Okay, It’s A Process!

It’s been a month since I posted an update on my health, cancer treatment, and Stem Cell Transplant! So here’s some of what’s happened since the last post on 03-14-22:

Today is Day +70 since the SCT. My most recent appointment with my local oncologist was on Thursday, April 7 and the lab results from that visit are encouraging. I’ve begun to feel better and a little stronger. I wish I could say I’m feeling better and stronger every day, but it’s not like that. There are still good days and not so good days, but the good days are more so and the not so good days less so in terms of frequency and intensity.

Since returning home to Bend in early March, we’ve been doing frequent walks in the desert with Jake the Desert Bone Dog and I’m able to add a little distance to the walk most every time. I’m still not quite up to the standard we had before, but I’m going to get there. And beyond!

We knew the Stem Cell Transplant wasn’t a “quick fix”, but knowing that and keeping that foremost in mind aren’t the same thing. Even with the positive indicators, it’s hard to feel very excited when progress seems so slow. It’s hard to know what to tell and how to answer when people ask how I’m doing.  “A little better” is not big news. Except when it is.

Before the SCT, I had to semi-isolate and wear a mask everywhere I went to avoid getting infected with COVID and losing out on the transplant. Now I have to semi-isolate and wear an N95 mask everywhere I go to avoid infections from colds, flu, leaf mold, dust particles, you name it. I can’t eat bleu cheese dressing (mold), vacuum the carpet (microorganisms in the dust), share dishes and utensils (general germs), or eat rare-cooked steak (whatever!)!

Before the SCT, my immune system was compromised, but I still had the benefit of all the work my system had done through the years and all the vaccinations I’d had and the disease resistance I’d built up through a lifetime. Now I have none of that. My COVID vaccinations are gone, along with flu shots, shingles vaccine, measles, mumps, and all the other childhood disease inoculations. After a few months, I’ll begin getting vaccinations again as my immune system gets strong enough to manage them. In the meantime, it’s frustrating to be even more restricted than I was before the SCT.

Are there lessons for me in all this? You bet there are! One of the things I’m realizing is that I’m not as mature as I thought I was. I’m definitely as old as I thought I was, but not as mature as I thought. (You see, aging is mandatory, but maturity is optional!)

So some days I feel like I’ve taken steps backward instead of forward. In those moments, it’s easy to be frustrated that I can’t go where I want to go and do what I want to do. And it’s harder to keep focused on the fact that if I successfully navigate the first three months, then the first six months, then the first year post-transplant, I’ve very likely added the potential of five or six years or more to my lifespan.

I’m in full remission from the Multiple Myeloma cancer right now. The mutation that caused the cancer cells to develop is still there in my DNA, but the cells are wiped out now by the chemo I had just prior to the transplant. In another 30 days or so, at around day +90 to day +100, I’ll have another bone marrow biopsy, another scan, and another complete set of lab tests. This will establish a new sort of benchmark that can help guide us in what sort of maintenance treatment I’ll have going forward.

So, “How am I doing?” There’s a short answer (I’m doing better) and a long answer (but it’s kind of complicated).

The whole “cancer process” so far has been good for my faith.

    • It’s helped me clarify my thoughts about life and death and longevity.
    • It’s helped me wrestle with some important theological issues and questions.
    • It’s strengthening in me a deep gratitude and thankfulness to God for the life I’ve been given and the people and experiences and blessings that have come my way.
    • It’s pointed out very clearly that I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot of growing and maturing to do, and that I have a stewardship privilege with every day I wake up.

Some of you will relate when I say, “I want to be mature and I want it RIGHT NOW!” A big part of the lesson for me as I realize this process is going to take a while longer than I expected, is to relax a little, slow down a little, and celebrate little steps of progress in my health and my soul. And when I’m really tired, it’s okay to take a little nap!

So it’s a process! How long does the process last? As long as it takes! Here’s a couple of questions that help me appreciate and respect the process more when I can remember to think about and process them:

    • This thing that I’m going through, is it an event or a process? Is it reasonable to expect it to be all done and wrapped up in a nice little package or do I need to accept that it’s going to take a while?
    • What is the desired outcome of this process? What are the short-term sacrifices that lead to the long-term benefits? How can I better focus on the desired outcome?
    • How can I develop and maintain a deep awareness and gratitude that God has filled my life with blessings beyond counting?
    • How can I better understand what others are going through and how they feel, and help and encourage them as a result of my “process”?
    • Are we there yet?!?

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, please leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, I’d love for you to click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

This is REALLY From The Other Side!

I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I posted an update on my health, cancer treatment, and Stem Cell Transplant! So here’s some of what’s happened since the last post on 02-22-22. Sorry for the delay! By the way, my Stem Cell Transplant began at 2:02 PM on 02-02-2022. It took just over an hour.

This is REALLY from the other side! Remember a couple of posts back I told you about my local oncologist, Dr. Clover, saying to me as I walked out the door into the world of Stem Cell Transplants, “I’ll see you on the other side!”? In my previous post I wrote to you “from the other side.” The transplant was done, I was feeling worse each day as the chemo took its toll, then gradually better each day as my bone marrow recovered and my blood counts improved. Then, just a day short of two weeks in the hospital, I was released to stay at Stephanie and Philip’s home in Gresham and return to OHSU almost daily at first, then a couple of times a week for blood tests and doctor appointments and other fun stuff.

Now I’m home in Bend and doing well! I had all my external connectors (the central venous catheter for lab draw out and medicine and treatment in) removed on Monday, March 7, and came home to Bend on Tuesday March 8. I’m not very strong yet, and some days are definitely better than others, but it’s progress! I reconnected with my local oncologist on Friday and we’ll be exploring what type of maintenance treatment I’ll be doing. But that’s a little way off yet. Right now I’m free of Myeloma Cancer cells and the prognosis is good that I’ll have a substantial period of remission going forward!

We’re thankful to God! We’re thankful to the various teams that have cared for me through the early treatment last year following diagnosis, the preparation for and the process of the transplant, and the excellent follow-up care! In fact we’re just pretty much thankful for everything and for everyone who has prayed, cared, checked in, supported, and been a part of our process and experience!

One thing that impacted me more than I expected was the loss of my mustache and beard to the chemo drugs. (Not so much the hair that used to be on my head so much as it had begun to desert me some years ago. Fickle!)

But here’s the thing: I started growing my mustache on April 4, 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. And I never shaved it off. Ever. And I started growing my beard on June 1, 1980, when we moved to Medford, OR. And I never shaved it off! Ever. Both my mustache and beard went through color changes through the decades, from red-brown to grey to white. But they were always there. I could count on them! (The hairs on our heads are numbered. I could count on them!) The mustache was with me for 55 years! The beard was with me for 42 years!

You and I may have been friends for a long time. Even a long, long time. But unless you knew me before I was 24 years old, in Vietnam in 1967, you never saw me without my mustache. And unless you knew me before I was 37 years old, in 1980, you never saw me without my beard! And now they’re both gone! And I still don’t recognize the face of the old man elderly gentleman who stares back at me from the mirror!

And people say, “It’ll grow back!” You don’t know that for sure! Maybe it will and maybe it won’t.

Anyhow, this is not a Dark Valley issue. I’m alive and I’m getting better and I’ve got a lot to learn about post-transplant living. Pre-transplant, I still had an immune system that remembered my measles vaccine, my smallpox and diphtheria vaccines, in fact all the vaccines I’ve had since the polio vaccine in 1954 when I was 11. But post-transplant, my new immune system doesn’t remember any of that so I get to start all over daily living carefully in a world full of germs, mold, and dust. Then beginning in about three months to a year I’ll start re-immunizing with COVID vaccine and then all the others. And my new immune system has to learn to deal with Jake the Desert Bone Dog and leaf mold and Bleu Cheese dressing and flu germs and the common cold. So I’ll not be joining the ranks of the Maskless Oregonians for a while at least.

I’m not sure what my blog schedule will be for the next few weeks. I know it’ll be a while before I’m up to doing a weekly blog along with daily GraceNotes devotionals. I guess I’ll send you what I’ve got when I’ve got it and we’ll see how it goes!

Grace and Peace, Jim

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Reflections From The Other Side

I’m writing to you from “The Other Side”! On January 20, I had my final appointment with my local oncologist, Dr. Todd Clover prior to the transplant. After conversation and questions, as I prepared to leave the consult room, we shook hands and he said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” When he said it, it really struck a chord with me. The Other Side!

The stem cell transplant was done on Wednesday, February 2, 2022 and I’m writing this on the afternoon of Monday, February 21. Today is day +19 since the transplant and a lot has happened since then.

I was released from Hospital on February 14 to stay at Stephanie and Philip’s home in Gresham, OR. This keeps me within 20 miles of OHSU Hospital for access to on-going outpatient treatment for another couple of weeks or so, or for emergency treatment should the need arise. I go to the cancer clinic for labs to check on my new blood progress, to consult with the doctor, and to have the dressing on my central line changed.

I’m eagerly longing to be released to go home to Bend, but I know I’m not ready yet. I did manage a half-mile walk each of the past three days, but I’m well aware of my new limitations and that it will take some time to rebuild. So we’ll trust the numbers and the medical team that does this all the time and we’ll be grateful to go home when the time is right. I’ll send you a very joyous update when we get there!

There are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about and processing during the past few weeks that I’d like to share with you. I won’t take long with this, because I’m still working on it myself.

The Dark Valley

Psalm 23:4 “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” There’s definitely been some dark valley places between here and where we’ve come from since starting the SCT process in 2021. My shepherd knows the way through those dark places and is not merely sending me through them, but will walk with me all the way through to the other side!

My treatment plan had been working so well, and with reasonably light side effects and I had actually reached a point of remission. I stopped all my regular treatment drugs a couple of weeks before the transplant and as the effects wore off, I felt better than I had since I started treatment last April. I was tempted to think, “What if I just don’t do the SCT and see how long this remission will last?”

And then I had the transplant and as the chemo did its dirty work, within the next few days, I felt worse than I had since I can remember. But in the Dark Valley days I was so thankful!

I was so thankful for the Doctors and nurses who said, “Don’t be discouraged. Here’s what’s happening in your bone marrow and blood, you’re right on track. In the next few days, as these numbers come up, you’ll start feeling better and stronger.”

And I was so thankful for friends who emailed and texted me that God was with me in the Dark Valley, that God’s unfailing love surrounded me, and that I would be out of the Dark Valley and into the sunny green pastures soon.

I was thankful for the many friends and GraceNotes and Blog readers who didn’t send a note to me, but sent a prayer to God

And I’ve been most thankful for Jean, who sat by my bed every day in 14K. Jean is my caregiver through this process. OHSU only does the transplant if the patient has a dedicated 24/7 caregiver. Jean has been by my side during the darkest part of my dark valley, managing my meds, helping me dress, helping me in and out of bed (You know, just like always!)

Life Lesson: The Good Shepherd will be with you through the Dark Valley, and the Good Shepherd has some helpers that will speak life, truth, and encouragement to you. Listen to them and let them help.

The Other Side

I remember an old kids’ song, “The Bear went over the Mountain.” Apparently, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. When he got over the mountain, this is what he saw “The other side of the mountain is all that he could see.” I know, humor me, okay?

I’m on the other side! The transplant is working! That’s great, its fears have been overcome, its objective is being achieved, it’s a plan that so far is working well. But it’s not really a destination or a stopping place. My immune system still isn’t as strong as it was before the transplant. Even with all the months of immune destroying cancer treatment, I still had more defenses then than I have right now.

The thing I have now that I didn’t have then is cancer-free bone marrow and some intrepid little stem cells that are working day and night to multiply the cells I need in my bone marrow and blood to rebuild immunity. They’ll learn to recognize the bad stuff that comes along. They’ll be strong enough in a few months that I can begin to get the vaccinations against shingles, pneumonia, measles, COVID, all these enemies.

There are times when God gives us a powerful breakthrough, but the breakthrough isn’t a destination. It’s not a stopping place, it’s a platform from which to move further forward in our faith journey. And there will be obstacles to overcome, battles to be fought, disciplines to put in place.

I’m physically more at risk of illness and infection right now than I was 3 weeks ago, before the transplant. But I’m positioned to get better and healthier than I’ve been since the cancer diagnosis last March. I’ve got some new anti-infection restrictions to learn about and heed, and some strength restoring exercise to do, and some patience to develop (I thought I already had that!).

I’ve got my little intrepid Stem Cells working away down there in my bone marrow. I’ve got the medical team monitoring my progress and setting some boundaries and restrictions. I’ve got my friends and family praying, caring, and helping in so many ways. And I’m surrounded by the unfailing steadfast love of my Father.

• Dark Valley? You’re not alone!
• The Other Side? No magic, just a new platform from which to live your faith.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

I’ll See You On The Other Side

The past two weeks has been a whirlwind of appointments and waiting. The outcome summary is that I’m medically in a good place for a successful stem cell transplant. Dr Clover, my local oncologist, and Dr Hayes-Lattin, head of the Stem Cell Transplant team at OHSU, both tell me I’m in remission due to the past 10 months of treatment (and, in my opinion, due to a lot of prayer on my behalf!). So the actual transplant has less heavy lifting to do to cleanse my bone marrow and blood of the cancerous cells.

Jean and I were in Portland earlier this week for lab work and to sign consent papers for the transplant. We came home to Bend Monday evening to prepare ourselves and the house for our absence for a few weeks. We leave Friday January 28 for OHSU, I get a COVID test on arrival Friday afternoon and if it’s negative, begin two days of chemo on Monday, January 31 and Tuesday, February 1. The actual Stem Cell Transplant will take place on Wednesday, February 2. That’s 02-02-2022. I’m not sure if there’s any significance in the date, but for us it’s a big step forward after a long time waiting!

Incidentally, days immediately prior to the transplant are “minus days” as in -2, -1. Transplant day is “day 0”. Subsequent days are “plus days” as in +1, +2, +3. Just thought you might like to know that.

The best-case scenario, time-wise, is that I’ll spend about two weeks (day -1 through day +14) in hospital at OHSU, then a few weeks in Gresham, at the home of our daughter Stephanie and her family, receiving any necessary outpatient treatment until my immune system is renewed enough for me to be released back into the wild. Then I’ll come home to Bend and begin my new life! We pray and hope that it will be a long season of full remission of the Multiple Myeloma cancer.

On January 20, I had my final appointment with my local oncologist, Dr Todd Clover prior to the transplant. After conversation and questions, as I prepared to leave the consult room, we shook hands and he said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” When he said it, it sounded right to me! When I got home, I had a new message in My Chart from Dr Clover. I have an appointment with him on April 7. That’s “on the other side.”

This Stem Cell Transplant has been kind of a long process for us. We first discussed it in May of 2021, then began moving ahead with the stem cell harvest in September for a transplant at the first of October. Then that was postponed due to all the ICU beds occupied by COVID patients. Now we’ve had the process moving again for a couple of weeks and it’s been a fresh opportunity to think about and acknowledge both the reward and the risks of the transplant treatment.

We feel so blessed to have the opportunity for the transplant, but there remain so many uncertainties between here and transplant day, even though it is only a week away. I just had a text message from the nurse coordinator that we’ll need to be in Portland earlier than expected for some last-minute lab work. Anyhow, suffice it to say that it still seems like we’re shooting at a moving target!

Psalm 23 has been both challenging and comforting for me as we’ve negotiated the twists and turns of the trail we’re on.  1 The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. 2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. 3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. 4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. 5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. 6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:1-6 NLT)

Dr Clover said, “I’ll see you on the other side” and made an appointment for me in April (on the other side).

Psalm 23:4 says “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”  There’s definitely some dark places between here and where we’re going (the other side – where faith tells us there’s a season of living in full remission from the cancer) but the Lord, my shepherd, knows the way through those dark places and is not merely sending me through them, but will walk with me all the way through to the other side!

Tomorrow evening I’ll say goodbye to Colin, Melissa, Jude, and Zane when we have dinner at their house. I’ll say, “See you on the other side!” I’ll say goodbye to Jake the Desert Bone Dog. I’ll say, “See you on the other side, Jake!” Then when I check into the hospital, I’ll say goodbye to Philip, Stephanie, and Jesse. I’ll say, “See you on the other side!” Then Jean will accompany me to the hospital and will be the one person who can visit me during the time I’m in the hospital (COVID restrictions). She’ll be with me through the whole process.

So anyhow friends, I’m not sure how predictable my blog posts will be for the next few weeks, but please continue your prayers and we’ll keep you posted! I’ll see you on the other side!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Honest Discussions With Life-Long Learners

Hey Friends, I’m starting a new phase of my cancer treatment this week as I prepare to go to OHSU in Portland in a couple of weeks for the long-awaited Stem Cell Transplant. The postponement due to OHSU’s ICU beds being occupied by COVID patients has taken about four months. Without the postponement I’d have completed the transplant and recovery period and would have been back in Bend sleeping in my own bed just before Thanksgiving.

The current schedule plan is for me to go to OHSU on January 24, sign the consent documents, and then begin the actual pre-transplant Chemo infusions on January 31 and February 1. Then the morning of February 2 (02-02-22 does that signify anything special or spiritual?), I’ll receive the transplant of my own Stem Cells which we harvested from my own body back in late September.

I can expect to be in ICU for about two weeks as my bone marrow begins to regenerate and as the amazing Stem Cells begin to reproduce and become the kinds of cells I need to rebuild my immune system, without the mutated cancer cells that have been trying to take over (the Chemo will take them out and I’ll get a fresh start with the 7.8 million Stem Cells that are waiting for me in the freezer at OHSU).

Then as my system begins to stabilize (this is all criteria driven – I must be able to eat and keep food down and must have measurable progress on cell regeneration), I’ll be released to stay at my daughter Stephanie and her family’s home in Gresham (I have to be within 20 miles of OHSU until further criteria are met and to receive any necessary support treatment.)  This could take as much as another four weeks, but we’re hoping for a much shorter period. Realistically we’re looking at five to six weeks from Transplant day to returning home to Bend.

During that time, I don’t know how much energy I’ll have or how well my brain will be working, so my weekly blog post may miss a week or two. GraceNotes daily devotionals will continue to go out daily by email and be daily posted to our ResourceMinistries.org web site.

This week and next, I’ll be having tests and scans and a variety of processes to determine if I’m strong enough and well enough to handle the challenges of the transplant. I’ll have another bone marrow biopsy (not my favorite), EKG, Echo cardiogram, pulmonary function test, PET scan, along with my regular cancer treatment regimen. Thankfully, I can do most of these tests here in Bend before going to Portland.

So please keep praying for us as we go forward into a season in which it seems like we’ll have a little less control of things than we normally imagine we have! During this time, I’m going to try to share with you things I’m thinking and praying about and processing. So hang in there with me!

Here’s my thought for this week:

Today I asked God for opportunities to talk with people who know a little more than I do about things that are important to me.

Wouldn’t it be great to have honest discussions about important things with people who are open to learn from each other?

You know, so often, what passes for discussion is opinionated people taking potshots at each other from behind the concrete walls of their minds – what passes for honest discussion is people tossing word grenades at each other from the concrete bunkers of their minds.

If we viciously attack others over differences of opinion we’re wrong even if we’re right! When we engage in honest, respectful dialog on matters of difference we’re right even if we’re wrong!

I’m a Life-Long Learner. I’m curious. I want to know stuff I don’t already know. I want to have to change my mind about things because I’ve discovered I was wrong!

I know not everyone is like that or is ever going to be like that, but let’s make the effort to respect those whose opinions are different from ours, and to learn from people who know stuff we don’t know.

Let’s make the effort!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

And don’t forget to pray for Jean and me as we travel through some uncharted territory the next few weeks!  Thanks!

What Really Matters?

Here we are friends, at the beginning of another year! Glad you could join me! This blog post is excerpted from a message by the same name that I gave at Mountain View Fellowship in Redmond, Oregon on Sunday, December 26, 2021…

New Year’s Resolutions: Good or bad? I wonder how many New Year’s Resolutions are about weight loss or getting in shape? After Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting and snacking, it often seems the most obvious and urgent thing we can do is get (back?) in shape! I don’t know why everyone is so anxious to get in shape! Round is a shape!

I joined a Health Club in January of last year. I found one that is especially for seniors, but it wasn’t working for me so I cancelled my membership after about four months. Apparently you have to go there!

How’s your experience with New Year’s Resolutions been in the past? Well, whatever your relationship with New Year’s Resolutions, this isn’t really about that. This goes deeper and I hope it reaches farther than New Year’s Resolutions do for me. It’s not that getting in a shape other than round doesn’t matter! Reality is that in comparison with the time and energy we spend on discovering and focusing on the things that REALLY MATTER, a lot of our time and energy gets spent on things that matter less. And a lot of the time it’s not Bad vs Good (that’s easy), it’s about Good vs Better, and Important vs Most Important.

“What Really Matters” isn’t the same all the time. And What Really Matters isn’t the same for everybody (all the time). We’d like to make it simple, make a list, plug our lives into the What Really Matters list, and live happily ever after. You see, we’re not intended to live the Christian life on cruise-control. The Christian life is about following Jesus, about learning, growing and changing. And that includes taking time to decide What Really Matters!

Let me give you an example: 1978. We lived in Tri-Cities, WA and were part of the leadership team of a Jesus People Church. I had been traveling teaching seminars for nearly 50% of the time that year. Our daughters were 7 and 12. We were presented with an opportunity to go to the south pacific and start a training center. It was a six weeks commitment. Another six weeks away from the girls. We had a perfect setup for my parents to stay in our home and look after them. But we cancelled. It mattered, but right then our relationship with our girls mattered more. It was a hard decision. It looked like a door was closing, probably for good. But it was the right decision. Then in the 80’s and 90’s when the time was right, we started training centers in Jamaica, the UK, and three nations in Africa.

What Really Matters changes with the seasons and circumstances of our lives. It’s different for different people. And it requires diligent thought, prayer, and often some really difficult decisions. Because you can’t do everything. You can’t have it all. And the thing you choose to do creates some things you don’t get to do!

In January of 2009, I decided to begin writing a daily devotional based on my current through the Bible in a Year reading plan. I made a list of people I knew who might like the devotional and offered it to them free by daily email. We’ve just finished 2021! That’s been 13 years and GraceNotes has been sent every day of those 13 years. Why? I guess because it’s one of those things That Really Matters to me.

Different seasons, Different situations, Different Importances!

The important thing is that you address What Really Matters in each season of life. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for each of us. What Really Matters changes with the seasons and situations of life. What really matters is different for different people relative to specific interests, talents and abilities, and passions.

The key is more a matter of being awake and aware and seeking God’s “What Really Matters?” as we move forward in life.

    • This requires thought and prayer and focus.
    • This requires developing Kingdom of God values.
    • This requires a willingness to learn and grow and change.
    • This requires being a disciple, a follower of Jesus.

What Really Matters to me now? Not the same as when Jean and I were in Richland, WA in our early 30’s, running our business, with two daughters in school. Not the same as when we lived in Medford in our early 40’s with two daughters in school, starting a church. Not the same when we lived in Jamaica, with one daughter in school, one daughter in the US, starting a Bible Training Centre. Not the same as when we moved from Jamaica to England and started Bible Training Centres in London, then in Ghana, in Uganda, in Malawi… Not even the same as when we moved back to the US and got involved in local church ministry here in Central Oregon. What Really Matters to me, age 78, with cancer? I’ll let you know, friends. It’s a moving target!

What Really Matters to you, in your life, right now? Age and stage, situation and circumstance… What Really Matters to families with kids in school? What Really Matters to people who have recently retired and need to know what to do next?

I did an informal survey of some people in different ages and stages of life and it was interesting what I found. I found some expected and very significant differences in their “What Really Matters” lists, but I also found some things that seem not to change much with age and stage.

    • Braces for the kids, figuring out the school dilemma, needing a bigger house.
    • Medicare supplement, health issues, downsizing, are we going to get to travel like we’d hoped and planned?
    • Some degree of financial security.
    • Opportunities to serve, to help others, to make a difference.
    • In common: Relationships, family and friends, purpose.

Picture this with me:  Life is a journey. We are here, at the end of 2021, at the beginning of 2022…

    • We’re standing at the top of a hill
    • We’re standing at the turn of the year
    • We’re looking back, looking forward, looking around…

Looking back at the past year: Does it seem mostly good or bad?

    • What stands out? Disappointments or accomplishments, good times, successes?
    • Look for lessons to be learned. Let go the disappointments and mistakes.
    • Be thankful that God has brought you this far.

Looking forward to the coming new year: Good or bad?

    • Anxiety or hopefulness?
    • Look forward with gratitude and thanksgiving.
    • Remember God’s faithfulness in the past.
    • Look forward in hope.

Making important decisions and acting in the present.

    • Think about Your present “What Really Matters.”
    • Make a decision to focus your eyes on and to apply your time and energy to what really matters right now.

Take some time this week, before you jump back into the pace of things, to think and pray through What Really Matters as an individual or as a family in one’s present season and situation of life.

Ask: What Really Matters? Ask yourself, ask God, ask your family members, ask your friends. Here’s what I’d like you to do: Ask What Really Matters at least five times every day this week.

Here are some “What Really Matters” questions to stimulate your thinking:

    • What does my budget and calendar say about What Really Matters to me right now?. Are there things that use significant amounts of my resources and time that I know are not “What Really Matters” kinds of things? What can I do about that?
    • How can I start a conversation with my partner or family about “What Really Matters?”
    • What have I been wanting to bring to the top of my “What Really Matters?” list, but I just keep putting it off? What can I do to make that happen now?
    • Who among my friends and associates seems to really have a handle on their “What Really Matters?” Could I make arrangements to talk with them about how they do it?

Prayer:

Father, How did we ever get to this place? How did we make it through all we’ve been through? It’s by your grace and mercy! How are we going to make it through everything we’re facing, make it through all the unknowns of the days and weeks and months of an unknown 2022? It’s by your grace and mercy.

We pray for wisdom as we face decisions and choices large and small. We pray for a continuing awareness of your presence with us and your guiding and protecting hand on us for the new, unknown year that’s just before us. May we stand in your presence a year from now, filled with gratitude for all you’ve done for us and filled with hope for the next trip around the sun!

And may we live this year with the sense of purpose that comes with seeking and doing What Really Matters with the time, energy, and resources you’ve trusted into our hands. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

One Year of Blog Posts Completed!

When I started writing a weekly blog post in January 2021, I had no idea that I would be diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma cancer three months into the year. I simply wanted to stay better in touch with friends and tell more of my story by writing and posting something once weekly.

I started out with some short blog series that were a little more “teaching” and then, partly because of your input and partly because it simply seemed as if it was the better way forward, I shifted a little more to stories as the year went on. Through the year I did some topical posts and series as well. I’d love for you to feel free to revisit the things I’ve written this past year. Feel free to share them. I think there’s some good stuff there friends! You can find it all here: https://www.jimastephens.com/

It was a big disappointment in September when we began making preparation for the Stem Cell Transplant to treat my cancer and then faced a postponement due to ICU beds at OHSU being unavailable due to COVID. We were able to complete the stem cell harvest right at the end of September, but then went on hold until the beds began to be available again and the backlog eased.

Today I began again the process of moving forward on the preparation for the transplant. All of the tests and evaluations that we did in September will need to be done again and my January calendar is already starting to fill with appointments. The first and possibly least enjoyable is another bone marrow biopsy (This’ll be my third one, so I should be getting used to them by now!). Then there will be a variety of scans, EKG’s, pulmonary tests, and weekly lab work and other tests as we move ahead. I’ll be able to do almost all these tests and evaluations here in Bend, so we can stay at home until the final week or so of January.

On January 23, we’ll travel to Portland to sign the consent forms and meet with the oncologist overseeing the transplant. I’ll check in at OHSU on January 31 and have the first day of outpatient chemotherapy. The following day, Tuesday, February 1, I’ll have the second day of chemo, then be admitted to hospital. Wednesday, February 2 is Transplant Day!

Following the transplant, I’ll expect to be in the hospital for about two weeks as my system stabilizes and my stem cells start becoming my new immune system! After release from OHSU, I’ll need to stay in the Portland area for a few more weeks for outpatient treatment and any necessary tweaks and adjustment. So by early springtime I’ll be back at home in Bend. While in Portland we’ll stay with our daughter Stephanie, her husband Philip, and our grandson Jesse in Gresham.

We would really appreciate your prayers that there will be no more delays or postponements to the process and that the transplant will be effective and give me as long as possible a period of remission from the cancer before we need to begin treating it again.

As we go through this process, there may be some time in February when I’ll not be able to write and post to my blog each week, but we’ll see how it goes!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmy

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them, but the disciples told them not to bother him. 14 But when Jesus saw what was happening, he was very displeased with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.” 16 Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16 NLT)

When I was a little boy everyone called me Jimmy. That was fine when I was a little boy. But I thought Jimmy was a little kid’s name and when I reached my teens I decided it would be much more age-appropriate to be called Jim. That was also about the time I stopped calling my father “Daddy” and started calling him “Dad.”

My Dad’s sister Edna was the last surviving member of my father’s generation in the Stephens family. We had lost contact with Aunt Edna years ago after Uncle Clarence died, then we moved overseas for nearly two decades, and when we moved back to the USA, we didn’t know where she lived. Letters we sent to the old address we had were returned as undeliverable. Then one day we got a call from my cousin Georgia, Aunt Edna’s youngest daughter. She called us from Texas and told us that Edna had died. I hadn’t seen Georgia or her sisters since my early teens, more than half a century earlier (when I was still Jimmy!).

Georgia kept calling me “Jimmy” on the phone and at first I wanted to tell her that my name, my grownup name, is Jim. But I didn’t make a big deal of it. We talked again several times in the next few days, about Aunt Edna’s later years, about the funeral arrangements, about Georgia’s life and about her older sister Carol, who, we discovered, still lived in Oregon. Actually, it was kind of nice to be Jimmy again.

This morning, after I read the verses above from Mark 10:13-16, I felt as if Father God said to me, “Do you mind if I call you Jimmy?” And my heart replied, “That’d be great!  Can I call you Daddy?” He said, “Sure.”

Here are a couple of things that occurred to me as I thought this through:

    • The “Jim” I am now has a lot more on his mind than the “Jimmy” I used to be.
    • Being in too much of a hurry to graduate from “Jimmy” to “Jim” could cause me to miss the good parts of my life’s “Jimmy” season.
    • I’m thinking it would be good to have at least one relationship where I’ll always simply be “Jimmy”!
    • In fact, I think that might be the whole point Jesus was making when he said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

So This Happened…!

This is something completely different. I just want to tell you the story of what happened and the outcome so far. I don’t intend to get preachy here!

A few days ago, maybe even about the time you were reading my blog post from last week, my Subaru Outback and a Honda Accord tried to both occupy the same space at the same time! If you know anything much about physics, you know that won’t work and so the attempt changed the shape of each of the vehicles a little.

I was driving south and the driver of the Honda was entering the street I was driving on from a driveway on my right, to cross my lane and turn left (north) on the street I was on. The other driver’s view and my view were blocked by a large truck-mounted camper and as the other driver cleared the camper and entered my lane, we both saw each other at the same moment – sort of a “deer-in-the-headlights moment”! I braked and she accelerated (the very best thing for each of us to do in that situation) and the left front of my car hit the left rear door of her car. The impact spun her car across the other lane and she stopped near the curb facing in the appropriate direction of travel. I stopped at the point of impact.

The laws of physics were still in effect, so about a third of the front of my car was torn off and sent skittering over to the curb. The actual impact was slight. Seat belts were worn by all participants. Air bags were available but did not deploy. No one was even slightly injured. Both cars were still drivable, but my Subie was not as pretty anymore! Altogether through, not a bad outcome!

After all the necessary reporting to police, Oregon DMV, and insurance companies, I took my car to an auto body shop and got a repair estimate that seemed reasonable to me. When I made an appointment to get the repairs done, I was given a date in February, almost three months away! Staffing shortages, supply chain problems, that sort of thing. As you may know, I’m preparing for a Stem Cell Transplant in Portland, 150 miles away, on the other side of the Cascades Pass, at the beginning of February, and I need to be able to make that drive in my all-wheel drive Subaru with snow tires and not some random rental car with original equipment tires on it!

My car was drivable, but not in rain or snowy conditions. Too much of the engine and electronics and various operating systems were exposed by the missing front trim. So, I hatched this idea of trying to fix my Subaru temporarily so I could make the drive over the pass and back in rain, snow, or whatever the current conditions might be when I need to go over to OHSU in Portland for tests and treatment. I figured:

    • There’s no point having a drivable car if I can’t drive it.
    • All the remaining front parts: grille, bumper, light assemblies, are going to be scrapped when the repair is done (eventually), because it’s all plastic and all the plastic has cracks and scratches in it.
    • It’s my car and I can do what I want with it!

So I looked at the damaged part of the front, identified some places I could drill holes in the car’s support structure and the broken trim pieces, and made a plan. Friday evening Jean and I went to a hardware store (Jake stayed in the car) and I bought 14 dollars worth of bolts, nuts, washers, threaded rod, and plumber’s tape, and Saturday after our walk in the desert, I set to work.

The plan was only a sketch in my brain at first and it gradually took shape as I worked. I drilled and measured and adjusted. I put the pieces on and off time after time, adjusting the threaded rod mountings a little each time. I cut strips of metal plumbers tape and drilled holes in the fender and bumper to bolt the broken parts to the still-attached parts. Then I quit for the night because I needed more hands to finish up. Sunday after church and lunch, Colin and Jude and Zane came out to the garage with me and we determined to finish it up.

Jude, age 14, actually did quite a lot of the crawling about on the garage floor to put bolts through holes and washers and nuts on bolts. He came up with a couple of really good ideas on getting the bolts through the plumbers tape, fastening the damaged inner fender in place and plugging in the rewired fog light. 12-year-old Zane helped where he could and asked roughly 143 curiosity-questions about cars, tools, and various things he spotted in the garage. Colin and I tried our best to stay out of the way while Jude fixed the car. Also, I made sure that the boys knew the difference between fixing the car (what we were doing) and repairing the car (what the body shop will eventually do).

Then Jean and Jake and I took the car for a test drive at highway speed to listen for unpleasant noises. None. So there you have it.

 

I’m still determined not to get preachy here, but here’s a few things that occurred to me in this process:

    • It’s a lot better if you can approach an incident like this accident without having to spend a lot of time and emotional energy assigning fault and blame.
    • It’s surprising what you can do when you set yourself to figure something out and just have a go at it. Maybe you need to just let the plan take shape as you go along.
    • It’s good to have help. Sometimes two hands aren’t enough, but three or more are just right.
    • If you’re trying to figure out how to do something, it’s good to get someone else’s ideas and input. They may see something you’re missing.
    • It’s really satisfying when it all comes together! My car is actually drivable for distance, at speed, in winter weather conditions. Two days ago it wasn’t.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

From My Journal

As I was preparing to write this week’s blog post, I came across something I wrote several years ago, soon after we moved back to the US from London. This so spoke to me that I felt I should share it with you today. At the time I wrote this, we were living in the Central Oregon woods, about 30 miles south of Bend, Oregon. I hope this is as helpful and refreshing to you as I was to me when I read it this morning.

Here it is:

It started snowing again this morning about 7:30. It’s the 15th of March and I have been hoping and praying that the snow would be over soon. Since we returned from Uganda two weeks ago, much of the snow has melted and the two miles of dirt road has gone through the stages of deep water, ice, and soupy mud. With the warm days and cold nights we’ve been having, it looked as if we were about finished with the daily road adventures. Now it’s snowing and we are in a white world – all the bare spots on the drive and the roof are covered again and it looks like we’re back to square one.

I took a few minutes during my quiet time this morning to read some of the entries in my daily Journal from January and February this year. I was so interested in what I read that I got some earlier journals from 1999 and 2000 off the shelf and read some of the entries in them as well. I’d like to tell you some of what I found and what I learned about myself in the process.

By the way, my daily journal is not filled exclusively with page after page of great spiritual revelations and insights. Hopefully there is some of that, but my journal tends to be a sort of combination daily diary, an account of what’s happening. Then I write about significant events of the preceding day, things I expect, dread, or hope for today, ups and downs of how I’m feeling, and what I’m thinking about or struggling to understand or decide. Then I write prayers in which I give over my concerns to my Father and ask him a lot of questions that he sometimes answers and sometimes doesn’t.

There are several things that really stood out to me from my time of rereading my journals this morning:

First, I was appalled at how bad my hand writing is and how difficult it is to decipher some of what I wrote. Do you think it’s too late for me to improve my penmanship?

Second, I was surprised at how much I had put in my journal about how I was feeling about issues and situations. It was good to realize that many of those situations about which I expressed serious concern have responded to prayer, have worked themselves out, and are no longer matters for concern. Some haven’t changed and remain prayer concerns today. Some haven’t changed but I have found grace to accept them as they are.

I was also surprised that I don’t remember the intensity with which I was “feeling” about many of those situations. It is obvious from my journal entries that many of these seemed at the time to be earth-shaking situations and that I was certain I would never forget them because of their seriousness or intensity. Yet in reading about them from this distance, they don’t seem very serious at all. In some cases I’ve forgotten all about them.

Another thing that really got my attention is that on some of the issues I had prayed about – crisis issues that I felt had to be resolved immediately for life to continue –  I find that months later, even a year later, they remain unanswered prayers and unresolved issues and life does go on in spite of that. Perhaps God is a better judge than I of what is major and what is minor and when action should be taken!

I also discovered that many prayers I had prayed / written to my Father in times of deep concern and uncertainty have been answered perfectly, but completely unpredictably! The answers that he has given are so much different and so much better than any scenario I could possibly have imagined. And my journal is evidence that I often attempted to sketch out for him how he should at least consider working these things out. I’m so glad he didn’t take my advice on every one of these matters!

There is an interesting recurring theme of asking him what comes next after our very busy and fruitful almost two decades of living and ministering outside the US in Jamaica and the UK and in travels to Africa and Central America. God graciously provided this mountain hideaway and place of rest and restoration for us. He directed us to a great church to attend for worship and God’s word. We had a great small group for fellowship and mutual encouragement. Our travel to minister in the UK and East Africa continued. Our relationships with people in our small group continued to grow. But what comes next, Lord?

In January 2000, only a few months after we left London and came to Central Oregon, during my daily Bible reading the Lord had quickened a scripture to me from Genesis 50:24 “God will surely come for you…He will bring you back to the land He vowed to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Gen 50:24 NLT). I was fully confident that God had spoken that to us and that this was his personal promise to us. I was praying for the fulfillment of his promise. I was trying to imagine the possible ways he could bring it to pass. I was trying to figure out whether we needed to be actively seeking ways “back to the land..” or whether we should be passively waiting for Him to “…come for us.”

In mid-October 2000, just one day after our return from one of our most fruitful times of ministry in Uganda, and just one year and one day since coming to Bend from London, God “came for us!” Ken Johnson, pastor of Westside Church in Bend, where we had been so refreshed and renewed for nearly a year phoned and asked me to consider becoming part of the pastoral team at Westside and to lead and serve the pastors of Adult Discipleship, Pastoral Care, and Small Group ministry. What a perfect fit for us! Being part of a team serving in the local church and being able to continue the development, translation, and distribution of the Foundation for Christian Service course in Africa and the training and equipping of pastors and leaders in East Africa with the FFCS course for Lay Leadership Training. Have you ever noticed how we usually think God’s answer to prayer has to be “either – or” and he often shows us an answer that is “both this and that?”

Looking back at my journal and seeing how small and limited my ideas often are and how faithless and sort of “whiney” some of my prayers were, I am again amazed at his Amazing Grace!

The most redeeming thing I find in my prayers and questions to my Father over the past year is a continuing pattern of submission to his will. I can’t seem to get to the point yet of leaving everything in His hands from the outset. I still have to try to plan and reason and suggest possible solutions or outcomes. But as I read through the entries in my journal, I find that I consistently (eventually) submit it all to him; to his wisdom, to his care; to his timing; to his power and love.

If there is anything I can recommend to you from my reading today in past volumes of my daily journal it would be this:

    • Be consistent in your quiet time or daily devotional time.
    • Be honest in your daily communication with God – how you feel, what you’re struggling with, what you’re hoping for.
    • Keep a journal. Write your thoughts, concerns, prayers, hopes, and dreams. (Recording the daily temperature and snowfall is optional!)
    • Make sure that your journal is representative of you and not simply patterned after someone else’s journal.
    • Take a little time every few months to look back. Reread some of your journal entries.
      • Look for answered prayers.
      • Look for positive patterns to be reinforced.
      • Look for negative patterns to be worked on for change.
      • Look for the fingerprints of Grace where God’s hand has touched your life.

It’s still snowing. But this too will pass!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.