40 reasons Christina’s 40th should be celebrated

ISL Founder

Christina with the kids.

Christina with the kids.

I am sorry this is so long, but when you figure out what I’m doing, you will understand.

For Christina’s 40th birthday (June 26), I’ve highlighted 40 instances in the 23-plus years I’ve known her where she sacrificed, made someone happy, helped someone or motivated someone else to serve or be a better person, all without expectation of anything in return. This isn’t even close to as much as I could have written.

No one I’ve ever met gives more than my wife, and to honor her, recognizing that quality is the best way I know how. So, here are the 40, in semi-chronological order.

1. December 7, 1991 — My mother and Christina’s mother had a mutual friend who thought it would be a good idea for us to go to out to a dance at Christina’s school, Westside High in Omaha. I spoke to Christina on the phone and was blown away by her lovely voice and how smart she was. Dec. 7 was the date we actually met. She was sweet, and we clicked immediately. Yes, it was 50 years to the day after Pearl Harbor. No joke. I often say she dropped a bomb on me.

2. Late December, 1991 — We went to the Christmas Prom. I didn’t have a car or the extra cash for a tuxedo. Her dad took care of the tux. Her friends took care of the ride. I was floored that anyone would do that for someone they barely knew. As I got to know her family better, I found that such kindness was common for them and their friends.

Christina, Westside homecoming dance, 1992.

Christina, Westside homecoming dance, 1992.

3. Spring 1992 — Christina attended my Senior Prom at North. Everybody thought I was lying when I said I had a girlfriend who went to Westside. North was in the ‘hood, and Westside was in the good part of town. No way I could pull that off. She was beautiful. I gained more respect from the brothers in four hours than I had in four years.

4. Fall 1992-Fall 1993 — I stupidly broke up with her because I thought I was a big deal when I started going to Creighton and she was still a high school senior. She showed me what grace was all about by remaining my friend during perhaps the roughest patch of my life.

5. Fall 1993 — She started attending Creighton. This was when reality hit that I really blew it by breaking up with her. Everybody else got to see how awesome she was while I was barely in the friend zone. Again, though I didn’t deserve it, she remained loyal.

6. Spring 1994 — I was the sports editor of the Creighton school newspaper, and she was involved in an event in which she invited school leaders to speak. It was cool that she thought of me.

7. Spring 1997 — Christina invited me to her graduation party. I was shocked that she hadn’t forgotten about me.

8. 1997-2003 — I was having a particularly tough time getting along with my brother, and she helped me chill out. She also showed me what grace was by demonstrating it in her own relationships.

9. 1999 — I broke up with her again, and she still pursued me. I still wonder why sometimes, but I’m glad she did. And here we are.

10. Summer 2001 — Christina set up a trip to Chicago for my birthday and got tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Christina at our wedding, July 5, 2003.

Christina at our wedding, July 5, 2003.

11. July 5, 2003 — Christina married me. This is her best example of sacrifice, grace, love and forgiveness of all.

12. July 5, 2003, II — There were people from everywhere at our wedding in Nashville. Christina’s friends, I learned, are extremely loyal people. Because of her love for others, our wedding was extremely special.

13. Fall 2003 — We were long distance when we got married because she was in school and I had a good career going at the Omaha World-Herald. I decided to finally move to St. Louis, where she was attending St. Louis University. She immediately helped me feel comfortable, had good friends and a church family for me to fit into. Those things are hard to find.

14. Fall 2003-Spring 2005 — I didn’t know anyone in St. Louis other than her when I arrived. It took me a year to land a full-time sports writing job, and that was at a weekly that paid half of what I made in Omaha. She never judged me or made me feel bad.

15. July 2004 – Christina took me to an Earth, Wind and Fire/Chicago concert for my birthday. EWF is one of my favorite groups of all time. She rented a yellow Mustang for the ride from St. Louis to Hazelwood, Mo.

16. Spring 2005 — She was looking through job openings for me and found a position for a sports/news writer for The Associated Press in Indianapolis. The rest is history.

17. 2005 — She was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences at IUPUI. It was one more step in her lifelong quest to serve others.

18. Fall 2006 — She chided me for failing to seek relationships with strong Christian men. Based on that, I founded the Circle City Church fantasy football league, which led to the Circle City Church sports ministry. The league still exists, and so do the lifelong friendships.

19. Summer 2008 — I was struggling as a planner for my family reunion. She stepped in and left no stone unturned. She was a driving force behind making the event a success.

20. Summer 2008 — I was getting ready to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and she did everything to help me prepare but put me on the plane herself, despite being pregnant with Eva.

21. Summer 2008 II — She took care of Elias for three weeks while I was in Beijing. She even fought off bees from a hidden hive in the back yard while I was gone.

22. Fall 2009 — Craig Dragash and I started the Race for Africa, a fundraiser for African missions. Christina helped with the design for race bibs and stayed up with me until well past 1 a.m. to make sure they were perfect. We created the event because of her.

Cliff and Christina, Valentine's Day, 2009

Cliff and Christina, Valentine’s Day, 2009

23. 2006, 2008 and 2012 — Christina had C-sections to have all three of our children and went through a painful recovery process in each instance.

24. 2012 — She fought through all her surgeries – a hysterectomy that was required because of a cancerous tumor, another surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid and the recovery from a C-section to have Eden — and still worked from her hospital bed.

25. 2012 — Christina had radioactive iodine treatments to make sure all cancer cells were removed. Without her thyroid, she takes medication to replace the hormones it produces. She’s often tired, but maintains a hectic schedule that I, a perfectly healthy person, could never maintain.

26. 2012 — Christina got her moment in the sun when she was one of 10 Mom of the Year winners in Indiana. She attended a major dinner and basically was officially declared awesome.

27. 2013 — Christina gave up her tenure-track position at IUPUI to spend more time raising our children. That allowed me to resume my career as a full time sports writer. Huge sacrifice for someone with a Ph.D. to do that.

28. Winter 2014 — Christina took care of the kids for six months alone after I moved to take the AP job in Oklahoma City. It was tough for her, but she was a trooper. She had a lot of help from her friends, but she carried the load.

29. Summer 2014 — Despite her own struggles with moving from Indiana, she was a champ when it came to helping our kids adjust to a new place.

30. May 2015 — She took the kids to participate in the Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The kids sold items and helped raise $200 for cancer research. The team name was Team Triumphant. Perfect.

31. Father’s Day, 2015 — The kids came up with activities that start with F for father, D for Dada, C for Cliff, B for baba (dad in Swahili) and P for Papa. This is an example of the painstaking detail with which Christina approaches every task.

32. Spring-Summer 2015 — Christina has been a rock for Tessa and Peter Baker in Moore, Oklahoma as they have dealt with the death of Peter’s mother and the dying process of Peter’s grandmother. She has often taken care of their children during the day to give them relief without being asked.


Christina doing volunteer work with kids, 2011.

Christina and kids volunteering for Kids against Hunger, 2011.

33. More than once, Christina directed Elias and Eva in ballet presentations at our church in Indianapolis. Christina is NOT a ballet instructor, but she has paid such close attention that she pulls it off without a hitch.

34. She has prepared meals for people in need — usually new mothers or people who have a loved one dying who might not have the energy or time to cook.

35. She has organized fund raisers for Give Hope, Fight Poverty, an organization that helps orphans in Swaziland. She and the kids have created lemonade stands to raise the funds.

36. She has participated in the Race for the Cure several times and has volunteered for Kids Against Hunger.

37. She regularly takes items to the Salvation Army. She has the kids pick out things they are willing to give away, and makes sure they give up something they want to keep to help them understand the true meaning of sacrifice.

38. She has shown up to countless Tanzanian weddings to do whatever it took to help the couple and make the wedding run smoothly.

39. She volunteers at Briarwood Elementary so much she could be confused for a teacher. Any event, big or small, she’s there. She spends the most time helping in the library.

40. Our daughter, Eva, received several bouquets after a recent ballet performance. Afterward, she was taking photos with a girl who didn’t have flowers. Without a second thought, Eva handed the girl one of her bouquets. She learned that from Christina. That’s the best gift of all — passing it down.

Happy Birthday, Christina. And thank you for letting me be a part of so many of them.

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