Just Faith

Faith is a gift from God. Faith can move mountains, even the mountain of addiction. Ending a life of self abuse caused by addiction will happen when you trust God to lead the way over, around and even through the mountain. God's "Twelve Step Program" begins with one easy step-believe in Him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A few ounces lighter...

So the countdown has begun; 135 hours until S-day. You can determine if the “S” stands for “Surgery”, “Scared S…” or “Settle-up”, any of them seem to work for me.

On Monday, November 3, I will enter the hallowed halls of Christus Santa Rosa Hospital. Estimated arrival time to the O.R. is 12:30 PM, ( we all know how ambiguous hospital time really is). I hope to leave there with this unwanted visitor completely excised from my recesses; a few ounces lighter.

This past Sunday I attended church and Sunday school. It wasn’t my plan nor was it easy to do. I haven’t felt very well lately and staying in any one position for a prolonged amount of time is uncomfortable. But it was a great Sunday. “Thee Class”, my Bible study group, included good fellowship and a wonderful lesson taught by Joe Gil. Services were also amazing and a true blessing as I listened to Pastor Leslie Hollon deliver God’s powerful message.   
I made the decision to go to church after wrestling with my own thoughts in the early hours of Sunday morning. I was feeling as if I had already lost a few ounces, or in literary terms I was feeling a bit like Tootles having lost his marbles. If you are a purest then you know that J.M. Barrie’s Tootles never lost his marbles. It was Spielberg’s version of the story, Hook, which robbed poor Tootles of his marbles. 

Early Sunday morning I felt that I too had lost a few marbles. I remembered as a child playing with marbles in the back yard of our home in Oscoda, Michigan. A group of dirty faced boys would draw a circle in the dirt and then challenge each other for ownership of peewees, shooters, creepy crawlers and the coveted steelies. Some days I would add to my marble bag, not so much on other days.

The marbles I lost Sunday morning aren’t tunefully known as peewees or cat-eyes. They have their own monikers-hope, faith and trust. Somewhere along the way I had lost these marbles.

This damned cancer consumes me, monopolizes my thoughts. I listen to the encouraging words of those that have fought their own battles against this sickness; I covet and appreciate them. I carefully do research about this disease, enough to educate but stopping short of entering the realm of morbidity. I have craved knowledge in every corner of my life, there was no reason to act differently now.

I read the prayer-grams sent to me by caring Christian brothers and sisters and recall the days when it was I who was sending words of supplication out to the sufferer. I know the letters I received were written from the heart with the love of Christ.

Yet the dark thoughts would not subside. 

Early Sunday morning I walked out onto my back porch and looked up to the heavens and I told God, “I have lost my marbles. Tell me where they are. Tell me where You are!”

“Go to church.” A simple reply.
And so I did.

I waited until this evening to share this story with you because I departed church Sunday the same way I had walked in, having lost my marbles. But like Tootles I will not give up my relentless search for them. You see because I know they are still there. If I close my eyes I can see them. Their appearance is the same as it was on the day that God gave them to me as a gift, a gift of hope, faith and trust. A gift that will last a lifetime, a gift that can never really be lost…only misplaced.

Tootles encourages me. It seems a bit strange that I would gain reassurance from a fictional character when I am surrounded by real people who truly care. But sometimes we all need to be like a child in order to feel His arms around us.
Here’s to Monday, and seeing Tuesday. (And finding a lost bag of marbles!)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Where the tears go

More than thirty years have passed since I penned my first poem. There have been only a few since then. But today, influenced by my dear friend, Cameron Dockery and a rather melancholic mood and an empty house, I decided to try again to write as a poet.
Below you will find this creation, it is called Where the tears go. I think of it as a work in progress, let me know what you think...

Where the tears go
by J Hirtle

The old man stood bent at the waist.
The autumn of his life
Declared by the lines on his face.
His hands unable to conceal their constant tremble.

Ten thousand days, maybe more, we have had
Since he first enlightened this lyricist, yet but a lad.
He has always seemed old to me
A friend none the less he will always be.
From the beginning I knew he was wise.
Today I asked my question, as oft I do,
"Where do tears go when they depart my eyes?"

I know they wander down my cheeks
When my emotions I cannot disguise
So tell me dear sir,
"Where do tears go when they depart my eyes?"

Without a word he looked at me
A glimpse of sadness broke upon his face
For he already knew the reason I inquired.
The doctor’s words had no hope to lend,
It seems my time here is nearing the end.

A creeping smile slowly began to appear,
He told me sagely,
You have nothing to fear.
Soon you will stand in the place He prepared for you.
There you will see the glorious truth-
Tears never die or go away
They turn to mist
To be used another day

Soon you will understand
He knows every one that has ever dared to fall
And He will stretch out His hand
And gently wipe them all.
That my dear friend
Is where the tears go.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A New Journey-One week later

I am beginning to not like Thursday’s very much.

I met with the surgeon this morning, it was after a short wait in the Stare at Everybody Else Who Is Sick Room (it was that or read outdated magazines) before I was called back to discuss my future. 

I liked this doctor almost immediately, Dr. Mario Rossbach. He took his time in explaining to me about the cancer and the surgical procedures that will take place next week. He even had pictures to share from the M.R.I., (thankfully not in Kodachrome), but I couldn’t really make out the images that he so patiently pointed out to me.
After our time together he shook my hand and smiled, “I’ll take good care of you.” He promised.

The doctor had managed to provide me with many things on which to ponder in addition to his welcomed reassurance. Now if you were to take an M.R.I. of my head and it gave you a snapshot of the last week you would see that I have had many, many thoughts to contemplate. I imagine that this image may look like the flyover at Loop 410 and US 281 during rush hour traffic. Hundreds and hundreds of cars, all on a mission, all stopped. 

Those cars represent the hundreds and hundreds of thoughts I have gathered since last Thursday; each one with a mission…each one at a dead stop. 

One thought is of my children and what their own thoughts must be knowing that both their father and mother have a cancer gene. But I couldn’t do anything with that thought so it just sits there.

Another thought is of their future and whether I would be part of it. This thought also unrecognizable and unattended sits in this traffic jam.

There are thoughts that represent each one of you and the kind words you have sent my way. I know they are there, but I have done nothing with them.

Now if you look closely at this imaginary image you will see a 1972 dark blue El Camino sitting amongst these stalled thoughts. This favorite car of mine has a license plate the simply reads “Prayers”. Under the hood is a powerful SS396 engine…sitting idle with nowhere to go.  Look in the bed of El Camino and you will discover stacks and stacks of prayers. Prayers that have my signature upon them; but like all the other thoughts have just sat there bootless for a week.

It’s not that I haven’t talked to God lately, but my words certainly wouldn’t be considered prayers. I have spent my time with Him on just one bended knee.

After leaving the doctor’s office today I drove to the local ice house to get a cup of coffee. I sat in my truck pretending to enjoy the three hour old java and smoking a cigarette. I looked at all the thoughts that had gathered on my own flyover and knew I should do something with them. Yet all I could do was sit there brooding, stuck in the traffic of thought. It was like waiting for a broken traffic light to turn green.

And then one thought suddenly broke away from the rest and sped forward at super-sonic speeds.

Last week a good friend called me upon hearing the news of my cancer. His name is Mel Pankey. If you do not know him I can describe him for you with just one word…servant. I have not met a greater example of a servant for Christ in all my life. 

During my conversation with Mel he said, “It’s okay to pray for yourself too.”

I watched as this one thought drove away from all others…”It’s okay to pray for you…for me.” 
I glance back at the snarl of thoughts and see the license plate of the blue El Camino; “Prayers”.
I recall the words of King David, “In the day of my trouble I will call upon you…”

But I haven’t you see, because David’s sentence is not complete. His words as recorded in the 86th Psalm are-“In the day of my trouble I will call upon you: for you will answer.”

It is the fear of His answer that has kept both of my knees from bending and my head bowing.

But my friend reminded me of another verse-

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace…as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

One of the greatest ways that we can show the Father that we trust in Him is through our prayers and petitions. 

To be afraid of His answer is not trust at all.

Thank you Mr. Mel Pankey for being a friend and reminding me of who I am.
I gotta go friends, I have a traffic jam to unsnarl.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Journey-The Second Mile

After waking early this morning I listened again to the voice mail that Dr. Marek left for me last evening. The message was the same; the M.R.I. was good. There were no signs that the cancer had migrated to other areas. I felt energized! 

It is Saturday and suddenly this journey had positive mile markers to guide the way. A long list of things to do around the house, neglected lately, came to mind. My grandson, Logan, is spending time with his father, which is a good thing; although I will miss our Grandpa-Logan Saturday adventures. 

I awoke hungry. After allowing the doctor’s message to lift my spirits I lifted my butt out of the chair and headed to the kitchen. I made a bowl of Golden Grahams and two pieces of toast with Blue Bonnet on it. This may sound boring to you, but after weeks of oatmeal and one piece of dry toast as the staple, this breakfast was like a five star dinner to me.

It was a mistake.

Within minutes the pain associated with eating returned with a vengeance; a 6 on the pain scale.
Inside where thoughts are born lives another character I call The Naysayer. I could hear him stirring with each passing moment.

“The doctor’s message was just a spot of good news not the cure for the cancer that still sits in your bowels. You can’t eat just because you are feeling better…you idiot!”

I ignored his words while concentrating on the pain, wishing it away. Slowly the pain lessened; 6, 5, 4, then a 3 and finally landing on a 2.

I thought again about my list of things to do and decided I would mow the lawn before the heat of the day arrived. The Bermuda had gotten rather lengthy and needed to be cut. I hoped that this would be the last time this year; soon the grass would lay dormant for the short Texas winter.

I pulled the old Craftsman Q4.5 out of the shed and primed her to start. Always reliable she decided to be stubborn this morning. It required about dozen pulls on the rope before the engine sputtered to life. I pushed the mower about ten feet before she died, choking out under the thick-overgrown grass. It took only a couple of pulls on the rope to restart the Briggs but she only traveled two feet before succumbing to the Bermuda jungle once again.

I raised the deck two notches (higher than I prefer but obviously a requirement today), primed the engine and pulled the rope again. And again. And again. This time it took about eight pulls to wake the stalled engine. By the time she started I was covered in sweat and breathing hard. The pain I felt earlier was creeping up the scale and had reached the 3.5 mark. 

I don’t have a large yard but I knew it was going to take quite some time to finish this first task of the day. With the mower finally roaring at full speed I would push her just a few yards before feeling as if I had reached exhaustion. The perspiration and pain scale were increasing in harmony. I could only hold onto the handle and bend forward when the waves of pain came. I kept telling myself, sounding like the Watty Piper's Little Engine, “You can do this, you can do this.”

Then the voice of The Naysayer rose above the symphony of my own words of encouragement and the roar of the Briggs-

“You can’t do this! You still have cancer. You are still anemic, bleeding on the inside. Just give up, you are not who you used to be…idiot!”

I could see my shadow cast on the ground, a figure bent at the waist, holding onto a lawn mower to keep from falling face forward. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago I was going to Planet Fitness five times a week, working hard, obtaining body weights that I hadn’t seen in twenty years.

“That’s not you anymore. Face it! YOU HAVE CANCER!”

I ignored the voice of The Naysayer and continued slowly to push the mower over the long grass. It stalled two more times and required every ounce of energy and will-power to pull on the rope to bring it back to life. Each time I would measure how much more I had to go and with determination rising from an unknown source I continued.

“Idiot, you are making it worse.” The Naysayer whispered.

The mower sputtered and died once more. I looked up and saw a stretch of grass about two foot wide and fifteen feet long that still needed to be mowed. I pulled the rope…nothing. I pulled again and still nothing. 

This old reliable Craftsman mower had run out of gas. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I yanked on the rope she was not going to start without gas.

I sat down on the freshly mowed grass, holding my midsection as if that may bring some relief and looked at the small patch yet to be mowed. “I’m not finished”, I whispered to myself.
“I am not finished!” I told The Naysayer.

“I am not finished!” I told God.


If you happen to drive by house and see this small patch of overgrown grass know that I am leaving it there as a reminder to myself-that I am not finished.

But I am tired. I sit here writing these words in this electronic journal so that I won’t forget.  But I am tired. It’s only 1:50 in the afternoon and I am done for the day. I think I will watch some football with my eyes closed…
To be continued….

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A New Journey

At 8:40 AM, on October 16, 2014, I answered my cell phone to hear the news that would mark the beginning of a new journey. The voice of my doctor delivered the words confirming the results of my biopsy. As suspected it is colon cancer.

I was navigating my vehicle through the traffic on US 281 south, just minutes away from Trinity Baptist Church when I received the doctor’s call, therefore a portion of my brain refused to think about his words in fear of accidentally driving the truck right off the road. 

This section of my brain is a den for pragmatism and immediately started making a list of the emotions and thoughts I was experiencing. This particular section is too clinical to actually feel the emotions; it is much more comfortable organizing them in a nice, neat list.

Another section, smaller than the area belonging to Mr. Pragmatic, listened carefully to the doctor’s words. He informed me that "staging" the cancer would come later, after the MRI. A treatment plan would be determined after we speak to the surgeon… and have more tests.

And while all this was going on there was one last small section of my thought factory waking up. This is the place I hide my emotions, keeping them in check as often as I can. But the doctor’s words stirred the occupants of this small brain-room into a whirl. While Mr. Pragmatic was listing all the things I need to do in order to prepare myself for this new journey, chaos and confusion was busy looking back over a lifetime at breakneck speed while asking the question-

“Will this be my final journey?”

Mr. Pragmatic answered, “Way too soon to consider that. We have nowhere near the information we need to ask such a sad question.”

Ignoring this interpretation Mr. Feelings looked for his own answers. He began to make a list of his own. Many questions (emotions?) will have to be explored-

“Where is God right now?”
“What about my children?”
“What about my family?”
“What about my plans?”

As I journeyed down US 281, Mr. Pragmatic took control before my emotions could become…out of control. The questions still linger, but quietly in the background; the same place the tears are hiding.

I am writing this for me and for you. Over the past few years this has become my most proficient way of communicating. (That’s almost as sad as the thought of this new journey.) 

Not to sound too cliche, but I will take this one day at a time…one word at a time. The emotions will only come out on paper, that's what I hope anyway.  I need to write, it helps me feel as if I have some control. My next book, hopefully not my last, is coming together and I don’t want to neglect it. But sharing my thoughts as I travel this new journey will be therapeutic (thank you Mr. Pragmatic for that thought). 

I have suspected for some time now that what I was having diagnosed at an incredibly slow 21st century pace was cancer. I think that may have weakened some of the emotions today. But during this waiting period I have read some blogs written by people that have or are going through a similar experience.  Quite often their words encouraged me. Sometimes they scared me. If my words help someone then I have accomplished the final item of my Bucket List. I hope to be able to start a new one at the end of this journey, but if not then I hope these words are meant for someone to read.
Now, it is time to cry…but just for a moment.

To be continued…