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!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Details of this week's MDA-related "Fun"

--Tues 6/14 => Anne Madaris drives me to Jackson; I fly to Houston @ 6:00 p.m. arriving @ 7:20.
(Something called “Business Select” class which sounds impressive! I’m trying to decide how to list it on my resume.)

--Wed 6/15 => Xray @ 10, appt w/ surgeon @ 11:00.
This is the easiest of the 3 days. Xrays will take ~ 2 minutes; appt w/ surgeon (hopefully) not much longer. Shouldn’t be much of an intense-emotion type day.
--Late lunch/hangout w/ HS/childhood buddy who I’ve probably not seen in 35 years (OK, this is not on the official MDA itinerary, but he lives nearby.) ;-{)}

--Thurs. 6/16 => P.E.T. scan + bloodwork (my “regular” followup tests & scans that I do every 3 months)
This is a physically-challenging day, but not an intense-emotion day either. (Well, except for those caused by walking into MDA any day & just seeing the many patients there…see “First Time Here” blog entry, for example) I’ll have to lie on my back still for a couple of hours not in a row; this will be *very* difficult w/ my chest/shoulder pain & shoulder mobility status these days. (Normally, I just catch a nap, including during the scan…)
The real bummer is that I can’t eat or drink anything except water for 6 hrs. prior. Scan is sched’d for 3:30 p.m. On the huge plus side, I’ll get to have breakfast, unlike most scan days.

--Fri 6/17 => appt w/ medical Dr. to get scan/blood results (this is my “main” guy there, & is the guy I see every 3 mos.)
Here’s the potentially intense-emotion day, as this is the 3-mo. appt that reveals the scan results. My Dr.’s going to be out for the next 2 weeks after this day, which means his sched this day could be…interesting. At least I get to eat 2 meals first!

--Sat 6/18 => fly back @ 10:00, arriving @ 11:10 (theoretically) James Madaris meets me @ Jackson airport & drives me to H’burg.
My passenger class this flight is, I think, “find a spot on the tail of the plane, strap in, & try to hang on” as opposed to “Business Select”. (insert cattle noises for those who have flown this class on SW Airlines) *laughing*

Getting from hotel to MDA & back will be done via free hotel shuttle; getting from airport to hotel & back will be via “Super Shuttle” which is a national company offering van rides to/from various airports that I find pretty interesting.

Thanks *so* much to all for your prayers & friendship! Both matter greatly to Lisa & me these past 3 years.

With love, faith, & hope,

p.s. – one *HUGE* bonus of this particular trip is getting 2 uninterrupted hours with each of my children. I GREATLY treasure such times…

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Update, 6/10/11 - 3 Weeks After Surgery

Bottom line: MUCH slower progress than I had hoped.  But as Lisa reminded me a couple of days ago when I was having a bit of a whine-a-thon, I am *way* ahead of where I was after last year's surgery.  Which is quite true.

On the plus side, I have now driven a car for three days in a row!  It felt mighty good, & was frankly a bit invigorating, as sad as that may sound.)

There are more positives...

--I officially have no more bandages of any kind.
A week ago, we removed the last remaining bandages. Also a significant step. Everything looks good in terms of wound healing. Related aside: ever seen pictures of a shark bite? My surgery site looks like half of a shark bite. But rest easy; there will be zero pics of that part of the journey...*laughing*  Another related aside: I now have some plastic ribs.  My boss says this makes me "sustainable"...I like it!  *smile*

--I've eased off of the pain meds during the day
Well, eased off of the narcotic ones; I still eat lots of Ibuprofen, per Doctor's orders. It hurts, but not so much as to incapacitate me any more. With that said,...

--I'm good for one outing a day...but only one!
Example: Sunday, I taught my Sunday School class, did my techie duties at church, went out to eat at a place we both really like...& then had to take the big pain pill & go deeply to sleep & stay semi-asleep for the rest of the day & evening.

So, I'm out & about a bit here & there, but still not very much.

--I'm getting some great reading done!
Obviously, I have a lot of free time, even after allowing for the reality that I'm asleep for much of it...*sigh* As a read-a-holic, free time means "time to read," which is a good thing. However, since my peak mental times come at varied times & don't last very long, I'm doing a lot of what I call "ADD reading" which means reading bits & pieces here & there. To wit,...

I just finished getting taught by one of the all-time greats, Dr. Howard Hendricks who just retired from Dallas Theological Seminary after decades of incredible teaching. (We've heard him speak during our days on staff w/ Campus Crusade, and he is amazing!) He wrote a little book called Teaching to Change Lives that I've gone through slowly these last couple of weeks. Fantastic read! I'll be going back & pulling out all of the notes I made things I underlined to try to help my SS teaching and my WCU teaching.

I'm also getting some superb one-on-one life coaching by one of the best, Dr. Henry Cloud, via his book The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success. Loving it!  (Aside: I try to read at least one "life management" type book every year; perhaps one year it'll sink in.  *grin*)

In addition, I'm reading Predictably Irrational by Dr. Dan Ariely, & having a blast doing so. He teaches behavioral economics, and this book is basically a collection of fascinating empirical results that challenge some of the conventional wisdom of the field. ("Hi, I'm Mike, & I'm a nerd; in fact, I'm an Econ & Finance nerd"..."Hi, Mike! *grin*)

Finally, a couple of days ago, I finished George Tenet's At the Center of the Storm: The CIA During America's Time of Crisis. He was director of the CIA under Presidents Clinton & Bush, and therefore was present for & a key part of some of the most significant foreign policy decisions in America's history. Rise of al Qaeda, 9/11/01, Iraq War beginning, Afghanistan War beginning,...

So, reading is varied these days...*huge grin*

--I've walked a few times, though not as frequently nor as far as I wish.
Working on it & making a bit of progress. I'm steeling myself for the possibility of a short bike ride soon; can't wait for that, whenever it happens!

Some Milestones yet to come:
--That first bike ride
--A complete day of staying awake!
(Of course, I've probably reached the point where I could transition from "pain-med-induced naptime" to "old-age-induced naptime"...*laughing)
--A full day of work @ the office
--Followup Scans to come this coming week (see separate entry coming with details.)  Prayers most welcome, and SO greatly appreciated!

With love & hope & faith,