Wednesday, November 21, 2012

To be truly thankful...

     Here we are on the verge of Thanksgiving, a holiday where we gather as family and friends and give thanks for all we have received. And don't get me wrong, I AM thankful! But there's that part of me that isn't so thankful... Today would have been my grandfather's 88th birthday and in a few days I'll mark the first anniversary of his passing. I have yet to make it back home to pay my respects and collect the things left for me from his estate, things that will remind me of him whenever I see or use them. Not that I need material possessions to remember him by, so much of him is eternally etched into my memory and so much so that in spite of my post chemo brain fog many of those memories of him are coalescing into crystalline clarity.

      December also marks the passing a few years prior of his wife and my grandmother. I was there for that and I remember it all too well. I take comfort in knowing that they are now together forever in heaven. No matter what happened as I was growing up, theirs was a home of consistency. Always there, never changing. The rock upon which the very foundation of who I am was built. Yet, as with so many other things, that too has come to pass. The house is now someone else's and even though it is in the care of a close cousin of mine it won't be the same when I see it again. It's hers now, to make into a home of her own for herself and her beautiful daughter. I should hope that someday, years from now that her grandkids might think back fondly on that house that saw the raising of no less than three generations of the Hagerty Clan. What wonderful memories and stories they might have to share...

      There is another reason for me to look upon the “holiday season” with less than fond memories. December 17th, 2007. A day which will live in infamy... No, not the attack on Pearl Harbor, that was December 7th, 1941. For me the 17th will be one of those days I will never forget. That's the day I went to the doctor for a checkup, at insistence of a couple of my aunts. Had it not been for that insistence I have no doubt that things would have turned out much, much worse than they had. That first innocent trip to the doctor where I was fully expecting to get poked, prodded and sent on my way prescription in hand was the first step down a long and dark road I'd most definitely have rather not ever traveled. No one would willingly take such a road given an even slightly more pleasant course of travel. Yet here I am, nearly five years later thanking God for the single most horrible thing to ever have happened to me. I have said for some time that cancer was the best thing to ever happen to me, and people think I'm crazy. You're thinking it right now, aren't you? That's ok, I'll explain and then I think you'll understand better.

      The first thing that gives me cause to be thankful is how much more I appreciate how precarious life can be and all that could be lost in the blink of an eye. How precious even the smallest moments with my kids and Sarah are. The magic of a sunset, or sunrise. Playing with the dogs. Seeing my nephew in a tiny screen and hearing him say “Love you unka Racy!” Time spent with my brothers fishing on a quiet lake. All this and so much more could have never come to pass, had my life taken a different course. The relationships that I share with friends, from those I have known for 35 years to those that I have just met on the internet, these are all precious to me. One can never have too many friends! Then there are the wonderful people I have met along the way, nurses, lab technicians, and doctors. I owe them a huge thank you, and as my treatments draw to their glorious end I am mindful to make good on those thank yous. I owe them more thanks than any others for they have been there through it all and have seen the worst of what cancer could do to me. They stand stalwart beside countless patients and bear witness to so much pain and heartache that I am certain no one could go through that solely for the money. No, these people are there because they want to be. Because they know they have something to offer those who are facing the most difficult thing they have ever known. And they do so with a smile... never letting anything but hope for the patient and their loved ones creep into existence. Yet they are subject to many of the same feelings as their patients, of that I have no doubt. From nurses being nervous when they have to start an IV, to doctors asking every time how my family is doing, to the nurse who, while shaving my head after I started chemo getting choked up because I was the first patient whom she had shaved, all these seemingly innocent moments have meaning not just to me, but to those who have shared them with me.

      Then there are the difficult “life lessons” that cancer brings about, many because a person is just too damn stubborn to even face them otherwise. A sort of “look, if you don't pay attention in class you're going to get detention” kind of lesson. Yeah, I've had more than a few and I have learned a TON from them. Lessons like what it truly means to be a husband, a father, and a friend. What the definition of Grace is and what it means to give back something to the world, even when you don't think you have much left to give. It has also taught me the truest meaning of friendship. Above all when the crap hits the fan you will find out who your friends really are, and aren't... There is no more telling acid test.

      Then there is my new-found relationship with God. It simply would not have happened had cancer not entered my life. You may ask how I know that to be true, well I'll tell you. Let's start with cancer taking my strength and making long, hard, cold winters in the Midwest not my idea of a fun way to spend the winter anymore. Then add a dash of God's love by way of some in-laws who were willing to help us move west to California where, at least where WE are, it doesn't snow or even freeze in the winter. Then you add in a small church led by a wonderful pastor who leads by example and mix thoroughly until you get the kind of congregation that just makes a church feel right. If you attend such a church you are truly blessed. I know I am... I have stood singing during worship service on more Sunday mornings crying because I finally felt like I was “home” spiritually than I can recall. It feels so much like home that I have now begun to help out at the church with the media displays during worship service and beyond. It's a joy I would have never known had cancer not come to me.

      I would be remiss if I didn't mention how God has touched me through my donor. Ever since I had my first drivers license in my hand I had refused to be an organ donor. This body was my body and I was determined to leave this world with every piece of it that God had given me. Plus I was of the mind that the world has too many daggum people in it anyway and if God saw fit to take someone's kidneys well then who was I to offer up mine to them. I mean it was “God's will” right? I find it ironic that I should find myself not only on the other side of that equation, but that my view of the whole donation of organs or tissue would turn a complete 180. Now, years later, I WANT to donate should the need arise, but am unable to. Not even a seemingly simple unit of blood... Yet I find myself eternally grateful to a complete stranger for my very existence. I also have found that particular thank you to be the hardest to give voice to. A curious thing that, to say thank you for someone saving your life. A simple “thank you” seems woefully inadequate and yet it is the only thing that I have to give. I can't repay such kindness, I can't even donate blood for someone else in need. I'm also quite certain that she didn't give so freely of herself, of the most precious gift one person can ever give to another, out of some need to be recognized or for fame or glory. I simply can't imagine a person who could do such a thing for reasons like that. I have a letter written, and I have some changes I plan on making. I'll send it out when the time is right, and I feel that time is soon. Very soon.

      So there you have it. Just a few of the reasons I am thankful for cancer and a few of the reasons I look toward December with slightly less enthusiasm than in years past. This Thanksgiving I hope you too take stock of all that you have, from the mundane to the miraculous and give thanks for it to whomever has brought it into your life. I know I will...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Tool Cabinet's Legacy

The cabinet in its new home, some tools have already taken up residence.
     About a month ago I was in an antique store perusing all manner of old things, and as I was leaving I found an old tool cabinet. The type that a cabinet maker (or joiner as they used to be known) would make to hold various tools that he would use on any given day. It would have hung on the wall near his bench and afforded him easy access and a place to keep his tools safe from harm, where they couldn't fall off the bench, where he would know exactly where to find them. It's something I've been meaning to make for quite a while but never got around to it. Well, I put down a deposit on it that day, and yesterday I picked it up and brought it home.

A few things left behind...
      When I bought this cabinet I saw it simply as a way to organize my tools and put them in a safe place so I'd know where to find them. I asked my neighbor and my son to help me hang it on the wall in the garage - it's extremely heavy! As we took the drawers out to lighten the load as much as possible we found a few things in them. There was a Kreg jig for making pocket holes, used in cabinet making as well as other small furniture. I also found a measured drawing of a New Yankee Workshop hutch project, a flier for a woodworking supply store called The Woodworker's Emporium and a pen - a very nice pen, the kind I would use in my shop (I'm a bit of a pen snob, what can I say). Suddenly, this utilitarian tool cabinet had taken on a personality. It's craftsmanship isn't that great, the quality isn't the best I've seen or done myself, but it serves its purpose. It's strong and gets the job done. But now it seemed to have a soul, a life of it's own or perhaps a story to tell, the story of where it came from and who it served. This plain, utilitarian not extremely well built piece of shop furniture had suddenly taken on a new life for me and I began to wonder who might have used it. It's an older type of tool cabinet and not many present day woodworkers would take the time to craft something like this. It's the kind of cabinet that generally stores older hand tools, not the whirring, dust-spitting, wood-eating monster machines most commonly used today. Was the previous owner an older man who worked with hand tools? Then there was the plan for a hutch, not something very commonly asked for in today's households. Did that too elude to an older craftsman? The flyer for the Emporium, to my mind, speaks to someone who chose quality tools over cheap imports, tools that would last him a lifetime and that he would want to take care of, to keep in a cabinet specially built to house them. And the pen, a quality pen that seemed to me like one a younger person such a myself might choose. The cabinet was covered inside and out with a heavy layer of dust, so I assume it has been sitting for some time unused. Perhaps another trip back to the antique store might shed some more light on its story, maybe not. Maybe I can just envision this craftsman from time to time as I reach for that hand saw that will hang inside the right-hand door, or the Jack Plane that will rest in the main body of the cabinet. If nothing else I've taken the time as I lovingly cleaned, hung and started to fill the cabinet with my tools to wonder who this person might have been, what they might have built and where they are now... I can only hope that someday when my time has long since passed, and the cabinet has passed into the stewardship of another craftsman, that they too might wonder who I was and what I built.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways

     I have some really great news both for myself as well as for a very good friend and fellow cancer warrior. I also have a story to share with you, but first I need to set that story up with the news. Earlier last month a friend and I went to Fort Bragg, CA and stayed at MacKerricher State Park. It's an extremely beautiful place to stay right on the Pacific Coast and we spent most of our time there hiking along the coast where we saw seals, cormorants, pelicans, oyster catchers, terns, a great blue heron (unless you believe the guy who tried to convince me that despite being new to watching wildlife as well as photography he was certain that it was a sandhill crane, on a huge rock, in the OCEAN!) and I even got to see some gray whales! Our camp was surrounded by small birds of many varied species, and a family of raccoons. We also had a skunk visit our camp almost every night. The skunk had me more than a little worried as it was late at night and their senses aren't the keenest in the animal world. It would wander right into camp while we were still up and it was hard to convince it to leave, it knew we were there but not our exact location... The raccoons were easy to persuade to leave but this little skunk was determined that it had a path to travel and we just needed to acquiesce and allow him the run of the place. Fortunately no one and nothing was sprayed... THAT would have ruined the trip. It was a peaceful and much needed decompression time for both my friend and I.

      Part way through the trip, while looking at a display of whale bones at the park headquarters, I received a text from Sarah. As I read the text message my eyes welled up with tears and the wind left my lungs... suddenly I couldn't stand and hit my knees weeping. She had received my latest lab reports and way relaying them to me. That text read as follows: “Hemoglobin 14.3 – that is so AMAZING!” At this point I need to give you a frame of reference, at my lowest that count was 4.8 and for a healthy male my age it should be 12-16... Reread that and think about that for a moment, it's pretty huge. What this means is that my hemoglobin count is well within “normal parameters,” unassisted by transfusion, for the first time in almost five years. I hesitate to utter the word “cured” yet, as I have no official word from the doctors, and quite frankly this IS my first rodeo as regards stem-cell transplants, BUT... things sure are looking good, eh?

      So, with that out of the way, I can now tell you the story. About twenty years ago my mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time her neighbor Marilyn, a very devout Presbyterian, gave her a very small gift. It was a white bear fetish. As Marilyn gave it to her she said, "I don't know if this will help (with her cancer)...but it can't hurt." Marilyn had carried the small gift in the palm of her hand so it felt warm, smooth and somehow very comforting in my mother in law's hand. Marilyn gave her a hug and left. My mother in law held that fetish all day, feeling it's smoothness, admiring the tiny little fish carving that was tied to its back. She knew nothing of fetishes, or the meaning of the white bear, she only knew that it comforted her. She carried the small bear in her pocket, often touching it for the next two years. And she lived. She carried it for three more years. And she lived. The day that her oncologist told her that she would live to be an old lady, she wrapped the white bear in tissue and put him away. She was no longer afraid of dying.

      Many, many years passed and she forgot about the bear. I was diagnosed and fighting for my life and still, she didn't remember the bear until one morning several buzzards came and visited her back yard, at least a dozen huge buzzards sitting in her redwood trees. While they are common to this region they're not that common in cities like Modesto. Why were they there? While she was watching them she suddenly remembered the white bear, walked into the house to the old secretary desk where she had placed it all those years ago, packaged it up and mailed it to me with the message "it can't hurt, carry it until you are no longer frightened". So the bear came to me and I carried it. It went with me everywhere and I didn't know if it would help or not, but I knew it couldn't hurt. Over the years I began to believe, slowly with each passing day grew a certain familiarity and it was always with me. As the years passed, the little fish came loose from its bindings and was lost, but the bear stayed. Eventually the bear's work was done, at least with regards to me, and it had done all it could for me. I can't explain how but I knew it was time and I passed it on.

      Now the bear accompanies my friend and fellow transplant patient Danny. He and his caregiver wife just passed through California as they moved from Phoenix to Seattle to be closer to the Puget Sound VA hospital where Danny and I received our stem cell transplants. Along the way they stopped to spend a few days with us. As nice as it is to have family come for a visit there's something to be said for friends stopping by, especially those who have walked the dark and lonely road that traverses the fight against cancer. There's a certain camaraderie with others who have shared similar experiences. They know first hand the troubles each other faces and can lend a kind of sympathy that others just don't have to give.

      Danny's story is one of those that just tears at your heart. He and his wife Nicole have been fighting Hodgkins for ten years and his story alone spans eight binders of test results, doctors' recommendations, instructions and plans of action. Until the bear came to him to lend its power to the fight, the best they had managed was a small victory that was short lived. The best the doctors could offer him, much the same as me, was a procedure that was just as likely to end his life (if not more so) than to save it. It was by no means an easy or comforting decision to make, and much like Sarah and I they chose to wait. Say what you will, but after a battery of tests to reestablish where Danny stands in his own personal battle, the doctors in Seattle recently revealed that, contrary to what Danny had been told in Arizona, his cancer is GONE! I can't tell you with certainty that the bear had anything to do with that, or with my recovery, or even my mother in law's. That's up to you to decide. I can tell you that Patricia, my mother in law, is a devout Christian as am I. Danny, perhaps not so much. In my heart I don't think that has much to do with the bear's power, I think it comes from a vastly different... “place” and that God set things into motion by sending Marilyn, Pat's neighbor, all those years ago to the southwest where she bought the bear at a store in Tucson that was owned/operated by a local tribe. The man (a shaman perhaps) working that day, explained the significance of the fetishes and the power each had. She bought the most powerful white bear and brought it to my mother in law. She and her family are devout Presbyterians, she worked as the ministers secretary and her husband Bill is/was one of the church deacons. It was so out of character for Marilyn to buy something so contrary to her personal beliefs that in retrospect, I wonder what 'power' moved her to buy the bear? God does move in mysterious ways. I was given the bear about four years ago and it has now comforted three cancer victims. I wonder how many more pockets it is meant to be carried in? I wonder what Marilyn think of the bear's story since her first generous giving... perhaps that will be another story for you all to read here in the future.

      Until then, please keep an open mind when it comes to things that you can't explain and don't be so quick to dismiss such things as weird or coincidental. You never know how God will send you what you need and if you dismiss it it may not come back to you again...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lost in limbo...

One of the definitions of limbo is an intermediate place, transitional, or midway state or place. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up... Stuck somewhere between healthy and dying, between enduring the transplant process and getting on with my life. As many of you may recall Sarah, the kids and I traveled to Seattle recently (as in over a month ago!) for my first annual post transplant checkup. It was NOT what I expected... First they put us up in a very crappy hotel farther away from the hospital than the one they had previously used, seems they're making some changes and will eventually be sending even the long term patients there. I can't imagine how much worse that will make an already difficult process. It was so nice to have an apartment to ourselves with secure parking and to have it furnished, even IF the furniture was far from what we'd have had in our home. The extended stay hotel has a pay as you wash laundry room that is shared by all the other guests and down the hall as opposed to having laundry facilities right in the apartment, and that's just for starters. As patients many of us had, at our own expense, added things to the apartments to make our stay as well as that of patients and caregivers staying there after us more comfortable, if not pleasant. Some bought second hand furniture that was in better shape than what the VA had furnished the apartments while others simply found and left things that made the apartments feel more like home or were inspirational. I wonder now what will become of all those things that were left with such good intention, without thought of repayment, for those to come after us...

To further add to my disappointment in the annual checkup I had no idea what to expect but thought that I'd at least be meeting with the doctor at some point to discuss how the previous year had gone in terms of my recovery and healing as well as what they thought the future might hold based on their experience. Such was not the case. There were three days of appointments, including my FAVORITE, the bone marrow biopsy, after which they sent us on our way. Seems to me they could have just done the tests in Palo Alto and sent the results to them for review and saved us the trip. But, looking on the bright side (which is something I try very hard to do in every situation) they reimbursed us for most of the travel expenses and we took full advantage of that by utilizing my Access Pass for the National Parks and National Forests and visited just about every one we could find both on the way up to Seattle, around the Olympic Peninsula and down the west coast along the Pacific. I must say that although driving day after day from one campground to the next was hectic it was more than worth it. We saw things that I could not have, in my wildest dreams imagined. It was an opportunity to experience new places and bask in the glory of God's wondrous creations, as well as make lasting memories as a family. That alone was worth the disappointment I experienced in not knowing where I stand and where I'm headed regarding my health. I guess you could say it was a lesson in living in the moment and making the best of what one is given and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

So where does this leave me? Well, I'm not really sure... The Puget Sound VA sent me and my hematologist in Palo Alto copies of the test results, but it's all Greek to me. Without a professional to interpret all those numbers and define, in layman's terms just what those big words mean it may as well be written in Arabic or Japanese for all the good it does me. I DO know that the results were all good and better than any of the doctors would've thought possible, so there is that. I'd just like to know how soon I can be expecting to wean off some the meds and which, if any, of the restrictions can be relaxed or lifted altogether. And so we wait, patiently for now until my patience finally wears thin and I start prodding people gently with emails and phone calls. I know and fully respect that the doctors in Seattle have many, many more patients than just me and that there are more coming in all the time as well as those who are inpatient right now fighting the fight of their lives but that only goes so far toward answering my questions and allowing me to get on with the rest of my life, however long it may be.

Well where does that leave me in the mean time? Well, I have been spending a fair amount of time in the garden (the head nurse in Seattle didn't like hearing THAT very much) and it is getting a bit out of hand with the tomatoes growing tall enough to block the sunlight for the peppers which Connor and I harvested Monday and I'll be making into jalapeno jelly later this week. The potatoes are growing very well as are the squash and zucchini which we have already begun to harvest and enjoy. I must tell you there is a certain aspect of eating food that you just picked from a garden not fifteen feet from the kitchen and savoring all the effort that went into growing it with each bite. It adds a palpable flavor that simply can't be described. I strongly suggest that you too try to grow something, even if it's just one tomato plant in a pot on your patio or deck or a larger plot full of all sorts of vegetables. When you eat food that you grew yourself you'll thank me, I promise, and passing along the knowledge and experience of gardening to your children, for those who have children, will pay you back a hundred fold at LEAST! Just trust me and give it a try and remember that if at first it doesn't work out to keep trying and don't let yourself get discouraged.

I've also started cleaning and sorting the things that have accumulated in the garage and intend to start doing some small scale woodworking again. Nothing too big or that requires a lot of expensive power tools, just smaller projects that I can finish with just hand tools for now. I'll move up to acquiring those noisy whirring space devouring finger shredding machination if and when my needs outgrow the hand tools I have on hand and as budget allows. If I've learned one thing it's that you get what you pay for when it comes to tools. The cheaper the tool the harder you all too often have to work to get the desired result and they rarely last whereas the better quality tools, although they come with higher price tags, will perform better and last longer even retaining more of their initial value if and when they are passed on to the next fellow woodworker.

I'm also looking at treadmills and other exercise equipment so I can start getting back in shape and continue to rebuild my strength. Things are going very well at Knight's Quest and I couldn't ask for a better teacher of friend to coach me along as I rebuild what once was than Gemini. His belief in me adds immeasurable confidence and steadfast determination to the fight to remake myself into what I've always wanted to be. I am truly blessed to call him friend. I'm also going to start going for walks or riding my bike every day and recommit to working on the pell in the backyard, no really... I mean it this time! See, I realized something while I sat around moping about not knowing what the doctors thought of my recovery. I realized that it doesn't matter if they tell me today or next week what they think, it's up to ME to write the next chapter of my book, to continue walking on MY journey because it's just that... MINE! Besides, what do they know anyway? They're just “practicing” medicine, I'm the one living! You can spend all the money in the world and attend the most prestigious of schools and never come close to what I can do. All that knowledge and experience will only give them an opinion of how I'm doing and a guess at what they think I should do next or how I should live my life. They don't know any more than anyone else who I am or who I have the potential to be... Only God Himself knows that, and even so it's up to me to make the choices and do the work that will ultimately help me reach that full potential. This story, the story of Tracy, of who and what I am and will be is far from over and if I have anything to say about how it's written then the best is yet to come!!! If you've enjoyed the story thus far I encourage you to stick with it because this story is just getting good, you won't want to miss the end... I promise!

To that end I've started to sort out who and what I want to be as well as what I want to accomplish with my life. I DO know that I will forever more have to shun the sunlight and that's no small task living in the Central Valley of California. That means that working construction like I did before is out of the question. I also know that unless they lift the no sawdust restriction I won't be working in a cabinet shop again either and even if they do those that I found near me, that is to say within a distance from where I live that I'd be willing to drive to every day, don't pay enough to make it worth my time. I also know that building furniture and cabinets for other people pretty much took the joy of doing it out of me. Sure I enjoyed building those things and the “special projects” that always found their way to me gave me a certain satisfaction it was always on someone else's terms. Build it like this in this time frame using these materials... Not that I have a problem with that but it stifles my creative input and left me without much desire to build on my own when I got home to my own workshop. Soooo... I've been thinking a lot lately about another long set aside dream of mine, becoming an architect. That of course will require a fair amount of work and education as well as researching if there is a market out here for those skills. In the meantime I've also set my mind to writing a book about my experience with cancer with the hope that it may help others to find their way through whatever difficult time they may be facing. True, I've never written a book before nor do I have any “specialized” education that makes me especially qualified to do so but I do think I have a relatively firm grasp of the English language, certainly more than the majority of people I see writing things on FaceBook or even in some newspapers and magazine articles. That is to say I know when you're not using your correctly and that they're over there using their poor grammar... It really does make a difference gang. I also have the kind words that many of you have passed along with your words of encouragement and gratitude regarding my ramblings here on my Blog. If I went solely on those alone I'm pretty sure the book will be a New York Times Best Seller... I certainly thank you for that, and for all your support in its myriad forms. I don't think I can ever fully express how much it has meant to me. Thank you...

That's pretty much all I have for now. Rest assured as soon as I find out something, ANYTHING from the doctors I'll pass it along here. Until then, keep everything you say and do positive and try to drown out the negative voices in your head, try to practice positive affirmation and most importantly be excellent to one another. Yes, even that person you'd really rather wish the worst upon... They're the ones who most need your kindness, for you have no idea the trials they're facing. Until next time, I bid you peace.

Yours, Tracy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A salute to heroes past and present.

      Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Nation's Capitol around Memorial day and see the sights. Among those we visited were two that will forever be woven into the very fabric of my memory, Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam War Memorial, I call it The Wall. Seeing Arlington adorned with all the flags for Memorial Day is a very sobering reminder of the terrible price so many have paid for the freedoms we all too often take for granted as is watching the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown. What a bunch of heroes those guys are. If you don't know the story behind them and their job or the selfless dedication with which they perform their tasks, voluntarily I might add, you owe it to yourself to research the details. It's a very moving story...

      The Wall was especially profound for me because during my time in service I acquired a POW/MIA bracelet. I chose one for an Air Force Sgt. who was from Michigan and over the years lost track of it though his name was eternally etched in my memory. SSgt Gene P. Stuifbergen lost 27 NOV '68 in Cambodia. I have since found the bracelet. I searched and  found his name on the Wall and spent some time alone with it, reflecting on what his sacrifice meant to me and my family and wondering what his time in the service had been like and how he might have met his end... It was a very deeply moving experience and one I'll never forget.

      I also take this day as a day to remember those who gave of themselves for the cause and made it home. They all left an awful lot of themselves behind during their tours of duty. War is hell, as it should be so that we never enter into it lightly or for frivolous reasons. Those who fight and survive bring back terrible memories and all too often horrific wounds. Not all scars are external and those may even be the worst. Wounds that run deep and weigh heavily on ones conscience and all too often go untreated. We would do well to remember these soldiers as well and make sure that we take care of them after their service is ended. Abraham Lincoln said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

      As we relax today, perhaps gathering with friends and family, let's take a few moments to put down the grill tongs, set our drinks aside and spend some time in quiet reflection of what has been given us and honor those who not only gave us this precious gift but gave of themselves in the giving and maintaining this our Freedom.


Monday, May 21, 2012

A Leap of Faith

So I was standing in church this morning listening to the band and singing along (and singing rather well I must say) I had a sort of epiphany. See, I have been struggling with finding my faith because I had lots of questions and I found myself unable to just swallow some huge horse pill that had been prescribed to me by some all knowing preacher. But then I came to Harvest Community Church and it wasn’t like that. That is to say that nothing was presented to me in a take it or leave it manner, but since I have been going there every Sunday that I am there it’s like God is speaking directly to me, albeit it through one of the pastors.
Then this morning I awoke with the feeling that everything was going to be ok, with a feeling of peace and contentment if you will. It didn’t just stop there either, it spread from me to Sarah and we just felt great! When we got to church a short while later and I was standing there singing, and I guess you could say worshiping, I had a thought. Perhaps it was God speaking to me, I don’t know. What I DO know is that it occurred to me that in order to have faith as a Christian I had to accept the whole thing. I had to make a leap of faith, but in doing so I would not be alone. I had a vision of sorts I suppose. In this vision I was at a place where I had to decide to take that step into the unknown, or what was unknown to me at least, and I had doubts and questions and all these other concerns and I was afraid. But I was not alone. There were all these other people there too. People I knew and that I trusted completely, and those closest to me told me that if I were to take those first few tentative steps with such a burden on my back that surely I would not make it. Like falling through the ice I would simply be too heavy and my faith (the ice) would not hold me up but if I would just let them take this or that off my shoulders they would walk beside me and help me should I falter. That as a group, a community, we could share in these burdens and none would be left behind. They also made it clear that some of those burdens would not be necessary as we journeyed onward and they could simply be left here.
And so I handed off some of those burdens to be cast aside as trivial and unnecessary and still others I let those that I trust take on, even if only in part, and I took those first tentative steps… that leap of faith and I have to tell you, it sure feels good to know that I am in such good company. I have found my path and it is leading me home.
Thanks for helping to shoulder my load and may God bless you as he has blessed me.
Peace, Tracy.

Long overdue...

      It's been a while since I last wrote anything and I realized the other day that there are a lot of people out there who are likely concerned. So if you were concerned please accept my sincerest apologies. Here's where things stand as of today, I continue to see a counselor and in fact have just recently extended the number of visits I'm allotted through the VA. That may sound a little strange, so allow me to explain. At the facility closest to me, and I suspect at many more across the country, the number of counselors on staff can't accommodate the number of patients that require counseling more than once a month (I've been seeing mine once a week) so they “farm out” some cases to therapists/counselors outside the VA on what's called a fee-based basis. This means the government pays for a given number of visits during a given time frame. What this boils down to is there aren't enough people to take care of the veterans that need help. Is it any wonder that returning Gulf War/Iraq War/Afghanistan War veterans are having difficulty reintegrating into society? It sure explains why an ever increasing number are hoarding weapons and getting into trouble which leads to them barricading themselves into their home and shooting it out with law enforcement... Please remember that as you vote in the future. These people did as they were told, were asked to do, voluntarily. Sure, maybe the wars in the middle east didn't have anything to do with our safety here at home but if you want to lay blame or punish someone for that, blame the politicians and don't vote for them again. Don't make the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen pay for the mistakes of others. They served honorably, some doing things that most of us could never imagine ourselves doing over and over again, and they did it voluntarily.

      That takes care of the emotional and psychological aspect, now on to the physical part of things. Things have been going very well, in fact so well at times that I cringe in fear waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thankfully my friend Jennifer is there to remind me that there IS no other shoe. Thanks for that, Jen. The boys and I continue to go to Knight's Quest Academy of Chivalry. They go twice a week and I go once a week for one on one lessons. I'm not where I want to be but in all honesty I have not been working at it enough on my own time nor have I been doing any other exercising. I realize now how important that is and will be making a more concerted effort to make some real, effective change. Otherwise it's really been smooth sailing. I go to the VA once a week to have a pint of blood removed. This is done to lower my ferritin (iron) level, which is elevated due to having so many blood transfusions in the years before my stem cell transplant. The procedure is not so intolerable as one might think. As an added bonus I have made a lot of new friends at the VA and get to see them every week and they share a genuine concern for my health.

      We are also planning another trip back to Seattle for my first annual checkup with the transplant doctors. We're also going to be doing some camping along the way, part of making the best of life and making memories that my children can tell their grandchildren about. It's time to enjoy life and take the opportunity to see some of the things that I have always wanted to see and maybe a few places I wasn't even aware of. I've got this really cool card that grants me access to any of the places operated by the Forest Service, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged. It even grants me discounts at camping facilities that are operated by the government. Time to start really taking advantage of THAT baby!

      I've also been busy around the house. We've converted the dining room into a hobby studio and it's almost finished. I've been cleaning out my desk and finding a lot of stuff that I've been carrying around with me. All of which has caused a lot of internal reflection and deep thought. I've come SO far in my life and SO many things have changed, some very drastically, and I have SO far yet to go. At least I hope so... Where my path will take me I have no clue but I intend to walk it with intention and to take note of the scenery along the way, to live what's left of my life in a very meaningful way and to make it count... Thing is, I don't know how to DO all that and it's a tall order to fill. In addition to finding my path I have to learn HOW to travel it because the way I've been wandering through life has not really gotten me anywhere meaningful. That is to say, I have yet to do things that my children will proudly tell their children, at least not in my eyes. Nothing monumental like my dad was a Navy SEAL war hero or a firefighter who rescued a dozen kids in an orphanage or even that I invented some amazing new technology. Much more down to earth things like remembering the way I would take them hiking, fishing, how I taught them how to fix the lawn mower or even how to grow their own food and cook it. That I was a great dad... That's meaningful enough, for now.

      I'm super excited to go on vacation with Sarah and the kids even though at the same time I'm extremely nervous about seeing the doctors again and finding out where I (we!) go from here. I know, Jen... there IS no other shoe! Still, for me anyway, there's a lot riding on what comes out of this checkup. If things go well it's time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, or at least as I grow older. I have been giving this a lot of thought and I think I'd like to pursue a career as an architect but... that requires going to school and in the mean time I'll need to pay the bills if my disability is gone AND pay for school. SO very many things to think about and try not to worry about. Then there's teaching Connor how to drive (YES, he turned 16 last Saturday!!!), I wish I could have given him the childhood I had, or at least parts of it. Learning to drive while growing up on a farm is, in my opinion, far better and easier than being thrown into a classroom for boring textbook and bloody drinking and driving movies before you get on the actual road. And something as dangerous as driving a car isn't something that should be learned with a bunch of strangers. Then again, what happens on the back roads stays on the back roads, right?

      That's about all I have for now. I've been getting rather antsy to start doing more writing and even some painting and sketching. I know I need to do something other than just sitting around. I have been more active working outside and doing things around the house and have even been designing my own pedal car in my head. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes I'm feeling like this is my rebirth and a second chance to do things better than I was. It is my sincerest wish that you all take at least this part of my experience as an example. Don't put off the things you want most in this world. Get up, get out there and LIVE YOUR LIFE. Live it the way YOU want to. Don't find yourself laying in a hospital bed in 20, 10, 5 years from now or even tomorrow... You can tell yourself it won't happen to you but you'll just be lying to yourself because it COULD! I did things right, for the most part, and it happened to me. Don't waste the chances given too you. Make each day count and do something you'll be proud of tomorrow. You don't have to climb Everest every day but just make the little moments count. Go to bed every night knowing you have done some amount of good in the world and left it a better place for tomorrow. Trust me, you'll thank me for it later...

      Until we meet again either here on the interwebs or in person, I bid you peace.