Monday, August 31, 2015

August 31 – “Away from the water”

I did it.  I finally pushed past my fears and plunged into the abyss that is the Gulf of Mexico (well, figuratively plunged.  I actually just waded).  Until yesterday I hadn’t been wade fishing since whenever it was that my back started really giving me trouble.  The water has been absolutely perfect for wade fishing for over a week now, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore.  I have been going to water therapy for three weeks now, so it was time to test out whether all that strengthening has done any good.  After church we had some lunch and I tried to watch the Astros game (they ended up losing anyway when a furious 9th inning, two out rally fell just short.  Chris watched it for me).  I was doing my best to get all the way to the start of the Little League World Series final game (The U.S. team lost to Japan in a slugfest, 18-11.  Read about it in the paper this morning).  Both of which would have been worthy ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Not to mention the inevitable nap that would have reared its ugly head and deprived me of key game highlights.  Nope.  Not this guy.  I went fishing.

Now some restrictions did apply.  Since the meds I’m taking have been doing a number on my head, I had to promise to let Chris know where I was and if I moved.  Easy enough.  I also had to change sites from my preferred fishing hole right in front of WalMart.  I just can’t negotiate the rocks there any longer.  Going into the water is no problem, but I just don’t have the strength to get out any more.  We dutifully purchased one of the yearly parking passes, though, so I just moved up closer to 61st Street and walled across some sand.  Safe and sound. 

The negative about getting closer to 61st Street, though is that the tourists also like sand.  And they were out in force.  Well, I have seen it much more crowded, but in this case there was one family with about ten children along with numerous others.  The ten kid family all had biblical names, too.  I heard Josh, Jacob, and Isaiah, among others.  Especially Isaiah.  They were yelling at him the whole three or four hours I was there.  I think I would have liked Isaiah.  I did my best to locate myself apart from their play area, but, totally unaware of the current, they kept getting closer and closer to my cast area.  And they were doing typically stupid tourist things, the worst of which was floating on a surfboard (there were no waves at all.  Literally no waves).  The teenage girl who insisted on riding it ended up well past the second sand bar, and had to be helped back by one of the adults in their group. 

For some reason, though, when I started catching fish, everybody stayed clear of me.  That was kind of unusual, too.  Usually someone will come right over and want to see what I caught.  I appreciated the distance, though, because just about every cast resulted in a strike of some kind.  Started out with those tarpon wannabes, the ladyfish.  They are about eight inches of skinny nonsense.  They steal perfectly good live shrimp and when they get hooked they fight like their older and much bigger cousins, leaping from the water and twisting and turning.  Thankfully they were usually able to free themselves before I had to deal with them.  Another group of pretenders was the small black drum school that set up shop near me.  They were fun to fight with, but not big enough to eat, so they were returned to the wild.  So did I catch anything worth keeping?  Well, yes.  See, my whole purpose was to get at least enough to fry up when Zakary and his family come down.  And I think I accomplished my goal.  I landed three good sized speckled trout and a batch of whiting, all good fish fry fodder. 

As I was leaving, I became the poster boy of the tourism bureau.  The tourists swarmed me from all sides, jockeying for a better sight line of the net with the fish in it.  Parents ran for their phones to take pictures.  One little girl was wailing at the top of her lungs.  Her Dad was pushing her closer and closer so she could “see the fishies.”  I told him not to force her.  The questions were flying from everywhere.  “What are you going to do with those?”  Answer: “I’m going to feed my family.”  “Are those fish?”  Answer: (well, I ignored that one, since it came from an adult).  “What kind of fish are they?”  Answer: “Speckled trout and whiting.”  Reply: “I’ve never heard of either of those kind of fish.  My boss would probably know what you’re talking about.  Me?  If it’s not pike or walleye I have no idea what it is.” 

My favorite was the young teenager who very politely asked me to stop so she could take a picture.  And then she asked, “Where did you get those?”  Now she had just watched me walk in from the water, so I pointed back over my shoulder with my fishing pole and said, “Out there.”  Not satisfied, she pressed, “No, where?  Where did you get them?”  Amused, I again pointed with my pole and replied, “Right out there.”  Realization now dawning, she tried one more time, “You mean where we just were?”  At that I took on the persona of the wizened old fisherman, looked her straight in the eye and, in my very best old fisherman-guy voice, said with a wink, “Yep.”  Her eyes got as big as those old silver dollars (not the little quarter sized new ones).  She looked at me.  She looked out at the Gulf.  She looked over at her mom.  She looked down at the fish.  And she quietly retreated.  Away from the water.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 says, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

Father, thank you for the catch of fish yesterday.  Thank you as well for the interchange with the children.  That made it even more worthwhile.  Amen.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30 – “Harold Hamilton, Rest In Peace”

Thank you so much to everyone who helped out and who expressed good wishes this past weekend.  The memorial service for Chris’ Dad seemed to go really well.  There were a lot more people there than Chris and her siblings expected, with the service being in Galveston.  A lot of his relatives managed to find the church, though, and the crowd was a healthy one.  Sharon, one of our Seasiders, came over early and did a thorough cleaning of the building.  She even set up tables and set out some really pretty flowers and paper plates and napkins.  And she brought some sandwiches and a vegetable and fruit tray.  Above and beyond the call of duty there, Sharon.  Thank you so much again.  Speaking of sandwiches, thank you to Karen for the ones you brought as well.  They were great, especially heated up, as you suggested. 

Chris’ Dad had talked to me years ago about what he wanted at his funeral service. Three things:  Keep it upbeat.  Keep it short.  Play country gospel “so people can sing along if they want to and be entertained if they don’t.”  I think we accomplished that.  Kel did some praying and reading of scripture as part of the service, and our worship leader Wes led a rousing rendition of Victory in Jesus to close everything out.  In between we had special appearances by the Statler Brothers and Hank Williams, Jr. (via video, of course).  Everything was very upbeat and encouraging.  Nathan even got into the act at the end.  He stood up and invited everyone to stick around for the reception.

We enjoyed seeing some familiar Seaside faces (Sam and Rita).  And our very own April managed to stay awake for the whole thing even after working all night in the emergency room and not having a nap in between.  And she was even planning to help with cleanup, but Chris sent her home to get some sleep.  Chris was happy to renew some connections with family members she hadn’t seen in years.  And from my observations, she wasn’t the only one.  Several others were exchanging phone numbers and promising to get together.  I even heard talk of an upcoming family reunion.  Amazing what can happen at a funeral, isn’t it?  As always, I wish the same results could have occurred under better circumstances.    

2 Thessalonians 1:11 says, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Father, walk with this family as they acclimate to a bit of a different world now.  Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

August 29 – “Movie star”

So now I’m a movie star.  The line for autographs forms just outside my front door and to the left.  Well, maybe not an actual movie star.  Unless you talk to the lady who was taking water therapy at the same time as me yesterday. 

See, there were three of us at the side of the pool faithfully executing the individualized exercises designed to strengthen us where we need it most.  The man to my left I have talked with briefly before.  He is quite proud to proclaim himself a Bible teacher at his church.  I’ll be he is a good one, too.  He is recovering from a stroke.  There was a lady to my right I had not yet met, but she arrived later than us gents. 

I usually try to stay as focused as I can once I actually start an exercise.  Strictly because I’m such a good patient, you understand.  We’ll, that and I don’t want to lose count of how many times I have done each thing.  Such was the case yesterday.  I didn’t even see the lady ease up to the side bar at first.  But as I counted my way through lifting each leg (with weights attached, mind you), I began to feel someone staring at me.  I snuck a few glances her way, and sure enough, she was peering my direction every time.  I finally lost count completely, so I switched legs and made eye contact with her.  And that’s the moment she had been waiting for.  She pointed a finger at me and excitedly (and definitively) exclaimed, “Alan Alda.”  I looked around behind me, wondering if Galveston was playing host to a reunion show of M.A.S.H., but no one else was there.  I glanced back and she said, “That’s it.  Alan Alda.”  Now my curiosity got the best of me, so I managed to stumble out a rather feeble, “Excuse me?”  and she continued, “You’re Alan Alda.  I knew it.  Well, not Alan Alda really.  But you look just like him.  I can’t believe it.  Can I have your autograph?”  And my Bible teacher cohort on the other side chimed in, “We got M.A.S.H. goin’ on right over here now.  M.A.S.H. in the pool.  M.A.S.H. in the pool.”  She noticed my consternation, so she finally changed the subject a bit, asking where I was from.  I answered, “A little town called Galveston, near Texas.”  And that set her off again.  She was not born here, but she had family that was and she came every chance she could growing up.  About then one of the therapists brought a new client over and positioned himself between us.  Guess that was a silent reprimand for communicating without permission or something.  I slid down a bit further away from my adoring fan, but not before tossing out, “Oh, and you can sure have my autograph.”  The therapist turned toward me, trying to appear nonchalant.  But the questioning look on his face was priceless.  Just who has he been strapping weights on these last few weeks?  Why, it’s Hawkeye Pierce.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

Father, thank you for new friends, even when they think you are someone else.  Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2015

August 28 – “Home Alone”

Chris left me home alone yesterday.  Frightening thought, isn’t it?  I behaved myself for the most part, though.  She had to meet her sister (the one who lives in England) in Bay City and the two of them drove to Victoria to sign some final release papers with the funeral home so that their Dad’s body could be cremated. They also went over some of the details for the memorial service we are having tomorrow over at Seaside at 2 p.m. 

While she was away I had a typical day.  Went to water exercise.  There I realized just how much I have come to rely on working out right behind Chris in the water.  I just can’t always hear what the instructor says.  And I am not alone.  Yesterday five or six of us were looking around with questioning eyes after some new exercises she threw into the mix.  I can usually say “what?” just under my breath and Chris will turn around and interpret.  We managed to muddle through, though. 

At home I spent most of the day working on the teaching for Sunday and the service for Saturday.  I was going to let Josh and Kel do most of the service Saturday, but now it looks like Josh won’t be able to come.  His family is in various stages of sick-dom – from one end or the other, if you know what I mean.  While I was fervently trying to stay focused on the computer, the tell-tale ping of a FaceBook message notification went off.  It was a good friend of ours who now lives in Minnesota.  We chatted online for a few minutes, and he finally asked for my phone number and called instead.  It was really good to do some catching up with Gary. 

The second phone call I received was not quite so cordial.  Well, I can’t say that exactly.  It was the neuro-surgeon, and he was very nice on the phone.  He called to tell me he had received the results of the test the neurologist had done in his office several weeks ago (The one where he stuck all those acupuncture needles in my back).  In these or quite similar words he explained, “I got the EMG results, and you have a mixed bag in there.  There is some element that indicates the neuropathy in your feet is from irritation in your back.  But there are other things there that mean some of it could be from something else (of course it is).  So, basically, you have both issues (of course I do).  We still need to do the procedure to tell for sure what would be relieved with your back surgery.  Give me a call to set up the test.”  Notice that he never used the word “myelogram” in his comments.  It was “the procedure” and “the test.”  I finally asked him point blank if he was talking about the myelogram, though.  Sadly, he confessed that he was.  Sadly on my part, that is.  It’s not going to bother him at all. 

My third contact was some texting from Nathan.  I was originally supposed to pick up Cailyn from school, but he was offered some vacation time at work, so he took it.  As it turned out Cailyn was not at all happy that she wasn’t going to be coming over to our house.  Sorry about that, Mom and Dad.  Wait.  No I’m not.  Here’s a big “Ho Ho Ho” from Grandparent Heaven over here.

Chris made it home from her all day journey, and we had some supper.  She settled in on the couch and eventually fell asleep.  I had no problem staying awake to watch the extra-inning Little League baseball United States semi-final.  Pearland, Texas, defeated California in an exciting eight inning affair.  The walk-off home run was hit by a youngster who had struck out every plate appearance in the World Series up to that point.  Good for him. 

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 says, “Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”

Father, thank you for the relief of a walk off home run after five straight strike outs.  Grant that kind of relief of relief to Chris and her siblings after the service tomorrow.  Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

August 27 – “The Continuing Saga”

Sigh.  I know.  Terrible way to start off the morning – with a sigh.  But I did have yet another doctor’s appointment yesterday.  This one was with the rheumatologist, and I had hoped to get rid of the medication that has been giving me that chemo brain effect, causing me to forget my train of thought and drift into … something.  Very strange feeling, and kind of frightening, actually. 

The results of the visit?  Mixed reviews.  He didn’t take me off of the medication.  See the “problem” is … it works.  The RA pain is significantly decreased.  It’s just those side effects.  He first said we could switch to a shot version of the same med, and that would have been fine.  Something about needing a lower dose because it goes to the bloodstream quicker with less chemo brain effect and stays out of the gastrointestinal tract altogether so the stomach problems are less.  I was all ready for that until some other options arose. 

Chris keeps a detailed list of everything we have already tried in the past.  Good thing she had it with her.  She informed him of three other medications we tried briefly that worked fine, but were rejected as out of hand by the insurance company.  Two were shots.  The third, though, was a pill that really captured his attention.  Apparently he really likes the prospects of this one in my case.  It’s called xeljanz.  But the insurance company has already rejected it (they called it in from the office).  Well, not rejected, exactly.  They just said the cost was $3,092.89.  That works out to $51.55 per 5 mg pill.  Ouch.  But the office anticipated that and has already filled out the paperwork to cut through all the insurance red tape and get the medication directly from the company, at least for a year.  In the meantime I cut back a bit on the chemo brain drug.

The helpful part of the visit, though, came when I told him about the pending back surgery.  He said I would have to be completely off of all RA medications for a week before surgery and at least a week after surgery.  In his words: “So you’ll probably feel terrible.”  Thanks, Doc.  He agrees that I should have the myelogram (Again, thanks, Doc) to get specific results before proceeding with anything.  He really doesn’t like the idea of fusion because of its effects on the surrounding disk areas.  He was pretty much OK with the whole thing, though, when we told him that the surgeon specifically said he wasn’t talking about fusion … yet.  His final words of advice were his personal three signs for going ahead with surgery:
1.      It hurts(!) to the extent that it affects your quality of life.
2.      The neurological symptoms and the MRI/myelogram/physical exam results match up.
3.      There is obvious weakness and loss of function directly related to the problem.
Now those were very specific, very helpful things to think about before agreeing to this surgery.  Of course there is also to consider the fact that the issue is degenerative – it won’t get any better and will get worse.  This doc’s take on that?  When will it get worse?  Tomorrow?  In five years?  Can you live with it unto it does get worse?  My question on the whole thing?  What does “get worse” look like?  After all, I’m the one who has to do the “living with it.”  Not to mention Chris living with me living with it.  Ah … decisions, decisions.  Do you now understand my sigh?  Good.  So … Sigh.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Father, thank you for the miracles of modern medicine.  It is amazing how many different approaches there to attacking the same problem.  I’m still making my first approach calling you.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

August 26 – “With the rain”

We watched it rain some more yesterday.  And we had not just rain, but some really high winds as well.  I saw where they were gusting up to 60 miles per hour.  Sure seemed that high here.  The trees were bending.  The sky was churning.  We even went outside for a while to take in the show before the rain actually started.

Meanwhile I tried to catch up on some of the work I usually get done on Mondays.  It all got pushed aside because we spent the entire day in Houston getting doctored on and being pastorly.  The pastorly part involved a visit over to Methodist Hospital to check on our Seaside patient there, Jennifer.  She is the one who originally went in for a ninth surgery on her ankle and is now up to somewhere around fifteen because of complications.  Yep, that’s fifteen surgeries.  On the same site.  This time they were to install an external halo apparatus to keep her ankle in position.  She has had that done once before, but this time the apparatus was much smaller.  Instead of wrapping around her whole leg from knee to ankle, this one is neatly tucked right there at the ankle and through the bones.  She also had a plastic surgery surgery to work on getting the surgical site closed properly.  Jennifer texted Chris last that she didn’t have a single surgery scheduled for today.  Imagine that. 

We had to make a quick WalMart run last night to get some fruit.  As a result I missed the first inning of the Astros game.  And the first five runs they scored.  I thought I had missed all the fireworks for the evening, but was I ever wrong.  We missed those first five runs, sure.  But the last ten runs they scored were just as exciting, especially when the team they were trouncing was the Yankees.  Fifteen to one.  Go Astros.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 says, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

Father, please keep the healing process going with Jennifer, especially after she leaves the hospital.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 25 – “The ‘S’ Word”

Well, I suppose the back drama is somewhat over around our house.  At least the wondering can melt over into more specific worrying – er, no – planning for what comes next.  I had an appointment with the neurosurgeon yesterday to go over the results of the MRI of my lower back.  I knew the problems were getting serious when my neurologist didn’t even recommend the usual pain management steps.  (Other than water therapy, which has really helped strengthen my core muscles). 

So I did get to see the actual MRI pictures.  (I have a copy of the disk here at home, but I just couldn’t figure out how to get it to open.  I think I can do it now, though.  I watched the nurse, and you know nurses can do just about anything).  The doc pointed out no less than three separate issues with my back.  First, there is a bone spur just below the lumbar 4 disk that the radiologist actually missed on his report.  It seems to be pinching one of the nerves there.  Jump up a level, and you find the most serious of the problems.  The area between 4 and 5 is afflicted with severe stenosis.  The bone is calcifying from the outside in and closing off the area the nerves have to operate in.  On the pictures, he showed a relatively normal area (as normal as my back gets, anyway), and then showed this one.  The normal one appeared as an area of all white.  Mine?  I couldn’t see any white at all.  Not so good, he informed us.  And for a bonus, one level above that at 5-6, I have a pretty clear bulging disk, also pinching on a nerve.  At least I have experience with that sort of thing from my neck surgeries. 

So, what’s the plan?  Well … a myelogram (injecting dye into the spine and tracking its movement) is the next step to give the surgeon a clearer, more specific picture before surgery.  Now, wasn’t that stated in a positive, reassuring way?  See, in spite of it being a tremendous asset in diagnosis and a guide in surgery itself, a myelogram has the potential to be one of the most painful tests there is.  OK.  I am basing that statement on my experience with the numerous ones I have had for my neck.  And those carried the unfortunate side effect of tremendous headaches.  It is the only way to get the information he needs to proceed, however. 

Now he did say I could go with the cortisone injections as a “temporary pain management fix.”  The problem is degenerative, though, so it will only get worse.  Besides, I tried those with my neck and they never seemed to improve anything.  Oh, and he assured me that the water therapy I have been taking has not been wasted.  The “strengthening will really help with recovery.”

And so it appears we are once again facing the dreaded “S” word … surgery.  But not this week.  All of our waking hours this week are focused on funeral arrangements for Chris’ Dad.  Chris has to make a trip to Victoria on Thursday to sign some release papers with the funeral home.  And it looks like we are hosting a memorial service on Saturday, either at Seaside or here at the house.  Lots of prep this week. 

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.”

Father, help us as we prepare for this memorial this weekend.  Be with Chris and her siblings.  Grant them peace.  We can talk more about this back thing next week, OK?  Amen.

Monday, August 24, 2015

August 24 – “The uninvited guest”

I did a wedding last night over in Baytown.  It was not one of those high dollar, San Luis Hotel, super-classy affairs.  Just a very simple, backyard, “just family and the couple next door” kind of experience.  Oh, and it was hot.  One of those huge shop box fans was whirling full force in the garage, keeping the French onion dip cool, as well as whoever was lucky enough to finagle a position in its path.    The Old Smokey was heating up in the driveway out front, waiting for the burgers and hot dogs and sausage that were to come after the business at hand was completed.  Ol’ Tammy the Doberman was sprawled out in just the right spot to welcome new arrivals, but not with a bark or even a growl.  No, not Tammy.  Her “how do you do” was more of a flicker of an eyelash and perhaps a barely discernible twitch of an ear. 

Outside in the backyard there was not much of a breeze, but the yard was completely shaded by some fully mature, really tall pecan trees, so there was plenty of shade.  The groom told me he had spent all day mowing the grass and cleaning up the yard.  Lawn chairs dotted the landscape in the backyard near the area marked with a smattering of rose petals as the centerpoint of the ceremony.  Nearby the trampoline sat quiet, as did the dirt racing car firmly affixed to its trailer.  All in all, it was the perfect setting for a down-home, “let’s get hitched without all the fru-fru” wedding. 

The bride was determined to start on time no matter what.  Never a good plan when a wedding is involved.  “On time” is most often wishful thinking in the matrimonial realm.  Sure enough the groom’s sister got lost and called for help.  It didn’t take all that long to locate her and get her redirected to the proper venue. 

When we finally got started, just about every cell phone on the property was filming or snapping stills, no doubt outshining anything a professional photographer would have come up with.  The groom wore jeans and the bride wore a shirt with some encouraging words on it, and they both sported flip-flops.  Two little flower girls were cute as buttons in their white dresses and oversized baskets filled with petals.  The maid of honor held not only the groom’s ring, but also her five-month-old little girl.  The best man has his hands full with the bride’s ring and his phone, which was doubling as the sound system for music.  I must say he handled that job masterfully, especially when a buddy of his called and caused the music to shut off.  Three times.  He moved quickly, though, and managed a smooth, rapid restart time every time. 

Now, I have had some really unusual things happen in weddings, and most of the time they occur about the time I read 1 Corinthians 13 from the Bible.  Something about Scripture always causes glitches from the unholy portion of the spiritual realm.  This wedding was no different.  As I read, an occasional drop of … something … fell on the bride and the groom and even on me.  At first I thought it might be a little summer shower, but a quick glance around nixed that idea.  Drop.  Drop.  Bouncing off my shoulder.  I seemed to be the sole target now.  Drop.  Drop.  I have to admit, I had another idea about what it might be borne from my years of experience doing weddings on and near the beach.  Seagulls can be indiscriminate creatures. 

But we were under a virtual canopy of tree branches.  A dive bomb was virtually impossible.  And for it to continue with such regularity was unheard of.  Drop.  Drop.  PLOP.  There it was.  A much larger chunk suddenly graced the page of my wedding book, splattering debris as it struck onto my arm as well.  And just as I read “Love is patient,” another bomb hit my book, so I added, “and so must we be, even with this extra attention from above.”  And just about that time the best man, who had totally forgotten the wedding and was scanning the treetops like a hunter stalking his prey, loudly proclaimed, “There he is.  It’s a squirrel up in the tree.”  Sure enough, an uninvited little guest was tossing partially eaten pecans at us.  After all, we had so rudely intruded upon his private dining facility.  Fortunately we were near the end of the ceremony, so he graciously allowed us to continue without further pecan peeling pelting. 

The reception was an intimate affair for the family.  The homemade wedding cake and groom’s cake were great creations, and the burgers and sausages smelled delicious.  But Chris and I were anxious to get back home, so we bade them all farewell and headed back to the Island. 

Ephesians 5:31 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Father, watch over that young couple as they continue in their life together.  Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 23 – “The Call”

Well, the rains are continuing, though not in as drastic doses.  And they slowed enough for us to get the yard mowed and edged yesterday.  Chris even managed to trim the vines on the back fence.  Everything was doing its best to get out of control after the long-awaited drink of water.  So that was a good thing.

After we cleaned up we got ready to go to the big back to school bash at fire station one downtown.  They did a fundraiser to get school supplies for local kids who don’t have theirs yet (school starts tomorrow, I think).  The event also includes free hot dogs and games and … hey … they get to see real live fire fighters.  Exciting stuff, right? 

Well, we never made it to the fire station.  Oh, the event happened and I am certain it went well.  But Chris got a phone call from her brother in Victoria telling her that their Dad had been taken to the hospital and wasn’t doing well at all.  We made the decision to head there instead, so we turned the car toward Texas and started out.  Just before Lake Jackson Chris’ phone rang again.  It was her brother.  Before we answered we kind of knew it was The Call.  And yes, the news was not good.  Their Dad died on the way to the hospital.  She assured him that we were on our way.  Chris handled it like the trouper she is, of course.  It was tough, especially since she was driving, but she insisted that she preferred handling that part of the action.  Gave her something to focus on.  After talking and texting with her youngest brother, Mark (I did the texting for her.  Safety first, you know), Chris then called her sister, who lives in England, with the news.  (Again, all while driving.  That’s one strong lady).

We found Mark’s house in Victoria and spent some time talking through preliminary details.  While we waited for their other brother Lee to arrive from where he works in San Antonio, Chris took the opportunity to test-sit Mark’s Harley.  I did get a picture to post on FaceBook, and the hits are still coming.  What is the deal, folks?  I just got her a bicycle.  Let’s stick with that for a while, then maybe graduate to a scooter. 

Lee finally arrived and the conversation resumed.  Harold (their Dad) wanted to be cremated, so those arrangements had already been made with a local funeral home.  To give Cheryl time to get here from England, a memorial service was tentatively planned for next Saturday in Bay City.  Chris still has to make some phone calls to locate a venue there.  Hopefully something can be set up with the funeral home there to use their chapel.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the afternoon came when we all went over to the nursing home to clear out his room.  All they really wanted were the few photos and private mementos like his Navy and Korean War Veteran caps.  In a gesture of good will, they decided to donate his clothing and even his little television to the nursing home to distribute among poorer residents as they had needs. 

We ended the evening with a dinner at Golden Corral.  Well, the end would not come for another two and a half hours for us, since we still had to drive home.  We made it in safely around midnight last night.  And now … moving on.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Father, please walk with Chris and her brothers and sister through this time of laying their father to rest.  Give Cheryl a safe flight over from England.  Thank you that Harold was more than ready for this day.  Greet him warmly.  Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August 22 – “Don’t try this at home”

Because of the incomprehensible generosity of my beloved wife, I was blessed to undertake one of those oh-so-dreaded experiences that have the potential of mind-boggling pain and agony.  That’s right.  What else could it be?  I went to the dentist.  Chris made us appointments for some time in October, but they called and offered to move her appointment because of a cancellation.  Mind you, it was supposed to be her appointment they were offering to move up, not mine.  But that loving wife of mine, thinking only that should I end up having back surgery I might miss out on my appointment, so graciously requested that she be allowed to give up her spot to her back-damaged husband.  They agreed.  I mean, after all, who doesn’t want to help out senior citizen?  Looks good on their resume, I guess.

So I rushed out after water therapy to be on time for a dental cleaning.  That’s all it was supposed to be for.  Of course I had to fill out a boatload of paperwork relating to insurance and my medications and my medical history.  I thought they had all this stuff from the last time I was there.  I was quite the compliant patient, though.  No arguments from me.  And once I turned in the paperwork they immediately called me back with that ominous, “Mr. Vaughan?” voice. 

The hygienist was very nice.  Did some preliminary preparation things, like look at my history, which led her to ask, “Have you been to a dentist anywhere else since the last time you were here?”  Oh, no.  Not me.  I assured her I was as loyal as a puppy dog.  Yes, I really said that.  The thing was, the guy who was my dentist hadn’t been there for several years.  I think he retired.  So that meant a whole array of x-rays and baseline tests.  Great fun.  When she left to develop the x-rays I snuck off to make a quick bathroom break.  Wasn’t quick enough, though.  She beat me back by a few seconds.  It was worth it. Though, to see the puzzled look on her face.  She told me she had never lost a patient like that.  I told her I was happy to oblige in furthering her scrapbook of experiences. 

And then she started her work in earnest.  And it didn’t take long to discover that I am an unbelievable anomaly to the dental world.  I have essentially perfect teeth and perfect gums.  Oh, and I haven’t been to a dentist in (drumroll here) … thirteen years.  And to top it all off, when she asked if I floss, I replied, “Not really.”  See, that’s a nice way of saying flat out, “No way” to someone whose career is predicated on the “You must floss every day” lecture.  But I was brutally honest.  I don’t floss.  Now, kids … don’t try this at home.  It will not bode well for you to invoke the “I read it on the internet” excuse in this particular case, even if the author is a pastor.  I can tell you now, it’s not gonna fly.  The hygienist did finally ask, “Well, you DO brush twice a day, don’t you?”  That I do.  That I do. 

When she finished up her cleaning, and came up with a completely positive report (“Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.  And … you really should floss”), she turned me over to my new dentist.  And I have to say up front the cute young thing that stuck her fingers in my mouth was way better looking than my old friend from thirteen years ago.  Sorry, Dr. Robby.  My new doc was pretty impressed as well, but she did find a filling that was having some trouble staying attached.  After all, it has been thirteen years of me chomping on Cheetos and washing them down with sweet tea and eating the ice (never been one to waste a good ice chomp).  She recommended fixing the filling and putting a cap on the whole thing.  Whatever you say, Doc.  Whatever you say.  Of course we’ll have to run that by the insurance company first.  I’ll have to get back to her on that appointment.  I did make a return appointment to have another cleaning in six months.  Can’t remember ever doing that.  But maybe it’s better that waiting thirteen years.  Let’s see.  That’ll put me at … 75 years old.  Still but a spring chicken. 

1 Thessalonians 3:13 says, “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

Father, thank you for the good report.  I needed that.  Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

August 21 – “Couples therapy”

Chris and I had quite the adventure in the rain yesterday.  We ventured out at our usual time, around 7:30 a.m.  We only had to make it to the indoor pool located behind WalMart, but it’s the other side of WalMart from us.  That meant we had to drive up to the seawall and all the way around.  And it was raining.  Really raining.  Hard.  And it had been for some time.  And the streets were quite flooded.  By the time we reached WalMart we had to make a decision.  Continue on to water aerobics or turn around and abort the mission?  Our first instinct was to abort.  We even pulled into a gas station parking lot.  But upon further review, we decided to throw caution to the wind and forge ahead.  As it turned out the rest of the journey was quite uneventful.  Still a lot of rain, but I guess the street drainage was more advanced.  Plenty of parking places at the facility, too.  In fact, when we got inside we found our class of 25 had dwindled to us and one other couple and the instructor.  A private lesson.  Or, as we affectionately called it … couples therapy.  We did some very different activities that would not be possible with a full class, some of which involved partnering up with your spouse.  It was really a lot of fun.  Tough workout, too.

Oh, and we had a mini-crisis back at home.  One of our neighbors brought over a package she had retrieved from the vacant house across the street.  It was addressed to Chris.  It was none other than her Precious Moments Club membership figurine.  The box appeared to be fine, but when she opened it … horror of horrors.  It was broken.  First time that has ever happened in all the years she has been a collector.  Not a bad break, just a tiny little butterfly with a wing snapped off.  But broken nonetheless.  That will never do.  She now has on her list to give them a call and lobby for a replacement.  We’ll see how that one pans out.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

Father, thank you for the rain and for the adventure of driving in it and for our couples therapy time together.  Special moments.  Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

August 20 – “The WalMart Intrusion”

Well, the neurosurgeon’s office called back altogether too quickly for my taste.  And at such an inconvenient time.  We were in WalMart.  How dare they interfere at such a crucial juncture of my day?  And at WalMart … the paradise of people-watching, the watershed of one-stop-shopping.  How do they expect me to calmly and coolly take direction for meeting with a neurosurgeon who is most certainly wanting to cut open my back?  Sigh.  We pulled over just behind the bicycles and I reluctantly took the call.  Sure enough, it was the front office wanting to make arrangements for an appointment.  They also wanted to make sure I brought the CD with the MRI pictures on it.  Oh, and I was to go online to the website they would send me a link to, and fill out my complete medical history … before Friday.  Why before Friday?  Because the appointment is Monday.  Whoa.  That’s just about the quickest ever specialist appointment I can remember.  Add to my to do list for Thursday: computer work.  That’s to go along with water exercise, home group preparation, and taking the car in to the shop for an oil change. 

On a more positive note, we were in WalMart.  We saw a set of twins.  They were connected to a firefighter Mommy and Daddy.  Just turned one year old – the twins, not Mommy and Daddy.  Also saw some on duty fire fighters.  They were gathering some bottles of electrolytes.  Tough day of outdoor-in-the-heat-and-humidity training. 

Oh, and I did have one more item of interest arise after we got home.  Took a phone call asking if I could do a wedding … this Sunday night.  In Baytown.  In a backyard.  Not a problem.  They invited Chris to come as well, so we will make an evening of it.  And the best part of it all?  They begged me not to dress up.  Shorts and an Island shirt.  Yes, please.

I didn’t quite make it to the end of the Astros game.  Had to bail in the eleventh inning.  Just couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Read in the paper today that they won it in the thirteenth.  That’s my Astros.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 says, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Father, I admit I am not looking forward to this whole possible back surgery ordeal.  I could use some of your peace, but hold onto it until Monday afternoon.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August 19 – “ITSASNAP”

Well, I put off calling the neurosurgeon for as long as I could.  They finally called me first.  It was just an initial, fact-gathering mission on the part of their front office team, but it was “the call” nonetheless.  They verified my insurance information, heard my symptoms “from the horses’ mouth,” and just when I was opening my calendar for the inevitable booking … they said the neurosurgeon had yet to review the MRI results, so they would get back to me after that happened to make an appointment.  So … we are on hold once again.

Speaking of hospitals and surgeries, we made a trip into Texas yesterday to see Jennifer, our poster child for the International/Texas Society of “Ankle Surgery Not A Problem.”  I’m sure you’ve heard of ITSASNAP.  Jennifer is a charter member of that quite exclusive club.  Well, actually I think she might be the only member.  She is currently in the hospital in Houston – again – for more surgeries on her ankle.  I have lost count, but I think she passed surgery number eleven and is awaiting surgery number twelve on Thursday.  She has had broken ankles and infections and pin rejections – you name it.  If it can be done in the realm of orthopedic surgeries (on ankles), Jennifer could probably write the book on it.  She seems to have a great attitude right now, though.  She keeps an extensive notebook of all her dealings with doctors.  She assures us she is behaving herself and doing whatever the doctors ask of her.  Well, I certainly believe the second part – she will do whatever the docs say – but I’m just not so sure about that “behaving herself” part.  You gotta leave room for having a little fun, even in the hospital.  Especially when you’re going to be living there for a few weeks.  Hang in there, Jennifer.  ITSASNAP is proud of you.  So are we. 

Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Father, continue to hold Jennifer’s hand as she goes through yet another bout of surgeries and rehabs.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August 18 – “A purple what?”

I made an early morning hospital visit yesterday.  I went to UTMB to pray with a couple we have known since I did their wedding on the beach about 20 years ago and they ended up coming to Seaside.  Mike eventually became the youth pastor and Cindy became the pastor’s secretary and then the administrative assistant of Seaside Christian Academy.  Quite the story of growth there, wouldn’t you say?  Cindy was scheduled for surgery to investigate a possible tumor causing a lot of pain in her leg.  As they wheeled her into the surgery suite her parting words were, “Make sure you ask the doc if this tumor was a boy or a girl.”  And that was before the medication even kicked in.  Love ya, Cindy.

Did I mention that I finally had some candles to blow out the other night?  Cailyn made some homemade waffles for supper.  Green waffles.  And she put candles in each serving, even her own.  Before we could eat we had to sing the Happy birthday song to each other. 

Last night we had our family birthday party over at Kel and Christina’s.  Nathan and April came, too, so there was a mass migration to Texas as far as the Vaughan clan was concerned.  Then Josh and his boys FaceTimed us, so the connection was complete.  Kel’s kids and Cailyn took off with the iPad and gave Zak and Caleb a tour of their house, so Josh called back on Chris’ phone and we got to talk to Luke for a while.  We came out of the evening quite nicely.  Gift card to Gringo’s.  Mexican food for Chris and a date.  Hope it’s me.  She also got a jewelry box from Cailyn.  Nathan and April got her a bicycle helmet and a cell phone holder for the brand new purple bike she got from me.  I know that means I will probably be getting one soon as well.  I’m trying to hold out for a motorized scooter, though.  Maybe I can plead the back pain excuse. 

Speaking of which, I called the neurologist’s office to get the results of my blood tests and MRI.  Blood work first.  I have to take vitamin B12 shots or nasal spray, whichever is cheaper and/or covered by insurance.  OK, not a problem.  I haven’t googled that one to see what super power I have been missing because of it.  The other stuff seemed to be inconsequential enough that no other action was recommended.  Then came the MRI.  I asked for the results of it, and her answer was, “We have faxed the results over to Dr. Weil so you can discuss it with him.”  OK, wait a minute.  When did Dr. Weil come into the picture?  He is the neurosurgeon who did my last three neck surgeries.  I finally convinced her to read off the results to me.  Sure enough, the stenosis in my lumbar area apparently warrants at least a discussion with a neurosurgeon.  Wonderful.  There’s a phone call I admit I am not anxious to make.  Sigh.  The drama that is my journey through pain continues. 

Colossians 4:2-3 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too.”

Father, thank you for our family and for times when we can all come together.  And thank you for the pain, too.  I know I don’t need to know the whys, so I’ll keep on trusting you for those.  Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2015

August 17 – “Happy birthday, Chris Vaughan!”

Yep.  There it is.  All over FaceBook.  Today is my lovely wife’s birthday.  About 29 years old, as I recall.  Maybe a little younger.  I get confused with this new-fangled way of doing math.  But however old she is, she’s been a real sweetheart to me for the last 40 40 plus years.  She came through with three amazing boys, and she’s a right decent Nana/Nani to their kids, too.  I’m prepared to keep her around for as long as it takes.  And I predict it will take a long time.  A very long time. 

Speaking of Chris, she witnessed a car wreck yesterday.  I was with her, but I was otherwise occupied, I think with my cell phone.  It was actually just a little fender bender.  The guy right in front of us ran into the car in front of him.  The car that got hit pulled into the service station right there at the corner of Stewart road and 61st street.  But the offender did not stop.  He was making a getaway attempt.  Excitement happening, right before our very eyes.  What else could we do?  We felt sorry for the poor guys who got hit.  Hope his insurance rates don’t go up too much.  It’s just not fair that he should have to suffer for something that clearly wasn’t his fault.  So we did what any advocate for fairness would have done … we chased him.  Actually, we just kept going the direction we were headed anyway.  When we got close enough to him, I snapped a picture of the back of his car to get his license plate number.  Nailed it.  We had him.  Incriminating photo in hand, we headed back to the service station to check on the other guy and offer up our witness statement.  Chris pulled around and entered the service station parking lot from the back.  She drove to where the other guy had been parked, but he wasn’t there anymore.  I guess he decided not to report it.  Oh, well.  So much for our attempt to be a hero.  Hey, if someone rear-ended your little red car the other day, let me know and I’ll send you the photo.

Well, it’s time for week two of water therapy, so I’m off.  Happy birthday to you, Chris.  I love you. 

Colossians 3:18-19 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”

Father, thank you for my wife.  It’s hard to say anything more, because it just wouldn’t be enough.  Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August 16 – “A rat story”

It seems that Josh and Christi have their very own rat story.  I will endeavor to tell it to the best of my ability, for it is way more extensive than any I have ever personally experienced.  As was the fix.  Sounded expensive.  Now, their local exterminator was pulling his hair out, because no matter what he did, about once a month Josh and Christi noticed fleas.  Highly unusual since they have no pets.  They do live in the woods, but one would think with all the measures they have taken the problem would have been long since eradicated.  Not so much.  Therefore the indomitable Christi had worked her way up the complaint chain to a regional service manager.  He came out himself to do a personal inspection that lasted well past the three hour mark.  When he came down from the attic asking for a garbage bag, Josh knew they were in trouble.  He was right.  The guy returned to the attic and came back with not one but three deceased rat offenders.  One rat had accidentally impaled itself on a nail.  One died of apparently natural causes.  Old age.  I think the other one had a heart attack when he saw the exterminator had discovered their hiding place.  They were all covered with fleas and were lying in state right near the AC vent leading into the living room.  Fleas had been enjoying a carnival ride like no other for a long, long time – free fall base jumping onto the soft carpet below with no parachute.  The exterminator regional supervisor promised to bring a team out to plug up every crease and crevice anywhere in their house – and there were apparently many.  He also warned them not to go into the attic until his team had completed their work.  He had set out dozens of traps, “and they will take your finger off,” so it was just too dangerous to go up there.  Hey, it’s not like the boys played hide and seek up in the thousand degree attic.  Not a difficult order to follow.  And it sounded … Yep.  Expensive.  But Christi didn’t flinch.  No matter what the cost … the rats must go.  But he wasn’t done yet with his report.  Seems he found a surprise under the house that they didn’t know they had.  Every time the toilet flushed, an array of water spewed onto the ground beneath the house.  And onto the subflooring.  “I’m afraid you need to call a plumber.”  Sounded expensive.

So for the next few nights before the extermination team came, they heard mysterious snapping and scraping and scuffling sounds from overhead.  When the team finally arrived a few days later, they only found two dead-in-a-trap rats.  Seems the customary rat way of doing things includes turning on each other when they get caught in a trap.  Hey, you gotta blame somebody.  The sound Josh and Christi so blissfully fell asleep to over those few nights had been the two trapped rats battling each other for the right to be the last to die.  Whoah.  Sounds really weird to me.  But then I’m not a connoisseur of rat culture.

The plumber arrived and confirmed the leak.  And the expense.  He said he could fix it all right, but it was a bit more extensive than they might have imagined.  All the pipes under the house were original – to the 19th century (well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the 20th century for sure).  They were crumbling in his hands.  The toilet was fine, but a retiling job in years past had not been completed correctly, so there was never a really good seal.  He found some mildew, but no mold (silver lining, right?).  Possible new subfloor.  Definite new interior floor.  At the very least repairing the tiling and toilet seal.  And while they are at it, why not go ahead and put in that third bathroom on the other side of the house?  Sounds expensive. 

But he was not done with his report.  “I’m afraid I have some bad news.  I think you need to call an electrician.”  Now, I’ve heard of the trades working together, but this was getting ridiculous.  But it seems that there were electrical lines running alongside the leaking pipes that had not been properly covered after being spliced together.  Not even with electrical tape.  Just wire connectors.  That was a fire waiting to happen.  Just hit the top of the priority list.  Sounded expensive. 

As far as I know the electrician hasn’t come out yet.  And I don’t think the plumber has completed his repair job (much less the new bathroom).  There have been no more rat battles in the attic, though.  At least none they have heard.  Ain’t home ownership grand?

Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Father, thank you for the discovery and potential eradication of that flea problem.  Keep them safe while all those repairs are being made.  Amen.