Another Day…More Chemo!

chemo day     Today is Chemo Round #4, Infusion #3. That means I first started chemo about 18 months ago and have had…well…LOTS of chemo since! With 2 different rounds of radiation thrown in there, there has been a great deal of cancer treatment since June, 2017! 

If my “numbers” are good enough, I will spend part of today in “the chair”. We will pack an iPod and a portable speaker. We will pack my “special” blanket. We will pack iPads, cell phones, chargers, lunches, beverages…this AIN’T our first rodeo!  

There is a fascinating dynamic about chemo that often goes unnoticed. I have touched on it before, but it bears revisiting. I was reminded of it when we met with the oncologist last week prior to last week’s treatment. Our regular oncologist was out of town at a conference, so we met with her partner, whom we have met with before.  

As we sat there, listening to him give us a synopsis of the lab work I had done the day before, he could see the anticipation on our faces. “Yeah, yeah, yeah…but do I get chemo this week?!” He paused in mid-sentence and said, “Yes, you’ll have treatment this week.” I guess our facial responses gave us away. He pretended to celebrate and said, “Yay! Chemo!” And we “got it”.  

Why in the world would you WANT chemo? Why would you come HOPING they are going to pump poisons into your body? Because A. you got yourself all psyched up for it and B. you know it’s the thing that is keeping you alive!  

So, we go today hoping for chemo- odd though it is. The truth is that every treatment starts a chain-reaction that is both predictable and difficult. I KNOW what’s coming. And yet, there will be moments over the next week, that I will question why I’m doing this. And then, when I breach the other side of that gap, I will remember why.  

I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. And yes, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I could lay this cup aside. But in the end, as Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane, Thy will be done and not mine. This journey has sown me more about myself, more about true faith, than anything else I could imagine.  

So, today we step back into the fray. Another day, another chemo treatment. After today, if everything goes according to plan, I will either have one week off or 3 weeks off. (Treatment Day falls on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, so we aren’t sure yet what will happen on those two weeks.)  

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!

Christmas Cantata Update

Christmas Cantata

Yesterday- what a DAY! Choir Cantata Sunday- historically the 2 Sunday of December. They present their cantata not once, not twice but THREE times each year. How awesome is that. I know church choirs who work just as hard to get ready…but then only present one time. This choir is not only willing to present multiple times…they volunteer!  

So, the day looks like this. 

8AM- Call to Worship video. Video Announcements, Congregational Christmas carol, lighting the Advent Candles, the presentation of the cantata, the offering, a closing Christmas carol, the Irish Blessing.  

9:15AM- “normal” service. Call to Worship Video, Announcement video, opening songs, lighting the Advent Candles, Offering, week 2 of our current sermon series, Communion, closing song, Irish Blessing. 

10:30AM- Call to Worship video. Video Announcements, Congregational Christmas carol, lighting the Advent Candles, Children’s Moment, the presentation of the cantata, the offering, a closing Christmas carol, the Irish Blessing.  

11:45AM- All-Church Lasagna lunch, sponsored by the UM Men with all proceeds going to our Capital Campaign. We fed about 100 folks. 

6pm- Congregational Christmas carol, lighting the Advent Candles, the presentation of the cantata, the offering, a closing Christmas carol, the Irish Blessing.  

We are currently averaging about 275/week in weekly worship attendance. Yesterday? 479 people in worship for the day! Quite the “uptick”! That extra, 6PM service not only adds to our attendance for the day. It also provides a venue for more visitors to come. We get visitors at all 3 Cantata presentations. But percentage-wise, we get by far the most at the 6PM service. Lots of the folks who come are NOT from the church but from the community. This makes that extra evening service a GREAT opportunity for outreach. It gives us the opportunity to show welcoming and hospitality. And it gives us the opportunity to put something in their hands that invites them to the Christmas-related events we have yet to offer this season. Good stuff! 

So, all in all, GREAT day! Great music. Great worship. Great attendance. Great lunch. To quote that great theologian Col. Hannibal Smith from The A-Team (cue the music and machine gun fire!), “I love it when a plan comes together!” 

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!

Silent Night, Holy Night: Shepherds Quake at the Sight

Silent Night Week 2

I have shared before that I did NOT grow up in the Church. We were what you might call Godless heathens! We were bad people per se- we didn’t rob banks or kick puppies. But we didn’t “do” church to speak of and didn’t have much of a gear for those who did.

With that as a backdrop, I find it fascinating that one of the most…spiritual…events I remember as a kid was a direct result of my dad. It would have been somewhere around 1966. It was Christmas Eve and my dad asked us if we wanted to see the Christmas Star. Even though we weren’t church folks, we knew the whole “star in the east on Christmas morn” story, so we said, “Yes!”

He got us up sometime in the night. It seemed like 2AM, but I was pretty little and could be confused about that part. He brought us into the kitchen and pointed out the kitchen window. And there, in the EAST, was the brightest star I had ever seen. My dad said it was the Christmas Star. And I was amazed! I remember standing there, watching that star and realizing that this was a very singular event. I wasn’t sure what that even meant at the time, but I knew there was some significance to the event.

Since then, I have tried, more than once, to Google the date and circumstances, to see if I could find out anything about this celestial event. Perhaps it was planets aligning. Perhaps it was a comet. Perhaps it was…whatever. But even though I have slid a few years each way from that center of 1966, I have never found ANY mention of any special event in the sky that night. I simply have NO idea what I saw. I just know…THAT I saw it. And it had a profound impact on me.

Of course, if that WAS 1966, then I was 5 years old. And I was 36 years old when I entered the ministry. So it’s NOT like this event had an immediate impact on my life. But I have found that God works much that way in my life. It’s not so much about one event that stands out as a watershed event. Instead, it’s about a series of often seemingly disconnected events that, when put altogether, make a larger whole that impacts me in a greater way. (I think it’s because I’m a bit stubborn AND a bit…dense…and God has to work HARD on me sometimes to get me to see things!)

Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t remember standing in our kitchen as a boy, in my pajamas, watching that star out the window and knowing…KNOWING…that something big was happening! And therefore, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think of my dad getting us out of bed and wondering- did he remember that event, too? My dad died almost 8 years ago, and I never thought to ask him about it. But I will NEVER forget it!

Our Christmas season sermon series is Silent Night, Holy Night. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beloved hymn that has become a bedrock of the Christmas season. We are spending the weeks leading up to Christmas looking at this hymn and how its words impact our holiday season.

Each week, we focus on one of the 4 verses of this classic hymn. We are singing that verse, acapela, and then hearing part of the Christmas Gospel read. We then talk a bit about the ongoing history of the hymn and how that day’s verse applies to the larger story of Christmas. Here is Verse 2. Would you join me as we sing it together.

Verse 2- “Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar. Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born!

     Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

So, last week we talked about Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber, two workers at a small Austrian church who combined their gifts to create this classic hymn. We talked about it being written specifically for guitar because either the mice had chewed through the chords of the church organ or rust had frozen some of the inner workings of that organ. Well, here’s more of that story.

Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr’s Christmas poem. Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of “Silent Night” back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by “Silent Night,” both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire. The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed “Silent Night” for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve.

So, let’s take a look at this week’s Scripture. There were shepherds, living in the fields and watching over their flocks by night. And, as the classic British comedy duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore once said, that’s when you have to watch them because that’s when they get up to all their rubbish! Suddenly, and angel of the Lord appears before them and they are terrified. But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.” EVERY time a heavenly being appears before one of us flawed humans, they always say, “Don’t be afraid.” Why? Because they recipient of the message is ALWAYS scared! Wouldn’t you be?

So, the angel tells them to not be scared. Why? Because the angel has brought Good News of GREAT joy for WHOM? ALL people. Not just the shepherds. Not just the Hebrews. Not just the Ancient Near Eastern people. ALL people. Throughout the world. Throughout time. Us. This very day, a Savior has been born Who is THE long-awaited Messiah. And in case you need more than that, here’s how you will know- go look for yourself. You’ll find Him in the town of David- Bethlehem- wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Why the shepherds? It seems as if there would have been any number of other groups who would have been a better, more reliable source. First off, they were available. They were on duty- standing guard, if you will. While the rest of the weary world slept, these dedicated men were manning their post. They were also precursors to Jesus Himself- shepherds. What is one of the most common terms for Jesus we still use today? The Great Shepherd. They had their flocks. WE are Jesus’ flock. On that first Christmas night, shepherds quaked at the sight of glories streaming from Heaven afar as the heavenly host sang Hallelujah to announce that Christ the Savior was born. The shepherds then went out to see. And once they saw…the Word then went out.

You may not stand in your kitchen this Christmas and see a blinding star in the early morning sky. But will you quake at the sight of glories streaming from Heaven afar as the King of kings, the Lord of lords comes NEAR? On that first Christmas, God deigned to break into time and space in a real and powerful, yet tender way. He CHOSE to step from His realm into ours and become one of us. He could have done this any number of ways. But He CHOSE to come as a helpless baby so that He could experience what we experience, live like we live…and die for us. And it all began on one silent night, one holy night. He came down and the Word went out on a silent night, a holy night.

Baskets of Cheer

thanksgivingbasketsThis next week, a group of folks from the church I currently serve will gather…after the weekly all-church dinner…for a really important and really cool Christmas tradition. Over the course of an hour or so, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 Christmas baskets or plates will be assembled.

There will be a variety of plates and baskets. Some will include some homemade cookies and some fresh fruit, along with a card from the church. Some will include canned goods. Some will include read-to-heat-and-eat soups and other main dish food. Some will include complete dinners- turkey or ham, stuffing, vegetables…the works.

You might imagine that @ 60 baskets/plates would take a LOT of food. And…you would be right! You might wonder WHERE all that food comes from?! Let me tell you! It comes from the incredible generous congregation which I serve. We put out a “call” every year, asking for boxed stuffing mix, canned vegetables, fresh fruit, homemade cookies, ham and turkey.  AND…cash donations.

So as I write this, between the food and money donated, we have a LOT of “stuff” with which to create these baskets and plates. And this coming Wednesday night, we will gather and assemble everything. And that part of the process is quite enjoyable- everybody working together toward a common goal of simply bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to someone. Then, the baskets and plates will be split up among several people and delivered.

The truth is that is would be a WHOLE lot easier if none of this was done. Nobody would have to donate any food. Nobody would have to give any money. Nobody would have to do any shopping or planning. No setup would be necessary. No one would have to work for an hour or so assembling these baskets. No one would have to take the time to deliver them. Simple. But if no one did all of those things…then no one would get a little “pick me up” at Christmas.

Are we going to change the world with these roughly 60 basket/plates? No. Are we going to radically change the lives of the people who receive them? No. But are we going to make an impact on @ 60 people or families? You bet! In a world that is so clearly set on “receive”, we’re going to demonstrate what it means to be set on “give” instead. And in the midst of it all, we get to be the hands and feet of Jesus! And it doesn’t get a lot better than that!
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Chemo Update

chemo     Here’s a chemo update. This was Week 2 of this particular cycle of chemo. This cycle includes 3 weeks “on” and 1 week “off”. It also has the added features of Weeks 1 & 3 getting BOTH meds while Week 2 only gets one of the meds. So, we went in Tuesday to meet with the oncologist for a tox screen- to see how the body is dealing with the chemo- and to make sure we could take it this week. 

I had lost 10 pounds when I went in last time- not a great sign. But I gained 4 pounds of that back when I weighed in this Tuesday- a good thing. My BP was great. My body temp was normal…for me. The blood work isn’t perfect but within the parameters of my “new norm”, so they  approved chemo.  

Because you only get one med on Week 2, this one didn’t last as long. They “plugged into” my port and started. You get oral anti-nausea meds. You get steroids. You get regular fluids. And then you get the chemo med(s). This particular chemo med is highly light-sensitive. So, the med bag in covered in a sunscreen bag and the tubing is specially-made.  

I dozed off and on, but was much more awake than the week before, when the Benadryl they give you nearly put me in a coma! And then we went home. I wasn’t feeling too badly when we left, but my wife always drives us home from chemo. You just never know how and when it’s going to hit me.  

Wednesday was “steroid day”. They were still in my system and so I felt pretty strong on Wednesday. By yesterday, they were starting to wear off. If history holds, they will be gone today and I will feel a little run down. Friday tends to be a “bounce back” day regardless, so you get used to it. Tomorrow will be the “wild card” day- how do I feel? And then Sunday? Quien sabe, as the Spanish says. Oddly, the hardest day of Chemo Week to predict. (The ting I have going for me THIS Sunday is that it is Choir Cantata Sunday, so THEY will do the “heavy lifting” this week and I will have a pretty light week. 4 Services, but only preaching one of them and only REALLY playing drums at one of them. The rest of the services, I will do a prayer here and there, lead a song here and there and, other than that, sit with my wife and enjoy three presentations of the Cantata! 

Next week’s chemo will be back to BOTH chemo meds. Then, I will have a week off. But because the next two Tuesdays after that will be Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, it looks like instead of one week off, I will get 3 weeks off and then start the next round early in January. If we hold with 4 rounds each time, that would put the end of this Round in late March. We’ll see! 

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! 

Hopeful Pragmatists

Hopeful Pragmatists     A little while back, I shared that the surgeon who put in my port started the conversation with that iconic question, “How are you still alive?” He went to share that, even though he has done more than 2,000 ports, I was the VERY FIRST Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer patent he had EVER installed a port in. The reason? The don’t live long enough. He said the only thing he has EVER done for a patient with my kind of cancer is install a tracheotomy because the patient couldn’t breathe. 

I have been thinking a lot about that conversation. Why AM I still alive? I think the answer come down to two words and four bullet points. (How OCD of me!) Those two words are “hopeful pragmatists”. That is an expression my wife and I coined about 18 months ago to help define who we are and where we are. And if you extrapolate those two words out, you get the 4 bullet points. Here are they. 

  • Hope- we have hope. We have hope that God has a purpose. We have hope that miracles still happen. We have hope that God is not done with me here yet. We cling to that hope. 
  • Faith- We have faith. We believe that God is good all the time. We believe that God did NOT “give” me these cancers to teach me something or to test me. We believe that there is something beyond this world- that we are NOT physical beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual beings on a physical journey. We believe that, whether you live one year or 100 years on the planet, it is but the blink of an eye compared to an eternity with God. We believe that suffering in this world is hard to understand because our finite brains struggle to embrace the infinite that is God.  
  • Prayer- we believe in the power of prayer. We believe that “the prayers of the righteous availeth much.” We believe that God not only hears OUR prayers, but He hears the prayers of the thousands of people literally all over the world (parishioners, former parishioners, friends, family, readers of this blog, etc.”). Ultimately, He has a plan, but the praters of the righteous availeth much. 
  • Adherence to medical treatments. We have been committed to the medical treatment from the start. We have agreed to everything that has been suggested/offered/prescribed. We have made it a Number One priority, making sure that any appointments or treatment gets top priority. I will cancel or re-schedule basically ANYTHING for a funeral…except for a doctor’s appointment or a treatment. I have reluctantly but firmly told loved ones that, while I would be honored to perform their loved one’s funeral, I will not cancel or re-schedule medical treatment to accommodate another schedule. There have only been one or maybe two funerals in the past 18 months that I ended up not doing. But there have been about 5 that moved to a different day to accommodate ME! I am grateful for that kind of support.  

The first three bullet points grow out of the word “hopeful”, while the last one grows out of the word “pragmatists”. (We are also pragmatists because of MANY other things we have done behind the scenes that no else is aware of.) But regardless, we remain Hopeful Pragmatists as we continue to walk this journey one day at a 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! 

Men, Rise up!

umm2The United Methodist Men- a long-standing staple of the denomination of which I am a part. And the truth is that, like many staples, some examples of the United Methodist Men- UMM- are quite healthy and active and some, well…they are a bit rusty around the edges! And it depends on which local version of the United Methodist Church you visit as to which iteration of the UMM you will find!

I am very blessed- the church I currently serve has a very active group of men. Not gonna lie- the women of the church are still a HUGE driving force- like every United Methodist Church I have ever seen. But this particular church has a core group of men who are very committed and dedicated to her ministries. They are ALWAYS at the church- fixing something or installing something!

As active as the core is, they are also committed to trying to grow the group. They meet AS a group once a month. Dinner is always a part of the meeting- I mean, we ARE UMM, after all! And then there is a (brief) business meeting, followed by…something…that is designed to, as the president of our group says, “feed our faith”. (With my hearing issues, I thought he said “feed your FACE” for just a moment…and I got really excited!!) That “something” doesn’t look the same from month to month, but it’s goal is always the same.

OK- so here’s the deal. You might be thinking right now, “Great, Pastor. I just got a blow by blow of your fancy-pants meeting. So what?” Well, let me tell you, oh ye of little faith! The Bible says that the man is the head of the household. And that fact has been misused and abused a LOT over the years. Why? Because it does NOT mean that men are to rule their homes with an iron fist, telling everybody what to do and how to do it. Instead, it means that men should be a good example for their family, for their church, for their community of what it means to be a humble, dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. They should lead…by example. I am honored to serve a congregation that is many men who lead…by example. Thank you, gentlemen!
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!