Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Nameless Fear

"Rumor grew of a shadow...a nameless fear..."Fellowship of the Ring

I'll name that fear: metastatic melanoma.

(Apologies for letting you all see behind the curtain, so to speak....but here it is.)

The line above from the opening narration of the movie version of Fellowship of the Ring absolutely nails what happens every three months.  Mercifully, that shadow is hidden most of the time; but it's still very much there for anyone who has ever had an aggressive form of cancer that's prone to come back.  (Like, say, metastatic melanoma.)

But then comes the trip out to Houston.  And the reminder that this is NOT one of those fun travel adventures that Lisa & I really love to have.  We're here for a reason.  And that reason makes the shadow grow, slowly & steadily.

We check in to the Motel.  "We'd like the medical rate, please."  And the shadow grows.

Right now, just across the road, 2 things I really love are set up: training camp for the NFL's Houston Texans, and also the Ringling Bros. circus.  And neither one really really pierces the shadow very much tonight.

This particular trip, we had help shoving the shadow & the fear back.  We spent a fantastic couple of days over in Austin with my Aunt & Uncle, who went WAY out of their way to make us feel like special guests in their home & city.  We had a total blast!  I told them when we left that they had screwed up in reverse; now we'll need to swing by their place for a couple of days every time we come out.  *smile*

But then came the very nice drive through the TX country side.  The familiar Houston traffic (even on a Sunday afternoon!).  The signs "610 South."  And the shadow came out of hiding.

(Again, forgive my whining here; just trying to let you in on what this trip does to one's psyche every single time.  To mine, at least.)

This time, the shadow jumped out of hiding early, as we got the 3:00 a.m. call that Mom was transported by ambulance this morning with what appeared to be angina pains.  Seems she's fine, except for some blood chemistry issues that are being addressed.  A very clear & present reminder that medical stuff happens unexpectedly.  And that it is breathtakingly real.

Also, this particular trip has Lisa & me away from home when our baby boy turns 24 (today).  And when he officially starts his job as a real live pharmacist (tomorrow).  Yet another way that cancer disrupts.

I hate cancer!

I do not fear a P.E.T. scan.  An IV stick, the injection, a mandatory 1-hour nap to allow the stuff to circulate, and the ~40-minute scan.  No biggie.

However, my blood pressure will be elevated tomorrow morning as we watch the clock tick S L O W L Y toward 11.  Walking in for the results appointment is good for an extra 20 points on my systolic number.

In a matter of seconds, we'll get the word.  Four times in a row now, we've heard the magic, shadow-dispelling words "Your P.E.T. scan looks great; all clear!"  Three years of P.E.T. scans prior, we did not hear those words. 

Thus, the shadow.  The nameless fear (OK, it's now named.)

I do not fear death, for I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day.  But I do fear what a bad P.E.T. scan could imply between now & that day.

I fear its effect(s) on me physically in terms of treatment, but also its effect(s) on my life.  I fear an epitaph that says "A nice enough guy I guess."  I fear dishonoring my faith & my Lord by not making a difference for the Kingdom & for the Gospel.  I fear leaving my family ill equipped & provided for.  And, to be sure, I fear chemo (which I've never had).  I fear bone marrow transplants (ditto).  I fear immunotherapy (which I have had).

So, if you're expecting a lighthearted post with a pleasant conclusion, it's not happening.  Maybe next time.  *smile*

And should we hear the magic, shadow-dispelling sentence again, this post will be an embarassing bad memory that makes me have a sheepish grin.

For three which point I could write it again.

Thanks so much for your prayers & friendship during this journey!

"And You were the one Who filled my cup.  And you were the One Who let it spill.  So blessed be Your Holy Name, if You never fill it up again.  If this is where my story ends, just give me one more breath to say, 'Hallelujah!'"
from "Broken Praise," by Todd Smith (based on the story of Job; one of my very favorite songs)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Musical Bike Rides

Thought I'd explain the various types of bike rides using music lyrics.  I've been on most of these, and will likely do so again.  In my own riding, there's no clear pattern as to which type of ride shows up when.  Anyway, here's a description of rides I've taken.

REO Speedwagon Rides:
“Keep Pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing on…even if your strength is gone…”

These are the rides where you just don’t feel it at all, but you keep going anyway.  Aside: REO’s “Keep Pushing” is one of those songs that’s in the soundtrack of my life; pulled me through some dark days back in the late 70s.

Foghat Rides:
“Slow Ride…Take it Easy…”

These are rides where you’re not going after any personal bests in speed or distance.  You’re just cruising.  Or recovering from surgery, whichever. 

Creed Rides:
“I’m rusted & weathered, barely holding together…”

These are similar to the REO rides, except that these are more frequently caused by getting blown off the road by someone way younger—or way older!—than you.  Sadly, I have a lot of these rides...

(And yeah, I know; it's UTTERLY uncool to have any association with Creed. One of the great things about being my age is, one's pretty much uncool by definition, regardless of what music one's listening to...thus, one can indulge whatever guilty music-listening pleasure one wishes. It's actually rather freeing, come to think of it. *grin*) 

Molly Hatchet Rides:
“I’m travellin’ down the road & I’m flirtin’ with disaster….”

I’ve seen these, but have never had a fast enough bike to do one.  (yeah, that's's the bike's fault...that's the ticket...*smile*)  You’re riding so fast that the slightest “oops” would mean a colossal wipeout.

Nightwish Rides:
"They're screaming at you, 'Lock up the wolves!'"

I've had a few of these too.  The great thing about our rails-to-trails deal is that it's through the country & thus one sees wildlife--deer, squirrles, birds, even saw a large number of turkeys on a ride one time.  However, that's also the bad thing about it on occasion...wildlife--the kind one would rather not see.  Snakes & wild dogs are the biggies under the "rather not see" category.  And in a couple of spots, the domesticated dogs can be a problem.

Disturbed Rides:
“I'm indestructible...”

These are rides where you feel like you could ride all day.  A sports scientist would describe these as being “in the zone.”  This has happened to me a few times.  Simply exilharating!

(See, this is the sort of thing that runs through my mind when I'm riding. Maybe it's the oxygen deprivation...)

Let's expand the list.  Hit me up with your lyrical bike ride descriptions. 

Leave me your ideas by including the group & song line.  (Reminder: this is a family type blog; PG-rated or better on the language, please.) *smile*


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Celebrating a Flawed Church

23 years ago, we wound up in Mississippi; shortly after, we joined an amazing church.  And a flawed church (the same church).  To paraphrase Tony Campolo, I know it's a flawed church because it allowed me to join!

Here's the thing: your church is also a flawed church.  This is true wherever your church is located, and whatever its slice of the denominational pie.  Repeat after me: "I attend a flawed church."  Hopefully, yours--like mine!--is a good church, but it is flawed.

(If you disagree that yours is a flawed church, then either you don't know very much about it, or you don't know what the word "flawed" means, or you don't understand the concept of & need for grace very well.)

Now that we got that straight, let's proceed with talking about my flawed church for which I am so very grateful.

It was a good church long before I came.  Long before I was born, actually.

In the 22 years we've been members,  the church has had three pastors and two interim pastors.  The church has survived two of those leaving under significant clouds.  The church has survived excellent staff leaving as God led them to other avenues of service (aside: three former staff members have planted churches in different areas--Jackson, MS, New England, and South FL--that are all doing well and are all seeing adults come to Christ out of totally un-churched backgrounds.)  The church has moved locations; for a while, we were a multi-campus church.  The church has survived a former staff member's flagrant attempt to split it up and/or take it down.  That's just one of a few very nasty situations the church has survived.  (If you're wondering, there are multiple blog entries in my "draft" folder about that situation that will never see the light of day, as they are too non-edifying.  You're welcome.)

My church is flawed because--like your church--it is led by flawed staff members.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it is led by flawed lay leaders.
(For example, mine has this one deeply-flawed dude that leads an adult Bible study; elderly gent who hails from the beaches of NW FL originally and who is now a college professor.  *clears throat*)
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes focuses too much on its own members.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes doesn't focus enough on its own members.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes focuses too much on facilities.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes doesn't focus enough on facilities.

Basically, my church is flawed because--like your church--it is led by and attended by flawed people.  Like me.  And like you.

And yet, by the sustaining grace of God, this flawed church is still there, proclaiming the Gospel and impacting the community and the world.

And me.

Only that same grace of God could work through such a flawed church as mine.  (And yours.)
Only that same grace of God could work through such flawed people as me.  (And you.)

My particular church has just called a new pastor; he'll start today.  We were out of town when he visited--thus I've never heard him preach & never met him.  But I'm hearing a lot of excitement about the guy.  I know I'm excited about a new pastor, & thus a new phase in the life of my church.

I'm thankful for my flawed church that proclaims a perfect Gospel of a perfect God who send a perfect Savior to live a perfect life and die a horrible death to obtain salvation for a flawed people who would attend flawed churches from the 30s A.D. until, well, at least now...I'm prayerfully optimistic that if the Lord tarries, my flawed church will still be proclaiming that perfect Gospel long after my faith becomes sight.  Mostly because that perfect God is still on his throne dispensing grace beyond measure on flawed people and their flawed churches.

Very excited about this new chapter in the life of my church,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

For Ron. For Marilyn.

I knew Margaret well.  She was one of my great prayer warriors these last 4 years.  Even as her own cancer & accompanying treatments grew worse & kept recurring, she would smile, hug Lisa & me, and ask how I was doing. Then she would tell me she was praying for me.

Margaret's faith became sight earlier this week.  She leaves behind her beloved Ron, in addition to a daughter & son-in-law.  Margaret & Ron were married 39 years.

To me, Margaret models Paul's last words: "the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:6-7 ESV) Well run, my friend. See you soon. You'll be missed by many of us until that day. I pray we all finish as well as you did.

I don't know that I ever met Chip.  But I've known Marilyn since high school.  She & I played saxophones in the high school band.  Marilyn is a gentle, calm, sweet woman of great faith.  Even when her beloved Chip's cancer situation kept progressing.  Chip & Marilyn were married 24 years; 10 of those years were spent battling Chip's terminal cancer (that was known to be terminal early on.)  Like Margaret, Marilyn would always quickly move past her own cancer situation (Chip's), and go to encouraging me.  "How are you, Mike?"  "I'm praying for you."

Chip's faith became sight this week too.  Left here are his beloved Marilyn, a son, and a daughter.  Marilyn even took the time to let me know of Chip's passing just a few hours after it happened.  To me, Marilyn models Job:  "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. "  (Job 1:20-21 ESV)

Chip's obituary contains these words: "Although diagnosed with a terminal disease at the young age of 49, Chip accepted his fate with grace and focused on the positive moments of each day given to him. He fought a courageous battle with cancer never giving up hope and always living a life of example for those around him. He showed his children daily how to live with adversity as he focused on the lives of others rather than himself. "

If you're waiting for the magic words, you won't find them in this space.  Cancer fatalities just suck.  (forgive me, but they do)  I don't grieve for Margaret & Chip; they're infinitely better off now than they have been in years.  My heart aches with grief for Ron & for Marilyn & for their respective families.  Profound theologizing rings hollow just now.

John Piper said something to the effect that there are some emotions so profound that they can only be captured with poetry.  Below are some words a guy wrote right after one of his close friends died of cancer, leaving behind a husband and young children.  I think he captured a couple of key themes.  First, the helpless despair that families & friends feel when their loved one departs this world.  And second, the hope that sustains even in the midst of the seemingly impenetrable darkness of death.

I love the phrase "Ultimate Healing" and adopted it into my own regular usage when I first heard this song years ago.

Chip & Margaret have both experienced the "Ultimate Healing."  Cancer no longer has any hold on them.  Margaret's obituary contained these words:  "She closed her eyes on July 17, 2012 and in the same instant opened them in heaven and saw her Lord and Savior."  Exactly.  Ron & Marilyn and their families are left behind, grieving with a grief that would crush them apart from the grace of God.  And yet, in the midst of that grief, they're modeling for the rest of us what faith looks like.

Have a read and a listen, and then pray for a grieving husband and for a grieving wife, won't you?


Home Free
Wayne Watson

I'm trying hard not to think you unkind.
But Heavenly Father, if you know my heart,
Surely you can read my mind.
Good people underneath the sea of grief
Some get up and walk away; Some will find ultimate relief

Home Free eventually
At the ultimate healing we will be Home Free
Home Free Oh I gotta feeling
At the ultimate healing
We will be Home Free

Out in the corridors we prayed for life
A mother for her baby, A husband for his wife
Sometimes the good die young, it's sad but true
Though we pray for one more heartbeat
The real comfort is with you.

They say pain has little mercy
And suffering's no respector of age or religion
I know every prayer gets answered
But the hardest one to pray is slow to come
Oh Lord, not mine, but Thy will be done
Let it be...

Here's a video clip of the song.  (Don't worry about watching; nothing to see except the album cover.  Just listen.  4:30)

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Reading Mother

The Reading Mother
by Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

I have one of these Mothers too, and so do my children.  So thankful for both Moms.  As the poem says, "Richer than I you can never be--I had (have!) a Mother who read to me."

A related quote--read this one slowly:

"The person who doesn't read books has no advantage over the person who can't read books." 
(Attributed to Mark Twain) 

So thankful that my reading Mother gave me a deep & abiding love of books & of reading!