Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Dad the Day Before He Died


Here is my Dad the day before he died during a family reunion near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

It was the summer of 2001.

Family Reunion 1983


Dad and I are shoulder to shoulder in the middle of the back row.

He was 56 (my age in my profile photo). I was 33.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Note to My Dad

Dad, I don't know if you can read this. I believe there is a life after this one, but I don't know what the ground rules are in that life. When you died six and a half years ago, I felt glad that I was somewhat at peace with how we related to one another. Occasionally I have told other folks about the good traits that you had, the great things that you did for Mom and my brothers and I. Recently I was convicted of the fact that I have spoken much more often of my frustrations and hurt feelings. So I am writing this note to you and to anyone else who chooses to read it. It is my effort towards restoring some balance.

Now I am 57, which is about the age that you were when I began to think of you as getting old. Such virtues as I have are by the grace of God. My flaws are all my own. Now I understand more completely that the same was true for you. I want to thank you for all the good choices you made. Thank you for showing affection. Thank you for providing for my material needs. Thank you for loving Mom. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made so that I would have a great start in life. Thank you helping me to understand the need for discipline and hard work. Thank you for sticking around through the good times and the hard times.

Some of how you were frustrated and angered me. I see now that I could have shown much more grace to you when that happened. I also know that frustration and anger are an inevitable part of any deep relationship. I am sorry for when I overreacted. I am sorry for when I held a grudge. I forgive you for things you said or did that I found hurtful.

I hope some day I can tell you these things face to face. Meanwhile I pray that I grow in my ability to love those who are still in this life with me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

We All Want To Change The World

You say you want a revolution. Well, you know We all want to change the world.
Beatles "Revolution"


Do you want to change the world? I do. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are changing the world, everyone of us. The bad news is that we are changing the world, every one of us. We often contribute to dramatic change that strikes like a lightning bolt . When I sang along with the Beatles, I was thinking dramatic change for good. I have made choices that contributed to goodness. I have also made choices that pushed us all closer to hell on earth. Sometimes my ignorance contributed to my making wrong choices. More often it was knowledge. I knew what I wanted. I was willing to overlook the cost to others.

"I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks ... got a fur sink ... let's see ... an electric dog-polisher ... a gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater ... and of course I bought some dumb stuff, too." Steve Martin

I am changing the world. I want to increase my batting average. More good hits. Fewer foul balls and strike outs. It requires mindfulness greater than that I am accustomed to. I also have to care. I pray that God would grant me eyes to see and a heart that is soft.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Listening, Thinking, Saying, Doing

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have plenty of time. Time to listen (including reading), time to think, time to speak (including writing), and time to do. I retired from my job. My kids are grown up. Other than taking a walk or doing a bit of weight training, I have nothing you could call a hobby.

I converse. I write and read. I take care of myself and help with our home. I spend. I give.

Now that things are simpler, I find that my focus is not as sharp as I hope it can be.

Focus on God.
Focus on family.
Focus on serving others.

I pray to God for the wisdom to use my time well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

You Will Die

You will die. Every human will die. All humans through history have died. According to cosmologists, eventually all the stars will die. All life will end. So why the fascination about whether humankind will live on for decades, millenia, or eons more? Die one by one. Die in large groups. Die. Nobody gets out alive. Let's relax about that and use the time we have here to glorify God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Tragedy of Disbelief in God

“The tragedy of disbelieving in God is not
that a person ends up believing in nothing,
alas it is much worse, that person may
end up believing in anything.”

G.K. Chesterton

Good and Evil without God

When I was in my twenties, I believed it impossible to prove that God exists. As I approached thirty, I became increasingly aware of the fact that I had no basis for declaring something good or evil beyond my own preferences. Intellectually I was a nihilist clinging to a shred of existential justification for having any sort of morals at all. Emotionally, culturally, I deeply believed that some things were good and others were evil. It was a most unsatisfactory dichotomy.

Now, as a Christian, I seek God when I want to know the difference between good and evil. I find that an increasing number of thinkers, writers, people on the street refer to my faith in certain fundamental truths as "fundamentalism". This is most often meant as a pejorative.

Here is a link to an article which I believe to be one of the more direct and cogent attempts to elucidate the author's conviction that it is imperative that we discard moralism, fundamentalism, and totalitarianism in favor of human science. Is it possible to know what is good and what is evil?

However, consider his closing two sentences:

In other words, to paraphrase Winston Churchill's remark about democracy, the human sciences are the worst (the least cognitively adequate) of all possible forms of practical reason ­ except for all the others (such as moralism, fundamentalism and totalitarianism)! What that implies is that nothing is more important for the continued survival of the human species than a stupendously increased effort to make progress in the further development of the human sciences, so as to increase our understanding of the causes of the whole range of our own behaviors, from life-threatening (violent) to life-enhancing.

The author James Gilligan has been on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School since 1966. He is the author of Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. What astonishes me about articles like this one is the author's apparent inability to see his own bias that posits the survival of the human species as Good and life threatening behaviors (for the species) as Bad.

Francis Schaeffer put it well when he wrote "Modern man has both feet planted firmly in mid air". From what I have seen of "postmodern" folks, they simply add wildly flapping their arms in hopes of finding some additional support for their convictions.

May God grant us all the wisdom to know what is good and to do what is good. May he deliver us from evil.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Do Your Best, Leverage the Rest


Leverage is a word used a lot in big corporations. In that context it means this: Utilize someone else's efforts to make your own job easier. And it isn't as sinister as it sounds. It is nice to give credit, however. My son Samuel posted this picture on his blog. I liked it so much that I am posting it on mine, leverage.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Science as a Subset

Lord (William Thompson) Kelvin,
"I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind." – from Popular Lectures and Addresses


Lord Kelvin was my hero when I was younger. This was my favorite quote. I will not presume to tell you what Lord Kelvin meant, in context, when he wrote this. I think it would be better for you to read his original works if that is what you seek. I can tell you what it meant to me. I believed that only something which can be measured, experimented upon, and verified could truly be known. That ruled out God or anything "supernatural". There was no super nature.


Throughout my life, heroes have proven fallible. Most are wiser than I, but limited and fallible none the less. Kelvin was very insightful, but he was dead wrong about a lot of things. Much was not known in the 19th century, such as Energy=Mass times the speed of light squared. Einstein, who was able to develop that equation, struggled with quantum physics. I'm sure he understood quantum physics a lot better than I do, but as Einstein ran out of steam, other physicists pushed forward.


Science as a field of knowledge is a subset of all that can be known scientifically. Why else would scientists be working so diligently to expand the field? Much of our current knowledge will seem as antiquated as Lamarck's theory of heredity, which proposed the inheritance of acquired traits. Lamarck deserves respect as a scientist, but his theory did not stand. Newton deserves great respect as a scientist, but there was much he did not know. Special and general relativity, for example.


So current science is a subset of all that can be known scientifically. Things will be learned that surprise us and discredit some of our best efforts to date.

What can be known "scientifically" is also a subset of what can be known by humans. I love my wife. Measurements and experiments would be ludicrous. I love my wife. It is something I know. I do not need science to know it. I exist. I once wondered how I knew that. I gave up wondering after a while. I simply know that I do. The universe exists. I'm quite certain about that as well.

God exists. God told me so. I resisted hearing God for a very long time. I had to be profoundly humbled before I was able to hear God say "I am not your concept, you are my concept". I once believed that the universe just existed, and needed no creator. I was wrong. It is the creator who needs no creator. I have knowledge that transcends science. To those who would deny my knowledge, I simply ask this. How can you be so sure?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Friend Dies

A friend died last night. I had known her for more than three decades. We were coworkers. She was driving in one direction on a local highway when a vehicle going the other way shed its trailer, which crushed her car. Completely, totally unexpected. A fluke. But she is gone.

She was a wonderful person. I will not try to describe her here. She touched many lives in her 55 years on earth. She wrote a story with her own living that needs no footnote from me.

I have promised myself, whenever I remember her passing, I will strive all the more to make good use of my time here on earth. Soon enough, my own life will end. It may be tonight. It may be decades away. My friend's death will serve to keep me vigilant in the use of a very precious resource, my time. I can use it to encourage, to help, to love. I can use it to nurse grudges, to gossip, to worry. I can use it to build, to repair, to caress. I can use it to destroy, to accuse, to strike in anger.

So many ways to use my time. Some are worthy. Some are shameful.

May God grant me the wisdom to use my time well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Opportunity Knocks

I still haven't really figured out what my career will be now that I can no longer label myself as "a manager at HP". The one thing I am certain of is that God wants me to use every opportunity to encourage others. These opportunities come in a incredible variety of avenues. This morning I received a call from Jennifer Goodenough. This is a young lady I admire greatly. She has been working in the Dominican Republic for three years helping to support the Dominican church and to help the people of the Dominican Republic (many of whom are very poor) and more recently the people of Haiti (where people are even poorer). Barbara and I have been sending her a modest amount of support during her time there, and we plan to continue. It occurred to me that someone might read this blog and feel moved to help Jennifer as well. Funding is often an issue for those who are doing such incredibly important work. Check out Jen's blog in my list of links. (http://jgoodenough319.blogspot.com/) I have known Jennifer since she was a little girl. I am happy to be able to recommend her to you.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Death, Early or Late

I wonder why it is that we humans tend to be so afraid of an early death for ourselves or our loved ones. I am old enough now to more fully appreciate the pain that comes with aging and the difficulties that the elderly must often endure.

I once believed that our life on this earth was the only one we would ever know. Any pleasure to be had must be had in this life. Even then I was aware that there would also be pain. As a young man I was optimistic that I could enjoy enough pleasure to trump the pain. Consequently I hoped for a long life.

I now believe that there will be a life after this one. Each of us may live forever in the presence of God with no more crying and pain. Or we may live in the eternal torment that is separation from God. I do not know why any of us would choose separation from God.

I trust that God will forgive me for all thoughts and deeds that would separate me from him. I cannot trust that he will forgive those who refuse to believe in him or who refuse to believe that they are in need of his forgiveness.

Consequently, I do not fear an early death. I have been afraid of the pain that comes in this life. More and more I find that I can look beyond that pain to the life that is to come. I pray that I will continue to grow in that way. I pray I may be of some use to God as I continue to struggle along in this life.

As for all other people, my greatest hope is that they will know God and his grace before their life on this earth ends. Whether they live long or die young, that is what matters most for their sake. If I must outlive some whom I love, it will be hard. But I would be selfish to cling to them when I feel assured that they are leaving this life for a better one.

As for you, dear reader, may you know God's grace and forgiveness even as you realize where you have fallen short of the mark in this life. And in our remaining time in this life, may you and I glorify him in the love we have for one another.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Five Approaches to Conflict

Barbara and I attended a marriage seminar last week. One real eye opener for me was a one hour class on conflict. The instructor is a professor at Kings College and Seminary, Dr. Wess Pinkham. He has decades of experience as a conflict mediator. My little summary here will not do him justice. But I want to write it up if only for my own edification:

He taught that there are five approaches to conflict. The last one I will name, collaboration, is often held up as the best approach. When I worked as a corporate drone this was always exalted as the win/win approach. The instructor urged us to see each of the five styles as valid in certain situations. This is not situational ethics. It is using different approaches to conflict resolution depending on the situation. He went on to give examples of how Jesus had used each of the five styles during his ministry, as recorded in the gospels. Here is my summary:

1. I'll get out. Avoid. see John 11: 45-57
2. I'll get them. Fight for your side. Win/Lose see Mark 11: 15-18
3. Compromise. Meet halfway. see Luke 20: 1-8
4. Accommodate. Give in. see Matthew 5: 38-42
5. Collaborate. Win/Win see John 8: 3-11

I don't know whether this material is original to Dr. Pinkham, but he did a great job of presenting it and explaining it. Here are three statements he made that are listed in order of how easy they are for me to believe (starting with the easiest):

- Conflict reveals the soul. (Ouch, all too true)
- Thank God for breakdowns. They lead to breakthroughs.
- Conflict can be a miracle moment for ministry. (This is a new way
for me to look at conflict)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sierra Leone


Here is about 5 minutes of edited video of Barbara's trip to help churches in Sierra Leone. She traveled with eight other folks from here in Oregon. There are lots of kids in much of the video because the focus was on partnering with the churches on how to teach kids.
video

LA Rush Hour

Barbara and I played hooky one afternoon from the marriage seminar we just went to in southern California. We drove over to Santa Monica, walked the beach, and ate in a nice seafood restaurant with a view of the ocean. Then we drove home at rush hour right through downtown LA.

video

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why Was This Woman Smiling?

She was smiling because she was holding her grandson, Daniel. She hopes to smile about that again in January, Lord willing. I just bought tickets for both of us to fly to Norway.

Probability and Individuals

Were I to select one thousand names at random from a list of U.S. citizens,
I would have a very good chance of telling you how long they will live, on average. In the twenty first century, most of us live until we are in our seventies, eighties, or older. That could change, but for the past few decades, one could have made a decent prediction for a group of one thousand. Insurance companies hire people to do exactly that. They go broke if their numbers are wrong.

Were I to select a single name from a list of U.S. citizens, I could not tell you how long they would live. Even for the group of 1,000, I was depending on trends to continue as they have. For an individual there is no trend. There is no average. There is no distribution.

Anyone of us could die after a few moments, months, years, or decades.

For the most part, it seems wise to operate according to probabilities. I wear a seat belt and have air bags. If millions of us do so, many lives will be saved. However, I may be the guy whose neck is broken by the air bag or who would have been ejected safely through a window before the car caught fire.

Not convinced? Let's say you were pretty good at random coin tosses. Over time you racked up a very even tally of heads and tails. 50/50. Then you got a streak of ten tails in a row. What is the probability of heads or tails for the next toss. It is still 50/50. If you are like me, there is a part of your mind that screams that that could not be true. It has to be more likely that a heads is going to pop up after ten tails in a row. Sorry, it isn't so. The experiment to verify that is simple. Do enough coin tosses and you will verify what I have said. People have actually done that sort of thing.

I write this because as I grow (yes, older, but let's just say grow) I realize that it is very important to distinguish between what I know to be true and what I think to be true simply because of what I have seen in the past or because I operate according to averages and probabilities.

God spoke to Jonah and said: "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." If I cling to false ideas, I forfeit the opportunity to partner with God, who actually does know when I will die, whether I will have money or not, and what I will eat for lunch today.

Over the years I have put in an increasing, but still very modest, amount of time trying to hear what God has to say to me. I can say with certainty that I have heard him well at times. I can also say that much of the time, I really don't feel that I hear much of anything. I am far too selfish, distracted, stubborn, prideful (choose any one or all).

For seat belts, mutual funds, and avoiding the wrong parts of town, I generally stick to going with the probabilities simply because I don't have any better ideas. However, I always want to be open to the idea that God may be urging me to sell the mutual funds or go to the wrong parts of town. I still can't bring myself to say that he might urge me to leave my seat belt unbuckled. I know God is listening, so I will say this: "God if you want me to leave my seat belt unbuckled, please make it very, very clear that it is your idea."

One last thing. God is not surprised by our choices. Whether we hear him rightly or not, he has plans in place to handle it. It appears that the thing he desires most is that we want to hear him and obey. When we fail, his plan already accounts for that. But if we don't want to hear or obey, we are free to stumble along blindly and see what happens. We forfeit the grace that could be ours.

Handsome Sam

Here is Sam, all dressed up for his Homecoming Dance date.
He and I shopped for the suit and shirt.
This is my youngest child and he is over six feet tall, wearing a suit, and taking a Russian exchange student to the dance. Time does fly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Do The Right Thing

I hope it is not plagiarism to use "Do The Right Thing" as the title of my blog. It is also the title of a Spike Lee movie, which I have not seen and therefore cannot comment on. And it is part of a thought that just came to mind as I wrote to a couple of friends: "Why is it so hard to do the right thing?" First of all we must know what the right thing is. I believe we often exaggerate the difficulty of doing so. Jesus let the religious leaders of his time know that they were being too anal when he told the parable of the good Samaritan. (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2010:25-37;&version=72;)

All day long we walk up to people that have been beat up to one degree or another. All we have to do is give them some help. As for me, sometimes I do, and sometimes I am just too selfish.

This morning I sat in my comfortable easy chair, reading the bible, praying, and hurting. Nothing life threatening, just the still simmering withdrawal from oxycodone. Aches and lethargy are coupled with a sort of anxious feeling that something must be done to ease my suffering. Read, pray, lament. Read, pray, lament. I was stuck in a loop and seemed to be spiraling downward. Then I heard my son get out of bed to get ready for his sixth day in a row of serving his high school by doing the grunt work for homecoming week. Publicize, speak to crowds, set up, tear down, clean up. All that is on top of his busy soccer team schedule.
This is all good stuff, but the kid is tired!

The thought came, "I could make a nice breakfast for him". Even I can scramble eggs and ham. I can make toast. I could serve it and clean up.
So I did that after many selfish thoughts about how he could just eat cereal, he's in a hurry anyway, he won't thank me, etc. etc. etc.

The hardest part of all was letting him eat it without asking him "Isn't that good. Aren't you glad I did that for you?" I wanted those ego strokes so badly. He said a quick thanks and left.

I washed dishes. As I did, I realized that for the previous half hour, I had final stopped wallowing in self pity. I was distracted by doing the right thing. Now I have done a couple of more right things, and it is almost noon.

Why is it so hard to do the right thing? The results are ultimately always good. There are so many opportunities! Our sinful nature fights tooth and claw to pull us back into ourselves. The enemy of our soul lies to us about how hard it will be. Yet, God's still small voice is always there reminding us of our hope and strength in him.

May God grant us all the grace to do the right thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tonga

Many months ago I added a tracking feature to my blog. It doesn't give me names of who visited. It does however show the city and country for any computer that accesses the blog. (by the way, at first there was a little site meter on my blog letting you know that the tracking was going on, but it disappeared and I don't know how to put it back. I don't want to seem sneaky!) At first only my immediate family read what I wrote. But soon I noticed that I was getting hits from all over the world. The other night I learned how to see what page had referred a reader to my blog. I was amazed to learn that a substantial portion of the time, someone has done a Google search. For example, recently, someone on the island of Tonga (as far as I know, someone who never met me) did a Google search on a term something like "how the choices I make affect my life" (no quotes in the actual search term). I had written a blog post on choices and how they impact our lives. So someone in Tonga spent about 12 minutes reading my blog to see what I had to say.

I get about 9 hits a day. About half are for zero seconds. Sometimes folks far away will spend quite a few minutes reading various pages of the blog.
I have had visitors from many countries on all continents except Africa and Antarctica. Once I had a hit from a remote part of China. It showed up when I was showing some coworkers at HP how the tracking program worked. One of the guys said, "Hey, that was me!" He had been vacationing in China, visiting the family of a student he and his wife had hosted.

O.K. So what? I am not actively trying to get a big or distant readership. I am trying to write things that are meaningful. My conclusion is that we all impact more people than we know. In this case, your computer leaves a little mark that it was here and that someone in your city read my blog. But for most of what we say and do, we have little knowledge of who will see it or hear of it. We have even less knowledge of how those other people are impacted. Nonetheless, they are impacted. My prayer is that more and more of what I say, write, and do will impact folks in a positive way. In particular I pray that God will be glorified. I pray that he will use me.

It happens that my wife is in Africa this week. Maybe I will get my first hit from Africa! Then I just have to work on Antarctica :-)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Trust

Barbara is in a jet or an airport somewhere in the world. She will arrive in Freetown, Sierra Leone sometime tomorrow. It is a site of incredible poverty. It vies among a small number of other nations as the poorest, most wretched country in the world. However, there is an active Christian church in the country. Barbara and others will be doing their best to encourage the leaders of a number of those churches that will be gathered in Freetown. She will be there more than a week and then will spend another day and a half traveling back home (ten days all together).

I am dealing with fears. I have little structure in my life now that I have retired from HP. Now my wife and best friend has flown off to a rather dangerous place and I will seldom be able to communicate with her. Freetown doesn't even have electricity or running water. It has all the usual nasty tropical diseases and parasites. And Barbara left feeling very unsure about how she can provide assistance to the people of the churches in Sierra Leone.

In a couple of months my oldest child, Julia, plans to fly to a remote spot in Tanzania with her husband and my grandson. There again, there are risks that do not exist in our rich, sheltered country (or the even richer, more sheltered Norway where she currently lives).

This is where I find out if I really believe what I say. I say that if we are doing God's will, that is the safest place to be. It does not mean that we are exempt from suffering and or immune to injury and death. It simply means that even with what may happen, it is the best place to be.

As for me, I must try to stay at the center of God's will while I sit tight right here in little old Philomath, OR, USA. I look forward to an eternity with God. No more crying, no more pain. For now, we are here for a reason. I pray that we would understand that more and more and follow God's lead.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Old

I have been guilty of making lot of jokes about being old, especially now that I am 57, retired, and have had an artificial knee installed. This week, God is calibrating me. Certainly I have lost many of the capabilities I had at 20, 30, 40, or even 50. And retiring and recuperating from surgery are a guarranteed combo for making one feel "less than".

However, since Barbara's mom has been hospitalized for three days, I have had ocassion to spend a lot more time with Barbara's dad at the assisted living facility that they have an apartment in. Today I had lunch with Ted (86), Ruby (88), and Herman (93). Herman is Ruby's husband and is enabling her to continue living in assisted care since she had a stroke last August. As we chatted about this and that, at one point Ruby joke about talking too much. Then she turned serious and declared "But that is all I have left". The stroke affected her vision. She can't read, write. She really can't feed herself. She can't walk. Fortunately Herman is one of those big, robust 93 year olds that just blow your mind. He spent 43 years repairing shoes and sewing cowboy boots in a town in west Texas (think wide open, very dry, spaces). Ruby and he have been married 70 years and were still very kind and loving to one another, even in this extreme circumstance they find themselves in.

OK. So I get it. I am not old. I am aging. I have lost a few abilities. But they really minor compared to what folks like Ruby have to deal with.

It also reminded me, that in the end, it is only our relationships that endure and give our life meaning. Our stuff may wax and wane. Our abilities may grow or shrink. But it is the people we love that makes life matter.

My prayer is that I would love more and gripe less.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Warning

By the way. I have written on this blog about how I have abused various substances over the years. I am talking abuse/recreation here, not legitimate medical uses. It occurred to me that there might be someone out there who would actually try some of this stuff to see what it was all about. Please be informed that one of two things will happen: 1. You will not enjoy if for some reason. Some people get sick, dizzy, or just plain scared (and rightly so!) 2. You will enjoy it.

If you enjoy it, there is a good chance that you will be tempted to have a bit more, sooner or later. The only thing I have seen with a decent success rate is people drinking alcohol in moderation. However, obviously a percentage of people can't even stick with moderation on alcohol. I don't think most of the other substances have a future as a moderate habit.

Every single substance that I know of is very deceptive in that they can be a lot of fun .....for a while. Sometimes a long while. Sometimes a short while. But never for a life time (unless you die young). They are also deceptive in that the fun they may provide generally blinds you to the damage that is being done to your body, your soul, and to the people who love you.

There will come a time when the piper must be paid. The price is very high.

When I read or heard things like this as a young man, I figured it was just someone who didn't enjoy having fun and certainly didn't want other people to have fun. I was wrong. I was stubborn. I am paying the price. I hope you never have to.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dope Sick

It is time for the final confrontation with my oxycodone dependence. During the past six weeks I tapered from about 360 mg per day to 60 mg.
I paused for two weeks at 60 mg because my body needed some time to adjust to the change and because I was traveling from Sept 29 through Oct 8. I took my last pill last night at midnight after a long day of traveling. I felt pretty good most of today, and began to think that perhaps the last bit would be simple to quit. Now I am shivering while wearing two fleesces and two shirts in a 72 degree home. The aches and pains aren't so bad, but they haven't really stopped since I first started tapering. However, the thing I am struggling with most is feeling old and feeble. The combination of retirement and disability is taking a pretty heavy toll on my image of who I am.

I may regret saying this, but I welcome this chance to confront this nonesense about who I am. I am God's creation. I am also a sinner who does not deserve forgiveness. The very sins that I am guilty of are those which have created the chaos and misery in this world that also has so much beauty and pleasure. I am saved by grace, not by my own efforts. All that I own. All that I treasure. All good that I am able to do. All are by the grace of God. I am not defined by those things, they are gifts and blessings from God. Now for a season I am able to do less. That is a trial. What I am will be revealed more by trials than by the blessings God has bestowed on me.

I will spare my reader (and myself) an inventory of the things that trials have revealed about me. I will summarize by saying that nothing reveals our selfishness so much as having our self feel lousy.

I will end by saying that I had a wonderful vacation during the past week.
Seeing my daughter happy, prospering, and in love. Visiting family. Simple pleasures like talks, walks, fishing, and home cooked meals. That reminds me that this would be a good time to reflect upon the many blessings I have known. Whatever your own struggle is, I hope that you can do the same.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'll Be Back

I'll be away from my computer til Oct. 8. So I will be unable to inflict additional posts til then :-)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

VIPs




Here are two Very Important People in my life. Don't worry, the rest of you are important too!
I was just so struck by how well this picture captured Barbara's joyful spirit.
I am sure Daniel is happy too, although this photo did not capture his excellent smile.

I am shamelessly purloining this photo from Julia and Viggo's public folders. To see more, go to their blog and to their photo albums.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Us and Them

As a young child, I knew that bad things happened. I had to get older and more experienced before I realized that bad things happen a lot. All of the time. To all people. I had experienced plenty of good things. I began to wonder. Why are bad things happening?It didn't take me long to come up with an answer. I decided that the bad things happen because of "them". There was a pool of decent people known as "us" who wanted the bad things to stop. We really did. But all it took was one or two of "them" to mess everything up for "us". Those of "us" who knew the truth about why bad things were happening did not believe ourselves to be perfect or even to be possessed of all the answers. Thinking things like that was believed to be characteristic of "them", not "us". We were humble and realistic. We did know pride and depravity. We saw it every time we took a close look at them. In fact the more we studied them, the more appalling the situation became.As years passed, I found it increasingly difficult to find those of "us" who did not show a resemblance to"them", at least once in a while. And yes, that includes me.

Language to Heal, Language to Wound

Fine.

Fine is a single word that I can use to encourage a friend or to wound them deeply. Context. Body language. Tone of voice. Timing. Facial expression. They can completely change the message.What I really mean comes from the heart. It is expressed in all those ways, word, tone, face, and more. May God cleanse my heart so that encouragement becomes more frequent, and wounding rare. I thank God that he forgives me for the carnage I have done. I thank him for the oopportunity to do better.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Breakfast During Our 8/07 Family Trip


I am experimenting with video in blogspot. How much of Kent's Life can be known via video. How much is better known via text? What will an illustrated biography be like when we figure this all out? Barbara is taping, so only her voice is in the video.
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video

Kent Saying Goodbye to Daniel A Few Weeks after His Birth


This is the first time I said goodbye to Daniel. I think it was early April.
Now it is only two weeks since his last visit here, but nonetheless, I miss him.
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video

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Longest Day in the Shortest Decade

This day seems to grind on forever. I'm continuing to taper down the narcotics. The latest drop in dose is kicking me hard w/ depression, lethargy, and a sense that I have always felt like this and always will, forever.

The crazy thing is that this has easily been the shortest decade in my life. I'm 57 and 60 will be here before I can blink. How can the days be long and the years short? I have wondered that many, many times.

I just watched a music video that I wish every teen and twenty something could stash away and watch a few decades later. Johnny Cash in Hurt
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmVAWKfJ4Go

Think About It

Hyundai has a new ad series with a recurring tag line: Think About It.
There is a http://www.thinkaboutit.com/ website. This is one of the few times I have seen commercials that actually do make me think about some important topics. I didn't even know they were Hyundai commercials at first because only their logo is shown.

Man, if all commercials were this good, TV would be a different place. There are plenty of entertaining commercials. Lots of boring commercials. And a ton of irritating commercials. This is the only one I can remember that really made me think.

Cool.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Withdrawal

It has been twenty five years since I was active in drug culture, street drugs, and the slang that is current. I never was involved much with opioids: heroin, morphine, oxycodone. There probably is a word in vogue for what it feels like to stop taking something you are addicted to. The only word I have available is withdrawal.

Withdrawal seems far to puny to describe what one's body decides to do when it is suddenly deprived of strong chemicals which worked so well to blot out pain.The body has quit making the endorphins that the brain normally creates to modulate our sensations of pain and pleasure.

A total knee replacement surgery was my ticket into the world of heavy opioid use. Oxycodone, at doses of up to 360 milligrams a day, was what I used to control the pain that followed having the end of my femur and tibia sawn clean off , the marrow reamed out, and adhesive, metal, and plastic substituted for the original equipment knee joint.

I took about two thirds of the drug in time release caplets. There is a thick coating on the powerful dose inside. The drug is released gradually over a twelve hour period. I have read that each of the 40 mg tablets that I took are sold illegally for about $40. (Even with a prescription they are something like $5 per pill). When they are chewed or ground up and snorted or injected, they provide a high that is generally thought to be identical to that of heroin. A common nickname is hillbilly heroin. Perhaps it is easier to get oxycodone in rural spots like Appalachia than it is to get the heroin that is common in major cities. I don't thing anyone really knows. I was also taking about 3 quick release 5 mg tablets of oxycodone every three hours. No chewing required.

Pain is personal and subjective. I can't compare the pain I experienced to that of others. I can't even remember it well,myself. I do know that I reached a point where I was writhing and unable to speak. My world shrank down to one very long, excruciating moment with very little room for rational thought, mostly a frenzied desire to escape. That was what resulted as I tried to cope with the pain and fear at lower doses.

For most humans in most of history, the drug has not been available when the pain came. They coped. I don't know how. A part of me was very afraid of finding out. So I asked for higher doses, and higher, and higher.

My brain stopped making endorphins. Why bother? My system was flooded with fake versions that not only stopped the pain, but for me, induced a powerful side effect: euphoria.

Of all the drug side effects I have seen listed, euphoria surely seems to be the most benign. It is not. It can become an idol just a quickly as the golden calf that the Jews cobbled together while Moses was away for 40 days talking to God about right and wrong. I do not believe I worshipped the idol, but I was very happy to make its acquaintance.

I had to stop. Most folks will fail to stabilize at a dose that brings both relief from pain and the euphoria. Somehow ones body become accustomed to the interloper and decides to shut down the euphoria. It may even find a way to fire up some pain that had been quelled. For those who are about to die, it is an option to continue taking every greater doses.
For anyone who plans on living for years to come, that option is out. Besides, my bones were mostly healed, as was the eight inch incision used to gain access to my knee's innards. The pain should be gone.

Thankfully, the pain in the knee is mostly gone. It aches a bit, especially after a walk or a flight of stairs. Completely healing takes a number of months for most folks. Pain may go on for years for a small minority.

About two months after the surgery, I was decided it was time to start reducing the dose. I must have made a clumsy attempt at dropping the dose. And I was afraid, very afraid. Then came my first intro to "withdrawal". The closest analog seems to be a very bad case of flu. Aches, vomiting, diarrhea, running nose, and a profound fatigue. Of course, all it takes to stop it is to return to the original dose.

After a couple of stabs at that sort of exit strategy, I was more fearful than ever. I have experienced plenty of anxiety in years gone by. This was the first time I experienced what might be termed a panic attack. It particularly tweaked my fear of suffocation. Something I have had since an older boy taught me to hold my breath by torturing me with immersion so that he might enjoy my torment.

Barbara held me as I gasped and wept. She heard me cry out. So did God. My bible lay near my head collecting dust during the weeks my head was so fuzzy that I felt unable to read it with any regularity. I felt a powerful urge to seize it and turn to Psalm 119. First I read silently but soon I felt compelled to read aloud. Every verse was a prayer gasped in desperation with an intensity and focus that I had never experienced before. There are 176 verses in Psalm 119. My breathing began to slow, my attention focused more and more on the psalm.

God answered that prayer (along with many prayers by family and friends).
It was sudden and dramatic. I became certain that God would get me through whatever horrible feeling came my way. In the weeks since then I have proved it by repeatedly dropping the dose enough to induce withdrawal and then staying at that lower dose until my body calms down.
Now I am taking 60 mg a day, only the slow release kind. I am sorry to say that there is no euphoria involved, although I am glad to be spared the temptation to bring it back. Within a couple of weeks I hope to be completely free of this bondage. God willing, and it would seem that he is certainly willing.

Dr. Byram has given me a clonidine patch which alleviates the worst of the nausea. Aching and lethargy and chills followed by sweats are mostly what I am left to deal with.

I had intended a much shorter post. The idea: what price comfort? What price did I pay to escape the pain for a while? Was it worth it? So many times I have tried to escape pain and paid a price that clearly was not worth the relief. Alcohol, benzodiazepine abuse, methamphetamine, marijuana,
cocaine, mushrooms, LSD, and probably a few others I can't remember right now. It has been twenty five years since I experimented with street drugs as a way out. For those drugs, the outcome of the experiment was very clear: find another way to feel good.

God has always been faithful to show me the price of chasing idols. He was faithful even when I did not believe in him. He has been faithful when I have known him, but failed him.

Jonah 2:7-8 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

7 "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Thing I Cannot Remember

I do not remember my father saying "I love you" to me. Not those words. Nor any words that are truly synonymous.

Maybe he did say it. Maybe I was just a baby. Maybe it was so rare that I have lost it. I don't know. I do not remember.
My Dad loved me very much. For whatever reasons he had to show it by his actions rather than his words. I would much rather have just actions than just words. Most of my life I wished that he had used both. It's over now. He has been dead for years. I was at peace with this matter when he died.

I am confident that I have often told my children that I love them. I made a point of doing so a lot. A whole lot.

What I wonder is this: Where is my blind spot? What have I failed to do or say? Was it with my children, or someone else that I care about deeply? Who will be missing an important memory because I could not provide something they needed?

Each day that passes I get more opportunities to do better. I cannot change the days already passed. May God grant me the wisdom to improve. My life is passing quickly.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Discernment

Was it a "God thing" or was it caffeine? When I wrote my post yesterday describing that which I believed to be a bit of divine intervention, I was flying on too much caffeine. I say too much only because I was too restless to read that evening and unable to go to sleep until 1:30 a.m. versus my usual 10:30 p.m. I used the three hours to study popular culture by watching television :-) I may have done better to lay in my easy chair and twitch for those hours!

Discernment is a fine word. It is widely used. It used perhaps more often in evangelical/fundamental Christian circles. I might hope to "discern" the difference between ordinary happenings and those that that are an answer to my requests fired off to God. I might want to discern the difference between feeling blue for a while and being attacked by spiritual forces from the wrong side of the heavens.

Does it matter if I discern correctly? Yes, it does if it then leads me take action I wouldn't otherwise take. Events led me to believe that God desires me to labor diligently toward finding better means to communicate who he is and what he means to me. If I would do better to put that energy towards some other pursuit, I would like to know. In this life I have limited time and energy. Even with an infinite God offering me assistance, I am a finite resource. When I misunderstand God's intent, I may squander that which he has given me: time and talent.

So was it God or was it caffeine? At this point I would say it was God speaking to me patiently despite the ups and downs of my mood. Yesterday was up. Today is down. This morning I was tempted to dismiss the idea that I am called to communicate.

There is great comfort in knowing that God will use even my misguided efforts to good purpose. If yesterday's essay was caffeine fueled balderdash, God may yet use it to amuse others and to humble me. Or he may use it in ways that are too wonderful for me to understand.

I still prefer to follow God's lead rather than be pushed along by drugs or extremes of blood sugar level. I will continue to discern as he enables me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A God Thing

Sometime I use the standard Christianese of long standing: "blessed", "saved", etc. Then there's the slightly newer stuff like "it's was a God thing". When I use that phrase, I mean something like a series of events occurred which were so clearly orchestrated and encouraging that I have to believe that God had a direct hand in them.

But difficulty in communicating such things is exactly the general area where I felt like a God thing happened.

I watched a very well done Atheist vs. Christian debate this morning. In fact, it was one of the best I have seen. Nonetheless, the "versus" part bothered me a lot. I don't mind if folks disagree. But I really hate it when they seem to become frustrated primarily because they are not communicating well. It seems that every such discussion is plagued by a lot of miscommunication. One tact I have taken in the past year was to very carefully work on defining terms up front: What do we mean by faith, God, sin, etc? However, I feel that I have generally either caused the other party in the discussion to feel like I am grilling them, insulting their intelligence, or being presumptuous about the value of defining terms. The other sad fact is that the discussion can become very dry very fast. So dry that it withers and dies.
It happens that I have read more books on language, linguistics, and communication in the past year or so than I probably have in all the other fifty five years of my life (don't get the wrong idea, I am talking about only four or five books ).
It also happens that my daughter and son-in-law have completed their education and certification as Bible Translators for Wycliffe and will soon embark on a decade or two of working to translate the bible into Mbugwe (one people group in Tanzania). This has given me the opportunity to learn a bit from them.

A string of "also happens" is where I start to see a "God thing". I get it that someone else might not, but I do at least sometimes.

I loved my day today, but it was the latest in a long string of very leisurely days. I am actively searching for more purposeful pursuits. As I wandered about a large bookstore, I wondered what on earth I would read next that would have value beyond simple entertainment. I also wondered what on earth I could possibly write about, teach about, or talk about, that would have value that even begins to approach so many other folks efforts.

I just happened upon book about one woman's struggles to deal with dozens of Christian terms that she had heard as a child, but largely rejected as an adult. Later she regained her faith, but only after deepening her understanding of many of the terms. I am eating it up.

I had a sort of epiphany. Which may be a fancy word for seeing a "God thing" for what it is.

Every time I write a profile or bio, I write that I love God and Jesus Christ is my lord and savior. I do that because I consider those to be the most essential information there could be about me.

But I suspect that many folks have little idea of what I actually mean when I write that. Perhaps I should write more about the most essential information about me and what I have learned. However, I may need to create a whole new way of communicating to do so effectively.

Now that feels like a goal worth tackling. In fact is seems completely overwhelming. Good. I am tired of being smug and self assured. Time to walk out into territory that scares the crap out of me. I will asked God for the strength and the wisdom to do so in a way that glorifies him. I believe he likes to say yes to those kinds of requests!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Proof Positive














Each one of these fine folks was a baby 1.5 to 2.5 decades ago.
Guess I better make this a short post.
I am afraid the tears welling in my eyes will spill out and corrode my keyboard.
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He Came, We Saw, He Conquered

















Daniel arrived on August 2 and stayed through September 2. His six month birthday was Aug. 26.

He had learned to smile, laugh, raise his head and chest off the floor, and roll over during the months he was in Norway. While he was with us he changed day by day. After a week a tooth poked out! He ate baby food. He got his first test ride in his jogging stroller. He grabs at anything nearby. When we eat food, he wants some. If he is in your lap, he will lunge for it. He can cross a room by rolling to get where he wants.

Now he is back in Norway. I am checking air fares to Africa. Lord willing we want to see a lot more of this young man. I remember how quickly our children grew up. I can only imagine how fast grandchildren must grow up!

May God bless Viggo, Julia, and Daniel.
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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Schnake Family Vacation August 2007

Barbara has a gift that I admire. She sees an opening for a terrific family occasion of some sort and she provides enough motivation to get us moving and planning and joining in. She does it gently but with great strength and perserverance. Eventually the rest of us catch the vision and help with the preparation. I thank God for his gift to Barbara.

We realized a few months back that all of our children would be at home in early August, including our son-in-law Viggo and our grandson Daniel. Coordinating a trip was challenging. It is likely to become even more difficult in the years to come. Therefore we are very grateful to have had this opportunity.

We really savored this trip. The weather, the cars, ferries, and our health all went well. The rental house, our food planning, and the local scenery and points of interest were excellent.

However, by far the very best was the abundance of love that each showed to each throughout the trip. It is a test of sorts to see how eight people in a rather isolated (albeit beautiful and well equipped) cabin will work through the inevitable bits of friction and differences of opinion. It was a joy to see my family showing love for one another in all sorts of ways. It was a joy to be loved by them. The scenery, the cabin, the travel , the locals, and many other things were very nice indeed. But each act of loving kindness transcended even that beautiful setting and filled us with joy and thankfullness. This is a memory that I will cherish all the days of my life.

Here is a link to a few photos in a web album: http://picasaweb.google.com/kschnake/August2007SchnakeFamilyGathering

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gathering

There was a time, not so many years ago, when the six of us gathered often. No place cards were necessary. Seated at the head of the table I reached out my left hand and touched Barbara. I had to reach quickly, though, since she popped up and down all dinner long, serving us. My right hand would fall upon Charles, generally at a modest velocity. Julia and Pamela, always good friends as well as sisters, sat across from one another. Sam enjoyed his perch at the far end of the table. Sometimes he had to repeat himself several times to be heard, but he learned great patience and persistence. We learned to listen to him for some of the funniest quips at any given meal.
It had taken more than a decade since Julia's birth for all the members of the family to arrive and lay claim to their special spot. Now, as each of the children has grown into adults, they are moving on to other tables in other places all over the world. Soon, however, we will gather all six of us plus Viggo and baby Daniel. I cannot help but wonder when the next such gathering might occur. The distances we must travel, the complexity of the calendars we must reconcile, and the number of us to be included, all continue to grow. Even so, I know that we will strive to gather from time to time. The wonderful knowledge of our membership in this family always seems greatest when we are gathered around the table. The store of memories we share will grow and grow. We will recount our new adventures as well. They grow ever more astounding. Educations and careers unfolding. Places visited. New friends and loved ones added to the circle.

Of course the day will come, when we can no longer gather together in this life. How sweet it will be then, when we gather in the next life with God in our midst.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Six Weeks Later

Forty two days ago I paid several people about $40,000 to drug me, cut my leg wide open, and saw the ends of my femur and tibia off. They installed some replacement bearing surfaces and sewed me shut. The medical establishment always makes it very clear that such a procedure will involve "some discomfort". It appears that the term "some discomfort" is specifically crafted to avoid giving one the slightest idea of just how bad the pain will really be. I suppose it is necessary to play down such things. I was already quite fearful going into the surgery. Imagine if the doctor had said: "You may writhe, cry, and wish for death while we try to find the right amount of narcotics that will ease your pain without causing your respiration to cease. However, don't think about it much, because fear will greatly amplify your suffering." I'm guessing we don't really want to know that. There are times when the truth is best left alone.

Now six weeks later, I am able to rise from a chair, I can step in and out of a bath tub, I can get in and out of a car. I can walk. I sometimes sleep for six or seven hours before the aching in my knee wakes me. It is true that it still requires about 350 milligrams of oxycodone each day to feed the drug habit that enabled me to endure the pain. 1 milligram of oxycodone is considered equivalent to one milligram of morphine. However, I would have to crush my sustained release capsules and snort them if I wanted to equal the rush from a strong dose of heroin.

The combination of the pain and the drugs addled my mind to the point where reading and writing became laborius. I now feel the haze slowly dissipating. I may be able to express myself well again before too long.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that not all my posts can be as thoughtful as I would like. Sometimes I just need to record the basics.

Simultaneous with the ordeal of surgery and recovery has been my adjustment to retirement. My concious experience of retirement generally causes me to smile and feel a flush of pleasure when I realize that I seldom need to set my alarm. I suspect that there are greater struggles going on in the unconcious! One clue is my sudden fear that Barbara will find me so incredibly dull that she will dump me and search for Mr. Right. She assures me that she loves me and plans no such change. But the fear creeps in here and there. Another clue was a very vivid dream I had of returning to work. Great crowds of people I knew where very serious and hard at work. They smiled briefly and graciously at me, but clearly had no time to spend with a "non contributor". My hopes were lifted when it was announced that the new corporate dress code would require all employees to wear blue jeans. Surely I would fit in again! Alas, the corporate jeans were stiff and dark blue. They were tailored as a cross between carpenter's jeans and dockers. Sadly, I was still on the outside looking in.

Frankly, my struggle is one that is long overdue. There seldom was anything about my job performance that made me particularly lovable or admired. I have long known that the greatest thing I can do for others is to love them as they are. To listen to them. To serve them. To care about their struggles. Now I must leave the job performance factor out all together. I would have done well to abandon the quest to earn love with my work output long ago.

May God richly bless you all. May you know that you are indeed greatly loved, despite your best efforts to earn it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Make One Good Choice, Repeat as Necessary

You will choose. Hardly a moment goes by that does not require a choice. Perhaps you will choose passivity. Perhaps you will choose to wait. Nonetheless you will have made a choice. Very quickly you will make another. Because I have chosen to love you, I am eager to see you choose well. The more I care about you, the more I will hope for good choices.

As each of us makes choices, lives are impacted. The impact may be small. The impact may be vast. A good choice should create a good impact. I think that is the best we can hope for. We hope to make choices that bring about good.

We must turn to God for help in assessing our choices. We seldom see the whole impact of our choices. Besides, the impact comes after the choice. We are driving forward while looking in the rear view mirror if we base our next choice on the impact we think the last choice made. We can ask God for the help we need in looking forward to determine what the consequences of our next choice will be.

All too often, I try to make one big choice. However, I would rather make many good choices and keep doing so, rather than try to change the world with one big choice. When I ask God for guidance, the answer is often quite specific and seemingly very limited: forgive him, be patient with her, be generous with them. The choice may be to forgive a simple small slight. I may need to patiently overlook a tiny flaw. My generosity may consist of a small contribution. But the power of each choice has much more to do with how well I hear and obey God than it does with what a big show I make of supposedly wanting to serve him.

I must make one good choice, then repeat as necessary. May God give me the strength to hear and obey the very next bit of guidance that he gives me. May God give me the humility to care more about obeying him than I do about getting recognition for what I have done. May God forgive me for seeking to make a big splash that attracts the world's attention, when he is calling me to make a small ripple that pleases him. May God grant me the joy of growing more like him and caring less about my self.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

I believe it. If I know how perfectly I am loved, it casts out fear. Sadly, I can be a slow learner. Fortunately, God is patient. I've been through some pretty rough sessions of physchological and physical pain. Psychological as in anxiety, depression, fear. Physical as in cuts, bruises, broken bones. It seems that all pain is a mixture of mind and body.

Can I escape all further pain in my life by completely embracing God's perfect love for me? It does not seem possible from where I stand. What does seem possible is that a greater and greater knowledge of his love gives me greater and greater respite from pain. As a practical matter, therefore, I would be wise to pursue a greater knowledge of God. Not just so that I might escape pain, although that would be an adequate reason. I can also create less pain for others as I understand who God is and conform my mind to his.

I cannot compare my own pain or fear to yours. I can pray that you would know greater and greater freedom from pain as you draw closer to God. I cannot compare my own knowledge of God to yours. God is infinite, I am finite. My own knowledge is supsect and subject to further refinement. Nonetheless, I can pray that you would know God more and more. This is not a contest between you and I. This is a race we all must run. May God bless you with the ability to run it well. May God bless me as well. Let us rejoice that we are running without distracting ourselves by trying to decide who is running faster or farther.

The knee pain is still fierce enough to prompt me to continue the narcotics. But I am experiencing healing and comfort. What a joy to feel myself getting better. What a great opportunity for me to learn a bit more compassion. Thank you, Lord.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A New Morning

A fresh start. A new day. It is amazing how much difference one night of sleep can make. Perhaps it was just time in God's plan for me to feel better. Perhaps new supplications were fired off to God by friends and family. Whatever, the reason, I woke up feeling great this morning. My sleep was the usual concatenation of approx 2 hour naps with a bit of medication, food, or reading in between each nap. Nonetheless, I awoke feeling as though the world was new and I have been given another shot at using my time to glorify God and serve others instead of dwelling on my pain.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pain and Fear

I've dealt with fear most of my life. Chronic fear is called anxiety. The best diagnosis so far for my decades long struggle with anxiety (and sometimes, depression), has been Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Fear exacerbates "real pain" and can even make pain appear in the absence of any organic cause (i.e. the "it's all in your head kind of pain").

Having total knee replacement supplied plenty of the "real pain" sort of pain. I knew going into the surgery that my pain would be difficult to manage with opiates because I have been using that strongest class of pain medication to daily just to cope with the chronic arthritis pain. Since I had the arthroscopic surgery on March 2 that did not go well, I had been using even more of the opiates.

Tomorrow will be the second week anniversary of my surgery. I spent four days in the hospital right after the surgery and went back for another four or five days after my recovery at home proved too painful and difficult. Here is a description I wrote for a friend:

Stabilizing the pain meant going to ever higher levels of narcotics. A 5 milligram oxycodone tablet would be typical of what you are given following minor surgery such as having your wisdom teeth removed. You might be prescribe one or two tablets every four hours as needed for pain. So you would max out at about 12 tablets/day. That is how much I was taking just before my June 11 surgery.
By the time I was released from the hospital the first time, I was taking the equivalent of 32 tablets each day. However, I never really got control of the pain and became increasingly dysfunctional during my few days at home because the pain made it very difficult to do my physical therapy exercises and to pass the time by reading, etc. I just couldn't concentrate..

Finally the night of Father's day, I barely slept at all. I tossed, turned, moaned, and the minutes ticked by very slowly. I struggled all day Monday, until I found myself writhing in pain and crying out during an afternoon trip to get my blood thinning medication checked. The blood lab nurse insisted that we get me to a doctor right away. It took a couple of hours and a lot of pain, but eventually I was settled into a hospital bed and full of morphine on Monday night, June 18. The doctor adjusted my oral medications until I was able to use them and not use the morphine pump at all. However, now my daily dose is the equivalent of 72 of those 5mg oxycodone tablets each day.

Most of the past couple of weeks my memory and ability to read or write has been all messed up by the pain and the medications. It is just the past few days that have gotten better. So I know that you visited a time or two and please believe me when I say that it meant a lot to me. However, my memory of the visits is sketchy. I know that at times I was falling asleep while folks were talking to me.

The nurses became very alarmed a couple of times when my breathing rate slowed to 6 breaths per minute while resting or sleeping. This is considered to be in danger zone and possibly leading to death. However, an oxymeter was used regularly to check my blood oxygen levels. They were always excellent even during very slow breathing. I have also had trouble with episodes of extreme OCD anxiety symptoms. It made life tough on the nurses and very tough on Barbara. I get all panicky and rigid about small thing like how my books, glasses, medicines, etc. are arranged. The episodes are bad and I think they cause other people to feel like they are walking on egg shells around me.
This deal of retiring and having major surgery simultaneously does complicated things. Too often I strayed into thinking such things as " I worked 33 years to get to this!"
or "Shit, I missed my peak. It is all down hill from here on out.". Kind words from a friend really help me battle off those particular lying spirits.


I am sorry I haven't posted much or commented much lately. I have struggled with poor concentration and blurred vision. Plus I suspect my intellectual capacity is severely impaired.

I am gradually getting better. Assuming I continue to recover, I hope to be writing a lot more soon. Mean while, any and all prayers are appreciated.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Anxiety

It has been very difficult for me to concentrate my thoughts enough to write in recent weeks. Retiring after 33 years at HP has been a fairly big distraction all by itself. I have a few fears about my ability to make a successful transition to a new vocation. I even have a bit of recurring anxiety that perhaps I am falling far behind on all my e-mail or missing deadlines for the latest set of assignments. It is sort of a phantom missing limb pain!

But the big Kahuna is my fear around the surgery I have scheduled for tomorrow. It is almost inconcievable that the surgeon will cut a foot long gash in my leg, pull all the tissue out of the way and then use a power saw to remove then ends of my major leg bones.

I am sorry to say that I have been placing too much trust in modern pharmaceuticals to get me through this. Unfortunately, a little over a week ago the surgeon informed me that I have developed a very high tolerance for morphine like drugs. Consequently he may have trouble controlling my pain without stopping my breathing. I figured that there was something pretty remarkable about the fact that I could take 10 or 12 Vicodin-like tablets every day and still go about my business as if it were no more than a handful of tylenol. It has been especially disturbing that even a dozen major pain killers each day were barely enough to take the edge off the knee pain that I have been suffering.

The good news is that there is no doubt left in my mind that this surgery is necessary.

It is also rather nice to realize that it has been years since I have been this anxious. I struggled with anxiety for decades. Even a business trip or an upcoming presentation for work could be enough to trigger anxiety very much like what I am now having in anticipation of major surgery.

I realize now that my trust in opioids was misplaced. We are very blessed to have the medications that spare us from so much of the pain that our ancestors had to endure as a matter of course. Nonetheless, there will be pain, even very serious pain, in this life. Even if our bones are left intact, our hearts may be broken. Therefore, this is a very good time for me to remember that my trust must be in God and his goodness. He allows me to endure a lot of suffering, but his plan for me is perfect and all of this will be used to work good in my life.

May God bless each of you who may read this. May he give you the faith to believe that all things are being worked to a good purpose in your life. May he give me the ability to be an authentic example of how to trust him.

Friday, May 25, 2007

How Important is My Life?

How important is my life?

I want to be clear that the question is rhetorical. I am a bit afraid that a reader or two might decide to tell me how important they think my life is. Regardless of the nature of the assessment, I would struggle mightily with it. I am already struggling. Please do not throw an anchor to this drowning man.

I fervently believe that God commands me to love him and to love my neighbor as I love myself. I cannot believe that a loving, almighty, all knowing God would send me off on a fruitless errand. However, I can all too easily believe that I am failing to obey his commandments as well as I might. I want to love God. I want to love my neighbor. It seems that I have only a few ways to show my love for either.

I realize more and more that listening is important. God's voice seems elusive. I believe the difficulty is all the competing noise and voices in my mind. Hearing humans is straightforward. However, it can be very difficult to care enough about them to listen for what they are really saying rather than listening for what I want to hear or for an opportunity to add my own comments.

Speaking words of encouragement to humans and speaking words of praise to God are another fundamental way to show my love. It is very sad to think how often I have failed to use my ability to speak for the purposes of encouraging or praising. Often I complain, denigrate, or argue. It may be worse still to use the gift of speech to justify my actions or to glorify myself. I am certain that God is calling me to a season of my life where my greatest contribution to others will be my ability to encourage them. I pray that he enables me to speak encouragement.

Serving is another way to show love. God assures me that when I serve the lowest of the low, I am in fact serving the king of kings. I find joy in serving. However, I tend to find it easier to serve those that I believe to be most deserving. I pray that God enables me to prefer others without expecting them to meet standards that I set.

Giving, forgiving, and forbearing are all worthy ways to love others. May God grace me with the ability to do each more and more.

How important is my life? The more I love, the more important it is. I thank God for giving that purpose and that significance to my time here on earth.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The City of God

I recommend the following article to you:

In place of God
Culture Replaces Religion
May 3rd 2007 From The Economist print edition
FROM the earliest times, a central role of any big town was sacred or religious. Until the 16th century, the status of a city was in England granted only to towns that had a diocesan cathedral, and to this day the title metropolitan is in some churches given to senior clerics. Cities still tend to have bigger and more splendid churches, mosques and temples than do mere towns and villages.…

The article is excellent within the limitations that the author sets. He contrasts the role of religion, culture, and commerce as influences that draw people to congregate in the world's cities. Cathedrals, opera houses, and skyscrapers or shopping centers are cited as the icons established in major cities to suggest their preeminence in the various pursuits that we humans embrace to fulfill our "spiritual needs".

I found the article fascinating, but shadowed by the haunting emptiness of those worldly pursuits. The cold stone emptiness of great cathedrals. The sensory overload of shopping districts. The impressive, but very limited accomplishments of the arts, enshrined in museums and performed in opera houses or theaters. Even professional sports teams and their enormous venues are seen as the distinguishing traits of a true city.

Religious, commercial and cultural pursuits of the highest order may seem vastly superior to many other attractions of cities such as the carnal lure of the sex trade and sensational spectacles such as the gladiator contests (ancient and modern) or parades, demonstrations, and other mass gatherings. I have indulged in all of those pastimes and more. I was eagerly seeking fulfilment in the highest worldly attainments and the lowest vices that the great gatherings of humans have to offer. I enjoyed little success of a lasting sort.

I thank God that about 23 years ago he revealed the nature of the one truly significant city, the city of God. The citizens of the city of God are all who pursue relationship with God and trust him as the God who became a perfect and innocent man. A man (all man and all God) who willingly gave his life that we might be forgiven our many failings. The citizens of the city of God are those who share in the fellowship of faith in Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. Only God knows the exact population and demographics of the city of God. He encourages us to seek one another out, to love each other, and to proclaim our citizenship with the many acts of love and grace that God enables us to bestow on a hurting world.

Our faith in God as our saviour, and our love for one another should not be confused with the tedious, empty observation of religious rites and duties that many substitute for a genuine personal relationship with almighty God. He who created and sustains the universe and our very beings. Our faith and our love must inform all forms of culture or commerce that we pursue as residents of the cities of this world. Our faith and our love should preclude selfish indulgence in sexual immorality and a preoccupation with spectacle whether it be games, mass gatherings, or any other poor substitute for true fellowship.

The city of God is growing and prospering, yet it will not be obvious to those in the world who will carefully monitor all the wrong metrics: wealth, fame, sensual abandon. We will prosper as the genuine joy and the pervasive peace in our lives shine like a beacons to those seeking freedom from the fruitless pursuits of the cities of man.

If you are a member of the city of God, rejoice for your future is assured and you will receive comfort during the trials in this life. If you are clinging to the worthless idols that are worshipped in the cities of men, forfeit them that you may know the grace that can be yours as you submit yourself to the sovereignty of God. God who is love. God who longs to welcome you to his family.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Nuclear Family

Why do we call it a nuclear family? Apparently it has to do with being composed of a small number of fundamental building blocks.
Every human has had a biological mother and father with the exceptions of Adam, Eve, Jesus, and clones. I'm going to leave clones for another time. You probably have heard the same explanations for Adam, Eve, and Jesus as I have.

Whatever it is that makes us human, was designed by God. Once the prototypes were completed, ongoing production was assured. Father and mother have children. Children become fathers and mothers. Generation upon generation. Along the way uncles, aunts, grandfathers, and grandmothers and a host of other relations came into being. When biological moms or dads can't carry on their roles, others pitch in as needed.

Barbara and I have been blessed with a nuclear family that has only been altered each time we conceived another child. We have good reason to think that the alterations are now complete. The members of our family shift their positions on this globe. Our love for one another grows and matures as does each one of us. Our nuclear family remains composed of the same six persons. There will be a day when death may separate us for a season. After that, we hope to be rejoined for all eternity.

Our relationship with God is central to our being. Our relationship to our family is fundamental to our humanity. I thank God for our nuclear family. I thank God for the joy we have known. I thank him for helping us through the sorrows and for strengthening us to deal with difficulties.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Dichotomy

I scanned the past six months of posts on this blog, and observed a dichotomy that intrigues me. On any given day it seems that time creeps by. Even the biggest events, genuine milestones in my life, are filled with a creeping moment by moment sense that I am waiting impatiently to see if something important is going to happen. Occasionally, at a particular moment, I sense that something very important is actually happening, but that is rare. It is only in hindsight that the days of my life seemed filled with great happenings, significant progress, and elements of a compelling story.

The dichotomy is that between how mundane a given moment may seem and how dramatic those moments become when strung together into tales.
Tales of spiritual growth. Tales of sickness and tales of healing. Tales of relationships newly formed, then forged with the heat of circumstances and the relentless hammering of events.

Here I sit at 4 am in a silent house. I can hear the ticking of a clock. I gradually feel relief from the pain medication I took at 3:30. I struggle word by word to capture the dichotomy of the quietude nearing tedium of this moment contrasted with the rush of life changing events I have known in recent months and the oncoming rush of events ahead.

I am thankful for this tranquil island of now, in a storm tossed sea of what has been and what will be. It may even be a tiny glimpse of the eternal peace of a now spent in God's presence once the heavens and earth are made new and there is no more crying, no more pain, no more death.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Now What

I have had quite a bit of time at home due to knee problems and other illness in the past month. So I have had a bit of a sneak preview of what awaits me when I retire on May 31.

Many of the things that I focused my energy on for decades are now moving behind me. No more small children to raise. No mortgage to pay off. No need to work for money, at least for a while.

A few things have been non-issues for me for quite a while. No wondering about whether I will marry and whether it will work out. I am much less haunted by the vague fear that maybe I am not cool enough or handsome enough or successful enough to make a decent life for myself.

A few things stand as a rock solid foundation for me to build upon. God is love. God forgives me my failings. I have good friends who really help me to carry on. Dear sweet Barbara is the greatest friend after Jesus.

Now I am intent on setting some new objectives for myself. So I ask you, God, now what?