Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pressed but not crushed

Some of you have been “in the loop” so to speak, and many of you have not really.  I wanted to give you a brief synopsis of some medical/health challenges that have recently been a part of our life, so that you can join us in prayer more specifically. 

A couple of years ago Stephanie suggested that I go in for a routine physical.  The standard blood tests revealed a low white blood cell count, and so my physician asked me to have a second test run.  I eventually got around to that, and again, had a low white count.  Last March when I was getting a prescription for malaria meds for Haiti, my doctor and I talked about my results and set up another test and an appointment with a blood specialist etc.  Long story short, I ended up having some more blood tests and eventually a bone marrow draw!  That was intense, but not as painful as you might imagine.

A few weeks after that we had this really terrible Doctor visit where the doctor told us she was concerned that I might have a pre-leukemic disease called Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). (google "leukemia and MDS and you'll find it.)  She explained that MDS always becomes leukemia and told us the facts about how relatively unsuccessful bone marrow transplants are.  That was a hard day.  Although she considered me a definitive 'rare case' because of my age etc. she was preparing us for the worst.  "By the numbers" she said I might only have 10 years to live.  WOW!

I am extremely grateful that I had read John Piper and David Paulison's article titled "Don't Waste your Cancer" years ago!  Seriously!  Everybody should really read that article, because statistically, everyone's gonna have a doctor appointment like that at some point!  
Our kids knew I'd been getting tests and we had been told that leukemia was an option even before that day.  We came home and shared with our children that the doctor thought I might be on a slightly faster track to heaven than most daddy’s my age.  We read some scripture and tried to convey to them some of the intensity in a way that let them into what was going on but also wasn’t completely alarming or anything.   Together, we spoke of the reality of God’s goodness, sovereignty and love for us. 

In July I went to Columbia University to what is arguably the best MDS lab in the world.  There, my new Doctor –Dr. Raza checked me out and determined that at this point, I do not technically  have MDS.  She cannot conclude at this point that I have it, but, given the blood and marrow readings, it’s quite possible I am headed that way –but not  for sure.  That day was actually quite encouraging because my blood levels were actually normal!  Yeah!  I truly consider it all an answer to prayer.  My white blood cell count was in the normal healthy range for once! Praise God. 

I’m scheduled to visit Dr. Raza in New York city every two months now.  After conducting an expensive genetic screen they’ve determined that I’m in a grouping that’s slightly less likely to end up with MDS – Leukemia!  (I DON'T have a certain genetic deformity which virtually ensures you'll end up with MDS.)  And that's awesome!  But again; it is still a very real possibility that what we are looking at now is the early stages of this thing called MDS.

I rest knowing that Jesus is the good shepherd and my life –which James reminds us is a “vapor” is truly in the HIS hands.  Every day is a gift from HIM, and I want to live it for his glory and his purposes.  We have joy in the midst of trial because of who God is.  We rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God. 

Not only that (as Paul continues in Romans 5:3-5) but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  

Please pray for 1. Healing and Healthy blood!  2. Faith as we walk through the difficulty  3.  Wisdom. I want to know what the Lord has for me in all of this. 

How do I feel?  I feel perfectly normal.  I've never had any "symptoms."   I feel great.  There is literally nothing "physical" that seems noticeably compromised.  In fact, even though the White Blood Cell count is "low" the doctors have told me that my Immune System is technically healthy and fully functional.   

So what are we doing?  Praying.  Thanking Jesus for every day. Eating lots of Kale and all kinds of green stuff.   Trying to exercise more regularly and pretty much keepin on keepin on.   (Dr. Raza has given me a specific diet recommendation.)  

Read "Don't Waste Your Cancer" online here.

Check out Dr. Raza on youtube here

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seasons Matter

     Continuing with agricultural metaphors that I use when talking about campus ministry.....

My grandfather Betts was a verifiable "green thumb."  He worked that Tucumcari (New Mexico) dirt faithfully and always had fresh beans, tomatoes and squash etc.  He passed the gene along and although my dad didn't get a garden planted every year, he certainly gave it a go on and off throughout my life.   I've never planted a garden, but as I get older (and get more kids to feed!) I've felt this desire to get into it.

Have you ever heard of planting potatoes in a trash can?  This spring, I watched a few videos about planting potatoes in barrel.  With any kind of barrel or bin or even some type of cylindrical fence wire and some straw, you can plant a whole bunch of potatoes in an upright arrangement.  "Container Gardening" is a fantastic urban gardening technique, and it's also good for keeping the deer out of your crops!  (Go on youtube and search for "plant potatoes in a barrel" or check out this link.)  I was inspired reading about harvesting hundreds of pounds of potatoes!  What a great idea!

Then I went to Wildwood, NJ for our Cru Summer Mission.

When I came back, I still wanted to plant some potatoes, so I found my friend Teddy at church.  Teddy is a masters student who studies potatoes!  You couldn't find a better helper!  I told him what I wanted to do.  He wasn't too familiar with the barrel technique, but he had heard of it.  I asked him where I could get some good seed potatoes and he said he'd talk to one of his professors.  We both acknowledged that it was a little late to be planting.  

A whole week passed by and the next week, I saw Teddy at church and here's what he said.  "My professor said you would need to plant some very specific (fast maturing) variety of potatoes if you wanted to have any yield planting at this time of year.  And even then, you would really need some ideal growing conditions.  Without a greenhouse, you really can NOT count on the elements to help you out.  And besides that, you don't have access to the seed potatoes that you would need even to have a chance.  It's not going to work out for you this year."

Shut Down!  

Here's what happened. Growing crops takes time, and it's critical to get seeds in the ground at a certain time of year.  It doesn't  I matter how good your soil and your compost is if you aren't planting at the right time of year!  It doesn't matter how carefully you place the seed or how nice your irrigation system is.  It won't matter how much care and "love" you give your garden -you have the plant in the spring!  I could've found the nicest barrel, procured the finest soil and fertilizer, but at the end of the day, I was just too late! Even with the help of an Ivy League student who majors in tubors at Cornell, you just don't plant potatoes outside in Ithaca in the middle of July.

Planting crops is a "time critical" endeavor.  There are times of year when you must do certain things if you want to have things to do the rest of the year!  Every field has it's seasons, not all seasons are the same, and you've got to act accordingly.

In campus ministry, there are also seasons that are special, and there are things that must be done in the summer and in the  fall or things will be very very hard.  (I would say "impossible" but we know that with God all things are possible!)

The fall is a time to meet tons and tons of new people and help them get plugged in.  We must get out on campus to welcome as many new students as we can.  We must labor  to make campus ministry visible, tell people that we exist, inform them about our on campus fellowship.  We talk to people about Jesus and explain the necessity of life in gospel-centered community.  We invite them to check out our small groups where they can connect with others study the Bible and gather around the gospel.  The fall is special because the weather is good and the school year has just begun.  The "climate" is literally "right" for making new connections! People actually  have time to hang out and talk more than they will in about a month.  Everybody wants to meet new people and make new friends.   And people are just forming up the "rhythms" of their year.  They are making decisions about how they will spend their time, and who they are going to be hanging out with.  Campus ministers and student leaders must engage as many people as they can in the fall because that's when students are settling in.

In essence, this is our planting season!   As the year goes on, life on campus gets more hectic, frenzied, and here in Ithaca -cold!  Students schedules become more settled and rigid.  Habits have been formed and if a student hasn't made Christian fellowship a part of their life, it will be harder to integrate it in the middle of the year.  But if we will put the work in during the first few weeks of the fall, we can see a new "crop" of leaders raised up.

Everything we do is dependent upon dedicated, Jesus exalting student leaders.  In order to do what we do and make the gospel as accessible as possible on campus, we need as many student leaders as we can get.  The new students we connect with in the fall are the leaders of the future.  And if we fail to connect with those students in the fall, we will be lacking man-power in the spring and going into next fall.

This dynamic really affects our Community Group leaders.  They understand that if they don't work hard in the fall, their Community group might be about as big as my potato harvest.  Nothin!   The beginning of the year is when you have to make the majority of your new connections.  You can go walk around the dorms in November, but you won't find tons of students willing or even able to modify their schedule to help you launch a new missional Community Group at that time.  But if you work hard in the fall, you'll have a group ready to minister to those around them for the rest of the year.   You've got to get your hands dirty in the first few weeks of the fall!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Calving Season"

There's really nothing quite like the beginning of the fall semester!  It's a time of year that is truly special and unique.  
Most people have never seen the 7 part documentary called "The Last American Cowboy."  It's about 3 different Montana cattle ranches and the families that own/run them.  It's thoroughly interesting to see how all three ranches really do things a little bit differently based on their size and resources. 

I reference that movie often at the beginning of the year as I'm coaching our student leaders because  I compare the beginning of the school year to "calving season."  Calving season on a cattle ranch is an extremely important, extremely busy,  and unique time of year.  It's an "all hands on deck" season where the normal rhythms of life are disrupted by the critical work of delivering  the baby calves.  The whole years work and the  financial future of the ranch is dependent upon live, healthy cows, so the key is to see as many calves "hit the ground" safe and ready to thrive.   Everybody is "on call" and life looks different during calving season.  

Normally the cowboys and ranch hands don't stay up all night -but during calving season, that's not rare. The work is exhausting, and although normally the hands don't sleep in the barn -during calving season they might.  The workers are on a round the clock schedule and where on a normal day, no one would ever have to sleep in the truck -during calving season they will!  Everything is different during calving season and the "routine" or lack thereof is informed by the mission during this special time of year. 

And that's how it is during the beginning of the fall semester on campus.  Diligence is the name of the game, especially at a place like Cornell.  Together with our student leaders we labor in ways and at a pace that is unlike any other time of year.   We spend more money on food -both as we host kick-off events, but also as we spend time eating in the north campus dining facilities with new students.   I eat fewer meals with my family during this time of year, and our student leaders also eat less at home.  We stay up later -attending glow in the dark dance parties, hosting late night sports events and planning for the next days activities.  We get up early, to spend time in prayer, we're sending tons of emails, texts and facebook messages to new students who are interested in getting connected to the body of Christ.  We spend hours standing at tables in all sorts of strategic places on campus welcoming people, handing out information packs and inviting people to our small groups.   The first few weeks are different, they are definitively more hectic and they require more energy than usual.  

A campus ministers life looks very different during the first month and a half of school the same way a cattle ranchers does during calving season.  You simply cannot treat that time of year the same as any other.  The pace slows down around October, but right now, we're still in the midst of our "calving season."