A Hard Month- A Great Month

32 days     My wife recently shared on her blog (thebrutiful.life – it’s a VERY good “read”) about what our last month has been like. In a word- (a family-friendly word, that is!) STINKY! The story starts on Tuesday, September 12. Our “little” dog- Nessie, a Lhasa mix and my wife’s parents’ dog who moved in with us almost 6 years ago and stayed with us when my in-laws moved from our house into an Assisted Live residence a few blocks from here- was 18 years old…pretty old for a little dog. She was stone deaf, losing her sight, suffering from arthritis and a VERY sweet dog. She had a stroke that Monday. So, we took her to the vet on that Tuesday and had to have her put to sleep. That was a very difficult thing to have to do. It was the RIGHT thing to do…but difficult.
We were going to go over and tell my wife’s parents that evening, after dinner. But life had different plans. My father-in-law had some health issues that led to multiple trips to hospitals, starting that afternoon and spreading over the next few days and ended with us having to move him to a nursing home late that week. That was a very difficult thing to have to do. It was the RIGHT thing to do…but difficult. We have been helping both of my wife’s parents make that transition.
Then there was our other dog- Zoey. She was a black Lab/English Pointer mix that was our younger son’s 6th birthday present. She was almost 14 years old- old for a big dog. She was very arthritic AND had a massive fatty tumor on her side that was A. benign and B. not operable. (based on her age and condition, the vet felt she probably wouldn’t survive the surgery.) So, she continued to struggle with her physical issues. The vet said that, as the tumor grew and the skin stretched, the danger would be with the skin splitting. Once that happened, she was going to survive.
Fast-forward to this past week. That process had escalated to the point that skin was stretching more and more, the arthritis was getting worse and worse and her quality of life was going downhill fast. Then, late in the week, the “leading edge” of the tumor local was starting to develop sores and more and more irritated skin. Then, on Friday, the skin opened up. It was time. So. Last Saturday, October 14, 32 days after we had Nessie put to sleep and 32 days from when my father-in-law’s most recent “journey” began, we had to take Zoey in and have her put to sleep. That was a very difficult thing to have to do. It was the RIGHT thing to do…but difficult.
For those of you keeping score at home, that both dogs put to sleep and my wife’s dad transferred to a nursing home…all in 32 days. That doesn’t include performing 2 funerals- 1 day apart- a chemo treatment and its after-effects AND prep for another chemo treat that happened this past Tuesday. Not gonna lie- a pretty cruddy 32 days!
And yet, in the middle of all that heartache, grief and challenge, there were some things to hang on to. I also performed a wedding during that stretch. We brought 5 new members in the church- 5 at one time. I had a youth baptism in the middle of those 32 days and I have an infant baptism this Sunday. The church nearly unanimously approved a Capital Campaign that, while challenging and a pretty decent sum of money, will allow for some much-needed upgrades to our building that will be very positive when they are completed. Also, I am blessed with an awesome family, and awesome church family, awesome friends and an awesome God as we walk through this pesky cancer journey.
So, we continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Another Bites the Dust

Layout 1     Well, “Big Chemo Infusion #4” is in the history books. (Although I can’t for the LIFE of me imagine any history book that would actually PRINT that!!) We got to the office about 9:15AM. We saw the doctor. I’m holding my weight. My blood pressure is great. My core temperature remains just SLIGHTLY below normal. The doctor was happy with the physical exam- she said the neck looks good. We talked about the neuropathy and decided not to do anything about it just yet (i.e. prescription medication), But there are “natural home remedies” that are supposed to help, so…
The infusion went off without a hitch. It took about 5 hours, so we walked out the door about 3:15PM-ish- about 6 hours after we walked in the door! My wife was the DJ- picking great music from Pandora and Spotify that not only did WE enjoy- the staff at the facility unanimously agreed they wanted to just stay in the room we were in because they loved it, too! I slept for about an hour. AND…because the room was empty except for us, my wife got her own recliner this time, instead of that straight-back chair! Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
The side effects will stay in the background…until about Friday noon. Then, if history is any indication, they will roar back like The Lion in Winter. The rest Friday and all of Saturday will, quite frankly, stink to high Heaven. I will “cowboy up” on Sunday, then go home and take a long nap. Monday will be a little better. Tuesday will be a little better. And by Wednesday noon-ish, I will feel relatively human again!!
Then what? Well, on October 30, I’ll have another CT scan- top of neck to pelvis. (I get to drink that lovely Barium drink! This time, it’s Mocha! I again told the Tech when she offered me two flavors, “It really doesn’t matter because I can’t taste it. So, let’s switch it up and go Mocha this time!) Then, the following Tuesday, we go back to see the oncologist to talk about the results of the CT scan and plan the next step. That next step will be one of two things: 1. have “Big Chemo #5 THAT day, right after the doctor’s appointment or 2. Take a break from chemo.
We are nearing the need to take a break. The oncologist said 6 is about the most treatments she would do without a break- the toxicity level is too high at that point to keep adding more. So, if this scan shows either more improvement (the last two both have) or at least no loss of already-gained improvement, we’ll take a break. We don’t know how long that break will be yet or if they would do yet another scan before they started chemo back up again. BUT- if everything else is equal, I would LOVE to take a break! We will find out in early November and, frankly, we will do whatever we need to do!
#TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

On Like Donkey Kong!

donkey kong

Well, all I can say is, “It’s on like Donkey Kong!” I called my oncologist’s office yesterday to see how the bloodwork was- to see if I could actually have chemo today or not. (I got them to agree to that arrangement last time, so that it would save us the 90-minute round-trip just to hear that my bloodwork WASN’T good enough! It’s just like Chevy Chase driving the family all the way across the country to go to Wally World, only to have John Candy say, “Sorry! Park’s closed!” OK- maybe not “just” like!) The way it works is this- I go to the hospital early on Monday morning and get the blood draw done. While they do “that voodoo that they do”, I wait until mid-morning and then call the oncologist’s nurse. I leave a voicemail. Mid-afternoon, they call and tell me “yay” or “nay”. And we go from there. 

So, my bloodwork was good. That means that we will meet with the oncologist today. We go over the bloodwork. She gives me the “once over”. Asks LOTS of questions about how I’m doing. (I’m sure the neuropathy will be added to the mix this time.) And then we transfer to the other side of the office, where the infusion rooms are. IV in arm. AND…the first bag is away!  

We will spend a grand total of about 6 hours or so in the building. We’ll talk a lot. We’ll read a lot. We’ll eat lunch in the infusion room. I may or may not doze a bit. And then, after everything is done, they “unstrap” me and off we go. At our United Methodist Men’s dinner/meeting last night, one of the guys asked, “Are you able to drive home?” Yep. Honestly, other than a little stiff from sitting for so long, I feel fine when we leave. It’s odd- they spend hours pumping stuff into your veins that they have to wear a special gown and gloves to even handle and dispense. But quite honestly, I feel fine when we leave. And I will feel fine tomorrow. And I will feel fine on Thursday. And then, Friday- late morning- Katie bar the door! 

Here’s the amazing thing- I sit in a relatively comfortable recliner, reading on my iPad, having a little snack every now and then and drinking coffee. Meanwhile, my wife sits in a rather uncomfortable straight-back chair. For almost 6 hours. With a smile on her face the WHOLE time. I used to say, “You don’t HAVE to go. That’s a long time. I can go by myself.” But she made it CLEAR, right up front, that she was going and that I was to STOP offering otherwise! I…picked…a winner!! Seriously, I can’t imagine doing any of this without my wife. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and we are truly partners in this…in everything.  

#TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

Praying FOR…Crud on a Cracker?!

crud on a cracker

Once again today, I find myself in the odd position of praying FOR the one thing that’s going to make me feel like “crud on a cracker” in a few days! Early this morning, I will have made the trip to the local hospital (a MASSIVE drive of 10 blocks or so!) to have a blood draw. That early morning blood draw will then be “processed” to produce the test results my oncologist wants/needs. Later today, once the lab results have been faxed to the oncologist’s office and reviewed, I will call them to see if my “numbers were good” or not. 

If they are NOT, then I will wait a week and have another blood draw. As you probably know, there are certain blood markers and levels that have protocols attached to them. Those numbers HAVE to be within the guidelines established by the protocol for the chemo to be administered. If everything they look for is within the established protocol, then I am “good to go” for chemo tomorrow.  

As I have shared before in this space, it almost makes you feel schizophrenic to actively “root” for something that makes several days miserable for you. Imagine it this way- it’s almost like you intentionally got a bad case of the flu. In almost EVERY circumstance, no sane, rational human would do that. But this isn’t almost every circumstance. This is a unique circumstance for most people.  

And so, today- I pray for “good numbers” out of the early-morning blood draw. I pray that, when I talk to the doctor’s office this afternoon, they will say, “Blood work was normal- see you tomorrow.” I pray that I will have an IV in my arm for about 5 ½ hours tomorrow. I pray that, by lunchtime on Friday, “crud on a cracker” has visited me in a strong way. I pray that I have to work hard to “answer the bell” next Sunday because of how I feel. Why? Because it means I had the chemo. And the chemo is the only thing that is working right now. And it IS working. I don’t have to LIKE it. But I DO have to recognize that it is doing what it is designed to do. It is improving my quality of life. Frankly, it is prolonging my life at this point.  

So, I pray for good results today. I pray that, tomorrow morning, I can sit in that recliner, offer my arm for the IV and say, “Bring it on!” What an odd journey this is!! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

Anxious For Nothing: Ask God For Help

Anxious For Nothing Ask God For Help

     Many of you have heard this story before. BUT- some haven’t and, given what we’re talking about today…it bears repeating! Our older son was born in 1988. And then…as they say…time passed!  Years went by, and he was STILL an only child. Then, when he was 11, he announced that he didn’t want to be an only child anymore! We informed him that, despite what he may WANT, that ship had sailed. He countered with, “I’m going to pray about it!” THREE months later, my wife was pregnant! THEN…he announced that he wanted a brother. We told that he couldn’t simply choose the gender. He again said, “I’m going to pray about it.” 1st Ultrasound? “Five…five…five…five…one. It’s a boy!” (Think about it!) So…for those keeping score at home, our older son A) prayed for a sibling, after YEARS of no sibling, and he got one, AND 2) prayed for a MALE sibling, and he got one! We told him, “Thank you SO much for praying your brother into existence…please STOP praying for children!” We sincerely believe that our younger son is an answer to the prayers of our older son- he was LITERALLY prayed into existence! (Yes, I took all the “birds and bees/parts is parts” classes in 5th Grade. Yes, I DO understand the basic biological process of procreation. HOWEVER…I still believe he was prayed into existence!)

     Have your plans not worked out liked you thought they would? Does anxiousness keep you up at night? Are worry and fear your constant companions? Could you use some calm in your life? Stress-related ailments cost this country $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity. Our new sermon series will address those issues as we walk through Anxious For Nothing. Based on the book by New York Times bestselling author, Max Lucado, we will try to provide a roadmap for finding peace in the midst of chaos. Every week, we’ll focus on what God has to tell us through one of the Old Testament Psalms. Today, we consider a portion of Psalm 119-

     Psalm 119:33-37 Teach me, Lord, the way of Your decrees, that I may follow it to the end. Give me understanding, so that I may keep Your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of Your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward Your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to Your word.

     In this Psalm, David starts with a very important word- “teach”. He wants to be taught. And as Lt. Joe Cable from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific says, “You’ve got to be carefully taught”. So, David asks to be taught by whom? God, of course. And WHAT does he want to be taught? God’s decrees. Awesome. But just ONE question- what exactly IS a decree? Well, funny you should ask! A decree is “an official order issued by a legal authority.” Clear as mud. LEGAL authority? God? Huh? How about this- commandment? There you go! THAT makes sense! David wants God to teach him about the commandments.  He doesn’t just want to KNOW them- he wants to UNDERSTAND them. Head knowledge vs. heart knowledge. He asks God to turn his heart and his life toward what really matters. All in all- good stuff!

     God repeatedly pledges His presence to His people. To Abraham, He said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” To Hagar, “Don’t be afraid. God has heard.” To Isaac, “Don’t be afraid. I’m with you.” To Joshua, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” And, in the ultimate act of intimacy and sacrifice, God called himself Immanuel- “God with us.” He walked among us. He took on our sin. He defeated death. And He boiled down the whole of His 10 commandments to 4 words- love God, love neighbor.

     God isn’t some absentee Father, watching us from a distance. He wants us to come to Him with all that we have and all that we are. We can bring our cares and concerns to Him because He’s as close as our next breath.

     What giants are you facing in your life? Maybe you’re facing a major deadline at work. Maybe you’re facing a child who’s being bullied at school. Maybe you’re facing a loved one in desperate need of a cure. Whatever it is, you have a problem. We ALL have problems. We also have a painfully limited amount of wisdom, energy, patience and time. In other words- we have nowhere near what we actually need to face what we’re facing on our own. We have a thimbleful of water and what we need is an ocean of it. And that leads us to cry out and say, “It’s just too much to handle!”

     But my encouragement is this- when you find yourself in times of trouble, don’t start with what you can’t do- start with what God CAN do. Start with His power, His grace and His strength. Remember how many times God helped you face the impossible. Don’t lash out in fear but look up in faith. Turn to your Father for help. Will He help you? Yes. Immediately? Maybe. The way YOU want? Maybe. Prayer isn’t simply pestering God until He breaks down and gives us what we want. It’s about turning to Him with all that we have. It’s about Him offering a peace that passes all understanding in return. You can ALWAYS turn to God in prayer. And peace happens when God’s people pray.

     You can come to God with your prayers, your supplications and your requests. And those aren’t simply 3 words that mean exactly the same thing. They go together, but they nuance differently. Prayer is about general devotion. It includes specifics like worship and adoration. Supplication is all about humble requests instead of one-sided demands. Request are specific appeals. It’s telling God exactly what we want. It’s praying about the particulars of our problems.

     Did you hear that? A request is a specific appeal. It’s a serious prayer. It’s sincere. And…it’s an opportunity for us to see God at work, to see Him respond in specific ways to specific requests. And when we see that, our faith grows.  Specific prayers lighten our load. When we name our fears and offer them to God, we bring them down to size, put them in perspective. Specific prayers reduce our problems to prayer-sized challenges.
     And be sure of one thing- the power of prayer isn’t found in how eloquent WE are. God isn’t manipulated or impressed by our formulas and our silver tongues. He’s moved by our sincerity. He’s our Father. We honor Him when we tell Him exactly what we need.

     Two years ago, we started in earnest planning a Capital Campaign. We started praying about and working through the many needs we have as a congregation. Over the last two years, dozens of people spend countless hours working on this plan. Lists. Teams. Committees. Conversation. Planning. Blood, sweat and tears. And a WHOLE lot of prayer. All of that led to 2 weeks ago- the plan was overwhelmingly endorsed. After 2 years of hard work- the plan was adopted. And today- the REAL work begins!

     The Chair of our Capital Campaign Team, Nancy Robinson, said last week- it will take all of us to make this happen. That doesn’t mean we can all give the same amount to help fund this project. Some can give more than others. But every dollar makes a difference toward the ultimate goal. And what IS that ultimate goal? To connect people to Jesus Christ. In the end, is this Campaign about windows, air conditioners, bathrooms and choir lofts? No. In the end, this Campaign is about connecting people to Jesus Christ.

     When you’re a United Methodist minister, being moved from church to church, it’s easy to begin to feel like nothing more than a hired gun. It’s easy to feel like, “Next church. Next stop on the line. Nothing more.” But my wife and I can’t do that. We’re either “all in” or packing our bags. And let me assure you- we are all in. This building is our home- our church home. I love this place.

    But as much as I love this place, as much as it feels like home, as much time as I spend here- this building is a ministry tool. The pews, the windows, the chairs, the tables, the elevator, the musical instruments, the bus- it’s ALL tools for ministry. Everything we have here and everything we do here is aimed at one thing and one thing only- connecting people to Jesus Christ. And make no mistake- that’s what this Capital Campaign is all about. So, as your pastor, let me say this- I covet your prayers. I covet your prayers for me and my family. I covet your prayers for each other and the people of Mercer County and beyond. And I covet your prayers for your church and our ability to keep connecting people to Jesus.

     In a moment, you’re going to be invited to come forward as you are able. If you have a Commitment Card that you are ready to give to God…bring it. There’s a Collection Basket right here in the center. But maybe you aren’t ready to commit. I’m going to still invite you to come forward…because I covet your prayers. Spread across the Prayer Rail are pre-packaged Prayer Stones- specific to this Campaign. Regardless of anything else you do in the next few minutes, please take a packaged Prayer Stone and add it to your daily prayers. This project can ONLY work if we bathe it in prayer. You’re not going to be dismissed by rows- just come as you are ready. And if coming down front is difficult for you, stay right where you are- someone will come to you. They will have a basket for Commitment Cards. That basket will also have these same Prayer Stones.

       When you feel that anxiousness welling up inside you, turn to God in prayer. Do it specifically and do it immediately. The path to peace is paved with prayer. As you pray, God’s peace guards both your heart and your mind. Make your requests known to God. Ask Him to teach you His commandments. Ask Him to help you focus your life on 4 simple words- love God, love neighbor.

Cancer is a Dictator

cancer     Cancer is a dictator. It dictates a WHOLE lot of our lives right now. It dictates when we go to the doctor. It dictates when I have scans. It dictates when I have treatments. It dictates what those treatments are. It dictates what we do with the money we earn. It often dictates what we do and what we DON’T do. It dictates at least a portion of our schedule EVERY day. And, because it dictates all of those other things, it dictates how I physically feel most of the time.
There is simply no way around the truth of that first paragraph. It can’t be avoided. It can’t be denied. It can’t be disputed. Those are the facts. Period.
But as much of a dictator as cancer is, there is one thing it simply cannot dictate- how you respond to it. Oh, it tries. It does its darndest to tell you how to feel, how to behave, how to act, how to “be”. It does everything it can possibly do to kill your spirit. But I have figured out something over the past 4 months- it can ONLY do that last part…if you let it.
Here’s what I know- I have little to no control over what all of this cancer is doing…and will do…to my body. Oh sure- the chemo and the radiation are helping hold it at bay…for now. The fact that I basically have given up carbs and sugar- things that “feed” the cancer- can’t hurt. I can get good rest. I can make good choices. And I do all of those things. But in the end- I have no control over what’s “crawling around” in my body.
But it can’t break my spirit. It can’t steal my joy. It can’t diminish my faith. We simply refuse to let that happen. Don’t misunderstand- we have our moments. We are NOT perfect. We are NOT Ward and June Cleaver. We have our down moments, our down days. But the dictator’s power stops where our free will, our ability to choose begins. And as I have said EVERY day in this space- we continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Change Your Grip

drumstick     I have shared that neuropathy has cropped up from this round of chemo. It started in my feet. I didn’t even know what it was. Then it started to spread to the hands. THEN I found out it was neuropathy. I did some reading about it. (I’ll bet doctors just LOVE that patients Google…everything!) Turns out, it’s NOT an uncommon side effect of the chemo. I learned that it might lessen between chemo treatments…and it might not. It might last until a while after chemo treatments stop altogether. There is no way to tell. Everybody is different.
For the most part, it’s been more of an annoyance than anything else. My feet feel…funny. (And that would be “funny peculiar”, NOT “funny ha-ha”!) I recently bought a new pair of tennis shoes and I, because the tread is so new, I have been more prone to accidentally scuff them on carpet and trip a bit. The only real problem the neuropathy has caused is with the hands.
I have shared already that, because of playing the drums, juggling, all the typing I do, etc., I have pretty strong hands. But I have noticeably diminished strength in them right now. But the weird part of that, while I have diminished strength and tingling, that about it. EXCEPT…for my right thumb. My right thumb actually hurts. And if I apply pressure to it (Pushing on something, for example) it hurts more.
That became pretty noticeable about halfway through last night’s band practice. Being a “righty”, my right hand does more work behind the drum set than my left hand does. And, while the right thumb hurt a little when we started, by about the halfway mark of practice, it started to hurt more. What to do, what to do? Well, I’m NOT going to NOT play. (English teacher, you are SO welcome for the double negative!) So- I changed my grip. Instead of the stick laying on top of my pointer finger and being controlled by my thumb, I slid it between my pointer and middle fingers, turned my hand a bit, and let the pointer carry the load. That took the pressure off the thumb. I did that in the middle of a song and, I am quite sure, nobody but me knew the difference. (I’m thinking that they didn’t notice that I changed what the bass drum was doing, too…because my foot was getting a bit tired!)
I was faced with a challenge. And so…I changed my grip. I didn’t quit. I didn’t complain. I didn’t just keep doing what hurt. I changed my grip. And as the song unfolded from there, it dawned on me- that is a great metaphor for life. Life is constantly throwing us curveballs- things that we didn’t see coming. And we get to…have to…decide how to respond. We can quit. We can whine and complain. We can stubbornly continue to do things “the hard way”. Or…we
Change our grip. Figure out a different way. Make adjustments.
It was no less that Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing and expecting different results. If you are facing difficulties in life and what you are currently doing isn’t making the necessary differences…change your grip. Quit doing what you’ve always done and try something different. You just might be amazed!
We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!