Sunday, September 30, 2012

Can you be thankful when things are taken away?

"I'm going to church in God's country tonight."

That is what I yelled two Sundays ago as I headed out on the trail in the Big Horn Mountains and crested the first ridge. This is what I saw!

It was my favorite sermon I had heard in a while! And so began an incredible journey over the next five days. We would ride anywhere from four to eight hours a day, make camp at a new spot every night, and get up and do it again.

I don't generally pay much attention or spend much time thinking about the day a doctor at MAYO told me I had less than a year to live. This trip, I couldn't get it out of my head. I just kept shaking my head at the absurdity of a "terminal" cancer patient going to almost 10,000 feet and doing a pack and trail trip. Not to mention I did it in between chemo cycles without a delay.

This was a special trip. I've been in the mountains before (not these). I've seen incredible country in my life. In the past my response as I come upon another stunning vista was to say, "wow". This trip I constantly found myself saying, "thank you". Every time I thought about where I could be at this time, about my friends who are suffering from this disease, about my family, I said, "thank you".

Every time I saw something that took my breath away, or a trail mate helped me with the labors of making camp, I said, "thank you". (There's a cow and calf moose pair in this pic)

As I looked for a place the first morning to do my devotions, I meandered my way down to the creek we camped next to for water. It was a gorgeous morning and I took my little stool and my bible from my saddle bags and sat next to the running water.

I had been reading Nehemiah, but flipped to the Psalms and stumbled upon the 23rd Psalm. It took on a new meaning for me. A passage I'd memorized when I was in third grade now came alive.

Psalm 23
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The Lord, the Psalmist’s Shepherd.

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I had just taken my horse off the high lines from the evening and let him loose in the pasture. He was ecstatic.

Now I sat next to the still water, and the imagery hit me hard. Even though I'm in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I felt like my cup was overflowing abundantly  I felt so undeserving of the blessing of being able to make this trip. I felt overwhelmed by all that God has given me over the last year.

Well we pressed on and hit the trail again. This trip was a big risk. We would be riding into the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. Nothing wheeled or motorized is allowed into this uninhabited reserve. Even emergency helicopters have to get special permission to land. We would be about a days ride away from help if anything happened. I won't lie, and I'll tell you that some people in my life were a little worried about how I would do.

I had prayed and listened and in the end felt at peace that this was an okay thing to do. The second day was going well. I felt great, the horses were doing well, and we were seeing some amazing scenery. We came to probably the steepest toughest climb of the entire trip. I was leading, and we decided to head up the windy trail. It was a very steep grade that we were cutting across on about a 10-12 inch wide path. The footing was extremely loose and sandy.  To our right was the incline and to our left was a decline for about fifty yards then a drop off of a couple thousand feet. About two thirds of the way up my horse who is only five and still learning what he's capable of starting to get squirrelly. I could feel it and spurred him hard to keep him going.

He started to lose his footing and slip down the hill sideways. I quickly realized he had stopped listening to me and was in survival mode. I stepped off him on the up hill side and as I hit the ground I lost my footing and slid underneath him. I quickly scrambled up the hill and still holding on to him as he started sliding down the hill backwards began a tug of war with a 1200 pound animal falling off a mountain.

Needless to say I lost and the horse got loose. I thought he might keep sliding down the hill and hit the cliff, but fortunately he caught himself on a small tree and got his balance.

I was running on adrenaline but could already tell I didn't have much more energy to chase him all over this mountain and get him up the hill. The other riders kept going to get their horses up the hill and to safety. My good friend Chad who drove out with me and really made this trip happen for me from a logistical stand point, let his pack horse loose and rode down to my saddle horse. Chad and Cruz were able to grab my horse and get him back up the trail and up the mountain.

This is the view from the top of that mountain!

In the end I didn't have a scratch (a sore arm and shoulder but no blood), my horse had a nick in his leg (a long ways away from his heart) and we all had quite a story. I did however have a another example of how my amazing living God provides and protects. As I sat on the top of that mountain catching my breath the same words came to my lips... "thank you".

The next couple of days were an incredible journey through more mountains, valleys, lakes, and panoramic views.

I asked you for prayer for direction in some areas of my life. It's hard to be in that environment and not feel like God is talking to you. I prayed, listened, and sat still. There was no audible revelation, but there was a growing sense of peace about a decision I needed to make. As I came to that conclusion a familiar phrase came to my mind, "thank you".

This entire trip was a blessing and a privilege. When I start to struggle and get discouraged I often am thinking about all the things I can't do anymore. I can't play sports, work around the house much, think straight all the time, make plans for the future, commit to events with confidence, and so much more.

I often share that if I look at the activities and desires of my life as a right, then I get offended when I don't get to do them. I am resentful and bitter as I feel I've been robbed of certain things "I deserve".

When I look at all those things as a blessing and a privilege, then when God allows me to encounter and experience them, I'm overflowing with gratefulness. It's such an unexpected gift that I can't help but say "thank you".

This is a good place to live. Simple things like an evening with my son, or a sale at work, or a little spurt of energy can make your day. Big things like a trip out west with some incredible friends, the opportunity to connect with a young man newly married who is struggling through cancer himself, or watching your wife pour herself out to those stuck in this terrible cancer journey while she battles her own demons give you such a sense of indescribable thankfulness that you can't help but want to live your life sold out for God.

Whatever you're doing today, make sure you stop and take a few moments to say, "thank you".

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sounds of silence

Do you ever feel like life is piling up on you? You feel like you have so much to do that you're doing everything okay but not anything great? That feeling of treading water indefinitely but you're not sure how much longer you can hold on?

Maybe you're beaten down because of work, or family, or finances, or health. Maybe it's all of the above. Sometimes the anxiety of a big decision or even a bunch of smaller ones can create this feeling of uncertainty and unknown.

I have no idea what the next three months, six months, a year, or five years look like. That can scare me. As a long-range planner, I rarely find myself in this position. Yet no matter how much time I spend thinking about things, asking others for advice, and praying there is just no way for me to know how to prepare for the future.

I can make the best made plans and due to my health they can become irrelevant in an instant. I could never make any plans and then even when I feel well and things are going well I'd never do anything because I didn't plan.

I'm stuck. It's not just big stuff like jobs, and cars, and houses. It is little stuff too. Do I accept a speaking opportunity not knowing how I'll feel? Can I make this appointment for work? Can I take Kendra out on a date? I just don't know.

When I look to the future I see so many incredible and exciting opportunities. I could be headed in any one of a couple different directions and they're all excellent opportunities. I just don't know how to prepare.

I think the problem is I've been doing too much talking. When I pray I do most of the talking. I feel like I'm missing half the conversation. A spiritual discipline that I haven't developed enough is listening to God.

A mentor challenged me to stop trying to figure things out and start listening. He gave me a book by Mary Geegh called God Guides. This incredible woman was a missionary in India for over 35 years. The book is a collection of stories from her life and how the habit of listening during times of uncertainty, confusion, or turmoil led her to some incredible places.

As I read the book I started trying to do it myself. I was doing my radiation in Chicago at the time and was alone during the week for 8 weeks. It started out rough. My mind raced, distractions danced around the room. I could barely scratch out ten minutes at a time.

I never recieved any clear direction about anything. I did start to become very aware of my own sin and lack of ability to focus on God. I was embarressed and frustrated. I can watch a movie, read a book, and watch a game for hours but I couldn't spend ten unadulterated minutes with God? What was wrong with me?

The first clear message I got from God was to get on my knees.


I had been in a chair, reclined, with my eyes shut. I know, that was dumb.

The act of getting onto my knees in this physically uncomfortable position kept me more alert. More than that though was the mental and emotional feelings of being face down before my God.

The first time I did that I went for almost 45 minutes straight!

Over the next couple months I started to build this into my life more regularly. Sometimes it was ten minutes sometimes an hour. Often times I never felt anything specific but always felt at peace.

I'm still a greenhorn at this discipline. I'm raw and unskilled and inconsistent. Even then, it's begun to change my life and how I live it. When you take the time to listen to what God is telling you, you start changing your thought process from what I want to what God wants. My thoughts become molded to His thoughts.

As I write this, I'm in Wyoming about to head out on a five day pack trip this morning. I'll be riding in God's country with a few friends, some horses, and Wyoming mountains. This is something I've been looking forward to, but now I feel like I have a purpose for it as well.

You see, I don't hear too well. The chemo has affected my ears and "what" is one of my favorite words now. I feel like I have a lot of decisions, pathways, and unknowns ahead of me and I need to be ready when the time comes to make them. I don't hear to well, so the best thing I could think of was to get closer to the source.

As God is in heaven, I had to get up in the mountains to hear him better. So I am asking for your prayer on a couple fronts.

Please pray that I would be physically able to endure the trip. I've felt better this cycle than any other cycle so far, but I'm definitely not 100%.

Please pray that as I spend time listening to God, so that I can hear that still small voice, I would be given direction on what God has in store for me. I am not necessarily asking Him for specifics, more a vision of how He wants to use me.

When you're done praying for me, why don't you spend a little time listening for yourself while you're at it!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

By the road I wait

A while ago
I had traveled this road.
But I was asked to get off
And set down my load.

So I sit by the side
And watch the traffic go by.
I catch glimpses of smiles
As they speed and they fly.

It's quiet and lonely
Here with my thoughts.
Thinking of sunshine I saw
'Ere the day I got off.

How fast the cars move,
How invisible I feel.
They don't see me sobbing
As I crumple and kneel.

"Why am I here, God?
Why must I wait?
I have kept your commandments,
I have persisted in faith.

I trust you and love you,
But I really must go.
I've been waiting here too long,
With nothing to show."

I beg and I whimper,
I complain and I cry.
But all I hear is silence
And the cars passing by.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's a poor man going to give his son?

I'm a rich man, but I don't have much. When I think about my Legacy for Colton I often think about the things I might leave him someday. I have a few special things.

1. My baseball glove - I have both my little league and my high school gloves. He already has his own but maybe he'll want his dad's too!
2. My saddle - I have a custom made saddle that was form fitted to my backside. Assuming he gets my rear end and not Kendra's he'll have one nice saddle that was hand made for his daddy. 
3. Winchester Model 94 lever action rifle - It was a gift from my uncle, and this trusty old .30-.30 is a lot of fun.

Each one of these things could tell part of the story of who I am. I loved sports, but baseball held a unique place in my heart as my dad was a pitcher in college. My first saddle, like the rifle was a gift from my uncle who cowboy'd out west like I did and helped cement my passion for horses and cowboys. All of these items are tied to my past and my family. They're part of my heritage. As much of the gift is the story that goes with it. 

None of it however tells my entire story. I have thought long and hard about what is the one thing I could give Colton that tells him my story? 

I'm still searching. No one object completely wraps me up. Yes I'm a little weird, but surely something can represent me after I'm gone.

The problem is the things I can give him, and the legacy I want to leave him aren't the same thing. Yes I want Colton to know me and who I am, but more than that I want him to know my God. 

To be known by my God! 

As Kendra and I attended family camp at Miracle Mountain Ranch last week, the speaker was challenging the families about leaving a legacy. One practice this man has is he reads through the Bible once a year. Every year he changes to a brand new Bible and gives the old one to a grandchild. This hit home with me as I stared down at my Bible. 

Back home I had left the worn out, falling apart, tattered brown Bible I'd been given. It was the same sword my grandfather wielded for many years as he labored and fought to save kids and families through the camp and treatment center he and my grandmother founded. It has decades of notes, underlines, scribbles, and prayers. As I read my grandfathers bible I encounter the same God he encountered so many years ago when he first opened this book. More than that I get to see how it impacted my gramps. 

The power of this book in his life is so evident that it jumps off the pages. I can hear his voice as I read his thoughts and it's almost like sitting there studying with him!

This book is so important to me, I hand copied every line, note, jot, tiddle, and scratch to "my bible". It too is worn and showing its mileage. It's a blend of all my grandfather's thoughts and mine added into it as well. It encompasses my heritage, my faith, and my personality. 

It still doesn't tell Colton about every passion, hobby, or experience I've ever had. The thing is, my prayer is that I become less, and God would become more. 

I probably can't leave him an inheritance, a business, or a boat. I can leave him the one thing he'll need to face every situation he'll ever encounter. I can leave him a bridge to his father, his great-grandfather, and his heavenly father. I can give him something that inspires, educates, matures, and protects him. 

I will give him the most valuable thing I have... my Bible.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Where has Ryan been?

Hello blog land,

I'm not dead yet (subtle Monty Python reference).

Wow what a month. It's hard to know where to start to try and summarize how I've felt over the last couple weeks. It wasn't too long ago we were anxiously awaiting the results of our scans.

Imagine our joy and thankfulness when it was revealed how much progress had been made due to treatment, radiation, and prayer. We celebrated and cried, but it was always a little reserved.

This was a huge step, a step we'd been praying for. However it's still one step. There is a long journey ahead of us no matter how things turn out. So I have to keep my "game face" on to a certain extent. That being said because this battle can weigh so heavily on you, you have to celebrate the joys God gives you.

A week later we had met Chris Tomlin, been hospitalized, and were still waiting to find out what was going on. A urinary tract infection turned septic was the hidden cause behind the pain, amnesia, disorientation and everything else.

A short five day vacation in the hospital in Chicago was exactly what I needed. God's ways are higher than my ways though. Through the course of tests to determine the source of the infection, a test showed the tumors were still shrinking even since the previous week!!! How great is our God?


Then my treatment was delayed for a couple weeks as I recovered. I was tired, mentally drained, and overall very exhausted for the majority of the last two weeks. Monday we finally started treatment again at a lower dose to make sure my counts stay high enough (prayer request).

Yesterday, Kendra, Colton and I headed out to Pennsylvania to Miracle Mountain Ranch to attend their family camp and be able to share our story. This is another camp that has played a part in shaping who I am today. The staff have been friends and mentors who have supported and guided me since I was 15.

In the meantime Kendra has started school, Colton is back in daycare, and things at camp feel busier than ever! I don't know where God is taking us over the next couple weeks/months but I do know I'd rather have God plan it than me.

There's no deep point or analogy today. To be honest I'm having a hard time finding moments of clarity to share what's on my heart. Don't mistake that for God not continually challenging and molding me. There's so much going on that I would like to share. Getting it from my broken mind at times is very difficult.

Please pray for our little family over this time of transition.

  • That Ryan would have energy and be able to help out with keeping up life
  • That Kendra would start the school year off with a bang and have chances to impact other students and teachers
  • That Colton would do well at daycare and continue to be sheltered from the effects of my cancer on our family
  • That Ryan would be protected physically from infection, low counts, complications
  • That the cancer would continue to die, disappear and doors would open for future treatment options
  • That Kendra and I would continue to be obedient even when it's overwhelming and God would use our story to change lives!