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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

William Edward "Eddie" Thornton

My friend Eddie Thornton passed away on March 21, 2008. He was 71 years 7 months and 4 days old. I met him just before his 71st birthday last year. I am very proud to have called him my friend.

I met Eddie one day at my place of employment. He and his brother-in-law came in to see about buying a used semi-trailer. What caught my attention about Eddie was his smile and his hat. It said "Too Blessed to be Stressed." Truthfully, I was just trying to make small talk when I commented on his hat. When I did, he piped right up and explained that he indeed was too blessed to be stressed. He told me about his blessings. Then he told me he had terminal cancer but that didn't stop him loving Jesus and serving him everyday.

Truthfully, I knew I didn't have the trailer that they wanted, but I decided to have them hop in my car and drive down to where I had a trailer that nominally met their needs. It was about 2 miles down the road. Eddie and I talked. He told me about his mission trips, his life, his relationship with Jesus. I mentioned Common Cupboard, the food pantry I had started in Indian Trail, and he wanted to find out more. I didn't sell them a trailer that day, but I had found a very blessed man.

I gave Eddie my card and a couple brochures and said good-bye. I didn't know then if I would ever see Eddie again. A couple weeks later I got a call from a deacon at his church, West Monroe Baptist Church and we scheduled a time for me to come visit and share with their men's ministry. Eddie was so excited. I was excited to see him again. That day Eddie offered to start delivering groceries to folks through the cupboard.

For some time Eddie and his (now mine too) friend Floyd would go out visiting people on Mondays while Eddie was well enough to go. We gave them a couple people to deliver food to, and they made a couple new friends. One Saturday they delivered a couple boxes to families. I got two calls from an elated Eddie sharing with me the joyful sounds of a child and the tears of gratitude of an elderly lady.

During the past several months Eddie's visits to the hospital became more frequent. He was unable to have visitors for fear of infections. A new cancer attacked his spine and he had to go to the hospital for treatment. I kept asking people to pray. And we did, joining many others.

About 3 weeks ago he got home from the hospital. After he got home he called me on the phone. I was surprised but so very glad to hear from him. He apologized to me for not reading my emails till just then. He told me how sorry he was that he couldn't help during the recent move the cupboard had. He shared how much he longed to go deliver some groceries from the cupboard to people in need but the treatment of his spinal cancer left him unable to walk. He told me thought that after he learned to walk again he would be out delivering groceries with Floyd.

Then he told me how blessed he was to know me and to have had this time serving Jesus with the cupboard. He told me how grateful he was. I was about to tears, when he told me that he appreciated me. I shared, "No it is I that am blessed having known you. I am encouraged by your heart for Jesus. Eddie, I appreciate you!"

This was the last time I spoke with Eddie. I am so glad he thought to call me. I think we both knew that he was getting very near the end. Even to the end, he was "To Blessed to be Stressed".

As I have thought about Eddie recently, I realized that he is a man I want to be like. I am sure he had his failures. I don't care. I truly admire his resolute determination to follow Jesus. In the face of death, he thought of others. He is the kind of follower of Jesus I want to be. I wished I had known him better, but I can't wait to see him again in our Father's house.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Notes on life in 2008

I often use this blog these days to share my thoughts about Common Cupboard or Common Heart. I have used it late last year to share my thoughts on prayer and other spiritual issues. But the purpose of this blog if you go back to the beginning was to simply muse about life and what I have been learning. To coin a phrase, it is my "notes along the way."

I still have plenty to say about Common Heart and Common Cupboard. I have a list of posts in my mind to write on spiritual issues, and interaction with the culture. However, I thought that I wanted to get back to the simple notes along my way. And so this blog entry...

Here is one of the biggies on my heart.
My son Kyril - My son was finally diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) and two other related disorders. We have been battling with the bureaucracy and the delays of the school system. The whole process has been frustrating. On the other hand, the love and patience his teachers and others have demonstrated at Wesley Chapel Elementary has been so heartening. We finally broke down and paid for the evaluations ourselves (thank God for insurance and flex spending accounts). So we will be able to provide this to the evaluation team considering Kyril for Special Ed services.

Quite frankly, and with no parental exaggeration - sure Keith ;-) - Kyril is a brilliant young man! This has actually been one of the problems getting the sevices from the school he needs. He is in the AIG (gifted) classes, and yet has challenges that only Special Ed can help with.
It was exceptionally frustrating to him when the teachers, pulled out all the supportive things they had been doing for him (but were not authorized to do) . They had to let him do poorly demonstrating his inability to access the material. They did this to prove a point to the Autism team. It was heartrending to have him come home with his first D's in academic classes and U's in cooperation and respect He had always been an A/B student in the AIG program. I couldn't even bring myself to talk with him about his grades. Because I knew no matter what I said it would break open the pain my wife was only barely able to soothe.
A couple weeks ago we amended his 504 accommodations and codified all that the teachers had previously been doing, and in that short time he brought all his grades back to A's & B's. My opinion is that if he was given what he really needed to succeed, he would blow away the grading system. He is after all, positively brilliant!

The next step (we've been working on since November) is to get him qualified to have what is known as an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This may give him access to special ed resources like much needed occupational therapy. As he goes into Middle School next year there are many, many concerns we have and with this legal protection we will be able to address them better and more fully for Kyril's education.
Anyone going through this kind of thing with the school, if there is anyway to get the evaluations done privately, I would suggest doing it. I realized in late February when the school finally agreed to evaluate him for autism, 3 days after I set up a private evaluation that for us a private evaluation was the better choice. The main reason is that the school has a very limited agenda - "appropriate" education of my son. I have a much broader agenda - I want to see him succeed in life and be all that God has created him to be. When the school's evaluation is done they provide no diagnosis, they are evaluating him for their agenda alone. When I am done, I have a diagnosis that I can use to access for my son other services that insurance, for instance, would pay for.
A second reason I suggest doing it privately is having finally gotten the tests done and the results, there is a sense regaining control for me, the parent. Whether this is real or imagined, at least I have done something that I am not waiting (forever) for the system to do for me. Maybe, (I doubt it) it will speed up the process at this point. If we had done it at the beginning, the process of determining eligibility for IEP and special ed services would have been done by now.
On a different note, same tune .... Going through the process has caused me to ask some questions of myself. I have enlisted the prayers and support of friends, family, fellow "common hearted folks", and others through email. Deb and I have been overcome with the expressions of support and love from these people! It has been amazing.
In one of my emails, I gave a list of prayer requests. They were specific things to pray. One thing that was absent from my list was "healing". When I realized that it was not top of mind for me, I had to question myself as to why it wasn't. Mind you, I believe in healing. I have experienced it. I have seen people healed ... God has used my wife to heal people miraculously on several occasions.
Why didn't I ask for healing? I asked myself that before I sent it out, and wrestled with my thoughts about it for a couple days. I realized that I did not consider the challenges my son has as an illness. When I think of Kyril, I cherish him exactly as he is. (Frustrating as it is sometimes.) I want to alleviate his challenges, and help him to overcome them. We all have challenges and we all have gifts. To some degree Kyril's gifts and his challenges are all tied up together! How can I ask God to take away the challenges and leave the gifts. And if he took away the challenges, how would the gifts shine! I must say that I came to realize that I see Kyril as having "different abilities" rather than having "disabilities". Yes he is socially, verbally, developmentally, transitionally, and physically challenged, but he is also thoughtful, focused, loving, quick witted, determined, and quite brilliant.

The other thing I realized, is that Kyril and others whose "differing abilities" definitely bring challenges into our own lives. They are people that God loves and created. It seems to me that God uses them to challenge our values, norms, attitudes, actions, thought patterns, love patience, etc. I think God uses these folks to develop in us his own attributes of love, kindness, compassion, caring, acceptance, appreciation. I know that as soon as I realized that my son had some of these challenges, I began to change! It immediately made me realize that I had some major problems, in my actions, and attitudes toward my son Kyril - and by extension to my family, and those around me. Christ had graciously reveled some them to me through how I reacted to Kyril.

So, as I said at the start my son, Kyril, is a biggie on my heart these days. I have a feeling, "We have not yet begun to fight."