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Archive for February, 2011

“Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let it snow let it snow let it snow.”

OK, so it’s been a strange weather year, with temperature swings of over 100 degrees within two weeks! It’s arguably been pretty nice for a February these past few days, but old man winter left town not so many days ago. And he left a bit of a mess behind, at least for a while.

Who can say they did not enjoy the wonder of snow for a while? The TV weatherfolk were practically salivating at the prospects for Snowmaggedon! We all got several days off from work and school and had some time to enjoy with family.

But it got a little old, after a while, don’t you think? In my mind, the biggest issue was that there was just too much of it, both in quantity fallen and in the length of time it stuck around. Yes, in fact, it probably is possible to have too much of a good thing! And it starts to get messy, dirty, and annoying after a while. When will this stuff all go away?

The same is true for other parts of life. I have a friend who says nothing new goes into his closet without something old going out. Sounds like a good philosophy. I try, with limited success and less than limited failure, to follow that philosophy with my own closet. Too much of a good thing can be not only burdensome and distracting, but even paralyzing in it’s own way. That’s true for work, fun, sleep, money, food, unpublished blog topic idea drafts, you name it.

In the realm of a quality steak, a little fat is a good thing. A little fat provides flavor. But, too much fat can ruin a good steak, and it’s not that good for your arteries either (as if the red meat was). So purveyors of fine bovine do what we all should in many facets of life: they trim the fat.

So where do you need to trim back? Where do I? What aspects of my existence and habits add flavor, and what aspects weigh me down?

I’ll need to ponder that question repeatedly. In the mean time, I have a strange desire for some Heinz 57…

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What do you think? Are we? I’ve spent part of this week in “NOLA“; “sin city 1“, the home of Hurricaine Katrina horror stories. When you walk down the street and see the decisions some people make, it’s hard not to want to judge. Let me be more honest: it’s just hard to NOT judge, period. “If that’s the way they want to live, then…” is a tough sentiment to fight back.

And yet, Jesus loves them, just like he loves you and me. Jesus died for them, just like for you and me. It may just be that some messes take a little more persistence in cleansing than others?

New Orleans is a city known for it’s food: various delicacies, some fried, others sauteed. I use the image of “fried gluten” as a metaphor of sorts. As discussed in this space before, my family deals with autoimmune disease across various levels of severity and required response. It is an environmental situation that we must live with and manage. While the conditions plaguing are not curable, they are treatable. And lifestyle choice makes a huge difference. “Stay away from gluten” could almost be rule number one.

Golfer Phil Mickelson has just recently been diagnosed with a potentially severe autoimmune disease: another one of the “Invisible Chronic Illnesses” that are out there. I’ve attached the article about his understanding and response, and the response of others, below for some context and to add some “color” to this concept. It seems the autoimmune disease community is not being too kind to Phil. Granted, he may be in denial and his thinking about long term prognosis may be wrong (or not), but the man is suffering in a new paradigm, and which of us might not react in similar fashion when faced with a new struggle of potentially epic proportion?

Back to the “sin city” analogies: we are all plagued with “chronic illness of the soul”, some invisible (Bible Belt middle America), some not so invisible(life on Rue Bourbon). But we are all plagued nonetheless.

How do we respond? Judgement? Serving up a heaping can of spiritual and emotional “fried gluten”, just what the patient does not need? Or, love and caring?

“…by holding back what I deserve. How wonderful Your mercy is; how marvelous Your ways…”

I come. And I’ll try to leave the fried gluten back on the grocers shelves.

Sauteed grace serves up much better, I understand.

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KENSINGTON, Md., Aug. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Golf star Phil Mickelson announced August 10 that he has been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory and potentially debilitating condition that in his case came on quite suddenly, leaving him nearly crippled earlier this summer.

“Every joint in my body started to hurt to where I couldn’t move,” he told a press conference, reported the New York Times.  “I would just lay down and couldn’t roll over.”

Mickelson said the psoriatic arthritis quickly spread from his ankle, finger and wrist to his hips, elbows and shoulders.

“He is not being dramatic; that can literally happen to someone experiencing a flare of psoriatic arthritis,” said Michael Paranzino, president of the nonprofit Psoriasis Cure Now.  “One day you are feeling fine, and days later it can be difficult to get out of bed or tie your shoes. Psoriatic arthritis is a serious disease.”

Roughly one million Americans have psoriatic arthritis, and cases range from mild to what Phil Mickelson described this week.  Fortunately, the man on the edge of being ranked the world’s number one golfer is taking Enbrel, a biologic treatment that has transformed the lives of many people with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other immune system diseases.

Paranzino added:  “Phil Mickelson says Enbrel has already improved him at least 90%, which is wonderful, but what about the many people with psoriatic arthritis who cannot afford the high price of a biologic, which often exceeds $15,000 annually? Even some people with health insurance are denied these cutting-edge treatments.”

But Phil Mickelson may also be a bit too sanguine about his long-term prognosis with psoriatic arthritis.  He told the press conference, reported the Associated Press:

“I’ll probably take this drug for about a year, and feel 100 percent. I’ll stop it and see if it goes into remission and it may never come back. It may be gone forever.”

“It’s not that it’s cured, but it may never come back,” he added. “Or if it does come back, I’ll start the treatment again and should be able to live a normal life without having any adverse effects. So I’m not very concerned about it.

“Now that I feel confident it’s not going to affect not only the rest of my career or the rest of my life, but even in the short term it shouldn’t have an effect, I feel a lot better about it and I’m a lot more at ease to discuss it.”

In many cases, people with psoriatic arthritis find, for reasons still unclear to experts, that their treatments, including the biologics like the one Phil Mickelson is on, lose effectiveness over time.  Sometimes, they can switch to a different biologic treatment and buy more time, but there are patients who have run through all existing treatments.  The treatments also carry FDA-required black box warnings for possible rare but serious side effects.  In short, there is no guarantee that Phil Mickelson’s psoriatic arthritis troubles are behind him.  Psoriatic arthritis is a lifelong disease.

“We hope Phil Mickelson achieves his dream of becoming the number one ranked golfer and that he wows us with great golf for decades to come,” added Paranzino, of the patient advocacy group Psoriasis Cure Now.  “But for many people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, even those who can afford the latest treatments, their disease is a daily battle.  That is why research is so important.  We need a cure for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.”

Bottom line talking points for the 19th hole:

* Psoriatic arthritis is a serious disease, and can be debilitating.

* Many people with psoriatic arthritis cannot afford the type of treatment Phil Mickelson is on, the cost of which can easily exceed $15,000 annually.

* While Phil Mickelson is confident he has psoriatic arthritis licked for the long-term, many psoriatic arthritis patients find that even the best treatments lose effectiveness over time. The sad truth is psoriatic arthritis could cause him more trouble down the road, even with the world’s best doctors and best medical treatments.

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This picture of my twins sits on the credenza behind my desk at work. I love that picture. I love those kids, now just a few years removed from their “messy cute years”.

It reminds me of how God must feel. He loves us, despite our messes. He only asks that we clean up before we come inside His house. And who can blame Him? He even sent us a cleanup Man.

Can you relate?

Oh cleanser of the mess I’ve made
Your boundless love for me portrayed
With patience for my learning curve
By holding back what I deserve

How wonderful Your mercy is
How awesome are Your ways
I come, I come
To worship You
For all You’ve done

Oh cleanser of the mess I’ve made
With everything at Your feet laid
I watch as all my cares erode
And from my soul these words explode

Lyrics by Clint Lagerberg (Point of Grace)

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Some colleagues and I are in New Orleans for a conference over the next couple of days. My last (and to date, first and only) visit to the Crescent City included some interesting adverse engagement with a couple of the locale residents on a nearby street. Needless to say, four years removed from that last visit, I was a little gun-shy (no pun intended) walking down to Rue Bourbon tonight for dinner at an arguably superb restaurant.

To put it mildly, the phrase “Oh, the humanity” came to mind a time or two along the way. But I’m reminded of a recent blog from some friends who were just here in the original “sin city”, and went out of their way to help someone who’d made some bad choices and clearly was in need of some grace.

In thinking thru this, I was reminded of a song by singer JJ Heller. Take a look and see if you don’t agree. God loves us all, and calls us to offer the same grace and mercy to others that He extended to us. In so doing, who knows whether you are potentially able to lead someone back from the brink?

Love Me lyrics

He cries in the corner where nobody sees

He’s the kid with the story no one would believe

He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please…

Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me

Not for what I have done or what I will become

Who will love me for me

‘Cause nobody has shown me what love

What love really means

Her office is shrinking a little each day

She’s the woman whose husband has run away

She’ll go to the gym after working today

Maybe if she was thinner

Then he would’ve stayed

And she says…

Who will love me for me?

Not for what I have done or what I will become

Who will love me for me?

‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone

He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done

He utters a cry from the depths of his soul

“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside

And it said

“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied

I have watched you suffer all of your life

And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you

Not for what you have done or what you will become

I will love you for you

I will give you the love

The love that you never knew

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….I was eating an orange; and it got me to thinking (sorry to spoil the fun).

To be specific, it was Weatherford, Texas, and it was the later half of 1995.     Sherry and I only had one child at that time in our lives.    We felt called to be very involved in our small, aging inner city church, and for some reason I felt it was “my duty” to encourage others to be more involved in the stuff that we were doing. So as I sat in our house out in the sticks one afternoon, eating that orange, the children’s song about the fruit of the Spirit began to emanate from little Hannah’s bedroom:

“the fruit of the Spirit’s not an apple,
The fruit of the Spirit’s not an apple.
So, if you’ve got an apple
You might as well eat it,
Cause that’s not the fruit of the Spirit.

The Spirit is…..”

You can likely cite the rest, and it got me to thinking (sorry to spoil the fun).


I looked down at my orange, and more specifically the seeds I had been pulling out as I ate it, and the analogy was clear: not only is fruit refreshing and nourishing, but it plants a seed. I shared that analogy shortly thereafter, while peeling an orange during a Wednesday evening devotional talk (“sermonette”, complete with the scripted/ seemingly required “invitation song”) in that small church. I thought I had a lot of things figured out. I probably still tend to think that today, from time to time, but life, mother earth, and father time are kind enough to frequently remind me of the fallacy in that kind of thinking.

Fast forward to 2011. As I recalled this moment in history the other day, I began to wonder: “what kind of fruit (if any?) do I produce in life: fruit, or fruitcake?

Have you ever been the recipient of a fruitcake? Part bread, part chemically treated dried fruit and nuts, and hard as a brick, such delicacies used to be the standard/favored “Christmas gift by mail” sent by financial institutions to offices like the ones I have worked in over the years. It was their own little way of saying “thank you”. Some thanks; it was more like an assasination attempt on your taste buds and your teeth, if not your life itself. Why did people ever send those? How did people ever enjoy those? Oh well, it was another era; another time and place. But why did I used to do some of the things I used to do?

You don’t see fruitcakes much anymore. Today, banks and others send their customers “Harry and David ” gift baskets. Much more practical, much more attractive, and much tastier, these gifts are often much enjoyed and appreciated. And yet, in almost every gift basket, there is some type of food strangely resembling a small baked item that no one ever wants to bite into.

“They” say in some small way everyone wants to be a star. So as we each play out our roles in the “Star Wars” of life, what kind of fruit are we bearing? What kind of fruit am I bearing? Is it nourishing? Is it refreshing? Is it pleasant to view? Does it plant a seed? Or am I simply churning out rock hard fruitcakes? The old saying “it’s the thought that counts” does not really ring true in the spiritual sense, now does it?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16-20: By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Time to get and keep my pruning shears out. I want to bear good fruit. In the meantime, try the apple: it’s delicious:

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Psalm 127

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
 1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
   the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
   the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
   and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
   for he grants sleep to those he loves.

 3 Children are a heritage from the LORD,
   offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
   are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
   whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
   when they contend with their opponents in court.

The attached link from author Rick Boxx has more to say on this idea, but I especially appreciated the words in this excerpt:

Work is good. God ordained it. We should do it to the best of our ability. Work is one way of being good stewards of our abilities, talents and gifts. However, work taken to excess is counterproductive and can carry negative consequences. So consider this advice: Take time to relax and enjoy life the way God intended – work in balance with an adequate amount of rest and leisure activities.

okc.cbmc.com/FaxofLife.aspx

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Proverbs 22:6-7
Direct your children onto the right path,
      and when they are older, they will not leave it.
Just as the rich rule the poor,
      so the borrower is servant to the lender.

That works for math, among other things…

I was lost in the middle of “the math” with my son the other night, and while I remain unclear as to whether it was new math or old, it was hard nonetheless. So aside from helping check homework, maybe I should be teaching him a few lines from Jabez’s song (as sung by Mercy Me) as well when it comes to the acquisition of deeper analytical skills (and progressing on to high school):

Bless me indeed
Open wide my horizons to share your name
Bless me indeed
Let your hand keep me
from harm and pain
Bless me

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