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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Passing of My Father

Miracles are all around us. They happen everyday. Some are small and tend to go unnoticed or get chalked up to coincidence. Others are so monumental they are impossible to miss—they change us, they shape us, they make us who we are supposed to be. What you are about to read is about the latter kind of miracles. An undeniable core of facts speaks volumes in this. May you find your time here well spent.…

Around October 2008, my dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer of the lungs and the areas surrounding the lungs. He was never a smoker, and was an avid athlete his entire life, yet he found himself with this condition. We believe it may have stemmed from his exposure to the asbestos-lined compartments of the F4U Corsairs he worked on in his navy service during the Korean War. He had previously beaten cancer in the early 1980s, but it had left him scarred, and with an apparent unknown source of cancer still lurking inside of him, which seemed to have reared its ugly head again most recently.

Most people, let alone someone of his age (79), do not last long with the advanced type of cancer he had, but he found himself still with us after a year. His breathing became increasingly labored, and by October he was on oxygen around the clock at home, but he was hanging in there. Then came his fateful ordeal in the hospital in late October/early November of 2009, when he went to see about the pneumonia he had been enduring. He was doing okay being treated for the pneumonia and hoped to return home soon when he accidentally breathed in some scrambled eggs, necessitating an emergency windpipe clearing and a breathing tube to be placed in his mouth and down his throat, putting him in ICU. To further complicate matters, it caused serious secondary infections in his chest. Things were not looking good.

These were the circumstances that Elisa, my mother and I visited him the first time in the hospital. I believe it was Sunday, November 1st. He was heavily sedated to keep him from feeling choked by the breathing tube and to calm the overall panic attending shortness of breath. He had short moments of awareness, however, and I felt compelled to minister to him. Ever since a series of amazing and undeniable miracles sixteen years ago left me no choice but to discard atheism and become a Christian, my firm conviction has been in the words of Jesus Christ, who said “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I didn’t want to risk the possibility that my ailing father might not have the chance to accept that, even if he was heavily sedated.

I played him some Christian songs, read him a psalm the Lord had given me for him (Psalm 107), reminded him of my miracle-filled testimony which he had read earlier that year, and shared the hope of the Christian gospel. His eyes were closed the whole time and I wasn't sure if he was sleeping. At the end I said, "Dad, if you believe Jesus is your Savior, move your feet or squeeze my hand." Instead of doing either of those, he squeezed my mom's hand. This caused me some confusion and doubt, heightened by the fact that he opened his eyes soon after that and looked at me with an ambiguous confused look as if seeing me for the first time or something (a look we all came to recognize upon further visits). I tentatively told some people at church and on a prayer chain of the hand-squeeze news but requested that they continue to pray for his sure salvation. Some people seemed to think it was enough, but they weren't there and didn't know how sedated he was, plus I think they may have projected similar stories upon mine. My most discerning friends were with me that we needed to keep praying.

As the weeks went on and I spent more and more time with my dad, I began to doubt more and more that he had heard me and began leaning more toward the idea that he only heard something along the lines of "squeeze hand", which was something that was being said frequently in those early days when he was so heavily sedated in ICU. So I kept praying and asked everyone to do the same, for opportunity to share with my dad for his sure salvation.

Following a tracheotomy which put the breathing tube down into a hole in his neck directly in to the trachea to the lungs, my dad for a time made a brief recovery and was out of ICU into a regular room, and was as alert as I'd seen him, even though he still could not talk. He was even able to gently applaud a few songs that I sang him. Hopes were high, so even though my time with him was brief, I felt I would have more quality time with him later that week, so I went home to spend a few days with my family whom I had seen very little. Little did I know that Dad would soon take a drastic turn for the worse.

For years he had always said he never wanted to be kept alive by machines, but now as long as there was a chance that he might be able to be weaned off the breathing machine (ventilator) and go home, we all deemed it acceptable to keep the breathing tube in. On Thursday, November 19, only two days after I'd seen him so alert and breathing so much stronger, we received the worse kind of news. He was not going to be able to be weaned off the ventilator, plus his cancer had recently advanced to an extreme level. No hope was in sight. With no hope of going home, he was going to be given the decision on whether he wanted the breathing tube removed or not. As it turned out, he was unable to make that decision, and it appeared he no longer had the short-term memory capacity to hold the thought in his mind to make an informed decision. The next morning, it was as if he had never heard anything about it. Always an optimist, a part of him seemed to keep up the hope of getting off the tube and going home. But another part seemed to have given up.

By the time I saw him again on Saturday, November 21st, he had become mostly non-responsive, either sleeping or staring into the corner most of the time. I felt terrible for my brother Michael who had just arrived that day from Texas—to have Dad not respond to him was devastating. I requested more prayer for more opportunities for me with my dad, but I began to worry that I had waited too long. I had some hope in that hand squeeze those weeks ago, but much more doubt to the point that I didn’t want to “leave it at that.” I continued to play soft guitar music for my dad as I had been almost constantly, feeling that I was comforting him at some level. (My stepmother Nancy commented that it sounded like I was playing the harp, which I told her is something I do intentionally, which led to later conversations about how we both always wanted a harp. More on this later.)

The next day, Sunday, November 22nd I spent most of the day in my dad’s room. After nightfall, I found myself alone with him for a considerable length of time. Somehow I felt prompted that “now is the time to share with him.” Honestly, it seemed pointless or even crazy because he had been entirely unresponsive all that day and the day before, generally just sleeping or staring aimlessly and not responding in any way to any questions. All I could do was pray that I would somehow reach him at some level, and that somehow God would give a sign.

I moved closer, pulling up a stool at his bedside. I began singing him some songs, hoping to perhaps wake him, but there was no response. I tried to get his attention by telling him to hear some songs I wrote, hoping I might evoke some fatherly pride in him. No response. I couldn’t think of what Bible passage to read him, so I just chose Psalm 23 (“The LORD is my shepherd…”). No response. I reminded him once again of my testimony he had read, and shared the hope of the gospel again, that Jesus is the Way, that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life (from John 3:16). Again, no response. I asked him, “Dad, do you want to see your mom and dad…and be with Jesus?” Still nothing. My heart sunk at his non-responsiveness. I dropped my head and, against all hope, begged God for some kind of a sign.

That very moment I was reminded of something . I said, "Dad, I've been praying that Jesus would visit you in your hospital room." I took a deep breath and asked, "Did Jesus visit you here?" Suddenly, he turned my direction with his eyes wide open and his mouth agape in a look of wonder and majesty. I could only interpret that as the sign I'd just prayed for. Jesus had indeed visited him! After maybe ten seconds of that, he was back asleep.

That night I told my believing siblings about it, and we all rejoiced. The next morning I called my wife Elisa to tell her the news. She told me that at about the same time that happened in the hospital room that she had just said to our boys, “Let’s pray for Grandpa Warren’s cancer and salvation.” Suddenly Aaron started saying "Grandpa Warren is going to heaven! Grandpa Warren is going to heaven!" and Sammy also joined in. That was so comforting to me because I had began to doubt some what I had seen, thinking that maybe my dad just looked my way like I was crazy or something! If you ask my boys why they said that, they will tell you they don’t know—and in fact they didn’t even remember saying it. Those who are believers immediately understand what happened. At the same time that sign happened with my dad in the hospital, God was mercifully giving me another sign by speaking through my children, melting away any remnant of fear for my dad. That was enough for me.

To this moment, I don’t remember exactly the look on my dad’s face at that moment—it was that incredible. It definitely looked like shock, then awe, then majesty and wonder. A few days after, though, I had a flash of memory of his face at that moment, and I was reminded that he wasn’t actually looking at me, but next to me. While it was happening, I just figured that was part of him being disoriented. But then I was led to understand: my dad wasn’t trying to tell me he had seen Jesus there at some earlier time, but that he was seeing Jesus at that very moment. Why else was he looking beside me, with such an incredible experience showing on his face? And why else did my children start proclaiming his salvation at that time?

There’s still more. The morning after this happened, when I spoke with my wife and she told me about what the boys had said, having found out that it was just my brother Michael and I at the hospital at that time, she also suggested to me, “Why don’t you just let your brother have some time alone with your dad.” So I walked around Pasadena for a few hours, listening to my iPod. During that time my dad was in the hospital, I had never experienced music so profoundly. It was Christian artist Sherri Youngward’s CD “These Things Don’t Change,” an album that will always be especially dear to me. It was as if her songs were telling the story of what I was going through, what my dad was going through, deepening my faith, strengthening me, giving me hope. That day walking around Pasadena was no exception, and in fact it felt like the music was literally lifting and carrying me down the sidewalk.

When I returned to the room, there was my brother actually sitting up on the bed with my dad. I was flabbergasted! I had wanted to get up on that bed many times during my dad’s stay there. Holding his hand by his bedside did not seem enough, as if some childlike instinct called me to be closer to him. But the bed was narrow and there were just too many tubes and I.V.’s in the way. I asked my brother about it and he said that the mattress (these kind have cycles of air movement in them to rotate bedridden patients) had deflated on one side, moving my dad over to that side, leaving a bubble on the other side. Michael decided to sit on the bubble to even out the pressure. As he sat there waiting on staff to figure out what was going on, that same childlike instinct kicked in for him, and he laid his head gently on my dad’s chest. After a while, he looked up, and my dad opened his eyes. They smiled at each other, my brother said, “I love you, Dad,” and my dad lipped back at him, “I love you, son.” This meant so much to me, as everyone else in the family but him had had many such moments with my dad, and now it was his turn. How fitting that God would give him this extra special time, allowing him to be the only one to lay with Dad on the bed, and to wake my dad up to have that moment! I knew then why Elisa had earlier felt prompted to tell me to let my brother have alone time with our dad. God had plans! In fact, I believe God broke that bed just for that reason! I’m pretty sure they had to replace it.

That night, after taking a walk around the neighborhood surrounding the hospital, I stopped for a while and looked up at the window of the room in which my dad lay. As I looked (as I have several times since then), I marveled at the amazing things that God had and was still doing in there, that little room, second floor, second window from the right, and Pasadena Huntington Hospital.

Then came Tuesday morning, the day of the big meeting with the doctors. My father could not decide for himself, and now it was left to the family to decide for him, in honor of his express wishes not to be kept alive by machines. Interestingly, nobody could seem to find my dad’s advance directive to that effect, or perhaps the decision would have already been made for us and carried out much earlier (coincidence?). The fact was my dad had become almost entirely unresponsive, he would not be able to be on that kind of ventilator in a home situation, and both his cancer and his pain were increasing exponentially. The entire family struggled to see clearly, our love and desire to spend more time with our dad overshadowing the reality of the situation. After all, we’d seen him make partial recoveries before, and we all knew how much of a fighter he was. Yet the medical evidence and what we could see with our own eyes could not be ignored. For my part, in what seemed a moment of clarity, I said that I no longer believed it to be compassionate to keep him in the state he was in, being increasingly ravaged with no hope of getting off the ventilator and going home. To remove him from life support was actually the natural thing to do, to allow him a natural death without prolonging his pain beyond a reasonable hope. I felt God had been preparing me for it and was at peace with it. The appointed time was near.

It was agreed. Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, would be the day. Wednesday brought a few precious moments with my dad. I began to cherish these moments that were becoming so far and few between, seeing them as gifts from God, as my brother’s moment with him had clearly been. More gifts were to come. On Thursday, the family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner on the patio area outside the hospital cafeteria. Elisa and the boys were sick and so could not make it. Two of my brothers and their families were going to all be together for the first time in many years. Their seeming irreconcilable differences had been something that had saddened my dad greatly over the years. I wonder if my dad was praying along with me that day that things would change? Well, there my brothers were together, not only outside the hospital, but also in the room together with my dad. I know Dad sensed it and rejoiced at some level. Their wives and children began to reestablish old bonds. This was a great blessing and I thanked God for it.

Friday arrived. Four o’clock was to be the scheduled time. I wore some nice clothes, somehow feeling that fitting. We shared as much precious time as possible with Dad as he slept peacefully that day. We reminisced about childhood memories and dad’s life, and we sang some of his old favorite songs, consulting the Internet for the ones we couldn’t remember. I also was at peace, knowing my dad’s condition, knowing his wishes—and also knowing the unimaginable eternity he had ahead of him now that he was right with God. Around that time I began to recall how during the previous week, I felt I was already being prepared for that particular day, the day after Thanksgiving, to be the day. “Dad’s big day,” as I later came to call it.

Four o’clock arrived. We all gathered in Dad’s room, all of my dad’s children and two of their wives, one of his grandchildren, my mother, my stepmother and stepbrother and his wife, and a few of my dad’s close friends. We gathered on and around his bed. I sat at his feet with my guitar, playing softly original melodies as they flowed from my heart. We watched a slide show of my dad’s storied life. I handed my guitar to my dad’s friend Don, who sang “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Yesterday” and a few others. I was inspired to play some cherished hymnal melodies, and led a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Everyone sang along, even the unbelievers. My brother David gently beat his small native drum and sang one or two songs, which included some of “Amazing Grace” in Navajo. The others contributed in their own unique ways. The ventilator having been fully off for some time, my dad continued to breathe on his own, the fighter that he was. Finally, at around 6:40 p.m., surrounded by peaceful music and the ones he loved, he took his last breath here and his first breath in eternity....

I was and am deeply grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my dad before and to be there with him while he passed. The whole experience was deeply touching, and I will cherish it forever. But there was still more. That night, as I slept on the couch at my dad’s condo, something amazing happened. I woke in the middle of the night. As I lay there with my eyes closed, a vision came to me, a simple one of clouds in a dawn lit sky. This is hard to describe, but an incredible feeling of peace and power came over me. Everything felt so crystal clear and pure, as if I was experiencing the true reality that I somehow knew was meant to be but had never experienced before, as if I was truly breathing for the first time. I could feel the power of the Creator, feeling that God was watching over the entire world but focused on me at that very moment. I could feel God’s love, care, wisdom, and somehow understood that God had “everything covered” all along. I was then overwhelmed with a feeling of what I can only call the nearness of heaven, and I could feel my earthly father with my Heavenly Father. (This is similar to what I experienced when my dad’s mom passed away, shortly before I became a believer at her funeral, but more profound. I wrote about this in my personal testimony.)

It is a great witness of God’s great power and comfort that I cherished the feeling I had when I awoke the morning after my father passed away. That morning (and still since then) I found myself gazing off into the distance, reliving that experience again and again, knowing and preferring the true reality I had been given only a small glimpse of overnight. The thought that I might somehow forget that was too much for me. I prayed that God would not let that happen.

I began to pack my bags and prepare to go out to breakfast with my brothers and spend time with them at local Garfield Park. On my way out to the car, I see a yard sale across the street from the condo. Remember how I wrote that I always wanted a harp? Well, not only had I been talking about it with Nancy and others in the previous week or two, but I had literally begun obsessing about getting a harp, but trying to push it out of my mind because they are expensive and I have too many other financial obligations. What at the yard sale do you think caused my double take? Yes, a harp! There it was. I had never seen one inside anyone’s house before, let alone on a front lawn. It turns out that I got that harp for only $75, a Celtic harp, probably worth somewhere between $1000 and $2000. It might as well have been free at that price. What are the odds that I would wake up the morning after my dad dies and see a harp, just like I always wanted, right across the street from his house. Only the most hardened skeptic could fail to see this is beyond coincidence.

The more people I tell about that harp, the more people marvel. Gradually, it’s deeper significance became clearer. The next morning, I woke up early, cleared snow, and went to church to play guitar on the worship team. Upon arrival, I told the pastor and others much of what I have been writing here. First thing he said was, “Why didn’t you bring that harp!” Then he asked if I would share with the church what I’ve shared here. So I did, and after first service many people approached me deeply encouraged, full of faith and hope and a wonder for God’s amazing love and hand in everything. Between services, I drove home in the snow to pick up my wife, kids, and brother Michael. Before leaving, I couldn’t resist strumming that harp, even though two strings were hanging and it was terribly out of tune. Even so, the sound grabbed me, as if it were holding onto my spine—or my very soul. At that moment, I was reminded of the vision from the night before, of the nearness of heaven. Then I understood: God knew the longing he would put in my heart, first an increasing longing for a harp, then a desire to never forget the vision and power I experienced the night my father passed away. I just have this feeling he said to my dad, “Warren, did you ever know your son Blaine always wanted a harp? Watch this!” And there I was at the yard sale. And now I have this harp ,a tangible reminder, and I know God will never let me forget that vision. Oh, the emotions may fade, but I now know I will never forget. That harp is amazing evidence, wouldn’t you say? As I shared at second service that morning, “I thought I knew how good God is…I thought I knew. I still barely know, but I’ve been given a glimpse and can testify that God is indeed “able to do so much more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Is there more? Yes! My siblings showed further signs toward continued healing at the park the morning after my dad passed. Their kids happily played football together. This healing continued with a show of unity at my dad’s memorial on December 15th, with the cousins again playing football afterward, now in full force (minus Michael’s younger kids), and loads of love and laughter at the family gathering following the memorial. My sister-in-law shared evidence of God’s work in her and my brother’s life that had the “fingerprints of God” that only the hardened would dare call sheer coincidence. What else? After the memorial, a woman I don’t know (my stepmother’s niece) approached me and told me that she and her whole church in Wisconsin were praying the same thing I was praying—that Christ’s presence would be so powerful in that hospital room that it would be undeniable to my dad. Her daughter later shared that she had a dream of my dad, that he had just entered heaven and was smiling from ear to ear, saying, “So this is what I’ve been missing!” Just more confirmation on top of confirmation. It just goes on and on.

One of the things my dad used to say when he would adamantly reject Jesus over and over was “If only God would appear and set the record straight, then I would believe.” Otherwise, he was basically was open to almost any other religion except Christianity, which he thought was bigoted and too narrow. I too believe it is narrow, as Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13,14).” In the end, Jesus (God) did appear to my dad and did indeed set the record straight. That is the kind of love God has, one that reached out to my father, a man who consistently rejected Him time and time again throughout his life. Where the way seems narrow, God’s love is infinite.

Yes, “Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus said. He also said, “I am the Gate” (John 10:7) and “I am the Way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And, according to eyewitnesses who penned the Scriptures, he died on the cross for the sins of the world, rose from the dead, and was seen afterward by hundreds of people to prove it (1 Corinthians 15:1-10). I was a hardcore atheist and never thought there was anything to this, that is until the Lord reached out to me at my grandmother’s funeral and showed me that He is undeniably real and that Jesus is the Way. And after that when I had already begun falling away almost immediately, He didn’t let go of me but showed me miracle upon miracle upon miracle to this very day, bringing me to where I now am.

I have learned that these things are not to be kept private, that when something phenomenal and life altering and REAL happens to you that you don’t keep it to yourself. I don’t want to be right. I don’t want to show off. I don’t want to say anything except to testify to what is real, to give the facts, and to share the hope that lies within me. That hope keeps growing and growing as the years move on and I witness more and more of God’s amazing love and power at work in me and those around me.

I must say more. Several years ago I had a dream. It was unlike most dreams because I knew during the dream that it wasn’t coming from me—that it couldn’t possibly come from my own mind. It had the crisp, clear mark of the prophetic, and it gripped me like no other. In it, I was in a dark basement, and I saw that my dad was lying down among boxes and other objects covered with sheets. I suddenly realized that he was not alive. At that moment I turned behind me and there was a woman staring at me wearing black with a black veil over her eyes. Up behind her was a basement window to the brightly-lit “outside world,” and through the window I could see the legs of robed people walking by. She spoke to me with a voice of authority that spoke to depths of my soul, saying “twenty-four years have been appointed for him (and a bit more I can’t remember).” A moment later, my father was alive again. Then I awoke, shaken.

I can’t quite remember the exact number of years spoken, but I do remember it was twenty-something and think maybe twenty-four. At the time, trying to understand this powerful dream, I thought “Twenty-something years—that would mean my dad is going to live into his mid 90s.” I figured it was counting from the time of the dream. But more recently, since my father’s death, I have come to understand this dream. God sometimes veils the meaning of prophecies for a time until after they have been fulfilled. Once the fulfillment happened in this case, the whole answer came to me in a complete package. The twenty-something years were not counting from the time I had the dream several years ago, but instead counting from the mid-1980s, when my dad had “beat cancer the first time.” Around 1980, he had been given only a few years to live. But several surgeries, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy later—into the mid-1980s—he found himself in remission. Consider this: If you count from the mid-1980s and add twenty-four years, you end up in 2009…this year that my dad passed away. It all makes sense, and fits with a strong conviction that had been growing in me in recent years that the extra years my dad had were given to him specifically by the grace of God—that God was “giving him more time.” I now have no doubts about this.

None of us knows how much time we have. Like me, my dad was someone who wanted nothing to do with Jesus, with the Bible, with “religion.” I was an atheist. Dad wavered between atheism and believing “all roads lead to God—as long as it’s not Christianity.” God singled me out on December 30, 1993, at my Grandma Ruby’s funeral, when I was 25. God singled my dad out on November 22, 2009, when he was 79. Does this mean we should all hold off in rebellion until God singles each of us out? Can we count on that? Do you know how much time you have? If you are reading this and hearing all this evidence for yourself, why wait? Seek God while He may be found. Trust Jesus as your Savior and be reconciled to God. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). And “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)." And “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). There’s nothing you can do in your own power to save yourself. Only Jesus can take away that which stands between you and your Creator. All you need to do is believe and receive. Why wait?

The day after my dad passed, I was talking with my 8-year-old son Aaron about what happened in the hospital with his grandpa that fateful Sunday night. He said to me, “That’s interesting how Jesus does that…appearing to one person but another person can’t see him.” “Huh…you’re right,” I said. Then he said, “I wonder what Jesus was saying to Grandpa Warren?” I hadn’t even thought of that…once again, out of the mouth of babes! After a moment, I said, “Probably that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The next day, I shared much of what I’ve written here at church, including what Aaron said. After I spoke, my pastor got up to speak and said, “I think Jesus said, ‘Welcome!’” Whatever it was, wouldn’t you like for Jesus to tell you something of the same?

Thank you for reading this. I hope it has spoken to you or at the very least given you some food for thought. All of this happened to me and it is real. God is real. Jesus is the Way. The prayers of hundreds of people, my family’s ministry to my dad, the circumstances of his hospital stay, God’s power in inspiring me to reach out to my dad when it seemed too late—all of these played a part in this story. But the glory goes to God. He is the one who loved my dad and just wouldn’t let him go. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” I still can barely fathom His great love. I thought I knew....

Blaine Vanderschuit
Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Dad's Memorial

At my dad’s memorial on December 15, 2009, all of his kids told of our memories of our dad as slides from his storied life played on the stage wall behind us. Carl shared his poignant memories as the firstborn. David sang and drummed a stunning medley of Navajo songs. Kerry shared and included the poem “i carry your heart with me” by e.e. cummings—a special connection she, my mother, and my dad shared. I shared my memories of my dad, particularly surrounding him being the football coach for me and others in attendance. I included the story of the miracles surrounding his passing including playing a song on the harp I providentially received the morning after his passing. Lastly I sang and played “Here Comes the Sun” and my dad’s beloved “Let It Be a Dance” before handing the mic over to my dad’s friend Don Byrd, who sang “You’ve Got a Friend,” followed by other attendees stepping forward and sharing their memories.

What about Michael? Being the third born, he spoke between David and Kerry. As I said at the memorial, he has become sort of a repository (I jokingly said “or is it suppository?”) of my dad’s humorous sayings. Fittingly, he shared an imaginary story of a day in the life incorporating as many of my dad’s humorous sayings as he could. It is a real gem, and I present it below for your enjoyment. I know my dad loved for people to happily remember him this way, and our rejoicing at him being set free in the blessed afterlife. Here is Michael’s contribution toward that.

[Michael:] You know, my father has influenced me in many ways. What seems to have impacted me most is his sense of humor through his many sayings, for which my brother Blaine coined the term, “Dadisms.” Some were designed to diffuse a tense situation, other times just to make you grin, laugh, or roll your eyes. Many of these I have heard so many times that they are now a part of me, thoroughly ingrained, and I find myself using them therefore on a daily basis with my wife and kids especially, and in doing so his legacy endures. Here is an example...

This morning when I woke up, I went and stood in front of the mirror and I said, “Boy, I can’t wait until tomorrow, because I get better looking every day!” I then proceeded to comb my hair with a stick. For breakfast, I had some frozen waffles with Karo syrup, carob chips, then had some Cheerios, Shredded Wheat with wheat germ, and nonfat milk. My son John didn’t finish eating his food, so I told him “Eat it or wear it.”

I blew my nose to make sure my horn works, then I checked my lights and said to my son, “Saddle up! It’s time to get going, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I made sure before we left that we had everything…“Let’s see, I got my keys, my wallet, my watch, my spectacles, my testicles, OK then. Onwards and upwards! Pilot to co-pilot: Lights on? Check! Flaps down? Check! Gear up? Check! 3-2-1, Blast-off! Hi-ho Silver, Away!”

On our our way, somebody rudely cut us off in rush hour traffic, and I said, “Ach du lieber poopendecker! Hey sweet lips! The circus left town, you horse's ***, so shape up or ship out, sheep dip. You knucklehead! Nevertheless, we shall continue!”

Along the way, I saw some cows grazing in a large open pasture, and I said, “Look at all those funny looking horses! Good God! Those have got to be some of the fattest horses I ever did see! Maybe the rancher should corral them up before they eat so much—they might just explode!”

When we arrived at our destination, I pulled up along side the curb until I bumped into it, and said, “Braille system, it works every time.” Then I said, “All ashore that’s going ashore.” When I stepped out of the car, I tripped over the seat belt and fell to the ground and proclaimed, “It’s the first mistake I ever made! What can I say…the wind was in my eyes and the sun was against me (or is it the sun was in my eyes and the wind was against me?).
[Ed. Note: Dad said it backwards on purpose so we could all see how cheesy excuses are. –Blaine]

Then I said to my son, “Don’t just stand there, get on over here and help me up before I get angry and give you a left cross, a right cross, time to call the Red Cross, hope you have Blue Cross!” As my son helped me up, he mimicked, “Hey Dad, for the nine millionth time, you bobbed when you should have weaved!” I said, “That’s it, you are now on my **** list! John John the dog-faced boy! He walks, he talks, he drinks his own bathwater, he chews the hair off his own kneecaps!”

“Hey son, did you see where I left my sunglasses?” He said, “They are on your head, Dad!” I responded, “I told you so!” and continued, “Aye aye, Matey! Avast! Shiver me timbers, lower the bloody blooming bloom, and swab the poop deck, or I’ll make you walk the plank!”

When we arrived for the luncheon, I declared, “I hope they have some salad,” and John replied, “What kind of salad, Dad?” I said, “You know…tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, etc., etc.” And wouldn’t you know, they did! I ate everything in sight, just about, just like my dad, “Waste King Warren!” “Hey, are you going to eat that? Heck yeah!” I said. “Right arm! Farm out! More power to ya!”

You know, the other day, I was talking to my one-legged girlfriend, and I said, “Peg! Hop on over here! Could you pull my finger, please? Did you hear that? Crapaho Arapaho, the natives are restless! Who’s kid is that?” It’s just me dad.

Hey Du Shvinehoondt! Crying here ist verboten! You vill be happy or vee will shoot you! Vander Schuit you even!

Hostual Millitus, Dad!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FACING GIANTS (by Blaine Vanderschuit)

Last year’s soccer season was truly memorable through and through, mostly for its “Facing the Giants” feeling, but also for its symbolic significance to me and my dad before he passed away. (I’m finally getting around to writing this almost seven months later—but I date my posts by when they happened in my life to keep things chronological). I hope you have come to see that when I write about something at length, it’s because I think there is something worthwhile in it worth the time to read.

At the beginning of the season, I could see I had my work cut out for me. Almost all unskilled players, lack of focus, timidity, the whole gamut. Yes, I knew they were only 6-8 year olds, but after three years of coaching the 4-5 year olds, I was ready for the players at least to be able to focus beyond chasing their shadows or picking daisies and such (cute, but it gets old fast…okay, so I’m a competitive control freak, let’s get that out of the way!).

Our first game was against “The Ninjas,” who totally demoralized my team “The Tsunamis”, something like 8-2. After the game and through the next practice, the boys held the Ninjas in near awe, even to the point of hypothesizing that they accidentally played a team from the 8-10 year olds! “I hope we NEVER have to play the Ninjas again!” became practically a mantra. I, of course, had the season schedule, but I didn’t want to reveal who our last game would be against. Not yet anyway.

Two more demoralizing games came and went, and we seemed to regress in skill, with zero goals and fewer shots each game. I realized I was going to have to take drastic action. We changed up our defensive strategy and worked more on putting kids where their natural skill sets best suited them without pigeon-holing them too much in their formative years. But we still had a LONG way to go. The next few games it would be crucial that I could at least find bits of “moral victory.” With the kids morale so low, they were showing signs of giving up already.

It was hard to blame them. Honestly, some of the other teams seemed to consist entirely of future all-stars (including a mutant blond-haired defensive giant whom my wife and I nicknamed “Olaf”). With two more harsh losses in games four and five, I was hard pressed to keep their spirits up, but at least we were doing some things right, and that against teams that honestly put the Ninjas to shame——but the kids wouldn’t believe me and still spoke of the Ninjas as the absolute best-of-the-best. Despite some progress, they were still tending toward a defeatist attitude.

We got a break when the assistant coach’s schedule opened up for us to have two practices a week, which immediately upped our progress a bit. I also raised the intensity of my Friday practice. Honestly, I had to abandon the easy-going AYSO practice philosophy I learned in coaches training. Having things seem too lighthearted and “fun” seemed to actually be working against this team and was leading to more game-day demoralization of the kids—two of whom were my own children.

I thought of my dad and how he had instilled a kind of manly determination in me growing up and also in my fellow teammates when he helped coach my high school football team. I even talked to him about it, although he was never the biggest soccer fan, but he was always proud of me and the boys. And even though he couldn’t speak when he was hospitalized, I could see it in his eyes.

I was determined to make men of these 6-8 year olds (I hope that doesn’t sound too overboard, moms!). I started using more military metaphors, encouraging kids who were barely injured to keep playing as “wounded heroes” and such. Still it was like pulling teeth to get the team working on more than a few cylinders at a time. The practices became more and more militaristic, as that seemed to be improving things bit by bit.

I was barely making it back to each Friday practice and Saturday game from visiting my dad in the hospital, but it all began to pay off. We began scoring goals——and stopping some of theirs——even came close to tying some games. Just the kind of moral victories I was looking for to get the kids jump-started. They were starting to see the ball was literally in their court (okay, at their feet, I guess). Their attitude, focus, and determination were the only things holding them back.

Then came the last practice, the day before our final game. I told my dad all about it before I drove home, how the boys were going to have to face their giants—the Ninjas—in the last game. He had really been enjoying the overall story through the season, and it was not lost on him how this finale had all the makings of a good script. He gave me a deep look that displayed more than words could ever say. I will never forget it. I told him we were dedicating the last game to him....

I still didn’t tell the boys what team they were playing. I wasn’t going to let them psych themselves out before the practice. I think I made the right choice. Practice pace was non-stop, and the boys were really clicking. I honestly only remember giving them one short water break! Just an outstanding practice. The assistant coach and I laughed privately at how frenzied it was before I sat the boys down.

“Guess who we’re playing tomorrow?” I asked. I think the boys were too tired to even think. “The Ninjas.” They looked a bit worried, but I could see a bit of determination and can-do attitude had begun to spark in them. A few more manly motivational mantras and we parted with as much determination as their little hearts could muster, but I could see the doubt in their faces.

I prayed that night and the next morning that we’d do our best, and that the kids would see what hard work and determination can bring. Honestly, I don’t think I had that much faith because all I really hoped for was another moral victory. Fortunately, my faith isn't in myself but in the "God of the impossible."

We awoke to game day. I told the boys how they were going to have to shut out the Ninja’s best player if they were to have a chance (this kid was good, but a little scouting had suggested that his teammates had grown lazy letting him do all the work). I told them how my dad was rooting for them in the hospital, and how this game was dedicated to him. I also told them how I prayed for them. This last thing felt a bit risky because I wasn’t sure how they and their parents might receive that.

Honestly, I think that got the power of God into them something fierce! Elisa told me that when I walked away to gather up the balls, one of the senior players jumped into a leadership role and said, “Did you hear that, you guys? He prayed for us! We gotta do this! And for his dad! C’mon!” and the other boys joined in...including my dad’s grandsons, of course.

The offensive machine kicked in early and we got a couple of goals right up front. The Tsunamis were on fire (if that’s not a mixed metaphor, I dunno!). And the defensive machine—actually mostly on the offensive end—consistently neutralized the Ninja’s star player. Before the other Ninjas could figure out they needed to step up their game, we were already up 5-0. Half time came, and at last my team finally was able to fully enjoy it! The second half I was able to let the kids be freer in their positions, and even though the Ninjas did score a goal, we still shut out their star player. Final score 9-1...a complete reversal of the first game. Made all the frustration of the rest of the season worthwhile. I had previously begun to expect that God had given me these kids to develop some character in them, but I had no idea it would end that great. Character was being built in more than just them…

When I returned to the hospital that afternoon, my dad had taken a turn for the worse, and my enthusiasm about the game was interrupted. He was barely responding, and I would be faced with an even greater moment of character building. I could only hang on to hope beyond hope, trusting the goodness of God and that nothing is impossible for Him. It wasn’t easy for me, but God came through, and the next day I knew my dad had received salvation (see The Passing of My Father in the next post). In retrospect, two of the greatest days of my life.

As you can see, this is an important addition to the whole chronicle of the events surrounding the passing of my father (which was only six days later), and I’m glad to finally share it. It is, after all, another part of his legacy, because I couldn’t have done it without his inspiration. I told him several times about the outcome of the game, but I couldn’t quite tell if he ever fully heard me (I’m sure God has got him up to speed on that by now!).

Keep the faith, and check back later for some footage of the Tsunamis vs. Ninjas game, which I hope to post here as soon as I can get my camcorder working with my new computer...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"He Calls Them Each by Name" by Elisa

I sometimes find myself thinking of God as if He were like a mere human. I project my own limitations onto Him, the Creator of the universe. And He says to me, “Think outside of the box. Suspend your preconceptions about me. Let me help you.” And He reaches down, lifts me out of the box, and gives me a fresh perspective.

Last night was one of those times. As Blaine, the boys, and I were lying in the front yard, gazing up at the brightly starlit mountain sky watching a meteor shower, this verse came to mind: “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them each by name” Psalm 147:4. Even though I know better, a part of me says, “That’s impossible, it can’t be done! Nobody has ever been able to count all the stars!” But Isaiah 55:8 says, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

This morning, with thoughts of last night’s spectacular light show still fresh in my mind, I read Psalm 33 in my daily reading in the One Year Bible. My spirit leaped for joy as I read verse 6: “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.”
I was filled with awe and amazement that God would have orchestrated that very verse for me to read the morning after a meteor shower—a small glimpse of His greatness that He was delighted to reveal to me. And He reveals Himself more and more every day as I walk with Him, just as He promises He will do with anyone who asks with a sincere heart.

In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me.” He is a gentleman. He doesn’t barge the door down. He extends the invitation to dine with Him, but it’s up to us if we choose to accept it. If He loves His creation and He calls the stars each by name, how much more does He love you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"A Place to Live In" by Elisa

Earlier today I had a chance to chill in my favorite comfy chair upstairs while the boys occupied themselves with a game of "Upwords" (it's like Scrabble for kids). After getting home late last night from a day in the sun at Newport Beach and having to wake up at 4:30 in the morning for work, I just wanted to be lazy today and hide from the sun a little bit. I began daydreaming as I looked through the big window to the tops of the swaying pine trees outside against the blue summer was as if they were reaching up to God, thanking Him. And I was overcome with awe and wonder at God's and trees that have such intricate detail and beauty, that are stamped with evidence of a Designer. I began to think that it's so sad that people could think that all of the order and beauty that surrounds us in this world was the result of an accident, or an explosion, and that all of it just evolved over millions of years. Order is not the result of chaos. I kept thinking about that statement "Order is not the result of chaos." I had my Bible on my armrest because I wanted to read something in Matthew and my thumb had been resting on some "random" page while I was lost in my thoughts. I came back to reality and looked down to see that my Bible was opened to Isaiah. My eyes instantly became fixed on a verse at the bottom of the page. The words practically jumped up off the page at me. It was Isaiah 45:18...

"For the LORD is God, and He created the heavens and the earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos."

I was blown away (once again)! But especially by the last part of the verse: He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty CHAOS." His creation reflects His plan and His love! I love this quote from CS Lewis:

"Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning." :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Mountain’s Got Talent

My student “recital” this year, called “The Mountain’s Got Talent” (after the original “Britain’s Got Talent”), was a everything I hoped it to be.

It featured 40 of my students, including my boys Aaron and Sammy, performing 23 numbers. I actually hate to even use the word “recital” because people involuntarily yawn and roll their eyes just hearing the word due to having endured excruciating ones in the past. So let’s call it a student concert, with most students playing as part of bands I piece together just for the show. I get professional backup musicians (this year Steve and Tyler Smith) to pad whatever bands I don’t have enough student personnel or talent to fill. As their teacher, I’m part of almost every band, on various instruments and vocals (my motto is “You’re never alone on stage, unless you want to be.”).

Here’s Sammy with his band “The Flying Monkeys”, smiling and performing the opening number, “I Love We Will Rock’n’Roll You” (a Queen/Joan Jett medley).

Here you see video footage (by John McIntosh) of the Flying Monkeys featuring both drummers—Sammy age 6 and Colby age 6, two guitarists—Trevor age 9 and Riley age 8.

Trevor and I also shared vocals on this number, which set the rock’n’fun tone for the enthusiastic, packed audience.

Next up, Aaron brought the house down with his synthesizer orchestra rendition of the Darth Vader theme “Imperial March” with me accompanying him on drums. I could kick myself because I didn’t have video tapes in my bag, so I don’t have any footage of it, but at least in this picture you can see how much fun he has doing his thing.
Earlier that morning, he looked over at me during a pause in our rehearsal and, seeing the look on my face, said “What?” I answered, “When you were born, I never thought we’d be doing this together!” Obviously I’m lovin’ it.

The set covered a wide variety from Bach to Jimi Hendrix. I hope to collect more videos clips and pictures from students and put them together into a video montage with better sound eventually, but for now, enjoy this taste....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Momentous Occasions

(Sammy left, Aaron right)
The boys had their AWANA awards night on Wednesday June 3. (If you don't know what AWANA is, visit The boys worked hard all year to earn every bit of recognition they received. Aaron got the final plaque for Sparks and will be moving up to TNT next year. Great work!

Katie Cornell graduated from high school on Saturday June 6. She actually mentioned us as having an impact on her life as her first Sunday school teachers from way back when she was in the 1st and 2nd grade when we were quote "young" as she said. She also mentioned Arich and Syble Harrison as having had a profound impact as her 5th and 6th grade Sunday school teachers in getting her to be daily in the Word (Harrisons, I hope you're reading this!). Doesn't Katie look beautiful? We still see her as the little girl in our class.

(Photo by Cristina Diaz)
There was a youth going-away-party for the Crossons at the Dunn's house on Sunday, June 7. Here you see the youth all laying hands on Geoff and Nicia (they're in there somewhere!). It was a bittersweet time filled with laughter and tears and seeking the Lord.

After a similar time of prayer at CCLA services, we had an official church party. We will miss you, Geoff and Nicia!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mountain Harvest Concert

A bunch of churches on the mountain got together and put together a concert and outreach this past Sunday at Center Stage in the Lake Arrowhead Village. It featured some local talent and the incredible blues harp (harmonica) player Darrell Mansfield, who is also the Blues Hall of Fame Ambassador to California (who knew?). I was actually supposed to lead a group in it, but through a maze of complications and extenuating circumstances I couldn't do it. Maybe next time...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Simple Pleasures & Feats of Skill

We decided to head out to Big Bear on a whim this afternoon because we’ve been getting a bit stir crazy laying around sick. We made it just in time for the movie “Night at the Museum 2” which is a fun kid flick. After the movie we headed over to a park where the boys got to let loose, and where we took the video footage. Ah, the simple pleasures of life…it’s great to live in the mountains on days like this.

On to the feats of skill. Strangely, both of my boys have learned a fear of monkey bars due to the structure at our church being so high off the ground. A month or so ago, I really wanted the boys—particularly Aaron—to get over this fear (Sammy still has the age excuse). After trying to encourage Aaron in various ways, I was about to give up when I struck gold—or greenbacks, that is. I offered Aaron a dollar if he could get from one end to the other. Not only did he do this, but he soon traversed an impressive “triple section” monkey bars. The best dollar I ever spent! I didn’t get footage that day, but you can see Aaron’s abilities from today on bars (and trees). Sammy demonstrates more of his usual friend-magnet skills and all-around wonder boy charm.

Speaking of feats of skill, I was three for three throwing chocolate chips into the mouths of Elisa and Sammy across the table at IHOP, where we ate tonight. Surprised everybody including myself, although there was no one else there to witness it. Have you ever eaten in a restaurant where you were the only people there? A nice treat with pampered service and no cause for embarrassment. Ah, the simple pleasures of life…

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tae Kwon Do with Mr. Moss

Aaron and Sammy have been doing Tae Kwon Do with Mr. Moss (Robert Moss) on Friday for about three months now. The boys are "best bubs," so I'm not too worried about how things may escalate between them in future years with the skills they are acquiring.

Mr. Moss and I have discussed a guitar-lessons-for-tae-kwon-do-lessons arrangement so I can learn privately. Until then I'll have to stick with my usual "Scottish martial arts" (mostly head-butting and kicking 'em when they're down).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad and Sammy

We had a little shindig for my dad and Sammy's birthdays (they share the same birthday) plus my mom's too, which was earlier in the week on May 18. The party was held at my dad's condo's pool clubhouse. We were supposed to have some live music as well as jukebox music pumped in via laptop but the local wi-fi was mostly inaccessible. So it ended up being almost all live music in the form of me singing and strumming with miscellaneous party-goers joining in on the guest mic. So with the ailing wi-fi making me hurry to provide the music, I did not delegate anyone to take any pictures or video (duh!) despite the fact that I had both types of cameras. All we ended up with was two poorly taken pictures taken just before the party disbanded, one blurry, and the other one clear but with some people's eyes closed or not looking. J.B. Skogstrom and Laura Goglia came by, as well as our former neighbor from Spruce Street, Kathy Nguyen-Walker. Also a call from Mike Magana blessed my dad. A nice time.

Back Row L-R: Mike Sharret, my dad's friend Dixon, Nancy, Dad, Kerry, Carl, Mike, Sharon(Mom), David, David's wife Carrie. Front Row L-R: Aaron, Elisa, Sammy, Blaine, David's daughters Shaylin, Savannah, and Sascha.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fishing with Uncle Steve - Using Guns

When Elisa's brother Steve makes a promise to the boys, he keeps it. He was supposed to have come up a week or two earlier to take the boys fishing, but was stopped due to work. So I'm sitting in my studio giving lessons on Wednesday afternoon and what do I see but the roof of Steve's vintage BMW drive by. A great surprise--in all the daily rush we'd forgotten he was coming.

These pictures show the boys having a good time fishing the next day with Uncle Steve at nearby Lake Gregory (although they had better luck at Lake Arrowhead and Grass Valley Lake the previous day). Steve is a true fisherman, unlike "Cheetos for bait" Daddy.

Elisa took the photos. All I had to do was compile them into a short video and add music. I don't have to own the copyright to put an improvised acoustic rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" on the video, do I?

Oh, there aren't really any guns involved. I just thought more people would watch the video than if they just saw plain old "fishing" in the title.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium

For my mom's birthday (and an early birthday present for Sammy), we went to Legoland. My brother Michael was out from Texas for the first time in about three years, so that was a nice addition that he came with us. Legoland is fun, particularly for kids say 12 and under. Or if you really like Legos, which can build a surprising array of objects. There are actually a few good rides, but the big surprise was the Sea Life Aquarium they have there (extra $$$). I've been to more than a few aquariums over the years and this one is up there. Here's the gist of the day.

In case you're wondering, I did do the music--just a quick guitar jam for the action and then some synth ambiance for the aquarium, all on the fly (so nothing to brag about). Anyhow, I've been getting copyright infringement notices on other videos where I used other people's recordings, and they've threatened to close my account. You'd think they'd consider it a privilege to have their songs on our amazing videos, geez!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sammy and the Spin Cycle Vibrations

What do you think of this name for Sammy's band--Sammy and the Spin Cycle Vibrations. Got kind of a literal and surf thing to it, in keeping with one of Sammy's pastimes. I finally caught him on tape and decided to put some guitar to the mechanical beat--what I hope to be his breakthrough video (you never know these days!).

Hmm, or do you think maybe we should go for a more "speed metal" concept or maybe something "industrial"? Any better ideas for the band name? =)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

This one goes out to all the moms out there. Today at church "me and the boys" did a special number to a Steven Curtis Chapman song called "One Little Heartbeat at a Time". I was in charge of singing and playing it and the boys were in charge of doing the interpretive hand motions. Elisa's job (and all the other mom's) was to sit back, smile, laugh, and cry.

We tried to have it videotaped, but due to technical difficulties, it didn't quite stick. So I've included here a video with the songsheet with the hand motions written on it, and Chapman's studio version of the song. You can read the "hand motions" at the right of the lyrics to get an idea of what the boys did. Or just enjoy the song.

May this speak to your heart, moms. Have a blessed Mother's Day!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bless the Irish

Just in time for taxes! The Irish obviously paid taxes around this time of year, too. Why else would they be chasing leprechauns around for a pot of gold?

Here's an Irish blessing for you:

May misfortune follow you all the days of your life...............
and never catch up!

May yours be a happy and safe St. Patrick's Day. Start it with a smile by watching the video below.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Vintage Redline BMX from Uncle Steve

I bet some of you out there remember these bikes from back in the day. John, Alec, Greg, J.B., you probably all remember "Sears Alley" where we used to get crazy trying to clear those jumps. Sammy would get along pretty good there with this vintage Redline, which his Uncle Steve pieced together for the boys. Those really are the same mag rims we used to have. Thanks, Steve!

Sammy is pretty daring for a 5 year old. This hill, at the nearby middle school, was pretty steep and mushy with a tight line between snow and rocks. He's also fast, surprising me when he disappears around a corner and I chase him down only to find he's already disappeared around some other turn (he's had a good teacher in his older brother).

Yes, we all rode bikes and busted moves yesterday, but Sammy and his vintage bike stole the show for this post.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Wit and Wisdom from my Dad

My dad recently sent me a written account of a few of his boxing stories he's told me over the years, which continue to be relevant to our lives today. As always, he writes with a lot of wit and color (some maybe a bit edgy for gentle readers).


Athletes using performance enhanced substances continue to be exposed in the media. A recent LA Times article reported that some swimmers wear buoyant suits allowing them to ride higher in the water with less friction. This “technological-doping” has resulted in a hundred plus new world records in 2008.

Other athletes in our sporting past were quite creative in their so-called abuses, but far less sophisticated. The most outrageous was a wacky pole-vaulter decades ago who seriously claimed his highest vault came from flatulence that aided his thrust. A most unique sort of user abuser, he called two bean burritos his secret boosters.

My abuse, a one time situation, has festered in me for half a century. Time to “fess up.” I owe the Los Angeles Times and an opponent an apology for the performance-enhancing stimulant used on me over fifty years ago when I entered the 1954 Western Regional Golden Gloves boxing championships. The Times sponsored the popular tournament at the old Hollywood Legion Stadium. A big deal then. SRO. TV, too.

My confession here is tempered by being an unknowing victim of a mad practioner of special potions that helped my inspired performance in my final title fight. This was long before steroids and other drugs. My then trainer-manager was ex-pro fighter, Frank Muche. He’s passed on. I miss him. Over the years I sometimes called him,“Merlin Muche.” He had big magic at his command.

I’d met Muche at Pasadena City College. We were students. They had a boxing program back then. He saw me sparring. I’d had considerable Navy boxing experience. Muche, a soft spoken nice guy thought I could win the Golden Gloves and suggested I go for it.

Golden Gloves fighters (all amateurs) had to endure four fights in three days. The fights were three round matches. The semifinal and final were both on the last night of the competition. Days before I’d won two hard fought qualifying bouts. Both close decisions.

I won my semi-final bout the next night but was very tired. I had about an hour before the finals. I lay on a dressing room table as Muche applied Atomic Balm, a hot analgesic to my stiff lower back muscles. The balm slid under my trunks and down my backside. He mumbled, “Oops, sorry.” I didn’t understand his apology. He quickly pulled me up.

As we moved toward the ring, I squirmed, now realizing he’d poured Atomic Balm down where the sun don’t shine. I was on fire! I growled, “What in the hell did you do to me?” I danced a crazed Twist down the aisle. Yes, my performance was stimulated and enhanced by the Atomic Balm. I figure my substance abuse was not covered by the rules of the day. I plead no contest. I won the light heavyweight title by a unanimous decision.

I later confronted Muche about the Atomic Balm incident. He shrugged, grinned sheepishly, adding, “Figured ya needed some help.” He was right. However, half a century has passed since then. Isn’t that beyond any acceptable statute of limitations?


Here’s another example of Muche’s resourcefulness. This was also an essential factor in that same long ago Golden Gloves championship victory:

In the first round of the finals, my southpaw opponent knocked me on my rear end in my own corner. Dazed, I sat there considering quitting. Muche leaned in, his face only a few feet away and he angrily swore at me, “GET UP, YOU S.O.B!”

Startled by his profanity at me I struggled to my feet, clutched and clinched my opponent to finish the round. Muche glared hard at me, adding, “He’s gonna quit in the middle of the round.” Sure enough, he stopped attacking and stood there, sucking air. Recovered now, I pushed on to win the second and third rounds and I became a champion.

On my way back to the dressing room a half drunk gal in an aisle seat reached out to pat me on the back, but only managed to grab the backside strap of my jock under my trunks. She pulled, stretching it. I tried to grab it but my boxing glove wouldn’t let me. The strap wound up looped over my forearm. The crowd howled. It was my first comedy role as a then wannabe actor. Chaplin would have approved. I loved the crowd’s acclaim.

I understand today how some special acts of providence arrive in odd ways to shape our lives. After five decades of coping as an actor with a couple hundred credits and raising six kids I believe Muche’s daring choices were often with me. His benign simple use of the Atomic Balm and contrived angry words helped guide me down life’s rocky road. I’m indebted to his imaginative motivational ploys that helped me find new courage.

In these my dwindling down days, mixed with ambiguous health, I’m compelled to look in my mirror and call out Muche’s words in its now acronym form of, G.U.Y.S.O.B. The word has also become a part of our family’s lexicon. When someone in the family or, a friend struggles to cope with life forces, the word, “GUYSOB!” will again be heard.

Oh, and I’ll share “Merlin Muche’s” magic with whoever wants to use it. Kind of goes to the core of survival in today’s hectic world, eh? It’s forceful, empowering, “GUYSOB!”

And you won’t need any Atomic Balm. Not sure if the stuff’s still around. It’s definitely not on any list of banned substances. No blood or urine test is needed. Any medical diagnosis of note would be easily revealed with a swipe of a swab in the right place.

In my current, long in the tooth life, all I’m looking for now is to hear the bell ring once in while in whatever arena of life and work may lie ahead. I’ll do my best with a little help from family and friends. “GUYSOB!” Yeah! I’m already considering a comeback…


Warren VanderSchuit
(PKA Warren Vanders)
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Your prayers are always appreciated for my dad, who is battling cancer for the second time in his storied life. -Blaine

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day, My Love

I just wanted to tell the whole world, to say it in front of everybody, that I love my wife. You mean the world to me, my love. Happy Valentine's Day.

Love, Blaine

P.S. This definitely ain't all you're getting!

Update: Here's a pic of something she actually got...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hurts So Good

We're back...after a long break recovering from a bunch of stuff. First, Christmas and New Year's. Second, my 41st birthday which Elisa and I hoteled in Big Bear hoping for some fresh snow but it rained and it didn't matter anyway because I was too sick to board. And third from the lingering aftermath of that sickness in the form of a hacking cough that just won't go away. This picture of Sammy pretty much sums up how I've been feeling, except there is no actual shirt over my head!

Having to clear snow hasn't helped much either and set me back, making me sound like a scratchy low baritone. But I have managed to have some fun between shovels sledding with the boys, who discovered that their boogie boards (if you can stay on 'em) go way faster than plastic sleds. Incidentally Aaron and I proved this ad loco when we took one off a jump, flew about 10 feet, and got the wind knocked out of us on the landing. Sammy wanted to join the insanity too, so I repeated all of the above with him, plus we managed to continue after the jump only to crash into the fence at the bottom of the run (we're fine)!

I also had a great time of spiritual growth at the annual men's retreat last weekend. Here's a pic of me and the boys shortly before I left for that (is Aaron looking a bit sad to see me leave?).
I was blessed to lead worship on Sunday morning with a last-minute mixture of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear guys on my team, plus I got a little extra perk of playing lead guitar for another guy on Saturday night (his guy canceled out).

Despite a few lumps from the seasonal school of hard knocks, things are going well for us. You can expect some more posts here soon if all goes as planned.