The Eye of the Hurricane

Melanoma.  What a scary word.  A couple of weeks ago Laura went to the doctor to have a weird mole on her knee looked at.  The doctor didn’t like it and so he removed it and sent it for a biopsy.  Then last Monday the office called back and said it was melanoma.  Google melanoma and the first hit is this; the first two sentences are frankly terrifying.  Even though the doctor said it was “stage 0/in situ” and therefore easily treatable, it’s still no bueno. 

Today she goes in to the doctor to have some more tissue removed from around where the mole was, just to make sure it’s all gone.  We’ve had a couple of weeks to think, talk, pray, and consider what this means for Laura and for us.  And this morning, as I was walking in from my run, God reminded me of where my attitude needs to be:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NASB)

Rather than being anxious for my wife, I need to pray and give God the place He deserves.  I need to trust in His grace and in His goodness and tell Him my desires.  My Calvinist friends may say that God already knows; that may be true, but Paul still tells me that my anxiety is not solved by God’s omniscience but by letting Him know my needs with thanksgiving.  Then His peace will guard my mind and my heart.  Thanks, Lord, for the reminder today.

If you get a moment, please pray for Laura and for the surgery.  Pray that it’s all gone and that her recovery is swift.  Pray for the next four weeks as she is on restricted activity and can’t run or bike or take ballet.  And pray that I don’t drive her nuts during that time. 🙂

And please, look at that link again and if you have any moles pay attention to the ABCD symptom tool.  Go get it checked!

What strategies do you use to fight anxiety?  What is most helpful to you as you face an uncertain future?  Where do you struggle the most, and how do you deal with it?

Keep Your Cool

Last night I left kenpo at 8:40 as usual; it takes about 10 minutes to get out of class and packed up.  On my way out I called my mentor Fred to talk about a possible mission trip to Rwanda that he had suggested me for, and we were discussing it as I started down 35th Ave toward home.  All was normal with the world: I was a bit sore from class (thanks to another mentor, Joel, who likes to beat me up on the training mat), feeling good about the weekend ahead, and wondering about God dropping an opportunity in my lap to perhaps teach pastors in a remote part of Rwanda about how to study the Bible and teach it. (you can find some AMAZING pictures of the group’s previous trip at Chris Mattox’ blog)

All of a sudden my life got put on hold for a bit.  A car turned left at the light at loop 101 right in front of a truck driving south in front of me, maybe 20 yards ahead.  They hit each other moderately hard, and pieces of bumper went flying.  I quickly told Fred that I had seen an accident and needed to go, then hung up the phone and pulled in behind the truck that had been driving in front of me.  It had been struck pretty hard in the driver’s side front quarter panel and driven into the guard rail; the little Kia that had turned in front was smashed up in front pretty good and resting in the far right lane.

Now was not the time for panic but for assessment of the situation.  There was a woman in the truck who appeared fine.  She opened her door and confirmed that she was unhurt.  The driver of the other car, though, was pretty shook up and was starting to panic.  Though it looked like there were no serious injuries, I asked the first driver to call 911 to get an ambulance rolling just in case, which she did.  I then began a dialog with the young woman behind the wheel.

When I first approached she was panicking.  Her airbag had gone off, and while she was thankfully wearing her seat belt she still got thumped pretty good by it.  She had opened her door by the time I got there, so I crouched down next to her and began to reassure her that she would be alright.  Our exchange went something like this:

Her: “I can’t see!  I can’t see!” (crying heavily and hyperventilating)
Me: “Sweetheart, my name is John and I am here to help you.  You’re going to be fine, I promise.  Your eyes need a second to recover from your airbag.  That’s normal; just give it a minute.  What’s your name?”
Her: “Emily.”
Me: “Okay Emily, my name is John and I am here to help.  You’re going to be fine; we have the paramedics on the way.”
Her: “I can’t breathe!  My side hurts.  My knee hurts!”
Me: “I know sweetheart.  Sit still and wait for the paramedics to arrive.  How old are you Emily?”
Her: “19.”
Me: “19? Well it makes sense that you’re a little shook up.  That’s a lot to happen at 19 to a young woman.  I promise, you’re going to be fine.  You’re not badly hurt, but let’s just wait here in the car until the firefighters come okay?”
Her: “Okay.”

By that point she had calmed down quite a bit, though she was obviously shaken up.  I had to put my hand on her shoulder to hold her still for a bit, but crouched there and continued to talk to her.  Amazingly, a friend from church stopped at the scene and held her hand as well, acting as a wonderful comforting influence. (probably 30 cars just whizzed by without stopping before the paramedics got there… ~X( <>)  I took Emily’s phone and called her mom from it, let her know that Emily should be fine but that she was probably going to get transported to John C. Lincoln and that she should head over there.

Once the firemen arrived (the fire house was close enough to see from the scene of the wreck) my job was done.  The professionals took over!  I talked to the other lady and gave her my card, gave a report to the policeman who responded along with my information, and jumped back in the truck to head home.

I’m all about being a Good Samaritan, and of course helping someone in need always reminds me of the parable Jesus tells in Luke 10:30-37:

“Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. “Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. “On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” ”

Being a neighbor isn’t where we live; Jesus tells us that being a neighbor is defined by how we act and how we care.  I was so proud of Barbara for stopping when she did and rendering assistance to that scared young woman!  Jesus commands us to help those in need and to offer assistance to others, even when it is costly and inconvenient.  I must admit that I didn’t see the wreck and think about this parable before stopping, but thankfully the Lord had it imbedded in my heart so that I didn’t need to recall it in order to obey it last night.

This episode also made me think of what God tells us in Scripture, though maybe not how you might think.  I didn’t really offer young Emily any medical help beyond making her stay put; I am not trained beyond basic first aid and even if I were she didn’t appear to be badly hurt.  What I offered her was an emotional anchor and reassurance that everything would be alright.  I was a psychological and spiritual support for a few crucial minutes.  That made me think of life with God as pictured in Psalm 23:4,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

If we are all alone and we run into tragedy or misfortune, we panic like Emily did.  Having someone at her side reassuring her that it would be okay was enough to bring her back and calm her down until help could arrive.  How much more do we need the reassurance of God that He is with us and that everything will be alright in the end? 

I can’t imagine life without having His presence to comfort and guide me.  Whatever comes, God is right there with His followers to comfort, to strengthen, and to encourage.  (and best of all, when the paramedics arrive he won’t leave you to go home, eat dinner and watch TV!).  When life gets tough and we are disoriented and hurting, it is His voice that comforts us and allows us to make it through whatever comes.

So my encouragement to you today is twofold: (1) remember, we BECOME the neighbor of those around us when we meet their needs, which God commands us to do.  So become neighbors whenever you can, and look for chances to be the hands and feet of Christ. (2) Whatever trial or problem you face, remember that God is with you to see you through it and to encourage you.  Take His hand and walk through it; you’ll be glad you did.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: fasten your seatbelt and drive defensively, too. 🙂

Divine Appointments

You might have been expecting a couple of blog posts over Holy Week from me, it being the most important holiday of the Christian calendar and all.  I wish I could have indulged you, but it also happens to be a ridiculously busy week for me!  Adding another sermon to my week really makes the time fly by (a sermon typically takes me 15-20 hours to study for and consider at this point…), and God put a few obstacles in the way that reminded me of the important things.

I really was planning on putting a post up on Thursday while my son was taking a private lesson at kenpo.  Really, I was!  It was going to be several links to good resources for reflections on Holy Week.  We got there on time, I had my laptop to write, and I was all set to go.  Then God nudged me in another direction and gave me a bit of a divine appointment.  When He calls we can’t get so busy that we don’t hear the phone ringing, so I put the laptop aside and answered the call.

I am very privileged  to help lead some of the kids classes at our training center.  I’ve been studying for about 4 years (technically 4 years next month) and have a green belt, which is “middle-of-the-road-almost-competent-but-don’t-get-a-big-head-you’ve-got-a-long-way-to-go” territory.  In Thursday class I mostly assist our instructor by helping kids with their technique, leading warm-ups, and occasionally covering for our instructor when he is out.  The kids like me for the most part and respect me, even though I tend to be the disciplinarian in class and make the kids toe the line. (one of these days I will get me a cool “Smokey” and morph into Gunnery Sergeant Hartman without the cursing) It’s a fun part of my life and I enjoy it immensely.

Thursday God used the relationships I’ve built there and the training He has given me to help a young woman (we’ll call her Trudy because I don’t know anyone named Trudy) in a tough spot.  I noticed Trudy sitting in a seat near me, staring off into space about 20 minutes before her class was to start.  That was odd; she’s not normally like that.  She had a bit of a pensive look on her face and wasn’t really “there.”  So I asked if she was okay.

She wasn’t.  She was thinking about the conversation she had to have after class and not looking forward to it one bit.  I know that my selfishness wanted to just give her a pat on the head and tell her to use the mat as a safe place, but I just couldn’t.  So I sat down next to her and asked her what was up.  That’s when this poor pre-teen told me that she had to tell her mom and stepdad that if they couldn’t stop fighting that she was going to go live with her dad and stepmom full time.  And the reason that she had to have that conversation was because after the last fight her mom had bruises all over her, and she was scared.

I was so heartsick when she told me what she was up against.  I mean, going through your parents divorcing is ridiculously hard all by itself.  (mine divorced when I was a baby, so I missed a lot of the grief but still got a lot of the fallout)  Having to integrate into two families is really hard.  Dealing with parents fighting is frightening for kids of any age.  Dealing with domestic violence is more than any kid can handle.  My heart just broke for this kid.  And as it did, I thought of what Paul tells us in Romans 12:14-17,

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

First I had to remember verse 17 for my own heart, because my flesh wanted to put a pounding on a man who thought he was okay putting his hands on his wife.  That ain’t how I was raised, and it got my blood boiling. (the old sailor in me is never so far away that he’s not available at a moment’s notice…)  More than that, though, I remembered that this kid in front of me, not even a teenager, was being asked to confront an authority in her life about his anger and his sin.  What a horrible burden to bear at such a young age!  I have kids her age, and thinking about them being in her shoes just tore me up.

I dug a little further and found some more stuff to make me think.  This family is a church-going family.  They are regular attendees at one of the largest churches in our area.  They come, sing some songs, listen to a speech, and head home in a car with a Jesus fish on it.  They have no enrichment class, no home fellowship or small group to hold them accountable.  They are adrift in a sea known as a megachurch.  This young woman wouldn’t even know who the children’s pastor or youth pastor of that congregation was. (my guess is that there are multiple people in that role; I am not bashing large churches here but this model of “church” allows this type of relationship a lot more easily)

So insert me.  I got to pray with Trudy and encourage her a little.  I got to offer her (and her dad) my support in a pastoral role.  No they don’t “go to my church,” but I am a shepherd within the Church, and that role never gets a day off.  It’s not what I do, it’s who I am.  It’s what I’ve been bought to do. (Luke 17:10)  I also got several other reminders from that divine appointment:

  1. The people around you in church are hurting, broken people.  Just because they look good and smile doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering inside.  Look past the smile and get involved in people’s lives!
  2. Church is not about making a weekly pilgrimage to listen to a message and sing, give some money and go home.  Church only works when it involves getting to know people and being involved in their lives.
  3. Sometimes, though the cowboy in me wants to mount up and take care of some cattle rustlers, the best thing I can do is sit with someone who’s been hurt and weep with them.  Knowing someone cares is sometimes the lifeline that can let someone do the right thing in a tough spot.
  4. Regardless of what ‘”hat” I am wearing, I am always and foremost a follower of Christ, called to offer His mercy to a dying world.  I’ve been praying Micah 6:8 this year and asking God to show me how to love mercy; He listens.
  5. If I had been too focused on my own priorities I never would have seen a kid in need of some help.  I might have felt good about getting a blog post up and missed out on the significant opportunity God had for me.

I haven’t heard back from her on her confrontation, so this post isn’t wrapped neatly in a bow; I will ask when I see her next.

If you read my blog, please hear my heart: don’t get so busy that you can’t hear God calling you to help someone in need.  Look for those divine appointments.  They almost never come at church, and often come gift-wrapped in serious problems that someone else is going through.  You might be the lifeline that someone needs to make it through a tough spot, and God can use you to change the course of someone’s life.

Running in the dark

One of our big foci in American Kenpo is what we call “situational awareness.”  We train to make sure that we are aware of our surroundings in order to minimize our exposure to the dangers around us and see any challenges or problems coming as far away as possible.  That way we can avoid them, mitigate them, or prepare for them.  I got a lesson in situational awareness last week that also speaks of our need for situational awareness in our spiritual lives.

Because I had a meeting before class last Wednesday, I had to get out for my run really early.  So about 6AM I laced up my kicks and headed out the front door for my 4.3 mile loop.  Laura and I like to run through the park near our house, through an underpass, and along the drainage canal that heads south from there.  It’s a quiet path and has no car traffic, so it’s great for running.  I took off in the pre-dawn, watching my breath plume out in front of me and thanking God for a healthy body that could run in the cold.

The first two miles of my run were uneventful; it was the third mile that taught me a valuable lesson.  The run is two miles out and two back, with the second and third miles being on either side of the canal.  The path on mile two had enough lights along the way that I felt safe.  I could see along the path and for a decent distance to one side of it, maybe 30 feet. (the other side is fenced canal…no dangers there!)  When I made the turn at the half-way point and got to the other side, though, I was in for a shock.  It was DARK.  No lights on the path, the moon was behind clouds, and I was nearly running blind.  I could barely see, but there was no way I would have been able to see a mugger before it was too late.

I was on high alert for that quarter mile!  I felt very unsafe and very uncomfortable running through the dark.  Not only was I worried about bad guys, but it was dangerous running when I had a hard time seeing where to put my feet!  As soon as I had the opportunity, I crossed back over to the lit side of the canal and enjoyed the rest of my run. 

When I got home I started thinking over my run and learned a couple of lessons from it.  First of all, from a self-defense perspective I should have turned around and run back the way I came as soon as I saw it was dark.  I didn’t heed the spidey-senses, and that was dumb.  I was also reminded that having the ability to see around me and know what is coming is critical to being prepared and ready.  Losing the ability to have advance warning of potential problems was scary!  When I could see around and ahead of me I was prepared for what was coming, but when that ability was removed I was in trouble.  I won’t make that mistake again!

As I thought and prayed about that lesson a few days later, God brought some spiritual insight from that run too, this time out of Psalm 119:105-106:

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
          And a light to my path.
106 I have sworn and I will confirm it,
          That I will keep Your righteous ordinances.

Just as I needed streetlights to keep me safe from harm on my run, the image Psalmist describes the Word of God as a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.  When I can see around me I am safe!  Even a little light is better than no light.  When I live life in the dark, I am constantly stumbling around and getting hurt, constantly in danger of stumbling and never able to plan for upcoming problems to avoid, mitigate, or defend against.  When I allow God to mold me and change me with the truth of Scripture, though, I have a light for my path and a lamp for my feet that keeps me from stumbling.

With that in mind, if a little is good a LOT is better!  I would rather have a giant floodlight showing me everything around me and lighting up the night than a small candle guttering and giving me glimpses of my surroundings.  Likewise, I would rather know MORE of God and His word than less; I would rather have MORE illumination of my world and how I should live than just a little.

I have seen this so much in Laura over the last month.  She started a ladies’ online Bible study in January where they read through a book of the New Testament every day for 30 days.  In January they studied Galatians; now they are in 1 Timothy.  I have seen more spiritual growth, and had more deep and meaningful conversations about life and ministry and God, with her in these months than in years!  It’s such a joy to see God lighting a fire in her through His Word and to talk about it with her.  It has also encouraged me in my devotions and study of Scripture.

So let’s rededicate ourselves to the study, memorization, and meditation upon Scripture.  God’s Word only illuminates our life if we take it in; it has to get inside our souls to make us new.  Open the book today and ask God to change you from the inside out!  Read Galatians every day for a month like Laura and her friends have and see what happens in your life.  Crack the Gospel of John and meet Jesus for who He really is.  Study Genesis and watch God change your life through an Old Testament soap opera!

Wherever you start, making God’s Word a lamp and a light for our lives is the way to having the insight in life to keep from stumbling and getting attacked by the many forces that are against us.  So crack the book today and tomorrow, build a habit, and watch Him start to change you from the inside out.

4 Inches From Eternity

It has been quite a day for personal reflection and consideration. You see, I was almost killed today, and that is no great exaggeration. In the process of narrowly avoiding death I was reminded of two significant truths that have been ringing in my ears all afternoon.

I greatly enjoy riding my motorcycle. I’ve been riding motorcycles almost my whole life; I got a little 50cc, no clutch shift dirt bike as a gift from my grandpa for my fifth birthday and have been riding ever since. I currently ride a pretty beat up Honda Shadow Sabre that I bought for a song a couple of years ago. It’s a great bike and it gets around 40-45 mpg, which is triple what my big ol’ diesel pickup gets. So I ride whenever I can and enjoy it.

Today I was headed to school and about to cross through an intersection I have driven through hundreds of times. It has three lanes in the direction I was going. The light was green in my direction, but the far right lane had a stack of cars piled up because someone was crossing in the crosswalk. The far left lane had 3 or 4 cars in it as well, some headed for the left turn lane. I was in the middle lane with no one in front of me, doing 45 and enjoying the cool of the November air. (it was probably in the low 60s this morning…gotta love Arizona)

Then things went bad in a REAL hurry. A car in the left lane decided to make a right turn. So he pulled into the center lane and stopped, then put his right turn signal on and waited for an opening in the right lane that wasn’t there because of the wait for the pedestrian. At the time I was, oh, 30-40 feet from his rear bumper.

I hit the brakes, but I was in the center of the lane near the intersection. (big mistake) There’s lots of oil in the center of the lane near the intersection, so my back tire promptly locked up. I’ve been riding for almost 3 decades and taken two defensive motorcycling classes, so I know that if you lock up the rear tire the thing to do is keep it locked up and slide to a stop. If you don’t you high-side the bike, (because you go over the “high side” of the bike) which looks like this:

The problem was that the second I realized that I was sliding I also realized that if I kept it locked up I would slide into the rear of the car at about 35 mph, which would probably be bad on my skeletal system! So I let the brakes go. The bike waggled a good bit but thankfully I didn’t go over the high side. I got control of it about 10 feet from his bumper.

Now I was really on the horns of a dilemma. (Remember, all of this is happening in under a second) I had a car stopped in front of me, cars stacked up to my right, and I knew I had a car to my left too. I just wasn’t sure if the car to my left was in my blind spot or had backed off. With no time to consider, I yanked my bike onto the lane stripe and wordlessly prayed that I could squeeze between the two cars.

I passed the moron careless idiot reckless driver at about 30mph; I missed him off my right side by about 4 inches, though I didn’t exactly have my ruler out to measure.

The funny thing for me is that right after I got back into my lane I thought about pulling over so that I could have the adrenaline dump that I knew was coming. Then I thought about it again and realized that my heart rate wasn’t even up! It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to be scared.

Instead I thought, “Well I should have died this morning…but I didn’t…that means it’s going to be a pretty good day!” I had a good time teaching this morning, a great lunch with my wife and a friend, and a great appointment with a man who is seeking a path to God and asked me for help.

I would love to tell you that I have mad riding skills and should have won the Monaco GP last year, but that is not reality. No, I understand what the real deal is, which Psalm 121 sums up well:

1 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;

From where shall my help come?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to slip;

He who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, He who keeps Israel

Will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;

The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6 The sun will not smite you by day,

Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;

He will keep your soul.

8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in

From this time forth and forever.

I know why I survived this incident and I have no illusions it was my stunning motorcycling skills. It is abundantly obvious to me that God’s not through with my life on earth! I was also reminded of what James tells us in James 4:14-16,

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

None of us gets a guarantee of tomorrow, or even the rest of today! Trust me, He has my attention.

Now to cook dinner, see my wife’s parents who are visiting, and play a game of chess with my son.

After I ride that motorcycle home.