Monday, January 30, 2012

Here we go again

So this week, Mike is back to the chemo place for treatment. In addition to that, he takes the 6 horse pills for 8 days. He finds that these treatments hit him harder as the number rises. So far, he says it's worth it.

I mentioned that it seemed to me that Good Days/Bad Days are about even. He says that no, the Bad Days are more numerous. But it's not time to give up. There's a kayak that's almost finished. There's the dream of another summer at the lake.

The treatment is Monday. Then, on Friday, we drive back to University Hospital for the 5th ERCP. Quite a week.

Central Indiana is a buzz. Next Sunday, it's SUPERBOWL Sunday in Indianapolis. Our papers and new shows are wall-to-wall stories about what's going on, what's going to go on, and how to the action. This is especially important for all those fans who can't pony up the ticket price but want to 'be close to the action.'

Superbowl Sunday has not been on our calendar. But I realized today that our route to the hospital is the northern boundary of Superbowl Traffic patterns. I'm assuming that the hospital will restrict its parking; otherwise Friday morning will be interesting for us.

Routines help. Scheduled events help. Expected agendas help. But more than anything, our greatest help comes from the Lord. And, dear friends, when you pray for us, you call upon that help. So thanks.

We are surrounded by His protection and by your spiritual care. I know that I get down sometimes, but God is quick to remind me of His presence. And, He needs to prod me a bit because I have such a short memory.

As 2011 began, I laid a specific request (for me) on my Heavenly Father. A really special friend of mine -- funny, bright, attractive, employed -- had had not so much success in our local dating scene. And although she was probably ok with that, I decided that it was time for her to meet a nice young man. Not Mr. Right, necessarily but Mr. Nice Guy. I sealed my request by sharing it with a Christian friend. Soon after, Mike's cancer returned and I forgot about it.

But guess what? She met Mr. Nice Guy. When I heard about it, well, it wasn't who I might have chosen, for no specific reasons. She was enjoying Mr. Nice Guy when he became Mr. Right. Yup. In love. Engaged. Date set. Woooo hooooo.

When I mentioned the engagement to my Christian prayer friend, she reminded me. "That's what we've been praying for, don't you remember??"

Hm. Well, no it had slipped my mind. But God honored my weakly presented case anyway.

I'm so thankful that God included those Bible stories about the forgetful Israelites. I used to think, "Wow. They forgot how God had taken care of them. Wouldn't you think that after watching the Red Sea part, after eating the manna, after drinking from the rock in the desert, they'd remember?"

But, no, about the time they wiped their mouths, they forgot.

I hope I'm not ungrateful but I DO forget. God answers my prayers faithfully and then often sends in one of His saints to 'knock me upside the hay-id' to recall that I had asked Him for this and that.

I don't know if this is the modus for all, but in our case, a terminal diagnosis jerked a knot in the tail, made us turn around, reorder, and come up with what's really important. In our case, we have been able to live with that understanding.

Powerful Truths: The God who made heaven and earth: take your request to Him, the Father. He knows what you need. He will supply all of your needs.

In our circle of praying friends, we join together to pray for a baby who was born with many needs. He's 5 months old now; his parents, grandparents, and friends are traveling with their arms around The Father.

Our sweet sister-in-law, Janelle, received the dire diagnosis in August: glioblastoma. No one wishes for a brain tumor but this one would be last on your shopping list. Initial treatment seemed to have no effect. But Janelle and Ken, along with so many friends, prayed for and continue to pray for healing. At her last report, the doctor told her that the tumor had shrunk 40 % and was less inflamed. Janelle has been able to reduce her steroid medication and concentrates on enjoying life.

At my school, our prayer circle continues to pray for so many with physical needs. God continues to flex His muscles and beat back fear.

Here at our casa, we will continue to live our lives, staying open to God's leading. Mike has been asked to speak to The Kokomo Huddle again. He will be playing with the church band in mid February. I am about to drag yet another group of high school juniors through my favorite book, The Scarlet Letter.

Much joy here. And peace. And hope.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Arming the Knight for Battle

Many of you who read this blog knew my father. If you knew Dad you probably know my mother. They were married for 46 years, which is quite an accomplishment in this day. Now that the evil Lynne and I have passed 38 years of marriage, making us scarred veterans of the marital wars, I sometimes think about how my parent’s marriage worked and compare theirs to mine.

Most long term couples evolve ways to get along with each other and to help the other person with shortcomings or inabilities. (For a lengthy and comprehensive list of my marital inadequacies please feel free to consult the evil Lynne. Make sure you have at least a couple of hours.) This was certainly true in my parent’s marriage. Most of you know that my father was a lawyer and was always impeccably dressed for work. What you probably did not know is that the man never dressed himself even once in his married life.

Dad did not have a clue about how to dress. When it came to colors, patterns and styles of clothing, he was hopeless. He knew it, too, which was good, because my Mom, while not a “clothes horse,” has a very refined sense of fashion and color.

So every night before my parents drifted off to sleep, my mother laid out what my Dad was to wear the next day, down to socks and underwear, as well as his suit, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, tie tack, cuff links, watch and handkerchief. Mom left nothing to chance. All Dad had to do each morning was to take his shower and put on whatever Mom had laid out. This is why he always looked so professional.

Every morning my parents each had roles to play in two long-standing rituals. The first ritual began when Dad was finished with breakfast. He would head to the door to go to work. Mom would say, “Let’s see what you look like.” Dad would stop and wait to be inspected. Mom would walk around him, adjusting his tie or collar, maybe straightening his lapels, or pulling out his cuffs to check the cuff links. When she was satisfied, she would say, “You look good.”

Then their second marital ritual would play out.

Heading toward the door, Dad would say, oftentimes mimicking the voice of a very, very bad Shakespearean actor, “I am going forth to slay the dragon.” This would be followed by Mom's response, “You are my hero. My knight in shining armor.” And out the door he would go.

At 6 o’clock my Dad would come home from work to a formal dinner in the dining room. The table would always be set with crystal, china, linen tablecloth and napkins, and the chandelier would be dimmed or the room lit with gold candelabras. This was a nightly event in their house. Dad would sit at the head of the table with Mom at the other end, us children on the sides. After the prayer, my Mom would inquire, “Owen, did you slay the dragon today?” Dad would respond saying, “I got in a couple of solid hits, but he got away, again.” Mom would follow his response by counseling, “Well, there is always tomorrow. You can slay him then. You are still my hero.” And the dinner would proceed.

I loved writing this piece, because it brought back memories about my parents and my childhood. Their marriage wasn’t perfect. They had their ups and downs, like all marriages do. Somehow they made the decision to stay together because the relationship was worth it.

These two schmaltzy rituals seem quaint and outdated to me. Yet my heart is warmed when I recall them. If nothing else, my Mom dressing my Dad, inspecting him before he walked out the door, and the “slaying the dragon” skit offered some regularity and solidity to the marriage. Good for them. But there is more to it than merely accommodating or adapting to each other. My Mom knew what is maybe the most important thing a wife can know about her husband.

All good wives know that their man, perhaps above all else, wants to be a hero…their hero. I think God wired men that way. Every man wants to be known by those that he values as being courageous and brave, because that is what makes a hero. Courage and bravery. And you know what else? The hero does not always have to win, either. The true hero has but to try his best.

As I was writing this, the evil Lynne reminded me of what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird. She said that true courage was present when you knew you were beat before you started, but you took up the fight anyway, because it was the right thing to do. That is what knights in shining armor do, you know.

Mike out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The New Normal

I just checked a calendar. It's been 35 months since Mike first became ill. It was two months later when we received the realistic diagnosis: that Mike's cancer had spread, that it was incurable and inoperable, and that statistically he faced a quick death.

A long 35 months. We know we are living within the protective dome of so many prayers; we know that God has purposed to keep Mike here, rather than escort him to his "Arts and Crafts cabin by the lake," along the silver sea; we know that God continues to give us gifts tangible and intangible, to help us day to day.

How can we not be joyous, almost 24 hours a day? Well, let me tell you:

Chronic illness supplies its own stresses. Will we have a good day or a bad day? Will Mike have energy and inclination to work on the kayak, go out to lunch, teach his class, attend The Huddle, practice his guitar? Or will he need to rest, sleep, roam around the house in the middle of the night?

On those good days, and there are plenty, Mike acts and talks so much like Old Mike. He might let himself get perturbed by his wife. He will joke. He will call us, "Hurry, come running!" to watch something inane on television. And we can be perturbed back.

Then, it flips. He crashes. He gets blue. Really blue. And he hurts. Hurts a lot. Gets cold. Can't get warm. Needs to sleep. Deep sleep in the afternoon.

There's not always a way to anticipate but we assume that it's connected to the chemo.

This new regime involves a trip to infusion room and then 6 horse pills for 8 days. Then, a week off. Then, back again. When we began, Infusion Day was just the drive out and back. Day Two was a crash day. By Day Three, Old Mike was emerging.

Mike tells me that this treatment's effects are cumulative...they build on each other. So, in our case, his down time is growing. And few things make him more blue than having to lie down and rest for prolonged times. This last week has been particularly difficult.

Me? Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. I want to do what he needs me to do for him. It's not always so clear. I get weary.

It's my own little battle against the Amalekites. In Exodus 17, Moses sent Joshua to lead the Israelites against barbarians in the Promised Land. God's guys were outnumbered but advanced bravely. Moses, up on a hill, raised his arms and as long as those arms were up, Joshua prevailed. When Moses lowered his arms, the Israelites began to fail.

Quite a task for Moses. He grew weary. So, his brother Aaron and a guy named Hur climbed up next to him and held up his arms for him.

Joshua won.

(Exodus 17

8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.

12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

I'm not Moses. Mike's not Joshua. But, we need some strength here, some angelic arm raising.

That's what we'll ask for as we go into a Non-Chemo Week. Hopefully, God will give Mike a strength infusion and give me wisdom to help him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Emerging Kayak in the Basement

Little by little

with some assistance from whomever he can grab

the kayak is coming together.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Requesting Your Prayers Again.

Tomorrow, the hub goes back to the Oncology Department and into that nice, soft, beige lounger. He'll get hooked up and his nurse will administer some targeted poison. Then, he's back on a week of the special pills: 6 a day for 7 days.

These treatments are supposed to buy us time. So far, that's exactly what's happening. Mike's doctor says the therapy continues until he decides to stop. Or when his disease overtakes the benefits.

Right now, Mike's in the living room, playing the blues on his guitar, one of his favorite pastimes. Earlier, I assisted as he glued some sort of support to some sort of piece of wood that should form a side of the kayak. And that's our life on a chilly Sunday night.

What is it about me that I need reminders of God's attention to the details in our lives?

Right now, we continue to live in the glow of a miracle. We have some sort of yen that there's more for Mike to do. From the sidelines, I am witness to how God is using him in the lives of some of his friends, some of his former colleagues, even some of my students who have seen the video of his testimony.

He'll drive himself out to the hospital in the morning and when it's over, he'll drive himself back. Then, there will be a nap. A deep nap.

So, while I enjoy a day off from school, when God brings us to mind, please pray for us on Monday.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Baby, it's cold outside

So that means it's cold out in the workshop. THAT boat is waiting for some warmer weather. Meanwhile, down in the basement,

little by little;
piece by piece;

DREAMS of summer and flying over the surface of the lake......

the kayak is taking shape.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

For Today and ALL of 2012

Matt 6:34

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dancing with the Doctor

Just before the new semester was to begin, we kept a scheduled appointment with Mike’s oncologist.

She had ordered a scan in mid-December; we collectively decided that we’d wait until after the holidays to ‘review the results.’ We’ve followed this protocol before. Unspoken: why risk ruining the celebration? So we put it out of our minds (not really) until today.

How many times have we sat, tense, in the examining room, I on my chair and Mike on the table? How many times have we exchanged banter with the nurse, the nurse who KNOWS but will not say? How many times have we greeted the doctor and then eyed her as she flips through the reports, making notes?

Today was……I forget. Often enough that the choreography is the same. We lean forward and she speaks. So far, the tension has been broken by a broad physician smile and good (no) news. Today: we lean, she eyes, she looks up.

She smiles.

“Looks good, Mike. Those two areas that we were concerned about…they have been resolved.”
What does this mean? That nasty Gemzar is poisoning the cancer. Is it gone? No. Is it still small? Yes. What should we do?

Keep living your life.

Doctor says that Mike can take this medicine chronically, on and on as long as it causes no problems, or bearable problems. Doctor says that Mike should add a few things to his bucket list.
Doctor suggests that if Mike wants to take a chemo vacation, that would be fine.

SO: Mike will continue to build the boat and the kayak. He will be playing his guitar in church. He will hold court at The Brick. And, of course, he’ll teach his classes at Ivy Tech Community College.

I’ll be back at Kokomo High School, passing on the wisdom.

We’ll be loving life, loving each other, and loving our Father. God has a few more things for Mike to do, I’m sure.

Traveling Over The Holidays

For months, we had been warned that Christmas-time travel would be filled with terror: crowds, noise, crowds, traffic, crowds, short tempers and, oh yes, crowds. Air fares would be high. Gasoline prices would be high. Some of those in the crowds would be…well….

But, we had decided that, health concerns at bay, we would get to San Antonio from Indiana and we would get home again in time for the New Year.

It was complicated at this end. Mike and I would travel down together. Zach would come a few days later. Mike and Zach would return home together. I would come a few days later. Mike was traveling free, on credit card points. I was traveling on air line points. Zach’s itinerary involved actual money. And as there are no direct flights to our location, this meant 12 separate reservations.

The airline points were with Delta…..dreaded Delta…Don’t Ever Leaves The Airport Delta…so the rest of the trips needed to coordinate. We ended up with all Delta, all the time.

Delta is the largest Airline Carrier and whatever strengths it might possess, it does NOT have a good PR department. It seems, at least to the casual traveler, that Delta gets it wrong all the time….most delays, most canceled flights, most passenger complaints. But no matter, we steeled ourselves for all of our challenges and drove to the airport a few days before Christmas.

Indianapolis International is a really fine airport. It’s small enough and easy to get around, to find your way. Even little things, like how the restroom faucets always spray warm water when you wash your hands, makes traveling to and from Indianapolis pleasant. However, it takes us about an hour and 20 minutes to get there, get parked and then into the terminal. So our trips have to commence several hours before take –off. And on this day, we anticipated traffic and then parking problems so we left even earlier. Guess what? Light traffic. What else? Lots of open parking in the economy lot. So we were at the gate in plenty of time. Both of our flights were on time or early so the trip was over quickly.

Zach’s first flight was at 8 AM so he said he drove to the airport in the dark and there was no traffic at all. One of his flights was delayed (in Memphis) because of the snow storms farther west. This was the only ‘Delta problem.”

Then, after the Christmas celebration, Mike and Zach returned to Indianapolis. Both flights were on time or early. There was enough room to stow both guitars as well as their carry-ons.
None of us had luggage problems. Staff was pleasant and polite. Sure, there was a little passenger drama (not from us) but it was handled quickly and efficiently.

MY flights back were equally pleasant. The first leg was a 2 ½ hour trip from San Antonio to Detroit, where I would have a 2 hour layover. Although the airplane was only partly full, I got relegated to the Children’s Table, near the back of the ship.

Catty corner on the aisle in front of me was Mom with 18-month-old boy on her lap. He played, had a snack and occasionally he’d play peek-a-boo with anyone who would play. Big brown eyes. Big toothy grin. Adorable. Plus he slept a lot.

Catty corner behind was Mom and Dad with 3 children under 5. One was named Sophie. More on that later.

Directly behind was Mom with her 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, who like to spell. And spell. And spell.

All of the children did just fine until the final half hour.

Cute little boy ramped up his peek-a-boo, pairing it with rocking back and forth, into the aisle, back into the seat next to Mom. Mom just let it go unless an attendant was in the aisle.

Mom behind, with the speller, was working hard to keep the kids in tow without bothering neighbors. The games and DVD players were out of juice so they commenced to the question/answer game.

M: You need to turn around and get your seat belt on.
B: Why?
M: Because it’s the rule.
B: Why?
M: Both of you, turn around and get those belts on.
B: Why?
G: It hurts. It’s red. R-E-D.
M: No it doesn’t. You must put it on. What if we crash?
G: I don’t want to.
M: You have to. It’s the rules.
G: He’s touching me.
M: Both of you, don’t you take those belts off.
B: Why?
M: We might run out of gas and crash.
B: Then what?
M: Daddy will be sad if we were to die.
B: No.
G: Waaaaaaa.

Deep breaths from the seat in front of them. But then, from the other corner.

Dad: Sophie, you must sit down.
S: No.
D: Sophie, you need to put on the seat belt.
S: No.
D: Sophie, why are you being difficult?
(Because she’s 3!!!!)
D:Sophie, turn around.
S: No.
D: Sophie, stop kicking that seat.
S: No.
D: Sophie, why are you crying?
(She wasn’t. It was one of those fake whines.)
D: Sophie, what do you want?
(more wailing)
D: Ok, you want to sit on my lap?
S: No.
D: Here, I’ll hold you for a moment……now you must sit there and put on your belt….

Way up in the front, a baby began to cry. That usually happens as the plane descends and the pressure changes. All good signs that the flight is coming to an end. And soon, we were on the ground at Detroit Metro Airport, a former stomping ground for me and my high school buddies.
All of the kiddies and even Sophie’s daddy, made it to Detroit and none of them were headed to Indianapolis.

The last leg of my flight was quick. By sundown, all of us were back home again in Indiana.
We had no big plans for New Year’s Eve. We ended up watching The Apostle, starring Robert Duvall. Amazing film.

And, well rested, we transferred all the birthdays from the old calendar to the new calendar.
And we wonder what 2012 will hold for us all.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Marking up our Calendars

So. 2012. ANOTHER New Year. Here's where we are today, looking into this next year.

I left my classroom on December 23, prepared to begin the new semester. This means I'm ready for the first day of classes on January 4. No veteran teacher would miss the first few days of a new semester if at all possible. That's when teacher and students meet, size each other up, set the tone and begin the dance.

I've learned that any and all effort during those first few days pays dividends for the rest of the semester. There will still be about 2 weeks of testing and pushing...probably more with my freshmen...and then we'll settle in.

So, yes, the plan is for me to return to my classroom and a new group of students. All good. These two weeks off have been glorious...restful and busy at the same time...Our travels to Texas and many hugs. A smattering of get-togethers with friends. Then, several of those messed up kitchen cabinets have been emptied, ordered, and repacked. Specifically, I was inspired by my brother/sister-in-law's kitchen...they have lids for all of their plastic wear AND they can find them. It was time to organize and get rid of the loose pieces.

I discarded with brutality. All good.

Mike plans to teach one, maybe two, classes at our community college. He LOVES this and since he'll be repeating, it's not too much work. He's also tearing through Sudoku booklets and his Sudoku-a-Day calendar. When we visited my brother at Thanksgiving, Mike saw Ken scribbling absently at a Sudoku. Ken is, how can I says this, a math brain. Very organized. Precise. Mike asked him about the puzzles and Ken said that once you know the trick, they are easy. (oh)

"I'll show you." He did. "You see, it becomes easy to see that it has to be one number." (oh) "And, REAL players don't write all sorts of little numbers in the boxes." (oh) "Oh, and you use a pen, not a pencil." (oh)

Oh. oh. oh. oh: All of MY tricks. Early on in this exchange, I thought about nosing in. When the brother trashed those who write the little numbers...well, I'm out.

But before we commence with our teaching, we go January 3 to see his doctor, to discuss the latest scan. We scheduled this so I could go along. All good.

Our friends, Morgan and Sandra, have sent out word that the 'next Brick' is January 13. All good. (and yum)

Mike is scheduled to play at church on January 15. All good.

I find that I live better if I cut back on long-term planning. I mean, a friend will marry September 29 and we are "on the A-list" for the wedding. I'd love to take my man to that party. And as a teacher, I have to plan out sequences for lessons that make sense and build on each other.

But, it's easier, in most parts of my life, if I take it a day at a time. Each day has its own challenges, joys, and cautions. My verse for this year are the words of my Lord:

"Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matt. 6:34 (NIV)

Right now, Mike is building a boat and a kayak, suitable for launching into Winona Lake next summer. Wouldn't THAT be great?

We remain amazed and humbled that God continues to bless us with time. And with all of our praying friends. We hope your new year holds great joy for you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas 2011 San Antonio: EEEE-ha!

Can you stand a little more Holiday Cheer? Then, stay tuned!

You may have seen our photos already if you are Facebook Friends. But, no matter, here we include the narrative.

Chrismas 2011 found my family gathered around the tree at Allyson's home, in San Antonio. Although Texas was foisting untypical weather upon its citizens and visitors, we were warm and snug, by the light of the gas fireplace AND the glow of HD Yuletide Log on television. Mommy and boys snuggled as they had to wait.

One of our traditions is that we may eye the goods but wait until Mike reads the Christmas story in Luke 2.

Then, let the games begin.
(notice the video fireplace)

Gramma was overruled: the boys received air rifles from their Granpa. Later, in the back yard, we discovered that they are, in fact, a bit too young to enjoy these. Next year, I'll bet.

We shipped Zach's gift ahead. He now owns a mandolin. I got a harmonica and we planned to make some music. "Sitting on the dock of the bay"

I've been practicing my C chords.

Then, it was time for a nap before dinner.

Allyson prepared a repast worth the wait. We would continue to enj0y baked ham and sweet potato fluff for several days beyond.

As visitors, we had our tasks. Allyson handed her dad a list, a long list, of fix-it projects. 5 or 6 trips to Lowes and the list was history.

Uncle Zach's job was to provide music AND Uncle Time

My 'jobs' involved Cuddle Time.

Teaching Drew, left-handed darling, to tie his shoe.

And, of course, reading. Lots of reading in this house.

There are so many intangible blessings when family can gather and share love. For our part, we enjoyed this time with no health concerns. Much hugging, laughing, and getting things done.

I hope your Christmas was filled with joy. Ours certainly was.

Currently in my Basement: Clues

Last month, some mysterious pieces of wood and what not began sprouting in my basement.

I confessed that I had no idea what was going on.

I could narrow it down, slightly, in that it appeared to be a new husband project.

There's still the boat that's coming together out in the workshop, but it gets cold out there, I'm told.

The various heating units, placed here and there, do not take the chill off, I'm told. So this project will suffice when the temperature drops.

But, what? Strips, clamps, and when I returned from San Antonio, the appearance that sanding had commenced.

I DO keep my printer in direct path of sanding dust.


And more clues;

Skills are apparent.

Have you figured it out?

Wait for it.........

It's a kayak. Looking forward to next summer.