Dear Family and Friends,
In the last Christmas letter, I shared the frightening experience we had with Kristi. I inadvertently left out what happened to Kristi. Many of you re-read the letter looking for the answer, while others said they just assumed that she must have been all right. Well, I’ll update all of you. Kristi ended up in the emergency room, had multiple blood tests, and even a CT scan of her head. She really was brave Kristi ended up having another febrile seizure, earlier this year. She again was unresponsive, not breathing right and without any perceptible seizures. She came to after a few minutes, again reminding us that our children are not ours, but God’s.
Well, on with this Christmas letter. It may for a while seem unrelated to Christmas, but you’ll learn that it will fit in quite well. Back in April or May of 2002, a good friend of mine asked me if I would be his partner in a fund raiser. I asked him more about it and he said, Hayden Strum was 6 ½ years old when he died from brain cancer and his parents wanted to help raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. He said everyone needs to raise at least $1,000 support and hike a 50 mile from the south end of the Olympic National Park to the north end all in one day. I decided to take on this challenge and we both began training for this. June 29th finally arrived. It was raining all that morning and kept on raining. I got off work early and we drove down to Lake Quinnault the starting place. We were getting ready to get a few winks before the hike but a ranger kno6cked on the camper door and said that the hike was cancelled due to all the rain, making the two river crossings too dangerous. The rescheduled date was a date neither my friend nor myself could make.
We decided on a 40-45-mile hike that was a loop, so we could drive up and back ourselves. On July 12th we started hiking at about 5:30 AM. Both of us got only 1-2 hours of sleep that night. Probably too much excitement and fear of oversleeping. The day was perfect! Clear skies and not too hot or cold. The hike was going just as expected. We hit more snow than we anticipated, and this made the first climb slow, but we were able to find the trail and made time on the descent. WE were having a great time talking together and seeing the huge trees and awesome mountains, streams, and waterfalls. With about 4 more hours of daylight left, we had just 4 more miles, but that included climbing over a ridge and dropping down to a lake and then a short hike out and back home. We prayed and started off. WE knew that this part of the trail was not well maintained. We were able to follow it for a while but then we could not find it. We crossed over a stream to the other side but still couldn’t find it. We knew we couldn’t keep searching but needed to start climbing. We took out the compass and planned out a route that we thought would take us to Boulder Lake and out. The direction we needed actually pointed straight up the stream, but since we needed to begin climbing we began hiking up the ridge toward our right, thinking that we could hike over once we made it up the ridge. The climb got steeper and slower as we had to bushwhack through the thick underbrush as well as climb up places so steep you needed to pull yourself up using roots or branches. Loose rocks also made it dangerous to follow below the lead person, as sometimes large rocks would be knocked loose sending them crashing down the steep embankment. The climb was relentless and seemed to go on forever. The night started falling and still, we were not at the top of the ridge. This felt like the longest one mile in the world. It took us 4-5 hours to finally get to the top. We felt exhausted but relieved thinking that we’d soon be home. We drank up the rest of our water and rested. I looked up at the sky and could hardly believe the number of stars. My friend even pointed out the Milky Way, which I had never seen before. We decided to call our wives letting them know that was fine, but we would be home late and not to wait up for us. It was about midnight when we called. We again prayed, and we knew many people were praying for us.
We began hiking along the ridge looking of the trail or the lake. We hiked up and down that ridge and even blew our whistles and yelled to see if anyone could hear us and help us. WE rechecked our compass readings and our maps. The lake and the trail must be just down there. We’d hiked up and down the ridge but still could not find either one. At one point I even hallucinated. I was the most unusual sight—I saw a perfectly white tent at the top of some trees. This scared me and I’m sure my friend too as I was leading the way. WE both so much wanted to just get home and be with our families. We were exhausted and dehydrated. We did this for two more hours and then decided to make one last ditch effort. Not trusting myself alone we both studied the map the and the compass and we felt we knew where the lake was. WE began hiking along a steep ridge, across some snow fields, with only the light of our headlamps lighting the way. We began our descent which got steeper and steeper. It got so steep I told my friend to stay there as I hiked down. He told me it looks like the lake just down a way since it looked so dark. I carefully hiked down and peered over the edge hoping to see the lake below, but all I saw was utter darkness. I realized that I was on the edge of a sheer cliff. I carefully backed up as my heart was pounding away. I climbed back up with the bad news. It was then that we decided that we were going to spend the night on the mountain. We hiked back up the ridge and called dour wives and 911 for Search and Rescue. They were able to determine our location from a GPS (global positioning system), which I borrowed from my brother. They told us to melt some snow for water and get some sleep and they would help us out after sunrise.
We got out our space blankets and snuggled next to each other for warmth. God provided the perfect night. It must have been 60 degrees at 4 am at 5,000 feet on the top of the ridge and without any wind. The next day we found out our mistake—our map was inaccurate and not detailed enough and we hiked up the wrong ridge. The Search and Rescue team was great, and they helped guide us out. It was so good to see our families again. We later found out that the news that we were lost spread like wildfire and there were people praying for us from as far east as Colorado. We certainly acknowledge God’s hand upon us, protecting us along the way. Thank you for all your prayers and support.
Well, what can we learn from this experience/ There are so many lessons, but one that stands out the most is the correlation of this hike and with life itself. My friend and I had a goal, trained for it, got information on the trail conditions, talked with people who had hiked these same trails, but we did not accomplish our goal, because we did not have the right map. How many of us are traveling through life, working as hard as we can, but have the wrong map? I have often heard that all gods are really the same and that all roads lead to heaven. Can this statement really be true? Are not all religions in some ways exclusionary by just stating they hold the truth? My friend and I were dealing with just life and death; how much more important is eternal life and judgment issues. Just like we thought we knew where we were and knew how to get to where we wanted to get, we would never have made it without help and guidance. It seemed so right to us. Like the Bible says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25). ‘For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction…but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (Matthew 7;13-14). Well, I’ve got great news! There is a map for this life, that anyone can reach life’s greatest goal—eternal life. Just like my friend and I were hopelessly lost without the right map, everyone is hopelessly lost without a way to heaven. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). I was exactly in that position, trying with my own efforts to somehow gain God’s favor and earn eternal life. I never felt certain if I was on the right track or if I had received eternal life. Back in 1984, I found myself aimlessly wandering until a friend showed me in the Bible that I do not have to be uncertain and worried if I have eternal life. It was then that I acknowledged that I was hopelessly lost in my sins and unable to save myself— I needed d a Savior. I accepted Jesus’ death on the cross as full payment for my sins sand accepted His gift of eternal life. God did for me what I could not do for myself. God did this by sacrificing His own Son—now that is love and a love like that draws me to God. What a life change! Now I know for certain that I am no longer lost but have direction and meaning in life and certainty of my eternal destiny—life with Jesus. Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to save the lost. The true meaning of Christmas does not life in the gifts, but in God’s great love for all of us. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Let us each evaluate the path of life we are on and the direction we are heading. Are any of us lost? Let us get the right map, re-direct our ways and follow the path that leads to eternal life. What a mountain-top experience heaven will be! I want to see all of you there.
Now as always, an up-close -and-personal of our family, beginning with the oldest child first. Amy now 11 ½ has really matured this past year. I really enjoy date nights with her as she really likes to be treated like a young lady, and that is what she now is. She loves to write notes and letters and people seem to like to write to her, as she has pictures and letters from pen pals as far away as Japan. She wants to grow up so fast and yet there is still a little girl in her. How sweet! She is saving up to buy a hope chest. I told her that I could make her one. She just crinkled her nose, nicely saying she wants a real “special” one. I don’t take it too hard as I can see that she already has “treasures” already for it.
Jonathan, 9 ¾ is our score keeper, timer, and referee, He can make sure we are all out the door for church or outings on time, which is no small feat with 9 of us. We’ll let you know if you were the one who moved too slow and got us late. How many of you watched the Olympics last February? Jonathan just loved it. It struck a competitive chord in him. He even began a new a new Olympic event. Can you believe that he now holds the world record in the fastest shower! He said he can shower in 30 seconds! Lori and I could hardly believe how proud he was. Do we send him back to the shower or just laugh? Well, we laughed and told him a shower is not an Olympic event. I really had a great time backpacking just with Jonathan. He really is quite a hiker and what good father-son talks and times we had. I want to prepare him well to be a godly man. He is on the right path so far.
Stefanie (8 ½) still is our best babysitter. She is a natural and the younger ones love her. Her forte is working with her hands. She has her own roses, which will rival any I’ve seen. She is always the first to ask if she could change out of her dress into her shorts or jeans. That is how she feels most comfortable. This past year she was worried if she was truly saved since she found herself doing the wrong things and not feeling bad about it. She asked me if I could help her to be certain. What a special time we had talking about how much Jesus loves her and to hear say she is putting her trust in Jesus and wanting to follow Him. Tears filled both of our eyes as she humbly confessed her sin to God and surrendered her life toe Him. She truly is a rose beginning to bloom.
Even though Bethany (6) is quite the talker, I think that she excels in her listening skills. I have witnessed her in action. During their Bible lesson, she can be coloring in a picture whispering to Kristi, paging through her notebook and walking around, and still raise her hand to answer a question directed at the older children and come up with the right answer. God has given her insight and wisdom beyond her years. She’ll be a great mommy! The List grows longer of all the things she wants to be when she grows up—missionary (still the top), campground host (so she can camp every day), ranger, juggler, magician, Mommy…Lori and I really have to scrutinize any video Bethany sees as she gets scared so easily and she also has 1,000 questions about the video. Even Lassie scared her too much. She worries about almost everything and doesn’t’ understand acting is not real. It is usually my job to reassure her and try to answer some of their questions. On October 6h at 5:30 am, Lori and I were awakened from sleep by Stefanie who worriedly stated: “Bethany is making funny sounds!” I though Bethany must be vomiting or about to, so I rushed over to her room. I called to her, but she did not respond. I lifted her up and brought her to the bathroom and turned on the light. Bethany’s eyes were off to the one side and foam was coming out of her mouth and she was not responding. “Stefanie, go tell Mommy to call 911!” Off Bethany and I rode to the emergency room. Blood work and a CT scan. No fever this time. No definite answers yet. At least there wasn’t a brain tumor. Family, friends, and people at our new church were all praying. After an EEG and a referral to a neurologist—we got the answer. The neurologist told us that she has “Rolandic Epilepsy”. Just hearing the term epilepsy made me uneasy, but the neurologist was so reassuring. He said that this form does not need to be treated and will usually resolve on its own by age 16. He said of all types this is one of the best to have. Thank you for all your prayers. Lori told me that Bethany came up to her and said: “God almost let me die to see if you love me more than God—just like He did with Abraham.” God sure speaks to us through our children as the Bible says: “From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise” (Psalms 8:2).
Kristi (4 ½) is our next talker, ready to pass up Bethany. She is not shy and will talk to just about anyone. Her favorite is giving people hugs. This can bring a smile out in just about anyone. If you ever need to call in someone, get Kristi to help you. Her 140-decibel yell can be heard for two miles—just plug your ears. As mentioned in the last letter, Kristi has the most nicknames. She added a few more. She’ll answer to any or all of these: Quit-qwat (ratta-tat), Kitty, Kwispy, Tommy-Jon, Bright-eyes, kwitty, Kit-Kat, and of course Kristi. Everyone in our family has some type of nickname (that is all except for Amy—her name is just too short and easy already). This confuses people when they first come to our house. Children say I make up the most of them and Amy has been getting after me to get her a nickname. “Mimi” is her only nickname—she says that’s not enough.
Aaron (2) has added about 10 more words to his repertoire. Lori does not think that this is a problem, but a blessing. Have you ever seen a child tantrum? Aaron pulled a fast one on us. We were celebrating Lori’s birthday at a beautiful waterfront restaurant. (This celebration was postponed and cancelled so many times—Lori and Stefanie share the same birthday and Lori chose to celebrate it on a different day. Well this came almost two months later). Getting back, the waitress brought out carrot and celery sticks and salad dressing dip. Aaron, who was sitting next to me, was just dipping his carrot into the dressing and licking it off and redipping it. Well, I was trying to encourage Aaron to bite off a piece of the carrot, but he was having too much fun just dipping and licking it. Well, I decided to help him by cutting up his carrot. Aaron saw that cut up carrot and went ballistic. Tears and screaming. At home, we would just leave him, but what do you do in a fancy restaurant? I tried to give him a whole carrot, cut he couldn’t even see it or let alone hear me. So, we ended up taking him outside to calm him down. The waitress asked me what was wrong. I told her I cut up his carrot. “Shame on you!” was all she said. Well, next time I’ll just let those carrots be. Aaron is also the “closer” in our house. I think that this is a good skill, but for not it certainly is hard to load the dishwasher when he is around.
On September 25th, our family was blessed with a precious girl, Noelle Miya, weighing in at exactly 8 pounds. She sure gets a lot of attention, with everyone lining up to hold her. It is so nice to see Kristi’s love for her little sister. She is so glad to be the big sister saying, “I’m 4 ½ and Noelle is zero!” She wants to hold Noelle so much than even before asking, you can hear her singing “Happy Birthday” twice as she is washing her hands—the prerequisite for Kristi to hold Noelle. She normally sings one Happy Birthday to God and the other to Noelle. During her first few weeks of life, I got my exclusive uninterrupted time to hold Noelle—usually between 11pm and 1 am. Sometimes I thought that I should be sleeping, but really, I had some real nice “bonding” times. She doesn’t complain about my singing and I just love looking into her dark trusting eyes staring back at me. I don’t know what she is thinking but I stand in awe at God’s creation and that He would entrust me with such a precious life. King David may have been looking in the eyes of his son when he wrote Psalm 139:13-15, “For Thou dist form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are They works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from Thee when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of the them.”
Lori at 39, does not pretend she is only 29 forever but has been thankful for every situation God has placed her in and is content with the person He is making her to be. I often get comments like: “your wife must be a saint…, your wife must be so patient…, your wife must be so organized…, your wife must love children…” My only response is “my wife sure is…she is such a blessing.” There are times when she needs a break, needs time for herself, needs some silence, needs someone to listen to her and pamper her. My job is to see that these needs are being met. When I see that the van (now a 15-passenger van) has not moved for 2-3 days—it’s time for Lori to get away or just have a break. “You deserve a break today!” She is so in tuned with each child; she knows exactly when I have been too strict or spoke too harshly with one of the children. Invariably when I check on that child, I discover that child’s heard closed to me, and possibly crying, just as Lori indicated. I then make things right with that child and thank Lori for her intuition. That reminds me of a time before Lori and I were married that we took a personality survey. She read a description of my personality and I read her hers only I made It up as I went. I said something like: “You have the uncanny ability to control people at will.” To my amazement, Lori said, “That’s me!” I couldn’t believe my ears. We both had a good laugh after I told her what I did and then I read her real personality. Well, I still married her, and I am glad I did. Lori is such a blessing to my life. She is a wonderful wife, so encouraging and supportive, and truly an excellent role model for our girls and young ladies.
Rich (43) is thankful to be alive and able to write this letter. It is amazing how time seems to soften your memories of that trying experience, leaving me with positive memories—God answering many prayers, the wonder of God’s creation, tender love for Lori and my family, great times with my friend and rekindling my love for backpacking. I went backpacking the following weekend with Jonathan, what a good vehicle to draw us together and have some quality talks and experiences together. I hope to regularly schedule those 1:1 times with each child. I have the great privilege and responsibility to pass on my faith, to help build character, to pass on wisdom and guidance to our children. How to do this and have a strong marriage and be an excellent physician; this is my challenge and dilemma. This is really a challenge as my work is trying to get more work out of me, with more patients per day and longer hours. How do I strike a balance and between faith, family, and work? How do I prioritize these areas? I could use your prayers for discernment. I’ll need to draw strength from God’s Word daily and through prayer and from faithful friends like you.
As we are searching for gifts for our loved ones, let us not forget the most precious gift given—God gave His only Son, Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the Wy, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” The world says there are no absolutes; Jesus says He is the Truth. The world says there are many ways that lead to heaven; Jesus says He is the Way. The world says this world d is life; Jesus says He gave His life that we may have eternal life. Are we done striving for what the world has to offer us? DO you want more? The answer is not in striving but accepting. Just like my friend and I were at the end of our rope, just pleading for help, Jesus is always there willing to help anyone willing to accept His forgiveness and allow Him to lead you through this life into His heavenly life. We all have only one life to live—make sure you have the right map and take the necessary steps to get to where you want to get. Have a joyous Christmas! From my family to yours. Thanks for allowing me to share a bit of myself and my family with you. Merry Christmas!
Rich (for Lori, Amy, Jonathan, Stefanie, Bethany, Kristi, Aaron, and Noelle)