Saturday, October 30, 2010

Never Give Up and other words to live by

Some of the words I've lived by in the past week (and for quite a while before that, actually) seem worth sharing:

"Never give up." I remember the sermon title more than I remember the sermon, based on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, which includes: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." The spiritual reminder, which also was the focus of the midweek "Seeking Hour" Bible study, was especially timely as my Dad's recovery from lung cancer has hit some plateaus and a setback or two. It seems the Scripture called out to me right as I was starting to get frustrated and have doubts (and fears) about his health. It bouyed me as I prepared to go to visit my Dad, while I was there and since then as he has returned to the hospital from rehab care. In less serious matters, the words of the sermon title have come to mind as I've watched the Texas Rangers struggle and come back in their playoff run and now slow start (down 2-0) in the World Series; dealt with a sick cat; dealt with continuing work difficulties; and as I've gotten more and more tired. (I have to confess, as well, that the most familiar Scripture that comes to mind when I think of "never give up" is Philippians 3:12-14, including: "I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." Obviously, there are many, many good words of faith and assurance available in the Bible. I'm grateful for growing faith in those words of God.)

"Ask for wisdom." This was the heading for the Oct. 18 reading of my "Truth for Today" daily devotional book by John MacArthur. "For the Lord gives wisdom" (Proverbs 9:6) was the Scriptural reference. "If you lack wisdom, you're commanded to ask God for it," MacArthur wrote. For some reason, these words unlocked something I'd been missing spiritually. I typically pray for help, I pray for healing, I pray for courage, I pray for strength, and yes, I pray to know and do God's will, which could be a blanket request for wisdom, I suppose. But something about this passage and the devotional, as well as the ones MacArthur offered in days to follow, really helped me a few days later when my kitty got sick. It's so hard for me to deal with that, and I really just wanted to ignore it or put off doing anything about it. Taking her to the vet doesn't seem to work; the vet's answer is to prescribe medicine that neither the vet nor my husband or I can get her to take. But again, I knew I had to do something. So, I prayed for wisdom. And an answer that came was to call the vet -- sooner not later, especially since I knew my husband would be headed out of town pretty soon after that. I realized I could take Bridget to the vet and leave her there if I needed to. But instead, they prescribed pills. And somehow, since my husband and I were both here this time, he was able to give her almost all of the pills and she seems to be doing much better. That may seem like a small deal, but considering how that's gone in the past, it was huge for me. I've had similar answers come in other cases where I've prayed for wisdom since that time.

"What am I going to do about it?" The text studied at my 12-step meeting last Saturday was from a story called "Acceptance Was the Answer." The story of experience, strength and hope of someone who recovered from alcoholism is packed with words to live by. "What am I going to do about it?" was part of the paragraph in which the author accepted that, as much as he didn't like it, he was an alcoholic and that he had decided he was OK with that. "When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away." Sure, that's an oversimplification, at least in most short terms. But in the big pictures of life, I've found it to be true. I need to acknowledge the reality of a situation, and then pray for wisdom to know what I can do about it. It usually involves action, but sometimes it involves sitting back; letting go and letting God.

These aren't the only words I've lived by, but it's been interesting how they've come into play several times. I'm grateful to keep learning. May I never give up on God!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Let's Hear It for the Team

For the first time in their team's history, the Texas Rangers will play in the World Series! I watched the pennant-clinching Game 6 win over the New York Yankees on television last night, and then tried to catch all the post-game interviews on three different stations airing from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. I've read much of what I could find online today about the American League Championship Series and the players', fans', management's and various others' reactions. I love watching and reading that stuff.

I've never been to a Rangers game. I've watched many on TV, listened to quite a few on the radio and sometimes even followed online using the GameDay or whatever that tracker is. I probably could have gone to a game or two this year, but I didn't want to jinx a season that seemed to have so much promise. (I know my going or not going doesn't really affect how a team performs, but I also know that more than one sports team has had a negative turnaround after I got my hopes up and climbed on the bandwagon. I realize that negative turnaround might have happened even if I hadn't boarded the bandwagon, but I didn't want to take a chance at the jinx. I haven't even bought any Rangers gear, although I'm grateful to a friend who brought me a plastic cup from RBiA after he went to a game. When the season is over, I WILL by a shirt.)

I enjoy watching the sports action, whether it be baseball, football or basketball, but what I can really get caught up in are the backstories. (Sometime maybe I'll write about how I first really started following the Rangers; it had to do with pitcher Kenny Rogers, but it was long after his perfect game.) Anyway, this year there were so many stories. But what comes through loud and clear, including in the post-game comments, was how much this team is about teamwork and not individual stars. The media keeps putting the spotlight on Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee, Michael Young or various others at various times, but throughout the season, the one being focused on would not allow the attention to just be on him. And it happened again last night.

Hamilton was sheepishly humble in accepting the ALCS MVP award, which even Mrs. Gene Autry, who had some honorary position that allowed her to do the honors, said could have gone to any number of valuable Rangers. Asked to say what it meant to him, Josh -- a baseball phenom turned drug addict whose well-documented story shows he might not be alive much less playing baseball at a high level if not for the saving grace of God and some faithful Christians who helped Josh find that salvation -- first quietly but firmly insisted that the glory go to God. And then he said he had to talk about his teammates. When he did finally talk about himself, it sounded like a humility that could not be faked. At the end of that or another interview, he said softly as he looked at the plaque that he was still trying to figure out why he had it. I'm pretty sure God knows the answer to that. (An interesting aside is that if you didn't watch some of Josh's interviews live, you might wonder whether he still is giving the glory to God. That part often gets left out of the write-ups and video compilations.)

I know from experience as well as from observation that it's hard to hang on to humility. (I've even heard of situations recently in which it seems possible that even respected spiritual leaders -- yes, pastors -- might be struggling with that.) It can be hard individually and as a team, especially when you're winning or losing. (That's kinda meant as a joke!) In everything said by the Rangers team members during the pennant race run through the playoffs and now entering the World Series, the focus has remained on teamwork and, in the words they've learned so well from manager Ron Washington, in playing the game of baseball as it's presented to them each day. These guys seem to have genuine love (brotherly/good friendship love) and respect for each other. And that's so much fun to watch. And it's fun to see it be rewarded with wins.

So, let's hear it for the team: Congratulations, Texas Rangers!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Was that an earthquake?

What a strange and amazing week. Probably the best I can do is record some highlights and maybe offer a reflection or two.

The strangest: At 9:06 a.m. Wednesday, while standing in the bathroom using the curling iron on my hair, I heard what sounded like just a loud truck rumbling on the busy street behind the house. But then I realized that not only were the windows rattling, but the walls were moving -- rocking. Could this be an earthquake? It turned out that, yes, it was an earthquake. I think they finally decided it was a 4.7, with its epicenter east of Norman. In the news, there was a discussion of which is scarier, an earthquake or a tornado. Are you kidding me? If we're talking about Oklahoma, a tornado is scarier, hands-down. I'd say earthquakes aren't as scary when you don't have so many multistory buildings and complex transportation systems. Now, if they're talking about tornadoes in Oklahoma vs. earthquakes in California, that might be different. Then I'd probably take my chances with an Oklahoma tornado.

The best: Continued progress of my 84-year-old dad after surgery to remove part of his lung. I'm still amazed beyond expression when I think of how this has gone so far. Yes, it was painful, and healing and rehab are slow processes. But the starting point was so far ahead of anything I could have imagined, and really things seem to continue to go more smoothly than I could have hoped each step of the way. I just praise God continually for this and seek to know how to respond to His glory.

Some of the rest:
-- While I watched with Dad at the hospital, the Texas Rangers baseball team could not get a win in front of their home fans, blowing what looked like a sure-fire, feel-good win last Saturday and barely even showing up Sunday, forcing a Game 5 on the road in the American League Division Series against Tampa Bay. Sure, the Rangers had Cliff Lee pitching. But no team had ever won a series without winning at home. (I think that's the stat.) And the Rangers had never won a postseason series. Well, the Rangers managed to do it. And now this weekend, after blowing a 5-1 lead in the eighth inning at home last night and surely dooming themselves to futility against their postseason nemesis, the New York Yankees, today they did hold on to a similar lead, ending the Yankees streak and getting their first-ever home win in the postseason. It's a best of seven, and I have to believe that anything is possible. And today's win proves they belong in the postseason, no matter what happens the rest of the way. What fun!
-- On another hand, I can't even think of what to write about the Texas Aggies and Dallas Cowboys football teams. I'll say I'm still a fan, but whatever happens the rest of the way this season (short of a Super Bowl for the Cowboys), the teams are disappointing. It's one thing to lose some games, but it's really frustrating when teams are so mistake prone playing on college and professional levels. (Watching the Aggies this season and also following the Kansas Jayhawks reminds me again how glad I am that the four years my nephew played for Kansas included a magical 11-1 season. So many things have to go right for that to happen. It seemed magical at the time, and seeing how things have played out since then make it continue to seem so.)
--Aware that spending extra time visiting my parents in Texas while Dad was in the hospital and now rehab and trying to help Mom out some has kept me from doing much with my husband or around our house, I tried to give more attention to these areas this week. I didn't have much success, but I'll keep trying. (I hope it doesn't take the Rangers bowing out of the playoffs for me to free up some time; I'm trying not to let games distract me. I'm trying ......)
--When he asked me to help him paint the house trim this weekend, I knew I wanted to (even though I knew it would mean not giving full attention to some ball games today!). I'm constantly amazed at just how clueless I am when it comes to knowing what to do on such projects. I have to be guided in every task, and most things seem harder or more awkward than I think they should. But I tried to persevere. And Gene did seem to appreciate the effort and whatever small help it amounted to. Unfortunately, I also caused a great deal more work, because of my blunder that involved driving into the garage when I came home after taking a break to go to a meeting. As I drove into the garage, I was deep in thought -- possibly even prayer -- about how I could be a good worker and how Gene and I could be a good team this afternoon. And the next thing I knew, I heard something my front bumper pushing something. What was that? I backed up and saw through my sunglasses that I had run into paint buckets, knocking over one and dumping paint on the garage floor! What a mess! I screamed for Gene, and he came running. Poor man. He was already tired from working all morning, including while I was gone, and then he had to guide in cleaning up this mess. But you know, he did it, telling me how he needed me to do things to be helpful. We got it cleaned up and then returned to the trim. Without a doubt, Gene does most of the work on such projects. I mainly held the ladder, rolled some of the paint and cleaned up trash. We still have a little to finish. But it's looking great. And I'm strangely grateful that Gene didn't just tell me to go into the house and quit trying to help after my big mess. I guess hope springs eternal for him, too, that someday I will be an efficient and effective helper.

There's more that I could write, but this has gotten longer than I wanted it to be, so I'm going to stop. This is clearly one of those times that the only reason I'm writing right now is to meet that self-imposed deadline of posting something to my blog at least once each week. Somehow it still seems better for me to do it than not to do it. And it was fun to record those thoughts. Maybe someday I'll know why.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Christmas in October

I planned my Saturday through Monday visit to Mom and Dad on the farm based on their decision that Daddy would not have surgery to remove a cancerous spot on his lung. I knew I would miss the final scheduled meeting with a surgeon, but I supported their decision and just wanted to spend time with them to add presence to that support. I was surprised when, after I had made those plans, I learned that in the meeting with the surgeon, the decision was made to go ahead and have surgery. It was scheduled for the Monday I planned to visit. So I made arrangements at work to stay in Texas at least through Wednesday. Before I left work, the surgery had been rescheduled for Tuesday, but that still fit with my plans.

I still cannot even organize my thoughts and words about how blessed this past week has been.
Among the highlights:
-- Going with my parents to their church (the church I went to as I was growing up and that I still consider home) on Sunday and feeling the outpouring of love and care for my Dad and Mom.
-- Washing dishes. (You'd have to ask my Daddy the significance of that.)
-- Spending Monday visiting with my parents, his surviving sister, the widower of his oldest sister and his niece (my cousin), and then more of my family as they arrived. That's when I realized it seemed like Christmas in October.
-- The surreal experience of telephone calls on Monday from the surgeon's office and then the surgeon that informed Daddy that his surgery had been postponed a few hours, but that a less-invasive procedure was possible. Talk about good news/confusing news. The less-invasive procedure to accomplish the original goal was certainly desirable, but why hadn't they planned this earlier? Somehow, I decided in those moments, apparently following the lead of my parents, to just to continue to have faith in Mom and Dad, the medical experts -- and, ultimately, God, who I became more and more certain had to be in control of all this.
-- Even Tuesday at the hospital was amazingly upbeat. I don't know about anyone else, but I was terrified, and even though I tried not to dwell on it in my speech or thoughts, I was prepared to say good-bye to my Daddy. After all, he is 84, has trouble breathing and is slow to get around. I've seen medical situations, that were supposed to help a situation, go awry, and the person is never the same. And it seemed like with an older person such as my dad, even "routine" surgical procedures could carry greater risks of complications that might include infections, pneumonia, breathing difficulties, heart strain, blood clots .... In the weeks since the cancerous spot was found, Daddy had shown renewed zest for life, which made it even harder to let him go into what seemed to be risky surgery. But I also I knew that I and many other people were praying and had faith in God in this and all matters. And the thoughts also occurred to me of so many people who don't find out they have cancer until it's too late to do much about it. Based on the tests and medical analysis, all Daddy needed was surgery to remove the spot and some surrounding lung. And based on all the tests and the medical analysis, Daddy was a good candidate for the procedure.

The whole family -- Mom and the six kids -- were at the hospital when they took Daddy in about 12:15 p.m., and we were all there when the reports of a successful surgery began coming: 3:30 -- surgery done, closing him up; 4 p.m. -- Doctor says he's wide awake but probably won't remember anything, and when he's off the respirator, we'll be able to see him. By 5:30, the first two were able to go in. By 6, I got to see my Daddy, and shortly thereafter, all of the kids had visited.

And I was truly amazed. He was as strong and alert and had as much color as when he went in -- and all of those were very good when he went in. I really don't think I thought that was possible. Yes, there' is pain. Yes, there is risk. But there is a great spirit and will that inspire and delight and make me proud.

As I wrote to a colleague who inquired about my Dad (a colleague whose Mom recently died of complications from inoperable lung cancer, if I recall correctly), I cannot believe how well he did. To me, it is a miracle. He seemed as strong and alert and had as much color after surgery as he did when he went in. They ended up doing it laparoscopically but were able to get the same amount of lung and nodes as they would have with the seven-inch incision. The doctors and nurses all seemed amazed at how well he did and was continuing to do in recovery, with his deep breathing, coughing or whatever they tried to get him to do. By the second day, he was starting to feel more discomfort, as they reduced the amount of morphine he could take for pain, but he seemed to be adjusting to that OK, too. All of the family -- including Mom and Dad -- know that we are very, very fortunate. I do give the praise to God. I know many, many people were praying. And I know that sometimes even when that many people are praying, things don't turn out the way we want them to. But I truly think we did everything we could to be prepared for the best OR the worst -- and we're just so grateful the result was the best.

In many ways, this week has been better than Christmas, at least better than Christmas as it often gets observed. This week's (and the past few weeks') experiences have been about faith and family and relearning to focus on what's important. One of the things I want to take away from this week's experiences is that every day of life contains many gifts, including the life and love of our family members, friends and even people we don't know. And the greatest gift of all: A loving God, Savior and Spirit Who is with us through it all, if we will just call upon Him and receive His love.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

September reprise

I don't really have time, but I have desire, and so I will take a few moments to write about some of the things last Saturday that helped me get out of a rut.

It started with writing about it, and praying as I wrote. But after taking time to write, I was running late on getting to a meeting, and I knew I had to buy gas on the way. A fairly long-lost thought of just not going revisited, but fortunately I was able to put it aside, get dressed and head on my way, grateful to remember that for the meeting I was headed to, "better later than never" is more than a cliche. In my car, I saw my cell phone, which I had left there overnight. I noticed I had a voice message and was delighted to hear it was from my goddaughter Angela, who had just gotten a new white bunny. She'd called on their way home, and when I called her back, she'd just gotten home. So after sharing a few words of excitement, I promised to call back Sunday and find out more about her new pet. The day was clearly getting better.

The meeting was well under way when I got there. It's a meeting that studies what is known as the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous. We read a woman's account of what she was like, what happened, and what it's like now; basically, it was about how she got out of the rut. It mentioned that the book doesn't include chapters on "Into Thinking" or "Into Feeling," but it does have one on "Into Action." I needed to read that. It really spoke to me since I'd already realized from my writing that, eventually, the way out a rut is to take new action. It's OK to rest a while, but eventually you have to act. Not only trust and have faith, but put faith into action with obedience.

After the meeting, I went to the Wildlife Expo, mainly because my mom suggested that, "Of course you should go, to support Gene," who is heavily involved in the three-day event put on by his employer. It turned out that it was helpful for him that I got there when I did. I think he was surprised to see me, but glad. About the time my help was no longer needed and I was faced with wandering around the Expo by myself, wondering why I never find someone to come with me (it's clearly an event to enjoy with kids, grandkids or at least friends), a kindred spirit arrived who also would have ended up just wandering around by herself while her son worked at Gene's booth. So, Patty, whom I know from when her family attended our church, as well as from their continued involvement with Gene and his bass club, walked around together, observing the people and catching up on each other's lives, families and friends. It was very, very good.

When I got into my car to leave, I turned on the radio and the Texas Rangers game was on (of course I knew I was missing it while I was at the Expo). This was a day they could clinch the American League West pennant with a win. I think they were ahead when I turned it on, then they got behind, then they got ahead again, many of the lead changes coming on the most unlikely of plays. They finally won the game right as I arrived home. So, all I could watch was the celebration and highlights. It seems that happens a lot: Teams I like play better (or at least have better results) when I don't take the time to watch them. But I enjoy watching. I do think there's a lesson for me if I'd just learn it. (It's tied to something shared at the recovery meeting earlier in the day, about priorities and what's important and doing the right thing. I KNOW that watching ballgames on TV is not the priority or right thing when other things beckon, but it sure seems to be my first choice a lot of times, especially at the end of a long workday or a Saturday when I just want to hang out at the house.)

For some reason, after that, I cooked supper, something I'm doing more often but still not a lot. Gene appreciated that when he got home.

I think the bottom line of all this is something I realized at the meeting and also wrote about previously: The unfolding of the day confirmed that eventually, the way out a rut is to take new action. It's OK to rest a while, but eventually you have to act. Not only trust and have faith, but put faith into action with obedience.

(I started this Wednesday or Thursday night, when it was still September and I really didn't have time but I had desire. Before I finished, though, the desire left, too. This morning, when I read over what I had started, I decided I needed to finish it and post it, even if it's rough and rambling.)