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I am Star Lord

So I went to go see Guardians of the Galaxy, twice. If you know me, then you know what I though about the movie. It was awesome! But if you really really know me, then you know that I am Star Lord. Ok I am obviously not some crazy space traveling pirate, but I had a profound experience while watching the move. It was like a big side kick to my head that said, “LIFE IS FUN!”

However, the movie had a lot of sad moments. When I watched it with my sister we both got teary eyed when the hero’s mom dies, from cancer, just like our mom did. One of the other characters goes crazy and tries to take on the villain by himself, in the process nearly getting all his companions killed. Then Rocket ( the talking Raccoon) says something like, “Everyone has dead people, no reason to go get everyone else dead along the way.”

I want to be clear, I am not some special person, unique or amazing. But I will say this, I know what suffering is. I have watched my loved one’s suffer, helplessly. I have grieved and know pain. When it comes to pain there are only two kinds of people, those who have gone through it, and those who will. Pain is unavoidable in life. But through my grieving and the search for joy, direction, and purpose, I found something. I found the Guardians of the Galaxy!

Don’t worry, I am not going to go over the edge and become some extreme comic book fanatic, collecting billions of books and never coming out of my basement. Besides I couldnt’ afford it. The point is that I don’t want to live like a broken hero, defeated, motivated by despair or hate. I have decided to live this life like the adventure that it is, like Star Lord (with wit, humor, and panache). I’m gonna face my enemies head on, and If anyone wishes to join me in my quest to save the galaxy, then come on board! I don’t have a space ship, but I do have a whole lot of ego.

http://www.marvel.com/guardians/

Being Still

For most of us who have gone through the fires of life, we know that gems of light and goodness can be found through the pain. Furthermore, pain itself produces a product otherwise not available. We look back and say to ourselves and to God, “was it worth it?” These times of reflection often linger upon the precipice of a new season in life. Where we see how far we have come before we take the leap and place our fragile hearts and hopes back into the great hands of fate. 

For myself, thoughts of my life in ministry and my daughter resonate. Like an echo of a past life that resurfaces in the events of summer and travel. The pain of seeing her suffer, losing her and all the hope and beauty she contained, then the terrible ache of a phantom presence that has now become… faded. Today I look at how far I have come, and my wife as well. The love of Christ has given me strength, not only in the hope of seeing my daughter again, but in the idea that both the Father and I share the same pain of seeing our children suffer.

Today as I look back on the progress and healing, I look now again to the future. My anxiety at times overwhelms. One year left until graduate school is done and I have earned my masters. Our new baby will come in December, only six months and a new fragile little life will be ours again to care for. How will this baby come? With what trials? Will God be merciful? My thoughts run and run, over career, provision, health, direction, and on and on. Then God speaks. “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” Psalm 46:10

I am writing this now not to make anyone, those rare few, reading this to be depressed. Nor do I seek sympathy.  But I hope that through this writing I can organize my storming spirit into a clear and orderly flow.  I have been reading about grief a little, about grace and God’s goodness, and the blessings for the faithful that come through trial. As God works all things, even tragedy, for the good of those who love him; so we hope and so I wrestle to believe.  But I wish to believe this, and I have committed my way to Him despite all circumstances.  As he loves me unconditionally, dying for me, giving up HIS child for my sake… can I do the same?

In that spirit I review, about two months ago our daughter Josephine passed away, dying of respiratory complications.  The day before she died we could see that she was suffering – struggling to breathe.  The doctor and nurses came to make a home visit.  They gave us a small amount of morphine to help keep her relaxed. My heart ACHES in remembrance of that night. Distributing those drops of morphine into her mouth, with each administration signifying a closer step to her end.  Josie herself wasn’t sleeping well, but drifted in and out of conciseness as her little coughs pushed her to exhaustion.  Right now I write this with large tears falling into my lap. 

Her face so soft and sweet, gorgeous.  She looked up to me with an devastating expression, as if to say “Daddy I don’t feel good.”  I held her all through the night, watching curious George cartoons and letting her know I am near.  And then an ounce of hope came when she began to sleep in my lap.  I carried her to her bedroom, about three in the morning, and I lied her down to sleep.  Her head propped up by the pillow, her one and three month year old body so weak, so deprived of muscle tone, limp, helpless.  I sat there for a few moments along side her.  But then turned in my thoughts and began doing what I am doing now, I began writing.  By doing so I had hope to temper those emotions I was feeling.  I wrote an entry titled “Over-sized Death Bed.” 

You can read the entry I wrote below.  However, it is not complete.  I don’t remember my thoughts I had then, or how to complete them – even though in reading the passage you can see that it may not need to have anything else added.  The reason I could not finish expressing those thoughts is because I turned to hear the change in my daughter’s breathing.  It was but only a few minutes when she went from heavy breathing to gasping.  The thought of the morphine pushing her into a weaker state struck fear into me, is there something wrong that we did?  Is there something I could do now?  I went to her, my hands over her, hovering, not touching her, I felt helpless.  Her eyes opened, just barely, looking at me, struggling to breathe.  I could see her lips turning blue.

Instantly I rushed to our bedroom where Lena my wife was sleeping.  I woke her and told her to come now.  We went back to Josie’s side, Lena could see what was happening, no explanation was needed.  Together we sat, sang to the song “Jesus loves me.”  And watched our daughter slowly take her last breaths.  She turned white and silent.  And the world froze. 

Lena began to sob, she turned away from our baby and I held her crying face into my chest.  My sister sleeping in the living room came, hearing our groans.  She also needed no explanation, and her loving presence wrapped us in comfort.  Everything was happening so fast.  Phone calls were made, my father came, nurses came, Josie was pronounced at around 7:30 am.  Today and now I rage with a sense of helplessness and frustration, anger boils in me that I did not try to do more.  I wrestle with the understanding that there was nothing else I could have done.  Prolonging her life would only have tormented her more. But still… did she want to be held in those last breaths? Was it better to leave her lying down?  Oh how would my daughter have wished to just be held by her daddy at the last moment!  To feel the comfort of a loving father…  Oh how I want that for myself!  Heavenly Father where is your spirit of comfort?!

I reflect often on that last night, perhaps I torment myself in doing so. I am haunted by the beautiful face of my daughter. In my dreams she visits me. I awake with the memory of her gorgeous eyes and then her cold stare, as her cheeks turn blue to match the color of her lips. I pray that in expressing these images, that in sharing them, they will be resolved and processed. Doing so I hope to find peace, and go back to my normal self. But I am struck in the gut with a realization: I will never be the same again. I will bear the wound and loss of Josie forever.

I hate self pity, I hate depression, I do not want either of those things in my character.  I want freedom, joy, and a new phase of strength and adventure.  And in time I know this wound will heal.  In time I will move forward, and perhaps there will be a day when I do not think about Josephine at all.  Oh how I hate myself for that… But if I cannot give her up, then I cannot give the world up, and then I cannot have Jesus.  For I must give up everything for the sake of knowing him.  Even my daughter.

So here the conclusion lies, the end of this entry.  I had no idea on where I was going or where I wanted to take you in writing any of this.  Reading over the above paragraphs fills me with a satisfaction, knowing that it is said and done, it is now all out of me.  With a dark feeling, with a sick feeling, I fester, I rise up, I wrestle, and I hope – that my emotions and sadness, like Job, in suffering, that I will be honorable, honest, and in the end in step with what I am meant to be and whom I wish to become.

Reflecting

More than a month has passed since our daughter has passed away, gone to heaven to be with Jesus. We still miss her of course, the process of grieving will be long and we will need more time, how much though I am not sure, perhaps we will never truly stop hurting. But I know I need closure. That is why I am excited for Lena’s mother to come to El Paso, to visit us, hug and care for my wife, and for us to be together and cry together.  We will choose an appropriate time and place to spread Josies ashes, I still can’t believe I am preparing to do this.  Each moment is hard to perceive, like a dream, like it isn’t some other person doing this… not some movie or story, but this is real, this is my daughter, my life.

I am trying to lean on Jesus, but my own self keeps getting in the way.

 

Dear friends and family, we wish to inform you of the passing of our baby girl, Josephine Olivia Villarreal. Josie was born in Perm, Russia on February 1st, 2011. Unknown to us, our baby girl would inherit a genetic disease known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. At six months of age, she was diagnosed with SMA type 1. In order to care for our daughter, we left the mission field in Russia and moved to El Paso, Texas. We have been very blessed by the support of our church, friends, and family. We thank you all for your constant prayers and love that you have shared in this with us, and more specifically with Josephine.

Josephine was a bright and intelligent little baby girl. She loved to watch Curious George cartoons and read Dr. Seuss books. Josie was always so patient and cheerful throughout the torments she had to endure, from riding in airplanes to living with her disability, she almost never complained. Josephine loved to listen to music and ride in her stroller on long walks. She loved people and the smiles of strangers. We are so thankful to God to have had the opportunity to take care of one of his special little angels.

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For the last couple of weeks Josie’s breathing had become very labored. Her swallowing was becoming more difficult, and we could tell that her dying process was progressing. On Monday night we were taking turns caring for her. She had not eaten or drank for 24 hours, and we could see that the end was near. In the early morning I could see her lips turning blue and her eyes rolling back. I went to wake Lena, and we came and knelt beside her. It was a moment we were happy to be able to share together. Singing to her the song, “Jesus Loves Me” and telling her over and over that we loved her, Josie passed away at 7am Tuesday morning.

We had a viewing at our home all day on Tuesday. It was comforting to have so many of you come and pay your respects. Josephine brought so much joy to all who met her, and she truly was and is a reflection of the beauty and grace of Christ. We invite you to join us for a memorial service for Josephine on Friday at 5:30pm at Coronado Baptist Church (501 Thunderbird Drive El Paso, TX 79912). Dinner will follow so please do not bring food. We will be glad to celebrate the life and new life of our baby Josephine alongside you. Thank you.

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Just the other day I sent out our latest newsletter.  If I knew then that Josephine was going to progress in her dying process so rapidly in just a few days I would have written something perhaps a little more inspiring.  The topic of the newsletter was “Celebrating Joy.”  I talked about despite the challenges we face, that we need to hold onto the moments of joy we do have and celebrate them, giving thanks to God.  So in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death let me declare what I am thankful for right now. 

Lord I am thankful for an over-sized death bead for my daughter.  In our guest bedroom/office/baby room, is a queen size bed where my daughter Josephine sleeps.  It is big enough for Josie to lay down and for both her Mother and I to crawl into or sit next to her.  For over 24 hours now Josie has not stopped coughing, and is consistently getting weaker. 

 

—–

 

I left in the middle of writing this to check on my daughter.  I turned and she passed away.

I wanted to write a post about my current feelings, but that would be way to boring to read about.  As a father watching his daughter slowly suffocate to death brings emotions that are not very relate-able to average reader, or so I assume.  Today was a hard day, I felt not very productive.  In fact for about a month I feel like I have done almost nothing that could result in true value.  I was siting with a friend, Joe, and discussing this very thing, over some salty chips and beer.  He reminded me of a truth, that our value is not placed in what we do, but who we are.  Primarily who we are in Christ Jesus.

So to continue this post I just wanted to discover a few things and bring them to light, for myself and for who ever else is interested.  First of all the basic meaning of the word “Value” or “Worth” is described in the dictionary as the basic regard or importance an object deserves, or the justification of it’s existence.  When placed on items that are “priceless” like a historical artifact or more so the life of a person, we truly begin to understand that the importance of something does not always equivalent to it’s usefulness.  Little good does a piece of fabric from an ancient robe, and little productivity does a sick baby have that has a life expectancy of 2 years. 

This brings about ideas of euthanasia, abortion, etc.  Those ideas are wonderfully accepted if the worth of a person is based on their productivity.  That brings back the world of the Spartans, casting away the weak so the survival of the fittest can rule.  

I don’t want to live in a world like that.

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