A Vacation from My Expectations

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After feeling better than I have in months, I hit a snag.

My parents rented a house in Clearwater Beach, Florida, and we joined them there in early January. We were eager for the sun and warm temps, especially because the average low in Sioux Falls this time of year is less than 7 degrees Fahrenheit! It would also be the first time Pippa had ever seen the ocean.

Shortly after arriving, I began to feel sick—quite sick. Soon my fever spiked to 103 degrees and my family took me to the hospital. I was reluctant to go, but it is standard for someone in cancer treatment to be admitted with such a high fever.

Meanwhile, right outside Clearwater, in Tampa, the national college football championship was taking place—which meant there was not only an influx of people wearing orange and crimson, but a spike in the number of people in the emergency room. When I showed up, there was an average wait time of more than five hours!

Apparently, a cancer patient is a high priority, so within 20 minutes they had me in temporary room. I didn’t know whether to be happy about the short wait or concerned. A few IVs and anti-nausea pills later, I began to recover from dehydration, which can be an intense cycle if not taken care of quickly. The nurses kept disappearing for long gaps of time, probably to treat the next victim of a tailgate brawl. The place must have been hopping, because there were no overnight rooms available. So, I tried to settle in for the night in my temporary room. There was so much hustle and bustle in the ER that I felt like I was trying to sleep during a frat party, right in the thick of the all-night beer pong.

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After running some tests, the doctors told me I had most likely picked up some type of 48-hour virus. Or maybe I had reacted to my medication? Whatever happened, it was not fun. Fortunately, I was released from the hospital within 24 hours, even though I was still feeling weak and groggy.

So much for the start of my beach vacation.

This seemed a far departure from how well I had been feeling in Colorado over Christmas, like I had taken two steps back. It was the first time I had been sick since the summer, which is amazing considering my compromised immune system.

Still, being hospitalized was a new low.

As you may recall, this was not the first time I have been hospitalized during my cancer journey. Now some of those feelings of fragility were fresh on my mind again—the whirlwind of nurse visits, pain mitigation plans and constantly beeping machines. Admitting myself felt like waving the flag of surrender—that my life would not be my own until I was released.

When I was allowed leave the Tampa hospital, I began having trouble sleeping, especially because our bed at the rental was like a slab of concrete. Before cancer, a hard bed would be annoying, but now it was a significant obstacle. My inability to sleep at night grew increasingly frustrating and discouraging.

“Part of me feels like the adventurous and outdoorsy and young side of me keeps slipping farther and farther away—so far, I fear, that I won’t ever be able to recover it,” I wrote in my journal.

This vacation was not going like I had hoped at all. It was becoming a vacation from my expectations. When I planned this trip, I had expected that I would continue feeling better. I envisioned lots of time on the beach, maybe seeing some friends in Orlando, and maybe even some surfing, if I felt good enough (I don’t like being near the ocean without surfing). But initially I spent a fair amount of time indoors, peppered with a few lazy walks.

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Pippa loved swimming in the heated pool.

On one of the mornings, I was walking on the beach and praying. In frustration, I asked God about it, though I didn’t seem to get a direct answer. So, I answered my own question: “You’ve been in treatment for months, including 25 rounds of chemo. What did you expect?”

True, getting sick should not be surprising given my road. Before we left for Florida, I had pushed myself with all the packing and to-do lists, and I was fresh off another treatment. Most significantly, in the big picture, my body has been through a lot. I used to win my age group in triathlons, but now that seems like a long time ago.

There was an evening when Elizabeth and I were in Colorado in December when we were tucked into the bed of our Longmont house with our old quilt bedspread and our wedding pictures on the walls. It felt so familiar and good, almost like the cancer thing never happened—that we didn’t moved back to South Dakota, didn’t uproot from our job and life. “Doesn’t it feel like this has all just been a bad dream, and that now we can just resume our life?” I said to Elizabeth.

Of course, the Florida incident jolted me back to reality like a strong cup of bitter coffee.

Yet, somehow being willing to admit to myself (again), that I am still in the humble state of cancer, felt initially difficult, but eventually freeing—like letting the pressure out of an overinflated tire. I was free to stop acting like I didn’t have cancer.

I also felt comforted that somehow in all of this I am understood. I was reminded of this as I read a devotional on Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight.” Beyond the medical facts, I was reminded that God knew exactly what I was thinking and feeling.

As I kept reading in Hebrews, I was also reminded of how God provided a Great High Priest, as one we can approach for help and counsel. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:12).”

img_5996Indeed, I did need grace, and over the next few days, I think I did receive it. Maybe not in an immediately-solve-all-my-problems-and-feel-completely-better kind of way, but over the next few days the trip did get better. For starters, I purchased some memory foam and slept better. I also realized that being hospitalized probably sped up my recovery, as an IV can hydrate you much faster than just drinking liquids. Also, hitting a low point mentally helped me again see the reality of my plight. As the old saying goes, “reality is your friend.” More than that, I think God meets us in our reality, especially when we can be honest with ourselves.

Soon I was starting to settle into the vacation. And what did I do with the time? First off, Elizabeth and I spent a lot of time on and near the beach—taking Pippa swimming, watching sunsets and walking. It was not my normal outdoor experience, as I’m used to a faster pace, but just sitting and being in Creation is healing in its own way. Did I mention that each day the average high was a delightful 78?

The next few days blended together pleasantly.

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Pippa sees the ocean

Introducing Pippa to the ocean was especially fun. She often says the phrase, “oh wow,” in her over-annunciated way. And once we were sitting in the white sand and sun, we heard a lot of “oh wow’s.” However, I’m afraid she is a lot like her dad in that she has a hard time sitting still. On the beach, she spent a lot time running and Elizabeth and I spent a lot of time chasing. Early on, she ran fearlessly into the sea on her own. But after an unexpected face plant from small waves, she became a lot more tentative. We tried coaxing her back in the water, but she soon preferred swimming in the pool. All in all, I’m sure she had a great time. Even now that we are back in South Dakota she continues to say to us, “beach?” and “swim?”

If only the beach were still so close.

Sailing and Island Hopping.

The last few days of our trip, Elizabeth and I did get a chance to do some adventures that were much more our speed—including visiting a secluded island preserve and sailing on a catamaran.

The Caledesi Island State Park is a natural white-sand island, about four miles in circumference with turquoise green waters. We hiked on the beach and along a three-mile loop through the island’s interior, seeing the original 1880s settlement markers along with age-old pine trees. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife to see, but we did run into an eastern diamondback rattlesnake. No kidding.

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See if you can spot my reptilian foe.

We were warned that they inhabited the island but that it was unlikely we’d see one. But seriously, this always happens to me. Ask Elizabeth—I have nearly been bitten several times trail running in Colorado. And no matter what state I visit, it seems I have a built-in snake-dar
for any snakes lurking around in the area. It’s probably because I hate them so much.

I spotted this bespeckled devil a mere foot from the trail, camouflaged in the brush and ready to strike. Once he noticed us, he grew quickly agitated and would not let us pass. After a good five-minute delay, we were finally able to squeeze by while one of us distracted him with a stick.

Minus this slithering foe, our favorite parts of Caladesi were the uncrowded beaches, which reminded us of Costa Rica, and also the shell collecting—we found several small ones with little holes in them to make a keepsake necklace for Pippa to remind her of her first trip to the ocean.

On our last full day, Elizabeth and I took a two-hour sailing lesson on a Hobbie Cat. She has always wanted to learn to sail, so the lesson was a definite highlight of the trip for her. If we ever do live near the water, Elizabeth and I would love to buy a Hobbie and go sailing much more often!

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Astoria—and My Health Update

Another enjoyable part of the trip was getting to read a few books. My favorite was Astoria, a survival story about the 1810 expedition, which sought to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest, just a few years after Lewis and Clark. Facing shipwrecks, Indian attacks and starvation, nearly half the people perished. I’m always a sucker for American Frontier stories, especially where they faced the wilderness of the new world.

Speaking of facing the wilderness, I am overdue to give an update on my health. Right now, I am in a strange, but good, place. My treatment has been very effective—much more so than the doctors expected—and thus they are unsure of what to do next. I have been cutting back on treatment (which has been fine with me) and right now we are talking through the next options. My next scan is in early February, and if things continue to look good, they will most likely pursue some further type of outside-the-box measures. I’ve heard they are leaning toward an outpatient procedure where I will receive injectable radiation into my liver, called Y90. Apparently, this has been very effective in eradicating cancer, though it is not traditionally used in cases like mine.

We received more good news lately too. I recently had another genomic blood test, and it was again 100% clear, indicating that I still have no cancer cell mutations in my bloodstream. This means the cancer is still contained (or dead) and not advancing. The scan will tell more of the story.

I am still not out of the woods yet, but good things are happening. We are endeavoring to keep waiting on the Lord with hope and patience.

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The Beach Life. This is the path we took each day from my parent’s rented cottage to Clearwater Beach, which was a mere 50 yards away.

A Long December: Playing Catch Up

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We loved hiking in Boulder with 64 degree weather—not too shabby for December!

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After months of consistency, I fell off the blog wagon in
the past several weeks. Here’s to more updates in 2017.

I will attempt to fill in some gaps. Looking back at December, Elizabeth and Pippa and I spent two weeks in Colorado for Christmas and New Years. While it wouldn’t be fair to call the whole time a vacation (the advantage of working in communications is that you can work from anywhere—which is also the disadvantage) there were certainly some relaxing days with friends and family in Colorado Springs and Longmont. We have had a lot to be thankful for, and there is nothing like sharing it with family and friends—though we only saw a fraction of the friends we wanted to. Here are some highlights from the trip:

  1. A three-week stretch with no treatment. I cannot tell you how glorious I felt—better than I have in months. There were certainly cues that my energy is not all I am used to, but I was thankful to feel as close to “normal” as I can right now.
  2. Lots of Colorado Sunshine. I can’t emphasize how great it was to just be out and about in the Colorado sun. I’ve gotten so used to the land of 300 plus days of sun per year. The light and heat boosted my mood and soul, not to mention it helps heat up the temperatures. One day in Boulder, it hit 64 degrees! I love “winter” in Colorado.
  3. Hiking, hiking and more hiking. Part of the bonus of feeling well offered the opportunity to get outside and hike as much as possible—nothing too crazy (no Incline) just getting out there. Elizabeth and Pip and I hiked at Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, as well as Lake McIntosh in Longmont and also in the Flatirons near Boulder.
  4. Staying at our house in Longmont. We have been in a strange season of geographic upheaval, moving states and three different addresses in the past 9 months. Very few places have felt like “home.” But our house in Longmont still does—maybe more than any building does right now—and it was nice to enjoy this for a short weekend. The only downside was that a lot of our friends we are used to seeing were out of town.
  5. Eating lots of Thai food and Chipotle. This is something we have often taken for granted, but there are no Thai restaurants or Chipotle in Sioux Falls. So, while in Colorado we dined at both as much as possible. I love curry as much as Oprah loves bread. And Chipotle’s quacamole is the best—$1.95 well spent.

We got back to South Dakota shortly after New Years and tried to settle back in a bit. I was thankful to say goodbye to 2016—which will go down as my hardest year yet. In 2017, I am looking forward to seeking new adventures, finishing the outdoor devotional I have been working on and especially the hope of becoming cancer free.

Here’s to good things in 2017.

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Too Cool for 2016…Happy New Year!

Thankful to #OptOutside

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Yesterday, Elizabeth and our daughter and I “opted” to go outside and join millions of other people across the U.S. who use Black Friday as an excuse to get outside and enjoy outdoor adventure, rather than buying more stuff they really don’t need.

Lest you think I’m riding a moralistic high horse, the reality is that some things I want to buy I may just buy on a different day or online—just not on the Friday after Thanksgiving 🙂 In other words, I’m not above the day, I just like to support getting outside as a lifestyle.

Along with my brother and his family, we went for hike at Great Bear Ski Area at about 11 a.m.. The sun and warmer temperatures, not to mention lack of snow, made for a great outing, especially considering the ski area has not opened up yet, and the grassy hills remained mostly dry. Another plus was the lack of wind—a rarity in South Dakota.

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Growing up I spent a lot of time skiing at Great Bear.

Opt Outside is a national day that was started a few years ago by REI. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the outdoor retailer giant closes all stores across the country (and even online shopping) and instead encourages customers to get outside and enjoy outdoor adventure. The phenomenon has definitely caught fire. Check out #optoutside and you will see more than 2 million posts—I know this because I tried to find my post from yesterday and couldn’t!

I usually don’t really need a national day to motivate me to get outside—in fact I’ve spent a lot of my life opting out of things to get outside—perhaps even to excess 🙂 It probably started in college, when my friends and I used most Saturdays to go whitewater kayaking, rather than join 30,000 other people at the UM Grizzlies home games. I like watching football—but I like kayaking even more.

There are so many benefits to getting outside—It’s always refreshing to spend time in God’s Creation.

And especially these days, it’s been healthy for Elizabeth and I to keep doing the things that give us life, especially in light of my cancer journey. One aspect about facing this disease that is especially challenging (and there are certainly many) is how it threatens to define me—that somehow the largeness of this disease overshadows all I am or have done. I’ve already lived 38 years of my life and there are many things that I would much rather have define me, like writing and outdoor adventure, being a husband and father, and my relationships with family and friends—and especially my relationship with God.

Getting outside helps me keep in touch with who I really am.

Thanksgiving week always brings a fresh reminder of gratitude. And this Friday brought one more reminder of how grateful I am for the opportunities to be outside.

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Winning but Not Quite Victorious

 

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This past Monday I had my third CT scan, which assesses the effectiveness of my treatment. In short, the news was very good.

To put it in military terms, we have beaten the enemy back, but the war is not quite over yet. In fact, there may still be some battles and skirmishes left to fight.

What partly got me thinking in military terms recently is that Elizabeth and I watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge last week—the first time we’ve been able to go to a theater together since Pippa was born! The film was excellent in quality, incredibly gory (okay for me, but not for Elizabeth), and over all very inspiring, especially faith-wise, for those who face impossible situations.

Speaking of impossible situations, I want to share more about my medical results. The scan showed that things were as good as in August, and even slightly improved. Here are some highlights:

-No evidence of cancer in my bones. “They will appear abnormal on scans probably all your life, but there is no cancer there,” the doctor said.

-As to the tumor in my liver, which has been the source: “It has a noticeably dark and dead look,” my doctor said. “I have to think that it is well treated.” The spot has decreased in size since August, but it is hard to say whether the cancer is completely gone.

And that is why I am still wary to plant a victory flag. I think God alone will be the one who gives us confidence when we should do that, but that day is not yet today. There is no cancer currently showing up in my blood, but I don’t want this enemy to become like Saruman, who appears defeated in the second Lord of the Rings movie, but then gathers strength and attacks Middle Earth again with a vengeance in The Return of the King.

Which is why I still have some battles and skirmishes to fight. My hope and prayer is that we can vanquish this cancer completely.

Because they are not sure which of the three parts of my treatment is responsible for the success, I will have to continue with chemo. My heart sank when I first heard this news on Monday. So far I’ve lasted for 21 rounds of treatment, and I would like to have been done months ago, as every week it gets harder and harder with the side effects like fatigue and nausea. How much more must I endure?

At this point, I have no idea. I do know there is a ceiling to how much a person can tolerate—the toxicity builds up and starts poisoning the body. If you push beyond a certain level, you risk irreparable side effects. And so, I think one of two things will happen:

  • I will have to stop because my body can no longer handle it
  • God somehow tells me to stop, plant a victory flag.

The good news is what God had already done. As my doctor has said, “we are no longer operating out of the textbook here,” as there could have been no way to foresee the type of positive results that I am getting. It defies most medical explanation and I am thankful.

Let me not, even for a minute, suggest or imply that I am any of the reason that this treatment has been going as well as it has. God alone is doing it and will continue to do it, if it pleases him to do so. He is certainly using the Avera Cancer Center and He has kept me strong in mind and body. But the credit is ultimately His!

And for those of you who have continued to lift us up in prayer, I do know that God is hearing and responding to your prayers. Please keep interceding for us!

Please pray…

-That God would continue to give me the strength to endure more chemo, or make it very clear when I should stop

-That God would indeed completely vanquish and eradicate this cancer and that my health would return sooner than later!

-That He would keep me from permanent side effects

-That this miracle would continue, and that God would get the full glory and credit as the story unfolds.

I look forward to the day when we can wave the flag of victory. By faith, that day will soon be here. But not quite yet.

Not yet.

P.S. These verses, sent from a family friend this past Sunday, greatly encouraged our anxious hearts. “‘O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage,’ And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” ~Daniel 10:19

 

The Thursday Treadmill

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For the past several months, Thursdays have been my least favorite day of the week—the day I get treatment.

I’ve been repeating this cycle since June. After my treatment day, then Friday, Saturday and at least part of Sunday are recovery days, as the lack of energy and nausea keep me lying flat a lot of that time. Then, Monday through Wednesday I feel good enough for normal life again. Having the “normal” days are great, but mixed. I feel as though I have to pack a week’s worth of work, errands and even social stuff in that timeline. The time slips away fast—too fast—and suddenly I’m back on Thursday treadmill again.

My facial expression wrinkles at the thought of chemo.

In fairness, I did get a week off from treatment during the week of my birthday, September 13. The two weeks without drinking the weed killer were glorious, to say the least! Elizabeth and Pippa and I stayed at my family’s cabin in Minnesota; being there proved a refreshing reprieve, to say the least.

On my birthday, Elizabeth and Pippa and climbed to the top of the Tulaby Lake Firetower. Atop the 110-foot tower, views of the maple trees beginning to change color were amazing. 

In reality, even when I’m back in the grind of treatment weeks, I have a lot to be thankful for. I am glad that the treatment is working. I am also grateful that I’ve felt well enough to keep working—at least part time. The productivity is good for my soul. Though my life is certainly not normal these days, at least I can still keep contributing to Lifelines and Cru ministries.

On another note, if you think of Elizabeth and I, please keep us in your prayers. My treatment is getting progressively harder every week (on Elizabeth, too)—which is not surprising. The body can only tolerate so much. A certain Scripture has been especially inspirational: Romans 12:12. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and persistent in prayer (BSB translation).”

I think this is relevant for anyone, but especially for those battling circumstances like cancer or other ongoing problems. Join with me in this rally call to keep a firm grip on hope, be patient through the Spirit’s power and continually bringing requests to the Father!

I look forward to this Thursday passing quickly, so I can return to the better part of the week 🙂

 

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The three of us, along with Elizabeth’s mom, visited Itasca State Park, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. 

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Saying goodbye to summer at the lake is always melancholy. This year, I helped my dad put away the main dock, by floating it toward the boat ramp, and then pulling onshore with a Bobcat. 

Hope Revisited

 

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This past Sunday, Elizabeth and I rode a roller coaster in Spirit Lake, Iowa, called The Legend. Originally built in 1930, I used to ride the old wooden coaster when I was a kid. It seemed really old and rickety back then—more than 25 years ago—and it still makes a distinct clickety-clack clickety-clack as it passes each section of the track. While devoid of any loop-the-loops or other inverted thrills, the ride featured plenty of steep drops and climbs to keep it entertaining.

A roller coaster is a very apt illustration of how things have been for Elizabeth and I the past few weeks, both emotionally and especially as it has related to our hope during my health journey.

We have seen elements of our hope snuffed out, only to see it rebuilt again quickly and strongly.

I am continually reminded, that without hope, you are pretty much dead before you are actually dead. You die before you are dying. That may sound morbid, but when you are confronted with cancer, or really anything potentially life-threatening, it is wise to consider your own mortality, and just how important a thing like hope is in this process.

As the main character in the movie Shawshank Redemption says, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” The Apostle Paul says it is one of the three big things that remain in this transient life: faith, hope and love.

Some of you have wondered about the results of my scan, and I will get to that below. In short, the news is good. But I am definitely not out of the woods yet.

The scan on August 25 showed that my treatment is working, and that all areas of the cancer have shrunk or been eliminated—in my ribs, my back and even in the source, my liver. Cancer in bones is hard to track in a CT scan, but the scan showed signs of the bones healing (which they don’t do when cancer is present). The two spots on my liver appeared to be dead or dying, having been starved of blood and oxygen by the targeted genomic drug.

I can literally feel these results. I have felt quite good for several months, and have not taken any painkillers since June. My back pain from last spring has improved dramatically. Though I am feeling better, the chemo continues to decrease my energy each week bit by bit, which is to be expected.

So, the big picture is that we have good news. Then, why this talk about our hope taking a hit? When we met with my oncologist, he seemed curiously pessimistic about the results. A big reason is the nature of my cancer: incurable. Elizabeth and I were taken aback by his reaction. We thought the news of my scan was reason to celebrate, but the way he explained it, the news seemed mixed.

For a few days, we felt under a very dark cloud—that we had no hope and that it was meaningless to keep on fighting. The loss of hope felt like a decay in our bones and hearts. It was also perplexing because things have improved and I clearly feel better.

In the midst of our despair, I sensed the Lord told me to celebrate the news, as an act of obedience and declaring his goodness in the midst of things. And so we tried to by going out to my favorite Indian restaurant, but the celebration was certainly muted.

Yet as we continued to pray, I felt like a better outlook was coming. A few days later, we met with the treatment research team who gave a much different take on my results: “remarkable” is what they said. The markers of cancer in my blood decreased from 5% down to 0.2% and the readings of my liver that were once three times the normal limit have returned to normal. This is due, in large part, to the breakthrough immunotherapy treatment, not to mention the Cabo drug they have me on. My progress has been so good that they want me to appear in a video promoting the research center.

I can’t fully explain all of the medical details, but clearly significant things have been happening. And I feel good, other than treatment-caused fatigue. Praise God. Other than a full-blown miracle where the cancer instantaneously disappears, this is really good news.

And, so we press on in hope—that the Lord will keep seeing us through this journey. That the treatment will continue to work and I can get into a stable place. That we can return to Colorado. That the Lord will continue to use us where he has us—whether here or wherever.

Through this process, we have known we always have eternal hope in God. He is our absolute bedrock. “As for me, I will always have hope…” says Psalm 71. Along with that, it’s been a breath of fresh air to see the Lord provide some circumstantial and medical hope, too.

Thanks to all of those who have been praying for my family and me. It means a lot to us.

I could write for days about all of the things that have been in my heart the last few weeks, but it is overwhelming. I will leave it at this for now.

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Anticipation

Note: the following is an entry from a devotional I have been working on. 

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Warm up: Read Psalm 16

Every morning I would throw back the curtains from my hotel room and stare at the ocean, in hopes of good surf. Maybe today would be the day I’d see the glassy formations about head high, curling and gently peeling down the line. Even a mediocre surfer like myself could do something with waves that good!

I grew up about as far away from the ocean as one could get—South Dakota—which might help explain, in part, my fascination. Like most places on the planet, remnants of surf culture drifted into my hometown—skateboards, shirts with wave emblems and cool sayings like “stoked.”

I remember visiting Santa Barbara, Calif., when I was 14, and seeing a group of surfers clad in dark wetsuits with tanned faces and sun-bleached hair. They held an air of conquering, like gladiators fresh from the Coliseum. Eventually, I finally did learn to surf, but living in Colorado, I don’t get to go often, save for the occasional river break. But river waves are not ocean waves.

That’s why I lay in waiting each morning in my Florida hotel room, where I was attending a conference for several weeks. The beachbreaks of Daytona Beach weren’t exactly the Pipeline of Hawaii, but occasionally decent waves did come.

Each morning, I continued my ritual: looking out the window, checking the reports on my phone. Throughout the day, I often couldn’t help staring at the ocean. The possibility of good surf brought an excitement and anticipation to each day that is hard to describe, even beyond the dopamine or endorphins. It’s similar waiting for the powder to fall during ski season.

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As I pondered it more, I wondered, do I often come to the Lord with the same anticipation? Do I look forward to spending time with him, or do I merely endure it like another menial task to get through? As it says in Psalm 16:

            “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’

             Lord you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

These are some great promises, especially experiencing “joy in (his) presence.”

Sadly, I don’t always expect these things when I seek God. I often wake up to read the Bible and pray and I approach it more like I’m punching the clock at a menial job. Other days, I’m distracted by my to do list, or even social media. Hey, I didn’t realize so-and-so went to the farmer’s market yesterday! Or that what’s-her-name is vacationing in Panama!

Even with the best of intentions the time slips away.

I know spending time with the Lord are is critical to develop my relationship with him and certainly a number of days my heart does show up, but why do I often approach him with so little anticipation? Therein lies the problem. Do we really believe what verse 2 says, that “apart from the Lord I have no good thing?” There may be many blessings in our lives (and most likely hard things, too) but do we believe they are blessings from God? Or do we subtly believe that we somehow arranged for them ourselves? How is that we miss that He is actually the highest blessing?

sweet-ice-cream-photography-177031-unsplashIn verse 4, the Psalm sheds light on another reason our hearts might be so dry.

The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips. “

The term “libations of blood” refers to the worship of pagan deities. What other “gods” are we bowing down? These will easily kill our joy and stifle our longing for him.

This Psalm is a call to cast aside lesser idols and distractions, and go for the joy of his presence, which is like a thundering breaker, pristine and glassy, pulling us in the barrel of his love. A start would be to put down our to-do list, take our eyes away from our distractions and spend some time with the Lord—through reading his word, prayer and worship. I like it best early in the morning, when my heart is freshest.

Certainly there is a discipline aspect of seeking the Lord. Some days, when our mind and desires drifts, we need to ask the Lord for what he says in Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know me…(24:7a)” Clinging to such verses, we may soon find that this duty becomes a delight and once again we look forward to our times with the Lord—more than anything else.

He is a constant source of joy that we can always count on.

Not always so with waves. Surfing is a finicky sport. The waves seldom form as good as one would hope. The wind direction, types of swell and a great many other complex factors make it difficult for the waves to actually be good. Even the North Shore of Hawaii can go flat for weeks at a time. Florida is much, much lower on the surfing hierarchy—in fact, most surfers consider it a better fishing destination than for surfing.

When the waves do come, I look forward to enjoying them. After all, God is the one who created them in the first place. But I know there is a deeper joy I can anticipate each day that doesn’t depend upon swell.

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Waiting in the Pit

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“I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.”

-Psalm 40:1-3 NIV

 

This Psalm has meant a lot to Elizabeth and me recently for many reasons.

As I write this, I am currently receiving a chemo infusion. I wanted to give a update on my health as of Thursday, July 21. Sometimes I don’t give it quite as straightforwardly as I’d like. So here it is…

How am I doing?

I would say I’m doing well, though I am very much still facing the mud and mire of treatment, meanwhile hoping for the Lord to bring me to a more solid place (Psalm 40:2). This week marks my ninth round of chemo. My treatment involves a three pronged approach: Cisplatin chemo, Keytruda immunotherapy along with the drug Cabozantin. I get chemo every week, Keytruda once every three weeks and I take the Cabo pill every day. I nickname the drug Cabo for short, but a lot of times people think of the destination Cabo San Lucas in Mexico—you know, the party place. But this drug is anything but a party.

What side effects am I experiencing from the treatment?

I’m getting normal side effects from chemo—fatigue and nausea, though they are usually rather predictable, lasting for about 3.5 days afterwards and managed well with medication. I have yet to miss a meal! The best news lately is that I am getting virtually no side effects from Cabo, other than a slight amount of additional fatigue. Doctors warned me that this drug would probably be the worst part of my treatment, with potential side effects including mouth sores, debilitating nausea and vomiting. But about five weeks into it, these simply have not happened. I know that lots of people have been praying for me—certainly the Lord is hearing these prayers. Thank you so much.

How am I feeling over all?

I’m feeling surprisingly well and have had a decent amount of energy. As a result, I have been able to start getting more work done (usually on Monday-Wednesday) which has done me well sanity-wise. Elizabeth and I also ordered cruiser bikes today. I found a killer deal online, and there’s a bike path that runs along the Sioux River just a block away from our house. I feel blessed to be doing as well as I am.

How is the treatment going?

I honestly don’t know. Some of my labs, including the numbers on my liver show that they have been improving, but nobody has really told me definitely where I’m at. I know the Lord is certainly able to heal me, however that will look. Whether he does or not is up to him—I just want to praise and believe in his goodness regardless.

What’s next?       

In about six weeks, my doctor will have me get some scans to see what kind of progress the treatment is making. I expect that the treatment will continue on after that, but for how long and to what extent, I have no idea.

 

Lately, I’ve been encouraged by a song from U2, one of my favorite bands of all time. The song is called 40, and is based on Psalm 40. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XzHlySYR_Y We continue to look to God for our sure footing and to be the song in our mouth.

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Pippa’s Palisade Party

This week, we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday in style, holding a “Pippa’s Palisade Party” at the picturesque state park near Garretson on Tuesday night. Her actual birthday is today, though the 28th worked better schedulewise. There were 15 of us (all family) to celebrate at the cliff-side picnic locale, which overlooks an alley of granite pinnacles rising from Split Rock Creek.

My gift for Pippa was a yellow duck stuffed animal that can be used as a puppet. I think she liked it a lot! All in all, it was a great celebration.

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The quintessential moment for me was watching Pippa smile and smirk as everyone sang her happy birthday while we handed her first birthday cake (which she soon destroyed). She seemed comfortable being in the limelight, like she comprehended the gathering was in her honor.

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As I think about Pippa, I’ll always remember the summer of 2015—her first summer. She was supposed to be born on July 12, but that’s not what happened. At the time, Elizabeth and I were concerned with her birth being too close with July 3, which is the date we lost our son, Elliott, in 2014. How would the intermingling of such joy and pain play out? We anticipated that July 3 would be a difficult day.

Yet then Pippa surprised us by coming on June 30. We were overwhelmed with the joy we soon felt for her. When Elliott’s anniversary came a few days later, we were still awash in this joy, so much so that July 3 didn’t quite feel as dismal as we thought it would. We still thought of our Elliott, Pippa’s big brother, and wished for a different circumstance where we could all to be together. Yet the pain didn’t feel quite as acute, which I think is what the Lord had in mind.

It is so like him to take one of our darkest circumstances and cover it with joy. I thought of the verse, Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…”

Every year, we will experience the joy of the Lord through our daughter Pippa on June 30 before the coming of July 3. This joy will go ahead and cover of us and set the tone for what is ahead. And as I’ve thought of it, I believe this will be our experience from now on. We will grieve for Elliott, but now from the position of restored joy.

He has made things new for us through our little Pippa. Thank you Lord.

In other news, today I also finished my 6th round of chemo. Amazingly, I am still feeling pretty good. If you saw me, you probably wouldn’t think I am sick, because I certainly don’t look like it. I certainly do deal with a fair amount of fatigue, but over all the side effects have been manageable and I am thankful. Even in light of the new drug Cabozantinib, the only side effect thus far has been a little bit of extra fatigue. We call the drug “Cabo” for short. It can be anything like the Mexican beach party destination. The side effects can be very nasty though I thank God I haven’t had any yet.

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The Best Sport to Watch on Television

 

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Call me a fringe fan, but I love watching soccer…er football. I discovered, quite by accident, that the Copa America Tournament would be taking place this June, with every game on U.S. soil. The tournament, which is older than the World Cup, features 16 teams from South, Central and North America. I was in a doctor’s office waiting room, when I saw the cover of Sports Illustrated featuring Argentina’s Lionel Messi, arguably one of the best players in the world.

How the heck did I not hear about this tournament? I thought. But such is life in a country that doesn’t care much about soccer. The reason I love watching this sport comes down to several reasons, though the following is not an exhaustive list.

  1. The action is continuous. There are no commercials once the game starts. Let that fact sink in a second. There is a break between halves, but an intense 45 minutes or so, I’m usually thankful for the reprieve. Sports like baseball and American football annoy me sometimes because it seems there is only action about 5-10 percent of the time.
  2. Soccer players are incredibly fit. Make no mistake, the game is an endurance sport. Players run an average of 7.5 miles per game, with midfielders perhaps even running more than that. Back when I played on a team, I appreciated that aspect. Soccer is anything but lazy.
  3. Sometimes the acting is comical. There certainly are plenty of plays and fouls where players have hard collisions. But inevitably it is a strategy for players to try and draw a free kick by feigning a foul. It’s amazing how a slight brush from another player can prompt a 180-pound male to fall over like a bag of bricks, writhing in pain. Sometimes the Oscar-worthy antics are funny, other times annoying. In the end, it’s all part of the sport.
  4. Soccer doesn’t require a lot of equipment. A pair of shoes, shinguards. That’s about it, really. Which is why it is a very widespread sport, even in poor nations. It explains why a much smaller country can give the U.S. a run for its money.
  5. Watching high level players is mesmerizing. It’s crazy to watch someone who can trap the ball like they have velcro on their feet, shoot with power and accuracy, or even one-time the ball off their chest and bicycle kick in the net.
  6. The U.S. men’s team continues to get better (the women’s team is already top-notch). This year is the first time the U.S. Men’s Team has advanced in the Copa America since 1995. That’s a long time.
  7. The fans and announcers are passionate. Anyone who has ever heard the announcers shout, “Gooooooooooooooal” have some understanding of this zeal. After all, soccer is the most watched sport around the world.

While the tournament didn’t start off so well for the U.S. Men’s Team (they lost 2-0 to Columbia), they have bounced back and won the last 3 games, and also their bracket, and are currently in the semi-finals game, essentially the Final Four of the tourney.

This has proved an excellent diversion for me the past few weeks. While I wish I was actually the one playing, I still am enjoying tuning into these games, and the action does still get the blood pumping a bit.

Though, it seems my game watching opportunities could be short-lived, considering the U.S. plays the number one FIFA ranked team, Argentina tonight at 8 p.m. People are not giving the U.S. much of a chance, especially because they will be missing several key players due to some controversial yellow and red cards. I would have to agree that the U.S. is really going to have to step things up if they want a chance.

Regardless, I’m thankful for the opportunity to watch some quality games from a quality sport this summer.