Sunday, February 26, 2012

Here I Am (Send Me Out)

(Song of the Week Sundays)

One of my favorite places to go to search for new worship music and one of my favorite places for creativity was

Unfortunately, the blogger had a child and new job and found himself too busy to continue the blog.  Yet, even a year later, I think his rendition of "Here I Am: Send Me Out" (by Michael Bleecker) is worthy of our 'Song of the Week.'

It is an amazing and inspirational song and Jason does a tremendous job on this acoustic version.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Went And Got Myself Sick!

We far too often think that we are master's of our own destinies.  We think that we set the direction of 'things to come' and that we can navigate the future.  We say to people, "Stay well" as though we can will a bacteria or virus out of our system or we say, "safe travels" as though we can magically make the roads safe.

The truth is that we have little control over 'the things to come.'  I'm not trying to be a pessimist, but we need to keep in mind our place in this universe.  We aren't gods, you see, we are human beings.  We can't see around corners, we can't peer into the future, and, no matter what greatness we attribute to ourselves, we cannot help that bad things will sometimes happen.

As a person of faith I have to know that I cannot control the world I live in, my own future, or other people (that last one is an important lesson, btw).  What I can control is how I react to others and how I react to what happens to me.

Okay, so my title reminds us that I can do things to keep myself healthy and I probably engaged in some risky behaviors that exposed me to sickness during these past couple of weeks since my surgery, but I didn't 'get myself sick.'  Sickness happened and now my body is reacting.

Christians need to keep this in mind as they go through life.  There are Christians who act with hate and malice as they go through life trying to control the actions of others and trying to make everyone act the way they think ought to be.  What do I mean?  You need look no further than a Christian woman holding a picture of a fetus, or as members of Westboro Baptist Church (Fred Phelps and his gang) picket a funeral.


Christians far too often think that they can will the world into being what they want it to be.  They believe that they can force others to act the way they want them to act, but ladies and gentlemen:  We are not gods.  We do not control fate.  We are not masters of our own destinies.  We are flawed and fragile human beings but we do have control over how we react to this world and the people in it.

Christ always acted out of love, when we look at scripture.  He didn't buy into the legalism of his day, but he witnessed to people by showing them that he cared.  There would sure be a lot less abortions in our country if these holier-than-thou folks holding picket signs would take the hand of a young girl and walk along with her.  There would sure be a lot less murder and crime if church people didn't just pass the rough parts of town, but got involved with troubled teens.  We can't improve education by passing a new piece of legislation, but we can get our hands 'dirty' and go out into our communities and start working with children.

We live in an imperfect, messed up, out-of-balance world.  We live in a world we cannot control, yet when we are reminded of our place in the world, we acknowledge that there is hope through our God and our relationship with God.  We can take our faith and make a difference in the lives around us.  My body is reacting to the flu -or whatever got into my system.  Let us act like my immune system.  Let's take a look at the world around us and let's begin the process of healing and restoration.  It won't happen without us getting our hands dirty.  It can't happen from a distance or by writing a check or authoring a congressional bill...but it can happen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yes We Can!

A speech & song that changed an election. How are we doing as a nation, now, though? Do we just complain that our president hasn't done enough on his own, or are we all actively working to change this world. As a people, do we believe, "Yes, We Can?"

As we approach an election year, let's stop trying to find 1 person to fix things for us...I mean, that's never going to happen!  Instead, let's allow our current president (both now and a year from now) to lead us toward a more vital and beautiful world. Let's stand together to make our world a better place where people have healthcare, where people can work, where people have a roof over their heads, where children don't go hungry, and where the right to speech is protected. Let us stop relying upon fear of war (and terrorism) and let's begin shifting our resources from acts of violence (war & 'defense') toward preserving and enhancing life.

I believe the best in people and I believe the best is possible for our country.  I believe 'we can', do you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Men Who Love Sausage.

Fat Tuesday is not a tradition with which I was very familiar growing up.  In fact, as far as I can remember, the whole Lent thing was really played down when I was growing up.  Since hitting adulthood, though, it seems I have always landed myself in a church where Fat Tuesday is a big occasion.  Here in Pontiac the Pancakes and Sausages start flying onto the plates around 11am and will continue until 7pm or later.  The tickets raise money for the ministries of the church and will fund everything from children's ministry to worship; but money-making isn't really what's at the heart of Pancakes and Sausages on Shrove Tuesday.  At the heart of Pontiac First United Methodist Church's obsession with that "day of shame" is community.  The men of the church, no matter whether they carefully grumble a bit or not, really enjoy getting together and making those hot, sweet pancakes and frying up sausages.

When we look around the church today we must be thankful for the women of the church because they are ever-present and, in many ways, they are the cement that holds the place together.  Us men could not do all that the women do each week to make ministry happen.  Maybe I'm being sexist, but I'm pretty well convinced that we're just not up to the task.  I think about the missions of the United Methodist Women, the worship leaders who are nearly all women, not to mention all the women who are involved in our afterschool tutoring and confirmation program.

In a way us men have let ourselves down.  By backing out of the church more than we ever should have, we have lost our community.  We need an outlet that speaks to our hearts, and, in this case, fills our bellies.  That's why I think we, United Methodist Men, like sausage and pancake day.  Yup, for a full day we get to hang out with each other.  For a full day our wives and children will not pester us about too much grease or too much red meat...or too much salt.  Why?  Because for at least one day of the year we are all together raising money for the church and enjoying ourselves at church.  No woman is crazy enough to mess with that system.

For me, the question is whether pancakes and sausage are enough.  I mean, it's great that we have this day and this solidarity, but it doesn't seem as though Christ is calling us together as men of the church just so that we can feed people unhealthy food and cause a mass-genocide of swine :-)  There must be a greatness that we are being called toward.  This community of men who have been doing this project for 25+ years (some of them) are surely being called to something more than pancakes.

Jesus fed people whenever he could and enjoyed doing it.  I always say that's a great place to start!  But Jesus didn't just feed people physically (and never poorly).  Jesus fed people spiritually, physically, emotionally, and, even, educationally.

I think that the men of this church have started something good.  I think we could keep doing it the same way for another 25 years and it will be good.  But I would like to believe that we are called to greatnesss.  Men of the church:  Let's look around at Pancake Day.  What feeds us and how to we shape our excitement and interests into a ministry that does more than physical feeding.  How do we create new ministries that are life-changing here at Pontiac First United Methodist Church.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Our Sunday Morning, An Update, & Testimony

I guess this what happens when you don't have a plan, but pick up a video camera and start recording.  This is the video that is going to be used at the Evenglow Bible Study on Tuesday to give residents an update on my recovery and to show them the fruits of their labors as they prayed over my mother last Spring!

It is really great to be back in Pontiac and relaxing at home, but I sure did enjoy my time in Pittsfield with family!

Also, I think we'll add another video here.  I asked Edwina Wilber, after church, to comment about what makes Pittsfield so great.  I thought you might enjoy her response:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

O For A Thousand Tongues

(Song of the Week Sundays)

I hope you take a moment to enjoy this version of "O For A Thousand Tongues."  Charles Wesley wrote these words in 1739.  He wrote this song as he reflected on the previous year.  This song was his reflection upon the one year anniversary of his conversion to Christ.  In 1828 the great American Composer Lowell Mason  wrote a new tune and, as you can hear in this recording, it is a song that has continued to be revisited by talented musicians.

It is a song that speaks to both the human condition in a very real way and also speaks of the boundless response of God acting upon us.  Written by a man who was responding to very recent changes in his life and faith, one can feel the passion come through this song.  To me, maybe I'm weird, it seems that this song is more than just a sum of its parts.  There is a Spirit that is active behind the words, the tune, and the arrangement.  There is an X-factor in this hymn and, I think, that is the reason it has captured the imaginations of so many talented musicians over the centuries.

I hope that you will enjoy this version by the David Crowder Band and I hope that this song will bring inspiration to your week!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Up-close and Sort of Personal: the Pathologist's Report

View of a Pilocytic Astrocytoma

The past few weeks, Scott has been doing a great deal of blogging but I have been sort of MIA. I’ve felt like I was so busy running from one task to the other that when I sat down; well, I just wanted to sit. This morning I realized that my blogging was not the only thing over due, we had also failed to share with many of you about Scott’s doctor’s appointment Tuesday at which we got the results from the pathologists examination of Scott’s tumor. Now, Scott is convinced that blogging should be relational and emotive in content rather than informational, so I’m giving all of you the warning that this blog is most likely going to be more informational in content as I want to explain to you how the visit went and what the doctor said, answering as many questions as I can along the way. Later, when I have some more time perhaps I’ll share something more relational with you all ;)

Anyway, as I said, Tuesday Scott and I went to meet with Dr. Dacey to get his staples out and for a follow up. Dacey was very pleased with how well Scott was doing (of which I had no doubt); he did his whole battery of fancy neurological tests: walking in a straight line, running your foot from your knee to your ankle, touching your finger to your nose and then the doctors finger, standing with you eyes closed ect. Scott passed them all, and Dr. Dacey declared that he saw no neurological effects from the surgery, which means that his brain seems to be working just like it should be.

Dacey then went over the reports from the pathologist. The short story is that he thinks that Scott had a benign Pilocytic astrocytoma and that he needs to get MRIs in the future but nothing else. We are very happy, that is good news.

 If however, you want to know more about what that all means, here is the long story:

When we first met with Dr. Dacey a couple of months ago, he said that he thought that this was most likely a slow growing glioma. A glioma is any tumor that grows from the glial cells, which are one of the types of cells in the brain. Glial cells make up the non-neurological parts of the brain. That is, they do not transmit information but give structure and support to the brain so that it can do everything that the brain does. For more on gliomas. Now, where it gets kind of confusing is that there are  many different types of gliomas.  It’s like the soup aisle at the grocery store.  If I just asked Scott to go pick up some ‘soup,’ who knows what I’d get back from County Market! Just as we know what kind of soup we're eating because of what we find in the soup, so too do doctors categorize tumors based on what makes up the tumor (ie. the types of cell, structure and how quickly it seems to be growing).

After they removed Scott’s tumor, they sent it to the pathologist, a type of doctor who cuts up the tumor, and studies it under a microscope. The pathologist concluded that the tumor is what is called an Astrocytoma, a type of glioma. (Of course there are many different kinds of astrocytomas just as there are different kinds of chicken soup.) So we will continue to get more specific as we progress-o. These are the tumors that grow along a type of glial cell called astrocytes. Astrocytes got their name because they look like stars. They are most commonly found in the cerebellum (the area of the brain where Scott’s tumor was and in the spinal cord). Astrocytes support, or keep alive cells that line blood vessels in the brain). Though there are many different kinds of astocytomas, the good news is they do not typically spread out side of the brain, meaning they don’t usually metastasis causing tumors in other organs. For more on astrocytomas.

An Astrocyte

Dr. Dacey and the pathologist think that Scott’s tumor was what they call a Pilocytic astrocytoma. For more on pilocytic astrocytomas.  This is one of the slowest growing of the astrocytomas, which means that of all the different kinds of brain tumors Scott could have had, this is one of the better ones. (We lucked out). These are usually considered benign (non-cancerous). The biggest concern with these is that they can become large, causing damage and problems. We were lucky because we found this before it caused symptoms and real damage. It was small, remember we found this accidentally. Because of all of this, and because of Scott’s age, Dr. Dacey is of the mindset that there is nothing more we need to do; he does not think that Scott needs any radiation or anything of that sort.

Now, when the pathologist was looking at Scott’s tumor, it looked a little different than most pilocytic astrocytomas. There is a kind of fiber they normally find in these tumors called Rosenthal fibers, and his tumor did not have many of them. Now of course when they classify tumors, this is not always as much an exact science as we like to think, just as sometimes its hard to tell the difference between chicken noodle soup and chicken and dumpling soup (one can morph into the other as its noodles become bigger). Dr. Dacey did not seem concerned about this, but he did say that he would present this to his tumor board. So, he will take all of these findings and discuss them with all the other doctors in his department to make sure that they are all in agreement. This means, that rather than getting a second opinion, we will get 10 opinions all working together. When we have our next appointment with Dr. Dacey he will tell us how this discussion went. Scott will also have another MRI in 6 months and then most likely every year after. This is all very good news for us.

A Great New Day.

Dr. Dacey- am I cleared for such heavy lifting???
So it was a really great day.  We had lunch with some friends downtown in St. Louis, but by the time I got back to the berry's I had hit a wall and-when I sat down for just a second...I was asleep for 4 hours.  Apparently I needed it badly.

How'd I get her confused
with Charlie?
Carrie's cousin brought her little girl, Amelia, over.  Amelia came in and tried to wake me up and say hello and apparently I just kept say, "Stop it, Charlie.  Go away, Charlie!"  Too funny.  The bad news, is that the recliner is semi-broken and falls way back when you sit in it, so I slept those 4 hours with my legs over my head and I was kind of a mess when I woke up.

I mean- it's all good.  I'm on heavy narcotics for my pain, so I can't drive anyway.  Carrie did all the driving to Pittsfield tonight and once I had my meds and got to moving around with my cane...  well, I did fine.

Alright, so as usual, it is the middle of the night and I can't sleep.  I don't know what is wrong with me.  It isn't the pain.  My meds are on schedule.  I think that it is just very tough, right now, for me to turn-off my brain -even when it is exhausted.  I guess during this past week I've just pushed through until I crash and that is what gave me the sleep I needed.  Tonight.  I'm taking a long hot bath, reading a little and I'm going to go back and try this 'sleep' thing again.  It's going to work.

Oh- there is a connective cute-factor.

I guess all these sleepless nights could have SOMETHING to do with the fact I'm taking naps all throughout the day whenever I get tired and then sitting up half-the-night with no sleep.  Well, for now, blessings and goodnight!  I'm determined to sleep soon!

PS:  Keep your eyes peeled.  Carrie has a blog posting on its way first thing tomorrow.  I mean- by "first thing," I mean to say:  Whenever we finally bother to wake up, have coffee and breakfast and eventually find the energy to do something productive.  Lately, we've not been very productive before 10 am!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Settling Accounts

My journey to where I am today began way back last summer.  My mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma which is a tumor of the ear that had grown into her brain (example, left).  She underwent brain surgery last May and Drs. Benecke and Polinsky did wonderfully.  The problem is that I was experiencing symptoms like hers.  My wife and I became concerned and I finally went to see a doctor.  I shuffled from one specialist to another until an MRI was scheduled.  On December 2 at about 8 am I met with Dr. Kelly (a Ear, Nose, Throat Surgeon) who looked at my MRI and said, "it's all clear."

Well, we went on with our day.  We had plans to meet my parents in Peoria for a  Transiberian Orchestra Concert and by 3:45 pm we were arriving to pick them up for our fated evening.  Unfortunately as we neared the parking lot to meet my parents I received a call from Dr. Kelly's office.  On the other end of the phone a stalled voice instructed me, "Could you please hold for Dr. Kelly?"

Dr. Thomas Kelly was calling me to explain that after reviewing the full MRI (not just the ear canals) and the full radiologists' report, it was obvious that I had a mass in my cerebellum and needed to meet with a Neurologist at my soonest convenience.

Unfortunately it was 4pm on a Friday afternoon, so you can imagine that WebMD, Wikipedia, and our imaginations wrecked havoc upon us for the remainder of that weekend.  Over dinner, after the concert and a lovely night with my parents we shared with them what little we knew and, now, the rest is -as they say- history.

Over those next weeks of December we continued to meet with my primary care doctor, neurologists, neuro-surgeons, and other specialists and began to better understand what exactly we were facing (well, we didn't know what we were facing, but they were able to help us assemble a roadmap and plan the battle).
Now, we worked with an array of phenomenal doctors and staffs.  I don't know that I could pick a favorite or a best:  for one thing, they all have their own areas of expertise...  but I want to take a moment to testify about Dr. Fang Li of McClean County Neurology.  She was quick to bring us opinions beyond her own, she was clear and direct, she spoke to us as adults and educated us along the way....and she was never afraid to say, "I don't know, but I'll find someone who does."  If you live in Central Illinois and need to spend some time with a neurologist, I highly suggest that you try to get in with Dr. Fang Li.
The only negative experiences we really had were indirectly related to our insurance.   The United Methodist Church provides us with excellent insurance and when we would call the insurance company we never had any direct problems, but every doctor and nurse we spoke with would say things like, "Insurance won't cover that," or "your insurance won't let you go there," or "insurance can't approve what you're asking."  It turned out that these were all falsehoods for us, but we realized that there is a very real reason that doctors would say these things:  these statements are far too often true.

These last few weeks have made us feel exceptionally fortunate for our insurance, our jobs and our supportive churches; but these last few weeks have opened up our eyes to the deep trouble our society has surrounding healthcare and the way patients are treated in the midst of troubles.

Enough of that.  I don't want to get all negative and cynical, especially in regards to something I can do little-to-nothing about, right now.

As Ray Owens left on vacation for a few weeks and I was trying to 'hold down the fort' for a few weeks at the Pontiac Church I finally got the call from Barnes-Jewish Hospital that it was time to come down for a consultation.

On January 19 I met Dr. Dacey who is Chairperson of Neurological Surgery and Co-Chair of the Department of Neurology and Neurological Surgery for the Washington University School of Medicine.  He is, incidently (not to ruin the end of the story, I hope), the man who would eventually (and successfully) remove that tumor from my cerebellum.

One more important thing for you all to understand about my relationship with Dr. Dacey.  It failed.  I had the goal of making this very serious and buttoned-down neuro-god laugh.  I was just sure that I could do it.  I made jokes about "diddling interns in closets" (Grey's anatomy) and my sister-in-law even asked if he had to wear a diaper during surgery, since it was a 10 hour procedure....but through it all, through each attempt, Dr. Dacey held firm and remained stoic and professional.

By the way, if that was the choice to make: between stoic and professional or jovial and silly.  Well, I'm happy that I got the right guy!

 One of the most exciting things which we learned from Dr. Dacey about this surgery (at least, the most exciting for a technophile like me) was that they would be using the latest in technology.  (Carrie, my wife, likes to tell people that Dr. Dacey and his team just put it on autopilot and didn't do anything else...but we know that isn't true, don't we, Dr. Dacey!?!)

First of all, On Sunday, February 5 Barnes-Jewish did a special MRI of my head using -what Carrie and I have termed "cyborg lifesavers."  The nurse had told us that we could have a nice dinner the night before the surgery so we made plans for Sunday night at a Bob & June's fancy country club (Sunset at Gravois & 270).  So it was a surprise when we went in for the MRI Sunday afternoon (before dinner)... they started shaving parts of my head.  Then they went on to tell me to be careful because my "cyborg lifesavers" must remain in place until the end of my surgery the next day.

Needless to say, there were a lot of strange looks that night as people walked past us at Sunset Country Club...  Well, the lifesavers stayed on.  We enjoyed a great dinner with my in-laws, my parents, my wife, sister-in-law and sister!  I looked like hell, but I enjoyed myself.  Oh- and I didn't care what other people thought about my alien-like appearance.

I don't remember much about the surgery on Monday.  Mostly that is because I was unconscious, but also, no one has really told me much about what happened.  I know what was supposed to happen:

That special MRI which mapped my head got loaded into the computer / microscopes and then Dr. Dacey and his team could see what they were doing inside of my head with their fancy probes and tools.  Pretty cool, huh?  The surgery seemed to go pretty well and it might have even gotten finished in the 4-6 hours they had estimated, except that it turned out their machines worked perfectly and there was a little more to done, in the end.

Barnes-Jewish has this really cool new MRI right in the neuro-operating room called an Intraoperative MRI.  While I am still 'knocked out' and on the table.  You know, while it is still (relatively) easy for them to go back in and do more work on me, they run an MRI right in the operating room.  With those funky cyborg spots all over me and with all of their computer technology they can see if there is anything they missed, if there are any other spots, if there is any unexpected bleeding, swelling, etc.  How cool, right?

Turns out there was some tissue that they hadn't gotten the first time around, so they went back in and continued the surgery in order to make sure that they got all of the tumor.

I have to tell you all, from the first doctor's visit I had last summer, to this fancy equipment, to the expertise of my neuro-surgeon- I feel blessed -and not just a little bit lucky.

My primary doctor might have fooled around for two years.  The doctors might have put off the MRI, or I might have ended up at a hospital where they don't have the intraoperative MRI technology yet (and could have left part of the tumor).  I mean, when one thinks of all the variables.  When one imagines all of the possibilities:  it is staggering.

After 10 hours face down on a table my face was swollen.  After having my skull pinned into a halo device, I was sore and had bumps all over my head.  After such a long surgery and with staples running down my head and spine...I was incredibly sore and tired.  But do you know what?  I am blessed beyond belief.  There is absolutely no question about it.  Through all I have endured these last few weeks, I know that I am a man of many blessings.  I have a family who has stood by me;  I have churches and pastors who sat with my friends and family, who sent me greetings, love and prayers; and I have in-laws who have graciously opened up their house, not just to me, but to a Shriner patient and her families over these past months to ensure that all in need would be cared for.

Sometimes we need to settle accounts.  You know, put things in place: make sure our debts are paid, our actions have come together:  We have to make sure that our checking account balances out.  I wanted to give an "full update" from this past week, but I realized that with a week like this one, a summary of "goings-ons" just doesn't do justice to the past days.

If you've been watching  my videos, well, then you know there are countless people to thank and far too many "accounts to settle for this blog entry to ever end.  I won't even try.

I do want to make a couple of special thank yous for some people who provided special support to me and my family over these past weeks.  First of all, Rev. John McIntosh has been not just a pastor to me and my family, but is now a friend and clergy-colleague to my wife and I.  He was selflessly willing to take time away from a very important Clergy Covenant Session in order to sit with my family the day of my surgery and provide pastoral support and friendship to my family in one of our greatest moments of need.  Rev. Stephanie Lendt is one of the pastors at Bob and June's (my in-laws) church and, she too, made herself available throughout the day in order to provide support to the Berry family as they waited through that very tough day.

Now there are many other friends, colleagues, and family who stopped in, including my District Superintedent, Leah Pogemiller; directing pastor, Rev. Dr. Ray Owens and his wife; and Greg Weeks the Sr. Pastor of Manchester UMC.  There were many people who came by during those next few days, but there was one group who really went above and beyond and I must name them especially.  Upon hearing of my ordeal and finding out that I was at Barnes-Jewish in Saint Louis, Rev. Ed Hoke, Rev. Dr. Victor Long, and Rev. Jim Barnett rushed from Dallas, TX.  Yes, that is right:  Dallas! to be at my bedside (it is unclear, they may have been on their 'way through,' but let's make sure to make them sound SUPER heroic).  Upon hearing of my compromised state, Ed, Victor and Jim jumped into the car and sped through the South until they landed at my door.  Ladies and Gentlemen:  That is love, that is friendship.  (That is also probably a load of crap, but I'll leave that for you to investigate)

I was high on narcotics at the time, but this is what Ed, Jim & Victor
looked like when they showed up at Barnes Jewish!

This has been a crazy few weeks and I'm sure you are wondering if I'll soon be done rambling about it.  In part, that's why I'm trying to get this all out of the way with one massive "update," but you also need to understand that these past weeks have had such an impact: positive in many ways, that you are still sure to hear much more about my weeks of sickness and God's triumph in my renewed health.  On the one hand:  I'm sorry and I hope I don't wear you out.  On the other hand:  sit down, shut up and read about my experience.  I had a brain tumor so I get to be verbose!

For now, goodnight.  I've eaten the last of the Oreo cookies and the milk is nearly depleted (Bob, I know how you like it when just one thing is left in a package, so I left the very last oreo cookie just for you).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Can't Do Anything!

Lately there have been some things I just can't do on my own.  Has anyone else felt this way recently?  For me the frustrations began on Saturday, February fourth.  I wanted to do something special for Carrie before her terrible week of taking care of me would begin.  I suddenly realized that on February 14, while I recovered from surgery would be Valentine's Day.  What was I to do?  I mean,  I couldn't be sure of whether I would be alive or dead, able to make plans for my dear wife or be struggling for consciousness.  I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but I was unsure of what my condition or quality-of-life would be.

I wanted to do something special for my wife, but I was faced with the reality that I could not actually wait any longer to make plans.  If I didn't order some flowers and set some plans in motion, I could run out of time!

I was very fortunate to be with Carrie for her to see these on Valentines!!!
As a young man I seldom feel as though I will run out of time.  I seldom feel as though I might miss getting something finished.  Sometimes that means that I wait until the last minute to setup worship or plan a Bible Study.  Sometimes that means that I don't often enough tell my wife or  family how I feel about them.  Oh, and more recently, it means that I get up at ungodly hours to eat sugar-sweetened cereal (every since getting to my in-laws) ...because there will always be tomorrow to exercise.

Isn't that a shame?  I especially recognize the shame in such behavior this week.  I finally found a week when my health concerns forced me to face my mortality and the precariousness of life.  I suspect that others of you have felt these feelings sometimes, am I wrong?  Don't we all feel a little helpless (maybe hapless) from time-to-time?

One reality that really slapped me in the face, once I was out of the hospital this week, was the fact that I could not drive.   I'm young!  I never imagined for a moment what it would mean for me to have my driving privilege taken away from me.  Well, stop the presses, let's be really clear:  I never really thought of of driving as a privilege!  Driving seemed to be a right for someone in my age and in my condition!  I have always just assumed that I could drive.

During my hospital stay it was a non-issue, of course.  Except in a wheelchair:  No one drives in the hospital!  That would be silly.  No problem!  But when I got my official discharge all my friends and family were away from the hospital at the moment.  Still, no big deal.  I had plenty to do and I began setting myself to work trying to gather up the many small items which had exploded into my room.  My father-in-law and wife were on the way and all would be fine.  I just had to be patient.  Patience, though, really isn't my strongest suit.  I made it it home just fine, of course...except that wasn't the end of the story.  From the moment of my surgery right up until the moment I am writing this very journal entry...I have been on very powerful narcotics to control pain.  That means no driving.  --It means, actually, that there is a lot of very unsteady walking, too.  My mobility has been severely limited and I find myself frustrated and continually impatient.

Not only did I find myself with strict orders to not do any driving, but I was under instructions to not shower, not get my head wet (that meant no shampoong my hair:  gross!), and, perhaps most stressful:  I was under orders to use a walker or wheelchair.  Have any of you found yourself losing your freedoms like this?  It was terribly disenheartening and this all left me feeling a bit silly and vulnerable.  Of course, once we start learning our limits we begin to get used to it, right?

By day number two of all this:  I was very comfortable with the fact that any strolls down the hallway would be with a walker.  In fact, it brought me some comfort, in a way.  I felt some security in knowing that I had something to hold onto.  But even in the midst of comfort and security, we can have setbacks, right?  The next day, without the Physical Therapist, but with my wife and parents nearby, I decided to take short walk with my walker  (having notified my nurse, of course).  The day before my walk had gone very well and I went at least two thirds of the way down the hall with supervision, but on this day:  with my parents arguing behind me, my wife not in my line of sight and with commotion all around me (patients, nurses, doctors and others walking quickly past), I suddenly felt as though I was going to pass out.  I'm not sure if I exclaimed it verbally or just thought it, but all that I knew was that I was about to go down -and embarrassingly, I had not even gone half the distance of the day before! I'm passing out! What a strange, terrible and helpless feeling.  I felt like a failure, but my wife shouted and my father ran for a chair.  I can't be sure of how it all happened, but somehow my body was managed into a wheelchair and my wife gave me the safety of her arms as she helped me to feel safe and secure once again.  Oh- and just as importantly, she bouyed me up emotionally, reminding me of what I had accomplished and not letting me dwell on my failures.

Don't we all have moments when we realize we have gotten in over our heads and we worry that we can't succeed on our own?  Today, as I ponder all of the freedoms I have temporarily lost and the strangeness that has become an every-day part of my life, of late:  Today I cannot help but recognize all that I have gained, as well.  It maybe frustrating to ask my mother-in-law for a simple ride to the store.  It may seem lonely to sleep across the room from my wife...and it may drive my wife and mother-in-law mad that they are now scheduling their days around medicine pick-ups, Scott's silly errands, physical therapy, and home nursing visits.

Yet, as God is my witness: I shall do my my best to not take the help of others' for granted in the future; I shall try to be more ready to ask for help  (I strained myself moving a chair by myself, tonight, instead of asking for help); and I, most assuredly, will strive to be more compassionate and available to providing support and assistance to others where I see them struggle.

I won't lie:  This has been a difficult few days, but it has also been days of patience and learning for both my wife and I!  Would you join me on this journey as we support on another, grow in community and call upon God to strengthen us, even on those difficult days?

Thank you for your continued love and support (and patience!)


What Nice Cards You've Sent!

You should be able to click on this collage and see
the cards close-up!

When one has received so many great notes, what does one do? I guess I could wait and hide them away in my office so that the 2-3 people who might stop in ...might see a few!  Well, I keep harping on about how important it is to show our love and appreciation for those around us.  I've decided to stat here with this card collage. Hope u enjoy> These are just th3 first few cards i've received since being in Saint louis.  i you don''t see your patient!  It turns out i only have part of my brain left and it takes me a while to get things done ;-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Showing Love

FIRST:  Isn't it funny how our minds and bodies will just take over and give us what we need -even if we don't know what it is at the time??? The last few days I've been videoing and blogging to share with you all about my new medicine patterns and sleeplessness.  That's old news, of course.  I realized something, though, this morning.  Like so many other 2 ams this week I found myself stirring.  I wobbled  to the bathroom and then went in search of my laptop.  (By the way: it is really hard to stay upright when you are missing part of your brain AND are on heavy narcotics, not going to lie about that.)

Well, there is my wife asleep in the bed and I don't want to wake her (such a light sleeper compared to me), so I head to the kitchen.

Here it is almost 3 am and I suddenly realize that I'm at home.  I don't mean that I feel at home or that my in-laws have just made me feel falsely welcome.  Nope!  I mean, I feel at home enought that I started my morning routine.  I went to the pantry and poured some Cinnamon Toast Crunch  (Yes, I'm aware of what a diet-poor decision that is.  I don't care, btw, at 4 or 5am.  If it isn't light out, the sugar and calories won't count.

I've really been blessed to be staying in a place where such hospitality is shown.  It is great to be in a place where my in-laws tell me how they feel about my attitude, life, or behavior so that I can be the best person possible.

Tonight was one of those moments.  Earlier tonight I showed my mother-in-law, June, this new project I've bee doing.  She said, "Oh, gee, Scott, I see how you're trying to make people feel appreciated, but this  could make people feel bad.  What about those people who have meant to send a card and forgot or couldn't.

As I've scanned these cards into the computer, I've let those words tumble around my head.  She may be right, yet there are some other thoughts tumbling around my head, lately.  Over the past few months have been preaching and teaching about how we need to truly show our love.  I've said it over-and-over:  We need to write a card, make a phone call, and we need to visit one another.  If we are to be a community of Christ we need to be disciplined in showing our love to those around us.

I guess I could shove all these cards into an old shoe box as a selfish reminder one-day of some nice things that people once said to me...but I think the calling of pastor is higher than that.  I've been asking people to reach out in relationship and develop deeper connections with one-another, God and the world.  I want to lift up the thoughtful gestures that have been shared with me as an example.

These aren't just names on a paper.  This isn't just a list of prayers in a bulletin.  It's not just a signature on a nice picture.  Nope.  These are thoughts and love, poured out for others.  Whether it is a time of "Sharing the Love of Christ" on Sunday morning during worship; whether it is a phone call to a loved one on Saturday afternoon; whether it is stopping in for lunch at Evenglow or delivering meals-on-wheels...  Whatever ministries fill our week, let them be visible signs of how much we care for others.  We can't just look at someone's nametag and think that we know them.  We must look more closely at them and find deeper connections with them.  Tonight I show you just a few of the many expressions of love that I have received over the past few weeks.  (These are just a few from this week while I've been in St Louis, I'm not sure I'll ever get them all up)  This isn't meant as an exercise in vanity or a way to show off.  And I hope that no one feels bad if their card isn't yet visible on this virtual card wall.  This is meant as a way to remind us that small expressions of love really do matter in this world.  Small expressions of love are what keep us going, smiling, and loving.

Take a look at some of the nice notes I've received.  Then----  don't send me yet another.  Turn around, grab a piece of blank paper, and start writing a note to someone in your life who might just need a kind word.

Lastly, I ask a favor.  I have tried to "redact" any personal or confidential notes that might embarrass or bother anyone.  If I have inadvertently left something in, or if you wish your note to be removed, please let me know ASAP and I'll take it down!!!  The last thing I wish to do is cause trouble or discomfort for you!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oh, The Things I have Learned

Don't laugh at me:  Those aren't my feet.

Over the past few days I've had many "firsts."  I mean- we'll start with the obvious (and redundant):  brain surgery, but that's only the beginning -and in a way- the smallest of the "firsts."

One of the weirdest moments came when my wife started hounding me about changing out of my hospital gown and started pressing me to wear "real clothes."  Not just real clothes...  she was real bothered that my clothes didn't match (and let's face it:  they were gross, smelly and dirty, even I knew that!!!!)  I had a quick and easy solution (well, at least, in my head) to solve all problems at once!  I suggested that I change into a black pair of comfy sweats that I had brought from home and that my blue sweats could go into the laundry.  Heck, I even suggested that she put my comfortable (yet well-worn) robe in the laundry too!!!

NO!  That would not do,  My robe was plaid with maroon and had navy blue in them, my gown was white with light blues and greens (and don't forget that she thought the hospital gown was terribly ugly, anyway).  Oh, but the most appalling problem (and this was nowhere near this boy's radar screen:  My sweatpants which I had suggested from home were BLACK.  OH MY GOODNESS!  How could I make such a faux pax???

Our impasse was simple, of course, even if I still don't truly understand:  I cared only for comfort (I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who feels this way in these times) but my wife could not imagine -even for a moment- that comfort would be possible without feeling "put together."

Okay, and a little more honesty from me: I probably haven't learned all that much.  I'm still sitting here in mix-matched clothes, feeling very comfortable, but far from pretty.  (Come on, folks, pretty is why I have Carrie.  She is beautiful enough for the two of us together, right???

Okay, this aside, I have learned much over the past week or so.  I've learned to take my time.  After a surgery you can't just put on a shirt.  How crazy is that?  An occupational therapist had to teach me to put on my own shirt again.  Oh Lord!  Putting on socks or pulling on pants -especially when you can't bend over- makes everything a new learning experience.  Everything takes more time and everything takes one step-at-a-time!

One thing that will take a lot of time will be my relationship with my wife.  Don't misunderstand me!  She has stood by me and patiently helped me moment-after-moment and time-after-time.  it isn't easy for her or for me, by the way!  At times I get frustrated when she needs to go off and do things for herself -and there have been times when I get really sensitive and crabby with her and tell her to just stop moving and fussing.  Sometimes I need her just to sit and let me try something on my own.

It can be a real pain.  I can see how couples can so easily disintegrate after a family trauma, because learning to communicate again can be difficult -and, often, I'm sure- unbearably slow.

I won't pretend this has been easy.  Nope.  Not at all.  But we have learned a few things along the way:

  1. If you know a surgery or trouble is headed your way, find a nice gesture to make, like planning flowers or candy or a gift that will come in the midst of the trouble, especially if you are the one who will be cared for!
  2. When you are feeling frustrated or angry...don't hold it in and let it fester.  Talk to one another about your very real feelings.  In the car today, Carrie broke my heart when she asked, "do you still like to be around me?"  She told me, "It sometimes feels like you don't, lately.  It sometimes feels like I do everything wrong"  Oh my!  How bad did I feel!?!  She didn't have to say that, but keeping it inside would not have given us a chance to share with one another and set our love straight!
  3. Spend time together.  During this past week or two I keep handing Carrie piles of papers and forms and medical stuff that I am just overwhelmed with.  Sure, she has taken care of it and been great...but I keep dumping on her. That isn't how couples make it through.  We have talked about when we each do our best work (morning for her, night for me) and we're developing a system so that we don't dump on each other.  This evening I brought in a piece of cake and poured two glasses of milk and then we sat together (had a bite of cake) and enjoyed some milk.  It was a simple thing, but it fit our day.  It gave us some respite and solace in the midst of madness and recovery.  Not only that, but then I was able to (at my 2 am med time) sit down and write thank-yous and notes without feeling as though I'd spent my evening alone.
Oh- I don't know if any of this is helpful.  Maybe none of it applies to you, my friends...  but I suggest that in the midst of trouble and turmoil we can all learn something from my occupational therapist.  Let's start putting our socks on carefully -one foot at a time; let's start putting our shirt on head first and one-arm-at-a-time so we don't rip a stitch....  and let's carefully rebuild our relationships (one step at a time), so that we don't lose the people most important to us.

My wife is the person who holds my world together right now.  I do not have the luxury of forgetting that, nor does she, I suspect.

Well, my 6 am medicaiton will be soon approaching.  Time for me to head back to bed, get a sip of water, and turn off my laptop so that my beautiful wife can fall back asleep from where she lays comfortably in the bed across the room  (As an aside:  A recliner is a poor excuse for a bed, Lord help me back to a real bed, real soon!!!


PS:  Carrie made me stop publishing these without her input, because my brain and fingers aren't always working together yet.  I needed an editor.  So, note, I wrote this in the middle of the night, but my wife has been sweet and helped me this morning so that it would be read-able!!!  Is't she great!?!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Wife is Sometimes Right, but don't tell her so!

Alright, sometimes I'm willing to admit when my wife is right and I'm not.  This maybe one of those cases.  Carrie says I've been doing too much blogging.  She may be right, but I have a lot on my mind (less in my head, technically, but more on my mind), so you may have to put up with me a while longer.

Today I've been thinking about my luck this week.  Not just luck, though.  I've been thinking about my blessings.  I've slowly been learning about what happened during my surgery and in the time after (which with the anesthesia, I don't remember, either).

A surgery that was only supposed to last 4-6 hours went for almost 10.  During that time I had family sitting together, surrounding one another and showing love for me that I didn't even know about in the moment.  My mother, father, and sister never once left the hospital, only taking short breaks to the cafeteria.  Since my wife has so many St. Louis friends, having been raised there, her friends and family came and sat with her, bringing her food and support throughout the day and my loving wife never left the waiting room (according to her, I will get some fact-checking done on this :-)

After a surgery that when more than twice as long as expected, we can expect that they had been thorough. I'm sure they were, but a new state-of-the-art intraoperative MRI was the real blessing, I guess.  While I was still on the operating table, the surgeon did a new scan and found tissue that still needed to be removed and the surgery continued in order to be sure that it was done right the first time.

So far, I'm already amazed at the care and love that has been shown to me, but there is more.  With every wearying visit, with all the amazing notes through twitter, facebook and comments on my blog...and with the letters that have already found their way to my in-laws house...  I see the blessings around me in all kinds of new ways.

It's too bad that we wait for these moments in order to notice our blessings, isn't it?  God fills our lives with continue blessings:  people who care, love being shown, and moments of health and care.  I hope that we will all set aside our cynicism and concerns in life in order to pay more attention to the joys that are right before us.  I hope that we will see the people who surround us in love.  I hope that we will feel healing, even in the midst of pain.  I hope that we can appreciate the small thoughtful things that loved ones do rather than over look them or expect more!

May my week of blessing, shed some light on all of our blessings this week and give us hope and peace for next week!!!


The Day We All Love to Hate (or Hate to Love?)

Carrie looking stunning as she prepared for our wedding on Aug 28, 2010

Carrie had a great time last Saturday, wedding dress shopping with her sister. So much so, that when she got back to her parent's house...she decided to play dress up, herself. She got in her wedding dress -veil and all. Wow. I teased her, but she looked just as beautiful as the day I married her. Maybe more beautiful, actually. She gets all stressed out about some grey hair and worries about her weight, but she is being completely silly, I think most of you will agree. She is beautiful. It's not just on the outside. It isn't just something based on looks. My wife and I have agreed to spend our lives together. Those bachelor themed shows that make fun of marriage as "death" or getting "hitched" or "the old ball and chain" just don't get it. Each day I spend with my wife reminds me of why I married her. We have our fights and difficult moments, but overall we have grown in our love for one another.

Loving one another is not something that happens when we "fall."  And it isn't so magical that it takes away all our troubles.  Do I hear an "Amen?"  No, love is something we have to work on and something that has to be maintained and grown.  One way we do that is on special occasions and with our words (feelings).

As we approach Valentine's Day it is an opportunity to simply share with our loved ones why they matter to us.  For some of us it may be difficult to say the words because circumstances, other relationships, family trouble or time has gotten in the way.  For others of us, we find ourselves in a new relationships where sweet words come easily, perhaps too easily. Valentine's Day should not just be a day of mushy clichés, but thoughtful words of care from the heart.

This year I have much to be thankful for.  I have a wife, parents, sister and in-laws who have surrounded me with love and care.  I can't ever repay them for what they have done.  They wouldn't necessarily want me to...but I can tell them what it meant to me.  I can remind my wife of my love for her and show her that I'm not finished working on that life / love with her.  Who do you have in your life that you need to show some appreciation for?  Who do you have in your life who you might work to grow and strengthen your relationship?

Valentine's Day is a good place to begin.  It's not just a day of romance, it's a day for growing in love with the family and friends around us!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Compelling Care

This is coming from a guy who just paid a guy to cut a hole in his head, so take it for what it's worth. I may not be the most accurate source of information. Yesterday was a wonderful day. Oh, it was filled with pain and a few tears (don't ever think you can't cry), but it was also filled with friends and family.

I think of myself as a pretty independent person. I am usually stubborn enough to think I can get through things on my own, but it turns out that brain surgery is just one example of something I could not get through on my own.

Over the past few days I limited the people who would be with me, wisely, i think, because just my wife, parents and in-laws coming into a room in 2's and 3's was overwhelming at times. Yesterday, though, something happened I suddenly had visitors all throughout the day: Brooke Gulledge (my father's cousin) and her son, Beau; Greg Weeks, the Senior Pastor at Manchester United Methodist Church; my District Superintendent, Leah Pogemiller; and, of course, Rev. Ray and Mrs. Susan Owens.

Each visit wore me out in its own way. Who would have known that lying in bed while people sat in a room could be an exhausting task? I didn't! I thought I could handle it, and, really I did, I guess, but by the time Ray and Susan came late last night I was still, somehow, glad for this last visit. Carrie asked if I wanted her to turn them away because she could tell I was exhausted, but it was Ray and Susan! I so wanted to speak with them.

My wife, Carrie, wheeled me down to a lounge (my roommate was sound asleep and we didn't want to wake him) and down the hall in the lounge we were able to have a lovely conversation with Ray and Susan. When I gave them an occasional word-in-edge-wise: apparently that tumor didn't affect my ability to talk people to death! They told me of the outpouring of prayers, fasting and support that has been widespread across the church. At the 10:45 am worship service I have spoken of "signs of hope" for our church and this is one of them!

How incredible it has been to be surrounded by such prayer and support and I'm very proud of this church and it's response, but I was thinking. (And that usually gets me into trouble...)

As your pastor, my medical condition has been very public, but how many people do we have in our midst who are suffering without feeling as though they have been thoroughly and overwhelmingly surrounded in prayer? Don't worry, though, as your pastor I have some suggestions:  (Would you not except me to give you advice?)
  1. We must talk with one another about concerns that we know of: our own and others of which we are aware. We should never do this in a gossipy or negative way, but ask people who have trouble before them,asking, "Can I share this with a caring community of faith!"
  2. We must be willing to be people of fervent prayer. That prayer list in our bulletin is not just a list of names, but list of people who don't just need a cognitive list of things said about them, but who need to be surrounded emotionally and spiritually.
  3. And, I've said this often before, but we need to actually surround one another.  We need to pick up the phone, we need to stop by, and we need to make sure that we have cared physically for one another.
Over the past few weeks the Pontiac First United Methodist Church has done just this! You have surrounded your pastor in love and support and with emotional and spiritual concern, now I ask: How many have suffered silently during this time? Who else can we raise up in prayer. Will this be just a one time out-reach for a public figure in the church or can we ensure that all who walk into this church feel loved and supported just as through they were the pastor?

I know I am putting a large task before you, but I believe this church is up to it!  I've watched as new friends have walked through the doors of Aflame Worship and been welcomed affectionately and invited to Bible studies and Sunday Schools.  I've watched as other members of the church have been cared for in crisis and new ministries have started for visitation services and grieving.  I have watched as this church has taken the initiative to begin a new "Fruitful Congregations" Initiative.  That means we are leaders in our conference stepping out in faith!  There are signs of hope at this church:  Prayer and compelling care for others will be at the center of our success.  Let us step out in prayer, care and ministry!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Looking Inward.

Yes, this is my MRI from two months ago and that is my tumor.
We still don't have a proper name for it.

In just a few hours (at noon) I will be undergoing a special MRI.  The doctors are going to be placing small sensors all over my head and doing a scan that will let them see what they are doing during the surgery.  If you've ever seen Dr. Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy doing a TV version of brain surgery, I imagine it will be a lot like that: without all the distractions, sex and death.  This MRI will be loaded into their equipment on Monday morning and they will be able to see what they are doing inside of my head.

What we were not aware of, until Friday, is that these sensors are kind of like green lifesavers.  That's not the good part.  Wait for it.  They stick them on my head before the MRI at noon on Sunday and I have to keep them on until (and throughout) the surgery.  Okay, I know that in the grand scheme of things that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but we planned a big dinner out with some of our family Sunday night.  You know, a last nice meal before the surgery.  Now it appears I'll be going to a nice restaurant in Saint Louis looking like some sort of Star Trek alien.

Well, at least I won't actually see anyone that I know.  That's the upside.  Oh- and it's the Super Bowl, so we're likely to be alone in the restaurant, so no one may see me anyway!

On a related note I learned something else recently.  One of my mother-in-law, June Berry's, friends had a brain surgery and had a stressful experience as she was coming out of anesthesia. As she woke up she found that she was being put into an MRI.  You can imagine that it was all very disorienting for her!  It was a very stressful experience and June's friend wanted me to be warned about it, especially because it was a similar surgery with my same surgeon at the same hospital.  I have good news.  Well, they do it differently now.  This is the cool part:  They now have an MRI right in the operating room so when they are finished with the surgery and I'm still on the operating table (and still knocked out) they will do an MRI right there and then to make sure there is no swelling, bleeding, and to make sure that no part of the tumor remains.

Isn't it remarkable that we live in an age where my surgeon can scan my brain and see what he is doing as he operates?  Isn't it remarkable that we live in a time when we can have MRI's, which were on their own so rare even just two decades ago, right in the operating room?

Anyway, I just wanted to share a quick update. I hope that this note finds my friends and family doing well and I will be praying for all of you!  May God's blessings be evident o you all on this Sunday morning!

I am especially praying for those of you at First United Methodist Church Pontiac who are working through the Fruitful Congregations material in my absence.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to be upon you all in this discernment process, to show you a way forward, and to build up your passion and excitement for ministry in our church, community and the world!!!

Blessings & Peace!


Weighing In.

Some of you know that Carrie and I joined Weight Watchers last November.  A lot of people seemed confused about it.  They asked why I would need to diet...well, I was overweight!  Yup, my poor eating habits and lack of exercising were slowly but surely catching up to me in a big way and I wanted to make a change.  Okay, I should be honest: my wife wanted to make a change for herself and she insisted that I do the program with her.  Either way, it was the best decision of my life.  With diet and exercise I have hit the middle of my "healthy weight" range, my doctors are happy, and I feel great.  This isn't just an issue of vanity.  My growing body and bad cholesterol numbers were a symptom of a mistreated body.

This didn't happen suddenly.  I gained the weight slowly, over time, and when something (like weight change) happens slowly we don't realize how bad it is getting.  The other thing with being overweight is that we live in America and it is mirrored by many people around us.  In fact, we were less-overweight than many of the people around us.  When we are surrounded by a problem, like obesity, it is easy to feel a false sense of security.  It is easy to feel as though this is "the norm" and so it is okay.

I say all of this, not as a guilt trip.  Lord knows I, of all people, can't fault anyone for craving pie and over-eating.  I have done plenty of that!  No, I bring this up because my recent experience with weight loss helped me to realize that I had ignored a problem (my weight) because it was all around me (in Wisconsin, at seminary, and now in Pontiac) and it happened slowly over time (I used to be a skinny high school kid, you know).  Eating the way I ate and saying that I was 'too busy' to exercise was normative and, yet, I should have been appalled.  I bring this story to you, because it seems to be me that our weight and health are not the only problems that are like this for us.

I think about first about poverty.  It isn't an easy issue to tackle and lack-of-money, like being overweight, is a symptom of so many underlying causes.  It is ever-present and seems to be an overwhelming issue to tackle.

I think about racism in early America.  People looked at slaves, and, later, freed black people, and because the oppression had grown steadily and because it was so prevalent, it seemed like it was and should be the normal order of things.

I think about civil rights that began to find footing during the middle part of this past century.  Of course, it broke forth suddenly in the sixties, but since then we have struggled as a nation with our racism.  What we fail to see, far too often, is that the racism exists still today, in fact, especially today: Because racism is passed from generation to generation, it is often less overt, and because it is deeply cultural, it is easy to pretend it doesn't exist anymore when we really should be horrified by it.

I think about genocides that have occurred in places like Rwanda.  It seemed so distant and Americans tended, at the time, to ignore the horrendous crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated because it was so far away, it was happening to "other" people, and, when it was finally shown in the media, it was made "tv-friendly."  We should have been appalled, but somehow we have an idea that for people in other countries "these things happen."  It seems normative when we should be disgusted...and appalled!!!

How is it that we allow problems like this to be "normal?"   How is it that we allow ourselves to become used to obesity, racism, poverty, or murder?  How is it that we so often set aside what we know is the right thing to do, and instead, do the comfortable thing.  Why do we allow ourselves to become comfortable with destructive behaviors when we should. instead, be appalled?  Why is it that we would ignore a problem when we should begin re-educating ourselves and our community?

My weight crept up on me.  I ignored the signs of unhealthiness and, even after a stern talk from my doctor, I ignored the problem.  It wasn't until I had a supportive wife who pushed me and who insisted that I learn and grow (shrink, actually :-) that I began to be appalled by the things I had been eating.  If I eat too much grease, now, I feel sick to my stomach- and when I see people standing in lines at walmart with carts filled to the brim with junk food I recoil, even though that was recently me.  Why?  Because I looked at the problem through a new lens, I allowed myself to "get outside" of where I had recently stood and I began to look at myself with a more objective eye.  I began to realize that whether I was "used to it" or not, it was wrong and bad and hurtful:  Hurtful to myself and hurtful to others.

We have become desensitized to any number of troubles in this world.  We have chosen to think of them as normal or usual when we should be appalled.  This is where church is ultimately important.  We are a community and, just as my wife pressed me until I joined Weight-Watchers, good church people must press one another to look at injustice and oppression in this world, learn to "feel" the problem, educate one another and the community, and find a way to act out and improve the situation.

Most importantly, we must not act in judgement or hate, but in love and grace because that is the kind of God we follow.  We have a God who is ready to accept us and work with us no matter how fat we get, how complacent we become, or even how uncaring.  Our God doesn't, from what I read of the Bible, dwell upon our short-comings, but our God encourages us to grow in love, joy, forgiveness, mercy, and peace.  My wife exemplified that as she encouraged me towards loving and respecting my body.  She regularly helps me grow in acting for justice and showing mercy when she introduces me to any number of concerns in this world (even though I am sometimes reluctant to listen when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my old ways of thinking), and she shows me love and forgiveness any number of times a day when I act like an idiot with her.

We don't have to be spouses to play this role for one another.  I pray that all of us will take a moment to look at ourselves and the people around us with new eyes.  I pray that we will surround one another in community and find do-able steps so that we can act out in faith to re-order this world and grow the people and communities around us so that we will leave this world healthier, happier and more faithful!

blessings and peace,