Oh Good, Just a Sinus Infection!

augmentin     I went to the family doctor yesterday. I had enough symptoms that I thought I had a sinus infection. I have been walking around like this longer than I EVER would re-cancer. More congestion than usual in the throat. (I have had SOME since before the diagnosis.) Headaches. Nasal cavities hurt. Drainage. But I kept attributing it to the chemo. (As I said in a recent blog, it’s easy to want to blame EVERYTHING on the chemo and/or the cancer.)  

      So again, the bottom line is that I let it go longer than I normally would have. What finally made me think that maybe it wasn’t related to the cancer or the chemo but was, in fact, as simple as a sinus infection. And I figured that out when I realized that, when I started to feel the sinuses (especially the left one) hurt or the headache coming, if I closed off the left side nostril (pressing a finger against it) and breathing through my mouth, I could get rid of the pain relatively quickly. 

     So, I went to the doctor. He had a student studying to be a P.A. trailing him. He introduced me to her and said she attended the same University as our youngest son does., That immediately gave us that common ground that I look for when I meet new people! (A quick aside- I said to the nurse who came in first that I wasn’t trying to self-diagnose as much as I was trying to give the doctor a potential starting place. She said, “It’s OK- everybody else does it!” then she grinned!) 

     The doctor asked me lots of questions. He examined me. He pointed some things out to the P.A. student. And then he said that he, too, thought I had a sinus infection. One prescription for generic Augmentin and an over-the-counter extra-strength allergy med later, I was out the door! I picked up the prescription as soon as I could so I could get started on it. Then, I came home and took my nap! When I got up, my wife and I both joked that I already felt better- the meds had been in my system an entire 3 hours or so! 

      I’m sure the sinus infection is somewhat influenced by how badly compromised my immune system is from the chemo. But it’s almost a relief to have a simple sinus infection-something that can, usually, be treated easily. Here’s praying that it clears up quickly- I start chemo back on Monday! 

     #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-Take Charlie Strikes Out!

one take     As an actor, I sort of pride myself in being able to get something filmed or recorded in one take. You know- you get in front of the camera or behind the microphone and you get it right in one try. In fact, I joke with my wife that I am One-Take Charlie. Whether it’s filming the weekly Announcement Video for church or recording my Thought For the Day for the local radio station, probably 99 out of 100 times, I AM One Take Charlie. 

     Last night, however, was that 1 in a 100 moment! I was in my office, about 7:30PM, and was ready to film. (Usually, I film on Thursday mornings, but today is a little busy, so I did it last night!) I got the lights set up, shut the door to my office (the “studio” is set up in my office because it’s the only space in the church where I can leave it up and not have to setup and tear down every week!) turned off the overhead lights and went to the closet in my office to get my “costume. (I do a series of recurring characters for these videos so I leave them in my office closet.) Shirt- off. Dress shirt- on. Tie- on and tied. Suit coat- on. (The character I did this week was Wink Dinkerson, and TV newscaster- “Talking Head”. So, the jeans I had on were fine- the finished product doesn’t show anything below about lid-torso.) 

     I had the cue sheet taped to the handle of the tripod, which was set up, with my iPhone on it, on the front corner of my desk. I made sure everything looked good in the frame, hit “record”, stepped back and got in place and then recorded my part. When I was done, I stopped the camera from recording, changed my clothes, put the lighting back to normal, opened my office door and then sat down at the computer to get what I had filmed into the software I use and integrate it into the shell I had set up. It was then I realized something was wrong! Instead of one file that was about 2½ minutes long, I had two files- one was about 1 minute long and the other was about 4 minutes long! And NEITHER of them was the video I wanted…needed!  

     After a little pondering, I figured out what happened. When I mounted the iPhone to the tripod, I accidentally hit “record”. Then, when I got in front of the camera, ready to record, I hit the button, thinking I was telling it to record. Instead, I was telling it to STOP recording! Then, AFTER I had filmed the entire piece, in ONE take, mind you, I went to tell it to STOP recording. Instead, I was telling it to start recording. I took it off the tripod, set it on my desk, put the lighting back to normal, changed my clothes back and went to my desk. As I plugged the phone/camera into the computer, I got out of the camera app, stopping he recording! The end result? The minute or so BEFORE I started actually doing the character and about 4 minutes immediately FOLLOWING that time! Well…crud! 

     So, I had to set the tripod, lighting and green screen back into the configuration I needed, gets the costume back one, record the piece again, them put it all back to normal AGAIN! One Take Charlie ran into the one in 100 scenario all right! 

     The moral of the story? Measure twice, cut once. Make sure you got what you need before you put everything away. In other words, trust God and lean NOT on your own understanding. Be confident in the gifts gave you…but don’t be cocky about them. Led God guide you as you make full use of those gifts to serve Him by serving others! 

     #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 Hidden Gem in Colordao

wild animal sanctuary     Last night, I saw a Facebook post from a friend who is going with her family to the Denver/Estes Park area of Colorado on vacation. They have never been and she was looking for suggestions of things to do that weren’t the normal “touristy” things. Well, I have been to that area I think 7 times- all told. We LOVE Colorado. The Rocky Mountains are perhaps my favorite geographic place in the United States. So, my mind IMMEDIATELY jumped to one place! 

     About 45 minutes north-ish (perhaps a bit northeast) of Denver is a place called The Wild Animal Sanctuary. On one of the trips my wife and I made out there, we stumbled upon by looking through the brochures the hotel we were staying in had. It looked like something that would be right up our alley so we set aside a day to give it a shot.  

     We drove out to the Sanctuary. It sits out in the middle of nowhere- as you will understand once you hear about it. You end up outside of any town, driving down a road that looks like it belongs alongside a cornfield in Illinois. You pull up in front of a very unassuming building in the middle of a LOT of open space and LOTS a really tall fences. 

     Once you get in the building, you are in the gift shop. It’s also where you arrange to tour the facility. As I recall, they have a “set fee” to get in that they refer to as a donation to the sanctuary. You pay and move forward. Once you leave the building, you immediately go up onto a LONG, raised walkway. (When I say “raised”, it ends up being probably thirty feet in the air.  

     The first thing you see is a rather small structure that serves as the hub or several pens that surround it. These pens contain the newest residents of the sanctuary. The purpose of this sanctuary is to rescue large predators- lions, tigers, bears (oh my!) and wolves from unhealthy environments and rehabilitate them. This first stop on the tour is the new animals who are beginning the process of being released into a large habitat with others of their kind. This step is often a slow process. 

Then, you continue on the raised walkway. Over the next mile or so, you walk this walkway, seeing Jurassic Park-like “pods were the different species live. Each pod is huge- LOTS of space for these animals to thrive in. The envirment in all of the habitats is the same- kind of an open “prairie” with both nature and man-made shelters for the animals to be under or in the be shaded.  

     There, you will see packs of lions…or tigers…or bears…or wolves. You can ALWAYS see animals; sometimes they will be farther out and sometimes they are very near the base of the raised walkway. Either way, you don’t find yourself saying, “Where are the animals. As I recall, scattered along the way are mounted binoculars to help you see them better. Taking your own would NOT be a bad idea!  

     Along, the way, you hit a couple of covered buildings that the walkway runs through. One of them includes a place where you can get food while the other one provides you with an overhead view of assimilated tigers who need special attention (a pregnant one), tigers who have passed the first round of assimilation but aren’t quite ready to be fully released in the pod or simply an indoor space for the tigers to go. When you get to the end, unless they have completed to walkway since I was there last time), you turn around and retrace your steps- ergo a pretty fair amount of walking! 

     It is so cool to see these magnificent animals being rescued and living in these LARGE natural habitats. (The first time we visited there, the wolves happened to get fed while we were there. The pack climbed onto top of the den that was near the gate where the truck came to bring the food…and howled! They KNEW what the truck meant!! 

     I don’t usually use this space to promote a business, but this one is A. non-profit, B. such a unique place to see these animals and C. we are HUGE animal lovers in our family! If you ever visit the Denver area dna are looking for something new- a hidden gem- to visit, I highly recommend the Wild Animal Sanctuary! Here is a link to their website- https://www.wildanimalsanctuary.org/ 

     #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 Major Memorial Day Headache

headache-man-senior (002)     You just never know what a day will bring. Although I was tired when I went to bed on Sunday (It was, after all, Sunday!), I felt pretty good. Overnight, however, I developed a massive headache. The end result was that I didn’t sleep well at all. I finally got up about 5AM and went downstairs to try “my chair” in the living room, to see if that helped any. The answer? Nope! 

     So, I spent Memorial Day morning sitting like a vegetable, trying not to move much. I made my head worse. Then, about lunchtime, I announced that I was going to bed. I simply didn’t want to eat lunch. I have shared in this space before that I OFTEN sleep in a lift chair. I have for several months now. But laying my head against the head rest when the chair was reclined seemed to make everything worse, so I decide to try the bed again instead. I hadn’t been in a bed at all since late March- our trip to Chicago. Other than that, it had been SEVERAL months.  

     I found that, if I laid on my back in the bed, I had the same problem as I did in the chair- it put pressure on my head and maade my headache worse. But if I rolled over on my side, something that is relatively hard to do in a lift chair, it didn’t seem to make anything worse. So, I rolled over, went to sleep aand didn’t wake up for about 3½ hours. 

     When I got up, it took a few minutes to wake up enough to assess how I was feeling. I decided that, even though I felt better than I had before I went to bed, the headache was not gone. Shoot! But, over the next 15-20 minutes, the headache seems to life and, for the first time all day, I was feeling better. Huzzah! 

     So, was the headache chemo- or cancer-related? Quien sabe. I have found that it is easy to blame EVERYTHING on the cancer and/or the chemo. But the truth of the matter is that really is NO way to know. It’s not like normally, healthy, cancer-free folk don’t have headaches.  

       It is funny, however, that I tend to assume the chemo caused whatever I might be feeling. Headache? Chemo. Runny nose? Chemo. Cough? Chemo. And that’s one of the biggest “side effects” of chemo, I think. Before I started chemo, if I had any of those happen, I would say, “Meh- these things just happen.” Now, I automatically say, ”The chemo makes my nose run/gave me a headache/etc.”. does it cause all of that? Probably not. We all know that sometimes those things DO just happen. 

      We continue to adjust. We try not to overthink everything, but instead take things as they come- day by day, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. There is a consant “new norm” and some days the best you can do is hang on and ride the wave! 

     #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 Powerful Memorial Day Observance

MemorialDayFlag     (This is a “greatest hits” post. Yesterday was a long, full day!) Yesterday was an important and powerful day in the life of the church we currently serve. Let me “back up” as I explain why. At both of the first two churches we have served, the congregations honored those who had died in the past year on All Saints Day. Technically, that is November 1- the day after Halloween. But the observance would be on the Sunday closest. When we arrived at this church, we found that they did it instead on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

At first, I wanted to change that because, for me, Memorial Day is “reserved” for honoring those military men and women who had died. But the more I thought it through, I decided that WHEN they did it was much less important than THAT they did it. So, rather than rock the boat, I decided to embrace the tradition.

The way we honor the day is two-fold. Early, in the service, we focus on those who have died since last Memorial Day. On the altar, candles are placed- one for each name on the list. A name card is created, marking each candle as being for a specific person. In alphabetic order, each name is read aloud as it appears on the screen. Their candle is lit and a bell is tolled for them.

The list always includes a. church members/folks who attended the church who died, b. folks connected to the church who dies and c. folks who had no connection to the church but I officiated at their funeral. (My thinking on “c.” is that those are people I didn’t know, who did not have a church home. And I feel that, since they don’t have a church family remembering them, it is our responsibility to take on that mantle.)

Then, late in the service, we remember ALL the people we have lost in our lives. Everybody is invited to head to the back of the sanctuary. There, they get a small, lit votive candle in a glass holder- 1/person. (Logistics always have to be considered and well-thought through.)

The lit candles are brought “down front” to the area near the Prayer Rail. There, a custom-made “stair step” display is placed, waiting for the candles. They are placed on the display in memory of the people we all have lost in our lives. Soft, pre-recorded music is played while this happens so that everyone- musicians and tech folks included- can participate. (At the middle service, where we take Communion weekly, placing your candle on the display was immediately followed by taking Communion. Again, logistics have to be considered.)

By the time we are ready to close the service, a LOT of candles are lit up front. It is a beautiful, moving display. The services are both powerful and emotional. And, remembering how many times I used the word “logistics” and how important proper prior planning is to us, much thought went into how we carry out these services.

I LOVE the fact that we can gather together and share our lives with each other like this. I believe strongly that a church should truly be an extended family. We should be glad to see each other. We should be able to share our joys AND our concerns with each other. And we should be able to feel comfortable to share our deeper emotions with each other. I am honored to be a part of such a group of people and truly feel like they are “family”!

     #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! 

Unsung Heroes of the Bible: Tabitha

Unsung Heroes Tabitha     After church, Johnny tells his parents he has to go and talk to the minister right away. They agree and the pastor greets the family. “Pastor,” Johnny says, “I heard you say today that our

bodies came from the dust.” “That’s right, Johnny, I did.” “And I heard you say that when we die, our bodies go back to dust.” “Yes, I’m glad you were listening. Why do you ask?” “Well you better come over to our house right away and look under my bed ’cause there’s someone either comin’ or goin’!”

Great heroes, both men and women of faith, have been recorded throughout the Bible. However, there are many Biblical characters who can be easily overlooked and yet should be regarded as heroes, not necessarily because of their extraordinary feats but because they simply chose to align themselves with God. Week 1, we started with Old Testament unsung hero Rahab of Jericho. Week 2, we looked at another Old Testament unsung hero- Jethro. Week 3, we considered yet one more Old Testament character who had the courage to say, “If only”- Naaman’s Wife’s Maid. Last week, we moved into the New Testament and we considered the Thief on the Cross. Today, we stay in the New Testament and look at a dedicated disciple who dies…and comes back.

Acts 9:36-42 36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

So, we have this disciple named Tabitha- which is her Hebrew name. We are told that, in Greek, her name was Dorcas. And trust me- I get it. Dorcas is a funny name in our day and ago. But in the Ancient Near Eastern world, Dorcas was a perfectly acceptable name. But because of that different, 21st Century connotation, we’ll call her by her Hebrew name- Tabitha- to try and avoid the snickers every time I say “Dorcas”!

Tabitha is an unsung hero. She’s a great example of what a Christian should be. The Bible tells us that “she was always doing good and helping the poor”. The original Greek text describes her as “mathetria”, which translates to a female disciple. It is the ONLY time the New Testament uses this word. So that tells is that she was a well-known woman of good reputation.

Sadly, she gets sick and dies. It was the women’s task to prepare a dead body for burial. So, they washed the body and trimmed her hair and nails. Then her body would have been gently wiped down with a mixture of spices and wrapped in linen strips. While this was being done, prayers from what we now know as the Old Testament would have been chanted.

Notice where they put the body- in an upper room. It may or may not be THE Upper Room. Either way, however, why is that mentioned? Well, first off, upper rooms have special significance in the Christian story. The Last Supper took place in an upper room and the Holy Spirit’s visit at Pentecost took place in an upper room. It was historically a space that was somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of the ground-floor courtyard and public rooms. It was a relatively quiet place where contact with God might be easier.

Once the body was laid out in that upper room, ritual mourning would have followed. All of her friends would want to show their respect and affection by openly grieving. Mourning was not a restrained activity in the ancient Middle East. People showed their grief by wailing, crying, and tearing the upper part of their woven garment. The more noise, the more it showed that the dead person was loved.

Then, somebody has an idea. The people gathered to pay their respects to Tabitha, also described as ‘disciples’, had hear that Peter was in nearby Lydda. They send a group to go and get him. Peter is taken to Tabitha’s body, laid out in the upper room. Her friends are gathered around her body. They show Peter the garments she made for the poor- the evidence of a well-lived life is there for all to see.

Peter is moved by their grief. He has everybody leave the room, making it very peaceful and quiet. He is now alone with Tabitha’s body- prepared for burial. He kneels and prays. But did you notice? He so faces AWAY from the body. Why? Maybe he wanted to make sure he was focusing entirely on God. Then, he turns TOWARD her body. And, drawing on the same power that Jesus had, he commands her to get up. And…she DOES! She opens her eyes, sees Peter, and sits up. He offers his hand raises her into a standing position. Then he calls her friends back in from outside- they can now see with their own eyes what’s happened. she is restored to life and she is returned to her friends and her community!

Why is the raising of Tabitha so important? And what makes her an unsung hero? This story is a pivotal moment in Peter’s life. It establishes him as a miracle-worker who’s been empowered by Jesus- one worthy to lead the emerging Christian church. Early Christians were inspired and heartened by her story. And the fledgling Christian Church spread and grew because of the miracle of Tabitha being brought back from the dead.

Tabitha was a model of good sense, modest behavior, care for those less fortunate, and courage in the face of adversity. She was a model to the Christian community, admired for her dedication to helping others- for her good works. And her story is part of the dynamic growth that followed Pentecost. More people believed in God because of Tabitha’s miracle.

It’s somewhat odd that Tabitha’s death led to Peter being the leader of the Church and a general renewal of growing faith in the early Christian church. But think that through. She was known for her strong faith and good works. That knowledge led to MANY people gather in an upper room, openly mourning her death. That led to them fetch Peter, who was touched by her death and the grief of those gathered there. He restored her to life. And the Church grew, in faith AND in numbers, because of all that.

Notice it all hinges on Tabitha’s faith and her work with the poor and those in need. Most of us couldn’t have said WHO Tabitha was when we started this morning. But, in her own way, her impact is still felt today.

As we recognize lost loved ones this Memorial Day weekend, it can be very hard to do, very emotional. And there is NOTHING wrong or inappropriate with the grief you might be feeling. But have you looked for the silver lining in that loss? And I don’t mean “God needed one more angel” or anything trite like that. For example, as terrible as it was to lose my mom, it brought me and my dad closer than we ever were. As terrible as it was to lose my wife’s dad, he suffers no longer and left behind a strong legacy. As horrific as it is when a child dies, that life and death often touches many other lives. And many groups, foundations and organizations have been founded because of the tragic death of a child and many of them have gone on to do amazing things. This Memorial Day, remember to men and women who gave their lives in service to their country- to us. Remember those loved ones we have lost who had such and impact. And remember the saints who have gone before us- folks we never knew- unsung heroes whose lives impact us to this day. Tabitha teaches us that faith leads to good works and God’s blessing.

Sing It, Alice!

alice-cooper-014(This is a “greatest hits” blog, re-printed from several years ago.) “School’s out for summer. School’s out forever. School’s been blown to pieces. No more pencils. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looks.” If that rings a bell, then you are old enough to remember School’s Out by rock legend Alice Cooper. If you DON’T know the song or the artist…Alice Cooper’s a dude!
Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier) is a rock and roll singer, songwriter, and musician whose career spans more than four decades. He wrote this now-classic song in response to a question someone asked him. “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”. Cooper replied: “There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning. I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.’”
School’s Out became the 1972 title track of Cooper’s 5th album. It was his 1st major hit single, reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and propelling the album to #2 on the Billboard 200 pop albums chart. My older son knows the song because he heard it on our classic rock radio station as a kid. My younger son knows it because we have a…ready?…animatronic guinea pig in a cap and gown that sings it while dancing if you squeeze his hand! (I’m fairly certain that is one of the signs of the apocalypse!)
School IS out, or almost out. where I live. And I have noticed, over my 22 years in the ministry, that the fact that school is out seems to mean that church is out, too! I’m amazed at how many people simply take the summer off from church. They readily admit it and see no problem with it. My response is always the same- “How would you feel if God took the summer off…from YOU?” “Well, not too good, I suppose.” “Exactly! Then why is it OK to take time off from Him?” We need to be in church regularly, refueling our spiritual batteries and lifting each other up in prayer and encouragement. And NONE of those happen when we decide to take the summer off from church. This summer, commit to being in church every Sunday. If you go on vacation, attend a church for the week wherever you are. But (unless you have a MUCH better job than me) you are not away from home on vacation from June 1 – August 31!
One last thought- one of my favorite lines EVER in a song comes from School’s Out. “Well we got no class, and we got no principles, and we got no innocence. We can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” An AWFUL lot of sing writers experience that- Cooper is one of the very few who is wiling to admit it so freely!

#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!

Peaches and Herb Are Back!

peaches and herb     Do you remember the Peaches and Herb song Reunited? (Peaches and Herb- what a great name combo!) That song, of all things, has been rolling around in my “dope cranium” the past couple of days. Why? Because, starting later today, both of boys are going to be home. And for my wife and me, it simply doesn’t get better than that! 

     Our younger son, as you know if you read this blog, got back Wednesday evening from Ireland. He took yesterday off to re-adjust to CDT and goes BACK to his Freshman year campus job as a full-time job for the summer starting today. From world traveler to everyday workin’ man in 24 hours! Welcome to the life of a college student. Shoot- welcome to life…period! 

     Tonight, we pick up our older son at the train station which is 45 minutes from our home. (Refer back to COUNTLESS references in this space to our community being “a geographical oddity- 45 minutes from everywhere”!) And so, starting about 9PM tonight, the 4 of us will be together. Or, as my wife puts, “The band is back together!” 

     We will hang out. We may play some games. We’ll talk a lot. We have been “saving” the movie Avengers: Endgame for all of us to see together. (We have PAINFULLY avoided spoilers since the movie came out.) This is the weekend we wait no longer to see it. We will celebrate a belated Mother’s Day and the slightly early 31st birthday of our older son. We’’ share church together. We will break bread together. And then, Sunday evening will come…too soon. We will take our older son BACK to the train station- did I mention it’s 45 minutes away?! We’ll all have Memorial Day off. And then, on Tuesday, we will be back to “normal”.  

    So, for less than 48 hours, we will relish in, nearly wallow in the fact that we are all together. It is one of the many things I love about my family- we not only love each other, we genuinely like being together. The laughter, the sharing, the affinity, the love- those are ALL good medicine for the soul. I pray you have that relationship with your family. But I am NOT naïve enough to think that everyone does. But if you DON’T, I pray that you have people in your life you love to be with. And I pray that you are able to spend time with them. As I said, GOOD medicine! 

     #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 Return of the Native

flying over the ocean     Our youngest got back from Ireland last night! His trip, extended by a day because of airplane issues and delays on the front end of the trip, was with the Symphonic Band that he is a member of at the University he attends. His was the first time he ever got the opportunity to do anything like that. It was also the first time anybody in our immediately family got a passport stamped! 

     We went later last eve3ing to meet him at school and help him move out of the dorm. He is home for the summer…but working AT the University full-time- 8-4 every weekday! Over the next few days, I’m sure we will be seeing pictures and listening to Ireland stories. It is trips like these that tend to make lifetime memories!  

     I found an app yesterday, as he flew home, that showed the plane’s progress in “real time”. It was interesting to see the progress. It flew in an arc-pattern that had it make landfall on the Eastern coast of Canada. From there, it few exclusively over Canada until it had crossed Lake Huron, at which time it then crossed the state of Michigan and Lake Michigan before landing in Chicago. It was weird to picture a plane flying over the ocean and seeing NOTHING but water all around…if he could see the ocean at all. At one point, the plane appeared to be fairly near the southern tip of Greenland.  Technology can be a wondrous thing!

     Like anybody else, we “ain’t rollin’ in the dough”, so this trip was not cheap. But we agreed that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, we worked hard to make it happen. We’re SO glad he got the opportunity. We’re SOI glad he made it there safely. And we are SO glad to have him back in the good ol’ U. S. of A. safely! And now, let the stories begin! 

     #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! 

Can We Talk?

couple-talking     There are many reasons my wife is an amazing human. One of the MANY reasons is the fact that, after all these years, we still never run out of things to talk about. We have known each other for coming up on 44 years. Our first date was more than 43 years ago. We have been married for almost 34 years. And yet, when we are together…we talk.  

     I was reminded of that yesterday. I had to go out of town for a meeting- a 3-hour round-trip drive. She did NOT have to go, but I did. She said, “Well, I’ll go. I’ll drive. I’ll read a book while you’re in your meeting.” I assured her that, even though I would love to have the company, she didn’t have to go. I could go by myself. She allowed as how she was quite aware that she didn’t HAVE to go- but she was going. So, we went! 

     We talked all the way there. We both commented on the fact that we seemed to just get in the car and we were almost there. That 90-minute one-way went by in the blink of an eye! We got there. I went to the meeting while she was able to spend time with a long-time and dear friend of hers who was also there. Then it was time to start for home. 

    We got in the car and began the 90 minutes back home. It was right at 5PM, so we agreed that, while we would probably grab something to eat while we were out, we would get on the road and stop on the way home. We started out, started talking and, all of a sudden, we were halfway home and at the last exit we could take before GETTING home that had food.  

      We jumped off the Interstate, found a place to eat and talked the whole time we had dinner. We then got back in the car to complete the last 45 minutes of driving before getting home. We of course talked all the way, getting nearly there and saying, “Wow! We’re almost home! Can you believe it?!” Needless to say, the dog was glad to see us when we got home! 

     I find it amazing, after ALL these years, that we still talk like we were newly dating. It’s hard to be at a restaurant and see a couple who have grown…tired. They sit across from each other and either stare at their phones or just simply sit in silence. We don’t have a gear for that. I feel truly blessed to be married to this woman and share my life with her. I can’t imagine sitting across from her at the table and just staring off into space while we eat in dead silence. And we have passed that on to our kids. When we get together, we just enjoy being with each other!! 

     #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! 

Cancer and the Itinerant Pastor

itinerant pastor 2     This has been an...odd “season” of the year for me as clergy. When you take the vows to become a United Methodist minister, one of the many things you agree to is called itinerancy. What that means is that agree to move to a new church/town when the Bishop and his or her Cabinet discern a new call for you. (Don’t panic– we are not moving!) This is MUCH different than some denominations, where being a pastor is much like any other job- you stay at a job until either you or your employer decides it time for a change. This approach has its own gravity and its own pluses and minuses- like everything else in life. In the end, it is what it is and we all know what it is when we take the vows.  

     Here’s the way it works. The average stay for a UM minister used to be rather short- 3 years or so. More and more, it has been recognized that the churches that thrive tend to have one thing in common- longer stays by pastors. So, I THINK the average stay has crept up to around 5 years or so. (Not sure of that number!) Our stays have been longer than that. We were at the first church for 7 years, the second church for 8 years and this current church for 7 years so far.  

      When we were moved from the first church to the second church, we had never been moved before. So, the phone call was 1. out of the blue and 2. quite the “gut punch”. But by the time we got moved from the second church, having been in the system for several years, you have a much better instinct about such things. While the call was somewhat unexpected when it came…it really wasn’t.  

     That leads to the church we currently serve. Our goal was to at least be here long enough to get our younger son through High School. (He was about to start 7th Grade when we got here.) Given that would 6 years and given that the church has grown every year since we got here, under “normal” circumstances that would tell me that last summer would have been a logic time to move us. But we are not under normal circumstances. 

      I have been asked, more than once, if I thought last year or this year would be the time we got moved. And me response surprised even me. Immediately, I said, “No.” But then I went on to explain. Given the proximity to where we go to get my chemo and/or radiation treatments, and where all my doctors are, would make a move potentially catastrophic.  

     I then added that no church in their right mind would want me under these circumstances…except the one we’re already at! The people who heard me say that tried to say how any church would be lucky to have us, blah, blah, blah! I assured them my statement wasn’t a cry for pity. But it’s true- if I was a church interviewing a potential new pastor, why in the WORLD would I want to accept one who was already so far PAST their stated “expiration date” to become the new spiritual leader? That would be a poor choice regardless.  

      This church, on the other hand, has been “stuck” with us for 7 years now. We have grown together. We have shared our lives. We have been a good fit from Day 1. So much so, in fact, that they have been wonderfully clear about the fact they want us for as long as I can serve. And that dynamic is VERY different than what us UM ministers are accustomed to.  

     Let me be clear- I have NEVER been told this by 5the Bishop or the Bishop’s Cabinet…and I wouldn’t expect to be told that. I also DON’T bring it up to “toss down the gauntlet” to any of those folks. I have WAY too much respect for them and the difficult job they do to behave that way. So, Bishop and Cabinet, this is NOT an “I dare you” moment- not my style in the least. Instead, it’s just one more observation about the “new norm” we face daily as we walk this journey. 

     When we got here, I was 51 years old. I assumed we would have some great years here and then be moved to Church #4, from which we might or might not retire. I never imagined when we moved in that this would be the last church I served. But, at least statistically, that is the reality. And, to be quite candid, I can’t imagine being anywhere else as we fight this battle! We are grateful for the wisdom and strong leadership of our Bishop and his Cabinet. We are grateful for a congregation that could have EASILY said, “We want a healthy pastor in here!” but instead has said, “What can WE do to help keep you here and working in the midst of this whole cancer thing?” We are grateful for the support of family and friends. And we are especially grateful for the love and grace of God! 

     #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! 

Steppin’ on Toes Since 1997!

stepping on toes     Early yesterday morning, I was eating my breakfast and clearing emails before heading over to church for Sunday morning. One of the emails was informing me of a message I had received in relation to this blog. It was a reader who thanked me for the message. (If you read here regularly, you know that the Sunday blog is a transcript of the Sunday sermon. I have been doing that for years now. It allows people who didn’t make to church to read the sermon and it keeps me from having to write a sermon AND a blog for Sunday!) This particular reader said something to the effect of, “You always seem to have the ability to step on my toes!” 

     Likewise, there is another reader who used to be a parishioner. She was in the Praise Band with us at that church and she would often say, “Well, you did it again- you stepped all over my toes!” When I shared at church yesterday morning, at the end of one of the services, what the one reader had said this morning, one of our current parishioners came up to me after the service and said, “Keep stepping on toes…we need that!” 

     I have shared in this space before that one of the things my diagnosis has afforded me is the freedom to say what I want to say and not try as hard as I once did temper things. (Although the fact that the former parishioner was saying this 10 years ago makes me think perhaps it’s NOT just the cancer!) I have never tried to intentionally shy away from challenging people to a deeper faith. Nor have I tried to sidestep difficult passages or topics. But the cancer has shown me that It was time to just lay it on the line and say what you need to say. Or, as United Methodist founder John Wesley said, “If you’re going to preach, do it with your bags packed!” 

     As soon as I got the cancer diagnosis, nearly two years ago, I started writing a new sermon series called The Church As Best I Remember It. Inspired by the double-album set put out by the late, great singer/songwriter Rich Mullins called The World As Best I Remember it, that sermon series was designed to focus on what I wanted the church to know. At the time, I thought I was down to months- at BEST- to live and wanted to get that out there before it was too late.  

     Since then, I have tried to focus on challenging topics and passages that don’t simply emphasize a “feel good” moment or two but instead make the hearer/reader squirm in their seat. And I have come to decide, since focusing more intently on that approach, that Wesley was correct about preaching with your bags packed. The Gospel is NOT intended to give us warm and fuzzy feelings all the time. It doesn’t present life as all kittens and moonbeams. It says, pretty clearly, that there WILL be troubles in this life. Things won’t always be easy. I mean, most of the disciples were martyred for their faith, for goodness sake. But the emphasis has always been, “I must decrease so that He may increase.”  

     I encourage you to let THAT be your mantra- “I must decrease so that He may increase.” Fill me up. Empty me out. Use me. Cast me aside. I don’t profess to understand how I can always best serve God. But if I am open and paying attention, He will tell me. He will tell you. And what He tells you…do it. Follow Him where He leads you and you will have the adventure of a lifetime! 

     #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! 

Unsung Heroes of the Bible: The Thief on the Cross

Unsung Heroes The Thief on the Cross     Jeffrey Dahmer– there’s a name you don’t expect to hear in a sermon- especially as “the lead”.  Arguably the most notorious serial killer in modern American history, Dahmer, by any stretch of the term, was not a “forgiving and forgetting Christian” throughout his somewhat short but horrific life. If there is anybody in our time and place who we might feel deserved the lower lowest level of Dante’s Inferno, it would be Dahmer. But did you know this? While serving his prison sentence for the numerous and heinous crimes he committed…he became a Christian. He was actually baptized by local Wisconsin minister Roy Ratcliff. That, ironically or not, turned out to be not long before he was killed by a fellow inmate in 1994. That act turned to be a deathbed conversion. And if we’re honest, many of us would scoff at that, saying EITHER “he just did that to cover his bases” OR “that’s not fair that he did all those horrible things and just gets to sort of magically erase them there at the last!” Common thought. Hang on to them as we move forward– they WILL come back up. 

      Great heroes, both men and women of faith, have been recorded throughout the Bible. However, there are many Biblical characters who can be easily overlooked and yet should be regarded as heroes, not necessarily because of their extraordinary feats but because they simply chose to stand on the right side of history. They chose to align themselves with the promise made to their ancestors and to the spread of the Gospel. With all of that in mind, we are spending a few weeks considering the lives of s handful of these unsung heroes and how significant they were to their time and generation…and to us. Week 1, we started with Old Testament unsung hero Rahab of Jericho. Week 2, we looked at another Old Testament unsung hero- Jethro. Last week, we considered yet one more Old Testament character who had the courage to say, “If only”– Naaman’s Wife’s Maid. Today, we move into the New Testament and we consider someone who MIGHT be the least likely “hero” on this whole list– the Thief on the Cross. 

     Luke 23: 32-33, 39-43 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this Man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” 

     We simply dont know anything more about the thief on the cross other than he was a criminal. crucified next to Jesus. We traditionally see 3 crosses in Easter images. This story is why 3 and not just one. The Luke passage we just heard describes the conversation that went on between Jesus and the two criminals crucified on either side of Him. Remember, ALL 3 men are dying a slow, painful death. The first criminal, rather than focus on himself, decides to join in with others gathered there and “fire shots” at JesusHey, You! Aren’t You the Messiah? Then save Yourself, hotshot! And while You’re at it, save us!”  

     Interestingly the other criminal chooses NOT to join in but instead defends Jesus, acknowledging God’s justice and Jesus’ innocence. “Donyou fear God? You’re under the same sentence I am? And we deserve it for the bad things we’ve done. But this Man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he turns to Jesus and seeks a heartfelt deathbed conversion. “Jesusremember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  

     That desperatehumble cry for mercy was all Jesus needed to welcome the thief into the family of God. “Truly, I say to you, TODAY you will be with Me in Paradise.” You have to wonder what the OTHER criminal, the one who mocked Jesus, thought at that moment? Was he moved by what he heard? Or did he steadfastly, stubbornly cling to his original approach, to stubborn or skeptical to do anything else? 

     What an incredible story! A man who presumably lived his entire life in opposition to God was saved in his dying moments. This demonstrates that a humble heart that cries out to God for salvation will be heard– it’s never too late. This is one of the passages that is lifted up to explain why United Methodists believe that baptism is an act of promise and NOT one of salvation- it is not essential for getting into Heaven. While this passage says nothing about whether or not the thief had been baptized, it’s a pretty easy assumption to make that he hadn’t been. And yet, here he is being promised Heaven by Jesus. 

     Now, in the context of this particular Bible passage, it’s not hard to find the “feel good” moment when someone finds Jesus and is saved…just in the nick of time. And I would guess most of us don’t greatly begrudge the thief on the cross but instead celebrate with him. 

     However, let’s go back to the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world. Ah…therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? All we know about the thief on the cross was that he did some unknown, unnamed “bad stuff”, is paying for his mistakes with his life, and gets a “get into Heaven free” card from Jesus there at the last. We didn’t see his criminal acts splashed all across CNN as police dragged bags and bags of evidence, not to mention freezers, out of a Milwaukee, Wisconsin apartment. We didn’t see his chilling, stone cold killer face sitting in a courtroom day after day. We didn’t hear all of the gut-wrenching forensic evidence being trotted out for public viewing. We almost “feel” for the thief on the cross. We have a MUCH more visceral response to Dahmer or others like him. 

     And then, as I said earlier, we hear that he “finds God” and is baptized and saved in prison, not terribly long before he is murdered by a fellow inmate. And as I also said, we tend to fall into one of two camps at that moment: 1. “That’s a great big crock of horse hockey!” or 2. “That is simply NOT fair!” It’s simply not true or Jesus has set the bar ridiculously low. It can’t be true AND fair…right? 

     Our rationale seems fairly sound, too. “I’ve spent my whole life trying hard to be a good human. I don’t kick puppies, rob banks or knock down little old ladies in the crosswalk. Sure, I’ve not been perfect- I admit that. But…” and here comes the sticking point “…I didn’t do anything NEARLY as bad as HE did!” (Wait for it.) “His sin is WAY worse than mine!” There it is. We have danced around. We have toyed with it. Now it’s out there- a big matzah ball that we have to deal with. “His sin is worse than mine.” And THAT, boys and girls, is where we get into trouble. 

     We want, more than anything, for someone else’s sin to be worse that ours. That makes us feel better about ourselves. I hate to tell you this, but you will simply find NO Scriptural evidence to support that. There is NOTHING in the Bible that “rates” sin. It says that sin is sin and God is SO pure that He and sin can’t even truly exist in the same space. Sin is anything…ANYTHING…that separates us from God. And while I am quite sure God takes pleasure in those who devote their lives to “trying hard to keep their nose clean”, the Bible is pretty clear that your good works will not get you into Heaven. ONLY through confessing your sins, accepting God’s forgiveness and turning away from the past will you seek what you find. And no timeline, no expiration date, is assigned to that truth. For God, it’s not a “when” but a “what” and a “how”. If you sincerely seek forgiveness for your sins, you WILL be forgiven, regardless of timing. And that can be a bitter pill for us to swallow. But it is God’s way and not ours that matters. 

Don’t spend ONE MINUTE worrying about others, trying to find out why they are worse sinners than you in an effort to make yourself feel better. Instead, focus on you. In an odd way, I compare this topic to running cross country. Unless you are one of the top two or three runners, you don’t have snowball’s chance of actually winning the race. And so, you don’t compete against everyone else. You let them run their race and you compete against…yourself. You try to set a new P.R.- personal record, every time you run. You try to be a better “you” EVERY time you go out. GREAT outlook to have on life. Why? Perhaps Romans 10:13 says it best AND most succinctly, “Everyone who calls on God will be saved.” EVERYONE! 

 

My Life With Miralax

Miralax     OK- it is “painfully frank discussion” day here at Stick With Jesus. I have shared in this space before about the issues I have with digestion. The cancer and subsequent chemo have caused a constant, ongoing issue with constipation. The doctor that performed both my endoscopy and colonoscopy told me, a bit more than a year ago, that he wanted me to take Miralax as often as I needed to so that I would remain in a regular state of near-diarrhea. (I TOLD you it would be a frank discussion!) For me, that has proven to be one full dose every morning. It is enough to “keep things going” while not SO much that I am unable function.  

     I have learned, in the past 13 months of that approach, that I really shouldn’t ever miss a dosage. And so, I continually remind myself of that fact. And yet…occasionally, despite my best efforts, my digestive system gets far enough out of whack that I will have to “go” 5-6 times in a day or day and a half. By the time you hit that…volume…you are anxious to stem the tide, so to speak. When you reach that point, it can cause you to make bad choices. That happened this week.  

     I had a rough 36 hours or so late last Saturday night into early Monday morning. Me and the bathroom were on TOO good of terms. And so, finally, Sunday morning I decided, even though I knew better, to skip just ONE dose of Miralax. It didn’t seem to slow anything down. So, I again convinced myself that skipping ONE more dosage clearly wouldn’t hurt. I was wrong. 

     I skipped Sunday and Monday doses and got things back under control. I then resumed the dosages on Tuesday. Turns out, that was two days TOO late. By Thursday evening, I was starting to feel miserable. And while that is NOT unusual on chemo weeks, this was different kind of miserable! I didn’t sleep well at all Thursday evening. I had what must be what most people call a migraine. I got up yesterday and felt HORRIBLE. Headache, intestinal issues, lack of sleep, plus the effects of a week of “full” chemo. I am not going to lie- yesterday was pretty miserable. I spent the day either in my chair in the living room, just sitting and vegetating, trying not to move much because my head hurt so bad or trying to sleep in the lift chair in my bedroom. 

     I had started doubling up on Miralax on Thursday- I knew I HAD to get a handle on things as soon as possible. I doubled up again yesterday, spacing the two doses out by about 2 hours. The headache was so bad that I couldn’t even really function. I went all day yesterday eating nothing- I knew that would only make a bad situation worse. And, with no discernible appetite, it is all too easy to do that, anyway. 

    At dinnertime yesterday, my wife, worried that I had eaten nothing all day, offered to make me a cup of chicken bouillon. That sounded good and went down pretty easy. But the headache persisted and there was no “movement” on the other front. And then, finally, about 6PM, all of that Miralax finally did what it was supposed to do. Even if the midst of a horrible day and rather unpleasant situation, I still found the humor in it. I came out of the bathroom and announced, “Houston, we have liftoff!”  

     Within minutes, the headache was gone and I was feeling better. There was still the normal “Friday of chemo week” cruddy feeling, but it was almost welcomed after what else I had been feeling. In fact, by 7:30PM, I was eating again- a serving of egg, potato and cheese casserole.  

     While I have been, in this space, more reluctant to talk about this portion of what chemo does to you, I have also tried, all along, to be as open and candid as possible. So, there you have it and there you are. The good, the bad and the ugly. One of the many things that cancer and chemo take away from you that we all take for granted. Another “day in the life” of cancer patients! 

     #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 Have Arms!

t shirt     I have shared many times in this space how many things in our lives have changed since the cancer diagnosis. One of the MANY things is my “internal thermostat”. My WHOLE life, I was the warm-blooded one. I would walk around the house in the winter in shorts and a t-shirt. I couldn’t WAIT to ditch the coat and switch to short-sleeved shirts when winter began turning to spring. I was NEVER cold! 

     And then, cancer and chemo changed everything. My body temperature seemed to change overnight. I went from Foreigner’s Hot-Blooded to Foreigner’s Cold as Ice! (See what I did there?!) I was…am...always cold, it seems. Layers have become my go-to approach to clothing. This winter, if I left the house, it was with my HEAVY coat, stocking cap, ear muffs, face mask that covers the entire lower half of my face, mittens and a scarf! We even had an auto-start added to the car because I couldn’t stand getting in a car that cold.  

      A reality regarding all of this hit me yesterday. The weather started to turn here early last October. I moved from short-sleeved shirts to layered clothing and long-sleeved shirts. The first snow of the season hit last November- it was a doozy. December was not too bad, based on what Decembers could be. January and much of February were among the worst on record around here. March and April were better but still colder than normal. May has been the first REAL turn in weather we’ve seen for several months. And I have hovered between “cold” and “freezing” that WHOLE time. 

     Then yesterday came. I left the house to go to work in my usual layers- a t-shirt with a rather light-weight sweater/sweatshirt kind of thing over it. I was perfectly fine. I worked all morning, then came home for lunch. After lunch, I took a nap. When I got up, about 4PM, I went downstairs and walked out onto the enclosed back porch to get something. Oh. My GOSH! I looked at my Apple Watch to see what the temperature was. It was…90 degrees outside! EVEN I was too warm in my layered attire and long sleeves! 

     After dinner, I got ready to go next door for Praise Band practice. And THE most amazing thing happened. I walked OUT of the house in jeans and a t-shirt! Jeans and a t-shirt! And I found something out- I have arms! I have (potentially) bare arms! And those bare arms hadn’t seen the light of day- literally- since early last October! Now, for the sake of complete disclosure, I took a sweater with me in case the sanctuary was cold. (It was a little cool but I powered through!)  

     It’s REALLY weird to think that this warmed-blooded guy spent nearly EIGHT months with long sleeves on every moment of every day. It’s one of the many odd, little ways that cancer and chemo impact your life. It’s one of the many things that most of us simply don’t give a thought to- we don’t have to. It’s part of what I have come to call “the new norm”. If you are facing “new norms” in YOUR life, here is my suggestion. Recognize them. Acknowledge them. Deal with them. Adjust to them. Change with them. But don’t go SO far down that rabbit hole that it becomes all you do, all you think about, all you can focus on.  

     Instead, accept them as they come, but live each day to the fullest. So you have new norm. See what that means for your new day. Live it. Don’t waste it. Life is precious and short. Appreciate all of it! 

     #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! 

Chemo…and Cooking?

taco haystack     I can certainly tell when the steroids are still in my body- post chemo treatment. I have more energy. I feel better. I am more motivated to do things. And, when I gave chemo on Mondays, those days tend to be Tuesday and Wednesday. (Monday I actually have to most steroids in me, but because of the other issues I have shared, I no longer sleep well in the chemo chair and so I come back home that day wrung out.) I was reminded of that fact yesterday. 

     When I got home from church at lunch, I said to my wife, “After my nap, I am going to cook up a bunch of taco meat and use that ¾ block of Velveeta to make some cheese sauce. I thought we could do tacos, taco salads, nachos and the like for dinner.” So, my wife got out 4 pounds of frozen ground beef for me, to start to thaw. We ate lunch and then I went and took a nap. I got up about 4PM and spent the next 45 minutes or so cooking ground beef, chopping onions and making cheese sauce. We then “buzzed” through the TIVO’ed version of yesterday’s Jeopardy! (we are self-proclaimed Jeopardy! junkies) and then headed into the kitchen.  

     My wife seasons the things I cook now because I can’t taste them. So, she seasoned the taco meat and we had a great dinner. I had taco meat, cheese sauce and sour cream in a burrito wrap and my wife made nachos. (The beauty of taco meat- you can do ALL sorts of things with it!) I also made preliminary arrangements to make a new egg, cheese and hash brown casserole for my breakfast AND a big container of my world-famous homemade mashed potatoes. (I used to cook EVERY day. Now, what I did yesterday is more than I do in most WEEKS!) 

     This “new norm” is like that. Most of the time, I don’t feel like doing much of anything. But when I DO…I try and “make hay while the sun shines”! I love cooking, and so, when I can…I do. And when I can’t, which is more often than not, I simply acknowledge the fact and do the best I can. But it SURE is nice to get some cooking in AND benefit from the spoils! 

     #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! 

Perspective

perspective11     I have been thinking a lot lately about perspective. Let me explain. When we received the initial cancer (We are FAST approaching the two-year mark!), We were, needless to say, devastated. I remember like it was yesterday. We sat in en empty waiting room in the University of Iowa Hospital. I was late on a Friday in June- about 5:30PM. We had agreed to meet a young doctor who had been assigned to us in the ER the day before with the results. It was thee young doctor, me, my wife and younger son. The rest of the waiting area was completely empty- everyone had gone home for the day.  

     He came in, found us, and his face said it all. I genuinely think a part of him was hoping that we had gotten tired of waiting and gone home. But he gathered himself together, came and sat with and told us the honest truth. He didn’t sugar-coat it. He didn’t downplay it. He laid it all out there, including the 4-8 month likely time line. We frankly had already figured most of that ourselves, so it wasn’t QUITE the shock it could have been. But we were still devastated.  We listened. We asked some questions. And we thanked him for his candor. We WANTED the truth, no matter how hard it was to hear. We made some plans for what was next and then we left. 

     None of us had eaten for hours. So, we drove through a Burger King near the hospital, picked up some dinner and started the 90-minute drive home. After I said some things to our son about, as hard as this was to hear, it wasn’t going to change who I was or how I was going to live my life. But much much of the ride home was quite, with all of us lost in our thoughts. 

     The next few days were simply trying to make it through the day. As I said, we were devastated. But over those days, we began to come out of the shock, determined not to squander the time we had on that. And that shift began our journey on trying live every day as a gift. And we have been blessed yo have SO much more that 4-8 months. 

     And leads back to my opening thought- perspective. When we find ourselves having a bad day or feeling especially sorry for ourselves, I think about something my wife said SEVERAL months ago. Our worst day is someone else’s best day. We often reflect on a couple from the first church we served. They were a beloved family in the church. He was fairly young and a leader of the church. They were a great couple and their son was member of my youth group. He and I had developed a special bond due to some pretty in-depth conversations about life and the future. 

     One Saturday morning, we got the call that no one wants to get- the patriarch of the family, we’ll had died suddenly and unexpectedly on the golf course. Devastated, my wife and I drove to their house to see if there anything we could do. We spent some time with the now-widow and her son, talking about the man they had lost or NOT talking- just sitting and being with them. 

     At one point, his wife asked me if I would her son with me and go and tell some of the immediate neighbors what had happened. They were a close-knit community. The second house we go to was that of an older couple. He was on the roof, of all things, cleaning his gutters. I was still so overwhelmed by the news that my pastoral skills went out the window. The son introduced me and I just srt of blurted out that this man’s neighbor had dies this morning. He was SO shocked and grief-stricken that he ALMOST fell off the roof! Fortunately, he didn’t. I quickly apologized and asked him to come on down. We helped him off the ladder, talked with him and went on. That moment still serves as a teachable moment for me to think things through in minstry- try to separate fact from feeling in some ministry settings. 

     But our parishioner’s story reminds us of the fact that you KNOW his widow would give ANYTHING for one more day. She would trade it all if she could have somehow magically had one more day, knowing what was coming, to say goodbye. And the truth is, that didn’t happen. And she has been left behind to wish for that “one more day” for the past…20 years or so. 

    My family and I have truly been blessed in that respect. We were given 4-8 months, statistically somewhere between 121-242 days, to be more exact. And we have actually had, thus far, ALMOST two years and counting. Compared to a sudden, unexpected death, we have been given a gift. We have had time to get a LOT of “nuts and bolts” things in order. We have had time to live intentionally. We have had time to appreciate each other in a way we never have before. And I have gotten to see and be a part of SO many things I was never going to get to see and do.  

     I have shared before, while I wouldn’t wish this diagnosis on anyone and I wish I could turn back the clock 7 years and somehow avoid all of the health issues those 7 years have brought- first, the brain tumor and then this whole cancer thing, I can’t. But I have realized, we have realized, that in its own strange way, this diagnosis has been a blessing. We have NEVER lived so intentionally, been so close or made sure every day mattered than we have in the last almost 2 years. I am grateful to God that my wife and sons weren’t left to wish for one more day! 

    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! 

Chemo Follow-Up

chemo 3      Today was a Chemo Day. This was Chemo Cycle 5, Round 1, Infusion 3. That means that today was a “full” day- both drugs administers today and that next week is an off week. We left the house at 9AM for a 10AM appointment with the oncologist. She was running late, so we didn’t actually get called back to the exam room until about 10:30AM. My numbers were good. My blood pressure was again running high- something it hasn’t done for MANY months. But the chemo was a go. We went back out to the lobby and re-checked in to the Infusion Center and waited. Our chemo treatment was actually scheduled for 10:30AM, but given that the oncologist was running behind, we didn’t get called back to the Chemo Center until about 10:50-ish.  

     Oral drugs. “Plug” IV into port. Flush. Benadryl through the port. (I said to my wife as the tech began to push the Benadryl into the port, “I’d better tell you ‘I love you’ now, because in mere moments I won’t be able to string together two coherent sentences!”) More fluids. Then the first chemo drug starts. As I have shared before, you can tell that Benadryl is there the SECOND the first of it hits your blood stream. She is still pushing the dose in and I can “taste” rubbing alcohol. And my eyes get heavy, my body slows down and my words start to slur- a lingering side effect of the 2014 brain tumor. (I’m just a MESS< aren’t I?!) 

     The restless legs hit full force this time, lasting at least 80-90 minutes and making that stretch impossible to sleep. It’s very frustrating when your body is fighting SO hard to go to sleep AND keeping you awake…all at the same time. We tried one “remedy” yesterday that didn’t work. I have another suggestion we are going to try NEXT time.  

     The rest of the treatment pretty “textbook”- nothing out of the ordinary, no big “whoop”. After fighting to go to sleep for so long, once I finally could, I slept pretty hard for sleeping in a place where alarms and bells go off all the time and the room you are in is constantly having someone come in a do something…which usually included the question, “Last name and date of birth?” 

     Normally, next Monday would be the “off” day and we would start back up two weeks from yesterday. But that date, as you may have noticed, is Memorial Day and the Oncology Center is closed. But after having chemo on both Thursdays and Tuesdays, we have decided that Mondays work best for us- we wanted to keep them. So, we won’t get the next treatment until 3 weeks from yesterday- Monday, June 3. That basically means that this cycle will take us through roughly the end of August- give or take and if my body cooperates. And then…another evaluation, including a CT scan to see what ol’ Mr. Cancer is doing then.  

     Our next milestone is our older son’s 31st birthday late this month (31! How is that possible?!). That would be followed by June 16th, which is the 2-year anniversary of going to University of Iowa Hospital and getting the official diagnosis. Think about that- on Jun 16th, 2017, we were told 4-8 months to live. We didn’t think I would see another Christmas, another birthday, another wedding anniversary…! Now, we are SO close to 2 years since the diagnosis. I STILL don’t have a tracheotomy. I STILL don’t have a feeding tube. AND...I’m STILL here…working, no less. Regardless of where this journey leads next, we have already beaten the odds- blew them out of the water, in fact. 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! 

Back in the Chemo Chair Again!

kid-meme-lg     Today is Chemo Day! And it’s the “full deal” day. Weeks 1 & 3 are BOTH chemo meds, while Week 2 is just one of them. This is Week 3, so…tad da!…BOTH meds! That means two things. 1. I will be “in the chair” longer today than last week and 2. after today, I get a week off. (We suspect that it might actually be two weeks off. Next Monday is Memorial Day and we are assuming that the Oncology Center will be closed. And, since we usually get to pick what day we get chemo, we have found, after doing it on several different days throughout the week, that Mondays are the best choice for us. And since we HAVE Mondays, we would like to hang on to them. Therefore- two weeks off? All will be revealed in the last act!) 

     Both chemo drugs mean, among other things, that the Benadryl I get will be a higher dose and will be injected, through my port, straight into the blood stream as opposed to 2 pills taken orally. That is the dosage and delivery system that usually threatens to “put me in a coma” AS it starts entering the blood stream- before they are even done injecting it!  

     On a totally different note, two chemo drugs means…packing a lunch! (Oh, the nuts and bolts of cancer treatment!) We don’t bother packing a lunch on the “short weeks”. But on these longer weeks, it’s just part of the gig. So, we each take something for lunch. In addition, I bring a coffee thermos and a thermos of hot tea, while my wife brings her coffee thermos and an insulated drink container with water. She brings her iPad, her iPod and a portable speaker, along with her cell phone, I bring my cell phone and my iPad. I also bring my blanket…because I like my blanket better than the ones they have! (Just call me Linus!) We each walk in with a backpack- we look like we are moving in! 

     I will be semi-comatose to comatose until lunch. We will eat while the chemo drugs continue to be pumped in. Then it will be back to semi-comatose for me. Then, all of a sudden, my wife will be rubbing my leg and saying, “you’re almost done!” They finish up and “unplug” everything from the port while we pack our things. Then, it’s heading for home! 

     Here’s another “nuts and bolts” thing that comes up when you are receiving chemo treatments. It is VERY basic- how do you go to the bathroom when you are hooked up to everything? Good question. I wait for the blood pressure cuff to take a reading. (It does that every so many minutes during the treatment.) Then, we unplug the blood pressure reader from the cuff, leaving the cuff on my arm. I get up out of the chair and one of us, whoever can better reach it, unplugs the machine that doses the drugs from the wall. (It has a battery back-up that will keep it powered while it is unplugged.) Then…I take the “tree” that holds the machine that doses the meds, as well as holds the bags of meds themselves, with me to the bathroom. (It is conveniently on wheels for greater portability!) Once I come back, we plug the “tree” back in, plug the blood pressure reader back into the cuff and I settle back in the chair, ready for the next blood pressure reading! And let me assure you, when they are pumping that much fluid into your body, knowing this paragraph is VERY important information! 

     The last chemo insight for today is the irony of how the meds are delivered. I am willingly going, letting them hook me and then watching the drugs go into my body. Meanwhile, the techs have to wear a mask and a gown to protect them while they prepare and hang a bag. The fact that something “normal”, cautious people gown and mask up to even handle is being pumped straight into my veins is a rather surreal reality. But it IS the reality of chemotherapy. That alone helps me understand why it makes me feel like crud on a cracker! I will let you know how today went! 

    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! 

Unsung Heroes of the Bible: Naaman’s Wife’s Maid

Unsung Heroes Naamans Wifes Maid     You know those people who include in seemingly everything they say, “You know what would have made this better?” You know what I mean. You make them dinner. They eat it. They say, “This is good.” And then they add those magic words, “But you know what would have made it even better?” No, but I BET you’re going to tell me! Whatever “IT” is, they always know how to improve on…everything!

That mentality leads to the OTHER thing people like that say- “If only…”. The bottom line of “if only” is this- “If only…people listened to ME, the world would be a better place!” And while it manifests itself in ALL sorts of different ways, the way I have most seen it over the past two years is in relationship to my cancer treatment. I can’t TELL you how much of, “If only you took this, ate that, did this, did that, you would have this cancer beat” I have received. To be entirely honest, if I DID everything and TOOK everything that everyone is so sure would be the ONE thing to make me feel better, address a symptom or cure this cancer altogether, it’s ALL I would be doing…because I wouldn’t have time for anything else! And I would TELL everybody that…wait for it…if ONLY I could!

Great heroes, both men and women of faith, have been recorded throughout the Bible. However, there are many Biblical characters who can be easily overlooked and yet should be regarded as heroes, not necessarily because of their extraordinary feats but because they simply chose to stand on the right side of history. They chose to align themselves with the promise made to their ancestors and to the spread of the Gospel. With all of that in mind, we are spending a few weeks considering the lives of s handful of these unsung heroes and how significant they were to their time and generation…and to us. Week 1, we started with Old Testament unsung hero Rahab of Jericho. Last week, we looked at another Old Testament unsung hero- Jethro. Today, we move to yet another Old Testament character who had the courage to say, “If only”.

2Kings 5:1-5 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the   Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

Naaman was the captain of the army of Syria, and he had recently returned after defeating Israel in battle. He also had leprosy. Even though he was a rich and powerful man, he couldn’t find anyone who could cure him of his leprosy. And, if you remember, we talked about him in a sermon not ALL that long ago. But today, we look at a different aspect of his story. One of the “spoils” of victory he brought back from the battle with Israel was captives. Those captives included a girl who would become known as “Naaman’s Wife’s Maid”- her actual name is lost to time. She was “a girl” who was “given” to Naaman’s wife as a servant. And as the girl gained the trust of Naaman’s wife, she decided t5o share something with her. She told her mistress that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure Naaman of his leprosy. Naaman caught wind of this and he, for whatever reason, believed her. With the king’s blessing, Naaman heads to Israel and was healed by the prophet Elisha by bathing in the Jordan river seven times. Because of this, Naaman and his household became believers of the one true God. Notice- Naaman believed her enough to travel all the way back to Israel.

So, Naaman’s wife’s maid- what’s true about her? She was all alone, having been separated from her family because of the war and her being taken captive. She showed great honesty and integrity in her faith, offering up encouragement to, of ALL people, the guy who brought her back as a captive.

She really took a risk in sharing her testimony. What if no one listened to her? What if they laughed at her? What if the prophet hadn’t been able to actually heal Naaman? But she didn’t let her fear keep her silent. And God took her little seed of faith and worked a miracle with it.
This girl’s faith is humbling. It would be hard to have the faith to share your testimony in a strange country, among people who didn’t believe what you believed- to help the very man who had torn you away from your family and home. She is a GREAT example of forgiveness, compassion, faith and courage. This maid, with her name not mentioned or recorded- as I said, “lost to history”- believed in God. And she had NO doubt in God’s anointing hand over the prophet Elisha that, through God’s power and grace, Elisha could heal Naaman.

Faith in the midst of difficulty is the foundation of this story. It was EASY for Naaman’s wife’s maid to worship her God and believe in His power and His grace when she was in her own land, surrounded by people who loved her…and believed the same things she believed. But she was no longer IN that setting. She was a pilgrim in a strange land. And yet, she stuck to her faith- it didn’t waver. In fact, she was SO sure of God’s power to heal that she uttered those near-infamous words, “If only!”

What about you? How well does YOUR faith “hold water” when it is tested? When we’re “putting in the short grass”, as it were, we can all be faithful and believe. But when the ball lands in the rough…or the sand trap…where does that leave us?

One way to measure that is to think back to the last time you were in a difficult situation. Maybe that was when you lost someone close to you. Maybe that was when your company “downsized” and you suddenly and unexpectedly found yourself unemployed. Maybe that was when you or someone close to you got a difficult, perhaps devastating diagnosis. Maybe that happened a year ago. Or two years ago. Or five years ago. Or maybe you are neck-deep in it RIGHT now. But regardless of the “when” and/or the “what”, how did your faith hold up? Did it hold against the winds of doubt howling around it? Or did it fold like a House of Cards?

Now, don’t misunderstand- it is perfectly OK, I might even go as far as to say “expected”, to have some doubt when the going gets tough. It’s OK to go through those periods of doubt and uncertainty. The key is this- do you linger there- stay stuck in that loop- or do you hit it head-on, work through it and come out the other side?

My health situation is a great example. Do I believe that God CAN heal me…completely…of this cancer? Yes, I believe that? Do I believe that He WILL do it? I have NO earthly idea. I mean, we have ALL seen and heard stories of people being miraculously healed of things that the medical community simply could not explain away. And when that happens, we say, “THEY might not know how it happened…but I do!”

But what about all those OTHER people? Folks who weren’t “healed” but suffered and died? Did they all NOT have enough faith? Did none of them pray hard enough? I don’t believe that- it is NOT part of my understanding of God. We have thousands and thousands of people literally all around the world (because of my blog) praying for us daily. And we FEEL those prayers. And we appreciate those prayers. And we crave those prayers. But does that guarantee God will take this cancer away from me? No. Can I explain to you why NOT? No. Do I have ANY real idea, either way? No. The best I can do, we can do, is pray for what WE want but add the words that even Jesus Himself used, “Thy will be done.” The best we can do is hold tight to our faith. The best thing we can do is remember that we are NOT physical beings on a short spiritual journey. We are, instead, spiritual beings on a rather brief physical journey. And whether our time on this “mortal coil” is a day, a week, a year or 100 years, it is but the blink of an eye compared to the eternity promised to us by God Himself.

We could all stand to be more like this faithful girl and learn to not be afraid of the truth, to have the faith to bear testimony even in hard situations. You never know where the little seeds of truth you plant today will blossom in the hearts of others. Even when we are in difficult situations, we need to have the faith and courage to share our testimony. God can work great miracles with just a little bit of faith. Be confident in your faith in God.