Thursday, May 27, 2010

lessons from the lawn mower

For the last four years, I've been working at Lawn Brothers mowing grass and doing landscaping. I enjoy working outside, so it's been really good for me. With all the time spent riding on a mower, I've learned alot of things about myself because I have so much time to think. This summer, I have learned a lesson that I thought I would share.

I have never really been obsessive-compulsive about much, but over the last few years I have found out that there is one thing that causes me to have OCD: straight lines while mowing yards. I don't know where it came from, but one day, it just started bugging me when a line looked a little bit crooked, and I would do anything I could to fix it. I guess it's not a big deal, but it does make me mow a little slower some days when I'm trying to get things just right. However, there is one yard that has given me fits for the last three years. No matter what I tried, I couldn't seem to get the lines straight.

Imagine a large grove of trees. On one end is an open space where you start mowing. Here, it's easy to make straight lines. That lasts for about twenty or thirty yards, and then you hit this grove of trees. There are probably about twenty or so rows of trees that someone planted in "straight" lines. Actually, they aren't straight, but kind of crooked and at different angles. Once you get through about 2/3 of the trees, you come to another open spot that lasts about 15 yards before once again going into the rows of trees.

Like I said, making straight lines is easy at first, because you're in the open. But once you hit the trees, it gets much harder. There are so many trees to circle around it makes you feel like your on the tea cups ride at Disney World. As a matter of fact, when my friend Rob did it for the first time, after he finished he said he almost got sick from going around all these trees. My lines start out straight, and I would then try to make them look straight while in the trees. The test of how well you do comes when you hit that second open area. Every time I would get to it, I would think I'd done a fine job making straight lines, but my lines would always be crooked like a banana when I got there. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why.

This year, I tried a new approach. I would mow the trees like I mowed and open field. Two rules to making straight lines: 1) keep your front wheel the same distance from the line you just cut. Consistency is the key here. Keep it the same every time and your lines will be straight. 2) Keep your speed just right. To fast and you'll miss stuff, but if too slow, the bumps will throw you off a little bit.

So, I followed those two rules, and lo and behold, when I got to the open area my lines were straight as an arrow. What was the real difference this time? I finally quit focusing on the trees. I had been so busy trying to make my lines straight in comparison to the trees (which aren't in straight lines to begin with) that I forgot the two simple rules to making perfect lines.

This got me thinking about all of the trials that Jenny and I have been facing. All of these trees have been getting in the way (cancer, chemo treatments, school, our dog dying), and I had been wondering if we had been handling everything the right way. Some days we feel so lost among the trees as the branches reach out to slap our faces. It's been hard to not focus on the trees. But somewhere in all of the mess, after years and years of trying to get it right, I've finally learned two simple things to remember when trying to keep a straight line amongst the trees. 1) God loves me, and I love God. No matter how many times I get slapped I must always remember that. 2) God wants what is best for me. I may not get why something is happening, or when it will end, I must remember that God is in control and wants only the best for me, even if it hurts a little bit.

As I stated earlier, I've wondered how we've handled all of this opposition lately. Have we been faithful? Have we focused enough on God? Can we do this? How do we stay positive when it just gets so overwhelming? We are far from then end of the trees, but we have just come to an open expanse in our battle against cancer. Perhaps its a short breather, or maybe just a chance to look at our lines and see if they're straight. Either way, we praise God for the news that we got last week. Jenny's latest PET scan shows no active cancer cells. This means we only have three more visits to the chemo doctor before we start a month of radiation. For those of you with us from the beginning, you know we set a goal to be cancer free by Jenny's birthday on August 15th. We're right on track. Looks like that line is pretty straight to me.

Don't focus on the trees. You can't go straight that way. There are only two things to remember....1) God loves you, and I pray, that you love Him. 2) God wants what's best for you, no matter what things look like, He ALWAYS wants what's best for His children.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Chemo days offer us a strange dichotomy of emotions. There is the dread of chemo and excitement of being one step closer to done. Today was no different, except that this could be our last treatment, or so we thought. When we started this journey, we were told we would have to endure 4-6 rounds of chemo. So today, number four, could have potentially been our last one. However, in a disappointing turn of events, we found out that a "round" of chemo is two treatments. So, we are only half way there if it's four rounds, and a third of the way there if it is six rounds.

I cannot begin to tell you how disappointing and devastating it is to think you're all finished with something that has been so difficult, only to find that you might not even be at the halfway mark. Just halfway there, and the nurses tell you it's going to get nothing but worse from here on out. What do you do with that? What should your reaction be? Our first reaction is disbelief, followed by a little bit of anger mixed with tears. After that, all that's left is just this impending dread of the uphill battle you thought you were done with. As a man, nothing breaks your heart more than not being able to stop the tears cascading down your wife's face.

I am hard pressed most times to come up with the careful lessons and thoughtful words that Jenny is able to pluck from the Bible so well from week to week. It's even harder when you are trying to do so in the midst of disappointment. And it's not just disappointment, but this feeling of "We're trying really hard here to be, um, what's up God?". It's not a lack of faith, but it's a human response to a difficult situation. I am just a man after all. And that got me thinking....

How disappointed was Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous? Your own family, hating you enough to want to kill you, but selling you instead. In slavery he's lifted to an elevated position in Potiphar's house, only to be accused by his wife of trying to sleep with her. Sent back to prison, he must have been sorely disappointed again. And what became of all of these trials and disappointments? Joseph eventually was in charge of all of Egypt, second only to the Pharoah, and became the rescuer of the sons of Israel.

What did Job feel as he was stripped of everything? He was a prominent man who had it all: large family, wealth, respect in his community. All of it was taken from him. Tragically, he lost it ALL. Can you imagine his confusion, his sense of loss, his disappointment in how his life was turning out? He lost everything but his faith, and because of that, he was restored with twice as much as before, and became a testament to the faithfulness of the Lord.

In the New Testament, what did Joseph feel when he first found out that Mary was pregnant? I know he had to be confused, perplexed, angered, and definitely disappointed. And yet months later, after all of the disappointment he experienced, there he was, holding the very son of God in his arms. Disappointment turned into salvation.

Each of these are human examples of disappointment. But in each case, God was faithful and the disappointment each of these men faced was turned to joy. So here we sit, hearts full of hurt and disappointment. While our human hearts may overtake our emotions for a short time, we desperately cling to our faith, holding onto the promise of a mighty God, and await the transformation of disappointment into joy, laughter and celebration.

"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus". Philippians 3:13-15

Praise God for His overwhelming sense of peace that definitely passes all understanding. Thank you for your continued letters, emails, and prayers. We covet each and every prayer you may lift up on our behalf, and we love you all. --john

Monday, May 3, 2010

How I Made It Through Cancer

so there's these two really cool people in my life. one of them i've known for almost three decades and the other one i've known for a few years. their names are sam and kristie. sam and kristie are married. sam and kristie are the type of people who make you more yourself when you're around them. they're the best. they're fun, they're so easy to talk to, they're intelligent, they're the perfect blend of free-spirited-ness and responsibility. they are hilarious, deep, thoughtful and most importantly, they love the Lord. when sam and kristie say something, i listen. so you can see how seriously i took it when they told me about this tv series that i really needed to check out. how i met your mother. they brought me season 1 on saturday night. it is now monday night and i am through season 1. this shows you how smart sam and kristie are. this also shows you that i think i have an addictive personality. (no i'm not addicted to sam and kristie. at least i don't think... hmm...)

for those of you who have never seen the show, how i met your mother begins in the future. it is a show where a dad is telling his two teenage children the story of how he met their mother. episode after episode you are watching him live life years earlier. you see him in his friendships, you see him in his relationships, you see his experiences. in the first few episodes i felt myself almost giddy with excitement waiting for him to meet her. i watched and i waited. another episode... i watched and i waited... a few episodes in and he still had not met her. i turned the tv off and i went to bed. i laid there thinking about the show. then i started thinking about how his story of how he met her began long, long before he actually met her. his experiences, the people in his life (however long they were in the picture) - all of that helped make him him. and all of it led him to her. i started thinking about having cancer. one day i hope i'm able to have children so that i can tell them the story of how i made it through cancer. my story would begin a long, long time before now. i would tell about how my mom used to tuck me in every night and just before she'd close the door she'd always wave at me. i'd tell about how my dad would let me sit on his lap and he would scratch my back. i'd tell about how my brother made me pay him to let me ride to school with him in his car before i had my license. (he's going to punch me in the arm for that one) i'd tell about when my parents bought a piece of land in brown county that has turned into such a meaningful place, a place of retreat for our family and for our friends. i'd tell about how i decided to go to indiana university. i'd tell about the first time i met liz. i'd tell about getting to live with sarah. i'd tell about paul steiner. i'd tell about some pretty amazing women, janel, emily and michelle and a little house at 820 east 8th street. i'd tell about the woman that my brother married who is the sister that i wanted my whole life. i'd tell about my friendship with amanda. and just when i had their full attention, i would tell them a story about loving someone so much that you could be halfway around the world from them and know that there was no one else that you'd rather go through life with. the cool thing is that all the things that i've experienced up until now has prepared me for this. and the even cooler thing is that this is preparing me for what is coming. THAT is our God. He knows no accident and He wastes nothing. romans 8:28 has always been my favorite verse. "and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him..." all things. that means the bad day you had. the disappointment you felt. the time you got a phone call that brought you to your knees. or that thing that you want so so bad and that you wait for every day but every day it doesn't come. it also means that moment when you thought life couldn't get any better. or that day you finally got to walk across the stage and get that diploma or the day you got offered a higher position at work. all things He works together for your good. with our eyes on Him, nothing is wasted, not a single experience or moment.

thursday is treatment #4. please pray that if it is God's will that i will be able to have the treatment. i have been having some numbness and tingling in my feet which is something that can delay treatment. but please pray that above all His will would be done - including the timing and length of treatments. i wouldn't have it any other way than His.

after treatment #4 i will have a PET scan. this will show how the cancer has reacted to my treatments thus far and will tell us how many (if any) more treatments i will need. once chemo is completed we begin radiation. right now there are a lot of unknowns - when will i be done with chemo, how long will i have to do radiation, and on and on. good thing we don't have to worry about a thing because God knows it all and He is in complete control.

"...all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be..."~Ps139:16.

thank you all for your prayers, your emails, your notes and cards of encouragement. all of them and all of you are a part of my story.