“Suck It Up, Buttercup!”

buttercup_516

If you haven’t figured this out about me yet- I don’t like to whine. I was raised to not show weakness, to not complain, to “suck it up, Buttercup”, to spit on it, rub dirt on it and walk it off. And frankly, in MANY situations, that approach, while perhaps a bit…”ham-fisted”…has served me well.  

But on the down side, it also simply exacerbated a trait that men typically struggle with anyway- vulnerability. In the environment in which I grew up, vulnerability had NO payout. It was not a good place to be. I learned, early on, to try and hide any sense of that word behind a façade of “all is well and I am tough”.  

But the truth is that adhering too closely to that mantra can REALLY interfere with a lot of things- especially relationships. And so, life has been a struggle at times- a self-made struggle. It also made my earlier years of ministry less than they could have been. But thanks to the love of a good woman…correction- GREAT woman…and the love and persistence of a GREAT God, I have learned to open up and be more and more willing to be vulnerable. It’s hard…for MANY of us. But I have become convinced over the years that it is essential if we are to have true relationships and be better Christian brothers and sisters. 

So, with that as a 3-paragraph backdrop, let me be vulnerable and transparent for a moment- BOY was I right with the timetable I laid out in yesterday’s post about the effects of this week’s chemo! I would LOVE to be able to say I was wrong…but it would be lying! 

As I said in yesterday’s blog, my wife and I planned errands for yesterday morning…ahead of anticipated side effects hitting later in the day. Smart planning! We drove “into town”, had a nice breakfast/brunch, ran our errands and were home by 11:30AM. Easy, peasy, one, two, threesy. And by 12:30PM…I was in bed!  

Nausea is one of the common side effects of chemo. I have dodged that bullet all along…until now. Let’s just say that, right after I got in bed, I got up and moved the trash can nearby…just in case. (Thus far, it’s only been “just in case”, thankfully!) I slept pretty hard, with odd, bizarre dreams, until almost 3:30PM. (That’s a LONG nap for me!) And when I got up, the “body temperature drop” was in full swing. I went to bed in shorts and a t-shirt. I came downstairs after the nap in sweatpants, a long-sleeved t-shirt and slippers! Oh, and I immediately got under a blanket in my chair!  

This go-around is the worst one yet. Imagine a bad case of the flu without the congestion. Body aches, pains and weakness, especially in the legs. No energy. No appetite. Freezing cold. An overall “dullness”. And now, throw the nausea in as an “added bonus”. And what’s amazing to me is the speed and the ferocity at which it hits. It is literally like someone throws a switch. And, if my experience holds true, today will also not be a banner day. Sunday will be a bit better. (I will “cowboy up” for worship, be a part of an important all-church meeting right after our 3 morning worship services are complete and then go home…to bed!) And it will get better, day by day, next week.  

Now, having poured all that out, let me be clear- this is NOT a less than veiled search for sympathy. Instead, see it for what it is intended to be- a willingness to be vulnerable and a way to help you better understand what cancer patients go through. If my journey can help other people either deal with what they are experiencing or what a loved one is going through, then I have done what I feel God is calling me to do in the midst of a cruddy diagnosis. I am NOT intentionally trying to be a hero, a martyr OR a role model. Instead, I am trying to be the servant God seems to want me to be right now. If this is the “thorn in my side” that I was called to bear, I will continue to bear it with all of the courage and humility that I can manage.  

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

“Shhhhhh! Tigger is Sleeping!”

tigger sleeping

Let’s recap- “Major Chemo #3” was on Tuesday. As a part of the “lead-up” to the actual infusion, one of the things they “give” you is an injection of steroids. Then, one Day 2, which would have been Wednesday, you start the day with an oral dose of steroids. Day 3- yesterday- same thing. Day 4- today- not so much! And the steroids have a positive impact on how the chemo impacts you. In other words, you feel good on Days 1-3. But it seems to be Day 4, when the steroids have worn off, that what I have coined as Crud on a Cracker starts in earnest. (A reminder- if you Google “crud on a cracker”, the VERY first reference you will find is Stick With Jesus! Try it- I’ll wait! You back? I’m SO proud! My older son- tongue firmly planted in cheek- suggested we trademark it! I assured him I was not THAT proud!) 

So, theoretically…historically…today begins Crud on a Cracker Days! It seems to start around lunchtime. And since today is a day off for me, my wife and I try to make the most of our time. We are banking on the “starting at lunchtime” plan and going “into town” to go to breakfast and run a couple of errands. Our plan is to be home by noon…because that’s when I will turn into a pumpkin! 

Knowing how these treatments impact me allow us…and, in a way FORCE us…to plan certain things accordingly. For example, my brother contacted me earlier in the week. His daughter and her younger family had some time free this weekend and wondered if they could all come up and visit Saturday into Sunday. And frankly, we would LOVE to see them! They have 3 adorable kids with another on the way. But knowing what this weekend will be like for me, I had to politely, reluctantly decline. It’s disappointing, but sadly, it’s also essential.  

One of the many things this whole experience has taught us is that you HAVE to pay attention and listen to your body. I tend to “push”. I don’t like to slow down. I don’t sit well. I like to go, go, go and do, do, do. I’m like Tigger by nature. But with a compromised immune system and the effects of chemo…and thyroid cancer, esophageal cancer and lung cancer…I simply have to accept the fact that my Tigger days are over. If we take good care of me…and my wife is AWESOME at making that happen…then there are MANY good days to enjoy. If we didn’t…there wouldn’t be. Pretty simple. Pretty basic. 

We are grateful for family, friend and a church family who have been SO understanding about that fact. The support we have had- and continue to have- is amazing. I could easily be on disability, sitting around the house, doing nothing but fading away. But because of all that support and understanding, we are able to continue to maintain a full life. It is admittedly amended from “normal”, but it is still very full. We take NO day for granted. We appreciate each sunrise. We pray regularly. We never fail to laugh and tell each other how much we love each other and how we can’t imagine going through this with anybody else. We remind each other that, in many ways, we are truly blessed. 

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

An Abra-K-Dabra God-Wink

chain-abra-k-dabra-11     Yesterday, I had an amazing thing happen. Some would call it a “coinky-dink”. I would call it a “God wink”. And because, although I am in Day 2 of my current chemo treat round, I felt really good and therefore was able to fully appreciate the moment!
The principal of our local Grade School called me at the church about 11:10AM yesterday. The first words out of his mouth were, “Are you sitting down?” Now, you have to understand something- along with being a friend and parishioner, he lives LITERALLY right across the street from us. So, my first thought was, “He’s either going to tell me something really cool…or that my house is on fire!” But he sounded pretty excited in a GOOD way, so I was comfortable to quickly dismiss the “fire” theory. “Yes!” He asked if I remembered mentioned in the sermon from this past Sunday that I had helped open and worked as a magician at a fledging restaurant chain called Abra-K-Dabra that the K-Mart Corporation tried to open in the early 80’s. It was a “theme” restaurant built around live magic- a stage show every half hour.
I, of course, said, “Yes.” He went on to tell me that he was out on the playground with a guy who said to tell me that he was the guy who did the Linking Rings illusion at Abra-K-Dabra. My only response was, “NO WAY!”
I worked with this guy, we’ll call him…”Dennis”…when the restaurant opened. We worked together, off and on, for 2+ years. The “mascot” for the restaurant was a wizard named Abra. Ans SEVERAL times, Dennis and I went out on personal appearances, him as the magician and me as Abra, in full wizard costume, at shopping malls and other locations, promoting the restaurant.
After that, we went our separate ways when the restaurant chain, which was either two or three locations at that time, closed down. (There is a funny story about how a few of us helped “close down” the restaurant by staging the “death of Abra” that I will save for another day!) I ended up in the ministry. We had been at our first church for a few years when, one Sunday, who should walk in but Dennis and his wife! They were church shopping and found us! So, he was a parishioner for a few years, before we moved to a church in central Illinois. From there, we lost touch, except through Facebook. And now, 13 years later, he is sitting in a playground, with a current parishioner. A few blocks from the church!
So, I hustled over there (A staff member was kind enough to let me use their car because our younger son had one of our cars and my wife had the other!) I got to the school and, sure enough, there he was, with his wife and our current parishioner/neighbor/principal, sitting at a table at the edge of the playground, autographing posters promoting a circus that will be in town in a few days that he and his wife are performing with. I didn’t have a ton of time and he was busy signing posters, but I stood with them for about a half an hour, catching up.
I’m always amazed at how God puts people in your path. Obviously, Dennis and I were meant to continue to stay connected in some way. How else could you explain three different things (working with him, pastoring him and then yesterday) that happened in three distinctly different places- two of them not terribly far apart geographically and one of them WELL separated by geography? We live in this VAST world, and yet God finds ways to make it seem not so vast. Those relational connections are what brings us together and holds us together as humans. Embrace the relationships you have a continue to strive to forge new ones. It is from those relationships that we find our peace, our comfort, our own transformation.
We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Perspective is Everything: Take 2

fresh-perspective

Well, yesterday was “Major Chemo #3” day. Checked in about 8:50AM. Got my “bracelet”. We got called in about 8:55AM. The center we go to has, I think 5 infusion rooms- 2 “private, 1-chair” rooms and 3 “group” 3-chair rooms. The private rooms are intended primarily for first-timers…people who are receiving their first infusion. It allows them a better chance to acclimate and it allows the staff to focus better on just them when they are with them- giving them the attention they need and seeing what that specific attention might look like. We have been in both types of rooms more than once, depending on the “work load” the center had that day. And we have been in 3-chair rooms and been the only ones IN that room the whole time while sharing that room at other times.  

But yesterday, we had a new experience. Yesterday was a busy day at the infusion center- almost literally SRO…standing room only. Full house. Packed schedule. So, we were in a 3-chair room that not only had people in the other chairs- it’s had people who were receiving treatment that took less time than mine. So, the chairs, to use restaurant language, “turned over” while we were there. That means that people came and went and other people replaced them.  

And during our about 5 hours there, I was reminded of something powerful. We have spent a LOT of time in the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes Hospital/Washington University in St. Louis. We have spent time at the cancer center at the University of Iowa. We have walked through the Kid’s Cancer Center at the University of Iowa. We have spent a decent amount of time in the chemo center in Bettendorf , Iowa- where I get my treatments. And we have spent time at the radiation oncology center in Davenport, Iowa, where I got my radiation treatments. We have seen a LOT of cancer patients. 

And what we have seen, time and time again, has helped shape the perspective that we live out of. We have seen the that the VAST majority of these folks are either A. Much older or MUCH younger than me and B. much…sicker than me. We have seen countless people who were too weak to walk in under their own power- instead being wheeled in by a loved one, slumped in a wheelchair, obviously weak and in pain. We have seen LITTLE kids, trying to play in the indoor playground at the Kid’s Cancer Center at the University of Iowa Hospital- hairless, dark circles under their eyes, surgical masks on, hardly enough energy to even…play. 

And then…there’s me. I have lived 56 years so far. Do I hope to live MANY more? You bet! But I have lived a LIFETIME compared to those little kids. I walk into the treatment center on my own, with energy to spare, a song in my heart and…”my knapsack on my back”! (OK, Pastor, now you’re just being silly!” “And this surprises you HOW?!”) By comparison…I’m healthy. Do I have a “crud on a cracker” diagnosis? Yep. But right now, I have VERY little to complain about compared to SO many of the other patients we see.  

And the doctors and techs notice that, as well. They seem to look forward to seeing us. And my wife (Remember, the smart one of the pair!) pointed out that, for the most part, what they see on a daily/weekly basis is people with little to no hope- deteriorating, in pain, spirit broken, trying to put one foot in front of the other one more time. Don’t misunderstand- I’m not trying to imply that my situation is SO unique that we are the ONLY ray of sunshine the doctors and staff see. I’m simply NOT that special! BUT…we ARE the minority, to be sure. And it is helpful for my wife and I when we remind each other of that periodically. We had good friends who were also parishioners at the first church we served. Great folks. He went out one morning to play golf, had a completely unexpected and massive health emergency standing at one of the tees- the start of a hole, and was dead before he hit the ground. Tragic. Horrible. Shocking. And my wife and I periodically remind each other that we are SURE his wife would give ANYTHING to have one more day with him, knowing that event on the golf course was coming. She doesn’t have that day.  

But we DO. That’s the gift in the midst of this cruddy situation. We have time. We have NO idea how much time. But we have time. And we have made a pact to NOT waste that time. We have been given…a gift. And the perspective that we gain from ALL of these people mentioned today helps us better understand appreciate the depth and breadth of that gift. We are grateful. 

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

I AM Poseidon!

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Today is “major chemo #3” day. (I’m pretty sure this is one Hallmark hasn’t made a card for…yet!) To recap- 3 “minor chemo” treatments, concurrent with 10 “minor radiation” treatments, followed by “major chemo #1 and #2”. (And let me assure you, the aftermath of the #2 treatment was a WHOLE lot more like…you know…”#2″…than the #1 treatment was…if you catch my drift!)  

So, today is #3. As you read this, I might well be in the ol’ recliner, reading on my iPad and talking to my wife. My wife, by the way, is an amazing human being. She has not missed ONE treatment, appointment or test I have had. Not one. I’ve given her every opportunity to not go, but she has been both insistent and steadfast. She is amazing! (I’m admittedly partial…and correct!) 

There is a dynamic of these treatments that I have shared before but bears revisiting. I call it “putting your Game Face on”. I first experienced this overall mindset when I was studying acting. The university I went to focused predominantly on what’s called the Method approach to acting. The ubiquitous description of that method is “If you are going to PLAY a tree, then BE a tree”! You are to inhabit the character- put yourself inside them, in their world, become them.  

Part of that process is to “get in character”. (An aside, for the Greek tragedy Trojan Women, I played Poseidon- God of the Sea. That was some SERIOUS “get in character” moments! “You ARE a god! You ARE a god!” Even MORE ironic, based on where I ended up, profession-wise!) Getting in character is the same, at least for me, as putting your game face on. So, last night and this morning, I was getting my game face on. Getting into character. Getting psyched up.  

“Why is that?”, you might ask. Thanks for asking. I share this NOT because I’m looking for some pity or “there, there’s”. But like much of what I’ve shared in this space over the past few months, I share it because you either know someone who is going through something like this, you are going through this or one of those things will happen. And I want to help you understand what it’s like- makes it easier to wrap your head around. 

Again, why do I need to get my game face on? Because I know what’s coming. The infusion is simple. The worst thing that happens during the treatment is the IV being put in- no big whoop. In fact, the infusion itself is boring, tedious, lengthy. No, it’s the aftermath of the infusion that requires the game face. 

We know what’s coming. And recent history says that what’s coming will be worse than last time. Don’t misunderstand- after the few days of…crud on a cracker…you get past it at the chemo has a positive effect on the cancer. It’s the crud on a cracker stage that’s hard. And that recent history I mentioned tells me the cracker gets a bit bigger and the…crud…gets a little thicker every time. And yet, you intentionally…willingly let them do it to you. It requires the game face. 

So, you take a big, deep breath. You psych yourself up. You get in character. You put your game face on. You get in the car. You drive to the treatment center. You walk in with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. You treat the staff the way you want them to treat you- the way they DO treat you. And you take it “a big boy”! And, for me, I have the added bonus- the EXTREME joy- of having my awesome wife right there with me, walking every step of the journey at my side. It doesn’t get any better than that! 

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

Legacy Disguised as Pebbles Flintstone!

Pebbles-Flintstone-Cartoon-Photos     I shared last Saturday that I performed two funerals in about 24 hours- Friday to Saturday. And at the Saturday funeral, I had a revelation. And that revelation was brought to me by a beautiful little toddler girl with Pebbles Flinstone hair!
First off, let me explain the hair, in case you’re not sure what that means. No, she did NOT have a bone in her hair! (That would be…well…weird!) No, she didn’t have that. But she DID have that “top-knot” ponytail that Pebbles has. (Side note- I wonder what the age cut-off is before that type of hairdo stops being cute? We’ve all seen it on little girls. And, other times I’ve seen it, this little girl was adorable with that hairdo. But picture that hairdo on, say, a 16-year old girl. Or a 25-year old woman. Or a 75-year old woman. I know…right?! So, there MUST be some magical cutoff…I just have no idea what that cutoff might be! They don’t let me in on such things!)
Meanwhile, back to today’s story. There is a phrase that I use often at funerals- “In the midst of life, we are faced with death.” It’s a powerful notion that we need to address and consider on days like that. But then, there was this adorable little girl. And at the funeral home, as the family was saying their last good goodbyes to their loved ones at the end of the service, that little girl taught me something- the “other side of the coin” of that phrase of mine.
As the family walked up to the open casket, the deceased wife was holding the little girl. They walked up and stood for a moment. Then, this little girl started waving at her great-grandpa, there in the casket, and saying, “Bye-bye, PawPaw.” Great-grandma then leaned in and this little angel gave her PawPaw a kiss on the forehead. And then…the moment was done. Simple. Incredibly simple. And yet, deeply profound.
As I watched that happen, it dawned on me- yes, in the midst of life, we are faced with death. But also, in the midst of death…we are faced with life. And I watched that play out in real time. I watched the literal passing of the torch. I watched the bestowing of a legacy. The man who passed was, by all accounts, an outstanding human being, a great dad and husband and a genuinely funny guy. And we ALL want to leave a lasting legacy. And often, when we think about that word- legacy- we think of money, property, furniture, houses…stuff. And those can be GREAT things to leave to your loved ones.
But the TRUE legacy we leave is the one I saw as “Pebbles” told her PawPaw goodbye. His legacy is a family who loved him, will carry on his memory, will share who he was and what he stood for with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s good stuff!
I have thought a lot about my legacy. I’m a preacher. My legacy is NOT going to be “stuff”. Money, property and the like don’t tend to be part and parcel with preachers. But that’s OK. My prayer is that my legacy will be rooted in people. I’m incredibly partial, but I have an AWESOME wife and two AMAZING sons. They are fine humans who care about others. They are kind, smart, funny, insightful people who impact the world around them. As far as I can see, that’s a GREAT legacy to leave! And I gained that insight thanks to a beautiful toddler girl with Pebbles Flinstone hair. Ain’t life grand?!
We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Explosion: Stand Up and Be Counted

The Explosion Stand Up and Be Counted

As many of you know, my background is as an actor. I’ve spent most of my life “up in front of people”. And there is this “thing” that actors do. It’s based on the fact that acting gigs are hard to come by. (Did I mention HARD?!) And that thing is this- LIE like a RUG! Seriously, here’s what it looks like. If the director or casting director says, “Do you know how to ride a horse?” You say, “Sure! I was RAISED riding horses!” And then, if you get the acting gig…you immediately go out and learn how to ride a horse! 

Here’s a personal example of that mantra. It was the summer of 1982. I was between my Junior and senior years of college. I had to take incompletes in all of my classes second semester of my Junior year because I had a disc in my lower back rupture right before Easter that year and I had to have surgery. Recovery was over, it was already summer and I needed a job. I saw an ad in the paper for a new theme restaurant that was going to open in the area. The theme of this restaurant was going to be live magic! So, they were advertising for magicians.  

I knew a TINY bit about magic (Did I mention TINY?!), so of course I went down to apply! The manager was sitting at a card table outside the restaurant (the inside was still under construction) taking applications for ALL positions, including “magician”. I stepped up and told him I was applying for one of the magician positions. He immediately got out a deck of TV Magic Cards and showed me a “trick”. (In case you aren’t familiar, TV Magic Cards are “trick decks” of cards that basically do the tricks themselves. They require NO skill whatsoever…and I KNEW that!)  

He did the trick and I pretended to be thoroughly entertained. He then said the words I was fearing he would say. “OK- your turn. Show me a trick!” “Shoot! The wheels might come off the bus before I can even get it out of the garage!” So, I thought on my feet and said, “Oh, the ad didn’t say anything about bringing anything. I left it all at home!” and flashed my most charming smile. The pause that followed was painful. And then he said, “OK, I see on your application that you have a performance background…you’re hired!” Whew! I then ran right out…and started learning about magic! Boldness means you’re willing to go where you’ve never been, willing to try what you’ve never tried, and willing to trust what you’ve never trusted.  

Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Explosion, based on the New Testament Book of Acts- the history of the early church. We are focusing on how the early church grew. Two weeks ago, we started at the very beginning…a VERY good place to start, and asked, “What are you looking for?” Last week, we moved just a little farther into the book to see miraculous math happening- 3,000 were added to their numbers that day. Today, we jump ahead a couple of chapters. Peter and John have healed a man in the name of Jesus Christ…and the “powers that be” aren’t very happy about it. 

Acts 4:5-21 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” 

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So, they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 

The leaders have Peter and John brought before them, demanding an answer and intending to intimidate them into submission. “Who gave you the power and authority to heal people?” Peter, defiant and headstrong, steps right into the fray. “If you’re referring to the fact that we showed kindness to this man, then yes, we did. And it was because of Jesus Christ- you know, the one YOU crucified but God raised from the dead? Yeah, THAT one!- that this man stands before you…healed.” 

But Peter isn’t done. “Jesus, the stone that YOU rejected, is the cornerstone. He is the ONLY way to salvation.” Boom! Mic drop. The leaders were stunned by the boldness of these unschooled, sweaty fishermen. But they couldn’t refute the man standing before them…healed. So, they tell Peter and John to STOP talking about Jesus. “Knock it OFF!”  

Peter and John aren’t going to back down. “Who do you think God wants us to listen to- Him…or YOU? We simply CAN’T help but tell people about what we’ve seen and heard.” And did you catch what the leaders did next? Oh yeah? Well… Well…just watch yourselves!” The leaders were, as my dad would say, cut off at the knees. The people were praising God for what had happened. What could the leaders do to these guys, who were so bold in their faith? 

Peter and John were bold in their faith. They were willing to stand up and be counted. Sounds great…but what does it mean? Boldness means you’re willing to go where you’ve never gone, willing to try what you’ve never tried and willing to trust what you’ve never trusted. 

But let me assure you, boldness in your faith doesn’t have to be shouting it from the rooftops. It doesn’t have to be going to exotic and dangerous locations. It doesn’t have to be giving up everything and going into the ministry. It COULD be any of those things…or any number of other possibilities. But it can also be offering to pray with someone who is going through a difficult time. It can be inviting someone to worship, a Bible Study or Wednesday night dinner. It can be volunteering for a ministry that might be a bit out of your comfort zone. Ministry, at its core, takes you out of your comfort zone. 

Next Sunday, we are being asked to step out of our comfort zone. Next Sun day, we have the opportunity to step out and be bold in a big way. Next Sunday, we will have an all-church vote. The outcome of that vote will go a long way in deciding who we are and where we head for the next several years. It’s a huge step, admittedly. It’s daunting. It’s challenging. It’s scary. 

But something struck me this week. This congregation has a long and storied history of stepping out in faith. I mean, look at this building. This building is here because, MANY years ago, a group of people who called themselves the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Aledo stepped WAY out in faith and built it. Look at the Education Wing. That whole addition to the building, which we use to its fullest on a regular basis, exists because decades ago, a group who called themselves the Aledo Methodist Church stepped WAY out in faith and built it. Look at that elevator. We are carrying out ministries now because, 8 years ago, a group who called themselves The Aledo United Methodist Church stepped WAY out in faith and built it.  

We are part of a proud and determined heritage of stepping out in faith, of standing up and being counted. This congregation has been a beacon in this community for more than 100 years. And we have BEEN that beacon because we have been willing to be bold, to step out of our comfort zone, to stand up and be counted.  

Albert Einstein had a powerful definition of insanity- to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. The truth is, to get what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done. We are a congregation who has been willing, over the years, to do what we’ve never done. Stepping further out of our comfort zone is who we are, it’s what we’ve done, what we do. I wait with great anticipation to see what we do next Sunday, to where we head next. 

Perception Is Reality

perception     There is a saying that I use a lot in ministry- perception is reality. Here’s what it means. If you perceive something to be “true”, it IS true…at least for you. If you perceive that I’m a big, stinkin’ jerk, then I AM a big, stinkin’ jerk…at least to you. If you perceive that something was unfair, it was…to you. And I share that thought with church staff often. If a church member perceives that you have done something to offend them, you did…to them.
How does that play out in “real time”? Does that mean that, simply because someone THINKS you need to apologize for some offense they think you committed, even if you think you DIDN’T. Nope. But it DOES mean that you need to keep their feelings in mind when you talk to them. “I didn’t offend you” isn’t the right response. Neither is, “I’m sorry I messed up” if you genuinely believe you didn’t. But “I’m sorry you feel I offended you- I had no intention of making you feel that way” is an excellent response. Perception is reality.
That phrase has come back to me often in the past couple of days. NOT because someone is mad at me…or anything of the sort. Instead, it’s MY perception of things I have done and said literally hundreds of times that I now have a much different perception of. Let me explain.
By lunchtime today, I will have performed two funerals and two baptisms in the past 25½ hours. For those of you who might not know, that’s a lot in short period. And my perception of those events is much different that it was a few months ago.
I have now done 3 funerals since my cancer diagnosis. And I have found that the liturgy of a funeral, talking about “living as if you are prepared to die” and “dying and if you are prepared to live” have a MUCH different meaning and emphasis when you have been given a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. It’s no longer a metaphoric, “somewhere down the road” kind of thought. It’s instead very much a “here and now, in your face” proposition.
Now, about the baptisms. If you thought that one through, the past 25½ hours encompassed part of a Friday and part of a Saturday. And, at least in United Methodist circles, those are NOT the common time slots for baptisms. But these weren’t common baptisms. These were for a family who is facing some health issues and an uncertain future. They felt the call to be baptized. And the United Methodist liturgy calls for baptism to be a “public declaration”. There were multiple people present. I would call that public! (Sometimes, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission!)
It did NOT go unnoticed to me that there was a much different “feel” to these baptisms than when I normally baptize folks on a Sunday morning in church. It was better or worse, just different. And again, as I thought through WHY it felt different, it hit me that my perception was impacting my experience.
I guess the bottom line here is this- so often, we go through life with a bit too much “auto-pilot” guiding us. We hear things, see things, experience things and we filter them through the lens of “Yep, there it is. Heard it/seen it/experienced it 100 times. Here’s another time.” But when your circumstance changes, so does your perception. And, in an odd way, that has been the “gift” of this horrible diagnosis. I see things in aways I have never seen them before. I am more appreciative of what things mean when we say them or hear them. And I am more appreciative for every day. I remember days…weeks…years when every day was another day. Every week was another one to get through to get to the weekend. (As those great theologians Loverboy say, everybody’s workin’ for it!) But now, I am grateful for every sunrise. I am grateful for my family, friends, church. I am grateful for I another day to be upright, breathing and be about His business. My perception has changed. And, as I stated right up front…perception IS reality! 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!

Ministering to the Minister

prayer-group

I had a really cool thing happen yesterday. I went out to a home to visit with a family who lost their husband/dad. And NO- that wasn’t the really cool part! I have a funeral to perform today and another to perform tomorrow. And yesterday’s family meeting was for tomorrow’s funeral. 

It’s always helpful to spend time with the family of someone who died before preforming their funeral. You get them together. You get them talking. And, regardless of the grief they are experiencing, the conversation almost always opens up some great reminiscing. Stories get told. Laughter comes more easily. And a deepen, fuller picture of the loved one emerges. It’s therapeutic for the family and VERY helpful for me as the pastor. 

So, we spent some time together. We had GREAT conversation. I asked questions. I took lots of notes. They told great stories and laughed a lot. When about an hour had passed, it seemed like we had come to a good stopping point. So, I wrapped things up and then asked if I could pray with them before I left. I have learned that asking permission to pray in those settings is a good thing- it assures that they are on board and it “announces” what’s about to come without having to proclaim, “LET US PRAY!”  

After all of that, which went well and was very helpful AND enjoyable…I still haven’t gotten to the cool part. Here it is. I finished praying and, before I could even start to get up from the chair, one of the family members said, “Now, can we lay hands on YOU and pray for YOU?” (They are all aware of my diagnosis.)  

Well, I wasn’t going to turn that down. So, the family gathered around me as I sat in a chair. They laid hands on me. And one of the family members prayed for me. It was a powerful, heart-felt moment. And it was a GREAT example of people ministering to each other. 

I showed up at that house with the specific intention of ministering to this family. And…I’d like to think that I did. BUT, they also very clearly ministered to me. In the midst of their grief, their loss over the patriarch of their family- a clearly great human being whom they all greatly miss- they were led to reach out and minister to me. And BOY did they! 

Being a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, isn’t about following rules. It’s not about what you wear or what how much Scripture you can quote. It’s not about which version of the Bible you read or what style of music you happen to like. It’s about relationships. It’s about connecting to other people and helping each other connect with Jesus. And the more that can happen, the better! 

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! 

#Huzzah!

Huzzah     My wife (As I like to often point out, the brains of the group!) came up with 2 “identifers” that have clearly stuck- #TeamHarris and #WarriorOn. They have been embraced to the point that, you might notice, they have become standard parts of the “close” of this blog. People who read this blog refer to them often. They have become a part of the “lexicon” of Stick With Jesus and my family’s life.
I found out, from yesterday’s blog, that I apparently (and inadvertently) created a new one yesterday- #Huzzah! I was amazed (and amused!) at how many people, between commenting on the blog online and talking to me in person, mentioned the word. Since it’s an “old school” word, I heard an interesting variety of pronunciations and “remembrances” of the word. I heard “hoo-hoo”, “hoo-wa”, “hoo-zaw” and a number of others. But I LOVE the way so many of you embraced this weird word that I introduced! Huzzah!
I also love the way you have embraced this weird journey that my family is on. It’s not been an easy transition for me to be “the patient”. I had Rheumatic Fever when I was 5 years old. I was in the hospital for a solid month. I was bed-ridden at home for a decent time after that. I had to “learn to walk again” (re-build my body enough to be able to walk) and start my Kindergarten year after Christmas.
From there, I was pretty doggone healthy…until I was 21. I ruptured a disc in my lower back. Over the next 12 months, I had two major surgeries that including removal of a disc in my back and spinal fusion. I was 22 and a recent college graduate before that was all “done”. For the next 30 years- ages 22-52- I was AMAZINGLY healthy. Seldom got sick. Seldom had to go to the doctor. Powered through whatever came along. Strong. Invincible. Superman.
But then, 2013 came along. 52 years old. Brain tumor. The next 11 months were CONSTANTLY about me being…The Patient. Doctors. Scans. Tests. Surgeries. Driving. Driving. And more driving. But then, the further away we got from the major surgery that removed the tumor, the less that was the case. Still had to go to doctors and have scans, but we got to the “see you in a year” part. The hearing loss continued to be an issue, but we all learned to deal with that, at some level.
And then…this. And, if you believe EVERY doctor who has looked at me or my charts and results, there will be no transition from “patient” back to “regular human” this time. I have shared in this space before that it gets old- feeling like a “lab rat”. And I have spent a decent amount of time examining why, at least for me, that is the case. What exactly IS it that makes the “lab rat” thing unappealing. And surprisingly, it’s not really what most folks would think is the obvious answer.
I think I struggle with the “lab rat” feeling because I have always been a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” kind of person. Spit on it. Rub dirt on it. Walk it off. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m used to being the one who “straps on the case” and comes to the aid of others. But this experience has really hammered into my heart what I knew in my head all along- I need God. I need other people. To quote the late, great singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, “We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage. And with these, our hells and our heavens, so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.”
And, in an odd an unexpected way, that revelation, that acceptance, is incredibly freeing. I don’t HAVE to be Superman. I CAN’T be Superman. And neither can you. Accept the fact that you and I are not as strong as we think we are. We need each other. And more than that…we need God. Let go. Turn to Him. Give it all over to Him. Let Him be your rock, your salvation, your source of strength. Be comfortable in the shelter of His wings. It turns out…it’s a GREAT place to be! Huzzah!
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!

And to That I Say, “Huzzah!”

Huzzah

I love words. I love language. Wordplay is a something I truly enjoy. (I have made NO bones about what a geek I am!) There is a word I like to use. (Well, there are LOTS of words I like to use…but this is one of them!) The word is huzzah. It’s a word that got a lot of use in Old English. (Think Shakespeare!) But it doesn’t get a lot of work now. And that’s a shame!   “Huzzah” is an exclamation that expresses approval or delight. Approval or delight. Approval. Delight. OK- then I say, “Huzzah!” 

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that we were going to get the most recent results on my cancers. A visit to the oncologist was going to tell us what my blood levels are like currently- 3 weeks after the most recent “major chemo” infusion. (If you remember, 3 weeks after the first “major chemo” infusion of this round, my blood levels were too low to do the next infusion. I had to wait.) It was also going to tell us what the last set of CT scans revealed about the cancer and its growth, 

We arrived about 15 minutes before my appointment. We were, pretty quickly, taken back to an exam room. Vitals were taken. (My temp. Was a bit low- it ALWAYS is these days. My BP was great- again, ALWAYS is.) Then, we waited the obligatory few minutes for the oncologist. An aside, we have developed a really good connection with this oncologist. We really like her and have great trust in her. She seems to feel the same way about us. That, from our way of thinking, does nothing but help this whole process! 

She came in greeted us, asked me how I was feeling and then starting digging through my “data” in the computer. She looked at the screen for a bit, typing occasionally. Then, she started. She started with the most recent blood work, which was done on Monday. And…it was all good! A couple of things were either a LITTLE high or a LITTLE low. But everything was within the ranges dictated by their protocol! Huzzah! 

Then she started talking about the CT scans. They had done a more complete scan this time, including the abdomen and pelvic areas for the first time. (They just wanted to see what’s what about you know what!) And for the second time- scan to scan- everything shrunk! LAST time, there was shrinkage across the board, with some nodes shrinking from being measure by centimeters to being measured by millimeters. This time, that trend continued. The “numbers” (size of nodes, etc.) were pretty much cut in half. In other words- the shrinking of the cancerous areas continues! Again- huzzah! 

The oncologist, the radiology oncologist- in fact, everybody involved- are all still clear that this is palliative care…they have no illusion that it will cure the cancer. But shrinking it is a GREAT thing. It means I can swallow without pain. It means I can eat what I want. It means I can continue to sleep in a bed instead of a recliner. It means that my quality of life is better than it was two months ago. Huzzah! 

Does the chemo stink? Yep. Do I look forward to it? Nope! Does it make me feel like crud on a cracker? Uh huh. So far, has each treatment been harder than the one before it? You bet. BUT- I’ll take a few days of “crud on a cracker” for 2+ weeks of better quality of life. Especially when it’s the only viable offer in town! So, what do WE say? Huzzah! 

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 Results Are In

results     Well, today is an important day, “cancer treatment”-wise. To recap-
1. A round of “chemo lite” (3 treatments) and a round of “radiation lite” (10 treatments) that ran concurrently.
2. Scans to see how that did. (Shrunk everything somewhat- the nodes in the neck and thyroid, substantially)
3. No real side effects from the chemo, substantial burning of the neck and swelling IN the neck, along with a sore throat, difficulty swallowing and loss of facial hair, from the radiation.
4. Endoscopy to look down the throat and beyond. That found the second type of cancer in the lower esophagus.
5. Continued difficulty swallowing and loss of voice.
6. Another round of chemo (2 treatments). This one was of the “heavy-duty” variety.
7. Somewhat substantial side effects from that round, including lower blood counts, leg pain, muscle cramps, loss of the ability to taste, difficulty sleeping and general weakness.
I am now 3 weeks out from the last chemo treatment. Except from some on again, off again “bathroom issues”, being a bit more tired and getting cold easier, the side effects are pretty much gone. (I still haven’t totally regained my ability to taste, but I CAN taste SOME things!) And today, we go to find out the results of the scans I had last week. They will tell us how this last round of chemo did, where things are and, therefore, where we head next.
Logic would tell me that “where we go next” is more chemo. The radiation oncologist said that he didn’t see the need for more radiation unless/until I was showing signs of needing it. And at least outwardly- I’m not. But with no other real options available to us, the chemo is pretty much the only game in town. But even that will hinge on what we find out today.
One of the interesting things about this journey is that I no longer have any real anxiety, dread, concern, worry…whatever word you might want to insert here…when it comes to these “get the results and see where we are” appointments. They really can’t tell me ANYTHING that could be shocking, surprising or devastating at this point. We are WAY past that. Why? Because we are Hopeful Pragmatists. We received the bad news right up front. We know the medical reality of this diagnosis- because we’re pragmatic. We also know that, with God, all things are possible- because we’re hopeful.
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!

Good Thing I Only Work ONE Day/Week!

sunday-m-1316

Periodically, I offer “a day in the life of a pastor” in this space. Today is one such day! And all I can say is- good thing I only work one day/week! Here is a breakdown of what me “yesterday” looked like: 

5AM- out of bed 

5AM-5:40AM- get ready to leave 

5:40AM- walk into church 

5:40AM-7AM- turn on lights, unlock doors, finish preparing for the morning 

7AM-7:40AM- Practice with one of our 2 Praise Bands 

7:40AM-8AM- “meet and greet” 

8AM-9AM- Contemporary Worship Service 

9AM-9:15AM- “meet and greet” 

9:15AM-10:05AM Rock & Worship Service 

10:05AM-10:30AM- “meet and greet” 

10:30AM-11:30AM- Blended/Traditional Worship Service 

11:30AM-1PM- All-Church Lunch 

1PM-2PM- All-Church Informational Meeting about pending Capital Campaign 

2PM-2:30PM- “shut down” the building 

2:30PM-3PM- talk to my family 

3PM-4:45PM- Nap 

4:45PM-5:40- Dinner 

5:40PM-6PM- Prepare for evening meetings 

6PM-6:45PM- Trustees Team Meeting 

6:45PM-7:30PM- Finance Team Meeting 

7:30PM-9:10PM- Administrative Council Meeting 

9:10PM-9:20PM- shut down building 

9:20PM-10PM- visit with me family and write this blog 

10PM- collapse in a heap in the bed! 

It’s a good thing I only work ONE day/week! Honestly, Sundays are simply busy days for pastors and today was UNUSUALLY busy. But the beauty of it is this- MANY of the leaders of the church we currently serve had nearly as long a day (as volunteers) as I did (as a paid staff person). And yet, as we wrapped the LONG day, they were still positive, upbeat, laughing, wishing every well for the rest of the evening and the week ahead. It is truly a joy and an honor to serve with people who are SO willing and excited about serving God through serving others! 

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 Explosion: Addition By Multiplication

The Explosion Addition By Multiplication Music, for me, is about numbers. There are, in most modern songs, three parts- the verse, the chorus and the bridge. The standard structure of many songs is numeric- 2 verses, 1 chorus, 1 verse, 1 chorus, 1 bridge, 2 choruses. The number of measures in each of those parts tends to be divisible by 4. A verse might be 16 measures long. The chorus might be 8…or 16. The bridge tends to be 8, and the chord progression tends to follow a pattern. And once you understand that, you can tell where you are in the song. For example, measure 5 of an 8-measure bridge tends to be at a particular spot in the chord progression. So, when you hear that spot, you know you are starting the 2nd half of an 8-measure bridge. As a drummer, those are REALLY helpful things to understand, because turning pages and following sheet music is tough!
I really started learning all of that when I was in high school. Our marching band was known for being sort of “out there”. And often, to get from one formation to another, we didn’t have precision steps that we did. Instead, we did “the scatter drill”. Upperclassmen would be assigned “newbs” (lowerclassmen) and the newbs were supposed to stick to their upperclassman like glue. You would go ANY way you wanted to get from Point A to Point B during the performance. The only guidelines were A. MARCH there, making sharp turns and all and B. get there in time!
I liked to have fun so I would go the LEAST direct route possible! But I would do it at practice…only at the games! At practice, I would dutifully march to the next formation in the most direct route possible, with my newb in tow. And then, on game night, I would take off the other direction! The ENTIRE time, while the rest of the band was quite a distance away, me and my newb would be marching…out in the middle of nowhere! And he would be yelling the whole time, “What are you doing? We’re not going to make it!” And I would completely ignore him and keep right on marching…all the while paying close attention to the song and working out the “math” in my head! The end of the song would get closer and closer. He would yell louder and louder- about to pop a vein. And on the VERY LAST beat of the song…we would arrive at our destination and come to attention with the rest of the band! To quote that great theologian Col. Hannibal Smith from the A-Team, “I LOVE it when a plan comes together!”
Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Explosion. This series is based on the New Testament Book of Acts- the history of the early church. It is an amazing book that we could spend MONTHS on…and yet, we are only spending 4 weeks. So, this will NOT be an overview of the book but, instead, a focused look at how it grew. Last week, we started at the very beginning…a VERY good place to start, and asked, “What are you looking for?” Today, we move just a little farther into the book to see miraculous math happening.
From where we left off, the disciples have chosen Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as the 12th disciple. The Holy Spirit has fallen upon the believers at Pentecost and they have gone out into the crowded streets of Jerusalem to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Someone in the crowd claims that the disciples have been “hittin’ the sauce”- they’ve had too much wine! So, Peter “steps right up to the microphone”-
Acts 2:14-41 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! Jesus of Nazareth was a Man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This Man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. God has made this Jesus, Whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
I LOVE Peter’s response- “Dude, we’re NOT drunk…it’s only 9AM!” No, “I’m offended that you would even think we would drink!” No, Thou vile juice of the grape shall NEVER touch my lips!” Instead, “Come on- it’s still morning! Who do you think we ARE?!” They’re not drunk on alcohol…they’re “drunk” on the Holy Spirit.
Peter goes on to talk about Jesus- He came to produce miracles, wonders and signs. Peter then brings down the hammer, “God sent Jesus, knowing He would be handed over to YOU. And YOU put Him to death on the cross. But God brought Him back- you know, the guy YOU crucified!” Peter’s speech had its desired affect- the people listening were cut to the heart. “What can we do?” They were, in theological terms, convicted.
Peter was ready with an answer, “Repent and be baptized. Receive forgiveness- the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He then takes it a step further, telling those gathered that it’s a PROMISE, not just for them but for their children and for “all those far off”- a reference to both distance and time. And what happened? Those who accepted were baptized and…about THREE THOUSAND were added to their number that day. 3,000! In ONE day!
As I said, I geek out a bit about numbers. I track them. Worship attendance. Christian Education participation. Youth and Children’s ministries. Giving. Baptisms. The whole gamut. Over the slightly more than 5 years since we got here, 106 people have joined the church. During that same time, we’ve had 59 baptisms.
Is that good? How do you even quantify those numbers? Well, it depends on what you compare them to. When you consider that more than 50% of the United Methodist Churches in the country had ZERO new members and ZERO baptisms during that stretch, you think, “Wow! We’re doing GOOD!” But when you consider Peter and the boys, out in the streets after Pentecost- THREE THOUSAND- you think, “We’re just slackers, aren’t we?!” The truth is somewhere in the middle!
But regardless, notice HOW the disciples added 3,000 in one day. They took a page from The Doobie Brothers- takin’ it to the streets. They could have stayed in that Upper Room, “drunk” on the Spirit and said, “Well, if the people want to join us…they know where we are!” They could have said, “We have to be careful- we only want people who are like US to join us!” But instead, they hit the bricks. They went out into the highways and byways, telling people about Jesus Christ. And they didn’t just talk ABOUT Jesus- they talked about what He had done for THEM. They increased their numbers exponentially- addition by multiplication.
We talk about the fact that we are cramped for space in our building. But the truth is that the building is only cramped three times in a week- in the sanctuary from 10:30-11:30AM on Sundays, in the Fellowship Café from about 9-10:30AM on Sundays and most of the building on Wednesday evenings. Other than that…we have all the room in the world!
“What’s your point, Preacher?” My point is this- we have room to grow. We have 8AM and 9:15AM worship services that, while they are doing great, have plenty of room to grow. We have Bible Studies, Youth and Children’s events, Young Adult/Young Family events, ministries galore that have plenty of room for more people. How do we fill those spaces? We tell people about what Jesus did in our lives. We tell people that, while WE go to THIS worship service, we also offer THESE worship services. We invite people to events we offer, classes that are available, etc. Do you know what THE best advertising is for your church? YOU! Not radio. TV. Facebook. Billboards. Signs. Direct mailers. YOU. When I tell people about Jesus and invite them to join us, we grow by addition- 1+2+1+3. But when we ALL tell people about Jesus and invite them to join us we grow by addition…through multiplication. Basic math becomes exponential growth. About 3,000 were added to their number that day. Healthy organisms grow. And we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ!

The Grape Water Revelation

Grape Water

My wife and I were sitting in the waiting room of a hospital Thursday evening. (Don’t ask- LONG story!) I realized I had left my water bottle at home…and I was thirsty! So, I announced that I was going to go down the hall to the vending machines for a bottle of water. I asked my wife if she wanted some water. She assured me she did not. So, of course, I set out to get her a bottle, too! 

I got to the machines- one had “food” and the other had “drinks”. So, I went to the drink one and it was at that moment I realized I only had a dollar bill! Fortunately, the machine took “plastic”, too! The debit card made an immediate appearance!  

Most of the rows of the machine offered soda. (Where we live, it’s known as “pop”. Where we’re FROM, it’s known as “soda”! So…soda!) But there was a row, most of the way down, that was water. I swiped my card and pushed the appropriate 3 numbers to get a bottle of water. 

This was the kind of vending machine where the arm slides over and then up until it stops in front of your choice. It then reaches in, grabs the bottle, pulls it out, takes it down and deposits it in a little bin, which then opens on your side to reveal…your drink! 

I watched as the bottle was retrieved and delivered. As I pulled the bottle out of the bin, I realized that it was NOT just water- it was grape-flavored water. No big problem. I can’t taste it anyway. So, I’ll drink the grape water and get a “regular” water for my wife. I did just that, then walked back to the waiting room and my beautiful girl. I told her the story of the grape water vs. the regular water as I said, “And here’s the water you said you wanted!” (Remember, she said, “No!”)  

I cracked the cap open, pulled my mask down (Ah- the surgical mask! Yes!) and took a drink. “Oh my GOSH!” My wife was perplexed. “What?” Instead of answering her, I took another swig of the grape water. “Wow!” What?!” “I…” Another swig. “I can TASTE this water!” “really?” “Yes! If I hadn’t read the label, I would STILL know that this was grape water!” 

Yep- I could taste it. It was muted…but I could clearly taste it! We had eaten anything and it was past dinnertime, so I went back to the vending machines, returning with a veritable smorgasbord- Jalapeño Fritos, Regular Fritos, Salted Peanuts and Garden Wheat Thins. I opened the Wheat Thin bag and tried one. “I can taste these, too!” Again, muted…but flavor nonetheless.  

After several weeks of everything tasting the same, that sense is coming back. It’s not “back”, but it IS “coming back”! I would assume that, whenever I have my next chemo treatment, that might all change again. But for now, a gain. A step forward. A reclamation. And in my current situation, we claim ANY step forward as a victory. So, break open the grape water. Pour out a serving of Garden Wheat Thins- it’s time to celebrate! 

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! 

He Winced!

wince

I had an interesting thing happen last night. I was standing in a hospital parking lot, getting something out of the car. I had one of those “surgical masks” that I wrote about yesterday. A doctor, that I had a previous conversation with in the hospital, came up and started talking to me.  

As we talked, I realized I still had the mask on. (I told you- I forget I’m wearing it after a while!) So, I rolled my eyes and pulled it down. The doctor, seeing that, felt comfortable to ask, “Have you been sick?” So, I told him my diagnosis. And…he winced. A doctor…winced. He quickly “recovered” and asked about my treatment and how I was doing.  

It’s interesting to see how people react when they hear what I “have”. (Remember, according to my wife- the smart one of the pair- I have IT…but it doesn’t have ME!) Reactions run the gamut from shock through wincing to “I just don’t know what to say”.  

And I get that. In my profession, I run into a lot of folks who simply don’t know what to say to people who have received a devastating diagnosis, lost a loved one or had some other major event happen to them. It’s human nature to NOT know how to respond. So, as someone who is on the receiving end of those responses, let me offer my take. 

Think about what YOU would want to hear. Perhaps you haven’t been in the exact same situation they have been in, but you’ve had a time of loss or difficulty. What would you want to hear? What DID you hear that was helpful? What did you hear that WASN’T helpful? Platitudes and re-hashed “catch phrases” usually are not helpful. Even something as well-intentioned as, “God has a plan” aren’t always helpful. “I know how you feel” or “God needed another angel” are not helpful. Honest, sincere reactions are the best bet. “I’m so sorry.” “I can’t imagine how you must feel.” “I will pray for you.” Or better still, “May I pray for you NOW?” That’s why the doctor’s “wince” was, for me, perfectly appropriate. It was an honest, sincere reaction- human to human.  

Resist the temptation to be “trite”. Instead- be “human”. Share what you feel…and what they will best receive. 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 Mask

themaskmovie

As you well know, when you are undergoing chemo treatments, it shoots your immune system all to heck in a handbasket. The chemo attacks…everything- it’s not very discriminating. And then your white blood cells, among other things, start fighting back. The whole idea is that those cells replenish as they fight back. That’s why blood draws are essential to the process. They except your white cell count to drop, but they don’t want it to drop too low that you can’t fight back. So, they have those protocols in place that we’ve talked about before in this space- if you are within the stated numbers, you get chemo. If you are not- you don’t.  

One of the things I have been instructed to do is to, as much as possible, stay away from places like hospitals and nursing homes. The less I am exposed to things that might make me sick, the better, since my immune system is already compromised. I have worked hard to try and do that, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. So- I have started wearing…The Mask! 

No, NOT the one in the picture! (Although that might be kind of cool!) I’ve started wearing those “surgical masks” that you see in hospitals and doctor’s offices. For example, I went to a local nursing home last week to meet with a gentleman who was going to be joining the church. It was hard for him to come to the church, so I “masked up” and went to him. I came in the front door, stopped in the lobby to pull out my phone and remind myself of his room number and then looked up…to see him sitting 10 feet away from me, waiting! He said, “I wasn’t sure that was you at first, with the mask and all. But then I saw the bald head and said ‘That’s him!'”  

The night before last, I had to go to a hospital in the greater area because a family member had been ambulanced there. My wife and I drove there- 45 minutes away (“Well, ain’t this place a geographical oddity- 45 minutes from everywhere!”) and parked. I said, “I assume I should…’mask’?” “Yep.” We carry some in the car (and keep some at home), so I put a mask on and in we went.  

If you don’t get the nose piece adjusted just right, your breathing fogs up your glasses with EVERY breath! But after a couple of tries, I got it right. We were there for about 90 minutes. We left about 11PM. We were driving home. My wife was on the phone with her sister in California. The phone was set for “speaker”. My sister-in-law said to tell me something because she didn’t know I was on speaker. My wife told her that I could hear her so, I responded. As I did, my wife looked over at me, driving the car, and said, “You could probably take your mask off now!” I was still wearing it, in the car, 15 minutes after we left the hospital!  

It’s funny what you can do if you have to. The thought of wearing one of those things made me feel like a goon. But now…I forget I have it on. You do what you have to do. You step up to the plate. You get what you get…and you don’t throw a fit! God gives us the strength to stand up to adversity. And so, 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!

Being Transparent

transparent man     Along the way over these past 2½ months (since the cancer diagnosis), I have taken some daily blogs to talk about things that I have noticed or insights I have gained. Here’s another one. I have come to notice that, as the days have passed since this all started on June 6, that more and more people have felt more and more comfortable to A. talk about health issues they are having and B. more and more willing to contact me personally about their health issues. And let me say right up front- I think that’s a GOOD thing.
I have shared MANY times in this space that, at heart, my wife and I are very private people. A lot of people who know us find that a surprising thing to hear us say. But it is absolutely the truth. There is an emerging term that seems to describe me pretty well- Extroverted Introvert. When I am SUPPOSED to be “out in front”, I am fully capable of it. Put me in charge of something. Make me the pastor. Introduce me as the speaker/entertainer/singer/facilitator or whatever else you can think to put here, and I am more than comfortable to be an extrovert. Put me in a setting where I am NOT one of those things and I will be pretty doggone quiet and unseen. Put me in a loud wedding reception, especially with people I don’t know, and you may not hear me say 3 words all evening.
So, when the brain tumor came up in 2013, I had a HUGE decision to make- keep almost everybody at arm’s length and not tell them much OR…”suck it up, Buttercup!” and learn to be more transparent, more vulnerable. We decided that the second half of that equation was really the only reasonable approach. So, we were intentionally open and transparent, hiding nothing and sharing everything. It turned out to be very freeing for me and seemed to be helpful to others, as well.
When all of this new…stuff…came up, therefore, it was a no-brainer- continue on with the same approach. And I have had so many people tell me “Thank you” for being so open and keeping everybody up-to-date. But as the weeks have gone on, I have had more and more people contact me, share health issues they are going through (or someone they love is going through), ask me to pray for them, assure me they are praying for me and tell me they will keep me posted as their story unfolds.
Here’s my thought for the day- if you are struggling with some kind of health issue, don’t hide it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t guard it like it’s the gold in Ft. Knox. (Although the History Channel tells me there IS no gold in Ft. Knox!) Be open. Be transparent. Share what’s going on. Don’t whine about it. Don’t wallow in it. Don’t be self-serving and don’t just seek pity. But if you simply share your story, two things happen: 1. you give people the opportunity to pray for you…a GREAT thing and 2. you help give them the “permission” to share THEIR story with someone. And those, my friend, are BOTH good things!
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!

An Anniversary!

8th anniversary     I realized recently that I am VERY near an anniversary. No, NOT my wedding anniversary. I don’t “realize” that one- I KNOW that one. (Seriously- it hasn’t “snuck up on me ONCE in 32 years! It was, after all, the greatest day of my life!) No, the anniversary that I am very near is for this blog- Stick With Jesus. This Thursday, September 14, marks the (Ready?) EIGHTH anniversary of writing this blog. It began with this crazy idea- offer a look at life as a shave-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister. I thought about what that would look like and I decided that, if I simply designed it as “write when the mood strikes”, then A. I would probably not stick with it and B. if I did, it would be hard to build an audience if they didn’t know when to expect new content. So…I bit the bullet and made it “a DAILY look at life…”
The very first blog entry- September 14, 2009- was about the earring. From there, I have written about…just about EVERYTHING! In that time, I have posted 3,678 blogs! (If you do the math, that’s MORE than one/day. That’s because, for a time, I posted the Daily Bible Verse on this site as well, before spinning it off to its own site.)
Somewhere along the way, I started making the Sunday blog a transcript of the Sunday sermon. It has stayed that way since. The upside is that, for folks who couldn’t make it to church could read the sermon. Now that we broadcast the sermon live on Facebook (and then make the video available there and on the church website), I have thought about no longer posting the transcript to this blog. But interestingly enough, I still have people who read it BEFORE they come to church to hear it live! (They get to see where I “deviate from the script”!) The downside to making the Sunday blog the sermon is that it also makes Sunday the lowest read day of the week! There was also a period when Wednesdays were Bible Study Day. But that became simply too much “extra work”. Back in 2013-2104, this blog became my version of the website CaringBridge- a place to offer health updates during my “brain tumor” scare.
Then, on April 9 of this year, I started only posting 3 days/week. That change came because I have a book I’ve been trying to write for quite some time and it was hard to find time to do it. Again, that was April 9 of THIS year. Then, on June 6, less than TWO months later…this whole cancer thing came up. And Stick With Jesus once again was back to 7 days/week, back to being my version of CaringBridge. I figure I have written somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million words throughout the life of this blog. For some perspective, the average “thriller novel” has around 100,000 words in it. That means I have published, on this site, the equivalent of around 15- 20 books! It has become, over the years, a part of me AND a great way to stay connected to people around the country.
When I started this, 8 years ago, I really had no idea what to expect. I never thought about 8 years, 3,600+ posts, more than a million words and well more than 1 million “hits” over that time. I am appreciative of all of YOU- you are the reason I keep doing this, day I and day out. Thank you for reading. Thank you for coming back. Please share this with others- the more readers…the merrier!
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!

What Feeds Your Soul?

feed my soul     I have shared, over and over in this space, that my family is focusing, very intentionally, on “positive attitude” during this journey. Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any other way- you either focus on being positive…or you give up. And We are NOT giving up! So, we look for the positive in things.
One area of our lives that I really haven’t talked much about in this space lately is worship. My blogs have been so focused on doctors and hospitals and treatments that I haven’t talked much at all about Sunday mornings. But one of the many ways we focus on the positive is through worship.
We offer three worship services every Sunday morning. The morning starts at 8AM with a Contemporary Worship opportunity. It’s built around a praise band (2 acoustic guitars, keyboard, drums and vocals), an original video call to worship and is a bit more casual service. It’s not loud. It’s not overly “hi-tech”. But it is an upbeat, sincere worship experience that draws a very consistent “audience”.
Then, at 9:15AM, we offer Rock and Worship. Built around a DIFFERENT praise band (Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocals), that original video call to worship and offering Communion weekly, the service IS louder, more upbeat and more casual.
Then, at 10:30AM, we offer a Blended Worship opportunity. It starts with the praise band from the 8AM service, but includes (depending on the week) a Clavinova (marvelously recreates an organ), the choir or bell choir, responsive readings and group prayers. The 8AM and 10:30AM services offer Communion once/month. The same sermon is preached at all 3 services.
So why tell you all of this? Am I trying to “sell” you on the church we currently serve? I mean, you probably either KNOW all of that or don’t really find it all THAT interesting. I tell you all of that because, along with it being an important part of what I love to do, it feeds my soul and helps keep that “positive vibe” going. I mean, think about it- I get the privilege of preaching 3 times on a Sunday. I get the privilege of playing drums all morning. (11 songs over those 3½ hours!) I get the privilege of serving Communion every week. I get the privilege of bringing new members in and baptizing folks. AND…I get the privilege of worshipping with these people every week.
Ours are not the fanciest, slickest, most polished worship services. They aren’t terribly “high church”. They’re more casual than some would favor. But they are sincere, genuine, upbeat, energetic…genuine. And they feed my soul. And let me tell you- when you are facing a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis (with a second cancer thrown in, for good measure!), things that feed your soul are good things. Frankly, regardless of your situation, things that feed your soul are great.
What feeds YOUR soul? I pray you have a church home that does that for you. I pray that you have a connection to others that offers that positive influence that we all need to continue fighting the good fight, day after day! 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!