Saturday, December 13, 2014

What Was He Thinking?

I wonder what went through his mind on this night 40 years ago.

Did he have an inkling that it would be his last night in which eternity was but a dream & a promise out there in the future?  The last night in which this world would be all he knew of reality?  The last night before meeting his Savior face to face and hearing those magnificent words “Well done, good & faithful servant!”? 

I wonder if he pondered the greatness of God, before Whom he would stand the next night.  Probably so; a favorite hymn of his was “In the Garden”—“And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own…”

Did he think about his sons’ future lives?  Somehow, I think he did, for he thought of that often.  I wonder if God’s grace gave him a glimpse of daughters-in-law…and of 5 grandchildren…whose life journeys would forever be inexorably linked to his, despite their having never met him.

Did he think about his beloved wife’s future?  I ‘spect he did here too, for he was a man who loved her much and who did all he could to provide for and shape that future.

Did he think about finishing the race & keeping the faith?  Overwhelming evidence from the previous 47 years (his lifespan) suggests that he did.

Did he think about the gigantic hole his passing would leave in the lives of so many?  I’m sure he had thought of that now & then, as ours is a family that knows how to live life well and how to deal with its end.  Regrettably, we have a good bit of experience with that “ending” part.  He had that experience too.  However, no 47-year-old spends too much time thinking of his own life’s end.

Did he think of Christmas & the Incarnation & family & how all of those seem intertwined?  I think so, for on this night 40 years ago, he & his family decorated the tree and fired up the music of the season.  He absolutely deplored the ever-lengthening “Christmas season” as cheapening the meaning of itself.  Thus, the tree went up about two weeks before Christmas, & never earlier.

Whatever his thoughts were on Dec. 13, 1974, mine on the forty Dec. 13’s since have always focused on him.  And on the overwhelming influence the short 15 ½ years we shared on earth continue to have on pretty much the totality of my own life and faith and family.  Influence like a good Daddy should have on his son.

And thus, I both love and hate staring at the Christmas tree here late in the evening on Dec. 13.  Doing so brings memories to the fore, both good and painful.  Questions that I won’t get answered until until that Great Day, when my feeble-minded questions will fade into insignificance beside an eternally long, “Thank You, Lord!”

December 13, 1974, I ‘spect Dad might have stared at the freshly-decorated Christmas tree and chased his own memories a bit.

Think I’ll go stare at ours and chase mine.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

To End All War

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what we know as "World War I."  First, because I'm reading a remarkable book by Richard Rubin.  In the early part of this century, he tracked down and interviewed a number of veterans of that war, which ended in 1918.  Thus, the veterans he tracked down were all over 100 years old.  He does a good job of capturing the history, the national mood, the music, etc. of American culture in the early 1900s, all as the backdrop for telling these veterans' stories.

Second, because it's Veterans' Day.  96 years ago, the "War to End All War" ended on this date.  The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The guns went silent.  That is why Nov. 11 is "Veterans' Day."

Charlie was there, somewhere in western Europe.  A handsome doughboy.  A cook, and also a sharpshooter due to his very rural upbringing in SE Alabama.  He came home & married Mattie. Charlie died when I was not quite one year old.  Mattie died when I was in college. 

Charlie & Mattie are my beloved Grandparents. 
Charlie & Mattie, early 1900s

Me in Charlie's lap, 1960
I am forever marked by these two remarkable people from the woods of central Alabama.

Third, because this past August marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War.  England has marked the anniversary well with an exhibit that's taken months of preparation.  The legendary Tower of London has a display.  Have a look.

 Know what those red things are?  Ceramic poppies.  888,246 of them.  That's how many British soldiers died in World War 1.  Essentially, a generation of young men paid the ultimate price.

Click HERE for an article from the Telegraph describing the exhibit.  Take a minute & a half & watch the time-lapse video of sunrise to sunset at the top of the article.  And the two-minute video at the bottom that shows the exhibit from above.

And these poppies represent but one nation's combat fatalities.  In total, the combined allied forces would suffer the loss of over five million men, over 116,000 of which were Americans.  Note that the American forces did not officially go to Europe to fight until the War had been going for a couple of years. 

Charlie & Mattie's sons & sons-in-law would be in the next "Great" war.  George, a son-in-law, served in the south Pacific.  Leldon, another son-in-law, serviced planes in Italy.  Charles & James, sons, both served in Japan.  Charles & James also served in Korea a few years later.
Charles ("Uncle Jr." to us) & James ("Dad" to Jim & me)
Some of Charlie & Mattie's grandsons & grandsons-in-law would serve in a distant place called "Vietnam."  Another guy named Leo who married into the family flew fighter planes on multiple tours of duty over Vietnam, and had to write those letters that begin "It is with great regret..." to families of pilots who served under his command.

One grandson, Jim, flew a plane around the north Atlantic chasing Soviet submarines during the 1980s for the U.S. Navy.  Meanwhile, back home, a lady named Sandi was an officer in the United States Air Force.  Just like her Dad was.

A great-grandson, Jerry, loads bombs on planes now for the USAF.

Friends, relatives, students, & former students serve now or have recently served.  Brett, Gary, Lance, Jim, Jimmy, Cathy, David, John, Brian, Bob, Marshall...So many men & women.

Where do they come from?  Why do they do it?  Why take an oath, put on a uniform, take up weapons, & move to distant places?

Many reasons.  They are are diverse as they are many (both the warriors and their reasons!).  But what they all share in common is a willingness to put themselves in harm's way because their country asks them to do so.  Simple as that.  Courage beyond what I've ever had to summon.

Question U.S. foreign policy & those who formulate it.  I certainly do!

But DO NOT slam the men & women who wear or have worn the uniform! 

To Jim the Navy pilot (my brother), Sandi the former USAF officer (Jim's wife), James the Army Air Corps vet (my Dad), Charles the Army Air Corps & later USAF vet (my Uncle), Marshall the USAF vet (my cousin), Leo the fighter pilot (my step-Dad), Jerry the USAF weapons loader (my nephew), Jimmy the former US Army combat medic (my father-in-law), Charlie the doughboy (my grandfather),...To my friends who stand proudly at Veterans' recognition times at church when their branch of the service is called out...To my classmates who have served & are serving...To my students who have served & are serving...


"There's not much I can tell you about this war. It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning. The politicians talk about the glory of it. The old men talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home." 
Jimmy Stewart, in Shenandoah

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
(Written during World War I.)

Today is Veterans' Day (not Memorial Day).  But every veteran listed here, like every other veteran you know and like every active duty member of our military, has no desire to die young.  And yet, they are willing to do so.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam
(The Ode of Remembrance, published by a British poet in 1914)
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

Amen. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, so they may all come home and learn war no more.  Until that day, thank you for raising them up throughout the generations.

To all of you who serve, I am humbled this day & every day to know you, teach you, & be related to you,

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Last Lecture

A friend & colleague from across campus retired this summer, after a long & distinguished career.  During this past year, three friends & WCU colleagues died (one from the School of Business, two from across campus).

And we are just in the process of the first trimester in our new School of Business building.  Exciting stuff, although there is the occasional hassle of re-booting office filing & learning new technology & such.  Not to mention the ever-present new-building glitches.  (As I wrote the first draft of this, I was sitting in an office with a temperature registering 85.5 degrees.  Thankfully, that problem is now resolved.)

Then there’s the beginning of the academic year pondering & reflecting.  (Aside: I can’t speak for every teacher, but for me, late August is the beginning of the year.  January 1 is a welcome day off in the middle of the year.)

All of which has me remembering anew that one day I’ll give my last lecture.

I have absolute no idea when this will occur.  For some, like my colleague mentioned in the first sentence, that is their decision.  Her last lecture was as she had planned in August 2014.  For others, like my colleagues mentioned who are not around any more, it was not their decision.  They were here…and then they weren’t.

No clue which it will be for me.  Nor when it will be.  It’s entirely possible that my last lecture was the one yesterday on some of the finer points of risk & return in BUS 315.  I have no expectation that this is the case, nor any plans for it to be.  (So, BUS 448 students, better come on to class Monday. [smile])

If my last lecture is caused by my retirement, then I’m planning for that to be a LONG time into the future.  (Sorry, students! [another smile])

But what if it’s not due to retirement?

What if I teach one day, and am not here to teach the next?

This thought is ever present, though by the grace of God I do not live in fear or anxiety of it.  Every single one of us has a “that day” on our calendar.  A day on which our earthly existence will cease.  We probably haven’t a clue when nor how, but that day is absolutely there.  Example: a friend of ours went to a deacons’ meeting & then church Sunday night; on the way home, he was killed in a wreck.  He was around my age.

Since I recently added “bladder cancer” to my medical resume, perhaps the thought of the last lecture is even more present.  (Note: the prognosis is quite good!)

While all of us professors like to think we add to our universities and certainly try hard to do so, William Carey University was doing just fine for nearly 100 years before I arrived.  I’m pretty confident that William Carey University will continue to do just fine for years after I leave.  (Unless the Lord returns first, of course.)

I remember talking to a professor friend who had just retired from a large research university.  When he was there, he averaged ~$2 million a year in grants for his engineering lab.  He had assembled quite the team & large amounts of resources for his cutting-edge scientific research.  My friend said he went back to campus about four months after he retired for a visit, and there was no evidence he had ever been there!  His lab had been parceled out in the department, his office was occupied by someone else, and the university was rocking merrily on.

That is sobering to consider!

One day, my time will come to deliver my last lecture.  I’d love for my students to remember me fondly (don’t we all want to be remembered fondly by those whose paths intersect ours?).  I’d also love for them to actually be using things they learned in my classes in their work lives after graduating.  I’d also love for them to have applied the relevant material to their personal lives (students, finish this sentence from DocM’s BUS 315 class: “with your next paycheck, however great or small,…” [grin])

But an overriding goal of mine is captured in a song from some years back.  While I’m pretty sure I’ve never sung in class (you’re all welcome, students!), I think these guys capture a bit of what I’m trying to say with this post.

I feel quite sure if I did my best, I could maybe impress you with tender words and a harmonyA clever rhyme or two
But if all I've done in the time we've shared is turn your eyes on me,
Then I've failed at what I've been called to do.
There's someone else I want you to see
Will you love Jesus more when we go our different ways?
When this moment is a memory will you remember His face?
Will you look back and realize you sensed His love more than you did before?
I'd pray for nothing less than for you to love Jesus more
I'd like to keep these memories in frames of gold and silver,
And reminisce a year from now about the smiles we've shared.
But above all else I hope you will come to know the Father's love.
And when you see the Lord face to face, “You'll hear Him say ‘well done.’”
I pray for nothing less than for you to love Jesus more

(from Phillips, Craig & Dean)
More than grasping the finer points of the mechanics of time value of money or bond duration or the relationship between risk & return or the definition of marginal product and oligopoly, that’s my hope & prayer for what will remain after my last lecture.  Our university—like most universities—is fond of thinking/saying that “what happens here doesn’t end here.”  May that be ever & eternally true on my case, by the grace of God.
We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10
p.s. - Would you join me in praying for our friends who've lost their beloved husband & father?  Based on what I knew of him, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that last Sunday night, he heard "Well done, good & faithful servant" spoken by One Who embraced him with nail scars on His hands.  But there's still a grieving family, church, and community here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pecans, War, Family, and Forgetting: Connecting with Grandpa

I felt a deep connection with my two amazing Granddaddies today.  OK, I often feel a deep connection with those two guys I love & admire so much; but today brought them both to the forefront of my memories, longings, & emotions.
Charlie Madaris was a poor, hard-working country boy from Alabama.  College didn’t happen, & wasn’t really an option for him.  He grew up in a rather tough home environment (Aside: why do we talk & act like tough home environments are a new thing?)  Charlie worked until his dying day, because that’s how he lived.  Sawmills for much of his life, followed by less physically-demanding jobs as he aged.  To my non-stop regret, Charlie entered eternity when I was just one year old.  I don’t remember him, but I do have the one really cool picture of us, plus the stories.  There’s also the love of laughter Charlie’s descendants share.  I like to think I catch an echo of Charlie’s laugh when I hear one of my children’s.

Granddaddy & Grandma with (L-R) me, my brother Jim, & our cousin Gary.
Grandaddy died not long after this picture was taken.
Actually, I have several really cool pictures of Granddaddy, one of which jumped all up in my memory this morning.  It’s Charlie in his uniform from his military service in World War 1.  I hope you’re aware that 100 years ago this week, World War 1 officially started.  America would sit out the first part of the War; but then a generation of young American men—including a country boy named Charlie Madaris—would answer the call.
Let these numbers sink deeply into your soul:  Nearly 900,000 British soldiers lost their lives in that War.  Over 115,000 Americans lost theirs in just a couple of years.  Every combat fatality represents the end of a story.  I’m here because Charlie’s story didn’t end there in the trenches in France.
Why’d my mind lock in on Charlie today?  I just started a book called The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, in which the author interviewed the last remaining American veterans of World War 1.  I was reading the preface this morning.  The author makes this stunning summary of the lives of so many of Charlie’s brothers-in-arms:

"...people who, having triumphed, came home & quietly set about trying to rebuild their lives.
And were forgotten."
(emphasis mine)

Those simple lines just crushed me.  I pictured Granddaddy coming home from the War, marrying his beloved Mattie, working whatever jobs the central Alabama countryside offered, raising a family, and going about his responsibilities.  You know, like men used to do (& some still do, thankfully).  Then I realized it’s been 54 years since Charlie’s sudden passing.  Granddaddy, all I have is pictures, echoes of your laugh, lots of pride in being descended from my favorite Doughboy, and a deep & wonderful family heritage.  I won’t forget.
Charlie & Mattie Madaris.  The newlyweds.
Then, at lunch, we got started talking about eating pecans.  I’m a pecan-a-holic, and I know exactly why.  John Benton was a gentle, quiet giant of a man who I knew & loved dearly for the first eight or so years of my life.  I remember slow, deliberate movement, and words that mattered greatly.  I remember the pipe, the sweater, & the Fedora that were required for a proper stroll through the woods.  Or around the corner to Goodson’s Store in Enterprise with his grandsons to buy & eat some peanuts.  (I’m also a peanut-a-holic, & for the very same reason as my love of pecans.)
And I remember the pecan trees around Papa’s house.  Huge & majestic.  One served as both the out-of bounds line and the goal line for the front-yard football games back in the day.  Speaking of football, and since football season is upon us, I remember that Papa was ordered by his Dr. to stop listening to Alabama Crimson Tide football broadcasts on the radio because it was bad for his heart.  (So, yeah; I come by it honestly. J)
I remember Papa teaching me to crack pecans.  And I remember what a rite of passage it was when my tiny hands finally got big enough to crack pecans without the metal cracking device.  Just put two in my fist & smack my fist into my other hand, & presto!  Just like Papa did it.  I love eating pecans still.  Note:  my preference is straight out of the shell.  I’m not a fan of pecan pie (I know; heresy!), nor of pecans cooked in any way.  Just basic pecans from the shell.  I like cracking them too.

The whole tribe in Papa & Granny's front yard. (I'm rt in front of Papa on the left)
Three more cousins would join us later.

Papa, I’ll never forget you either.
Charlie & John--Grandaddy & Papa--an oft-repeated prayer of mine is that, decades after my own faith becomes sight, others farther down the family tree might remember & think of me as fondly as I remember & think of you two.  More, my prayer is that my descendants would thank God for what He did through the life of Charlie Madaris & John Benton.  And perhaps even through their deeply flawed grandson.
Thanks, Gentlemen, for your lives & your legacies.  May we, your descendants, continue the excellent legacy you forged for us.
 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
 until I proclaim your might to another generation,
  your power to all those to come.

(Psalm 71:18 ESV)

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Psalm 116:15

I'm not a poet. But I definitely agree w/ John Piper who said (paraphrase) "there are some emotions so deep in the soul that they can only be captured with poetry." As best I can recall, this is one of two poems I've ever written. (the other one was a few years back when another friend died). I've posted this before here, but today is the 6th anniversary of my buddy Jason's Homecoming at the ripe old age of 33. I started this in July 2008 in a room at M.D. Anderson's ICU when I heard that the time of Jason's departure was at hand; finished it the next day when I heard he had gone on the glory.  (I was undergoing a cycle of high-dose immunotherapy for my metastatic melanoma then.)

Stephanie had her Dad read this at Jason's funeral. I'll likely never receive a higher honor this side of glory. (We did make it back for his funeral, btw).  A quick testimony about Steph: On the morning of Jason's funeral, this 33-year-old sudden widow & sudden single Mother of three texted me to ask how Lisa & I were doing.  I'm still in awe.

Six years after his homegoing, I agree all the more with these sentiments captured when I heard of Jason's passing. Don't read this for quality of the literary value of the poem, for you'll surely be disappointed. Rather, read for the depth of the emotions I'm trying to capture. This comes close, but doesn't fully capture what I felt this in July 2008. And today....

As was the case last year, I do not focus on how he died. I choose to focus instead on how he lived.
In one of my favorite movie scenes (from "The Last Samurai"), the emperor says to the Samurai's friend, "Tell me how he died."  The friend replies, "I will tell you how he lived."  Exactly.

Please pray for Jason's beloved Stephanie and for his treasured children Anna Lea, Jon Brent, and Ally.  (All are doing well, but could probably use a prayer today.  Stephanie married a great guy, John, a couple of years ago, and he is doing a simply remarkable job of being a Dad to Anna Lea, Jon Brent, and Ally.)  Also, please pray today for Jason's parents, Jon Mark & Peggy; I can't begin to contemplate the journey they've been on since Jason's AML diagnosis, treatment, and passing.  In addition, pray for Jason's brother Brad, who has taken that same journey.  My brother & I have caught glimpses of where Brad has been during our cancer journeys...

And finally, would you treasure this day and treasure those in your life who make the days lighter and more pleasant? 

And would you live a life that is pleasing to God, in light of eternity?

Jason...bro...I cherish your friendship and your life. Thanks for leaving such a large wake in your 33 short years, and for making all of us in it long all the more for that glorious, eternal "what's up?" from you in the land where there will be no more goodbyes forever.

I love you, buddy.  Rock on.

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.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Searching for Barnabas

This post is aimed mostly at guys, for a couple of reasons.  First, it seems to me that you ladies are much more automatic at what I'm writing about.  Second, it also seems to me that we guys are much more prone to run off the rails and cause much devastation in our lives & the lives of those around us.  With that said, whatever the girl version of "Barnabas" is, you ladies should perhaps adapt this to her.

So very many of us are searching for Barnabas.  And what's sad is that we may not even realize that we're searching for Barnabas until we crash & wonder where he's been.

In recent years, I've watched two guys I considered VERY close friends crash & burn morally.  Both left behind angry & hurt wives and crushed & wounded sons.  A good many years back, a pastor--a pastor!--crashed & burned morally, shortly after he resigned his pastorate.

From what I know, all three of these guys were & are Christians.  All three have had significant impacts for the Kingdom of God.  And there is no doubt that all three have had a significant impact on me personally, in multiple ways.  Before their respective crashes, they impacted my life & faith through teaching & example & fellowship.  So please read my emphatic statement: I am SO thankful for all three of these guys and for the providential ways their paths crossed mine and for their impact on my life & faith & marriage & parenthood.  And tragically, as a result of their respective crashes, they have impacted my life & faith by counter-example.  I've been reminded of some boundaries to enforce & some behaviors & thought processes to guard vigorously & intentionally. 

Also, from what I know, none of these guys really had found Barnabas.  So many of us guys haven't yet.  In all three cases, it's possible or perhaps even likely that I should have been Barnabas to them and I wasn't.

(If you're wondering, I've seen all of them since their episodes & thanked all of them for being my friend & for impacting me. I still have fairly regular contact with one of the three, despite geographical distance. And only God knows how much grace I personally have needed over the years from Him but also from friends & family!  You won't hear arrogance & condemnation from me.  As my Mother used to say, "There, but for grace, go I."  Neither will you hear "oh well, boys will be boys" excuses by me.  In fact, those two ideas--condemnation & excusing--are part of the main point of this.)

So, who's this Barnabas we need to be searching for?

Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)...
Acts 4:36

"Son of Encouragement."  Dr. Howard Hendricks--a long-time seminary professor whose faith became sight just last year, & who I wrote about back then--used to say to guys that we all need three guys in our lives.  We need a Paul, a Barnabas, & a Timothy.  Paul--a more mature guy who's building into us; Timothy--a younger guy whose life we're building into...and Barnabas--an encourager. 

According to Prof, this Barnabas would be our co-laborer.  "Someone who loves us dearly, but who is not impressed by us."  Our Barnabas will genuinely encourage us, while at the same time holding us accountable.  He will--with our permission--speak truth into our lives.  One guy I know quit smoking because his Barnabas looked at him one time & said, "That's a really stupid habit that you need to quit.  I love you & so does your family, and we want you around a long time."  A simple example, but if that particular Barnabas didn't love the guy, he wouldn't have spoken that truth to him in love.  And if he were impressed by him, he wouldn't have spoken it to him at all!

Guys, have you found Barnabas?  If not, with all the love I can muster, put that at the top of your list of things to work on.

Before I describe some Barnabases in my life, a VERY important reminder: "Son of Encouragement" does NOT equal "Enabler"!  Again, loves you but is not impressed by you.  He has your best at heart, & thus will occasionally speak hard truth into your life.  Barnabas will not let you off the hook with weak excuses.

With that, let me tell you about a few sons of encouragement I know.  I won't name them, but I'll describe them.  Hopefully, doing so will show the importance of Barnabas and also will show how easy it is to be in Barnabas' orbit.

One guy regularly asks me--and a number of other guys--when our last date with our wife was.  If we stammer, he'll smile, pat us on the back, & tell us he'll ask again next week, and will expect a different answer.  Countless guys--me included--need reminding that right after our faith in Jesus Christ, our wife comes next.  Before church.  Before work.  Before kids.  Before sports & other entertainment.

Another guy once confessed a deep struggle to me, saying "I know you'll pray for me & keep this just between us.  I also know you'll hold me accountable to deal with it."  What a high honor, to be invited into the depths of another man's soul like that!  By the way, in the years since, I've asked him about the issue a few times.  (Again, he asked me to ask him.)  By the grace of God, his prayer--and mine--for himself on this issue has been answered affirmatively.  After he has shared victories with me, he always says, "Thanks for asking!  I love you, Brother."

This other Barnabas I know connected the dots between some work issues I was dealing with and my near-total slackness in my Christian life.  He told me pretty directly to stop being a perfectionist, stop being passive about my faith, and get on with life.  Then he prayed for me, and promised to continue to doing so.  I'm pretty confident that he has prayed for me pretty regularly for 25+ years now, despite us not living in the same city or state for over two decades.

Another guy showed me the value of time away from work with just my wife & kids.  He was selected for a position of honor that a number of guys in my community would love to have.  To the shock of most, he declined, saying that he had committed to travel with his wife & kids, which was a higher priority to him.  He was told, "You may not have this opportunity again, you know..."  He said, "Yeah, I know.  But I know my boys will never be this age again.  I appreciate the offer, but No."  He & I laughed about this, & then he looked at me & asked when the last time I had taken a vacation with Lisa & James & Anne.  When I stammered a bit, he smiled.  I got the point.

One more: there's another guy who shaped some boundaries for me early in my married life.  There were unsavory & totally untrue rumors circulating about me.  I was furious & ready to do violence to the perpetrator of the gossip.  Thankfully, I sought my friend's counsel.  He said two things: (1) "Nobody who knows you believes these; I don't and neither does anyone else who has contact with you & Lisa."  (2) "Here are a couple of things you might consider in the future to avoid such rumors even getting started..."  And he suggested some hard boundaries that I have tried to stick to in the years since.  As expected by him, my marriage which was already good has become great as I have tried to actively & intentionally honor Lisa in my heart, my words, and in actions I take intentionally and actions I avoid equally intentionally.  PLEASE do not hear me boasting here!  Rather, read that "As expected by him" sentence as evidence of the grace of God poured out first & foremost via a trusted brother.  Barnabas.

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
Acts 12:25

As others much wiser than I have noted, there's a significant and growing absence of men finishing well these days.  We have short-changed our wives and our children.  We have left women to fulfill leadership roles in the home and in the church.  We are fairly well absent, far too often under the guise of "Well, I'm working hard making money."  I'd really love to tell you that I'm innocent of these things; I'm not.  But hopefully, by the grace of God and through the encouragement of multiple Barnabases in my life--sons of encouragement--I'm much closer to "innocent" than I used to be.

Thanks guys.  I'm a better man, husband, father, professor, and follower of Christ because of you.  Please don't let up, gents.  I have a ways to go yet; so do you.  Please pray that we all hit the finish line running strong in the faith.  Let's lean into the tape and finish well!  May God bless each of you sons of encouragement.  Thanks for "bringing me with you" on our life & faith journeys.

May we all find Barnabas.  May we all BE Barnabas.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

**Please Pray for my Brother, Jim!**

Was out of the social networking loop yesterday; what follows is a compilation of Facebook status updates on Jim; most were posted by his wife Sandi, with the exception of the very last one.
Synopsis: Jim experienced a rather serious situation with fluid building up in his chest & around his heart on Wed. 3/25.  As I type--3:15 p.m., Thursday, 3/26--he's better, but still in the hospital back home in NW FL.  (They were down for his daughter's Spring Break)
PLEASE pray for Jim & for his medical team, as well as for Sandi.
The following are the status in chronological order, fyi.  First one was Wednesday.

1.  Please pray for Jim! We are in ER in FWB FL--he has fever over 100, difficulty breathing and extremely fatigued. Pray for the medical staff here to determine quickly what is going on and for his breathing and pain to get better. Please no phone calls--I will update later as I can. Humbly thanking in advance for your sweet submissions to God on his behalf. Love and blessings!

2.  Jim being admitted to hospital. They are running lots of tests and doing a CT on him. Signs of some sort of infection...thx again for all your prayers.

3.  Jim has fluid around his heart. They have moved him to cardiac lab and are doing periocardiocentesis on him right now, he will be under conscious sedation. Please pray for steady hands, accurate placement of needle and drain, and a general prayer cover over him and the surgical team. Blessings!

4.  Just saw cardiologist. He got almost a liter of fluid out of his chest. Jim will be in ICU tonite and had a drain in his chest. He should be able to breathe easier now. I haven't seen him yet, so will let y'all know when I set eyes on him myself! Excellent doctor and surgical/nursing staff! Keep praying for swift and full recovery! Blessings!

5.  Jim was moved to ICU. I saw him and talked with him. Some pain at the drainage site but breathing is better. Pray that all the fluid is drained and his vital signs stabilize. So appreciate your love and prayers!

6.  Jim stable and resting when his mom and I left him tonite in the ICU. He will probably get some red blood to help with his anemia. His fever still there and white blood cell (WBC) too high, so some sort of infection is present. The nurse said lots of rest will help him feel better. He didn't eat too much dinner and was just glad they could finally give him pain meds. Prayers definitely appreciated and I will let locals know when he is ready for sweet visits from y'all! Your love means so much to all of us!
(This next one was the first from today.)
7.  Update on Jim: he slept fairly well last nite, ate a small breakfast, had another echo test and still has drain and foley cath in. Still running slight fever and has elevated WBC. His heart rate & BP are returning to normal. He still has difficulty breathing and a slight cough. The lining around his heart has a bacterial infection which is being addressed thru antibiotics. Fluid around heart is greatly reduced. Pray for the infection to be eliminated, for his breathing to totally improve, and for overall continued healing. God is over all and He is good! Thanks again for your love and prayers!

8.  Update again on Jim:
Pray for his fever to come down! It is 102.2 & specific infection needs to be found. Blessings!

(This one was posted by Jim just a bit ago.)
9.  hi all... Too sick to post & converse, but it sure is great to read all your love & prayers. Thanks especially for being there for Sandi.
In His grip... Jim

(end; back to Mike now)
Again, on Jim & Sandi's behalf, we welcome & deeply appreciate your prayers, my friends.  Thanks so much for all you folks do to serve my family!

Monday, March 03, 2014

For Those Facing the Loss of a Loved One

For some folks I know who are grieving the imminent home-going of a friend & family member.  For other folks I know who have already faced a loved one's home-going, especially those who did so through the devastating, overpowering road that is cancer.

This song absolutely wrecked me many years ago when I saw Wayne Watson perform it live (long before my own cancer journey began.)  Especially when he introduced it by talking about its inspiration: a family friend who died of cancer, leaving behind a husband & young children.  I love the brutal honesty of the words: "I'm trying hard not to think You unkind, but Heavenly Father, if You know my heart, surely you can read my mind..."

After hearing this song, and singing along with it several hundred times in my car & home, I adopted the phrase "The Ultimate Healing" into my regular language.  To be very clear, my clear P.E.T. scans are amazing & unlikely & unwarranted gifts from God.  I am SO thankful for them & so humbled by them & so prayerful for them to continue!  But with that said, my friends Jason & Margaret (among others I know) are utterly, totally, and ultimately healed, whereas I am not.  My existence still requires faith; their faith, on the other hand, is now sight.  They, not I, have received the ultimate healing!  (Very easy to say; VERY hard to process & internalize & live through!)

Note: No song--including this one!--has the power to take away your pain.  I wouldn't presume that at all.  But maybe, just maybe, it will help a few days down the road.

(Video of Wayne's song; no need to watch, just listen. 4:31)  "Home Free" by Wayne Watson

(Lyrics follow)

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've got a feeling.
At the ultimate healing,
We will be home free
Out in the corridors, we pray for life;
A mother for her baby,
A husband for his wife
Sometimes the good die young,
It's sad but true.
And while we pray for one more heartbeat,
The real comfort is with You.
You know pain has little mercy,
And suffering's no respecter of age,
Of race, or position.
 I know every prayer gets answered,
But the hardest one to pray is slow to come:
'Oh Lord, not mine, but Your will be done.'
Let it be.
Home free, eventually.
At the ultimate healing,
We will be home free.
Home free! Oh I've got a feeling.
At the ultimate healing,
We will be home free.
Home free, eventually.
At the ultimate healing,
Gonna be home free
Home free, oh its more than a feeling.
At the ultimate healing,
Gonna be home free

Published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Come, Lord Jesus.  Come near-term, to those facing the death of a loved one.  Come ultimately, to all of us, as you usher in the new world where cancer & death will barely be a memory. 
I.  Can't.  Wait!
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away...
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Psalm 90:10, 12, 13
Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?”Job 26:14

Friday, February 07, 2014

“This light, momentary affliction…” Seriously??

Today, my brother Jim begins a new phase of the battle with mesothelioma.
Easily the ugliest Christmas sweater ever. 
 Last May’s phase 1 involved a 14-hour surgery/internal chemo combo up in Pittsburgh.  A considerable portion of his guts was removed then.  And it was successful.

But with mesothelioma—as with metatastic melanoma—“successful” will not be final in this life.  Meso patients always live under a shadow.

So, in recent followup scans, some lymph nodes were somewhat enlarged.  No lighting up as cancerous on the P.E.T. scan, which is good.  However, because it’s mesothelioma, Jim’s medical team is being aggressive.  And so, as I was writing this earlier today, he’s in Nashville having his first chemo infusion.  This is an experimental protocol that involves a biologically-targeted chemo regimen.  Therefore, rather than just wiping out his entire system & hoping that the chemo destroys the cancer before destroying him, this one is somewhat less bad to endure.

Context is crucial as you read that last sentence; my own focus is on the phrase “somewhat less bad.”  Chemo is still chemo, and brings unpleasant side effects.  The good news is that the side effects from this regimen are much less than from how more general chemo affects the patient.  The bad news is, he’ll be heading up to Nashville every Thursday for his Friday infusion.  Every single week.

How long is the regimen?  (Let this answer motivate you to pray for Jim & his fam if you’re not already doing so.)  The experimental period is for two years; they’ve told Jim that he can count on six months.

Every.  Single.  Friday.  Six Months.  Or maybe longer.

As usual, his attitude is great.  He says this is a good problem to have, which it is.  But a good problem to have is still a problem.

Light & Momentary?  Doesn’t seem like it when one is in the fire.  But the hope in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 is at least twofold.

“…is preparing for us…”

First, consider the word preparing.  Elsewhere in Ephesians 2:10, Paul describes us Christians as God’s “workmanship” (Greek: poema.)  Consider your own workmanship: your job, parenting your kids, growing your faith,…None of those happen automatically nor quickly, does they?  The hope is found in the One Whose workmanship we are; the One Who is doing the preparing.

“…an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…”

Second, consider the words eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  Eternity is a very long time, isn’t it?  As the late, great musician Keith Green said, “Life is short, eternity is long.”  When we look back from the perspective of eternity, the trials of this life will truly seem “light & momentary.”  I can’t wait, & neither can Jim!  “Weight of Glory”…what an awesome phrase, in the true meaning of the words!  The Sovereign God is not just preparing Jim to be tough, or manly, or whatever.  (He flew an airplane armed with nuclear torpedoes around the north Atlantic chasing Soviet missile subs.  He also played the trombone at our Dad’s funeral [I’m still in awe all these years later].  Plus, there’s the 14+ hour surgery last May…“tough” & “manly” were surpassed long ago.)  No, God is preparing Jim—and you & me as believers—for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  He is shaping & molding us to bear His image & to reflect His glory.

Sometimes, that preparing & workmanship & shaping fall light & easy on us.  Often the same shaping & workmanship are tough to go through.  Like, say, six to 24 months of weekly chemo.

Hallelujah!  One day, all the shaping & molding will be complete, and we will bear that eternal weight of glory.  And then, in ways we can only glimpse now, all of our trials & tough times here will seem light & momentary.  We will even thank God for them!

But that day is not here yet.  Not for you, for me, nor for Jim.  Therefore, would you please join me in holding him before the throne of grace in prayer?  Would you do so at least every Friday?

     But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence…to the glory of God.
     So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:7-18 ESV)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

[updated version of earlier post as I gear up to head back out to Houston]

"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 four 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.

Lodging is not far from where the NFL's Houston Texans practice and play.  As much as I really love football, it won't really pierce the shadow very much.

I'll drive through Baton Rouge; Lisa & I enjoyed attending our first-ever LSU game there last Fall.  But the shadow...

I'll drive through south Louisiana, a fascinating part of the country to me.  The Achafalaya Swamp, Po-Boys sold everywhere, rice fields,...None of which pierces the shadow.

The familiar Houston traffic. The signs "610 South." And the shadow comes 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. Well, to mine, at least.)

Partial view of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
A fantastic facility populated with tremendous folks doing amazing work;
a place I wish wasn't necessary.
This past year, my beloved brother began his own cancer journey.  Mesothelioma in his case.  By the grace of God as exhibited through some highly-skilled Drs. in Pittsburgh, his first year has gone about as well as possible.  Most of the time, the shadow of his journey is hidden too, as we talk of much more joyous things.  A visit to M.D. Anderson brings that part of our family's shadow out of hiding too.

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 Friday morning as I 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.  Eight 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.  I have the nasty scars & unpleasant memories that go along with that.

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).  I fear not finishing well.

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

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

For four months.  At 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)

p.s. - I drive out Wednesday, have all the medical fun Thursday, the latest most-important-of-my-life Dr. appt. Friday, followed by the drive home.  Your prayers for safe travels & clear, accurate scans showing nothing are MOST welcome & appreciated beyond mere words.