Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lessons Learned?....or Learning?

As children, we have all heard the saying, in one form or another, "I hope you have learned your lesson." Teachers, parents, coaches, sometimes even law enforcement officials utter that phrase with genuine hope that the same mistake will not be repeated twice.

Interestingly enough, it usually takes several stabs at it for me to learn my lesson. I guess I am slow. So in the interest of accountability, I am writing down some lessons learned, many of the for the "umpteenth" time.

One, I will not live forever. I am not an old man, but I am not getting any younger. I realize that I was not created to live on this earth forever. Someday my life will end, and I will be with God. That is the good news of the gospel.

Two, overoming illness does not mean I am exempt from having setbacks or additional illnesses. I know that. I have seen it over and over ( in other people) . But for some reason, I thought since I had climbed this last mountain so well, that there would not be a time where I would "fall" and have to start climbing again. That happened three weeks ago. It has been emotionally draining for me to admit that it happened and may happened again.

Three, the greatest resource we have for dealing with suprsise events like strokes, heart attacks, and other "life changers" is our relationship with God. I often say that we are to "dig our wells" deep in the good times. My was pretty deep a year ago. I drew alot from it to get through the changes in my life. This last setback was different. I found myself coming to God with questions... "Is this what I have to look forward to? What are you trying to teach me? Am I just falling apart? How do I handle this?" The answers have not been always what I have wanted, but am I thankful that God has allowed me to ask.. and reminded to keep asking... It is part of our relationship.

Four, I have great friends. All around me, there are people who are genuniely concerned for me and my family. The pressure I feel is self-induced. The love of church members, small group members, close family friends, and espcially my wife, kids, parents and Pam's parents is real. That includes taking me to task for not managing some things about this well. It includes the genunine expressions of concern about my pace of life, and my willingness to get myself full functioning and healed before I "go crazy"( as one friend puts it).

Five, I need to listen more.... Listen more to God. Listen more to my wife. Listen more to the leaders of the church. I need to listen to my friends. And listen more to loving members of my family and church.

Maybe that is my biggest problem... my mouth has always been bigger than my ears...until this last year. Now, I talk less and listen more... So maybe the adventure for my new life is to continue to listen alot, and apply. God would be happy with that.

Listen and apply...there is the key to learning your lesson. It is a pretty good lesson for all areas of life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Birthday Greetings

Tomorrow is March 15th. A pretty regular day for most of the world. However, 18 years ago, something happened in our lives that has proved to be an amazing blessing. Our youngest daughter, Abigail, was born.

We lived in a small Northeast Iowa town at the time. It has been a while, but I remember that it was cold and there was a freezing rain or ice storm hanging around. That proved to be a complication in and of itself, because after many hours of labor, the Dr. told us that if the baby did not come, they would have to transport Pam to a nearby city. That was very unattractive to us because of the ice. So we prayed, and Pam worked double hard, and Abigail was born!

I recall that Joel had prayed for most of the time that Pam was pregnant for "his little brother." So on the 15th, I had to break the bad news to him. " Mommy had the baby... and it was a girl." All Joel could say was "Oh, bummer!"

Abigail has been anything but a bummer. She has been such a joy to our families . She demonstrates a wonderful love for people. She loves God and shows it in how she helps people and cares for them. She is fun! It seems like her friends, ( Whitney, Chelci, Erika, and others), love coming to Abigail's house to hang out. We have always been blessed with our kid's friends being here...What fun!

Abigail plans to go to Ozark Christian College in the fall. She wants to be a History Teacher, and serve God in her life. She has wanted to go to Ozark for as long as I can remember. But secretly, if she would have gotten an offer from Duke... it might have been close. She has always been a Blue Devil fan! ( I am kind of glad it came to Ozark...something about the $40,000 tuition was intimidating to me.)

Some people criticized us when we had a fourth child. We were one of the very blessed and fortunate couples who planned for our kids and were allowed to have them in our lives. But it seems like when we told people that our 4th child was coming, we got alot of looks and comments like, "Can you afford it?, Do you know what you are doing?, Have you figured out how this happens yet?"

"Large" families are looked upon in a negative light today. I don't consider our family large. I consider it to be just right. Pam always wanted 4 kids, and it has been right for us.

Let me tell you something ( in love).... "We couldn't have afforded to NOT have that child. ." I can not imagine what our lives would have been like without that bright smile, that chuckle like laugh, , and loving spirit. I am so glad that we were able to have her in our lives, and I fully believe that she will make a huge difference in many lives. She lives for God and wants to be used for Him.

Sometimes 4th kids tend to get "swallowed up" by high achieving siblings. They each cast a shadow at school, church and even in the home. But just as it happened with Joel and Lydia, when the child immediately above them moved out to go to college, the next child blossomed. This is certainly true of Abigail. What a young lady she is !

18 years... boy is that hard to believe. Just seems like yesterday that I was sitting on those steps breaking the bad news to Joel. It turned out to be the best news of the day.

Happy Birthday Abigail!


Friday, March 09, 2007

2 steps forward, 1 step back

Its been 10 days or so since I last wrote. Alot has happened. I did go to Joplin, and enjoyed my time with Lydia , James and the Preaching/Teaching crowd. It was a good conference.

By Wednesday I was especially tired, and weary of the crowds, so I came home early. I didn't feel great and did not want to deal with driving home late at night. I missed my wife and my bed.

Thursday (3-1) I worked at home. Mid afternoon, I felt very crummy and had some numbness in my right side, arm and weakness. I also had some blurry vision. Honestly it was not nearly as bad as one year ago, so I waited it out, went to a meeting and carried on. It passed. Later that night Pam and I went to a ball game. While there, I stumbled and nearly fell completely over. Pam caught my one arm, I caught myself against some railing, and went on. But over time I felt increasingly weakened, and unsteady. By Sunday AM, I told the guys at our Prayer time that I did not feel that good. They prayed, and God got me through two services of preaching. I told Pam about the episode on Thursday. She was not happy. Pam said that she and the kids noticed that I was "quiet" alot over the weekend.. and somewhat disengaged. My check up with the Nuerologist was Monday afternoon.

She was irate that I did not go to the hospital when it happened again. What saddened me was that she was mad with Pam, who did not diserve it. She didn't know. I told the Dr. that it was my doing because I kept it from Pam. She was not a happy camper.

So this week, I have seen a real definciency in right side strength and processing. After an MRI, Echocardiogram, EEG, and Doppler Ultrasound of the veins in my neck, the results were given yesterday ( 3-8). Everything but the EEG was excellent. The Brain scans showed more damage when compared to a year ago. Which means something happened.... don't know exactly what to call it, but something happened last week, and more damage was done.

Bottom line, I lost several months of ground that I had gained through rest, rehab and concentration. It is noticeable to me and my family.... probably will not be to alot of other people.

It is kind of like blowing our your knee, rehabing for a year, and then going out and blowing it again. Very discouraging. But God has a plan.

On top of all that, I mentioned to the Dr. that I had a sore spot in my left leg, that at one time last week I thought might be a blood clot. She decided to send me to the hospital this morning for an ultrasound. It did not hurt any more, just last week when I was in Joplin. I really thought it was a pulled muscle.

Well, low and behold, it was a blood clot, IN THE OTHER LEG!.... I don't get that...but one thing about blood clots in legs.... they do not let you out of their sight, until they have figured it out and started filling you will blood thinner. So 6 hours in the ER produced a grumpy charlie, a tired Pam, and orders to take it easy, take a ton of medicine, and learn to give myself injections of blood clot disolving medicine for the next week. And oh by the way, don't get yourself in a position where you will bleed, because if you do, you will really bleed... even to death. Nice.

I have been discouraged all week...wondering what sense this all makes. I am in better shape than I have been in 15 years... I think I am managing some things well. But God still is not through shaping me yet. He is teaching me to trust Him for every moment in my life. I am learning personally that life is short ( I know that... but I guess I constantly need reminders.)

I also am learning that one setback does not mean you have exhausted your quota of disappointment and setbacks for your life. I guess I was thinking I had paid my dues... but that is not true. It is a lesson I need to learn, especially since I have had so little to deal with in the past 48 years.

I take heart in Romans 5:3ff " Not only so, be we also rejoice in our sufferings, becaused we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance ,character, and character , hope."

Honestly, I don't consider this suffering. But I do take comfort in knowing that my perservance produces character, and my character accesses me to God given hope.

I need that right now... There is a purpose. The Ultrasound today was a gift from God. I had no pain or swelling in my right leg. I am not sure if this clot caused the episode last week, but I suspect that this is not a coincidence. I will give God the credit, and continue to take better care of myself. The reality is that if I did not have that ultra sound, I very well might have been a victim of DVT, or some other bad deal.

I have often said, "Its 2 steps forward and 1 step back." It is trite, but real... and for me now is the time not to give up, but to press on, even carefully and slowly.

During this last week I have also read the book written by Bob and Lee Woodruff. He is the news anchor who survived the IED blast in Bagdad. For the first time, I have found someone who could put into words much of what I feel from a day to day basis. "In an Instant" has encouraged me to see how much worse it could have been for me... and that some of the things I feel inside are real...( Its hard when you feel crummy and yet on the outside you "look great.")

The phrase, "swimming in jell-o" hit me right between the eyes ( no pun intended). It is what I feel most of the days when I wake up feeling , what I call, "foggy."

It is a great book, and I will write more about it in the future.

I appreciate the prayers of everyone who reads this. The future is bright, if still a bit of an uncertainty for me.