Being Grateful is both Singular and Plural

Good morning as I move toward the end of another journey.

The past few days have been packed with activity, and I have been blessed to spend time with a friend Who hearkens back to when I had barely begun my time at Michigan Tech. I am sitting in the airport in Alicante, continuing my culinary love affair with local cuisine. It seems I find something gastronomically inspirational from each place I visit. Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and Iberian Ham, with one more cappuccino fit the bill as I begin the two day journal that will return me to the Acre. It was a bit more expensive than Rome’s airport meal, but so much cheaper, and with so much more quality than my American airport experiences. As I have posted over the part three weeks, I have been so fortunate to be treated so kindly in every single place I have visited. However, being treated with kindness is not a surprising thing, in spite of the current tenor that seems present in many more places than the United States or Washington D.C. Trying to learn enough to greet someone in their native tongue, to say a simple please and thank you in their language is neither difficult or overwhelming. In fact, I will assert it is simple common courtesy, or should be. It is what we were taught (hopefully) soon after we learned to speak at all. While gaining access to the other’s language at one point took some effort, it is so easy today with apps and your phone, to not do so is incredibly lazy, and, at least in my opinion, insufferably rude. Each place I visit, I take the time to read about their history and their customs before arriving. Again access to such information is only a swipe or so away. It’s not rocket science, and it demonstrates some sense of appreciation for the welcome and the kindness you are bound to receive. Seriously, I have been treated with incredible kindness and with a willingness to assist me if needed. I think there are times I surprise people because I greet them upon arrival in their language and I try hard to listen to understand as much as possible. I have been asked twice in the last 24 hours if I was Spanish, Polish, or American. When I hand them my American passport and say, dzień dobry; jak (pan/pani) się masz? (hello sir or ma’am, how are you?) the double-take is always amusing to me, My phenomenally kind host in Ascoli Piceno FB messaged me and noted that I was polite and kind. It is what my grandmother taught me as a small boy. One was to use their manners always, no exceptions. In fact, the one thing that might have caused me to see her angry was if I had been dishonest or had been rude to someone. As a small boy, the one thing I was forbidden to say was to tell another person to “shut up.” While I was not aware of the infamous F-word yet, telling someone to shut up was probably as egregious to my grandmother.

This really does get me to the crux of this posting. Gratitude is to me a sense of profound thankfulness. It is understanding that the kindness you receive is not owed, but rather freely given. Gratitude is something I believe each of us possesses and it is a gift, a gift which we are tasked, if you will, to provide to/for another. It is not by accident that I start with the idea of giving someone this gift rather than being the recipient of someone’s gift of gratitude. When we choose to be grateful and display that feeling of gratitude to another, what we say indirectly is that we have been blessed by that person. It creates an interaction that can serve to uplift each person. There is also another important thing here. If it is something given, for gratitude to work as a gift, there is always the other. Like any gift unless given and received, the giftedness does not happen. What astounds me is how difficult it appears expressing gratitude has become. I hear the word entitlement thrown around like the blinking line in that initial game of pong, but most often it is aimed at those who fall into my students’ demographic. Yet one must ask from where did they learn this? Furthermore, I have some incredibly hardworking students who demonstrate graciousness on a regular basis. From where one learns this sense of always being the customer or that they are always right comes from example. We are not born with a sense of greed or entitlement; we are not born with a sense of privilege; in fact, our habits and our attitudes, each and everyone of them are learned. I could go into the social-psychology of all of it, but suffice it to say, we have created our own problems when it comes to how we treat, act toward, or encounter the other. Our seeming lack of decorum, civility, and complete inability to act in a gracious way has been learned by those around us.

Our sense of privilege or the argument that has been posited, and rather summarily rejected this past few days, that Western Civilization (as well as some other terms) is the only valuable, or most valuable, in history or the correct one is certainly one of the more egregious examples of this sort of behavior. For some time I have found the actions of the United States Representative from Iowa’s fourth Congressional District appalling. My justification for my attitude was not only the incredible insensitivity and intransigence of his speech, but the fact that he was from the state in which I was raised, and I was not raised in any way that could find his statements palatable. I remember raising my concern in the past. While I have not been particularly ardent in my support of most anything Republican, I am impressed that the Minority leader in the House and the Republicans stripped him of his committee assignments and there is move afoot to censure if not move toward his expulsion from the Congress. That is a significant move, and while it still causes me some personal embarrassment for my home state, I will be more impressed if he is sent packing. Again, gratitude and goodness is not only a Western thing; gratitude and goodness is not only a Christian thing; gratitude and goodness is not a male or female thing; and it is certainly not an American thing. It is a human thing. More importantly, it is the correct thing.

Today as I was sitting in the Schippol airport in Amsterdam on two separate occasions, a stranger reminded me of something or realized something I had not. In the first case, I would have left my credit card. He caught me before I have even moved and I thanked him profusely. In the second case 20 € had fallen out of my pocket and a person behind me realized my loss and let me know. In both cases, neither person was American, they were simply doing the gracious thing and in both cases I told them thank you more than once. They smiled and told me they were glad to help me. I could tell from accents that one was probably Dutch and the other perhaps Spanish. As I noted in both a FB posting and in a previous blog, each place I spent any significant time during this journey, I was provided the most wonderful support by persons I had met earlier in my life, some as long as two decades ago, some within the last four years. Yet, again in each place I was introduced to still more people who blessed me with their kindnesses day in and day out. This trip I was both on my own, but never really alone long. In fact, today was the day I have been most on my own. As I write this, we about to land in Kraków. It is after 10:00 at night and I have one last ride to my hotel. We have just been informed it is 0 C and snowing, so it is the January Kraków I know and love. Indeed, it looks much more like winter than when I left only about two weeks ago. My Uber chauffeur said it had snowed quite a bit the last two days and it was supposed to snow for a couple more. However, by the time I got to Warsaw, the snow was gone. Perhaps one of the things I have found l perhaps less appealing about travel is the actual flying. I remember when, once upon a time (and it certainly feels fairytale like) that getting on a plane was exciting and rather sophisticated. Those days are gone for sure. I think the change post-911 has a great deal to do with that. In addition, navigating lines, smaller seating with more people and quicker turn around times all seem to raise the stress of this formerly exciting adventure. Today I am on a truly international flight as the plane is AirItaly, but the flight is managed by Polish Lot. We are on an Airbus 330 and it is an incredibly full flight. As I write now we are about 6 hours into a 9 hour flight. Perhaps 45 minutes off the coast of Newfoundland. I think I have been aboard a flight of the most restless individuals ever. The man behind me, who is a towering presence, and whose son must me next to me has spent more time standing in the aisle with his hand on the back of my seat than sitting. When I got up to go to the bathroom, it was impossible to get by him and he stood there and is so mammoth, he really could not move out of the way. He could have sat back down, but that did not seem to occur to him. On the way back to the bathroom, I encountered the same issue twice and when I returned to my seat, I waited in the central emergency door area waiting for the same man to move away from my seat. Twenty minutes later I finally returned and had to softly say, Proszę, paproszzm. Seems what I wrote a few hours ago has come back in spades to quote the saying. I think it must be exponentially more difficult to serve as a flight attendant when there is so much expected. To be continually gracious when the majority of those encountered are not takes some terrific discipline. Again they provide a gift of grace and gratitude as they often attend some who are less than graceful and absolutely less than gracious.

It is still about 6 hours or so before I will make it home. It is usually the case that I am up about 24 hours on these westbound trans-Atlantic hops. I remember two years ago being pulled over by Pennsylvania State Patrol because I wandered across a lane marker at 1:00 a.m on an early Saturday morning. Both Dr. P and a student were with me. I was 2 1/2 miles from my I-80 exit. Fortunately, I think this is where age assisted me. I told the trooper that I have begun the day in Poland and was a bit tired. I noted I had crossed the line. He took my information and when he returned he noted my insurance card had expired the week before. He was certainly gracious and issued no tickets. I was polite and thanked him for his kindness. Tickets, troopers, and traffic stops are definitely a time to use your best manners. I can say with the no milking of doubt that I have never gotten rude when being pulled over. It does not happen often and even less often as I have aged, but being gracious has saved me dollars and points in my license. In fact, twice in the State of Kansas, it probably kept me out of jail. Seriously!! Amazing how fast 280ZX could travel on flat open highway at 3:30 a.m.. I have made it home and it is about 1:00a.m. and contrary to the immediately prior sentence, there was no reason to pull me over. I am a bit more judicious about my driving at this point in time. In the spirit of transparency, there was a time I did end up in jail because of a traffic issue and even then I was told as I was released that I might have been the most polite temporary inmate they ever had. Even later when I dealt with the fallout of that transgression, I was honest about the circumstance, and polite, and the city attorney responded that he was sorry he even had to charge me. He was incredibly understanding and allowed me to postpone the reduced fine and sentence for 6 months in order to manage other issues I needed to manage.

The point of this post is simple, but, in light of our present national atmosphere, also of utmost urgency. What will it take to become a country, where currently anger, vitriol, and figure pointing are the order of the day, to return to a place where manners are commonplace, that even spirited discussion can create a common goal, or we choose to look for goodness rather than discord is the norm rather than the exception. It is something we are taught early on to be polite, to listen first, to question, but do so respectfully. What happened? I think the answer is complex and multi-faceted, but I also believe it begins at home. Teaching tolerance and acceptance, modeling love and gratitude, demonstrating charity and generosity are a beginning; then expecting that it be practiced (and that means required) regularly would go miles in reorienting our present national direction. I believe in freedom of speech and the right to assemble, but when what comes from such speech or assembly is ranting and unrest, it only exacerbates the problem. Too often mob mentality becomes the rule, but it goes back to this idea that gratefulness is a gift to be given. Anything we have has been given; yes, you have worked for much, but someone offered you the opportunity to work, regardless your station. You have perhaps saved and gone without, but someone helped you along the way. None of us gets where they are (if you have moved forward) alone. Somewhere someone helped you. Someone was gracious and gifted you. If we might all begin to gift back, what could we accomplish? Who might we collectively become? Not the usual sort of musical offering, but there is much more to Marley than some think.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

More than a Dirt Nap

Hello from my office on a Friday afternoon,

Between meetings and a couple of other things (including grading), I am considering some things in light of my Bible as Literature course and wanted to write. This past week, my Bible as Literature student have asked interesting and thoughtful questions about life (and beyond), and while it is not a religion class, when you are using the Bible as one of the central texts of the class, it is not surprising they might ponder and ask things that demonstrate they are trying to figure out questions of context, authority, and authorship and how those concerns might push them to consider what they have heard (either within their church background or without a specific church background), be taught, or as part of their own maturing and growing process. I think I have been pondering a bunch of things in response to their inquiries.

Certainly, an element of that is understanding one’s mortality. If my adoptive mother were alive, she would be 98 years old tomorrow (she lived to the age of 68). In terms of my own life, it is 32 years tomorrow that I had my first major abdominal surgery, while I was an intern pastor in Big Lake, MN, at the hospital in Coon Rapids, MN. I still remember how terrible the prep was for all of that and how I learned quite positively that I was allergic to erythromycin. Most assuredly, other things have happened since then to remind me of my own mortality, and that is more a case of reality that I would have ever imagined. Today as I searched another situation, I found that another person for whom I have an unparalleled appreciation and to whom I owe so much for their care was my cousin, Joanne Wiggs. I found out that she has passed away and joined her husband Jim, who had passed only 9 months before. They were both so good to me. I am sad more than some know that so much had changed in a situation that I was not involved in either service. They were one of the last few people I visited before leaving the Midwest to come back to Pennsylvania. They had grace and charm (both of them) in ways few people ever have, and I imagine ever will. It gets back to some of what I addressed in my last blog about civility and decorum. I remember my father thinking that Joanne was the most consummate hostess ever, and he was correct. I am sorry they are both gone. The picture at the beginning of the post is my picture of them about 9 1/2 years ago.

That was a slight digression, but an important one. It is sad to lose people. This morning what I woke up thinking about was the idea of religion and dying. It was not a morbid idea for me, but rather one of systematics. I do have students in my BAL course who claim to not believe in God, are unsure there is a higher power, and imagine nothing occurring when one passes except we bury them and continue on with our life. Hence my rather stark title. What actually happens when we die? Do we end up in some sort of purgatorial, soul-keeping holding cell until a second coming? Do we die and immediately we are away that there is something beyond, be it heaven (or some kind of eternal bliss) or hell (for me, the condition where there is an absence of anything good)? Certainly the fact that a number of students take a Bible as Literature course can be traced to a number of reasons (and some of it is getting credits to graduate), but I think for many it is their first foray into making whatever faith they come to college with their own versus it being merely what their parents tell them to believe or model for them. I think what I realized this morning in my early morning puzzling was a sort of if there is no real God and there is nothing beyond our demise, then it really is a dirt name, and nothing else need be considered. One of the students working on their paper stopped by yesterday and asked me how teaching the Bible as Literature affected my own personal faith. This is another thing I have deliberated upon a number of times. However, I think for me that is one of the amazing things about faith. From where does it come (which I, of course, have some specific thoughts ~the power of baptism), but assuredly, there are those who argue that it comes from our own human frailty. It was interesting to listen to one of my students from another class address some of that very thing this past week. Because I no longer wear a clergy shirt, and formerly being a pastor is not something I generally address, when students find out that is part of my background, I get a wide variety of questions.

Yet as I have noted, teaching the Bible as Literature class might be the thing that most affects my own piety as well as the practice of that. Faith is best described for me in Hebrews 11:1. I said this when I was in seminary; I stated it as a pastor, and now as the professor, it has not changed. I think back to when I was  a Sophomore in college and one of the freshmen students told me they could prove that God exists. They thought they would have an ally in this bit older pre-seminary student. They were not sure what to respond when I told them they were full of S____T and that I did not believe them, promptly followed by challenging them to do so. There is little one can say, calculate or demonstrate that proves God with any finality. It simply does not work. However, that sort of logic also works the other way, there is little that can be calculated or reasoned that proves there cannot or is not a God. In addition, I will go as far to say that much of the damage done to faithful people or their faithful attempts to be faithful are done by well-meaning (and sometimes less than well-meaning) Christians. I call them evangelical bulldozers. They think they can rollover or flatten any dissension about one questioning how God works. Their arrogance frustrates me (my rhetorically correct response to them). Posolutely, throughout Christian history, the role of the church by its arrogance, its abuse of power, and its dissemination of doctrine that instills fear more than most anything else, has created more questions than it has perhaps answered.

This semester I focused on the issue of contextuality in terms of the Bible being written by specific people at a particular point in history, noting that all writing is affected by the culture in which it is created. I tried to help my students see some of the things they merely accept without question because it is in the Bible and why that can be problematic for them. I think the response of a student this semester to the temptation story in Genesis 3 will be a life-long memory. Suffice it to say when I asked how it was Eve spoke “snake” or the snake spoke “human,” my student was a bit perplexed. She placed her head into her hands and shook her head overwhelmed by the indubitably unexpected consideration my question created for her. My comment to all my students is the same, but in this BAL course, the statement is a bit more profound. I tell them regularly that God gave them a brain to do more than hold their ears apart, and furthermore, they should use it. I wonder in my own piety which God would I like to meet? What I mean by such a statement is that I know the Bible demonstrates (or figuratively illustrates) both a powerful and complex God. What are those specific moments when we would hope to have our Moses-type encounter with God? Where is God at those moments? Who is the God we would hope to meet? I think for the most part, I would like to meet God and speak with him at those times when most of what I see does not make sense. I think I would like to meet (and yes, arrogantly ask) God when I am those times where things seem the most unfair. Those are the times when I question God’s power or ability to intervene. Those are the times that the consequence of our supposed sinfulness most vexes me. I wish our selfish arrogance did not have so many consequences.

There is much more to say about all of this, but as we head this Sunday into the liturgical season of Advent, the paraments (the colored cloth in the chancel area) will be blue. Blue is a color of both comfort and hope. It is a season where the haunting music that foretells the Christmas story reminds us of what is coming. While I am not a proponent of Christmas in the stores at Halloween or before, after Thanksgiving the Advent season is actually one of my favorite times. I think that was something that started earlier in my life, but it was something that really was instilled in me when I traveled around Germany during the advent season in 1985. There is something about organ music and chorale music that will always life my spirit in ways few things can. Awake, Awake for Night is Flying, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Comfort, Comfort Ye My People are some of the things that come to mind. I think there is something haunting, and yet the melancholy of the season also has an undertone of hope. That returns me to my cousin, Joanne and her husband, Jim. The two of them created an amazing marriage and the love they had for each other was something all of us can only hope to find. They were married for 62 years and only apart for 9 months after his passing. The unquestionable affection and love they had was never someone could not see or feel. The way in which they made you welcome in their home was encompassing. Their home on Summit Street was more of a home to me through the years than my own. They were also people of immense and prodigious faith. They attended mass every morning and I learned much about my own faith watching them practice theirs. . . . this little exercise had me searching cemeteries back in Iowa. I remember going to Graceland Park and Floyd cemeteries before every Memorial Day growing up to clean and do yard work on the graves of the family, my father’s in Graceland and my mothers in Floyd, which for those not from my hometown is named after the only person to die on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and he is buried above the Missouri River a bit south of my hometown. So indeed, they are all in the dirt, some in caskets and vaults and some cremated. Is there a purgatory type of thing happening there on the Morningside portion of Sioux City and what was called the South Bottoms where Floyd Cemetery is? Is there something more? Is it merely a dirt resting place and there is nothing more? There are times I struggle yet to understand how it all works and what it all means, but as I enter the season of Advent and I remember the birthday of a mother tomorrow and an older brother on Tuesday, I find that for my own piety, I believe there must be something more. It is more than ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Indeed, as I once intoned, “Almighty God, source of all mercy and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray , with those who mourn, that, casting all their sorrow on you, they may know the consolation of your love . . . ” (Occasional Services Book). With that I offer the following in this season of Advent. I hope you might find peace and comfort in its music.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Three Score and Three

carpe diem

Good early morning from the acre,

It is about 4:40 a.m. and I went to bed last night after a wonderful dinner  out and then coming home to commenting and grading. I woke up a short time ago and after lying in bed rather wide awake, I decided to get up and work on a blog and then get back to commenting and grading the same. I am always amazed by how little critical thought and careful analysis seems to go into people’s writing. It is not that they are incapable of doing so, but it seems more to be the case of rushing to fulfill an assignment and check it off the list, particularly if it involves the need to write. I have looked at 20 or more blogs and the great majority of them have no paragraphs. It is sort of one long continuous sentence, stretching along the page like a vapor trail from a jet out across the horizon of a summer sky. Unfortunately, generally it is not quite as impressive, nor as understandable. Often there are some flashes of insight, some glimpse of a pretty intelligent possible topic or path of reasoning, but too often it is not followed up. Too often it is not analyzed in a manner that demonstrates much more than the aforementioned “I just need to check this assignment off the list.” There are some who genuinely put some thought, some systematic care into their writing, and I so enjoy those times because it pushes me to think also. Why the majority never get there is a complex issue, but suffice it to say if one is never pushed to think critically, one is seldom required to analyze the content and synthesize that learning into something more than a multiple choice question or a fill in the blank, professors will continue to get the stream-of-consciousness-but-I-did-the-assignment-why-didn’t-I-get-an-A? responses that too often populate my followed box here in WordPress.

Last evening, I was taken to dinner for a pre-actual Birthday dinner, as that day was still a few hours away. More than once this past week, some of my closest friends asked what I wanted, and then informed me that I was a difficult person for whom to shop. In addition, I was asked why I did not really seem to look forward to a celebration of my birthday? The difficult person for who to shop did not catch me completely off guard, but being a person who seems to eschew birthday celebrations did catch me a bit by surprise. I pondered if that were true, coming to the conclusion that perhaps that is the case. I do know that when people surprised me for my 60th, I was pleased, but more humbled than anything. I think knowing that people were willing to take time out of their Friday evenings to specifically come and help me celebrate a day was the best present I could have received. It is probably true that I do not really need much. In fact, I am trying to remove unwanted items from my space at this point. I even long for that time when I first moved back to Houghton into the little cabin on the portage that was furnished and I barely had enough dishes or other things to cook or feed myself. Where there was more space in my cupboards and closets than there was “stuff.” I remember people telling me I was a minimalist, and my response was “But I have what I need.” I am not sure I even had all of that, but I was pretty content.

I am in the process of cleaning up some spaces, both literal and figurative ones, but it feels good to do so. I am hoping by the end of the month to have a list of things completed, and most of it has little or nothing to do with my daily work. However, completing this task so I can focus on the things I need to do on a weekly basis and plan for the times out of school accordingly will still make my life more orderly and less stressful. I am always amazed by those who have families, children,  or other duties, but still manage to be a professor. I am not sure what it is that I do differently, but I seem too often all consumed by the work and responsibilities that are my 9-to-5 position. Those of you who know me will see the irony of that statement immediately. As I move into the morning and imagine the day, I am not really sure what all in on tap, but I know that I want to walk into the week on an level playing field or at least not behind the proverbial eight ball as most of the Big 10 found itself yesterday. Speaking with others yesterday, it is amazing the clutter we collect in our lives. I am still debating a garage sale or large boxes to Salval or Goodwill.

Ponder for a moment if you will; think back in the memories of your lives and what was the happiest of birthday celebrations for you? I am not sure I have one specific birthday, though the one mentioned above sticks out. Perhaps that is because my memory is not sharp enough to remember earlier points in my life. I remember some stupidity on some birthdays from yesteryear, but I am quite sure that is not how I wish to spend my given day at this point. I think in a collective sort of way, what I remember about birthdays most from growing up was the amazing birthday cakes that would come from my Grandmother’s bakery. We always had our own specifically decorated cake, and then there was a half sheet cake, decorated in corresponding colors for everyone else. Grandma was a fabulous cake decorator, which is quite amazing, as I am realizing she had some arthritis in her hands. I am not sure what age I was, but I remember her buying me a 20″ Schwinn bicycle for a birthday. I might have been six or seven. I remember scratching the front fender in some of my rather futile attempts to ride without training wheels. I was devastated and cried as I looked at the scratched paint, and I think I had also dented the very tip of it. I am not sure if I ran into the picnic table, the garage, or the house. Yes, it is true; learning to ride on two wheels was a difficult task for me. All the sort of rite of passage birthdays for me are rather unmemorable. I am old enough that 18 was more significant than 21, but I was in Marine Corps boot camp, so I was careful to make sure no one knew it was my birthday. For that 21st birthday, I was in my first weeks of college at Iowa State.  The 25th birthday I was a sophomore at Dana College, so as you can see there was a bit of a hiatus from education at that point. I do remember a 30th where I was back in seminary, and I remember being in married student housing and I think there are even some pictures from that event with the appropriate “over the hill” wrapping paper, and a pancake breakfast that had pancakes that resembled 30. The 40th was one of those less than stellar moments in my life, even though I had returned to graduate school at Michigan Tech. By 50, I was finally finishing the route of various degrees and I had a decade/dissertation celebration at the Decker’s residence when they were still living in Menomonie. I noted the 60th above, so now I am a bit older. What do I have to show for the life I have lived?

As always there are a variety of ways to view such an existence, but for me I think what I can show this has been no easy path, but I am also not complaining. Not to sound cliche, but first of all, I am here. In spite of consistent and significant health issues since my late 20s, I have maintained and I am doing quite well. I think I am healthier today than I have been for a number of years. That has led to my being more content, more settled. In spite of some new health news that has created new challenges, I don’t feel overwhelmed or sorry for myself. In fact, the challenges have led me to precisely the opposite. I will manage them and be even healthier. I have had the opportunity this past year to travel and be a student again. I think learning for me is the most rejuvenating and satisfying thing I can do. Being immersed in another culture, even one that is not technically part of my heritage, is something that is a highlight of this 60+ years. Have I begun to consider retirement? I have, but it is not something I feel compelled to do or something necessary. Would I like to slow down a bit and perhaps putz around and do only what I want? I imagine it at times, but I think I would get bored. If I were to do it all over again, would I change much? Probably not, not even the health stuff. I think the health issues have resulted in my being grateful and feeling blessed more than my feeling afflicted or being dealt a bad hand. Perhaps it was the thoughtful, brilliant, and sort of fatherly neurologist, Dr. John Carlson who helped me understand it best. When he looked at all of my charts and heard about my birth story, he said the fact that I was a normal functioning cognitive individual was quite miraculous. That was perhaps all I needed to hear. As I was telling someone yesterday, my great-aunt Helen once told me that even as a two year old, I was happy-go-lucky, ever smiling, and wanting to be helpful. I am not sure I am always smiling, but I am generally happy. I might be a bit more understated in my emotions than I once was. I might be a bit more introverted than I once was, but most importantly, there is no “was” to me. I am. I have a job that I find fulfilling and meaningful. I have colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who make my life more interesting and enjoyable. I live in a place where people still care about the other, and though I am often surprised by some of what I read or hear, many people are genuinely good and reasonable.

So what might I change? What do I wish I might have done differently? Do I wish I had been a father? Perhaps, I think I really did miss out on something there, though some people have helped me overcome that omission: Becca, Cassie, Shiama, Ashley, Melissa, Becky, Jordan, Jeamie, Monica . . .  I think you get the picture, but they can all be sent home. I wish I would have learned more languages and traveled more earlier in my life. I wish I might have gotten my education done a bit sooner. Perhaps I wish that I might have grown up or matured a bit sooner. It seems I was often trying to catch up. I have had a somewhat itinerant life, but it has generally served me well. Perhaps, I need to say something like this. For those I have offended or hurt, for those I mistreated or harmed, please accept my most sincere apologies for my failures. For those who have blessed me, assisted me, cared for me, and there are so many: from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I am blessed to make it to another milestone day. I am truly blessed and I hope I can be as much of a blessing as you all have been to me.

With care, and thank you for reading,

Michael

If I had Known . . .

Good morning from my office,

As a way to catch most up concerning the outcomes of appointments and tests, I think I will offer information here. Thank you, first of all, to all who have inquired about the continuing issues of managing the Crohn’s and its consequences. I have been to more doctors’ appointments (yes, the plural is accurate in both cases) and there are more doctors’ appointments yet on the horizon (again accuracy in the plurals a second time). The easiest way to explain everything that seems to be sort of crashing in upon me at the same time is this. First, the removal of a large intestine in 1986 and 30 plus years of not having the main water absorption organ in my body has caught up with me. Second, the removal of the J-Pouch, which was created after the colectomy, which was a significant portion of my ileum, a part of your small intestine, as a consequence of that surgery never really working, has created a different absorption problem, that being primarily B complex vitamins. Together, both the combination of these issues and their cumulative effect on my body (and that includes extensive parts of my body (e.g. organs, blood supply, nervous system . . . you get the picture)) had me in much more dire straits than I realized. Fortunately between my CPC, a phenomenal neurologist, an outstanding gastroenterologist, and some thoughtful nurses and PAs in December, I might have the best chance to be honestly healthy I have been since the beginning of all the surgeries over 30 years ago.

So what have they done, or are they doing? As of yesterday, I am getting B complex vitamin shots on a daily basis for two weeks. Then I will go to once a month for the rest of my life. My last blog gives some idea of why this is so important. Second, I have another test (MRI) of my mid small intestine coming next week to make sure that the Crohn’s is not currently active. Third, I am meeting with a GI nutritionist to see what is the best way for me to get some other vitamins and minerals into my under-absorbing body. I could go back to the U.P, steal copper and chew on it, but I am not sure that is a good plan. I am now taking 50,000 units of Vitamin D a month, Folic Acid, a statin, and aspirin daily to manage the other issues that have been deemed problematic because of this absorption, or lack thereof, issue. The shots are not difficult (I got one last night and another this morning). Taking pills is not one of my favorite things, but again, it is not that difficult. There are two issues to which I need to attend once again. I need to lose 30 pounds (and 40 would be better), and I need to get my blood pressure back down. It is once again up above where it should be. Some good news included the levels that point to kidney issues, which popped up in December for the first time, seem to be back to normal. The next, new, issue is a cardiac issue. It appears my heart is beating too slowly and that too seems related to the B complex vitamin issues, which is again related to surgeries because of the Crohn’s. It seems my body is adverse to absorbing most everything, which causes me to wonder how it is I need to lose weight. How can it be I have gained weight when I cannot absorb, but then again lack of energy and an increased amount of sleep might be the culprit. Seems a logical question, without a logical answer beyond what I have just offered. Yet that has often been the case with the somewhat  normal, and profoundly abnormal, way I have been required to manage my modified digestive system. As I noted in my last post, there has been little that seems I can do to change what my body will or will not do. I should probably be astounded that I have made it as far as I have.

What I sometimes wonder is what if they had diagnosed me with Crohn’s in elementary school, when they believe I probably contracted, though I am not sure one contracts it; of course, there is the doctor who told me I was probably born with it. In some ways I would be more comfortable with that as my reality. If one has it from birth, it just is. One can still question the why, but as I have learned, there is still much that is not known about Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs) and their causes. Immune issues seem to come up the most often. Of course, there is a question about what treatments might have been available to me (or more accurately for me because it would have been my parents’ job to help me manage something). I do wonder, again as I have noted, what it would be like if they had been able to keep my body intact. That seems to be the most significant or problematic topic or puzzle (we’re  back to that) currently. Yesterday, I had three doctors call and it was actually very satisfying to tell the neurologist that his appointment time and conversation with me might have been the best two hours I had ever spent in front of a medical professional. The care, detail, and willingness to answer and explain was like nothing I had ever experienced. For the first time in over thirty years, I believe I have a clear sense of how all the parts of the body interact and why the surgeries that I have endured were not the end of the story. Logically, I knew that, but I am not sure I have ever really considered what might happen. “It astounds me as I write to realize how much of my life is controlled by this 4×4 wafer and 10” pouch. The struggle to be seen as more than someone with a serious illness confronts me emotionally more than most know” (Martin 2011). When I wrote these words I was still coming to terms with my personal struggle. I also wrote, “So what is my identity? Who am I? I am a [61] year old male who was born prematurely and that early arrival had consequences; it might have more of which I am not even aware of at this point” (Martin 2011). This is surely the case as I spent almost 20 minutes placing doctors, nurses, and other specialist appointments into my calendar last night. It is surely the case when the majority of phone calls received today were from scheduling people at Geisinger (I think I had 5 calls today). The consequences are currently daily trips to the doctor’s office for injections, taking more medications, and wondering how to manage an HSA that seems to ask for more documentation that ever, all under the guise of blaming the IRS. When I was working on my comprehensive exams, one of the books I read was an astounding book by Arthur Frank, titled The Wounded Storyteller. There are moments I feel that is what my blog has become as of recently. I am able to accept the reality that I am affected and wounded by the fact that I am missing more intestine than I have left. “It is in that wounding I am reminded that I am still capable, or more accurately that I can still fight this with all my might. It is in suffering that I know that I am present  . . .  I am a person with an insidious and chronic disease. It is fighting to control me,  but differently from times earlier in my life, where I let it control me, now I refuse. It is taking more time than I wish, but for the moment I will give it its due, but I am coming back. I believe through these injections and managing motility, I will once again beat it back.

I am pretty sure that it is best that I did not know where all of this would lead because I am not sure I was strong enough earlier in my life to stand strong. As I noted once again in that paper, the role of telling all of this is a sort of testimony and the role of being able to tell a story, particularly a story of illness does allow  one to suffer, not in loneliness, but in a pedagogical way, a teaching way. Perhaps that is not surprising because I am both a storyteller (ask my students) and I am a teacher, but not a memorization person. I am one that pushes people to analyze and think about their situation. I am a firm believer we are all teachers in our own way, just like ministry can occur in many places outside the Sunday sanctuary. When we use a negative experience pedagogically, we are not allowed to wallow in sadness, but we are managing reality forthrightly and honestly. The narrative, the story, changes. This narrative as noted by another author on the chaos of illness speaks about a narrative of restitution. Restitution is paying back for what which has happened. Certainly, the trail of what has happened between my partner-in-life, Crohn’s and me is long. It has been an epic battle and the battling continues. Earlier in my life, the narrative was of embarrassment and rejection. I refuse to allow such a narrative to take hold of me ever again. It is ironic that I continue to address my personal, and intensively private, intestines in such a public place, but again, it is what I teach. How do we use computer mediated communication or our own social identity to come to terms with our personage? It is through this writing that I begin once again to make sense of what is a chaotic body-self dualism. The first time I struggled with the consequences of surgery in a most public way, someone who should have been supportive was incapable of doing so. I did not understand. In my frailty, I could not understand their reaction. What felt like rejection when I needed acceptance perhaps more than ever before was profoundly injurious, but that injury was not as readily apparent as my altered self. However, before I am too hard on the other, it is important for me to realize I could not accept myself at that point. Part of that was how weakened I was from fighting Crohn’s when it was decimating my body. At this point, it is not the Crohn’s, but the consequences of it. While some might not see a difference, I do. If both were problems at the present time, I think this would be exponentially more difficult.

So if I knew what 30+ years would have offered would it have been easier? No way . . . I can say with even more certainty that I do not believe I would have been strong enough to endure it, knowing it ahead of time. What I know even now in the throes of more issues that I still believe this is manageable. This is another battle . . . it is a war, and at some point, I even know I will lose, but I am okay with that. I am just not ready to lose yet. In fact, I am still making plans and putting plans into motion that will affect the next three or four years. In other words, I do not plan to allow these latest struggles to derail the desideratum I am working hard to create. There is much more I could write, but I think it is time to get to the work that is insistently calling for my attention. I would like to give a shout out of thanks to my friend for listening to so much of this story and much more this past week. You have inspired me to hang in there and keep trucking along. Generally, I am able to do this pretty well on my own, but it has been nice to share and for the gift of your insight. I offer this song on your behalf. Well back to Hobbit-land! 🙂

To the rest of you, thank you as always for reading.

Michael

 

 

 

 

Understanding the Puzzle (aka: My Body

Hello from my study,

Somehow when I deleted what I thought was a draft (it said local on it) of the last blog I posted before bed last night, it seems I deleted what I had actually written, so here we go again. I will still post it as a St. Patrick’s Day post, but it is a bit after honestly. This past week was Spring Break, though it had a more oxymoronic flavor to it, or a Houghton/Hancock appearance to it. This past Tuesday we received the most snow they have had in Bloomsburg during a single snowfall in decades. On the patio between my house and my barn/garage, I measured about 26 inches of snow and it was still snowing for a few more hours. I am not sure of the final total, but I think 28 inches is pretty accurate, at least in my yard. I am looking out now and it is snowing steadily again, just in time for students to think about driving back from wherever they spent their breaks. My Spring Break this year was substantively different that last year’s break, which was spent in Ireland. Howver, I knew that going in because of the medical incident that occurred in December. Yet, I would like to offer somewhat of a shout out to those I met in Ireland last March.What a wonderful 5 days that was. The food was phenomenal (and those of you who know me, know I can be coerced by amazing culinary items anytime.). The people are genuinely wonderful and accommodating. Finally, the greens in Ireland are certainly unrivaled by most any place I have ever visited. Siting in a bar the last night working on a paper about the rhetoric of place, drinking a pint of Murphy’s, and meeting two college students from my hometown of Sioux City was quite the irony, but it made the trip all that more special. So the picture above is of an Aer Lingus plane, the national airline of Ireland.

Back in December, as many know, I went into Urgent Care one morning after a week-long virus, but with some chest pains. What ended up happening that day was an Acute Kidney Incident (AKI) as it is categorized, when my kidneys decided they wanted a break. What I did not know, but perhaps should have surmised because of a doctor’s question (if your heart stops can we resuscitate?) was I also was suffering a cardiac issue. What I found out is my heart rate was under 50, which is something called bradycardia or bradyarrymthia. It seems that some of the reason for that, in my case, is probably again Crohn’s related. Because of some complexities in my altered GI track, there are likely conditions that can slow electrical impulses through the heart. When I was in the hospital that day it was probably an issue of both electrolytes and too much potassium in my system. In addition, it seems after a two-hour neurology appointment on this past Wednesday, that somehow the Crohn’s, and consistent subsequent removal of more and more of my gastrointestinal track, continues to have consequences. The area of the ileum that absorbs B complex vitamins, something I no longer possess, has created a malabsorption of said vitamins to be low to the point of being a serious problem, thereby vexing my remodeled insides in a notably  malevolent manner. Some of the consequences of bradycardia could cause me to:

  • Feel dizzy or light-headed.
  • Feel short of breath and find it harder to exercise
  • Feel tired.
  • Have chest pain or a feeling that your heart is pounding or fluttering (palpitations).
  • Feel confused or have trouble concentrating.
  • Faint, if a slow heart rate causes a drop in blood pressure

While I have had all of these things and more often than I realized, none of them seemed so severe to cause alarm. Together, however, when I see them in a list, I am a bit more concerned. Fortunately, a neurologist, who during residency had significant experience in gastroenterology seemed to peg my unique body pretty accurately. What has happened as a result of this appointment is a follow-up with a cardiologist. It seems they might do a thirty day monitoring of my heart and they noted something called a recording loop might be implanted to do actual recordings of heart activity when some issue is taking place. All of that will be done within the next month. In fact I need to return a call on Monday to see when I will have an appointment.

On Thursday it was back to the gastro doctors and a traipsing through that tube we call the digestive system. One of the most important things I have learned is this tube is much more complex than merely something with an opening on each end. When I wrote a paper with two colleagues about managing my IBD issues, I noted that we do not talk about our digestion or elimination of waste because it is too personal and embarrassing, but for the last 30+ years I have had to consider this on a daily basis. Once more, I was told by yet another doctor that I probably have had Crohn’s my entire life, or certainly since I was a child (like during elementary school). After both an endoscopy and ileoscopy, what we expected to find in my remaining small intestine and upper GI areas was exactly what we found: no active Crohn’s. That is a blessing on one level because it is one less thing to manage, at least in terms of additional medication. What is much more evident, however, is that this disease continues to do what I accused it of in that same paper some years ago. I asked, “What happens when there is no recovery from a disease? What happens when this disease [seems] to steal me from myself? How do I get myself back” (Martin 2010)? While I am not adverse to  the tests for Crohn’s any longer, as they have become commonplace, I do have some issues with the disease itself. As I was reminded, we still have little idea how or why someone is afflicted. We know it affects the immune system and I have struggled in a profound way with a compromised immune system. The issue of hydration and absorption of B complex vitamins seems to be the current over-riding concern at this point. I guess the vitamin is called complex because it is. It affects the heart, the nerves, the brain, and the list could go on. Here is a quick list I found searching the web.

  • B1 and B2 are important for healthy functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart. B1 helps the body make new cells and B2 is important for red blood cell production and fighting free radicals
  • B3 helps regulate the nervous and digestive systems and helps convert food into energy
  • B5 breaks down fats and carbohydrates for energy and is responsible for the production of hormones. B5 and B12 are required for normal growth and development
  • B6 supports the immune system, helps the body produce hormones, and aids the body in breaking down protein
  • B7 is involved in the production of hormones
  • B9 helps cells make and maintain DNA and promotes the growth of red blood cells
  • B12 helps regulate the nervous system and plays a role in red blood cell formation
  • B6, B9, and B12 help to regulate levels of the amino acid homocysteine (an amino acid thought to contribute to heart disease when it occurs at elevated levels) (B Complex Vitamins)

Not sure I hoped to be a medical or vitamin handbook here, but the complexity of this one group of vitamins is staggering, both literally and figuratively. It seems there are two consequences that I will have to manage. Hydration, which is a constant problem, is going to be treated by taking of medication to slow down motility. Second, it seems I might be looking at B Complex Vitamin shots. This has always been on the table, but I did not realize that I was in such dire straits concerning all of this. Many of the symptoms I have been dealing with I wrote off to being 60-something. It seems that there is more going on.

Yesterday I also made it to the chiropractor again. The muscle tightness in my lower back and my butt (and I do mean serious maximus) as well as my neck and shoulders was palpable in many and various ways. So for me, Spring Break has been a week of introspection and working to understand how my altered body, one with which I have had a sort of love/hate relationship for 30+ years, is still amazing and resilient. I have been called superman more than once, but I do not feel all that super or amazing. It is what I have to work with. It is not something that I might have predicted, and certainly not something I would wish on anyone else. I remember being told I was a wimp once upon a time. My response in that instance was along the lines of I do not know what it is like to be on your side, and I am sorry for that, but I would not wish my side on anyone. I still feel that way. What amazes me in the past week, though I intuitively knew already, was how every little thing in the body affects and is related to something else. When I was a senior in college, I took and A&P class as med students call it for something to do. I might have been one of my smartest decision ever because I learned more valuable information in that class than perhaps any I have taken. It worked, not only when I was a pastor, but also now for myself. Some have asked why I am not more upset or why I do not seem to feel sorry for myself. There are moments, I promise you, but what being chronically affected by something has taught me is there are always challenges. Sometimes, to use the metaphor of the puzzle, it seems I am trying to put the puzzle together, except all the pieces are turned over or upside-down. I see only the shape, but they are all cardboard grey or brown. What the appointments this past week have done is to turn the pieces over . . . to give me a clearer glimpse of what the puzzle’s entire picture might be. It is never easy when your life is controlled by something you wish you did not have, but I do not feel badly because of the hand I have been dealt. I have a wonderful life. I am better than most because I have a job and insurance (which might be even more amazing considering the news this past week, but I will not go there more than I have by this comment already). I am fortunate because this week, once again, I have been afforded outstanding care by exceptionally intelligent people. I have had colleagues reach out and provide rides and neighbors ask if I was okay. There is so much we take for granted, and even in my compromised state, I am no different. What I do know is that many of the things I am dealing with on a daily basis are more serious than I might have anticipated. Perhaps that is because I have struggled for so long, but I do not see it as a struggle. Everyday we are offered a chance to get up and work at it again. I have a wonderful job and superb colleagues. I get to go in and do something I enjoy everyday. I know that puts me in the minority.
Last year I was reflecting on my Irish heritage and as I was writing this initially yesterday, it was time to do so again, but I do it more often than just the 17th of March, the day we specifically note those from the Emerald Isle. Our heritage is something more than place, it is identity. It is what connects us with our past, but hopefully points us to a future that could be better than from where we have come. It is interesting to me how place comes back into my psyche so often. Is that because I was adopted or something more? I am going to close with the same video I put in the first time. Before I close, however, I wanted to note how astonished I am by people and how our lives seem to work. Recently a person has re-entered my life, most unexpectedly, but also most wonderfully. How do you catch up on decades when the baggage is great and lives imagined are certainly not what occurred? It is fun to share with no expectations and with st least some sense of common history, albeit long ago and far away. Thank you for returning.

 

I am blessed and I hope you find reading this somehow both informative and a blessing. In my most native of languages, at least from what I can figure out, Sláinte!

Thank you as always for reading and Happy St. Patricks Day

Michael

Temporalities

Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Hello from the Detroit airport,

I am quite sure that this post might be a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, and memories. As I sit in the airport my mind seems to be a conundrum of possibilities and requirements, opportunities and necessities, remembering the past and imagining the future. I have my earbuds in and ironically the song from Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer titled “America” is playing. I will write more about irony later in this post. I am remembering the first time I heard that song, I was in then what was West Germany and traveling as a student with Dr. Nielsen on the interim titled Auguries of Loneliness. As I sit here lonely among the people crowding around me gathering for the last leg of a cross-country flight, I am content in my solitude. It is always sort of a game to try to imagine what the stories are of the people around me. While someone told me this week I am an academic and I seem like one (not sure if that is a compliment), I most often see myself as an Iowa kid who grew up blue collar and worked hard. I have been fortunate to have people who cared and loved me step up along the way. Without their help I certainly would not be where I am. One of the things that I believe makes me a bit different than most is I do not forget people, and I reach out to them from time to time to help them know they still matter and that their assistance was neither forgotten nor expected. I think that is my grandmother’s admonishment to be a gentleman put into action.

The temporality of our individual human experience is something I have been pushed to consider these past weeks. It is not quite a month ago that I needed to fly home for Lydia and to help make decisions on whether the quality of life she had been reduced to from the long-term consequences of dementia was the life she wanted. When is mere existence no longer life? Sitting with her family physician, a man I respect beyond words, said, “Michael, it makes no sense to try to prolong her life.” Those were both difficult and freeing words at the same time. This brilliant woman, strong-willed and yet loving, determined and yet fragile, had lived an amazing life. She was no longer living, she was marginally existing. To move toward palliative care was a change that was done out of love and not out of selfishness. “Another day goes by and I thank God that I am alive” (Nico and Vinz). I am not sure Lydia could say this any longer. While her temporality saw much more than many in her 90 years, 4 months and 27 days, I am forced to see her and myself as temporal.

Before you read what follows as fatalist, let me tell you simply, please don’t. I know I am temporary. At one point I chose to ignore, perhaps even foolishly argue against, such a notion. I wonder why do we struggle so desperately to hang on to this life? I think I have realized that life has a quality and maintaining that quality is not always an easy thing to do. That does not suppose that we should merely disregard what we can do, but what really matters when we hold onto our existence, even somewhat dramatically or even more sadly desperately. Is it because we believe we must still accomplish something? It is because we foolishly believe that we make such a profound difference? Again, I am not saying that those things do not have value, but are they such astounding things that our lack of physical presence will cause them to totally disappear. Lydia is no longer physically here, and while I cannot actually hear her voice or see her amazing eyes, I can say unequivocally they are still present and they affect me. I can see both her smile of approval and her scowl of the opposite as if she were still here. What I am pondering more carefully and thoughtfully is what is my purpose from this point forward? Again, please do not see me as falling of the cliff of sanity, but I know that much of my purpose this past decade was to care for and follow through on the promise I made to her.

It is certainly a good thing that I have my position at Bloomsburg and a program to continue to grow. It is a good thing that I have the Decker family. Tenure removes some of the temporality of that position and provides some security. Having the continuity with the Deckers from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania is more profound to me than they probably realize. To watch their family grow, evolve and to be treated with the respect and love they have given me again has affected my life beyond measure and in a way that is indescribable. In addition some of my other colleagues have become treasured people in my life. My former chair and present chair are astounding people. The colleague with whom I started in the department is more of a friend that I am sure he realizes. The person who was my acting chair my first semester and his wife are such a blessings to me. The English Department at Bloomsburg University is really a wonderful position to be placed in at this point in my life. Then there are the students. Speaking about temporality, they come and they go more quickly than we can even seem to manage. I have watched two sets of students complete their studies and watched them mature from wide-eyed freshmen to young professionals, still wide-eyed, but in a different way. Every once in a while I find that what I have done has had some profound positive effect. Those moments are fleeting, but they are precious. I have also learned that not everyone is as genuine as I might have hoped, but those are important life lessons too because they remind me that I have really very little control of anything but myself. Those moments are equally precious. They remind one of what is true and upon what or in whom we can believe and trust. There are very few in whom we can actually trust and perhaps even fewer in whom we can hope to believe. That brings me to a different concept. It is the concept of giving my word. Following through on to my promise to Lydia to care for her to the best of my ability was something I felt strongly about, and I still do. My word to someone, regardless who they are, needs to be trusted, to be believed. I know there are times I could be more comprehensive in making this happen, and those times affect me more than most might realize. I think this comes from my father. I know that his word to someone was almost sacred. I tried to care for Lydia as I watched him care for others, without a sense of reward, and during this time I have continued to give to others like I believed she would. What I know is the help we offer others is temporal in more than one aspect or manner than we might think.

I remember once writing a practice sermon for a preaching class in seminary. The text was the poisonous serpent text in Numbers and I titled the sermon “temporarily faithful.” That seems to be predominately who we are as humans. We hold on to things that we either value or things we believe benefit us. When the value is deemed minimal or we believe we might need to put more into something that we receive, it is easier to discard it. There have been moments in my life I am guilty of this practice, and for those times I must humbly ask for forgiveness. There is one person, a person I have loved beyond measure most of my life, I have run away from because I was frightened and felt guilty. I am not sure if I can repair this situation or not, but ignoring it is not the right thing to do. It is amazing how we can decide things or believe things that are perhaps not accurate,  but we do it and we box ourselves into something less than ideal. Over the weekend, I did have the opportunity to speak with one of the people to whom I have referred from time to time. It was an interesting, and helpful, conversation, but there are still things that do not make sense to me. As hard as I try, I cannot wrap my head around that fundamental concept or the manner in which he (and my extension, they) use this concept, word, or philosophy. I wonder what that particular word means and the two synonyms used do not connect for me. Again, I am not arguing against that position,  but I cannot see it as possible, either logically or emotionally and therefore I cannot see how it is actually practiced, particularly when the actions taken do not seem consistent with what I understand that term to be. I guess I will continue to struggle to understand. More importantly, I will continue. I know that the value and joy brought to my life far outweighs anything negative. I am not sure that is always portrayed as well as I might and for those times, again, I must ask for forgiveness.

Tomorrow I begin another semester, so it is now Monday. I am still struggling with my health and it appears after another appointment that I might have coughed so hard that I had a minor stroke. I do know exactly when that occurred as the pain I had in my head was unbelievably intense. Perhaps, ironically, that coughing finally helped because I am actually feeling a bit better, though I must admit every time I go into a coughing spell, my head is very tender and it hurts pretty badly. Again, all of this reminds me pretty clearly that we have much less control over what happens than we might think. While I have worked hard for the better part of seven and a half months to improve my health, there are some things I cannot predict or change. I will admit, as I did yesterday that the last month has not been stellar as far as taking charge of my health, and I am changing that again, the work I have done this past 3/4 of a year has been pretty darn significant. As I look toward the semester and what is on my plate, there seems to be little doubt that it will be busy and continuous, but that is nothing different. What I need to do is be smarter and more intentional about each and every thing I do. This past year, and most of my life, I allowed people I believed cared to have more control than I should. That is because I have a tendency to put others before myself. Again, I know from where that comes and while I have made some progress in that realm, sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back. That is better than one step forward and two steps back, but I need to make sure that I do not go backwards at all. It is such a balancing act for me. I have heard from more than a handful of people that I need to take care of myself. I am sad that my time over break was influenced by illness as much as it was. That kept me from enjoying some things, places, and people, that, or who, are so important to me. Time is fleeting and I know that is cliché, but it is cliché because we note it and then too often ignore it. We allow things to affect and influence us, turn us upside down, and then we wonder on the other end “What the hell happened?” Sort of what the Green Bay Packers are wondering this morning. As a Packer fan, I must say, I am still in a state of shock. The point is, we have opportunities to make a difference. Even in the fleeting moment, we can positively influence another persons life. Sometimes what we might do could be significant or appear significant. Other times, it might be something very simple or even mundane, but the point is we affect, and are affected by, those around us. Each of these moments are opportunities, changes to change both our own life and the lives of others around us. Too often we are selfish, narcissistic, or just plain clueless. I am so fortunate because I am, through my position in the university given entrée into others lives. I am gifted to be able to share what little I have to offer to make a bit of a difference. What I am realizing again, it the temporal nature of that chance, of that opportunity. Ultimately, I hope in the coming weeks, both in the semester, and in my life, I can focus on the gifts I have and try to share them as unconditionally as I can humanly muster. I fail there too often, but as Lydia demonstrated in her life, one can still care. I have been asked a couple times lately about the purpose of my blog and why I write as I do. I noted that writing is always contextual. I am grateful for the questions and indeed, I do go back and edit at times. Sometimes those edits are for bad writing. Sometimes those edits are for poor practice. Sometimes those edits are simply editing and proofreading.

As I told one person, I hope in my writing I reveal my soul (if so, you might catch a glimpse of who I really am), but I also hope to protect my life. I am reminded of a seminary professor that once said, while it does note that the shepherd lays down his (and I would add “her”) life, and when I was a pastor the shepherd analogy was probably more apparent, no where does it say the sheep take his (her) life. What I have learned since is if we let people, they will take more from our lives that we can afford to give. Off to a new semester.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael (and tomorrow again, Dr. Martin)