After-Action Report: Redbud (Makeup) Ride 2017

I had originally set my sights on doing an Ironman triathlon this year. But The Battle of NICU blew a 2-month hole in my training schedule. So that will probably happen next year.

But I decided to sign up for the Kentucky Century Challenge. This will be my 4th year doing it. This year, the format is different.

(1) There are five “century” (100+ mile) rides, not 4.
(2) Doing 4 rides earns you the free jersey.
(3) Doing all 5 rides earns you a free pair of bike pants to boot.
(4) The rides for this year are:

  • The Redbud Ride (London, KY), Apr 22
  • The Horsey Hundred (Georgetown, KY), May 27
  • Bike Morehead (Morehead, KY), June 17
  • The Bourbon and Bluegrass Ride (Owensboro, KY),August 5
  • The Hub City Tour (Elizabethtown, KY), September 9

It seems that, in odd-numbered years, the Redbud Ride gets hit by nasty weather. 2013 and 2015 were nasty. (I did not do the ride in 2013, as I was not aware of the Century Challenge at the time.) 2014 and 2016 were excellent.

This year, we got the odd-numbered weather: suckola. Cold weather, rain, and thunderstorms forecast for most of the day.

As a result, the Century Challenge team gave everyone the chance to “make up” the ride, provided they had been registered for the Redbud. It had to be a verifiable completed ride–with witnesses–or with evidence from a GPS unit (such as data from a Garmin device).

Since I now have a Garmin 920XT, I figured this would be perfect.

What I decided to do, though, was use this opportunity to get a baseline for my performance at 100 miles on a flat course, complete with heart rate, calorie burn, and split times. And I wanted to do it with minimal caloric intake during the ride.

As a result, I picked Beckley Creek Park in Louisville, and decided to ride the entire 100 miles on the Egg Lawn. At 0.8 miles per loop, that would require 125 loops.

On its face, this would seem like a boring ride.

For calories, I had 200-calorie jugs of Gatorade of various flavors, as well as a 1300-calorie bag of potato chips. I picked the latter because it had three things I wanted: carbs, fat, and salt. My diet has been increasingly ketogenic, and I am ratcheting back carbs progressively. This was my opportunity to see what that would do for me on a century ride.

My plan was to break for hydration/nutrition/bladder relief every 20 miles.

I started out very strong, probably too strong. The weather was very pleasant: temp was 55F when I started, and winds were light. I stayed aero most of the way.

Average speed exceeded 17mph for most of the first 50 miles. I was killing it by my standards. I finished the half-Iron distance (56 miles) inside 3:30, which was a 45-minute improvement over my Toughman Indiana bike time last year (and that was on a flat course as well, albeit with epic headwinds).

After mile 50, I began to slow, as the winds picked up and my legs started getting tired.

At mile 60, my quads were starting to hurt.

On one hand, a flat course might seem easy, but the downside is this: on a flat course, you cannot stop pedaling, whereas on a hilly course you get relief on the downhills.

Also, my bike mechanic screwed up the settings on my bike when he test rode it. Ergo, my bike-fit is whacked, and that probably is what put too much stress on my quads.

At any rate, I was unusually sore.

On the bright side: I was not tired, even though I was going harder than I normally do on my century rides. I finished the first 50 miles in just north of 3 hours, and that included pit stops. The lower calorie approach was working.

On the front 50, I used very little Gatorade, using water for my primary hydration source. I used Gatorade at pit stops only. But on the back 50, I switched to Gatorade, as I figured I would need the extra carb support.

As it turned out, I was well-hydrated throughout the ride. Where I had planned to only stop at 20 mile intervals to pee, I had to stop at mile 70 and mile 90 to do that.

At mile 80, my legs were KILLING me.

At that point, I had 25 laps remaining. I knew I was going to finish, but–dang!–it was going to hurt. Still, I was on track to finish at a 15 mph pace (including pit stops).

At mile 90, I hit the wall. Fatigue was setting in, and my legs were really hurting. But I knew I had the finish. Just 12-and-a-half laps to go.

I slogged it in from there, getting my miles in. Total mileage: 100.4. Including pit stops, my total pace was 15 mph. Not including pit stops, I was at 15.7 mph.

Total calorie burn was just south of 2,100. If that is accurate, then i only expended about half of what I thought I would. (I was expecting a calorie output closer to 4,000.)

On the positive side:

  • I now have a baseline for my performance at 50 miles, 56 miles, and 100 miles.
  • This was my fastest completion of any century distance.
  • I have a tangible picture of my capabilities at races such as Toughman Indiana.
  • I only consumed half the bag of potato chips.
  • I only consumed 400 calories of Gatorade.

Total calorie intake during the ride: about 1,100. Not bad.

After the ride, I went to Wendy’s and had a small chili and a small chocolate Frosty.

The only negative: my leg soreness. I’m not sure if this was due to (a) my lack of training due to NICU Hell, (b) my bike fit, (c) the fact that my legs got no relief due to it being a flat course, or (d) some combination of the above.

I might have to take my bike in to get it re-fitted. This is money I did not want to spend, but it may be necessary.

Overall, however, a very good ride. 100 miles “in the zone”.

And, with my Garmin, I now have the data online.

Dr. Iain Campbell, Reformed Leader Caught in Scandal, Kills Self

In all honesty, I had never heard of Dr. Iain Campbell until his suicide was reported by TWW.

Initially, his colleagues provided a sympathetic assessment of his suicide.

FWIW: I generally am very skeptical of such assessments. Suicide is a big honkin’ deal. I can understand a younger person–acting stupidly in a dark moment–doing it, but when a grown adult does it, what you have is either (a) a profound case of trauma (e.g. PTSD) or (b) a serious mental illness or (c) an attempt to evade or atone for one’s sins.

Apparently, Campbell got caught–proverbially with his pants down–in at least seven extramarital affairs, allegedly with at least one of those affairs producing a child. Other accounts suggest that he confessed his infidelities to his wife, then killed himself, then she found the details.

At any rate, Campbell, a revered leader among hard-core Reformers, was living a double life.

On one hand, he was a highly-respected Church historian and communicator for the Reformed perspective.

On the other hand, he had more in common with Donald Trump in the morality department, than he had with the Apostles.

Like the folks at TWW, I find it galling that others would blame his wife, even remotely, for his demise. If he had a bad home life, then he had no business being in any leadership capacity in the Church, as his house was clearly not in order. (That is a Biblical requirement for any would-be overseer.)

I don’t care if his wife was Jezebel incarnate; he is responsible for his own life before God.

There is no pretty way to spin this. Campbell, from what we know to be true about his life, was almost certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Did he teach unsound doctrine? I don’t know. I do not classify Reform theology as unsound doctrine. But false doctrine is not the only marker of a wolf. Wolves can teach otherwise sound doctrine while sowing discord through immorality and other practices. You can preach a 5-star sermon on Sunday while carousing in private.

But here’s the thing: you will never outrun your character. It will ALWAYS catch up with you. Your comeuppance may be private, but, in the case of sexual sin (particularly adultery) it is almost always public.

The Bible says it plainly: “your sin will find you out.”

The best thing you can do is address those matters BEFORE you enter the ranks of leadership. 1 Timothy and Titus present a set of requirements that, on balance, call for spiritual mileage.

Spiritual mileage is not about having “zero defects” in your life. What it entails: a track record of being a student and practitioner of Scripture, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, giving sound counsel, living it out in your own life, falling down often, getting up more often. It means working for a living, working through crises, dealing with personal failure, dealing with being wrong and being wronged, being honest and transparent.

If you’re married, it means having the kind of marriage that reflects Christ’s love for the Church. If you have children, it means that they comport themselves in a way that testifies to your faithfulness in both grace and discipline.

And, if you don’t remember anything else, I am going to hit you with two fundamental truths:


I don’t care if you have an MDiv from SBTS. I don’t care if you have a PhD, a DMin, or ThD. I’ve known excellent pastors who had no college education; I’ve known some very damnable ones with high marks from the most respected seminaries.

As for charisma? Puhleeeeze. That’s actually a hallmark of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The better one’s charisma, the more you ought to be on the lookout for BS. Fact is, the most evil people in your church–the child molesters, the serial adulterers, the fraudsters–don’t “look” evil. In fact, they are often the most likeable people in your church.

Sadly, as we are learning, Dr. Iain Campbell was a phony.

The purpose of his life, in retrospect, is a warning to YOU.

Class dismissed.

TWW, TGC, Joe Carter, and Broken Wolves

Fair disclosure:

(1) I have both praised and excoriated Joe Carter from these pages.
(2) Ditto for Deb and Dee of TWW.

I don’t view either one of them as all good or all evil. I am skeptical of much of the NeoCal world–I don’t fawn over the celebrity preachers, and have serious reservations of Calvinism as a dogmatic model (while supporting Calvinism as a hermeneutical model). TWW, in turn, assaults their credibility by attempting to spin every abuse into their War on Patriarchy when in fact the real issue is a culture where leaders are, like the pigs in Animal Farm, “more equal than others”.

Recently, Joe Carter posted an insightful piece on “Broken Wolves”. I personally don’t care to read the comments section, but the post–at face value–is spot-on.

I did not have any problem understanding what he wrote, nor do I see him singling anyone out.

In fact, I have seen exactly the “Broken Wolves” he describes. Many theological liberals come from those ranks. They include feminists of all stripes, but they also include at least as many men.

Some of them have had real abuse experience, and oftentimes from within the conservative ranks. Some of them grew up in churches within the Deep South, whose members included Klansmen, and whose leaders tacitly ignored immoralities, racism, and even murder. Some of them were raped and/or molested by said “leaders”. Some were drowned in hardcore legalism at both home and church. Some of them grew up in households where parents were “highly-respected” in the church, but who were complete jackwagons–sometimes abusers–who lacked any semblance of compassion behind closed doors.

The abuses they suffered do not make them “wolves”. That is not their sin.

When they use their abuses and dysfunctional upbringings as a pretext to ditch sound doctrine and undermine God’s Word, that is what makes them wolves. That Carter calls them “broken wolves” is simply descriptive. In Scripture, there were many types of wolves: some of them were Gnostic, some of them were Judaizers, some of them were libertine.

The same is true today. Carter is merely describing a particular type of wolf, one that appeals to a large swath of the Christian world.

So to make a long story short, I do think Deb and Dee doth protest too much. I did not see Carter aiming at them, nor did I remotely have them in mind when I read his piece. The element he is describing is something completely different, at least from my vantage point.

OTOH, I do think that Deb and Dee undermine their credibility every time they toss proverbial Molotov cocktails every time Piper, Mohler, Keller, or others in the NeoCal world speak on an issue.


Abuse is a word that is itself terribly abused in our culture. Our culture has so warped and misused the term that it has weakened and almost demolished its truth. Still, there is real abuse in the world. Bad things really do happen. We live in a depraved and sinful world. It’s life as we know it.

When I was in therapy all those years ago, I had to be convinced that what my parents did to me was, in fact, abuse, and wrong. I was told that what they did was akin to Chinese torture. I’ve never experienced Chinese torture, so I’ll have to take that therapist’s word for it. I was also told that people who grow up as I did often develop Multiple Personality Disorder.

Those are some pretty harsh statements. I don’t want them to be true, but what I want doesn’t change truth. I have worked to overcome all that yuck and not to allow it to excuse me or my behavior. I’m not perfect here, but it’s certainly been my goal.

Sometimes there are things that happen to us, big things, once-in-a-lifetime things. Bad things. And good things. They’re not part of our everyday lives, but they affect every part of our everyday lives.

Recently I got a phone call from my Mother. It’s been years since I’ve talked to her. It’s simply not been possible to have a relationship with someone who lives in a false world when you live in reality. But this call was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, Big Thing, changes. For the first time ever, my Mother confessed that she was a terrible mom, that she did terrible things to me, and that she feels great guilt and remorse, and that she wishes she could go back and change it all.

Repentance requires one to own their own stuff, to make it theirs, to not blame anyone else for one’s behavior, to take responsibility for one’s choices. I have to be very honest, I never, ever, ever would have guessed, in all my wildest dreams or fantasies or imagination, ever, that my Mother would repent and confess and own her sin against me. She is very smart and has creatively blamed her behavior on so many things that it’s become laughable.

But a repentant and contrite heart is hard to disguise. And I am extremely leery of all things regarding my Mother. Yet, I believe her. I believe her. I believe she is deeply sorry. I believe she is contrite. I believe she has owned her sins. And I believe she has or is in the process (and it’s a long one for stuff this big) of repenting.

I have not begun to digest this and its effect on my life, but I do know this much … it’s a total game changer. It’s bigger than winning the Super Bowl or the World Cup or the World Series. It’s bigger than Big.

Forgiveness has been asked and given. Trust will take time. But neither could begin without repentance, and that was on her. And she did it.

#TeamAbigail: “Your Baby Lived, God is Good”

Recently, as I announced to our Facebook friends that we were finally, after 7 weeks, taking Abigail home, a friend of mine–a former pastor’s wife–chimed in: “Abigail lived. God is good.”

The statement bothered me a bit. After all, the survival of a NICU baby is hardly a referendum on the goodness of God.

And Scripture tells us as much. Jesus was very clear that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust.

Good things happen to good and bad people; bad things happen to good and bad people.

In Matthew, no small number of mothers in Bethlehem had to watch as their babies–from newborn to two years–were sliced and stabbed to death by Herod’s thugs. Their weeping and wailing could be heard all the way in Ramah.

This all happened as God, who so loved the world, had delivered Jesus to provide atonement for sin. In fact, the slaughter was Herod’s attempt to snuff Jesus in the crib. He wanted to share his throne with no one, not even the King of Kings.

Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood the goodness of God, even as they knew that they were not entitled to deliverance from the fiery furnace. They were devoted to serving God, and had faith that God could deliver them from the fire. In perhaps the closest thing to telling someone to do something anatomically impossible recorded in Scripture, they told Nebuchadnezzar:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

These were godly men who, long before Stockdale came along, understood his paradox: they had the faith that they would prevail in the end–as that was a function of the promises of God–even as they were sober enough to realize that things could get a little warm before that happens. Sometimes, the only victory you have will not be of this world. They understood that.

I have friends who have had to bury young children. I have friends who have buried their wives. I have friends who lost one or both parents when they were children. God is good, but this world can suck.

Fact is, we live in a world that is cursed, broken, and dying. Jesus said it himself: “Heaven and earth will pass away.” In Revelation, we are told that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus promised that He would go and prepare a place for us, and that He would return and take us to Himself. He did not promise to make this world good; He promised he would prepare a place for us. In fact, He said it plainly to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Sometimes, God intervenes in the natural order and delivers miracles. Jesus cleansed lepers; Jesus healed a paralytic; He restored a man’s withered hand; He healed a woman with persistent bleeding; He raised a couple people from the dead; He healed deaf and blind people. In the Old Testament, God drowned an entire army; He delivered military victories against great adversity; He provided healings, even raised people from the dead. And He delivered three men from a furnace, and another from a den of lions.

But good people still suffered: Naboth was stoned to death because of Jezebel; Jeremiah was not delivered from captivity; good priests were killed on occasion; good men died in battle due to the sins of others; most of the Apostles died horrific deaths for their faith.

As MrsLarijani and I prayed for Abigail, we understood that God was not obligated to heal Abigail. This was not a mark against God, but rather an acknowledgement that He is King and we are not. “Blab it and grab it” is theological tripe manufactured in Hell. In my seminary days, a friend of mine and I developed a term to describe such viewpoints: buoyancy. That is because dung floats. It was our humorous way of calling bad ideas “a pile of ****”.

And make no mistake: Word of Faith theology is highly-buoyant.

Equally buoyant, however, is the premise that God is somehow not able to interrupt the natural order, or that He gets some thrill out of seeing His people suffer.

I have an idea, granted it’s speculation but I’d call it an educated guess based on what we know to be true from Scripture.

Ultimately, Satan and his legions will get their day of judgment for the evil they have wrought.

Every tragedy, every death, every instance of human suffering–even the sufferings of Jesus–will stand as a witness against Satan on the day of judgment. On that day, Satan and his legions will suffer from the mountain of evidence against them. While Hell will be ugly all the way around, it will be far worse for them than for anyone else. This is because THEY are the perpetrators of “original sin”. Remember: original sin did not start with Adam and Eve; it actually began with Satan and those angels who chose to abandon God and follow him.

Those not covered by the blood will also be punished, some more severely than others. Their punishment will also be eternal–there is no “Get Out of Jail”, free or otherwise, in Hell–but some will have it worse.

With them, as with Satan and his legions, their record of evil will stand as a witness against them: every widow forsaken, every orphan who starved, every rape victim who was violated and in many cases denied justice, every murder victim, every act of torture, every act of fraud and deceit, every rejection of God.

But human suffering, it will be a witness on the day of judgment.

And for many of us, that may be the only vindication we ever see.

But here’s the thing: while God will definitely make all things fair on that day, “fairness” will be very devastating. In comparison to those who will be welcomed into eternal life, the ranks of Hell will be staggering.

For those of us who have received Him, who are children of God, the words “well done good and faithful servant” will be the most important words for all eternity. It won’t matter if you’re the toilet scrubber in Heaven, you’ll have it better than the richest people–combined–ever had it on earth.

I had a friend from my seminary days–who had been raped in her teen years–tell me, “Nothing I can get from God will restore what I had.” Many years after graduating, she was still very angry with God. This is what drove her theology leftward.

I told her: “You’re aiming too low. Jesus didn’t come to give you what you used to have; He came so you can have something newer and better than you ever had, that will never be taken away.”

I, for one, don’t want what I used to have. Even in my best years of fitness, that young body is still perishable.

Fact is, there is nothing material that you have on this earth that can’t be taken from you. I don’t care how rich you are; I don’t care how powerful you are; I don’t care how many friends you have. Government can seize your property; natural disaster can wipe out your possessions; banks and insurance companies can fail, leaving you broke. Disease and age can steal your health. I believe it was Spurgeon who said it: “Death is the Great Equalizer.”

If you are in Christ, however, you have something no one can take away from you. Jesus said it in John 10: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My father, which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my father’s hand.”

I once had someone, in a time of grief, tell me, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to have all kinds of questions for God!”

I told her, “I think I’m just going to settle for having the tears wiped from my eyes.” At that point, all of those questions are probably going to be petty.

For now, we rejoice that Abigail is recovering well and is home. We are thankful that God delivered her from near-death.

But His goodness was not contingent on that deliverance.

This life can suck in ways that few in the West can comprehend.

But God is still good.

Boston Marathon 2017: Another Serial Cheater Gets Busted

I’ve run 8 marathons, an ultramarathon (50K), 7 half-marathons, 6 10Ks, and God-only-knows how many 5Ks. That doesn’t include two triathlons (a 70.3 and an Olympic) and 13 century (100+ mile) bike rides. I’ve completed the Kentucky Century Challenge three years in a row. I also have a 2.4-mile open-water swim event in my resume. That doesn’t include the two DNFs: Ironman Louisville 2015 (missed a cutoff time on the run) and Tri Louisville 2016 (mechanical failure). I’m not particularly competitive–several of my finishes are DFLs–but I know what endurance is. I also have great respect for those who fight hard to qualify for prestigious races.

In all of the triathlons, we wore straps with timing chips. I never missed a split.

In all but two of the runs, there was some sort of chip, strap, or bib-based timing device that every runner wore. I only missed a split in two of those races–the 20104 Air Force 10K and Half Marathon. What happened? I wore both bibs at the same time, because the races were back-to-back. And because I had both bibs on, the mats did not record my split times. As a result, the Air Force folks had to go back to photographic data to verify that I indeed ran the course, and they were able to verify it.

I say that to point out that it is very, very hard to miss a timing mat in multiple races, let alone the same race.

Keep that in mind when you read this.

What really pisses me off: much like the Julie Miller Ironman case, these Boston cheaters are stealing the slots that others have earned.

Like the Ironman World Championship at Kona, the Boston Marathon is exclusive: you have to run a “qualifying time” to earn a slot. (Either that or you can run as a “charity runner”, but you have to raise a ton of money.)

Runners often train and race for YEARS before earning qualifying slots. And in some age groups, even if you run a qualifying time you still could be denied a slot. This is because some age groups are so competitive that you have to run well under the qualifying time to actually get a slot.

In other words, in these endurance events, cheating is the equivalent of “stolen valor”.

The Tom Chantry Case: It’s Not Simply About a Pastor

Fair Disclosure: Tom Chantry has not been found guilty in a court of law; he is entitled to Due Process, which includes (a) the right to counsel on his behalf, (b) the right to contest evidence against him, (c) the right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against him, (d) the right to introduce evidence on his behalf, (e) the right to compel witnesses to testify on his behalf, (f) the right not to testify against himself, and (g) to have that case examined and decided by a jury of his peers, with a unanimous verdict required for a conviction.

The case of Tom Chantry, a Reformed Baptist leader who has been indicted on multiple criminal charges, including child molestation and aggravated assault, is not simply about Tom Chantry.

If the evidence supports the charges against Chantry–which are damning–then Chantry is far from the only culpable party here.

That is because, if Chantry is guilty, then his abuses were enabled by a culture that, in spite of ostensible proclamation of Scripture regarding sexual matters, knowingly coddled leaders who were sexually licentious and who abused children.

And if that is true, then every one of those leaders would be better off taking a long swim with a millstone around his neck.

#TeamAbigail, Part 4: The Stockdale Paradox

On the morning of February 13, I was upbeat.

Our baby had been born not even 48 hours before.

While she was in NICU, I saw no indication–based on what we were told–that this would be too big of a deal. I figured, at worst, we might be in Lexington for a few days, but we would likely be able to take Abigail home within the week or early next week.

That morning, I got in a very good workout: strength work, and a good hour on the stair-stepper. I went to the office, took care of some business, and then headed back to the house. I had some lunch with MrsLarijani.

She received a followup call from Catholic Charities. We were told to show up in the hospital lobby at 3:00, and they would take us up to the NICU where we would be able to see Abigail.

The news, however, was more sober: her initial condition–respiratory distress–had deteriorated.

“Acute Respiratory Failure”.

There was also concern for her heart, as her heart rate was low.

My pucker factor rose to about 5.

Respiratory distress is one thing; respiratory failure is a Big Freakin’ Deal.

When we got there, we met N, from Catholic Charities. Normally, N was upbeat. She had a much more serious look on her face.

This was bad.

By the time they got us processed at UK, it was after 4. And the NICU was closed: they always close between 4PM and 5PM. But N was able to pull some strings to get us back there so we could see Abigail and meet with the docs.

When we got back there and saw Abigail for the first time, I noticed two things:

(1) She was not biracial (we had expected her to be biracial, based on the info we were provided beforehand). Other than the bluish color from her medical condition, she was white as a cotton ball.

(2) She was in very bad shape. She was clearly in respiratory failure. She was blue. Her vitals were bad: oxyenation was in the low 80s. The doc (AJ) told us that they would likely have to put her on the ECMO machine. We asked, point blank, what her condition was. The answer was equally point-blank: “very critical”.

I didn’t know what ECMO was, but I made a mental note to Google that at the earliest opportunity.

After that quick briefing, we were quickly taken to the consult room. N was also in shock; in retrospect, she wasn’t even sure how bad this was, but she knew it was bad.

She told us, “You do realize that you are under no obligation.”

Our response was pretty much the same: “That is our baby.”

We also realized that this was not going to be a quick stay. At that point, I knew we would be at the hospital for at least a month. If she made it past this.

N was able to refer us to the Ronald McDonald House, which had an available room. We would not be able to see Abigail until at last 9PM, as they were going to put her on ECMO. So we took that time to go to the Ronald McDonald House, get checked in, unload our stuff, get a quick bite to eat, and go back to the hospital when we get the word.

From the dining room of the Ronald McDonald House, I Googled ECMO. It confirmed what I thought: this is last-ditch life support. ECMO is an acronym for ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. In the non-medical world, it is the “heart-lung machine”. It pumps the blood out of your body, removes the CO2, oxygenates the blood, and pumps it back in.

ECMO will not cure you; it gives the body a chance to heal by de-stressing the respiratory system.

But ECMO is the last stand.

Pucker factor went up to about 7.

At about 8PM, we received word that Abigail had been successfully put on ECMO, and that her body was responding well.

We went back to the hospital to see her at 9PM. Abigail had been moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) due to her being on ECMO. There was a critical care nurse and a perfusionist (a technician who operates and monitors the ECMO machine) in the room.

One of the docs–who was in charge of the ECMO setup–came by, and I had a chat with him. Like me, his undergrad background was in engineering, only his was biomedical engineering. We started chatting it up about ECMO. While I am not a biomedical engineer, I have a passing interest in control systems. And ECMO is one hell of a control system.

After that chat, I said, “Let’s be honest here. We ARE talking life-support.”

At that point, he began to give the lowdown, most of which I had already read about:

  • If you’re on ECMO, it’s pretty much the end of the line. If this doesn’t work, you’re not going home. (He didn’t say it in those words, but he didn’t candy-coat it either.)
  • With ECMO, you have a problem with blood doing what it normally does: clot. And we all know that clots can kill you.
  • Because of the clot risk, they have to use heparin (a blood thinner) to prevent clotting.
  • Heparin carries its own risks, particularly internal bleeding. A brain bleed can be catastrophic.
  • Because of all that plastic, you have the risk of infection. MRSA can kill.
  • Because ECMO is mechanical, mechanical systems can fail. And while they do have redundancy available, any disruption can be fatal.
  • With all the fluid going into her, she will bloat. Managing that will probably require dialysis.

The doc said, “We cannot guarantee anything here, although her body, at this point, is responding well.”

Thus began our tour of duty on ECMO.

In a different life, I am very good friends with a retired Marine Corps Colonel, who served as a “co-van” during the war in Vietnam. In that life, I have helped him tell his story in order to educate younger people in both the great sacrifices of our veterans in that war, as well as the dangers of giving blind trust in government.

In the course of that life, I have had the privilege of studying about great Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who served with extraordinary valor. My favorite is Col. John Ripley (USMC), who singlehandedly stopped the North Vietnamese Army by blowing up the bridge at Dong Ha. I also admire Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, a POW who used his eyes to spell “T O R T U R E” in Morse Code, destroying what was supposed to be an NVA photo op.

Another great favorite, however, is Vice Admiral James Stockdale, another POW–like Denton, a member of the “Alcatraz Gang”–who defied his North Vietnamese captors for more than seven years.

In his recollections of those days, Stockdale provided what we know today as the “Stockdale Paradox”:

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

In many Christian circles, people forget about the last part of that gem. Some get so caught up in the “faith” part of things that they never bother to consider the severity of the situation.

Many of them tend to think that, if they just have enough faith, they won’t have to deal with the brutal reality. I knew a flight instructor who was paralyzed in a car accident from the waist down. He was a Christian man, and faithful in his church, which was Pentecostal. He had a lot of faith, but he remained a paraplegic. Many of his peers told him that if he just had enough faith, that God would heal him. For many years, he felt his condition was due to his lack of faith.

I know an 8-letter word for that kind of thinking, which is rooted deeply in our agricultural heritage.

Almost immediately, on February 13, I began to steel myself about some of those “most brutal facts”. I’m a fairly laid-back patriarch, but now it was time to show up with the “man card.” I had a baby with a foot in the grave, a job that required my work–as the deadlines did not change when Abigail was born–and a wife who hadn’t quite connected the dots yet. It wouldn’t be until late the next day that she would put two and two together.

Abigail’s first Valentine’s Day. I got to hold her hand

Ten years before I took that picture, I was a single gun nut who spent way too much time on the blogosphere. My biggest dilemma was looking for a house. Marriage wasn’t even on the horizon. At 40, I had doubts about ever getting married.

Now, at 50, I’m 7 years into an otherwise happy marriage, with a house, two cats, a dog, and now–holding the hand of my baby daughter, who is clinging to life.

I knew that, at least mentally, I was going to have to think like an endurance athlete.

This will be a very long triathlon. And ECMO is the swim leg. And that swim is upstream.

And while I had no doubt about God’s capacity to heal, faith alone will not make me swim.

I had to exercise that faith as I swam.

#TeamAbigail, Part 3: The Stork Crash-Lands

I always found the analogy of the stork, in child delivery, to be amusing. Perhaps it was my childhood enjoyment of cartoons like this one.

But, using that analogy, at about 9:00 PM on Saturday, February 11, Catholic Charities gave us both good news and bad news:

Good news: Abigail was born at about 11AM.

Bad news: The stork crash-landed.

In plain terms, Abigail was in “respiratory distress” and was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, which is part of University of Kentucky.

As an asthmatic, I know what “respiratory distress” is. I felt like I spent half my childhood in ER, with asthma issues. It is what got me bounced from Army ROTC during my college days. I had to go to great lengths to prove it was a non-issue during my attempt to enlist in the Army post-9/11. (Ultimately, my back problem did me in.) Even today, I use an inhaler prior to my open-water swims.

“Respiratory distress” sucks, but it’s far from the end of the world.

It did not bother me a bit that she was in the NICU; a friend of ours from our church was a nurse in the NICU there. The NICU folks at UK are very solid. I was barely fazed by the news.

At this point, we were elated: our baby was born.

But because this was a closed adoption, we still were not allowed to see her for at least 48 hours. We had to wait for the birth mother to be discharged.

We would spend all day Sunday getting the house ready for our departure. On Monday, my plan was simple: get a workout in the morning, get some last-minute things situated at the office, then pick up MrsLarijani and head to the hospital.

Surely to goodness, by that time, the birth mother will be gone and we will be allowed to see her!

#TeamAbigail, Part 2: The Runup to D-Day

When we received the news that we had been picked, it was January 13.

The expected due date was given as February 8. However, that was a rough estimate, given that it was from an ultrasound in ER early in the pregnancy. According to the folks at Catholic Charities, delivery could happen at any time, and they would not be surprised if it was sooner rather than later.

In other words, we were on standby. While the expected due date was almost a month away, we could not just assume anything.

So we went into preparation mode.

On the bright side, we had most of what we needed already: because we were waiting on the state to approve us to be foster parents, our house was “home study” ready. We had a crib, we had a bassinette, we had a diaper bag, we had some baby swings. We had a rocking chair. MrsLarijani went out and bought some outfits. We went to Costco and bought some diapers and baby wipes. After making a quick registry, someone bought us a car seat/stroller combo.

In order to be prepared, we loaded some changes of clothes for ourselves, complete with a stocked diaper bag, as well as the car seat, into the trunk. We wanted to be ready when we got the call.

We also had a dilemma: we needed to pick a name for our baby.

Did I mention? Catholic Charities told us, “it’s a girl”.

We knew what we wanted for a boy’s name–Samuel Amir–but we had not arrived at a decision on a girl’s name. We had contemplated it often, but had not arrived at a name that we each liked.

We wanted a Biblical name, but not Jezebel or Athaliah or Herodias.

I thought about my favorite women in the Bible–Deborah and Jael. Jael was a badass: anyone who drives a tent peg through a bad guy’s head is worthy of consideration in my book. And Deborah was both brave and wise.

But those didn’t go well with my last name.

And while I like Elizabeth, MrsLarijani vetoed that one. Besides, that one, like Mary, is way too common.

We also wanted a Persian middle name, and finding one for a girl–that had a Christian theme–was proving elusive.

We both settled on Abigail Hamadeh Marie. Hamadeh means “one who praises”. Marie is MrsLarijani’s middle name.

We also thought through the logistics of MrsLarijani taking maternity leave, then going back part time. We did the math on that, and figured it would provide no benefit for her to go back part-time.

We decided that MrsLarijani was going to be a SAHM. Due to the inflation–that doesn’t officially exist–and due to my not getting my promised pay raises, the margin was thinner than I wanted, but we figured it was doable.

But after the news, we waited. We knew we could get the call at any time. We also knew that the expected due date was weeks away. We had no idea how accurate that estimate was. In the back of my mind, I knew that ANYTHING could go wrong. A lady in our church lost her baby weeks before delivery. Died in the womb.

Better people than us have gone through that fire. I see no indication that we are less-deserving of such things than anyone else. And while God performs miracles and even protects people from evil, we also know that, for reasons we don’t fully grasp, bad things happen to good people.

This is why I prayed to God: “let her be born healthy, let the adoption process go smoothly.” There are many things that can go wrong in an adoption. Even if the baby is perfectly healthy. Even after you’ve taken your baby home. And in rare cases, even after the adoption is finalized.

I knew of the risks. I knew enough adoptive parents, and I was aware of the legal issues that can go south. Sadly, this is why many couples adopt internationally: while that carries a lot of red tape, not to mention travel expenses, once the child comes home, the chances of a birth parent flying in and suing to get the child back are close to zero.

And so we prayed.

And waited.

And prayed.

And waited.

Being cynical, I figured we would get the call at the least convenient time, if not after the expected due date.

Meanwhile, at work, I had some tight deadlines: due to a third party sitting on an RFP (Request For Purchase) for 6 months, we had until mid-March to finish a major implementation. And I was responsible for ensuring that our critical systems interfaced with the new product via the API (Application Programming Interface).

As February 8 drew nearer, the anticipation–and stress–rose. We were sort of expecting some kind of news during the week of the 8th.

But, true to form, my cynicism proved reliable: February 8 came and went: no news.

Saturday, February 11 was a tough day for MrsLarijani.

While she had been, consistently, the best salesperson at the store, the new general manager had been, for lack of better words, chilly at best toward MrsLarijani. She had aligned herself with some of the younger gals in the store, and had been extremely critical of MrsLarijani. It didn’t matter that MrsLarijani was the most punctual, reliable, and highest-performing salesperson on the floor: the GM simply didn’t like her. That tension had been boiling for months, ever since the old GM–who was very good–was transferred.

But that Saturday, things had come to a head: over a very minor issue, the GM “wrote up” MrsLarjani. That was her first “write-up” in her four years at this place. And MrsLarijani was rightfully pissed.

She wanted to put in her notice and, in so many words, tell them to go pound sand. I told her to go to war and fight it. She had the recourse to go over the GM’s head, and MrsLarijani was well-regarded by the higher-ups. We worked out a game plan to pursue that route.

Then, at about 9PM, as I was taking out the trash and swapping out the cat litter, MrsLarijani received a phone call from a number out of Lexington.

It was Catholic Charities.