Sunday, May 31, 2009

You Have Stayed Long Enough...

(From my Bible reading earlier this week--note: I'm using Robert Murry M'Cheyne's program this year. Wrote this a couple of days ago; edited it just now)

“The Lord our God said...‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go...See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land..."
Deuteronomy 1:6-8 (excerpted)

Multiple layers for this passage to me.

Just got word that a friend from a few years back entered glory yesterday. I've been remembering numerous cups of coffee @ his place of business to start the day, plus some parking lot conversations after church. Life, love, music, evangelism, discipleship, marriage, science, church, ministry,...many were the topics we covered. And I'm better because of those coffee gatherings. So, Mark has been told "you've stayed long enough...take your journey...go..." I picture him--for one of the very few times since I've known him *smile*--being absolutely speechless as he entered glory & saw his dream & longing fulfilled. RIP, bro. See you later. Save me a spot @ the coffee counter.

Wed. night, had some great conversation w/ 3 different guys @ church. "Remember our conversation about 8 years ago?" (topic back then: why do we stay in a church in which we perceive that some things are going very badly...) "This is why we stayed!" (referring to some incredible things the Lord is up to in & through our church) I have a strong sense the the Lord is leading us to some amazing places of ministry in what Steven Curtis Chapman called "The Great Adventure." More later. On a very important related note--I've been reminded lately that Temple Baptist was a very good church long before I got there...long before Tony Merida got there...or any current member or staff member. This August will be 20 years since we joined...and it was a great church when we joined. I'm just glad it still is...*smile*

And this: it should surprise nobody that I've pondered quite a bit on last Wednesday's appt. w/ Dr. Mehran. (OK, one more time: "There is no need to operate. I'm cancelling your surgery for tomorrow. Go home, Mr. Madaris, and enjoy your summer." I'll remember those sentences for the rest of my days!) If you're wondering, I have no clue why I got that word, and others--like my friend Mark--got a different word from their cancer doctor. But I do have a very strong sense that the Lord has ministry-ish things in mind for me. On behalf of Mark and all of the others, please pray with me that I hear clearly, follow closely, and go in & take possession of whatever land the Lord lays out before me. Thanks!

Excited about the rest of the journey,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Flame Passes On

The Flame Passes On - Whiteheart

Fire on the arena floor
The swords are drawn, hear the lions roar
The coliseum laughs and shouts and screams for more

They tried to crush this mutiny
In a crimson tide of history
But when people have seen the truth that sets them free
The flame passes on, the flame passes on

Ran into Ben @ church yesterday. Ben's one of those guys everyone wants to be around. Great guy, loves the Lord, loves his wife, loves his baby daughter. Great athlete--played football @ USM as a freshman before realizing that wasn't what the Lord had for him. He's now a very effective minister of the Gospel on staff at my church. For another 4 weeks. After that, he & his family will spend some time w/ their families, & then head off for cross-cultural training for 2 months. After that, they are off to a rather difficult slice of the mission field populated by people who have yet to see that truth that sets them free. Ben & his family are heading out for keeps. They're planning to stay. He is very excited about it!

From the heart of the people
comes love for the people
Love that is burning strong
Oh from one to another
The dream of forever...
The flame passes on

Last week, I heard from my friend Mike. He & his wife used to live in Hattiesburg. Now...well, let's just say that by a long way, they don't live here any more. They are serving as missionaries in a largely un-reached part of the world. Word I get is that they are already having friends over for cookouts & such, despite having only been there a month or so, and despite a gigantic language barrier. They love where they are and the people they work with. I'm proud he's my friend who loves me and has served me very personally & directly. And I've been wondering who'll be my guest SS teacher when I'm out of town...

Because of them we know His name
So let's lift the cross, and do the same
An unbroken line of believers
building a human chain
And the flame passes on,
the flame passes on & on

Prayed with my friend Eddie at the conclusion of worship Sunday morning. He is one of those count-em-on-one-hand friends; I'm quite convinced that I could call Eddie at 3:20 a.m. & say, "I need you" and that about halfway over to my house, he'd wonder what I needed him for as he kept on coming. Eddie has prayed me through two bouts with cancer now, and countless other challenges that we share with each other in confidence, knowing such things will then be shared only with the Lord. I went to him & asked him to celebrate with me in prayer since he had heard the groanings of my heart through this phase of my cancer journey. He said "I'd be honored to, Mike Madaris." Later, he thanked me for coming to him. Whenever I hear the word "minister" I think of my friend Eddie pretty quickly.

From the heart of the people
comes love for the people
Love that is burning strong
Oh from one to another
This dream of forever...
The flame passes on

The closing prayer was offered Sunday morning by my friend Ronnie. He mentioned my good medical news. And choked up a bit when he did. Um...he wasn't the only one who choked up rt. then. Ronnie is a pediatrician, but he is also my teacher & mentor. I've not been in his class in years...but will always consider him my Sunday School teacher. Ronnie has forgotten more things about how God works than I know. He's very humble, which helps make him so very effective as a teacher and a minister.

Oh the light of ages illumines the pages
The words of an ancient song
Oh Faith is the fire that burns ever higher
And the flame passes on

I'm off just now to continue preparing for the classes I'll be teaching this summer. That's the main ministry the Lord has for me now. I'm also praying through some on-the-side things (ministry type things) that seem to be percolating up regularly for me these days. You see, I was well taught the things of the Lord by...wait for it...a veterinarian. He & his wife poured into Lisa & me for the better part of a year nearly 20 years ago. It was there in meetings with Johnny that I first heard that I have a ministry as a professor. I have never been--and likely never will be--on staff at a church. I am a cheap imitation of Johnny in terms of discipling others...but still I press on, as does he. And we pass it on. I hope he thinks that year was a wise investment; I certainly do!

Mothers to sons, fathers to daughters - everyone...Pass it on

Which always makes me remember a country girl from south AL & a country boy from central AL who first passed it on to me in the house in which I grew up. And of a poorly-educated country lady from central AL whom I knew & loved as she passed it on to that first guy I mentioned. And of her ancestor Abner, who passed it on through the generations. And of Hope Hull, who first passed it on to Abner. And so on..."the words of the ancient song" ring long & deep in my family heritage, for which I am so grateful. But I know people who do not share such a heritage, and the same song will echo through their descendants. A guy I listen to via podcast--a very effective pastor, mind you--said recently, "I come from a long line of alcoholic child beaters...apart from the Gospel, that's who I'd almost surely be."

I think those who faced the lions would be pleased to hear that their lives & legacies matter even today.

Grateful & humbled,

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day...To REMEMBER!

Lots of pics, very little commentary by me. There is so very little that could possibly be added to pics like these.
Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, USN (Seal) in Iraq

The *incredible* tribute to Petty Officer Monsoor at his funeral. He saved the lives of his 3 Seal team members by choosing to absorb the blast from a grenade that landed among their position. At his funeral, the many Navy Seals in attendance removed their own Seal Tridents and hammered them w/ their fists into Monsoor's casket as it was brought toward the gravesite. (There's a *great* Youtube clip about him showing memorial services in Iraq and this...but I couldn't make it load here. Check it out...10 minutes of your life well spent.

Yorktown Battlefield from the Revolutionary War.

And again.

See the name "Carl Drake" on the left just above the image of the photographer? Maj. Drake was shot down over Cambodia in 1970, and as far as I know, remains were never recovered.
His younger son was a friend & fraternity brother of mine in my UF days. Actually, Randy was literally the first guy I met on campus when we were attending the same orientation.

On patrol in the central highlands, Vietnam.

The Wall in DC

Larger image of the Wall.

Fredericksburg right after the Civil War conflict.

Gettysburg today.

Gettysburg right after the Battle.

Iwo Jima, 1945

Coming ashore @ Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima as it is today. Hard to believe that this little rock in the midst of the Pacific was the scene of a month-long nasty battle. You're looking at the entire island.

Coming ashore @ Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
My mind has absolutely no category for what these guys were thinking & feeling.

Omaha Beach today. This is actually one of the draws that was key to getting off of the beach on DDay. The American Cemetery is right behind this photographer.

An unknown soldier's grave, U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France.

Medal of Honor winner's grave, U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France.

"Merci" is "Thanks" in French. (Also from the U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France)

U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France

U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, looking out toward English Channel

It shall come to pass in the latter days...
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2:1a, 4

What a promise! Until then, though, may we always remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy today. Note: it matters not one whit what one's political persuasion & foreign policy convictions are. The freedom to have those convictions have been preserved for over 200 years by those willing to stand in harm's way on our behalf.

If you are able, save them a place inside of you
and save one backward glance when you are leaving
for the places they can no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say you loved them,
though you may or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying and keep it with your own.
And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
1 January 1970Dak To, Vietnam

On March 24th, 1970, Michael O'Donnell along with crew mates Berman Ganoe, John C. Hosken, Rudy M. Becerra, John Boronski, Gary A. Harned and Jerry L. Pool went Missing In Action. Although remains for all crewmen were not recovered, this crew is now considered accounted for.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some Heroes of Mine...

Dr. Reza Mehran - Thoracic Surgeon, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Operated on both of my lungs (2 surgeries). Removed the last known traces of metastatic melanoma from my body.

Also, the one who sent me home this week & cancelled my surgery because there was no need for additional surgery because the P.E.T. scans were normal. He told me "Go home, Mr. Madaris, and enjoy your summer."

Dr. Edward Kim - Thoracic Medical Oncologist, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

I only had one appointment with, but it was hugely significant. He read a bunch of test & scan results, examined me, diagnosed me with stage IV metastatic melanoma--a very grim diagnosis--and said, "I'd like to be aggressive if that's OK with you. I'd like to speak with a friend of mine who is a surgeon & see if he'll go get those spots out of your lung." (thus, was I referred to Dr. Mehran for the first time)

Dr. Jade Homsi - Medical Melanoma Oncologist

My "main" Dr. out at MDA. A native of Syria, he is the one who laid out the medical options in addition to surgery, deciding on high-dose immunotherapy. He's been very good at keeping me on schedule with tests, scans, appts., and with handing me off to thoracic and to Dr. Mehran.

Dr. Patrick Hwu ("Who") - Chairman, Medical Melanoma Dept.

Presiding physician for my first round of high-dose immunotherapy using interleukin ("IL-2"). A very impressive, soft-spoken man, who has one of the great bedside manners ever. Dr. Hwu was on the team the developed the high-dose IL-2 treatment protocol some years ago. I mentioned this to him, and he emphasized "I just one small part of the team." He then said "there's so much we don't know about this illness..." Said it rather wistfully, actually.

Dr. Wen-Jen Hwu (also "Who," though no relation to Dr. Patrick Hwu) - Medical Melanoma Oncologist

Presiding physician for my second round of high-dose IL-2. She was also very pleasant to be around. Very competent...always smiling. She was very excited that I made it one treatment farther with round 2 than with round 1.

Jessie Richard - Medical Melanoma Advanced Practice Nurse

She was the hands-on nurse for both of my IL-2 cycles. She is an incredible nurse. Highly competent & impressive, with a great bedside manner. She also loves to fish in the northern Gulf for Spanish Mackeral. We swapped tips & lure recommendations. Which reminds me...I need to send her some of the ones used over in our part of the Gulf. She was not familiar with it.

Meritas Domine - Medical Melanoma Nurse

In the course of our many visits to Dr. Homsi's office, plus the many accompanying phone calls about tests, appts., scans, etc., we have spent a lot of time with her. This past week, she called after our appt. w/ Dr. Mehran when he sent us home. She was so very excited about my P.E.T. results.

Dr. Nagen Bellare - Medical Oncologist, Hattiesburg Clinic

I've written about him before, but he is awesome! Last Spring, he put me through a number of tests & scans here, the results of which were inconclusive. He said, "I have a hunch...I'd like you to go to M.D. Anderson for more testing..." Thank God for his hunch! Nagen was a friend for several years before he became my oncologist.

Dr. Ric Pecunia - Plastic Surgeon, Hattiesburg Clinic

Ric performed the surgery in 05 that removed my original melanoma. At the same time, he did two sentinel lymph surgeries, plus a skin graft. At our first meeting, he walked into the room and said "Hi, I'm Ric." Love it! I've seen him several times in the 3.5 years since, and he always makes a point of asking how I'm doing.

Dr. Brett Robbins - Family Practice, Hattiesburg Clinic's Lake Serene Clinic

My primary care Dr. who did the initial excision in Nov. 05 of what turned out to be melanoma. Also a friend. Great sense of humor, very good skills. He gets online & tracks my reports from MDA, which I appreciate.

As I look over this list of some of my heroes, I'm struck that every single one of them approaches their profession out of a genuine sense of calling. With great passion. I am grateful for every one of them. It is not much of a stretch to say that I am alive today & healthy because of them.

It's been a hellacious, difficult, joyful, tearful, demanding, expensive, triumphant ride. I'm so glad to have made some new friends who have become heroes to me. Don't you long for the day when “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away?"

Until then, rejoice with me that my friends listed here are just a sampling of the vital ones we'll need in varying degrees until then. And pray--fervently pray--for all of those working to eradicate cancer and "make cancer history." Imagine with me some time in the future: "It's, take this shot today & these 2 pills for 6 months & you'll be fine." Pray toward that end with me, won't you?

Celebrating Medical Heroes & longing for the day when they're no longer needed,

Friday, May 22, 2009

10 Things That Were/Are Different Because I Did Not Have Surgery Yesterday…

10. I had to eat a crawfish po-boy w/ a side of etouffe at the Boudin Shop near Breaux Bridge, LA yesterday instead of IV drips & ice chips in the MDA hospital.

9. We had to (of course, the un-sarcastic way to say this is "we GOT to...") hang out w/ our friend Diane, eating a breakfast of muffins & omelets rather than enjoying anesthesia & IVs (Mike) & munchies from the "Jolly Trolley" in the surgery waiting room (Lisa)

8. We had to sleep until 7 a.m. instead of 4:30 a.m.

7. We had to come on home yesterday, rather than coming this weekend (or later). Relatedly,...

6. Lisa had help driving, & we didn't have to stop every hour for me to walk around.

5. I didn’t get a new teddie bear
(MDA's Thoracic Dept. gives a teddie bear to all lung surgery patients to hold against the surgery site for support when coughing...This was discussed here last summer)

4. I didn’t get a new incentive spirometer breathing exercise machine

3. I didn’t get a new pair of those uber-sexy white anti-clotting knee socks

2. It looks like I may have to be content with only 10 separate surgical scars related to melanoma & metastatic melanoma.

1. The sounds of a renovated tenor saxophone being played badly will commence @ 55 Clipper Road in the very near future, rather than later in the summer.
This is not a positive development for Lisa, James, & Anne…

(Quite obviously, we are THRILLED with these things that are/were different! Thanks so very much for your prayers & encouragement! Here's to many more visits to MDA for scans that end with "nothing to see here...go home & enjoy your summer/fall/winter/spring"...)


"So, even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come..."
Psalm 71:18

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Ok...the bottom line: No surgery will be required!!!

I quote Dr. Mehran: "I am cancelling your surgery, Mr. Madaris. Go home and enjoy your summer..."

Medical Details (P.E.T. scan results interpreted):
--the spot has shrunk in size
--metabolic activity around it has decreased
Therefore, no need for surgery. Another quote of Dr. Mehran: "metastases never get better; they always get worse. So there is no need for surgery here."

The radiologist used the word "normal." It's been a LONG time (17 months) since that word was used after a P.E.T. scan of me. (I savored it deeply...) Dr. Mehran sez there *may* still be a little disease there, but that if so, it would show up at my followup scan in 4 months & we could do surgery then if needed. The upshot now, though, is there is clear, convincing medical evidence that God is taking care of this. Maybe...just maybe...we're about to enter a long season of "nothing to see here" scan results.

Mike & Lisa's Reaction:
--overwhelming joy, obviously!!
--a spontaneous, um, allergic reaction let's say. (we managed to wait until Dr. Mehran & his two students cleared the room before having this allergic reaction...)
--Incredible thanksgiving to Jehovah Shammah, the Lord Who Is Present
--An overpowering sense of "why us?" as we sit here drinking coffee surrounded by so many who are clearly not where we are in terms of their cancer journeys. More on that later, perhaps.
--Great excitement about mowing my own lawn, trimming my own hedges, playing w/ my new weedeater, busting up stumps, etc. this summer
--Equally great excitement about some big projects @ wk that have been on hold for those 17 months. (my boss will be glad to hear that...)
--Equally great excitement about some other non-work, non-lawn-care projects that are percolating around my no-anesthesia-needed mind. Be kind of afraid.
--Great humility and thanksgiving
See "Why Us?" but also to know that so many have been praying specifically for us and for my healing. Do not ever doubt the power of prayer again!!!!

Note: had the results from yesterday's scan been different, that would definitely not have diminished God's goodness in general, nor toward us. But I ain't gonna lie...I'm glad He chose to display His goodness this way! *smile*

Thank you all so much, my friends. Know that I have already thanked God for you & asked Him to magnify Himself more clearly to you and through you.

With Great Love, Humility, & Thanksgiving,

"So, even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come...Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again..."
Psalm 71:18-20

p.s. - As we walked out after getting the great news, I wanted to stop in the big waiting room & say loudly, "Be Encouraged! There Is Hope!!" (dang allergies...)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Brief (not much of an) Update

The big news of the day is, no bloodwork required this morning! I generally don't mind getting stuck when necessary, which is entirely different from saying "I like getting stuck"...

2 good P.E.T. scan-induced naps. One during the "prep" part where you lay back in a recliner for an hour in the dark while the radioactive glucose percolates through you. Somebody in one of those rooms was snoring so loudly that it woke me up. Wait...that was me...never mind... The other nap was during the P.E.T. scan itself. The guy said "can you lie on your back still?" I said "oh yeah!" I almost said "Still? Sure! Just not quietly..."

Those were followed by the greatest Chik-Fil-A sandwich ever, chased with the best cup of bad hospital coffee ever. (recall, this was the "no food/no coffee" day...)

So now we wait. Appt. w/ Dr. Mehran around 11:00-ish tomorrow. We'll have results then, along with plans for surgery.

Meanwhile, pity the poor servers & cooks @ Gringo's in the very near future. For I am about to commit some very serious gluttony upon some Tex Mex food...

Thanks for praying w/ us, friends! Press on another few days, & then I hope to be able to release your prayer time to more worthy causes... ;-)

With love & hope in His Grip,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Once More Into the Breach...

OK, Pray-ers...selfishly & unapologetically, I ask to be re-routed up on your prayer list. Back to Houston/M.D. Anderson tomorrow.

Reminder of where we are: The November followup scan showed a small area of concern. The Feb. scan confirmed that there's a spot there. It is not a new metastasis; rather, it's an "implantation" which means some cells dropped off during a previous surgery. The spot is quite small, and is not down in my lung this time. It's in the lining near my ribs. Dr. says it's an easy one to remove.

The Schedule for This Trip:
Monday, 5/18 - drive out to Houston (leave in the early afternoon)
*Pray for safe travels.*
*Thank God for the friends who are letting us use their much newer/nicer ride for this trip.*

Tuesday, 5/19 - fun-filled day of bloodwork & P.E.T. scans. ("blood-sucking & nuking" as I like to call it)
*Pray for accurate & decisively clear results that show nothing beyond the one spot that's already there.*
*Thank God for incredible medical technology & for amazing medical expertise. (This spot was too small to even biopsy in Feb.; yet the scan showed it clearly)
Wed., 5/20 - Appt. w/ Dr. Mehran, the surgeon. Appt. w/ Anesthesia folks in prep for Thursday's surgery.
*Pray for clear wisdom for Dr. Mehran, & for peace for us as we get our next most-impt-ever test & scan results*
*Thank God for Dr. Mehran's skill & knowledge, and for his willingness to operate on me this third time in less than a year.
Thurs., 5/21 - surgery 1st thing in the morning
*Pray for everything to go smoothly in this surgery, and for peace for Lisa as she waits once again...
*Thank God for a job & a schedule that allow us to head out there, & again for Dr. Mehran.*
Probably a couple of days in the hospital, then one more night w/ my HS classmate Diane (due to how long it takes to actually leave the hospital when getting discharged), then home to lie around with the dogs for a few days & recup.
*Pray for a quick & complete recovery & release from hospital. (Anesthesia does odd things to me; takes a while for all systems to switch back on...)
*Pray for safe travels back. I won't be able to drive, & will have to get out & walk every so often. This will not be Lisa's favorite trip...*
*Thank God for my HS classmate Diane who is letting us stay @ her house again, despite having sold it & being in the process of moving out of it, and for my H'burg friend Lance who will be coming to mow my lawn next weekend.*
*Thank God that He is Jehovah Shammah - The Lord Who Is Present.*
I *REALLY* am grateful that so many are praying so much. Maybe...just maybe...this trip will wind up the heavy stuff. That's my prayer & hope.
In the midst of this dark journey, we are most blessed by the many ways God shines His light on us directly and through His people. My hope is to never be the same as I was at the start of this journey...
With love and hope,
p.s. - from some recent times w/ God:
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me...Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! My heart is steadfast, O God,my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (Psalm 57, various verses)
When I am afraid,I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid...For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling,that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psalm 56, various verses)
Cast your burden on the Lord,and he will sustain you...(Psalm 55:22)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

That's Dr. Taylor to you...

“I often dream of nights I’d sit and watch the rising son
And I spoke to you of life, and of the battles I had won…
I search find the meaning of the path that I am on
And I hope that my direction will not make me walk alone…”
Axe, “Battles”

This is one of those “soundtrack-of-my-life” songs. During a very uncertain time of life for me, I discovered Axe, the very fine hard rock band from Gainesville. And their excellent song, “Battles,” which captures my mood back then. “Let me go from this lonely land, before my dreams all vanish like water in the sand.” (of course, the superb & lengthy guitar solo in “Battles” helps…*smile*)

Thankfully…gloriously…blessedly, my direction has not made me walk alone. Obviously, there’s my best friend, who put this ring on my finger 25 years ago in a couple of weeks. I cannot even imagine where I’d be apart from her impact on my life…But there are also a few others…well, quite a number of others, but just very few at the level I’m talking here. Friends in the sense of the word from before it meant a TV show about who was sleeping with whom. From before the word was cheapened so very much when the phrase “with benefits” was added after “friend.” Soul brothers. Co-laborers, to use Paul’s excellent description. Accountability partners. People who love you but are not impressed by you, to use Howard Hendricks’ superb phrase. Safe people, with whom you can share your deepest darkest secrets & struggles and know they will keep them secret and will pray you through them.

One such guy in my life is Clay Taylor who is one of my dearest, most treasured friends. Ours is a friendship where either of us may find ourself saying “I don’t really feel like doing anything tonight…let’s just go over to the Taylors/Madarises” without the slightest hint of insult. We are utterly & completely at home & at peace sitting on each other’s porch or around each other’s table.

Clay knows much about me that he doesn’t share. And vice versa. We have laughed together, cried together, dreamed together, struggled together, ministered together…We have watched football games between our respective alma maters, each of us hoping the other’s school would lose. (He’s an MSU grad/fan) And yet, after the game & regardless of who won, we enjoyed that same fellowship or camaraderie under the tent eating tailgate food & breaking down what happened in the game. We have traveled together a bit, though not nearly as much as we plan on in the future (see “dreamed together”…) He has loved on & encouraged my children immensely, and I hope I have done likewise for his.

Clay, Sheri, & their children Lee, Jana, Caroline, & Jack.

So, Saturday morning @ the Turner Center on the campus of Ole Miss, I was one of the proudest guys in the room when Clay received his Doctorate of Pharmacy degree. My quote to him was David Crosby: “it’s been a long time comin’.” His to me was Jerry Garcia: “what a long, strange trip it’s been…” You see, Clay has spent 5-6 years re-booting his science education so he could get into the pharmacy program so that he could pursue a long-delayed dream of becoming a pharmacist. Did I mention that Clay—though younger than I—is substantially older than many of his classmates? And that he’s married? And has four kids? And that he owns a home near Laurel? And yet, there they were, moving the whole tribe up to Oxford a few years back & living on rice & beans/beans & rice (as Dave Ramsey says), all in the name of pursuing a dream. The four younger Taylors were uprooted from their schools & their friends for two years. And not by moving across town…4 hours away! After those years, Sheri & the kids moved back to Jones County, while Clay moved to Jackson for the dreaded P5 year of clinical stuff. Then a year of rotations…and Saturday’s announcement: “Dr. Clay G. Taylor.”

(Clay's the tall guy in line there smiling @ his daughter)
Now, off to a new job & career @ Forrest General Hospital as a pharmacist; not a student rotation, but a sho-nuff “the-buck-stops-here” pharmacist. His paycheck will go up, but that seems almost insignificant; the real heart of the matter to me—and to you—is that a dream suppressed may just be a dream delayed. Over 25 years ago, Clay set out to become a pharmacist. A series of events led him to a different career path there for a number of years. But no longer. I would love to have been standing there in the FGH pharmacy when he arrived @ 8:00 Monday morning for his first day’s work. And I would love to have sat around the firepit up @ Jones County Monday evening to de-brief the day.

Instead, I was there in a classroom, watching students take an exam while writing this. And nearly bursting with pride for my friend’s INCREDIBLE accomplishment & perseverance.

The Associate Dean of the Pharmacy School @ Ole Miss said after the ceremony, “Clay, I enjoyed calling your name today…” Clay and his two brothers said “We enjoyed hearing you call it!” I didn’t say anything, for fear of cashing in a large number of my man-cards by blubbering right there in front of everyone; my heart was just too full, remembering all of the shared planning, praying, phone chatting, emailing & dreaming about this day. But I’ll say it now: CONGRATULATIONS, DR. TAYLOR!!! Well-fought & well-earned, bro. I very much enjoyed hearing your named called by Dr. Wilson Saturday too.

I am so very proud of you…and just a bit in awe! Thanks for inspiring me—and others, including my son—with your words…but much more with your life. Thanks for the burgers…& fries…& cookies…& Lau-Tori’s lunch meetings…& Lake Serene Grocery breakfast meetings…& prayers…& games…& the first of many road trips to Atlanta to watch the Braves. Thanks for pulling my son toward his dream which he shares with you. Thanks for being my friend and letting me share with you the battles I have won…and lost...and for not letting me walk alone. I am a better man, husband, employee, parent, churchman, and just, well, dude because of your influence on my life. Thanks for all of that.

Now let’s get to work on our bucket list, shall we? *huge grin*

With much pride & love,

p.s. - Not only all of that, but he can also catch a rice ball in his mouth when tossed by a knife-wielding cook @ a Japanese celebration...*huge grin*

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Whole Pound of Bacon!

A friend from home entered eternity yesterday. Her name is Annita Hays. She was a native of Mississippi, but after graduating from USM, she made her home in Ft. Walton Beach, FL where she and her husband both taught school. They moved there right about when we did. She & Mom taught together, and our families became very close friends. Mrs. Hays has one daughter my brother's age, and one my age. All four of us grew up together. I never had a sister, but Sandra & Janet are pretty close.

I remember many a Friday or Saturday night spent together @ either their house or ours. A meal, usually followed by a card game called "Canasta." My simple mind never fully grasped the mysterious intricacies of the game, but then we kids were typically consigned to, well, somewhere else where we played easier-to-grasp games like Sorry & Monopoly & the like.

There was this one time when I found myself spending the night @ the Hays' house. Mrs. Hays promised me she'd make all the bacon I could eat the next morning. She didn't quite know what she had gotten herself into... A pound of bacon later, I was about full. Note: that's a pound for me. The others had different stuff, as I recall. (Theological aside: bacon is going to be the breakfast meat of choice in Heaven, in case you're wondering...) To my knowledge, nobody has cooked that much bacon just for me since. Which is probably for the best...*smile*

We traveled some with the Hays family too. Mexico, as I recall, plus multiple nearby camping trips to Rocky Bayou St. Park or Ft. Pickens or Sopchoppy (one of the all-time great names there). We'd all pull our small trailers to the campground & just hang out for a weekend.

Mrs. Hays' life was marked by some very serious challenges which will not be named here, because they are no longer an issue with her except as hard-won trophies of faith. There was loss and pain that I can only imagine. And yet, I remember her laughing & smiling most of the time. I also remember her encouraging me very much. Her daughters inherited the encouragement trait and still do so for me, including in this space now & then.

These last years have been very difficult for Sandra & Janet. Alzheimer's is so cruel & heartless. And yet, they have kept their sunny outlooks on life. Perhaps attitude is more genetic than we might think...

Mrs. Hays' fight--and her daughters' ordeals--ended yesterday.

Tomorrow morning is her funeral. I'll be discussing bank regulation plus my final exam in class, both of which seem so very trivial in comparison. I would love to be there to hug on my friends/sisters Sandra & Janet, and to honor a treasured memory of their beloved Mother. I'd also like to hug my Mom who has lost a friend of nearly 50 years. Instead, this meager writing--which also is trivial in comparison--plus a lot of prayer will have to do.

I'd like you all to pray for Sandra & Janet & the rest of Mrs. Hays' loved ones, especially tomorrow. Sandra has a daughter in college named Leslie; please remember her too. The morning of that last, long goodbye does not dawn easily, even when the passing is an act of God's mercy.

I'd like you also to voice a prayer on behalf of all who are researching Alzheimer's in hope of finding a cure. I'm optimistic that such is coming one day. I just wish it had been around a few years back when Mrs. Hays' illness became known...I know a lot of people--in particular, 2 wonderful ladies who loved their Mother dearly--who would've been spared a lot of heartache. Instead, there's a funeral tomorrow.

But do not think for a minute that Alzheimer's is the victor here!!

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive...What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain...So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power...
(1 Corinthians 15:22, 36, 37, 42, 43)

Alzheimer's the victor?? Not a chance. Yesterday, my friend Mrs. Hays became the victor; Alzheimer's became but a glitch in her eternal journey. Her faith, though shielded by disease that ransacked her mind these past few years, was well-placed. She is now raised imperishable as Paul put it, with a gloriously-restored mind that is beyond what she had here even as a school teacher.

So long, Mrs. Hays. I'll see you on the other side. Let's plan on having some bacon together...I'll cook it this time. *smile*

With much love and fond memories, and prayers for my friends whose Mother has passed from our midst,

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Brief Schedule Update

Ever dive off of a high dive into a pool and realize with total clarity & grimness that you're not going in straight & that you don't know how bad it's gonna hurt & that you have utterly no control any longer over it? That's pretty much how I feel thinking about this schedule...

Yesterday afternoon (Sun., 5/3) - Anne's voice recital @ WCU. She did great! If I can find the camera chord, I'll post a pic or two. She absolutely nailed some operatic type stuff, several Broadway tunes, and a great version of "Be Thou My Vision" as the finale. I'm totally biased, of course, but Anne has an amazing soprano voice, especially for an 18-year-old. It will always make me sad that neither the HS choir nor the church choir valued her voice nor her; one sort of ignored her, & the other pretty much stiff-armed her away (yeah...I'm a bit bitter about both...). Oh well, Dr. Leslie @ MSU--who offered her a vocal scholarship--has said to her, to us, and in writing that he's looking forward to having her in his choir. I didn't shed a tear yesterday, but I wanted to...

Next weekend: trip to Oxford to watch a dear friend receive his Pharm.D. While there, we're gonna attend a UM-MSU baseball game. Oh, and naturally we'll be hanging out w/ my favorite pharmacy student too.

Weekend after that (5/15 & 5/16): (1) Anne graduates from HS (5/15).
(2) The 20th anniversary of my 30th birthday (5/16). (The first is far more significant than the second)

Monday, 5/18: *sings like Larry Gatlin* "Houuuuuuu-ston..." *sighs at failed attempt to get psyched up for the return* Back to MDA.

Tuesday, 5/19 - injection of nuclear waste, tests, scans, blood-sucking, etc.

Wed. 5/20 - all-important appt. w/ Dr. Mehran the surgeon to discuss results of tests & scans + plans for...

Thurs. 5/21 - surgery on left side to remove small melanoma implantation near rib cage (assuming scans still show this spot)

The hope is to be back home w/in a couple of days after surgery with the all-clear (again!). This will give me an entire week to recuperate before summer classes start.

Tues. 6/2 - 25th wedding anniversary!!!!! This will be celebrated in the traditional meeting the 1st session of my summer Principles of Microecon night course. (Note: we're aiming toward a beach trip sometime in June, Lord willing)

Fri 6/5 & Sat 6/6 - Lisa & Anne in Stark-Vegas for orientation. I can't be there because...

Saturday, 6/6 - CFA Level II exam in Jackson. 6 hours of test-taking fun w/ a 2-hour break in the middle to eat lunch, pray fervently for the Lord's imminent return, and realize how very unprepared I was...

Scattered among all of these weeks is, of course, studying like a fiend for the CFA II exam. I'm not ready right now, but hope/plan to be by showtime on 6/6.

Sunday, 6/7 - I may sit & eat about 6 baskets of chips @ El Rancho after church and just giggle randomly because there's very little on the schedule from this point forward and because I have so few brain synapses still firing. I also plan to take about a 4-hour nap. I plan to actively not think deeply about anything nor do anything for a day or two.

So you see why several of you have asked me about doing something & have heard the very bizarrely random sounding answer: "anytime after June 6"...

Forrest Gump said it best: "I'm kind of tired..." *grin*

Your prayers for any & all of this are most welcome & needed & appreciated!

p.s. - in all seriousness, obviously some of this is exciting stuff, some (MDA & surgery) is not so exciting. Also, some (CFA) is self-inflicted. So please don't read this as whining. Just laying out the schedule realities for us for the next few weeks.