A Way Out

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

I’m still not much of a horseman.

However, in working with our two young horses (a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old) I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on the topic of horse training.

Although I’ve barely scratched the surface, I am really having a lot of fun learning!

I’ve noticed a common training theme that is frequently repeated in every chapter and/or video. Some call it the principle of pressure-release.  Others call it making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.  I just finished reading Ray Hunt’s book, Think Harmony with Horses, in which he calls it putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out.

It is a very simple training principle with a myriad of practical applications. Carson James has a whole library of videos applying this basic principle to different training situations.

In a nutshell, the idea is to set the horse up in a situation where it is easy for him to do what you’re trying to teach (this is the out), but difficult for him to do anything else (this is the bind). Then apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to find the out (do what you are trying to teach).

The instant the horse makes a try (takes a step, shifts weight, turns head, etc.) in the right direction, release the pressure.  Take a moment to encourage and reward the horse (pet him and talk to him) then do it again.  Repeat until the horse responds smoothly with the desired response.

One benefit to this technique is that rather than trying to force the horse to do what the trainer wants, the trainer is letting the horse figure it out for himself. Rather than trying to over-ride the horse’s free will, the horse is learning to voluntarily adjust his will to submit to the trainer’s will.

Another benefit, as explained in Think Harmony with Horses, is the bond created between man and horse.  Using this technique, the horse learns to consider the trainer as a trusted friend, because the trainer always leaves the horse an out.  Over time, the horse gains confidence in the trainer and in his ability to follow the trainer’s prompts.

The concept is amazingly simple. The application, however, is an art requiring lots of practice.

The first trick is knowing the horse’s personality and training level well enough to know where to start and how much pressure to apply. Difficult tasks often require breaking learning down into smaller steps, so the horse can gain confidence and understand expectations before learning the difficult task.

Also, the trainer must apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to search for the out, but not so much pressure as to panic the horse.  As training progresses, the trainer should use less and less pressure, so the horse can learn a quick response to a light touch.

The second trick is timing. Pressure must be applied to encourage desired behavior and instantly released at even a tiny try toward desired behavior.  The release is what lets the horse know where the out is, and the out needs to be as easy to find as possible.  However, as the horse progresses in learning the out, the trainer should hold pressure to insist on a more specific try (such as a full step rather than just a head turn or a weight shift) before releasing pressure.

As I contemplated this concept of putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

God, who intimately knows my personality and training level, sets me up in stressful situations while always leaving me an out. He knows just how much stress to apply to help me find the out without being unduly panicked.  He is my faithful friend throughout…helping me find the right way and helping me learn to follow His prompts.  He never forces me, but helps me learn to voluntarily submit my will to His.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

What a faithful friend and personal trainer!

 

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Unapologetic Apology

donald-trump-megyn-kellyI generally steer clear of political discussions on this blog. And it is not my intent to wade into political discussions in this post. However, as a blogger who frequently posts on the topic of abuse, I find Donald Trump’s recent interview with Megyn Kelly to be very troubling.

For the past several months, we’ve seen Donald Trump’s response to anyone who challenges him as typically being a personal derogatory attack, often of a vulgar demeaning nature. This is a troubling behavior pattern for anyone in a position of authority and especially for the apparent Republican Party presidential nominee. Trump’s supporters (and Trump himself) seem to brush such concerns aside as simple strategy for the rough-and-tumble party nomination politics. They say Trump’s behavior will become more conciliatory and less abrasive as he moves toward the general election.

Maybe so…or maybe not…

Even more troubling to me, than the demeaning attacks of the early campaign stages, is Trump’s supposed attempts at reconciliation. Here is a recent excerpt from an interview with Megyn Kelly, intended as a reconciliation after Trump’s very derogatory remarks about Kelly, across several months (USA Today, May 18, 2016):

During the FOX Broadcasting special Megyn Kelly Presents, Trump told Kelly that he expected she had gotten some pretty nasty tweets from his supporters when the two of them were in the middle of their spat. But he chalked it up to fans just showing their loyalty.

Kelly responded that it wasn’t just supporters who Trump retweeted. Over the past nine months the Fox reporter has been attacked repeatedly by Trump himself, as well as his followers via Twitter.

“You would be amazed at the ones I don’t retweet,” Trump said.

“Bimbo?” Kelly asked, referring to tweets that had appeared on Trump’s Twitter timeline calling her a bimbo.

“Well that was a retweet, yeah. Did I say that?” Trump asked.

“Many times,” Kelly said.

“Oh, okay excuse me,” Trump said. “Not the most horrible thing … Over your life Megyn, you’ve been called a lot worse. Isn’t that right? Wouldn’t you say?”

For myself, and likely for others who have dealt with abusers, Trump’s language here is full of red flags. In fact, his tactics clearly illustrate classic abuser default behavior patterns. Let’s break it down:

Trump told Kelly that he expected she had gotten some pretty nasty tweets from his supporters when the two of them were in the middle of their spat. But he chalked it up to fans just showing their loyalty.

Trump knows the primary purpose of the interview is to publicly reconcile issues between the two of them and demonstrate his ability to build interrelational bridges. As such, he understands he is expected to produce conciliatory language. But look at how he broaches the topic. He takes no personal responsibility for any of the verbal attacks on Kelly. Rather, he sloughs it off as overzealous supporters being a bit too defensive.

Kelly responded that it wasn’t just supporters who Trump retweeted. Over the past nine months the Fox reporter has been attacked repeatedly by Trump himself, as well as his followers via Twitter.

Good for Kelly! She calls Trump on his blame shifting, holding him accountable for his own repeatedly derogatory language across an extended time frame.

“You would be amazed at the ones I don’t retweet,” Trump said.

Classic minimizing tactic! Trump is attempting to make his offensive behavior seem less bad by comparing it to potentially worse behavior. Classic deflection…minimizing offensive behavior while shifting the topic away from the real issue of unacceptable behavior.

“Bimbo?” Kelly asked, referring to tweets that had appeared on Trump’s Twitter timeline calling her a bimbo.

Bravo to Kelly for keeping the conversation on topic! She did not fall for Trump’s redirection. Rather she pulled him back to the topic of personal accountability for his own abusive words.

“Well that was a retweet, yeah. Did I say that?” Trump asked.

Again, Trump plays the deflection and blame-shifting tactic. First he says it was a retweet, as though that somehow makes it okay. [Those weren’t my words. Somebody else said that. All I did was publicly repeat them numerous times.] Then he calls into question whether he actually said that, while knowing full well he did say it. In fact, his having said these things is exactly why this interview is taking place and why he broached the topic to begin with. Yet, when it comes time to apologize for his atrocious behavior and hurtful demeaning verbal attacks, instead he acts like it never even happened, “Did I say that?”

“Many times,” Kelly said.

Yay, Kelly! Way to go! She continues to calmly state the truth without letting herself react negatively to Trump’s denials, deflection, and blame-shifting.

“Oh, okay excuse me,” Trump said. “Not the most horrible thing … Over your life Megyn, you’ve been called a lot worse. Isn’t that right? Wouldn’t you say?”

And there you have it! After repeated attempts to shift the blame to someone else…to redirect…to minimize…to outright deny he even said it…as Kelly continues to hold him accountable for his own abusive language…this is the closest Trump comes to even admitting he did anything, much less apologizing for his behavior. A half-hearted sarcastic “Oh, okay, excuse me,” followed by yet another minimization.

Anything anyone else may or may not have said to Kelly across the course of her life is totally irrelevant! The relevant topic is what Trump said about Kelly.

And note how he follows the minimization with a question designed to elicit a positive response, “Over your life Megyn, you’ve been called a lot worse. Isn’t that right? Wouldn’t you say?” A positive response requires a change of body language, resulting in a change of posture. Again, it is a classic strategy designed to close the subject…to get Kelly to agree…so they can move to another topic while leaving the appearance that everything is resolved. Yet it resolved nothing. The only thing they agreed on is that Kelly has been called worse. That has absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s atrocious demeaning behavior toward Kelly!

This was not an apology. Rather it was both a continuation and an escalation of the abusive behavior Trump has exhibited toward Kelly for months. Except this was even worse…because this abusive behavior masqueraded as an apology and reconciliation.

Not once during the entire conversation did Trump ever take responsibility for his own words. Not once did he ever acknowledge his words were offensive, hurtful, or unacceptable. Not once did he acknowledge the lack of respect he exhibited toward Kelly, nor the false accusations he leveled against her. Not once did he recognize the hurt and harm his words and actions inflicted on Kelly. Not once did he apologize.

Folks, this is classic abuser behavior.

I don’t know much about Trump’s personal life. I’m not accusing him of anything beyond his exchange of words with Kelly. I am simply saying, this is an excellent example of classic abuser behavior. Trump is very fluent in abusereese.

I find that very troubling.

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

Balk Bolt Buck

knockout round

A very relaxed horse at the end of the ride

The last few weeks, I’ve been working with our five-year-old gelding to relax, slow down, and smooth gait transitions. Knockout is a sweet-natured young horse with good confirmation and an excellent pedigree. However, he tends to be tense during rides which can lead to issues.

Last weekend, following a stormy Friday night, our arena was too muddy for riding. So I decided to take Knockout on a trail ride through our back pasture and woods.

In general, Knockout tends to be skittish with woodland trails and water crossings. I assume his west Texas raising didn’t provide much opportunity for either.

Saturday morning we started out. The 8-inch rainstorm left creeks swollen and trees dripping. Needless to say, Knockout had ample opportunity to feel stressed…and I had ample opportunity to ask him to relax.

Knockout tends to respond the same to each stressful obstacle, whether a fast-flowing creek, a low-hanging branch, or a tall vine. First, he balks. He looks for an out…an alternate path. He may try to turn aside, or he may try to turn around. At this stage, his goal is to simply avoid the stressful situation.

As I continue to hold him to the course and nudge him forward, Knockout’s next strategy is to bolt. Basically, he concludes that if the obstacle cannot be avoided, then the next best thing is to get past it as quickly as possible.

Initially, I allow some level of controlled bolting. While I won’t allow him to totally flee the scene, I don’t mind him picking up to a trot past a ‘spook’ then dropping back to a walk. Over time, however, I expect him to take these things in stride without the need to change speed.

Since he was particularly nervous this morning, I decided it was a good time to work past some of his fears.

I picked out one short stretch of trail that he was especially stressed about and looped back over it, working on relaxing and walking calmly. After several cycles, he was calmer, but still had specific trail sections he tried to rush past. So, I began stopping and backing him up each time he broke into a trot. I backed him up to the location he spooked, and dropped the reins. When he tried to step away, I interfered then dropped the reins.

The first time I brought him to a full stop beside a ‘spook’ Knockout responded with an attempted buck. It wasn’t anything malicious, just a natural response to the situation. He was nervous and frustrated, seeking release for pent-up energy, and it came out in a buck. Fortunately, I was ready and caught it quickly. I interrupted the buck then dropped the reins.

Once Knockout relaxed in the full-stop and ceased trying to buck or step away, I prompted him to continue down the path. Before long, he learned what I wanted and relaxed quicker.

By the time we’d circled through the same path about twenty times, Knockout was able to calmly walk the full path. I could literally feel him relax and cease resisting. We continued a very relaxed ride back home and ended on a good note.

As I thought about Knockout’s lesson that day, I realized he saw three possible responses to a tense situation. As he saw it, he could either balk, bolt, or buck…and if the first didn’t work he’d try the next.

My task is to teach him another option…to believe…to simply relax and trust me. That’s not an easy thing. When his fight-or-flight instincts tell him to balk, bolt, or buck, it’s not easy to trust me enough to simply relax.

Now I’m wondering.

How often do I respond to stressful situations with balk, bolt or buck, while God is asking me to believe…to trust? Click To Tweet

How often does the Holy Spirit whisper, “Fear not. Peace, be still. Have faith. Trust in Me,“ as I frantically look for an out or throw a fit?

And how many times do we circle back around to repeat a lesson I haven’t yet internalized?

Lord, please continue to be patient with me. Help me learn to face stressful situations, not with fear, but with confidence in you.

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

 

War Room

war room movieMy wife and I have been hearing about the movie War Room for months and finally made time to watch it together, this past weekend.

There were things I liked about the movie, as well as areas of concern.

My favorite theme was the focus on prayer and God working through the prayers of His people.  I also liked the depiction of prayer tending to first change the heart of the person praying.   I have certainly found this to be true in my own life.

Another favorite theme was the need to focus on right relationship with God and total dependence on Him, rather than focusing on human relationships and trying to fix other people’s dysfunction.  This powerful truth was portrayed well in the movie.

My primary concern with the movie is its perpetuation of the false and dangerous myth that all marital issues can always be resolved through prayer.  While one could argue the movie depicted a single scenario without explicitly stating it applied to every situation, this is a very common theme in most Kendrick Brothers movies, and the repetition reinforces the myth.  A survey of movie themes leaves a strong impression Kendrick Brothers is highly committed to this unbiblical myth and very intentional in proselytizing others to embrace their perspective.  Whether intentional or not, this is certainly a primary message most viewers will receive from a Kendrick Brothers movie.

In a nutshell, this perspective tells a troubled spouse that if they will just pray fervently enough, believe deeply enough, humble themselves lowly enough, and love sacrificially enough, God will always miraculously heal their marital relationship.

Frankly, that’s a lie!

It is a very dangerous lie holding too many abused spouses in bondage to their abuser for too many years. Click To Tweet

Yes, God does answer prayer in miraculous ways.  Yes, God will bring healing in relationships where both partners are committed to seek Him and pursue His heart.  However, God will not violate human free will.  If one spouse is determined to go their own way, rebelling against God in violation of their sacred covenant vows, God will not conquer their heart by force.

If prayer, faith, humility and love were guaranteed by God to always result in healed relationships, the Apostle Paul would not have instructed the Corinthian Christians to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

God has not promised to heal every human relationship. Click To Tweet

Jesus made it very clear He did not come for the purpose of healing every relationship.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  (Matthew 10:34-36)

I was also disappointed by the unrealistic reconciliation portrayed in the movie.  The husband was depicted as being very antagonisticly aggressive in interactions with the wife and daughter.  Yet he converted to a completely repentant change of heart without any boundaries having been defined or enforced by his family.  And, he had no further episodes of abusive behavior…no temptations to slide back into old patterns of behavior…just a completely new humble godly character.

While I hesitate to call anything impossible when we’re discussing the miraculous, to say the least the portrayed scenario is way outside the norm.  Most antagonistic aggressive character disordered people will never change without first running up against very strictly enforced boundaries.  Even then they are unlikely to change, and if they do, it will be over an extended period of time with strict accountability.

You know what I’d really like to see Kendrick Brothers produce? Click To Tweet

I would love to see them produce a really good movie depicting a realistic scenario of an abused wife learning to see past the lies, deceptions, and manipulations of her abuser.  The movie could show her learning to understand how much God loves her and how highly He values her.  It could show God redeeming her from that abusive marriage, protecting her through the divorce, and delivering her from the false doctrine that held her in bondage for so many years.

Now that would be a realistic movie with a solid Christian theme!

What do you think?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Healing Touch

hem of his garmentAnd, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:  For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.  But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Matthew 9:20-22, KJV)

The morning of Wednesday, March 2, I completed my final radiation treatment.  What a relief!  Although I know I still have many weeks of healing before me, completing treatment means my body can finally begin to heal.

That evening, I crawled into bed exhausted and hurting.  Conflicting emotions swirled…thankfulness and hopefulness at knowing I am done with cancer treatments…exhaustion from battling pain and struggling to keep my fluid and nutrition intakes up…intimidation at realizing I still have a long road of recovery before me.  I lay there thinking about the healing process…knowing I need more nutrition for substantial improvements…knowing my nutritional intake cannot substantially increase until my mouth and tongue heal enough to allow a broader diet selection.  Wondering how long it will take to heal…I knew it would take several days to see any improvement at all, because recent weekends failed to show any improvement.

I found myself silently praying, “Lord, please heal my poor blistered tongue!  Lord, I need your healing touch!  Jesus, please, let me just touch the hem of your garment!”

As I lay there praying, I remembered the heart-shaped prayer cloth on my night table.  My mother sent it to me weeks earlier, when I first began cancer treatments.  Mama asked the pastor and elders of her church to pray over the cloth, then mailed it to me.  As I prayed, “Let me just touch the hem of your garment,” I realized how similar that is to a prayer cloth.  In neither case is the healing power in the cloth itself, but in our Healer, Jesus Christ…yet He used cloth as a conduit for His healing power.

I fell asleep that night, clutching the little prayer cloth in my hand, praying, “Lord, let me just touch the hem of your garment!  I need your healing touch.”

I awoke Thursday morning, with the blisters gone from my tongue.

My mouth and tongue are still very swollen and sore.  But the raised blisters are gone…along with the sharp pain that accompanied them.

Our Healer lives!

 

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild FlowersRedeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Cynical?

This morning I was listening to K-Love Radio while driving.  They had a caller giving a testimony of God miraculously reconciling him with his estranged wife.  He stated they had been moving toward divorce, each side had attorneys involved, and he had already purchased another residence.  Then, the morning of Sunday, February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, he and his wife happened to arrive at the church doors at the same moment.  They were both overcome with emotion.  They both said they needed to find a way to make their marriage work, and his wife sat beside him, in the seat he had been reserving for her each week.

Further interview questions revealed that neither party has yet apologized for anything, but they have both committed to seek counseling in their church for healing of their marriage and working past their issues.

The interview ended with cheerful congratulations and encouragement, “You’re doing the right thing,” followed by an exhortation, “We have to remember our spouse is not our enemy.  Even though it may sometimes seem like it, our spouse is never our enemy.”

Great praise story, right?  Classic example of a couple struggling with commitments until God unexpectedly intervened, right?  Every reason for congratulations and best wishes…no cause for cynicism or doubting, right?

And yet…doubt I do. Not just this story, but so many similar stories with fairy-tale-like endings... Click To Tweet

…whether I say anything or not, in my heart I wonder and pray.

I know how easy it is to get swept up in emotions, especially on Valentine’s Day, and how difficult it is to complete the hard work of reconciliation.  More than that, I know how little control either individual has over the outcome of relational issues.  It takes two committed hearts working toward a common goal to build a marriage, but it only takes one hard heart to destroy a marriage.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I firmly believe in God’s desire and ability to heal broken hearts and broken relationships.  And I firmly believe in God’s ability to perform mighty miracles.  I’ve seen His miraculous power first-hand.

Yet, in listening to this account, there were little tells that left me wondering… Click To Tweet

The fact that it was such an emotional instantaneous decision on St. Valentine’s Day…a day when emotions are likely to run high for divorcing couples.  The fact that they ‘just happened’ to both arrive at the church doors simultaneously…coincidence or contrivance?  The fact that neither party has yet apologized for anything…how serious can the reconciliation be with no discussion of issues and no repentance of wrongs?

Perhaps the brightest flag was his reference to saving a seat for his wife each Sunday…while actively pursuing divorce and purchasing another residence.  That’s not normal behavior.  One doesn’t come to church each week with sincere expectation of reconciliation while actively pursuing divorce every other day of the week.  So, why the behavior discontinuity?  One possibility (the one he seems to want us to believe) is that he was simply overcommitted in a relationship to a spouse who had no interest in reconciling.  BUT, the reserved seat seems a bit too showy for that level of sincerity…especially given how he slid that into the conversation to make sure we, the listening audience, all knew how gratuitous he was in his weekly seat saving.

No, to me, the saved seat comes across as being done largely for appearances…as a manipulation tool to influence the opinions of others.  In fact, it would be a classic abuser move, designed to jab guilt toward his victim while simultaneously eliciting compassion from the rest of the church (poor guy must be heart-broken…just look how he saves her a seat every week).

If we assume the saved seat was manipulation, we can also see how easily he could arrange to ‘coincidentally’ arrive at the church doors the exact same time as his wife on St. Valentine’s Sunday…knowing she would be particularly vulnerable on that day.

Then, for the ‘coupe de grace,’ call K-Love Radio first thing Monday morning, announcing the recommitment to the world while simultaneously giving God the ‘glory’ for the success of his manipulative scheme.  That publicly commits his wife whether she was ready or not, and by giving credit to God he projects the perception that to back out would be to act directly against God’s will.

Do you see how slickly that could be pulled off?

Now, you may be thinking I’m reading an awful lot into a few words…and you would be right.  The truth could be much more innocently naïve and much less malicious in nature.

Some would say I’m being cynical…that I’ve allowed my life experiences to make me too negative…too unbelieving.  I would say through my life experiences I have gained wisdom and discernment.

While I don’t know the truth of this specific situation, I do know the more sinister version is too often the reality.  And I do know Christians, in general, are often all too gullible and all too blind to evil.  Too often, we naively assume every marriage is worth saving, despite clear evidence to the contrary.  And that simple false assumption plays directly into the abuser’s manipulative schemes…duping good Christian people into believing the abuser is a saint while his victim is in need of repentance.

I’m not sure how I would have handled the caller if I had been with the K-Love team.  But I can tell you for sure I would not have affirmed to him he was ‘doing the right thing’ when there is a distinct possibility he may be doing great evil.  And I absolutely would not have said “Our spouse is never our enemy,” because I know sometimes a spouse is a great enemy indeed.

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

The Bibliophile

the bibliophile

The Bibliophile

My oldest brother, Jonathan, recently posted this picture of himself, taken in 1972.  To my knowledge, I had not seen this particular photograph before, but it has captured my attention.  I keep thinking about it and browsing back to look at it, again.  Since when does an old photograph so move me and why this one in particular?

First and foremost, the picture is so genuinely Jonathan.  Perched on a narrow plank, elbows resting on knees, he is contentedly at ease so long as he has a good book in hand.  And the expression on his face…both relaxed and alert…attentive and absorbed…the look of a man who is reading the words on a page while seeing the pictures described by the words…a man completely immersed in his book!  That was Jonathan in 1972 and that is Jonathan today.  His love of books and joy of reading has not lessened with time.

That same pose, though, would also be typical of Jonathan’s son, Samuel.  In fact, one could easily mistake one for the other.  As we say here in the south, Sam is the spi’t’n image (spirit and image) of his father.  Then I think how often I’ve seen my own son, Timothy, in similar pose, book in hand.  I’ve not thought of Tim and Sam looking that similar, but with book in hand the body language is the same.  And where do you suppose Tim gets it?  Yep!  In this aspect at least, my son is the spi’t’n image of his father.

The posture would, in fact, be typical of most men in my family.

Those hands, though…those hands are so uniquely Jonathan!  Those are my brother’s hands.  Much larger than mine and longer of finger…nobody else has hands quite like Jonathan’s.  In 1972, Jonathan was 19 years old and I was 9…still young enough to think of my big brother as quite a hero.  I remember those hands as being strong enough to split an oak log in a single axe stroke…agile enough to palm a basketball in mid-dribble…yet delicate enough to create wondrously detailed sketches.

Look how gently he holds the book in his large hand…such a loose grip…almost a loving caress.  I don’t recall anyone else holding a book quite the way Jonathan does.

But wait…something tugging at the corner of my memory…of course…my father!  Papa’s hands were smaller…more like mine…but the way he held a book was similar to Jonathan’s…as though each book were a fragile treasure to be handled with delicate care.

How many times have I seen Papa’s hands gently cradle a book?  How many books did he read to us children in the evenings?  …First a chapter from the Bible then a chapter from another favorite book.  Through Papa’s voice I was introduced to Dickens, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Longfellow, Tolkien, Lewis, and so many more beloved authors and poets.

I recall how Papa opened a new box of books recently arrived in the mail.  Cautiously he would run a knife beneath the tape, careful not to penetrate but a fraction of an inch for fear of harming the books.  Gently, he would lift the first book as the tantalizing odor of fresh new books wafted from the box.  Placing the book upright, spine resting on the table, he would carefully fold each cover flat on the table.  First from the front of the book, then from the back, Papa would gently fold down a few pages at a time, carefully running his fingers along the binding to press the pages down.  The process continued until the book lay open to the middle.  Then he would close the book, place it aside, and lift the next book from the box.  Papa explained he did this to “break the book in well” so as to minimize stresses on the binding, helping it last longer.

Yes, to Papa, a book was a treasure to be lovingly cared for.

A few years ago, when Google was first becoming popular as a search engine, I ‘googled’ my own name just to see what would happen.  Since I had no social media presence at the time, I didn’t show up on the first listing page…but my name did.  Apparently, I share my name with a distant ancestor, a book binder who lived in Eton, England (1704-1787) and is known as a pioneer in bundling collections of books into a single volume so as to make them more affordable.

It seems the Pote Family has a long history of loving books.  It’s part of who we are…a family of bibliophiles.

Faith and Cancer

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

I awoke at 3:30 this morning to a dark, quiet, peaceful house.  As I lay in bed, drowsily assessing my condition, I slowly realized that for the first time in over a week I had no pain and no nausea.  I was a little thirsty and knew I should sit up and drink some water…hydration is very important right now…but chose, instead, to simply lie still for another hour.  Sitting, swallowing, even moving could easily lead to pain or nausea, and I wanted just another hour simply enjoying the peaceful pleasure of being free of both, no matter how temporary.  So, I lay peacefully still, thankfully pain free, reflecting on how recently this was my norm.

To put it in proper perspective, you have to understand how healthy I was prior to my cancer diagnosis in December.  I had so few prior health issues the nurses acted skeptical of my correct completion of the various new-patient medical forms.  The entry interview for my first CT-scan was typical.

“Mr. Pote, it looks like you skipped the current medications section.  What all medications do you take each day?”

“None.”

“None?  No blood pressure medicine?  No pain medicine?  No acid reflux medicine?”

“No, Ma’am.  No medicine.”

“You don’t ever take any medicine at all?”

“Well, sometimes I take a Tylenol or ibuprofen if I have a headache, but no daily med’s unless you count the caffeine in my coffee.”

“Hmmm!  Well that’s good.  Now, what about this prior surgery section?  You didn’t list any surgeries.”

“No, ma’am.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never had any surgeries?  Not even a tonsillectomy?”

“Well, in my early twenties I had a wart removed from my little toe, and I’ve had a few other similar outpatient procedures for ingrown toenails and such, but I assumed the form was asking about surgeries requiring general anesthesia and I’ve not had any of those.”

“Well, that’s good!  That’s real good!  Now, what about this section on pain?  Where all are you experiencing pain?”

“No pain.  I feel great!”

“Mr. Pote, if you don’t have any pain or any complaints or medical issues, why are you even here doing a scan?”

“We’re just trying to figure out why this lymph node is swollen,” I responded touching the swollen area on the right side of my neck.

The scan showed a tumor, which led to biopsy surgery, which showed the tumor to be malignant.  A second surgery followed to remove the tumor along with the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.

A couple of weeks later, we began a rigorous seven-week treatment plan of weekly chemo treatments combined with twice-daily radiation treatments.  Having just completed my 3rd week of radiation and my 4th chemo treatment, I’m counting myself as half-way through.

The first two weeks weren’t too bad in terms of side-effects, but this last week has been a lot tougher.  Some days are harder than others.  I keep reminding myself that I’m half done…and I keep counting my many blessings…while praying for strength and wisdom.

Do you realize how much faith it requires to undergo cancer treatment based solely on a doctor’s word? Click To Tweet

Remember, prior to my diagnosis I felt great!  I was active, energetic, and pain free.  I had an excellent immune system and was rarely ill, even when the rest of my family came down with whatever bug was circulating.  Other than the apparently-minor-issue of a swollen lymph node, I was the very picture of good health!

And remember, I have never personally seen or felt the cancer.  Relying solely on the word of medical professionals and the results of medical tests and scans…”the evidence of things not seen”…I submitted to surgery.

And remember, the cancer was surgically removed.  The surgeon reported successfully removing all visible signs of cancer.  The post-surgery CT-scan showed no abnormalities.

However, the biopsy showed this to be a very aggressive cancer, likely to return unless all microscopic traces are eradicated through further treatment.  And this particular cancer is known to be very responsive to the combination of radiation and chemo treatment.  Medically, my prognosis is excellent if I complete the prescribed treatment plan.

I sought a second opinion and was told the exact same thing by an independent expert.  I argued, “You don’t understand how healthy I am.  I am in excellent health.  I have a very robust immune system.  I hardly ever get sick.  Why can’t my immune system eradicate any remaining microscopic cancer cells, if there even are any?”

“It possibly could, but this is a very aggressive cancer, and it may not.  Left untreated, you have a much higher likelihood of the cancer returning.  With the prescribed treatment plan, you have a very low probability of the cancer returning.  Yes, you are young.  You are healthy.  You have a strong immune system.  You have a high expectancy of many more years of active health.  These are the very reasons you need to follow the treatment plan, because you are strong enough to handle it well and young enough to maximize the benefits.”

Logically, that makes perfect sense.  Rationally, I know the cancer treatment plan is the right decision.  Emotionally, I still sometimes struggle with it.  On my worst days battling pain and nausea, I ask myself, “Why am I putting myself through this?  I don’t even know if there is any cancer left to kill.  For all I know, I may already be cancer free.  And until I started this treatment, I felt great!”

Then I click back through the data…the research results…the accumulated histories of patients fighting the exact same cancer I’m fighting…and I know the right decision is to keep going until it’s done.

That requires a lot of faith!  …faith that my doctors have a correct diagnosis…faith in the medical technology…faith in the medical research…faith in medical knowledge and wisdom.  It’s easy to intellectually accept these things based on scientific evidence.  It is much harder to act on that accepted knowledge when the action carries a very burdensome path of lengthy treatment.  It’s still all “evidence of things not seen.”  My only knowledge of the cancer is my doctors’ word.  I am relying completely on the medical community for both the diagnosis and the best treatment plan.

That requires a lot of faith in the medical community!

If I can have that much faith in the medical community, how much more faith can I have in my Heavenly Father?  How much more faith can I have in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who continually displays His faithfulness and lovingkindess?  How much more faith can I have in Jesus Christ, my Savior, Redeemer, and Deliverer, who, for our sake, submitted Himself to be tortured, crucified, and killed?  How much more faith can I have in the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, sent by Christ Himself, to comfort, teach, instruct, and bestow wisdom?

By faith, I choose to believe my doctor when he tells me this treatment plan is going to be very tough, but is ultimately for my own good and the best thing for me.  How much more can I believe God when he tells me:

…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

 

If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

Fear not for I have redeemed thee
I have called the by my name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.
When thou passest through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.
When thou passest through the fires, thou shall not be burned.
Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His namesake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil.
My cup runneth over.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord…forever! (Psalm 23)

Now faith…

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Healing

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I married my Rodeo Queen, I understood horses and tack were part of the deal.  However, I had no idea as to the magnitude of cultural and language barriers to be overcome for effective communication.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, my doctor informed me the CT-scan of my neck showed a tumor-like mass.  Appointments were scheduled for PET-scan and biopsy surgery later that week.  We did not yet know whether the tumor was malignant, but my medical team was working under the assumption that it likely was.

In the course of one afternoon, Sherri and I were required to adjust our thinking from expecting my swollen lymph node to be a minor concern to realizing it was a huge concern.  It was a lot to try to wrap our minds around and emotions swirled.  We weren’t sure, yet, exactly what we were facing or how timing would play out, but we began to let employers know our work schedules would need to be flexible for a while.

Tuesday afternoon Sherri’s name popped up on my ringing phone.  I pressed the answer button with, “I love you!”  “I love you, too,” Sherri responded, “What did you think of that clinic I texted you about?”

I hadn’t received the text, but the mention of a clinic left me wanting time to process…to review, think, and pray.  Sherri had mentioned second opinions the night before.  While that sounded like a good idea, I wanted to get a diagnosis before we started soliciting more professional input.  My response to Sherri was brief, “I haven’t seen a text.”

“I sent you a text about a clinic.  I want you to look at it and tell me what you think. I’ll send it again, so you can look at it.”

“Okay, I’ll look at it.  What’s the name of the clinic?”  I assumed we were talking about a clinic within reasonable driving distance, such as UAMS in Little Rock or MD Anderson in Houston, but wondered if she was thinking something further away like Mayo Clinic.

“I don’t remember the name,” she responded, “but it’s a two-day healing clinic in mid-January.  I think it might be really good for us if you’re able to travel then.”

What?  I wasn’t sure exactly what a two-day healing clinic was…nor why Sherri was looking into it.  Sherri is very level-headed…not prone to rushing to try the latest health fad.  She also tends to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward spiritual things requiring more open-mindedness than her Baptist raising.  Of the two of us, I am the one more open to natural remedies and miraculous intervention.  Although I knew Sherri was upset about my impending diagnosis, this was totally unexpected.

And a two-day clinic?  What was supposed to happen in two days?  Was this two days of Pentecostal-style name-it-and-claim-it preaching with a five-step plan to claiming your healing in two days or less?  Or was it two days of charismatic info-mercial-style lectures proclaiming benefits of expensive herbs with an abundance of anecdotal testimonials combined with limited scientific study?  Either way, I was skeptical.

That’s what was running through my mind, but all that came out of my mouth was a stammered, “What? Two-day healing clinic!  I don’t…I don’t even know what that means.  What are you talking about? What…what is a two-day healing clinic?”

“It’s just a clinic…a two-day clinic to learn about healing.  I’ll resend the text explaining it.”

“Okay.  I’ll look at it, but we don’t even have a diagnosis yet.  I really think we need to focus on the PET-scan and tonsillectomy this week.”

Long pause…followed by a stifled giggle…

“Oh, Joe!  I’m so sorry!  It’s not a medical clinic.  It’s a team roping clinic….for Dawson.  A heeling clinic, as in roping a steer’s back legs.  It looks really good, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to travel by then.”

We both laughed out loud!  Some much needed levity in the midst of a confusing situation.

That’s life married to my Rodeo Queen!  🙂

One more small detail…

One week later I had a second surgery to remove the tumor which biopsy had shown to be cancer.  Coming out of anesthesia, my mind was focused on one thing, “I have to learn to team rope!  I want to team rope with Dawson, and I have to learn to rope!”  When Sherri came into the recovery room I greeted her with, “I have to learn to team rope!”

I’m not sure what that means.

People say some crazy things coming out of anesthesia, and maybe this was just my own craziness coming out.  Or maybe it was my subconscious giving voice to some deep seated desire.  Or maybe it was a subconscious recollection of the prior conversation with Sherri and the word play on healing and heeling.  Or maybe it was God, Himself, taking advantage of the quiet of anesthesia to get my attention.

I’m truly not sure.

But, as I’ve had time to think about it, the idea appeals to me.  I know I’ll never be competitive, but it would be pretty cool to learn to rope…and finding another activity to enjoy with an adolescent child is always a good thing.  Right now, I’m still recuperating from surgery and my right arm lacks the strength to twirl and throw a rope.  But maybe that’s exactly what I’ll need for physical therapy a few weeks from now.

Maybe I’ll find healing in heeling!

Sounds like a good goal, at any rate.  🙂

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Life!

I don’t usually make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve never participated in the Word of the Year blogging trend.  New Year’s Day seems like a good time to start a goal with a twelve month cycle, such as reading through the Bible in a year.  However, most resolutions seem to me to be more applicable as daily life-style choices.

This New Year’s Day, however, I find myself very much contemplating lifestyle choices and what changes may be on the horizon.  It’s a matter of timing, really.  During the last two weeks of 2015 I received a cancer diagnosis and underwent two surgeries.  So, I am naturally starting 2016 with a certain level of new resolve.

In 2016…and every year thereafter, I choose life!

It’s not a new resolution…actually it’s been a daily choice for most of my life.  But current circumstances make it a fresher, newer, stronger resolution.

I’ve lived most my life with an awareness of both the brevity and fragility of this life.  Life is full of unknowns and unexpected turns.  We have much less control than we tend to assume.

The cancer diagnosis doesn’t change the unknowns, but it does put them front and center for me, right now.  My prognosis is very good.  I have every reason to expect a long, full active life after completion of treatment.  At the same time, there are numerous unknowns.

Right now, the right side of my lip sags, my right shoulder sags, and my right arm is weak.  No, it’s not a stroke…just post-surgery status.  Most likely, some or all of these symptoms will improve or disappear with time.  But there are no guarantees.  I’ve adopted an attitude of hopeful acceptance…I hope it improves, but see no reason to enjoy life any less if it doesn’t.

I still have radiation treatment coming up.  I don’t yet know exactly how that will play out…how often, how intense, how long, or how uncomfortable…nor what long-term effects may linger.  My intent is to make prayerful informed decisions then leave it in God’s hands.

I also don’t yet know what lifestyle changes may be required.  Advice from family and friends include everything from never drink another glass of wine to never eat another dessert…everything from slow down and taking things easier to throw myself into continual positively energetic activities.

Overall, I think I’ve lived a fairly healthy lifestyle thus far, and can’t see anything to point to as a source of cancer.  Post-diagnosis certainly merits more careful assessment.  I’m certainly willing to make whatever changes are likely to result in improved health.  I am not willing to live in unnecessary fear.

I choose life!

For me, choosing life means choosing Christ.  Jesus said,

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26)

Yes, Lord, I believe!  I believe you are life.  I believe choosing you is choosing life.  I believe choosing life means choosing you.

I choose life! I choose Christ! Click To Tweet

I choose faith over fear.

I choose hope over despair.

I choose joy over sorrow.

I choose thankfulness over complaints.

I choose righteousness over sin.

I choose love over selfishness.

I choose forgiveness over bitterness.

I choose health over toxicity.

I choose life over death.

I choose godliness.

I reject Adam’s covenant with sin and death from which Christ has redeemed me.  I embrace the new covenant with God which Christ has enacted on my behalf.

I choose life!

 

Your thoughts?