The Skinny on Steroids

steroids    Steroids are an interesting thing. When I was diagnosed with the brain tumor in 2013, early on, I was given steroids. And they helped immensely. Now, I am NOT naïve enough to think that steroids are going to take care of a brain tumor. But I DO know that they were the ONLY thing that gave me ANY relief. But I couldn’t find a doctor who would let me stay on them at the time.

Fast-forward to early June. The symptoms that we now know are Stage 4 Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer began to show. Doctors. Scans. ER. The general diagnosis was set and the next step was needle biopsies. They were going to admit me to the hospital that Thursday, knowing that (at the time) the needle biopsies probably wouldn’t happen until Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week. I assured them that admitting me for DAYS just to sit there and rot, waiting for tests, was NOT going to sit well! They agreed! They were going to send me home. But I didn’t want to go home empty-handed.

“What can you do for my symptoms?” “What do you mean?” “Well, the swelling in my neck, to start.” They agreed to put me on steroids. I got an injection of ‘roids in the ER and a “blister pack” tapering dose to take home. They helped a lot, but started to help less as I tapered off. I got a second tapering dose. Same thing. Meanwhile, I was meeting with doctors. So I said, “Here’s what I would like. I would like to get a stronger, stable dose of steroids and I would like to be able to renew them without having to track someone down every time.”

Honestly, I was FULLY expecting an argument, based on previous experience. And although I may seem like an sweet teddy bear…I CAN hold my own! But the doctor said, “Sounds great!” She typed it into the computer and 20 minutes later- no joke- our pharmacy, a 90-minute drive away from where we were sitting, texted me to say my prescription was ready to pick up!

When you get chemo, you also get a steroid injection. So this past Monday, I took my regular, oral dose AND got the injection. By Tuesday, I had more energy than I have had in a few weeks! It was pretty great! But I knew it was temporary. And sure enough- Wednesday, my energy level had dropped a bit. And yesterday, it was back down where it had been for the past few weeks! Oh well, can’t win ’em all!

Our approach right now is this- listen to my body. So, I am trying to do the things that I CAN do. But (Because I tend to push and do too much as a natural course of life.), I am also trying really hard to not overdo. I am getting a nap in most days right now. I am going to work most days, as well. I am making it to band practice. (That is therapy for me as much as anything!) I am writing a sermon every week. Still having staff meetings. Still having worship planning meetings. Still leading three worship services on Sunday. Still working with committees. But I have also needed to pull back on some things. Fortunately, we serve a congregation that is incredibly supportive! We are taking this a day at a time, some days an HOUR at a time.

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!

Behind the Scenes of Radiation Treatment

radiation-therapy

Yesterday was Day Three of radiation treatment. That means that I have today and tomorrow left, and then I have the weekend “off” before it’s back to chemo and radiation next week! The nice part is that, since mine is a palliative treatment, next week will be the LAST week. (Except for one last radiation treatment the following Monday, to make up for the one I will miss on the Fourth of July!)

I thought I would give you some insight into what a radiation treatment is like. If you have been reading this space for the past few weeks, you know that they made a “mask” for me last week. It covers my head, neck and shoulders. It is FORM-fitted. We are talking snug! The purpose of it is to make sure that you don’t move during the treatment. The “mask” is made of a mesh material, which means that you can (sort of) see through and, better, you can (really) breathe through it! But as I said…it is SNUG!

After checking in at the front desk, we head into another part of the building- to a waiting room outside the areas where I receive the treatment. Usually, we don’t have to wait very long until they come and get me. From that moment until I am back out with my wife is only about 15 minutes! Yep- it’s fast! 90-minute round-trip drive, 15 minute treatment!

They take me into the room where the treatment happens. We have learned that shorts and a t-shirt are the best attire for me. Partly because parts of the building are stuffy and a bit hot. But also because the first thing that happens in the treatment room is that the shirt and glasses come off. Once on the table, the pillow goes under the knees and the mask gets bolted down around my head and shoulders.

Granted, I am only 3 treatments in. But every time they bolt that mask down, I am reminded all over again just how tight it is. It only takes a moment to adjust, but there IS that moment! Then, the table moves into the machine for a scan. The scan is designed to make sure that everything is where it’s supposed to be. Then, the table comes BACK out. I have to admit, I have NO idea what exactly is happening during that time, but there is some kind of camera/scanner/device in the ceiling, right about my head, that slows pans back and forth. I figure it MUST be doing…something!

Then, the techs come back in the room, look at the machine for a moment, push a button or two, then tell me it’s time. They leave and the table moved back into the machine. The radiation is then administered. The truth is that you can’t feel anything while it happens. You would never know anything is actually happening.

Oddly, with that form-fitting mask pinning your head and shoulders to the table, all of the noise the machine makes and the fact that you’re simply not in there very long, I managed to fall completely asleep yesterday! I had dozed slightly the other two times. But yesterday, I was out cold. It was the movement of the table sliding out of the machine that woke me up! I got the mask off, the shirt and glasses on and was back with my wife!

After yesterday’s treatment, we met with the Radiology Oncologist. (That happens once a week during treatment.) They simply want to touch base and make sure things are going well. My weight has maintained, after a 13-pound drop in 10 days. So- that’s a good thing! All of my vitals- BP, pulse, pulse-ox level- were great. And the doctor felt that things were going very well. So far- NO side effects from either the chemo OR the radiation. Still several days to go, but the doctors are optimistic that I won’t have any real side effects. I’d be fine with that!

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!

“Well, the People Kept Ringing the Bell!”

panic button

Well, Day Two of the radiation treatments is in the books! For those of you keeping score at home, that means: Chemo done- 1, Radiation done- 2, Chemo yet to come- 1, Radiation yet to come- 8. So far, just two days in, I have a grand total of ZERO side effects. One the one hand, it’s early and they still might show up. On the other hand, the doctors said they are pretty confident that my side effects will be relatively minimal. So- we’ll see, won’t we?!

Given that there simply isn’t much to report on from a radiation treatment that lasted 14 minutes and didn’t cause side effects, let me tell you a bit more about the chemo treatment from Monday. But first…an aside. There is an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer is telling Jerry and George about having been on the bus when a guy tried to rob the driver. After a fight, while the bus was moving, the end result was the driver out cold on the floor, Kramer driving the bus and the would-be robber standing over him, fighting with him…while he drives the bus. As the story unfolds, Kramer says, “I kicked him off the bus at, you know, the next stop.” The other guys are stunned, “You kept making the STOPS?!” Kramer answers, “Well, the people kept ringing the bell!” Hang on to that line- it WILL come back into play!

After we got settled into our room for the chemo treatment on Monday, the technician who was working with us was “showing us the ropes”. One of the last things she showed us was the bell you saw in the picture at the top. Not a bell LIKE that- that IS the bell. She put it on the little pop-up table that was attached to the chair I was in and explained that, if I had ANY problem at all…ring the bell. She was clear to make some distinctions, however. “If you have to go to the bathroom…don’t ring the bell. Just have your wife come and get me. The bell is for a medical emergency, because I come running if you ring the bell.” OK. She left us to check on other patients.

We sat there, talking and reading, passing the time. The IV that was administering the chemo drugs was in my right arm. So as we talked, I was gesturing with my left arm. And if you know me at all, I CANNOT talk without arm gestures. Impossible! So were talking, and I’m gesturing, and we’re talking, and I’m gesturing. And I’m getting more comfortable, which means my gestures are getting more animated. (You can smell what’s coming, can’t you?!) Suddenly, I flipped my left hand while talking…and brought the back of the lower knuckle of my left hand squarely down on the little…dinger…of the bell!

I immediately muttered, “Shoot!” (I SWEAR, no pun intended, that was the word I muttered! I’m a pastor- I’m pretty G-rated!) Following that was a half-hearted call toward the hallway, “False alarm! I didn’t mean to ring the bell!” BUT…it was too late! She came running in the room, “Are you OK?!” “Yep- other than being a bit of an idiot…I’m just fine!” I explained that I accidentally rang the bell and promised I would NEVER do it again! In the end, it got moved out of my reach for my WIFE to ring if necessary. After the technician left, I said to my wife, “You kept making the stops?!” And without missing a beat, she said, “Well, the people kept ringing the bell!”

We continue to insist on hanging on to our faith, our love for each other and our humor in the midst of a difficult situation. Again, happiness is fleeting and other people can take it away from you. But joy is that God-given thing that no one can take away from you. BUT- you can very willingly give it up. We refuse to let go of our joy. The cancer can attack my body, but it cannot shake my faith or lessen my joy.

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!

“The First Transport is Away!”

star wars

My family is a bunch of self-proclaimed geeks. We LOVE trivia. We LOVE Jeopardy. We all can quote WAY more lines from movies and TV than a human should be able to. We know more obscure facts about music than you can shake a stick at. And our days simply involve moving from one “family joke” to another, most of which are based on one of those obscure things mentioned above.

One of our (MANY) favorites comes from Star Wars Episode 5. (Although, if you’re a purist like me, you make that scoffing, “spitty” noise with your lips and say, “Episode 5! Please. It’s The Empire Strikes Back and it was the SECOND movie, not the fifth!”) The “good guys” have been hiding out on the ice planet Hoth and the “bad guys” find them. The guys immediately put into play an existing plan to get transport ships full of their people off the planet and out of harm’s way. As the plan unfolds, the first attempt is successful. A disembodied voice in the space ship hangar announces, “The first transport is away!” And all the “good guys” within earshot stop what they are doing, wave their arms excitedly and cheer. All, that is, except one guys. Rumor has it that many of the extras in those scenes on Hoth were natives of Norway or wherever they filmed the scenes and NOT actors. It showed. The guy in question, when the incredible news is announced and everyone is waving their arms and cheering, proceeds to swing his fist, in an arch, from his hip to the sky…in slow motion. It looks like someone said, “Can you swing your arm up?” And he, with overwhelming doubt, confusion and incredulity on his face, responds, “You mean…like THIS?” Worst acting job- ever! And so, when something we have been planning actually starts, one of us will say, “The first transport is away!” And we will ALL slowly, PAINFULLY, swing our arms up in the air! (I TOLD you we were geeks!)

Yesterday, I had both my first chemo and first radiation treatments. The chemo infusion started at 9 with some prep. As I have mentioned before, my veins have gone from the Poster Children for Awesome Veins Everywhere to having their picture on a milk carton! Everybody seems to struggle to get a needle in me. (Well, they DON’T struggle with getting the needle IN! In fact, the bruises on my arms testify to the fact that they have been getting the needles in JUST fine! They just haven’t been getting them in the RIGHT place! And the secret to success with needles is the same as success in real estate- location, location, location!) So it took a while to get a good line in. Then, there is a time of flushing the line. Then, medicines started.

chemoA total of 3 bags went in, with more flushing in between and afterward. As soon as that first chemo treatment was over, my wife texted both of our sons these words, (You KNOW it’s coming!) “The first transport is away!” Gotta love it!

About 12:30PM, we left there and went to grab some lunch. From there, we headed to the other facility for the radiation treatment. I had to strap that lovely “mask” on and be rolled into the tube. But the treatment itself is pretty fast- about 15 minutes. Then…we went home! (Well, we stopped at the pharmacy to pick up two different nausea medicines for me…and THEN we went home!

So far, as I write this about 9PM Monday evening, I am not having any side effects. Now, I’m NOT naïve enough to think that means I won’t have any. But the fact that I don’t have any NOW is a bonus- I’ll take it! I have 4 more radiation treatments this weeks. Then, off for the weekend. Then, next week looks JUST like this week. Then, treatment is (At least for the time being) done. From there, we are hanging on to the hope that there is a Clinical Trial that I will be a good fit for. We walk this journey one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time. We refuse to give in and give up. Instead, we choose joy. God is good, all the time!

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!

“You Wanna Ring the Bell?” “Ding, Ding!”

Rock17

In one of the Rocky movies (I think it was Rocky 47- Rocky Fights His Way Out of the Nursing Home! Actually, it was Rocky 3!), the movie ends with Rocky and his arch-nemesis turned trainer Apollo Creed in the ring in the sweaty old gym. Rocky and Apollo are going to spar. They both have their gear on and, to signify that the fight is going to start, Rocky says to Apollo, “You wanna ring the bell?” Apollo holds his gloved hand up and pretends to ring a bell, “Ding, ding!” Then…the fight begins.

So today is a bit of a “red letter” day. Today is Day One of BOTH chemo and radiation. The chemo will be administered once a week for only two weeks. Meanwhile, the radiation will be administered, concurrent with the chemo, 5 times a week for those same two weeks. And currently, that is all of that type of treatment the doctors are planning. The bottom line is that neither of these treatments will cure what I have. Instead, they are intended to simply “knock” the cancer down. Meanwhile, genetic testing on tissue from the thyroid id being done to hopefully identify a Clinical Trial that I might be eligible for.

Last night happened to be the monthly Administrative Council meeting for the church we currently serve. I plan on attending as many of those as I physically can, moving forward, but this one- the FIRST one “post-diagnosis” was pretty important. The meeting was a good one. (I frankly worry about churches when the meetings of their governing body are divisive and antagonistic. Been there- done that. What hope do you POSSIBLY have of helping a congregation be all that God is calling them to be when the leadership can’t even behave themselves?!) This congregation consistently has good, positive, supportive, Christian leadership meetings!

At the end of the meeting, the Chairperson of the committee turned it over to our Lay Leader- the person who serves as the congregation’s “representative” to the pastor. He said that he had talked with my wife and that he wanted the group to pray over me. So he read some Scripture and we then journeyed to the sanctuary.

Once there, he had us ALL kneel at the Prayer Rail. He said that, before they came to God on my behalf, we all needed to be “right with God” ourselves. So encourages us to pray, offering up anything that we saw as a barrier between us and God and asking Him to remove it so that we could come more fully into His presence. He then asked everyone but me to get up, surround me and lay hands on me. He started the prayer, then left it open for others to pray. Once he felt that everyone was done, he then closed the prayer time.

Early in his prayer, he said, “Lord, the fight begins tomorrow.” (Meaning today.) And as they prayed over me, I jokingly asked myself, “Well if the fight begins tomorrow, then what have my wife and I been doing in all those doctor’s offices and hospitals for the past 2 weeks?!” But you know what? He’s right. The fight DOES begin- in earnest- today. Sure, we’ve been going through some…many…less than desirable things the past couple of weeks. But those were just the prelims. The main event starts now.

My prayer is that the chemo and radiation don’t take too much out of me. The doctors are somewhat confident that I will tolerate the treatment they have designed pretty well. (And the truth is that, while I may SEEM like a marshmallow, I can’t stand just about anything!) If that proves to be the case, I will continue to do what God has called me to do, making sure I’m am eating well, resting when I need to and generally taking good care of myself. (That last part was predominately for my wife!)

For the time being, I will continue to post daily. (I only THOUGHT I had moved away from it being a daily blog!) This space will continue to serve as my “CaringBridge” page. I have some thoughts and insights I have gained in the past few weeks that I will share along the way, along with keeping you updated more specifically on the health issues.

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!

UPICKEM2: JOHN the BAPTIST

UPICKEM2 John the Baptist

My name is John. John. One of the most common names in history. But my story is far from common. First off- my name was divinely given. An angel appeared to my dad, a priest named Zachariah, and told him that my mom, Elizabeth, was going to have a child- a boy. They were to name him- me- John, which means “God is gracious.” The angel told my dad that I’d be filled with God’s Spirit. He also told him that I was to be raised under the strict code of the Nazirites- Israelites consecrated specifically to the service of God.
Most descriptions of me are short and sweet, brief and stark. I wore a camel’s hair garment, bound by a leather belt. I mostly ate locusts and wild honey. And all of that begs the question- WHY? Why did I wear those kinds of clothes? Eat that kind of food? Live out in the wilderness? As I said, I was raised as a Nazarite. I was trained to live a simple, sacrificial life. I was prepared, from an early age, to focus on being the one who came to prepare…the way of the Lord.
Secondly, I’m often referred to as John the Baptizer or John the Baptist. And no- that doesn’t mean I’m a member of the Baptist Church! Instead, it means “one who administers the rite of immersion”. Baptism. My baptism was with water, for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus would come, however, to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.
My mom, Elizabeth, is the cousin of Mary- Jesus’ mom. That’s no accident. It also makes Jesus and me cousins. My conception was somewhat miraculous, but Jesus’ conception was immaculate. I was born about 6 months before Him. I also preceded Him in the coming of His earthly ministry. I was His herald, His messenger.
Any Hebrew familiar with the Old Testament should have expected my ministry- it was foretold all the way back in the Book of Isaiah- “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord”. The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, even more directly points to me- “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” I am “the messenger who will come”. But Jesus is “the Messenger of the covenant”.
As I said, I tended to be a loner, living out in the desert by myself. I never sought out crowds of people. Instead, somehow, I seemed to attract them. Thousands of people came to me and were baptized by me. And I want to be clear- it wasn’t my clever wit or sparkling personality that attracted them- it was solely the message I preached. There was a God-shaped hole in the people’s hearts. They were searching for something that was missing. The Word that God gave me to share with them began to fill that hole.
Some of the Jewish leaders began to take notice of me and sent a delegation of priests out to find out who I was…and who I THOUGHT I was. They wanted to know if I was claiming to be the Messiah. They wanted to know if I was claiming to be the Old Testament prophet Elijah, reincarnated. I assured them, in no uncertain terms, that I was NOT the promised Messiah OR a reincarnated Elijah. Then they asked if I was a prophet. I again assured them I was not. Finally, in desperation, they asked, “Well, then who ARE you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
I told them I was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. I told them I was the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’ I told them I was the voice of preparation, announcing the coming of Emmanuel- God with us. I am NOT the Light. I simply came to bear witness TO the Light. I’m not even worthy to carry His sandals.
Turns out, they weren’t done with their questioning, “If you’re not the Messiah, or Elijah or a Prophet, why do you baptize?” Again, I was ready with an answer, “I baptize with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than me- I’m not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand. He’ll clear the threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
One day, I was talking with two of my disciples. As we talked, I looked up, saw Jesus and said to those with me, “Look, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world! THIS is the one I meant when I said, ‘A Man Who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me’.”
Soon after that, I was in the Jordan River, baptizing new believers when Jesus came walking down the hill. I was stunned. I waded near the bank of the river and said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by You. Why do You come to me?” Jesus laid His hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and, as He waded out into the water next to me, said, “Let it be so now. It’s correct for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” And so…I baptized…the Messiah. And as I brought Him up out of the water, the most amazing thing I have ever seen happened. Heaven opened and the Spirit of God descending like a dove, landing on Jesus. And then, God spoke. “This is my Son, Whom I love. I am well pleased with Him.”
If you remember the story, Herod the Great was king when Jesus was born. His son, Herod Antipas, was the king when I was in the middle of my ministry. He didn’t like what I was doing, so, during the time that Jesus was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he had me arrested.
Although already married, King Herod fell in love with Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Philip. He convinced her to leave his brother. He then divorced his wife and married her. I heard about this…sinful arrangement and couldn’t keep silent. I told Herod that what he was doing was wrong. And even though he didn’t like what I said, he saw me as a righteous man and wanted to protect me. But his “wife”- Herodias- was furious- so she had me thrown in prison. While I was there, I began to struggle with…everything. I KNEW Jesus was the One. I KNEW it. But I had SO hoped that the Messiah would come as a conquering king…not a suffering servant. So, I sent people to ask Jesus, “ARE you the One Who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus understood my question- He knew I was struggling. So, He sent them back to me with these instructions, “Tell John what you’ve heard and seen. Tell him about the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the good news proclaimed to the poor.” Then Jesus added something else- especially for me, “Blessed is anyone who doesn’t stumble because of Me.”
All along, Herodias was looking for an opportunity to get rid of me. And finally, she found it. It was Herod’s birthday, so he threw a big party. Herodias’ daughter danced at the party. He was so pleased with her dancing that he told she could ask for anything she wanted and he would grant it. She went to her mother to see what she should ask for. Herodias was ready. She asked for my head on a platter- literally. Herod, to honor his word, send an executioner to the dungeon to finish the deed. My earthly ministry was done.
I would like to take a second to clear something up. People are often troubled by the fact that the Bible quotes me as saying that I didn’t know Jesus until the day I baptized Him. I DID say it- but my words have been misunderstood ever since. Of course I knew Him- we were cousins. But until that day- the day I baptized Him, the day God’s Spirit came down from heaven- until that day, I didn’t know Jesus fully as Messiah. Once God’s Holy Spirit came down on Him, there in the Jordan River, there could be NO doubt- He is the Messiah.
I WATCHED the Spirit of God come down from heaven, like a dove, and envelope Jesus. I have seen and I can testify that Jesus IS God’s Chosen One. I didn’t perform any signs or miracles. That wasn’t my job. My job was simply to prepare the way for Jesus. Instead, my ministry focused on a simple but challenging call- repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near. I challenged those who were baptized but refused to change, “You sons of snakes! Who warned you to run from the fury that’s about to break over your heads? You’ve got to re-shape your lives. God’s new order of the Spirit is confronting you!” I wanted their faith to produce fruit. Spiritual fruit is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual conviction. Without spiritual fruit, there’s no real repentance.
I’m NOT the Messiah. I’m the one who was sent ahead of Him. HE is the One. The bride belongs to the bridegroom. And the friend, who attends to the bridegroom, waits and listens for Him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and now it’s complete. I must become less so He can become greater.

 

 

Snowball Gets a More Specific Diagnosis!

Snowball

Yesterday was a pretty easy day. We had to be out of the house early and at the facility where the chemo will be administered by 8:30AM. (It’s a 45-minute drive.) The purpose of this particular visit was to go over what the treatments will be like, how long they will take and what side effects we need to watch for. We also met with a dietician and a social worker. Then…we got to go home!

We are pretty doggone excited that we don’t have to go ANYWHERE today. I expect there will be a lot of hanging around the house, watching movies and playing board games! Then, of course, there’s Sunday. And until I am physically not able to, I have every intention of being in church on Sunday- in the pulpit and behind the drums. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. AND…it’s very therapeutic!

If you have been reading this blog of late, you know that they had classified my cancer as “poorly differentiated”. It turns out that the biggest reason they classified it as such was because they simply didn’t get enough viable tissue on the first round of biopsies. There is another word that has been bandied about since this all started. We first heard the word 2 weeks ago yesterday- Friday, June 9. The word is Anaplastic. The first doctor who talked to us after that first round of biopsies (And I mean RIGHT after!) said that, while it couldn’t yet be substantiated, the initial thought was Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer.

They are classifying my cancer as Stage 4 Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. What confirmed that for me was seeing it yesterday on a form at the facility that will be administering the chemo treatments. They have been pretty clear- there is no cure for this. The chemo and radiation are designed to “knock it down” without knocking ME down too far. The hope beyond that is a Clinical Trial.

When I had the brain tumor- the VERY rare brain tumor- 4 years ago, I was undergoing experimental treatments in an effort to treat something they didn’t know how to treat. At the time, I wrote a blog referencing, of all things, the old cartoon Pinky and the Brain. They were lab rats. And a recurring character in the show was another lab animal- a guinea pig named Snowball. At the time, I compared myself to Snowball. I now realize that I am about to, once again, become Snowball the Guinea Pig!

My wife, who is often the smarter of the two of us, said something recently that really resonated with me. I told her that, while I am absolutely going to do this treatment, with a smile on my face, a joke on my lips and God in my heart, I don’t want to. But she reminded me that I have devoted much of my life to trying to help others. What I went through with the brain tumor helped the doctors take another step in how to treat it. And what I do now does the same thing- my going through the treatment and Clinical Trial will help provide more data that will, one day, have a profound positive impact on someone else. So…bring it on! Snowball is ready!

We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. I will continue to update on this site, so 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!

Blood Draws and Earning My Merit Badge!

merit badge

The saga continues. Yesterday was the trip to Bettendorf, Iowa to meet with the folks who will be doing the chemo infusion. Mostly, it was height, weight, PB, temperature and then a conversation with the doctor. Then, we were sent back to the lobby to wait for them to be ready to take blood.

We sat out there for a few minutes and then they came and got me. Now, a bit of “back story”. I had a LOT of needles inserted in me when I had the brain tumor. And, without sounding too much like I’m bragging, I had GREAT veins! They were always glad to see me and I was always “easy” to get a needle in.

Well, I don’t know what happened, but I no longer hold the title of “Best Veins in the World”! I have had several “sticks” in the past few weeks and they haven’t always gone well. My arms are kind of…trashed. So I prepped the young woman as to what she could expect. She looked. And looked some more. And then…went and got help! The second young woman looked my arms over, picked the least offensive spot (the best she could hope for!) and applied the tourniquet.

Meanwhile, yet another young woman came in and said, “Are you Mark?” (If ONLY I had said, “NO!”) She then asked if I could come back in at 8:30 this morning. I told my wife later that I’m quite sure my face and tone of voice gave away my disappointment! I then apologized and told her that, yes- we would be there. I shared that, after spending EVERY week day for over two weeks in some hospital or doctor’s office, we were looking forward to a “day off”!

I then turned to the woman currently taking my blood and said, “You did great!” The “appointment woman” said, “Well, I distracted you!” I smiled and said, “I have ADHD- I’m not hard to distract! Have you seen the movie Up? I’m Doug the Dog! Squirrel!” (If you know me at all, “make ’em laugh” is a core value of mine!)

So today, we head BACK to Bettendorf for “teaching”. OK- I’ll be honest for a moment. (But JUST a moment!) The next words after “teaching” caused the steroids in my body to try and rise up to full-blown ‘Roid Rage! She said, “We want to go over everything with you again…because people are usually pretty traumatized and don’t really hear and process everything the first time!” I GREATLY appreciate that sentiment- but I have talked PLENTY! My wife and I have sat for HOURS and HOURS listening to people talk. We are both relatively smart and ask good questions. So, frankly, we haven’t missed anything. BUT- if they want us there today…we’re there! (I’m trying SO hard to earn my “Works and Plays Well With Others” merit badge!)

At this point, it appears that my first 3-hour chemo infusion will happen this coming Monday morning, followed by the first of 5 radiation treatments for the week. We get the weekend off, and then we will repeat that schedule exactly the following week. By then, the pathology from last Wednesday’s Deep Core Needle Biopsy will be in and they will have decided if there is a Clinical Trial I am eligible for.

One last tidbit- I lost 13 pounds in about 10 days when this all started. (Stress, not being hungry, hard to swallow- take your pick!) Once we found that out, we have been very proactive about food, protein and calories. But with chemo and radiation about to start, my wife is concerned about me getting enough nutrition over the next couple of weeks or so. So- I get dessert with EVERY meal! Jealous? You SHOULD be!

We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. I will continue to update on this site, so 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!

Large-Needle Biopsies AND The Largest Truck Stop in the World

Iowa 80

Yesterday, my wife and I made our “pilgrimage” to The University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City. Just a reminder- that is a SOLID 3-hour round-trip. We got there about 9:45AM, dodging raindrops the last 30 minutes of the drive. (I’m not really sure why people use that expression- “dodging raindrops”. Not only would you look pretty silly trying to dodge raindrops in a car…swerving frantically at 75 MPH on the interstate might NOT be the best choice!)

Parking at that hospital is…interesting. We have now tried three of the four “ramps” (I.e. Parking Garages) as well as having used Valet Parking 2 or 3 times. Regardless of what the maps show, or where you park…OR where you have to go- nothing is terribly close to anything!

The spot we had to go to was the SAME spot we were in about 10 days ago- the Radiology floor. I was there for a Core Needle Biopsy. Those 10 days ago, they did what totaled 12 needle biopsies of my neck. The problem turned out to be that they needed more tissue than had been “harvested” from that day in order to do “next-level” genetic testing. They are trying to see if I qualify for a Clinical Trial.

So got to go back for more! Yeah! They lay you on a table- naked from the waist up. (Gasp! The Pastor said…”naked”!)They position you with a pillow under your neck, so that your head falls back and your neck is more exposed. They then turn your head to the left, offering more exposure of the right side.

A technician then uses an ultrasound machine to “show” the thyroid and surrounding tissue. The doctor then injects what turned out to be a LOT of Lidocaine, through two injections in the neck, to deaden the area. They then take a large-gauge needle and…insert! The image on the screen from the ultrasound guides them to the exact spot. Then, some kind of trigger is pulled (or a button is pushed or whatever- I couldn’t actually SEE too well!) and a VERY distinct “SNAP” sound happens. (Imagine a large stapler or a hole punch putting a hole in a sheet of plastic.) That is the needle apparatus actually gathering the sample. A total of three insertions and SNAPS later, they were wiping the blood off my neck and sitting me up!

On the way home, we fulfilled a long-standing dream of mine- we went to The Largest Truck Stop in the World! (And yes, I AM kidding about the “life-long” dream and no, I am NOT kidding about going to The Largest Truck Stop in the World!) It was lunchtime and we thought, “What the heck!” So, in we went! After seeing Arby’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway, DQ/Orange Julius AND a sit-down restaurant, we settled on Wendy’s. After lunch, a quick run through the Convenience Store part of that sprawling megalopolis for some Ibuprofen and salt water taffy for our younger son, it was a Willy Nelson song- “On the Road Again”! The afternoon featured a decent nap by yours truly! (I AM a party animal, aren’t I?!)

Today’s agenda features a trip to Bettendorf, Iowa (another of the Quad Cities) to meet with the folks who will doing the chemo part of my treatment. We MIGHT find out today when chemo and/or radiation will actually start. Monday seems to be a distinct possibility.

This is not the journey we would CHOOSE to be on, BUT- it’s the journey we’re on. Can’t change that. So, we make the best of a bad situation. We hold our heads high. We continue to find the humor in life. We continue to make the most of each day. And we continue to hold fast to our faith. God IS good, all the time.

Thanks for your continued prayers, love and support. You will never know how much it means to my family. Please keep checking back for updates or simply go to top of this page and subscribe- you will receive an email link with every 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!

Casper, the Friendly Cancer Patient!

Mask-2

Yesterday was an…interesting day. I ACTUALLY went to work for a while! (I KNOW! It’s amazing!) I managed to get part of this week’s sermon done, take care of some other things AND lead both a Staff Meeting and a Worship Planning meeting. All by 11:20AM! (I think I sprained my shoulder just now, patting myself on the back!)

Then, at 11:30AM, my wife and I left the house. Our first stop was the local hospital, to pick up a CD of the CT scan they did on my neck recently. (Does that make it a CT CD?) Then, it was a 40-minute drive to the Cancer Center in Davenport, Iowa. If you are currently thinking, “Davenport, Iowa? I thought you were going to Iowa City, Iowa?”, then let me explain. I AM a patient at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City. But the Cancer Center in Davenport is 50 minutes closer- ONE WAY! So my radiation treatments will be done there.

We got there and delivered the CT CD, along with the CD of the CT of my chest AND the CD of the PET scan of top of head to knees. Then it was…wait. Then, a LOT of talking with a LOT of people about what happened, what’s happening and what WILL happen. Then there were telephone conversations between doctors in Iowa City and doctors in Davenport, followed by more “in person” conversations! (I have talked a LOT in the last 10 days! And yes, you can insert YOUR joke HERE!)

Then, I went to be fitted for the radiation mask. That, let me tell you, is a weird deal! First, why a mask? Because they are treating such a confined area in my neck, they need to A. make sure I am in the proper position while keeping everything perfectly stationary and B. protect that “parts” that WON’T be radiated. The mask does that. The picture at the top is a nearly perfect representation of what mine looks like.

When they prepped me for the mask, I SPECIFICALLY asked them for Iron Man!

iron man

They led me to believe that was possible! They lied! The end result was much less Iron Man and much more Casper!

Casper-casper-the-ghost-35874268-964-813

So, what’s it like to get fitted for the mask? Imagine you lie down on your back on a table. Then, two people (one on each side) take a very hot, very wet, somewhat sticky, stretchy tarp (No, that’s NOT a typo- tarp!) and, quick like a bunny, bring it down over your face and immediately stretch it down to the table. (Imagine someone trying to suffocate you with a heavy, wet towel! Fortunately, the material they use is a mesh- you can breathe through it!) They then quickly use their fingers to form-fit it to your face, neck and shoulders, pushing it into your eye sockets, around your mouth, under your chin, etc. Then, you wait while it cools and hardens.

Once that is done, they took it off to give me a break. Then they snapped it back on to do a CT scan, to make sure that the mask is right. Then the Radiology Oncologist came in to look at the scan to see if it was sufficient. It wasn’t! So they put the mask BACK on and re-did the scan, including the lungs that time. Then…we went home!

Today is the 3-hour drive back to Iowa City so they can stick an even bigger needle in my neck to get a better biopsy. That data will guide the doctors toward possible Clinical Trials that I would be eligible for. Then, on Thursday, we go to Bettendorf, Iowa (The OTHER of the Iowa-side Quad Cities) to meet with the doctors who will be administering the chemo treatments. If all the planets align, chemo (once a week for two weeks) and radiation (5 days a week for two weeks) will both start next Monday.

As always, my family and I thank you for your love, prayers and support. We hold fast to the very real fact that God is good, all the time. It is our faith that is carrying us through. Check back for updates, or simply subscribe the to blog to receive an email every time there’s an update.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

It’s “Junior Rodeo” On!

junior rodeo

I like the TV show The Big Bang Theory. (I liked it the best when they still focused heavily on comic-book loving science geeks- it still felt a bit more…autobiographical then!) There’s an episode where Penny and Sheldon are “at odds” with each other. At one point, Penny tells Leonard that she can handle Sheldon, sharing that her dad made her participate in Junior Rodeo. She bragged that she could rope and castrate a calf in 8 seconds! Later in the episode, Sheldon ramps up the antagonism. Penny turns to Leonard and says, “It’s on. It’s Junior Rodeo on!”

Yesterday’s trip to The University of Iowa Hospital established that it is, in fact, Junior Rodeo on! Here’s what we found out-

The Radiology Oncologist wants to start radiation therapy immediately. I will be fitted for some kind of mask today. (They described it as “like a hockey mask”! I wonder if my hometown St. Louis Blues need a new guy in the nets?!) I will have 10 sessions- Monday-Friday for two weeks.

In the meantime, however, the Oncologist wants a better biopsy of the thyroid, feeling that the extensive needle biopsies I had didn’t produce enough tissue for proper genetic testing. The genetic testing from the upcoming core biopsy will help them decide if there is a drug trial that I might benefit from.

In addition to the radiation, I will be having what is currently planned as two rounds of chemo.

Along the way, I might need a feeding tube installed in my stomach. Along the way, I might need a tracheotomy.

The truth is that there is simply nothing that is currently available that will cure what I have. They keep telling me, “Yours is very unique” and “a VERY low percentage of people get this” and “the drug company is only looking for 10 people nationwide who have what you have…and they are having a hard time finding them”. Between this and my “1 of only 19 people EVER with the type of tumor in the place you have it” brain tumor…I’m getting a little tired of being a special medical snowflake!

This is not the news we wanted to get. This is not what you plan on when you try and map out your life. But- here it is. So, I have a choice. I A. can whine and cry, fall into a deep depression and waste whatever time I do or don’t have. OR, I can B. commit to living every day to the fullest, commit to being the best husband, dad, pastor and human I can be, commit to proclaiming EVERY day that God is good, all the time. Hopefully, you know me well enough to know that I choose B!

Thank you for your prayers and support. I will continue to keep you posted in this space as this thing unfolds in time and space.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Apparently, I am “Poorly Differentiated”!

thyroid

A neck CT scan. A chest CT scan. A “top of head to knees” PET scan. Not one but two scopes up the nose and down the throat. 12 needles biopsies in the neck. Contrast dye injected in my veins. Radioactive glucose injected in my veins. A trip to the ER.

That’s a list of the fun I’ve had over the past 10 days. And after all that, we have some answers. And what has been revealed sounds like something I made up! I have “poorly differentiated” thyroid cancer. When the doctor said that, I had to ask, “WHAT?!” It took him not one, not two but three tries before he explained it in a way that made sense to me. In a nutshell, “poorly differentiated” cancer is when the cells have degraded to the point that, while identifiable as cancer, are no longer identifiable as, for instance, thyroid cells.

The neck CT scan revealed that the thyroid, as well as the lymph nodes in the neck, are cancerous. The chest CT scan revealed that the cancer has spread to the chest. And the PET scan revealed that it has also begun to spread to my lungs.

Often, the initial approach to thyroid cancer is removal of the thyroid. But because this cancer has spread, it makes surgery not a terribly viable alternative. Surgery in that area is risky as it is- a LOT of nerves, breathing and blood flow issues to contend with. And if surgery wouldn’t “get it all” anyway, surgery is not an option.

So, today brings the next step in this process. We are meeting with an oncologist and a radiology oncologist to talk about treatment options. My guess is that an intense “cocktail” of chemo and radiation will be what they recommend. We’ll see.

Bottom line- NOT the news we wanted to hear. The truth- we have NO idea where this will lead and how it will end. Here’s what I DO know- God is good, all the time. I have NO gear to think that God “did this” to punish me for some sin. I have NO gear to think that God gave me “the cancer” to test me. I have cancer because we live in a fallen world. Because our bodies are fragile and frail. Because life is capricious.

I told the church we currently serve something yesterday morning. I said that, regardless of anything else, until either God or the Bishop tells me otherwise, I am still the pastor of The Aledo United Methodist Church. I have EVERY intention of that continuing. I’m a pastor. Period. I serve at the whim of God. So as long as He gives me breath to serve…I serve. I am simply not smart enough to understand the word “quit”!

I will continue to use this forum to keep you posted on how things are going, so please come back often to check for updates. (Better yet, subscribe and you will receive and email when there IS an update!) My family and I greatly appreciate and covet your prayers.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

UPICKEM2: JOB

UPICKEM2 Week 3 Logo

      My name is Job. You can always tell when someone isn’t as well-versed on the Old Testament- they pronounce my name “job”! But it’s Job. When you hear my name, the words “the patience of” often precede it. I was a wealthy man living in a place called Uz- you know it better as modern-day Jordan. I’ll be honest- my life was good. I had a big family. I had thousands of head of livestock. I had money. I had land. I had it all. AND- I was a good guy- “blameless” and “upright”, always so careful to avoid evil. And then, one day, everything changed.

     Satan showed up at God’s front door. There’s a surprise. And he brought with him a plan. The plan revolved around…me. Satan openly questioned my faithfulness. But God assured him I was “a righteous dude”. Satan argued that the ONLY reason I was “good” at all was because God had given me so much. He said that, if everything was taken away from me, I’d curse God’s name so fast His head would spin. The gauntlet had been thrown down. And God allowed Satan to test me. And BOY did he test me!

     Over the course of one day- ONE day- I got four separate messages. And those four messages, combined, informed me that I had lost almost basically EVERYTHING- children, servants, livestock, money and land to a combination of invaders and natural catastrophes. I was devastated. I tore my clothes. I shaved my head. I fell into a deep state of mourning. And yet, I continued to praise God.

     That was not the response Satan wanted. So he went back to God and asked for another shot at me. God again allowed him to test me. This time, I developed horrible, painful sores all over my body. People couldn’t even stand to look at me. My own wife encouraged me to curse God, give up just die already. But again…I refused. I struggled terribly with my circumstances…but I remained steadfast in my faith.

     So there I was- down and out, covered in open sores, struggling to find any sense of meaning or purpose. And in the midst of my desperation, along come my three best friends- Eliphaz (el-i-fas), Bildad, and Zophar (zo-par). And things started really well. They didn’t offer up pithy little sayings they had read on a Hallmark card. They didn’t try to tell me that God had a plan for me or that everything would be okay or that God needed another angel. In fact, they didn’t try to tell me…anything. Instead, they just sat with me. In silence. For seven days. They sat and mourned with me in silence for seven days. Sometimes, just being there, silent, is the best thing you can offer.

     Finally, on the seventh day, I started talking. I had had it. I was mad. I cursed my life, wishing I had never been born. I said that feeling the light of life only intensified my misery. And that seemed to open the flood gates. My friends beat on me like a rented mule. First, Eliphaz (el-i-fas) said that, even though I had comforted plenty of other people, I clearly never really understood their pain. He said that my suffering was due to some sin I had committed. Bildad and Zophar joined in, agreeing that I had obviously offended God by sinning. They said I needed to be more blameless. Bildad even went as far as to say that my children- my children- brought their deaths upon themselves. Zophar said that whatever I’d done wrong probably deserved even greater punishment than I was receiving. I guess they thought they were helping, but they were simply making me mad. In fact, I called them “worthless physicians who whitewash their advice with lies”. Pretty harsh!

     All of this led me to examine my relationship with God. I found myself questioning  why God judges us based on our actions when He could just as easily change our actions or forgive our behavior. I also began to wonder how we can possibly make God happy- He is, by design, unseen and beyond our ability to understand. We can’t sweet-talk Him. He can’t be deceived. And the truth is that we don’t even understand ourselves well enough to plead our case to God. I begged for someone who could be the go-between from me to God…or that God would just send me to the place of the dead and get it over with.

     My “friends” were upset that I would dare to NOT accept their infinite wisdom. They felt I lacked the appropriate respect- fear- of God. But I stood firm, assuring them that, if I HAD done evil, it was MY problem and not theirs. I also held fast to the conviction that there was a “witness”- a Redeemer- in heaven who would defend my innocence. I went on to complain about how unfair it was that God seems to let wicked people prosper while us innocent people suffered. I wanted to confront God, complain face to face, but I couldn’t physically find Him.

     Suddenly, a new contender showed up- Elihu (EL-i-hue). He jumped into the debate and claimed that I was spending too much energy vindicating myself instead of God. He tried to tell me that physical suffering provides us with the opportunity to…realize God’s love and forgiveness?! We experience God’s love through physical pain? He then agreed with the other guys that I must have done something bad to experience so much suffering. He even said that I talked too much!

     Finally, thankfully- God interrupted, calling out from the middle of a storm. And He cut right to the chase. “Who is this that obscures My plans with words that have no knowledge?” He then told me to hang onto my hat- He was going to question me and He expected an answer. And here’s what He asked me-

     “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Who marked off its dimensions? Who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?”
     When God has finished, I could barely speak. But I managed to say this, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Surely, I spoke of things I didn’t understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You and so I repent in dust and ashes.”

     In the end, God restored my fortunes, giving me twice as much as I had before. Everyone I knew came and ate with me. They comforted and consoled me. God blessed my life even more than He had before.

     Easy to hear that last part and simply think, “OK- happy ending!” But we all know that my story explores some of the most profound questions we have. And right at the top of that list is this- why? Why did this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? I mean, we all have bad times. But some of us seem to get more than our share!

     So let’s cut to the chase- address the 400-pound gorilla in the room. Do I believe that God CAUSED my pain and suffering? CAUSED it? No, I absolutely do NOT. I don’t have a gear for God, Who loves me more than I could fathom, wanting to intentionally cause me pain and suffering. OK, so if he didn’t CAUSE it…did He ALLOW it? Yes. If I believe that God is all-powerful and can do anything He wants, then I have to believe that He could stop anything from happening. And so if anything happens, He allowed it to happen. Note the difference between “cause” and “allow”.

     There is a Greek word- dokime. It means “to test the genuineness of something”. It referred to measuring the purity of gold. Tests have a purpose. They’re the process by which the genuineness of our faith is displayed. The question is- does God test us just to make sure we’re worthy? Does our loving Creator have a mean streak that allows Him to deal us the worst hand possible…just to see how we’ll react? I can’t speak for you, but for me, the answer to that question is, “No.” The tests come from life. Life is unpredictable. Life is capricious. Life is fleeting, transitory. Some people get the weight of the world dumped on them while others seem to skate through relatively unscathed. God doesn’t cause our trials and tribulations. The fallen nature of our world does. What God does is finds ways to use those tribulations for the greater good. How many times have you heard a tragic story about a kid who dies WAY too young from some insidious disease? As you read the article, you get madder and madder at the injustice of it all. But then, you get to the part about how many lives that kid touched. About how many people he or she impacted. About the foundations and ministries that have grown out of their short life and tragic death. There are kids who didn’t see their 6th birthday who impacted more people in their 5 short years than I will if I live to be 100.

     We like everything neatly pigeon-holed and labelled. We want the world to simply make sense. And so, we look for an explanation for everything. But the truth is that the “why” is often elusive- like trying to grab ahold of a wisp of smoke. Bad things don’t only happen to bad people. Bad things…just…happen. There are lots of answers we will simply never know- this side of Heaven.

     Why does God allow all sorts of “bad things” to happen? The truth? I don’t know. I don’t know. And yet…I trust. I may never know the specific reason for my suffering, but I trust in a sovereign, holy, righteous God because His ways are perfect. Through this trial, I came to know God in a way I could not have imagined before. And so, we are left with two choices- fight tooth and nail for answers we simply can’t find…or just trust. Which one will you choose?

     There is another Greek word- upogrammos. It means “a writing copy.” It refers to kids practicing their handwriting in a workbook. They reproduce every stroke of every letter, learned to reproduce the teacher’s writing. God is our teacher, our pattern. We want to try and reproduce His approach to life’s difficulties as much as possible.

     It’s pretty easy to trust God when you’re putting in the short grass. When everything makes sense, it’s easy to see God as large and in charge. But what about when the wheels fall off the bus? What about when you can’t seem to distinguish up from down? It is exactly THEN when a strong sense of trust and faith is most needed.
     To quote those great theologians Ra, I lost everything today. And yet, in the very depths of despair, I was able to utter what proved to be one of the most profound declarations of faith ever recorded, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”.

      You can’t shorten your time in the wilderness, but you can absolutely lengthen it. Our responsibility is to trust God, to submit to His will whether we understand it or not. When we do that, we’ll find God more clearly in the midst of our trials. We’ll see more clearly God’s true magnificence and be able to say, “My ears had heard of You…but now my eyes have seen You”.

On Like Donkey Kong!

Donkey_Kong_NES_Screenshot

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with a Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma- a golf ball-sized tumor that sat on top of my ear canal on the right side. The type of tumor and the location were a rare combination- I was the 19th person in recorded medical history! (My wife says I’m a “special snowflake!”) The interesting thing about that tumor was that, while it behaved in many ways like cancer…it wasn’t. So- I had it exorcized, they slapped a decent amount of titanium mesh in my head, held down by titanium screws, buttoned the whole thing back up and sent me on my merry way. And the last three years (since the surgery) have been pretty darn good!

But apparently, I was not satisfied with having something that ACTED like cancer but WASN’T. The…thing…that’s going on in my neck has proven to be…The “C” Word. Thyroid cancer. We’re still negotiating over which KIND it is, but given what we DO know, “serious” would be the order of the day.

And so, today is a big day. Today brings, in order: 1. a CT scan, 2. a PET scan and 3. a (rather frank, I would guess) visit with our new Otolaryngologist. (I say “new” because we already had an Otolaryngologist, from the “brain tumor” thing, down in St. Louis. But thanks to our CHARMING health care system, I can no longer go to any of my St. Louis doctors! Why would ANYBODY say our health care system is screwed up?!) Then, on Monday, it’s more visits- an Oncologist and a Radiology Oncologist.

Do we know yet where this will all end? Nope! Are we concerned? Yep! BUT- in the midst of uncertainty, we hold fast to the fact that God is good, all the time. That’s not just a platitude that we conveniently spout off on Sunday mornings but a mantra for life. I FULLY believe that God IS good, all the time. In fact, you may want to either come back here Sunday morning and read that blog post and/or watch it on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MyAledoUMC/)

This Sunday’s sermon, based on what the congregation voted on LAST Sunday, is about…ready?…Job. And I’m not sure there could be a more appropriate topic for me at this point than Job!

I will keep you posted in this space. (Think or it as my CaringBridge!) Thanks for reading and walking the journey with us.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Sometimes, There Just Aren’t Enough Rocks

ForrestJennyRocks

Forrest Gump is one of my all-time favorite movies. I won’t bore you with the ubiquitous “plot description” because you already know it. (And frankly, if you DON’T know it, what rock have YOU been under since 1986?! There are LOTS of lines and LOTS of scenes from the movie that come back to me, depending on the situation. The quote that has been coming back to me, again and again, for the past few days is a less than jovial one- but one just as packed with wisdom.

Jenny has come back to live with Forrest. They are out walking one day when they come upon the house Jenny grew up in- the house where he father abused her and life was constant torment. They’re talking when, suddenly, the overwhelming presence of the house hits her like a ton of bricks. She runs at the house and throws her shoes (which were in her hand) at it. She then starts picking up rocks off the ground and throwing them at the house. She throws until she is spent and then collapses to the ground. Forrest, in “narrator mode”, says, “Sometimes, there just aren’t enough rocks.” It is THAT quote that has stuck in my head recently.

As I said in my last post, last week was not one of my better ones. It started with a swollen neck…and then went downhill from there. Tuesday- doctor’s visit. Wednesday- CT scan. Thursday- follow-up doctor’s visit and immediate referral to the University of Iowa Hospital ER. That led to needle biopsies on my neck on Friday.

Let me take a moment to let you “peek behind the curtain” of a needle biopsy, in case you aren’t familiar. It involved almost an hour and half on an exam table. It involved 7 or 8 (I lost track) injections of “numbing medicine”, some near the surface and some fairly deep in the neck tissue. And then it involved a total of 12 needle biopsies. They take a needle, guide it into the correct spot with ultrasound, and then slide it in and out through then area, gathering a tissue sample. They did 9 with the “regular gauge” biopsy needle and then 3 with a “larger gauge” biopsy needle. A pathologist stood be, taking each set of three samples and doing…something to the that helped him understand if they were viable.

It was 5PM by the time I was done with the needle biopsies, but we were to still meet with an otolaryngologist about preliminary results and what we might do. We found him, he looked at the results, and then said that, while definitive results wouldn’t be available until Tuesday or Wednesday, thyroid cancer was pretty certain. And some of the forms of thyroid cancer it could be are…let’s just say…pretty nasty.

And that leads me back to the Forrest Gump quote. The truth is that sometimes, there AREN’T enough rocks! I’m not gonna lie- I’ve thrown more than a few rocks over the past few days. And part of me wants to just keep right on throwing them. But it strikes me that faith impacts rock throwing. If we believe that God is good, all the time, then we don’t have to expend so much energy throwing rocks. God saved me. He brought me out of the depths and showed me my purpose. I have been blessed with an amazing wife, two incredible sons and a career that has allowed me to do more than I could have ever imagined. So regardless of what comes, regardless of what the next few days reveals, God IS good, ALL the time. I’m out of rocks!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Another (Unexpected) Health Update

health update

The health challenges continue! About two weeks ago, I thought I felt a little swelling in my neck- no big whoop! Little cold. Little congestion, little “somethin’, somethin'”- this too shall pass. But over the next several days, just when it seemed to be getting better, it wasn’t! Finally, this past Monday evening, I talked with my wife about it. I had substantial swelling of the neck. Pressure on the carotid artery. Eventually, even my voice was compromised. That led us to the doctor’s office Tuesday morning. And THAT led us to a CT scan of my neck on Wednesday. And THAT led us back to the doctor’s office on Thursday morning, to get the results. It showed a soft-tissue mass behind my vocal chords, necrotic lymph nodes and an enlarged thyroid.  And THAT…led us to the ER at the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City on Thursday afternoon.

We spent about 5 hours at the ER. During that time, I was poked and prodded. I had blood drawn. I got a mega-injection of steroids. They stuck a scope up my nose and then, after “turning the corner”. Down my throat. Now THAT was pleasant!) In the end, they decided that an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy is the next step. (That sounds nice!) Once the results of that are back, we will know what’s going on and how to treat it.

On a side note- it did NOT go unnoticed by us that we got THIS news on June 8, 2017- 11 days longer than 4 years from the day we found out about the golf ball-sized Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma I had in my head. I can already assure you that, when late May/early June of 2021 comes, I’m going wrap myself in Bubble Wrap and hide in the dark!

The best-case scenario is some kind of infection, treated with aggressive antibiotics. The worst-case scenario is…not so good- lymphoma or thyroid cancer. Obviously WHAT it is has a HUGE bearing on how we treat it. I will keep you up to date as this unfolds in time and space.

I tried to be as transparent as possible in this space during the head tumor issues. I will offer that same transparency now. Likewise, my wife, sons and I covet your prayers and we begin this new journey.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

“I’m Not ‘An Actor’- I’m ‘An ACTOR’!”

big bang

The sermon series I am in the middle of is an interesting one, to say the least. There is this “thing” that we have done in churches for years now- we call it UPICKEM. The idea is that, during the summer, when the choir and bell choir tend to be on hiatus, there are Sundays where, in the slot those choirs would fill, we give folks the chance to pick a hymn to sing. They call out a hymn number, we turn to that page, and we sing(usually) one verse from that hymn. We do about 4 of them each time we do it. It is received well.

The only challenges it creates is that A. there are people who DON’T get their hymn chosen that particular week! (We DO encourage people that, if theirs was chosen LAST time…don’t pick THIS time!) and B. your accompanist HAS to be comfortable with “playing on the fly”! Think about it- they get absolutely NO chance to look over a song and practice it before playing. They simply have to jump in with both feet and wade through as best they can! We have been blessed to have had some really talented pianists and organists who were more than up to the task!

Last Spring (2016), as our staff looked ahead at worship over the summer, we talked about UPICKEMS. For some reason, after years of doing those, that particular conversation stuck with me. And as I mulled it over, this crazy idea began to take shape in my addled little mind! What if we did UPICKEMS…for the sermon?! And a new (to me, at least) sermon series was born!

Last summer, we did 5 weeks of YOUPICKEM. Each week, the congregation got three Bible characters to choose from. We alternated, week by week, with 3 Old Testament characters and then 3 New Testament characters offered. They marked their ballot with their choice and dropped it in the offering plate. The voted were tabulated on Monday, setting wheels in motion for song choices, Scripture references, accompanying videos and, of course, a sermon! The last wrinkle was that the sermon was presented as a first-person monologue- straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were! The 5 weeks of last summer’s series were very well received. So well, in fact, that I decided pretty early on that we would do a “sequel” this summer. And that’s where we are now.

Last week was Week 1. The voting choices were Abraham, David and Job. Abraham won, with David a CLOSE second and Job a rather distant third. David and Job now slide into the next Old Testament ballot, giving them “new life”.

The focus of the Abraham monologue was on God calling him to sacrifice his only son. It’s a difficult, challenging and yet powerful story. It’s days like this where my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Acting comes in handy! I was able to tap into the emotion of the event- I had SEVERAL people say things like, “Well, thanks for making me cry!”

I am constantly reminded that God gifts each of us differently. I have gifts you don’t have. You have gifts that I don’t have. And that, for my money, is one of the most beautiful parts of God’s creation, because it means that you don’t have to do what I do- do what God is calling YOU to do!

Examine your life. Examine your heart. Honestly identify what gifts God has given you and then find ways to use them for His glory! Can’t sing? Can’t play a musical instrument? Can’t act? Who cares? Those gifts and $1 will buy me a drink at McDonalds! Figure out what you CAN do (And we ALL have God-given gifts, so NO cop outs!) and then…DO it! Use those gifts to further God’s kingdom. He will reward you in ways you could never imagine!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

YOUPICKEM2: ABRAHAM

YOUPICKEM2 Master

     Today, we begin Round Two of a sermon series we began last summer- UPICKEM. Each week, you vote on which Bible character you want to hear about and the following week, the majority choice is the topic of the sermon. This morning, we stand off in the shadows and watch as God instructs Abraham to do the WORST thing possible.
I’m the son of Terah, which makes me a tenth-generation descendant of Noah. My given name of birth was Abram, which means “many” or “multitude”. I was one of the masses, lost in the crowd. But once God called me to greater things, He changed my name to Abraham, which means the “FATHER of many”. Once He established my calling, my purpose in life, my name was changed to reflect that calling.
I’m married to Sarah. We struggled for YEARS to have children. In fact, that is a whole other story, all by itself- one that we will save for another day! But finally, through God’s grace, we were able to have a son- Isaac, which means “laughter”. And it is Isaac around whom today’s story centers. God decided that it was time to test me, to see how true my faith was. He called to me and said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
You can imagine my shock and surprise over that charge. But I am a man of deep faith, and so early the next morning, I got up, loaded my donkey with enough wood for a burnt offering, took two servants along, got Isaac and off we went.
After traveling for three days, I finally saw the place God had told me about, off in the distance. I left the servants there with the donkey while Isaac and I finished the journey. I told them that we were going to the mountain to worship and we would be back. I wasn’t sure at the time what would actually happen.
I had Isaac carry the wood for the burnt offering. I brought the fire…and the knife. Isaac was a smart boy and on the way, he questioned why we had the fire and wood but no lamb for the burnt offering. I didn’t know what to tell him so I simply said that God would provide the sacrificial lamb when the time came. I had no idea how right I was.
When we got to the place God had told me about, I built an altar and arranged the wood on it. I then tied Isaac, my son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. The time had come. I took a big, deep breath, took out the knife and…
Angel: “Abraham!”
Abraham: “Here I am.”
Angel: “Don’t lay a hand on the boy. Don’t do anything to him. Now I know you love God, because you didn’t withhold even your son, your only son.”
You might imagine I was overwhelmed at that moment- I couldn’t even think straight. And in my…fog…I looked over at a thicket that was nearby and saw a ram who was caught in the brush. God’s provision had been there all along. I got the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. I named the place “Jehovah-jireh”, which means “The Lord will provide”, because that day, on that mountain, God provided.
For most people, my story raises some questions, not the least of which is- how old was Isaac when this happened? He was clearly old enough to understand the ritual of sacrifice. He was clearly old enough to carry a bundle of wood. He was clearly old enough to notice we didn’t bring an animal for the sacrifice. All of that makes Isaac older than 8 years old. But he also had to be younger than 12 years old because otherwise he wouldn’t have met the criteria of a sacrifice. So, if you did the math, Isaac was about 10 years old when this story happened.
People also wonder- did I tell Sarah what was happening before Isaac and I left? I think our leaving home would have gone a LOT differently if she had known!
But the most obvious question is this- why was I asked, BY GOD, to perform an act that is so completely contrary to the will of…GOD? The near-legendary   Oswald Chambers speculated that I only THOUGHT I heard God’s voice clearly…but didn’t. Others say that God hadn’t “evolved” yet. Let me set that straight- I heard God perfectly well. It also wasn’t a case of God not yet “evolving”. God was, is and will always be.
So- why? Did you notice HOW God described Isaac? “Take YOUR son, your ONLY son, whom you LOVE- ISAAC- and go- sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” God wanted to make SURE I knew who He was talking about and what the sacrifice REALLY meant.
Did you also notice that, part way there, I left the servants behind? This was something I HAD to do by myself. And then there’s the fact that Isaac did even struggle a little bit. Why? Isaac had complete trust in his father- just like I have complete trust in MY Father.
This is one of the most powerful stories in the Bible. Why? Because it deals with the most fundamental issues of human life and the basic principles of our relationship with God. It also takes us right to the very mountaintop of faith. Did you notice how the story started? “God tested Abraham.” Did God not KNOW I was faithful? Did He really NEED to test me so I could prove my worth? I’m convinced the answer to that question is…no. God didn’t need proof- He knew me. The test wasn’t for God’s benefit…it was for my benefit…for our benefit.
God calls out my name and I responded like a servant responding to his Master…ready to receive orders. Notice- my obedience was immediate. I didn’t take a few days to mull it over. I didn’t argue or try to justify why it was a bad idea. Serving God involves all we have and all we are- our family and friends included.
I wonder- is this more a story about prophecy than about faith? Maybe, in the end, this isn’t really a story about God wanting me to sacrifice my son, but instead a story of God wanting me to feel what He was going to feel when His Son is murdered. Maybe God had Jesus’ death on the cross in mind when He asked me to sacrifice Isaac.
In asking me to sacrifice my son, my only son, Isaac, whom I loved, God drew me deeper into the mystery of sacrificial, unconditional “agape love”. When we’re faithful to God’s call on our lives, no matter how “out of the box” it may seem, we’re drawn into that same mystery. And when can more fully embrace that mysterious, sacrificial agape love- that’s the moment everything changes.
Supporting Scriptures
    Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success.
     Hebrews 10:22-23 Let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, because we have been made free from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold firmly to the hope that we have confessed, because we can trust God to do what he promised.

A Festival of Rhubarb!

Rhubarb Fest 3

Today and tomorrow mark two INCREDIBLY important days in the life of the community in which we live and serve. Aledo, Illinois is, by gubernatorial decree, the Rhubarb Capital of Illinois. (A. NO kidding! B. Please keep all of your “Governor of Illinois” jokes to yourself- we’ve heard them all!) Over the next 48 hours, thousands (not an exaggeration) of folks will descend upon our community. AND…you will not be able to swing a cat without hitting something made out of rhubarb!

The church we currently serve sits about 3½ blocks from the main Rhubarb Fest area. So, somewhere along the way, this church had to decide- how do we participate in the event when we are 3½ blocks away? There are basically 3 choices: 1. DON’T participate, 2. Set up some kind of booth at the fair or 3. Do something at the church and figure out how to get people to come the 3½ blocks! #1 is a bad choice. #2 is a perfect good, but limiting choice. So- how to make #3 work? We were fortunate- the church figured it out and worked out the majority of the kinks before we ever walked in the door. So we got to join a fully-formed “rhubarb machine”!

And here’s what we do! We do…lunch. We advertise pretty heavily, so that people know we are a food option. We constantly run a shuttle bus between the church and the main fairgrounds, so that folks can ride in air-conditioned comfort instead of walk in sweaty discomfort! We offer even more air-conditioned comfort in the building, with actual chairs and tables to eat ON and plates and utensils to eat WITH!

And- the food! The centerpiece of the lunch is chicken salad. Now, you might be saying, “(Yawn!) Oh, how simply…lovely! Chicken salad! Quaint!” I get it. But this chicken salad is the type that people write songs about and soldiers go off to war for- it’s THAT good! It is homemade- nothing out of a can or bucket for us! The chicken salad is served either on a fresh-cut croissant or a bed of lettuce. Added to the chicken salad is potato salad. Again- yawn! Nope! Another homemade product. And, as discerning as I am about my potato salad- this is GREAT potato salad! Fresh fruit is the garnish on the plate. There are options for what to drink. But the amazing period at the end of this lunchtime sentence is…ready?…homemade pie!

Rhubarb pie. Strawberry rhubarb pie. Blueberry rhubarb pie. Pineapple rhubarb pie. Apple rhubarb pie. Blackberry rhubarb pie. Throw is some apple pies, cherry pies, blackberry pies, etc. For those who simply don’t like rhubarb and you have several choices of pie. And we only cut 7 pieces out of each 9″ pie, so you get, not a slice of pie but a SLICE of pie!

You can call ahead to order. (Too late for THIS year, but NEXT year…!) You can order AND pay online through our website. You can order ahead for carry-out. We even deliver locally. If you want our food, live within a decent radius and don’t get any…you’re simply not trying hard!

Today and tomorrow, over the course of 5 hours of actually serving time, we will serve somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 meals (Yes, you read that correctly!) and sell somewhere around 300 pies. (Again- yes!) Do we make money at this event? You bet your chicken salad we do! But at the end of the day, our goal is to connect people to Jesus Christ. So we will work HARD to be welcoming hosts and make people feel welcomed as they spend time in our “house”. And for me, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Making Monday’s Fries on Tuesday

french fries

“Federal Holidays” are an interesting thing. You see, the truth is that churches don’t have a ton of “perks” to offer their staff. There are things that other jobs can offer that I simply cannot. So I try to offer what I can in the way of making the workplace a good thing. And one of those “perks” is that, if it’s a “Federal Holiday”, it’s a paid day off for the staff. My exact words to our Office Administrator were, “Go on the Post Office website, copy down their holidays…and add them to our calendar”!

That means that this past Monday was a holiday- a paid day off. And for my family, Memorial Day was a good day. The weather was nice. My wife and I walked the ENTIRE one block up the street to watch the parade, featuring our younger son’s high school marching band. We then picked up my wife’s parents and brought them to the house for my father-in-law’s 87th birthday. It was a great day and it was nice to be able to not have to work.

But then…Tuesday came. And as I like to say, nobody comes in and makes the “Monday French Fries” on Monday while you’re gone. So, the Monday Fries still have to be made…you just have one less day in which to make them! The reality of life in a church is that there are some things that simply HAVE to be done, regardless of how many days you have- or DON’T have- in which to do them!

So now you know why Wednesday’s blog is rolling out on…Thursday! I spent Tuesday making Monday’s Fries and a few of Tuesday’s. I spent yesterday making the rest of Tuesday’s Fries and a good portion of yesterday’s fries. And then, I got home last night, after a meeting, sat down in my chair and said, “SHOOT! I didn’t write today’s blog!” But since this blog is “an ongoing look at life as a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister”, I thought I would pull back the curtain and let you see a bit more of the reality of day to day ministry!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!