What a Ride: Despair and Celebration

Sad_Smile

Yes, 2016 has been an interesting, up and down year. My blog posting has been sporadic at best and my emotions have been stretched from east, to west and back again. But I am returning to a situation in life where I expect to begin posting on a regular basis; and I have a lot of ideas on things to write about. For instance, I want to write about atonement, and about the resurrection, and about Jesus being fully God and fully human, and about sin and whole bunch of other stuff.

But for the moment, I want to respond to a reader that recently asked why I’ve been absent. Well, lots of things have happened in 2016. But it began at the end of 2015.

The Recap

My last post was about the sudden death of a 20 year friend of ours, the oldest son of a wonderful family in Nebraska. Granted, the tragedy affected them more deeply of course, but it still shook us to our cores. Then 2016 began with my mom being rushed to the hospital. Mom, a very dear lady, suffered from advanced dementia and other physical disabilities. She spent much of January in the hospital. This led to her being admitted into hospice care. In the midst of this, my favorite pet ever—BK the cat—suddenly took ill and died. It was weird.

I came home from work on a rainy Thursday night and he ran over to greet me as he usually did. He was a great cat because I could pick him up any old way and he would just purr and head butt me. This particular evening, after his greeting, he all of the sudden lost control of his back legs, began panting furiously and had a wild look in his eye. We wound up at the pet ER where they said he was dying; feline congestive heart failure and his lungs were rapidly filling with fluid. In the process of his agonizing death throes, he bit into my left thumb with such force that I could feel his fangs sinking down into my bone, puncturing everything on the way. Shortly after that, he died. We spent the rest of the evening grieving in the people ER because my thumb was seriously injured. Even today my left thumb is partially disabled with the loss of some motion along with chronic pain and numbness.

About a month later, hospice care left a frantic message on my phone at about 4:30 in the morning; mom had died. No one expected it; sure, we expected she would pass away say in the summer or early fall, but then she suddenly started trending upward. Hospice was thinking she may have to be discharged from their care. But on February 29, she went to bed and at some point thereafter she was ushered into the presence of Jesus. Personally, I think she’s dancing in Heaven!

Then there’s the final semester of grad school. Through all of this and keeping up with my full-time secular job I was also trying to finish grad school on a high note. No easy task when so much of life is being filled with pain and loss. But God brought me and my family through it and last Saturday I was able to walk the platform in commemoration of completion along with about 300 other graduates from Corban University.

But…

So it’s been a challenging year so far. But now I have more “free time” and am looking forward to diving into blogging again (and perhaps more cycling too!). But thanks to God for all his work in my life and in my family, and also a huge thank you to my family and friends, I cannot tell you how much of a blessing you are to me. I can’t describe it because the tears of joy block my view. And thank you, dear reader, for your patience.

My God richly bless you in undeniable ways.

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God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.

Prayer Bench & MRI Update

Bench

Just a quick note today. The picture depicts an extraordinary spot to sit and pray, ponder and contemplate. It is a spring that pops out of the ground in the interior part of Black Butte Ranch near the Paulina Pool complex. The brook really does babble over moss covered rocks and winds its way down a slope lined with tall pines, firs and aspens. I can’t help but praise God in such a glorious setting.

The wind whispering through the trees reminds me of Jesus talking with Nicodemus in John chapter three about the Holy Spirit. ‘Nic’ was pondering the idea of being born from above when Jesus stated, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8). I’m sure that left Nic scratching his head.

The brook and its soothing noise reminds me of being washed by the water of the Word (see Ephesians 5:26).  As I drink in the truth of Scripture I am being cleansed; sometimes the cleansing is through encouragement and sometimes through conviction.

Brook

I can go on, but I’ll wait to install other components of my “bench time” later.

To close, I want to say thank you for so much positive response on my MRI post last week. I was not expecting so much love and support. Reading through posts on my Facebook and blog site brought tears to my eyes—thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

The MRI results do show considerable spinal degeneration but none needing another surgical intervention, thank God. My surgeon has said I need right elbow surgery to fix nerve impingement; but an elbow, while important, is not the spine!

Thank you again my friends and family, may God bless you with more of himself in your lives.

Christmas Lessons and ‘Frankenflu’

tissues

Christmas is over and the family is suffering from a raging cold or flu thing—or a combo of both (I call it ‘coldenflu’, could also be ‘Frankenflu’). It is very hard to be cheery, to entertain and to be thankful when you have a fever, body aches, fog-brain and spontaneously explode in sudden bursts of coughing and sneezing. Eew!

But we got lots of neat stuff, which means we need to weed out the neat stuff from last year. We had fun times with family and friends, though I hope they don’t come down with this. The food, I’m told anyway, was great (I couldn’t taste it). The weather, while not a winter wonderland, was decent; so much so, that I could not resist the urge to put on my new pair of Asics to go for a short but wheezy run (which may explain why my recovery was slowed).

Who’s Will?

But the main lesson to be learned through all of this may be from the Book of James where it says “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (4:15). We had everything planned out, even taking vacation at the same time; we were going to do fun family and church things then try to escape to Central Oregon for a few days. Instead, we barely slogged through the gatherings but come Christmas morning we were all feverish, hacking and coughing and worse. We are in no condition to travel far, except to the gym to sweat this out (I’m no longer contagious), and last night we all slept for 12 hours!

Perhaps the other glaring lesson, prominent by its absence, is the whole point of the season in the first place, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. The new iPod took hours to set up due to a myriad of incompatibilities with Windows 8, at some point I need to clear out old clothes so I can safely store the new ones, but I am enjoying my new headphones—finally good quality sound not attached to squishy ear buds that always fall out of my ears.

But where’s Jesus? 

I don’t think we forgot Him; instead, what I am figuring out is my adoration of Him is not dependent on my carefully thought-through plans, or my fool-proof meal prep, or even my desire to be away in the mountain air for bouts of contemplative prayer; my adoration is more deeply forged in trials that make adoration that much more difficult—sickness. Do I still adore Jesus in my fever and chills? Do I still adore Jesus when my body aches so much I can’t sleep? Or do I just adore Him when my plans work out according to my will?

Well, I do still adore Jesus, but I will admit that this Christmas has been one of the most challenging ones for adoring Him. Yes, I admit that I had bouts of less than stellar thinking and of blaming and of frustration. Yet I felt His patient presence even in my valleys. Today I’m not tip-top by any stretch, but I feel recovered enough to understand this is temporary; sort of like our existence on earth. So while this Christmas is not one I ever want to repeat, I am thankful that Jesus is still Lord, still Savior, and still loving me; even in my shakiness, wavering, and general unpleasantness.