Sunday, September 30, 2012

Update: Back to normal for a few days ...

Yeah, I know the question you want to ask ... Define "normal?"

Normal for a Sunday is leaving the house around 7 AM, and head to the Sonic in Grapevine for breakfast, arriving at the downtown campus in time for our worship run-through meeting at 8 AM. Then do my part, as I am scheduled, in the morning services.

It all went good this morning, but I have to admit that I was tired when I got home after lunch. Greeting everyone who wanted to talk, visit, offer prayer or other types of support before and after services both charged me up, but tired me out.

You see, I am supposed to be the care giver ... the one asking "how are you doing?" That's my job here at FUMC-Grapevine, and it's the thing as a pastor that I do far better than most and not as good as some. As I was being cared for, I saw others I wanted to care for. The tension between the two can wear you out.

One thing I do know, and am very proud of, us that we have one of, if not the best pastoral staffs anywhere around when it comes to the quality of care received. For pastors and other care-guvers, receiving care from others can be difficult. Talking to everyone tired me out, but all the hugs and promises to pray, and the offer of rides (I am not supposed to drive for 1-2 weeks) were uplifting ... And I am encouraged again that Liz and I are loved and appreciated by many here, a validation that makes us feel good. That validation, in and of itself, is a great blessing since all I've ever asked is to at least be tolerated.

After a short rest at home, I was back at the downtown campus at 5 PM to unpack bags I took to Philmont with files, resources and music. Then our Administrative Board meeting at 6 PM, which I enjoyed because attending offered my the opportunity to catch up quickly after 3 weeks away.

Staff meetings and worship planning tomorrow and Tuesday, with meetings Monday and Tuesday night, including one meeting with a couple who hope my radiologist lets me delay the radioactive iodine treatment a few days so I can officiate their wedding, which has been on my schedule for months. I know it's going to work out. Also, more lunch invitations, always a good thing, than I can accept this week.

For the record, I am eating a lot less food than I used to.

I did decide to cancel my regular nursing home gigs (3 a month) for October, as I don't want to have to cancel at the last minute due to the fatigue I am told I will experience during the time between having your thyroid removed and beginning hormone therapy, which cannot begin until after the radioactive iodine treatments are finished. I plan to hit the gym again after I am released by my surgeon, hoping to combat some of that with doing some cardio and some core training.

One more thing, I've been told to get ready for a possible weight loss!

Uh, hello? I've already lost over 60+ pounds already .... if I lose more weight, people are going to really start worrying. But the idea of getting down to my high school pant size (36"x36") does intrigue me. Last night, Liz bought me a pair of 38"x36" casual style pants from the tall men's store. And they fit!

My personal prayer, is that all is back to normal, skinnier or not, fatigued or not, before Thanksgiving. It may be a while yet before I can provide pastoral care to the level if my own personal and professional expectations, but that will come soon enough with time.

What I do know going into surgery #2, is that I am cared about and cared for. i know that am in good hands!

God's grace still amazes me ... ><>

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Update: Home, getting ready for part 2 ...

We arrived home yesterday. There is something to be said about sleeping in your own bed for the first time in over 2 weeks, and taking a shower in the bathroom designed for someone my height.

One neat thing about this trip was our seeing several rainbows. Don't know about you, but rainbows for me are very spiritual, and always a sign of hope and the active presence of God. The picture below was the closest we have ever been to a complete rainbow, meaning we saw both ends and the complete bow between. It was brilliant, far more so than this picture can show. We were on the road leading out of Taos back to Angel Fire.

We saw another rainbow on Interstate 40 on Thursday afternoon, as we drove through a big thunderstorm with rain, very high wind, and a ton of small, slushy hail. I swear that the end of the rainbow came down into the hood of our car. I could have touched it, if such a thing is even possible. Just a very awesome God moment.

As I reflect some this morning, I feel like I accomplished some sort of a mission in a sense ... Reconnecting with the felling and rhythm of nature, listening to God's many voices (including rainbows), spending a wonderful amount of time with Liz, thinking about a lot of things (mostly distractions, deciding that most are not worth thinking about, as they don't match up with my personal mission. At 55 years old, I've learned how to gracefully say "No." Something Ken Diehm taught me to do. I will forever be grateful to him for that.

As I reflect, I can honestly say, that I have not thought much about cancer in the past two weeks. I am ready for surgery #2 next week, and wish it was sooner than later, although I am worried about being out for yet another week or so. I will be in worship and Administrative Board tomorrow, and have office hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I really appreciate the time I'm being given to get this all over with. Such is not the case for many others.

So, phase #2 begins next week, followed by a low-iodine diet, followed by radioactive iodine treatment(s) and the isolation time they require. That hasn't all been quite explained to me yet.

More to come ...

God's grace still amazes me ... ><>

Monday, September 24, 2012

Update: Understanding the need to reconnect

I've posted recently about coming to the mountains and desert of New Mexico for some healing time after my diagnosis of thyroid cancer following surgery to remove a tumor in my neck. Healing has occurred here as a result in mind, heart, body and spirit.

Something else has happened as well. I find that I have reconnected with the feeling and rhythm of what some call "nature," or "Mother Earth," or God's creation. Apparently there had been a disconnect that I wasn't aware of.

Keeping in connection with a natural rhythm in the greater DGW area has always been hard for me. There is such a fast pace of life, a constant hustle and bustle of going here and going there. What is most disconcerting for me is the constant "white noise" that drowns out the important still small voices from within. It numbs me in such a way that I sometimes miss those wonderfully tender "ah ha" moments that God quietly provides for us many times each day.

Now I know and can appreciate that some people are actually energized by such constant movement and noise. I enjoy being able to keep up, and the knowing that I can keep up; however, the process drains me in time. And in the end, I feel disconnected.

I suspect a disconnect comes as well from having had surgery and having to deal with and illness and subsequent treatments. I will remember that when providing pastoral care to others in the future.

So, this trip out to the mountains of New Mexico has been good for me, because I've reconnected again, in a way, with the feeling and natural rhythm of God's creation, of nature.

I think for many in our history, being connected with the feelings and rhythm of nature, of God's creation, was the dominant force of life and strength for us. I think many people, at some level, feel a loss of such a connection. There are few things, in my humble opinion, that awaken a variety of natural feelings of intimacy with God as being immersed for a time in nature.

I've reconnected better by:

-daily watching sunrises and sunsets
-watching wildlife
-walking a lot, over 100,000 steps during the 8 days I was at Philmont
-standing or sitting quietly and listening to wind blowing through trees, across mountains, and through meadows
-I've watched clouds form and float through the sky
-I got out in the rain, and walked and listened to it
-I've played guitar and sang, and began a new adventure of adding an Indian flute to my instrument list
-I've written and shared with others a bit more than normal
-I've watched the geography of the area as we have driven through it, marveling at what lies ahead and around the next bend in the road
-I've taken a bunch of pictures and videos
-I've prayed a lot ... or had some interesting conversations with God - this time I think God has been doing most of the talking
-but most important, I've allowed myself to listen to the feeling and rhythm of God's heartbeat ... and again appreciate the natural order of His creation, and again reconnected to it. And I've experienced, as a result, a tenderness to God's voice and touch that I'd forgotten .... a disconnect.

There is a strength that comes from such a reconnection. There is a hope that comes as well. And, there is peace knowing that your next journey is one you can't avoid ... a journey that has to be taken.

As a result, we will head home soon, for our return to family and work, for surgery #2 and the treatments that follow. I'm ready for it, and for what lies ahead, especially in new and exciting ministry opportunities.

Healing, in part, is about reconnecting with God's rhythm. Now it's time to head back home to share it with others.

God's grace still amazes me ... ><>

Friday, September 21, 2012

Update: A world of good

Today is the final full day at Philmont. This week has done me a world of good ... Mind, body, heart and soul. As of this morning, I have walked 81,000 steps, according to my official UMC Pastor's step-counter, since my arrival here last Saturday, with no I'll effect. Not bad for less than 3 weeks out from surgery #1. I have over 8,000 steps so far today. Perhaps 100,000 steps by the end of tomorrow?? It's going to be close.

Yep, this experience has done me a world of good, caring for all the faculty and conference attendees and Philmont staff ... Being outside, walking a lot, leading chapel services, playing guitar and singing, eating right and drinking mostly water. No soreness, no aches or pains. And I haven't thought or worried about upcoming surgery #2 and iodine treatments to follow, or having thyroid cancer in particular.

A world of good indeed!

I'm going to be ok!

God's grace still amazes me ... ><>

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Update: Prayers working ....

Wednesday afternoon here at Philmont.  Staff have the afternoon off as the conference participants have family / free time this afternoon.

I usually have around 4500 steps by lunch time.  5100 steps today.  If my math is right, I will have very close to 100,000 steps for this week.  And ... I feel just fine.

In fact, how I am feeling makes me wonder that prayers from everyone are working, because I haven't given much thought to my having thyroid cancer, or about my 2nd surgery in October, or the radioactive iodine treatments that follow for several days now.

I call that a blessing.

Thanks everyone, especially for the prayers of comfort and peace. Please "keep'em coming."

God's grace still amazes me ... ><>

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Comments" and various other updates . . .

FYI . . . I "moderate" all comments that come to my blog.  That means it may take a while until I check them. I think the comments link should be working better now, as several reported through the Church Office that their comments were not being accepted.

If any problems, please let the Church Office know, and they will contact me, and I will see what I can do. 

Now, as for walking . . .

Yesterday, Sunday, 9/16/12, began my week of service as the Chaplain at the Philmont Scout Ranch.  I put in . . . (drum roll please) . . . 18,885 steps, according to my official UMC Clergy step counter.  And, I woke up this morning with no adverse effects, and feel OK.

Today, for some reason, I seem to have more energy . . . perhaps acclimated somewhat to the elevation.  It's not quite 2 PM here and I have 9054 steps.

Folks, if you just basically want to feel better  . . . and there are no underlying health issues that prohibit you from doing so . . . there are really only two things you initially need to start doing, provided you are physically able and cleared by a doctor to do so (and I got clearance / approval from my doctor for both):

1)  Start counting calories that you take in through eating, and the calories you expend from exercise.  Set a calorie goal.  When you reach it for the day . . . stop eating. 
2)  Start walking.  I did . . . even with my bad heel, bad knees and bad hip . . . and I am starting to feel better.  Liz commented today that I was mostly walking without a limp.  Hooray!

You may not be able to do count calories (diet) and start a walking program at the same time, but eventually you will.  I had to lose some of the weight first.

Oh, for those who are asking, "how much does Rick weigh now?"

250 pounds.  I was in the upper 330's a few months after Ken's death.

I'm committed to being in the best physical, emotional and spirital shape I have been in for a long time on October 4th  . . . when I arrive for surgery #2 on my neck.

Oh, by the way . . . the voice is coming back. 

I will try and answer all the emails sent today.  Thank you all.  Your support and offer to walk with Liz and I on this hopefully short journey is blessing us mightily!!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Update: Getting a few things figured out . . .

Well, New Mexico has been a blessing so far.  Philmont is beautiful with more wildlife than last year.  They could use some rain.  Couldn't we all. I hear we are getting some back home.

In the course of reconnecting with folk we meet here last year, it turns out that I am:

1) not the only person dealing with a type of cancer, and
2) people who have survived cancer are quick to come visit with you and offer you the kind of support that only those have experienced cancer can offer.

Same thing happened last Friday when the e-Blast from the church went out .... Some of the first emails and texts I received (and I received around 50 on Friday) were from people in our church family who also have thyroid cancer, and from those who have had thyroid cancer.

The key message from their messages to me, which Liz and I have drawn much hope is .... "It's treatable!  You will get over this!!

My doctor told me the same thing.  But to my knowledge, he has never had thyroid cancer.  But he has treated people who have had it for a long time.  I love the guy.  Dr. Charles Railsback.  Wonderful man.

To hear from those who have it, though, and from those who have overcome it ... I hear those words more to the heart.

So, this morning I stepped outside of our room here at the Philmont Training Center, and gazed outside.  The PTC Chapel is just outside our door ... And as I watched the sunlight begin its work on what has been a beautiful morning ... I pondered the words sent to me by my friend, Bobby Lucas ...

"God wants us to move through the day with a quiet assurance that He is in control, a peaceful certainty that our lives are in His hands, a deep trust in His plans and purposes, and a thankful disposition toward all that He allows."

Works for me ... Today.

God's grace still amazes me ... ><>

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dear family and friends . . .

The following notice will be sent out to all church members on Friday, 9/14/12.

Thus begins a journey I do not want to travel . . . but because of family, friends and faith, we will see it through.

I will be updating my journey of dealing with thyroid cancer through this blog.  So check in to find out the latest updates.  This will hopefully reduce the number of emails and texts I have to deal with on a daily basis, at least through October.

I appreciate you all.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

September 14, 2012

Dear Church Members and friends,

As many of you are aware, I had a recent surgical procedure, which was to remove the left side of my thyroid because of a solid mass that was found to be growing on it.  This past Tuesday my doctor called to let me know that the final pathology report indicated I have thyroid cancer.   As a result, I will have another surgery in early October to remove the remainder of my thyroid, followed several weeks later by radioactive iodine treatment.

Despite my providing pastoral care to many people with cancer during the course of my 20+ years in ministry, I must confess I was and have been scared, worried and emotionally and physically fatigued by all of this. Although thyroid cancer is easily treated, it is still cancer.  It is one thing to be the care-giver to a cancer patient. It is another to be the cancer patient.

A care team has been enlisted to provide pastoral care for my family, to help us through this.  We will rely primarily on our friend and pastor,  Rev. John Mollet.  Others on this care team us include a retired pastor / ministry mentor, another clergy friend, and two other very close friends. 

Our request of others in the church . . . is to walk this journey with us.  As word of my cancer “leaked out,” Liz and I have already received a number of calls, emails and text messages offering any and all kinds of help.  We are most grateful for these wonderful gestures of compassion and friendship. 

I will be “blogging” about this journey on my blog, “Rick’s Songbag” located at   I will begin putting updates there in the next few weeks.

We have our faith, our family and our friends.  We will get through this.

With love and appreciations,

Rick and Liz ><>

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thanks for prayers, notes and calls . . .

This past Thursday, I had a surgical procedure at a local hospital to remove a mass from the left side of my neck.  All went well, with the exception of the procedure taking twice as long as expected.

What is hard to deal with about all of this is I:

-Can't sing for a week
-Can't lift for a week
-My energy level isn't near back yet
-I "tweaked" my lower back my first time out yesterday
-Can't drive for a week
-Pretty much have to stay at home and wait on the frozen section path report.

Could be worse . . .

This all came about in part because of my recent weight loss (55 pounds). I've gone from wearing 4XL Tall shirts to XL Tall shirts . . . in the process of my neck shrinking from fat to skinny, we saw and I felt the lump that ended up a lot bigger than the doctor thought or ultra-sound showed.   Anyway, it's gone now, and I am recovering from the surgery process and hospital stay.

Again, thanks for all the warm responses.  Philmont is next week, and I'll be back at the church and singing after that.

God's graces till amazes me . . . ><>