Christmas has been an interesting experience this year.
First there were more people and presents than to which we were accustomed. Everywhere we went, the Christmas trees were larger and there were more presents under them. In addition, there were creches and nativity scenes almost everywhere we turned. For the first time in years Christmas did seem to be about Christmas and not just some sort of tradition.
We have become accustomed to just the two of us and a few friends gathering together. Here we were surrounded by family and friends at every turn. Christmas day we had two times of sharing gifts and life with family. It was almost surreal at times.
Finally it was warm. Whether or not one agrees with the global warming crowd, this year Christmas was warm. Shorts and t-shirts were the dress of choice. I got a pair of beach sandals for a gift and instead of wondering if would ever get to wear them it was more like how soon can I put these on and give the "dogs" some air.
Plus for me it was the first day in over two weeks to wear pants without an elastic waistband. Yeah, they were jeans, but they were real pants.
The only shortage was in energy. Being just over two weeks post-surgery means the energy flees with any exertion. By the end of the day pain and exhaustion were the things that stuck. (Well, the memories too)
Moment by moment we had to remind ourselves that we were not in our accustomed culture. Yes, all was familiar but seemed a bit out of the norm, or to what we had become accustomed.
It makes me wonder to what we have become accustomed. Not only culturally but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We live where Christ is a very small and almost invisible part of Christmas. And few seem to miss Him since the shortage is that to which they have become accustomed. He is not the central figure or even the unseen guest. He is totally absent from the awareness radar.
This year's Christmas celebration helps me more objectively evaluate that to which I have become accustomed. I want to use fresh eyes to see that which shapes me. It is disturbing to think we live in an area where children can easily recount the story of Sinterklaus and do not know the biblical story of Christmas. I wonder how many can name Santa's reindeer and not the Christmas account passages in the Bible?
Culture shapes us. It is omnipresent and constantly chipping away and pressing us into its mold. Join me in actively looking at what shapes me and what I allow to shape who I am and who I am becoming.
"So, how are you doing?" seems to be the pressing question these days. The question is often combined with "You look good for someone who has just had surgery." We are surrounded by friends and spiritual family that is caring for us. Even though there are competent urologists and surgeons in many places, I feel very certain this is where God wants to treat me.
"So, how are you doing/feeling?" The best answer I can give is like the Michelin Man attacked with a staple gun or even worse, Jabba the Hut attacked with a nail gun. In short, a puffy guy with a line of metal fasteners a quarter of the way around his abdomen. I am trying my best to make the Michelin Man smaller and not get to the size of Jabba the Hut.
One of the biggest challenges right now is the edema (swelling from fluid) that makes shoes and clothes fit snugger and my watchband fasten two notches longer than usual. Bending knees and other joints is limited because of the swelling. Since water weights 8.3 pounds per gallon, I am carrying around several more pounds. Fortunately the fluid does not seem to be around my lungs or heart so walking is still my preferred form of exercise and I can still do it slowly. The weather here has been much warmer than normal so Lucy and I have taken nice walks in the neighborhood and benefited from the nice weather.
Today's office visit was for removal of the staples and to assess the progress. We also got the pathology report which was no surprise. The tumor was kidney cancer but the cancer was confined to the tumor. CT Scan results show some other things to follow but they are not related to the cancer or surgery. More details can be found later on our Caring Bridge site.
In short, the physician's assistant said things looked good. All the staples could come out and now it is just steri-strips and the incision is healing nicely. I can control pain with over-the-counter meds when and as they work. All the things I could not take before the surgery are now fine to take so that part of the routine is back to normal. The biggest need is to get back to my normal bodily routine which includes diet, sleep (and where I sleep), exercise, etc.
Looks like, unless something changes, we will be able to leave next week and spend Christmas with Megan and Justin in Florida; something we have been looking forward to for some time. The next doctor's appointment is 5 January and will be on our way to our stateside conference in Virginia. Then we expect to get the final report and suggested follow-up plan.
So for now, it is healing time and continuing to connect with our partners here. That has been the major blessing in all of this surgical journey. Sharing life with people who we love and who have shared life and ministry with us in Gent. Next big challenge/decision will be can I attend church on Sunday and, if so, where? There are way too many choices for the day. But that too we trust to God.
Many people are reminding us of their prayers for us. All I can say now is that we are living in the answer to those prayers, an exciting and blessed place to be. Once again God gets the glory for how He cares for His children. We are blessed and cared for far above what we deserve. May God be glorified in and through what He is doing in our lives!
More to come.
The good news (essence) is that we are home from the hospital. Got "released" around 1100 and went home.
It has been a long road. There is truth in the thought that the older one gets, the "snap" there is in the bodily elastic. It took me (John) 7 days to recover from the colon resection surgery 20 years ago. The planned (hand-assisted lapriscopic) surgery was not possible due to the previous surgery so they had to do the "open" procedure. What does that mean? Instead a couple of small holes and an incision of about inches there is just one incision. Looks to be 10-12 inches long. Or at least it hurts for that much.
Originally the hospitalization was for 3-5 days. We were hoping for 3 which would mean surgery on Friday and home on Monday. It worked out to be the longer of 5 days. Still pretty good according to those who know.
This recovery just "feels" harder.
So for now, we are in the home of a friend while recovering. I have a follow-up appointment (where they will remove the staples) this Friday 16 December and a second follow-up (release from care) on 5 January.
We are hoping to still be allowed to leave the Atlanta area to spend Christmas with Megan and Justin.
Today I am exhausted (just walked the neighborhood). Need a shower and shave then trying to figure out where to sleep the next few days until the bed is an option.
Even in the ups and downs, good days and bad days of the hospitalization we saw God's hand, felt His presence and were ministered to by His people. Can't ask for more than that.
The concept of "family" has so many meanings, perhaps a different meaning for each person who considers or seeks to defines it.
Today I (John) reflect on family from the concept of degrees of separation. There is a popular concept that we are no more than six degrees of separation from anyone on this planet. Not sure my brain is ready to go there and I feel pretty sure I can find at least one person 7+ degrees out, but then that would be a waste of limited brain time.
The holiday season (more than just Christmas) seems to well up a desire in most to share some time with family. Perhaps that is the most challenging part of our calling, living many time zones away from biological family means we share many experiences (birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, holidays, etc.) long distance. Certainly modern technology means we can feel closer and maintain better contact but it is still the next best thing to "being there."
We still "feel" connected even though the distance prevents physical presence. We are family and the degree of separation is merely a geographical phenomenon. The separation can be measured in degrees of longitude.
Currently in our journey (home is still Gent, Belgium) we are experiencing another phenomenon of family that is unknown to many. It is a family of those chosen by God, adopted into His spiritual family and bonded together by His love independent of time and distance. I suppose one could say there are no (or only one) degree of separation from any family member. That may seem hard to comprehend given the vast (and unknown to anyone other than God Himself and some over-confident statisticians) number of spiritual family members. But we are connected and there is family wherever we go.
Currently we are in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I (John) have a brother and sister-in-law who live in the Atlanta area. We also have many friends and ministry partners who live in this area and are "family" to us. In over 32 years of vocational ministry we have come to realize and appreciate the spiritual family into which we are connected. Certainly when Lucy was being treated and hospitalized for her cancer, it was our Belgian spiritual family that God had placed there for us.
The same is true in Georgia. Yes, biological family can and will be connected to us during my surgery, but once again it is spiritual family that cares for us. And we are constantly surprised at the limited degrees of separation. Here is one example.
The hospital has kindly offered its chaplaincy service to us. For those with no local spiritual counsel, that could be a great resource. But for us, we have so many spiritual family members that we thought let the chaplains care for those with limited support. Until one of our friends told us about her friend who is a chaplain at the hospital and said it would be a blessing for us all. We did not know we knew any of the chaplains but our family does and is connecting us.
Lucy received an email from the prayer ministry of one of the local churches. The leader of the prayer ministry wrote that they had received our name from her pastor. We can say we do not know the pastor (although he currently holds a prominent position in the Southern Baptist Convention) but one of our spiritual family members knows him and connected us.
Another local pastoral minister has offered to come and pray for/with us before surgery. I (John) cannot recall how many times I have done that with church members and others because a family member requested that. Do we know this person? No. But one of our family members does and so we are connected.
Did we fail to mention that we are connected to our Christian surgeon in the same way. We did not know him, but spiritual family members here do and "connected" us. Yesterday we told him of the multitudes that are praying for him and all the staff and asked if we could pray together before surgery and he said it is always a special bond for him to do that with his patients. He is family (spiritual) and family is caring for family. So for those who want to know why we are in Marietta, Georgia having surgery it is because we have family here. Many members who we still do not know personally but to whom we are connected with no more than one degree of separation.
For all who have never experienced that, it is the part of faith and belief in God that is missing. We are created (wired if you still have problems with being created by a master designer) for family and community. That is why we seek it at special times (holidays, etc) in our lives. That is what God provides for His family independent of geographical location on this earth ball.
Our prayer in this time of surgery and recovery is that many more will see the reality and wonder of being connected to family by no more than one degree of separation and be adopted into the greatest family on earth (well even above that, but for some that is still hard to accept). Our prayer is that through this illness and treatment God will come onto the radar and into the hearts of more who need to be connected as family.
Some who will read this may still think people of faith are uninformed, superstitious and unenlightened. I can attest to not being very superstitious but there may be enough evidence to convict me of the other two. Faith will always lack appeal until it is experienced. There is no way to "explain" the difference faith makes in life. We live it, experience it, grow in it and share it. Faith operates where it does not "make sense" otherwise it would not be faith but reason. All I can say is that if faith is unenlightened than I prefer that to being enlightened and disconnected from the family of faith. For me, that is a "no brainer". But God does want us to know and love Him with all our heart, soul, being AND mind. I do not fully understand, but do not have to. I just know that the one degree of separation has and is sustaining us. It is real, tangible and fulfills the need built into each of us.
As I write this, I wonder what other part of the family I will meet today. It is amazing to see the connectedness of the greatest family on the planet. And there will (soon I think) be a great family reunion. Until then, I wonder and try my best to be a connector.
More to come.
So many have been asking for updates and we give new information when we have it and are certain it is not speculation.
On Monday, 5 December we packed up the van (once again) and headed to Woodstock, Georgia. Having made the 6.5 to 7 hour drive many times before we were not necessarily glad to renew the experience. We began with a sort of "been there, done that" feeling but were glad that we are getting one step closer to getting all the medical procedures behind us.
Our great friend Angie has agreed to let us stay at her home in Woodstock and we made it uneventfully to south Atlanta before anything really interrupted the flow. We were caught in a traffic jam on I-75 due to a truck fire. It just served to remind us that God has protected us in the over 9,000 miles of driving since 1 October. We see how God is working out His purpose and caring for His people.
We spent the night with Angie and headed to Marietta in the early hours for all the consultations and testing. The Dr explained the procedure and what to expect afterwards. Surgery will be a minimum of 2 hours and because of my previous surgery may not be as minimal as he had hoped but we won't know until he gets "in there" and "takes a look". The surgeon is a great Christian brother and we are all trusting God to guide his hands and answer prayers. All of us are hoping for an expecting minimal complications and if everything is working again I hope to go home on Monday. Our goal is to be able to be released from our Georgia stay on 23 December so we can have Christmas with Megan and Justin (first time in 4 years).
After seeing the surgeon it was off across the street to the hospital for all the pre-admit testing. Once again the biggest test was "can you tell me your name and date of birth?" Fortunately it is on the wristband I have to wear until surgery so in a pinch I can check my crib notes. I did get it wrong a couple of times. They tell me a mind is a terrible thing to waste; fortunately for me there is little risk.
Besides having a cold and coughing it appears I am doing well. Guessed my weight to within .3 pounds (I was fully dressed with shoes and pockets filled) and everyone who checked my blood pressure, pulse and temperature told me it was either good or great. Whew, I had been studying for those tests! I told one nurse to just put "yes" in the blank for pulse since I felt pretty certain it was still there.
Because the tumor is most likely cancerous, the Dr is looking and thinking about "what's next"? Obviously we won't know until he gets a look and has the kidney with tumor in his hand. Based upon the pathology report, we will know if there is more that must be done as a follow-up. The CT scan of my abdomen shows nothing much remarkable (insert obligatory joke here) except the tumor on the right kidney and the left kidney looks good.
Since we will want to know if there are any other complications, the Dr wanted me to have a CT scan of my chest. Once again God stepped up and we only had to wait about an hour after all the other testing to get that done. Imagine that, on the same day AND you could walk to the building with the scanner.
Another remarkable thing is that I have been called early for every appointment. Those who really know me are not surprised that I get there early for appointments. The Dr was first and my appointment was for 0830 and I had to be there 15 minutes prior. We got there early because we had no idea of traffic and where we would have to park. So after checking in and sitting down at 0800 Lucy went downstairs for coffee. After she hit the door, they called my in. The nurse said there was no need for me to wait out there. When Lucy returned she did not know if I was in the restroom or had been beamed out of the waiting room. After some search she found me and was there for the meeting with the Dr.
It was the same at the hospital and at the imaging center. As a matter of fact at the imaging center I was coming out of the test at almost the precise time I was supposed to be going in. Only God could have orchestrated all of that.
Many are reminding me (and of course it is in all the paperwork you have to read and sign) that people can and do live long lives with only one kidney. Just this weekend a friend reminded me of that and I told her she had spoken like a person with two kidneys. Lucy's sister (the cancer research nurse) reminds us that God gives us two for symmetry and we only need one to function. I figure God knows what He is doing and I am trying my best to stay out of His way so He can work His plan.
If you have had to sign consent forms you know they explain all the possible outcomes. Irregardless of the procedure it seems as if "death" is listed as a possible outcome for any procedure. Even when they draw blood, the loss of a limb, major paralysis or death is a possible outcome. It could get one very concerned.
As the surgeon put it, our destination is already set and we are on the cruise ship that will get us there. Others are treading water all around wondering if it is worthwhile, but we know it is. The Doctor's goal is to give me the best quality of life with the least amount of follow-up care until that day arrives. He told me on our first visit that his goal was to get me in as good a shape as possible before sending us back out to do what God had called us to do.
So for now it is just preparation time. I have special instructions for cleaning the outside and inside of me before surgery at 0940 Friday morning. Anyone have a good recipe for beef bullion?
The best preparation is already long underway. Every day we hear of more who are praying for this procedure and all who are involved in it. Many of our friends around the country and the world have friends in Marietta, Georgia and our friends have "ratted us out" to their friends. Now churches, pastors and Christians here are contacting us to tell us they are praying and will be visiting. When asked if I desired a visit from a hospital chaplain, I agreed but thought to myself, they may have to take a number and wait in line. God is caring for this child much better than I deserve.
So, we are good and even the weather is making us feel at home (cool, gray and rainy). Good friends and God's care. There is nothing more that we need.
If you want to know how to pray, here is a suggestion. Pray that God will get the glory for whatever the outcome and this event will draw more people to Him. That is our prayer. If He tells you to pray for something else, then follow those instructions but we are hoping people will see Him at work and give themselves to Him as a result of what they see Him doing in His power and through His people.
More to come.