Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Retrospect

Urban legend has it the there is a Chinese curse which states, "May you live in interesting times."  While the validity of the origin is subject to dispute, as no modern reference aside from several anecdotal quotations exist, I can honestly say 2012 has been a very "Interesting" year for me.

How do I begin to describe the year as it closes.  I guess to quote Dickens would be a bit repugnant; however, "it was the best of times; it was the worst of times," is appropriate nonetheless.

I began the year divorced, and generally feeling of healthy, as I had recently checked an item off the bucket list and completed a marathon.  I was preparing to leave a job I loved and pushing my career forward into the unknown as I returned to the operator aspect of my work which I had not done in several years.  I was moving to a location I knew little about and would, in essence, be starting all over again.

It did not take long to realize that "MY" plans were not quite in order with the "Big Picture" of things.  Soon, I was unhappy at work (a rarity for me) due to insurmountable obstacles (such as incompetence and apathy in my subordinates) and I was experiencing several personal changes in the same time frame.

I began having extreme pain when breathing.  Imagine a side stitch while running and magnifying it by 10.  It was off and on, and being the "I don't need a doctor" kind of guy, I dealt with it as best I could.  I was also experiencing remorse for my past decisions and the effects they had on my life.  I realized that I was wrong and needed to let it go and pray for a chance to make amends.

The pain in my side kept getting worse, and the ache in my heart did as well.  By June, I was newly diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and walking around in a haze of uncertainty.  I did not know how or if I could or should make plans aside (based on a comment from my Dr.) from getting my affairs in order.  I also had to make an extremely painful phone call.  I had to tell my (at the time) ex-wife this news.

This was the most painful phone call I have ever made.  Mostly because I still loved her and knew I had hurt her in the past.  I wanted a chance to show that I was not who I once was.  While I did not express those thoughts at that time, I just broke the news and let her know that I would make sure she and the kids were well taken care of if it came down to it.

In July, she and the kids visited with me at my fathers home in Houston while I was out of work adjusting to my treatment routine and the medicines that were poisoning my body trying to kill the cancer.  One night, while there I had the opportunity to express myself and explain that I still loved her and wanted to try again.

I left that visit with a renewed sense of hope, since the conversation (in light of my self-doubt and negative presupposition) went well and we began talking again.  I managed to visit her and the kids in Georgia and they came all the way out to me as well.

God is good and trades beauty for ashes.  In November, we remarried.  While we are still working through things and figuring out how to be together full-time (I need a bigger house, and preferably not here), we are together in spirit and they visit me as often as possible (a benefit of a home-school education, being highly mobile). We will be reunited soon, one way or another, and we will plod on into the unknown of the plans God has for us.

The cancer is still here, but I have completed one 12 cycle round of chemotherapy (flying through it, as my nurses tell me), and have started another one with a slightly different cocktail in the mix.  Each time a certain blood test is run, the tumor marker numbers are going down and from an huge number at the start, I am almost within a normal range for the test.  I don't know what all that means, but I do know God has a plan for all this and all I want is His will to be done.

2012, you have taught me a lot.  I am loved.  I have great friends all over the place.  I can be loved by those I hold most close.  I can be forgiven.  They were hard lessons, but sometimes I need that kind.  As you close out a final sunset and I prepare to run headlong into 2013, I just want to say thank you for all you have shown me.  You were a very "Interesting" year indeed.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hard Truths v. Human Nature

Life is hard, God is good. By no means should this be interpreted to the Ways of God are easy.  The Bible even tells us:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

We could easily follow the status quo and follow the crowd.  We could easily submit to "tolerance" even in light of the intolerance we face as Christians.  Just reach for the Easy Button, it will make everything better.

But that is NOT what we are called to do.  We are summoned through the narrow gate which leads to life and not destruction.  There is no room for tolerance, but there is room for love.  We do not have to agree with those who support things contrary to our truths, but we must love them.

I believe the United States needs to support Israel firmly in its path.  I see the similarities between America now and Israel in Isaiah's time.  In Isaiah 30, verses 8-11, we see the reactions Israel has when the Word of God is a bit rough for them to take:
8 And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
as a witness forever,
9 For they are a rebellious people,
lying children,
children unwilling to hear
the instruction of the Lord;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
prophesy illusions,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

Isaiah 30:8-11

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Can you see it? Just read it again, and then take a look at what is happening in America.  We have removed the Ten Commandments from our schools and courts.  We do not allow prayer in schools.  We are trying to remove the symbols of our faith from any display that may "offend" some one.  We are looking for the easy way.  We are not seeking the right paths, but hoping for the smooth things; we want our prophets to prophesy illusions.

We need to remove the rose colored glasses that are blinding us on our journey.  We need to realize life is hard, but God is good.  For all the sacrifices we will make, for all the hardships we will face doing what is right in the sight of God, it is worth it.  In the end, what greater reward can we have than to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Starting January 1st, I am once again participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  The goal is to post one blog entry a day (on average) through the month of January.  31 days, 31 blog posts.  I completed it during the inaugural month of this blog in July 2012, even with a late start.  I believe this is a good challenge as it generates content, but more importantly it makes me concentrate on this )for lack of a better word) ministry.

My goal is to share my life with you, my readers.  I know my life is not exciting (though God is doing exciting things).  I know my words do not bear much weight (though the Word of God is amazing).  I can only pray that I can offer some small measure of hope to you when you are facing a time of darkness or pain, that there is a way out.

Dear Heavenly Father, help me to get through the hard things that are before me.  I know there is only one way to do so, to keep my eyes on You and the things You have commanded me.  Father help my focus in the New Year be to get closer to You, and may others join me in this goal and walk side by side with me as we embark along the narrow path towards You.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Number Our Days

Lately, I have been inundated with references to Psalm 90:12 in my life.

If you are not familiar with it, here you go:
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

In my experience, when something sticks in my head or I am constantly seeing/hearing references to it, I have a lesson happening.  God works in mysterious ways, but sometimes He is not so subtle and I get a boot to the head.

One of the references came in a FB page/photo share from my fellow blogger Beloved ('Chelle) at Treat Me to a Feast-Notes from My Abundant Life.  Just a simple picture with the verse and reference.  It stuck.  Also, another blogger Bedky (Becky) at Counting My Days references it in title, but still the point came across.  And my wife just informed me that this is her theme verse for 2013.  Interesting how God does things, indeed.

A final reference, and more of the ear worm variety is the Shane and Shane song Arise, which uses a part of the verse in the lyrics, but oddly one of the few parts of the song that sticks with me.  Don't get me wrong, I like the entire song and could probably sing it all (poorly mind you, but I do know the words), it is just that line that hangs around.

From my askew general perspectives on life, I had a thought about the verse.  I fully understand that I can reasonably expect to live a shorter life than I had anticipated 7 months ago.  I am not wishing for this nor doubting the miraculous healing powers of God.  I just have this in my mind which therefore causes this verse to be more poignant to me: I have fewer to number and must make them count more.

Dear Lord, please guide me in this journey You have me on.  Help me make 2013 a year to remember full of You.  Thank You for teaching me, humbling me, and upholding me through 2012.  You have taught me much through defeat and allowed victory in the end.  I can never thank You enough.

On a side note, I have posted on this page a Donate button in support of my 2,013 miles in 2013 for Hope House challenge.  Please consider donating to this worthy charity and supporting my efforts to cover the miles.  Thank you.

Friday, December 28, 2012

No Excuses

While I was in the military, there was a saying: "The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters."  While it is merely an analogy, comparing effectiveness of various weapons systems, the meaning is clear.  An excuse is NEVER an effective weapon in the battles we are engaged in.

In life, especially in this Brave New World of the digital age, we are running out of excuses to justify our failures to meet our goals.  A resource to find web sites for free training on a large variety of topics, the No Excuse List, is a good place to start if you need help in meeting your goals.

I have found that one of the best defenses against digging through the excuse bin is to have a person or group of people in your life who support you in your goal and with whom you feel all parties can be brutally honest in relation to your goals.  Sometimes, you need someone who will call you out and push you when you are feeling defeated.

As I have posted previously, I have set the goal of running 1,000 miles and covering a total of 2,013 miles for charity in 2013.  I am hoping you will all call me out and push me (and support my fundraising goals too :) ).

I am asking for your assistance and want you to be brutally honest in calling me out and getting me out there if I slip and start falling behind.  I am also asking for your prayers on this that I stay healthy (no injuries) and work through the chemo side effects which might make this a bit rough on some days.  I NEVER want to play the "cancer card" as an excuse.  It does not own me!  I can and will deal with it.

Thank you all for your support.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

S. M. A. R. T. Goal-setting

To continue a bit from yesterday's post about MY goals for 2013, I wish to present a formula I discovered about setting goals.

Goals need to be S. M. A. R. T.

By being detailed in the goals you set, you establish something you can track.  A more general goal of "feel better in the new year" is harder to establish than "lose 20 pounds and improve my cardio vascular fitness by running 3-4 times a week".

There needs to be a way to measure the goal you set.  A quantifiable measure like a number makes this easy to do.  "Run 1,000 miles in the year." "Lose 20 pounds." "Pay off ALL my credit cards."  Some end state that stands for the completion point of your goal.

This get a bit difficult sometimes.  We need to set goals that will push us, but not be so difficult that we can never complete them.  Setting quixotic goals will only lead to disappointment.  Make your goals difficult, but not impossible.  The idea is to push yourself but not destroy your self-confidence by missing a day or two on your rigidly detailed progress check.

Your goals should be something personal that is also important to you.  By being relevant to your overall, life plans you will find an easier time sticking to your goals and following them through.

Setting a time limit in the achievement of your goals helps keep them on the front burner of your thoughts.  Knowing you desire to lose 20 pounds in the first 6 months of the year will color your decisions without being so rigid that one bad weekend blows the whole thing.

One thing I find useful is writing them down and posting copies in conspicuous locations.  For example, if you have a goal to lose 20 pounds, a copy on the refrigerator could be helpful.  A copy on the bathroom mirror would aid you if there was a particular task you want to perform every day.

There you have it, tips for setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.  I hope this helps you focus on your desires and to achieve them.  It is good to dream, but the Impossible Dream gets old after a while. (And yes, I have made two "Man of La Mancha" references in this posting).

Another thing to consider is Outcome-based versus Process-based goals.  Outcome-based goals meet the criteria of the SMART method of goal setting.  They focus on measurable, quantifiable end states.  Process-based goals focus more on the process, such as "Eating better through the New Year" or "Training for a marathon".  They lead to a "process" and change patterns of behavior to meet the end state.

I hope this was useful to you as you develop your 2013 goals.  If you want someone to pray with you on the journey and offer encouragement or a boot to the backside and push you, comment below and tell me what YOUR goals are.  I will check in with you to see how you are doing along the way.  And, fair is fair, I posted mine yesterday so I am also asking for accountability help. Thanks

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Time To Change...2013 Edition

First, I must apologize for using the title of a Brady Bunch song as the title of this blog entry (you know, the episode when Peter's voice changes while they are in the recording studio? Well past the point the show jumped the shark, IMHO.).  But I thought it would be fitting as I "officially" announce my goals for the coming year.

I am usually not one to make "New Year's Resolutions" since I have a terrible time with the follow through (mostly because I am an island and have little personal accountability in my me change that, harass me endlessly to stay on track, I can take it).  But this year I have a series of goals which I feel are very necessary to my personal/spiritual/physical growth and desire to accomplish them.

Categorically, here they are:

  1. Begin working on my college degree.  I have the courses, just have not started, mostly due to trying to find time.
  2. Become more social and actually spend time with others (not just in a work setting).
  3. MOVE!!! I need to, at the very least, locate suitable housing for my family.  I NEED them to join me full-time.  Whether or not that means finding something local or waiting in hope of relocating in general, I am open.  I would prefer the relocating and have 2 locations which I would prefer, but God is in control and knows best.
  1. Read through the Bible (like I try every year), and compile my notes and annotations from the several Bibles I read with into a digital notebook of some sort.  This will help me stay organized and assist in tracking things I have seen a little different than most people (in my odd/skewed way of thinking).
  2. Get consistent in my prayer life.
  3. I would like to lead a "Run For God" 5K training program/Bible Study.
  1. I want/need to get back to running.  I have completed a marathon in the past, but 2012 was a non-event as far as running goes.  I have done almost none and made little effort to do anything.  In 2013, I have pledged to run 1,000 miles (an average of 2.74 miles a day which I will not run every day, but as I increase my distances it will balance out). Additionally, in conjunction with the 1,000 mile running goal, is my goal to cover 2,013 miles for charity with added miles on bicycle.
  2. I am personally pledging $1 for each mile I cover which I will donate to Hope House in Midland, Texas in January 2014.  The Hope House provides discounted/free residence for individuals and their family while under going cancer treatments in Midland.  I have stayed there on several occasions and will again soon (if I can call early enough to get a reservation!!).  I fully support everything they do and wish to give back to them in some way.  I would like to ask you, my readers, to consider contributing to this charity as well, either in support of my goal or directly.  I will be setting up a donations widget soon and will have it on the main page of this blog.  Stay tuned!!
To start things off, I have registered for my first 5K of the year on January 5th.  The Monahans Sand Dunes 5K in the Monahans Sand Dune State Park in Monahans, Texas.  I drive through this town every other week when I head to Midland for chemo therapy.  While this will be a non-treatment weekend, I figured I need to register for everything within a reasonable commute to keep me motivated, and sadly, living in the armpit of Texas, there are not many close by.  There is another in Midland in March which I have on my calendar, as well.

This will get me started on another goal of completing a running grand slam (completing a 5K, 10K, half marathon and a full marathon in 2013).  There will hopefully be a sprint triathlon in the mix as well.

All of these goals have a semi-common theme: I firmly believe they will assist me in dealing with/overcoming cancer.  I have a lot more future goals but mostly I just want to be around a long time to try to reach them.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

No More Tears...

I have been seriously remiss in the consistency of posting here lately. In general, life has managed to get in the way and/or I have chosen to better utilize my time in areas that I hold more dear (spending time with my family while they were here).

Now that they have returned to GA for the time-being, I hope to gather my thoughts and regain some momentum in my writing. 

Recent events at the Sandy Hook Elementary school have caused sadness, outrage, and also ignited the emotions of this divided nation over the issues of public safety and gun control.  I am avoiding the controversial topics and will only address sadness.

A recently read verse has struck a chord with me and I wanted to share some thoughts.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:04 (KJV)
That is a promise.

That is something I love about the Bible, it holds our promises together for us to read through and find comfort in times of need.  We need the comfort frequently (at least I do). 

I admit to being a publicly stoic and generally sarcastic individual who displays to the world that little affects me.  In my line of work there is a certain stoicism that prevails.  None of us wish to be perceived as "weak".  So we go about life with an air of hubris and often display "gallows humor" during difficult/tragic situations.  But it is only a mask.

Upon hearing the news of this tragedy and reading the rhetorical question of "How can someone shoot a child?" my initial thought was "just aim a bit lower."  That is terrible, I admit, so please do not think less of me (if that is even possible).  It is a way of dealing with grief and a defense mechanism.  Once I returned home that day, I immediately hugged my children and held back tears for the victims and of joy that mine were safe before me.

One day, when I finally take off the mask, Jesus will be there to wipe the years of tears away.  The sorrow and the pain will be swept away.  I will be comforted.

You can too.  Put your trust in Him.  Believe on him who is the only One who has the power to provide all you truly need.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest Post: Fighting Cancer With My New Family

Today's post is a very special installment, a guest post from Cameron Von St. James (bio below). So, without any further ado...

My wife has said on several occasions that she doesn't know how hard it was for me to deal with life after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I hope to share more in this article with both Heather, as well as anyone else currently struggling through a similar situation, in the hopes that they can take some lessons away from my experiences.

Heather was diagnosed just three months after the birth of our first and only child, Lily. Our joy and excitement about the future of our new family was stripped away in an instant when we got the news from Heather’s doctor – she had cancer. I looked at my wife as the tears welled up in her eyes, and in that moment I had no idea how we would every make it through this.

I used a lot of profanity following Heather’s diagnosis. I was angry at the world for putting my family in this cruel and unfair situation. It didn't take me long to realize how selfish I was being. I realized that the last thing my wife needed was to see how scared I really was. I had to get it together and be strong for my wife and daughter, but it was hard. It took a while for me to accomplish that, but I was finally able to be the rock that Heather needed.

My days were so overwhelming, though. I suddenly had a whole new list of responsibilities, and it took a while to adjust. I had to work, make travel arrangements and appointments for my wife’s medical care, and care for my family, house, and pets. I was so stressed. I learned that I couldn't do it all without the help of our friends and family. We were so blessed to have them offer their help, and we are still so blessed to have them in our lives. I couldn't have done it without them.

It was all hard, but by far the most difficult part was being away from my family for two months. I wanted to be Heather’s caregiver while she recovered from her extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery in Boston, but I couldn't give her the care she needed and work at the same time. We had to make a very difficult decision. That decision was to send Heather to stay with her parents in South Dakota while she recovered and prepared for her radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Lily had already been staying there during Heather’s operation, which left me at home, alone, to work and take care of our home.

I only saw them one time during this two-month period. I drove to them one Friday night after work. I drove overnight and through a late season snowstorm, and got to spend all day Saturday with them. I was exhausted, but I had to get back in my car and drive home on Sunday so that I could work on Monday morning. It was not easy for me to be away from them, but I don’t regret it at all. I know that we were just so lucky to even have the ability to make such a difficult decision, and I learned to take comfort in that fact.

It’s been more than six years, and despite the odds initially stacked against her, Heather is healthy again. I learned so much from this time in our lives. The most important thing I learned was the importance of a strong and loving community. We could not have done this without all the help our friends and family gave us. I am so blessed and so thankful for them. I also learned to never allow myself to regret any of the difficult decisions we were forced to make during this trying time. Instead, we learned to take comfort in the fact that we retained some small amount of control over a situation that often seem completely out of our control. I hope that with what I've shared I can help another family who is going through a similar cancer situation.It’s not easy, but it is doable.

Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to  Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their world's turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of his only child. When faced with the very real possibility of raising Lily on his own, he fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them to Boston to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Heather continues to thrive 6 years later.

Through out the next few years, while being a caregiver to Heather and dad to Lily, Cameron returned to school full time to finish his degree. He worked full time, went to school full time and graduated with high honors at the top of his class in June of 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology. He was soon offered a position at US Bank as Network Analyst and continues to pursue his career.

Like Heather, Cameron is passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. It is his hope that sharing his story will help others those battling cancer and their caregivers who provide them care and guidance in their journey.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Home Is Where...

So you know the one about the tortoise and the hare, right?  They are out playing around and the hare says to the tortoise, in a cocky sort of way, “Hey, tortoise, I’ll race you home?”

“Sure,” says the tortoise, smiling.

“Ready, set, go!” The hare takes off running.  The tortoise pulls his head, tail, and feet into his shell and says:

“I win.”

I read this little proverb in an article today and it made me think a bit.

I am reminded that we, as Christians, are never "at home" as long as we are in this earthly body.  We should strive to be in our resurrected body with the Lord (but not to hasten that by ending this earthly existence prematurely, of course).  2 Corinthians 5:1-10 says the following:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.  While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly bod
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. 

I know I have vented here on more than one occasion that I am not content in my current "home."  By home I refer to my geographic location and not the physical structure in which I reside.  I know there is a purpose for me being here and I long to figure that out (though professionally, I know I am here to be the voice of reason and attempt to "fix" several areas of inconsistency at work).

Whatever the reason, there is one and I need to just accept the fact I am here.  When the time comes to move, the situations will align themselves and I will move on to my next assignment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


OK...this is not really a fair assessment of how I am feeling, but I dread the fact that I am heading that direction.

I am rapidly descending into the pit of utter disdain for my job.  That saddens me.  Mostly, because there was a time when I truly cared (even here which is the root of my malaise).

Simple job requirements which happen in a timely manner in pretty much every other location of this job cannot seem to be accomplished here.  When the question is posed as to "what can we do to improve?" and an open and honest answer is met with "we can't do that because we have never done that," I have to wonder about the sincerity of the concern. To quote Dr. Phil, "How's that working out for you?"  If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got. (Attributed to Mark Twain, though the jury is out on that one.)

Sure, I will be the first to agree with you that change for the simple sake of change or all change in general is not always good change; but when you realize something (a process, for instance) is irreparably broken something has to change.  It bothers me that the process was identified as needing change 6 months ago and I was tasked to develop and implement the change, then my recommendations were shelved.  Now it becomes a problem again, and you want my opinion only to tell me that what I see to be a fix is not doable.

I am confused.  Do you want the issue fixed, or not? Will it be an easy fix? Not at all since it will involve the shifting of mindsets and paradigms as much or more than the changing of actual duties.  Can it be done? YES! It just takes investment in the idea (belief, not financial) from the top down, raise expectations, hold people accountable for the competency level they are getting paid for, and get the job done.

The problem is a combination of both ignorance and apathy (what's the difference? I don't know and I don't care), but can be solved!  Give up your preconceived notions of what can be done and try something radical (expect people to be able to do their jobs!).

Am I an expert on the situation at hand? I wouldn't say that, but I know I have about the highest competency level of my peers and subordinates, I have seen it work.  Do what I am recommending, there will be change and it can be positive change.

Just my little rant since I go to work and can feel my soul getting sucked out of me.  No purpose and no direction from the top in the happy little fiefdom in which I work.  Joy...