Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Rant

I have not written for a very long while. I am such the procrastinator. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to write again but here we are in the middle of April and so far, not a word.

To get myself back into the swing of things, I am going to use Monday (we all love Monday’s, right?) . . I am going to use Monday to be my ‘rant against the world’ day. I hate being a negative person but the older I get, the more I realize that the older people have a right to be angry.

Today I had to flip a coin between writing about Microsoft or people that do not use their blinkers when they drive. Then there was the moron that got off a bus and did not bother to look before walking across five lanes of highway into morning rush hour traffic. I was going to honk my horn at him but he had ear buds jammed way inside his ears and was tuned out of this world. So let me get out a quarter . . . and flip . . . heads its Microsoft rant and tails it is the blinker people . . . (flip) . . . heads it is . .

Microsoft. The company some people love to hate. Before I start, I need to tell you, I am a named brand kind of guy. I realize some big companies whore themselves out after awhile, but I have usually been more successful paying a little more for named brand quality upfront then the aggravation I have suffered because I tried to save a few bucks using the “other” brand. So it should come to no surprise, when it comes to PC’s, I am a big HP/Intel/MS kind of person. I really do want these companies to be successful and hope they are because they have quality products at a fair market price.

So where do I begin? Well, a year or so ago I purchased a brand new HP laptop with MS Vista. I did get a very good deal on it (clearance sale) so I did accept the AMD processor. I have had this laptop going night and day for over a year and have had very few problems. In fact, I would say they are more of an inconvenience more than a problem and most of the inconvenience has been limited to MS Internet Explorer 7.0. What this means to my rant, I have NOT been on my HP desktop at home for the last year which means it has been open and available to my wife and kids.

Now I do use the home office PC for two main things. I-tunes (another upcoming rant) and MS Money (no need to have all of THAT private information on a laptop). So last month I went to pay some bills and balance out statements when I noticed the HP Media Center was “noisy”. Perhaps I had not used it in a while or perhaps it was late at night and the noise just seemed louder.

No, I checked and the processor was running at 30-40% with NO APPLICATIONS running. I checked the Process Monitor and there was nothing running and the PC indicated IDLE 99% of the time. I thought this to be very strange. I ran a series of on line diagnostics and nothing was found. I was reading on line about memory leakage and other technical stuff I did not understand and figured there was probably just too much stuff on the hard drive so I decided to upgrade the home PC. I use to build my own PC’s so I figured an upgrade would be a piece of cake. I purchased a new hard drive (320G nearly doubled my storage) and RAM (removed two (2) 512M sticks and installed four (4) 1G sticks).

My one rant against HP, they save $5 by not providing OEM OS disks and instead allocate a large portion of the hard drive to store the OS should it be necessary to do so. This is like your ISP telling you that you can use their on line technical support when you do not have an internet connection. Do I have a right to be angry at the absurdity of this nonsense? (more tomorrow . . . see, this was not so hard after all).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Boys To Men – A Real & Urgent Need

Hawn State Park is just an hour drive from our church and perhaps may be one of the loveliest state parks in Missouri. I found this out first hand by going on a day hike with some of the men and boys from Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church.

We arrived at the park on a cool autumn morning last Saturday. We gathered together and after asking for God’s blessing and protection before we left the parking lot for a journey that required us to walk 6 miles horizontal and possibly another six miles vertical (or so it seemed at the time). My oldest son said our walking fellowship was “just like Lord of the Rings”.

Our path was marked out for us and it wove itself throughout a deeply wooded forest of pine and oak trees growing along sandstone bluffs and a valley carved out by the Pickle Creek. We only saw a fraction of the 4,953-acre park. Our walk lasted about 3-1/2 hours before our tired bodies made it back to enjoy a quiet lunch near the parking lot. After lunch, we held a discussion and devotion before our fellowship broke up for the return home.

I believe the Lord used that walk to reinforce some of the biblical lessons that I am so quick to forget. We began our walk with a lengthy and steep climb up one of the larger hills. The view from the top was spectacular and the beauty of the scenic panorama somehow made the ‘pain’ of the climb disappear. It is sometimes that way with Jesus. We go through a period of pain or suffering, only to ‘behold the glory’.

One time early in our walk, we found ourselves off the trail. One minute we have a clear path and the next we are up to our belts in weeds. It was only a matter of turning around to find our way back to where the trail was clear. I have found myself losing sight of Jesus from time to time and experiencing that ‘lostness’ because I left the path to walk my own way. It has always been a matter of turning around (repenting) and making my way back to the right way of life, joy and peace.

I carried a backpack with some extra water and beef jerky to snack on along the way. Before we reached the half hour mark, jackets and sweatshirts that belonged to me and my boys had to be removed and were loaded into my back pack along with a lunch pack that my youngest son no longer wanted to carry. By the time we got to the second hour of our walk, the weight of that back pack seemed to have tripled! I commented that I felt like ‘Pilgrim’ from John Bunyan’s story. By the time we got to our third hour, I was ready to just let it drop off my back and leave it. I think Bunyan’s analogy is correct, the small sins we carry do weigh us down and can cause us to think we can not finish the race that is set before us. How gracious and kind our Lord is to allow us to confess, repent and believe the gospel that He may place his yoke on us so we might find rest. How great that relief when the pack is removed! The disease (sin) and its symptoms (guilt and shame) are no match for grace!

I was amazed at the various types and sizes of mushrooms along our path. I was reminded that the living God is able to bring life out of rot and decay. The numerous butterflies we saw reminded me that transformation is not only possible, but a physical reality!

As a father of two boys, I have serious concerns for them as our culture becomes increasingly secular and permissive. The extreme permissiveness of our society claims to have few moral codes beyond "do not harm others" which of course is a lie from the pit of hell.

The apostle Paul says we are ‘living letters’ written by God. I am glad that a ministry like ‘Men to Boys’ exists because my sons need to see Jesus in other men. My sons also need to relate to and learn from their Christian peers as they begin to assume their own identity in Christ. I will not resign to live in a ‘Christian ghetto’ and develop a “we” vs. “they” mentality. My sons and I may be the only Bible some people will ever read and it is my prayer that the vision of this ministry would take root and bear fruit for this generation and those to come.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Open House

Our boys went back to school a few weeks ago. Earlier this week I had opportunity to attend the ‘open house’ at the school to meet their new teachers. Our youngest son is in 3rd grade and doing rather well, socially and academically. Our oldest son is in 6th grade which begins the awkward transition from elementary school to junior high. He has to change classes every hour so the number of teachers we had to see just about doubled. As we expected, his adjustments are going to need more time but we have every hope he will adjust and mature accordingly.

I am very impressed with the teachers that I met and talked with. The teachers were very pleased with our sons and did not have a bad thing to say about them. As a father, I was very happy about that. Parenting, like growing old, is not for the faint hearted! It is a lot of work but I love being a dad. While I do spoil my sons from time to time and I also tend to lean towards being “to permissive”, I have also established firm boundaries in an attempt to maximize their happiness. I try to incorporate the biblical Christian principle of ‘grace’ into our family life. My sons have known their father’s love which I hope is a pale reflection of the Christian theology I have learned from the New Testament.

Regarding their academic progress, I give most of the credit to my wife who bears the burden with the boys in the evening. As working parents, we have a tight schedule during the week. My wife gets up at 4 o’clock in the morning because she works 6am to 2:30pm so she can pick them up right after school and be at home with them in the afternoon and evenings. I work a later schedule, 9am-6pm, but I still try to get up at 4:30 which allows me to see my wife in the morning before she leaves for work. We get a chance to chat while she gets dressed and I make her breakfast and coffee before she has to head out the door.

After she leaves, I have a couple of hours of ‘quiet’ time before I have to transform into “Mr. Mom” when I wake the boys up at 6:30. As the boys have grown older, my main task is to get them up, keep them moving and make them a breakfast. Not so long ago, I had to give them a bath and get them dressed . . wow, time goes by fast!

I try to alternate “hot breakfast” days where they can have pancakes, waffles, omelets or their favorite, cinnamon toast, with “cold breakfast” days where they have cereal or a pop tart. My other tasks involve making our bed, taking care of the dishes, and doing laundry.

We also have charts that hang from their bedroom doors. These charts allow us to track their ‘to do’ list of chores and responsibilities. I have come up with a program in the morning to motivate the boys to be punctual. In order to earn a “four star” start to the day, they have to get up, get their showers, get dressed, eat their breakfast, make their beds and get all dirty clothes / wet towels to the laundry room AND brush their teeth. If they can get four (4) ‘four star starts, on Friday morning I will treat them to a breakfast on the way to school. While they will sometimes request McDonald’s, they are just as content to stop at the Mobil station and get a donut and container of chocolate milk.

I said before, if the boys do exceedingly well in school, it is because of the commitment my wife makes to them in the evening. She directs the boys in the afternoon to get their home work done as well as assisting on projects, book reports and papers. She also will do quizzes to test their level of knowledge. When I come home from work, I usually get to spend 30-60 minutes to read with them before bed time while my wife packs lunches and lays out the clothes she wants them to wear. For the most part, we have the television turned off in the evening which eliminates a major distraction.

Like most parents, I want the best for our kids. My problem, I am not sure what ‘best’ means. Do I want my boys to be rich? Do I want my boys to be successful? While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being wealthy, the pursuit and accumulation of wealth can be ‘vanity and chasing after the wind’. Do I want my boys to be successful? I have known people that were ‘successful’ at their jobs and fail miserably at home with their spouse and children. Sometimes I wonder if we place to much emphasis on ‘education’ as the capstone of human achievement. I have known a lot of morons that that have college degrees. I have also listen to many ‘experts’ with PhD’s that are complete idiots!

Even now, I remember holding my sons when they were babies and holding their little hands up and in desperate prayer asking God to guide the life and the hands whatever they may hold. In my mind’s eye, I saw all kinds of things in those tiny hands: Would they be a mechanic like their Pop Pop and hold wrenches? Would they write the ‘great American novel’ by holding a pen or pencil? Would their skill with a scalpel save a life someday? Would they learn the skills of a craftsman and hold a hammer to build houses or a saw to build furniture? Would they pound a gavel in a courtroom if they followed the path of law? Once I was giving our youngest son a nebulizer treatment for a breathing problem he had and I could not help but wonder if he might be a fighter pilot someday.

In the end, what really matters to me, is what kind of mechanic, or what kind of writer, or what kind of person they are. The pursuit of occupation should be the pursuit of their dreams and inspirations so far as they learn to provide food, clothing and shelter for themselves and for their family. Schools may allow learning and the increase in knowledge, but as the ancient scribes knew long ago, knowledge is a passing thing but wisdom, like love, is eternal.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Kidney Stones (part 3)

The first time I had trouble with a kidney stone, I went to the emergency room around 2 in the morning, was released to go home around 5am, and the stone passed around midday. The second time, however, the lithotripsy did not break up the stone but just knocked it out. It took a week to pass. The kidney stone had to work its way into the ureter, a very small bio-tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. The stones often obstruct and stretch ureter which causes the severe episodic pain which is felt, as previously mentioned, in the lower abdomen and groin. It is the worst pain I have ever experienced. On top of the pain and discomfort, there is a embryological link with the kidney and the intestines and the vomiting center is stimulated and nausea and vomiting make a very bad situation worse.

My hope is that the stone passes after the treatment because if it doesn’t, the urologist will have to take a more invasive approach. The thought of a laser being threaded up to the kidney is not a pleasant one.

Last Sunday, a week ago today, I woke up and felt pretty good. The family was getting ready to go to church and I went downstairs and sat in front of my computer. When I stood up I felt a twinge of pain and although my first thought was for the worse, I convinced myself it was nothing. By the time I went upstairs I told my wife I would not be going to church. Three hours later, we were back at the emergency room.

I have been to the emergency room several times for this now, that even in my pain, I know what is going to happen. I fill out a form and show proof of insurance. I am brought back to see a nurse and a physician. The nurse takes vital signs and the doctor gets briefed on my medical history by asking dozens of questions . . .the first one is, “how are you doing?”. My pre-programmed response of “I am doing ok” is challenged with “you cannot be doing okay or you would not be here”. After my self diagnosis is confirmed the doctor gives me a brief overview of what they are going to do for me.

I am walked over to another room and a male nurse comes in to chat. He starts an IV and then says he will be right back with some relief. I have no idea what he comes back with . . several vials that are injected direct into my IV. He tells me that he is going to give me a pain killer that will go right to work. I am warned that I may feel a slight burning sensation but it will pass and I am going to feel a heavy weight on my chest. I have no idea what he put into me but it works. It was a rocket ride of sorts and I can fully understand why there are drug addicts now. To go from intense pain to euphoric pleasure and then sudden peace with my situation is a remarkable experience. I am wheeled for an MRI and also for X-rays where it is later confirmed that I do have a 4mm stone working its way from my kidney to my bladder.

I am released from the hospital that afternoon. It will take three days for the stone to be caught in the strainer. There are several more but the fragments are small and it is my hope they can all just pass without incident. My long term hope of relief is temporal, at best. I have read that the recurrence rates are estimated to be around 10% per year, totaling 50% over a 5–10 year period and 75% over 20 years. I am also told that men are affected approximately 4 times more often than women. As my father in law is fond of reminding me, growing old is not for sissies.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kidney Stones (part 2)

My urologist uses a lithotripter to attempt to break up the stone with minimal collateral damage by using an externally-applied, focused, high-intensity acoustic pulse. I am glad I am heavily sedated during this process. I am positioned on the apparatus' bed and my back is supported by a water-filled coupling device placed at the level of kidneys. I am not aware of it, but they have also placed a tube down my throat so that I can continue to breathe. Somehow the doctor is able to locate the stone using some type of remote imaging system so he can focus the shock wave on the stone. He will deliver 120 shocks per minute for the next hour or so. I am also very glad that I am under a general anesthetic.

I wake up in a different room. There is a strange awakening that takes place as one regains consciousness. Somehow, the body knows it has been traumatized and the brain is trying to figure out when and where. My eyes slowly clear as I look around the post op area. There are nurses talking and walking about. I spot the clock and it takes extra effort to focus in on the time. It is a few minutes after 5pm . . . my brain starts working the math . . . what time did this start . . .1pm? 4 hours ago? When will I be home? Three hours from now? The nurse comes by and sees how I am doing. I am very thirsty and ask for something to drink. I get a little ice cold can of Sierra Mist. Other than getting the sedative, the cold soda is the highlight of my day. I have not eaten anything since 4pm the previous day and have not had anything to drink for the previous 16 hours.

I lay there for an hour or so. My wife has been talking to me off and on for the past hour but I do not hear much of what she has to say. Things are getting back to normal rather fast with the exception of the feeling that I just did a few rounds with a professional kick boxer.

After laying there for an hour, the nurse tells me I can go home as soon as I can stand up and go to the bathroom on my own. I gather my strength that has been returning ever so slowly the past hour and stand up and slowly walk across the post op area to a bathroom with my plastic bag of clothes. The nurse walks with me and opens the door and unties the gown for me. She also gives me emergency instructions before I lock myself inside the privacy of the oversized toilet area in case I get sick or fall down.

I drop the gown and go to the bathroom and to my horror, what I see going in the urinal resembles tomato juice . . . I get dressed and cleaned up and go back out. My face must have shown my dismay because the nurse sees me and says “are you ok?” My response is not unlike Ving Rhames character ‘Marsellus’ from Pulp Fiction . . “naw, I’m pretty {exp} far from okay” . . . I think it . .but bite my tongue and say “no, I just pee’d blood”. The nurse does not even flinch and responds “that’s normal” . . now, I am no medical doctor but I know that what I just did is not normal but I am dressed and all I have to do is wait for my wife to pull the care around up front and the nurse will have someone push me in a wheelchair and let me go home. Home is close now and I see light at the end of the tunnel so I stay quiet.

We stop on the way home and I get my prescription filled. I also added a couple of 2 liter bottles of 7-Up to the cart. All I needed now was for my wife to take my hurting body home, allow me to take some pain medication and go to bed (which is what I did) and sleep for the next 12 hours.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Kidney Stones (part 1)

The Good Book says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” but sadly, we live in a fallen and broken world where there is something wrong with everything, my kidneys not excluded. The kidneys, when healthy, filter out waste products from the blood and secrete the nasty’s on to the bladder and then out of the body as . . . well, you know . . . number one . . . pee . . .

For some unknown reason, I am in that 10-15% of adults in the United States that have been diagnosed with a kidney stone. The way I understand it, some of the chemicals found in my urine are able to crystallize, concentrate, and precipitate into solid deposits on the kidney walls to form the ‘stone’. These crystals can grow through a process of accretion to form a kidney stone. My particular stone composed of calcium oxalate crystals.

I have been dealing with kidney stones for the past couple of years. The first time was the result of my stupidity for going on a ‘grapefruit diet’. While I did lose weight, I woke up in the middle of the night about two weeks after I started and felt like somebody kicked me in the groin. I was certain that I had somehow ruptured my appendix while I was sleeping and was soon to be departing this world. The pain was so severe that I rolled out of the bed and fell to the floor, crawled to the bathroom and vomited. I cannot say how long I agonized as time cannot be measured when each second is as painful as the one before it. It was all I could do to get dressed so my wife could take me to the emergency room at a local area hospital.

Having been through this routine in the past, I now realize the situation is not fatal; however, that does not lessen the severity of the symptoms. Last year, right before the holidays, I went to the emergency room in the middle of the night for another kidney stone that had developed. While I passed that particular stone the next day, the x-rays showed that each kidney had a 5-6 mm stone growing. I was referred to a urologist that recommended a lithotripsy which is a non invasive surgical procedure that uses high power sound waves to break the stones up into little bitsy pieces.

My first experience with the lithotripsy was a scary one. I was checked in to the surgical unit and just walking into the pre-op area was a surreal experience. It was kind of like going to the doctor’s office only they made me get undressed so I could wear a light green hospital gown that only covers the front leaving most of my posterior exposed to the draft. The nurse that helped me was very kind and made a world of difference in my experience. She even offered to tie the gown up in the back to provide me some semblance of dignity. She proceeded to take all vital sign measurements and started an IV and answered all the questions that I asked.

My urologist came in and spoke with me and physically marked the side he was working on with a marker.

The anesthesiologist also came and also spoke with me. Anesthesiologists, I have learned, are physicians that have completed four years of graduate doctoral training after gaining a general degree and doing at least four more years of residency. My anesthesiologist had the primary responsibility of protecting me while I was unconscious. I was told all surgery involves some risks and general anesthetics can affect critical life functions like breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Little did I know, the one that I only thought of as “the gas man” was actually the one that was there to immediately diagnose and treat any medical problem that arose during my treatment.

When it was time to go, I was visited by a certified registered nurse anesthetist who gave me a couple of shots, a chemical cocktail of sorts, which would sedate me. Things kind of get hazy and surreal after that and I can barely remember being moved from the gurney to the table. I did notice a huge hot water bottle like feature but my brain was to fuzzy to understand what it is or what it is for. I try to see what is happening around me but the chemicals in my blood are making me indifferent to what is going on. I watch an oxygen mask come down over my face and I am told to take some deep breaths and then . . . nothing. No dreams, no visions, no pain or awareness. No sense of time or space. I wondered if this is what it is like to be dead.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Continental Divide

According to geologists, a continental divide exists on every continent except Antarctica. A continental divide is a border line, of sorts, between two watersheds, and, depending on which side of the dividing line a drop of water would fall (assuming no evaporation or absorption) that drop of water will eventually travel to one destination or the other.

In North America, the Continental Divide divides the flow of water between the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. Rain or snow that melts on the east side of the divide flows toward the Atlantic Ocean while precipitation on the west side drains and flows toward the Pacific Ocean. The North American Continental Divide follows the Rocky Mountains from northwestern Canada to southwestern United States of America. It continues through the Sierra Madre’s in Mexico and on through the Andes in South America.

I think the United States of America is currently struggling with many watershed issues. Abortion, same sex marriages, immigration & economic issues, energy and educational crisis, and the ‘so called’ global warming issue all the while our country tries to prosecute an international war on terror. Our country is currently divided socially and politically along many different ideological lines and the average voting taxpayer will fall like rain and flow to one side or the other, and apparently, worlds apart, often times without much thought.

I find this an interesting because behind these issues are ideas. Ideas like ‘justice’ and ‘liberty’ and ‘rights’. Words like ‘choice’ and ‘life’ and ‘control’ take on different shapes and meanings to those who use them. I find myself taking notice of how careful and crafted news reports and political speeches are written and delivered. These topics are important and I struggle to know what I believe and why I believe it.

At the core of all the worlds’ tensions, are the ideas and those that would manipulate the ideas to bring about a particular result. That is the quest for power. The power to will, the power to dominate, and the power to control. By the way, this is not limited to seats of power in government, or church magistrates, or school boards . . . but also in the privacy of our own homes.

So what is my point today? Can tough questions have easy answers? Here are ten questions that I have been asking myself for the last 20 years or so.


Who am I?

Why am I here? (Alternate question . . does life have meaning and value?)

What does it mean to be a “human being”?

What is the nature (essence) of evil?

Why is their pain and suffering in the world (alternate question . . . why is their pleasure and joy in the world?)

Is there a God/god/gods?

What is God like?

Has God spoken?

Is there life after death? (Alternate question . . .Is this all there is?)
How can I know that I know anything? (Alternate question . . .What do I know for sure?)

Oh how I need to be brave and face these straight on. There are no red pills or blue pills to take. Life is what it is and all the wishful thinking cannot make it otherwise.