Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Next Thing I Need To Do

I can tell the days are getting shorter.  Last week I went running around 6:30PM.  Usually I run for about an hour and get back to my car around sunset.  However, on this occasion, as I was still a good distance from my vehicle, nightfall was rapidly approaching.  So, I had to complete the latter part of the run in the dark, probably not such a good idea since I run on a busy thoroughfare.  In addition, I run on the shoulder of the road which is covered with small rocks and debris, e.g. beer cans, miscellaneous litter that has been thrown from people's cars, etc..  Hence, it is helpful to see exactly what lies ahead when I'm running in the dark.

As cars passed me from behind, I noticed their headlights shone about twenty five yards in front of me and this gave me a quick glance of what the road conditions were like ahead.  Hence, I went from point to point, allowing the headlights to help me continue on my run without incident.

It dawned on me that I didn't need the whole street lit to finish the run.  I just needed enough light to carry me a little further down the road.  Eventually I made it to my car without any problems.

How true this is in life.  Sometimes we don't need to know the big picture so to speak.  We just need to see what the immediate next step is.  I remember in the movie, "Coal Miners' Daughter", there was a great line from Loretta Lynn's husband as he was trying to get her first record played at different radio stations.  He said something like, "The next thing we need to do is figure out the next thing to do".  He was learning as he went along, trying to get Loretta in the recording business.  Eventually, a trip to the Grand Ole Opry ensued and Loretta Lynn's career really took off.

So, what is the next thing I need to do?  I'm not talking about ten years down the road.  What do I need to do this month, this week or maybe even tomorrow? What are the headlights showing me for now?  If I take the immediate steps, then eventually I'll make it further down the road.

"Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path". Psalms 119:105 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Clinging To What Is Good

Years ago I went on a mission trip to Lamar, Missouri to help build a church.  Lamar is a nice town with wonderful people.  It is located in the southwest corner of Missouri and is known primarily for being the birthplace of President Harry Truman (I saw his house, by the way).

After constructing the church, the members of our "Builders for Christ" team were invited to a restaurant called "The Apple Blossom" for a farewell dinner.  It wasn't a real fancy restaurant.  Basically a meat and vegetable type venue, but probably one of the most extravagant restaurants for Lamar, Missouri.  Yet, it was a wonderful meal, especially as we heard testimonies from those in the community who had been blessed by our work.

One man in particular wanted to give each member of the building team a gift.  He opened up a box and gave each of us a golf or working cap from the Isenhower Lumbar Company of Lamar, Missouri.  We all got to choose our own color.  I chose a reddish looking hat.  Even though I was extraordinarily blessed by the mission trip, e.g. the people, the fellowship, the work we accomplished, etc., little did I realize what a blessing that hat would be.

When I started running in 1997 as a hobby, I immediately starting running with a hat to try to keep the perspiration out of my eyes.  At some point, my red cap from Lamar, Missouri became my running hat.  As a matter of fact, I now run with this hat with every jog.  It's been washed over the years so that it now appears to look pink.  However, I absolutely, positively love that hat.  I can't imagine running without it.  I guess you could even say it is my signature hat.  When I die one day, people may say, "You know, you remember this guy.  He's the fellow who ran on the parkway with the pinkish red cap."

I guess you could say I cling to that cap.  I always search for it before a run.  Consequently, as long as the cap is in relatively good shape, I'll continue to run with it. 

Even though the cap is just temporary, I'm reminded in life of the numerous things we should cling to.  Romans 12:9 says to "cling to what is good".  Faith.  Family.  Fruits of the Spirit.  All of these entities should be grasped with extreme importance.  They are not just "old hat" like my worn out running cap.  Clinging to these things in both good times and bad will lead to joy, happiness and peace. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

My wife and I have welcomed some annual visitors this summer, although not quite as many as usual.  Nevertheless, my wife especially loves visits from hummingbirds.  She has placed numerous feeders on our property to try to entice visits from these terrific birds.  My mother-in-law has had much better luck, having tons of hummingbirds at her feeders lately.  So many hummingbirds (we call them "hummers") can be seen under her carport that they look like bees swarming around her feeders.  It is fun just to sit under the carport and hear their hum as they approach for food.  They are incredible birds.

As a matter of fact, I read where their wings flap around 50 times per minute (even up to 200 times per minute).  In addition, their diet is unusual in that they eat about 50% of their weight in sugar each day (kind of like me).

God has a special interest in birds.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to look at birds in order to not be anxious.  Verse 26 reads, "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?"  Also, Matthew 10:29 proclaims how "not one (sparrow) will fall to the ground" without the Father being aware.

I heard someone say years ago, "Where do the birds go when it rains?"  I really don't know the answer to this.  Yet, God takes care of them in miraculous ways.

It's comforting to know that God has loving watchful eye on His children at all times.  In good times and bad, He's looking at us.  Meeting needs.  Comforting.  Encouraging.  Perhaps the old song says it all, "His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Overcoming Attitude

This past week I had some labwork drawn at the hospital.  I'm part of a study which tests the effects of taking Vitamin D in patients with chronic kidney disease (which I developed after chemotherapy).  I have to have blood drawn several times during the next six weeks.

As I was getting labwork the other day, I sat beside a pleasant gray headed woman who also was getting blood drawn.  She may have even been part of the same study.  Nevertheless, the nurse was having difficulty obtaining her lab.  She described how the dear lady's veins were "rolling", making the venipuncture challenging.  The nurse eventually gave up and said she would have to get another nurse to try to get the blood, calling the other nurse one of the "big guns".  Yet, what impressed me was the patient's attitude.  After she was stuck a couple of times, she seemed to endure the lab attempts with a smile.  When told another nurse would be coming to try to get the blood, she said, "That gives me a chance to meet more people."  I thought, "Wow!! What a great attitude!".  Instead of complaining about the multiple lab sticks, she saw this as an opportunity to meet more folks.

Come to think of it, a hidden benefit of having cancer or major illness is getting to meet more people.  As a result of cancer, I've met several urologists, oncologists, nephrologists and numerous other health care professionals.  I have met Brenda Ladun, a local news anchor who is a breast cancer survivor, at a special dinner where we both spoke of our experiences. There is also those whom I have met through my books.  One lady even called me one night from Palm Springs, California after reading one of my books.  I remember another woman calling me from Idaho or South Dakota (long way from where I live). 

It is said that "no man is an island."  Even though I would not wish my cancer experience upon anyone, I am certainly grateful for the many people I continue to meet because of it. 

By the way, have we met before?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dealing With Mistakes In Life

Kentucky Derby Pie.  It's been a recipe which was handed down to me to my mother.  It's not too difficult to prepare, even for someone like me with limited cooking skills.  Yet, over the years, I've carried Kentucky Derby Pie to numerous social functions. 

Recently, my church was having a covered dish supper before a special evening service.  Not wanting to come empty handed, I brought the old staple, Kentucky Derby Pie.  As a matter of fact, I made two pies the night before.  One for the church and one for me to enjoy at home.  Of course, I had to make a double recipe to accomplish this feat.  I doubled all of the ingredients, placed them in my pre-heated oven at 375 degrees, and removed them per custom after about 50 minutes. 

However, after removing the pies, something just wasn't right.  The top crust of the pies was extremely flaky and not quite as brown as usual.  I stuck a fork in both pies and knew they were done, but there was an inner sense that something peculiar was going on with what I had cooked.  I wrestled in my mind with questions like, "Did I really double all of the ingredients?" or "Did using real butter make the pies come out differently?"  Mind you, the pies still tasted okay...I still took one to church and the majority of it was eaten with no casualties.  Yet, although I couldn't put my finger on it, these pies just didn't look or taste as scrumptious as before.

A couple of days later, I had to heat something up in the microwave.  When I opened the microwave door, I saw a coffee cup with some yellowish liquid which had seeped over the sides.  Then it dawned on me.  This was the butter I had melted in the microwave two days previously to put in the Kentucky Derby Pies.  In other words, the aberrant pie mystery was solved.  Much to my dismay, I had forgotten to add the butter to the rest of the ingredients.  No wonder the pies weren't as moist as usual.  I had ultimately cooked low fat pies (without the butter).

So, I had made a mistake in cooking, gratefully not a fatal one.  I can kind of chuckle about it now.  I made a mental note to always check to make sure all ingredients have been added before baking.  Check the counter tops and especially the microwave.  Perhaps this will prevent baking mishaps in the future.

Hence, what should we do when we make mistakes in life?  Simple things (like cooking errors) should be shrugged off.  I think my aunt even told me at one time that the French Chef Julia Child dropped an egg on the floor during one of her cooking shows.  Her response was "Well, that's why we have a whole bowl (of eggs)". 

How about major mistakes that get us into major trouble?  That may be harder to address in one blog.  Yet, the simple answer is to learn and grow from them.  For example, part of my health issues occurred because I naively didn't recognize one of the seven warning signs of cancer (see my previous blog on April 4, 2013, "Seven Warning Signs of Cancer").  By the time cancer was diagnosed in my body, it was at an advanced stage, requiring major surgery and chemotherapy. 

Yet, I've tried to learn and grow from this.  I've written two books.  I publish a blog.  I try to make people aware of these warning signs and encourage others in sickness.  My errors or losses can be someone else's gain.

Therefore, by learning from mistakes, hopefully, my life will be as delightful as a perfectly cooked Kentucky Derby Pie.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Fighting Back The Tears

I recently read the book, "The Circle Maker" by Mark Batterson.  In one chapter, he describes the many inspirations for crying.  Listen to his description of tears on page 210:

"There are the tears shed by the mother of a little boy in ICU who is far too young to fight leukemia, but he fights anyway.  There are the tears shed by the father of the bride as he walks his daughter down the aisle on  her wedding day.  There are tears that stain divorce papers, and tears mixed with sweat that stream down the faces of grown men who have just won a national championship.  Then there are the tears shed in prayer."  

I haven't cried in a long time.  Yet, I remember specific incidences where I literally buckled over  in grief.  In 1997, after my mother had fought pancreatic cancer for eight months, I knew she was close to death.  I remember walking to my car to retrieve a few items and being overwhelmed with sorrow.  I knew her condition had deteriorated.  I even slept by her bedside that night and woke up frequently to check on her.  She died the next morning a little after 7AM. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2004.  My oldest daughter Bethany was about to start college in Auburn and was attending a student orientation camp.  I had a biopsy done of my bladder around that time.  As I drove to visit her and stay a couple of days, my doctor called me to inform me of the seriousness of my cancer and the major surgery I would need.  As I saw Bethany enjoy the excitement of the sights and sounds of college life, I again buckled over in grief, not sure if I would even live to see her graduate from college.  Those were difficult days.  Afterwards when the cancer appeared in my lymph nodes in 2006, the agony of chemotherapy ensued with multiple hospitalizations.  I remember trying to cry as I was being admitted to the hospital for yet another time, but yet the tears wouldn't come.  Only a few people had glimpses of the horror I was going through at that time.

However, the Bible proclaims how our tears do not escape the notice of the Heavenly Father.  Psalms 56:8 says, "You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Your bottle.."  He keeps track of them in a unique way.  Why does He keep our tears?   I'm not really sure.  Maybe He looks at our tears a divine measuring rod to show how much we suffer.  As a result, perhaps He pours out enough goodness to compensate for the amount of despair we endure, ultimately turning our mourning into dancing and our pain into praise.  Sorrowful crying has its purpose, but I would much rather be crying tears of joy.  


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Opening Doors

I was blessed to have had a book signing today at my home church, NorthPark Baptist Church in Trussville, Alabama.  I was promoting my latest book, "Glorified Sickness: Honoring God Through Illness."  I'm always excited when a door opens to share my story. I had ultimately looked forward to this opportunity for quite some time.  After being in contact with a member of our church staff for the past couple of months, I was delighted to see this book signing come to fruition.

It reminds me of a book which I've been reading recently, "The Circle Maker" by Mark Batterson.  In one chapter, he talks about how God sometimes opens doors for us in rapid fire fashion, similar to the opening segment from the old TV show, "Get Smart".  If you recall, as Max gets out of his car, multiple doors from all different angles open as he approaches them.  Some of these doors are made of steel and they clang shut after he passes through.  Yet, as part of his mission, the doors allow this secret agent to pass without difficulty.

In ministry, sometimes doors open up like this.  I recall how, in September 2013, doors for interviews on multiple TV and radio stations practically fell into my lap.  I had sent out a few benign e-mails to some TV and radio personalities.  Well, one contact led to another and then, voila, I was interviewing right and left with very little effort on my part.  It was a fun ride.

However, some doors take much more effort.  Multiple e-mails or contacts may be necessary to get an interview (or get the door to open).  Of course, praying fervently for the door to open is also a must.  Ultimately, it is God's call.  The Bible states that Jesus puts before us "an open door which no one can shut"... (Revelations 3:7).  So, if He wants the door to open, it will open in His timing. On the other hand, if Jesus closes a door, it is closed tight.  No need to try to force it is just wasted effort on my part.

Consequently, I just have to be ready when the door opens.  It's the smart thing to do.  Or, as Maxwell Smart would say, "Would you believe extremely smart?"