Isolation

isolation

In this space, I recently shared about the impact that the radiation treatments to the thyroid had on my voice. In addition to the swelling and sore throat (which are both gone, thank you very much!) and the external radiation burns (which I am still dealing with), the voice issues were the other, more obvious, side effect. A week ago, I spent Wednesday through Saturday morning of that week doing a lot of nodding, pointing and pantomiming! That Friday was maybe the worst of it- I literally couldn’t talk. And as I also shared, that Saturday, a bit more than a week ago, my voice went from almost mom-existent when I got out of bed to adequate enough for me to video my sermon after lunch that day- in case I couldn’t “answer the bell” that Sunday! 

What I really didn’t dig deeper into in that previous post was the larger issue. I DID mention that I began to worry that my voice simply wouldn’t come back. And for someone who has spent their entire life communicating- being “in front of people”- that was a bit…daunting…to consider. But there was another layer to that story. 

If you have been reading this space for a while, or if you know very well at all, you know that the Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma (i.e. “tumor”) that I had sitting on top of my right ear canal, among other things, destroyed the hearing in the ear. Not damaged- destroyed. There are no “guts” to my ear. It’s simply cosmetic at this point. (And it IS a handsome-looking ear, if I do say so myself!) 

What a lot of people don’t really realize is just how deaf I am. Between being 100% deaf on the right side and having ALREADY existing hearing loss on the left side (years of playing the drums), my “baseline hearing” is probably 35-40% of what it should be. Add to that two other factors: 1. rather severe tinnitus (I have 4 or 5 separate yet distinguishable LOUD sounds that are in my ears/head 24/7/365) and 2. the fact that, with one ear worthless, my ability to distinguish where sound comes from (apparently that comes from your right ear) is gone. Factor all of that together and I am functionally working with MAYBE 20% of what should be “normal” hearing. (And while I appreciate suggestions, let me be proactive- I have tried hearing aids and other “assist” potentials to no avail. The only thing the experts think MIGHT work requires MORE surgery and a LOT of money that insurance won’t cover!) 

So, I live with 20% of my hearing. I have gotten WAY better than most people realize at lip reading, as well as reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, context and how other people are reacting. “Hearing”. For me, has become a multi-sensory, focused exercise. And even with that, there are LOTS of settings that cause me to feel pretty isolated. (Imagine larger gatherings in larger spaces with a decent amount of ambient noise. Imagine sound that is being amplified through a sound system.) 

And then- this “loss of voice” came up. And I had a few days of pretty harsh reality that I didn’t see coming. For those few days, I was, in many measurable ways, deaf and mute. And I had NO idea how isolating that would be. For example, I was sitting at dinner during our Vacation Bible School. (And I LOVE a good church dinner!) Because of the sound bouncing around in that fairly good-sized room, I could “hear” everything but sort out and comprehend…nothing. Add to that the fact that I also couldn’t talk. So, there I was, sitting in a room full of people that I know and love, breaking bread together…and I could hear them or talk to them. You quickly find yourself pulling in and ignoring everybody. It is shockingly isolating. 

I share this NOT for sympathy- not my style. Instead. I share it because it made me SO much more aware of what some folks deal with every day. When you have no overt, obvious “disability”, it’s pretty easy to take everything for granted. Hearing. Speaking. Walking. Whatever it is. But those few days really gave me a taste- and I fully acknowledge that it was JUST a taste- of what some deal with EVERY day.  

Here’s my “take-away” for today- don’t assume you know what someone else goes through or how they feel simply based on what you see. As a minister, I think one of the worst things we can say to someone is “I know how you feel”. Why? Because the truth is that…no we don’t know how they feel. We can’t. We know how WE felt when we went through something that may have been…or may not have been…similar. We THINK we know how we WOULD feel in their circumstance…which we really don’t. But we simply can’t know how someone else feels. 

Appreciate what you have instead of dwelling on what you don’t have. Learn to make the most of the “tools” that are actually IN your “toolbelt” instead of simply worrying so much about the tools you WISH you had. Make the most of every moment. Appreciate another day to be upright, breathing and about God’s business. Life is short. Don’t waste it. We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! 

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 World As Best I Remember It: Breaking Through Barriers

The World as Best Breaking Through Barriers

Creativity. Dreaming. They are the stuff that baffle many…but also the stuff that the very fabric of humanity is sewn from. And rather than try to TELL you about creativity and dreaming- I’ll show you.

(A video is then shown. Click the link to watch it. Then…come back!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3KwpmVHRpw) 

Coloring outside the lines. Using your imagination. Not be fenced in by conventional wisdom or “we’ve always done it that way”. Noticing the wonder around you. However, you want to phrase it, we are focusing on dreaming and creativity today.  

This sermon series- The World As Best I Remember It- is what I would love for people to “hang their spiritual hat on”. Squirming is optional…but somewhat expected! 

In today’s main Scripture, a horrible thing has just happened. John the Baptist has just been murdered- beheaded at the whim of Herod’s wife. The news of this horrible crime reaches Jesus. And that’s where we pick up the story. 

Matthew 14:13-21 When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to Me,” he said. And He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. 

The feeding of the five thousand- one of the best-known, most easily overlooked stories, in the Bible. It’s also one more example of the disciples overemphasizing the problem and underemphasizing the resources.  

John the Baptist has been murdered. Jesus hears, hops in a boat and heads off “to a solitary place”. But He’s a magnet- people are drawn to Him. So, large crowds follow Him, greeting Him on that far shore.  

Unlike us, Jesus sees them there and “had compassion on them and healed their sick”. Later, the disciples, trying to be logical and proactive, say, “Hey, Jesus- it’s late, we’re out here, a full mile PAST nowhere, and it’s time to eat. Wrap it up and get them out of here so they can go find something to eat…and leave us alone!” (I believe that might be The Message translation!)  

But Jesus sees the teachable moment. “Nope- not sending them away. You figure it out. Be creative. Dream big. Feed them.” They immediately fire back with, “We don’t have JACK- 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Have you SEEN this crowd?” I can picture Jesus shaking His head and quietly smiling to Himself. “Bring it here.” 

He takes the meager food, prays over it and starts handing it out to the disciples to distribute. In the end, everybody is fed, everybody is full and the leftovers are enough to fill 12 baskets. (12 baskets, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples- coincidence? I think not!) And we are told that there are 5,000 MEN there- not counting women and children. If you take that to its logical conclusion, this really ISN’T the feeding of the 5,000…it’s more like the feeding of the 15,000-20,000! 

A miraculous story, to be sure. But what does it have to do with creativity and dreaming big? In a word- everything. The disciples are faced with what seems to be an impossible task- feed 20,000 with some kid’s PBJ, chips and pudding cup. IMPOSSIBLE- right?! Apparently not!  

The obvious answer to the problem this story creates is the one the disciples offer up in the first place- send the people away so they can solve their own problem. In other words- pass the buck. But Jesus is no buck-passer. He opens the disciples’ eyes to creativity and dreaming big in ways they obviously couldn’t imagine. And it’s THEN that the true miracle happens. And it’s important to note that, while the disciples don’t actually PERFORM the miracle…it happens IN THEIR HANDS! Magicians say that the best kind of magic trick is one you can make happen IN the hand of an audience member. Well, if that’s the best kind of simple parlor trick, imagine how much powerful a true miracle of God is when it happens that very same way.  

So, dreaming big, being creative. How do you DO that? I’m certain there are many of you sitting here right now thinking, “Pffft! SOUNDS great, Pastor, but I have not ONE creative bone in my body!” And while I fully understand that not everybody can draw, or paint, or sew, or build, or write, or play music or…whatever…we ALL have the capacity to be creative, to dream big, in our own way.  

I firmly believe that the one thing that holds most people, groups, organizations…churches…back is the “It won’t work” attitude. You know- “That will NEVER work! We could NEVER do that!” Well, not with THAT attitude you can’t! At every church we’ve served, I’ve led, or helped lead, the church leadership through a discernment process to see where we were, where we were headed and what we needed in order to get there. And one of my first steps is always, “What dreams do you have for your church?” I caution that, at that stage of the process, NO dream is too big or outlandish. I encourage creativity- thinking outside the box. Don’t be restricted by money, or space, or time, or resources, or manpower- just make a list of your dreams for the church. 

I then gather all those dreams in a list and get the leadership back together. The ONLY ground rule? NOBODY gets to comment negatively about anything on the list. No “we tried that once, forty-leven years ago, and it didn’t work!” No “that would cost too much money!” No “You have GOT to be kidding me?! We could NEVER do that!” You either say something positive…or you keep your big yapper shut! The time for more critical analysis and discernment is later- AFTER the creativity and dreaming big is done. At that moment, no idea is too crazy, too stupid, too “out there”. Let’s throw ALL the cooked spaghetti against the wall…and see what sticks! 

What dreams do you have for your life? For your family? For your church? For your world? Identify those dreams…and dream BIG when you do it! Be creative. Think outside the box. Color outside the lines. BUT- make sure your dreams aren’t selfish ones. If the dreams you identify are based on what YOU like…they aren’t really big, creative dreams. They’re self-serving desires. If your dreams circle around going back to “the good old days”, let me remind you what that great theologian Billy Joel said, “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems!” Who is God calling you…US…to be? Whatever that looks like, be willing to break through the barriers that keep you…us…from it. We have been given a gift here- one that most churches will never experience. I’ve had the extreme joy of experiencing growth at all 3 churches we’ve served…and it never gets old. Why? Because that’s why we exist- to connect people to Jesus Christ! Don’t dream a LITTLE dream- dream a BIG one!

The Whirlwind Family Tour

family

(The picture that accompanies today’s blog was chosen with care! It not only captures the word that I am focusing on today, but the fact that it’s spelled out in Scrabble tiles is NOT accidental- my mom was HARDCORE Scrabble player!) 

One of the things my wife and I decided early on in this cancer diagnosis was that we were going to adopt an “open-door” policy for my family. I have a brother and sister who both live in the St. Louis area- on the Illinois side- and a sister who lives in the panhandle of Florida. All three are married and all three have children who are scattered about- several of who have produced grandchildren as well!  

We tend to be rather private people. But as my wife pointed out, in many ways, we are WAYS past “private” now! So, we contacted my siblings and made the “open-door” offer. And after some jockeying of schedules and some planning back and forth, those visits are about to start happening. Over the next couple of weeks, all three siblings and some variations of spouses, children and grandchildren will be coming in. Some overlap. Some don’t. Some will stay at the house- we have a spare bedroom with a queen-sized bed AND cable TV! (“That’s a little France-y!”) Some will stay in one of the local motels. Some will be here overnight. Some will be here for a few nights.  

When we made this offer, I was still wrestling with the reality of this whole thing. And because of that, it kind of felt like what they call in the stage musical Evita “The Rainbow Tour”. In other words, I worried a bit that this would end up as some maudlin “visitation” as everybody filed past, telling me how good I looked. And I wasn’t sure I was up for that…at the time. 

But with some time to process, think through and get a handle on, I am looking forward to it! There was a time when we all lived in relative proximity to each other AND our parents were alive. We made sure to get together for major events and such. Even after my immediate family moved away, we always went home for at least Christmas. But as the years have passed, and our parents ALSO both passed, and we have become more “scattered”, the reality of life has set in. We simply don’t see each other very often. And that’s a shame. 

So, I am very much looking forward to spending some time with my siblings, their spouses and other family members. I no longer look at it as a “wake”, but instead a great opportunity to just enjoy each other’s company and spend some time together. Although I am, frankly and selfishly, glad that my parents aren’t around to have to see me deal with these health issues, I am quite positive they would both be happy that their kids are intentionally gathering together. Who wouldn’t want THAT?! 

So, over the next few weeks, we will be enjoying “in-town” guests off and on. We will probably have some Sundays where we are introducing, or re-introducing in some cases, family members to the congregation. Bread will be broken. Stories will be told and re-told. Lots of laughter will happen. I won’t be surprised if a few tears are shed…but that’s OK! I am grateful for my family. We have been through a LOT together. Life was NOT always easy in our house growing up. But while we don’t see each other as much as we would should, we stick together. We support each other. We love each other. And it doesn’t get a lot better than that! We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! 

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 Blessing in the Curse

Blessing, Curse Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Blue Sky and Clouds.

In the midst of what my family is currently going through, my wife and I have noticed a rather interesting phenomenon- one that we didn’t see coming…but have grown to appreciate! It deals with how we are approaching this whole thing and how our approach is impacting others. I have been clear all along that we have chosen…CHOSEN…to be “glass half-full” people. And frankly, that’s not new to this situation. We have always tried to be positive, upbeat people. We have always tried to find the silver lining. We have always tried to find the humor…and the joy…in any situation.  

And so, that overall approach to life has spilled over into our response to all of this cancer stuff. Do we LIKE it? Not one little bit. Are we HAPPY about it? Nope. However, it is what it is. Whining, moping and giving up are NOT going to make this situation any better. (There seems to be NO medical studies that say otherwise!) We take the lemons…and make the best lemonade we are able to! 

As I mentioned earlier, the phenomenon grows out of that foundation and manifests itself in how other people are reacting. And perhaps the best way I can explain it is by giving you an example. 

We have met with, if I am keeping count accurately, 4 separate doctors who have the word “oncology” attached to their title- 2 that are “oncologists” and 2 that are “radiology oncologists”. It is one of those “oncologists” that this story centers around. She is the doctor who oversaw my first round of chemo treatments. She is also the doctor who has been helping me get through the most recent testing and prepare for the NEXT round of chemo.  

We like her. We have already developed great trust in her. She has tended to be rather…clinical. And I don’t mean that as a criticism. I understand. To be in the area of medicine that she is in, I would think there would almost HAVE to be a sense of “clinical” about you or you would not be able to deal with what you have to deal with every day! Not a lot of emotion. Not a lot of intensely personal contact. She’s very professional. 

And then, there came our consult with her earlier this week. She wanted to talk about the endoscopy and CT scans, what they meant and where we head next. And in the context of that consult, some rather frank conversation was had. As I have been clear to share all along, medically- this doesn’t end well. And it is the responsibility of the doctor (in my opinion) to help the patient understand the reality of the situation. So, she was clear about some things, as she (and everybody else) has been all along. And frankly…that’s what we want. Don’t sugar-coat. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t talk in code. Don’t undersell. Call it like it is. It’s the best way. And it’s what we want. 

We continued to assure her that we were well aware of the situation. And then…she apologized. “I’m sorry you have to go through this.” We thanked her but assured her that she had nothing to be sorry about and that we were determined to keep our heard high, regardless. That conversation continued for e few more moments. Then, she did something that neither of us expected. She moved her chair in close to the two of us…and took us both by the hand. “I am so glad to know you. You both are so good to work with.” And then she started to cry. Not a huge, sobbing cry but tears coming down both cheeks. “I wish everyone could have your attitude.” And then, she smiled. It was a huge, genuine smile. We had seen smiles from her before, but they had always been the controlled smiles of a professional. This was the unabashed grin of a human making genuine contact with other humans.  

We’ve been somewhat amazed and very humbled to see how God has touched OTHER people through our journey. The reason it’s amazing and humbling is that we haven’t done anything we have done simply for the sake of what others will think. We are just trying to be the best “us” we can be, trying to guide our family though this rather tortuous trip as best we can. The fact that God can…and is…using this to positively touch others is a true blessing. And the fact that, in the midst of our “stuff”, we can see the blessing…is a blessing ALL by itself! We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! 

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!

In a New York Minute

New York Minute

It’s truly amazing how quickly life can change. (That great theologian Don Henley would describe as being “In a New York Minute”.)  Having a few days of no doctors, hospitals or tests (which is WONDERFUL, by the way!) has also given me a chance to catch my breath and assess the events of the past 7 weeks. Yep- 7 weeks. 7 weeks ago today, my wife and started the day in the office of our family doctor, a 4-minute drive from home, and ended the day in the ER of The University of Iowa Hospital, a 90-minute drive away. We were at our doctor’s office to get results of a CT scan I had done the day before on my neck.

Our doctor used two words that day (He actually used MANY words! He’s a smart guy!) that stood out and began to help us shape the seriousness of what we were facing. Those words were “mass” and “necrotic”. Finding a mass in your body is rarely a good thing and, since “necrotic” basically means “dead”, well…that can’t be good either!

We spent a few hours in the ER that. I had to challenge the doctor a bit as to why they were going to admit me…and in the end, they didn’t! (I can be VERY persuasive and VERY stubborn!) By the end of the next day, 7 weeks from tomorrow, I had 12 separate needle biopsies in my rearview mirror and we were talking to that very same doctor from the ER the day before…and the reality of what he had to tell us wasn’t good.

It has been a whirlwind ever since. I literally lost count of how many doctor’s appointments, treatments, tests and follow-ups we’ve had. Everything that was “the norm” for us 7 weeks ago is now a memory. There is, quite literally, NO facet of our daily lives NOW that is even close to what it was BC- Before Cancer. As you digest that last sentence, I want you to understand one thing- it’s MUCH less of a complaint or a “woe is me” moment and much MORE of an enlightened insight. Let me explain.

For the past 20+ years, we have been in the ministry. I was SO “green” when I started out, I didn’t know my apse from a hole in the ground! (In case you wonder, an “apse” is “a large semicircular or polygonal recess in a church, arched or with a domed roof, typically at the eastern end, and usually containing the altar“. I SO intentionally refuse to use those “fancy church words” that I would guess most of my parishioners don’t even know them!) But one constant (Not the ONLY one…but one!) has been the notion that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, so live in the moment.

I will be the first to admit that, while I have preached that for 20+ years, I haven’t always been great at following my own advice. But as I’ve gotten older, I have come closer and closer. And now- this. And over these past 7 weeks, I have been reminded, over and over again, that life can change in the blink of an eye. My family has received a HEALTHY dose of that reality.      It hit me pretty early on in this process- that healthy dose of reality offers…FORCES a decision. And an opportunity. “Do I REALLY believe that no one is promised tomorrow? Do I REALLY believe that God is good, all the time? Do I REALLY believe that this brief, finite life is just a short precursor to an eternity with God?” A diagnosis like the one…ONES…I have received present what I have always called a “fish or cut bait” moment. (Interesting that I would use THAT analogy, since I don’t fish and don’t even LIKE to fish!)

So, my family has made a choice- a choice I’ve mentioned in the space before. We CHOOSE to say “yes” to all of those questions. We choose to live intentionally. We choose to not back down, give up, curl up in a collective ball and wait. We face the realities. We plan for all eventualities. And…we live. Intentionally. We certainly focus on my health. But we don’t dwell on it to the point that it swallows everything else up in its gravity. We laugh. We joke. We go to the grocery store. We play games. We watch movies. We talk about dumb, goofy, silly stuff. We…live. We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn!

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!

A New Name Has Been Added to the List

cancer

If you remember, when “last week’s episode” (yesterday’s blog!) ended, the cliffhanger was that we were waiting for pathology results from the biopsy taken off the mass on my lower esophagus. Well, wait no more! An assistant from the gastroenterologist’s office called at 10:30AM yesterday, wanting to know if I could be there at 11AM to talk about the results of the biopsy. (Do the math- 30 minutes.) I said that A. if I left immediately, the soonest I could get there was about 11:20-11:30AM and B. I was in a meeting so C. no, I couldn’t. She said she would check in available times today or tomorrow and call me “right back”.

In the meantime, my wife and I wondered why we really needed to actually drive there to see the doctor. We basically knew everything we needed to know- except the ACTUAL determination of what KIND of cancer this newly-biopsies tumor is. But we had decided that, if they wanted us to come…we would. Knowledge is power.

Late in the day yesterday (Turns out, THIS doctor wanted to talk to my oncologist- good choice- and that connection took much of the day to actually happen), the same assistant called back to say that, based on that doctor-to-doctor conversation, I really didn’t need to come in. My oncologist, who we JUST met with, knew what’s what and had a plan in place.

But there was still the ONE thing we didn’t know- what kind of cancer. But as I talked to the assistant, outside the back door of the church with rather bad cell reception and my BAD hearing, she said the name of the cancer. And I couldn’t understand her! She started to hang up, but I “dragged her back” into the conversation and asked if she would repeat that term she used- the name of the cancer. Adenoma Carcinoma. There it is- it has a name. I read on the Internet (I bet doctors HATE that us “lay folk” always run to Google and Wikipedia to look up “medical stuff”! If I were them, I would cringe every time a patient started a sentence with, “I read on the Internet…!”) that one of the potential causes of this type of cancer is gastroesophageal reflux. And I dealt with what I always called acid reflux for YEARS. I used to LIVE on Tums and couldn’t eat anything after a certain time of night without having major problems for half the night. Coincidence? Who knows!

So, Stage 4 Anaplastic Cancer of the thyroid and lymph nodes in the neck and Adenoma Carcinoma Cancer of the lower esophagus. One of them (we honestly don’t know which- possibly both, depending on the location and it REALLY doesn’t matter) is also in the lymph nodes of the upper chest and the lungs. Surgery is not an option on any of it. The two main locations- thyroid and esophagus- are both pretty major surgeries with decent risks involved and no real return- they would only address that particular location and nowhere else.

So, as you read this, a very special “chemo cocktail” is being brewed in a super-secret lab in an underground bunker somewhere…just for me! I am, after all, a “special snowflake”! (If only my wife and older son had actually created that Sarcasm Font they had been toying with! You would SEE the sarcasm in that title!) And “soon and very soon”, we will start that new round. It will look like this: 1. Blood work to make sure levels are good. 2. Chemo- 5-ish hours of infusion. 3. 3 weeks off to recover, including a trip to the oncologist to check “toxicity”. (I THINK that means I have the possibility of becoming a superhero- The Toxic Avenger- from all of this. So…I got THAT going for me!) 4. Second round, same as the first. 5. Scans to see what’s what with you know what. 6. Evaluate and decide what’s next.

The side effects from the first round of chemo/radiation are nearly gone. Facial hair (especially near and under the chin and jawline) continues to fall out, so I have shaved the beard (which I wear VERY short anyway) down to stubble. (Picture Don Johnson from Miami Vice, only NOT so ruggedly handsome!) Most of the radiation burns on my neck are nearly gone. I still have to treat the line where my neck meets my upper torso 3-4 times a day with a variety of creams, but that’s it. The voice, while not FULLY back, is good enough that last night, as I cooked dinner (which I LOVE to be able to do again!), I was able to (somewhat) sing along with the Classic Rock my iPod was spitting out. First time in weeks. We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn!

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!

Bad News, Good News

bad news good news

Yesterday was the follow-up visit with my oncologist. (Reminder: this was following up on the endoscopy and CT scans I had last week.) Frankly, we went in with eyes wide-open, because we already knew they had found a mass farther down on my esophagus. So, we weren’t surprised to have them confirm that it’s there and it is a cancerous tumor. And while the pathology isn’t back yet, they fully expect this will prove to be a different kind of cancer than the Anaplastic Cancer that’s in my thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes.

Under “normal” circumstances, surgery would be a logical next step- remove the tumor from the esophagus. But these aren’t “normal” circumstances- remember, I’m a “special little snowflake”! That type of surgery is major and wouldn’t address any other the other problem areas. So, surgery has already been taken off the table. The next step, probably, is the one we expected anyway- a ramped-up round of chemo. The only real question is two-fold: 1. will the pathology results push the doctors into a different “cocktail” for chemo and 2. will radiation be a part of the mix again? As they say in the theater- all will be revealed in the last act!

One of the concerns surrounding this most recent revelation is that, while it is NOT right now, there is the possibility that this newly-identified tumor will start to restrict my esophagus, making eating and drinking an issue. A discussion was had about the possibility of a feeding tube in my stomach at some point- a conversation that we’ve already had, a few weeks ago. We will cross that bridge when, and if, we come to it. To quote that great theologian Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day!”

I mentioned bad news/good news today’s title. Here’s the good news- I feel better than I have in two months. My throat is better. I can swallow MUCH better. My voice is coming back strong. AND…I’m back sleeping in a bed! I sleep OK in the recliner, but nothing like in the bed! An un-sore throat. A voice. A bed. Those are all things I took for granted two months ago. Today? They are cause for celebration!

Also, the CT scans I had last week confirmed that the first round of chemo and radiation did what they hoped it would do- slow this runaway train down just a bit. The cancerous thyroid and lymph nodes shrunk, which I why my throat is so much better. Even the cancerous lung nodes shrunk a bit. It is still considered palliative care, but SOME relief is GREAT relief right now!

My wife and I are what I would call hopeful pragmatists. We are, in large part, pragmatic (adjective: “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations“) by nature. We try to realistically face things head on, acknowledging the reality of a situation and seeking the best path forward. And we understand the reality of this situation. Medically speaking, “palliative care” speaks for itself. And so, we have been approaching things with a strong sense of reality- what NEEDS to be done?

But we are also very hopeful people. And for us, it’s not a “pie in the sky in the great by and by” kind of hopeful. It is a very genuine hope, rooted squarely and firmly in our faith. Do the doctors think I will survive this? Quite frankly- no. Can God perform a miracle and heal me? Absolutely. Do we pray for that? You bet. Will it happen? Only God knows. Regardless of which way this goes, will we fully understand the “whys” of the equation? Nope.

There’s a lot we don’t know. But what we DO know is that we have today. We have each other. We have a great family. We have a great church family. We have awesome support from…literally around the world. And we serve a God Who loves us more than we can fathom. And frankly, none of us is promised tomorrow. So, we are committed to living every day with intention. Embrace the moment. Plan ahead, to be sure, but don’t get so caught up in the “maybes” and “what ifs” of tomorrow that we miss the wonder, beauty and joy of today. We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn!

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!

I Can TALK!

speaking-AYt7iq-clipart

I shared recently that I had some concern about my voice. It has been trashed as a result of the side effects of the radiation treatments. (I am also dealing with some issues regarding “radiation burns” on my neck, but managing those fairly well!) The concern I shared was that, given how long the voice issues lasted, and how bad they got (I spent most of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday deaf AND mute! Not kidding!), I began to seriously consider the possibility that my voice was not going to come back. With what’s going on in my throat and esophagus, it seemed very possible. And, if I can’t talk…I really can’t do my job much at all. And if I can’t do my job…everything changes VERY quickly!

So, Friday- BAD voice. Barely anything would come out. A LOT of pantomiming, pointing and nodding. Even wrote some notes. Saturday morning, not much better. Contingency plans needed to be made for Sunday (yesterday). My wife had already graciously offered to read the manuscript of my sermon…at all THREE services! (I write a manuscript for the website and then boil it down to an outline to preach from.) Others in the congregation had offered to either do the same or preach in place of me. The question was- what to do?

Then, about lunchtime, the voice seemed to be rebounding. But unsure how long it would last, we decided that I would head over to church, get in between the green screen and the camera and film the sermon. So, I did. In the end, I preached it three times…to no one. (The first one was a “dry run”. The second- I wasn’t happy with. And the third was a keeper. And then…we prayed.

Yesterday morning, I got up, took a big deep breath, a big drink of water…and tried to talk. Sound came out! REAL, “human” sound! Huzzah! So, I got ready and headed next door. I took with me a jar of raw, organic honey. My wife had suggested it earlier in the week and it really helped! A healthy teaspoon several times a day seemed to have a positive impact. AND…I made it through all three worship services, leading, preaching and playing drums! (With some changes here and there- thank you, my beautiful wife!- to lessen how much I had to talk outside of preaching and serving Communion.) I can’t TELL you how much relief I have felt in the past 24 hours over getting a voice back! I genuinely believe it was Divine Intervention!

Today, we head back to the oncologist. Knowing that A. last week’s endoscopy found the mass on my esophagus and B. the oncologist moved a Thursday appointment up to today, we are not going in expecting kittens and moonbeams. Instead, we fully expect to hear that an aggressive course of chemo, starting sooner rather than later, is what they are recommending. They have already intimated as much. They may even suggest more radiation, aimed at this newly-discovered mass. (The pathology results on that mass will probably help guide that decision.)

My wife and I are what I would describe as hopeful pragmatists. We are faithful, joy-filled people who work hard to have our glass half-full. We are also practical, logical people who refuse to ignore the reality of what we face. And so, we head into today eyes wide-open. I can’t imagine that we will hear anything today that will surprise us. We may or may not hear things that we would rather not have to hear…but no real surprises. And then what? Well, we continue to hold our heads high, chin out and soldier on. We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn!

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 World As Best I Remember It: Two Choices

The World as Best Two Choices

I recently read a story that deeply touched me and came quickly back to me as I wrote today’s message. At the end of April of this year, a deadly weekend of storms and tornadoes devastated parts of the South and Midwest, killing several people. One of the stories that came out of those storms was about a man in Texas, traveling with both his toddler and infant children. He lost control of his truck, which flipped on its back and immediately sank in the surging flood waters. What happened next is nothing short of miraculous. Cell phone video captured a group of people risking their own lives to get in the raging water, force open the truck’s doors and pull all 3 occupants out.

The video then shows one of the rescuers carrying the infant, who is completely unresponsive. Dead. Someone on the shore starts CPR. Meanwhile, a woman off-camera is heard openly praying for the child’s life. “Dear Jesus, please let this baby breathe.” Against all odds, the baby is revived and today- Dad, toddler and baby are all fine.

This sermon series is a liberal dose of what God’s laid on my heart, a healthy measure of Scripture and uneven amounts of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins and author Stephen Covey. I stirred it all together and stuck it in the oven! And…THIS is what came out the other end- The World As Best I Remember It.

We’re looking at what I would love for people to “hang their spiritual hat on”. You might squirm a bit. But maybe you NEED to squirm a bit!

Last week, we talked about having two choices- glass half-empty or glass half-full. And today…we talk about two choices! On the surface, you might think it’s just a rehash. Au contraire, mon frère! Today picks up where last week left off, to be sure. But it’s the NEXT step in a logical progression. Today, we’re looking at that pesky topic that has caused confusion since the dawn of Christianity- Free Will. This isn’t just the choice to be positive or negative, but the choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy, between following God or following the world.

Today’s Scripture falls right in the middle of what we commonly refer to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which fills 3 full chapters of the Gospel of Matthew- that’s how important it is. Toward the end, Jesus gives us this-

     Matthew 7:7-16a Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? @ If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. @ For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.

One of the things I love about this passage is that, on the surface, it seems as if Jesus is setting us up to fail- expecting the impossible. But actually, Jesus is assuring us that, instead of expecting the impossible, He’s providing us the means for carrying out what would OTHERWISE BE impossible.

In this passage, Jesus offers us 3 imperatives- ask, seek and knock. And they aren’t only offered but repeated, for greater emphasis. They’re also presented in the present tense- the here and now- to stress that, instead of some “pie in the sky in the great by and by”, persistence and sincerity are necessary NOW.

By offering these 3 imperatives, Jesus calls us to pray (“ask”) with true sincerity (“seek”) and then actively pursue His will (“knock”). I come to Jesus in prayer- I ask. I do it sincerely and earnestly- I seek. And then I get off my backside and do something about it- I knock. It’s an organic, almost seamless movement from one to the next- a process by which we more actively seek His righteousness.

I appreciate the logic Jesus uses in the next sentence. He says no decent parent would deceive their kid who is asking for food by giving them a rock that LOOKS like a piece of bread or a dangerous snake that looks like a fish. And if that’s what us flawed humans would and wouldn’t do, then how much more would God, our heavenly Father, Who IS goodness and love, give good gifts to those who ask? Just like a good dad, God uses this means to teach us courtesy, persistence, diligence and love. And if we become the people we are being called to be, it’s because God the Father molded us and shaped us that way- His way.

Far too often, we simply don’t have the goods to truly be very involved in discipleship because…we don’t ask for them! Or we ask, but with selfish, ulterior motives. We HAVE to ask. “Why? I thought God knew everything. Why do I have to TELL Him what I want? Doesn’t He just…you know…KNOW?” We ask for them NOT because God needs to be told, but because we need to say it…want it. it’s God’s way of training us in the ways we should go. And BOY is it worth it, because the blessings Jesus promises through of asking, seeking and knocking aren’t the basic blessings theologians call Common Grace. They are, instead, the full blessings of God’s Kingdom- a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

One of the keys to this passage is our “picture” of God- how we see Him. God is NOT some reluctant stranger who needs to be cajoled or bullied into giving good gifts. He’s NOT some egomaniacal tyrant who takes evil pleasure in the tricks He plays on us. He’s also not an indulgent grandpa who simply buys our love by giving us everything we ask for. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. He’s our heavenly Father Who graciously and willingly gives us His good gifts in answer to prayer.

This passage also encourages us to not only exercise MORAL discernment- do what’s right- it also encourages us to exercise religious discernment. Don’t just accept something because a self-proclaimed “prophet” says it’s so. Run what you hear and see through what I call “The Jesus Filter”. “Does that seem like something that is in keeping with what the Bible tells me?” “Is that something Jesus would actually say or encourage?” If the answer to those questions is, “Yes”, then go with it. If the answer to those questions is “No”, I don’t care WHO said them, present company included- put on the brakes and reevaluate. Why? Because there are a LOT of wolves out there who are wearing a pretty convincing Sheep Costume!

There are many days when more harm is done to the Christian church from false teaching from the inside than from persecution from the outside. Or, as the late revival preacher Vance Havner once said, “More harm has been done to the church by termites on the inside than by woodpeckers on the outside!”
When IS teaching false? Teaching is false when it offers salvation without discipleship. Teaching is false when it offers grace without God’s gracious presence. Teaching is false when it emphasizes faith without also emphasizing ethical living. But teaching is also false when it emphasizes ethical living as the way to salvation by itself, rather than as an outward and visible expression of the inward and spiritual work of the Holy Spirit within us, transforming us into a new creation. You’ll know if teaching is false by the fruit it produces. Trust your heart. Trust God.

So, is this asking, seeking and knocking an easy, always organic thing? Nope. Jesus makes that clear in this passage when He tells us that wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction. And to drive that point further home, He adds that MANY will enter through that gate. It’s the easy way out, the path of least resistance. He then readily admits the road that leads to life is small and narrow. And He drives THAT point home with a comparison to what He said before- only a few find it. It’s NOT the easy way out. It’s NOT the path of least resistance. It’s small and narrow- you have to pay attention to where each step lands. But if you do, to quote that great theologian Delmar from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, “Heaven everlastin’ is my reward!”

So why is this anything more than last week’s “glass half-empty or half-full” conversation? Here it is- you can be a COMPLETE glass half-full, positive to the core person…and have absolutely no faith in God. One does NOT automatically preclude OR include the other. Today is about Free Will. I described that as “pesky” when we started. And it is. Much of what we muck up is tied to the fact that we had a choice to make…and we made the wrong one!

As we said last week- by ALL means, be a positive person. But more than that, be a MORAL person. Do the right thing simply BECAUSE it’s the right thing. If you benefit from it- that’s gravy on the mashed potatoes. But if you DON’T- so what? The right thing is the right thing, regardless of how it impacts YOU! That dogeared phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” has become so ubiquitous that it feels corny, canned, hackneyed. But it is STILL a great question to ask yourself when you are facing a decision.

And here’s an important caveat to today’s conversation- you KNOW what the right thing is. I hear people say, “Well, I wasn’t sure.” Or they quote that great theologian Flip Wilson, “The devil made me do it!” Uh uh. Not buying it. We KNOW what’s right and what’s not. And the truth is the devil doesn’t MAKE us do anything. If it happens, it’s because we LET him cajole us into thinking it’s OK to lower our standards. It’s because it’s what we WANTED to do.

Two choices. Two paths. One is wide and broad and leads to destruction. The other is small and narrow only a few find it. But if I take that path, “Heaven everlastin’ is my reward!” One is easy. One is much more challenging. Every day brings new choices. Shoot, every MOMENT brings them. And often, we can intentionally make the WRONG choice and nobody EVER knows. But WE know. And God knows. And we know that’s not who God is calling us to be. The wide path or the narrow path- which one will you choose. Never understatement the power of a small group of dedicated people to change the world. In the end, it’s the only thing that can.

The $64 Question

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Well, the $64 Question of the Day is- scans…or NO scans? And the answer is- scans! I DID have both a neck and chest CT, both with and without contrast, yesterday morning. They were fine. (CT scans, as you know if you’ve had one, “ain’t no big thang”!) They EVEN found a vein first try, which is a pretty big accomplishment these days!

The interesting thing about the scans turned out to be not IF but WHERE. They were originally scheduled for a hospital that is about 45-50 from our house. (“Well, ain’t this place a geographical oddity- 45 minutes from EVERYWHERE!”) Then, as you know if you read here regularly, they had to be rescheduled (Thank you, insurance!) to yesterday.

I didn’t sleep well Thursday night (Nothing to do with the scans, because, as I said, ain’t no big thang!) And so, I found myself awake, Thursday night into Friday morning, for about 2 hours. Somewhere in that stretch, I remembered that I have an online portal for the hospital group that I was supposed to visit, 45 minutes away, later that morning for the scans. I thought, “I’ll go on and verify the time and re-read any instructions.” So, I did. The time was right. There really aren’t any pertinent instructions to verify. But then I noticed something crucial- the scans were now scheduled for the hospital…IN TOWN! NOT 45 minutes away but 4 minutes away…IF there’s traffic! So, we caught a break and got to do them locally. (Good thing I looked at the online chart, however, because otherwise we would not have known and would have driven the 90-minute round-trip…for nothing!)

In the afternoon, while I was napping, the office of the oncologist who oversees my chemo treatments called. They tried me first, but…you know…I was napping! So, they called my wife. The follow-up appointment to the CT scans and endoscopy, scheduled for next Thursday, was being moved to Monday morning. Now, this is NOT my first rodeo, so I know what that means. It means that they got the results of the endoscopy, and perhaps the CT scans, and feel the need to get on to the next step as soon as possible. No huge surprise there.

Ironically, on the way home from the CT scans yesterday morning, I said to my wife, “OK- we now have FIVE full days of NO hospitals or doctors!” And she said (Remember- she’s the BRAINS of this outfit!), “True- unless something changes. And if it does, we’ll just go with the flow and do what we have to do!” Less than 4 hours later, she was absolutely right, the flow had changed…and we were going with it!

The BEST part of yesterday was that the Band is back together! Our older son is home from Chicago for the weekend. And we ALWAYS enjoy having all four of us in the same place at the same time! We all know families who love each other…but don’t really seem to actually LIKE each other. You know- that familial love that is there, sometimes, because it’s supposed to be but is lacking any really enjoyment or affection. That is NOT us!

We not only love each other- we genuinely enjoy being with each other. We weren’t 2 minutes out of the train station parking lot before the van was filled with laughing and being goofy. That went on all the way home (45 minutes…thank you very much!), as we all unloaded the groceries we got while we were out and as we sat around the living room. I am genuinely sorry not everybody has that kind of relationship and I realize just how blessed I feel to do. My family means everything to me. I would, without hesitation, walk through the fires of Hell in a suit made of gasoline for them. And I can’t imagine walking this journey without them. God is good, all the time! #WarriorOn!

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!

Two Joys…and a Concern

Joys and Concern

Today, if all goes well, is the day for CT scans. One on the neck, with contrast. One on the chest, again with contrast. If the “with contrast” isn’t familiar to you, here’s how it works. The stick an IV in you and put you in the CT scanner. They take a “regular” CT of…whatever they are CTing. (Is that even a word?!) Then, they inject some kind of dye in you and scan you again. The dye shows up as…you guessed it…contrast on the end product. Then they can compare the two to better evaluate the situation. Between treatment for the brain tumor in 2013-2014, the follow-up to that surgery and now all of this, I have had SO many CT scans with contrast, it’s a wonder I can’t read at night WITHOUT a light on!

I said “if all goes well” because earlier in the week, the health insurance company (IT is SO hard for me to say those three words together without sarcasm just dripping off my lips!) hadn’t yet approved them, causing the doctor and hospital to re-schedule. (A MUCH better plan that me having to foot the entire bill myself!) By the time you read this, we will be A. on our way to the hospital, B. having the CT scans done or C. rescheduling yet again. Time will tell!

Yesterday saw some small but profound moments of true joy AND a liberal dash of concern. (Frankly, that describes pretty much EVERY day lately!) The small but profound joys were, frankly, many and varied. But two that were unique to yesterday and therefore stood out were both things I love to do.

First- cooking. I love to cook. If the hours weren’t so hard on a family, I would absolutely LOVE to own and operate a restaurant. I love to cook. It’s a very creative venture, it’s fun and it produces fairly immediate and quantifiable results. Prior to June 8, the day we found out about all of this, I was the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer around here. Now, don’t misunderstand- my wife is a GREAT cook. And she loves to do the big, special meals. And she does a really good job. I. however, am not all that fond of doing those kinds of meals. Instead, I genuinely love planning and producing regular, everyday meals with my own “tweaks” added. So that’s what normally happens. Cooking is very therapeutic for me.

But since June 8, I had not REALLY cooked one meal. Oh, eggs and toast here. Some soup there. But basically- nothing. Between the MANY meals folks have brought us, not feeling good, low energy and simply feeling a bit overwhelmed, I just haven’t done it. But last night, for the first time in 44 days, I fixed dinner. And it was joy-filled! I chose my “Classic Rock” playlist on the iPod, hit “shuffle” and started. Hand-cut, pan-seared pork boneless loin chops, marinated in soy sauce and seasoned with a REALLY good Creole seasoning I found. My homemade mashed potatoes. (My secret? A STICK of REAL butter, a whole package of cream cheese and NO milk- hand mashed, not whipped.) Oven-roasted carrots. AND a new one- oven-roasted turnips. My wife and I love turnips, but we usually eat them raw and I can’t do that now. So, she suggested roasting them. And they were GREAT! (By the way- props to my wife for an excellent job of roasting the veggies while I was at band practice!)

The second little joy was what I just said- band practice. Thursday evenings are band practice night. During the school year, BOTH praise bands we have practice on Thursday. One right after the other. During the summer, the 8AM praise band omits the Thursday practice because we get from 7-8AM on Sundays to go over music. So, during the summer, I get to walk the 20 steps from my house to the church every Thursday at 5PM…and rock out on the drums for 90 minutes! And if you have seen me play, you KNOW that brings me joy! You HAVE to watch for, and embrace, those little, daily things that bring you joy, that fill your heart and your soul!

I mentioned that there was also a liberal dash of concern. That concern, at least the immediate concern, revolves around my voice. As I write this, I basically am unable to speak. No exaggeration. I can get almost no volume at all. And I TALK for a living! I have pretty much ALWAYS talked for a living. My whole life has revolved around my ability to communicate. And right now…I can’t.

Now, I’m a smart guy. (Insert your joke HERE!) I know that, between all of the stress of the cancer and the radiation, coupled with the endoscopy on Wednesday (Which not only went to and WAY past my vocal cords but also stopped along the way to inspect them.), it’s pretty much expected that I should be in this condition. And while I WANT to be in the pulpit this Sunday…EVERY Sunday…I know that, if I had to miss a Sunday to let the voice rest, the world would keep spinning.

My concern is NOT for tomorrow, or Sunday, or next Tuesday. My concern is long term. With what is going on in my throat and esophagus, I would be an idiot to not at least consider the possibility that this voice problem could be more than temporary. The truth is- no one really knows. I am such a “special snowflake” (Again, insert your joke HERE!) that it’s all guesswork and conjecture. And, to be honest, that is a sobering thought.

(A quick aside- as I have said in earlier posts, I don’t say this to look for either A. sympathy or B. medical suggestions. Trust me when I tell you that we are doing EVERYTHING we can to protect my voice and try to heal it. I simply share it in an ongoing attempt to be as transparent as possible.)

As I write this at the end of the day- yes, I am concerned about my voice. BUT, what I take away from the day is the joys. I had a great day at church and got a LOT done! I got to be in the kitchen, listening to great music and doing something I love to do, something that also benefits those I love the most. I got to play the drums and make music with talented, dedicated musicians and singers. How could you NOT find joy in all of that? As always, every day, my family chooses joy. God is good, all the time! #WarriorOn!

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!

Life in the Midst of Uncertainty

Baby

The endoscopy is over! The drive there was completely uneventful. They got us checked in quickly. Vitals were taken. (All good, thank you very much!) The IV was put in. (Again, I’m a special little snowflake and my veins are no longer all that easy to find!) The doctor came in and talked with me. They put a Bite Guard in my mouth, strapping it around my head to hold it in. They had me turn onto my left side. (I had warned them in advance- as SOON as my left- good- ear is in the pillow, I am as deaf as the proverbial post! “So, if you have anything to say that I need to hear, say it BEFORE then!”) The next thing I knew, my wife was standing over me, asking me how I was feeling!

Although we haven’t had the meeting with the doctor to go over results (The biopsy has to be evaluated and the CT scans still have to happen, so that consult is next Thursday), the doctor did say that there is a mass on the esophagus. If you remember, that area lit up like a Christmas Tree on the PET scan, but the doctors felt compelled to first focus their attention on the thyroid, to try and slow that bad boy down. So, the odds seem to point to an addition, perhaps new, kind of cancer there. We will see. Tomorrow is another day, Scarlett!

Two things happened, however, that really reminded me of God’s presence in the midst of difficulty. First, two different people who worked with me during the endoscopy were overtly Christian. They both easily slid into conversations about faith, sharing theirs and encouraging ours in a very easy, unassuming way. It was a pretty awesome experience in the midst of…all that!

The other thing happened at Vacation Bible School. Last night was THE last night. My wife and I have been co-teaching an Adult Bible Study about prayer. (We offer an adult class every year, to encourage more adults to be a part of the event and to give parents a place to be while their kids attend the festivities!)

Because my voice is so trashed currently, we established this dynamic- my wife has lead the first half of the chapter, which is written in narrative form and presents Scripture, stories and ideas that introduce and flesh out the topic for the night. I lead the second half of the chapter, which is questions based on the first-half narrative.

Last night, my wife volunteered to watch a baby- the one in the picture- for someone who had been attending the class but had to take an older child to a ball game. It is HOT and HUMID here, and so my wife (wonderful human being that she) volunteered to keep the baby with us (he’s been in the class every night) while she went, so that he didn’t have to be out in the heat.

So, I had him for the first half of the class while my wife led. And during that time, A. another class member snapped the picture you see and B. I got the baby “in the position” and got him to sleep! So, I ended up having him for basically the entire 90 minutes, including while I led. If you know me and my wife at all, you know that we LOVE babies! And so not only was it not an inconvenience (He’s a REALLY good baby!) but it was a joy to hold that little bundle of life while we taught!

And, in the end, that’s what I take away from yesterday. In the midst of uncertainty, tests you don’t really want to take, drive after drive after drive and more news that you really didn’t want…there is life. There are folks who, totally voluntarily, uplift YOUR faith by sharing THEIR faith. And there is the overt, living, breathing, growing, thriving life that baby represents. Life continues. Life is beautiful. It is precious. It is fragile. It can be fleeting. But it is beautiful. It is a gift. Appreciate it. Revel in it. Don’t waste it. Live life to the fullest. 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!

Off to Adventureland!

adventureland-entrance-sign-3-9

Today is a new “adventure”- if you can call it that! Today is Endoscopy Day! (Did you buy YOUR greeting cards yet?!) In a recent blog, I described the doctor who will do this procedure as an endocrinologist. I clearly misspoke. Miswrote? He is NOT an endocrinologist. He is a gastroenterologist. They will put me into “twilight”, stick a scope down my throat, look around, take a biopsy and then…button everything back up. They tell me the procedure itself will take 10 minutes and that I will be in the office, start to finish for 2 hours. It has been made CLEAR, multiple times by multiple people, that I am NOT driving home! (got it!)

The doctor told me that I would be awake enough that I would THINK I remembered everything. But then he grinned and said, “But be thankful that you WON’T!” And given that I apparently majored in “gag reflex” in college, that probably a good thing. Whenever the ubiquitous tongue depressor comes out, I start dry heaving while it’s still across the room, wrapped in Paper! And when I had those two scopes up the nose and down the throat, to quote that great theologian Mr. T, “I pity the fool who had to actually operate the scope!” It was gag, wretch, cough and dry heave! A JOY to behold! So, “Bring on the ‘twilight’, I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille!”

A reminder- if the insurance approves the CT scans before Friday, I will have the CT scans…on Friday. Neck and chest, to see what’s what with you know what. Then, then next week, it’s back to the oncologist who oversaw my first stretch of chemo, to go over the results of the endoscopy and the CT scans. They are then going to want me to start a seriously ramped-up chemo treatment. I’ll keep you posted.

On a slightly odd side note, you know how chemo and radiation can make your hair fall out? Well, I have joked all along that I already have that one covered! But literally AS I write this, I realize that my BEARD hair is starting to fall out! I had what felt like an ingrown beard hair (Guys, you understand!) and I reached up to find it. As I pulled my hand away, I brought 8-10 beard hairs with it! Three more tries brought the same results! The good news about that is I wear my beard VERY short, so if it all falls out, it won’t amount to much! (To quote Bill Murray from Caddyshack, “So I got THAT going for me!”)

We continue to hold our heads high and find things to laugh about. We continue to refuse to give into fear or sadness. We continue to choose joy, every day. Why? Because 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!

Got Plans?

Building a Plan

I’m sure you have heard it said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!” Nice saying- a bit “pithy” but certainly, from my experience, relatively accurate. Well, apparently it can be amended to this, “If you want to make THE HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANY, tell THEM your plans!” If you regularly read this spot, you know that I should be getting a CT scan, with and without contrast, on my neck and chest today. The doctors want to see what is going on, post-chemo/radiation Round One.

That WAS the plan. But, you know, plans were made to be changed…apparently! At about 4:30PM yesterday, my cell phone rang. Although I didn’t recognize the number, it was from Davenport, Iowa. And, while I tend not to answer calls from numbers I don’t know, I have learned over the past 6 weeks or so that, if I get a call from Iowa City or Davenport, Iowa, it’s almost assuredly health-related and so…I answer it!

It turned out to be someone from the office of the Oncologist who has been overseeing my chemo treatment and is also coordinating the CT scans and endoscopy. Unbeknownst to me, my health insurance company (And I will be completely transparent- I have grown from not really caring about health insurance companies and thinking they were just fine to “Those dirty, rotten, four-flushing…!” In our past 2½ years “out in the marketplace”!) has not yet approved the CT scans that I was supposed to get today. And, thank you Doctor’s Office- they didn’t want me to drive the 45 minutes one-way only to find that I couldn’t get the test done…unless I wanted to pay for it myself! So, it has been rescheduled for Friday.

In the meantime, the more physical of the radiation side effects continue to improve. I have now gone almost a week without using the throat-numbing medicine they gave me. I am eating better (more easily) and the range of food choices I can comfortably pick from continues to expand. On the down side, my voice is still pretty trashed. My gut (and experience) tells me that, apart from direct damage from the radiation, the voice issues are more related to my pushing it harder during the worst of the other side effects and straining it. I THINK it might be a little better today, but time will tell.

I continue to sleep in a recliner- just can’t seem to make the jump back to the bed. But I am NOTHING if not hopeful, so I look forward to a night when I can get back in that bed and stay there! The upside to that scenario is that, with 35 years of post-surgical back issues in my rear-view mirror, there have always been times when I had to sleep in a recliner. So, this is NOT “virgin ground”!

We continue this journey a day at a time, an hour at a time, a step at a time. We continue to REFUSE to give in to fear and anxiety. We continue, daily and consciously, to choose joy. It’s not always easy. But it is always worth it. And that’s one thing this journey has reminded me- life in general is all about choices. We have little to not control over what happens to us. We ONLY have control over what we do about it. We have…choices. And the choices we make not only have a profound impact on us. They also can profoundly impact on those around us. People are watching us (you and me)- seeing how we choose to live. What impact do we want to have on them? As for me and my house we choose joy…and we choose God!

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!

Wolfman Jack With Laryngitis

wolfman Jack

Today, in an odd way, marks a watershed event for the past 6 weeks. Today marks the third consecutive day when I had to see NO doctors and have NO health-related tests. And, if I checked properly, this is the FIRST time in those six weeks when that’s happened. And, not gonna lie- I like it!

I while back, I wrote about feeling like Snowball- the lab guinea pig from the old classic cartoon Pinky and the Brain. And while I joke about being Snowball, it’s true at some level. You begin to feel like a lab rat at some point. Everything you do and every conversation you have seems to revolve around your health. It’s been nice to have 3 consecutive days where I got to avoid hospitals and doctors.

Two interesting things about this past weekend-

  1. a couple from that last church we served came to visit. They drove 3 hours- ONE WAY- on Saturday to see us. (They were even kind enough to wait until a bit later in the day so, as my wife likes to say, she could “get me down for my nap!”) These are folks that we spent a lot of time with- the wife was in the praise band with us, as well as several other things over the 8 years we served there.

They got to our house about 4PM on Saturday. We had a great time- visiting, sharing, just catching up. We had dinner together. (The local Mexican restaurant fixed some GOOD stuff!) We gave them a tour of the church and talked about what’s going on there. (A LOT!) Then they headed to a motel for the night.

Yesterday morning, they joined us for worship. (We had explained that we offer an 8AM Contemporary Service, a 9:15 Rock and Worship Service and a 10:30AM Blended/Traditional Service. They decided the Rock and Worship Service “sounded fun”, so they attended that one. We had a great time with them and were sorry to see them go.

  1. While most of the side effects of the radiation treatments are starting to subside, there are two that remain. One is simply aesthetically unappealing and the other is a royal pain in the horse’s behind!

The radiation burns your skin. So, my neck looks like it got seriously roasted. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel NEARLY as aggravated as it looks! But the other side effect drives me NUTS! As the throat seems to be healing (Swelling going down, issues with eating improving daily), my voice gets worse and worse. By the time yesterday morning came, I was sounding like Wolfman Jack with laryngitis! It was not pretty! But I warriored on and preached all 3 services. I ate cough drops like they were oxygen and drank so much water I practically floated home at the end of the morning.

The poor sound techs earned their pay yesterday. (Although, to be honest, their pay consists of a hardy “Well done, good and faithful servant!”) They had to constantly adjust the volume to my headset mic, trying to keep my voice right on that fine line between “I can actually hear him” and “WOW that is overwhelming feedback”! They did a great job! And, although there were times when I was fairly certain that I was NOT going to be able to finish, God got me through 3 sermons and two baptisms, as well as playing the drums at all 3 services!

Tomorrow, I have a CT scan on my neck and chest, to see what the chemo and radiation have or have not done. Wednesday is the endoscopy- a scope down my throat, complete with biopsy, to see what else might be going on farther down. We continue to live in the midst of unanswered question and uncertainty. But in the midst of all that, there is also certainty. And the certainty is that God walks this journey with us, that we have TONS of people praying for and that, at the end of the day, 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!

The World As Best I Remember It: Perspective is Everything

The World as Best Perspective is Everything

I had a parishioner once who couldn’t tell the difference between me and the worst idea he’d ever heard. (Frankly, I’d have to be more specific than that to distinguish him from OTHER parishioners who have had that same feeling!)

Once, I wrote a church newsletter article about a group of folks “church people” tend to lovingly refer to as “C & E People”. C & E- Christmas and Easter. In other words, people who tend to only come to church at Christmas and Easter. And when that term is used, frankly, it is usually accompanied by a certain smugness and a “better than you” attitude. C & E folks tend to be looked down upon, or at least patronized, in many churches across the country. My article (Written either right before C or E!) suggested that, instead of making that group of people, who already feel awkward and embarrassed, feel even worse about themselves, perhaps we should just be glad to see them, make them feel welcome and invite them back for something we have coming up. Frankly, a pretty doggone positive article, if I do say so myself!

Well, when either C or E came up next, this aforementioned parishioner showed up. He came straight to me and sneered, “I’m one of your C and E people!” I smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here!” That wasn’t going to cut it with him. “I’m not going to come to church or give one more dime to this church as long as YOU’RE here!” And then he added what he thought was the knockout punch, “All you want to do is change everything. And I would rather see this church DIE than change!” He huffed a bit and then waited for me to wilt. He clearly didn’t know me very well. I smiled my winningest smile and said, “Well, if your wish is to see this die rather than change…I fear you may be in luck!” He walked away and, sadly, I never saw him again.

There is an incredibly fine line sometimes between “glass half empty” and “glass half full”. And often, it’s hard for us to honestly assess which one WE are. Oh, we’re great at seeing it in others. But we all know a lot of “glass half empty” folks who would swear on a stack of King Jameses that they most decidedly “glass half full” people. I would argue that, sometimes, all it takes to switch from “half empty” to “half full” is a subtle shift or an intentional pause.      Last week, I shared that this sermon series grew out of mishmash of things.  I took a liberal dose of what God has laid on my heart, added a healthy measure of Scripture and then stirred in uneven amounts of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins and author Stephen Covey, stuck it all in the oven and…THIS is what came out the other end- The World As Best I Remember It.

We’re looking at what I think is important- things I would love for people to “hang their spiritual hat on. Some of it might make you squirm a bit. But the truth is that, if it makes you squirm a bit…you might need to squirm a bit! As we talk about what I think is important in life, we’ll also spend some time on what I think is NOT so important!

The person who wrote more of the New Testament than any other single personal was the Apostle Paul. Most of what he wrote were letters either to churches he started, addressing a problem they had and encouraging them, or to

Individuals, teaching and inspiring. But there is one letter he wrote that is wholly other- the Book of Romans. He wrote it to a church he didn’t start and had never visited. He was on his way there and wanted them to know about him. So the Book of Romans is the most complete collection of Paul’s theology that exists. Each chapter is dedicated to another aspect of faith. And chapter 6 hits dead in the center of what we are talking about today- living a new life in Christ.

Romans 6:15-23 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There’s a word that we’re going to dance around for the next few minutes- righteous. SOUNDS great, but what does it actually mean? If you go to dictionary.com- and if you know me AT ALL, you KNOW I did!- you will find that “righteous” means “upright, moral, genuine”. Upright. Moral. Genuine. Upright. Moral. Genuine. Honestly, wouldn’t those be words you’d want used to describe you? Who wouldn’t?

Before this Scripture passage, Paul’s been talking about no longer being “under the law” but instead being under God’s grace- being righteous. But, since the law is supposed to be a restraining, protecting influence, wouldn’t moving out from under that protective umbrella expose you to an even greater danger of sinning than before? Doesn’t “the law” protect us from sinning? (Let me pause to un-wedge my tongue, which is firmly planted in my cheek! Just a second- there we go!)

Paul’s answer to his own question is both powerful and direct- whatever you submit to becomes your master. In the Gospels, Jesus said that everybody who sins is a slave to sin. OK- then logic would tell you the other option is a life of obedience to God.

By self-identifying as “Christian”, you take something on. Some theologians have called it an obligation or responsibility. I would like to call a privilege and a blessing. You don’t have to be a slave to sin and negativity anymore. You can, instead, start building your life around the call of Jesus Christ. It’s not a dead weight tied around your neck- it’s a freedom. To be freed from the obligation of serving sin and negativity means to be freed FOR the service of righteousness. The truth is that you ARE going to serve one approach of the other- period.

There’s no middle ground where we get to set our own standards and act however we want and have it actually work. And once you really study the difference between being a slave to sin and negativity on one hand and being a slave to righteousness on the other, you quickly see there’s simply no comparison. One is hard, relentless, damaging and leads to spiritual death. The other one is uplifting, joy-filled, satisfying and leads to spiritual life and peace.

OK- this is the part of the sermon where the rubber meets the road. Glass half-full…or glass half-empty: which one are you? Last week, I said that the only way to “know” yourself was to take a HONEST look- “honest” being the operative word. You have to be willing to examine everything you do and say over the course of a day. Not a moment. Not an hour. A day. A week would be even better…but I’ll settle for a day. Can you go a day without criticizing something or someone? I challenge you. I DARE you!

Here’s a great place to start- with those things that are HARDEST! In other words, what are your “hot buttons”? What are the things that automatically put you in to “critical” mode? If you’re honest, it might center around issues of race. Or gender. Or age. Or educational level. Do some people automatically put you in “critical mode” simply because of the way they look or speak? Maybe it revolves around political issues- certain politicians, political parties or topics just set you off. (And I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that, the SECOND I said that one, some of you immediately defaulted to critical thinking about a person, group or issue, without even meaning to!)

Maybe, for you, it centers more around an overall approach to life. I call this the “Never quite good enough” approach. No matter how good something is, you can’t just acknowledge the positive and leave it. You have to say things like, “That was good…but…!” You know- “That dinner was good, but you know what would have made it better?” “That singer was good, but they would have been better if they had chosen a different outfit!” That sermon was good, but it would have been better delivered by the Right Rev. Billy Graham!” You get the idea! I would argue that, if you consistently find yourself thinking everything could have been better if only everybody would listen to you and do it the way YOU want it done- you struggle with issues of negativity.

Why does this have to be an HONEST look? Why can’t I just ask other people if I’m a positive person? They’ll tell me…right? That’s what Star Trek calls the Kobayashi Maru- the no-win scenario. When you ask someone else, “I’m a positive person…aren’t I?”, you have killed the whole thing before it ever got off the ground. There is NO good answer for them if they think you aren’t…and you know that. If they say, “Actually, no- you aren’t”, you have forced them to hurt your feelings. If they say “Ummm…sure”, you have forced them to lie. Either way, it’s unfair, not to mention mean, to them and of no REAL value to you, either

Here’s my take- if you have to ask OTHER people if you’re a positive person or not…you’re probably not. And instead of looking for an honest answer, you’re looking for the easy way out.

I was raised in a culture that judged…just about everything and everybody. And looking back, it grew out of a HUGE sense of insecurity. If I feel badly about myself, I want to drag everybody and everything else down so that I can feel better by comparison. Folks who love to wallow in the negative find us Pollyanna-ish positive people particularly nerve-inducing- we make the nervous. It took me YEARS to get beyond that mentality- I still struggle with it sometimes. But as I have moved beyond “who’s is better than who” or “what is not the way I like it” and started trying to see the world more through God’s perspective, a whole new world opened up- one I like a WHOLE lot better!

Just like being negative tends to create its own gravity, demanding that you focus on it, being positive creates its own gravitation field as well, pulling you into a scenario where it becomes, more and more, what you do and who you are. The energy we used to invest in serving sin and negativity now become the foundation of a new, positive challenge- to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative”. And surely this new master is worthy of more loyalty and devotion than the old one!

Through the grace of God, you’ve been united with Jesus Christ and given both the power and longing to be free from sin and negativity. That power and longing give us the freedom to trade our slavery to sin and negativity for a commitment to Jesus Christ and the righteousness He offers. And in the end- it’s a choice. A choice that only YOU can make. Which one will you choose- negativity and spiritual death or positivity and life abundantly?

3 Hours Driving and 10 Doctors

spinning_clock

Yesterday was a very…diverse day. It started with my wife and me driving 90 minutes round-trip to officiate at the funeral of a beloved church member. This woman was an absolute ray of sunshine, living FOURTEEN years longer than doctors told she should after being diagnosed with ALS. (I told those gathered that NOBODY told her what to do and she lived that long just to prove the doctors wrong!) Was it a bit of a challenge to do a funeral yesterday? Yep. My energy level was a bit low and my voice was pretty trashed- a side effect of the radiation treatment. But as I told the widower, when he profusely thanked me for doing it- it was an honor to preach her funeral. The truth is that there was NO way I was NOT (Yes, English teachers- double negative! Don’t not deal with it!) going to do that funeral. I’m a preacher- that’s what we do.

We then drove the other half of that 90 minutes home, so that we could eat lunch and I could take a nap. Then, at about 2:30PM, we were BACK in the car and driving back within a couple of miles of the funeral home we had just visited earlier to see yet another doctor. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 3 hours in the car yesterday. Good thing my wife and I never run out of things to talk about!!)

If I have keep count properly- and I will admit that I could be wrong- yesterday’s doctor makes the TENTH different doctor we have seen since the 9th of June. That’s 10 different doctors in 35 days. That’s a LOT of doctors! This one is a gastroenterologist. We met with him in preparation for the endoscopy he will perform on me next Wednesday.

They will put me into “twilight” and then stick some kind of scope down my throat. They want to see why my esophagus lit the PET scan up like a Christmas tree. There is some concern that there is yet a different kind of cancer in the esophagus than the kind they are already treating in my thyroid. They will take a biopsy while they’re down there- because, hey, you’re already THERE, right?! The procedure will take 5-10 minutes, the whole shebang will be about 2 hours. I’ve already been told- I WON’T be driving home!

This doctor had never seen me before, so he didn’t know what my neck and thyroid area looked like a month ago. But he DID say that, if there had been substantial swelling in that area before (And BOY was there!), the chemo and radiation must be helping. We happy accepted that positive. (Right now, any life preserver that tossed, not matter how small, is worth at least trying to tread water with!)

As I write this, I’m about an hour away from bedtime. And, I suspect, I will sleep fairly well! But I am determined to continue to live life. I know I can’t keep the hours/week pace that I am used to cranking out. And I have made many concessions to that fact already. But I also can’t simply park it in the Bark-o-Lounger and give up. It’s not in my DNA. So, I will continue to serve this church…and my God…to the absolute best of my “current reality” ability until God, or my Bishop, tells me otherwise! 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!

Nailed It!

hammer

If you read yesterday’s blog, then you know that my prediction, based on our trip to The University of Iowa Hospital yesterday, was that we would get some answers…and leave with even more questions. Without trying to brag TOO much…NAILED IT!

We left the house at 6:50 in the blessed AM! It’s a 90-minute drive from our house to the hospital but, in some ways, it’s an easy drive. (A lot of it is nice, simple, 70MPH interstate, which I am VERY comfortable with and, frankly, prefer!) That put us on the hospital campus about 8:20AM. We have finally begun to master the whole “which parking garage do we use today?” conundrum, so we parked in Parking Garage 4 and headed to the Pomerantz Family Pavilion.

I had been told that I would get a blood draw first and then see the doctor. So, we headed to the correct waiting room and checked in. A few minutes later, they called my name. “We need to get your vitals.” I went back, expecting BP, temp, pulse ox, etc. and the blood draw. She took the vitals- they were ALL good- and started to send me back out to the waiting room. I questioned the blood draw. She said there were no orders because I had just had one over the weekend. So, back out to the waiting room. A few minutes later, they took us back to meet with the doctor.

We knew, coming in, that my regular oncologist was on vacation and we would be seeing a different doctor. After a decent wait, the doctor we saw was a kindly older gentleman who used to be the head of the department and now seems to be in semi-retirement, filling in for doctors who are on vacation.

The HUGE strike the doctor had against him before he ever stepped in the room was that he was walking into an unusual (I am, after all, a special snowflake!), complicated case. And all he had to prep with was my online file. Frankly, it was like he was coming to bat with two strikes already against him, using a toothpick for a bat and having his shoe tied together! Poor guy!

To his credit, he asked a lot of questions and read a lot of info. In the end, the words that we didn’t want to hear…but knew might WELL be coming…came out. It appears that there is NO Clinical Trial that I can be a part of. As I said, we knew that was a distinct possibility- we just hoped it would still happen. So, it appears (pending verification from my regular oncologist) that is off the table.

Well, then, what IS the next step? The PET scan I had a few weeks ago showed, if you remember, cancer in the throat, in the chest and starting to spread to the lungs. What I hadn’t focused on thus far is that, as a part of that, the esophagus lit up like a Christmas Tree on that scan. That has led them to believe that there could be yet a different type of cancer in that area than what we are already addressing in the thyroid. But they can’t know that, or do anything about it, without more tests.

An endoscopy will be scheduled to address that- we meet with the doctor who will do that procedure today. They also want to do another CT scan on the neck and chest- to see where we are after the chemo and radiation I have already had. That is scheduled for next week. Then I will meet with the oncologist who oversaw my chemo to go over the endoscopy and CT results- that’s scheduled for the week after next.

The doctors want me to then immediately start more chemo- a MUCH more aggressive regimen. It would be a heavy dose, three weeks, another heavy dose, three weeks and then new scans to see where we are, with possibly more chemo to follow.

To recap- like I said, some answers yesterday…and a WHOLE lot more questions! But you know what I have learned through the health issues I have had in the past few years? You HAVE to be willing to live within the tension of unanswered questions. Why? Because there are ALWAYS unanswered questions in life. And so, we defer to faith. Devoid of all the answers we want, we turn instead to the Creator Who is the answer to EVERY question. 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!

Answers…and Questions

a and q

Today is a big day. Today, some important questions will be answered. And, if I am even close to right, new questions will also be created!

On Wednesday, June 6, I had a CT scan that revealed a necrotic (dead) thyroid and necrotic lymph nodes. Since then, it’s been a bit more than a month of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”. And every step of that ride has been shadowed by uncertainty, questioning, unexpected twists and turns, disappointments and great revelations.

All along, the mantra has been “They’re working on ‘next level’ genetic testing of the tissue taken from not one or two but FIFTEEN needles biopsies, looking for information that will lead them to a potential Clinical Trial that I can participate in.”. And today- we will (hopefully) find out the actual outcome of that mantra.

But the truth is that, even with all of those biopsies, some of which were what’s called Core Biopsies- deeper, larger samples designed to produce better usable samples- we already know that they never got the samples they were actually hoping for. The tissue is so necrotic that the biopsies were just not terribly helpful.

So, there are questions. And today, there will be answers. They will NOT be of the “2+2=4” variety. Nothing so quantitative. Instead, I expect them to be more of the “we are really not sure what to do, but we think this might be the best option to consider first”. And whatever “that” is, it will create more questions with more uncertain answers.

And at a different time in my life, that would have been both maddening and depressing. But this isn’t a different time in my life- it’s THIS time. And AT this time, we are able to deal with the uncertainty. With the health issues I have had over the past few years (MAN but I have fallen apart since hitting my 50’s!), we have come to live with, almost expect uncertainty.

As I think about why that is, one thing comes back, over and over- faith. We have faith. Not just some generic, “pie in the sky in the great by and by” kind of faith, but a deep, abiding faith. In God. And that faith is what keeps us going. The truth is this- however long we have on this planet pales in comparison to the eternity we are offered through Jesus Christ. And that’s not simply some “company line” I have been spouting for the past 20 years as a duly ordained member of the club. It’s what I believe. It’s what I know. It’s what I have built my life around.

So, bring on the answers, Bring on more questions. Bring on uncertainty. Bring it ALL on. We are ready to face…whatever…head on. Why? Because 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!

“Are You Scared?”

scared

Recently, a parent in the church we currently serve asked me if I would consider talking to the youth and children of the church about what’s going on with me. She (rightly) pointed out that I have done a good job of keeping the adults “up to date”. But she also pointed out that kids hear things differently and there were some kids, hers included, who were struggling with the whole thing. I assured her that was a GREAT idea and then talked with our Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries about how that might best happen.

We settled on this- I would be the one to “do” the Children’s Moment on Sunday- normally her job. I would also visit the Junior High Youth at one of their gatherings and also visit the Senior High Youth at one of theirs. So far, I have done the Children’s Moment during worship and visited the Junior High. (As an aside, apparently the Children’s Moment has resonated with some folks. In 48 hours, the video of it that was posted on Facebook has been viewed nearly 2,000 times. The downloaded version that is posted on my YouTube Channel can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weJC2-x8pQU)

One of the things I told the kids- in fact, it’s something I have told EVERYBODY- is that they should feel welcome to ask or tell me anything they want. They shouldn’t worry about hurting my feeling or making me sad or mad. I want folks to be comfortable to ask what they want to ask. And in that vein, I was asked a very good question last night. (I was actually asked several very good questions, but this is the one I’m focusing on!) And that question was, “Are you scared?”

That is an excellent question, and exactly the kind of thing I would want someone to ask. One of my goals through this process is to offer an outlet whereby folks can see what someone is going through. That way, if they find themselves or someone close to them going through a similar situation one day, they might have a little extra perspective that they may not otherwise have.

I really didn’t hesitate at all before I answered, “No.” I shared with them that, when we first got the news, we were devastated and terrified. Not gonna lie. But then we had some time to process it. And that time, as well as lots of prayer and frank conversation, brought us to another conclusion. We have times of worry. We have times of sadness. But we are not scared. And while we all know that’s the “right” answer, in this case, it’s also the TRUE answer.

I am not scared. I have NO idea what’s to come. I DO know, full well, the nature of what I have. I know that, as one of the Junior High Youth asked, the word “terminal” has most definitely been used. I know that, thus far, there is NO cure for what I have. I know all of that. And NO- I don’t like it. I hate it. But I’m not scared.

Fear is not of God. And so God has taken away any sense of fear we had. It has been replaced with determination and resolve. We are fully determined to face this head on- not back down, not give in and stand tall. The truth is that, regardless of your “lifetime” is 2 years, 56 years or 100 years, it is but the blink of an eye compared with the eternity we are promised with God. And yes- that is not simply something I spout because I am a United Methodist Pastor. It’s something that I believe, with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. And so, while I am in NO hurry to shuffle off the mortal coil, bring down the curtain and head off to join the choir invisible (Think Monty Python sketch!), I know that something even better waits.

Where is God in the middle of all this? Every dark time I have had has also made me a better Pastor, a better Christian. Losing my mom. Losing my dad. The golf ball-sized Giant Cell Granuloma I had in my head back in 2013-14. This most recent thing. They all help better inform me of things that allow me to better pastor others going through similar issues. THAT’S where God is! And He is good, all the time!

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