Posts tagged loving your children

Carolina’s Greg Olsen: MVP of hurting hearts



Greg OlsenCarolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen arrived at the hotel in San Jose this past weekend, preparing for the game of his career.

He unpacks his bags, and there lies Touchdown Bear, his traveling companion for every game of the past two seasons (watch the video). It’s a stuffed animal, custom-designed by his three children, and a reminder to him that the Super Bowl is not the most important thing in his life. It’s also a constant reflection that this game is not the biggest challenge he’s faced. This is not the first time he’s had everything on the line, or teamed up with others to face a formidable foe.

Three years ago, Greg and his wife Kara watched as an ultrasound revealed that they were pregnant with two children, one normal, and one with a medical condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Simply put, TJ would be born with half a heart. Fortunately for them, Greg’s generous NFL salary allowed them to seek out and receive the best care for their son, who would have died without aggressive medical intervention.

TJ would go through three successive surgeries to rebuild his heart, and his parents would provide very specialized and intense care for their son. For Greg, the pressure to perform was almost more than he could bear when they brought TJ home from the hospital after his first surgery.  “His care was going to be so specific and so important that if I did not give him the exact calorie per ounce, he was going to die. In my mind, that’s what I thought. If I couldn’t even make his formula right, how was I going to do wound care on his scar, how were we going to do his medicine?”

That’s sure a lot more pressure than he’s going to face on the field Sunday.

Since that time, TJ has had his two other operations and is doing well for a child with HLHS. The Olsens are thankful for each day they have with TJ and their other two children, because most kids with HLHS don’t make it to age five, even with the surgeries. And as they experienced the heartache as parents of HLHS babies, they’ve developed a passion for helping other moms and dads who have fewer resources than Greg and Kara. They sought out a way to level the playing field a bit for families.

Through The HEARTest Yard initiative, they help provide medical care, counseling, and encouragement for parents of HLHS babies through Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Greg’s and Kara’s compassion earned him a nomination by the Panther’s organization for the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Efforts to help others have earned him recognition off the field as well as on.

Annie Lane picture AHA submissionMy co-worker Tracy admits that she doesn’t follow football much, but she knows about Greg Olsen. That’s because she and husband Matt are going through their own anguishing struggle with their daughter Annie, whose heart is failing after her second HLHS surgery. Tracy remembers what it’s like to get the diagnosis.

“One day, you’re a regular family who’s never heard of a baby having half of a heart. The next day, you’re the family whose baby is being diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening heart defect,” she says.

And Matt relates to Greg’s frustration about how alone and helpless it can make you feel. “It’s not like you can just call up your buddy and he can relate. Or talk to your brother who went through that last week. Or even turn to your pastor, because, well, no one else has heard of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome either.”

At this moment, Matt and Tracy are waiting to hear from Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, which did Annie’s first two surgeries. They’re hoping the facility can come up with a course of action to care for Annie as she waits for her third operation. In the meantime, all they can do is wait and pray. But they’re thankful that others are raising awareness of families like theirs. Tracy, a fellow writer, forwarded her thoughts to me the other day.

“Having someone like Olsen to look to is encouraging. He’s a regular guy who is loving his family well. A regular guy who had the courage to choose life in the face of a life-threatening diagnosis. A regular guy who is giving hope to other families who face this same terrifying condition.

“Heart families around the world are grateful for the awareness he’s providing because the more we know, the less afraid we have to be. The more we see that a scary diagnosis can still lead to a healthy, vibrant childhood, the more courage we have to advocate for the life of any and every baby. Olsen shares the reality that the grief is real, the challenges are real, but the value of his child’s life is real too. Those hospital-bound days fighting for TJ’s life were worth it. Whatever fight you’re in is worth it, too.”

Greg Olsen has fought to be, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL. But he admitted in an interview last year that he’s not the toughest person in his home.

“I wish I was as tough as TJ. If I was as tough as him, I’d be in good shape. What he’s gone through in his first eight months of life is more than any of us has gone through in a lifetime. Two open heart surgeries, the countless medications, the exams. He’s been through it all, and he just bounces back.”

TJ’s suffering has made Olsen tougher and more sensitive. It’s given him not just resolve, but also perspective. In the grand scheme of things, Sunday’s Super Bowl is not a life-or-death thing for Greg Olsen. In fact, I’m sure that if he has an outstanding performance, wins the big game and gets a huge bonus on top of his $22.5 million dollar contract, he wouldn’t think twice about trading it all away for TJ.

Learn the latest on Annie’s current situation, and follow the heart of HLHS parents through Tracy’s blog, Heart for Annie.

 

6 lessons from a first-time dad



Eight months ago my wife, Emily, and I received our first son, Isaac, through the blessing of adoption.  We have spent many years praying about the right time for our family to adopt and felt God moving us toward adoption last year.  Though we read tons of books on parenting during five years of marriage, I was shocked by how under-prepared we were for the realities of the task.

Becoming a father adds a strange and new dynamic to marriage, even if you have a healthy relationship. There are multiple lessons to be learned—about being a dad and about being a good husband/leader.

Dad lessons

1. Just survive. Even though we were not expecting a fairy-tale baby, we drastically underestimated how hard the adjustment would be.  Everything that he needed we had to provide, which meant less time for our own interests. A lot less! Those first few months were just downright hard.

The temptation for any new dad is to escape the madness.  If you are expecting your first child soon, all I can say is … just survive.  Grit your teeth and just get through it.  Every parent goes through it.  I guarantee you, better days are coming.  It will get better.

2. Understand your anger.  In general, I’ve rarely struggled with a temper.  In 20 years of playing organized basketball I have only been charged with one technical foul.  But during the first few months as a parent I was shocked and even embarrassed at how angry I could get.

All the crying can really take its toll.  There was one Saturday that I decided to give Emily a day out to herself, which meant Isaac and me, all day, together (I can hear every woman laughing now).  He literally cried from the moment she started the car until five minutes before she returned.  She was gone for eight hours.  It was as if someone was scraping five-inch nails across a chalkboard all day long.

After opening up to a few people, I found that I was not alone. I found that most new parents wonder if there is something wrong with them because of how angry they get. My mother-in-law even admitted she scared herself with how angry she became.

Although our anger reached new levels, I learned that this is a perfect opportunity to become more like Jesus.  Often with increased anger, sin follows closely.  In Ephesians 4:26, Paul tells us, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  I’ve often had to seek forgiveness from Emily for my attitude, and way before the sun ever started to set.

I also started asking forgiveness from Isaac.  He may not understand what I am saying, but it provides great practice for me as he grows up.  Forgiveness is something that we continually need to seek from others as we follow Jesus.

3. Remember that this is God’s child. One night Emily and I were talking about different decisions we would make as Isaac grows.  At some point in the conversation we just stopped.  We realized that we can’t protect him from everything.  And we can’t provide everything he will ever want or need.  But we know who can.

God loves my son more than I could ever love him.  He cares for Isaac more than I ever could.

I can’t explain how liberating it is to say out loud to each other that, “We can’t, but God can.”  He has given us the awesome responsibility to train this little boy.  This is His child.  What an amazing thing to know that God loves Isaac more than I do.

Husband lessons

1. Man up and grab a diaper. As a new dad, it’s easy for me to withdraw and make an excuse that Emily is better at taking care of Isaac and that she doesn’t need me.  But she does need me.

This gives me great opportunity as a man to be creative.  I must look for ways to serve around the house and play an active part in raising Isaac with Emily.  I’ve found that I can be very helpful by taking care of all the dishes, changing diapers, keeping up on household cleaning, and taking out the trash.

Part of being a family leader is learning to anticipate needs that are coming before being asked to do them.  When I look to serve Emily—just to purely serve and take some burden off of her—it goes a long way. In Ephesians, Paul calls all men to love their wives as Christ loves the church.  Christ lived so sacrificially for the church that he died for it.

Why is it that we would be willing to take a bullet for our wives, but we forget the simple act of serving them?  It could be as simple as holding the baby for 30 minutes after work to give my wife a needed break.  So when I feel the urge to flop down into the recliner, I just need to make sure I have the baby with me.

2. Dates are essential. Getting away together is essential to our marriage.  This allows us to fight isolation by feeling like normal people.  We can concentrate more on each other rather than the needs of Isaac.  Isaac is very important, but our marriage is the top priority.

It is also very important to spend some time in conversation about things other than Isaac.  We are still real people.  What has been going on with each of us?  What has God taught us?  Where would we like to go on our next vacation?

This is essential in keeping our sanity.  Our family can’t be all about him.   And dates don’t necessarily have to be in the evening.  Dropping Isaac off at someone’s house on a Saturday to get a few hours out together, even if it is just going to the grocery store, is worth it.

SheafferDanEmilyIsaac3. Stop and enjoy the moment. There have been so many special moments with Isaac.  It was exciting to see his smile develop and to watch him learn to laugh.  I think I could sit for hours and just watch him peacefully sleep.

Many dads miss these little moments.  They miss the birth.  They miss the first few years.  They miss the school years.  They are living in the same house, but miss speaking into the lives of their children.  I know many parents who turn around after their kids leave the house and ask, “Where did the time go?”  No offense to these parents, but I want to be able to turn around when my kids leave the house and say, “I know exactly where the time has gone.  Emily and I have been there hand in hand every step of the way.”

God calls me as a parent to train up our children.  That means it is my responsibility, not someone else’s.  I won’t miss the moments with my kids.  There are so many things in this world vying for the attention of Isaac, and I need to be the voice of truth and love in his life.

I may never achieve perfection.  In fact, I will screw up.  But learning is a process.  Striving to be more like Jesus and love my wife is hard work.

The same is true for you, whether you’re a first-time dad or you’ve been at it for a while.  You don’t have to be perfect today—just work a little each day to love your wife and kids better.  Love with your children is spelled T-I-M-E.  That starts right now.  Go get ‘em, dads!

© 2013 by Dan Sheaffer. Used by permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “6 lessons from a first-time dad” by Dan Sheaffer on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhether a new dad or a veteran, what are some areas where you could be more intentional about fathering?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead the article “Dad University” by Dennis Rainey and get a quick course about being a godly father.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistPass either of these two articles to any young dads or expectant fathers you know. Encourage them in the fraternity of dads.

You are the most interesting man in their world



This blog post first appeared in the Noah Gets a Nail Gun.

You’ve seen the commercials for the most interesting man in the world – he starts the morning saving endangered alpine birds, followed by a dominant performance at the international polo competition in Dagestan, then wraps up the evening mending flaws in the theory of relativity over a cup of an exotic beverage he brewed the night before from seal scrotums, polar bear teeth and arctic ice. Quite a list of accomplishments for any one lifetime, yet just an average day when you are … the most interesting man in the world.

If the characterization wasn’t so over the top, I’d find my man card status threatened by the mere existence of such a person. But you don’t have to drink Dos Ickies to be found interesting. You don’t even have to be the most interesting man in the world. A much more attainable goal is to become The Most Interesting Dad to Your Kids. How do you do this? Start with pursuing things you find interesting.

Robert Lewis, author and founder of Men’s Fraternity, talks about the importance of a man having something to look forward to everyday. A man needs productive interests in his life, things that make him a better man. Too many guys in their 30s, when work gets hot and heavy and the kids get smelly and sticky, give up all the activities that they found fun and interesting in their 20s. They pour their lives into their jobs, come limping home to try to make it through one more night. Just barely enduring the kids, hopefully not checking out too long or blowing up too often, they fall into bed in yard-work clothes with one thigh hanging off the mattress, too exhausted to shower away the grass clippings. All merely to wake up and repeat the cycle again tomorrow. What joy. And by the time the weekend comes along, little league and dance parties consume any remaining energy. The only rest seen in a given week is their ritual seven minutes on the office toilet. Even that gets interrupted by the guy in the next stall calling his mom to wish her a happy birthday.

But as Robert Lewis said, it is important to do something with your life that is interesting, even if only to you, something that gives you energy and makes you look forward to the next day. Even if you think you don’t have the time. You must come to believe that it really is worth the time. Why? For you own sanity, for the sanity of your wife and kids, for opportunities to sharpen and be sharpened by other men.

FlyFishingFor your own sanity

Before we had kids, I did a fair amount of fly fishing. At the time, I had a friend who said two very important things to me, he said “I’ve explained to my wife that fly-fishing is cheaper and more entertaining than counseling.” Meaning, if he didn’t have some outlet he would probably go insane. He also said, “And if I ever get bored of fishing, I can just stop and fiddle with my gear.” Meaning, half of the fun of the sport for him is acquiring and learning how to use the gear. There was an artistry and cathartic aspect to just getting ready to fly fish that was interesting in and of itself. The tying of the flies, the practicing of the cast, the community and friendships that developed, all of this gave him joy. He didn’t have to be on the river to be enjoying the sport. But more than anything, he understood that he needed this outlet to keep from going crazy. He had to have something like this in his life to keep him healthy.

I’ve seen a number of guys lately who are able to sustain the maddening pace of work/kids with no other outlets for a few years, mostly because the allure of their job keeps them going, but once they reach the pinnacle or plateau of their career, they look back down the hill and think “I shaved my face for this?” They’ve not fostered any part of their personal life and have thus become very un-interesting to almost everyone, including themselves.

Proverbs 20:5 says “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” It’s interesting that we still know very little about the deepest parts of the ocean. We’ve been x thousands of miles away to the moon and explored the outer limits of the solar system, but can’t go seven miles down into the water. The pressure is so intense at that depth that if you were to inadvertently pluck a nose hair, your brains might shoot through the exposed follicle. Actually, people can’t even go to those depths, only unmanned vehicles.

But no worries, because this verse isn’t referring to the ocean (and none of us are that deep anyway), as an ancient Hebrew person couldn’t afford a full SCUBA system. And without oxygen and neoprene, it’s hard to get deeper than a dozen feet.

The Hebrew word for “draw it out” refers to the act of getting water out of a well, of drawing up a bucket. And it comes from a word describing, “lowness as a state or goal.” Remember the cartoons where the well bucket would drop and send the rope spinning, causing the crank handle to do a Mike Tyson on some pour soul’s face? The bucket drops in a hurry. In fact, the natural state of the bucket is lowness – is to settle in to the bottom of the well and stay there. But when you’re low – whether you meant to get there or not, you’ve got to draw it up. When tempted to vegetate, you’ve got to pull up the bucket!

I know a guy who hates his job. I mean HATES it. I felt sorry for him for the first year or so, but now I don’t want to hear about it any more. I don’t ever ask him about it. Because if he still hates his job, it’s his own fault. Only he can make that change. He has to find something interesting. But that’s no easy task. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things a man can do. It takes intentional hard work to get to the heart of a man. But a man of understanding, or, for our purposes, an “interesting” man, will draw it out.

For the sanity of your family

When I was a kid, my dad often amazed me. He seemed to be the strongest, fastest, smartest person I had ever met. There was nothing he seemingly couldn’t do.

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