Monday, December 29, 2008

So Many Birthday Blessings

My dad turned 61 on Christmas Day. I wanted this year to be a true celebration of his life so I enlisted the help of many people whose lives have been impacted by him. I asked people to write about him in one of three ways; a favorite memory, funny story or how God has impacted their life through him. The responses ranged from his influence as a basketball coach, a shepherd, a mechanic, a raft captain, an evangelist, a father figure, a pastor and a man with a great sense of humor.

He recently told me that Kingdom work is about quality not quantity. The 40-some letters were evidence that he has influenced a great number of people but have also fulfilled the great commission in “making disciples.” I know that the book represents only a fraction of the lives he has touched simply by living life to the full, life filled with the Spirit. I entitled the book, "A Celebration of a Faithful Servant."

I continued to be amazed as the letters poured in. I simply cannot get over how many lives he has impacted. He has influenced men and women alike, family and friends and young and old. Almost all the letters echoed the same few points; he took the time to care and invest in the lives of others. If you visit him, perhaps you will have the privilege of reading part of it, hopefully to him as well. We only got through a few on his actual birthday!

Yesterday (Sunday), his old church that he planted in 1994, the Bridge, hosted "A Tribute to Pastor Jesse" for his birthday. One by one, individual people stood up and testified to God's goodness in their lives through my dad as well as many fun memories that they have shared together. I'll just share a few highlights...

Auntie Eileen Castillo shared about the 6 or 7 friends and members of her family that my dad lead to the Lord and baptized. Her husbands brother-in-law passed away from ALS in 1997. He performed the funeral. She wrapped up by saying, "though you can no longer say the words from your mouth, we can still hear the words coming from your heart" and "though your feet are weak, your faith is still strong."

David and Dan Cay shared about the many Sunday afternoons the youth group spent at the Morales house doing everything together and how Pastor Jesse always took time to invest in young people. Another highlight, was remembering the moonwalk that he did at Family Camp a few years ago when they announced the winner of "Jesse's Posse." David pointed out how he was instrumental in building a church that had very authentic family and a true feeling of belonging and fellowship.

Many others shared about how he picked them up for Bible Study or was there to walk with them through life storms. We mostly laughed, but also cried a little. I closed the time of sharing with the two verses that ring so true to me in his life.

The first is Acts 20:24, "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

The last is such an example of how the word of God is living and active, found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Though these are tough times, he is continuing to fix his eyes on what is unseen and eternal. Thank you for all your prayers and also to those who contributed to the book! You have been an encouragement!

Can't Stop Him

His mercies are indeed new every morning! After his downer day not too long ago, dad had a much better week despite the progression of the disease. Dad was invited to a Christmas lunch at Trijay Flooring where he used to chaplain. At first he was hesitant to go, concerned that he would be a damper on the party, but mom played her "mom" card and off he went. Bruce picked him up at 11 and agreed to only stay an hour. Needless to say, the 1 hour stretched into 3 and they didn't return until after 4:30. Apparently, dad was busy chaplaining! He was laughing with people, praying and ministering despite his inability to walk or talk clearly.

A few days later, his caregiver that he had been sharing the gospel with accepted the Lord and since then hasn't been able to stop telling people about her newfound faith! After her 3-hour break that she caregiver provides on weekdays, Mom often comes home to find them doing a half hour Bible Study. She has been attending their church, The Pathway, faithfully for the last month. On her way out the other day, she said to me, "Your daddy's my hero. Because of him, now I know who Jesus is!"

My dad's heart continues to speak louder than his words.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Downer Day

Last weekend we had the wonderful privilege of visiting home again. My dad has his first boys night out with Mike and watched the pride of the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao defeat Oscar Dela Hoya in boxing. He was having the time of his life!

Not two hours later, I was helping him get ready for bed when I saw a new side of him. His eyes watered as he started to softly weep. "I just feel like I'm a burden to everyone." I choked back tears. My dad- my hero, a man made of steel with the softest heart was feeling absolutely helpless. He has devoted his whole life to service, whether it be fixing cars, sharing the gospel, doing the dishes or fixing things around the house. The man never stood still and now, it's all he can do.

I assured him that is was an honor for us to finally be able to serve him. It dawned on me that without all the acts of service he is used to performing, he may be tempted to feel like he has very little to offer the world now. Little does he know that though someone else can fix my car, share the gospel and do the dishes, no one else in the world who can be my dad. That by itself it enough.

On a lighter note (and with all that said) he shared the love of Jesus to his new caregiver last week! I just shook my head, smiled and said, "nothing can stop you, huh?" She requested to care for him 5 days a week because she was "so blessed by caring for him." This was a huge blessing as they were having a tough time finding someone who was a good fit and it enabled my mom to take a break!

There have been a lot of physical changes in the last month. He needs assistance with every day tasks and moves around quite slowly. Though two weeks ago, he said to Mike, "I want to run!" and clumsily proceeded to attempt to sprint to the door with his assistance. We all had a good laugh. We are trying to plan an "original" Morales family vacation sometime in the next month with dad and all his girls. There is a lot of family is coming up for Christmas. It's going to a be a great busy time! Will keep you posted!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lots of Changes!

It's been almost a month since I last posted a blog and a lot has changed since then. Dad is still in good spirits and has had many uplifting out of town visitors including his brother from Seattle, in-laws from Richmond, daughter and family from Worsley and sister-in-law and family from Salmon Arm. It's been a wonderfully busy couple of weeks. He's also had many local visitors including our wonderful family from the Bridge International Church, new 'massage therapists' Bruce, Abe and Dan on a weekly basis and many other friends and family. Dad loves having company and on many occasions it is the highlight of his day. I will encourage people to continue visiting even as verbal communication becomes increasingly difficult.

If you know my dad, you know that vehicles in his garage used to come and go quite regularly. Let me share with you the latest additions to his repertoire of transportation:

He can still walk with assistance and usually relies on a friendly shoulder or hand to travel from one area of the house to the next. For longer outings such as Em's basketball games, the wheelchair can be found stored away in the back of the minivan just in case his legs aren't cooperating! There has been talk about 'pimping his ride' but mostly for the purpose of making him laugh.

He has an automatic reclining chair in the living room that moves with a remote in a fairly slow manner. We've discussed putting a turbo charger in it so he can 'spring' out when necessary. The latest and greatest however is for sure the stair lift that was installed on Saturday. This eliminates having to spend extra energy to get up and down the stairs. It's quite a nifty little contraption and goes probably about 0.2km/hr. I think Ethan will enjoy discovering it on his next visit!

His speech has unfortunately declined with the loss of muscle movement in his mouth. There are certain letters that offer more difficulty than others such as the letters 'l' and 'p'. You really don't realize how much muscle movement is involved with simple, everyday, automatic tasks! We have still been able to communicate with patients, repetition and laughing our way through miscommunication.

Eating has become increasingly fatiguing. He has an appointment in the near future to get a feeding tube installed. This will help ensure that he gets the adequate nutrition required without the fatigue of eating all day. Though he has lost 12lbs since the diagnosis, he has gained 1.2lbs in the last week!

It's easy to forget that in the midst of all the physical changes, he hasn't changed on the inside. He's still the same person. He's still my stubborn, helpful, wise, caring and coaching dad. He still has Biblical advice for any problem, opinions on every basketball game and encouragment for people visiting him. I just had to smile to myself the other day. In the midst of his difficulty speaking, he was caught sharing the simple message of the gospel to a very special visitor. After wards I laughed and said, nothing can stop you huh?!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Give Thanks for My God

Over this past weekend, there were many opportunities to express things that we are thankful for. During a wonderful dinner with my family, we took part in our usual family tradition of going around the table, placing our fall-like object (pinecone or corn kernel) in the basket and saying what we thankful for. It's amazing that though we are on this hard road, not a single person struggled to think of something to be thankful for! Amen.

I got to thinking... what new thing am I especially thankful for this year? This last summer, I heard a missionary say that unlike the people he ministers to, there isn't too much he knows about God that he hasn't read in a book. Isn't that so true? We live in a very independent and self-sufficient place where we are quite comfortable with what the world can provide for us. We know about how awesome God is because we read about it in the Bible or in another book or hear about someone else's experience half way across the world.

This year I am especially thankful for the new ways I have been able to know and experience God. I have read in the Bible that He is the God of all comfort who comforts us in times of trouble... but now I know that He is because He has comforted me. Now I know that He is my refuge, strength and ever-present help in trouble because I'm in trouble and He is ever-present!

"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed." Psalm 57:1

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Joy of the Grandkids

I can't believe I forgot to let you in on one of the main highlights of the last few weeks! One of the hardest parts about the loss of strength in my dad's hands and arms caused by the disease is that he has been unable to hold his grandkids- Ethan (2) and Maia (8 months).

A couple of week ago, my dad went up to visit my sister Angela for a few days. I hadn't talked for him since he'd been back so I decided to call home and chat. To my surprise, he answered the phone sounding more chipper and in better spirits than I'd heard in a long time. A few minutes into the conversation I knew exactly why.
He was so ecstatic to tell me about his visit to Worsley. "Steph... I found a way to hold Maia!" His excitement had already spread to me. "Angela put her in the Jolly Jumper and I sat on the floor and played with her and was able to hold her!" Praise the Lord for whoever invented the Jolly Jumper! Genius.

One of the things we've routinely begun to do as muscle atrophy has taken place is massage my dad's hands and arms to try and stimulate blood flow. Angela was putting Ethan to bed on the last night of his last visit and said to her, "Mama, 'nuggle Papa?" Ang proceeded to find my dad and invite him into Ethan's cozy bed. On the way to lying down, he bumped his head on the headboard. Ethan looked at him with concern filled eyes and said, "Okay Papa?" then proceeded to kiss him on the forehead and say, "All better Papa." If that weren't cute and special enough, once he was laying down, Ethan proceeded to softly run his little hands up and down Papa's arms just as he'd seen his mom doing all week. My dad said, "It was funny... I felt like Ethan was taking care of me!"

What a joy children are!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gotta Give Him Praise!

Upon returning from the Philippines, my dad decided not to go back to work due to his decrease in functional ability. This was a pretty devastating step but at the same time, we were thankful that he was able to know when it was time to stop. We had a bad "breathing" scare not too long after. The doctor assessed his breathing ability (which is the biggest indicator of lifespan) and it looked grim at first. He saw a Repirologist today who confirmed that he is at 73% of normal capacity and has not declined since August. Each new day is a gift, and every day that the symptoms don't worsen, we celebrate!

Since then, 4 of his siblings have been up to visit. The golden girls, Cleo, Fely and Rose made the long drive up for only a 1 day turn around a couple of weeks ago. Among the many highlights was my Aunt Cleo stir-frying dad's healthy breakfast cereal (concauted by Aunt Remie) thinking it was brown rice. She added the usual onions, soy sauce, etc. to OATMEAL and the best part was... she ate it! Bless her heart for not wanting to waste food! You have to find joy in the little things, right?

Last week Uncle Lope and his family were up and thank you to Les especially who has the wonderful gift of humor. I know he made him laugh hysterically on more than one occasion. Uncontrollable laughter is a symptom of ALS but we've unanimously decided it's our favorite symptom! Praise God for laughter.

This is a hard road that we're on. But as I was told by a very godly woman, you have to revel in those little moments of happiness that God brings your way. Otherwise, we're doomed to being a victim of circumstances.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back from the Philippines!

Thanks for your prayers over the last few months. We've had some blessings in the midst of this struggle the past few months. One of my dad's bosses from Corporate Chaplaincy sent our whole family on a vacation to the Philippines. We also had a generous donation from our church family at the Bridge to help pay for it. We went from July 18 - August 10. It was a lifelong dream of my dad's to show us where he grew up and it finally came true. He was very excited during our time there and looked very alive showing us down memory lane! (This is in front of the house he grew up in!)

Unfortunately the disease is progressing and faster than the doctors had intially thought. He went for his third assessment last Wednesday at the ALS Clinic. They initially thought his breathing had gone from 100% (last June) to 54% but after a re-assessment they figured that it was at 70%. The doctor said that once breathing drops to 50%, no one has ever lived more than 9-12 months. A "normal" rate of progression should have left him at 85% by now so that it how we know it's progressing faster. He's also lost almost all the strength and mobility in his arms and hands. He struggled with walking and balance a couple of times on the trip but now stairs and longer journeys are tough.

When we returned from the Philippines, he decided that he would not be returning to work. He has been struggling a lot with walking and talking and he does not feel that he can serve the people effectively anymore. Please pray for him. My dad has always been very active physically and busy serving people. It will be extremely hard for him to be at home and lose mobility. His love language is acts of service so he is used to doing things for everyone else!

Please pray that God continues to provide for my parents at this time. He has been so faithful in the past. My mom is still completely trusting in him for the future. Please also pray for my mom (Kathy) and Emily. The two of them will be their primary caregivers. Pray that God would give them strength and daily renewal.

Please pray for the rest of the family. It's hard being away, especially for Ang as she lives 12 hours north. It's hard being here for us too. I start school in a couple of weeks and all I want to do is be at home!

Thanks for your continued prayers, encouragement and understanding during this time!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jesse's Girls Run for ALS

As many of you know, Christina, Emily and I started the team "Jesse's Girls" to participate in Betty's Run for ALS. As the word spread, we had many people sign up to walk/run with us and to contribute to our fundraising goal of $10,000.

We ended up with over 60 people participating with us and raising over $13,000 as a team! Special thanks to the Three Sisters and the Beaulieu Family for your added fundraising efforts!

My dad was one of several people with ALS who participated in the walk. He was so strong and I was so proud of him! There was quite a cheer and a few tears when he came across the finish line. Around 50 other friends and family participated in the walk with him. I along with 10 others braved the 8km run and were encouraged and cheered on by our fellow walkers.

Our team, the sea of lime green, was easy to spot thanks to Don Taniguchi. His firm LTNS Accounting, sponsored team t-shirts for the events. You could spot anyone from a mile away!

It was a great day! We look forward to raising more money next year and having more people come out and participate with us!

THANK YOU to everyone who was a part of it!

Walk With Us

Since my dad's diagnosis on May 5, 2008, our phone has been ringing off the hook with supportive and loving people wanting to know how he is doing. I thought an online blog to keep people updated on his status would be more efficient and a bit easier on my mom, dad and Emily!

For those of you just tuning in, my dad, Jesse Morales, was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He first started noticing a loss of strength in his hands last January. After several visits to the family doctor, a neurologist and an ALS Specialist, we found the reason for it. We were told that the average lifespan after diagnosis is 3-5 years. Naturally, we were shocked and saddened by this news, but in the midst of this tragedy, God has still shown himself faithful.

When my dad first shared the news with me, he said, "Steph, get into the Word!" He shared with me a passage out of Luke 18, the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Here is an excerpt from it:

"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up . . . . . . . And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly."

I find that we seem to seek God more desperately immediately following a crisis. As time passes, we tend to adjust and accept the reality of situations. I pray that this is not my attitude and that I will continue to ask for healing until the day I see it.

I hope that you will join my family in lifting my dad up to the Lord in prayer every time you think of him!