Monday, December 26, 2011

Offended Much?

Are you offended when someone wishes you "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"?  (or vice versa?)

I'm not.  I do not expect everyone to greet me in my cultural preference.  It would be nice, but I don't expect it.  (I sure hope they don't expect me to greet them in their cultural preference if it's foreign to me!)

Instead, I appreciate the warm wishes & return them in kind.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I fully understand what is celebrated at Christmas.  I rejoice daily in the incarnation of the One Whose coming is from long ago and Whose coming provides hope where there would be none otherwise.  My hope is certain because He came.  My sins are forgiven, and will be forgotten.

In fact, it is because of His coming itself that I dare not be offended.  I have received grace beyond measure from my Lord, as I deserve ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from him...nor from anyone else.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I will not be offended by something as silly as being wished "Happy Holidays."  My Lord wasn't offended by actions of nonbelievers when He walked among us.  He was, however, highly offended by by the actions of the uber-religious legalists who had missed the point entirely...*clears throat*  (Note: stop & ponder just how winsome it is[n't] to pitch a hissy fit because someone doesn't say "Merry Christmas"...)  I do not expect others to behave in a certain way.  I especially do not expect nonbelievers to act like believers.  I didn't act like one before I came to faith.  (Sadly, I didn't for a number of years after too...but that is another topic that was covered in this space last December.)

If being wished "Happy Holidays" offends, then, with all the love I can muster, you should read the news more.  Be offended by sectarian violence in Iraq...religious persecution of Christians in bombings on Christmas Day in Nigeria...child slavery & human trafficking all over the world.  Please don't be offended by someone wishing you well!

Similarly, if my wishing you a "Merry Christmas" offends you, you too should read the news more, and be offended by those same things instead of by my well wishes.  Please don't be offended by me wishing you well!

I conclude by wishing all of you the Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest of New Years.  Or if you prefer, I wish you the Happiest of Holidays.  Basically, I wish you the best with this post.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The first time...and the next time.

The first time, He came in obscurity, in a small out-of-the-way part of the world.
The next time, He will come in such a way that all the tribes on earth will see him.

The first time, He came as a helpless baby.
The next time, He will come as a victorious King.

The first time, His coming was celebrated only by animals & a few shepherds here on earth.
The next time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.

The first time had been anticipated, prayed for, and dreamed of by patriarchs & prophets for centuries.
The next time has been anticipated, prayed for, and dreamed of by peasants & pastors for centuries...(and by a rather obscure Business school professor in south Mississippi for several decades now.)

The first time ended in an amazing way when what appeared to be a total defeat was turned around by the total triumph of a resurrection.
The second time will be even more amazing, because there will be no doubt.

He came once.  He's coming again.  I can't wait! 

Merry Christmas!

p.s. - "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you."
(Isaiah 54:10 ESV)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back to Houston/MDA

So, I forgot to tell y'all this:  I head back to Houston Thursday, 12/15!

A different sort of trip for a couple of reasons, but first, the schedule:
Thursday, 12/15: drive out to Houston
(just me; retail isn't very conducive to having time off this time of year!  Trips like this are why ipods & podcasts were invented.)
Friday, 12/16: 2 Dr. appts @ MDA - both with new Drs.!
Dr. Homsi, my melanoma oncologist since I first went out there, has recently moved to MDA-Phoenix. Thus, I'll be meeting my new (to me) melanoma oncologist Dr. Bedikian at 11:30.
Also, I'm adding a new piece to the MDA-mmbeachbum medical care team: my first appt w/ a dermatologist there, Dr. Mays.  Totally at my request.
After the two appts, eat fantastic Mediterranean food @ Dimassi's while waiting for lunch traffic to clear a bit, & then drive back home.

That's it!  No P.E.T. scan this time, although I do get bood drawn.

As an added bonus, I'm staying w/ some friends who used to be in our Sunday School class back in youth/college married w/ 3 young kids, & he's recently accepted a ministerial position @ FBC Houston.  Looking forward to that!

Expectations: I pretty much have none, since despite having been out there 25 times in 3 years, this will be a completely new type of visit.  (Although still in the same fact, dermatology is also in the melanoma dept.)

Prayers are *most* welcome for safe travels.  (And, selfishly, for traffic- & construction-related delays to be minimal...)

Thanks much!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


37 years ago, and yet I remember it like it was yesterday.  December 14, 1974.  Heart attack.  He was 5 years younger than I am now, a reality that I cannot get my mind around.

I remember the pastor coming to the house to be there when Mom told me. I remember taking it very badly. For about 10 years, actually, but that's another story that's been told here. I remember many people in our living room, though I see only a crowd & not individual faces in my memory.

I remember selecting a casket. I remember an aunt explaining death to her grandson there in the funeral home. I vaguely remember that the church was packed to overflowing on Monday. I clearly remember stepping out into the back yard after the funeral, literally shaking my fist at the sky, and letting God have it. I told Him if this is what He's about, I'm finished with Him..."leave me alone!" Thankfully...graciously...He didn't.  (As I wrote about in this space this time last year.)

I remember presenting his brother with the Christmas present I had purchased all by myself for Dad. I was so very proud of it: Hank Williams' Greatest Hits. His brother--a huge help to me in the years after--lost his country boy/military officer composure there for a brief moment.

I remember a group of friends awkwardly inviting me to hang out with them a few days later. I will always be grateful to them for just being present in my life, and for reminding me that life does go on, even when it seems like it shouldn't.

December 14, 1974 changed much about my life's course. But oh my...the 15 1/2 years prior really affected my life's course! Mom & I agree that I got more "daddying" in 15 years than many people get in a long lifetime. For which I am forever grateful.

Dad wasn't a perfect man. Nobody is.  But he was a very, very good one. I still miss him very hard on a regular basis. But especially at Christmas time.  And especially on December 14.  (Which explains the occasional random tear or smile or chuckle or faraway stare tomorrow...)

I would so love to introduce him to his daughter-in-law; I know they'd love each other and enjoy each other's company. And it is with a physical ache that I long for him to know his grandchildren and more, for them to know him. This was a man who had a poem "The Little Chap Who Followed Me" printed on the back of every business card he ever gave out for Madaris Printing & Office Supplies. Who taught the 3-year-olds in Sunday School for 15 years until he left us. You know how you think some things might be a certain way? Well there are two young adults in MS who I know would be dearly loved by their grandpa and who I know would love him and enjoy his company. I'd love to talk about, well, grownup things with him. Business. Money. Politics. Church.  And, of course, there's our shared love of Alabama Crimson Tide football.  (Related aside: I am totally confident that he would also proudly wear Ole Miss Rebel garb since his grandson & namesake went there.)

One grandson is an engineer.  Another is in the Air Force.  Both of those two are newlyweds.  Grandson #3 is in his last year of pharmacy school.  Granddaughter #1 is training to be a cosmetologist.  And #2 is about to begin high school.  He would be nuts about every one of them.

Our nation faces a severe shortage of men.  Oh, there are plenty of males around; that's not what I'm talking about.  I mean MEN.  Who take responsibility for their actions.  And for the families.  And for their churches.  And for their communities. Who know how to love & honor & cherish a lady.  (That is in desperately short supply these days.)  Who are good stewards of their financial resources.  Who are wise, regardless of their education level.  Who are not selfish punks worrying about getting "disrespected".  I knew one once, and still miss him.  Perhaps one day I'll live long enough to be more like him.

Until then, I will live in the grace of God and in the hope of Heaven.  And in thanksgiving for one very good man in whose orbit I once lived...and still do.

With love and hope because of Christmas,

Monday, November 14, 2011

For Every Mountain

Yesterday, the choir & orchestra at church led us to throne of Glory (as they do each week).  They did one of my favorite that causes me allergy attacks and that won't let me sit still & keep my hands under that I'd love to be sung at my funeral one day.

I've heard the song several times before.  It rocks me every single time, for it takes me deep into the depths of my soul & my theology, while at the same time greatly magnifying God and His gracious goodness to me in so many ways.

Before sharing the lyrics with you, a simple question: what are you thankful for?

My own typical answer is "that's easy! (followed by a list of pleasant things like spouses, parents, jobs, pets, friends, Fall leaves, football,...)"  You know, Fun & Pleasing things.  Which I *am* OH-so thankful for!

But what about the trialsWhat about the mountains that stood in your pathWhat about the valleys that sprawled before youWhat about those times your world was totally rocked & you looked up in total despair, wondering why & how

Why are we not typically thankful for those? 
(Answer: because we're human!  And thus, we forget.  One of my very favorite names of God in Scripture is "Jehovah Shammah"...basically, "The Lord Who is Present"; that's what I need to remember more often.)

With that said, here are the lyrics to Kurt Carr's "For Every Mountain."

I've got so much to thank God for
So many wonderful blessings
and so many open doors

A brand new mercy
along with each new day
That's why I praise You
and for this I give You praise

For waking me up this morning
(That's why I praise You)
For starting me on my way
(That's why I praise You)
For letting me see the sunshine of a brand new day(that's why I praise You)

A brand new mercy
along with each new day
That's why I praise You
and for this, I give You praise

You're Jehovah Jireh
(That's why I praise You)
You've been my Provider
(That's why I praise You)
You see so many times You´ve met my needs
So many times You rescued me
(That's why I praise You)

I want to thank You for the blessing
You give to me each day
That's why I praise You
For this I give You praise

For every mountain You brought me over
For every trial you've seen me through
For every blessing
Hallelujah, for this I give You praise.

My challenge to myself every time I hear this song is to be thankful for the mountains He's brought me over... be thankful for the trials...and, of course, for the light, pleasant blessings too.  I challenge myself--and you too!--to not miss the huge blessings of God during the dark times.  When things happen like cancer...loss...illness...death...struggle... For God is NO LESS GOOD in those times than in the pleasant times.  Perhaps one day, I'll remember this; until then, I'm thankful to the TBC choir & orchestra for the reminder yesterday morning.

Click => here to see the always-amazing Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir perform "For Every Mountain."  It's about 6:24 long.  Enjoy!

p.s. - as it turns out, it's rather difficult for the Powerpoint guy to click the last few slides when the choir is performing this song...seems streaming tears block out a clear view of the computer screen.  Or so I hear.  *blushing smile*

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


"Those who honor me, I will honor..."  1 Samuel 2:30 (excerpt)

I met him 20 years ago last week, when he moved from McComb, MS to Hattiesburg to take a staff position @ the church I attend.

Gloriously, I'll never be the same.

He has been quietly faithful these past 20 years (and, I'm quite confident, the years before too.).  I have learned so very much from him, some by direct teaching & most by just living in his orbit & attending church & sitting on committees & such.

Here are just a few areas where I hope I'm better because of the influence of this remarkable guy:
--Family - one of the great husbands, sons, & fathers I've ever known!  His two grown children are very thankful for him, as is his beloved bride, whom he deeply cherishes.  Despite a crushing schedule, he hung out every week with his Dad until Dad entered the presence of Jesus.
--Church Membership - From him, I have learned much about what it means to be a faithful church member who supports the mission of the church--and of the Church at large.  In the past, I have disagreed on some minor details; I was wrong.  And I was NEVER condemned by him.
--Friendship - I think he knows everyone in the greater southeastern U.S., and yet he faithfully keeps up with most of them--us--via phone, visits, Twitter, Facebook,...
--Discipline - He honors the Lord with the totality of his life, mostly by being disciplined about the basics.  Time in the Word, worship, prayer,...and amazing schedule management.
--Prayer - He's one of my "prayer Bros," the go-to guys who I turn to regularly to ask them to intercede for me before the throne of grace.  And I am just one of *many* whose name & situation is mentioned in his prayers.  And always with confidentiality, never engaging in what I call "Baptist gossip" in, "we need to pray for ______, because I've heard that s/he's really struggling with ______"
--Ministry - Despite time demands that I cannot imagine, I don't know of anyone more faithful to visit people in the hospitals in the area.  Whether members of his church or not!  On one occasion, he flew a long way across country to be with a church member's family while the church member had very serious & long surgery.
--Grace - This is probably where I've learned the most from observing this guy.  First, there's his very good sermon "Grace Clothes" that I've heard him preach a couple of times, & been challenged mightily both times.  Then, there's the reality that on three occasions in the last 20 years, our church has had a pastor leave.  Twice under a very serious cloud.  At no time did my buddy dishonor the departing pastor by rumor-mongering nor even by sharing the truth.  Not one time.  (Thankfully, the most recent pastor's "leaving" earlier this year, was NOT under a cloud.  But it still imposes a large burden on the Executive Pastor.)
--Trust - in the Gospel, which enables all of the above.  I've watched his family go through the death of a beloved son-in-law to leukemia when the son-in-law was all of 33 years old.  I've seen my buddy re-orient his entire life in order to help his daughter raise three young children.  All the while, continuing to smile & press on in faithful ministry.

Is he a perfect guy?  No.  Is he a perfect minister?  No.  Does he make mistakes?  Yes.  But he's much more of the first two than I, and he makes FAR fewer mistakes than I.

I thank God for leading Gary Shows to Temple Baptist Church 20 years ago.  I know of very few who have consistently honored the Lord as consistently & faithfully over a very challenging 20-year period as he.  I'm glad he's at my church.  I'm even more glad he's my friend.  His grandkids named him "G," which is, of course, the perfect name for him.  A number of us who are not his grandkids call him that now with the greatest affection.

Thanks, G, for all you do.  And selfishly, for all you do & have done for Mike Madaris.  Keep pressing on, amigo.

With much love,

Friday, October 14, 2011

A brief exercise in parallel logic

I stopped eating, because I got some bad meat one time.  Plus, I've heard it's happened a lot of other people.

I quit driving because I got hit by another car.  Twice, even!  I know lots of people that's happened to.

I stopped having friends, because sometimes people claiming to be friends aren't really.

I stopped listening to music, because I've heard a number of songs & artists that are bad on a epic level.

I stopped going to the beach, because it's rained on me there a couple of times.  Plus, there was seaweed on the beach that one time.

I quit going to the oncologist @ M.D. Anderson, because I know a guy who went there & then died.

I disavowed any affiliation with any of my preferred football teams, because I know some others who support them who are jerks.

I stopped learning anything, because I know some well-educated people who are still fools.

(All of the previous nonsensical statements are equally logical as the following one)

I quit going to church because of the actions of some other fellow churchgoers.

(Read that one again.  Now one more time slowly.  Now go back up to the top & read the previous lines again.)

If you're going to church to find perfect people who always behave well, then (a) you're always going to be mighty disappointed, and (b) you've really missed the basic point, or what my former pastor calls "the big E on the eye chart."  A church is a bunch of flawed, imperfect people who are being made over into the image of Jesus Christ.  Granted, the makeover process moves along at varying speeds...maddeningly varying for some of us!  But it's happening, even when not visibly so.  Like when Christians act like jerks in restaurants after Sunday morning church, for example.  If you think you've found the perfect church populated by perfect people who always behave well, be careful; they may not be telling you the truth about other things too.

One of my own long-distance mentors that I've never actually met describes himself thus:  Who I am:. . . a guy who was made, messed up, and mercifully made over by His grace. . . struggling to live life to His glory in the now but not yet Kingdom of God. . . longing to enter into that glorious time when what originally was will be fully restored.  (Click to see Walt Mueller's blog)

That, ladies & gents, is a proper understanding of who we are and what we're about as Christians.

A buddy said this: "If we found a perfect church & joined it, that would make it not perfect any more."  A theologian I sometimes agree with & am always challenged by said it this way: "Of course the church is imperfect!  That's why they'll let you & me in!"  Nailed it.  I have nothing further, your honor. 


(p.s. to churchgoers: While I firmly believe all of this, PLEASE read the previous entry about "church goer jerks" in tandem with this one!)

(p.p.s. to churchgoers: Again, while I firmly believe all of this, PLEASE don't consider sanctification-in-progress as a license to behave like a jerk.  Verily, the world around us is watching.)

(p.s. to non-churchgoers: If you want to know where the "flawed & imperfect folks" section of Temple Baptist is, come sit with me! I'm the heart of it.)

Monday, October 10, 2011


Aldous Huxley said of time "Well, there seems to be plenty of it."  Aldous Huxley also took hallucinogenic drugs regularly.  Which probably explains how he was so very wrong on the issue of time's passage.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, I watched her draw her first breath about 2 feet away from where I was standing.  At that point, she took my breath away.  Not sure I've gotten it back yet.  A couple of days later, she was "Daddy's gull"...a little girl with blond hair who like reading and singing and watching Disney movies.
As of today, she's a 21-year-old lady.  (OK, she still likes to read & sing, and perhaps to watch a Disney flick now & then....)

She lives with 2 other ladies in a house across town.  She's in training to pursue a lifelong idea: cosmetology.  She's thoughtful and well-read.  Smarter than many...including me.  She loves people.  (Well, like her Dad, she loves some more than others...*smile*)  She loves the beach.  She loves to camp.  She loves a crowd.  She loves live music (including some of the same music I liked when I was her age! E.g., she recently saw Steely Dan in concert & loved it).  She's still absolutely gorgeous.  Smiles easily.  Laughs often.

She's my favorite 20-something lady on the entire globe.  My daughter Anne.

And Aldous Huxley was totally wrong.  There's not at all plenty of time.  It has flown by.

Happy Birthday, Anne!  I'm very proud of you, & love you very much!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Lessons Learned From Water

As all 3 of my regular readers know, I grew up on/near the beaches, bayous, & bays of NW FL.  My thoughts are never far from that part of the world, as much of who I am was shaped down there.  Thus, this post that popped into my mind. 

Valuable lessons about life & people that I learned in, on, under, & near the water.

--Looks can be deceiving - dangerously strong currents may not be visible on the surface; especially at first glance.
--What's underneath the surface is often very beautiful.
--And sometimes very dangerous.  Deadly even.
--Sometimes one should fight the current.
--Other times one should go with the current while using it to one's advantage.
--At all times one should not panic when finding oneself in a current in order to figure out which of the previous ones is the better option.
--Sometimes the best plan is to simply hold one's breath & hang on until the wave passes by.
--Speaking of waves, the same waves that are beautiful from a distance can be quite challenging--even dangerous--up close.
--Those waves, properly engaged, can be a LOT of fun!
--After the thrill/danger of the ride, the waves usually bring you to shore.
--Underneath turbulent waves, you'll find a calm, relaxing place if you dive deep enough.
--Often, people who look capable aren't; nice-looking jocks still drown.
--Often, people who don't look capable are; nerdly-looking wimps survive waves, rip currents, & undertows.  (like me, for example)
--For goodness'sake, get the right equipment!
--And the right knowledge.
--Neither of which will be apparent at first glance.

Seems one can learn a lot by being in, on, under, or near the water.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

P.E.T. Scans & Kindegarten

I had a flash of insight this morning.  (Or maybe it was just a bad reaction to P.E.T. scan contrast solution.  Whichever...) 

If smiles show up on a P.E.T., the radiologist reading mine this afternoon saw a couple, because I let this analogy run unencumbered in my mind between naps while I was in the P.E.T. scan machine & also while walking back from MDA.  So here goes...

P.E.T. scans are actually very similar to Attending Kindergarten:
--For both, you're given a list of things you can't wear.
--Or eat.
--You can't have coffee right before either one.
--For both, you'll be required to write out a lot of your life story & talk with strangers about all that you've done lately.
--In both, you have to abide by someone else's rules, with NO input from you.
--Both kindergarten & P.E.T. scans include mandatory naps with no talking or moving around allowed during the naps.
--In both kindergarten & P.E.T. scan facilities, the people running the joint use lots of big words & concepts that you don't understand.
--At both, everyone tries to make you more comfy, which is only a little bit successful given that you'd rather be at home playing with the dog.
--Both require getting stuck with needles--before you show up @ kindergarten; after you show up for a P.E.T. scan.
--For both kindergarten and P.E.T. scans, you have to wear a goofy looking name tag with your picture on it.
--At both kindergarten & P.E.T. scan facilities, they bandage up your boo-boos.  (Of course, at a P.E.T. scan, they first cause the boo-boos; hopefully this is not true at kindergarten)
--At some point in both kindergarten and in a P.E.T. scan, you'll wish your Mommy would come pick you up & take you to get an Icee.
--For both kindergarten and P.E.T. scans, you're put into rooms with strangers such that you have to talk to them.

So, if you ever find yourself wondering what a P.E.T. scan's like, you can answer, "It's a lot like going to kindergarten."  Now you know...*grin*


p.s. - This is what happens when I have a block of time where (a) I'm tired, and (b) I can't do anything except sleep & think about such weirdness...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Take Me Back to Texas...

It's a fascinating thing--and a great gift & blessing--to be forced to live life in 3-month increments. 

As both of my regular readers will know (*wink*), I have to journey out to Houston every three months for another P.E.T. scan & bloodwork.  When one has (had?) metastatic melanoma, long-range planning means "until my next P.E.T. scan."  This gives one a VERY unique situation, which while crushingly fearsome, is also a great blessing.

The current window of "clean" ends Wednesday when I roll out to Houston for Thursday's scan & bloodwork.  Followed, of course, by the latest most-important-Dr.-appt-of-my-life Friday morning to get the results of the scan & bloodwork.

Here's the thing: every single one of us is only around for a short time.  The gift & blessing of metastatic melanoma is that I am forced to deal with this reality.  (Very Important Note: I am not planning to punch out any time soon, and have had amazingly good treatment/surgery results these 3+ years, and so far have NO indications that the time of my departure is at hand.  Don't read more despair here than I intend!)

Do NOT misunderstand: I absolutely HATE metastatic melanoma & its accompanying scans & surgeries & fears & such.  But at the same time, I thank God for the great gift of realizing that my days are numbered.  Just like everyone else's days.  Because realizing that makes me often mindful of Moses' prayer in Psalm 90:12: "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 

"Numbering my days" means some things to me that took me a while to realize:
--I should turn off the cell phone & football game & computer & spend time chatting with my wife.
--And my children. 
--And my Mom.
--And my brother.
--And my friends.
--I should be prayerful about & mindful of ministry opportunities the Lord sends my way.
--I should spend time in Praise & Worship & Thanksgiving & in the Word, for those are things that will still be done in Heaven.
--I should be ever mindful that every one of us faces numbered days.  We are ALL under a death sentence.  Thus, I should endeavor mightily by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit to impact lives for the Gospel's sake and for the eternal sake of others.

Again, the fear that will show up some time this afternoon around, oh, Lake Charles, LA would overpower, but for the grace of God.  But that same grace of God keeps the fear at bay (most of the time) between scans.  And thus, I'm free to celebrate the days, even while facing the reality that there aren't many of them.  For any of us.

Here's the sched for this trip, for your prayers:
Wed, 9/14 - Drive to Houston when class ends ~1:00
Thurs, 9:15 - P.E.T. scan ~ 8-10 a.m. (Prep, mandatory nap,scan itself,...)
Fri, 9/16 - Appt. w/ Dr. Homsi at 9:30 a.m. to get scan results; drive back to H'burg

On the plus side, I'll get to eat LOTS of wonderful Mediterranean food @ Dimassi's, one of our fave restaurants anywhere after the P.E.T. scan.  Also Thursday, I'll get to hang out w/ friends I knew when they were in jr. high & high school here in Hburg--now they're married w/ kids & in ministry (I'm getting old! *grin*)

Thankful for your prayers & for the grace of God that helps my "number my days,"
Romans 15:13

p.s. - I've had this great Jimmy Buffett lyric from "Nautical Wheelers" in my head for a week now: "Everyone here is just more than contented to be living and dying in three-quarter time..." Not sure what that means @ the moment, but I've been humming it & singing it...;-{)}

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's Almost My Time of the Year which I mean Football Season!!  I can't wait!

(Note: I really enjoy watching all sports--with the possible exception of curling, which is easily the most bizarre sports spectacle ever--but there's just something about football that trips my trigger, God help me.)

I love the game.  My preference is a smothering, hard-hitting defense combined with a pro-set, power running offense, but I just love the game.  I love it at most any level, from NFL to college to HS & jr. high. 

But as much as I love football, football season brings out the absolute worst in a considerable portion of society.  And it has done so in me as well over the years.  I *hope* & *pray* that I've gotten better in recent years..

Precisely NOTHING that matters ultimately will be determined by the actions of a bunch of large, strong, fast, 18- to 23-year-old guys running into each other at high rates of speed for 3-4 hours at a time.  (Nor, for that matter, will anything ultimate be determined by the actions of any high-school football players.  Or any NFL players)  It's a game.  A game.  A GAME.  One that I happen to really enjoy watching live or on TV...but still a game.

To my fellow Christians, I offer the same challenge that I offer myself every year:  PLEASE, let's consider the reputation of our Lord & of the Gospel as we move into rabid-cheering time. 

An absolutely haunting question that came to me a few years back: Would you rather your team win, or would you rather others become more interested in the teachings of Christ because of how you conduct yourself during football season?  (Yeah, I didn't like the question either; haven't been able to get past it though.)  EVERY football fan genuinely believes that it's the OTHER school's fans who are jerks, but not "us."  With all the love I can muster, I'm telling you: t's "us" too, whomever "us" is for you...

Just so you know: my alma mater, for whose teams I have ferverently cheered since I was a toddler, is once again highly ranked pre-season, & is expected to have a good season.  My alma mater's cross-state rival won it all last year, including a great comeback from a serious 2nd-half deficit in my school's stadium.  Did I want my team to win?  Absolutely!  Was I able to congratulate my friends who support that cross-state rival?  Yes I was.  (I'm making progress...*smile*)

But what about the local school's team, you ask?  I've been at every single home game for the past few years, and will be again this year, Lord willing.  What about the other two major teams in the state?  Been to games at both, and enjoy doing so, & hope to do so again this year.

Here's how the challenge plays out in mmbeachbum's life this coming football season:  By the grace of God, I will do no public/online "woofing" if my team wins a particular game, nor whining if they don't.  I'm going to be proud of them, win or lose, as I have for as long as I can remember.  I will always be proud of the degrees I have from there, which explain why my tag is the "Crimson Tide" tag available in MS.  But I'm praying to be able to display grace toward others, win or lose.  Excuses & gloating are out.  Including the ever-popular "Well, see, they started it...there was that incident back in 1937 (or whenever) it's justified."  With all the love I can muster: No, it's NOT justified.  It's a GAME, for crying out loud! 

Also by the grace of God, I will enjoy watching teams other than my alma mater's team (OK, that's pretty easy for a devout lover of the game like myself), and will encourage fans of the other teams as I'm able.  FWIW, in my closet right now are shirts & hats from AL (of course), USM, Ole Miss, & MSU.  All will be worn as I'm able to attend games at those places this year.  And when I go to games at those schools' stadiums, I will enjoy those games and will enjoy the traditions each place has.  I will refuse to publicly badmouth anyone's coach, recognizing that every single D1 football coach in America knows more about football than I do.  (Or than you do...)

So, it's possible that I've gotten to the point in my spiritual journey where I can cheer for my school's team without cheering against or badmouthing the opponent.  I've seen this trait in a couple of friends of mine, and long to have it consistently myself.  I'm also going to actively enjoy watching games--including once again the big 3 MS universities--without having to become a jerk for or against any other team.  And without having to hammer anyone about their own allegiances.  (Yep...I've been hammered about mine for 22 years now since moving to MS; especially so when we won it all a couple of seasons ago.  Receiving the verbal abuse isn't fun.  But perhaps I'm reaching the point where I will no longer have to fire back.  I'm still a work in progress, but there is actual progress...*smile*)

Strap 'em up, boys!  It's football season!  I can't wait!

p.s. - Alabama's first opponent is Kent State U., which is cool for a couple of reasons.  1) One of Kent St.'s football alums is...*drum roll*...former defensive back Nick Saban, who is now the HC at Alabama.  2) Kent St.'s team has been in Tuscaloosa this week, working alongside Bama's team doing some home rebuilding projects in town from last April's devastating tornado.  The two teams worked alongside each other several weeks ago also.  THAT, ladies & gents, is FAR more significant & cool than the outcome of Saturday's game!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Basically, he's a freak of nature...

(A not-very-updated post from 2 years ago.  Do you know people who succeed remarkably at pretty much everything they do?  Don't you hate people like that?  *huge grin*  Happy Birthday to my brother Jim, in whose wake I am thrilled to have travelled for these ...*garbled* years!  Love you!)
He's a musician. One of the better ones I've ever run across. Can play most anything, but his specialties are keyboard & trombone. He also sings like the great Michael Franks and is a superb arranger & re-arranger of music.  Music degree from U. of Miami, one of the best music programs in the country.

He's a pilot. Flew sub chasers for the U.S. Navy for some years (during the bad old days when we & the USSR were aiming nukes @ each other...). Then flew various jets for United Airlines.

He's a project manager. Which means he helps talented, creative people stay on task for the good of the organization. My boss would wish he'd move here & help *me* stay on task, although I'm not so talented nor so creative...

He's a corporate executive.  (Which will surely draw a smile from those of us who recall dancing to his music back in the, er, social establishments of NW FL in the 80s, with him on keyboards & vocals dressed...NOT like a corporate executive, let's just say...)

He's a worship leader. He puts his substantial music gifts to work on Sundays as he helps others at his church enter into worship (in some very creative ways, I might add.)

He's an intellectual. One of the keenest intellects anywhere. Took a set of calculus courses in his electives...for his MUSIC PERFORMANCE degree...and made A's in all of them. An inveterate reader of serious writings. History...Philosophy...Political Science...Biography...Theology...Serious Fiction...

He's a loyal friend. To current friends. And to those from 30-40 years ago...

He's a husband & a father. Two biological sons (both now grown & married & productive, contributing members of society), & one adopted daughter (from Siberia!)

He's a minister. Specifically, a servant-minded Stephen minister. Has led that ministry in multiple churches.  Has ministered in prisons.  Joining him on one of those prison-ministry trips is on my bucket list.

He's a sinner by nature--like all the rest of us--who is gloriously redeemed, which redemption happened in his mid-30s.

He's awesome...

He's my brother Jim. And today's his birthday!

He's not quite two years older than I, which means (a) the bar was set very high for me following two grades behind him, and (b) doors opened for me simply because I was "Jim's little brother." I used to get tired of hearing " are you Jim's little brother?"  I used to be an idiot, in other words.  I'd say I got the looks, but I didn't even get those, compared to him... ;-{)}
Happy Birthday, Bro! I love you & am proud to be your little brother.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Teaching Some Examples

May my teaching drop as the rain,
my speech distill as the dew,
like gentle rain upon the tender grass,
and like showers upon the herb.
Deuteronomy 32:2

So, another year starts tomorrow, officially.  (Note to those of you with real jobs: we teachers think in academic years; I'm well aware that this calendar year started 8 months ago.  Which, of course, was right in the middle of last year.  *grin*)

Actually, this new year started this past week, with department & university faculty meetings & syllabus deadlines & new employee orientation & student move-in & such.  But tomorrow morning at 0800, it's officially on in terms of classes & teaching & such.  (WCU's medical school students started a couple of weeks ago; everyone else starts tomorrow)

The verse above is one of my favorite verses on teaching in all of Scripture.  It's actually in a section called "The Song of Moses," in which Moses is reminding Israel of their history & of their transgressions.  I have it on a small poster right outside my office.  Every single time I read it, I'm reminded of those whose teaching " gentle rain upon the tender grass" that is Mike Madaris back in the day.  Which also reminds me that my own teaching can be harsh & unforgiving, or inspiring & encouraging.  My subjects--Finance & Economics--are already challenging; I don't have to become a jerk in order to make them so.  Of course, it is also quite possible to err in the other direction by being so generous in teaching & testing & grading that nobody is challenged at all, and therefore doesn't really learn anything.  That would be preparing my students for a world that doesn't exist!

Which leads to another of my favorite teaching passages: that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...
Ephesians 4:14-15

I realize the context there is in specific reference to God's gracious giving of spiritual gifts for building up the church into spiritual maturity.  But I don't think I'm doing violence to the text by applying it to my teaching & grading.  My students need to know that in the classroom--as in life!--performance matters.  (Or should matter.) 

One of the great things that several professors at the University of Florida did for me is...give me Ds & Fs, which accurately reflected my performance in their classes.  They would've done me a great injustice to have given me As & Bs simply for registering for class & then showing up every now & then with no effort otherwise.  Certainly I didn't realize what a great thing they were doing for me at the time...but I'm thankful now that they gave me real grades that really reflected what I had(n't) done in class.  Balancing truth & love is not easy, and I rarely get it completely correct; but tomorrow presents another term for me to aim at getting it correct.

New beginnings always lead me back to one of my favorite verses about anything (not just teaching!) in the Bible:

Teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

Moses said that.  Psalm 90 in my Bible is titled "The Prayer of Moses, The Man of God."  Great title!  The whole of Psalm 90 is just incredible, btw.  And in context, this verse follows an awesome (in the true sense) discussion about the wrath of God, along with the brevity of human life.  Which, to me, adds "oomph" to the verse.  I asked a group of entering freshmen yesterday, "have you ever met a clueless old person?"  (Obvious answer: yes!)  Then I asked, "Do you want to wind up a clueless old person yourself?" (Obvious answer: no!)  So then, let's all be wise stewards of our days.  For truly, there are not very many of them, when all is said & done!

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

WCU's theme for the year is " the renewing of your mind."  Which is from Romans 12:2, another favorite verse of mine.  In context: Paul has just finished 11 chapters of some of the heaviest, deepest doctrinal discussion in the Bible.  Then, 12:1: "Therefore, do not be conformed to this world...but be transformed..."  followed by 5 chapters of unpacking what "Therefore" looks like in application.

I teach Finance & Economics, & not theology.  However, part of God's providential provision & leading in the lives of a batch of students for the next 10 weeks is that they sit under Dr. Madaris' teaching.  Thus, my teaching is part of God's plan for their lives.  Perhaps just to test their faith & discipline (*grin*)...or perhaps to show them they can handle difficult material after all...or perhaps to help them understand a bit of how the world works in reality.  Regardless, their goal is to have their minds transformed, and it is a GREAT honor to be part of that process!

Which leads to my last verse I'll quote:

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity...
1 Timothy 4:12

It's popular--mostly because it's so easy, and because us older people are so lazy--to take cheap shots at today's young folks.  I *STRONGLY* reject that whole line of thinking.  In fact, I personally take great hope in the future, precisely because I'm around some outstanding young men & women all the time.  This generation of college students wants to impact the world, and they are quite serious about it!  They want to end things like slavery (aside: there are more slaves in the world TODAY than EVER BEFORE...which begs the question, "How'd we baby boomers do @ ending slavery?" *nervous clearing of throat*), poverty, racism,...I love that about them.  They inspire me greatly in so many ways.  Plus, dadburn it, it's just a lot of fun to hang w/ college students!  (Sure, there are some who are, to be kind, not very inspiring...let's call them the "Mike-Madaris-in-college" students.  *smile*  But they stand out these days precisely because they're so listless.)

So, to all young students: hear the words of Paul to his young apprentice Timothy, who was approximately your age.  "Let no one despise you for your youth, but show yourself an example..."  People WILL despise you for your youth; show yourself an example anyway!  Hard?  You bet!  The world is full of crusty old people who have forgotten some things: (1) what it's like to be young, (2) what it's like to have hope & optimism, (3) **almost every single significant movement throughout history that has shaped & changed our world has been led mostly by young people**  So, go show yourself an example! 

But starting this week, "showing yourself an example' begins by coming to class.  *grin*

I love my job & can't wait to get into the new term.  Tomorrow night, Lisa & I will be at the WCU coffee shop on campus for something called "coffee talk."  As near as I can figure, we're discussing some things about life as a student @ WCU with a group of entering students.  And soon, we're hoping to re-boot our small group in our home of students from other countries to bat around things slightly more significant than how to calculate the present value of an annuity or the marginal cost of producing the 500,000th widget or what "CAMEL" means to a banker.  (hint: has nothing to do with the animal!)

I love my job.  It's a new year.  Let's get after it!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

church goer jerks

Posted Sunday on Facebook by a friend who's a manager at a local restaurant:  (Note: this guy's an actual friend in person; not just a facebook acquaintance.)

Attention all my fellow church goers. Please stop coming to lunch directly after church and acting like jerks to restaurant employees. It makes it extremely hard for me to witness to them! It is very difficult to convince someone that Jesus loves them when you show them zero Christ like love!

I have very little to add.  (But I'll keep writing anyway...*smile*)

When we were newlyweds, Lisa worked in a restaurant.  I'll skip a bunch of stories to land on the sad conclusion: Nobody wanted to work Sunday lunch, despite the fact that Sunday lunch was the busiest time the restaurant had every week.  Why didn't people whose income depends on tips want to work on the busiest time of the week?  Two reasons: 1) the folks fresh out of church were typically quite rude, and 2) the folks fresh out of church were--by a long way--the worst tipping crowd all week.  And Jesus wept...

Ever wonder why it seems that people outside the church are increasingly hostile to the church?  Go back & re-read my friend's remarks above, along with the previous paragraph about Lisa's coworkers.

Which leads me to a few requests of my fellow churchgoers, in addition to my friend's post above:

(1) By all means, be about the business of proclaiming the excellencies of Christ & the majesty of the Gospel! 

(1a) Radical Idea: why not go way out of your way to smile & be nice & be helpful to your server & to the cashier & to the person seating you, even if something goes wrong with your order?  Especially if something goes wrong with your order even? 

(2) Do NOT leave a Gospel tract in lieu of a tip at a restaurant!  Don't ever do this, but especially not if you've spent the last hour whining & complaining & being obnoxious to your server. 
[Just in case anyone's wondering, I am VERY well aware that the Gospel is of infinitely greater value that a few bucks' tip.  But to an unchurched nonbeliever, leaving anything instead of a tip = cheap.  Ironically, flinging a Gospel tract at someone who's expecting some $$ can wind up damaging the cause of Christ rather than advancing it.] 

(3) Tip generously!! 
(Said the one whose wife was in the server biz years ago, and whose daughter is in that biz now)

Now your homework assignment: Go back to the top of this post & reread the part from my friend's facebook post; then let's all change the way we Christians are viewed (justifiably!) by those serving in the food service business, especially on Sundays.

In other words, let's connect the dots between what we sing & pray & hear in church and how we conduct ourselves out in public.

For the sake of the Gospel,

...practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
Matthew 23:3 (Jesus speaking in condemnation of the very religious priests of his day)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 (Paul speaking; does "whatever you do" include "eating lunch out on Sundays"?)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:16-17  (Paul speaking.  Note the connection between worship/Bible study/etc. and "whatever you do."  If your service to & magnification of the Lord ends when you leave church Sunday morning, then with all the love I can muster, you have missed some very significant points about the whole thing!)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It Happened Again...

For the 2nd consecutive "routine" visit out to MDA, I got to chat w/ a terminally-ill cancer patient.

You should do that sometime.  Really, you should.

This was a 60-something lady from Kansas City.  Advanced pancreatic cancer, which is usually a get-your-affairs-in-order type diagnosis.  And yet...(Wait; I'm getting ahead of myself)

So, I'm downstairs eating bkfst @ the hotel, sitting at a table by myself.  This lady & I had sort of tag-teamed the toasters trying to get our muffins toasted.  She finishes getting her bkfst, looks around, and thankfully for me, there were no empty tables.  She points at a chair opposite me & says "Do you mind?"

We had a *great* visit!  Her hubby joined us about halfway through, which added to the chat.  Meanwhile, the guy @ the next table says "are you part of the archery tournament?"  I said, "No, I'm part of the MDA-patient tournament."  The lady acted like that's the funniest thing she's heard in a while; she said "Me too!"  As it turns out, the guy & his wife *were* part of the archery tournament, and get this: he's an oncologist out in Washington State!  He asked a few questions about MDA, & the lady & I both just sung its praises.  He said, "Oh, we have some of their data @ our office & I refer to their info often."  We swapped a couple of jokes, including this one from the lady w/ pancreatic cancer: "Any diagnosis is a good diagnosis, because that means you're present to receive it!"  We all laughed.

Of course, there was the semi-obligatory comparing of tests & procedures & processes & travel arrangements & such.  She said "My Dr. back home tells me I'm just weird.  Nobody lives w/ stage IV+ pancreatic cancer 5 years & counting."  I said "Yeah, mine here says that I'm living outside the numbers; that metastatic melanoma patients 3 years out are not very many."

A bit more random conversation, & they left to catch the shuttle.  As she walked away, she said "You go on living outside the numbers, & I'll go on being weird."

What a GREAT word!  I am SO thankful for so many people that I've encountered out here.

BTW, nobody would look at this woman & say "She has a very serious form of cancer that's usually quickly fatal."

So, again my challenge to myself: What exactly is it that consumes our (my!) thoughts & emotions?  Idiot drivers nearby on the road?  Employers not fully recognizing how totally awesome we are?  Our favorite team losing a game or not landing a prized recruit or not winning big enough?  A flawed, imperfect spouse? (Best not to stay there very long, as that thinking QUICKLY does a 180. As well it should!)  Family that doesn't behave like we want them to behave?  How the weather is not in line with your personal preference?  Gas prices?

Here's what she was thinking about this morning:
--Wow! They have cranberry juice this morning!  I love cranberry juice!
--Neat-o! The waffles are shaped like the state of TX on a map!
--Today's appt., & then we're heading home.
--Honey, I'm so glad you're feeling better today.  (Said to her husband. Who does not have cancer.  Again, this was said by her to her husband, who does not have cancer.)
--Isn't MDA a great place, populated by great people?
--I don't mind this 100-degree+ heat; all of my treatments have made me much colder by nature.
--It's nice that we don't have to drive ourselves to MDA, isn't it? (Re: hotel shuttle & Houston traffic)

Grab a bit of perspective from a delightful lady who's "weird," won't you?  That sense of perspective is precisely why visiting with terminally-ill cancer patients is a good idea...


p.s. - UPDATE: I ran into her later in the day, and she had just been told that she didn't have to come back for 6 months for her next P.E.T. scan!!  Trust me, this is some fantastic news...hoping to be told that one day myself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

3 Years ago today... of the strongest men I've ever known entered eternity. 

I was in an ICU room @ MDA undergoing my first round of high-dose immunotheraphy, but had been kept abreast of happenings back here in H'burg via text, email, blogs, & facebook.

He suffered an extensive coughing spell (after-effects of chemotherapy) that resulted in him coding.  Medical personnel got him back in terms of a heartbeat, but nothing else.  3 days later, July 12, 2008, his race was declared finished, and victory--ultimate victory--was won over leukemia.  He left behind a much-beloved wife, and three very young children that he treasured deeply.

I'll never be the same because of his life's impact on mine.  And his family's impact on my life during his battle with leukemia and since his homegoing.

Every Sunday morning, I take my seat behind a computer in church to help with techie stuff.  This started when he was in the tech booth; I used to go in there & sit with him, back when it was an actual separate room.  (It's not now)  Thus, every single Sunday morning, I think of my buddy.

I'm not a poet.  Never claimed to be one, & never will.  But 3 years ago, I was in ICU @ MDA in Houston experiencing the, er, "joys" of high-dose immunotherapy.  It was there that I got the word that my buddy was on life support.  "Stunned" is in the right direction, but doesn't capture it.  "Devastated"..."Undone"..."Broken"...pick one.

I received word that the time of his departure was at hand.  At which point a poem of sorts came pouring forth from my soul.  As I said on this day last year, I've written 2 poems in my life.  This one, and another for another friend who died tragically.

Before reading (or re-reading) the poem, PLEASE hear these two challenges from my heart:

1) Register to be a bone marrow donor!

My friend was on regular chemo to keep his leukemia at bay until a marrow donor match could be found.  Yeah...

As a multi-time metastatic melanoma survivor/patient, I am no longer eligible to be a marrow donor, although I am registered.  Are you?  The test is not a big deal. 


(Another friend registered years ago & was a match for a guy out west who had NO HOPE.  My friend donated marrow...the recipient is alive & well with no trace of leukemia all these years later.  The cost?  My friend said his back hurt for a couple of weeks.  Worth it?  What do you think??  My friend has been flown out to spend family vacations with the guy whose life he saved.)

2) PLZ pray for the wife & kids & parents & brother & extended family today & these next few days as they remember what I shudder to even imagine.

(Now, the poem again.  It's appeared here before.  Stephanie had her Dad read it @ Jason's funeral; as noted by me previously, I will likely not have an honor that high this side of eternity.)

Mike Madaris, 7/12/08, on the coronation of my buddy Jason Weathers

Giants still walk the land occasionally.
I know this, because I knew one.
Physically strong and imposing
But that’s not the topic here,
For, he was not fearsome
Unless you lined up opposite him
On a football field
Or tried to throw him into a pool against his will.
Those aside, He got along with everybody.
Literally, everybody, as far as I knew.
Calm of demeanor, yet loved to laugh.
Quiet in personality, yet loved hard rock.
Intelligent, but not desiring to flaunt that.
Private, yet the son of a very public man
And later, married into another very public family.
In the midst of all, he was a giant.

The courtship. She was the only one.
They met when her Dad took a job at the giant’s church.
And his Dad’s. And his Granddad’s.
The realizing came quickly to most.
These two were a match.
They realized it too.
The courtship lasted until they finished college.
And he remained a giant.
Always loving, yet always honoring.
Serving. Cherishing. As it was intended to be.
Both of them Role models. Giants.
Who else marries a giant, but another giant after all?

10 years of marriage. A move to FL.
3 children deeply treasured.
One looks like her mother, yet like Dad in temperament.
One looks like his Dad, yet tempered like his mother.
And one too young to answer these questions
Though she surely looks like her Dad.
Each nurtured. Treasured. Celebrated.
Giants are like that about their offspring.

A servant’s heart.
Toward his lady. Toward his children.
Toward his friends. Toward his Lord.
Church service involved the out of the way
The behind the scenes
The un-glamorous
The invisible.
Sometimes giants stay in the background.
Perhaps that is why so few of us believe in them any more.

The servant heart spilled over into career choice.
Especially poignant to me this week
As I have been greatly served and blessed by multiple nurses
As a patient, the best in that field are wired as servants.
Others-centered. Paycheck almost incidental.
Towering over the rest of us.

The dreadful disease with the nasty prognosis
The treatment nearly as nasty
Uncertainty. Doubt. Fear.
In this case, for others more than self
Beloved wife and treasured children.
Parents. Parents-in-law. Brother. Brother-in-law.
Not wanting to burden others with the battle he fought so well.
The larger men among us worry about us like that.

7 months of desperate fighting.
Interspersed with time spent with family and with lesser mortals.
Like me. At Starbucks. Still dreaming of an earthly future that would never be.
Then the end; rather, the beginning.
What, after all, is a last, horrendous week against 30+ years of a towering-above life?
Faith became sight.
Death & disease forever vanquished.
Ultimate Healing. No more illness, no more treatment, no more pain.
“Well Done, good and faithful servant.” The stuff of dreams.
Thankfully, not of legends.
Hopes and dreams realized.
Sin not only defeated, but now utterly removed.
As has been sung, "I can only imagine." He need not imagine any more.
This makes me smile through tears.
Victory won. Decisively. Forever.
It is well…it is well with his soul.
In that land, there are only giants. Now one more.
And this land seems all the more empty.

Jason, my brother, I still miss you very hard on a regular basis.  Steph & the kids are doing very well, which would not surprise you.  Keep on rocking, dude, there in the land of the eternal "hello."  Can't wait until my own faith has become sight, & you & I can laugh together about how leukemia & melanoma are just a bump in the road as we celebrate the incredible grace that has two knuckleheads like us there forever in the presence of the One Who provides that grace.
Love you,
p.s. - Thanks for continuing to be my friend & hang out with me even after I got old.  *grin*  (Picturing your own grin & laugh as I type that...thanks for sharing all the laughs & prayers & smiles & tears & great rock music with me!)

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Long Space In Between

(Written the morning after my most recent scan, before getting the results.  Edited for readability 3 wks later on 7/8/11)

What goes through one's mind the morning after a P.E.T. scan & before getting the results?  The critical results?

Here are some thoughts I have Friday morning, 6/17, at 10:30 a.m. in my hotel room, 2 hrs before that appointment.

Not fear per se, but definitely anxiety that mounts as the clock moves.  A blend of "What will he say this time?" and "How will I react to whatever he says?"

Not to contradict the previous, but there's an amazing calm that comes along with the anxiety.  Of course, I attribute this to the overwhelming grace & presence of God, and to His graciously answering the prayers of many friends who are praying even as I write.  My favorite name of God in Scripture is Jehovah Shammah as I've mentioned here before.  Basically it means "the personal God Who is present."

Of the distant past, friends, family, places, etc.  And of the recent past: surgery, hospital rooms, etc.  Mostly, these fall under the category of things that bring great comfort (even the MDA ones!).  Strangely, I smile a lot as memories come.  And rest assured, I let them come, and even chase them now & then.

Not all of the memories are wonderful though.  Mercifully, these are quickly re-channeled into a wonderful appreciation of grace in the Gospel.  "Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (etc.)

I'm a bit of a dreamer anyway, and this morning in particular brings up quite a number of hopes for the future.  Stay tuned.  Be scared.  *smile*  The future in general gets collapsed into 2 phases: between now & the appointment, which is crystal clear, and afterward, which (mercifully, I think) sort of goes into a fog that I cannot see into very clearly.

My family is never far from my thoughts, but especially out here.  And especially on Father's Day weekend.  I'm struck this morning with the overpowering awareness that--as a writer once said--I am the narrow funnel where history & heritage meet legacy.  My inherited heritage is so deep & rich that I can hardly take it all in.  I pray often that 100 years from now my descendants will be making much of Jesus because of what God did in & through Mike Madaris' life.  Aside: I often teter over into the arrogance of thinking "Boy, I hope they make much of me!"  But as one of my favorite pastors, Crawford Loritts, says, I'm just a clap between two vast eternities; He is the One of Whom much needs to be made.

Always...ALWAYS!...worship seems to just bubble up.  PLEASE don't be impressed with Mike's spirituality here!  I don't create this worship, nor grit my teeth to do it; it's called forth from me, which is just a marvelous experience.  Yesterday, about 5 minutes before boarding the shuttle to MDA for my scan, I was overwhelmed by a couple of hymns that came from my soul.  ("At the Cross", especially the verse "Amazing mercy, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" of which I prefer the version by Selah.)  So, yeah, that was me doing the subtle macho guy tear wipe that we disguise as scratching our face or fixing our hair or something.

There's a brief glimpse into what the long space in between a scan & getting the results of that scan looks like for me.

In about 2.5 months, I'll go back out there & do this all again.

Rejoicing in Jehovah Shammah,

Monday, July 04, 2011

Behind the parades & fireworks...

6/25/1950 - North Korea invades South Korea.  A small conflict in a rather remote corner of the world...

Meanwhile, at a junior college in MS, this handsome young man with blue eyes & a great smile was arriving from Choctaw County in SW Alabama to go to school, and to play football on a pretty good JC team.

I believe it was the following summer that the entire football team--that's the entire team!--dropped out of school & enlisted in the military.  They volunteered their services to go take a stand in South Korea because their country thought that was worth doing.

The details of that conflict & the countries who participated's motivations are murky.  Which is OK, as this is not a geo-political analysis of that war.  Or any war.  Today, 61 years later, the Korean war has never officially ended.  There's a line of demarcation that's guarded on both sides, and official hostilities have been at a cease-fire for some decades now.

Back to the point of this entry: The young man from Choctaw County & his teammates scattered to various branches of the service & various training centers.  He trained to be a combat medic.  His training would unfortunately come in quite handy in the months to come in the combat-laden frozen wasteland that was much of the Korean peninsula, ca. the early 1950s.

He survived, thankfully.  (I say "thankfully" for reasons that will become clear shortly) Today, he's still a tough guy physically & mentally & emotionally.  Courage beyond what I can imagine, both during wartime and since coming home.  Worked building airplanes in Mobile, AL, before a hearing problem ended that job for him.  Married.  Had a couple of children.  When the hearing problem kicked into high gear, he moved his family back to Choctaw County.  He built the house they live in now on a pretty spot of land that he cleared off to raise cows & have a few horses for fun.  His youngest child "helped" him build, since she wasn't in school yet.  Ever met a softie who's worked with cows & horses for much of his life?  Me neither.  I recall going to feed the cows with him some 25 years ago.  I'm in my 20s, he's in his 50s...he tossed a big 100-lb sack of feed over each shoulder & away he went.  I tried to toss one over one shoulder...didn't go well, & I was actively lifting weights at the time.  As I say, he's a tough guy.

I've known him pretty well for around 30 years now.

27 of those as his son-in-law, who married the younger daughter who helped him build the house. 

She has the same gorgeous blue eyes as her Daddy, plus the same hard work ethic.  She loves the land like he does.  She is as close to a Daddy's girl as a tough cattleman/soldier will ever have.  This particular cattleman/soldier is just crazy about his grandchildren, who have added a dimension of tenderness to him these last 25 or so years.  They, in turn, love their "Papa."

All of that said to say this:  it's July 4, a day on which we celebrate our freedoms, as well we should.  We honor our military, as we should on a daily basis in my opinion.  But my challenge to each of us is to take the time to ask questions along the lines of "so, what was it like?" and then shut up & listen.  Or perhaps a step back from that emotional brink would be just to say "thank you" to them. 

I listened to some tell their stories on the radio today while driving home; at times, it was rather hard to see.  (Must've been rain or fog or something...or something...)  One of the radio stories was another guy who was in Korea & as squadron commander ordered his best friend from back home to go do some recon; several months later, the guy found his friend about to die in a Chinese P.O.W. camp.  He buried his friend (& fellow P.O.W.) just minutes later on a hillside there in North Korea.  Another guy is just back from Iraq a few years back, where he was at the proverbial end of the spear, doing necessary-but-regrettable things outside the wire at night with his unit.  Some jackass HS acquaintance said to him shortly after he returned, "So, you're like a certified baby-killer now, huh?  What's that like?"  (If "jackass" is not the right word, there are others that are more offensive and perhaps more appropriate...)

Papa's Korea stories have unfolded over decades now, in small bits & pieces.  They're buried deeply within his memory, locked away until that glorious day when the swords are hammered into plowshares & spears into pruning hooks, at which point the stories will no longer be needed.  But they do spill out every now & then.  Mostly around Christmas.  Especially if Christmas is a cold one.  "I remember that Christmas we spent in the field in Korea..."  Usually a quick, short piece of a story, occasionally adorned with a picture or the worship bulletin from the Christmas Day service there.  Just little glimpses into the unspeakable horrors that we all (understandably) blow past on holidays like July 4.  "I remember going around from sleeping bag to sleeping bag in the morning & checking to see who was still alive & who had either frozen to death or suffocated when the snow covered their face"..."See this little guy from the Phillipines in the picture?  I've seen him stack up North Koreans like rats using just his bayonet & knife"..."I remember seeing Chinese troops line up across the valley from us & just walk toward our lines, getting mowed down by our fire.  They figured we'd run out of bullets before they ran out of soldiers..." 

I love the parades & the pageantry of July 4.  I'm descended from a long line of patriotic types, in the best sense of the word.  And I married into that too.  As we shake hands with those who came back & have a moment of silence for those who didn't & as we celebrate victories they won...PLEASE take time to try to listen to them if they'll talk about it.  (I know others who won't; I certainly am not going to insist that they go back in their memories to the darkest days of their young lives!)  Try to fathom what seeing & experienced things like this small-town boy from Choctaw County AL experienced when he was in Korea does to one's soul & psyche.

I close with this.  A pastor I know in small-town north MS told me that when the movie "Saving Private Ryan" came out, he had several of his salt-of-the-earth tough guy farmers with families & homes & such come to his office, & sit just weep about memories they had locked away, never sharing them with anyone.  Not even their brides of 50+ years.  Seeing "Saving Private Ryan" triggered those memories & brought them to the surface.  My pastor friend said, through his & my shared tears, one guy who's a deacon @ his church & a very gentle hard-working farmer shared that every Christmas, every birthday, & every family gathering of any kind brought clearly to mind the faces of German soldiers he killed in Europe in late 1944 & early 1945.  Said it always bothered him greatly that those young Germans would never experience marriage or family or owning a home or children or grandchildren...

That, ladies & gents, is so very often what's behind the sober salutes & pinning on of the medals & attendance at the squadron reunions & the faraway stares this weekend.

Thank you, Father, that you raise up men & women who put on a uniform & take an oath & undergo tough training in order to be willing to ship out to places like Normandy...North Africa...Saipan...Iwo Jima...Korea...Viet Nam...Afghanistan...Iraq...Thank you for the freedoms we have, which have NEVER been free.  Thank you especially that you've promised that day...that GLORIOUS, AMAZING day...when they will all hammer their swords into plowshares & their spears into pruning hooks & they shall remember war no more.  Until then, may we as a nation honor them and be as thankful for them collectively & individually as I am for Jimmy Mixon, "Papa" to me & my children.  Grant them all peace, Father.

Gratefully & humbly,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Does Anybody Remember Wonder?

While waiting to board my plane in Houston to fly home, I grabbed this photo, which sparked this entry.  Note first the two little kids farther away against the window to the right of the pole:  They were unabashedly amazed at the plane, the guy driving the luggage cart, everything out there.  Now notice the older kid close to me:  He's a bit more cool, because it's no longer cool to be wide-eyed in wonder at his ripe old age of, what, 10?  But he was still a bit excited, albeit in a subdued way.
I totally understand the eagerness to grow up & appear unphased about anything.  It's what happens between his age and, say, mine that concerns me.

In the live version of Led Zeppelin's anthem "Stairway to Heaven" there's a point when Robert Plant chimes in with a plaintive cry, "Does anyone remember laughter??"  If you know that version, picturing me in my best Robert Plant delivery, and here's my question in this blurb: "Does anyone remember wonder??"

Something happens along the way as we grow older that steadily & systematically removes wonder from our normal range of emotions.  We make life coldly rational & academic & intellectual, in the process killing off a healthy sense of wonder.  (Reminder: 1) I am a professor who teaches a fairly coldly rational subject--finance; 2) Apart from that, my own default approach to life & its happenings is rational & academic.)

This killing of wonder is to our great detriment, in my opinion. 

In the preface to The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe, which introduces us to Narnia & Aslan the Lion & the white witch & an amazing world, C.S. Lewis wrote to this the young lady he wrote the stories for initially: "I suppose by the time I finish writing this, you'll be too old to read fairy tales any more.  One day, though, you'll be old enough to read fairy tales again, and then you can read this and tell me what you think." (paraphrased)

So, the question: when do we grow old enough to read fairy tales again?  When do we laugh with fauns & listen to beavers?  When do we again become amazed that a hunk of metal can fly through the air with a bunch of people inside & come down far away at the location of the pilot's choosing?  When do we again marvel at a sunset's beauty?  Or the wonder of a night sky filled with stars?  When do we stop & ponder the wag of a dog's tail & just smile?  When are we allowed to be blown away by the absolute silence of a bike ride in the woods? When can we just stare in open-mouthed amazement at the USM Jazz Band as they perform?  When do crepe myrtles blooming get to take our breath away again?  When do we start again being absolutely astounded that s/he loves us just like we are?  Or for that matter, jaw-droppingly astounded that love exists in the first place?

Consider these words:  awesome...wonderful.  Those words, like most words in our wonder-starved existence, have become cheapened.  We apply them to pizza on a buffett, for crying out loud!

If the whole idea of "wonder" bothers your coldly rational self, I have a scary thought & a challenge for you.  The scary thought: Heaven won't be enjoyable for you!  The challenge: go read passages like Isaiah 6 & Revelation 19-21 & other Bible passages about heaven.  Heaven will be a place of eternal awesome glorious wonder & amazement!

Perhaps our loss of wonder is why we short sell the Gospel if we regard it at all.  The Gospel is not a self-help program whereby Jesus is our super-cool friend who helps get us over the bumps life throws at us, while winking at our shortcomings.  Nor is the Gospel a political agenda (If you think one has to vote a certain way in order to be a Christian, there's quite a bit of the Book you need to re-read, and quite a number of people you need to meet!  But that's another topic for another day...). 

No, the Gospel as proclaimed in Scripture is that we were created in the image of & to have a close relationship with an all-knowing, all-powerful, absolutely holy & righteous & just God, Who knows every thought we ever will have & ever action we ever will take.  Sin separates us from that close relationship.  And He is justly offended by our sin nature & our sinful actions...but amazingly He is also totally loving of us just like we are, in all the muck & mire of our humanity & sins.  His justice & righteous & holiness require atonement to be made.  Note: God would be absolutely just if there were NO WAY to re-connect with Him & experience forgiveness; the reality that there's one way is infinitely more than we deserve.  There's a good starting point for wonder...A totally just God Who is also totally loving.  (Aside: Imagine a universe in which God were not just...*shudder*)  Thus, the part that's so amazing that we will never get over it & we can only partially comprehend it by grace: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  That.  Is. Amazingly.  Awesome!  (in the truest sense of the word)

Essentially, then, the bad news is that we're much worse off than we think we are; start by comparing yourself to total sinless perfection...yeah, me neither.  The good news...the INCREDIBLE news! beyond our wildest dreams!  That incredible news is that you & I are loved right now, just like we are by the One Who hung the stars, and Who pursues us desiring to have that relationship restored with us.  So much so that, again, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

If your life has been reduced to coldly rational intellectualism, please consider this Gospel.  Here it is in one verse: "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 6:23)  Amazing grace, indeed!

Perhaps our loss of wonder is why Heaven seems like a boring place to imagine...and why faith seems so child-like, if not childish...and why we feel entitled to be loved...and why we yawn as we stand for Handel's glorious "Hallelujah Chorus"...

Let me leave you with some lyrics that Bill Gaither penned a while back, that just crush me every time I listen:

Worthy the Lamb

Hear the cries of the shackled from the onset of time,
For the chains of defeat, there's no key.
See the tears of the broken, the cries of the slaves,
Is there no one worthy to set us free?

Then the crying is stilled as the chorus rings out,
The shackled released from their chains,
And thousands of voices are swelling the song,
"Worthy the Lamb that was slain!"

Worthy, worthy, worthy the Lamb that was slain (repeat)

And all the archangels, the saints of all time,
Holding their crowns in their hands,
Fall down before Him, joining the song,
"Worthy, worthy the Lamb!"

(repeat chorus)

Do yourself a favor & watch this clip of the Gaither Vocal Band doing the song (5 minutes long).  FYI, Bill's the first one who sings, and he himself would say, as a singer he's a very good songwriter.  Still, note the emotions he & the other guys have after all these times singing this; note how Marshall Hall is only barely able to get through his verse; note Guy Penrod falling his tall self to his knees.  Awesome...(Me?  Yeah, I've watched it probably 50 times, & have a perfect record of 0 for 50 in terms of getting all the way through it without an allergy attack...I hope my record stays intact, if anyone's curious.)

Don't lose the wonder!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Update Wed 6/22/11

--Got on Longleaf Trace yesterday morning for the 1st time in 6 weeks!
OK, so it was just for a 3-mile walk; wasn't for a bike ride...YET.  That's coming, but I'm not able just now.  I did ride down the driveway & back, which proved conclusively that I'm not ready for a real ride.  Still, I'm pretty pumped about being back out there!  I'm now all the more eagerly anticipating that next ride.

--Went 24 hrs w/ no pain meds yesterday!  Not even an Ibuprofen!
I did take my "regular" Ibuprofen dose ~10 p.m. as I was heading to bed, as I was a bit sore.  But that's a pretty significant milestone; 1st 24-hr pd in 5.5 weeks with no pain meds of any kind!

--Slowly getting out & about a bit & doing just a bit more.
Today's "more" was the walk.  I'm heading over to WCU in the next few days to do just a little bit of office mgmt. there and to eat w/ some of my colleagues & friends (I use those interchangeably).

--I'm beginning to get pumped about getting back "on the podium" (as my brother calls it).
Which is good, since I'm teaching a class that starts July 5.

--I'm also really digging my "new" car!
I found it on, we drove up together to check it out, & then while I was in Houston, Lisa killed it & brought it home.  *smile*  95 Toyota Camry, with only 50k miles on it.  Looks very good, & so far has very few of the glitches one expects when buying a used car.  Of course, the most significant improvement of this one over my other one--aside from looking LOTS better--is that this one has a working a/c.  Which is pretty significant in the S. MS heat.

--Surgery wound-wise, nearly daily progress. 
Less pain (see above about pain meds), and increased usefulness & mobility of my left arm/shoulder.  It's actually quite amazing how much you miss being able to use an arm; even the "off" arm (I'm utterly right-handed).  Now to re-gain strength.  Or better, to wind up with more than I had 6 weeks ago.  *laughing*

One of the great blessings of this cancer journey is being the recipient of so many intentional, sacrificial acts of kindness & friendship by so many.  Cards, emails, "praying for you"/"rejoicing with you" messages on facebook,...not to mention lawn mowings, meals, & such.  Very humbling!

I hope anew that I can soon be the hands & feet of Jesus, as so very many of you have been to us.  I'll never be the same.  For which I am most grateful.

With great love & thanksgiving,

p.s. - Got a few other entries percolating; you've been warned. ;-{)}

Friday, June 17, 2011

Drum roll, please! (MDA update, FRIDAY 6/17)

I'm back in the hotel room now, after this latest most-important-Dr.-appt of my life.

The P.E.T. Scan was clear!!!

(I'd high-five & hug every one, but really am physically unable to do that @ the moment due to post-op limitations.  Give yourself one of each from me.  *smile*)

What this means:
It means I have another 3 whole months of freedom until the next P.E.T. scan, & until the next most-important-appt-ever.  I'd live large, if I weren't so sore.  ;-{)}

(aside: I have a whole separate blog post percolating on life in 3-month increments.  You've been warned.)

Now, the scan did catch one thing, that has zero to do with any new tumor development.  I have a Gore-tex chest wall on my left side now, as of my surgery a month ago yesterday.  Well, the P.E.T. scan shows that it's separated slightly from my actual flesh chest wall & left a small space in between.  The radiologist reading the scan said this could be simply normal post-op adjustment & movement, but she cautioned to watch for infection.  Nobody is worried about this, since I show no signs of infection, and am improving physically (if slowly for my tastes).  And again, this has nothing to do with any new tumor development.

Thus, I'm sitting around pondering various punchlines related to my Gore-tex chest wall failing.  Here's Jim's first pass, which I like: "Seems your surgeon should've used duct tape or something."  And my own: "Should've paid the extra $$ for non-recycled plastic."  *laughing*

Anyway, great news today.  My step-Dad says let's have about 60 more of these clear quarterly scans.  I'd take it!

So now, I leave the hotel ~8, & fly out @ 10, arriving in Jackson ~11:10, where I'll dine with this dashingly handsome & brilliant pharmacist in his last year of pharmacy school, who'll also chauffer me home.  Handsome lad, that one.

Thanks so much for all your prayers & encouragement & acts of service, my friends.

With love & thanksgiving,
2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18

Thursday, June 16, 2011

UPDATE, Thurs, 6/16

Today was P.E.T. scan & bloodwork day.

Had bkfst ~7, which included a delightful visit w/ a 60-something couple from Kansas.  She has pancreatic cancer, which is normally a very bad one.  She has had it for...4 YEARS now!  She said her Dr. back home refers to her as "weird."  I told her I'm "living outside the numbers" acc. to mine here.  When they left to catch the shuttle, she said "you stay outside the numbers, & I'll keep being weird."  *huge grin*

Back to room to chill & write &read &facebook & such for a couple of hours.  Regrettably, those hours did *not* include coffee...water only.  All day...water only.

11:00 shuttle to MDA.  Bloodwork, which involved filling a couple dozen vials.  (OK, it was only 5.)

Obligatory MDA gear shopping trip @ giftshop, & then off to P.E.T. prep/scan.
--IV inserted, & toxic waste injected. ;-{)}  (radioactive sugar, which tumors absorb, thus lighting up the scan)
--mandatory 1-hour nap lying still on back (my favorite part of this process)
--actual scan took ~40 minutes

Walked ~3/4 mile from Mays Clinic to main building!  (Mostly, to see if I could.  Note to all concerned about 100+ degree heat here: the walk is entirely indoors on an air-conditioned skyway.)

Ate the greatest-tasting bag of convenience-store peanuts ever (you know those 50-cent bags of chips by the register?  It was one of those, but after 10 hours of water-only, it was *glorious*!), & a cup of coffee (again, water only for 10 hrs.)

Now sitting in hotel room watching U.S. Open reruns with a full belly after the best microwave dinner ever.

I was concerned about being physically able to lie still and to get in position for the scans because of my post-op physical limitations & of pain.  Absolutely NO problem!  Fell asleep quickly & stayed so for the nap part, & the scan only required minimal movement.  Thanks MUCH to all who had prayed about this!

Now to watch the......clock.....move......s  l  o  w  l  y......until tomorrow's 12:30 appt where I get the results of today's scan & bloodwork.  In other words, tomorrow will be the latest most-important-Dr.-appt-of-my-life.  I have one of those every three months, & this is the latest one.  Prayers most welcome!

With love & hope,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WED 6/14 UPDATE (7:00 p.m.)

"So, Mr. Madaris, you are once again cancer-free.  Let's stay that way this time..." 

(delivered with a big smile)

And with those words, my surgeon for all 4 of my surgeries @ MDA dismissed me again with a big smile earlier this afternoon.  *huge grin*

*VERY IMPORTANT CAVEAT!!* "Cancer-free" there means basically that the tumor I had a month ago is gone with good "margins" around it, & the pathology results from that surgery were all good.  So, now the prayer & hope is to hear those same words on Friday after tomorrow's P.E.T. scan.

Still, today was a significant appointment.  As fond as Lisa & I are of the guy, we hope we never walk into his part of MDA again.  *smile*

As a HUGE bonus to today's fun, a childhood & HS friend took a day off & drove up to spend the morning & early afternoon with me.  Let me fill in the details of how awesome that is:  He left his house ~6:30 a.m., fixed a flat tire, & then drove 80 miles to get here to the hotel.  We had bkfst here, & then he drove me to MDA.  He hung w/ me there throughout my 2 appointments (!!).  He took me to lunch @ a wonderful Cajun/Seafood place.  He drove me to the store to pick up a couple of things I needed for the next couple of days, & then walked me back to the room, carrying my few things for me.  As he left, he said, "Now if you need anything these next couple of days, call me; I'm only an hour & a half away." 

Gotta love servant-minded friendship!! 
(I'm grateful to have many servant-minded friends, some of whom are reading this.)

I'm SOOOO thankful & SOOOOO humbled by Jerone's sacrifice today!  As best we could figure, we last saw each other in the Fall of 1977 @ a Florida-Auburn football game in Auburn (of all places!).  We picked right up where we left off & had a great visit that just blessed my soul.

(BTW, Jerone, while I managed to stay awake all afternoon despite that huge & awesome lunch, I'm still pretty much in the same chair I've been in since you left 4 hours ago...)  ;-{)}

Important note to those who see me & know me these days: both Jerone and I are rocking Hawaiian shirts, shirts, & sandals, which proves that you can take the boys off of the beach for many years, but you'll never get the beach off of the boys! *grin*

Thanks for your continued prayers, my friends!