Friday, June 27, 2008

It's not easy being green

(But it's awesome!)

I had my belt test today. I reached the rank of Gokkyu and earned my green belt!

It wasn't easy. It ended up being a private test, and a really intense workout for over an hour. Toward the end, as I was delivering a series of roundhouse elbow strikes to "Bob" (the standing punching bag) I felt something in my left shoulder go "pop" and then my hand went all tingly and I couldn't raise my arm.

I felt like Daniel-san in The Karate Kid, and I wished for Mr. Miyagi to run into the dojo and rub his hands together and fix my shoulder. But instead I was given an opportunity to defend myself with whatever was still working. I did yet another form without using my left arm, and then I had to exact my revenge on Bob with another fifty strikes, this time using only my right arm and legs. I did some punches and kicks, and then I decided to come crashing down with a full force shuto strike with the side of my right hand onto the top of Bob...

...except the top of Bob wasn't padded. (OWWWWWWW!)

So I'm blogging while I alternate icing my left shoulder and my right hand.

And as I left the studio victorious with my new green belt and matching green t-shirt, I noticed that my new sensei underestimated my normal shirt size and gave me a smaller one. But when I got home and tried it on, it fit! My exuberance over that discovery helped mitigate the intense pain of lifting my arm to try it on.

It's not that easy being green;
Being a Gokkyu with a broken wing.
When I see my hand and shoulder turning black, or blue, or red,
Or something much more colorful like that.
It's not easy being green
It seems I can't do some very ordinary things
And people tend to pass me over 'cause I'm
Wearing the same outfit everyday
(To painful to change clothes).
But green's the color of Spring
And green meant I had balance,
And memory, and neuromuscular strength--
Like a reassuring neuro exam!
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why?
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine; it's beautiful --
And I think it's what I want to be!

(until I'm ready for brown stripe...)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Sermon

We had a great weekend with lots of family in town to celebrate my daughter's third birthday. They also stayed long enough to hear me speak in church today. For those of my family and friends who weren't able to be there, this is what you missed:

In Doctrine & Covenants section 122 the Lord responds to the prophet Joseph Smith, who is in Liberty Jail. After describing many awful possibilities, the Lord said: “…and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

When I first learned this scripture I wondered how all those terrible things could possibly “give thee experience” and “be for thy good”. Of course, at the time, I was pretty inexperienced with adversity.

Our Heavenly Father designed a great plan of happiness to bring to pass our immortality and eternal lives. And yet this plan of happiness necessarily includes opposition and adversity. When our lives take twists and turns that we don’t expect – or want – we may find ourselves longing for a more predictable and pain-free existence. Something more simple, fair, and controllable.

We must remember that in the premortal existence there was a plan presented, where everything was controlled to ensure a guaranteed outcome. But that plan, presented by Lucifer, was contrary to the will of the Father. It was rejected, and those who supported Lucifer’s plan were cast out. Our existence on this earth is evidence of our willingness to accept the Lord’s way.

The Book of Mormon records Lehi’s counsel to his son Jacob, who had experienced much affliction and sorrow. Lehi taught that in order to accomplish his purposes, the Lord’s plan required an opposition in all things. In order to bring to pass righteousness, the plan allowed for wickedness. In order for us to appreciate joy, we must also be subject to misery.

President Spencer W. Kimball explained this in more detail: “Is there not wisdom in his giving us trials that we might rise above them, responsibilities that we might achieve, work to harden our muscles, sorrows to try our souls? Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?If all the sick for whom we prayed were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls.”

After acknowledging the role of adversity in the Lord’s plan, Father Lehi also taught Jacob, “thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”

The same reassurance was given by the Lord to the persecuted saints in Missouri: “Fear not…All things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good.”

There are many scriptural examples of how this promise is fulfilled, and I’ll name only a few. The more the Israelites were afflicted by the Egyptians, the more they multiplied and grew.

When Alma’s followers were enslaved and threatened, the Lord strengthened them that they could bear up their burdens with ease and submit cheerfully to his will.

Alma the younger described his own repentance process, in which he said that there could be nothing so exquisite and bitter as was his pain and suffering over his sinful state. Yet upon receiving forgiveness he said there was nothing so exquisite and sweet as his joy. His desire from that point forward was to labor without ceasing to bring more souls unto repentance. He taught his sons to rely upon the Lord, testifying, “And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions…yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.”

The apostle Paul had what he called "a thorn in the flesh". He prayed for the Lord to take that thorn from him, but instead the Lord replied: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness". The prophet Ether received a similar response when the Lord told him, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

President Ezra Taft Benson explained: “It is not on the pinnacle of success and ease where men and women grow most. It is often down in the valley of heartache and disappointment and reverses where men and women grow into strong characters.”

Ardeth Greene Kapp said that: “This life experience is designed for our growth and progress. Our trials will not be more than we can handle, but they cannot be less if we are to fill the measure of our creation.” This quote always reminds me of the careful silversmith, who oversees the refining process to bring out all of the potential of the silver while protecting it from damage.

Orson F. Whitney said that, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility.

And Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it well by saying, “How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’” He also said that “For the faithful, there is short-term tribulation but long-term joy.”

Even the Savior, who walked in perfect obedience, needed to experience adversity in order to fulfill his mission. As Alma wrote, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; … and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” The Savior himself said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” President Hunter said that if our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.

As the Lord consecrates our afflictions for our gain, I have pondered how I might in turn consecrate my afflictions for the Lord’s purposes, like the apostle Paul, who gloried and took pleasure in infirmities for Christ's sake.

We don’t always get to choose the circumstances in our lives, but we always get to choose what we will do about them. Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who wrote about the various reactions he witnessed among concentration camp prisoners. He describes “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." The Book of Mormon also describes the contrasting ways that people responded to adversity. Alma 62:41: “But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” We choose whether to allow adversity to be destructive or constructive experiences in our lives.

Elaine Cannon said that “A person who understands that life is schooling is more likely to benefit from adversity than one who expects only happiness in life.”

President Kimball said that “Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”

Many years ago, during a difficult time in my life, I had a visiting teacher who was going through significant adversity of her own. She was a faithful visiting teacher who focused on my needs, and when she closed her visits with prayer, she always prayed that we might both “quickly learn what we need to learn” from the trials we were facing. I have always remembered and appreciated her choice to learn from adversity.

The Savior suffered all that we suffer, so that he could know how to help us. Likewise, we can choose to develop compassion and empathy for others. We can use our experiences to become instruments in the Lord’s hands, to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

We can also choose to develop gratitude, because adversity reveals things that we may otherwise take for granted. As we take notice and acknowledge the blessings in our lives, and the tender mercies that sustain us through our trials, more of them are revealed to us, and we become like the servant of Elisha, whose eyes were finally opened to see the numerous chariots of fire protecting them against the enemy.

We can also choose to submit ourselves to the Lord’s will, and reap the blessings that come from trusting in him. Howard W. Hunter said that “Peace can come to an individual only by an unconditional surrender to him who is the Prince of peace and who has the power to confer peace.”

The Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth.” He also said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And he said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”

In Proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

In closing I want to quote President Gordon B.Hinckley at a time that must have been his deepest sorrow. From the funeral program for his wife, his words are as follows:
It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is.
It all works out.
Don’t worry.
I say that to myself every morning.
It will all work out.
Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future.
The Lord will not forsake us.
He will not forsake us.
If we will put our trust in Him,
If we will pray to Him,
If we will live worthy of His blessings,
He will hear our prayers."

Someday we will be free from all of our earthly sorrows, but we will get to retain the experience that we have gained. These experiences will be for our good, making us better prepared to realize our greatest potential and our highest joy and fulfillment as children of our loving Heavenly Father. I bear testimony of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

...and THIRTY!

June 12. It's my "baby" brother Blake's birthday (says the half-brained-yet-still-literate alliterate). This cute little guy turns 27.

And not to steal his party, but June 12 is also a birthday of sorts for me.

I know -- I'm really fortysomething, age-wise. But June 12 marks 30 months since my cancer diagnosis and my new "survivor" life began. But I promise not to start whining like the famous Thirtysomething folks.

After all, I'm still alive and kicking. Literally, in fact -- just ask my karate sensei, or "Bob", the standing punching bag that recently got a series of roundhouse blows to the face.

Somebody tell Ted Kennedy. Give him some hope.

Blake is coming up again this weekend for another visit (see, I'm still magnetic!) so we'll be able to celebrate. (With cake!)

Naturally this thought makes Beatles music start playing in (what's left of) my mind:

(na na na na na na)
You say it's your birthday
(na na na na na na)
It's my birthday too, yeah
(na na na na na na)
They say it's your birthday
(na na na na na na)
We're gonna have a good time!
(na na na na na na)
I'm glad it's your birthday
(na na na na na na)
Happy birthday to you!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Unexpected side effects from the MRI

Since November 2005 I have made eighteen trips through the MRI tube to get my head examined.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging -- MRI -- is miraculous technology. Here's the half-brained description of how it works:

The scanning tube creates a strong magnetic field. The protons in the gazillions of water molecules in our body align with the magnetic field. A specially designed radio wave flips these protons around, and as they realign themselves they produce a detectable image. Different tissues of the body have protons that realign at different speeds, so it's possible to differentiate and distinguish things like fat, muscle, bone, and (lucky for me) brain tissue in the images.

(All this happens while I lie there for about an hour, pretending that I'm toothpaste in a tube sitting in a very loud laundromat with video games being played in the corner. )

Contrast agents are also used to help highlight blood vessels, tumors, and inflammation. The contrast agent commonly used nowadays is gadolinium, which has potentially serious side effects that are listed on the consent forms that I have to sign each time I go in for a scan. So far I've been lucky to avoid those side effects, and if there are any long-term effects yet to be discovered, I hope to live long enough to get to worry about them.

Surely this much interaction with magnetic fields could eventually turn me into some kind of superhero (yeah, I remember talking about that in my Vector Vision post long ago). But lately I've come to realize that there is another really cool side effect. Apparently I am able to create a strong pull on my family to bring them closer to me! Skeptical? Take a look at the evidence:

1. My dad moved from the Houston area to the Dallas area, and has recently relocated even closer -- just a few blocks away from my house.

2. My brother Mike and his family have moved here from North Carolina.

3. My grandmother relocated from Arizona to Texas. (She'll only be 89 this year, so I got her a bumper sticker that says, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!")

4. My brother Jim and his family came to visit us from Georgia last week, and spent most of their time looking at homes and schools and medical office space, as they are considering moving here to set up his dermatology practice.

5. My brother Blake and his friend also came to visit us, as they have an interest in setting up a business, possibly in our area.

This is just to name a few. I think more family may be heading our way!

And my new "magnetism" has worked on friends, too! We've had great reunions and visits with long-time friends, and one of them has even taken a job in our area and commutes here frequently.

I like it. It's more fun than waiting for people to gather around me at my viewing.

Plus, who knows -- maybe that viewing is still several decades down the road.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

No Hope?

I was at the grocery store on Saturday, and as I went through the checkout counter I noticed the first wave of tabloid stories about Senator Kennedy's brain tumor diagnosis, all with their sensational headlines. "SIX MONTHS TO LIVE!" said one. "KENNEDY DEATH WATCH" said another. One had a subtitle: "THERE'S NO HOPE!"

Good thing I never believe the tabloids.

I don't know any details about this person's medical condition, and even if I did -- I'm not a doctor who would be able to know what those details mean. But I do know this: THERE IS HOPE.

In a related story, I recall a conversation with someone who talked about "the worst thing that could happen" to anyone. That person said the worst thing was death. But it's not the worst thing that could happen to anyone. It's the only thing that does happen to everyone at some point. There's a time to be born, and a time to die.

So we're all terminal from the moment of our first breath, although none of us likes to think of it that way. But realizing that death is inevitable (and just at an unknown time to us) should not be a depressing thing. It should certainly not rob hope. After all, it's not the loss of life but the loss of hope that is one of the worst things that could happen to someone.

To quote part of a poem that I shared in a post last year:

If hope is false, then surely I guess,
There must be false hopelessness.
What would it mean to have false hopelessness?
Perhaps that indeed it was true hopefullness.
So let's turn it around, or inside out,
Because hope is something we can't live without.
-- Rebecca Libutti, from That's Unacceptable (2001)

Each day we wake up and do what we can, with an instinctive hope in the promise and opportunity of that day. If we think that our days are numbered less than we'd like, it just makes each day more precious and valuable. That's an economic fact -- they call it "supply and demand".

When we pray for a miracle, we do it with hope in the possibility of a miracle. Hope leads to faith, and faith fuels miracles. Even when adversity isn't spared, miracles in many forms surround the experience. I've seen that happen many times.

When life is not as we expected it to be (and really -- whose actually is precisely how they expected it to be?), it shouldn't rob hope. In fact, it is often in the face of disappointment and readjustment that we find new opportunities.

When mortality confronts us with some advance notice, some consider that lucky. When it confronts us suddenly, it is still viewed as lucky in other ways. When this life is over, all that we lose is this life, and that was the plan from the beginning. Even then, I am grateful to know that there is still much to hope for.