What A Week!
The beautiful stained glass at my new church in Normal.

This past week has been an incredible journey and I want to thank all of the people of Pontiac and Normal who have made this such a positive and faith-filled transition!

The people of Pontiac shared with me during a farewell reception and the thoughtful cards, gifts, and well-wishing touched me and ensured that we left Pontiac feeling cared-for!  Meanwhile, the people of Normal have welcomed us with graciousness that we could not have expected.  For instance, two members of the Staff-Parish relations committee (my liaisons with the congregation) showed up on move-in day with a large laundry basket filled with house-warming gifts:  things we would need as we started unpacking.  They also presented us with gift cards for Steak-N-Shake and Avanti’s.  How thoughtful!  The Avanti’s card paid for our pizza that night, because we had no dishes unpacked nor energy for cooking!

Fast forward to this past weekend.  I had a funeral on Saturday morning and preached at a worship service on Saturday night and two worship services on Sunday morning.  I made it though the weekend in pretty good shape, but had a moment during the 9 am worship service communion when fatigue hit me.  I had to hold on to the wall and rail to finish, but once I sat down and got to rest, I was fine again.

There are moments like that which remind me that I’m still recovering from surgeries, but, mostly, I don’t feel any different than before my medical problems began.  I just have to watch for my moments of stress, weakness or fatigue and know when to slow down or rest…

Mostly, this week has been a joy.  I feel as though I have experienced love from one congregation and great hospitality and welcome from another.  Who could ask for more than that?

blessings to you,

Moving In, Heading Out!

Today I finished setting up the basement / library / office / man cave.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it is the one space in the house that I get to make mine…

That makes three rooms that we’ve opened all the boxes and moved completely in.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but we finally feel like we’ve made progress!  Living Room, check.  Family Room, check.  Library, check.  Luckily June (my mother-in-law) has returned to help Carrie finish the move-in process because I’m heading out to a busy week.  
Before brain surgery I didn’t think much about busy weeks and weekends, but after surgery it is a whole different story!  Moving into the house wouldn’t have been a big deal before surgery, but post-op it felt monumental.  I am leading all three worship services for the first time since my brain surgery…for my last (Farewell) Sunday at the Pontiac church.  My last Sunday in a church would be an exhausting task anyway, but after brain surgery it feels daunting to lead worship, preaching, and greet and talk with people.  Oh, and lest I forget, I volunteered for church camp and leave Sunday afternoon for a full week of being a chaplain.  It will be a recharge and help me get back into the swing of being an active pastor…but holy cow it’s going to wear me out.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m excited for each and every thing that I’m doing.  This is stuff I love to do!  Oh- and I have plans for resting and taking care of myself, but surgery has sure changed the way I look at my days and weeks.  Every room I unpack, sermon I preach, and kid I hang out with at camp feels like a huge accomplishment (and makes me happy).

It’s getting late and before too many sighs go up into cyberspace, I’ll sign off and go to bed.
Parents, ugh!

Parents are wonderful.  Okay.  I know, I know, if you are a teenager it may not seem like it, right?  I remember that feeling.  As a teen, it is terrible when your parents show up…or don’t show up…look at you wrong…or don’t…or, well, when they speak.  Ugh, how could they be so weird and goofy?

If you are a teenager, am I on the right track?

Let me tell you, at 32 years old I have a different take.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have a great relationship with my parents.  Sometimes they get on my nerves and sometimes I get on their last nerve, but, especially this week, I’m SOOO glad they are coming to help me.

First, let me tell you what next week is going to bring for my wife and me.  I have some work and then early in the week we have to go pick up a whole trailer full of stuff in St. Louis and move it to Normal.  Then, on Thursday the movers come (so the house has to be packed and cleaned), We move in and have a half day to unpack and then I have to leave for a wedding rehearsal (fri) and wedding (sat) that I am co-officiating in Pittsfield… then I have to be back Saturday night so I can be rested for my Farewell Sunday at Pontiac… and then Sunday afternoon I start as a chaplain for church camp at East Bay in Hudson, IL.

So I’m thrilled that my mother-in-law is here right now cleaning and helping us pack; my mother and father are coming next week to help us move and then my mother-in-law will be back to stay with carrie and help her pack while I’m at the wedding and camp.

When I was younger I was embarrassed and stressed out by my parents (I still have my moments :-), but as an adult I see blessings in their presence.  It turned out that having parents was actually an asset, who would’ve known?  I am so glad for my parents and my in-laws and all that they do for Carrie and me.  Whether you are young or old, I hope you will, this week, take a moment to think of how your parents are a blessing for your life.  If you are a teenager it may not be easy at first, but there are things your parents do that make your life better, I imagine.  Think really hard about it and you may see that they are a blessing for you!

Title image found at:  http://conflictremedy.com/finding-new-solutions-for-parent-teen-conflict/

Weight Watchers Saved My Life!

Lately I’ve had a whole lot of people comment on my weight.  Either they say something like, “Oh you’ve put on some weight, you look much better,” or something like, “oh, you look too thin (or sick).”  Now, I know that it is all amplified because folks know I had a brain tumor: so I don’t take it personally…but it has me worried!

I think it reveals a larger problem in society, especially the rural, midwestern culture here in Livingston County (Illinois). Our American Society is, quite simply, obese.  I was overweight until not long ago and now that I’m at the top end of my healthy weight range, everyone thinks I am sickly.  I still have flab, I’m still not fit and toned…yet everyone thinks I am now unhealthy!  Let me say it one more time:  I’m not even at the low side of my healthy weight range and everyone around me seems to be freaking out, why?  Because so many who are around us in rural midwestern America are overweight.  Overweight has become the standard, quite simply.

I’m not coming down on obesity because of how people act, by the way (I’m not calling people lazy), nor am I even upset because of how people look (It’s really not about vanity).  I’m honestly concerned for my health, my family’s health and for the people around us.  Being overweight is a serious problem which leads to all kinds of health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, for example.  And weight gain, beyond one’s healthy weight range, is an indicator that one’s diet and exercise are out of whack and that things are not well with your body!  (When you are gaining weight your body is trying to communicate with you)

Well, back to me.  Last week someone cornered me and shared their concern about my weight and I responded that Weight Watchers (my weight loss) saved my life.  It did, by the way!  I told them the story of how my spinal fluid leaked into my bed after my second surgery.  I told them about how the surgeon shared with Carrie that I would have died that night had I been any heavier or older.  I told them that losing 35 pounds and getting into my healthy weight range was not just to look better (vanity), it actually saved my life.  Now, I’ve responded this way with several people, but the reason this one interaction stands out in my mind is because the person responded to my story: first, by saying, “Oh my.” and then saying, “what do you mean about a healthy weight range?”

They were serious.  They had no idea that based on sex and weight there are guidelines to help people find a healthy weight!  Today I want to begin correcting this view.  More importantly, I want to become more vocal about our need, especially in rural communities, to work against obesity and grow in health.  I want to do this work not to be critical of people or to be hurtful, but because I want to help.  There are many people suffering from the plight of obesity (or at least being overweight) and I would be remiss if I didn’t share my own experiences and work to help them.  At my heaviest several years ago I was 225 and I hit my goal weight of 165 pounds a few weeks ago (when I arrived in Pontiac two years ago I was about 200).  I’m a 6′ male and my healthy weight range is 147-184 according to Weight Watchers.  I got to where I am by eating more vegetables and fruits and cutting down my oil and carbohydrates, I got to where I am by eating well (not being hungry), and I got to where I am by adding some basic exercise to my routine which not only helped me feel better and lose weight, but also helped me to have more complete and enjoyable days.

I hope you will join me as I continue working to be more healthy.  Don’t do it for me, do it for you!

Also, if you’d like to find you’re body mass index (figure out how you are doing), click here!


Get started with a new and accurate bathroom scale:
Ministry from the Backyard.

I’m still on medical leave from my pastoral duties…at least officially. Although I preached this morning for a confirmation service at my church, I get to walk away without the worries and responsibilities of being a pastor for the rest of the week.

I came home and relaxed in my recliner and did all the things that a guy should do when he’s recovering from surgery…but, then, when my wife got home I joined her in the backyard. She wanted to write a blog, but also enjoy the day. I couldn’t argue with that. I went out and did the same.

I logged onto facebook, then twitter, and then went over my blog stats and posts. I really did very little, yet I communicated with a number of friends, member of my church family, and people in the community. As I sit in the sun and write blog posts (feeling the wind whip past me and the sun on my arms) I am connecting with other people and building relationships. A pastor who only did this all week would be…well, quite simply, lazy… Yet, shifting some responsibilities to make time for social media is a smart move.

Getting a small laptop or iPad and going to the local coffee shop or a restaurant…or using an iphone to update your status (or check-in) from a community event or location will enhance and deepen your ministry and your connection to the people who live near you.

It is time for pastors to recognize that making time for social media, not at the end of the week when everything else is done, but throughout their week (as a priority) will help them to do every other element of their ministry in today’s new context!

NOTE:  The photos above were taken with intstagram.  If you are a pastor with an internet-connected smartphone, you need to get the app and start a photostream!  It’s a fun way to share your world with others.

Getting Back To It

I’ve begun to feel much more like myself, but I forget that no one outside of my living room knows that, at least on most days!

Well, as you all know from my other blog posts, I got through the second surgery (which fixed complications from my original brain surgery). All was going well, last I posted about my health. Since then life has been pretty boring, really. I sit in my recliner and test gravity, I pack boxes for our move to Normal, IL, or I am on a walk with my wife.

If the part about me packing boxes is concerning, it shouldn’t be. I pack them and I direct Carrie about where to stack them. It’s a weird position to be in. I go to the grocery store and I have to ask for a bagboy to help me to my car. I’m 32 years old and look as though I’m an able-bodied man…you should see the looks I get from the County Market somedays.

It is really great, though, to be off all the pain medications and driving again!!! It allows me to get out of the house and that doesn’t seem so important until you can’t do it. I know I’ve talked about this is the past (after my first surgery), but getting to drive felt like a huge milestone. I didn’t need to go anywhere, in fact, I didn’t really have anywhere to go…but I could go if I wanted to. That felt great, somehow.

That brings me to today. I got to go to my church today. Not only did I get to go to church, but I was invited to preach the 8:15 am worship service since it was confirmation Sunday and I led that program. I was nervous to try to preach, but I felt good the whole time. I’m back to myself and I know now that I’m capable of getting back to work.

My District Superintendent and the directing pastor at my church decided, when I went into the emergency room with the Spinal fluid leak that it wouldn’t make sense for me to go back to work for just a few weeks. It really could be more disruptive than helpful to be back full time for such a short time, especially when Rev. Ray is finding his groove as a solo pastor… So, I will be on medical leave until the end of June and start back to work as a pastor full-time when I arrive at First United Methodist Church of Normal.

Now, I haven’t left the church and because I’m feeling better and better everyday I’m not just going to be sitting around next month. After talking with Rev. Ray, I’ve decided that the month of June will be a time of visiting in the nursing home and spending time saying farewell.

Title Photo Courtesy of Marci Hunt

Nuts & Bolts

Alright, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my ideology of communication.  Yes, some of it is dated, but I want to move on.  I want to write a bit about the “nuts and bolts.”  I want to inspect more specifically how we put good communication into practice.

Over the last few months I have started an experiment by accident and I think we can learn something from it.  Let me tell you:

A few months ago I was in an unusual situation.  My church had decided to make major staffing changes, so I knew I was moving.  I went to the doctor and found out I had a brain tumor, and then my senior pastor went on vacation for a month.

When I went in to talk to my District Superintendent (the pastor who supervises my district of churches), she shook her finger at me and told me that I needed to communicate VERY CLEARLY and often with my church.  My job, she reminded me, was to minimize anxiety and keep the church informed.

She was right, but also I didn’t want my wife burdened during (and after) my surgery with lists of people to call and email, nor did I want her to feel inundated with calls when she was going through a lot.  Hmmm.  Well, Facebook, Twitter and my blog turned out to be the solution.  It was perfect because friends, family, church family, and even the people who weren’t yet on facebook could stay connected to my progress without much effort on my wife’s part.  We ended up starting a new blog and by the end of that month we had over 6000 hits.  It was a great success.

It was an accident, but  it worked beautifully.  It wasn’t just information, it wasn’t just what happened, but it was about how I felt.  Perhaps more importantly, it wasn’t just words but also video and pictures.  It turns out that I finally did all the things I’d been expounding on this blog for so long!  I was using social media to build relationships.  In the process of authentically expressing myself, I was sharing my life and faith with a larger audience than I preach to each Sunday.  How cool is that?  It was an accident, but I was actually doing the mission statement of the church… perhaps even more effectively than on Sunday morning.

Day 2 – Getting to St. Louis.
image found at:  http://www.epmonthly.com/whitecoat/2010/05/florida-verdict-threatens-ems-availability/ambulance-2/

Hmmm. So where did I leave off? Ah, I told you all about getting sick on Saturday and getting to the Pontiac Hospital. I was feeling a little stupid, you know, expecting the doctors to say, again: “This is all normal, take some tylenol and go home.” My wife later said it’s like going to the mechanic and having the rattle stop once the mechanic is there to listen. Well, as most of you now know, it wasn’t business as usual. The radiologist told us it looked like bleeding in my brain from the original surgery and they wanted to transfer us to St. Joseph’s in bloomington. Luckily my wife was not satisfied about the transfer. For me, I would have done anything I was told I was so goofy from the morphine, but my wife was on top of things. She was confused why they would transfer me to bloomington and not to the doctors I knew already and the facility where I’d already had brain surgery. Well, for those of you who have not yet met my wife, she is never afraid to speak her mind. She told the doctor that we would just wait until he had contacted the surgeon’s office in St. Louis. I’m sure my wife felt elation when he walked back into the room looking a little defeated and said, “the doctors want you transferred back to Barnes.”

At first we were told the transfer would be within the next hour or so…so Carried stayed by my bed from 2-4am. Finally they told us that they were out of ambulances and drivers and that it would be 7am, so Carrie went home and got some sleep…at least I thought she did.

She was so worried about Sunday morning going well, that she secretly went to Chenoa an
 worked on Sunday morning stuff and prepared for worship for several more hours, since I had kept her from doing any work during most of this past week. She is a loyal and conscientious worker.

The ambulance got to the hospital around 7:45 and we were piled in and headed to St. Louis by 8am. It was really a pretty comfortable ride (morphine and anti-nausea meds help with that, though). Most importantly, the paramedic and driver were excellent and really went above-and-beyond to make us comfortable, give us internet access (yes, amazing, right?) and to provide excellent medical care.

Since we’ve been at Barnes-Jewish (we got here around 11am or so Sunday morning) it has basically been a waiting game. I mean, this situation was unscripted and this hospital visit was unplanned so they had to slip me in front of other people for the MRI and bounce me around rooms a bit before things were satisfactory.

We saw a neuro-surgeon resident who was on-call this weekend who was exceptionally helpful, very thorough, and really paid attention to my situation. Oh, and he really seemed very knowledgeable. He came by the room in the early-to-mid afternoon and talked to us about the CT scan that was taken in Pontiac. He wasn’t convinced there was any new bleeding, but certainly there was spinal fluid leaking and…the best way to describe it would be a ‘pressure problem.’ If spinal fluid is leaking out from the skull, there isn’t enough in the skull, so my headaches and my pain was from the pressure being ‘out of whack.’
He also helped me to understand my headaches. I explained my different head pain and headaches and I told them that sometimes it shot from the back of my head to the front. He told us that the C2 (not sure that’s right) nerves or nerve bundle (or something) arch up from where my surgery was done to the front of my head and that was causing some of the headaches I had been experiencing. Gosh, it was just great to know that they believed my pain and that I wasn’t crazy. Okay, so this isn’t definitive proof of my craziness. My brand of crazy comes from somewhere else, though 🙂

The MRI wasn’t able to happen until 6:30 pm or so on Sunday night. They wouldn’t knock me out and it took about 45 minutes. I’ve never had trouble with MRIs before, but I thought about that bump on my head and the nausea I felt and I told them I didn’t think I could do it without being knocked out. They were moving me onto the MRI when I looked up with big sad eyes and said, “Oh, so I guess the doctor didn’t approve for me to get knocked out for this. The Radiologist’s only response was a slow, sad head shake.

Well, it was long and painful, but not intolerable. They didn’t even have to re-do any of it. I rocked out that MRI…yeah. And then we waited for results.

I hadn’t kept any food or water down since Friday evening at dinner and this was Sunday night, so I was hungry. No, I was famished. I’m a Carnes and we should come with a label, “Dangerous When Hungry.” Well, they didn’t want me to eat until they knew for sure that I wouldn’t need surgery until Monday. They said it was unlikely, but if there was an infection I might need immediate surgery and they didn’t want me to eat in that case.

I’m a reasonable guy (when I’m not hungry) and I understood that it would be a while before we got MRI results, but it took several hours and then the nurse came in at 10 pm (or so) and said that we probably wouldn’t hear any more until Monday morning. You should have seen the look of despair in my eyes. I explained how I had not eaten in days and how I’d been promised food before bed, so long as there was no emergency surgery. The nurse took pity on me and, despite orders, gave me a few ice chips.
Oh, that ice and water were exquisite! I mean, that water tasted better than the best wine. OooOOohhhhh, soooo good!

Well, that gets me to Sunday night and you nearing know as much as we do so far.

Today’s Scripture: 1 John 1:1-2:2

We will look more closely at just a few of these verses:

2 The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3 What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

Think about it for just a moment. It would not have been very difficult to believe in Christ just after the resurrection. Oh, it might have been difficult to believe, i suppose, but it had just happened! I mean, if there was a time when it was easier to believe, that would have been the time, right? If we read the gospel of John we find that Christ has appeared to the disciples. It seems assured that Christ has, indeed, risen from the dead!

But for the next few generations of Christians it must have been increasingly difficult. There were not any gospels for a while and stories were handed down, but Christ wasn’t there to be seen or touched.

The problem that becomes apparent in this scripture is that people were mixing up the message of Jesus Christ and so 1 John attempts to put the message of Christ back into order. “We have seen,” and “we testify…to you.” Those who knew something about the life and death of Jesus are writing these words to ensure future generations of Christians will understand the message of Christ.

Resurrection and New Life is not just for one time or one group of people. The message of New Life in Christ is for all times and all peoples. This letter is written to us that we might know Jesus’ love. Christ overcame death and so might we!