Things That Matter and Things That Don’t

Perspective. So many times in my life I have forgotten what was important. Maybe you have as well. You know what I’m talking about. Getting bent out of shape over that driver that cut us off in traffic and staying mad for the next two hours – those type of things. We forget what is really important and start thinking stupid. We crown the little things, the unimportant things, the things that don’t matter, as rulers in our personal kingdoms and only a cold slap in the face of our meager existences can jolt us back to that thing we call perspective. Perspective: knowing what is really important and what is not.

Cancer gives you perspective. I wrote in a previous post how in May of this year I experienced hand-wringing worry about our diesel truck being repaired in time to pull our RV to Arizona. I could not eat or sleep. That truck was the most important thing on the planet to me. That is, until the doctor said the word “cancer” to Lisa and I while explaining the results of her biopsy. Suddenly, perspective returned to my thinking. I immediately could not have cared less if that truck ever started again. The scripture tells the story of the prodigal son squandering his inheritance and, in his own way, losing perspective. He partied so long and hard that, eventually, he found himself eating with the pigs. Something stirred in his soul and he was suddenly aware of his condition. My hunch is he probably felt not only hungry, but, stupid as well. He had lost perspective, but, suddenly, found himself. As his father declared to his brothers upon his return: “My son was lost but now is found.”

My father in law and I have spent a great deal of time together over these four months we have been home with Lisa’s cancer surgery and treatment. We have worked together remodeling our bathroom and taking care of other jobs around his house and ours. On an almost daily basis we have made runs to the local building supply store. God forbid that we make a list of things we need before we leave for Lowes. We would rather hop back in the truck and buy the screws one at a time. During one of our many trips we encountered a man who had completely lost his perspective. If I was not so pissed off with how he acted – I may have felt sorry for him.  Here is what happened:

I need to first explain that driving our Ford F-250 around town is not easy. The trucks poor turning radius requires us to park where we can use three or four spaces – usually far enough away that a shuttle bus would seem appropriate. We do a lot of walking to avoid tight spaces.  One day I parked a little too close to a small, new car and that is when this story got interesting. My father in law (Vernon) must have tapped the vehicle with his door as it opened and made a very, very small dent and scratch in its side. No big deal except the owner was in the car when it happened. By the time I had walked around to that side of the truck, the owner was already squatting down beside his car examining the carnage. Vernon immediately apologized and even offered to pay for damages. The man rubbed the microscopic dent and expressed his frustration since it was a new car. Again, Vernon apologized and had even taken his wallet out to pay for the, so called, damages by the time I realized what had happened. I could tell Vernon was bothered by his mistake. The man finally stormed back into his car and angrily drove away. The Hubble Telescope can spot black holes nine million light years away – but never would have spotted the dent that man was so upset over.  He, ladies and gentlemen, had lost perspective.

Throughout the rest of that day I thought about that man. I also thought about things I wish I had said to him. Maybe I should have said, ” Sir! Go to hell and take that dented up piece of crap car with you.”  Or maybe: “Hang on a minute, Sir! Let me get my microscope out of my trunk so I can see the damages.” Maybe I should have defended Vernon by telling him: “He is not paying anything for that dent. And I’m not paying for these dents.” (I then proceed to open my truck door and repeatedly bash the side of his car).

But after I thought more about it I really think the best thing to have done was just what Vernon did – apologize and offer to pay for his mistake. There was something very Jesus-like in Vernon that day. He was teaching me a lesson in humility and compassion. While I wanted to take a sledge hammer to the man’s hood – Vernon had taken out his wallet.

I don’t know the man’s name or remember what he looked like. I don’t even remember much about his car. But maybe he is reading this and if so I do have something to say to him. Here goes:

“Sir, my wife just went through breast cancer. Over these past four months we endured moments in which we did not know what our futures would be or if we would have a future. There is now the very real possibility that her cancer could return. Each night I pray for her as she sleeps next to me and I ask God to keep cancer out of her life forever. I want her to see Conner Jack grow up. I want her to see our other grandchildren be born and grow. I want to travel with her to other places and see her help men and woman with heart conditions figure out what is wrong and continue to be part of God’s healing plan for their lives – no matter if they live in Hanover, Pennsylvania, Kingman, Arizona or Owensboro, Kentucky. I don’t want her to hurt anymore or be sick anymore. Cancer is a heartless disease that takes no prisoners. It attacks the rich and the poor. It took my mom and I am begging God to never allow it to take anyone else in my family. And now – I want you to look Lisa in the eyes and tell her about that dent in your car door.”

Perspective.

Love, Steve and Lisa.

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Now, Where Were We?

In two weeks, Lisa and I will hitch up the RV and head north to what has become our second home – Cambridge, Ohio. With her radiation treatments now complete – we are trying to pick up where we left off four months ago. Instead of heading west to Kingman, Arizona (where she was contracted to work prior to her breast cancer diagnosis) we are returning to Cambridge and Southeastern Medical for (at least) a thirteen week assignment.

These past four months have been remarkable. In an almost unexplanable way they have been the most challenging and yet enjoyable time of our lives. Cancer creates tension and uncertainty that is emotionally exhausting and there were plenty of hand wringing moments and way too many sleepless nights. But, amazingly, Lisa has recovered from her surgery and radiation treatments unexplainably well. In fact – her doctors have been stunned at how well she has handled both, calling her the “perfect cancer patient”.  The prayers of our family, friends, and a group of cloistered nuns in Alabama, have been the vehicle God has used to do His amazing work. Why do people get cancer? I have no idea. Why do some never respond to treatment? I have no idea. Why did God choose to bless Lisa with such a smooth recovery? I have no idea. But this I do know – He is God and according to scripture “He will do according to His good will and pleasure”.  All we can do is pray and then praise and acknowledge Him for the outcome. So here goes: “Hey everybody! Take a look at what God did in Lisa’s life.  Mark it well – He did a great thing.”

Our extended stay has allowed us to get some things done here at home and, more importantly, reconnect with our family.  I do need to admit that part of me is looking forward to getting away from here. Give Lisa about twelve seconds and she will have, at least, three more ideas and projects for me to complete. I never knew how many things were needing to be painted, wired, hung, hammered, dry walled, patched, caulked, sealed, sanded, and stained. But, apparently, Lisa did.

So now we are wrapping up our final two weeks here at home and squeezing in as much time with our family (especially Conner Jack) and friends. There will be follow up doctor visits and the need for more prayers as we await the day doctors give Lisa the ‘all clear’ and we can close this chapter of our lives for good.  And, I am certain, Lisa will find reason to use the last drop of paint and squeeze out a little more caulk before all is said and done.

Now and then it will probably be wise for us to revisit these past four months.  We will look back and remember the days people cried with us, worried with us, fed us, sat in the hospital with us, celebrated with us and sometime during their day or night said a prayer for us. 

And if you were one of those people, thank you!

Now, where were we?

Love, Steve and Lisa.

Almost There

My parents did very little traveling. Once we went for a weekend to Nashville and I vaguely remember on one other occasion driving to Frankfort for a mini-vacation. The world outside Daviess County seemed like an unreachable destination. I did not see an ocean until I was in my twenties after I had moved away from home. The only place my parents ever drove to (on a regular basis) was Union County, Kentucky to visit my mom’s family and, specifically, Sturgis, where my grandparents lived. Once every couple of months we would skip Sunday School and church and travel the sixty miles to their home on Adams Street, directly across from the First Baptist Church, where my grandad served as deacon for over sixty years. I can still recall Sunday evenings sitting on their front porch swing and hearing my grandad’s voice soaring above all others during a rousing rendition of “Bringing in the Sheaves”. While many of my friends spent spring break in exotic places like Panama City Beach, mine was always in Sturgis.

Driving to Sturgis was something of an adventure in itself. I remember having to take a ferry across the Green River at one point and I came to memorize every little town we passed through along the way. When my dad would announce that we had arrived in Morganfield, I knew our journey was near an end. Morganfield was to Sturgis the same way I always imagined Mount Pilot was to Mayberry. Morganfield was just a twenty minute drive from Sturgis and if we were in Morganfield, I always knew, our journey was almost over.

So – I thought of all that while looking at a calendar the other day and realizing  Lisa’s journey with breast cancer surgery and radiation was nearly over. In just a couple of weeks she will complete her radiation and soon we will head back to Cambridge, Ohio where she returns to work for another thirteen week assignment.  The opportunity to return to Cambridge seemed too good to pass up as it will allow us to easily return home for follow up doctor appointments. Arizona is still on our minds and we are hoping to get back there this winter, God willing. But, for now, it is back to those crazy Buckeye fans and friends we have grown to love.

When I was little, that sixty mile trip to Sturgis, Kentucky seemed like two lifetimes of driving. Little boys and tight spaces are not a good mix. I thought we would never arrive and throughout the passing miles, my brother and I would ask our parents the most important question, “Are we there yet?” Their response was always the same: “Almost there!”

When Lisa was first diagnosed with cancer, the journey we would embark upon together seemed almost impassable and never ending. We did not know (really) where we were going or how we would get there. But, now we see the end and are excited that this unexpected journey is nearly done.

We are in Morganfield with Sturgis just a few more miles ahead. And, if I listen real close, my grandfather is singing above everyone else.

Love, Steve and Lisa.