Unconditional Love

Mollie

I read an article not TOO long ago. I frankly wish I could remember A. where I read it and/or B. who wrote it…but I remember NEITHER! But the article was about dogs. And in the context of the article, the author said, “Dogs DON’T have emotion. That is simply us humans personifying them and them mimicking what they see.” Being a life-long dog owner…and lover…I just shook my head and said out loud, “You CLEARLY have never lived with a dog!”  

Seriously, anyone who has ever had a dog in their house knows what total baloney (Like the way I cleaned that up for G-rated consumption?!”) from the get-go. Dogs don’t have emotion? Pffffttt! They have a wide range of emotion. And they are very “in tune” with us humans. If we were watching a particularly emotionally-charged movie and my wife teared up a bit, our last dog- an English Pointer/Black Lab mix- was RIGHT there, head on my wife’s leg. Saying, “It’s OK. I’m here for you!”(We SWEAR she understood English perfectly well and that the only reason she didn’t ACTUALLY talk was simply because she didn’t have the right physiology. It was NOT for lack of trying!)  

But the best thing I ever heard about dogs came out of the mouth of a child. It was one of those TV shows where they ask kids questions and we all laugh/cry/are amazed by the answers. This particular kid- a little girl- was asked some questions about dogs. The last question she was asked was, “Why do you think it is that we live so much longer than dogs do?” The little girl didn’t think about it, pause or even take a breath before she answered, “Dogs live shorter lives because we are all put here to learn how to love unconditionally…and dogs learn that lesson a LOT faster than people do!” 

Booyah! How awesome is THAT answer?! And how TRUE? We are put on this earth to learn that. And Dogs clearly learn that, understand that, MUCH faster and better than us humans. The picture you see is of me with our new dog- Mollie the Collie. I am usually the first one up in the morning. I get the coffee going, get her and take her out for the first time of the day. Then I make my breakfast (3 poached eggs mixed with grits, shredded cheddar and butter- gotta keep pushing the proteins!) and eat while reading the morning highlights from the news app on my iPad.  

All the while. She waits…rather impatiently…for me to get done. Why? Because all she wants to do is climb in my lap and snuggle. It’s the highlight of her day- to snuggle. She usually lays on me, loving me, until my wife gets up and comes into the living room. Then, she switches chairs so she can be an equal-opportunity snuggler! I fully understand that not everybody is a “dog person”. But I also know that we ARE dog people. And I know that they are awesome companions who offer nothing but unconditional love! Good stuff! 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #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! 

You Got WHAT For Father’s Day?!

mario

When our older son was still too little to really play video games, I bought him a used Super Nintendo system. My wife gave me a decent amount of good-nature grief about that- given the already-stated fact that he was really too little to play! So, I hooked it up…and played it! And I slowly got him up to speed along the way. Over the next several years, we did the whole video game thing- newer systems, kids saving up money to get the newest game or the newest system- the whole nine yards.  

Over those ensuing years, one thing remained pretty constant- Mario. Oh sure, our older son saved up and bought a Sega Genesis system. And yes, our younger son has two different iterations of the XBox. But Mario was always kind of the Gold Standard at our house for video games. We played a LOT of Mario 64 (still the BEST video game ever made, for my money!) and we played a LOT of Mario Kart.  

Well, fast forward to this past Father’s Day. It was obvious my wife was hatching a scheme with the boys and it involved something they were doing for me for Father’s Day. I had NO clue what it was and, frankly, I didn’t even come CLOSE to the truth with any guess! 

When we got home from church that Sunday (our older son was home for the weekend), the TV cabinet in the living room was closed. I really didn’t think much of that fact because my sister and her husband were in town visiting and we had it closed a decent amount of the time, anyway. But after I got in the house, my wife said, “Well, is it time to show him?” Our younger son opened the doors to the cabinet and there…was our 10-year old+ TV! Oh, boy! 

So, I started paying more attention to what I was seeing. And then I noticed this piece of equipment NEXT to the TV that hadn’t been there the day before. My wife asked, “Do you see it?’ I replied that I saw…whatever that thing was. But I had NO idea WHAT it was. Turns out, it was a new Nintendo Switch- the newest game system from the iconic company. They had pooled their resources and bought it for me- for us- for Father’s Day! And the 2 games they got with it? Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart! Odyssey is like a cross between our beloved Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy- another great Mario game. And Mario Kart is, of course…well…Mario Kart! They bought it for me so that we could A. play together and B. reminisce about all the fun we had- together- over the years playing other video games together! Soon, the four of us were all racing our Mario-themed cars and drivers against each other! In fact, with our older son back home in Chicago and our younger son out of town on vacation, my wife and I have “busted out” Mario Kart more than once to hone our skills! 

It wasn’t the ubiquitous necktie or the ever-boring (but ALWAYS appreciated) iTunes gifts cards. But it WAS the most unexpected and marvelous surprise from my family. I would have NEVER done that for myself. And it never crossed my mind to do it at all. But it has been, and will continue to be, something that we will do as a family that, while mindless entertainment, is something that we always have fun with and always makes us laugh! And those, my friend, are good things!! 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #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! 

So, What’s Next?

question 34

As you know if you have been following this blog for a while, I have undergone a decent amount of cancer-related treatment since last June. So far, the “highlights” (If you can even use that word to describe cancer treatment!) have included two rounds of chemo and two rounds of radiation. The last of those treatments- radiation- happened on April 9th. That was roughly 2½ months ago.  

If you want to talk about the last chemo treatment I had, you have to go back bit farther! The past chemo treatment I had was on October 17. October 17! That was over 8 months ago. Remarkable. On the one hand, it seems like two weeks ago and yet, on the other hand, it seems like two YEARS ago! 

If you have been reading along with me, you also know that there is probably no more radiation they can/will do for me. Turns out, there is a “maximum amount” of radiation they are willing/able to do. It does enough damage to whatever it is targeting that there is such a thing as too much radiation. The treatment can be worse than the disease. But chemo is a different beast. There is a point where the body NEEDS a break in treatment. But then, you can go back to it. 4 weeks seems to be the max my oncologist wants to go, if possible. It’s the max in one stretch I’ve had, to be sure. 

I tell you all of this because, one week from today, I will have blood work and a series of CT scans “with contrast”. They will be forwarded to the oncologist, who I will then see in just under two weeks from today. She will read the results, share them with us, do a physical exam and then we will discuss where we go from here. Based on A. how long it’s been and B. some things I “feel” (related to my lungs and digestive system), I am going into the next couple of weeks anticipating another round of chemo. Frankly, it’s the only treatment left. Radiation is basically off the table. Surgery has never been ON the table. And any hope of a clinical trial went out the proverbial window back when they found I had multiple types of cancer. So, it’s “chemo or nothing” at this point.  

That would mean that I could easily be re-starting chemo somewhere around mid-July. It’s a REALLY weird dynamic- no one WANTS to start chemo. And yet, when it’s the only treatment you have left available to you…you almost welcome it. Therefore, based on previous experience, I will spend the next two weeks psyching myself up for more of that lovely stuff. That way, if we get to the oncologist is roughly two weeks and she says, “Yep, it’s coming back. Let’s re-start treatment”, I am emotionally and mentally prepared. On the off-chance that I’m wrong and the cancer ISN’T working its way back in and therefore we DON’T have to re-start, well then…winner, winner, chicken dinner! Either way, we prepare for the worst and pray for the best! 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #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 Promise

Rainbow 062618

We all know “The Noah Story”. Found in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, God gets hacked off at how bad humanity has turned out. So, He instructs Noah to build the ark. He then floods the world, saving only Noah, his extended family and the animals. Once the whole experience is over, you get God’s promise to never do that again: Genesis 9:12-13- “The rainbow that I have put in the sky will be my sign to you and to every living creature on earth. It will remind you that I will keep this promise forever.” So, rainbows are God’s promise- a reminder in the sky that He is always there. 

Early on in this whole cancer journey, my wife saw a rainbow. We took that as a sign from God. Since then, we have seen MORE rainbows than I can count. Seriously. Now, we LOOK for them. And we understand the atmospheric conditions necessary for there to BE one. So, our chances of seeing one go up significantly because of all of those factors. But the truth of the matter is this- we have seen a LOT of them in the last year.  

And when we see one, we stop what we’re doing and appreciate it. We often seem to see them out our front door/on the deck which is on the front corner of our house. We just…look at it. It often brings a tear or two to the forefront. And we try to always photograph them. But we ALWAYS appreciate them. 

The one you see in the picture was from last night. RIGHT before I sat down to write today’s blog, my wife took our dog out. As she got out on the porch, she said, “Rainbow!” Of course, I set my laptop down on the ottoman (An entire Empire dedicated to putting your feet up?!) and headed for the porch.  

Across the street, right above the Catholic Church (Yep- RIGHT across from a Catholic Church and RIGHT next door to a United Methodist Church! We have God ALL around us!) was a VERY bright rainbow. We could see the “left leg” from the ground up to about the peak before a tree got in the way. My wife wondered if we could see the other end, so I went out on the deck to see. Sure enough, there was the “right leg”, all the way to the ground. In the end, you could see EVERY bit of this VERY bright rainbow. It was pretty cool! 

What IS God’s promise? Well, the overt promise of the rainbow is literally that God will never again flood the whole earth. But for us, we focus on God’s promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. And we have felt that presence. Throughout this journey, we have felt God alongside us. And we have taken great comfort in that fact.  

Let the rainbow be God’s promise for you, too. Let it remind you that He walks the journey with you. He loves you. He wants the best for you. You are His child. For us, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than THAT! 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #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! 

John Wooden and Potato Chips

Wooden Potato Chips     My grandpa, at least in his later years, was somewhat militant about “eating healthy”. He opined the amount of peanut butter that his grandchildren ate. He bought fresh fruit- I’m talking peaches still in wooden baskets, fresh out of the orchard- in quantities that he could NEVER eat. (His one weakness seemed to be chocolate. We always got excited when he “went to town”, because he would bring back two of those BIG Hershey bars- one for us and one for him!) 

But I will never forget one “grandpa story” that involved…potato chips. He lived next door to us. (He owned about 150 acres and had sold my parents about 2 acres on the front corner of his property. His house was actually about ¼ of a mile down a one-lane rock drive that started right on the edge of our property and cut straight back through the woods.) After my grandma died- I was about 6 years old- he would often stop by our house on his way out to or back from town. This particular day was of the “hot summer” variety. I was the only one home when he got there.  

We didn’t have central air- just a window unit in the dining room/kitchen area. So, it wasn’t unusual to find whoever was home sitting in the kitchen in the summer. He walked in the door- we didn’t LOCK doors back then and he NEVER knocked- and there I was, sitting at the kitchen counter playing solitaire. (This was “back in the day” when you played solitaire with ACTUAL playing cards! Can you IMAGINE such a thing?!)  

He sat across from me and we talked. Along the way, he noticed an unopened bag of potato chips on the counter. (I figure someone had died, because my mom was NOT a big potato chip buyer!) He then lit into a 10-minute dissertation on the evils of potato chips. By the time he was done, eating them was as bad as eating rat poison! I knew better than to question him or defend the deliciousness of potato chips. Instead, I just nodded and threw out the occasional, “You are SO right, Grandpa!” Then, the room fell silent for a minute or two. 

And then, the funniest thing happened. He reached over, grabbed the bag of said chips, opened them…and ate about 1/3 of them! He never offered me one…of OUR chips. He never commented on the hypocrisy of the lecture followed by the infraction. He never explained himself at all. Just ate 1/3 of a bag of chips, moved them back to where they had been and then announced he was heading home! All I could do was shake my head in disbelief and say, “Goodbye!” 

“Do as I say and not as I do” is a famous and time-worn approach for us “mature adults”. We would claim that it is NOT…but often, our actions scream WAY louder than our words. And that’s exactly why, often, our actions speak louder than our words. We can SAY we have marvelous, selfless, altruistic motives every day and twice on Sunday. But do our actions actually reflect that? Are REALLY doing what’s the best for others who are depending on us? Or are we instead feeding our own egos, our own needs, our own desires?  

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) In other words, whatever we do to each other…we do to Jesus. If we help other, put them first, humble ourselves, do what is right, even when we think no one is watching, we are also doing that for Jesus. On quite the other hand, if we are doing things we KNOW to be wrong- being deceitful, sneaking around with ulterior motives, intentionally undermining others, making decisions that feed our own egos while disregarding others…and damaging our own legacy in the process…then we are doing that TO Jesus.  

It was legendary college basketball coach John Wooden who said: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are…the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Search your heart- are you REALLY doing what Jesus would have you do…when you think no one is watching? 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #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 Mighty Mississippi

mississippi river     I grew up in the St. Louis area- a 15-minute drive from the bank of the Mississippi River. And when you live that close to the Mississippi, the river is a very important player in everyday life. As a kid we fished in it. We boated in it. We drove OVER it more times that I would care to imagine. And one winter was SO cold that we watched people…walk across it! (No foolin’!)

And, of course, we watched it flood. Localized flooding is a rather typical event, happening nearly every year. But some years, there is a flooding that sets records…and changes lives forever. From April through October of that year, 33,000 square miles of the Mississippi River basin flooded. 33 THOUSAND square miles.

In my hometown, the flooding was pretty bad. We lived far enough away from the river that the flooding didn’t affect us…other than the fact that it added about an hour to my already1-hour commute to work every day. That is, until the day the town’s water treatment plant was inundated by floodwaters.

Try as they might, the engineers who worked for the water company simply couldn’t hold back the raging waters of the river. And when the water treatment plant went under, our water supply was cut off. For the next several days (it only SEEMED like several weeks!), the water was shut off. We had to rely on National Guard stations set up in local strip mall parking lots. A large water truck would pull up and we were allowed to bring whatever we had to fill up. And frankly…we got off easy compared to lots of other folks.

After 43 years of living a stone’s throw away from the Mississippi, we moved to Central Illinois…a LONG way from that river! And we stayed there…for 8 years. THEN…we moved to where we currently live…about 15 minutes away from the Mississippi River! And true to form, she continues to prove to be too much for us puny humans to handle as she roars out of her banks and floods the river basin around her. We try SO hard to harness, channel and tame the power of that river. And, in the end, we fail. There is only so much we can do and then the raw force of Mother Nature is simply more than we can handle.

It seems that would describe God’s power, as well. We try SO hard to fight against Him. We try SO hard to negotiate Him. We try SO hard to pile sandbags around Him so that we control Him and contain Him. And invariably He proves to us, over and over again, that He simply cannot be contained.

When we realize that fact, when we accept that reality, we have two choices: 1. we can continue to fight Him and refuse to give in or 2. we can cede our illusion of power, accept His offer of a life lived in Him…and experience a world beyond our wildest imagination! What will YOU choose?
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #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!

Your Comeback: Think Different

Your Comeback Think Different

Golf, The Oakmont Country Club. Oakmont, Pennsylvania. 1973 US Open. Final Round. June 17, 1973. Perhaps the 2 biggest names in the history of the sport- Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer- are comfortably leading the pack coming into that final round. The only REAL question that day was which one of those 2 would win? Everybody else in the field was simply an “also ran” at that point. Except that one of those “also rans” was a then relative unknown golfer by the name of Johnny Miller. He came into that final round down by 6 strokes- frankly an insurmountable lead when the people you are trying to catch are Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But apparently Miller didn’t GET that memo. All Miller did that fine June day 45 years ago was tear through the course, hitting an amazing EIGHT under par, finishing with a 63, winning the US Open by one stroke and carving out a place in golf history. In 1998, Miller took his rightful place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. But that storied career grew out of what was truly one of the most amazing comebacks in the history of the storied sport of golf.

Today, we begin a new sermon series- Your Comeback. Based on the book by Tony Evans, this series focuses on fear- fear that you’ve fallen too far to be used by God. We are focusing on epic comebacks of sports teams who seemingly had no shot at victory and coupling them with Biblical heroes with scandalous pasts to show that God can turn things around for anybody—including you!

2Kings 5:1-14 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Naaman- head of the army of the king of Aram- a region that coincides with modern-day Syria. He’s a great military leader, but he has leprosy. In one of their raids on Israel, his soldiers bring back a hostage- a girl. She becomes a servant to Naaman’s wife. She sees his predicament and says to his wife that there is a prophet in her homeland that could cure him.

Naaman goes to his king, asking for permission to go and see this prophet. The king says, “Sure- go. In fact, I’ll send a letter with you. That’ll make things easier for you.” Naaman takes the letter, along with gifts, to the king of Israel. The king reads the letter and says, “Who am I- GOD? Who does this guy think he is?” The king’s prophet- Elisha- hears about it and says to the king, “Hey! Send him to me. I’ll show him what God can do!”

So Naaman goes to Elisha’s house. The prophet doesn’t come out himself but sends a messenger out to tell Naaman to go to the Jordan River and wash himself 7 times. Then he’ll be cleansed of the leprosy. Naaman hears all this and is shocked. “What? That’s it? The best he can do is send a messenger out to ell me to wash 7 times in his cruddy little river? I could have done that myself in the rivers back home. They’re way better, anyway!” And he storms off. But his servants go after him and point out that, if Elisha had come out himself and told him to do something great and difficult…he would have done it. So- why not give THIS a try? What does he have to lose? Naaman, considers that, then turns around and heads to the Jordan, where he washes himself 7 times and is completely cleansed of the leprosy- skin like that of a boy.

In 1997, IBM absolutely OWNED the computer market while Apple was a young, upstart company on the verge of complete failure. That year, IBM rolled out a multi-million dollar ad campaign built around one word- THINK. Apple, with nothing to lose, countered with their own campaign that was built around TWO words- think DIFFERENT. Within 12 months, Apple’s stock had TRIPLED in value and they were well on their way to the global domination they still hold today. The “Think Different” Campaign focused innovators who had once been vilified or laughed at who were now seen as history-makers: Martin Luther King, Ted Turner, Albert Einstein.

The whole campaign was also built around something John Keating, the Robin Williams character in the movie Dead Poets Society, said- “We must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in a different way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. Dare to strike out and find new ground.”

Naaman didn’t WANT to do what Elisha told him to do. But…he did. And notice this- he wasn’t cleansed after the first dip into the Jordan River. Or the second. Or the fourth. Or even the sixth. He had to COMPLETE the instructions- wash himself a 7th time- before the healing happened. So many people fail to experience their comeback because they fail to finish- they only go partway. They get, say, 2/3 of the way through, don’t see the results they want and…quit. But partway is NEVER the instruction. God wants complete obedience, full faith. If you are truly called by God, challenged by Him to greater things, quitting partway through and walking away is simply not an option.

But before He can do that. He needs you to think different. Before God can give you your complete comeback—your double portion— He needs you to set aside your pride, your dignity and your rationalizations. He needs you to seek Him first concerning your situation so He can tell you what to do. And then He wants you to obey…completely.
Are you struggling in your marriage? Has God asked you to show unconditional love to your spouse? Then do it. Fully. Are you facing challenges with your finances? Did God instruct you to honor Him with the firstfruits of what He gives you, even when money is tight? Then do it. Are you failing to live out your destiny? Do you feel like you’re wandering around with no real purpose or intention? Then seek God first and He’ll not only direct your path straight to your destiny but also give you the desires of your heart.
Your comeback is waiting for you to act. Your comeback is waiting for you to do what God has instructed you to do- and do it completely, even when it makes no sense at all. Your comeback is waiting for you to depend fully on Him in faith. Before God can give you your complete comeback, He needs you to think different.