An Aversion to “Cold”

Ice Cold Hands

There are basically two interesting things to share about yesterday. First, and foremost, yesterday was better than either Saturday or Sunday! Not “perfect”- those days simply don’t exist in the same way anymore- but “mos def” better! The nausea, which can be surprisingly debilitating, was much better yesterday. I honestly never realized just how bad “chronic nausea” can be. The best way I can describe it is that it is like having a headache that will simply not go away. It is always there. It is always an issue. It is always affecting everything else you do…or try to do.  

So, on those days when the nausea is more “chronic”, it’s hard to do much. Working, thinking, functioning, sleeping- they are all negatively impacted by it. It’s just so stinking…pervasive. Ironically, I have never actually “gotten sick” because of the nausea. (I had stomach flu one night several months ago that was, while brutal, “just” the stomach flu!) But I can’t tell you how many times I have had to stop whatever I was doing and make a HUGE conscious effort to NOT throw up! 

The other interesting things about yesterday, if you can truly call it “interesting”, is the whole “aversion to cold” thing. I have shared that this round of chemo brought with it the potential for this aversion to cold that would cause my skin to feel like it was being burned. I have also shared that, starting on the morning immediately after the first infusion, I “burned” my fingertips getting two eggs out of the fridge.  

Here’s the interesting thing. Yesterday, I was 5 full days PAST the infusion. You would THINK that phenomenon would have either abated completely or at least lessened. Now, the tenderness of the right arm and hand have NOT…but I have attributed that to the fact that the infusion itself happened in that arm. 

But at lunch yesterday, my wife and I were getting food ready in the kitchen. Her lunch was going to include a smoothie with fresh strawberries in it. She was working on something else so I offered to “top” the fresh strawberries and drop them in the blender. I picked up the knife, picked up a strawberry- fresh out of the fridge- and immediately dropped the strawberry, declaring, “Well THAT wasn’t a good idea!” Yep- I “burned” my fingertips! 

It is truly the oddest thing ever. To have something as simple as grabbing eggs or the margarine container out of the fridge suddenly be a big deal is just…surreal. It’s not the end of the world- just an inconvenience. But after a lifetime of taking things out of the fridge, it is REALLY odd to have to say, “can you please get the bag of shredded cheese out for me?” Bizarre stuff! 

One of my goals all along has been to help you know what this journey is TRULY like for the cancer patient. Now you know two other little tidbits that are, perhaps, unique to this path! 

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! 

I Used to LOVE Roller Coasters!

coaster-entrance

“Roller coaster” would be a good term to describe what this past week was like. I shared that I had my newest chemo infusion last Wednesday. I shared that Thursday was NOT a great day. I shared that the neuropathy, already a problem, was a REAL problem on Thursday. (I cancelled band practice for Thursday night because…I couldn’t play!) I shared that last Friday was a pretty nice “bounce back” day- I felt a LOT better than I had on Thursday. 

I therefore went into last Saturday expecting/anticipating that Saturday would be another good day- perhaps an even better day than Friday! But- it was not to be. I slept great Friday night. But I woke up Saturday feeling like I had taken two steps backward. I felt like crud on a cracker. The neuropathy, especially in my right hand and arm, had gotten noticeably worse again. Saturday ended up being a pretty…rotten day.  

I therefore went into yesterday more than a little worried about how I would feel and how things would go. There have been Sundays since the cancer diagnosis that I have wondered whether or not I would be able to “answer the bell”. But yesterday was the worst of those. I woke up, sat on the edge of the bed, assessed my situation and thought, “Oh, crud- this is NOT going to go well!” 

But, I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed and got ready. It took me longer than usual, so I was about 15 minutes later than usual getting to church. But I got there. I went about my normal routine, ending in the sanctuary prior to 7AM, when the early service Praise Band gathers to warm up. I told our Worship Director that I might well NOT be able to play at all but I would try and see. (I play for both Praise Bands at all 3 worship services and we have NO back-up!) I tried…and I saw. I was going to be able to play. It took more “work” than normal, but I could play. 

Over the next 4½ hours, the Praise Band warmed up. I greeted people- from a seated position in the back of the sanctuary as opposed to walking constantly. I shook not one hand- I have to limit contact right now because my “counts” are at risk. I led three worship services. I played a total of 16 songs (some the same song played more than once). I preached 3 times. I served Communion. I led prayers. And then, about 11:50AM, my wife and I “snuck out” a side door of the church and came home! 

Once we got home, the dog pretty much immediately climbed up into my lap. (She is VERY sensitive to how people feel!) Then, we had some lunch. I took some more anti-nausea meds…and went to bed! By about 1:20PM, I was out cold- where I stayed until about 4PM! I got up, we talked and hung out until about 5:45PM. I ate some dinner (leftover Cream of Wheat, banana, peanut butter and honey- blended together- from breakfast!), took my last 2 chemo pills of the day, took a SLOW walk with the dog (I push myself to do that 2-3 times a day so that I get some exercise) and then…sat down to write this! 

I’m praying that the “crud on a cracker” is more from the IV infusion than the oral meds. (I don’t have another infusion for a few weeks, but I take the oral meds EVERY day- 4 pills!) I’m praying that the side effects of the chemo start to abate. I pray that the symptoms of the cancer will start to again recede. And I pray that God will continue to give me the strength to keep on keeping on as best I can! I am blessed with a wife and sons who are AWESOME! I am blessed with great extended family and friends and a great congregation. And I am blessed with a God Who will never leave me or forsake me. So, we face another day today, waiting to see what God has in store! 

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 Five Sacrifices: The Burnt Sacrifice

My dad didn’t cook much when I was growing up. In fact, he basically fixed three things: homemade corn meal mush, homemade, hand-rolled tamales and hickory-smoked, grilled beef roast. He didn’t make them very often and they were a BIG deal when he did! That meant my mom did the bulk of the cooking. (Until we were a bit older, at which time, since they both worked, she made each of us take a night of the week to make dinner, to take some of the stress off her!) So, when Mom cooked, it was pretty much A. a day ending in “Y” and B. delicious, simple, everyday fare! When Dad cooked, it was an all-day event!

Regardless of whichever of his three “signature” dishes he made, they took FOREVER to make. And when I say “forever”, I’m hardly exaggerating. Mom would sweep in from a long day at work and whip something up- easy, peasy, one, two, threesy. Dad would set aside a Saturday and monopolize every square inch of the kitchen! Don’t get me wrong- all three of his dishes were good, they were just time consuming!

The roast, for instance, went like this. He would start the night before, marinating it overnight in his “special marinade”. Then, on Saturday afternoon, he would get the cylindrical, metal charcoal starter he had custom-fabricated by a machine shop (no kidding!) out, pack it with newspaper and charcoal and get it started. Then, he would dump the coals in the rather tiny built-in charcoal grill that stood on our patio. Once that was all ready, he would put the meat on. He had a series of panels (ALSO custom fabricated) that he would slide in on different sides of the grill to deflect the wind JUST right! Then, he would grill. And grill and grill. Did I mention…grill? It took a LONG time for that roast to cook!

Then, he had to add the chunks of hickory wood that he had gone out and cut by hand and had soaking in a special container in the garage. The wet hickory wood would smoke up a storm an infuse that hickory flavor into the meat. The smell of that meat cooking and that hickory smoking was amazing! The end result was A, delicious and B. not ready until usually 8:30 or 9 at night! We all knew NOT to plan…well…ANYTHING on the night he decided to make his roast.

Today, we begin a brand new sermon series called The Five Sacrifices. It’s based on a list found in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. It is sometimes called the Five Offerings and includes some powerful views on connecting with God. It is also seen as a bridge to God’s gift of His Son as found in the New Testament Gospels. These “offerings of the law” serve a threefold approach- 1. they provide a way to make and keep a right relationship with God, 2. they are a metaphor for Jesus’ sacrifice for us and 3. they are a pattern for our own approach to God. Today, we start with the first sacrifice, or offering, called The Burnt Sacrifice. It is seen as the first step toward loving God more perfectly. And is found in the first chapter of the book-

The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. You are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.’”

This sacrificial system of offerings was ordained by God and placed at the very heart of Jewish life. Through the never-ending glow of fire at the altar of sacrifice, God was burning into the hearts of the people an awareness of their own sin- a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice of Jesus. It started with the burnt sacrifice. The burnt sacrifice was to be completely consumed by the fire- none of it was to be eaten. And it was very important that the altar fire never went out. It was to be an eternal flame.

The common Israelite worshipper brought a male animal to the door of the tabernacle. The animal had to be perfect- without blemish. The innocent animal stood in for the sinner and the burnt offering was done to make up for the person’s sins. Again, the whole animal was consumed by the fire, with the pleasant aroma rising to God

From our Christian perspective, it also served as a metaphor for Jesus, Who gave Himself as a sacrifice to God on our behalf. This burnt offering is the first of three that were seen as voluntary- they were known as “ascending offerings”, they were all three offered by fire and their ascending fragrance brought delight to God.

They mark a progression of closeness to God with the first offering mentioned being the closest to God and the last one being the first step in approaching God. We might perceive that as a backwards approach. But that’s not all that unusual in the Bible.  God usually begins from His perspective…not ours. This first sacrifice- the burnt sacrifice- sits here at the beginning because it indicates complete surrender to the process- to God.

Complete surrender- that is a challenging place to be. We are NOT taught to completely surrender to…anything in this country. We rebel against injustice. We rebel again the political system. We rebel again…almost everything. And in many of those cases, we have good reason. Why? All of those are human institutions. They are contrasted and supported by us marvelously flawed humans. History has taught us that it is a slippery slope to completely surrender to human institutions.

But that inherent distrust, warranted though it is, often causes us to also not be willing to trust in God. We have a hard time parsing out God’s influence on our lives versus the constant barrage of everyday life. And so, we are reluctant, often unwilling to completely surrender to God. We lose control when we do that…right?

But the truth is this- “control” is simply an illusion. We have NO control over life. Period. Don’t believe me? Talk to ANYBODY who thought they had everything “under control” and then received an unexpected health diagnosis or suddenly lost a loved one. We have NO control over life. What we DO have control over is how we react. And today’s Scripture, today’s sacrifice, tells me that how we need to react to the uncertainty of life is through surrender to God- complete surrender.

The burnt sacrifice- the burnt offering, if you will- as found in the Book of Leviticus, is all about complete surrender. We offer the best that we have- the “livestock without blemish”, so to speak- to God, to be completely consumed by the sacrifice, raising a pleasing aroma to God.

And there are two keys pieces of what I just said that I would want you to carry away from today. The first is offering the best that we have to God. We tend to give God our leftovers- the time that we DON’T spend doing…everything else. The attention that we don’t pay to…everything else. The resources we don’t spend on…everything else. God often gets whatever we have leftover at the end of the week, the month, the year. Instead, we should give Him the BEST that we have offer. We should give Him the firstfruits. We should give Him the livestock without blemish.

I said that there were two things I wanted you to carry away from today. The second one is that pleasing aroma. Is there anything like walking into the house, or a restaurant, or the church dining room on a Wednesday evening, and smelling that pleasing aroma? The pleasing aroma of good food cooking is more than just a nice experience- it transports us to a different time and place. It changes our mood. It creates a totally new and uplifting environment. THAT’S what we want to be to God. We want to be a pleasing aroma that brings Him joy- reflecting the joy He offers to our lives.

Give Him your best. Offer Him the livestock without blemish. Be the pleasing aroma that He wants you to be. Be the burnt offering- in the best sense of that term and its understanding- fully consumed and totally surrendered to Him.

Better Days

better day

If you have been reading this space for the past few days, you know they have not been “banner days” at the ol’ Harris house. A lot of nausea, a chemo infusion on Wednesday, a lot MORE nausea, diarrhea, not sleeping well, feeling generally like “crud on a cracker”. There had been SERIOUSLY ramped up neuropathy on the right hand and arm- they put the chemo infusion IV in the right hand. The aversion to cold started immediately, causing my left fingertips to “burn” just by getting two eggs out of the ridge on Thursday morning. In fact, it seemed like EVERYTHING started up immediately, even though they thought it may take a week or even two. A rather inauspicious start to this round of treatment! 

The news today is a decent amount better. The less that great part is that I am still dealing with the ramped-up neuropathy in the right hand and arm. I woke up yesterday with it back to “ground zero”- hurting, cramping, burning, sensitive to the touch, hand trying to draw into a claw. I am still dealing with the aversion to cold- I can’t take anything oral that is beyond room temperature and I can’t reach in and grab something out of the fridge with it “burning”.  

But the good news is that the nausea is WAY better! And I simply feel WAY better. That started overnight- Thursday into Friday. I got the best sleep I’ve had in days. I had a pretty good day yesterday. And I trust that today will be equally as good, based on yesterday.  

It’s amazing how quickly the chemo IV infusions can A. hit you like a ton of bricks and B. start to subside. I have experienced it over and over during the last few years. First, there was the drug I self-administered (injected into the gut) three times/week when they were trying to shrink the brain tumor prior to surgery back in 2013-2014. It was an old-school cancer drug treatment. (Even though the tumor was NOT cancer, it behaved like it. My then-oncologist told me that, “back in the day”, people would be one that drug for months and months, sometimes years. I couldn’t imagine it- I gave it to myself 3X/week for three months and couldn’t WAIT to stop!)  

Then, of course, there has been the now 3 rounds of IV chemo treatments I have had/am having. They hit you like a ton of bricks. You have a couple of days that make you seriously question why in the WORLD you agreed to this. And then, almost overnight, the symptoms lessen noticeably and you find yourself thinking, I can DO this!” That last part was yesterday and- I assume- today. 

Again, this is another “new norm”. My experience is that there is NEVER a complete bounce back. But that is the reality that cancer treatment brings with it. You either learn to accept that reality…or not. We have chosen to lean toward the former and NOT the latter.  

My wife says she can always tell when I am starting to feel better. I become much more “chatty” and “silly”…again! She always smiles and says, “It’s nice to get you back!” I always tell her, “It’s nice to BE back!” The oral chemo meds seem to be much more easily tolerated, at least thus far, than the IV infusion. So, if that holds true, I could imagine that I will continue to feel better over the next 2½ weeks-ish, before a follow-up and probably the next infusion. And then, the cycle will start all over again. BUT- if the chemo continues to lessen the effects of the cancer, then it is worth the hassle.  

We continue to tolerate the negatives and embrace the positives. For our money, we really have NO other choice here. If you allow yourself to simply wallow in the negative, you are that much closer to giving up. Don’t ignore the negative- it doesn’t make it go away. But accept it for what it is- a setback. And look to the positives. They are ALL around you, if you are willing to actively seek them.  

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 Gospel According to “Bones” McCoy!

bones4

So, I shared that Wednesday was…shall we say…not the best day I’ve had in a while. I went to bed that night with the plan that I would get up at the regular time yesterday, get dressed, start my “morning routine” and see how things were going. I would then decide about going to work or cashing in a vacation day. 

Wednesday overnight was not all that great- punctuated by no improvement in the rapidly decreased use of my right hand and arm, as well as the “ramped up” pain in the same hand and arm, that Wednesday’s infusion seemed to have brought about. In addition, nausea and I were on a first-name basis overnight.  

Then- yesterday morning. They had said that cold things might have an adverse effect on my hands and throat as the weeks of this round of infusion treatments unfolded. They also said that A. many of their patients handle this type of infusion pretty well and, even if I did experience the side effects, it would probably take at least a week or two before I saw them. Well, my body had other ideas! 

Along with the ramped-up neuropathy in the right hand/arm and the ramped-up nausea, another side effect reared its ugly head first thing yesterday morning. I reached into the fridge, grabbed two eggs out of the holder in the door…and immediately felt like I had grabbed an open flame! It was THE strangest thing I have experienced ion quite a while. By the time I crossed to the counter and set the eggs down, my fingertips actually hurt. And the feeling lasted a good 30-40 minutes! I mean, they told me it MIGHT happen, but…! Vacation Day- engage! I spent all day in my chair, sleeping, sitting, whatever.  

The nausea precluded any thought about “food” the rest of the day. So, it was “break out the Ensure” for lunch and dinner. After the dinner Ensure, I had to take the 3rd and 4th chemo pills of the day. You A. have to take them right after you eat, B. have to make sure they go all the way down and C. have to be swallowed whole. Breaking them, crunching them or getting them stuck in your constricting throat is a bad thing- since they are poison, they will burn any skin they come in contact with as they dissolve. (That’s why you have to eat first.) They want to “stick” in my throat, no matter what I do. So, I had to drink a LOT of (room temperature) water to get them past my throat. That triggered my nausea. So, I then spent the next several minutes actively trying to NOT throw them back up! And, in the middle of that, my body decided there wasn’t quite enough going on- I had the diarrhea kick in! It was FUN 20 minutes or so! 

My prayer is that, over the next few days, as I move farther away from Wednesday’s infusion, this all gets better. I have a minimum of almost three weeks before the next infusion and they tell me that all of these side effects are more a product of the infusion than the oral chemo med. We’ll see! 

On the upside, our older son came into town last might and he and our younger son left this morning on their “Western Adventure” prior to our younger son starting college in a few weeks. They are driving to the Badlands and then to Yellowstone! It will be a great time for them, camping along the way and seeing what that part of the world had to offer! We can’t wait to see and hear about all of the awesome things they experience over the next week! They are back next Friday, our younger son turns 18 the next day and then, 10 days later…we move him into the dorm! To quote that great theologian from Star Trek, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, “It’s life, Jim. But not as we know it!”  

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! 

Not the Best of Days

health update

As you know if you read this space regularly, I have tried HARD to be upbeat, positive, forward-thinking and…honest about this cancer journey. I have tried to be as transparent as possible which, if you REALLY know how private I am at heart, has been a HUGE growing edge for me!! So, in an effort to continue to be all of things, let me tell you about yesterday. 

As a reminder, yesterday was A. the first day of 4 “chemo pills”/day AND the first IV infusion of this round of treatment. I take the pills two at a time, twice a day, within 30 minutes after eating- a “must”. I take them with 8 oz. of water- another “must”. (I have to MAKE sure the pills clear the throat and esophagus and get to the stomach. They will burn whatever they touch as they dissolve.) 

So, I took pills #1 & 2 about 7:30AM yesterday- right after I ate some breakfast. Downed them, together, with 8 oz. of water. Then, I went to work for a while, to get some things done before having to leave for the IV infusion. I came home about 9:15AM, packed my “stuff” to take to the Cancer Treatment Center, kicked back for a few, and then we started the 45-minute drive to the Center. 

They say things like, “This infusion will take 2-2½ hours”. And from one perspective, that’s true. But they have to A. actually get you out of the waiting room and into a chair, B. Get the IV in, C. get other fluids and meds in you and D. meet certain protocol LONG before they can actually “hang” the chemo meds. So, the actual time there was more like 4 hours.  

To start with, they had a hard time getting the IV in. I USED to be an “easy stick”. But since the cancer diagnosis and the chemo, I have become an…”unreliable stick”…easy one time and not so much the next! This was a “not so much” day. The IV ended up in the back of my right hand. (They try to avoid the back of the hand when they can.) That meant they had to wrap some things down to my arm with that “sticky gauze wrap” they use to hold a gauze pad down on your arm when removing an IV.  

I don’t know if it was the fact that, because the IV was in my hand, I basically didn’t move my arm for 4 hours OR because the arm was wrapped with a compression bandage for 4 hours, causing pressure on the arm, but by the time I was “unhooked” my right arm/hand were NOT in good shape. They actually had moved beyond the usual tingling and weakness of the ongoing neuropathy and WELL into “painful and sensitive to the touch”. In fact, the hand wanted to sort of draw into a claw, so I have spent the last several hours systematically opening and closing the hand, trying to get it back to more functional.  

I also had a few bouts of nausea during the infusion, but frankly it’s hard to tell whether it was because of the new meds or simply more of what I experience every day. And then, there was the “wooziness”. When I got up out of the chair, I felt woozy…cruddy. I wasn’t going to get sick but I wasn’t going to drive home, either. So, for only the third time since this whole cancer things started (after the endoscopy, after the colonoscopy and today), I handed my wife the car keys on the way out! I went to bed when we got home. 

I say all of this NOT looking for sympathy, so PLEASE do not feel you need to say how sorry you are that I had a bad day. I say it because A. they felt confident I wouldn’t feel anything different for at least a week and B. again, I’m trying to be transparent. The upside is that, as I write this about 8PM last night, I can type! I said to my wife on the way home I was doubtful I would be able to. So, that’s a good thing! I will see how I felt when I got up this morning and then decide if I need to call the doctor- they said to be sure and call if any of my symptoms changed. Upbeat, positive, forward-thinking and…honest! 

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! 

Today is the Day

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As you know if you follow this blog, today is the start of Chemo Treatment Round Three. I had the first round last summer, the second round last fall and now- Round Three! We had our Training Session yesterday. I wondered if that would be necessary, after having been through so much chemo already. But it turns out- we were glad we had it! Lots of questions were answered. 

Here’s how things will work: I start the oral portion of the chemo drugs sooner than I thought. As in “today” sooner! So, I will take 4 “chemo pills”/day, EVERY day, for the next two weeks. In addition, we go in today for an IV infusion. This will be about 2½ hours. Next week, we go back, in the middle of this first round, to check toxicity levels- they want to see if I am staying with acceptable levels or becoming too toxic. I will continue to take 4 pills/day for those two weeks, followed by a week “off”. Then, we go back so I can be evaluated. If blood levels are acceptable and everything else looks good (whatever “good” means these days!), then I will begin the second round, which will be another round of 4 pills/day for two weeks accompanied by an infusion on the first day. Then, another week off and so on. I am currently scheduled to do this through November, if my body can handle it. 

It was interesting to talk with the nurse who did our Training Session. She would say, “You may experience neuropathy in your hand and feet.” Already deal with that. “You may experience fatigue.” There already. “You may experience loss of the ability to taste and a loss of appetite.” Yep- there already. “You may have weakness in your arms and legs.” Oh yeah, I have that! “You may develop a nagging cough.” It’s already moved into “persistent” stage. “Diarrhea.” Yep. “Cold.” Uh huh. Really, the only thing they stressed that I could experience from this round that I don’t already have is shortness of breath! Finally, she said, “You really already have a jump on MOST of this, don’t you?!” So, instead of watching for the onset of these potential side effects, we are watching for the worsening of them. But we are praying for the NOT worsening of them!! That would be the BEST! 

For me, the main goal of this round is to shrink the growing cancer nodules in my lungs. Not that I don’t want it to shrink the esophageal or thyroid areas, but it is currently the lungs that are giving me the most problem. Between the persistent cough and the overall…feeling…I have in my lungs, it seems clear they are the area where the cancer has rebounded the strongest. It’s kind of funny that, with all of the sophisticated equipment that 21st Century medicine has at its disposal, I could tell ahead of blood tests and CT scans that the lung cancer was back! 

We are, to be honest, a bit more apprehensive about this round- its’ “different” and seems potentially “more intense” than what we’ve experienced thus far. But yesterday’s Training Session helped a lot. We were able to ask all of our questions. We were able to get good answers. And we were able to hear that MANY of their patients who have this particular regimen come through pretty well! And, as I like to tell my wife, “I am strong- like wild bull!” (Read it with an overtly stereotypical Russian accent and you will approximate how I say it to her!!”) So, what do we say? We say, “Bring it on!” We are braced for the next challenge! 

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! 

Phase Two is Away!

Phase Two     If you have been reading this space for a time, you know that the church we currently serve is in the middle of a Capital Campaign. It is a 4-Phase Campaign and part of the agreement reached when this was voted on by the church was that we wouldn’t start a new phase until we had actual “cash-in-hand”. We did NOT want to put ourselves into a situation where we had to spend money we didn’t actually have!

Phase One was a $100,000 bathroom renovation. We took two OLD, bad, cruddy bathrooms and made them both into fully handicapped-accessible restrooms- one complete with a fully accessible shower AND a washer/dryer hookup! One of the bathrooms is directly off the sanctuary and the other is directly off the downstairs dining room- the two best spots in the building to try and make restrooms available to more people in areas that they most need them. That project is A. done and B. paid for. Huzzah!

And so, we started on Phase Two- replacing three rooftop air conditioning unites on our Education Wing. Two of those units are 30+ years old and the third one is about 41 years old! They are held together with baling wire and LOT of prayer! By the time we were halfway through Phase One, we had the cash in hand for Phase Two. So, the preliminary work was begun then. Well, as of yesterday, the ACTUAL work is underway!

Yesterday, a crew came out and did some site prep kind of work. And today, if all goes according to plan, a full crew, three new rooftop units and a crane will show up first thing! They will use the crane to take the old units off the roof and deliver the new units ON the roof. Then, the crew will install those new units and tie them into our existing infrastructure. Again, if all goes well, we will have AC back on in that part of the building by end of business tomorrow and the job will be complete by Friday! Good stuff!

That means we have starts accumulating cash in hand for Phase Three- the most ambitious of all 4 projects. We will be replacing the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, which are A. original, B. 100+ years old and C. EXTREMELY fragile and brittle. This one, of course, will take the longest to raise the money for- it IS the most expensive of the four. It will also take the longest to complete once we actually start. But the difference will be staggering once they are done! We have, of course, already started accumulating THAT cash in hand. Once THAT project is paid for we will be accumulating cash in hand for the fourth- and final- project- renovating the choir loft.

It’s pretty amazing that, while we started the whole process more than two years ago, we didn’t actually get our first cash donation until early October of last year. That means that, in 9 months we raised enough capital to pay for the first two phases. That is incredible. So, as you read this, I am probably sitting in my office, noticing the lack of AC but thinking, “How GREAT is this?!” God is good, all the time!

     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 Significance of 247

247

OK- so, 247. What is significant about that number? Well, there could be any number of things significant about it. But the significance TODAY is that was how many people we had in worship with us yesterday. Now, depending on the size of the church you might be affiliated with, you are thinking one of three 3 things right now: 1. “Wow! That’s a good-sized church!”, 2. “Oh, that’s about the size of MY church.” or 3. “I love those small churches!”  

In United Methodist circles, a mid-sized church is defined as having between 100-250 in average weekly worship attendance. So, based on yesterday’s singular number, we are at the high end of “mid-sized”. Looking at the yearly average, however, produces a different result. For the year, we are averaging just a bit under 300/week in worship attendance. So, again- what’s the significance of the number 247? 

Well, historically, church attendance hits a peak at Easter, tails off in the summer and then starts to climb again in the fall with another peak at Christmas Eve. So, predictably, your largest “yearly average” number will often be found either on the morning AFTER Easter or on Christmas Day- after you have “crunched the numbers” from the day before.  

With all of that as a backdrop, I was reminded yesterday, when I stopped to check the daily attendance when we were done for the day, about the difference a few years can make. 4-5 years ago, we would have been pretty excited with a weekly worship total of 247 in early April (pre-Easter) or early December (pre-Christmas Eve). Yesterday, I checked the attendance card, saw “247” and said to our Worship Director, “Not too bad for mid-July!”  

Why bring that up here? Is it bragging? Nope! Is it passive-aggressive behavior? Nope! It is, instead, a celebration of what God is doing in our midst! We have been incredibly blessed to be a part of not one, not two but three separate congregations that grew numerically during our tenure there/here. And it does NOT go unappreciated by me. Not all pastors get that joy. A lot of United Methodist Churches struggle to maintain their worship attendance in the ever-changing climate of the 21st Century, let alone see it grow. And, at least for me, it is an extreme joy! 

Is the relative “success” of pastoral ministry simply about measuring numerical growth? Not even a little bit. Numerical growth without spiritual growth is indicative of a social organization, not a church. But, I would argue, a lack of numerical growth makes the Mission Statement of the United Methodist Church problematic. The bottom line is that “we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ”. And if we aren’t growing numerically along with spiritually, are we connecting people to Jesus Christ? If connecting 100 folks/week to Jesus is a good thing (and it is!), then simple math would dictate that connecting 200 folks/week is twice as good! 

My goal as a pastor is this- to help everyone deepen and strengthen their faith WHILE we continue to pull up more and more chairs around the ever-expanding Table of Grace. It’s NOT an either/or…it’s a both/and. Therefore, I am appreciative of numbers like 247 that help me remember the two-pronged approach to “growing the church”. I LOVE being a part of a church that has an ever-growing faith AND an ever-growing worship attendance! 

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: Stare Down the Challenge

Your Comeback Stare Down the Challenge

The date- Saturday, November 26, 1994. The place- Texas Stadium in Irving Texas, then home to the Dallas Cowboys. The occasion- a high school football regional semifinal playoff game between the Lions of John Tyler High School and the Plano East Panthers. You think WE take high school football seriously- the game drew a crowd of 20,000 AND national attention…due to its wildly improbable finish.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Lions were leading the Panthers 24–17. The Lions hit a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make the score 27–17. Towards the end of the quarter, as the Panthers were first-and-goal, the ball was stripped from their quarterback and the resulting fumble was returned 90 yards for a touchdown and a 34–17 lead with 4:24 remaining. On the fourth play of the Panthers’ next possession, another fumble was returned 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Lions a seemingly insurmountable 41–17 lead with only 3:03 remaining. Many fans were already headed for the exits.

The Panthers scored a touchdown to bring the score to 41–23 with only 2:36 left on the clock. The Panthers then successfully executed not one, not two but THREE onside kicks, recovering the ball each time and scoring a touchdown each time. They had, against all odds, taken the lead, 44–41, with only 24 seconds remaining.

But, there was to be one final twist in this wild game. Again, with only 24 seconds left, the Panthers kicked off. The Lions’ kick returner caught the ball at his own three-yard line…and promptly ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown, putting the Lions BACK on top 48-44 with 11 seconds left in the game! The game ended two plays later with an interception.

Between the two teams, seven touchdowns were scored in the final four and a half minutes. Interestingly, the winning Lions’ offensive team never touched the ball again after their field goal early in the fourth quarter. Their final 21 points were scored by their defense and special teams. Oh, and the kick returner who won the game with a 97-yard return run? It was the only touchdown of his high school career! The game has been billed by many sportscasters as the greatest high school football game ever played. What a comeback!

Today, we wrap up our current 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 have been 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! Week 1, we started with began with the notion that we are called to think different. Week 2, we took the word “different” to the next level as we talked about embracing the unusual! Week 3, we looked at what it means to not stay down. Last week, we spent some time focusing on the fact that we need to keep moving forward. Today, we come to the end as we talk about staring down the challenge.

     2Chronicles 20:14-17 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”

By this time in Israel’s history, the kingdom had been divided- Israel to the north and Judah to the south. At this point, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah. An alliance of nations decides to march against Them. King Jehoshaphat looks to God for help. Then this guy, Jahaziel- (Ja-ha‘-zi-el)- we don’t know much at all about him) tells King Jehoshaphat that God will deliver Judah without a fight. So, King Jehoshaphat goes out to battle with singers leading the way, singing praise to the Lord. An unusual battle strategy, to say the least. But it is exactly then that God works His miracle. He turns this alliance of nations against each other…and when the dust settles, the enemy has defeated themselves! The men of Judah then spend three days collecting the spoils of war left by their enemies. Jehoshaphat’s men stared down the challenge, in the face of overwhelming odds, and were protected by God. They did what God told them to, even though it made no “earthly” sense.

Notice- Not only did King Jehoshaphat’s troops stare down their challenge, did you see HOW they “led the charge”? They led…LED…with SINGERS! I don’t recall Patton asking Sinatra and Torme to join Nat King Cole as the “front line” when he attacked. But it DOES remind me of the stories my wife’s grandpa would tell about WW1 and how, as a member of the Scottish Regimen, they would have the pipers walk the top of the trenches at dawn to announce the coming of the Scottish troops! Joshua fought the battle of Jericho with trumpeters leading the way. Jehoshaphat’s troops were led by singers singing praise to God. They were NOT afraid. They were NOT discouraged. They did what God told them to do, regardless of how odd it seemed, and He was with them, assuring victory.

God is omniscient- all-knowing. God is omnipresent- – everywhere. God is omnipotent- all powerful. So9 we say that God can do anything He chooses to do. And from a certain perspective, that is absolutely true. But I would argue that, even for God, there are some things He cannot do. Now, before you get the tar and feathers out- hear me out.

What can God, the Creator of ALL things, possibly NOT do? God can’t fully make me into the person He is calling me to be if I am unwilling or unable to stand and face my challenges, trusting that He has my back. Not gonna happen.

Your comeback can’t happen if you let the demons in your life keep you from moving forward. If you always let your circumstances dictate what you do, who you are, then you will NEVER be who God is calling you to be. It’s impossible. But if you refuse to simply pull the covers up a little tighter and try to hide from the world, from your challenges, that’s when God can REALLY start doing what He does best!

What challenges are you facing today? Maybe you have a financial hardship that seems insurmountable. Face it. Don’t make it someone else’s problem. Don’t try and tell other people they need to bail you out. Face it yourself. Maybe you are in the midst of a difficult, even toxic relationship. Face it. See it for what it is and figure out what to do about it. Maybe you are wrestling with issues of self-worth- you don’t matter or you’re not worthy of love. Face them, remembering that God made you who you are- you are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. Maybe…maybe…maybe. I could go on all day with potential maybes. I might hit on yours…I might not. But God rules in spite of the situation you face. The problem isn’t yours- the battle is God’s. YOU know what your struggles are. And God knows what your struggles are. And together, you CAN face them. Together, you CAN stare them down. And together, you CAN move forward and find YOUR comeback!

Things They Didn’t Teach Me in Seminary

things pastors wish they knew

A gentleman from the church we currently serve JUST graduated from what is commonly referred to in our United Methodist Conference as The License to Preach School. (I say “commonly referred to” because 22 years ago when I went to that school, it WAS called that. I believe they have a different name now!) It is a two-week school that is A. taught by clergy in our conference, B. pretty doggone intense and C. the precursor for most ministers who lead a congregation in our conference. Whether you are on the “ordination” track or the “licensed local pastor” track, most pastors pass through the License to Preach School. 

Again, mine was 22 years ago. (It only SEEMS like 50 years!) It was held this same time of year. (It always is.) and then, I had about 3 weeks “off”. I reported to the first church we served on August 15th as their new (and first-ever) Associate Pastor and then, about 10 days later, I started seminary full-time. The next 3 years were a whirlwind, to say the least! 

From Fall, 1997 to Spring, 2000, I served the church “half-time”. (I use quotation marks because the truth is it is HARD to “only” serve a church part-time…and I failed! It was MUCH closer to full-time!) I also went to seminary full-time, taking a full load every semester so that I could get through in 3 years- the fastest you can earn a Master of Divinity Degree. I also tried to be a dad and a husband, with our second son being born just 3 months after my seminary graduation. My wife was the primary “bread winner” and spent a lot of time with our older son while I was at school, work or doing homework. It was a challenging time for all of us. (MANY nights, I fell asleep at the computer writing papers while my wife fell asleep at the dining room table GRADING papers!) 

In seminary, I had a professor who I didn’t always see eye to eye with. OK, we RARELY were on the same page! We tolerated each other much more than enjoyed each other. But she taught me one thing (Don’t misunderstand, she actually taught me LOTS of things!) that has resonated over and over since then. She said that, one day, I would come back to the seminary and have a list of the MANY things she didn’t teach me. Even at the time, I understood that A. it was true and B. it was intended to be metaphoric- she never actually thought I would REALLY do that. And I never actually did it. But, over the years, I have grown to more and more appreciate the honestly of that statement. 

By design, seminaries don’t really teach you to be a pastor- they teach you to be a theologian. They teach you how to think theologically. They couldn’t possibly teach you how to be a pastor- there wouldn’t be NEAR enough time in a 3-year course of study! To be a pastor, you need to know how to write and read a budget. You need to know about HVAC maintenance contracts. You need to know about employment law and how to manage a staff. You must have some ability to sufficiently motivate and empower a volunteer “work force”. You have to figure out how to balance work and home lives. You have to be willing to make the hard decisions AND take the trash out.  

As I looked at the picture of the graduating class of this year’s License to Preach School on Facebook, all of that came flooding back. I could see, in those faces, the amazing potential, as well as the enthusiasm they all have for the challenge that is ahead of them. And it makes me excited for this next “wave” of new pastors. My prayer for them- my prayer for ALL of my clergy brothers and sisters- is that we are all able to maintain that enthusiasm. Ministry has a unique way of beating you down- not gonna lie. Burnout rate is rather high among clergy. Honestly, the suicide rate is also rather high. I pray that God would continue to empower the clergy of our conference, of our world, to fight the good fight, run the race that is before them and keep their eye on the prize, which is an eternity with Jesus! God is good! 

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! 

My Dance Card is Now Filled!

dance-card-25085560

We have been waiting for the ducks to line up so that we had a schedule for the next round of chemo. Well, those ducks got in line yesterday! First, the oral chemo meds showed up at our front door mid-morning yesterday, via Fed Ex. Then, nearly immediately (I swear, wondered if the oncologist’s office was watching our house!), they called to set up next week. 

We will go to the oncologist’s office on Tuesday for a “chemo training” session. I guess, since this one is A. different and B. more intense than what I have had thus far, there is a need for greater preparation. And then, on Wednesday, we go BACK to the oncologist’s office for the first infusion of this round. The upside, if there is one, is that this particular type of infusion doesn’t take as long as the type I had last time. Then, it was a 5-5½ hour deal. This time, they anticipate 2-2½ hours.  

After the Wednesday infusion, I will start 2 weeks of the oral chemo med. (Not sure yet if I start that immediately after the infusion or if there is a delay between.) Then, when the 2 weeks of oral med are over, there will be some type of evaluative process, to see how I’m doing and where we are at. Then, ostensibly, Round 2 would start.  

As I have said before, the oral med seems to be extremely controlled. Therefore, I don’t anticipate getting that round of oral med until right before I am to start. Even though it is a pill, it came in a larger box which had, inside of it, a smaller “picnic cooler” kind of box that had ice packs and the drug. It has to be refrigerated until it is consumed. That led to a text from my wife to me that you wouldn’t probably see under and other circumstance- “I put your chemo drugs in the outside fridge….in the butter keeper!” Doesn’t EVERYBODY keep their chemo drugs in the butter keeper?! 

We still have questions about the actual timing of things over the next few weeks, but they will all be answered next Tuesday. We also, to be honest, have some trepidation about the treatments for the next few weeks. How invasive will they prove to be? How debilitating? How effective? But the truth is- all of THOSE questions will also be answered relatively soon. In the meantime, we live in the tension that is Stage 4 cancer- a condition we have lived in for over 13 months now. We realize, we admit that we have basically NO control over this whole scenario. We can’t control what the cancer does. We can’t control what treatments are or aren’t available to us. We can’t control what it’s all doing to my body. What we CAN control, however, is our attitude- our response. And we continue to be steadfast in the fact that our attitude, our response will not waver. We live each day to the fullest. We refuse to wallow too deeply in the reality of the situation. We are determined to focus on the joy of every day- period. And we are grateful that you continue to walk the journey with us! 

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! 

Closing Night

rolling river rampage    Last night was THE last night of Vacation Bible School. And BOY did it go well! I mentioned a couple of days ago that we “do” four nights. Each night includes dinner for anybody who wants to come, as well as the “regular” VBS fare AND a class for adults. This year, the meals were 1. taco haystacks, 2. baked ham and mac and cheese, 3. dogs in a blanket and 4. pasta bake. Over the course of 4 nights, we fed almost 400 people- a great total. We do that without asking for a penny from those who attend. We simply…feed them! We had dozens and dozens of kids, dozens of adult and youth volunteers- it was a GREAT 4 days! 

The whole event had a strong sense of order, peace and planning about it. And yet, in the midst of all of that order, peace and planning…the kids had an awesome time and learned SO much! The crafts, the story time, the activities and the music- they all came together to make for a great four days. 

And last night, the whole shebang ended with the kids presenting 4 songs for their parents, grandparents and siblings, along with the other folks who came to the closing. As an added bonus, the adult class ALSO presented a song for those gathered! That was a first after 22 years in the ministry! 

I know that there are those who think that having the kids sing at the end of VBS is simply exploiting them. And, I guess I get that…depending on the circumstance. But the kids are SO anxious to show what they’ve learned and their parents are SO anxious to see their kids actively engaged- for me, it is a “win, win” sort of proposition. In fact, for the first time in years, we have invited the kids to present two songs at our 10:30AM worship service on Sunday! 

Vacation Bible School is one of those “church programming” things that you LOVE to see come around…and you LOVE to see end! It is time-consuming. It requires a TON of man-hours. It is, plain and simple, a LOT of work. And yet…it is SO worth it! To see those kids so excited to come to church is just a good thing! (And, just in case you’re clergy and you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “Yes, but does it further your mission?” Well, since our stated mission is “we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ”, I’m going to go with a resounding, “yes”!)  

In closing, I want to offer up a special “thank you” in this space. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to have a staff person “pick up a fumble” late in the fourth quarter a run with it. In other words, she had to take over the program very late in the planning stage. And she not only fielded that fumble cleanly…she ran it ALL the way back for a touchdown! If she is NOT spiking the ball in the end zone and doing the “Icky Shuffle” (Google it!) right about now…I don’t know why!! “Thank you” seems inadequate but…thank you!!  

So now, we put VBS to bed for another year. I have especially savored every “yearly” ministry event we have offered over the past year. Without trying to be terribly morbid or “Debbie Downer”, I never know if this will be the last time I get to participate in whatever that yearly ministry is. So, even though I was intentionally NOT as actively involved in VBS this year as I normally am, I had a special fondness for this year! Thank you to all who came together to make it happen! 

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! 

One Step Closer

Capecitabine-Xeloda

We are drawing closer and closer to starting this next round of chemo treatment. We still don’t have start date but will probably get that today sometime. We are guessing either yet this week or early next week, I will get the initial IV infusion for this round. Then, if we understand the process correctly (and we may or may not FULLY understand yet, but all will be revealed in the last act!), there will be a down period for the rest of a week followed by two weeks of th4e oral medication. Then, again if we understand, there will be a re-evaluation and a decision about Round 2. 

I also now have a name for the oral med. It is a highly controlled substance that had to A. receive special approval through our insurance company and B. come from a specialized pharmacy- shipped directly to our house. It’s called capecitabine, in case you want to Google it. (You KNOW I did!) The side effects, NOT a bundle of pure joy, are pretty much exactly as we were led to believe from our discussions with both the oncologist and the social worker at the cancer center. So, there was no real surprise there. I did comment to my wife that the term “toxicity level” is pretty prevalent in the articles I read. As she pointed out- it IS a cancer treatment drug. Therefore, it IS a poison.  

So, sometime tomorrow, a discreet package will show up at our house. It will contain 2 weeks of this new oral medication. And sometime in the next few days, we will head to the cancer center for my first infusion of this round. The upside to this particular type of infusion is that, instead of 5-6 hours like the last round, this will only take about 2 hours to complete. So, to quote that great theologian Bill Murray from the movie Caddyshack, “I’ve got THAT going for me!” 

We covet your continued prayers as this next phase unfolds in time and space. It sounds like it will be noticeably harder than the other 2 rounds of chemo I’ve done so far. But, just to note, the side effects are list as “potential”, so we are praying that we “dodge the proverbial bullet” on some of them! 

I suspect that, for much of the next few weeks, this space will be used to keep you up-to-date on how this is going. But here is both a promise and a reminder. First, the reminder: my goal throughout this journey is to use this space to keep you posted. My intent is so that you might have some idea of what the process is like. That way, if you are also going through something similar, you are reminded that you are not the only one going through it. If you are helping someone else through a similar process, you might gain some insight into what they are dealing with. If you find yourself in one of those scenarios at a later date, you will have some existing context from which to draw.  

And now, the promise: I will continue to be as honest and transparent as I can. I will continue to try and not simply “whine” or “editorialize” but instead just report things as they happen. I will continue to focus on staying positive in the midst of adversity. And we will continue to cling steadfastly to our war cry- “God is good, all the time”! 

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! 

“Oh, We’re Halfway There!”

rolling river rampage

Vacation Bible School is halfway done! At the church we currently serve, our Vacation Bible School (VBS) is 4 nights long. We have done five, but four “feels” better! (And it seems that, by Night 4 comes, everybody is pretty ready to wrap things up!) I’m always amazed at how much work…and how many people…it takes to make VBS happen.  

We MUST have upwards of 25+ people on staff this year. It’s awesome to see that many people willing to step up, when properly invited and motivated. In fact, the staff member who is running it this year has had the luxury of politely turning people away who volunteered right before the event started- she already had a full staff! Good stuff! 

We “do” dinner as a part of the event. In fact, if I remember correctly, dinner got added as an option at our home church and there has been one EVERY year since at the churches we have served! There is an intentionality about that. A. It gets more people involved, B. it brings more people into the building each night and C. it is a plus in getting volunteers- if they can come straight from work and be fed! Winner, winner, Ham and Mac and Cheese dinner!  

Dinner is 30 minutes long- 5PM-5:30PM. ANYONE is welcome. You don’t have to be attending VBS. You don’t have to be a member of the church or attend the church. If you are available from 5PM-5:30PM and want a hot meal…come on in! 

Then, at 5:30PM everything starts. The kids break up into age groups and start the rotation. Crafts, story time, music, activities…it all happens in that 2-hour period. There is also both an opening and closing exercise. The other piece that I added at our last church that has been carried over to this church. That is an adult class. It seems like a good thing to offer something for adults. That way, if parents want to stay in the building but not just sit around, they can. The adult class also draws other adults who DON’T have a child or grandchild in the VBS program. 

At 7:30PM, the closing is…well…closing, parents are picking up kids, the noise level is marvelously high. And then, by 7:45PM or 7:50PM, the building is empty, quiet. Doors are being locked. Lights are being shut off. And by 8PM, the building is dark and the parking lot is empty. And then, the next night, we start it all back up again! 

VBS is a lot of work. But it pays dividends in SO many ways! It is a great way to teach the Word to kids. It draws in kids from the area who don’t have a church home. It provides hospitality to a variety of folks. It gets people involved who don’t always volunteer for other ministries.  

And so, tonight marks Night 3 of Rolling River Rampage. And by tomorrow evening, the whole thing will be done. After months of planning, dozens of people involved, lots of decorating, cooking and preparation, it will be over. And we will all sit back, high five anyone (or anything) that is nearby, say, “Job well done!” and then rest up for NEXT summer’s VBS!! 

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! 

Everything “Old” Is New Again!

John Kraps 2

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that our house has been somewhat of a “revolving door” of people visiting- family and friends who have wanted to come and see us. Now, I’m no fool and neither are any of the folks who have come to visit. We all understand that the clock is ticking- we simply don’t know how long I have. We KNOW what the doctors said when I was first diagnosed. We also know that initial assessment has been blown out of the water. The 6-8 months they originally gave me is now sitting a tad OVER 13 months. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. 

We DID tell family right up front that we were going to try to maintain an “open door” policy. If we could manage the dates they picked, we would welcome visits. And that has worked well. They have all been very mindful of my…needs…and we have been flexible about what we are doing. And this weekend was another exmaple of that! 

A clergy couple that we have known for about 12 years came to visit us this weekend. They are both retired United Methodist ministers. The husband, we’ll call him John, served with me at our last church. He was a GREAT addition to our staff and we were blessed to have him. He joined us as a “retired” minister- the truth is…ministers seldom actually retire! And as his wife got closer to retirement, he left us to work more closely with her. Understandable! And although we have stayed in contact with them through the “magic” of Facebook, I THINK it had been 8 years since we had actually been in the same place at the same time! 

But this weekend, we got the remedy that! They came. We visited with them. Went out for a meal. Had a great time. And then, yesterday, they came and worshipped with us. I had said to my wife in advance that, although we would welcome they at whichever worship service they chose to attend yesterday, I kind of hoped they would choose our 9:15AM worship service. It is the one service we do on Sunday morning that features Communion EVERY week and I thought it would be cool to “take advantage” of the uniqueness of 3 United Methodist clergy in the same sanctuary at the same time and have them help serve Communion. That turned out to be the VERY service they chose and they then agreed to help serve! Awesome! 

So, when Communion time came, there we were- my wife and me at one station and John and his wife at the other. It was a VERY special moment for me- not only serving again with John but also having the four of us serving together. It made what is always a very powerful time in the service even more so. 

After that “middle” worship service, we took a moment to snap the picture you see- the four of us plus our younger son- say our goodbyes and then…quickly transition to the next service while they headed to their vehicle and started the journey home.  

Again, we are grateful for the ability and opportunity to see so many of our family members and old friends. We are thankful that so many people WANT to do that. And while it has been a bit of challenge at times….it has been totally worth it!  

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: Keep Moving Forward

Your Comeback Keep Moving Forward

The date- Wednesday, October 3, 1951. The Place- The old Polo Grounds in New York City. The setting- Game 3 of a 3-game playoff between the then New York Giants and the then Brooklyn Dodgers to decide the National League Pennant. The game was, ironically, the first ever nationally televised baseball game. Therefore, it was seen by millions of people and heard on radio by millions more. Going into the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers were leading 4-1. All they had to do was get three outs and they were headed to the World Series.  

Giants shortstop Alvin Dark singled off Dodgers starting pitcher Don Newcombe to start the bottom of the 9th. Right fielder Don Mueller then hit a single, moving Dark over the 3rd. Left fielder Monte Irvin then fouled out. Next up was 1st baseman Whitey Lockman, who stroked a double down the left field line, driving in Dark and advancing Mueller to third. The score then stood at 4-2 with one out.  

Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen pulled an exhausted Newcombe, replacing him with relief pitcher Ralph Branca. Next up to bat was 3rd baseman Bobby Thomson, with then-Rookie of the Year Willie Mays due up next. As Thomson left the on-deck circle, Giants manager Leo Durocher said, “If you ever hit one, hit it now.” Branca’s first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. His second pitch was a fastball high and inside, intended as a setup for his next pitch- a breaking ball down and away. But that 3rd pitch never happened. Instead, Thomson pulled the fastball down the left field line. The ball disappeared into the left field stands for a game-ending, walk-off three-run homer and a stunning, come-from-behind 5-4 pennant-winning victory for the home-field Giants. The stunned Dodgers began the long walk toward the visitors’ clubhouse while the Giants celebrated one of the most amazing comebacks in Major League Baseball history. In fact, that home run is STILL referred to as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. 

Today, we continue our current 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! Week 1, we started with began with the notion that we are called to think different. Week 2, we took the word “different” to the next level as we talked about embracing the unusual! Last week, we looked at what it means to not stay down. Today, we will spend some time focusing on the fact that we need to keep moving forward. 

2Kings 5:19b-27 After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’” “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow. 

Back in Week 1 of this series, we met Naaman and Elisha. Naaman had come to Elisha looking to be cured of the leprosy that plagued him. And through Elisha, God did just that. Naaman offered payment, but Elisha turned him down, saying that was not necessary- it was God Who carried out the healing.  

What we DIDN’T notice was Elisha’s servant Gehazi (gee-HAY-zai) lurking in the background, watching it all unfold. He felt Naaman, this foreign interloper, should pay for what was done. So, he takes it upon himself to go after Naaman and extract some “blood money”. He catches up with Naaman, who says, “Hey! Is everything OK?” Gehazi (gee-HAY-zai) says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah- everything’s fine. Listen…Elisha changed his mind. He would like a talent of silver and one…no, TWO…sets of clothing as payment for the awesome thing he did for you.” Naaman says, “Sure, sure! In fact, here are TWO talents of silver and two sets of clothes.” Gehazi gladly accepts the gifts…and then promptly takes them home and hides them!  

He then goes to see Elisha, who says, “Where YOU been?” Gehazi says, “Who…ME? NOWHERE! Been here all along.” But he forgot- his boss was a prophet! Elisha responds, “Oh come on…REALLY? Wasn’t my spirit with you when you went to Naaman, asking for AND accepting those gifts?” Elisha then asks the most important question of all, “Is this REALLY the time to be accepting gifts?’ His point was simple- God’s miracles can’t be bought. God’s power and presence in our lives isn’t intended for personal gain and we shouldn’t be doing ministry simply for the sake of earthly rewards. Naaman needed to see the God’s grace displayed in the free and abundant blessing he received. Gehazi tried to destroy that grace by demanding payment for it. 

In this story, Naaman moves forward- heading home with a new lease on life. But Gehazi moves BACKWARD, trying to receive payment for something that he had nothing to do with. He’s trying to profit from what God did through Elisha. That backward movement is what got him in trouble. The second he set out to catch up with Naaman and profit from God’s miracle, Gehazi started living outside of God’s blessing. He was thinking only of himself and how he could profit from this. And, as we heard in the passage, he paid dearly for that decision. There ARE consequences to our choices and actions.  

 

My gut tells me that lots of Christians try to justify not coming to church regularly, not reading and studying the Word, not praying regularly by convincing themselves they’re simply “taking a break”. “I’m not moving forward- I’m just resting, standing still for a bit. I’ll get back to it.” But my experience is there’s no “standing still” in your spiritual life- you’re either moving forward…or sliding backward. Period.  

And let me be clear- how FAST you’re moving forward isn’t always that important. THAT you’re moving forward is what matters. Some days, your spiritual growth can be measured in moments- you feel like you’re growing SO fast. Other days, you feel like your spiritual growth could be best measured by the movement of glaciers! That’s OK. Don’t SETTLE for glacial movement as the norm. But accept that some days, it’s the best you are going to get. 

But the SECOND, the absolute instant, you stop trying to push forward in your spiritual growth, you start that “sliding backward” reality. A little “Oh, it won’t hurt if I DON’T do this or I DO that” quickly becomes “Gosh, I haven’t been to church in…how long?!” NOT moving forward is the path of least resistance. Therefore, human nature dictates, almost demands, that’s the path we default to. We have to be intentional to NOT give in and let that be our reality. We have to demand more than that out of ourselves. If you’re tired of living outside of God’s blessings of goodness and power, invite God to show you where you’ve failed and how you can move forward. 

Bounce Back Days

bounce back     I have noticed a pattern. As the fatigue continues to be a struggle, some recurring “themes” have emerged. One is that Sunday afternoon/Monday and Friday have become what I have labelled “bounce back days”. Sunday, as you might imagine, is a BUSY day! Up at 5AM. At the church from 5:30AM – almost noon. 3 worships services. Preaching. Playing the drums. Leading the services. And there is a piece of that whole equation that I don’t think a lot of people realize. From about 7AM, when one of our two Praise Bands gets there, through the time my wife and I begin the LONG commute (25 steps?!) back home just before noon, I am “on” for 5 hours. And for those who don’t do it for a living, being “on” for 5 straight hours with no break is tiring…even when you are healthy! (I compare it to being an actor- one of my “previous lives”- where you are “on” for a live performance of 2 + hours. This is comparable…only twice as long!) 

Then, once a month, I am back at the church by 6PM for an evening of meetings that will last until almost 10PM. (Note that it IS only ONCE/month! Think THAT’S by accident?!) So, the Sunday afternoon nap tends to be more extensive. In fact, unless it is that once/month Meeting Sunday, I don’t even set an alarm for my Sunday naps.  

The nap, and a usually DEEP nighttime sleep, get me through Mondays. But by Monday afternoon, I am ready for that next nap! Usually, Tuesday – Thursday are pretty good. They often include a 60 – 90 minute nap. But I usually do pretty well those days.  

And then, I get to Friday. Fridays and Saturdays are my days off. And when you are in the ministry, if you can’t monitor and guard your own days off…no one else will. And I was guilty of that for too many years. But starting a few years ago, I got a lot better (with my awesome wife’s help) at guarding those days. That shift in mentality has been VERY beneficial with this cancer diagnosis. Usually, our Fridays are “sit around and do as little as possible” days. I interrupt “sitting in my chair and reading” to A. eat lunch and B. take a nap! And then, on Saturday, I tend to feel better. And then, Sunday comes…and the whole scenario starts all over again! 

So, “bounce back” days. They are just another part of the “new norm” we have around our house, (It is a “norm” that seems to constantly shift and change- sometimes in small doses and sometimes in rather major ways.) But it has been our ability to make those shifts, coupled with the congregation’s willingness to partner with us as those shifts have occurred, that have allowed me to continue to work. My sense is that, there are a decent number of congregations who would have felt the need to request a change in pastoral leadership under similar circumstances. And I “get” that. In fact, I have said MANY times over the past 13 months, that this congregation would be perfectly within their rights to make that same request. And I have stressed that they should feel open to talk to me about such concerns. But they have, instead, been steadfast in their insistence that they want us here as long as we CAN be. Awesome stuff!  

To sum up- bounce-back days, naps. “new norm”- living out the reality of a cancer patient is certainly NOT stagnant or predictable! You never know what’s coming. We just take things a day at a time, knowing that God walks the journey with us! 

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! 

I Kept the Carpet Clean!

carpet

Vacation Bible School is almost here! The Craft Station is always one of the main stops for a VBS program. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it! (And most of the kids LOVE it!) At the last church we served, we re-carpeted the entire main floor of the church (except the sanctuary, which had already been done). It was an attractive, yet appropriately neutral, variegated blue/dark tan, maroon sort of deal- quite nice…as carpet goes. One night during VBS a few years ago, the woman who was running the Craft Station texted me (I was in the sanctuary being Tech Guy!) to tell me that the kids had gotten paint on the carpet and she would come with a steamer and get it clean. I could tell from the tone of the text that she was concerned.

I was not in a position to go and talk to her at that particular moment and I didn’t want to respond in a text (you know how hard it is to convey intent and feeling in a written communication!), but when I had a second, I dashed out of the sanctuary (OK…perhaps I didn’t “dash” so much as I sauntered. There was certainly no gamboling going on, however!) and into the room where she was. I could see the look on her face- she was concerned that I would be upset. We made eye contact and I said, “I got your text. Let me tell you a quick story!”
I proceeded to tell her about an experience I had with a United Methodist Pastor in Caseville, Michigan. I had taken a group there on a Mission Trip, and we were living in his church for the week. Some of work was done directly for the church and some of it was done for both other ministries and the community at large. There were so many of us that we slept EVERYWHERE in that church. (And I mean everywhere!) Partway through the week, I was talking to the pastor and he was asking me how we were getting along with sleeping arrangements. I assured him that everything was great- we were quite used to Spartan accommodations while on Mission Trips, so sleeping bags and cots in a perfectly comfortable church was just fine!
He then proceeded to tell me about several conversations he had with parishioners. It seemed that A. the church had JUST re-carpeted the entire building about a month before we came and B. some members of the church were…less than excited…about the fact that 52 strangers were…GASP!…sleeping…and LIVING…on said carpet! I asked him what he said in response to that. He said, “I told them that, when I stand before my Maker on Judgment Day, I want to be able to say more than ‘I kept the carpets clean’!”
How many churches fail to do active, vital, transformative ministry because…well…they don’t want to get the carpet dirty? In a perfect world- none! In the world in which we live, however- a bunch! And that’s such a shame, because I am convinced that God is MUCH more concerned about us going out and making disciples than He is about us maintaining the status quo…or keeping the carpets clean! As Christians, we need to understand that our buildings, our grounds, our church vehicles, our…whatever…are ministry tools. Should we do our best to be good stewards of them? Absolutely! But NOT to the detriment of real, life-changing ministry. We need to live a little, let our hair down (metaphorically speaking, in my case!) and think outside the box…and the building…as we endeavor to be God’s hands and feet, eyes and ears in this world! Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’m going to help clean the carpet!!
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!

 

Round 3

round 3

I had mentioned that yesterday was “The Day”! And…it was! We went to the oncologist to see what the results of my scans were and where we head next. I already knew that my blood work was fine. There is one number that is flagged “high”. But it isn’t very high and has been high for quite some time. So, we have learned not to get too worked up about that one. My BP was typically great. And I have held my weight- always something they are worried about.  

So, we went in knowing that much of what the oncologist would use to determine her recommendation was good. But we also went in knowing that the ONE thing- the CT scans- would probably show some issues that would have to be addressed. And that proved to be the case. 

Based on how I felt and the fact that the nagging cough had crept back into the mix over the past two weeks or so, we were pretty sure that the nodules in the lungs had come back for a “return engagement”. Therefore, it was no real surprise when she confirmed that. They have come back and, if I understood her correctly, have increased from where they were last time they were visible. She talked about the thickening of the esophagus. But the focus was on the lungs. It’s kind of ironic that the focus was SO squarely on the thyroid when all of this started in June, 2017. But now, it hardly gets mentioned at all. You just never know! 

We talked about restarting chemo. And the decision was quickly made that yes- we would do that. The next question, then, was- what does that look like this time around? The first round of chemo was kind of “chemo lite”. The second round, back in the fall, was much more the “heavy duty, 4 infusions of the good stuff” kind of chemo. And then…we took a break. I had radiation in the interim, but no more chemo. 

Now, we are about to start what will be Round 3 of chemo. This round will A. look different than what we’ve done thus far and B. be even more aggressive. I will have an infusion, followed by daily pills. The pills will be taken for three weeks. Then, the next infusion followed by 3 more weeks of pills. The side effects of this one sound worse. (Although I joked that one of the side effects is hair loss. I said, “Oh, NO! Whatever will I do if I lose my signature mane of long, flowing Fabio hair?!”  

Apparently, the pill portion is a pretty big deal. Because of that addition, more hoops have to jumped through, insurance-wise. There are questions about how the prescription will have to filled and by whom. There are questions about what insurance will cover…and what they won’t. All of those questions have to hammered out, along with approval of the overall plan, before we can start. The social worker we met with as part of yesterday’s appointment seemed to think that it would be a minimum of a a week and hopefully not more than two.  

So far, I have been able to weather the side effects enough to continue to function and continue to serve the church. That is CERTAINLY our goal this time around. For a LOT of reasons, that continues to remain high on our list of goals- not the ONLY goal and not even the highest goal- but high nonetheless! But in the end, we will continue to take this fight one day at a time and stay “in the ring” as long as possible! 

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!