Who Is This Man?

The following is an essay I submitted to a magazine in Aug. ’16 for a contest of articles about ‘Life Changing Experiences’. I never heard anything from them, nor have they posted a list of winners’ names like they said they would or responded to my email, so I guess I didn’t win and am free to publish this elsewhere:

Life seemed to be moving along pretty well for my wife and me as we turned the page from 2015 to 2016.  We lived in central Illinois.  I was 61 and working at being the husband of one, father of two, grandfather of five, and pastor of many.

We had already made some plans for the next several months that would keep us happily busy.  The small church that I pastor was making plans to purchase property that would require renovation, so I knew the summer would get very busy.  Meanwhile, a few trips had been planned.

My wife and I had been blessed by friends with a free week in a condo in Florida in May.  My two brothers and I planned to spend the first weekend of June with our 88-year-old father in Oklahoma at the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series.  I also had plans for the next week to go to the mountains of Peru on a mission trip with a young lady from our church, who is like a daughter to me, and another local pastor and his daughter.

It seemed to me like all was set – life was good.  Now, to be fair, three or four times in the fall of 2015, I had some slight concerns.  For no apparent reason, lasting no more than a couple of minutes each time, I experienced a tightening in my upper chest and a burning sensation as I breathed through it.  Since I had no other symptoms, no real personal medical history, and no history of heart disease in my family, I wrote it off as being a little overweight and 61 years old. However, on Tuesday, January 19, another episode occurred that did not end in a couple of minutes.  The pain persisted despite my efforts to ease it.  In fact, it got worse.  I even began to get a little nauseated.  I decided it must be something more than old age and weight, so I drove myself to the hospital just one block away.  As I walked into the ER, I called my wife who was visiting family several miles away.  By the time she arrived, nitro and baby aspirin had eased my pain.

Our small hospital had done its job and test results showed something was going wrong in there.  They sent me on to a larger hospital in Springfield, IL known for its heart care.  A heart catheterization the next day revealed several blocks in three arteries, including five in the one they call “the widow maker!”  Too many to stent, so the doctors recommended a triple bypass!

That’s right.  Me – the guy with no medical history, taking no medication, with no real problems.  I didn’t even have a doctor!  On Saturday, they cut me open, sawed through my chest bone, took a vein out of my right leg for the new bypasses, connected me to a bypass machine, shut off my heart, built three detours around my blocked arteries, restarted my heart, wired my sternum together, and stitched me back up!  On Sunday, I was up walking.  On Monday, I was in a regular hospital room and on Wednesday, I walked down the stairs of my home to my bedroom suite where I soon ate supper while watching TV!  Amazing!

Now, before I let them do all this to me, I asked the surgeon about my recovery time and those three trips I had planned, especially the one up in the mountains.  He said if I spent six weeks after the surgery doing what I was told, then I could do whatever I wanted.  I said, “Let’s do it!” – and we did!

My wife asked me why I thought I would be able to change my diet and exercise regularly, when I had never done so before.  I was a “meat and taters” kind of guy.  I hate all vegetables.  I used to be fairly active, but I’m 61 now!  My answer was that I had too much to do to let this stop me.  Not just those trips, nor even my work as a pastor, but much more.

I was determined to take Melissa, my spiritual daughter, to Peru on her first mission trip.  We had hoped to go the year before, but the trip had not materialized.  I would not disappoint her again!  The new church building meant far more than just new “digs” for the church.  It meant expanded ministry potential in a new neighborhood.  That would require my help and good health.  I write the materials for our children’s ministry – so many depend on me!

I also write children’s books and my hope for them is to broaden my sphere of influence so I might somehow touch many more people.  I had received my second book two weeks earlier and had just sent number three to the publisher a few days before the surgery.  There would be book signings and book orders and who knows where it all might lead.

Then there were my regular ministerial duties and my family to consider.  No, I had too much I wanted to see accomplished before I leave this world and apparently, I might not get it done unless I began to eat right and exercise.  So, I must.  The decision to have the surgery and make the changes was that simple.

The surgery went well and recovery progressed nicely.  As soon as I could do it, I started the daily walking routine and when the time was right I went through the cardiac rehab program.  I did make all those trips, plus another to Arkansas just six weeks after the surgery. I only missed two Sundays at church and began resuming pastoral duties and ministries right after that.  I later joined our hospital’s wellness center so I could continue to exercise and build up my strength.

Now, fast forward to August.  I have lost 40 pounds!  I exercise nearly every day and often twice a day.  I have NEVER been an early riser, but now I exercise for over an hour, fix and eat breakfast, and get ready to face the day by 7:30 in the morning!

I am not yet operating at full strength, but I am progressing.  My ministry “plate” is full, including becoming the Team Leader to facilitate more trips to Peru.  I’ll be going back this October and then twice a year for the next several years.  I still hate vegetables, but I am eating some!  Mostly, I have cut out and cut back on lots of things that are not so healthy.

Sounds good, huh?  Well, mostly it is, but there are some drawbacks.  The weight loss has led to having to buy a whole new wardrobe!  The recovery time has prevented the extra work I usually do to supplement my income – house painting and helping a local funeral home.  Book signings and sales have slowed as well.  Lots of out-go and less income!  Balancing the budget has become tougher.

I am still not fully recovered so I am somewhat limited on some things.  Mowing and weed-eating hurts.  It is hard for me just to supervise work and not join in.  It’s even harder for me to let the women do things in my place, like carry the heavy stuff.  The Peru trip was harder on my muscles than I had imagined it would be, so I have stepped up the workouts.  I don’t sleep as long or as restfully as I used to.  Did I mention I hate vegetables?

I am not sure, even after several months of adjustments and changes, where this is all leading.  I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who is this man?”  He’s a thinner, healthier me, but is it really me?  HE gets up early, works out, and eats differently.  HE takes medicine every day – twice a day.  Some things I used to do – this guy can’t.  HE’s even trying to learn Spanish!

And now to really confess – there are times I just sit and try not to think.  I get overwhelmed easily.  It takes longer to do some things.  I wonder if I can keep this up for another twenty years.  Sometimes, I wonder if it’s worth it.  A couple of times, I broke down and cried.  Other times, I fought it off.  Sometimes I cry out to God and He always gets me through it.  He gives me strength and help, but so far, not so many real answers.

I look for answers, but keep going.  I am sure the reasons will come when I really need them.  As for that man in the mirror?  I try to remember that God is not finished with him yet.  I may struggle to know just who he is, but whoever he is, he is not yet who he will be when God is done with him!  I guess I’ll just have to stick around and stick to it and wait to see who that is!

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Looking Forward to the New Year!

Well, 2017 has arrived and I came along with it.  I hope that I can say the same when 2018 gets here.  That may sound strange, but then shortly after 2016 arrived, with me in tow, I challenged that.  That is, I went into the hospital last January and proceeded to have a very unexpected triple bypass!

I had not had any health problems for, well, all my life!  I made it to 61 years old with only one kidney stone that lasted just a day or two some ten or twelve years ago.  Aside from occasional poison ivy or a cold or the flu, I had not had any problems.  I didn’t even have a regular doctor.  I had no medical history to report to the doctors and nurses when I went into the hospital!  No problems – no meds – until now.  Just basically all of a sudden I had upper chest pains and a little burning when breathing.  I passed it off a few times as being old and overweight, but then came the one that did not go away in two minutes.  I knew something more serious must be going on in there.  A quick trip to the local hospital and then a transfer to a bigger one and a couple of tests confirmed artery blockage!

A few days later I had a triple bypass.  A few more days and I was home.  Two months later was my first of 7 trips out of state in 2016, including three out of the country!  Two of those were to the mountains of Peru!  Meanwhile, the church I pastor bought property and totally renovated and redecorated it.  We bought the 9,000+ square foot facility in July and moved into it with it nearly redone by the end of the year!  Between my trips, working day and night at the new site, overseeing the whole project, becoming the team leader for the Peru missions project, my almost daily workouts to regain my health and strength, and a few book signing events, it has been a very busy and full year.  Full of new things.  Full of strange emotions.  Full of work.  Full of muscle pain!  Full of blessings!  Full of joy!  But nonetheless FULL!

I am kind of hoping that 2017 is a little easier.  I do, however, plan on two trips back to Peru and a vacation trip or two.  And then there is still work to do on the new church building.  I have book number three coming out any day, so there will be more book signings.  I have a paint job to do for a friend later this month.  There are some special family events coming this year.  I have my ongoing pastoral duties, as well as the new Bible study I started last week………

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Peru Reflections

It has been a little over a week since Melissa Meadows, a young lady from our church, and I returned from a mission trip to Peru with a couple of other team members..  The effects of such a trip do not wear off easily nor soon.  I’ve looked at the pictures repeatedly, written in a journal a little about the experience, and talked about it quite a bit (imagine that!).

I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts about the trip:  1)  It was a great trip – a good mixture of experiencing another culture, sight-seeing and enjoying God’s creation, making new friends, sharing God’s Word and work with others – both in the mountains and in the city, and watching God at work among the people of Peru as well as our team.

2)  It was a special treat to be a part of Melissa’s first mission trip and watch her grow spiritually and even excel, right before  my eyes!  To have had even a small part in making that happen is a great blessing!

3)  The task of ministering to the people of that mountain region is very daunting, but God is more than able.  Looking to the future is a bit overwhelming, yet looking back, we can clearly see how God has already done great things, so there is no doubt He will continue. Financial needs, travel concerns, health blessings, language and cultural differences, spiritual preparations – God met and exceeded all our needs!

4)  A follow-up trip really soon would be very beneficial.  How could it happen and who would go?  Could we possibly return soon ourselves?

5)  The trip was harder on me physically than I thought it would be.  My back and chest muscles were really put to the test with long plane rides, bumpy car rides up and down the mountain roads, lots of walking in the mountains and city, and not much sleep.  (For those who might not know – I had a triple bypass surgery on Jan. 23rd of this year!)  But God is good and I more than survived – I really enjoyed the trip!

6)  And speaking of survival – Melissa and I had planned to go last summer, but the rest of the team did not materialize.  I hated disappointing her, but we just could not go then.  So, we determined to try again this summer.  Meanwhile, we discovered that I had several blockages in three arteries and had to have a triple bypass in January.FB_IMG_1466560036382  I wonder now if I would have survived the trip last summer!  Could I have made such a trip in the high altitude with that kind of blockage and with little chance of any quick medical response?  It seems to me that perhaps God saved my life by postponing the trip until this year!

7)  What does the future hold?  I don’t know, but God does!  So, we’ll just try to follow His lead.

 

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The Road to Jerusalem – Part 1: Why Go?

At our church, we meet on Wednesday nights for bible study and prayer. We are going to be doing a study series I am calling “The Road to Jerusalem” which will lead us up to Easter Sunday. I’ve decided to post some short devotional thoughts about each lesson. Our first study is called “Why Go?” and the scripture passage is Luke 18:31-34.

In this passage, Jesus tells His disciples that they are going to Jerusalem where He will be taken captive and turned over to the Gentiles for torture and death, but will rise from the dead after three days! What a bomb shell of information to drop on these men! It says they didn’t understand. He mentioned that Old Testament prophets had predicted such things about Him. Apparently they hadn’t grasped that either. They had witnessed miracles, listened to sermons, ministered with Jesus to the poor and needy and broken-hearted, and much more – but apparently, didn’t get it. Get what?

I’d say they didn’t get that the road to glory is a tough road – filled with suffering and sacrifice. Jesus did it willingly and calls us to do the same. We think we deserve the blessings of the kingdom without the pain and cry out when we get the problems. The question remains – Why Go? For Jesus, the answer was because it’s right, it’s necessary, and it’s the only way others will be able to enjoy the glory as well. He has never been self-serving, never looked out for His own welfare, never shirked His calling or responsibilities or destiny. Why should we do the same? For the same reasons, plus one – because He did it for us.

For the study outline and helps go to http://www.cccpana.com and click on Bible Study

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My State of the Union Address

Not Good!

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The Greatest Valentine

Here are the lyrics to a song I wrote long ago:

A box of chocolates, a fancy card, a candy heart, a rose –

A thousand ways to say I’m thinking of you.

“With all my heart”, “To never depart”, and on and on it goes;

But none compares to the way God said, “I love you!”

If it’s a valentine to say, “I’m thinking of you”,

If it’s loving to ask, “Will you be mine?”

If making sacrifices really says, “I love you”,

Then a rugged cross is the greatest valentine!

If Cupid’s dart can pierce your heart and make you feel brand new;

If giving presents says, “There’s none above you,”

Then how much more is there in store in Jesus’ love for you?

He sacrificed His life to say, “I love you!”

If it’s a valentine to say, “I’m thinking of you”,

If it’s loving to ask, “Will you be mine?”,

If making sacrifices really says, “I love you!”,

Then a rugged cross is the greatest valentine!”

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My New Book!

  Last year I had posted here for a little while a poem I wrote about the Nativity story as found in Luke 2 in the Bible.  I called it “Twas the Night Jesus Was Born”.  I had shared how it came about as a story for our children’s ministry.  However, I had to take it down shortly – because I sent it off to be published into a book!

It’s done now!  I have published for the first time!  It’s official release date is July 9, 2014, but it’s out now on the publisher’s web site and through me and a few other places I have established as points of sale.  It is a soft cover, fully illustrated children’s book and Tate Publishing of Oklahoma has done a great job for me.  They provide a link in the back of each book for a free audio download of the book and there is an ebook of it, as well.  There are plans to make coloring book and 3D versions, too.  I developed a web site for the book and announced it on facebook and so far the sales have gone very well.  I was just interviewed for the newspaper that serves my old hometown and I will be doing a book signing soon at a bookstore in the mall there!

I’m pretty excited about it for a couple of reasons.  One, though not the more important, is that if it even sells moderately well, maybe I can quit painting houses to supplement my income as a pastor of a small church and do that through the books.  Two, and this is the better reason, that the book will help keep Christ in Christmas by giving hundreds (dare I say thousands) of parents and grandparents an easy way to share what I consider the true message of Christmas with their children.

If you would like to read more about the book – and maybe even buy one or two – you can find out all about it at http://www.twasthenightjesuswasborn.com

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