Monday, August 6, 2018

Three Years Later...and Cancer Still Sucks

Greetings friends! When I stopped blogging on a daily basis a couple of years ago, I said that I would still post from time to time if I felt I had something important to say. Today is one of those times. 
Lisa, Carl, Marilyn, Michelle, Will & Michelle's brother Alex.
The fam at opening night of Infinity War.

Many of you may recall that in August of 2015 my dear friend Lisa Jewett was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. In the months that followed Lisa had two rounds of chemo with a major surgery sandwiched in between. She had to take a year off from teaching. She lived with us for 4 months while she recovered. Many of you prayed for her and contributed to a GoFundMe account by voting to save my mustache. She continued dealing with side effects from chemo, had her gallbladder removed and slowly recovered. The treatments worked and cancer mostly disappeared from her body. Then it came back with a vengeance almost a year later. Prospects looked bleak until her wonderful oncologist got her into an experimental drug trial. For the past 21 months, the drugs worked wonderfully, despite their somewhat horrible side effects. But Lisa never quit fighting, never quit living her life, and remained full of life and vigor. She went hiking in Utah and NC, took a Disney Cruise with my wife Marilyn in June and continued to spend lots of time with her 5 grandchildren. Her strength has astonished medical professionals who work with cancer patients for a living. 

I know these things because in the past 3 years I have been to all of her monthly oncologist's appointments with her- I think I have missed 2. We talk almost every day. Lisa joins our family for meals on a regular basis. I get to have lunch with her son Scott on occasions as well. She, Marilyn and sometimes Will & Michelle visit Disney together quite often- and she is is currently plotting some way to play the steel drums at their wedding next March. We have attended countless movies and plays together, and in November the 5 of us are going to NYC. The point is, I KNOW these things because Lisa is a huge part of our family and I have walked with her every step of the way. And just when we had settled into the treatment and the side effects and her life was feeling somewhat normal again, we got hit with a bomb this past Wednesday. The cancer is back. And it will mean big changes- again.

Lisa posted the following on her Facebook page so I will let her words give you the details she wants us to know. 

Dear prayer warriors- First of all, I am sorry for the long post. An update with what is going on. First of all I want to say I trust in the Lord and have faith that He will continue to bring me through this trial. So much so that I signed up today to do my very first 5K. I registered for the Disney Princess 5K and anyone who would love to run (walk) with me please do! Ok, so now on to the news I received yesterday. My cancer cell count is back up to 800 and there are new tumors that have grown. So that means the trial I was on is no longer working for me. They officially took me off the trial yesterday. But the good news is there are new trials and therapies being discovered all the time. They have screened me for an immunotherapy trial that I should start in 28 days. Here are the specific prayers I need lifted up.
1. I get in trial
2. I can handle the side effects that come with it.
3. It works!
4. In two years when the trial will be over for me, God has another awesome plan waiting.
My heart and soul tells me God has this and always has and I will continue to be a fighter and trust in Him! My hope is in Him. But right now just finding all this out, I will admit is a little scary. Than
k you all for praying for me. I know prayers work! The fact that I am still alive proves that

I believe in Lisa. I believe that Dr. Shahzad and his team have never led us astray and that trusting them has led to great things thus far. And I KNOW that Lisa is one of the toughest, most courageous people I have ever met. As her friend Jen Robison likes to remind her, no matter the odds, Lisa can always "be the one" who will beat them. This is her third round of the battle with cancer, and I will not bet against her! Her Jones family will be there to support her in her fight. As I have told her since day one, "Always and forever- no matter what!"  I invite all of you to come be a part of Team Lisa. I promise she will inspire you to great things.

And as for cancer? #CANCERSUCKS

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Remembering Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins passed away 20 years ago today. In a world where far too many Christians have aligned themselves with the Pharisees, we need to hear his voice and his music more than ever. The world  needs Ragamuffins. Here's what I want you to remember about him...

In August of 1990, I got to spend a week with singer-songwriter Rich Mullins in NC. We were together at a Quaker youth conference, where strangely enough Rich was the speaker and I led music and worship. That week changed my life (you can read more by clicking here). The last night of the week Rich performed in front of the entire conference, both youth and adults.  We all assumed he would play songs off his newest project, or perhaps his biggest hit, Awesome God.  Instead, he sat at the piano and performed Sing Your Praise To the Lord, a song he had written but that Amy Grant had recorded, and Elijah, a song from one of  his first albums.  As always, Rich sang not to sell tapes, but to praise God.  The next morning, as we said farewell, we prayed together one last time, and then he said he had something for me.  I had told him about our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting and how we gave away door prizes, with the best prizes often being tapes or CDs.  He gave me a box of his CDs and tapes, and another box of T-shirts to use as giveaways. This was part of the way he made a living- and he just gave it away.  Another lesson learned in my life.

His influence would be felt in so many ways in my ministry in the days and years that would follow.  My students who had been at North Carolina Yearly Meeting came back fired up and ready to follow Jesus!  From that day forward I taught the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes at least once a year, and tried to find ways to get the youth really into learning them.  He inspired me to start taking groups of students to work in our local soup kitchen on a regular basis, and later would inspire mission trips.  Soon everyone at Springfield was listening to Rich's music and wearing one of his T-shirts.  The two shirts carried serious messages. One said "Live like you'll die tomorrow.  Die knowing you'll live forever!"  The other simply said "Alrightokuhhuhamen," the title of one of his songs (Another thing Rich taught me- AMEN means YES- not "the end.").  The song was all about saying YES to God.  I made banners to put up in youth room at Springfield and in "The Attic" in Kissimmee with just Alrightokuhhuhamen printed on them.  By Kissimmee, we were singing Awesome God and Sometimes By Step on a regular basis.  His impact on my ministry was tremendous.

So was his influence on my life.  Along with Mike Yaconelli, Rich was one of the two guys I was ever around who just oozed Jesus.  Listen to this quote from one of his final concerts: 

"Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."  

He moved out of the music scene in Nashville in 1991 to Wichita, Kansas, where he attended Friends University and received a B.A. in music education.  He and fellow Ragamuffin Mitch McVicker (the Ragamuffins were the band he had formed in 1993) moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1995 to live among the Native Americans and teach music.  For Rich, "What Would Jesus Do?" was not a bracelet- it was the driving question of his life.  And because I knew that, his music was a moving force and a comfort in my own spiritual journey.  At times when I struggled with my faith his song Creed reminded me "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am."  At the lowest points of my life, when I had let down everyone who loved me and everyone who believed in me, his words reminded me that "There's bound to come some trouble to your life, just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight..." As I lost so many of the things that had been important to me, I found myself praying his words daily:  "Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf.  You have been King of my glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace?"  So many of his words showed me the light of Jesus in my darkest times.  No matter how bad it seemed, I knew I was still in"the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..."  Even his final project, The Jesus Record (see picture at top), promised me that "our Deliverer is coming..."

Rich was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997.  I cried, but Rich himself had already written about going to be with Jesus in his early classic Elijah"When I leave I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.  And when I look back on the stars, it'll be like a candlelight in Central Park- and it won't break my heart to say goodbye..."  He left such a legacy in my life.  I am a Ragamuffin, a bum who is only important because of the love of Jesus.  And now, more than ever, I understand that my life belongs to God.  He still has a plan for me, and I will say YES when the time comes.  As the song says "You can argue with your maker but you know that you just can't say it... Alrightokuhhuhamen!"  

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I Am Santa Claus

The following post has become a Christmas season tradition on this blog because it is so full of great memories for me. I hope it brings back a few for many of you as well. Only 1 more sleep 'til Christmas...

Way back in 2010 I put together a little slideshow featuring pictures of kids from the various youth ministries I served over the years and jolly old Saint Nick. Most of these pictures were taken at youth group Christmas parties. Some of the "youth" in these old photos are over 40 now. Many of them have children of there own. Others are still in college. The point is, I can look back at these pictures and remember all of the love and Christmas cheer we would all share this time of year and it is very special to me. For you see in every single picture in this slideshow, I am Santa. It's me under the beard. I always loved doing the Santa thing, and looking back at these memories is great fun.

I chose the song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday from one of my favorite old school bands, All Star United. This song is full of energy and joy, but it also carries an important message. How much better would this world be if we were the people all year long that we try to be at Christmas? Enjoy the slideshow. And if you happen to be in it, thank you for some unbelievable memories. I would love to hear from you all. Have a very, merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Christmas Pickle

Today is the birthday of one of my heroes, my dear friend Lisa Jewett. In honor of her special day and this special time of year, today's post is an ornament story that concerns a special (although a little strange!) gift she gave my family back in 2005. Here is the legend of The Christmas Pickle!

According to Lisa, the idea of putting pickles on Christmas trees goes back to Germany during one of the World Wars. Soldiers marching through the German countryside would often enter house looking for food and take all that a family might have. One Christmas Eve a family, trying to save some food for themselves, hid some pickles in their tree, where they went unnoticed by the scavengers. As a side note, we do not know if these were individual pickles or the entire jar. In any case, the family had a pickle feast! Over the years that followed it became tradition to hide one pickle in the tree on Christmas Eve as a reminder of that night. The child who could find the pickle on Christmas morning would receive an extra gift and much good luck for the coming year. The Christmas Pickle became a symbol of blessing and prosperity. So when Lisa presented us with our very own pickle ornament, we hung it on our tree. Even though it seemed quite odd. It's there every year, and she has already been over to look for it in 2016- even thought it's not Christmas Eve yet. Will hid it from her but she found it anyway- although this year he made it tough on her! And the tradition continues...

Lisa is a part of our family. We all love her very much and love that we get to spend so much time with her. Tonight our extended family will be celebrating at Kobe's, where despite the fact that she will be the guest on honor my son Will is not going to let her play the big drum! Lisa is one of the best friends anyone could ask for, and she means the world to me. She continues to need to our prayers and out hugs in her ongoing battle; cancer won't quit, but neither will she!!! That odd pickle hanging on our tree is a reminder that we have indeed been blessed by her friendship and her love. Happy Birthday, Lisa! And may Santa bring you a case of pickles this year!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NYC 2016

In November of 1976 (my senior year in high school)I went with a group of friends to a seminar at the United Nations sponsored by Friends United Meeting, a national organization of Quakers. That was my first trip to New York City. Over the years that followed there would be 15 more trips (We think this made 11 for Marilyn) to the Big Apple. I took small youth groups and large ones. I went by myself to plan trips on 3 occasions. I went with a group of friends once, and with my parents and Marilyn once. But the last youth group trip was in March of 2005, and I had not visited since- and had never been able to take our now 21 year old son, Will. Last week (Nov. 10-14) we fixed those two problems with one glorious trip. It was a triumphant return! The city keeps evolving- the old Milford Plaza is now called Row NYC and looks like a boarding home for hipsters (even the spiral staircase and chandeliers are gone!)- but it is still so familiar. It was an interesting time to be there, with thousands protesting our new President-Elect and disrupting traffic, clogging 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower and filling Times Square and Central Park at times. It is sign of how universally disliked Mr. Trump is in the city he calls home that the cabbies were complaining about him- not the traffic problems. New York is a city like no other.

My years of planning trips and my knowledge of the city allowed for us to do some incredible things, as did having set aside a LOT of money (shout out to my Mom in heaven!) to spend! After flying to Newark, we surprised Will and his girlfriend Michelle with a limo ride (see picture at top) in to the city and our room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located at 47th and Broadway- the heart of midtown Manhattan. Our 29th floor room, complete with a view of Times Square, set a great tone for a fabulous few days together. We began our adventure with lunch at Planet Hollywood and an exploration of Times Square.

Thursday evening featured dinner reservations at Carmine's, a classic family-style Italian eatery so authentic you expect to run into Don Corelone most any moment! The restaurant was long a favorite with the groups I traveled with over the years. A long, leisurely meal was followed by front row seats to see The Lion King, one of two shows chosen by Will and Michelle. It felt like Ed the Hyena was laughing at us- personally! And yes- that's us with the actors who played Mufasa and Sarabi. So cool!

On Friday we did a Movie/TV On Locations Tour, visiting famous spots around the city. We saw the apartment building used for outside shots on Friends, the Ghostbusters firehouse and a variety of other great sights. Our guide was an actor and stuntman who really knew his stuff.  The tour ended at McGee's Pub, the real life version of McClaren's Bar from one of our favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother. We had a great meal there, with Will proclaiming the McClaren's Steakburger one of his all-time favorite hamburgers.

That night we had VIP passes to the Empire State Building, which allowed to skip as 2 hour wait and head straight up to the observatory levels (TOTALLY worth the extra bucks!). As many times as I have been up there, the view never ceases to amaze me.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at Ellen's Stardust Dinner, where Broadway bound servers serenade you with show tunes while you eat- and they were awesome! Four of them even did an amazing version of One Day More from Les Miz- it was like they knew I was there! We then took the new and improved NBC Studios Tour, which was great fun and included Will and Michelle being filmed as part of a make-believe talk show. After boarding a doubledecker tour bus and seeing Central Park, Harlem and the Upper West and East Sides while nearly freezing to death, we grabbed some pizza before heading to our second show of the weekend.

Show #2 was Aladdin, which none of us had seen before. The music was wonderful, and once again being on the front row made us feel very much a part of Agrabah. James Monroe Iglehart, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Genie, was simply a tour-de-force. The rest of the cast was stellar as well, and the changes to the story from the animated movie worked very well. There was even an actual flying carpet. And just as a bonus, Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the villainous Jafar in the animated version, played Jafar on stage! It was an incredible night for all of us.

Sunday was filled with more sightseeing, shopping and adventure, including seeing Battery Park and the Freedom Tower. The day ended with a fabulous meal at Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station, followed by one final visit to Times Square. It was a perfect ending to a nearly perfect trip.

We flew back to Tampa on Monday, tired but ready to do it all again as soon as we can! It was truly a blessing to get to share one of favorite places with Will and Michelle, and to share it again with Marilyn. And it also reminded me of the hundreds of others that have shared that adventure with me over these past 40 years. What do you think, old friends? Reunion trip? I'll buy dessert...

Have a blessed day!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Meet the Deplorables

You may already know that imagining Donald Trump as our President scares me. He has zero experience in government or in leadership outside the dictatorships that are his businesses. He is morally bankrupt, as shown through his business practices, his attitude towards women and his total disdain of anyone who is not white. He is not a true Republican, has never been anti-abortion (and is certainly not pro-life- he a self-confirmed lover of war) until it became convenient, and could not be a worse example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus (Think I'm being too harsh or judgmental? Go to Matthew 5, read The Beatitudes and tell me when you get to one that describes Donald Trump. Just one. I'll wait. And while you're at it, find a Fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control- that he exhibits. Again, just one. Still waiting...). In the big picture he has failed at everything- marriages, his University, businesses gone bankrupt, treating other humans with respect- he has ever done, if you don't include looking out for himself. But most of us, myself at the top of the list, make mistakes and have personal failures. My fear of a Trump presidency goes beyond his own failings. You see, as much as The Donald scares me, over the past few weeks I have been reminded that some (although certainly not all) of those who are supporting him actually scare me more. Witness the following accounts. 

* My wife works in downtown Tampa, and a few weeks ago there was an afternoon rally for HRC  in a nearby park. One of the women she works with attended. This lady is a well respected attorney and one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. She is also of Asian heritage, although she was born and has lived her entire life in the the USA. As she left the rally, she was approached by an elderly Caucasian couple wearing Trump buttons and carrying protest signs- as is their right. As she passed them, they begin to call her names, using the ethnic slur "Chink" and questioning if she was here legally. Their language became foul as they screamed at her, and by the time our friend returned to the office she was in tears. Deplorable is too kind a word for such people.

* I sat in the food court of an Orlando mall eating lunch and people watching. A father and son walked by my table. The father- approximately 35 years old- was wearing a Trump hat and button. On the front of his blue t-shirt was a picture of a rifle. The back of the shirt read, "George Zimmerman is a Hero!" His son- around 10 years old- wore a red t-shirt with a target logo on the front pocket area and the following inscription on the back- "Shoot first, ask questions later!" I knew these people existed. My fear is that a Trump presidency will bring them out of the shadows and empower them. And that is horrifying.

* I sat alone in the local Dairy Queen eating lunch as four men talked at a table close to me. They were white men in their 30s or 40s, clearly on lunch break from a job that required them to work outdoors in the hot Florida sun. At first they talked about sports and especially the Buccaneers early season woes. I tuned in, always curious to hear the opinions of others. From football they moved into a discussion of the Black Lives Matter protests currently being raised during the national anthem at various sporting events. They were offended by the protests, as is their right. In fact, they were very angry about it. The conversation then turned to politics and how much they hate...and I mean HATE!- Hillary Clinton. They were confident that Trump will win, because who in their right mind would "vote for that lying bitch." President Trump will turn things around, they declared. And then they revisited the Black Lives Matter issue. "When Trump is elected," the best dressed of the group declared, "he'll send snipers to ballgames and shoot those f***ing ni**er bastards. Let's see 'em protest then." There are so many parts of that statement that offend me I don't know where to start.

Donald Trump did not say or do any of those things. But as we keep seeing over and over, the things he says INSPIRE his supporters to say and do those things. He seems to want them to say those things, and creates an atmosphere where such things are perfectly acceptable. And that is why this election scares me so badly. If he wins- and that could happen- that mentality wins along with him. And everyone who does not think like Trump and his Klan (yes- intentional!) will be caught in the cross-hairs. 

Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He was fired from his job hosting a reality TV show, for Pete's sake! I wouldn't vote for him to be dog catcher. And for those of you who support him, please give me a rational argument that doesn't begin with, "But Hillary..."  You say HRC is liar and a crook, yet Trump is caught in a lie nearly everyday and has actual court cases awaiting him. Hillary has none, and she has been investigated for the past 25 years. She's a long way from perfect, but she is qualified, experienced and ready to serve. DT is none of the above. Recognizing that Hillary has issues and that Trump is a madman are not mutually exclusive positions. It's just that one is far more significant than the other! While on our Hawaiian vacation 2 months or so ago I overheard our election being discussed by two men, one a Brit and the other an Aussie. They were both very confused as to how someone like Trump could be a finalist for the most important job in the world. The Australian gentleman asked, "You don't really think he could be elected, do you?" The Brit pondered the question a moment and replied without much certainty, "No. Not even the bloody Yanks are that stupid." I pray that my British friend is right. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

God Bless Our Teachers

Today, teachers in Hillsborough County (Tampa, FL) go back to work.  They have been preparing their classrooms, preparing lesson plans, receiving training and getting ready for a new school year. Today, the students arrive!  In a few parts of the country this has already occurred; in other regions it is yet to come. In any case, these dedicated men and women prepare to face a new group of students under increasingly difficult situations.  Many are not paid as well as they should be. Some face budget crunches that force them to purchase many of their own supplies. They will encounter difficult students, difficult parents, difficult school boards...and local politicians who simply don't get it. The simple fact that so many of them return to their schools today to fight these battles should earn them our unending respect and admiration.

It should also earn them our prayers. Wherever you are, whether school has already begun or doesn't start for a few weeks yet, make today a day of prayer for the teachers you know.  Ask God to bless them, protect them, encourage them and inspire them. And then ask the teachers in your life what you can do to help them this year. We count on teachers to make a difference in the lives of our children. Let's use today as a springboard to make a difference in the lives of those teachers. To those of you who continue in this most noble profession- and I am blessed to call many of you, from all over this nation, my friends- may God grant you wisdom, energy, insight and serenity as you go through this school year. You are loved!

Because of Jesus,