I Almost Missed My Own Birthday Due to My Own Death

The first time I could have died was on the morning of August 23, 2021. It would probably have occurred somewhere on the greenway trail in my hometown. I parked in the parking lot of the church my parents helped start, which is about five minutes from my house, and started my usual five minute walk to warm up and stretch before taking off on a three to five mile run. The initial trail is an abandoned tree-lined road that winds between a golf course and a gated community before a short and steep bridge over a railroad track and then connecting with the greenway, which parallels the tracks, and then runs beside a beautiful stream. The greenway also runs behind our city library and if I was going to die, I cannot imagine a lovelier place than in close proximity to thousands of books. However, after walking about a tenth of a mile, I decided to pay attention to the dull numb pain in the back of the top half of my left arm, and the tightness in my upper chest that felt like heartburn, but I knew wasn’t heartburn. I turned around, walked back to the car and drove home.

The second time I could have died might have been if my wife, Leann, had already left for her own morning walk, as was her normal routine. Instead, I caught her before she left and told her I thought I needed her to take me to the ER because “I may be having a heart attack.” “Oh sure!” was her laughing response. I had lost 50 pounds over a ten month period beginning with my time of Sabbatical in the summer and fall of 2018, and not only kept it off, but had been faithful in almost daily runs of three to five miles, and on occasion even taking on a six miler without much trouble. With no real history of heart disease in my family, and being in top shape, I was the least likely person to be having a heart attack…she thought. I didn’t feel my condition urgent enough to go to the hospital for what might be an overnight or even a few days without taking a shower. In spite of Leann’s protest, I showered, and she drove the seven minutes to our community hospital where she let me off at the door to the Emergency Room and went to park the car.

The last thing I remember, until being brought out of a medically induced coma twenty four hours later, was walking to the ER reception desk, being COVID screened, and the young lady asking “what is going on with you?” When I described the pain in the back of my arm and my upper chest, she stood up, commanded: “Come with me,” and we walked down a hall. Everything else until my coming to consciousness in another hospital in downtown Nashville on the next day, I only know by listening to Leann tell others the story.

The third time I could have died was after Leann returned from parking the car and was escorted to my ER bed. The doctors had already done an EKG and they reported: “Mr. Steinhauer, you are not having a heart attack. The EKG is pretty normal. Your blood pressure is high, so we are going to come back to do some tests,” and they left the room. Leann reports that about five minutes later I told her: “I feel faint…” and my eyes were dilated as much as possible–she described my eyes as looking “black”–and then I started convulsing with a cardiac arrest. Had she decided she needed to go to the ladies room (which is life-long-pretty-regular-occurrence for her), and had she not been in the room when I went into cardiac arrest, there would have been no one there to know it was even happening. There had been no need to put me on any sort of monitor.

It took a bit of yelling on Leann’s part to get any response as she called for help, as the just-conducted testing hadn’t shown I was in much danger, and maybe they were thinking I had used the “chest pain” claims as a rouse to get fast-tracked to the ER for an examination for some other reason. I’ve heard of people doing that. I wish I’d thought of it myself three years before when I sat in the same ER waiting room about 45 minutes with the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life–which turned out to be kidney stones. Nonetheless, after a fair amount of “you’ve got to get back in here! Something is happening to him!” they did come running. And then they ushered her out of the room

From the small room off the ER, there for a doctor to consult with a family member of a patient, and report on the outcome of procedures, Leann was alone–by her own choosing–until two friends and my brother showed up. She heard them quickly call “Code–ER…Code–ER,” and since there were only two other patients in the ER at the time she figured it had to be me. She texted her friends: “Pray. Matt is in the ER having a heart attack. I don’t know whether he is alive or dead.” She called our daughter, Kerra, in Columbia, Missouri, and Leann reported she was quite calm and helpful and talked her mother out of going down the hysterical route with a solid: “God has this and if it’s his time to go it’s his time to go.” I’m grateful for both my daughters’ close relationship with God and deep prayer lives. But I’m going to have to talk to Kerra about next time she might think about diving headlong into the most fervent prayer she has ever prayed for healing and saving and all that…instead of just trusting that “God has this…and if it’s his time to go….” 🙂 It wasn’t long before Leann heard another “Code–ER…Code–ER,” and not long after that: “Respiratory–ER…Respiratory–ER,” which she later found out was when I was intubated–put on a respirator. It took three attempts to complete that procedure as I was still conscious enough to fight it.

The fourth time I could have died was reported to me a couple weeks later by my cardiologist, after I was discharged and had returned for a followup visit. An arteriogram was performed soon after my cardiac arrest, and there was a blockage showing in my left anterior descending artery. This is the same symptom of the “Widow Maker” heart attack, and one of the most common ways to address that blockage is running a wire through the artery and placing a stint to open up the blockage. One of the attending doctors thought there was something else going on. His sister-in-law had died of a rare SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection) heart attack, that happens in women 90% of the time, and because I was exhibiting the same symptoms he suggested they not attempt the stint. Because an artery dissection is a tearing of the artery–not a blockage–my cardiologist informed me if they had tried to run a wire through, it would have just torn the artery and I would have died on the operating table. Gulp.

Because the great irony of an arterial dissection is that it will–in most cases–heal on its own, the most important thing in my case was to just keep me alive long enough for that to happen. And so that is what they did. A heart balloon to supplement the natural pumping of my heat took some of the workload off the heart itself, and a mind boggling list of medicines and IV fluids did the trick.

Leann said the longer it was before anyone came in to talk to her the better she felt. “At least they weren’t telling me you were dead.” And within a couple hours the doctor came in and told them I was in critical but stable condition, and that I was a very sick man. At least I was still alive. Within a few hours the decision was made to transport me to a major heart center in Nashville, Centennial Medical Center, and because I was on so much life-support equipment the decision was made to life-flight me there; not because I was in eminent danger, but because it was more practical than an ambulance. So I took a sunset helicopter ride over the beautiful downtown Nashville….and didn’t even know it.

Leann recounts the only other “drama” occurred after being admitted to Centennial, when I started coming out of my sedated state, and began fighting the ventilator, and so she and another nurse had to lay across my legs while they restrained me and got a shot to put be back out. She also said the doctors at Centennial at first discounted it could possibly be a SCAD heart attack, but after more testing and an MRI decided that was a correct diagnosis, so from there my recovery and recuperation began. By 11:30am the next day the ventilator was removed. There was some discomfort from all that being jammed down my windpipe, and there was discomfort from the chest compressions when the CPR happened after I coded two times (but no ribs were broken). It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, but I must say, I was able to walk around the Coronary ICU by the third day, and the fourth day I was transferred to a regular room. On the fifth day a defibrillator/pacemaker/heart monitor was surgically implanted in my chest, and on the sixth day–Saturday, August 28th, about noon, I walked from my room to the elevator, out the door to Leann waiting in the car to take me home.

I missed the next day (Sunday) and the next Sunday of preaching and presiding at worship, but was back fifteen days later and within a month or so was feeling pretty close to normal (physically). But I discovered there is much more to a critical health event like I experienced than the physical aspects. I wasn’t supposed to have a heart attack. I was supposed to live until I was at least 90 years old. My father died at almost 91, my mother is 90 and still doing fine. I have taken pretty good care of myself over the years. Maybe I would even make it to 95. In actuality, I might not have made it to 66 years old had any one of four or more circumstances been different on the morning of August 23, 2021.

I was strong enough within 24 hours of the heart attack to write on a pad (I was still on the ventilator, so I couldn’t speak. After being taken off the ventilator I was able to text and even talk a little bit (with a very raspy voice), and so I had brief conversations with a few friends and family. In a response to a text to my two dearest friends, about 24 hours after arriving at the hospital in Nashville, one of them responded with this question: “I’ve been wondering what kind of inspiration does a storytelling songwriter get from a near death experience?” I responded about my favorite singer songwriter, Beth Nielsen Chapman, teaching in songwriting workshops I have attended with her as teacher, sharing the experience of writing songs–not from personal experience, but writing for something you don’t even know will happen. I replied to him: “I wrote that song when I was in Italy three years ago, but I’m sure another (at least) will come out of it.” (You can listen to the prophetic song here).

These are the first things I thought, and some really important reflections from facing my own mortality.

First, Leann saved my life. Had she not gotten me to the hospital, and then, not gotten the attention of the medical staff when I went into cardiac arrest, I would not be here to tell this story. She may have made an extra effort because she may have thought I really did not have any life insurance. On more than one occasion I have told people (in front of her): “I don’t have any life insurance. I don’t want Leann to be more attractive when I’m dead than she already is!” I do have life insurance.

Second–and this may be the most profound experience–is that Hendersonville Medical Center was there. Hendersonville, my hometown, is a city of almost 60,000 residents. It is not surprising there would be a hospital in a community that size. But there was a hospital there when there were a whole lot less people in Hendersonville. The hospital opened in 1979 when there were closer to 25,000 people living there. It was opened in large part due to the tireless legislative effort of my father, John Steinhauer, Jr. In 1967, my 22 month old sister, Julie, drowned in Old Hickory Lake. After she was pulled from the lake she was taken to the nearest hospital, which was in Nashville, about 20 minutes away. Of course no one knows if she might have lived had there been a hospital in Hendersonville, but my dad went to work to be sure no other family ever had to wonder the same if they were facing a critical life event. As an elected State Representative from Sumner County, TN, he appealed to a State committee to get approval for the Hendersonville Hospital. Having been told that it took three committees to approve the request, and being assured that it would not get passed the third committee, his plea was accepted unanimously and the new hospital was constructed. The hospital was not there to save his daughter. But it was there to save his son.

Of course I spent much time thinking about the time I would have missed with my children and my grandchildren, and now, being ever so grateful I might still have more time with them. My daughters, Kerra and Lindsay are capable young women, married to fine husbands. I do not worry about their futures or how they would make it without their dad. I know they would miss me. But they would be fine. With my son, Matt, almost 27 and with Down syndrome, it is a different story. I have often wondered what would be worse: me dying before him–and him having to live the rest of his life without me? Or him dying before me–and what deep sorrow that would be for me? Even now I do not know the answer to that question. Even now it haunts me.

I guess the final commentary comes from the pastor and theologian which is my vocation and call. Where was God in all this? I don’t guess “coding” is the same as “dying.” So maybe I don’t need to worry about whether I experienced actual death, and whether I can describe what it is like to die and come back from death. I know that between walking into Hendersonville Hospital on Monday morning about 9am, and waking up in Centennial Medical Center the next day about 9am, I have no memory, no feelings, no visions. Someone asked if I saw a long hallway with a light at the end? I laughingly told them I didn’t see a light…I didn’t see a devil or burning flames…maybe the medieval Roman Catholics had it right with the notion of the waiting room of Purgatory and that my hero, Martin Luther was wrong! I do know this. There is a long list of life events that I have experienced that involved a great deal of pain and loss, sorrow and surprise. This one was no different. There was never a second in my recollection that I questioned whether or not God was fully present with me, and no matter what the outcome had been, I was and would have been and still am, in the arms of the faithful loving God who breathed me into being–knit me in my mother’s womb–and will hold me when the time comes that I really do take my last breath. “Miracle” is a word I’ve heard a lot since my heart attack and recovery. “Lucky man” is a description I’ve heard from many. I know there were many, many prayers on my behalf and for that I am thankful. But I flinch a little when I hear people remark: “You must have more work here to do,” or “It’s a God thing that you made it through that.” I have no doubt God was with me. I have no doubt God was with the doctors and nurses and technicians and helicopter pilot–whether any of them knew it or not, or recognized God or not. If it is true that: “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom. 8:38-39 NRSV) then I think someone’s lack of prayer or doubt or even lack of belief will also not separate them. It is more important to me that God is here in all the places I am–joys and sorrows–than to need to know God is pulling strings so that people line up in the right place at the right time just so Matt Steinhauer could be saved from a freak heart attack. Because, in the end, whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8 NRSV).

Her Name is Gretchen

“You don’t tell your story so people will know you better. You tell your story so people will hear their story in your own.”

Robert Benson

“Any sorrow can be borne if a story can be told about it.”

Karen Blixen, quoted by Richard Lischer in The End of Words

Her name is Gretchen.

Is, not was.

I have wanted to tell this story thirty times. I have wanted to tell this story for thirty years.

When the long summer days grow shorter, and children start back to school, and the next break on the calendar is “Labor Day,” I know what is coming: back-to-back birthdays.  My daughter, Lindsay, has a birthday on September 5th, and her mother, Leann, has a birthday on September 6th, and in the midst of the joy and celebration of the bundling of these birthdays, comes the sorrow of a memorial that must be made in the midst of them: birthdays and deathdays. (FYI: As if we must hide from the stark reality of the latter, the spellchecker red-underlines “deathdays” as misspelled, but not “birthdays.”)

Life and death, birth and burial, always held in tension on this day. Highest joy in one hand, and deepest sorrow in the other. Prayers of simultaneous thanksgiving and remembrance, are offered. My fingers are fastened together as tightly as the memory of the good and the bad that I feel deep in my being.

Her name is Gretchen.

Since Leann was a little girl, she had chosen a name—actually made up the spelling—of her child, if she had a girl. Having “conditions” when one gets married is probably not the wisest of things, but I knew this was a condition, or a law, or an irrevocable beneficiary, if I was going to have this one as my wife. “Kerra” would be the name of our first girl. And it was. At least I got to put my own mark on that naming, by picking out the middle name: “Leann,” after her mother. I scored points on two counts that day: living up to the pre-marital child-naming condition, and honoring a mother with a namesake, all in one fell swoop. Meet “Kerra Leann.”

But I had my own childhood naming ideas.

They began to form when I was in junior high, and became interested in my surname, and its connections to Germany, and the little bit of family history that my father could tell me.  I thought if I ever had a little girl, it might suit her to have a German girl’s name: “Gretchen,” I thought. “That seems pretty ‘German.'”

As I grew older I honestly do not remember giving much more thought to naming my little girl “Gretchen,” and I certainly never considered  it important enough to be a deal breaker for selecting a life-mate. I do remember I had picked out a little girl’s name, but not a little boy’s name.

We found out we were expecting a second time in the spring of 1990.  Kerra was three years old, and the right age to be really excited about a new baby. The whole family was excited. As I recall, my mother had suggested not sharing a baby’s name before the baby was born, because then one would have to put up with explaining, and defending the choice right up until the day of the birth. I thought that was wise council. Until it wasn’t.

At about 22 weeks into the pregnancy, I accompanied Leann to an obstetrician visit. An ultrasound was scheduled, and she thought I might want to be there for the news that might arise from the examination.  When the doctor walked in the room, where the two of us were waiting, and he smiled and asked: “What’s he doing here?” we found out the ultrasound would be scheduled on this visit–not done.  But as the doctor felt and prodded and listened to a rounding stomach with his stethoscope, he announced: “Well…maybe we will be doing an ultrasound today.  I think I hear two heartbeats.”

With no history of twins on either side of our family, we were quite shocked and surprised by the news.  A few minutes later, on another floor of the doctor’s office building, we found out we were indeed expecting twins, and, at the same time, there were some concerns about a significant difference in the rate of growth of the two babies.  So we received a referral to yet another doctor’s office in the neighborhood, and the term “specialist” started being thrown around like it was a sign of being privileged.

There was long enough between the two ultrasounds to grab lunch, call our parents to let them know of the exciting news, and to ask for prayers, as we moved toward learning more about the possibilities of a very complicated pregnancy.

At the second-in-the-same-day ultrasound appointment, which included a (then) new technology, Doppler ultrasound, which measures the flow of blood, the specialist informed us that our identical twins—girls— had a rare (and rarely positive outcome) condition known as “twin transfusion.”  Being able to see the flow of blood confirmed that “Baby B” was receiving used and contaminated blood from “Baby A” through an umbilical cord that was not returning directly to the mother.  So Baby B was getting blood from the mother, and used blood from her twin sister.  Because the outcome for the babies, and sometimes for the mother, was so dire, the doctor recommended terminating the pregnancy.

We decided to just hang on to the very small percentage of hope, and see what would happen.

Although I have spent a fair amount of time and money on my formal theological education, this was the school at which I learned the most about prayer, and how God answers prayer (or doesn’t), and about God being in control (or not), and how God’s plan (as some would frame it) just couldn’t be God’s plan, if what eventually happened in “the plan” for Baby A and Baby B was actually written out on God’s own creative drawing board.

In the next calls we made to our parents, the previous nervous laughter and “what-if’s” about twins, was filled with sounds without words—mostly sobbing—on both ends of the line.

“We will pray….we will ask everyone we know to pray,” was the response that we got, as we rolled out our breaking news.  It happened. People really did pass the word, and people prayed. I know this, because I received many a note and letter from people I’d never met, who were third or fourth in succession of hearing this news that had been passed from somebody who knew us, to somebody who didn’t. It was astounding. But somehow, “Pray for Baby A and Baby B” just didn’t seem quite appropriate. They needed names.

I guess if ours had been a typical one-baby, second-girl pregnancy, Leann and I may have had to arm wrestle over our baby’s name. “You named the first one. It’s my turn this time!”  Now we needed two names, and we really didn’t particularly have even one name that either of us were insistent on using.  So we both got to pick a name, and I got my wish: “Gretchen. I’ve always thought Gretchen would be a pretty name for a girl.”  Leann liked “Lindsay spelled with an ‘a.’”  So we both got our choices.  We took advantage of needing two names to honor two other important women in our lives: Leann’s mom, Marie, and my mom, Jane.  I’m not sure exactly how we decided “Baby A would be ‘Gretchen Marie,’ and Baby B would be ‘Lindsay Jane,’” but that is how it worked out. When I think back on it, I wonder if Leann was thinking: “Baby A has a better chance of making it. I got my ‘Kerra,’ and so Matt should have his ‘Gretchen?’”

Her name is Gretchen.

Is, not was.

Lindsay Jane lived. Gretchen Marie did not.

I’ve written a few words about that sad day, that one can find here.  But what I write in this space is not about the sadness of Gretchen’s death. It is about the thirty years of sadness of not hearing her name.

Every now and then, I write something that brings an unexpected gift to me. I never write with that intention, but it certainly happens more often than I expect, and certainly more than I deserve.  This writing has been no different. I believe paying attention and telling the truth are the two most important things a writer must do. I believe the same for plumbers as I do for poets, and the same for seamstresses as I do for songwriters. Pay attention. Tell the truth.

I have loved this passage from the Book of Isaiah for a long time. I have never really associated it with my memories of Lindsay’s birth and Gretchen’s death until this very writing.

I have prayerfully read these words from the prophet, Isaiah, to people who are about to have serious surgery, and I have read it to people who are going through a really hard place. I read it to my life-long, dearest friend, on her death bed, about three days before she died, and a Holy Presence wrapped me and her, and our other two dearest friends who were present for that special farewell, in an embrace as strong as the Universe, and as gentle as a whisper of love.

But now thus says the LORD,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a NRSV)

The Holy Presence wraps around me the very same on this day.

There is truth in every line of this Word from God, through the prophet Isaiah. There is truth for Gretchen, and truth for Lindsay, and truth for their dad. I would be safe in saying there is truth here for you too, dear reader, whether it is truth you need on this day, or truth you might need on a day to come.

God has called you by name, and you are God’s.

Gretchen, I have called you by name, and you are mine—will always be mine.

Your name partly lives on with your sister, Lindsay Jane-Marie, and, in some sense, because you are genetic copies of each other, so do you.

Gretchen is your name.

Love,

Dad

You are afraid of them, but Jesus would call them: “Neighbor”

Since Tennessee’s Governor, Bill Lee, made the decision to allow refugees to continue to be settled in Tennessee, several counties and municipalities in the state have started working to pass local laws to prohibit giving these people a chance at freedom and opportunity. (Isn’t that sort of what America was founded on?)

This information was provided by Lutheran Services of Georgia–an organization which has settled refugees for decades.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is secure:

• Resettlement is the most difficult way to enter the U.S., and refugees are the most thoroughly vetted individuals in the U.S., going through all screenings before they arrive.

• Vetting includes biometric and biographic checks; interagency intelligence sharing; screenings against multiple domestic and international terrorist and criminal databases; background investigations by the FBI, Department of Defense, State Department, and National Counterterrorism Center; and in-person interviews by Homeland Security officers.

• Refugees receive an interest free travel loan to pay for the cost of their transportation to the US. Refugees give back to their new communities.

Economic Contributions

• Refugees start working as soon as possible, pay taxes, start businesses, purchase homes, and become U.S. citizens.

• While refugees receive initial assistance upon arriving in the United States, they see particularly sharp income increases in subsequent years. While refugees here five years or less have a median household income of roughly $22,000, that figure more than triples in the following decades, growing far faster than other foreign-born groups. By the time a refugee has been in the country at least 25 years, their median household income reaches $67,000—a full $14,000 more than the median income of U.S. households overall

• Over a 20-year-period, refugees contribute, on average, $21,000 more in taxes than the initial investment to resettle them. In 2015, refugees contributed $21 billion in U.S. taxes.

• The average workforce participation rate of refugees is 81.8%, above the national 62%.

• 13% of refugees were entrepreneurs in 2015, compared to 9% percent of the U.S.-born.

• 40% of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by refugees, immigrants or their children.

• Many industries, like hospitality and meatpacking rely on refugee workers. Across the U.S., the low number of refugee arrivals is putting a strain on businesses, especially in rural areas.

• For the state of TN, a snapshot of the demographic and economic contributions of refugees shows that in 2015, refugee population household income was $649.9M with total spending power of $497.5M. Total taxes paid was $152.3M

Is there a Link Between Refugees and U.S. Crime Rates? To examine this issue, New American Economy used refugee resettlement data from the U.S. Department of State’s Worldwide Refugee Processing System to calculate the 10 cities in the US that received the most refugees relative to the size of their population between 2006 and 2015. This revealed a telling pattern: Rather than crime increasing, nine out of 10 of the communities actually became considerably more safe, both in terms of their levels of violent and property crime.

Here is new analysis on the economic cost of opting out of refugee resettlement for a few key states. TN stands to loose $4.1 million.

A Dozen Reasons Not to Love the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017

Here is a link to the Congressional Budget Office Score on the latest Senate proposed Better Reconciliation Act of 2017.

Click to access 52941-hr1628bcra.pdf

If you don’t have time to read all 22 pages, here are some highlights (This is simply copied and pasted. My own editorial comments are in bold type.):

1) Compared with the June 26 cost estimate for a previous version of the legislation, this cost estimate shows savings [to the federal deficit] over the next 10 years that are larger—as well as estimated effects on health insurance coverage and on premiums for health insurance that are similar.

2) enacting this legislation would reduce federal deficits by $420 billion over the 2017–2026 period. This is about $100 Billion more than the previous version. Good news for the deficit.

(Bad news for the disabled [like my son, Matt], the elderly in nursing homes, and children born into or living in poverty through no fault of their own who will be subsidizing this deficit reduction plan by the cuts to their Medicaid health care and services.  Very brave of the Republican Senate to do that. Very brave.)

3) The largest savings would come from a reduction in total federal spending for Medicaid resulting both from provisions affecting health insurance coverage and from other provisions. By 2026, spending for that program would be reduced by 26 percent.

4) In 2026, for people who are made newly eligible under the ACA (certain adults under the age of 65 whose income is less than or equal to 138 percent of the federal poverty level [FPL]), Medicaid spending would be reduced by 87 percent, from $134 billion to $17 billion

5) This one is my personal evaluation, and I am sourcing a bar chart in the report.  The June 26 version shows a cut of $772 Billion in Medicaid.  The July 20 version shows a $756 cut in Medicaid.  PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT LISTEN TO SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER WHEN HE WILL MOST LIKELY SUGGEST THESE NUMBERS MEAN “THE NEW PROPOSAL INCREASES MEDICAID SPENDING BY $16 BILLION”)

6) The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2026

7) Under this legislation, in 2018, average premiums for benchmark plans for single policyholders would be about 20 percent higher than under current law,

8) under this legislation, 64- year-olds could be charged five times as much as 21-year-olds, CBO and JCT expect, compared with three times as much under current law—resulting in higher premiums for most older people.

9) For many lower-income people, the net premiums paid in the nongroup market under this legislation would be lower than those under current law if they purchased benchmark plans, but the plans would require them to pay a greater share of their health care costs.

“We will lower your premiums” the Republican Senators told us.  What they didn’t tell us: “The deductibles and copays will be much higher for all of you.”

10) For older people not eligible for premium tax credits, net premiums (after taking into account the tax savings from paying premiums from a health savings account) could be more than five times larger than those for younger people in many states, rather than only three times larger under current law.

11) Under this legislation, for a single policyholder purchasing an illustrative benchmark plan (with an actuarial value of 58 percent) in 2026, the deductible for medical and drug expenses combined would be roughly $13,000, the agencies estimate.

12) Because a deductible of $13,000 would be a large share of their income, many people with low income would not purchase any plan even if it had very low premiums.

If you are an “older American” – say, just a few years shy of being eligible for Medicare; if you are a family member of a person with Developmental Disabilities; if you are poor or working poor, or if you are a Christian, and simply aware of Jesus’ cry for the poor and a Christian’s call to be for the same thing Jesus is for, then you might want to call your United States Senator and let them know you oppose this legislation.  Offer a word of encouragement to them. One hundred bright Americans elected to deliberate and write legislation that builds up our great nation should really be able to come up with something better than this. (202) 224-3121

Between the Light and the Darkness

Advent Light

On a crisp November afternoon I found myself between the light and the darkness.

There is an official name for the celestial version of that condition: “dusk.” I needed to be there as I installed outdoor Christmas lights. In that place between light and dark, I would be able to see what I was doing, as well as being able to see the lights themselves.

Alone with the silence, I found myself quiet and still enough to reflect on the great empty space that had come upon me over the Thanksgiving Holiday, due to the absence of my sweet father after his death in the late spring.  Standing in the shadows of my house that blocked a setting sun, holding a tangled wad of Christmas lights, I was surprised to catch myself not fretting over having to spend extra time getting the green-wired-mess straight.  Instead, I was fretting to myself over my friends and family who have made this journey before me.  “Why didn’t you tell me it would hurt like this?” I asked all the faces I could think of who had experienced a “first Thanksgiving” (or Christmas) without Mom or Dad.  In the same instant I was asking myself: “Why did you not know it would be this way – you who have prayed for, and walked with, people on this same journey as their pastor?”

Shaking my head seemed more appropriate than shaking my fist.  And I quickly remembered having the same feeling after my first grandchild, Emaline, was born – that feeling when I understood there are some life experiences for which words fall short of showing the way for another to know the truth.

In the almost six months of having to go through all those hard “first-time-without-Daddy” annually occurring events, this had been the hardest yet.  After his death on June 5th, Father’s Day came around exactly two weeks later, and soon on the heels of that sad reckoning was what would have been his 91st Birthday on July 23rd.  Maybe I was still so numb from his death that I was somewhat protected from the deep sorrow in those first “first-time” experiences. When my birthday rolled around in early November, I was quite sad that I didn’t get my annual birthday lunch at Nashville’s German restaurant, The Gerst Haus.  My dad always took me and his dear lifelong friend, Lucien Swint, for lunch (our birthdays were close together).  Afterwards we would explore their boyhood stomping grounds, by driving slowly through East Nashville, with the two of them narrating a play-by-play of who lived in every house, and the memories that resided on what seemed like every street corner and old building.  It was an annual tradition rich with meaning for me.

Dictionary.com defines the adjective “dusk” as “tending to darkness.”  I understand the thinking behind that being the possible description of an adjective, but I really think “tending to darkness” should be a verb. It adequately describes my feelings on that afternoon of hanging lights.  I was indeed “tending to darkness” – the darkness of my own soul and spirit.  But because “dusk” is that liminal place between daylight and dark, while I might have been “tending to darkness,” I seemed to be “leaning to light.”

I thought about some other “firsts.”  I thought about what my dad might have felt like the first time he got to hold me after I was born.  I thought of the first time he went to one of my school plays, and the first time he heard me sing and play my guitar in public.  I thought of the first time he got to see me hold my own child for the first time.  I thought of the first time he got to see me lead worship as an ordained Lutheran pastor.  The sun kept going down and the coming of dark could not be avoided. But maybe because I had spent that day in the reality of Advent hope, my spirit was no longer tracking step-for-step with the declining sun.

Advent is a four Sunday season of the church that begins the liturgical year.  Some people think about it as a “countdown to Christmas,” but in reality, it is a season to reflect on the expectant waiting and preparation Christians  are called to do until the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age.  In churches that observe the liturgy, one will see altars and pulpits draped with blue fabric, and the clergy vestments will include blue stoles.  There will be a wreath of four blue candles, and in some churches perhaps one might see banners and other decorations bearing the blue of Advent.  It is a “blue” season, and as it turns out,  it seems that description could be taken literally and figuratively.

Advent occurs over the very days that the daylight hours grow to their shortest and darkest.  There is scientific evidence that a lack of sunlight can impact and magnify feelings of depression. Like my own experience, this is the time of year when many people experience the exact opposite emotion of all that is being advertised, talked about, and promoted in the malls and TV commercials: joy, happiness, celebration.  It is a time when, for some people, it is very easy to find one’s self in a “blue” mood.

The color “blue” is used for Advent because it is known as a color that represents “hope.” Perhaps there is no better reason to hope, in this season of Advent, than to reflect on the promise of Christ’s return and what that will mean for all who find themselves in darkness this time of year.

There are two passages from the book of Revelation that offer great hope:

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3b-4 NRSV).

And,

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there (Rev. 21:22-25).

No tears, no darkness.  That’s enough for me to hope for on a crisp November afternoon.

 

I Knew This Day Would Come (for Matt’s 21st Birthday)

Matt’s 21st birthday is January 12.  I wrote the following in the summer of 2014 on a day of his own choosing – his own “coming of age.”  I posted it on Facebook then, but thought on this, his 21st birthday, would be an appropriate way to celebrate his very special day.  He has been talking about this birthday for about three months!

For as long as I can remember, I have put Matt to bed.  Leann would gladly do this I know.  It has just, for some reason, become a special time for me and Matt, and so Matt protects it from outsiders (including MOM).

The ritual goes like this: Matt lays down in his bed, I brush his teeth and then cover him up and lay beside him and tell him a story: “Once upon a time there was a SWEEET little boy named Matt Steinhauer – He was the SWEEETEST Little boy! He had a Mom and a dad, and a sister named Kerra and a sister named Lindsay. EVERYBODY loved him! Mom loved him, Dad loved him, Kerra loved him, Lindsay loved him, EVERYBODY loved him.

“One day, Matt woke up – it was a Tuesday…..”

The story has always simply been a recap of what I know about what he did that day. On June 22, 2014, I was waiting on Matt to get in his bed.  So I knew this day would come…when Matt would, in his self-awareness, “grow up.” With about an hour and a half left on the day of the Summer Solstice, Matt walked into his room at bedtime and said: “I’m not Little Matt anymore.”

Having spent the previous couple of hours looking at pictures of Lindsay across the years, as I constructed the video for her wedding reception that would happen in a few days, I was already what one might call “on the emotional edge.”

He said again, “I’m a guy, I’m not Little Matt.” I’m “tall Matt.” I confirmed that he was indeed getting tall, and that we really called him “Little Matt” to help people tell the two of us apart. But really it was that I am “Old Matt,” and he is “Young Matt.” “Would that be okay?”

matt and sisters This is Matt with his sisters, Kerra and Lindsay. If you look closely you can see him standing on his tip-toes because he is “big!”

“Yes!” was his immediate reply. Holding my breath I asked him, “Now that you are “young Matt” and not “little Matt,” do you still want me to tell you a story?

“Yes!”

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

89 Years Strong!  Happy Birthday to an Extraordinary Man…Who Happens to be My Father

89 Years Strong! Happy Birthday to an Extraordinary Man…Who Happens to be My Father

Dear Johnny Working Cover

John Mathias Steinhauer, Sr, and John Mathias Steinhauer, Jr., a photo from the Nashville Banner in the 1930’s in an article about President Roosevelt’s March of Dimes Campaign. My grandfather was a Nashville City Police officer and it was only through the generosity of many Nashville residents that knew him that he was able to send his son for care. He started “paying back” the community immediately and to this day my father has worked hard to continue that effort. This is a working copy of a book cover that I hope to publish within the year.

My father, John Steinhauer, was born on July 23, 1925. The seventh summer of his life was spent like most of the boys his age who lived in East Nashville: riding bikes through the neighborhood, playing sandlot baseball, swimming in the pool at Shelby Park.

Two weeks after his seventh birthday he went for a swim at the pool. The next day he walked out to the car to go to a family picnic and when they got there he wasn’t feeling well. His legs were hurting and he couldn’t walk. His father carried him inside. He would never walk again without crutches or a brace, or without a severe limp.

My dad had contracted what was then known as Infantile Paralysis, and what we now refer to as Polio. The disease affected many people in those days. For some it was fatal. He spent 19 days on his death bed – only able to keep down the occasional Coca-Cola (he has been a lifelong loyal customer). In his day-in-time they called him “crippled.”

My paternal grandfather died when my dad was still a young man. Fortunately he lived long enough to see that his “crippled” son would do fine in this world. He died not long after my mom and dad were married in June of 1952.

John Steinhauer and Ned Ray McWhorter

John Steinhauer, Jr., with future governor Ned Ray McWhorter. At the time of this photo he was serving as the Assistant Chief Bill Clerk in the Tennessee House of Representatives. He served four terms as a State Legislator and his legislative efforts included procuring a hospital for his growing community, a Community College, and reapportionment of the County Court (county legislative body) for equal representation of a growing county population – that had not been done in decades.

I was thinking one day about what a great life my dad has lived, and how I wished his dad could have seen the outcome of his involvement in a variety of places –home, church, serving in elected and appointed positions in state and local government, and at the age of 89 still an active member of The Sertoma Club of Nashville, a civic club he has been a member of for over 60 years.

There is a more in-depth story that I am working on, but on this, his 89th birthday, I wanted to tell him “Happy Birthday,” and “thank you” for living an exceptional life and modeling the essence of a “can do” attitude, and especially for leaving some long-lasting and important marks on the world (besides his exceptional children!).

Happy Birthday Daddy! You are a hero and example to many!

Love,

Matt (John M. Steinhauer, III – a name I wear proudly!)

DSCN3748

John Mathias Steinhauer, III, and John Mathias Steinhauer, IV – doing our best to carry on the Steinhauer tradition of serving our community!

“The Roof is Leaking” and Other Observations Living Life With A Down Syndrome Child

The twenty fir1071687_10151986131078467_411256590_ost day of March is “World Down Syndrome Day.”  I wasn’t even aware of this annual observance until I saw many posts on Facebook on that day one year ago.  I was surprised…but then again I wasn’t, because there are so many aspects of raising a child with  Down syndrome that are surprising.  This year I am preparing for the celebration and observance by writing this reflection to share with the people whose lives have been so thoroughly enriched by knowing my son, Matt – as well as writing it for those by whom this will be the only way to know such a special and wonderful human being. March 21, or “3/21” is chosen as the date for this event for its numeric symbolism with the genetic mutation that causes Down syndrome (clinically known as “Trisomy Twenty One”) – a third (extra) chromosome on what should be the 21st pair of 23 pairs of chromosomes in every human cell.  There is so much to be thankful for, and so many “blessings” that our family has received as the result of having a special-needs child. I have shared, and will continue to share, some of those warm and wonderful stories. But the hard truth is that there are some true challenges too, so I trust you will allow me to speak (every once in a while) these truths even when they are hard.

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The congregation in which I serve as pastor recently hosted the Ascension Ringers from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.  They put on an amazing bell choir concert for no more than a “free will” offering.  In return, as is the custom when a congregation hosts one of these traveling college groups, our family was responsible for overnight housing of some of the college students – in our case, three young men.

After the concert I loaded the boys and their luggage in my car and drove them to my home, where my sweet and hospitable wife, Leann, had prepared some late night snacks.  We were standing around the island in our kitchen, engaging in conversation about their hometowns, why they decided to join the bell choir – the normal type of conversation one might expect to have with three young men we had just met and would probably never see again.

Matt, who usually stays put in his “man cave” (in the bonus room up the stairs) where he sits on the floor surrounded by his four cowboy hats (a white one for Brad Paisley, brown for Blake Shelton, black and a summer “straw” version for Kenny Chesney) and a couple dozen pictures of his favorite stars, with his headphones on and iPod playing music (listening to Blake, Brad or Kenny), was honoring our guests with his presence in the kitchen.

But I know he was mostly there because among the snacks was a pizza set out on the kitchen island and he had high hopes that “the boys” might include him in sharing one of his favorite foods – and they did.

In the middle of our conversation, Matt broke in and nonchalantly informed us: “The roof is leaking.” My initial thought was, “It would be just my luck for us to have a house full of overnight guests, and even though there was no rain or snow falling right now, I am about to look up and I am going to see something dripping where there are no water pipes, or even a flat enough space for water to collect – it is a vaulted ceiling.”

Matt had gotten our attention: “The roof is leaking.”

I looked up – we ALL looked up – nothing.

“What?” Leann and I both asked Matt at the same time.  “The roof is leaking – everything is going to get wet,” he replied in his dry, matter-of-fact way.  This time Leann and I, as well as our three young guests, surveyed the ceiling carefully and all concluded there was no leak. Everything about the ceiling and the roof looked pretty close to “normal.”

A few minutes later, when we decided it might be time to head to bed, I noticed a very large puddle of water on the floor where there should be no water…and then realized there was another puddle on the counter under the coffeemaker I had just setup to go off the next morning.  I had not firmly plugged the coffee water reservoir into place, so the water that should have drained into the coffee maker the next morning all went on the floor – drip by drip – over the edge of the counter in a silent and out-of-the-line-of-sight manner, until it had collected in a large puddle on our kitchen floor.  There really was something going on here that was going to need our attention.  We just didn’t see it until we were right beside it.

If you know somebody with a Down syndrome child, this might be sort of like their life.

Our initial “the roof is leaking” call-to-attention came when we got the news that our child had Down syndrome.  Some Down syndrome children have significant health and medical issues from the get-go, with heart defects and other situations that require surgeries – and sometimes several surgeries – to start their lives. Matt’s start was pretty much like any other newborn.  He didn’t have the additional medical issues to compound the already “big surprise.”  We started looking for the “problem” the doctor had told us we had, and we just didn’t see it.  Our baby looked a little different and was slower than his older sisters in the “firsts” that parents count with their children: first time to roll over, first time to sit up, first time to crawl, first words, first steps, but for the most part he was just a baby – a sweet, good-natured, very easy to love little boy.

Maybe the “warning” should be heard as a prophecy instead of a pronouncement. The roof may not be leaking, but if there is water on the floor that is not supposed to be there one is eventually going to have to deal with it.  Just when we thought we were going to bed and get a good night’s sleep we had to start dealing with a situation that we had been warned of, but really didn’t quite comprehend.

For Leann and I living into some of the challenges of parenting a special needs child has been long coming, and this is one of the challenges for every parent of a special needs child. Those babies…then children…then adolescents…then teenagers…grow into adults.  They will graduate from high school like typically developing children, only they will not go on to college, and then get a job, and then move out on their own. Matt will graduate from high school…and then he will be a full grown adult, dependent on us for as long as we feel like that living arrangement is appropriate.  As a brief “aside” I need to offer this word of advice to parents of “typically developing” children who seem to have this particular trait of Down syndrome children (graduating from high school/college and seeming to become an adult dependent).  Please don’t have your child genetically tested for Down Syndrome.  Some of the best and brightest young adults wind up as “adult dependents” for a season.  You will be wasting your money and it might come across as disrespectful to your child  if you suggest to them that they have this “syndrome” in common with Downs children and that you think they need to be tested!).

Our first two children are grown and gone.  One-by-one our friends become “empty nesters” and gain the flexibility to come and go on a whim — do whatever they want to do with their time.  We turn toward our “retirement” and there greeting us is this puddle of water that we just didn’t see, or didn’t see growing from a steady drip into a puddle, or maybe we were so busy with all the other aspects of raising a special needs child we hadn’t come up for air long enough to even wonder this far ahead.

The challenges of raising a special-needs child are often life-long.  Remember that among all the cuddly and cute stories and pictures and anecdotes that we parents share about our children, we also face heart-breaking realities.  Most of us, given the chance to “do it all over again,” would indeed “do it all over again” – without even thinking about it. But that is only because the gifts that we receive and the lessons we learn from our special children far outweigh the challenges and hardships.  But the challenges and hardships exist nonetheless.

Don’t Forget “Brother’s Day!”

A few years ago, after watching his mom receive several Mother’s Day cards (one of which he made himself), and what seemed like an extraordinary amount of attention and love being directed toward her, my son, Matt, asked: “When is ‘Brother’s Day?'” Of course his two sisters, and mother, and I all looked at each other and giggled, and wondered why we had never thought of that?

1620435_10152186416018467_2051343113_nEvery now and then, when Matt is hoping to receive a new CD, or T-Shirt with one of his favorite singers or actors’ “Avery T-shirt transferred” on to the front of it (many times with him photo shopped into the picture with them), and there is no apparent celebration such as Christmas or his birthday coming up, he will ask: “So when is Brother’s Day?”

In mid January, Matt’s sister, Kerra, called to say she had ordered a T-Shirt she was going to surprise him with on a weekend visit in February. The week before Valentines Day, Matt got off the bus and asked if his CD was in the mail. I had no idea that any CD had been ordered, but got to thinking if Valentines Day was only a few days away he had good reason to be hopeful. “Has the mail come?” was how he started the conversation, and then he said something about “Kenny Chesney…the road and the radio.”  He quite often makes up titles of CD compilations that don’t even exist with the sheer hope that him giving it a name will make it a reality.  When we bought Brad Paisley’s “Wheelhouse” as soon as it was available, within a week he asked for “Wheelhouse Live.”   I later found out there really was a “The Road and the Radio” by Kenny Chesney.  He had asked his mom to “order it” – his words – and so he actually knew what he was talking about.  But before I knew all this, and just to humor him and get him to stop talking about it, instead of walking into the house I told him, “Let’s go check the mailbox,” because I knew there wasn’t going to be anything except mostly junk mail in that day’s delivery.

As soon as I opened the mailbox there was a gray padded envelope addressed to Kerra. “What’s that…a CD?” he asked excitedly? I figured it was the t-shirt and I had to think fast. Knowing Kerra would be home in a couple of weeks I informed him: “It’s your Brother’s Day present from Kerra!” “Can I open it?” he asked. “No….you have to wait until Kerra gets here. She wants to be here when you open it.”

I think “Brother’s Day” was meant to happen on February 21-22 this year.

It will begin around 11:30pm the night of the 21st, when sister Kerra, brother-in-law Brett, and “dog niece” Lucy arrive and Matt finally gets to open the package.

Matt and Brad Paisley

This was Matt’s first concert – Brad Paisley in Knoxville, TN, in March 2012. Two wonderful friends arranged an after-concert backstage visit with Brad and it was a real treat for Matt and us too. Brad was an exceptionally kind and gracious “star.” Matt is wearing an autographed shirt that Brad had sent to him when he heard he had such a big fan at Station Camp High School.

It will continue all day Saturday, when we will surprise him with concert tickets to one of his all-time favorite singers, Brad Paisley. A kind man from the church where Matt participates in a “Special Friends” Sunday morning class, gave us four tickets to Brad’s Nashville concert. Matt will not know about this until the day of the show because the last time we got him tickets to a Brad Paisley concert we made the mistake of giving him the tickets for Christmas and having to wait until early March to go….listening to Matt’s continual questions about the concert and Brad Paisley. “No Matt, I don’t think Brad will come to your house and watch ‘Mean Girls’ with you.” “Yes Matt, I am sure Brad would love to come to your school to ‘recycle.'” (Matt said three things to Brad when he actually got to meet him at that first concert, and one of the first was: “Will you come to my school and recycle?”)

I don’t know if “Brother’s Day” will ever get enough traction to become a national holiday. If it does, please remember it was Matt that started it!

“Why Do You Keep Saying That?” An Answer to a Question Everyone Should Ask

In my Lutheran tradition, when it is time for Holy Communion, the communicants are invited to come to the altar rail and kneel or stand to receive the bread and wine.  I guess the meaning of participating in that meal is as diverse as the people who come and gather at the table.

My eighteen year old son, Matt, has Down syndrome.  He has been taking communion for at least a dozen years.  From the very first time he took communion he just seemed to know what he was supposed to do, and for several years now he has no trouble stepping up to the altar (sometimes before the ushers have given him the “now-you-may-go” sign), kneeling, and extending his hand to receive the bread.  However, it is rare that Matt does not offer some commentary as he receives communion.

Before I was ordained, and was serving as a Vicar, I was assisting at the communion table, distributing the wine from the chalice, following the presiding minister, who was distributing the bread.  When the presiding minister got to the person just before Matt, he ran out of bread, and so he turned to move toward the altar to retrieve more bread.  There Matt knelt, hand extended, expecting the Bread of Life to be placed there lovingly with the words: “The Body of Christ…given for you.”  As he watched the pastor walk past him without even acknowledging that he was kneeling there, Matt exclaimed loud enough to be sure the pastor heard him: “Hey!  I think you forgot something!”

Since I have been presiding at communion I have always wondered what Matt was going to say.  Sometimes it is simply “thanks,”  Sometimes it is: “Thanks Dad….see you at lunch.”  Sometimes he mumbles a little bit and is honestly hard enough to understand that I just smile at him and move on to the next person.

On a recent Sunday, as soon as I handed him the bread and said: “The Body of Christ given for you,” he replied so clearly that I heard him – and I am sure everyone else did too: “Why do you keep saying that?”  I smiled at him and moved on to the next person.  But as I did that, I couldn’t help but realize he had been paying attention.  He always does.  He realized I was saying the same thing to everybody.  Or maybe he has always noticed that – and today he was going to ask me “why?”  The assisting minister was following about three people behind me, and when the small cup of  wine was given to Matt, with the words: “the blood of Christ shed for you,” I heard him ask again: “Why do you keep saying that?”

All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure if he was asking me that because he wanted to know, or if he was asking me that to test me?  I could almost sense him asking us: “Do you know why you are saying that over and over: ‘The body of Christ given for you? The blood of Christ shed for you?’”

I decided to learn from him in that moment, and that is why, before I pronounced the table blessing, after everyone in the congregation finished taking Communion, I told everyone present  that I had heard him ask that question of me and the communion assistant, and here was my answer…and I thought that it was a question everyone should ask, and so everyone should hear the answer: “Matt, I say that to everybody because none of us can hear the story enough times about how much and how deeply God loves us: “The body of Christ given for you…the blood of Christ shed for you.”

It is not just that Jesus’ body was given, or his blood shed. These things were done for you.

Thank you Matt for reminding me the importance and impact of what we say and what we hear when we receive this holy gift from God.