Friday, April 24, 2009

The Lesson Of The Quarter

What I'm about to write about may seem a little "trivial" to some but it is an example of just how deep and common the battle between righteousness and sin for our soul really is.

What I mean by that is the story I'm about tell you is probably something that's happened to everyone hundreds of times (which makes it common) but it also happened in a place where only I know about it (which makes it private or "deep"). Have I got your attention? Hopefully I do.

This past week at work I sat at work station that's in a relatively isolated part of the call center. Each of our cubicles are about 6 ft. X 6ft and some are back in the corners of the room. When you sit in those places the cubical walls, which are about 2-3 feet above your head when you are sitting down isolate you. Anyway, I sat in one of these "isolated" cubical for about 3 days in a row this past week.

On the desk in that cubical was a quarter, 25 cents, 1/4 of a dollar. It was sitting there the first day and was there every day I went back. I don't know whose money it was because no one had laid claim to it. It remained on the desk. So a quarter was sitting on the desk, big deal. Ah but here's where the "battle" part comes in.

Ever since the beginning of the year I've been putting away change as a means of saving up to buy a ventriloquist figure later this year. Not just a "puppet" but a classic figure or dummy as some refer to it. I am really anxious to get it. I'd like to have gotten it "yesterday" but our finances require that I save up for it. To that end I do everything possible to make sure I come home each day with quite a bit of change in my pocket. I break a dollar with every purchase. I even search the washer when I do laundry for loose change. Collecting change to get the figure as quickly as possible is a very selfish desire.

Now back to the quarter. It was just a quarter. I could have easily put it in my pocket and taken it home. No one would notice and if they did they probably wouldn't know who took it for sure. For 3 days I fought with myself about picking it up and taking it home to get me 25 cents closer to my new "vent" figure. If you think this is no big deal let me point out that taking it would have been stealing.

I know it would have been a "little sin". But the magnitude of the sin is not what's important. God commands us not to steal (Exodus 20:15) and desires that we be be honest from the day we are born (Psalms 51:6). Had I decided to disobey God and follow my desire for the smallest of contributions to my "piggy bank" obeying my impatient and selfish desire would have been a sin against The Lord of my life.

It probably wouldn't have even bothered any of my coworkers. No one would have missed a quarter. But as an heir of the Living God, through his son, Jesus Christ, taking the money would have been a reflection of a selfish heart and a sin against Him.

After much temptation I made a conscience decision to let the quarter stay on the desk. I'm not bragging about it to pat myself on the back. Ordinarily I would have just taken it without even thinking about it. I would have taken great pleasure in bringing it home and watching the total on my electronic coin counter go up. But what God has been teaching me over the last few months is that the depth in which the seeds of sin are embedded in my heart is a lot deeper than I have every realized before. The quarter put the issue right there where I had to face it and make a decision based on what I believe God requires of me.

So like I said this may not have been a big deal for you as you read it. But God used that quarter to illustrate and teach me a lesson through the Holy Spirit. He spoke to my heart. The requirement of total submission and obedience that God demands of me, one of His Children, extends to the very deepest parts of my heart and soul and needs to be reflected in even the simplest acts or most private moments of behavior. Not in just the "big things" in life but in "little things" as well.

I found it rather amusing in that while looking for Bible verses that have the word "honest" in them I came a cross this one from Proverbs 19:1: "Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and a fool". And someone who willingly disobeys God for the sake of a small or temporary gain is truly a fool.

Thank You Jesus, Lesson Learned

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blue Cross pulls plug on "DS" Switch

A month ago yesterday Paula and I had our consultation with the baratric surgeon. He recommended a relatively new type of weight loss surgery called the "Duodenal Switch. " For all the details about that day and the procedure read my March 25th post.

Paula has called the surgeon's office a couple of times over the last couple of weeks to find out if there's been any word of approval or denial of the surgery from our medical insurance company.

Today she got the word from the hospital insurance clerk that Blue Cross and Blue Sheild of Alabama, our carrier, does not approve "the switch" operation. The reason given is because it's considered an "investigational" procedure.

I had no idea what that meant so I got on the BCBS website and read about it. The explanation of the BCBS policy on "the DS switch" procedure is this: The procedure "has malabsorptive properties and multiple metabolic complications have been demonstrated. A major complication in the long-term is protein malabsorption. Patients who have this operation must have lifelong medical follow-up since the side effects can be subtle and can appear months to years after the surgery."

Translated it means the insurance company won't pay for this operation because there's a good chance there will be long term complications. They will result in the need for future surgeries or medical procedures and BCBS don't want to pay for those. It may not be written in the text but I've worked for a medical insurance company. Contrary to what all they say in their public relations and advertising they are not in the business of making sure your health needs are taken care of. They are in business to make money. It's all about the money. So with all of that said the bottom line is BCBS had pulled the plug on the "DS Switch" for us.

Finding out about this decision by BCBS was a real disappointment for Paula and I. Paula said she was "disappointed but not discouraged." For me it created a momentary gap in my faith.

The reason I've gone this far with my plans for weight loss surgery is I believe that's what God wants me to do. I believe that he wants me to change my body, my life, and my heart and surgery is the first step. I had been convinced by my surgeon that the "DS Switch" was going to be the easiest way to do it.

But God doesn't always choose the "easiest" way for us. Perhaps "the switch" isn't the way He wants to change our sinful attitudes and behaviors when it comes to food and weight.

The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, the procedure my sister Shari had in February 2008, is also an effective way of losing a lot of weight. The "DS Switch" provides strong physical solution to the issue of weight control where as the "Roux-en-Y" has a relatively drastic physical element to it but long term successful sustained weight loss depends more on a change in and adherence to a new life style.

So having to accept the insurance company's decision to only approve the "Roux-en-Y" will mean as Paula said "we'll have to work harder." But in addition to that we'll have to change in our minds and our hearts as well.

I believe that this is the path God wants us to take. The "switch" denial by BCBS means that we'll probably have to accomplish our weight loss goals with the aid of the "Roux-en-Y" surgery.

Today while I was praying about the situation I heard God tell me something that assures me of what Paula and I will have to do to achieve our goal of successful weight loss. Very clearly God sent me the message: "I don't just want to change just your body, I want to change your heart."

That more than anything explains to me what God's will is for us as we go through this life changing endeavour. I've been told what God wants me to do, now it's my responsibility to have faith that he's going to make a way and help me to do it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

2 Trees Leave

It happened very quickly. Yesterday, Friday, began with 2 sugar maple trees standing in our front yard as they have since before any of us lived here. Within a matter of hours the landscape of our front yard had completely changed. The trees were gone; cut down, removed by a landscaping company hired by my son, James.

Paula has wanted to trim; shape; or, ultimately; remove the trees for a few years now. A couple of times over the last year we’ve gotten estimates on the price of removal but never found one that fit our budget. This past Wednesday James, told us that he had arranged with a tree removal contractor he knows from work to have the trees removed from our front yard on Friday. Best of all, HE was paying for it.
Paula agreed to this. Problems with falling limbs, decaying leaves, and nesting birds (including an owl or two) had pretty much swayed her decision to finally give permission for the maples to be taken down.

Yesterday I woke up early because the contractor was supposed to be there between 9 & 9:30 in the morning. As it turned out they didn’t get there until after 1:30.

Once they started they worked quickly. By the time I left for work, a little over an hour after they got there, the first tree was already down. The job was finished later that afternoon.

After work, James brought home a truck load of top soil and two dogwood trees which he planted in the front yard. Dogwoods are the kind of trees Paula had said she’d always wanted in the front yard.

So now our front yard is completely open. The view of our house from the street and vice versa gives a very different perspective. I don’t doubt that there will be benefits to having a more open view of our neighborhood. But so far the only one I’ve seen is that our dogs have more to bark at when the front door is open.

James has made the regeneration of our front lawn his “pet project.” He’s added top soil, planted new trees, and is going to, hopefully, grow some grass.

Now that the view of our house from the street is completely open I’m afraid that the cosmetic flaws of the outside of the house will translate into “honey do” chores for me. Not really but it will mean the outside of the house will need some attention and fix up in the near future because now the neighbors are watching.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Sad Tuesday

Yesterday on my way to work I turned on the car radio and heard some disturbing news. One of my favorite all time baseball broadcasters, Harry Kalas, collapsed in the radio booth before the Phillies game against the Washington Nationals. He died a short time later.

Harry Kalas is a nationally famous sports broadcaster and voice over personality. For nearly 40 years he broadcast the Phillies games and since the late 70's has narrated thousands of NFL films. He's probably the reason I'm such a baseball fan today.

I wasn't much of a baseball fan before I was 11 years old. But in the summer of 1971 we were living in a new neighborhood. I started listening to the Phillies games on the radio out on the front porch of the house next door with the man who lived there. The excitement and action of the Phillies games drew me in like a moth to a flame. I quickly became a Phillies fan and listened to the games all the time. Soon I was hooked on baseball due in part to the vivid pictures painted vocally with the voice of Harry Kalas.

When I got to high school my love for baseball conflicted greatly with my lack of ability to play the game with any success. I decided to look ahead to the next best thing. I decided I wanted to become a baseball sportscaster. As part of a school project I wrote a letter to 3 play-by-play broadcasters for the 3 area teams Yankees, Mets and Phillies. Harry Kalas was the only one who wrote back to me. I don't have the letter any more but I remember some of what he wrote. He told me that sports broadcasting was a tough job to get into (this was still before sportscasting jobs became the inherit occupation of former athletes like they are today) but if I was serious I should think about going to Temple University to get a communications degree. I ended up not pursuing that career path but I never forgot the kindess Harry Kalas had shown a high school kid who wrote him a letter.

A couple of decades later I had moved on to being a fan of the Yankees but both my mom and dad had become big Phillies fans. They watched or listened to a game whenever they could. Harry Kalas was their guy. My mom LOVED him. A couple of years before she died I got my mom a stuffed Harry Kalas doll they had given away at a Phillies game one time. I got it off of Ebay. It was a plush likeness of the broadcaster with a voice chip in it so that when you squeezed his hand you heard the real Harry's voice. Kalas' infamous "That Ball's Outta Here" home run call along with several of his other popular phrases were part of the souvenir's novelty and charm. I still have the doll but the voice chip no longer works.

Now Harry's voice is silent for real. Gone much too soon at the age of 73. I'll tell you he was one of the good guys. If I had to make a list of top 10 people that I've never met but have had an influence on my life along with Jim Henson, Paul Winchell, Casey Kasem, and Soupy Sales, Harry Kalas would be on it. I will miss him and will never forget him.

Another less tragic but still sad thing happened on Tuesday as well. About noon while relaxing around the house I went back to my son James' bedroom and discovered his new pet iguana, Gizmo, dead in his cage. That's right after less than 3 weeks as part of our family, we have another dead reptile. I don't know how or why he died but I found out something I didn't know at the time I wrote my March 26th post. James got him from a local pet store at a discount because the woman there felt like something might be wrong with the reptile and he wouldn't live very long. The reptile wasn't very lively or energetic during his whole time here. He slept all the time and hardly ate anything. So it's wasn't really much of a surprise to James that he died. It was to me though. I had such an awful attitude toward the animal I feel a bit guilty now that he's gone.

(Please realize that I've place my tongue firmly in my cheek before I wrote this next paragraph. wink, wink nudge nudge)

I don't know what it is about James' bedroom and small pets. With in the last 3 1/2 years the room has been home to a blue tongued skink, a bearded dragon, an iguana, and 2 hamsters and none of them have made it out alive. The only exception to my theory that James' bedroom is a "cavern of death" for animals is our cat, Lil Bit. She's nearly 13 years old and she sleeps in the room all the time. Maybe cats are immune to the room's mystic forces. I can't be sure. But I know one thing. If Paula ever gets made enough at me to lock me out of our bedroom and James is away for the night I'm sleeping on the couch.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Water World

I’ve started drinking again. You read that right. I’ve started drinking again. But before you decide that I should go to a meeting and have coffee and donuts at a local "AA" meeting please let me explain.

One of the keys to the success of losing weight after my surgery is going to be making sure I stay hydrated. A post-op WLS (weight loss surgery) patient is required to drink a minimum of 64 oz of water a day. There are several reasons for this which I won’t take the time to explain in this post.

From the feedback I’ve gotten from my sister, Shari, and the post-op WLS patients I’ve met in the support group, drinking the correct amount of water each day is concentrated effort that has to be worked at every day. The daily quota of liquid consumption must be accomplished with the standing rules of : only taking sips (no gulping or chugging), not drinking 30 minutes before or after meals, and no drinking during meals.

In order to train myself ahead of time for this important aspect of my pending new life style I decided to start my “new generation of good hydration” before my surgery. As of this past Wednesday I have downed at least 64 oz of water each day. Some of those days it was more.

Believe it or not it has made me feel a bit better. I can’t say why other than I wasn’t drinking any water at all before. All I was drinking was diet soda. I have cut my intake of that to about 20 oz. a day (aka 1 large size cup from McDonald’s).

So now that I’ve started this post–op requirement at least mentally it won’t such a problem when I really have to do it to keep myself healthy. I guess next I have to approach the “exercise” issue.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

1 Year After Perot

Before I start writing about the title subject of this post I want to write some well deserved words about someone whose courage encourages me. You see today my sister, Peggy, who lives in Pennsylvania, went to the hospital to have knee replacement surgery for the 2nd time. While she discounts that it's anything special to me its an inspiration.

I wasn't there to see her deal with or recover from the first knee operation but I know she had a difficult time to say the least. But she never quit. Last October when she came to attend my son's wedding she was walking around on a brand new knee like she's always had it.

I know from talking with her how badly she wanted to postpone this 2nd operation until...never. But she did what she had to do in order to achieve what she wants so badly: the ability to walk without pain and an overall improvement of the quality of her life. She is now facing the next few months of rehab to get herself to the point of having two good legs again. I know she will be fighting though the pain as she works toward her goal.

As I face the idea of taking drastic action to improve my life by having weight loss surgery I look toward the courage my big sister. She has shown great determination in dealing with the challenge of enduring temporary physical pain for permanent gain in her life. I just want to let her know that her courage gives me courage to step into the life changing action I am going to take later this summer. Thanks Peg. I Love you. You're my inspiration.

Now onto the subject that appears in the post title. It was 1 year ago today that I got a devastating surprise around 10AM in the morning. It was just another day at my job at Perot Systems. Until I got called into a conference room by my boss. I'd been called in before but once I walked into the the conference room I knew that this was different. There were people there who had never been present at one of these meetings before. My boss, Linda, started some sort of obligatory speech that explained that it had been decided by people nearly 1000 miles away in Massachusetts (that's where the bosses of company we worked for were located) that I was being terminated.

My first reaction was emotional frustration. I truly thought I had improved. I thought I had done better. I had tried to do better. But the die was cast and I was escorted out of the building. I didn't know what to do. I had to call Paula and tell her. I was really upset to say the least.

That day was 1 year ago today. As I look back at the time since that fateful day at Perot I can't say anything except that God has been faithful to me and Paula the entire time. He made sure that we didn't suffer financially, through unemployment insurance and several extensions.

He has helped me grow spiritually by learning more about the importance of living a life of obedience and holiness for His glory. He has shown me that a Christian life is being devoted to Christ as Lord and sacrificing my entire life to him; not just giving Him a compartmentalized part of my life.

A large part of that spiritual growth has brought me to a place that, a year ago, I never ever would have thought I would be. I have decided that in obedience to God I must take drastic measures to bring my sin of gluttony under control. I'm looking to literally remove a part of myself in an effort to repent from a sin to which I am captive. That's what's behind my decision to have weight loss surgery.

He has allowed me to grow in my ventriloquism. He has given me gifts of puppets I never would have dreamed I'd ever own. He's given me opportunities to perform at the local library and daycare center, in a pair of small local churches, and in my own church as part Sunday morning worship services and while teaching 4 & 5 year olds during Vacation Bible School.

There's a whole lot more that has happened over this last year. I can truly say that over all my life is better today than it was a year ago. Or at least it's on a better path than it was a year ago. I have grown in so many ways. Yet I still have so much farther to go.

Losing my job at Perot Systems a year ago seemed like a whole lot bigger trial at the time it happened than it does now. But that's hind sight. Through all that has happened I have learned to trust God and have faith that He has my life in His hands. God is at work in my life. The greatest aspect of that work is the continuous application of the gospel completed through the sacrifice and Lordship of, Jesus Christ.

So while I'm taking the time to mark the anniversary of an event in my life I'd have to say there's really only one reason for doing so. It's to look back at where I was, see where I am, and look forward to where God still wants me to go. The journey's only begun. I'll let you know how it's going when I check back with you again sometime...perhaps in another year.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sensational Saturday & Sleepy Sunday

When I left ShopNBC's warehouse at 3AM Saturday morning, having finished my 3 days of late shift training, I was excited because I wouldn't have to be back to work until 3:30PM Monday.

I went home and had a bite to eat, watched some TV and went to bed about 4:45AM. I slept until noon. I was a little discouraged because I had the entire weekend off and had slept the first half of the first day away.

After I work up I discovered that my wife and Brandi, James' fiance, were busy in the kitchen baking and decorating sugar cookies for Easter. My back was hurting a bit so I rested in the living room recliner for a while staying out of the cookie maker's way.

A phone call from my son, Michael, helped me remember that we had invited our entire family over for dinner. It wouldn't be anything fancy. We planned on grilling burgers and brats and having baked beans and chips as well.

As I looked around the living room I quickly realized that it needed some quick cleaning in order to make our family's visit a pleasant one. I took down the card table filled with the our tax paperwork and medical records, emptied the chair filled with various items that belonged in other places in the house, and vacuumed the rug and furniture . Unfortunately I didn't get this done completely before Michael & Heather arrived. But nonetheless it was done and everyone would be able to gather in the living room and be comfortable during their visit.

Once my sister in law arrived the entire famly spent the rest of the day hanging out and visiting with each other. On TV we watched the VH1 countdown of the top 100 pop music 1 hit wonders songs of the 80's. It was something that both Heather and I really wanted to see. Everyone else just kinda got taken along for the ride. We also watched some the NCAA Men's basketball Final Four game between Michigan State and UCONN.

When it came dinner time James was the grill master and he did an awesome job. We had a nice meal together and nearly everyone had piece of the cake that I made but wasn't very proud of. It was a chocolate cake with whipped white icing. It looked awful but it tasted pretty good.

That was my Saturday. It was the first time in a while that all the family was here at the same time. I can't tell you how much I LOVE when that happens. I am so full of joy and happiness after a family get together it makes me want to break into song...but I won't.

Today, Sunday, I woke up early. I had planned on going to church to sing the song "What a Wonderful World" with my old man puppet, Sherman as the morning's children's sermon. I was excited about it because I had created a Powerpoint slide show to use as a background enhancement as Sherman sang.

However, when I got up my back was really really hurting me. I tried to walk it off at first and even tried relaxing in the living room recliner to ease the pain. When it didn't get any better I realized I needed to go back to bed, take a muscle relaxer, and lay on the heating pad. That's what I did.

Once I took the muscle relaxer I wasn't good for much of anything the rest of the day. I spent it either in the bedroom sleeping and or lying flat on the heating pad, or in the living room watching TV trying to stay awake. Those pills just knock me out. I didn't go to church in the morning and I didn't even go to the deacons meeting at night.

By about 8PM I was feeling a lot better. I was groggy and still had some back pain but I was better. I was able to take a hot shower which helped relax the muscles even more. I was also able to sit at the computer long enough to write this post. But I still feel like this was a lost Sunday.

So that was my weekend off. I don't have to be to work until 3:30 tomorrow so I'll be able to get some things done in the morning when I get up. Nevertheless I do regret having to spend the day in "la la land" because of the pain medication I needed to help my back. I'm going to start exercising to try and strengthen thoes lower back muscles so I won't have so much trouble in the future. I need to start exercising anyway to lose some weight. So how was your weekend?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pre-emptive Support

Late this afternoon my wife and I attended our first support group session in preparation for our upcoming WL surgeries. It was held at the health center in our local mall. There was about a dozen people there and they were in various stages of their weight loss programs. There was someone who had surgery over 10 years ago who is looking to get a "redo" as well as someone who had his surgery on March 18. Most of them had the gastric by pass and one had the lap band surgery. Our intention to have the "Switch" operation interested them very much.

I was a little skeptical about going but I'm glad I did. I was able to ask questions and express concerns about the diet and the new lifestyle that goes with the surgery. The people were open, honest, friendly and encouraging. They gave me hope that perhaps I will be able to make it to my goal weight someday relatively soon.

The group meets 2 times a month and the schedule will probably make a little difficult for me to attend on a regular basis (due to my work schedule). But I'll be going back when I can. I believe this group will be a key factor in my future success.