Christmas Joy and Update

We’ve had a great week of music and fun excursions!

First off, Caleb’s school’s Christmas Concert was quite a treat. We got to see all the grades singing and playing musical instruments. And not only that, Caleb sang a solo on one song and debuted his cello playing during the prelude! One of the other treats is watching the parents. They’re waving while kids are singing or they’re crouching near the foot of the stage with iPhones poised to snap just the right pic of their singing child.

The next day they sang in the Capitol Building’s rotunda. Ah, that brought back

Capitol_sing_2017

Caleb is way up on the right in the second to last row.

memories, I was able to do that in high school! Nothing resounds vocal music so majestically as the harmonizing chords ringing up through the marbled rotunda dome! Listening carefully reveals the delicately fading notes with more piling up behind them.

Comfort_joy_marqueeA couple of days later we took a jaunt up to Portland, Oregon. Portland may be known for riots and roses or microbeer and artistic donuts; but it also has a vibrant music scene that includes the Oregon Symphony. Our end goal was to enjoy our second year in a row of the symphony’s Comfort and Joy classical Christmas concert. This year, though, we decided to spend the night rather than have a quick daytrip. Staying overnight opens opportunities for new and fun adventures.

For instance, we rode an actual streetcar! We wanted to get to the Tillikum Crossing bridge, the new pedestrian-friendly bridge (it’s the largest car-free bridge in the United States). It’s also known as the Bridge of the People (Tilikum is a Chinook word for people). It was a relatively long walk from our hotel, so I asked a friendly Portland police officer her recommendation for getting there. She suggested the streetcar which stopped only three blocks away. So off we trudged to 11th and Taylor.

It took a minute or two to figure out the ticket-buying kiosk; I am from the ‘burbs after all. And adding to the pressure was the streetcar lurching up the hill towards us two blocks away. Just in time, though, three receipts slid out of the kiosk and we boarded on our first trip on a bone fide streetcar!

We got off the streetcar on the northwest side of the bridge. Then we walked across the bridge back to the southwest side. From the bride we enjoyed the skyline of tall and diverse skyscrapers, the west hills, and the Willamette River rolling along its northward trek toward the Columbia.

Back in downtown we sauntered over to Pioneer Courthouse square. The square has thePioneer_tree_2017 biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen in person. We also had another first: real chestnuts roasted over an open fire! Well, it was actually a large wok sitting atop an open flame; but hey, we had roasted chestnuts. As the purveyor said, they tasted more like sweet potatoes than like nuts. And, frankly, they’re labor-intensive to peel and eat. But at least we briefly lived out a scene from a famous Christmas choral.

Inside_symphony_2017After some shopping, gawking at all the lights and dinner, it was off to the symphony! It was wonderful. We were in the fourth row on the aisle on the violin side of the orchestra. Oh, the music! Beautiful, lyrical, and layered with the sounds only a symphony orchestra can produce. There was also a sing-a-long and the director provided brief and often humorous commentary. It was definitely worth the price of admission and I’m already looking forward to next year!

What a fun few days in this festive season!

Now The Update

Following up on my last post, my doctor did order an MRI. I had that Wednesday and got the results yesterday afternoon. I won’t elaborate, but the news isn’t reassuring. It does, however, clearly explain the cause of the pain. The next step is consulting with a neurosurgeon. I am, of course, quite concerned about this. But a recent devotional reminded me of a record from Daniel:

“Our God will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace … but if not, let it be known to you, O king, we do not serve your gods.”

—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego addressing King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17-18.

I know I’m not facing a fiery furnace, still, I will face whatever is coming with faith and strength in God. Eventually healing will come, I’m just not sure what avenue it’ll come through. Until it does, though, I pray for protection from the worldly “gods” of discouragement and self-pity.

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There Once was a Nice Couple from the Burbs

Bride and Groom lived in the suburbs. She was a happy medical biller and he a content bureaucrat. Then one day while in the shower, Groom noticed a lump where there shouldn’t be a lump.
“Hmm,” thought Groom, “wonder what that is.” He pushed in on it. It was squishy. “Eww,” he said. “Well, maybe it will go away,” he thought happily.
As time went on, not only did the lump not go away, it got bigger and started to hurt. “I’ll ask Siri what this is,” he said to himself. The ever-subservient Siri complied with a host of possibilities. Some were disturbing; Groom ignored those. Instead, he thought that a hernia was the likely culprit; an inguinal hernia to be exact. In fact, the lumpiness looked like it could be two hernias, “Oh, yippee,” he thought. “Better go see my doctor.”
After dropping his drawers and being poked and prodded by the doctor, she looked him in the eye.
“Yep, it’s a hernia. Looks like two in fact. You’ll need surgery.”
Groom gasped! “Surgery,” he exclaimed. “Don’t these things heal themselves?”
Looking at him pitifully, she delicately said “no. You have a hole in your abdominal wall and your intestines are sticking out.”
“Eww,” thought Groom. “Is that the squishy bit?”
“Yep. It needs to be stuffed back in and the hole needs to be closed. Your body can’t do that. But a surgeon can. I’ll get you a referral.”
“Oh, yippee.”
After a few more visits with the surgeon, some painful tests, more drawer dropping and poking and prodding; the fateful day was set. A double inguinal hernia repair was on its way. It would be done by laparoscopy through three small incisions in the abdomen.
Meanwhile, Bride was having to pick up some of the household chores Groom could not do because of pain and possible further injury. The evening before Groom’s surgery, Bride was dutifully rolling the packed-full garbage bin to the curb. She was contemplating the logistics of the next morning when she tripped; rolling over the outside of her left foot she fell down. Just at that time, a neighbor was walking by, but she politely looked the other way and acted like nothing happened. Bride then had to hobble to the curb then half hobble, half lurch back into the house.
“Oh no,” exclaimed Groom, sitting up with a yelp. “What happened?”
Bride explained the whole thing to him, he felt terrible; it was all his fault. He then sprang into action getting ice and ibuprofen.
“Probably just popped a ligament,” he said unreassuringly.
Well, in the fullness of time, both Bride and Groom drove to the hospital in the wee earlyHospital check in morning hours so Groom could check in with the surgery folks and get his groins repaired. After dropping Groom off, Bride, with tears of pain in her eyes, drove the short distance to the hospital’s Emergency Room. And wouldn’t you know it, that as Groom was being prepped for surgery, Bride was being diagnosed with a broken foot. Now both Bride and Groom could be laid up together at the same time; hopefully Youngest Son would be able to step up and do more household chores than usual.
Broken foot.pngThankfully, Bride’s family came to aid of Bride and Groom. Shuttling their injured cargo home, picking up prescriptions and doing some heavy lifting, quite literally, around the house for Bride and Groom they then rode off into the sunset.
Now Bride and Groom are quite a pair. One on crutches hardly able to walk, and the other with three holes in his abdomen looking a bit like the Michelin Man. He can walk, albeit painfully, but he can’t lift or twist. But together, persevering in love, and with a lot of help from Youngest Son, they are making it through; at least they’ve made it through three days, they only 45 more to go.

You Figured it Out

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out this about Janey and I. Needless to say, we’ve had a rough week, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier. However, I can’t even imagine being in this sort of condition and being in the path of hurricane Harvey. Even as I lament with a little tongue-in-cheek about our situation, I pray for the victims in Texas; God be with them.
We are definitely tempted to ask God why this happening to us? But as MercyMe states in the song The Hurt and the Healer, “healing doesn’t come from asking why.” Instead, we are asking what are we to learn from this. We are both beginning to discern the lessons we’re to learn. I won’t reveal her lessons, but mine are in the areas of resting, slowness, and taking a lesson from 1 Corinthians 12:23 about learning to “bestow greater honor” to the things I’m tempted to regard as “less honorable.”
I’ll be exploring these in a little more detail as I stay home from work for a few days on medical leave. I’ll tease it by stating that it’s funny how we can learn lessons from major body systems that shut down and wake up slowly after having a couple of hours of general anesthesia and pain meds. No, I’m not talking about the cardiovascular or neurological systems; I’m talking about systems that we may be tempted to think are “less honorable.” Stay tuned, I’m hoping it’ll be a fun discussion!

 

The Doctor, the Broccoli and the BP

“Do you ever relax,” asked my doctor.

I hate this question. Of course I relax, well…sort of. But when she asked her question a mini explosion of memories burst onto the viewing screen of my brain.

 

Cue Memory Sequence

Way back in 1987-ish, I was a safety and wellness officer for a large state agency. One of my biggest projects was working with a team of people to bring in a wellness fair to the basement hallway and adjacent conference rooms of our building. We had blood pressure screening stations, blood-iron testing stations, nutritionists (such as they were back then), height/weight presentations, exercise tips and so on.

And wouldn’t you know it, it was then, in the hallway crowded with coworkers that I sat down at the blood pressure station. Granted, I figured I had nothing to worry about because I was already eating large quantities of raw food before eating raw food was cool, I ran umpteen miles a week and I had a road bike with lots of recent miles on it. What’s to worry about?

blood-pressure

The nurse dutifully cuffed my left arm and began squeezing that oblong tube-like thing. With each whoosh-whoosh the cuff tightened on my bicep. More whooshing and more tightening.

It started hurting when she finally released it. There was a hissing sound and my bicep was free to breathe again. Then she gasped!

“Your blood pressure’s high. We’d better try this again.” This was all before health privacy, otherwise known as HIPAA, became all the rage, so all of the employees in the hallway turned their heads and gawked: their wellness officer had high blood pressure? Oh horrors, say it ain’t so! But, yep, it was so. And it’s been so ever since.

 

Off to the Doctor

Shortly after this gasping occasion I saw my doctor (I had a different doctor back then, before he killed himself falling off a tractor). He had me come in to his office in regular intervals so he could measure my BP in a supervised fashion. It was always high. Nothing affected it; and besides, there’s only so much raw broccoli a person can eat in a day. So he gave me the bad news: “I’m putting you on BP medication.” And there I’ve been ever since.

Ninji vegNo amount of exercise, raw fruit and veg or strictly vegan diets has lowered it to where medical science presumes it should be. Over the years I’ve tried meditation (both biblical and unbiblical kinds), dynamic stretching (what some might call yoga), deep breathing, progressive relaxation, listening to soothing music, and on and on and on. Still high. So guess what, I take BP medication. And I still eat lots of raw foods and workout every day and practice other relaxation stuff, but without the meds, my BP is high. Go figure!

 

Back to the Question

What’s that have to do with my doctor’s question about relaxing? Because this appointment was my “semi-regular” quarterly BP check-up; and yes, it was high…again.

“Are you still taking your medication,” my doctor asked, accusingly.

Of course I am, do you think I’m an idiot? Well, I thought that, I didn’t actually say it. I just sullenly said, “Yes, I’m taking it…every day!”

“Well,” she said, tapping away on her health records tablet. “I guess we’ll just have to up your medication.”

Yippee skip. She said she understands that I take care of myself, I eat right, exercise properly (if not overdo it sometimes) and my personal life is not in chaos and I actually really enjoy my job. In other words, there are no activities to add into my life or stressors to start avoiding. So there’s really only one thing left to do—up the meds.

Now I am a little ashamed I have to take these meds. After all, as I explained, it’s not like I’m Jabba the Hut, wallowing away with my head in greasy potato chip bags while glugging large volumes of sugary goo. If anything, my BP should be low. But truth be told, I was born with a bit of heart defect and my cardiovascular system has never been what one would call normal.

Over the years, many of my relatives have died because of some sort of cardio disease. Even the recent death of my Mother was due to a “cerebral vascular accident” (that’s code for a stroke). She had several other strokes in her life, as did Grammy and her father (what would have normally been my Grandpa); he dropped dead at 35 with a massive heart attack, Mom was only three when it happened. I was born with heart valve defect. So this cardiovascular stuff is real and high blood pressure can indeed have deleterious effects; particularly when you already have a defective heart. So whether I’m ashamed of the meds or not, I take them faithfully every day. Yes, I grumble about the indignity of it, but really, thinking I can control it alone is nothing more than sheer stupidity or pride—or both.

So I am thankful God has given us people with the smarts to diagnose problems and He’s given others the smarts to help take care of them. So I eat lots of raw veg, ride and walk lots of miles, eat other healthy things…and take my BP meds. And maybe, by God’s grace and the resources placed around me, I can continue living a healthy lifestyle for decades yet to come (unless Jesus comes back before then).

BroccoliBut it’s time to go now, I need wrangle a couple of heads of broccoli.

Tissues of Praise?

Tissue_Box

I feel crummy. No, not crumby like I’m shoving fistfuls of saltines in my mouth. Crummy as in miserable, as in puny, as in…sick. Yep, sick. I can’t tell if it’s a summer cold or monster allergies or a combo platter of both. What I do know is I’ve gone through boxes of tissues. And when I ran out, I used paper towels (which I highly DON’T recommend!).

 

Missed Meetings and Canceled Dinners

I’ve missed two days of work containing six different meetings. I’ve missed two important and exciting church meetings (yes, I do find them exciting—weird, I know). I missed my oldest son’s band’s Friday night concert. We canceled a small dinner party for tonight and I have to reschedule an invite to the shooting range. And I’ll probably miss church.

I know…waaaahhhh! Still, I’m frustrated. I carefully planned my schedule, color-coded my appointments on my Franklin Planner and set alarms on my cell phone. But all for naught. I fear people are disappointed in me or think I’m wuss. I eat tons of raw fruits and veggies, exercise, get moderate rest; I live a healthy lifestyle. What’s going on?

 

Who Really Holds Tomorrow?

Part of what’s going on is realizing that healthy living is not to become a prideful badge of honor. I’m still in a broken body in a broken world and am susceptible to whatever crud is going around. When I don’t get the crud, I ought not to be praising myself for my healthy living, but instead praising God for sparing me from the crud. When I get the crud, as I have now, I need to praise God that He allows me to draw breath at all—especially since much of my past hasn’t been filled in glorifying Him. Mercy and praise should be my thoughts even as I again empty my schnoz into yet another tissue that frays on my whiskers.

Moreover, God doesn’t promise me tomorrow—He promises me an eternal destiny forevermore with Him. My tomorrow could be in Heaven. Or it could be another day of sniffles and fraying tissues. Or healing.

And in spite of all my planning, color-coding and alarm-setting; God is the one holding tomorrow:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

–James 4:13-15

Plan On…But Pray First

So James does not discourage planning, but he does remind us to remain mindful that God is ultimately in control of all things and does indeed hold our lives in His hands. Planning is good; prayerful planning is even better. Humility then, may be the catalyst for authentic prayerful planning.

So while I’m bummed my schedule has been so severely impacted and I’m equally as bummed to be feeling crummy, I am grateful for the reminder that no matter what my plans or my healthful lifestyle are, God is the One that is central to my life and being. Keeping this in view will allow me to live more freely in the Lord and, frankly, have more grace to others when they can’t show up to meetings or have to cancel dinner plans.

Next week I’ll return to themes more theological, but for now—I’m out; gotta go blow my nose!

Herons Flock? Early Morning Cycling and God’s Surprises

001I glanced off to my right on one of my early morning rides. The sun had been up for about five minutes so when I looked right, I looked right into the sun (I totally forgot that right was also east). This two-lane country road was vacant except for a lone cyclist in a bright red jersey (that’d be me; I wanted to make sure bleary-eyed, under caffeinated drivers saw me). On each side of the road are large cow pastures. In the field on the right was a gigantic sprinkler with big earth-mover wheels. I think it runs off a big water pump in the center of one those round fields you usually only see from the air.

Anyway, standing in the misty spray was a lone and large Blue Heron. Or so I thought. I had to look again, because I love viewing wild life (the natural kind, I had enough of the other wild life as an undergrad—and what little I actually remember is more about mysterious bruises and pounding headaches). I’m fascinated by the bird’s long, slender neck and needle-like beak. Then I saw another one, then another and then…a whole bunch of them! About 20 were gathering in rather loose proximity to each other, apparently all of them basking in the swirling mist of the sprinkler heads. I always thought they were solitary birds. I would have stopped to take a picture but I didn’t want to slow the awesome momentum I had in my blistering pace of 18 mph (all right, I heard that snicker…so I’m not Jens Voight, but I do ride a Trek).

Later on, I told two of my colleagues about this as we were waiting for one of those dreary, late afternoon meetings. Neither of them believed me so they whipped out their smart phones in a race to ascertain the truth. It was sorta like a phone-on-phone High Noon scenario, I can just see Gary Cooper jangling in spinning spurs, whipping out his Android and….oops, I digress. Anyway, Susan won the race and found out that Herons occasionally flock in an effort to round up prey in a Heron-induced circle of breakfast. Apparently they eat rodents from time to time as well. Who knew (except early morning cyclists, and, of course, Google)?

Every now and then I run into one of these fascinating nuggets of discovery. This was something I would have never known had I not been cycling early in the morning. And as a person of faith I could only smile at God’s creativity with all the varieties and oddities of life right here in my own proverbial backyard.

Cycling, Worship and Jesus

Trek Bike“I went to the ocean, took my shoes off, started to run [or cycle], and invited Jesus to come along. … All I had to do was invite Him.”
─John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be, Kindle location 2783

“Cycling is like sailing on land, the wind, the oneness, the freedom!”
─Journal entry

It’s been over 18 months since my last neck surgery. Eighteen months of recovery, of trying to see what my body can and can’t do, and saving money for a new bicycle. Yes, a new bike; a Trek 1.5 to be exact.

My old bike (a 1987 Trek Elance) no longer fit my new triple-fusion neck. But I love to bike. I miss biking. Running just isn’t the same; plus, with a solid rod of bone now banging around in my cervical area running mercilessly batters the few remaining disks I have left. When the run is over my neck explodes in spasms to such a degree I wind up throwing down 600-800mg of ibuprofen, which sorta defeats the purpose of clean living. Then there’s the hamstring issue. And walking, while a great activity is…well…walking. You can’t just go out do 42 miles in the morning like you can on a bike (like the great ride I had yesterday).

But how does Jesus fit into to this? Is my desire to bike detracting from my faith in Jesus? Does Jesus even care if I bike or not?

I used to always live with the mindset that if I wasn’t suffering I wasn’t serving the Lord. Oh brother, how appealing is that. Nowhere in that thinking is there room for God to rain any sort of blessing upon me or those around me. Talk about living with a cloud over my head, it’s like that character Shleprock from the old Flintstones cartoon (yes, I’m showing my age), everywhere he shuffled he was followed by this little dark cloud hovering just above his head.

Yes, I give and serve and go through trials. But holding these things up as some sort of merit badge is not something Jesus condones. What He does condone is entering into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of the way I rest is on my bike. I recognize it is a physically demanding sport, but at the same time it is a highly rejuvenating sport as well. I get to be outdoors in the fresh air (except when the fields are being harvested or big diesel trucks are chugging by). I get to feel my body working and revel in the fact that I’m physically restored enough to cycle again. All of this points my heart and mind toward Jesus. Why, you ask?

Who created the outdoors? Sure, there are nay-sayers and God-rejecters, but no one can properly explain where the origin of everything came from. A strictly utilitarian universe wouldn’t have as much beauty as the Willamette Valley has; only a God of creativity and love would make such a beautiful place. For instance, the other morning I was on my bike a little before sunrise. As I looked east I saw Mt. Hood in all its majesty way off in the distance. This time, however, the mountain was shimmering with a bright pink aura. It was simply stunning; the sun was directly behind the mountain emblazing it in a pink backlight making it look like Mt. Hood itself was eclipsing the sun.

On other rides I have seen rainbows of flowers in carefully cultivated fields, talked with friendly locals in nearby towns while buying water and thought through a number of difficult work-related problems.

And the fact I’m physically able to do this again is such a blessing I can’t help but pray thankful prayers out loud for anyone in earshot. Being unable to ride for so long has given me a much deeper appreciation for the opportunity to ride again. Sure, I enjoyed riding before, but I could basically ride whenever I could fit one in. When my spine started deteriorating and I could no longer ride, I missed it like an old friend. Riding is a time of solace for me, it’s my time to get away and feel free with the wind and the exertion. I was thankful for being able to walk, but it just wasn’t the same.

However, another important lesson through the season of deprivation is training my mind to be more thankful for what I can do. Stop focusing on what I can’t do and strive to lean more deeply into what I can do. This thinking enables me to be more thankful to God and more cheerful and empathetic with others that are suffering. Through all this time, I recovered enough to realize that with the proper fitting bike, I could get on the road again. Now with new bike, cleated shoes, and my Road ID wrist band I’m on the road a lot these days. This time last year it was only a dream as I watched cyclists streaking by while on one of my walks.

While cycling is a positive hobby because of its fitness benefits it is also a solid spiritual discipline because I celebrate life and praise God while I’m on the bike, even in strong headwinds and malfunctioning cyclometers. Even with quads screaming and chest heaving, I praise God I’m alive…the pain only confirms how alive I am! And I’m thankful…thankful for fitness, for the bike, for a wonderful Bride that understands…and for a God that carried me through the darker spots of deprivation.

It is good to be alive!