Tom’s Brain Injury

Digging-around-a-tree-trunk-600x337About a week ago, my friend Joe posted a great blog on his first concussion. I’m not sure how many he has had since then, but saying it was the first could explain a few things… Love ya, buddy! . So, after reading his blog I thought I would go ahead and share my story too.

Several years ago we had a large poplar tree in our south yard that had reached the peak of its useful life. Basically we have one really nice spot in our yard and we wanted to spruce it up a bit. We had decided to take the poplar out in order to put in a flowering crab tree and a small rose garden.

I considered having the neighbor dig it out with a backhoe, but that would have made a large mess in the yard. I could cut the tree down and then dig the stump out, but that seemed like it would take longer as a two part operation. I came up with the great idea of digging around the tree and cutting the roots back as much as I could, and then pushing the weakened tree over with my Dad’s tractor. The tree could then be used as leverage against itself, making the stump removal very simple. Brilliant! This was going to be a breeze!

So, on a sunny Saturday morning I began the process of digging. The tree itself was about 12 inches in diameter, so I figured if I dig about 5 feet out all the way around the tree, I would be able to cut all of the significant roots that were holding the tree down and then the fun part could happen. Armed with my shovel and my double-head lumberman axe, I went to work.

After several hours, I had the bulk of the hole dug out. At some point in the morning Tammi had taken the kids to Traverse City or something, and I had elected to stay behind and work. Before she left, I made all of the sincere promises (that felt unnecessary) that I would take great care and caution in my work, acknowledging that I would be home alone with nobody to help me if I cut my foot off. I promised her that I would be careful, would not use a chainsaw, and would definitely not go running to her if I did cut my foot off. (I’ll wait for the laughter to subside after that joke… Okay, moving on.)

I was amazed at how many roots were there! The tree was only about 12 years old, but it had grown very fast. There were roots larger than my calf that I had to cut through in order to gain access to those farther down. I used a hose to wash off roots and dirt as I worked so I would not swing the axe in to a rock that could make the axe deflect off and into a piece of me. I cut sections out and kept stacking the pieces out of the way in order to keep my work area as neat and safe as possible.

Finally I had reached the end. I had one root that needed to be cut. It was deep in the hole, and almost under the trunk of the tree. The root was about the size of my wrist, but I was sure that with one hard swing it would quickly be taken care of. So, in keeping with my practice of safety, I checked my body placement so  nothing would be in the way. I put one leg behind the tree so it was safe. The other leg, and the foot under it, was stable and not in harm’s way. To make sure that I was still in a good and safe position, I took a couple of slow practice swings to check my balance, and then a couple faster practice swings as well. We were good for launch.

I raised the double-headed axe over my head, and with all of the strength I could muster, and I am not a little guy, I swung as hard as I could for that root. I saw the axe come down to about waist height and then I felt a brutal blow to the back of my head and everything went black.

I don’t remember falling into the hole. One moment I was swinging and the next I am face down in a muddy hole wondering who just came up and hit me in the head with a ball bat. I was about to open my eyes and look around when I heard my shovel handle sliding into the hole with me. That was when I realized what had happened.

In my effort to create a safe environment for my labor I had placed my shovel in the ground behind me. Well, it was out of the way, but when I swung the axe around behind me, I was not aware that the axe head had hooked the shovel handle. When I made my Paul Bunyan super swing, I pulled that shovel handle down and cracked myself across the back of the skull. Yep. I hit myself in the back of the head with a shovel handle – hard.

So, I am still lying in the hole, face down in the mud. I can’t move because I had hit myself right above the spine, and all communications with my extremities were temporarily out of order. I couldn’t feel anything lower than my chin. I probably should have been concerned at that moment, but all I could do was laugh at how nearly impossible this type of an injury could be, and how unfortunate that it was not on film!

After laying there for about two minutes I began to regain feeling in my limbs and was able to get up. The axe had fallen in a place that I had luckily not landed on it, and even better, I could see that where my face had planted into the mud was about 6 inches from a pool of water in the hole that I could have landed in. God was looking out for me.

So, not to be outwitted by a dirt-moving hand tool, I put the shovel in a safe place (in front of me this time so I could keep an eye on it) and got back into position to deliver that mighty swing. It took a minute because where there had been one root I was now seeing 5, but I went for the one in the middle, and with a swing that was probably not quite as confident as the first, I was able to cut the root.

After that it was time for the fun part. I got the tractor (why not use heavy equipment after a head injury) and pushed the tree over and then pulled it out of the hole. Since I was still under my vow of safety and would not use a chainsaw to start cutting up the tree, I picked up that traitorous shovel and filled in the hole.

When Tammi got home she came out to check on the progress.  Being the detail-oriented person that she is, it did not take her long to notice the turkey-egg sized lump on the back of my gourd.  She asked what had happened and I shared my story of hand tools run amok with her hoping she would agree that it was at least slightly humorous.

I was glad that she did not fall on the ground laughing at me, but I was not prepared for the anger (Which I later realized was fear of what could have happened) that came out of her.  She reminded me that I had promised to be safe, and wanted to know if I realized what could have happened.  I explained that I was doing everything I could to be safe.  the hole was kept free of debris, proper placement of feet and legs to insure that there would not be a bloodletting, the refusal to use a chainsaw while alone, but I had never counted on being jumped from behind by an unmanned shovel!

As that day wore on, the effects of the concussion started to settle in.  My head got real fuzzy, speech was slow, thoughts were bypassed into the mental equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, and I developed a terrible headache.  All of those symptoms lasted for a little less than a month before they lifted.  During that time, I could see the concern Tammi had for my gray matter, and I knew I never wanted to do anything like that again.

When I went out to work that day, I had a plan, and I had a plan on how to be careful.  That shovel was completely harmless to me – right up until the moment that it wasn’t.  Something that had the potential to do good, had suddenly done something bad to me, and it was my hand that had put it in the position to do so.

We have things in our lives that are the same way.  They might be little things that seem harmless, but where we put them can turn them into something dangerous.  Friendships, emotions, priorities, activities, leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on… All things that are good to have, but if we put them where they don’t belong, even for a moment, they could have a disastrous effect on our lives.

A life of Relentless Growth must admit that things can go wrong.  I need to be constantly looking at where I am in relationship to the things that are a part of my life.  I can’t afford to get comfortable, or to minimize potential threats.  I have responsibilities to God, and to my family that hang in the balance.

Also, a life of Relentless Growth allows others to look into your life to see the things that you cannot.  Perspective is very important, and since we all see things a little differently, another person might see a potential threat that you are just blind to.  That is why God made us to be in relationships with others. Relationships not only are fun and help us grow, they are also for protection.  If Tammi had been there, I would not have been beaten down by a yard tool!

This summer I have a couple more trees that I am looking to take down, and while I did have a “memorable” experience with the method I used before, I will probably employ it again.  You can be sure that I will have a good idea of where that shovel is the entire time!  I’m also pretty sure that I will have some people there this time to help me keep an eye on things.  None of them will be hoping to see a re-enactment of the concussion… Right?

Hey! No video recording is allowed without the expressed written permission of the person in the hole!




A Parable…of Sorts

custom-paulownia-casket-fullThere is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.

– Ecclesiastes 5:13-15

As I read these verses the other night, a story took shape in my mind.  I pictured a man who had determined that he was going to be a good provider for his family.  A man determined to give his children all of the best things in life.  So, the man did the honorable thing – he worked.

I  pictured this man getting up hours before the sun came up in the morning, going to work at a job that asked much of him, and he was willing to give.  He was doing it for his family.  At the end of that work day he went to a second job and worked until late in the evening, coming home to collapse into his bed.  He was tired, but this was for his family.

As time went on, the work week spread over into the weekend.  He missed vacations, birthday parties, and music recitals, but this too was for his family.  The kids were growing, but he had a plan, and even though he hurt so badly every time he saw his family look at him sadly after he told them he could not join them, it was for his family.

Over the years, the money he earned grew, and it grew significantly.  His plan was beginning to come together.  He could see the end of the journey had had begun all those years ago.  He was almost there.  Then it happened… The big opportunity arrived.

A friend came to him with an investment opportunity that was guaranteed to double his money, and that was a significant amount.  If this went as planned, he could actually quit working and spend the rest of his life just living off interest and leaving a very comfortable life for his kids when he finally passed away as an old man.  He went all in.

Things looked good for awhile, the business was slow to start, but there was still hope.  Then he started feeling ill.  A trip to the doctor revealed the worst news, and he was given two months.

Deciding he would spend his remaining time giving his family their every desire, he went to cash out on his investment. Tragically, he found out that there was nothing left.  His partner had taken his money and invested in in several other businesses, and it was gone.  He was left with nothing, and eight weeks later, he was gone.

At the funeral, his 16 year old son stood up to speak of his father.  He approached to platform, and stopped to look at his father lying there in the casket.  After a few moments, he stepped to the podium and began to speak.

“I wish I could tell you that I know the man lying here today.  I wish I could tell you of all the fun times we had.  I wish I could tell you about vacations, camping trips, birthday parties, and tickle fights on the living room rug.  I wish I could tell you about his favorite song, his favorite food, or about his favorite book, movie, or his first car.”

“I wish I could tell you all of those things and more.  I wish I could tell you how much he loved us.  Tell you about the hugs, the laughter, the smiles, and the warmth of a life with him.  There are so many things I wish I could tell you about this man, but there is a problem.  I don’t know him well enough to tell you these things.”

“As I grew up, Mom always told us how much he loved us.  She knew his plan to make enough to retire before I graduated high school so he could do all sorts of stuff with me and the rest of my family.  She told me all about the money he was saving so I would have a good start.  She told me how it was his way of showing me he loved me.”

“So, now I stand here beside the casket of a man I barely knew.  Friends and family have helped us put this funeral together because we didn’t have enough money to do it on our own.  My college dreams are starting to fade away as I look at my younger siblings that are going to need me to step up and help support them.  The plan he had for me is gone.”

“So, what do I have to say today?  Why did I get up here?  Was it to make you all feel sorry for me? No.  I wanted to point out a tragedy that took place in the life of my father.  Here was a man with the noblest of intentions.  He wanted to give us so much, but in the end, he left this world unable to do that.  He had two dreams.  He wanted to spend time with us and give us an inheritance.”

“I wish I could feel anger about this, but in the end, I feel pity.  He came into this world with nothing, he worked to build wealth at the cost of knowing those he loved, and he left this world with nothing.  All I can say that he really left me is a desire to do things better.”

Maybe these verses mean something a little different.  Maybe I am off my rocker and had a sandwich that was just a little too spicy that day.  I’m not sure what put that little story in my head, but I wanted to share it.

I’m glad that I had a Dad that was there for me.  He worked long days, shift work, and sometimes weekends to make the money that was needed to keep us going, but he was there for us too.  He showed me the value of being there for your kids, and I hope I am doing a good job being there for my kids too.

There have been opportunities for me to take jobs that might have been great financial decisions, but I have always had this thought in my head that the money only does so much for you if you can’t be with the ones that you love.

God speaks so much about money in His Word, and I’m pretty sure it is because He knew we would have such a problem with it. Part of Relentless Growth is looking at the wisdom of the Bible as it speaks to our financial picture, our family responsibilities, and the fact that the money belongs to God anyway.  We are just stewards.

So, at the end of the day, all you dads out there, keep working.  Your children need to see your drive and your determination to provide for the family.  It is a character trait they will thank you for, but be there for them too.  They need both.  It is sad when they don’t have one or the other, but it is grievous when they get neither.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

A Letter to My Family

Tammi, Jessica, and Zachary,

I just put a comment up on Facebook to let a friend of ours know that I pray for her every day. I do that as a part of my praying for the 5 guys that I pray for specifically throughout the week. I pray for those men and their family members every day.  As I hit the button to put that comment out there, I realized something.

922849_10200744910803600_726389388_n I never tell you guys that I am praying for you every day. My own family. Why do I not tell you that? I do it, but I don’t know that I have ever told you that I do pray for you.

1148826_10203363343835363_1171911152_nTammi, I pray for you as you are still navigating the waters of a new job with all of the unknown things that come your way. I pray for your internal struggle of working outside the house after being able to be a mostly-at-home-mom for most of our kids’ lives. I pray for your heart and for our relationship to keep growing stronger. I praise God for your deepening love for Him and your desire to be excellent for His service as a believer, a wife, a mom, a friend, and a co-worker.

976680_10201072573874972_419384034_o Jessica, I pray for your last year of school! For wisdom as you are preparing for the next steps in your life. I pray that you will find that right guy in God’s timing, and that He will love you even more than I do! I pray that you will find God’s leading hand as you do the things that he has laid on your heart. I praise God for your purity, for your smile, for your heart for kids, for how you are growing into a woman as beautiful inside and out as your mom, and for your desire to know God more and your willingness to be used by Him.

1000146_10200993760344683_970985934_nLast, but not least, Zachary, I pray for you as you are becoming a man that I look forward to calling my friend. I pray that you will continue to stand for the things that you believe, that you will stay sensitive to the direction that God has for you. I pray that you will use the talents He has given you for His glory and that your hunger for His Word will continue to grow as you realize more and more how much you need him. I praise God for your kind heart, ready smile, your sense of humor, willingness to grow in things God puts in front of you, and that you are a better man at almost 15 than I was at 18.

You three people are my gift from God, and I do not tell you that in words like this often enough. I tell you all I love you every day, and I do. I am so thankful for you all, and I just wanted to tell you that today.

Just wanted to put that out there.  Love you guys!

Live & Learn… Why?

image“Live & Learn”

I heard this phrase the other day and it’s been rattling around in there ever since.  What can I say? There’s a lot of room in there.  I’ve heard it off and on over the years, and I’ve never really given it a second thought, but this time it really struck me.  Why?  Probably a lot of reasons.  All I know for sure is that I have been giving a lot of things extra thought lately…

So, anyway, “Live & Learn” is used quite often, and I think it is used for a few different reasons:

Encouragement – You see someone who really gave their best effort at something – really put it all on the line and came up short.  “I’m very impressed at how you handled that defeat.  Live and Learn!  I know you’ll get it next time!”

Discouragement – You see someone set a goal and fall short.  Then they just settle into the mindset of failure.  When you ask them what happened they just say, “I don’t know.  Won’t try that again.  Live & learn, you know.”

Passive Aggressive – You do something nice for someone with all the best interest at heart, but something doesn’t work out exactly the way that person hopes it would.  Then the person who is visibly upset says a nice thing that has a veiled dissatisfaction, “Wish we hadn’t done that.  Oh well, live and learn.”

There are a lot of things that we say in life that we never really think about.  Little phrases that are spouted off without thought, and I know I am guilty of it too.  The problem is the things I say without thought are often heard by people who are thinking.  This causes hurt that could have been avoided with just a few seconds of thinking before speaking. (A problem I have had since I was just a lad…)

So, since I am committed to Relentless Growth, I want to think more about the things that fall out of my mouth, making sure they fall through some type of a filter between brain and eye teeth!  So, here are my thoughts about “Live & Learn.”

Living things are growing things.  If we are to be truly alive then we are going to be looking for opportunities to grow.  It might be education, relationships, physical strength, financial security, but always moving toward growth.  Being better than I was the day before, and committed to not settling for a life that is spent looking back.  It is not always easy.  Frankly, it would be a lot easier to just sit still and do nothing to improve.  I tell my kids that the hard thing is usually the right thing.  Living is hard, but it is better than giving up.  Giving up is not something I want to do.

I think there is value in looking back because you need to look back at the mistakes you made in life.  I’ve done a lot of that over the last 5 years.  In doing so I have made the decision not to live there or to live out of the pain of those mistakes.  Instead I look back to learn which direction I need to grow. Growth is good, but it needs to be based on wisdom gained from the things that we have gone through.  Those focused, intent looks back to the past give us the opportunities to see, in hindsight, the weaknesses we may have, the strengths we could have used for a better result.    We take those and pull together our plan, the next steps that will keep us moving to the most important thing – the thing that we never put into that little phrase…

Next Time
We live and we make mistakes.  We learn from mistakes.  Next time, if we learned and choose to keep living, we might not make that mistake again.  We don’t need to live in our past (not living).  We don’t need to look at where we are and accept it (not learning).  We need to purpose to be relentless in our growth and look at every single thing in our life as an opportunity to Live & Learn for the next time.  We always get one if we make the effort to look for it.

Live & Learn for the Next Time!


It All Looks Good with the Right Perspective


This is a picture of our home from the air. I absolutely love this pic because it is my home, my favorite place to be. In the pic you can’t see the weeds in the yard, the fence posts that need replaced, the walls that need to be painted, or the small holes in the garage roof.  You can’t see the carpet that needs to be replaced, the toilet that has a small crack in it, or the washer with a very tired drive motor.

The last week has been a very busy blur. We are sitting two dogs for friends who went out of town, and we have had two different house guests since Sunday evening. I have put in a full work week with a day left to go, and to sum things up I would have to say I am tired. Very tired.

Tomorrow we are planning an afternoon/evening out for just the four of us, and I would be understating things if I said that this will be a welcome respite from our busy routine.  We have the expected shopping to do, but are also planning a bit of fun.

Over the last couple of months, my stress level has been very high at work. I am covering another position as well as trying to do my job, and that has proven to be extremely problematic with several large projects, some mandatory training, and several other annual tasks that all seem to have decided to attack at once.  The end result is that I was really having some trouble sleeping.

About two weeks ago, I was made very aware of how rough things had gotten, and it was at the same time that I had arrived at Paul’s description of the armor of God in my Bible study time. Reading through those verses and really looking at those verses has helped me get my head straight again.

Part of what I learned through those verses was the importance of my prrspective. I was so focused on the problems and the work in front of me that I couldn’t even begin to see what I was accomplishing.  By pulling my eyes from the mountain of things that were needing to be done, I was able to see a different story.

I have been getting things done, but I have also been allowing a lot of stuff to be put on my plate without finishing the stuff that was already there. It’s not that I don’t finish things, but when you keep adding without finishing, you are forced to split your time across too many things and you feel stalled.

So, I made a decision this week to not take on any project that I could not complete in 10 minutes, and no more than 4 of those in a day. That would allow me to pick away at the unfinished tasks and give me the time that is needed to attack a couple of large projects that I have been wanting to tackle.

It took stepping back and looking at my position to see things better.  Once I did that, solutions started to flow, and accomplishments started taking place.

This summer we have some work to do on our house. It can be a bit daunting when we walk through it and look at the many things we would like to do, but when I see that aerial photo I am hit with an appreciation of what I have, and thankfulness to God for all the wonderful memories we create under that roof.

I struggle with that perspective, but Relentless Growth means I can never give up on doing the things that are necessary to identify where my focus has shifted to myself rather than what God has to teach me about Himself.  I’m glad He never gives up on me, and through His Word, He shows me that much needed truth.