Are You Leading or Taking a Walk?: Courage

Are You Leading Courage

Several years ago now, my wife and I were in Memphis on a brief vacation. While there, one of stops we made was at the Pink Palace- a really cool museum there. As we walked around, all of a sudden, there was, right in front of us, a museum employee who was holding a 4-foot albino boa constrictor. The reaction that each of us had was a different as it could be. As I back-pedaled as quickly as I could, my wife stepped forward and…accepted the woman’s offer to hold that wretched creature! I stepped BACK a little further and took a picture while she held that snake and petted it. She is truly Wonder Woman!

I am, I will claim, not afraid of much. People say, “Oh, the church is scary late at night. It makes lots of noises and I’m afraid to be in it by myself after dark! Aren’t you afraid to be in there at night?” My come response is, “Not even a little bit. In fact, I will walk through the 100+ year old building late and night and not even turn the lights on- I just use the red lights from the “exit signs” to see. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

When there is somebody outside the house or it sounds like somebody is IN the house, I’m comfortable to walk right into the fray, not smart enough to be afraid. When we stop to see if someone broken down on the side of the road needs help, I will tell my wife, “I’m leaving the car running- lock me out. If there is a problem, drive away and call for help. I’m simply not afraid of much. But I am TERRIFIED of snakes. I have no idea why it’s snakes, but I DO know that I felt I was in better company when the first Indiana Jones movie came out and we all learned that even that fearless, intrepid explorer is terrified of snakes! “Snakes- why’d it have to be

What IS leadership? And perhaps more importantly, who does it apply to? Today, we continue our current sermon series- Are You Leading or Taking a Walk? It’s based on the concept that, if you think you’re leading but look behind you to find that no one is following- you’re just out taking a walk! This series is NOT simply for “church leaders” but for…everyone. We are ALL called to be leaders- in our homes, our church, our community and the world. We are called to help lead by connecting people to Jesus Christ. This series focuses on the qualities of a good leader as seen through the lens of some of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  Today, we look at James, another of the “Big Three” along with Jon, who we looked at last week and Peter, who is coming up. Today, we consider another important aspect of good leadership- courage.

     Luke 5:9-11 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.

James, often called the Elder, same surname as his brother John –Boanerges. Again, he is the son of Zebedee and Salome, a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem. He preached in Jerusalem and Judea and was the first of the disciples who was martyred- beheaded by Herod, AD 44. As I mentioned last week, he was a member of the Inner Circle, the Big Three, along with Peter and John. The New Testament doesn’t really tell us very much about James. His name never appears apart from that of his brother, John. They were inseparable pair.

He was a man of great forgiveness. He was a man without jealousy. He was a man of extraordinary faith. He lived in the shadow of John. And he was a man of great courage. If you noticed, Jesus tells the Disciples in this passage, “Don’t be afraid.” That’s what EVERY angel who appears in the Bible says. Depending on the translation, there are 365 examples in the Bible of Heavenly beings telling us average Joe citizens “don’t be afraid”- one for each day of the year!

And James, along with the others, showed great courage by dropping EVERYTHING and following Him. James continues to shows great courage, boldly proclaiming the Gospel until, as I said, eventually being the first of the Disciples to be martyred.

To have courage requires confidence. The best leaders are very confident in themselves and their ideas, which allows them to be decisive, courageous. But, they have to be able to share that courage without being arrogant and bragging.

Great leaders have the ability to make tough decisions and are courageous, even when conventional wisdom would dictate otherwise. They are willing enough and courageous enough to stand alone if they believe in their convictions. This is directly related to their visionary skills, strategic thinking and their self-confidence. They are also courageous enough to be able to recognize when they need the expertise or knowledge of others and are not afraid to admit it. The strongest leaders are confident in themselves and their ideas, which allows them to be decisive and courageous. I want to leave you today with the wisdom of six great minds from history- all well-known but from a wide varieties of backgrounds.

Winston Churchill said, “Failure is NOT fatal- it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Thucydides, an Athenian historian and general, said, “The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.”

Author t.s. eliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

I’m COLD!

Cold-Weather-Movies-082215

I figure that this winter ought to be interesting. Here we are- it is only the end of September and I am struggling to stay warm. To be fair, the morning temps here have been in the 40’s the last few days. But even at 68-70 degrees with the sun blocked and a good breeze blowing- I’m cold! 

I good example would be yesterday. At lunchtime, I took the dog out to “do her business”. It was in the mid-60’s. I was already wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts, a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants AND a zip-up “warm up” jacket. To take her out, I added gloves, a scarf AND a coat with the hood up! I am clearly struggling with issues of body heat! 

It is NOT uncommon, in my circumstance, to experience this. My core temperature is routinely down when we go to the doctor’s office- because of the cancer and the treatment. Couple that with the aversion to cold that this round of chemo causes and it’s no wonder I’m cold.   

This is SO foreign to me. My WHOLE life, I have been the warm-blooded one. In the middle of winter, I was known to be walking around the house in shorts and a t-shirt. I would absolutely wear a coat outside during the “cold months”, but I would rarely zip it up. And I was perfectly comfortable. By the time we hit 70 as a regular outside temperature, I was starting to sweat when I was outside.  

But again, cancer and its treatments tend to change all of that. Although I can’t speak for every cancer patient, and wouldn’t try to, I KNOW that they have impacted ME that way. And my sense is- I’m not alone here! 

So, perhaps we’ll move to Del Boca Vista Condo Development #3 in Florida, get a time share, break out our cabana wear, socks with sandals and a big straw hat and sip Mai Tais by Phase Three’s pool. We’ll eat breakfast at 5AM, lunch at 11AM and dinner at 3:30PM- the Early Bird Special. We’ll watch whatever is on the channel that the TV happens to be on because we won’t know how to change the channel. And then, we’ll go to bed at 8:30PM. The next day, to quote that great theologian Jackson Browne, we’ll “get up and do it again. Amen.” Or then again, maybe I’ll just bundle up tighter and stay right where we are! I think that WOULD be 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!

Something to Talk About

talking-Touchscreen

My wife and I started dating in April…of 1977! Yep! We were sophomores in High School (our school district had 7th-9th Grades at the Junior High and Sophomore, Junior, Senior at the High School.) and met almost exactly 42 years ago. Oh. My. Gosh!! 42 years ago! That is amazing to me!

We met on a hayride. (Ironically, we were within about a mile of my house…out in the middle of absolutely nowhere…at the moment we met!) Our meeting was rather inauspicious- she was dating someone and I had just been dumped by somebody! But over the weeks and months ahead, a friendship grew. That friendship grew so much, in fact, that on her 16th birthday- late April- we went on our first date!

One of the things I noticed right up front with her (I mean, in addition to the fact that she’s gorgeous!) is that we always had things to talk about. There were simply never those awkward moments when there was nothing to say. WE just always had something to talk about. And we always seemed to enjoy talking to each other.

Take, for example, when we go out to eat. You have to assume that we have shared WAY over 30,000 meals together over the years. WAY over! And you could easily make come to conclusion that, after that many meals, there would simply be nothing left to talk about. And…you would be wrong!

I see these couples sitting in restaurants. All too often, one of two things is going on: either 1. they are both buried in a book or a tablet and completely ignoring each other or 2. they are just sitting there, NOT reading, just eating…and completely ignoring each other. Two grown human beings, married for however many years, who can’t even think of one thing to say to each other? Or maybe they can…and they just don’t want to!

We have a deal in our family- no books, phones, tablets, magazines, whatever at the table. None. Period. And that rings true for us whether we are all eating together or whether it’s just me and my wife. We not only can always find things to talk about- we actually enjoy talking to each other! We laugh, we share, we reminisce, we talk about the kids, we talk about church…whatever. We talk about everything. We talk about nothing. We just…talk!

I feel incredibly blessed to have met this amazing woman all those years ago. I feel incredibly blessed that she actually wanted to marry me. And I feel incredibly blessed that, after all these years she stills wants to hang with me and we still have things to talk about!
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!

It’s Code!

codecode

OK- I have already shared (TOO many times) about diarrhea. But here is ONE more funny (hopefully) story about it! (Is that oxymoronic, before I even start? “Funny” and “diarrhea” in the same sentence?) In 1999, Billy Graham came to St. Louis. We had been serving a church on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area for 2 years by then. We (the church) chartered a bus to take us there every night. (Many of us “worked” the event, in one capacity or another.) We also partnered with what was my wife and my home church- they drove to our church, which was closer to the venue, and shared our chartered bus.  

So, the bottom line was, I got to ride the bus with my current parishioners AND members of my home church. Pretty cool stuff. The first night, I sat with a member of our home church- we’ll call him Tom Corning. (I RARELY name names in this blog, and almost always, when I do, I’ll say “let’s call him…”. Sometimes, the name IS made up and sometimes, the name is actual. I always say, however, “let’s call them…”) This time, the name is COMPLETELY made up. The person was real. The events were real. But the name? Not so much! 

So, the first night I sat with Tom. We “caught up”, not having seen each other for a few years. Along the way, the conversation led to how life changes as you get older. And Tom said something that made me almost drop to the floor from laughter. He said, “I’m at a point where I base the quality of my day on the quality of my BM!”  

Fast-forward to the NEXT night. Tom ends up at the front of the bus while I end up at the back of the bus. As we are about to take off to head to Billy Graham, Tom stands up and hollers my name. This, of course, not only gets MY attention but the attention of everyone on the bus. I look and the bus gets quiet. Tom smiles and loudly announces, “to me”, “I had a good BM!” I LOST it while everyone else on the bus was left to wonder- has he LOST it?! 

Since “bowel habits” have become such an issue for me, my wife and I developed a code. (Because REALLY, who wants to talk about diarrhea and constipation all the time? No one I know!) Here’s the code- when I have a “bout” of diarrhea, I will say, “Tom Corning called!” And, of course, we both know what that REALLY means. So, it’s not unusual to hear any of the following at our house currently- “Tom Corning called.” “Tom Corning called 3 times yesterday.” “Tom Corning called at 3:30 this morning.” “When Tom Corning calls, you HAVE to stop and answer!” “I wish Tom Corning would stop calling so much.” I am quite sure that Tom, who is, sadly, no longer with us, had NO idea what an impact that one extremely funny “throw-away” line had on my family! Now, if you’ll excuse me…Tom Corning is calling!! 

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!

25 Novels

25 novels

I was thinking- (THAT will get you in trouble!!) I started this blog on September 14, 2009. That means that today would be- roughly- Blog Post #3,297. That would also mean that, over the last roughly 9 years I have written and published over 2.5 MILLION words in this space. The average novel is somewhere around 100,000 words. I would guess that would mean that, during that time, I have published about the equivalent of 25 novels…in roughly 9 years. That blows my mind. 

I started this blog because it sounded like something I would enjoy. The jury is still out about that one! But I’ll get back to you!! I also decided, right out of the box, to write daily. I know myself. If I had started it with the approach a lot of bloggers take- “I’ll write when I have something to say”- I would find an excuse to not write every day. And SOON, it would have been an old car, abandoned and pushed off into the weeds, barely visible and only if you really looked for it.  

Then, in 2013, they found the brain tumor. And for the next basically year, this site became my version of CaringBridge- keeping people posted on my health. After I got past that, other than reporting on the return visits to make sure the tumor wasn’t coming back, it morphed back into a daily blog.  

And then, June of 2017 came. The cancer diagnosis came. And the site turned back into Rev. Mark’s personal CaringBridge site. I mean, I DO still post “regular” blogs, because frankly…there isn’t always something new to report every day.  

But what has amazed me is the “life of its own” this site has taken on. I was talking to my sister on the phone and she mentioned about how many people in other parts of the state are reading this. People who don’t know me. People who have never met me. But people who are touched by the honesty and transparency they say they find in it. People continue to talk to me about how they read every day. Or they have got their dad, or their mom, or their brother or grandma or neighbor or whoever reading it. People who have cancer and are struggling to find answers seem to be finding hope and encouragement here. 

First off, I am deeply humbled at that reality. It IS my goal…but I am deeply humbled. Second, the funny thing is that often I sit down to write and what ends up on the computer screen was NOT what I set out to write. I often have to change the title I started with or picture a different picture to go along with the blog because I ended up in a totally different place than where I set out to go.  

I THINK that’s because I have learned to simply “let go and let God” when I write. I just sit at the keyboard and let whatever is in there pour out. Does that mean I have this illusion that I am some “modern day prophet”, passing on directly the word of God? Nope! Instead, I’m just an average Joe citizen, trying to do my best every day and working hard to follow God’s leading in my life.  

Does it stink that I have cancer? Speaking personally, YES! But has God found a way to use this situation to further His kingdom and highlight His love and His glory? Also…yes! And I’m OK with that. I must decrease so that He may increase. If I have to decrease, I amd delighted that it so that He may increase! Thanks for reading! 

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!

Another Cheeseburger Story?!

cheeseburger

Many people get worried about addiction to prescription meds or alcohol or cigarettes. I MIGHT need to start worrying about an addiction to…cheeseburgers! Last night, I ate my 4th one in a week! If you remember, a few days back I shared that I ate a cheeseburger from McDonalds. (https://stickwithjesus.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/i-ate-a-cheeseburger/) And for MOST people, that is NOT an event to celebrate. It’s just…you know…food. But when you haven’t been able to actually eat “food” to speak of, eating a cheeseburger, as I shared in that blog, is a big deal!  

I ate that first one. Then we went BACK to McDonalds about 2 days later, where I had Cheeseburger #2. Over the weekend, our younger son was home from college and we ordered out from a local café for dinner. I had…a cheeseburger! And then came…last night. 

A few months back, we bought a ¼ of a cow from friends of ours at church. My wife and I, as a couple, have NEVER done that before. We have always bought our meat from the grocery store. Growing up, my parents bought beef a side (half a cow) at a time from a local meat locker. (They had A. more mouths to feed than we do and B. a bigger freezer than we do!) But MY family had never done it before. 

We decided right up front to eat anything “store-bought” first, to use it up. I like to buy meat when it’s on sale, whether we actually need it or not, and throw it in the freezer. Then, we look at what we have and that dictates what we eat. So, we ate up the store-bought stuff before going for the “good stuff”. 

That got us into the steaks from the fresh beef almost immediately. (WE don’t buy much steak around here, except for special occasions!) But it took up a bit to get through the store-bought ground beef we had on hand. Well, we finally worked through that a couple of weeks ago. But based on how I’ve been feeling and what life has been like, we had tapped the fresh ground beef yet. That happened yesterday. 

I was feeling pretty good and hadn’t cooked in a while. I LOVE to cook and miss it when I don’t/can’t. So, yesterday morning, I announced to my wife that it was “cook lots of ground beef day”! I started with getting 4 pounds out of the freezer to thaw. But by the time I was done planning, that 4 pounds had burgeoned to 8 pounds.  

It thawed (pretty much) over the course of the day. Then, with dinnertime approaching, I got to work. First, I peeled off enough of the thawed meat to make two really nice, good-sized burgers. I formed those patties, put them on a paper plate and set them aside. 

Then, I put about 3½ pounds of the ground beef in a skillet with 2 large, chopped onions and cooked that up to be taco meat or sloppy joes or whatever. At the same time, I thawed the rest of the meat in the microwave and I chopped more onions.  

That all went into a bowl with a couple of eggs and some ketchup and barbecue sauce. I mad 2 skilletfuls for meat balls out of that, put them on a cookie sheet and froze them. That way, we can pull out just as many as we want to cook with and not have to thaw the whole bag.  

I then shredded up 3 carrots into the meat mixture that was left and made a dozen “muffin tin” meat loaves, topped with a little ketchup and barbecue sauce. After baking those, they each went into a sandwich bag, then a gallon freezer bag and then into the freezer, ready to be pulled out, as many or few as we wanted, when the time was right. 

THEN came the burgers! It was nothing fancy- two nice-sized burgers cooked in a skillet. No big whoop. I topped them with what we call “cheap cheese”- the individually-wrapped singles. I ate mine with a simple, cheapy wheat hamburger bun and mayo while she ate hers with NO bun and mayo and ketchup. They were SO good. (At least, with my dinihsed ability to taste, I THINK THEY were! My wife loved hers, I know that!) 

Enjoy the simple things. Take time to do what you love to do, with people you love being with. The world will keep on spinning and you WILL get the other things, the things you HAVE to do, done! 

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!

Quarantined!

hazmat

Quarantined. I use that word to describe what I am right now. It is, of course, not an accurate word to use. Quarantined means “impose isolation on a person”. Okay, maybe it IS the right word! 

When I think of the word, I think of someone who is in some kind of isolation in a hospital ward somewhere. The few people who come in have to wear full hazmat suits and masks, like that. And if THAT’S what “quarantined” is, then no- I am not. BUT- if it means “impose isolation on a person”, then that EXACTLY what I am!  

With my immune system so shot and my blood count number low, I simply can’t afford to get sick. If I get a bug that someone else has- we pass them around like they were candy- my body will be unable to adequately fight it off. That could be a bad thing! A “common” cold could be catastrophic in MY body. And so- quarantined! 

Let me explain further. My oncologist said it would be best for me to limit contact, limit exposure to large groups, as much as possible. I chuckled. I mean, I’m a pastor. Large group are my specialty. So, I have learned to compromise. I still lead 3 worship services every Sunday. But I have had to adapt how I do that.  

My usual M.O. is that I try to shake EVERY hand that comes in the building on Sunday morning. And since we are averaging about 280/week in worship- that’s a LOT of hands! Well, NO handshaking. No hugging. I’ve even eliminating fist-bumping. NO contact. Couple that with, at least for now I simply can’t walk as far as I used to be able to, and it means that I stand (or sit) in the back of the sanctuary and wave “hi” at as many people as I can. 

I also don’t attend our Wednesday night meals and ministry nights. Too close contact with too many people. I skip our United Methodist Men’s monthly dinner meetings for the same reason. Next month, we will have 700+ people visit us for our annual Trunk or Treat event. I will need to somehow amend how I am involved in that.  In November, we’ll have our annual Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar. I probably won’t attend that, either.  

The truth is- I understand it. It all makes perfect sense. Do the BEST you can to set yourself up for success. BUT…I DON’T have to like it! I am an odd duck- fiercely private but extremely social when it comes to church. I love being at church worship and social events. I love going around and checking in with everybody- seeing how they are doing and letting them know I’m glad they are there. But now, I am relegated to standing in the back of the sanctuary, arms folded, smiling, welcoming and reminding people, “No contact!” Yet another “day in the life” of a cancer patient! 

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!

Are You Leading or Taking a Walk?: Vision

Are You Leading Vision

The first time I got glasses, we were at the first church we served. A woman in the congregation was a tech who actually MADE the glasses at one of those “glasses in about an hour” places. She said, “Come in, get an eye exam. We’ll fix you up.” OK. So, I went in, had an eye exam. (They photographed my retina- the ONLY time I’ve EVER had that done. Imagine allowing 4 million suns to explode IN your eye, waiting until you could see again…and THEN letting them do it to the other eye!) When the exam was over, they sent me to the waiting room. A few minutes later, my parishioner came out from her “lab”- prescription in hand. She looked it over, looked at me and said, “I just have ONE question before I start.” “OK.” “How do you even see to drive here?!” Vision is an interesting thing!

What IS leadership? And perhaps more importantly, who does it apply to? Today, we continue our current sermon series- Are You Leading or Taking a Walk? It’s based on the concept that, if you think you’re leading but look behind you to find that no one is following- you’re just out taking a walk! This series is NOT simply for “church leaders” but for…everyone. We are ALL called to be leaders- in our homes, our church, our community and the world. We are called to help lead by connecting people to Jesus Christ. This series will focus on the qualities of a good leader as seen through the lens of some of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  Today, we look at John, one of the “Big Three” along with Peter and James, and we consider another important aspect of good leadership- vision.

     Luke 5:9-11 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.

John- a son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of James. He is often referred to as the Beloved Disciple. He was a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem. He was a member of Jesus’ Inner Circle- as I said earlier, The Big Three. He wrote the New Testament Gospel of John, I, II and III John which we will be looking at in the NEXT sermon series, and the Book of Revelation. He preached among the churches of Asia Minor. Later in life, he was banished to the isle of Patmos where he received the visions that would become that Book of Revelation. He was later freed from Patmos and died and died of natural causes- one of the few disciples to do so. John is mentioned many times in the New Testament. He was a man of action- very ambitious, with a potentially explosive temper and a sometimes-intolerant heart. His second name, his last name if you will, was Bo-a-ner’-ges, which means son of Thunder. Notice- John and the boys made an astonishing haul of fish; so astonishing that they became believers, right there on the spot. How do I know? They dropped everything, walked away and followed Jesus. You don’t do that unless you’re pretty doggone sure.

Throughout his ministry, throughout the whole of the New Testament, John showed vision. When others couldn’t see what was what about you know what, John Could. He was the disciple Jesus entrusted His mother Mary to at the cross. He was the disciple who was there when they took the body down. He was the disciple who outraced Peter to the tomb that first Easter morning. Not mention he was the disciple who wrote 5 books of the New Testament- 2nd only to Paul. John had…and received…GREAT vision.

Outstanding leaders see the whole picture and don’t get too focused on specific tasks. They have deep knowledge of related organizations and ministries and are seen as strategic thinkers. They often have strong networks and consistently identify important trends early in the life cycle of that trend. They are very good at communicating a vision of the future and getting buy-in from those around them. They are excellent at establishing clear goals and objectives for the organization. They are also able to provide clear and convincing rationale that supports their vision of the future.

So, what is my vision for the future of this church? Well, first off, let’s be honest- I can’t promise you how long I’LL be a part of the long-term vision of this church. But honestly, none of us can. So, I proceed as if I’ll be here for a long time! My vision, which I feel strongly is God’s vision, is that we continue to push forward. We continue to seek to connect people to Jesus Christ. There IS no “stop and rest”. There IS no “we’re going to coast for a year”. There is only “keep the pedal to the floor and make sure we are staying on the course God calls us to be on”.

I see us becoming more and more of a regional church. I used to think our future was in developing “satellite churches” in other communities. Given our reality as a geographical oddity- 45 minutes from everywhere- that is not a logical approach. But we DO continue to draw from a broader and broader base. And there are 8,000 folks in Mercer County who don’t claim a church home. We could bring in 100 new members/year and not make a dent in that number for a while!

My vision includes that miracles continue to happen and that we use the amazing gift of the money for the property next door as a springboard for others to step forward and bridge the gap between what’s we’ve raised and what we need to demo the house on that property. To bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be to finish the last two construction phases of the capital Campaign. To bridge the gap between our current budget and what we actually receive in giving, week to week.

God is doing miraculous things here. I’m talking burning bushes and parted seas miraculous. I’ve seen it before and I’m beside myself to be a part of it again. If you don’t believe me, look at where we were attendance-wise 6 years ago. Look at how many new ministries have been added to what we are accomplishing. Look at what God continues to do here. And look at the Spirit, moving so powerfully on Sundays as we gather in worship. People who visit us can’t stop talking about it.

What’s YOUR vision? For yourself? Your family? Your church? Your community? The world? What is the “big picture” that God has placed before you? Strong leaders see the big picture. They don’t get too focused on specific tasks. And they continue to push ahead, helping guide others along the way.

An Insight Into Cancer

cancer

Cancer is an interesting thing. It permeates your life. Period. When you are in the midst of it, when you are battling with it, when you are being treated for it- it seeps into everything. Period. And it is insidious because it does it in a way that you can’t really see coming and you can’t really combat. One day- blissful ignorance. The next day- cancer. One day- not a care in the world. The next day- discussions about tracheotomies, feeding tubes, chemo, radiation…life expectancy. There is no time to process, no time to “let it soak in”, no time to brace for impact. You just try not to let it knock you all the way to the floor. And if it does, you try to pick yourself up and assess the damage. 

That’s very much the way we experienced it and, I think, very much the way MOST people experience it. And when it happens to you, there is this period where you are kind of “outside yourself” looking in. “This only happens to OTHER people…not to me.” But then, you quickly come to terms with the notion that this DOES happen to you…because it DID. And you are left with having to make some pretty quick decisions while also having to “regain your sea legs”.  

The next period is a whirlwind. Biopsies. CT scans. MRI’s. PET scans. Treatment options. Plans. The doctors say, “Go here, go there, do this, do that.” And you say, “Thank you, Sir…may I have another?!” And then, through the bombardment of “medical stuff”, a new norm begins to emerge. That is a key transition in the whole process. If you can adapt to the new norm without simply giving in and giving up, you have a chance. If you can’t…my gut tells me your chances diminish. And you have to be willing to adapt that new norm every week, every day, sometimes hour by hour as things change.  

When this all started, our biggest concern was the future. I didn’t feel bad. After the initial symptoms were dealt with (back then with something as simple as steroids), people marveled at how good I looked and felt. Me too! Now, we are waiting for a handicapper parking pass to come and talking about whether or not we take a wheelchair to Parents Weekend at our younger son’s university because I simply can’t depend on being able to walk that much these days.  

Keep all of this in mind when you interact with a cancer patient. Whether they are dealing with a level of cancer that ends up being treatable or not, my gut tells me that they all go through this at some level. And having others understand it is pretty important.  

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!

Tape Measure Outreach

tape measure

The community we live in LOVES a good parade. And there are two, specifically, each year that the church we currently serve participate in. One is in VERY early December- I believe the community calls it The Parade of Lights. (And if they don’t, well…they SHOULD!) We decorate the church bus and it drives in the parade. God “advertising” for the church. (We also do an outdoor live Nativity that same night.) 

The other parade is the Homecoming Parade. And it was yesterday. Our church, again, drives in the parade while people walk alongside, giving out the “handout” for the year. I’ve seen churches do bottles of water or candy bars with a label attached promoting the church. And I “get” that approach. But the problem with that approach is that, five minutes after you give it to them…it’s gone. The advertising “uummpphh” of the handout is in a trash can. 

I want something they will keep, use and- more importantly- see over and over. One year, we did a simple fridge magnet. One year, we did a “chip clip” fridge magnet. This year, we went a different direction! I got a REALLY good deal on keychain tape measures. They include a small level, snap onto your keychain and include the church name, phone number and web address. Simple, straightforward and useful! We bought 750 of them, intending to give out as many as possible.  

Those who were going to either ride or walk the route gathered at 5:15PM last night. I used to walk the route every year, but cancer has changed that. I can’t walk nearly that fsr. Some a bus load showed up. We divided up the tape measures. Folks loaded up. And then, I gave my “pep talk’’ before going home and sending them off to do outreach ministry!  

The biggest advice I gave them was “work the crowd”. People tend to only hit the folks who are right in the front of the “audience”. That means two things: 1. you miss the people who “in the back” and 2. you don’t give out nearly as many giveaways. Well, it turns out that they took me seriously!! 

When the event was over, one of the walkers texted me to say that they ran out of tape measures ¾ of the way through the parade! AWESOME! I mean, I wish I had provided more tape measures to finish the parade with, but we spent what we had to spend and used EVERY one of them to do what we set out to do!  

So now, 750 people in the community ostensibly have our tape measure attached to their keychain. Every time they get their keys out, they will see that tape measure and…think of us! THAT is 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!

What IS Commitment?

commitment

What does the word “commitment” mean to you? According to the “smart lookup” that Microsoft Word offers, it means, “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” Synonyms include dedication, devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, bond. Dedicated to a cause. Devotion. Allegiance. Loyalty. Bond. Those are all such good words. And sadly, they are words that, to some, don’t seem to mean much.  

How many people do you know who can’t seem to show commitment to…really…anything? They bounce from one thing to the next, never actually lasting on any one thing for any real length of time- certainly not enough time to make a difference, find your way or make a true impact.  

I had a musician once show up at a church I served. One of the most talented musicians I have ever worked with. I was nearly beside myself with joy over our great fortune of finding such a musician. I immediately began to plan on how we could build around this person. Fortunately, some of my colleagues from the area heard about it and counselled me, “Use this person all you can and all they want, but DON’T build around them. Their spouse will get mad about something sooner or later and you WILL lose them.” I followed that lead and, sure enough, 6 months later, the spouse got mad about an issue in the nursery and POOF- they vanished, showing up at another church a few weeks later.  

I marvel at people who refuse to/can’t/won’t commit to…anything. They are gung-ho about a project or possibility, making plans, building programs. And then, all of a sudden, they are done and moving on to the next thing to NOT commit to. I DON’T think that’s what the expression “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” actually means!  

Look at your life. Is there anything, ANYTHING you were “passionate” about a year ago that you are still doing? Anything? If the sincere, honest answer to that question is “no”, you have HUGE issues with commitment. One of the most obvious symptoms of this “disease” is what I call the “burned out” quotient. You know- “I’m just SO “burned out”. I have to pull back and regroup.” Here’s the bottom line- “burned out” is a euphemism for “I quit”. That may seem harsh, but it’s true.  

Have you spent your life NOT committing to anything for any real length of time? If so, now is the time to stop. Now is the time to make a change. Now is the time to A. decide what you’re actually passionate about and B. decide that, come heck or high water, you are NOT going to quit but instead ride that bull to the end of the run, period, regardless. Otherwise, the pattern you have established will simply continue and you will NEVER find the satisfaction and happiness you seek because it’s NOT found in quitting everything. It’s found in completing something. 

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!

Add Meatloaf to the List

meat loaf

Yesterday, we talked about cheeseburgers. (As a dear clergy friend of mine said, channeling his best Jimmy Buffett- “a cheeseburger in paradise”!) Today, we expand our menu AND our conversation. Monday evening, our United Methodist Women did something very special for our United Methodist Men.  

We have VERY “healthy” versions of BOTH of those groups in this church. The United Methodist Women do a TON of really good ministry here- taking on HUGE projects every year that bring in tons of people and raise lots of money that is then given away to a wide variety of local and regional ministries. Likewise, our United Methodist Men are VERY involved in the ministries of this church and this community- regularly doing things, OFTEN behind the scenes, that help connect people to Jesus Christ. 

Our UM Men meet once a month- the 3rd Monday of the month- for a dinner/meeting. And let me assure you- these guys can cook. And usually, they DO. Sometimes, it’s a “Buy some pizzas” night. But usually, a real, hot meal with “home-cooked” food is the order of the day. Well, as a way of saying “thank you” for all they do, the UM Women cooked the UM Men dinner Monday night! They made meatloaf (imagine baseball-sized meat loaves baked and served that way), mashed potatoes with gravy and maple-glazed carrots.  

I didn’t go because, ironically, I am supposed to avoid crowds when possible (it makes Sunday mornings interesting!) because my immune system is hot and my white count is way down. But I heard the meal was a BIG hit! And why WOULDN’T it be?! They served all of the men and portioned the leftovers into containers to be frozen as individual meals and added to our ongoing Caring Hearts ministry. (We do a LOT of food here and not one scrap of it goes to waste!)   

Fast-Forward to our weekly staff meeting- yesterday at 10:30AM. 6 of us meet for about an hour ever Tuesday morning for that event, which is followed by 4 of us staying for a Worship Planning meeting. At Staff Meeting, our Director of Volunteer Ministries, who also oversees our Caring Hearts ministries, said, “I see, according to your blog, that you ate a cheeseburger! Do you think you could eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes?” I honestly didn’t think that it would be such a leap of faith to go from a cheeseburger to meatloaf, so I said, “Probably?” She offered to get me a couple of the now-frozen individual meat loaf/mashed potatoes/carrots meals after Staff Meeting. Sure enough, as we carried out our worship planning time, she showed back up with two of those now pre-packaged meals, ready to be microwaved and eaten. I serve with awesome folks! 

So, about 45 minutes later, guess what my wife and I had for lunch? Ooohhh, GOOD guess! AND- I could eat the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes. I finished half the meatloaf and ALL of the potatoes. I even ate about half of the carrots! Bonus! The meatloaf was more of a challenge than the cheeseburger had been. It took a while to get down. And it was too much food for someone who has NO appetite and can’t taste the food, anyway. BUT- it was great to eat more “real” food. It’s funny how, even when you aren’t hungry and can’t taste anything to speak of, you can still get excited about eating something!  

So, am I where I want to be? No. And, to be honest, I probably never will be. BUT- does the chemo seem to be helping knock the cancer back yet again? Yep! As I keep stating- is chemo a horrible drug that is essentially nothing but poison going into your body that you have to fight to keep from killing you? Yes, it is. On the other hand, is the chemo the ONLY thing medically standing between me and wasting away to nothing? Yep! And so, we keep choosing the chemo every time it is placed on the table. I don’t want to. I hate it and what it does to me. But I am grateful…for what it does to me! 

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 Ate a Cheeseburger!

burger-3

I did something yesterday I haven’t done in…a long time! I ate…a cheeseburger! If you haven’t been following me or you haven’t been aware of my dietary issues, you might be saying to yourself, “Whoopedy-doo! A cheeseburger! I at three of them last week!” I get that. But I have been unable to eat anything even remotely like that for some time.  

For the past several months, my diet has been shakes, poached eggs, chicken bouillon- things like that. It’s all been based on my ability…or lack of ability…to swallow things. A few weeks ago, as a point of reference, I choked on a SMALL piece of bread dipped in grape juice during Communion.  

It has not been uncommon for me to have a bowl of mashed potatoes for a meal. I also got pretty adept and throwing a bunch of…crud…in the blender and making a meal out of it. But all along, even though A. I have no appetite and B. I can’t taste much of anything, I know I NEED to eat and I was growing tired of blended…everything.  

In more recent weeks, I have been able to “graduate” to things like rice. I even moved to ripe bananas with peanut butter, in an effort to get enough protein and raise my potassium level at the same time.  

Yesterday, I took a vacation day in an effort to bounce back from A. chemo week and B. a REALLY full, long Sunday. Mid-morning, I announced to my wife, “I have this crazy thought. I’d like to try a cheeseburger for lunch. I think I might be able to eat one!”  

So, about 12:30PM, I hopped into the van and drove to the local McD’s. There, I ordered what my wife wanted for lunch and I added a Quarter Pounder with JUST cheese and Big Mac sauce. (Not only is that what I would order if I could actually taste it, but I thought that things like raw onions and pickles would NOT be a good mix!)  

How did it go, you might ask? In the end, not too bad! I actually ate the whole sandwich, bread and all, which frankly kind of shocked me! It took a while. And I choked a little two or three times. But all in all, I made it through roughly unscathed and enjoyed actually eating relatively normal food.  

There are still a LOT of things I could NOT eat. Notice, for example- no French fries. Too hard and crispy, with sharp edges. I tried chicken-fried rice the other day. I could do the rice, but the rather large pieces of chicken were not “do-able”. Steak? Roast beef? Fried chicken? Nope. Hard, crusty bread? Nope. The “nope” list would be a lot longer than the “yep” list. But the fact that there are some things on the “yep” list now that would have been big “nays” a few weeks ago tells me this round of chemo treatments, while REALLY hard on my body, are actually knocking the cancer back.  

So, we take the victories where we can get them. And if they happen to come in the form of a slightly greasy McD’s cheeseburger…so be 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!

A Bunch of Hypocrites!

hypocrite    Ministry is an interesting thing. It’s a job…but it’s a calling. It’s a profession…but it’s way of life. It’s about leadership…but it’s about servanthood. I know that to be true. I can’t say I’ve ALWAYS known it. Before I went into the ministry, I had NO idea what ministry was all about. Oh, I THOUGHT I did…but I was wrong! But when you quit a career on the 1st of August, start at the church on the 15th of August and start full-time seminary on the 1st of September…you learn about ministry pretty quickly! 

And yet, the fact that I was an Associate Pastor for the first 7 years meant that I didn’t experience everything. Again, I thought I did…but I didn’t. Between a great Senior Pastor who protected me at times and the fact that the 2nd in command simply doesn’t get brought into every aspect of a church, I left that church with a lot of great experience…but with some lessons still to learn. 

Spending 8 years at the next church taught me the lessons I was missing. When you are “in the trenches”, every day, week in and week out, for 8 years, you get it all. There really isn’t anything you don’t experience in that setting. And now we’re at the 3rd church we have served. We’re in our 7th year here. And I have been able to put ALL of those lessons I learned along the way to good use! 

One night, our PPRC (Pastor-Parish Relations Committee) met. If you’re having trouble imagining what the committee is, imagine the Human Resources department of a company. The PPRC is responsible for the paid staff of the church. With the pastor, they hire, fire and manage the staff. They are the liaison between the staff and the church. When the church and the staff are both healthy, the PPRC’s primary job is to help support and enable the staff to do what they are called to do. 

One of their tasks every year is to evaluate both the church AND the pastor. There are very specific forms designed to accomplish that task. Everybody on the committee gets the forms in advance. They read through them, fill them out and bring them to the meeting. Then, as a group, they come to a consensus on how they want to complete their evaluations. 

Every year, I sit in on the church assessment- I think that’s important that I participate. But when we get to the clergy evaluation…MY evaluation…I always offer to leave the room so that they can feel completely comfortable to speak their mind. And over the years, I have had committees who took me up on that offer! 

But this group looked at me as if to say, “Why would we want you to leave the room?!” We then spent the next little while talking about our shared ministry. And that conversation reminded me about why I love being a pastor. These folks are so supportive, so collegial, such a blessing to do ministry with. (Sorry to all my English teacher friends for ending a sentence with a preposition!) 

Is ministry perfect? No. Is there dissension…somewhere…in every church? Of course there is- we’re human! (I once heard this comment about churches- “They’re full of hypocrites!” The best response to that comment I can offer is this- “You are absolutely right…and there is always room for one more!”) But, even in the midst of the imperfection, I can’t imagine anything better than serving God alongside a committed, motivated group of people who want nothing more than to connect people to Jesus Christ! 

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!

Are You Leading or Taking a Walk?: Self-Awareness

Are You Leading Self Awareness.pngActing is an odd duck. You make your living by being someone else. But the best actors have a strong sense of self-awareness. In fact, I would argue that, to be a truly “good” actor requires a strong sense of self-awareness- you HAVE to know who you are before you can let go enough to be willing to be someone else. And you draw from that awareness as you build the character you are portraying.

I developed that that skill through years of training. But I had a hard time letting it manifest into my “real” life- I found myself often “playing a role” instead of just being who I was. And that carried over to becoming a minister.

I saw ministers in a very certain way- pious, somewhat serious, set apart from “the common folk”. They seemed to not embrace much of “common life” or pop culture but, instead, were more serious, studious and “otherworldly”. Seminary didn’t hurt that assessment any. We were told we were the “embodiment of God” to the congregation. WOW! Those are HUGE shoes to fill. That is a LOT of pressure.

And I would see these other seminary students, these other ministers, these seminary professors, who would talk one way in “everyday” speech but would then become “preachers” when the time came. They would go from talking about their families in normal tones and phrases to this other person when they were “ministers”. Flowery words and expressions, bound together with a big, dramatic preacher voice, seemed to be the way to go.

Well, part of own self-awareness is built around a confidence in my God-given abilities. In other words, if these folks can “portray” a minister, I can do it better! So, when I started my ministry career, I also created the persona of a minister. And that “character”, like him or not, became pretty well-defined and very recognizable.

And that approach continued for quite some time. And I did fine in the ministry, but it just never seemed to quite…”click”. And then, one day, my wife said something that A. rocked my world and B. changed everything! She said, “You have GOT to quit that!” “Quit WHAT?” “Quit trying to play the role of minister and just be yourself.”

Out of ego and denial, I argued that point for a while. But I knew, deep down, she was right. And over time, I accepted it and made that change. And that personal self-awareness has made ALL the difference in the world to my ministry. Yet one more in a countless list of reasons I love my wife!

What IS leadership? And perhaps more importantly, who does it apply to? Today, we continue our current sermon series- Are You Leading or Taking a Walk? It’s based on the concept that, if you think you’re leading but look behind you to find that no one is following- you’re just out taking a walk! This series is NOT simply for “church leaders” but for…everyone. We are ALL called to be leaders- in our homes, our church, our community and the world. We are called to help lead by connecting people to Jesus Christ. This series will focus on the qualities of a good leader as seen through the lens of some of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  Today, we look at Nathanael, whom we danced around last week, and we consider another important aspect of good leadership- self-awareness.

     John 1:47-50 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

So, Nathanael. He is also referred to in the Gospels as Bartholomew. Scholars think his first name was Nathanael and that Bartholomew was a surname- think last name. His name appears with every list of the disciples, which is somewhat unusual and speaks to his importance among the 12. Jesus called him “An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit”. Some translations use the word “guile”, which here means sly or cunning intelligence. Jesus says there is NONE of that in Nathanael. What you see is what you get.

The New Testament gives us very little information about him. Tradition says he was a great searcher of the Scripture and a scholar in the law and the prophets. He developed into a man of complete surrender to Jesus and became one of the Church’s most adventurous missionaries.

As we said last week, Philip has brought Nathanael to see Jesus. As he approaches, Jesus makes Hi pronouncement about Nathanael’s character- no deceit or guile. Nathanael, who is still pretty skeptical about what could possibly come out of Nazareth at this point, asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus responds, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip even found you.” Something about that deeply touches Nathanael, and in that moment, Jesus goes from “Rabbi”- teacher- to “Son of God”, King of Israel”. Jesus then confirms even more Who he is and His thoughts about Nathanael, stating that Nathanael will se MUCH greater things than this.

But the whole interchange hinges on how it starts- Nathanael is a man with no deceit or guile. In other words, he shows great self-awareness. He is a man who knows who he is and doesn’t try to be who he is not- no deceit. And that lack of deceit, that self-awareness, is the jumping-off point for our discussion today.

So, what IS self-awareness? It’s knowing who you are. It’s understanding and claiming both your strengths and you growing edges. A great leader understands their own strengths and weaknesses. Great leaders show they have the best interests of the group or cause in mind rather than their own personal gain, by making good on their commitments. They hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions and encourage others to do the same.

And transparency is an important part of self-awareness. It’s one of the hardest things to do- to let people see who you are, warts and all. But it is one of the best leadership traits there is. Pretending that everything is perfect when it’s not will cost you credibility. Sharing both the good and the “not so good” creates deeper trust and respect.

So, the $64 question for the day is this- who are YOU? Not- who do you WANT to be? That’s a different question for a different day. But who ARE you- really? What are your strengths, your gifts? And don’t say, “I don’t have any”, because while I was born at night, it wasn’t LAST night. I ain’t buyin’ what you’re sellin’! You DO have gifts, strengths, graces. They were given to you by God to serve Him through serving others- through leading.

Likewise, we all have growing edges. I don’t like to see them as weaknesses. But we all have areas that are NOT our strong suits. It’s equally important that we can identify those, as well. Why? Because we need to be authentic. More than anything, that what God calls us to be.

Now, it’s not enough to identify your growing edges. I believe that is the first step toward making some of those growing edges actual strengths. Think of my barrel image. A barrel is only as useful as it’s lowest stave. It can’t hold any more than that lowest stave will allow. So, you identify the lowest stave…and you figure out how to raise it. And as you do, you increase your capacity to better serve God by better serving others!

But again, it all hinges on self-awareness. So again, who are YOU? What are your strengths? Your passions? Your great drives? How can you leverage those traits to be the best “you” you can be? And what are your growing edges? And who around you has strength in the areas where you are lacking? Seek those folks out. Make connection with them. Let them mentor you in those areas, while you are mentoring someone through YOUR strengths and gifts. It is these symbiotic relationships that allow ALL of us to grow together, knitting us into a stronger and stronger body of Christ. A strand of three is NOT easily broken!

A Better Day

better day     As you know, if you read this blog regularly, Wednesday and yesterday were not good days. Wednesday was the worst, but I ended up missing work both days. You might imagine, missing two days puts one pretty far behind, when nobody else comes in and makes the fries when you’re gone. Now, this congregation has been, and continues to be, HIGHLY supportive of my continuing to work. They have been very helpful in helping my augment things to allow for daily naps and a lightened load. But at the end of the day, I can either do the job…or I can’t. And I want to do the job for as long as I can and am allowed.  

So, my plan was to go to work yesterday. Friday and Saturday are my days off, and I protect those pretty fiercely. But having missed two days, I decided on Thursday that, if I could, I would go in yesterday. And when I got up yesterday, I felt good enough to go! So, Friday became Thursday and I spent the morning in the office. I had a lot of “digging out” to do, after missing two normal work days. I also really wanted to get the weekly Announcement Video done. It is one thing that, when I simply have to let something slide, it is at the top or near the top of the “let slide” list. On those weeks, they get announcements “live”! 

But when the Announcements come in the form of the video, they tend to be more concise, focused, entertaining and effective! (A GREAT combination!) And so, even though I had a LOT of digging out, I got a GREAT start on the Announcement Video. I DID have to bring my work laptop home and finish it in the comfort of my chair last night…but Larry Link Barely Alive will be rolling on Sunday morning! (In fact, it is live right now on the church website, if you want a preview! http://www.myaledoumc.com/home.html) 

I am SO grateful for still being able to work. My doctors continue to be amazed at that fact. They wonder how I am still alive, let alone how I am still working every week. My wife and I use those sentiments as an opportunity to share our faith. I am amazed at how often that is received better than I would expect from doctors and other “people of science”! 

God has shown us, over and over, the “silver lining” in this dark cloud. And don’t misunderstand- cancer is a dark cloud! But He continues to find ways for us to contend that Gid TRULY is good, all the time. I reiterate- God did NOT “give me the cancer”. I have cancer because we live in an imperfect world and because my body is a lot more frail than I ever wanted to admit. I drew the “short straw” and didn’t even know I was drawing ANY straw. Instead, God helps us find, and share, the fact that He can find the silver lining! 

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!

To Paraphrase “Oklahoma!”, Oh What an Interesting Mornin’!

oklahoma     As the title implies, yesterday was an…interesting day. I set the alarm for 6:45AM, thinking I would see how I felt about going to work. My wife set her alarm for the same time, worried about me staggering around the house and trying to take the dog out! In the middle of the night, I woke up and though, “Who are YOU kidding?” So, I emailed my Office Administrator, saying I would not be in and went back to sleep. When my wife woke up, I apologized for not simply making the obvious choice and encouraging her to go back to sleep. She was able to. Turns out…I was NOT. 

So, I got up and made the coffee. I made my cup of bullion. (I have two or three of those a day with protein powder added!) I mixed up my 8 ounces of tap water and 2 capfuls of Miralax to begin dissolving. (My mess of a body had gone from diarrhea to constipation in less than two short days!) I then decided that I was stable enough to take the dog out. So, I did. I brought her back in and got her some food. I then headed back to the kitchen to make some breakfast so I could take my chemo meds and potassium. (They both have to be taken with food in the stomach.)  

But first, I drank my 8 ounces of water with the Miralax. And when I say “drink”, I actually chug that glass, just to get it done. It was room-temperature water from a Brita water pitcher. And at that moment, I found out something about using the port to deliver the chemo IV. If you remember, this particular “cocktail” of chemo causes an aversion to cold. Things that don’t seem that cold to you “burn” my fingers. And cold liquids “burn” my throat. So, I avoid touching, eating or drinking things that are too cold.  

But with the chemo NOT going into the arm or the hand, the “cold” effects on the hands don’t seem quite as bad this time. They are there, but seem a bit more tolerable. But I learned that, I guess because the port is so much closer to my thyroid, that it has heightened the eating or drinking part. Chugging that room-temperature 8 ounces of water causes my throat to “burn” and constrict. That caused me to choke and cough. And, for about 10 seconds, I couldn’t breathe. It was only about 10 seconds- it just FELT like 2 minutes!  

And that caused a panic attack. Frankly, those are simply not something I am used to. I have shared that, when I first got the diagnosis, I had a lot of bad dreams. And many of them cause me to wake up in a panic attack. But since then, I only have the VERY occasional one. And before then, I don’t EVER remember having one. But boy, did I have one yesterday morning! But pretty quickly, things started to regulate and I got a grip. Lesson learned- either sip room-temperature liquids or use warmer water to “chug”! 

I am somewhat amazed on a daily basis how many things have become pretty commonplace that I had NO idea cancer patients and their families go through. Again, that is EXACTLY why I write this every day- awareness. It is a labor of love- there are days I simply don’t WANT to write and there are details I simply don’t WANT to share (diarrhea and constipation, I’m lookin’ at YOU!), but I have learned that, not only is it good for ME, it seems to be resonating with many of you as well. 

So, thank you for reading daily. Thank you for going with us on this journey. Thank you for sharing it with others who you think my benefit from it. And not least of all, thank you for your prayers. We appreciate them and covet them more than you will ever know! 

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 Good, the Bad and the Ugly

good bad ugly      So, did he…or didn’t he? He did! I had Chemo #3 of this round yesterday. My counts were up enough. The potassium was up pretty noticeably. I said to the oncologist that, between the mega dose the first day, the “healthy” dose every day since and the number of bananas I’ve eaten in the past week, that number SHOULD have gone up!! My white count is still low and will probably drop more because of yesterday’s treatment. Therefore, I will have to continue to be diligent about limiting outside contact- a TOUGH thing to do when you do what I do!  

The port worked like a charm. The tech got ready to “plug in” the IV and said, “Take a deep breath”. I thought to myself, “Ooohh, perhaps this is going to hurt more than I thought.” Nope. I couldn’t even really feel it. One little push and the whole transaction was done. MUCH better than the digging and rooting we had been relegated to as the veins in my arms got more and more scarred.  

The infusion went off without a hitch. At the end, they took the IV out- again she intimated it might hurt but it did not- and got me ready to go. When I got up, I felt a little woozy. But we had anticipated that- my wife already had the car keys. We walked to the car- I still felt a little woozy. On the way home, I had a pretty nasty bout of nausea, but managed it without hurling.  

Then we got home. I got out of the car and headed for the handicap ramp. And I could barely walk! I felt like I was drunk. I was staggering pretty badly and, frankly, wasn’t sure I was going to make it into the house. But I did. I got to my chair in the living room and planted myself. After about a half an hour, the woozy feeling had pretty well passed, so I got up to go upstairs and take a nap.  

All along, the chemo has caused neuropathy in the hands and feet and weakness in the arms and legs. But the weakness in my legs was pretty substantial. I could get upstairs, but I had to be very deliberate. (I simply can’t afford to fall at this point- that would not go well!) I napped for about 3 hours, getting up every hour to go to the bathroom. (All the fluids they pump into you during chemo!)  

Then it was dinner, 4 more chemo pills and hanging out in my chair. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and evaluate whether there will be any “going to church” or if it ends up being a quiet day at home! As always, we simply take everything one day at a time, doing the best we can every day and refusing to give up or back down! 

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 Maiden Voyage of the IV Port…Maybe?!

Chest-Port-1     If all went as planned this morning, I am probably either A. about to start IV chemo treatment, B. having IV chemo treatment or C. done with IV chemo treatment by the time you read this! Based on yesterday’s blood work, that decision has already been made as you read this. I just don’t know for sure what that decision IS as I write it! 

If you remember, last week I couldn’t have chemo (that just SOUNDS odd, doesn’t it? “I COULDN’T have it? It sounds like a little kid whining at Christmas because they “couldn’t have” the new bike they wanted!) because the numbers in my blood work weren’t good enough. One of those numbers was the potassium level, which was described as “very low”. As I said yesterday, with the megadose a week ago Tuesday, the regular doses last Wednesday through today and the 129 bananas I have eaten since last week (that MIGHT be a bit of an exaggeration!), I HAVE to think THAT number will be better! 

Chemo is an odd duck. On the one hand, it threatens to kill you every time you get it. On the other hand, it tries to save your life every time as well. I don’t know of anything else that fits that description in quite the same way. 

Assuming I had it today, I will let you know tomorrow how it went. I will also let you know how the maiden voyage of the new IV port went. As you might recall, this current “cocktail” of chemo drugs has played absolute HAVOC on my arms and hands. It has made the neuropathy worse. For a good 10 days-2 weeks after each of the first two treatments, the arm they aused has literally hurt and been quite sore to even touch or slide clothing over. And the first week, when they put it in the hand, my right hand was nearly useless for a week to 10 days. I am looking forward to that not being the case this time!! 

As I said, I will keep you posted. We sincerely thank you for your prayers and support- we feel them. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring and deeply moved by how many people seem to be touched by this blog. Thank you! 

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! 

Blood Draw Day

blooddrawing     Today is “blood draw day”. By the time you read this, I will have been to the local hospital and had my blood draw done. One an interesting side note, in case you don’t know much about ports, even though I now HAVE a port, they don’t use it for blood draws. I had no idea what to expect in that area, so I asked the surgery that very specific question. His response was, “Don’t even tell anyone who is “just” drawing blood that you have a port. We want that reserved for the chemo and anything else related to that treatment. Have them draw blood ‘the normal way’”. Good to know! 

So, I will have had the blood draw. Sometime today (it usually happens RIGHT in the middle of my staff meeting!), the oncologist’s office will probably call to give me some kind of update. The upside to working with the same people all the time is that they know we have a 90-minute round-trip drive. So, if I am NOT going to have chemo, they tend to call me in advance and save us the trip.  

The one number that immediately caught their attention on last week’s blood draw was the potassium levels. They were, and I quote, “Very low”. But if a week can make a difference, the past week will. I got a MEGA-dose of potassium last Tuesday, followed by a more “normal” dose every day since. In addition, I’ve eaten, on average, 2 bananas/day since last Wednesday. If anything, they might complain that my potassium was too HIGH! (Wouldn’t that be ironic?!) 

And then, if the blood work says, “go”, I will have the next IV dose of chemo tomorrow. I will also restart the oral chemo meds. This will also represent the maiden voyage of the new IV port. I am anxious to see if using the port diminishes the external side effects of the chemo administration. Everyone seems to think the answer tpo that question will be, “Yes!” 

I ready either way. I understand that, medically, it’s the chemo (and previous radiation) that are keeping me alive. Therefore, I am willing to deal with the fallout it creates. It’s a trade-off. But if you are reading this, I want you to understand something- deciding to have chemo and/or radiation is a very personal experience. If you, or someone you love, is faced with that decision, make it YOUR decision. Gather all the input. Hear out the doctors. Talk to loved ones. But then…you make the decision. Make the one that’s right for you…and then don’t look back. Don’t second-guess. Be confident you made the right choice and get behind 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!