Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Couple Letters

My friend Jeremiah doesn't post comments on my blog. He sends me emails from his iPhone. This one, though, I needed to share. It was a response to yesterday's post:

When [a mutual friend] told me you were in bad shape (after I read your last post) I thought "he's trying to do too much." I don't think you lied to yourself in the hospital. I believe you didn't understand how much work it is for habitual overachievers not to overfill their plates.
     I guess we think God won't be pleased with us unless we have ten things going on at once. For some that may be true, but this is hardly the case with you. Please, please take time to heal. Those doctors almost killed you in an effort to cure you. You can't just jump back into this whirlwind of activity we call church life. Life will never be the same again, Bilbo. Or in your case it may be Frodo. You've been stabbed, stung, and had your finger bitten off. Think you can go back to life in the Shire? Just write for a while and leave Shire affairs to Sam, Merry, and Pippen.
     See you soon - Beorn

I had to laugh. I loved the reference to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In fact, I'm reading The Hobbit to my kids again. (One more thing I didn't mention I was doing in yesterday's post.

Second Letter and Divine Healing

Another friend wrote to encourage me to be available to seeing miracles happen around me. He referenced a blog that I read on and off called Joel 2 Generation. In fact, my friend went to Portland for a few days for some "training/outreach" that the blog owner was doing. He was present at the healing that is described in the link I just gave you.

I added the blog to my blog roll so I'd remember to read it more often.

I think I've linked Joel 2 Generation before. I love his honesty, as he does not only include success stories, but I-don't-know and nothing-happened stories as well. I've only met two or three guys with the kind of success rate in praying for healing or other miracles as the writer of that blog.

One of those people was my first boss in the Air Force, some 30 years ago. He's surely one of the main reasons I became a Christian. He started praying, and there was no getting in the way of God coming after me.

Anyway, I thought I'd tell you a couple things I told my friend.

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to put a couple Martin Luther quotes on the quote page of my web site (which I did this morning at 4 a.m.). The reason I had a Martin Luther book is because yesterday, I was standing in my bedroom a little bewildered because I had to go to the bathroom and I knew how bad it was going to hurt.

My eyes fell on my 7-volume set of Martin Luther's sermons. I was struck with a craving to read one. Then I felt God whisper, "Go ahead, this trip to the bathroom isn't going to hurt much."

I've said before, God rarely speaks to me in words. It's more feelings, but after 30 years I've gotten pretty good at distinguishing between the Word of God in my heart and my own thoughts or gut feelings. I base that claim on the success of acting on what I hear inwardly. Levels of reliability:

  1. God's Spirit in my heart
  2. Gut feeling/intuition
  3. My thoughts

There's a difference between those three.

I took the book to the bathroom, and what do you know, it barely hurt at all. That was miraculous enough by itself. I also read a part of a sermon that made me realize that sometimes it's not God letting you go through suffering, but it's an attack of the devil, and we should be warring, not surrendering. (Note: I only read a part of the sermon because camping out on the toilet helps create hemorrhoids, not heal them. I try to move on as quickly as possible.)

So afterword, I called for the elders of the church and ask them to come pray for me.

As I was waiting, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I had to go to the bathroom badly. This time, it did hurt, and there was more blood than I'm comfortable with. My wife and I agreed we were going to pray with the elders of the church first, call Vanderbilt later.

As I was waiting for the elders, I prayed, "God, I could really use something from you; can you send someone to give me something spiritual? I know the elders will, but I called them. It would help me to know you sent someone."

Not 30 seconds later, a young lady came in with a guitar and meekly asked, "Is it okay if I sing Papa Shammah a song?" ("Papa Shammah" is what the kids here at Rose Creek Village call me, usually until they're about 25, when they just go to calling me "Shammah.")

The song was the hymn that starts "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness," but updated to a modern version.

I was worn out, tired, in pain, a little worried, and that song was a direct answer to prayer. I cried while she sang. I said thank you, and she quietly walked out, God's little messenger, not wasting any words or speaking any but what God had given her.

The elders came later, anointed me with oil, and that helped a little.

This morning, I was not in so much pain, and I got up to go to our gathering, but it was hard working up the energy. My wife advised me to stay home and rest, and since every step was getting harder, I complied.

During the gathering, I knew they would pray for me, but in this case, I'm pretty certain I knew when they prayed for me. My energy picked up and life in general got a little brighter. I got up and did some exercises with the yoga stretch band.

So here I am writing, grateful for the touch of God. The hemorrhoids are itching, not burning, which for me is a sign of healing. For some reason the recurrent trips to the bathroom have stopped, and I've already tried everything I could think of over the last week to prevent that. I haven't done anything new.

So all of that is probably a bizarre dream world to atheists, but I learned something when Rachel walked in to play her guitar yesterday. I recognized the hymn, even though the tune was different, but I never realize that along with the statement that I wholly lean on Jesus' name, the song also says that all that crazy stuff that I hope and believe in is true. It says that God is paying attention to us, and that our hope will not result in shame. It may not say that in the words, but between the lines that message was being shouted.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. How blessed is the one who puts his trust in you. Their faces shall never be ashamed. (Ps. 34:8,5)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28, 2012: Just Chatting

Apparently even after 17 years in the Tennessee countryside, I'm still completely suburban.

Yesterday my daughter was babysitting a couple small children, and she told them, "go out back and get all the red tomatoes."

Rather reacting like this was a perfectly normal thing to do—for, after all, tomatoes grow on plants, and we have tomato plants in our back yard—I flinched inside. We don't eat food from the yard! Dogs and ants eat off the ground, not us. We get our food from nice, clean places like grocery stores and restaurants.

The feeling only lasted a moment, and I didn't actually say anything so silly to my daughter, but it reminded me how warped my view of life can get if I don't regularly update my mind with the truth.

So I haven't been feeling very well the last couple days again. I tried a liquid diet for three days, making sure to include milk, multiple bottles of Ensure, and some tablespoonfuls of olive and coconut oil to make sure to keep my calories up. I was hoping to give my intestines and hemorrhoids a rest.

That was a colossal failure. Didn't work at all. My body treated Ensure and the oil like food, and I was in the bathroom every bit as much as before.

So last night I gave up and had an apple, knowing that would provide some fiber for bulk after three days of liquids. I felt fine before I had it, but I threw it up in less than five minutes. I still felt pretty good, so I had one of those pre-wrapped, store-bought ice cream cones instead.

I don't think it came off a plant in the back yard.

Learning Some Lessons

I don't know if the following will make any sense or do anything for you. I'm just telling you what I've learned the last couple days, which may or may not apply to you, help you, or interest you.

Yesterday, I was weak, tired, had terrible gas pains, plus the hemorrhoids were bad. I could thing of LOTS of things I could be doing rather than laying in bed, but I decided it was time to give in. I slept till 11:45 a.m.

When I awoke, I curled up in the blankets, and deep inside I curled up inside of God, too. I felt his presence, I felt safe, and I realized that one more time I'd gone back to running my own life. My "Entrepreneurial ADD" was in full swing, as I had 15 things on my plate at one time, all the time. (Sign for the top of the new building ... Finish writing up the lease to buy agreement ... How many tables exactly do we have in there ... Have to get the car back from the mechanic ... Need to do a Through the Bible blog ... Need to do a Thrilled to Death blog [this one] ... Email from an atheist I really want to answer has been sitting for two weeks ... get one son to get his tax forms caught up and work on a corporate tax return with another son ... update the progress blog on the new business so everyone else knows what's been finished ... )

I promised myself in the hospital I would never do that to myself again.

I lied.

Yesterday I repented, and I've been asking God what to do in everything. It's a sick day today, too. In everything I've done, I'm doing one thing at a time. I can feel the Spirit urging me, "Don't pick that book up; you only have one task in front of you, the Thrilled to Death blog. And it's done when it's done, not in a hurry to get to the next thing."

Earlier today, I put something down I was working on—in bed, on a "sick day"—because my dad came in to visit. I took the excellent opportunity to visit, and then I went back to what I was doing.

Next is to get a couple Martin Luther quotes onto my Christian History web site, and after that, outline and prep an early Christian teaching on the church. That's the most I'll get to do today. The videos on apostolic succession—Overview, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian—is sadly going to have to wait, but that's better than stressing over when to do them.

Step by step, always stopping to check if I feel at peace that I'm devoting my time to things that are worth devoting my time to, never letting my heart latch onto these things, but seeking to present myself properly to my Father in heaven as a living sacrifice. It is the route to the most incredible, perfect peace that carries one through year-long leukemia battles and the rough days of recovery.

Can any of you relate to this at all? Or am I the only one that gets so scattered and busy that I lose sight of everything else?

I'm not doing it anymore.

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you" (Is. 26:3).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Six Months and Two Days

Just a progress report. I wrote a lot of this in a comment on Tamara's blog. I guess I'm almost a hundred days ahead of her. In some ways, she's doing a lot better than I was doing, but her headaches are something I didn't have to deal with. Feel free to pray for her.

I was at 6 months day before yesterday. Last week I had a day where I fell asleep at every turn, so that I basically slept from a Monday evening until Wednesday morning. It came out of the blue, unknown cause. I usually don't need any nap at all at this point.

I'm weaning off the one steroid I'm taking; one month left. Then I start the Tacrolimus taper. That's the only immunosuppressive I'm taking, and I'm not taking much of it. It builds up in my blood pretty fast. In fact, I think almost all medicines work on me very effectively even in small doses.

I still have ongoing hemorrhoid problems. If I could cure them, I could exercise better and get out more. I've had advice from more than one doctor, more than one nurse practitioner, more than one nurse, and more than one fellow sufferer, so I think I've tried about everything at this point. Most of the advice helps, but the 'rhoids always come back quickly.

Still, I can't complain too much. My energy is very good for a transplant patient, and I can probably walk as far as a lot of "healthy" 50-year-olds.

In fact, I'm already back to overdoing it. I'm back in the middle of church life, going to meetings, talking to people, and I even did a teaching on "the faith once delivered to the saints" over Skype for friends in California Monday night. I'm playing catch-up at my warehouse business, and got a great idea for a new business to put in the empty building my church owns and makes payments on, but which has been sitting empty the majority of the time we owned it. So I'm not just trying to oversee a business, but I'm starting a new one, too!

Well, let's make this a little longer and tell you a funny story.

Monday I had the teaching (over Skype to California) scheduled for 9:00 p.m. Tennessee time. I went car shopping with my wife that afternoon, in southeast Missouri, about 2 hours and 15 minutes away. I went that far because I found a perfect lot for a guy like me. The used car lot sold all cars under $5,000, and they had several under $2,000, including a 1997 Buick LeSabre.

Now understand, I bought a 1997 Buick LeSabre back in 2003 (or maybe 2004). I bought it at an auction, and I learned there that no one wants to drive a Buick like that except African American young men and Caucasian old men. All Buick LeSabre drivers, or almost all, have either black skin or grey hair. Maybe there's a rule out there requiring this (#joke).

Anyway, because almost none of the people at this auction wanted the Buick, I got it for $1700. It had 174,000 miles on it, but it was in excellent condition.

Last year, when I went in the hospital, I gave that car to my son. I had driven it 8 years and put almost 170,000 additional miles on it. I drove it to California and back when it had almost 310,000 miles on it. Completely reliable, and it got 28 miles to the gallon on the highway, even at 75 MPH.

I had to pay $1950 for this Buick LeSabre. It has 165,000 miles on it. It runs great, and I love the gas mileage, power, and room.

Okay, enough about that. It turned out that the owners of the used car lot, a very southern woman and a Pakistani man, were very chatty. So we had trouble even looking at cars because we were having such a good time talking.

Because of this, we didn't leave the car lot until almost 8:00 p.m. There was no way to get back to our house by 9:00 for the scheduled teaching.

So we opted for Dyersburg.

There we stopped at a Burger King that had wi-fi. It wasn't working. We drove from there, following Google maps on my iPhone, which seems to be getting worse, not better, to find a McDonald's, which always has free internet. Google maps said there were three McDonald's on one block. That was weird, and as it turned out the only McDonald's was inside WalMart.

To put the final nail in the coffin, I got a great phone signal in Dyersburg, but it was all Edge. No 3G! Selmer is smaller than Dyersburg, and we have 4G!

I can't Skype over an Edge network.

By then, it was very close to 9:00, so I gave up and drove to the nearest place we could get a bite to eat quickly. I found a Dairy Queen, and we went in.

I asked if they had internet, and they told me that if I sat in the back corner of the restaurant, I could probably pick up the high school's internet.

It turned out I could, but weird things were happening when I tried. My computer was just randomly disconnecting. I tried restarting it (thank God for 30-second MacBook restarts; a Windows computer would have taken up to 5 minutes), and it worked!

I opened Skype at 9 p.m. sharp.

At that point the Dairy Queen had two other people in it. No big deal. We were in the back corner, and I would talk quietly. DQ closes at 10 p.m. in Dyersburg, so it was really quiet in there.

My friends got on, but they were still cleaning up from dinner, so I chatted with a couple of them while we waited for cleanup to finish.

Finally, they were ready. I got ready to start, and a ridiculously loud male voice announced from the entry door, "Hey, you better get ready! Got a whole baseball team coming in."

Yeah, it was. About 30 people came in, and they were the loudest, most inconsiderate batch of people I've ever met in the South.

I pressed on, anyway, occasionally having to stop to laugh at the absurd situation.

It turned out that it was the birthday of a lady in the party. So about 9:45 everyone in the restaurant sang a rousing round of "Happy Birthday to You" while I, my wife, and our friends in California laughed even more.

My wife told me afterward that the guys at the table next to us, who made absolutely no effort to keep their conversations at even a normal sound level, made occasional mocking comments about the things I was teaching. Ah, well. They did a lot worse things to Jesus and to many of his disciples through the centuries. I keep thinking that someone nearby enough to hear me—I was trying to be polite and keep my conversation as quiet as practically possible—was meant to hear the things that were taught. We talked about unity, about the essentials of the faith that history and the Scriptures say the apostles gave to the church, and about the real standard of unity, which is the Spirit of God inside us and our obedience to Jesus.

Hmm. I always find a way to turn a short post into a long one. I have to go. Lots of other stuff to do. Thank you, everyone, for sticking with me over this last year.

A friend suggested two tablespoons of oil—coconut or olive—with every meal to help with the hemorrhoids. I can use the extra calories anyway, so I'm definitely going to try it. I'll let you know how that works.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Getting Stronger ... With Setbacks

In a couple weeks it will be six months since my transplant. If I had a desk job I had to be at 40 hours per week, I could do that, but I would have a lot of sick days—2 or 3 per month plus the monthly day-long trip to Nashville for checkup. I also would not be able to guarantee that I could come in at the same time every morning. There were a number of times in June that between an upset stomach and hemorrhoids, I wasn't fit for the public until 10 a.m.

I wrote that to add my story to the several I've read about how quickly one can go back to work after a bone marrow transplant. The best I've heard is a guy who was back to work full-time after two months!! Another man told me he couldn't work full-time for five years, and then he relapsed with a different form of blood cancer.

My job's not like that, though. I'm the boss again, so I get to set my own hours, and I can do a lot of work from home. Some days I'm up early, and I get in 12 hours of research, writing, and being available by computer and phone for the folks at work and for the church. Sometimes, I need a nap by mid-day.

The last couple days were rough. I'm weaning off of steroids. The only steroid I'm taking is Prednizone. I was taking 30 mg, and they weaned me down to 10 mg. Then they got me off Cellcept, an immunosuppressive. Now that I'm done with that (since June 18), they had me drop to 7.5 mg on the Prednizone.

At the same time, they had me lower the only other medicine that suppresses my immune system because there was too much of it in my blood.

The result was that Tuesday and Wednesday of this week reminded me of February in the hospital. I went down hard. I slept from Monday night at 7 pm until 5 pm Wednesday morning with only a few waking hours. I was exhausted, and I felt as purposeless as I had in the bad days in the hospital.

Wednesday morning, I decided to get up and go to "water day" with the other folks in my community. I tried sleeping all day Tuesday, and that didn't help, so I just pressed on Wednesday morning. I carried chairs down to our big 60'x90' tent, and I watched kids (and adults) shoot each other with water guns while I chatted with friends and walked around a bit to try to get my energy up.

The result? I practically collapsed by noon and slept hard and deep for three hours.

Today, I got up feeling no better, but I had a Christian writers guild that I wanted to go to in Collierville, about and hour and a half from my home. I was driving with a good friend who is the manager of my business and semi-officially the head elder of our church. I was really looking forward to the writers guild and to the time spent with my friend. So I got up and went.

I'm not sure what happened. I had a delightful time, and my energy grew the whole day long. I'm typing this after 11 pm, and I feel as good as I've felt since I've been back home.

I do have to say the last couple days got me to slow down, focus on God again, and wind up feeling really at peace and under grace. Only two months, and I had let myself get really busy and somewhat tense again! I promised myself I'd never return to that kind of lifestyle after I got out of the hospital.

I should know better than to trust my well-meant promises to myself.

But grace came in the form of a couple really rough days and, once again, in the form of my beautiful and amazing wife. She gathered up my whole entire stack of papers from work, called my secretary, organized all the paperwork with her, and delegated some ridiculously large amount of my to do list to other people.

That was the paperwork from my current business. I'm also starting another one! For some reason, for the first time in my life I came up with a really great and necessary business idea, got lots of other people involved, and created a lot of very enjoyable work for myself. My wife helped me with that, too, finding me a great main person to make sure the business gets started properly (for no pay at all to start), and arranging several meetings with key people who can help me.

Okay, so that's what's happening with me nowadays.

Physically, the hemorrhoids (sorry for bringing those up, but they've been a central part of my life for a couple months) have limited how much I could work on running and walking. I have no problem walking over a mile, though, even if there are hills, and I can now do real, proper pushups. A proper pushup for me is to go down far enough that my chest would touch a fist if someone made a fist on the ground below my chest. That's how the military taught me to do a pushup. Two weeks ago, or maybe even last week, I was excited to finally get to where I could do one of those.

So I'm progressing, though I'm still pretty scrawny at 145 pounds fully clothed and in my shoes. I have some loose skin near my elbows on my upper arm that let me know my arms haven't grown back to the size they were before the transplant. Still, progress is progress.

Just thought I'd check in. God bless you all!