I know, I know – it’s winter. For us in the Northland, however, this January (and a good deal of December) has meant the outdoors in stinking, stinking, really-cold-freeing weather to deal with. I’m not sure when it actually got above freezing, and it’s been rare for the “high” of the day to even be in the single digits above zero. Right now, in the heat of the afternoon, the temperature has climbed all the way to -6 degrees, with a wind chill of between -29 and -35, depending on when the wind whips up. That of course is better than a couple of days ago, when they were talking about windchills possibly hitting the -50. Now, I know those of us who live up here agreed to live up here, but I wouldn’t be opposed to the plan when it gets this cold, that we all just load up in a nice warm airplane and go to a tropical beach somewhere for the week. It’s a good plan, but I don’t think it’ll catch on. Of course, the folks who could already afford it left right around Christmas, and are playing golf in Arizona, or eating tex-mex in southern Texas today.
And, did I mention it’s been snowing almost every day? And what happens when it snows that much, with absolutely no chance of melting the mountains, driving even around town takes a whole different skill, and courage. I had to run to the grocery store a little while ago, and so after I made sure I had put the Iso-Heet additive in the gas tank to make sure the fuel line doesn’t freeze up, I headed out. In the distance of no more than a mile and a half, I encountered six different intersections at which I could simply not see if someone were driving toward me. Unable to see, combined with driving on nicely polished ice that they pretend to call a street means that after waiting a bit, it’s necessary to pull out into the connecting street, hoping that someone has not decided that this would be the day when they would drive as fast as they can down the ice. Makes you know you are alive, but it also makes you wonder if you really needed that package of cheddar cheese for tonight…
Now, we have four cars at our home, with three slots in the garage. What that means is that “someone” has to park on the driveway/snow shelf, and have their car enjoy the sub-sub zero thrill of – well, you get it. I really take a lot of care to make sure that all the cars are well-tuned and in good shape. Therefore, when I got into my car late yesterday afternoon, and started it up, as I noticed the sun shining on the windshield, my heart was not filled with joy as I discovered the crack in the glass, running from the bottom of the windshield and up about 2 feet into the middle of the window. I guess with all the snow that had landed on it, and the heat of the defroster meeting the way below zero other side of the glass, that it just decided to crack up. Nobody’s fault, no accident – it just cracked, and did so big enough that it can’t be fixed.
That of course sent me on the delightful mission of insurance and glass repair and scheduling. Good news is that since I am retired, I’m not having to head out down the interstate, hoping the entire windshield will stay intact. The insurance folks were nice enough to tell me it would only cost me the deductible of $250, which I guess is a steal when it comes to modern windshields that have heads up displays and rain-sensing automatic windshield wipers and such. Just between the two of us, however, I think I could have spent the $250 on something else, and been just as happy, or happier…
So, the repair happens on Friday morning, and we have other cars to drive until then, so long as we continue to start them and let them run to keep the battery in good shape. They say that actually there is going to be a warming trend starting tomorrow, and the still temperature may get all the way up to 28 degrees above zero! Of course, the forecasters are quick to say that it will come with winds gusting up to 40 mph, which again will bring the windchill down to the -20s or so.
A couple of things to realize at this time of the year: no lawn mowing, since you can’t see the grass under three foot of snow; also no grilling outside, since you can’t see the grill either. You do get to use the gas fireplace, which feels nice at the end of the day, and warms up the cats. And – it won’t last forever. Even broken windshields and freezing cold cars will give way to another month closer to spring, when daylight comes before 8am, and you can even begin to think about opening a window, or sweeping off the front porch.
For now, however, we wait, and do inside things, and express joy when “it’s not as cold as it was yesterday…” But it’s a fact that all of life is relative, right? I mean, yes, it’s winter in the Northland – what a shock. But when summer comes, and we sit out on the back patio with a nice breeze and 72 degrees, we will forget these days – sort of. It’s also important and good to remember that this indeed is the day the Lord has made, and our greatest task is to rejoice and be glad in it – even if it means you hope someone else in the family will go out and get the mail from the mailbox… When we intend to live in gratitude, instead of grumbling in despair, certainly that is the kind of worship God enjoys as we speak, and act and even think with thanks for what we have been given, and how today is truly worth living – cracked glass and all.
Blessings, and I pray for your day to be one in which you are able to find the words of joy to share. Talk with you soon.
Well, greetings Friends – it certainly has been a busy and interesting January so far! Allow me to give you a bit of an update, and then to take some time to reflect on all that has happened.
First of all, one week after New Years Eve, I ended up at the downtown clinic for a double-header procedure of endoscopy and colonoscopy. I certainly don’t need to go into detail about it all, except to say I fully expected them to drive the Golden Spike where the two procedures met deep inside me. What I will say, however, is that everything went very well, and the results showed the complete absence of anything foreboding or even terribly serious. My hemoglobin is on the rise, and I have about triple the energy than I’ve had for the last number of months. I can drink cups of coffee again, and as long as I lay off popcorn kernels and other nuts, I should be good to go for a number more years. That is why I use the word, “blessed” – I don’t consider myself blessed because nothing bad happened. I think we commit a sad error when we equate good things that happen with the idea that we are blessed. With that mindset, it wouldn’t take much to then assume when something bad comes to our lives, that somehow God withheld blessing from us, and we are simply living forsaken and alone. No, instead I believe that “blessing” and “blessed” mean that in the course of our lives, we are aware and depending on the very presence of God with us, in whatever we are going through. I’m not blessed because somehow I believe God waved a magic wand and fixed everything – but I will truly claim to be blessed in this world because I know Who holds me, and walks with me on the path of my life. Whatever happens, I walk in that faith, and not making deals or trying to convince God that somehow I deserve or try to barter for a different outcome. Blessing is far more fundamental to our existence than looking for beneficial results.
So, all of that was Part A of my month of medical stuff. One week after my procedure, I turned 65 years old, and one week after my birthday, I was set up to have shoulder surgery that promised to take me out of commission for six weeks, and then six months of rehab. Again, not something I was really looking forward undertaking. So, before I could have the surgery, the medical folks required that I have a “Pre-op” physical. I wasn’t very happy about one more trip to see someone, since for the last three months, I’ve been thumped and listened to, and blood drawn and pictures taken by a rather large number of medical people, any one of which I’m sure could have just signed off on the ok for surgery. Therefore, I grumped my way once again to the clinic, to meet with someone I had never met before, and to wait for him to listen to my heart, check my blood pressure, and charge my insurance a few hundred dollars – again – to give me the green light to go ahead and get operated on.
However, something happened on the way to the operating table. The doctor who saw me is also an adjunct professor as the medical school, and so he actually sat and reviewed my records, especially over the last several months. He then asked me two very simple questions that changed everything. One, he asked if I could actually move my right arm. Now, it's true that back in November, my right shoulder was just taking up space in the world – nothing was working right, and anytime I did move it, I had searing pain that went on and on. Oh, that was the second question: did my shoulder hurt? Well, I answered that it did hurt for a number of weeks, but it didn’t anymore. And, as I showed him, I could raise my arm easily above my head, extend it in any direction, even to the middle of my back, with complete flexibility and no pain or even stiffness whatsoever.
He watched my gymnastics, and then he sat back in the chair. “What are you doing here?” he asked. I simply repeated that I needed the pre-op check done before the surgery. He knew that, of course, but he then proceeded to tell me that if I had come to see him first, he would never have referred me to a surgeon for shoulder repair. He did some different types of tests on my arm and shoulder, and then once again asked me if I really thought I needed surgery. I began to realize that he didn’t think so at all.
He explained the physiology of the shoulder, and that surgery seems necessary if there is significant pain, lack of motion, and if the shoulder was making it impossible for me to go about normal daily activities. I did tell him that I no longer shovel snow, which in my book was kind of a plus, and that I was constantly being mindful of how I use my arm and shoulder, leaving it to my left side to do the heavy lifting, and how I used my right arm and shoulder more for balancing items, even if they were above my head.
Once again, he asked if I truly wanted to have the surgery and to go through all that was involved. Before I could answer, he offered that if I did not want to go through it, that he would be the heavy and in so many words, wave me off from the operating table, opting instead for a few months of physical therapy and exercises to strengthen the part of the shoulder that wasn’t torn. Then, if after that time, I believed it wasn’t better, or functioning as it should, that they could reschedule a surgery. He was quick to say that I could move my arm as well as anyone could, and that, just as if someone where a hammer, all the world looks like a nail, so a surgeon sees, with reasonable credibility, that the world is in need of the surgeon to cut it open and fix whatever there is to be fixed.
A few minutes later, I had an appointment to see a physical therapist the next day, and instructions to call the clinic and cancel the surgery.
Now, I’ve lived a pretty comfortable life, with the only other time I ever had surgery was on a wrist when I was 17 years old to remove a bump. I guess nearly fifty years later, the surgery I thought I “needed” was set aside, because somebody in the medical field took time to look at what I needed from a different perspective.
So, the surgery has been deleted from my calendar, and in its place are a number to visits to the guy who gives me crazy exercises to strengthen my shoulder. Apparently, there are four rotator cuffs in your shoulder, and it is possible to have a fully functioning shoulder with 3 of them made strong. That’s my new song for this winter and spring!
A second opinion turned out for me to be more evidence that just as God’s eye is on the sparrow, I know God watches over me as well, and sent someone to give me a different path to walk on.
You know that one of the concepts of life that I mention frequently is to live intentionally, and not accidentally. This experience opened my eyes to see that truth as clearly as I ever have. Where I could have very simply and accidentally gone through a tough time of hurt and healing, I have instead taken an intentional path toward healing of a different nature, with the guidance and insight of a second opinion.
Everyday of our lives, as soon as we open our eyes, we are greeted by a nearly infinite number of paths our day could take. One choice leads to another, and then another that depends on the previous choice we made as to whether it is even something we could choose. And granted, there are those days when we really do make grand and glorious mistakes in our lives – “wrong” paths, or ones taken only accidentally, without thoughtful decisions made. The good news in all of this often complicated and potential pitfall of a daily life, is that we can always stop – pause for a moment, look at where we have been, and maybe where we might find ourselves careening toward. We can stop, and think again, because we aren’t lost – we just don’t know quite where we are. Before we take the next step, we are given the opportunity to choose a different path, and intentional path, and one that is more abundant in its joy and hope.
That, my friends, is also the definition of living blessed.
These writings may not be daily, but I will work at making them more regular, and I hope you will join me as we move through our world, making a difference, and offering the love and joy that is ours to give. See you soon!
Well, here we are in the middle of the first new week of 2022. As I look outside my home office window, I see the third blizzard in this past week raging outside. We won’t be bringing in the Christmas decorations, since with a drift that is as tall as Cheri runs between the driveway and the little white Christmas trees, we really can’t get to them anyway. We did pull down the wreaths on the garage last night, in preparation for this newest storm, but they are currently sitting on the floor of the garage, covered in snow, and of course, not melting, since the garage could now serve as our giant walk-in freezer, with the temperature hovering around zero – inside the garage. Outside, it’s currently -7, with a wind chill at -35. It truly is winter in the Northland.
While we look out at the totally white landscape, and plan our drives to make sure we can push through the drifts in the driveway, I realize there are other storms on the horizon in my own life. Since late October, I continue to deal with a significantly low hemoglobin count, which the doctors believe must mean that somewhere inside of me, my blood has decided to leak. The result right now of that means that it doesn’t take much for me to just run out of gas when I am working on a project even as simple as taking the ornaments off the tree after Christmas. I have taken more naps, and longer naps, than I think I did when I was a toddler – last night I slept nine hours, and am looking forward to this afternoon as another sleep opportunity. That’s not normal, of course, and so this Friday, courtesy of my newly minted Medicare card, the medical folks have decided to treat me to a double feature endoscopy and colonoscopy. How thrilling! They of course promise that I will be out for the entire procedure, which is absolutely perfect for me. I expect they will drive a golden spike as they meet in the middle to commemorate the work. My real hope is that they will locate what is going on, fix it, and that’s the end of that issue. As I have mentioned before, I have no joy in spending time in the medical world. I am a very private person, and so physically the best part of any time spent there is when I am walking out quickly, knowing that I don’t have to return for a long time.
And so, adding to the festivities while I was finding out this first plan, my right shoulder began offering me a free “pain-fest,” bringing me a huge discomfort, to say the least. I went in to see what was wrong, and after three different levels of x-rays and scans – and loads of money – they came to the conclusion that I have also managed to tear my rotator cuff. The only thing I can figure out was way back in about 2013, as I went to throw the trash out at the dumpster near Cheri’s townhouse where she was living at the time, I hit a patch of black ice, and immediately hit the concrete with my right elbow. I have really strong bones – never have broken anything – so that strong upper arm – humerus – jammed straight up from my elbow to my shoulder, and the little organic rubber band that holds the shoulder in place tore. A lot. Yes, you can do the math and realize we are now working on nine years since that happened, and so it doesn’t repair itself, and has been sore for a long time, but now has become a burden to that side of the body. Being left-handed, I am once again reminded of how much we all live in a right-handed world, because it’s amazing how many things require the use of your right arm for reaching and twisting and stretching. All those actions, when you rotator cuff is torn, become a reenactment of the Spanish Inquisition. In short, their plan is to knock me out – again – and “fix” the shoulder.
Here’s the thing: they can’t fix the shoulder until they figure out about my blood. They waited for about eight weeks to do the procedures they are going to do this week, and then wait another two weeks until they can repair the shoulder. So, to recap – two Fridays ago was Christmas Eve. Last Friday was New Years Eve. This Friday – two days from now – they will go exploring all inside of me, and then next Friday is my birthday! The following Friday, they will do the shoulder surgery, which will mean 4-6 weeks without the use of my right shoulder at all, and then a ton of physical therapy (translation: tons of pain), with the hopes that by probably June, I will fit as a fiddle.
Now, I have already told you more about me physically than I ever cared to, or plan to again. First, I hate to share that, and second, I really can’t imagine you are all that interested in my organ recital. But I hope it explains the huge gap that has existed in my writing to you. Even this little bit of writing, with my right shoulder and arm pinned against my side, means that I’ll be taking an Advil when I get done.
The greater and more profound reality for me in all of this, is coming to accept the fact that after spending 65 years with not much of anything bothering me, except for some nuisance things that require some pills and better diet, I’m at the point for that “150,000 mile checkup,” and I’ll be in the shop for a bit to rebuild and renew a few significant parts of the body. I utterly hate it, but we are past that point, so I guess it’s off to see the wizard, and throw the bucket of water on the witch, and get on to the health and long life that I truly need to claim.
I thank you for your prayer, and your thoughts of me. It’s not all about me, but for now, I’m what I am thinking about, I guess. I hold on to the song, “In Christ Alone.” Keith Getty wrote profound lyrics. The third stanza especially captures me:
No guilt in life, no fear in death – this is the power of Christ in me!
From life’s first cry to final breath – Jesus commands my destiny.
Blessings in this new year – and I’ll try to stay in touch.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.