The Day The Doctor Said “Cancer” – Vomiting, Ambulances, and Hospitals

A Followup to “The Day The Doctor Said “Cancer” – Chemotherapy

These always end up being much longer than I anticipate in the beginning. When it comes to writing, apparently I’m a rambler.

The Short Version: I got sick, but Chemo is over. I dread ever having to do it again. I was having an amazing week of recovery as all was well, then I got a rash and a fever, went to the ER, was inpatient for a few days, and now I’m back home.

The Longer Version: Chemotherapy is done. Hopefully, for good. After I finished on Wednesday, I felt, well, simply put, awful. This made me dread the coming weekend and next week even more. The doctors painted it as the worst part yet.

Thursday was worse. My platelets had dropped to 47K. Consequently they scheduled me for a platelet transfusion Friday morning. I started the whole vomiting routine around 3:30 am and ached all over. Honestly, I don’t know how people do this week after week. I know my five consecutive day treatment isn’t necessarily the norm, but to do it week after week for months at a time, even once a week, I cannot imagine.

I crawled out of bed and reluctantly went in for my transfusion/infusion, whatever fusion, of platelets. I felt nauseous and the Zofran, my long lost friend from my 2013 subarachnoid hemorrhage, didn’t seem to be helping.

Platelet process went well. We went upstairs to Chemo. They could tell I was not well. They asked if I wanted a stronger nausea medicine through the IV. I just wanted to say “Drug me up sister, this is miserable.” But I refrained as I found most did not enjoy my humor like I do. You laugh or cry, I choose to laugh. But I digress. Whatever the drug, it was the good stuff and I started feeling back to normal very quickly. But I still had the pit I was supposedly about to fall into, in the back of my mind.

As I finished Chemo and they removed the midline some of the nurses gathered around to present me with a certificate of completion and have me ring a bell. They all cheered. As you can imagine, I loved all the attention. Not. I did NOT love all the attention. This was not just because I wanted to go home before the good stuff wore off, but also, as I rang the bell, I felt like I slighted those who go through a rigorous process of weeks at a time, losing hair, vomiting, loss of appetite, etc. This was a celebration of an accomplishment I didn’t feel like earned. My wife tried to help me feel better but telling me I got the “mother load” all at once and it was a feat to make it through. The real question is “Did I have a choice?” Some would say yes. I’m not so sure.  But again, hat’s off for those who endure chemo for extended periods of time, over and over again, as I cannot fathom the torture they engage in.

I fully expected to vomit through the night Friday. Nothing. Surely things would go down hill Saturday. It was a beautiful day. Sunday? Nope, all was well. When was the impending doom coming? Monday I received the rare opportunity to go to Lawrence Memorial hospital twice, in one day, to have my blood drawn because they didn’t draw all the vials the first time. I am human, mistakes are made. But we called ahead and LMH required the doctor to fax the orders and/or use some digital system to make it known what he wanted done. He did that and I carried in the order that they had given me. They had two copies of the same thing, but only drew the 1st vial. Oh well, they gave me a $5.00 off coupon to use in the cafeteria. I guess that was supposed to make the second trip and stick ok.

Andi, Dr. Smeltzer’s nurse called to say my White Blood Cell Count was down to .7 or 700. Normal is 4 – 11 or 4,000 to 11,000. Needless to say, this is not good. As an aside, more than one of you has asked why my blood counts weren’t tested daily to see if I could get Chemo like they do with other people. As I understand it, the term Chemotherapy is a very general term for all kinds of different drug therapies within different time frames and regiments. Hairy Cell Leukemia basically attacks the immune system. Consequently, they know the numbers are going to be really low because the Cladribine is killing everything off. So there’s no point in checking, unless you have the super human ability to grow extra veins and arteries and they know they’ll have to give you some platelets. Back to the point. My WBC was not good. BUT my platelets were up in the 90’s, which is likely why I was feeling so good. I don’t necessarily understand that, that’s just what I was told.

Even being stuck twice on Monday didn’t keep me down. The week was going great. I spent time outside pulling weeds, of all things, because no one would allow me to touch any tools. I might scrap, bruise, cut, or lacerate something and get an infection. I was covered head to to toe in 80+ degree weather, hiding from the sun. But it was glorious. I was doing fantastic. The dreaded week was really nothing to dread.

Then Friday hit. I was tired. I thought I had just done too much on Thursday, so I slept for quite a while after the kids went to school. Around noon I noticed my neck started itching. There was a very light pink spot. Immediately I thought I picked up poison ivy. Oh why do you itch me so?! Awesome. As I moved throughout the day, not doing much of anything, I was dragging. Brandy noticed the now not so light pink rash on my neck. My body started to ache and I was feverish. Within the period of an hour I watched my temperature rise from 99 to 101.3

Brandy took me to the LMH ER. I stood outside while she “explained,” as only she could explain, to the guy at the counter that I couldn’t be in the waiting room with “this mess.” He got a little excited and ran around for a while before he came out to get me and take me to triage. By the time we sat down in the triage room the rash was raging down my chest and back. They immediately took me back to a room. The doctor stopped in, took a few notes and sent for the lab. Remember this is the place that had to stick me twice on Monday because they forgot the other vial – I’m not bitter, I just hate needles.

The lab tech told me up front she was going to have to stick me three times. 5 times all together?!? You have got to be kidding me?! I avoided 5 sticks last week with a midline. Smack my toe with a hammer or something, just stay away from me with needles! Somehow she got what she wanted, and I didn’t. I even tried to convince her to take at least one stick from her partners arm. I thought it looked like he had some fairly large veins. No dice.

When the lab results came back they informed me that I was neutropenic – my white blood cell count was terribly low – now down to .67, but I already knew this. In fact I told them when we came in. They must not have believed me and thought I was wearing the mask as a fashion statement. So, they pumped antibiotics into me, called the on call oncologist at St. Lukes East, then put me in an ambulance and sent me there. It was time to go inpatient. We arrived around the pleasant hour of 12:00 am.

Being neutropenic, everyone had the joy of wearing a mask into my room. They changed my drugs around and started giving me shots in my stomach to try to stimulate my WBC production. This was especially pleasant – more needles. After meeting with the oncologist on Saturday, turns out the rash raging over my body and likely the cause of my fever was from the chemotherapy drug, cladribine, interacting with one of the antibiotics that I was taking – SMZ/TMP. According to what the hospitalist read the night before when he was consulting with the oncologist at 1 in the morning, the rash only occurs in 10-23% of those who take the two drugs together. In other words, if it’s gonna happen, its gonna happen to me. Just like who else in the world do you know that’s allergic to Mango’s aside from me? They put me on benadryl, claritin, a steroid, a probiotic, and 2 different IV antibiotics for safe measure. They wanted to watch rash until it peaked, but also wanted to make sure the fever wasn’t from some other infection or something that was recurring.

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Will someone scratch my back? I sure hope this rash peaks soon. Someone needs to tell that boy to pull up his pants. No one needs to see that! I have a staple gun that will take care of that sagging problem. But again, I digress. I had to remove the rings from my hands on Saturday because my hands were swelling with the rash moving over my body.

Alas, Sunday afternoon the rash was receding. It’s still over the majority of my body, just not out to my fingers and toes anymore. They say it may last up to a couple weeks. Since I was not having recurring fevers and the rash is in the process of receding, I got to come home at noon today. I go back for lab work Monday morning and meet with Dr. Smeltzer, the oncologist, in the afternoon.

As an aside, all in all, I was very highly impressed with the care and attention I received at St. Luke’s East. They are really top notch.

 

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The Day The Doctor Said “Cancer” – Chemotherapy

A Followup to “The Day The Doctor Said ‘Cancer'”

Last Tuesday, we met with Dr. Smeltzer. Turns out, he’s the son of my 4thgrade elementary teacher. Additionally, my brother and I wrestled with his older brother. Yes, OLDER brother. This can only mean one thing…I have reached the dreaded age where the Dr. is younger than I am. When did I get old?

Regardless, Brandy and I were very comfortable with him. After he recited from memory my medical history, no small feat in itself, he took the time to explain how he and Dr. Call from Mayo thought we should proceed and answer all of our questions. Even the trivial things. He appears to be very cautious and simply unwilling to take unnecessary risk. He informed me that he didn’t care what I did outside of Chemo, but once Chemo started, he didn’t want me around people, period, for about 4 weeks. And then reserved the right to extend my isolation. He also ran some blood work and found that my platelets had dropped to 61K. He sent us home to talk about our options.

Although Dr. Smeltzer came with high recommendations from Dr. Call, Brandy contacted a few friends in the medical industry around KC inquiring about Dr. Smeltzer, but in particular, St. Luke’s East. Dr. Smeltzer and St. Luke’s both received rave reviews, but especially Dr. Smeltzer. Apparently, everyone thinks he is REALLY smart and said he is very closely involved with every aspect of his patient’s care.  After some deliberation, we decided to have Chemo done at St. Luke’s.

On Monday, April 23, I began Chemotherapy. I went in at 11 to have a picc line put in. But because of my super human ability to grow excess veins and arteries, the nice lady with the excessively large needles got permission to put a midline in my arm instead of a picc line. There are actually less risks with a midline and she was somewhat fearful of the line going into the excessive vasculature around my heart instead of where she wanted it to go.

Once the fun of putting the midline in my arm was done, we headed upstairs for Chemotherapy “education” with the nurse practitioner. She had to have me sign 500 forms about the side effects of Chemotherapy and the possibility of things like infection, hospital stays, etc. so that they can cover their basis for being sued when someone’s liver fails. She did inform me though, that I basically had a 70% chance of keeping my hair through this process. I wanted to tell her that it didn’t really matter as I have four kids and work with teenagers. It’s all going to come out sooner or later. But she wasn’t really amused by my previous sarcasm and jokes, so I kept it to myself. It must have been a long day for her.

Immediately following my “education” we went back for chemo. Chair 16. It vibrated, had an internal heater, plus they gave me one of those warm blankets, a tv, and they had snacks. If you know me, I took full advantage of the snacks. It was fantastic, aside from the pesky midline in my arm. Chemo itself was supposed to take 2 hours. Well, we sat there for a very long time. A VERY long time. They had to run labs, get the poison properly mixed, and make sure the IV machine was set to the most sensitive setting so I wouldn’t get an air embolism in an AVM. Apparently, I’m fairly high maintenance. Dr. Smeltzer came by to talk with us, twice. He informed me that my platelets had continued to drop. They were now at 55K, down 6K from last Tuesday. Consequently, I will likely get a platelet transfusion on Thursday.

But at last we were done and it was already 7 pm. 2 hours, 5 hours, same difference, right? Especially when you have a heated vibrating chair and all the Jell-O and granola bars you can eat. I’ve heard of people sharing stories of “closing down the bars.” Since I don’t go to bars, I’ve never closed one down, but who else can say they closed down the chemo clinic? Yeah, it was just us left with 2 nurses since they actually closed at 5 pm. I felt pretty good as we came home. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well. Just one of those nights where you wake up every hour and look at the clock. It was fantastic…not, not fantastic.

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Tuesday, Day 2, I spent some time outside in the morning. I felt good. Although it was a beautiful day, I was completely covered as I am supposed to stay out of the sun. We returned for the second round of chemo promptly at 1:45 pm. But they had no Jell-O. I was devastated. How could I be expected to sit for hours in my heated vibrating chair without my Jell-O? And hours it was, again. (But we did get to watch a LOT of “Returning the Favor” with Mike Rowe. Almost completed season 2.) We shut the place down…again 2 in a row. They asked if I could come earlier the rest of the week. I think they are tired of waiting on me. This time, I was tired and had some pain. Once we got home, I ate and talked with the kids via FaceTime from the isolation of our room, then I went to bed. I slept fairly decent, for 12 hours. I don’t know that I’ve ever done that before. Probably have, just don’t remember it because I’ve slept since then.

 

So here I sit on Wednesday morning, watching it rain out the window and listening to the owl’s hoot at each other in the trees by the creek. It’s Day 3. I just drank my daily regimen of freshly squeezed carrot juice and am awaiting our noon departure for my daily poisoning. I sure hope they’ve restocked the strawberry Jell-O. If not, I guess I will have to take comfort in the vibrating heated chair and warm blanket. I may just sleep today, sorry Mike Rowe.

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The Day The Doctor Said “Cancer”

The Short Version:

Wednesday, March 28th, I was told I had Hairy Cell Leukemia. Cancer. I am meeting with a hematology oncologist in Lee’s Summit, Missouri next Tuesday and should undergo chemo within the next month.

The Longer, more involved, version with headings so you can skip around:

Hairy Cell Leukemia. Cancer. Simple. Concise. But I’m only 41. Forty-one. You’re not supposed to hear that “Cancer” word at this time in your life. Personally, I was hoping to never hear that word in relation to me, or my family. But he said it. HCL. Consequently, here we are. To better understand the whole scheme of things, we have to start a few years back.

HISTORY:

In April of 2000, my left lung collapsed for the 3rd time. They called it a Spontaneous Pneumothorax…again. That’s a fancy name for “Your lung collapsed, and we don’t know why.” In September 2010, our youngest was born with a rare congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, or HLHS for short. Basically, the left ventricle of her heart never developed so she has had to undergo 3 open heart surgeries, multiple heart caths, lymphangiography, lymphatic duct embolization, etc. etc. etc. (read her story here) And no one knows why. In January 2013 my brain bled. I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. No one knew why. Do you see a trend here?

But, as I sat in the ER at KU med, due to other complications after being released from my hospital vacation, I had doctor after doctor coming in to see me. Finally, on the 10th or 11th doctor, I asked “Who are you and why do so many new doctors keep coming in?!” He kinda chuckled and said “Your chart is out there and we’re all reading it. Collapsed lungs, HLHS, subarachnoid hemorrhage. When we see things in multiples like that, there’s usually something else going on. An underlying cause. We’re just all trying to figure it out.” Well that’s comforting – dripping sarcasm

The next time I went in for a checkup with my primary care physician, she talked about how “sick” I had been and how “close I had come to death.” After hearing that I mentioned what the KU Med ER doctor had said. She replied, “Yeah, we’re just waiting to see what happens to you next.” Wait, what?! SERIOUSLY? You just told me I nearly died from a brain bleed and now you’re just waiting to see what happens next? WHAT’S NEXT?

MAYO CLINIC:

It was time to go to Mayo. If you haven’t ever tried to get in at Mayo, it can be an interesting process. Fortunately for me, “When we see things in multiples…,” (maybe I should be saying unfortunately for me…) after sending my information in, they called me for an appointment within two days. It wasn’t a big deal.

At Mayo, I went through all types of testing, from genetic blood work to ultrasounds, and saw any number of doctors, all attempting to tie my collapsed lungs, brain bleed, and HLHS daughter together – I have been told multiple times that although they don’t know what causes HLHS, it’s not genetic. Yet, within the past two years or so, Brandy and I received a package from Texas Children’s wanting a saliva sample for some genetic research they were doing in relation to HLHS – and I digress. Back to the topic at hand. At one point I was asked by a doctor if I was super flexible, thinking maybe Marfan’s syndrome. My wife started laughing and said, “He’s the most inflexible person I know.” – Was she talking about my body stretching or my attitude? Did she just call me stubborn?

HHT and AVM’s:

Regardless, nothing was coming together, until I saw Dr. McPhail. Yes, that is his name. Dr. McPhail. He is a vascular doctor that asked for a CT scan with contrast, but to only put the contrast in while I was getting the scan. Kind of a simultaneous deal. In doing so, they came up with this computer-generated picture of my heart.

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All the spaghetti like structures are not supposed to be there. They are called Arterial Venus Malformations, or AVM’s. Apparently, I grow extra veins and arteries, which is not a good thing. The veins and arteries in your are separated by capillaries. The blood from your heart flows through the high pressure arties to the capillaries, where the pressure is diffused, and then into your low-pressure veins. When these AVM’s are formed, there are no capillaries. Consequently, the junctions between the arteries and veins are weak and have a tendency to break. Knowing that I have had crazy nose bleeds since I was a kid, and now that I have AVM’s, Dr. McPhail started looking at Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia aka HHT. HHT is a rare autosomal dominant genetic disorder that leads to abnormal blood vessel formation in the skin, mucous membranes – my nose bleeds, and often in organs such as the lungs, liver, and brain – hence my brain bleeding. This could also be a possible explanation for my lungs. But says nothing about a connection to my HLHS daughter.

In order to be diagnosed with HHT, you have to have 3 of 4 factors. I was already at 2, so I either had to have a family history where others were diagnosed with it, or there is a genetic test that isn’t 100%. Neither of which panned out. But at least now I have a possible explanation for my brain, lungs, and my random nose bleeds.

The majority of the time, when an AVM is found, they go in and remove it. Because of where this particular one is, they’re not going to mess with it. Consequently, every two years I get to go back to Mayo, have an ultrasound, have blood drawn, and see Dr. McPhail. Every 4 years, I get to have the CT scan with contrast that created the above picture. 2017 was a CT scan year.

As for my AVM’s, heart, and blood work, on Dr. McPhail’s account, I was a healthy 40-year-old that should easily live another 40. But, for some reason, my spleen was MUCH larger on the CT scan that it had been previously in 2013. There was something else going on, but Dr. McPhail had a theory that he was going to check out and there was nothing to be worried about. So we went home.

HEMATOLOGY:

The next day, Dr. McPhail called. His theory was not correct, and he wanted me to go see a hematologist. We returned to Mayo in Minnesota the next week. Met with 3 different doctors, got asked 900 questions I answered “no” to the majority of the time, had some blood tests done, and an ultrasound of my spleen. Nothing was conclusive. They told us to go home, have the same blood test and ultrasound done again in 3 months “just to be sure,” but likely I had had some infection and my spleen was enlarged because it was filtering out bad cells. We were told, “No need to return, just have the tests done in Lawrence and the results sent here.”

We decided we would rather go back to Mayo. When my wife called for an appointment, the doctor didn’t have any for a few months because he was on hospital service. He told the nurse that I could meet with his PA. He was certain there wasn’t going to be any problems and that my spleen would have returned to normal.

We went back to Minnesota. I had an ultrasound and bloodwork in the morning, then went to meet with the PA in the afternoon. As we were sitting in the room, the PA walked in and then the Dr. walked in right behind her. He said “I’m so glad you came back! I was just sure this was nothing.” My mind whirred. I said, “I thought you were on hospital service?” He replied, “I am, but I read your reports and called her (the PA) to tell her I would be here.” Wow, um, this is not good. He asked me 900 questions again about pain and an asundry of other things I had no answer to. He said he already requested that they do a different test on my blood and pending the results of that test he wanted me to have a bone marrow biopsy. Did I mention I hate needles?

The receptionist asked the PA if she was ordering the sedated bone marrow biopsy or non-sedated. I interjected and said, “If it’s not the sedated biopsy, I will have my wife punch me until she knocks me out.” She ordered the sedated biopsy. They scheduled the bone marrow biopsy the next day for 12:15, pending the outcome of the blood test.

We hadn’t heard anything from the Dr. by 11:30 so we went up to his receptionist desk on the 10th floor. They called the PA who looked up the test on the computer. It was still pending, so she was going to call the doctor at the hospital. He called the lab and then called Brandy. He told us the test was still pending, but he really thought we were delaying the inevitable. If it were him, he would go ahead and do the biopsy. I cringed but agreed.

HAIRY CELL LEUKEMIA:

After the biopsy, we were packing up to head home because the results of that were not going to available for a few days. The doctor called. He told Brandy that my blood test had come back positive for Hairy Cell Leukemia. The bone marrow test would confirm or deny it as a diagnosis. He didn’t really tell us anything about it. I was in shock. Being a pessimist, my mind went directly to death. Do I need to make videos for my kids for the future? Do I need to put together my funeral? Etc., etc.

We drove home, and I read about HCL online. After reading about it, it didn’t really sound like it was that big of a deal. I told Brandy that and she glared at me saying, “You can’t say cancer and not a big deal in the same sentence.” Ok. That’s fair. Point well made. The doctor called the next day to say that the bone marrow biopsy confirmed Hairy Cell Leukemia.

I was standing in the office of my pastor when Brandy called to tell me. After I got off the phone, he asked how I was. I had to say I wasn’t really sure. It was surreal. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I don’t know that I know now what I’m supposed to feel or think. I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and said, “I have cancer.” Nothing changed. I didn’t feel any different. Life was the same. It’s strange that way…

HEMATOLOGY ONCOLOGY:

We returned to Mayo to meet with a specialist, Dr. Call, who only treats Hairy Cell Leukemia. To this point, all the information we had came from the internet, and none of it was about me specifically. We were eager to hear what he had to say. And he had a lot to say. He probably spent an hour to an hour and a half talking with us.

In summation, the Leukemia I have is rare and makes up only 2% of all leukemia’s. It used to be very difficult to treat. But because of a drug approved by the FDA in 1992, it is very simple. Chemo is 5 treatments. 1 per day for 2 hours, 5 days straight. Everyone who has this type of cancer gets the same treatment. It’s an “easy” treatment, but it’s a matter of how your body responds. 2/3’s of people go into remission for 15-20 years after going through chemo once. That sounds awesome! Yes? He said we would talk about the other 1/3 if it came to that. In other words, it ain’t good. I assume it goes back to the “it’s very difficult to treat” statement. But, it’s also not really the cancer that they’re concerned about with me. In fact, the doctor said it should be a “fairly boring process” for me. It’s all the other complications, especially with my other health issues – i.e. AVM’s, sickness, and the higher incidence of other cancers. Now I get to see a dermatologist at least once a year because of a higher incidence of skin cancer. Yipee!

For me specifically, he explained that 70-80% of my white blood cells are cancerous, meaning I have a greatly weakened immune system. With HCL comes a lower platelet count as well. A normal platelet count is between 150K – 400K. In 2013 mine was 230K. In normal people they would do major surgery with a platelet count of 80K. They would do minor surgery at 50K, and give a transfusion at 10K. But, because of my AVM’s, they don’t want my platelet count dropping below 50K. Right now, it is between 70 and 90K. They don’t want my brain bleeding or something and having my platelet count that low. This explains why my nose bled like a faucet over a trashcan for 40 minutes the other day.

Dr. Call said it wasn’t an emergency but advised me to be treated within the next month. He recommended that I go see a Doctor closer to home for treatment. That way, if something did go wrong, especially during the 6-week follow-up when they check your blood counts regularly, I would have a doctor that knew what was going on close to home. Only problem is, do they really know what’s going on? See, when we asked about the chemo going through a filter in the IV because of my AVM’s, Dr. Call responded, “I’ve never heard of that. You’re teaching me something here.” Awesome, if you don’t know, why would someone with less training than you? Needless to say, I have reached out to Dr. McPhail, the vascular doctor discussed previously, to get his thoughts.

In the end, I am headed to see a Dr. Smeltzer in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, tomorrow. He comes with high recommendations as Dr. Call said he would send his own family to him – Which is great, but would he send his own family to the hospital there if something went wrong? Ahhhh, the pessimist in me took over – We will see what Dr. Smeltzer has to say and what kind of plan he comes up with for the next month on my life.

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Easter is coming, but first there’s Friday

Easter is coming, but first there’s Friday. First, there’s death. There’s no resurrection, no new life, without first, there being death.

As Americans, we’re such a “want it now” instant gratification society, but we don’t want to have to do anything to get there. Like a friend of mine once said “I want to be thin, but I don’t want to ‘GET’ thin because that would involve diet and exercise. Nasty little words.” In the same way, we say we want to be close to God. We say we want to see Him move in our life and move in those around us. We say we want to be more like Him. But most of the time we don’t want to do the work that is required of us.

The work not just being going to church on Sunday, spending time in prayer, and reading the Word. But the work being not watching some show because of what it will put in your mind, or not being a part of what our friends are doing because we’re called to be above reproach, or giving up something frivolous, or whatever. We want the relationship without the work. But there is so much value in the work. There’s so much value in the extended times of intimate prayer and reading the Word in order to know God and be obedient to Him as opposed to just doing it to check it off your list. There’s so much value in letting go of some things that are temporal to build things that are eternal.

How much sweeter in our relationship with the Father when we are seeking Him daily? How much more satisfying is our life when we die to ourselves and seek to live for Him? When we let go of the things of this world and freely run into His arms. The process is not always fun. The work is usually hard. At times it can be especially painful. But the rewards are incredible. But first there has to be death. There’s no new life without death. Easter is coming, but first there’s Friday.

In memory of my dear friend Janet Felber

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Be A Neighbor, Be Jesus

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

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I have been gone a lot recently. I put together and facilitated a retreat for our students at the church, I traveled to and from Texas for a conference, then I facilitated some different aspects of another retreat for a different group of students out at Webster Conference Center. If you were to walk into my office, you would see that my desk is piled up with stuff; much more so than normal if you’ve been in my office before. Needless to say, partially because of being gone, I have a long list of stuff to do; stuff that continues to just piled up.

When I came into the office today, the plan was to close the door, hit the DND (do not disturb) button on the phone, and write an article so Eva, our secretary, could get the bulletin printed, and then get on with my long list of “to do’s” that seemed so important. Per usual, things didn’t go as planned. When I walked into my office, I forgot to shut the door and I remembered I needed to call dig safe, a call I knew would take forever. As I was on the phone with dig safe I heard Eva talking with Joe about someone coming in needing assistance. The first thought that ran through my head was “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!” As I sat on the phone I could hear Joe talking with someone in the MAC. I cringed when I heard him say “The person you need to talk with is on the phone, but he can help you when he is off the phone.” Again, I thought: “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!” Remember, I have a list, I have a plan, talking with and helping someone doesn’t fit into that plan. The call continued and Joe continued to talk with the lady. I was hopeful he would take care of it and I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

As the call ended, I came to terms with the fact that I was going to have to spend some of my precious time helping someone out. I determined I would make it quick. I wouldn’t pry into their life. I would just get the general story, give them what they wanted and move on. In my mind I was sure they were a scammer anyway.

After they had filled out the proper paperwork, I returned to my office to read through it and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as I was reading the answers to the questions about church background and relationship with God, I had to stop. My heart broke and my “to do’s” no longer seemed important. If I were to make an analogy, scammer or not, they were hemorrhaging from an artery while everyone was just standing around watching, no one was helping.

The immediate need was physical, something I could easily fulfill. But the greater need was to be loved, valued, listened to, and cared for. That was going to take time, something I didn’t have in surplus. But God got my attention. He reminded me why I was at the church in the first place. He reminded me of what I was called to, not only as a pastor, but more specifically as a follower of Christ, and it had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with my “to do” list.

I took the time, I listened, and I prayed over them. The thing that once appeared as another task on an endless list I didn’t have time for, was the thing I needed to come back to the reality of who I am in Christ. People matter. They are Christ’s treasure. We are called to love them where they are, for who they are. There is no distinction in the eyes of Christ between you and me, regardless of how I look, where I came from, my net worth, or how I smell. He loves each of us, and we are called to do the same.

It has been my prayer for some time that I would see people as He sees them, and consequently, love them as He loves them. Anyone can be a good neighbor. Being Jesus to someone is a calling we all, as Christians, must embrace. It may take time, it may even cost monetarily, but how we treat others is a reflection on our relationship with Christ and who He is to the community around us.

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Are You Ready to Fight?

2017-3-5 Fight series

Did you know that if you place a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out. But if you place a frog in a pot of water at room temperature and slowly turn up the heat, you will eventually cook it to death. Sin does the same thing to us: one temptation at a time.

Take King David as an example in 2 Samuel 11, where we see  just how easily one sin can lead to another and hinder our walk with the Lord.  Verse 1: “Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.”  Let’s stop there.  What has David done wrong?  Although it may be very minor, this is David’s first mistake of many.  He didn’t go to battle as he should have, he thought it would be nice to stay home, he was not where he should have been. Looking back at verse 2Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house.”  Mistake #2, he lay around all day, his laziness got the best of him.  Continuing, “and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. So David sent and inquired about the woman.”  Mistake # 3, he let his curiosity get the best of Him.  At this point, I can’t speak for David, but I highly doubt that he ever even envisioned kissing Bathsheba much less sleeping with her and getting her pregnant. Going on to verse 3 “So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’  And David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, ‘I am pregnant.’”  Wow…one temptation after another, it started so small and continued to grow to be so significant.  Had he just gone to war like he was supposed to, none of this would ever have occurred. It’s like dominoes falling down.  One can knock over two, which can knock over four and on down the line.

In this passage he demonstrates the frog metaphor perfectly. I’m making a few assumptions here, but if David would have known what was going to happen to him with Bathsheba, I would venture to guess he never would have stayed home from war – like a frog jumping from a boiling pot of water.  But remember if you place a frog in a pan of water at room temperature and continuously turn up the heat it will eventually be cooked to death.  We see the same with David’s situation. One compromise after another, oh I’ll just stay home from the war this one time…as the water gets a little warmer. Oh I’ll lie in bed just a few more hours and the heat becomes a little more intense. Oh I’ll just find out who she is, there is no harm in that, and the burner is getting redder by the minute. But it doesn’t stop there. You know the rest of the story, Bathsheba gets pregnant, David calls her husband home from war and attempts to convince him to have relations with her. When he refuses, David has him killed and marries Bathsheba for himself. In an attempt to make the situation right he sins further.  One compromise after another, the heat rose until David was in over his head and could see no way out.

Are you ready to fight before you find yourself with no way out? Temptation will eat you alive. Don’t let it overtake you. Stand up and fight the sin that so easily entangles you. Living a for Christ isn’t for sissies.

 

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What if…?

what-ifWhat if…the phrase itself usually makes me cringe, especially when I hear it coming out of the mouth of one of my children. This is due to the face that the statement to follow the “what if” will be highly unlikely. It’s usually something like “What if the sun were to fall into the earth?” Me: “We all would die, the end.” But then they respond with “well, what if…” and change up the scenario. I can’t ever satisfy them with an answer and that be enough. It drives me batty. Needless to say, I don’t care for the phrase.

Even so, this past Sunday night, as I sat at Winter Jam, surrounded by potentially more than 19,000 people, I found myself wondering, “What if…” What if all these people, proclaiming to be Christ followers, really truly acted like just that, genuine Christ followers? What if they proclaimed the gospel over proclaiming their own pursuits and agendas? How would Kansas City alone be different? What if…?

I began to ask myself these same questions. I began to scrutinize different aspects of my life. What if I used social media differently? How would my world change? How would it change those around me? Do all my FaceBook “friends” and twitter followers know I’m a believer? Do I project a Christ-like witness on Social Media? Do I proclaim the Gospel? If Jesus were to be sitting beside me as I scrolled through my posts and comments, would I be proud of what I had said? Would my comments and posts bring Glory to God or just to myself or my cause? Would I be embarrassed about how wrapped up and intertwined I had become in the ways and things of the world? I mean, how many people have ever come to Christ by what I have posted or by how I have commented? On the flip side, how many people have a turned away because of what I said or the nature in which I said it. My social media page may be the only Jesus someone ever sees. Will they really see Jesus? Or will they see me “standing for a cause?”*

It was a real heart check. What a difference so many people could make, without ever even getting out of the seat they were sitting in. As I scrutinized my own life, more and more “what if” questions came to mind. It was good for me. I thought it would be good for others too. A simple question to check your heart. So, I made a list. I even read the list to a very trusted advisor the next day because I wanted to make sure that MY heart was right and I didn’t want to cause a ruckus. I just wanted people to stop and think, to evaluate what they could be doing for the cause of Christ. That is my heart.

Consequently, I went on Twitter and posted “What if you were as passionate about your faith as you are about the political climate of our nation? #whatif #thinkaboutit” To date, I haven’t gotten one retweet, response, comment, nothing. But I have been told that I did cause quite a stir on FaceBook once it posted there via Twitter. (FYI, I usually stay away from FaceBook) If you felt compelled to comment, you either 1. missed the point of the post, or 2. You’re just attempting to justify your own actions and make yourself feel better.

But alas, maybe, just maybe, someone actually thought about what was being asked, played out the scenario in their head, and commented based on their own conviction, because this had NOTHING to do with any Republican, Democrat, Independent, Conservative, Liberal, Green Party, etc. There was no hidden message, there was no alternate agenda. This had everything to do with Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel and the GOSPEL alone. Anything else was a misinterpretation of the post.

I won’t be reading any of the comments made on the previous post, nor the future posts. As I already stated, I don’t really get on FaceBook except to post things on the FSBC Student page. Someone else does that through my account a lot of the time anyway. I have found that my friend Alden is right, it steals your joy. As Amit Chowdhry writes “Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently conducted a study about the effects of social media habits on the moods of users. The research determined that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.” Therefore, I stay away and life is good.

So, over the next few days I will continue to post my “What if…” series. Not all of them are What if questions. But they’re personal. They’re intended for you to examine YOUR heart. It is not my intent to begin an argument. I’m astounded that I even have to take the time to give this explanation. But I guess it just proves the point that we all need a heart check. It is my intent and prayer that people will really take stock of their lives, how they interact with others, and how they use social media.

 

*Side note: Don’t hear me say there is in anyway a separation between your RELATIONSHIP and the rest of your life. Your faith should shape your political views. You can’t compartmentalize it. A true relationship with Christ permeates all aspects of your life, otherwise it’s not a relationship at all, it’s simply a religion. A few years back I heard a politician say (paraphrase) “I won’t allow my religion to influence my decision making process…” If that’s the case, then that’s simply what it really is, religion. This is the perfect example of the difference between a RELATIONSHIP and a religion. You can go to church as much as you want but it won’t make you a Christian any more than walking into your garage makes you a car. It is all about the RELATIONSHIP. But you can’t blast people and expect them to see Jesus, even if you’re blasting them “in Jesus name.” Never do we see Him do this anywhere in Scripture. When you “stand for a cause,” the way in which most people are “standing” today, you’re telling someone that they’re wrong. When you tell them they’re wrong and they have to change, are they going to change? Maybe 1 out of 10. Maybe. If they’re reasonable. Most of the time you’ll just make them angry. BUT, if you show them Jesus and allow Him to work in them, are they going to change? No stat necessary. Jesus loved people first, and then pointed out their sin. Take the woman at the well as an example. Or the woman that was about to be stoned for adultery. The examples are innumerable.

Are your posts and comments pointing them to Him by loving them FIRST? YOU and I can’t change people, only Jesus can.

 

 

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Fad vs. Movement

Big hair, parachute pants, baggy shirts, boom boxes, denim jackets, chuck taylor’s (Converse), and hyper color shirts. They were all fads from my earlier years. Although some were good, I, as well as many others, were glad to see a lot of them go – who wants all that hair anyway. But back to the point, fads don’t last, ever. They come and go. A lot of the time faster than I can keep up with them. In fact, a friend told me the other day “When you know what’s in, it’s already out.”

If you catch it right, it can be fun to be a part of a fad for a time, but as the fads fade, so does the investment…all that money wasted on beanie babies…Wouldn’t you rather invest your life in something that’s going to make a change? Something that’s going to make a difference? Take the Civil Rights Movement or Women’s Suffrage as an example. These were movements – something that sticks around and changes lives – not only did they change lives, they changed the face of our nation. And it only happened because people were invested in it.

2000 years ago a different movement started. One in which many have given their life for. In John 6 Jesus explains that He alone is the bread of life and there is no other way to the Father. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” They turned and walked away. Maybe the cost was too high. Maybe the wider road appeared so much simpler. Nevertheless, it’s a choice we have to make as well. Will you invest yourself in the movement, or will you walk away?

As we sit in our cushioned chairs on Sunday morning, it has to be asked, is church, or better yet, your faith – your relationship, a movement you’re invested it, or is it just a fad? Is it going to fade away? Is this building someplace you come to gather with others, fellowship, and punch a time clock, leaving Jesus as a sidebar? Will you go all in and follow Jesus, or when it’s no longer cool, will you just walk away as well. It’s a choice we all make. Is it a fad, or is it a movement.

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Informal Mentoring By Alvin Reid

The following is an article written by Alvin Reid entitled “Informal Mentoring.” The original post of this article can be seen here

“Odysseus has some of the most famous adventures in the annals of Greek mythology.

Before going away to fight the Trojan War, Odysseus sought a man who would care for his son, Telemachus. Odysseus knew he would be gone for years, so he needed a man to raise his son just as he would if he were there. Odysseus found a man who did just that.

Mentor.

That is where we get the term “mentor,” which refers to someone who pours into a younger person to help him or her become what they could be. A Christian mentor is someone who helps another to become more like Christ by modeling and teaching what a Christ-follower looks like.

Students in your ministry will doubtless be helped by your events, Bible studies and other ministry opportunities that you offer. But students, today more than ever, want and need a mentor. Authors Jess and Thom Rainer note in their book “The Millennials” that three out of four Millennials want a mentor — someone to show them how to live and not just tell them what to do.

But how?

Most of us think of mentoring as a weekly time of meeting with an individual or a few people to focus on specific areas of growth. A man named Chuck did that for me in college and it literally changed my life. I have emulated him for years. I think a mark of a healthy student ministry includes not only the numbers of students involved, but also the number being actively mentored. Those I teach in student ministry hear my nonstop challenge to be constantly mentoring a few even while leading the many.

This might sound like another thing to add to your long to-do list, but my preferred approach to mentoring is actually informal. In fact, I wrote a whole ebook on it called “With” (available for free at alvinreid.com/ebooks). Informal mentoring refers to doing life together regularly. Take a young person or two with you to run errands, to help you do yard work, to serve others or just join you at the coffee shop to talk about life. You interact more in the course of daily life, which allows you to see better how to shape the student.

What are some things you do regularly that could involve a student? You do not have to be a Bible scholar to be a mentor. You don’t have to know Ke$ha is a singer, not a new brand of cereal. You do need to love Jesus and love students.

Remember, Jesus taught the multitudes.

He fed thousands.

He sent out 70.

But He changed the world with 12. And of those 12, He specifically invested in Peter, James and John.

Is there a student right now in your life who sees you as a mentor? Is there someone you should be mentoring?

If so, here are some resources:
“Mentoring Millennials” by Daniel Egeler (NavPress)
“The Be-With Factor” by Bo Boshers and Judson Poling (Zondervan)
“The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman (Revell)

Alvin L. Reid, PhD is professor of evangelism and student ministry/Bailey Smith chair of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and young professionals director at Richland Creek Community Church.

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God Has Greater Plans: Part 2

How do we know God’s plan for our life?

Jeremiah 29:11 states “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It was established previously that God has a greater plan for our own lives than we have for ourselves. But we still love to take this verse and quote it without end about God’s plan for us. It is almost like a security blanket to some as they take comfort in knowing He is ultimately in control.

The problem comes when we don’t take time to understand the context and we neglect to continue reading. Here Jeremiah the prophet is speaking on behalf of God to the exiles that have been carried to Babylon from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In verses 12 and 13 he states “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Seek Me. Jeremiah said, “God says seek Me.” No where in the passage does it say “seek after what God wants you to do.” It says “Seek God.”  How many times are we guilty of saying “God, just tell me what you want me to do! Show me where I’m supposed to be and I’ll do it”? That’s not what God asks of us. God wants us to seek Him and Him alone, not the plan.

God does have a plan, but He doesn’t reveal it all to us because, as I know in my own life, I would just want to jump to the end messing up the entire learning process in-between. Or we would run in terror because we aren’t ready for the harsh reality we will have to face in His name. God’s plan is for you to seek Him. It is only when you seek Him that you will find Him. And when you find Him, He will be a light unto your path, day by day.

But, even at that, He never said it would be easy…

The previous comic can originally be found here on adam4d.com

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