she was upset. All of her work, all of her effort to have a baby, all of her life…this was almost the price that was at least being initially ‘bartered for.’ I move over to Aimee, securing that she knew it was me and gently held a part of her had that was free from some sort of a needle. This limited my slight grasp to just a few outside fingers, but we made the connection.

“Aimee, you were right next to me when I was right next to death. Do you remember that?”

(very faintly) “Yes, Frog. God never puts us through more than what we can endure.”
Aimee kept repeating this mantra as if she was at the precise moment where the actual question of “living” was offered to her as a choice; and she was choosing life. I cried. She kept repeating this truth. She was correct.

“Aimee, I don’t know what you are feeling. I don’t know what you are going through. But you may feel trapped inside your own body and that’s the way that I felt when I got hit. It’s a repulsive thought to be trapped inside your own body, but that’s at least the way that I felt for a long time and it really made me feel alone. No one understood this.”

I could tell by the faint murmurs of Aimee that she not only agreed with this, but it seemed to relieve her anxiety a bit, knowing that I may understand a tiny fraction of what she must be processing. She agreed. By now she had received multiple units of blood and her color was coming back. She was still bleeding and the decision-set was now centered on the next steps to deliver baby Bettie. Plans were laid to complete this task, but Aimee’s condition would not dramatically improve for over 2 weeks.

The birthing of Bettie was nothing short of a miracle. Nothing short. Two people almost died, both of which are my daughters.

Something happens to a person that comes directly face to face with death. They realize how fragile life is. They realize how fast things can change. They realize how little they *really* control. They always thank God for another day of life each morning before even crawling out of bed.

As we celebrated Bettie’s first birthday this past weekend, I see the miracle of two healthy daughters and I see deeper love than I ever could imagine. There is a special Heckel/Markwardt love that bonded 3 people together, eternally.

That love combined with a global prayer assault was the only medicine from God that was truly needed, and it worked.

God has plans for this family.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Long's Peak

I love Long’s Peak. I have pictures of it on my wall, I’ve read books on it and even have it tattooed on my right shoulder. Every day I look to the West and am amazed at how beautiful it is. I never get tired of looking at it. Its majesty is simply beyond words. On occasion when I’ve flown over it, I am proud to think that I’ve stood atop and, if the opportunity arises, may even brag to the passenger in the next seat about that fact. Long’s Peak means much to me and I feel I have a special and personal relationship with it. On my over 30 treks on its trail system, I get amused when I see some of the wanna-be mountain climbers that are ill prepared for the weather or not in good enough shape to enjoy the mountain. Most of them end up back at the parking lot when they’ve had enough “fun.”

I love Jesus Christ. I have pictures of Him on my wall. I’ve read books on Him and even have a cross tattooed on my right shoulder. Every day I look to the mountains and appreciate His creation. The parallels continue, however.

Much like flying over Long’s Peak at 35,000 feet and admiring its majesty, we cannot really say we love the mountain until we experience the grueling 16 hour round trip of climbing it. Then, maybe, we can have the “right” to say we appreciate or even love the mountain. The Christian life is much like climbing Long’s Peak. It looks nice from a distance, yet the physical and mental act of its climb requires a lot.

2 years ago, the Crossroads Peak was pretty cool. The music blarred loud, the messages were really relevant and we could menu drive this Christian experience. We could easily go back to the car if we got cold or if the wind came up and we forgot a coat. No problem. As time went on, our progress on the pathway continued. We went by beautiful water falls, took a bunch of pictures and checked our maps along the way. Being a Jesus Freak was ok.

The Longs Peak trail is a tough one, no doubt. The first section in the tall Ponderosa Pines, however, while steep in places, is pretty easy. Most people can make it to Columbine Falls with little or no trouble. I’ve even seen some people in dress shoes at Columbine Falls! They probably pay for it with a blister or two, but the point is, it’s not that huge of a deal.

Enter treeline:
Directly after Columbine Falls is a sign post that reads, “Danger! Avoid lightning storms. Take shelter….” Around 200 yards past the falls things change. The trees are gone and the wind is fierce. There are little shelters save some boulders and the next 5 miles are rocky, steep, washed out, exposed to the elements and with a decreasing amount of Oxygen with each step. In our aggregate familial Christian experience, we have hit tree line. And each one of us trekkers has our own set of problems; boots, wet socks, pebbles in the boot, sweat, hunger, thirst, breathlessness, on and on the list goes. We are now in the unique position to make some choices. Unlike the choices made on the Long’s Peak trail, where continuing on despite a snow/hail/thunder storm may be lethal, the continuance of the Christian journey makes all the eternal difference. To retreat to the car back in the safe parking lot is to give up. It’s to say, “I’ve had enough of this trail, let’s go back to the car, turn on some tunes and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.” Such will never know the true meaning of “loving” the mountain. To love the mountain, you must endure it. To endure the mountain makes you stronger and gives you the right to claim it. To endure the Christian experience past treeline requires stamina, strength and faith. To endure it gives you the right to claim you love Christ.

Our family has successfully blown by Columbine Falls. We are actually quite a ways into the treeline trail probably at the Chasm Lake turn out. It’s cold, tough and we know it’s only going to get worse because we can see all kinds of storms brewing atop the peak. But, unlike the casual tourist, we are prepared. We have trained for this hike and we have all of the equipment to keep warm, dry and hydrated. We have the tap into a power source that created the mountain upon which we stand! And we must make the right and intelligent choices. We know right and wrong methods. While we have been at this turn out many times before, we have never been as prepared as we are now. We know it’s going to get worse, but we also know that we love the mountain. Also, Christ is walking with us, that is if we allow Him to do so. I have the confidence that, if I walk with Him, He will direct my paths because He promises that in His Word.

I can honestly and proudly claim that I love Long’s Peak. I have earned the right since I’ve reached the summit 3 times. I have endured the pain and agony of other trips where I turned back and headed to the car because of things beyond my control. Nevertheless, I know that mountain.

I also can honestly and proudly claim that I love the Lord. I know that He walks with me even though the storms of life can be brutal. I may fall, but He will be there to pick me up. I know that as long as I trust in Him, stay close to Him, he’ll guide me to a summit that will give me true and lasting peace, not just a walk up to Columbine Falls. So as our family ventures beyond the treeline, we should expect challenges, falls and even some brief turn backs. But as long as we keep pressing on and keeping into clear focus that beautiful peak, we will be victorious.

Now when I see Long’s Peak, I see my Jesus. Come to think of it, maybe we’re on the Everest Trail…