Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Art of Taking a Pitch

Chris taught our son Shane not only the art of taking a pitch but also the art of seeing allegories for a blog.  His legacy lives on. . . .

The Art of Taking a Pitch

It was the only thing I insisted go on display at the memorial, knowing that its significance would largely go overlooked.  The leather is worn from years of use, even cracked in many places. The lacing stands out drastically in comparison to the rest of the leather; nearly all of the original lacing was replaced long ago.  The palm is dark with patina from countless catches, the webbing deep and relaxed from repeated battering by baseballs.  It was his glove.





As people passed by they were reminded of his love of baseball, his years playing, and as many years coaching.  But all they saw was a glove. Me? I saw my childhood and adolescence, the love and passions of a father passed down. I saw countless work nights spent practicing until we couldn't see the ball anymore.  But mostly I saw an allegory for his life.

I used to hate that glove.  Every time we went out to play catch, he would pick it up and slide it over his hand, and I would burn up a little bit inside.  A new glove will let you know when you're putting some heat on the ball.  The webbing is tight, and when it catches a hard thrown ball it will sound out with a loud "pop"-- a cry of pain that assures the thrower.  Not this glove.  Its years of experience were never impressed by my arm.  Try as I might, I could never get that satisfactory pop. From a mere sixty feet away, I would let it fly with all that I had, nearly throwing my arm out I'm sure, trying to get it to cry out in surrender.  All that I got on the other side was a soft reception, barely even acknowledging that I had thrown the ball at all. I wanted so badly to get the 'pop', I remember on occasion trying to catch my dad off guard with a throw at the belt, getting him to turn the glove over and catch it in the palm.  I don't think he cared for that too much.


This is the last time we got to play catch.


I remember shortly after starting select team baseball, when young kids finally replaced dads and machines as the pitchers, my dad taught me something most coaches ignore.  He took me to the batting cage at the church, where he always threw batting practice for me, but this time he did something different.  We didn't work on hitting the ball to the opposite field, or anything like that. The throw came tight and inside, really inside, and I jumped out of the way.  And that's when he stopped and taught me something I'll never forget. He walked over to me and showed me how to stand my ground, turn on my front foot, and get hit right in the back.  Then and there, he had me practice getting hit! He moved close and underhand lobbed the ball so I could get used to seeing the ball come in and react in time. He taught me that by recognizing the inevitable and turning, I could protect my vulnerable ribs and knees, and catch the ball in the back, or butt if if I was lucky, where the muscle would soften the blow.

As a left-handed hitter going up against a lot of young pitchers, I could expect a lot of wild throws. Being in the minority, most pitchers were unused to throwing to a batter on the left side of the plate.  The strike zone was the same, but visually I really threw them off.  Because of that, I got hit...a lot.  Enough to earn the nickname "Magnet," and have a running bet with the coach of $1 per hit-by-pitch walk, to be paid at the end of the season. Thanks to my dad, I got a lot of free bases with little more than a sore spot, maybe a bruise a few days later. I remember so many times seeing the pitch coming in tight and simply turning, taking it, and jogging right down the line to first base where my dad was waiting to give me a proud little pat on the rear. The umpires always wanted to give me some time to walk it off, but I never needed it.  Never even reacted.  It was my way of telling the pitcher he was nothing to be afraid of anyways.

Shortly before coming home from Mexico, as my dad's fight with cancer came to an end, these memories came back to me. I remember the painful, emotional vision I had of these being replayed in my mind, only this time my dad was in the batter's box, and his life was the glove. I remember this picture of him standing by the plate, getting hit by fastball after fastball, never flinching and never complaining.  Life hit him hard with cancer, over and over again, but like his glove catching one of my throws, he just let it happen never giving it the satisfaction of a cry of pain.  Radiation, extreme weight loss, side effects, loss of livelihood-- they all showed themselves by the obvious wear and tear on his body.  But he kept being himself, as best he could.

After watching my dad fight cancer for six years, I've now seen these baseball lessons come to life.  The glove that was his earthly body, showed the abuse he took from years of treatment. His chest, a new permanently flushed red from the radiation. His walk, marked by a lilt in the right shoulder, having sunken lower because of his collapsed lung. His cough, a constant reminder of the battle within.  Yet he lived on to keep playing.  Even when things got too tough, and the lacing broke, he let God come and fix his brokenness with new, stronger lacing to hold him together.  He endured enough hit-by-pitches to round the bases, and eventually make it home, where his Father was waiting with a congratulatory "well-done" pat.

Such is life.  Things happen that can catch us off guard.  They can leave us in pain, bruised and battered, but if we're willing to endure suffering for the moment, there is a reward waiting for us.

In May of 2012, my dad wrote this blog, and it wasn't until I held his hand as he laid on his deathbed that I realized I was one of the ones watching.  It pains me to think that I might have been one of the reasons he had to endure so much suffering, but because of his example I have come to learn so much about faith, suffering, and endurance.  I've learned about sacrificial love, and trust in God.  My dad was a true example of Jesus to me-- Jesus who endured suffering beyond my imagination, bearing my sins and shame on his shoulders, hanging on a tree until his life left him, never raising his voice until justice was established.

Sometimes in life, you have to take one square in the back.  Sometimes you will have so much thrown at you that you break. But when you surrender to God, He can put you back together, make you stronger than before, and useful for your purpose once more.  The hardships of life can leave us bruised and beaten, but as surely as getting hit by a pitch leads to a walk, enduring in this life leads to the realization of God's promises and eternal rewards.

To many, it was just a glove on a table, but to me it was the representation of a life well lived.  It was encouragement and hope.  Lately I have felt like I'm going through the re-lacing process, but I'm doing my best to trust God that eventually, I'll be ready to play again.

                                              
                                                                    ~ Shane Haga

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tributes to a Legacy and Miracles in a Mudslide



As a way to remember and honor the legacy of their father, Chad and Shane reserved Chris' regular seat in church at his funeral.  They also opened the hymnal to His Eye is On the Sparrow, which Chris requested be played at his funeral.
Reserving their dad's regular spot in church

His Eye is on the Sparrow
They wanted to pay a special final tribute to their dad and his fight of "cancer on two wheels."  As Chris fought over the years, his body was less able to handle riding his bike, even though he desperately wanted to continue.  Eventually, his bike stood in the garage, unused.  Their desire was that their dad, though absent in body, would be able to roll out with them for one last ride.  So exactly one week after he passed, down to the minute (Saturday at 7 a.m. and his usual ride time), Chad and Shane rolled for a lap around the neighborhood with his bike, each carrying one of his favorite jerseys.  


  
Shane then had the honor of taking Chris’ bike on a proper ride to Lake Lavon, a common route for the three of them.  They recognized that though cancer took his body, their dad lives on in spirit and in the legacy he passed on to them.  Chris would have really enjoyed the beautiful morning ride with his boys.

Shane is on Chris' bike
Shane finished his front pocket wallet/money clip project that I mentioned previously in the “Do Not Worry” blog.  He totally scrapped his original design planned.  The front has Shane's own initials "CSH."  He said, “This was not only a chance for me to try something new, but also a chance to remember my dad.  This was the first piece of leather I've tooled since he passed away last month.  My dad was the one who got me started with leather work years ago and taught me as much as he could.  Over this last year as I began to develop my abilities more and sell work, I always went to him to get his opinion.  It will be very difficult moving forward not being able to do that anymore.  The design on the front is my homage to the traditional western style he always used.  The flower in the bottom right is a small part of the design on last wallet he started, which remains unfinished.  The reverse is completely dedicated to his memory, including his favorite passage from the Bible, and his signature.  Photo credit goes to Chad Haga, who is now learning my dad's other passion for photography.”





Shane and I drove to Colorado last week to visit with Chad and his fiancĂ©e Kate before Chad heads back to Europe for the last 3 months of his race season.  Since our favorite family vacation spot was just an hour away, we drove to the Christian family dude ranch in Estes Park, called Wind River Ranch.  We visited there 3 different summers when the boys were younger.  The boys had rated it a perfect “10” while they rated Disney World only a “7.”  We all found this to be a place to seek and find God and enjoy family time in a relaxed Christian atmosphere.

Wind River Ranch, A Christian Family Guest Ranch

"Be Still and Know That I Am God"   Psalm 46:10
View during daily Bible study



After visiting with the Director and long-time friend Don McIntyre and his wife over a delicious lunch of grilled hamburgers and all the fixin’s, Don took us on a tour of the ranch to see all the changes and improvements that had taken place since the last time we were there 11 years ago.  


Shane, Don, and Chad - 2001

Chad, Don, and Shane - 2016

Chad, DeLayne, Shane
In 2013, there was a big mudslide that hit the area.  This was during the time of massive rainfall, and apparently the ground couldn’t handle all the rain, and a natural underground water geyser formed and sent a 22-foot wall of water and mud down the mountain, directly toward the Wind River Ranch cabins, where many church pastors and their wives were staying for a conference.  Don pointed out where Gorilla Rock diverted the mudslide around most of the camp on either side, as well as where all the limbs on the trees were broken off up to 22-feet high.  The fact that no one was injured at WRR is a miracle in itself.  He said that a Taoist Temple had been planned to be built on the other side of the mountain, but that area was destroyed by the mudslide and the temple has never been built.  (God meant what He said in the Ten Commandments.) 
Exodus 20:3  “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Gorilla Rock
The natural disaster changed the landscape and has helped to provide a natural fire break due to the mudslide.  They will now be able to have tiered ponds with the new natural reservoirs formed that will provide additional fire breaks in the event of forest fires.  God works His miracles in mysterious ways.

Ranch Foreman Nick Herold took his gun and thought he would have to put down all 54 horses in the corral due to injuries from the mudslide, but when he arrived to the area, every single one was safe, even though many were up to their withers in water.  The brand new fence that had been built had been strong enough to stop the debris from inundating the corral.  Don explained that they had built a trench for the zip line and the displaced dirt formed a blockade and an island for the horses to stand on until they could be rescued. 

After our tour, we had a chance to ride horses, including one very special horse named “Haga,” which was named in honor of Chris in 2010 after his lung cancer diagnosis.  Yes, "Haga" survived the mudslide!  Shane is pictured riding “Haga” (the black horse).


 
Then we took a hike to explore the area, and Chad got to experiment with his dad’s camera, taking photos that Chris would have taken, including close-up photos of bear claw marks on the trees and pretty flowers.




bear claw marks




To read more about the mudslide and its impact on the Wind River Ranch ministry, go to:




If You Could See Me Now



Chris knew that this was his temporary home.  We can’t celebrate his life without talking about what was most important to him, and that was his faith.  When Chris was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in July 2010, no one understood why he would have gotten that particular type of cancer since he had never smoked in his entire life.  He could only come up with one reason:  He accepted the diagnosis as part of God’s plan to use him to reach others as he witnessed for Christ.  Chris also helped pave the way for successful treatments to be used on other lung cancer patients.  He took part in 4 clinical trials, 2 of which were FDA approved while he was in the trials due to the success the treatments were achieving. Chris said he was willing to be a Guinea pig if it helped someone else beat lung cancer.  As rare as his “ALK positive” cancer mutation was, he actually met someone at church with his same mutation who was taking the first clinical trial drug that Chris helped to become FDA approved.  He was pleased to be able to meet a beneficiary of his trial.

I think you will agree that Chris used his illness to show others how to face trials with faith and grace by fully relying on God.  As many of you have followed his Cancer on 2 Wheels blogs, you know what an inspiration he was to others in his walk of faith in the face of adversity time after time.  Chris asked God that some good would come out of this cancer journey.  Each time he posted a blog, he prayed that God would use the blog to touch someone in a special way.  He enjoyed when people left comments or sent him e-mails because that meant his prayers were being answered.

Chris also wanted to bring attention to the public that lung cancer is not a disease limited to smokers.  Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer Newspapers wrote articles about his cancer journey, and his testimony was published on an international cancer encouragement website.  He was known to leave his “calling card” with the restaurant bill to share his testimony while bringing awareness that 10%-20% of lung cancer patients never smoked, also providing a list of common symptoms of lung cancer.

Chris’ symptoms started with a little cough that would not go away, rapid weight loss, extreme fatigue, and recurring pneumonia.  He was riding his bike approximately 80 miles a week when he was diagnosed.  He was misdiagnosed for 3 months because 2 different doctors didn’t suspect lung cancer in a never-smoker, and 3 sets of x-rays only showed pneumonia.  Similar stories were heard time and time again.  By the time Chris was diagnosed from a CT scan, the cancer was stage 4 and inoperable.  It had metastasized to his lymph nodes in his chest and abdomen and to his brain.  He endured Gamma Knife radiation to the brain, massive radiation to his lung, 3 standard chemo drugs, 6 targeted therapy drugs, and countless other medications to counteract the side effects.  Although these drugs helped him to live 5-1/2 years longer than expected, they damaged his kidneys, and he was unable to continue chemo.  He officially achieved “No Evidence of Disease” twice, and possibly 4 times.  But lung cancer is unlike other cancers—it almost always comes back.  More people die each year from lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined.  More women die of lung cancer than of breast cancer.  People in their 20’s who have never smoked are now being diagnosed with lung cancer.  Chris was known to urge anyone with a recurring cough to get a CT scan, in hopes that if they had lung cancer, they could catch it at an early stage.

On numerous occasions he had friends call him and ask him to talk with their friends or family members who had been recently diagnosed with lung cancer to give them hope.  Of course, he was always willing to talk with them and even developed lasting friendships with some of them.  He was a member of the Cancer Encouragement Group at our local church and was told on countless occasions what an inspiration he was to others in their cancer journey.

Here are some excerpts from a blog that Chris wrote on June 16, 2011, titled, “Things Cancer Has Taught Me”: “I remember thinking when I was first diagnosed that I should not have lung cancer.  Even one of the doctors said, ‘You should not have this, but you do.’  I have the memory of praying that God would use this as an opportunity for us to teach others about lung cancer and present us with those openings.  If I could have lung cancer, then anyone could develop lung cancer.  Little did I know at the time what cancer would teach me.

One thing that I have learned is to laugh every day, and when you think you are tired of laughing, laugh some more.  There have been times that if I had not laughed, I would have cried.   
I have learned to cherish every moment of every day. Take time to enjoy where you are and who you are with.  You will never have that moment in time again.

I have always believed in the Bible, but this experience has taught me that the Bible is more than just words on paper.  The Bible is the very living, breathing Word of God.  I have seen the scriptures come alive daily.  One thing that has surprised me is the realization that everyone has a "cancer" in their life.  Mine was physical, but others may be dealing with porn, gambling, alcohol, issues at work, financial issues, problems with a child or spouse.  Everybody has something that, given time, will grow, and if left untreated, like cancer, will take your life.  The great thing is that we have One who sits at the right hand of God ready to help us.  I am thankful that He is there.”

On March 20, 2011, Chris wrote a blog titled, “A Life Sentence.”  In that blog, he said, “The one thing that has helped me the most is that I do not see cancer as being a death sentence.  I see cancer as being a life sentence.  I firmly believe that God's will is for me to be completely healed from cancer and that it will never return.  When that happens, I will live each day thankful for that day, loving my family and enjoying the days with them, and I will worship Jesus.

I know that there are some people that will ask, ‘What if God's will is for you not to be healed?’  If the time should come that cancer takes my earthly body, then I know that because of my belief in Jesus Christ, when I take my last breath on earth, I will take my first breath in heaven.  I will have two good lungs and there will be no more pain.  I will see family and friends that have gone before me, and I will worship Jesus.

Either way, I still live!”

The last month of Chris’ life was very humbling for a man who had always been strong and took good care of his family.  (In return, it was my privilege and honor to be his caregiver and be by his side throughout this 6-year journey.)  He was in almost constant back pain because of the changes in his torso due to a collapsed lung and 5 fractured vertebrae that had been repaired.  He walked lopsided with one shoulder noticeably lower than the other due to his collapsed lung.  He also lost 2 inches in height.  If you could see him now, he’s walking streets of gold.  He’s standing tall and whole!

Chris knew that his final day on earth would eventually come and had been praying for the best but preparing for the worst.  Chris helped plan his funeral service.  He was an amazing photographer, and his favorite things to photograph were God’s creations.  Click on the link below to see a collection of his favorite photographs, set to music, that he asked to be shown at his funeral.  Imagine him singing, "If You Could See Me Now."                                          
                                                       ~ DeLayne Haga

If You Could See Me Now


The following are excerpts from Chris’ graveside service that brought great comfort to me:

Chris didn’t lose his battle with cancer.  Cancer lost its battle with Chris!  Because, when the cancer conquered his body, the cancer stopped living. It died…forever.  But Chris lives!!!!  Chris lives because Jesus conquered sin and death for us.

Psalm 118:17 reads, “I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the LORD.”
2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

If Chris could speak to each of us today, he would simply say, “Trust Christ, ask God to forgive you of your sins, and He will, and begin to ride the Christian race by faith, full of purpose, unconditional love, and a lasting legacy to those you touch.”

We celebrate the race Chris cycled here on this earth. We look forward with hope and expectancy to one day seeing Chris again, yet even more, being with our Savior Jesus Christ for eternity.