Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hooray for Weekends Away

     This week seemed a little lower key. I spent a couple of evenings at school keeping up with marking/organizing/preparing to write reports. I finished 2 books this week - one on Prohibition in the U.S. (which lasted from 1920-32) called 'Last Call' which was kind of interesting, and 'The Empire of Illusion' which seems pretty insightful and prophetic about where society is going (prophetic because it seems to do quite a good job predicting the kind of unrest we're seeing with the Occupy Wall Street protests). I've continued to try to listen through page 2 of my mp3 list - lots of Bob Dylan in there (I think 'Saved' is my favourite).
     This past weekend Beth and I went up to the Cranberry Resort in Collingwood on one of their promotional package deals. We got a call during the summer, offering us a cheap stay as long as we agreed to attend their 2 hour presentation on becoming a member of their time share group. It was a nice getaway and included $50 in coupons for their restaurants (and the food wasn't half bad) and 2 free movie passes (we went to see 'Footloose' on Saturday at the local theatre - it was at least mildly entertaining). The time share session wasn't too painful and only included about 10 minutes of pressuring us to sign up. They try to make it sound reasonable but $15 000 to sign up and maintenance fees of $50/month for 50 (yes 50!) years (= $30 000) for a total of $45 000 seemed like a lot of money to us.

     We got up early on Sunday morning (before 6:00) to drive down to Zurich for the Lutheran church's special 150th anniversary service. It felt different driving these roads (some familiar, some new to us) in the dark but it was a great sunrise, and it was very cool when we came across a major wind turbine area near Mount Forest - one turbine was right beside the road and the red lights on the masts flashed on and off as the propellors rotated. The trip ended up taking a lot less time than we anticipated so we took time to do a bit of a walking tour of Zurich. Beth was a great guide as so many of the houses hold special memories - "that's where Sharon and Elaine were both born," "that's where I went to Girl Guides," "that's where I worked on a school project with a friend," and as a car drove by: "and that was my grade 1 teacher at school" (no kidding!).
     The service was packed and we had the treat of sitting beside Beth's 94 year old amazing Aunt Alice (she still drives and is as sharp as a tack!). It was nice to be there and we enjoyed the meal afterwards as well, with a chance to visit with Gary & Cathy and Sharon & Ted. There was a neat display downstairs of a number of historical artifacts from the area. St. Peter's Lutheran Church has been a significant part of Beth's (and her family's) life (and I guess even mine too now as there have been important events I've attended there as well) and it was wonderful to celebrate with them and remember. We both found the line about 'the mystic sweet communion' we share 'with those whose rest is won' from 'The Church's One Foundation' quite moving, as we thought of loved ones who have gone on before us.
     Sunday evening was our fourth session in The Alpha Marriage Course at church. We're finding it to be a good stimulus to discussing important things in our relationship - this week's emphasis on forgiveness was especially helpful.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Heart

     This past week was the 6th anniversary of my open heart surgery and I also had my annual checkup with my cardiologist, Dr. Kim. I first met him in the spring of 2005 when I ended up in the hospital with a heart infection. At that time I had known about the mitral valve prolapse (which means the valve doesn't close properly and blood regurgitates back into the previous chamber) in my heart for about 9 years and had been going down to London for my checkups for about 5. But I experienced extreme fever and chills at the end of April and was in the hospital (St. Mary's, of course, especially with their new cardiac centre) for several days after they determined it was a heart infection. I had to take some pretty powerful IV antibiotics and in fact had a PICC line inserted which stayed in for 6 weeks - it entered my upper arm and then travelled down an artery right to the heart. We rigged up an IV pole and I had to "hang a bag" twice a day to administer the vancomycin. It got kind of interesting when I pulled it out at a staff meeting or when cheering on the youth during volleyball at the Pitch & Praise camping event that year. I missed a fair bit of school during that time as well, which is pretty rare for me (and there was a lot more of that to come!).
     As a result of the infection, and the desire of Kitchener cardiologists to intervene more quickly, I saw a surgeon that summer, Dr. Ashe, who suggested we look at repairing the valve in the Fall. Here's an excerpt from the email I sent out the week before my surgery:

We set the surgery for mid-November but it was complicated by another possible heart infection a few weeks ago, when I ended up in the hospital again for 5 days. I'm now giving myself IV antibiotics (again) 3 times a day to fight that. The surgeon also feels it's better to get in to fix the valve more quickly and so now the surgery is set for the morning of Thursday, October 20th.

Beth and I have been very impressed with Dr. Ashe. From what we understand he would be recognized as one of the top heart surgeons for this kind of procedure in Canada. Plus, he is a very down-to-earth person to talk to, giving us lots of his time to answer questions and explain what he will be doing. As well, because St. Mary's Cardiac Centre is one of the newest around, it is equipped with the latest and greatest technology to ensure success. We feel very fortunate to have these people and this facility about 100 steps from our house.

Through reading of material, and at the pre-surgery clinic yesterday we know that recovery from heart surgery does take some time (for example it says I can't drive for a month!) and work. I certainly feel up to the challenge but am realistic enough to know it will be no "piece of cake". My last day of teaching will be this Friday, Oct. 14 (I've been working mostly 1/2 days the last couple of weeks). 

Finally, I've been very aware, over the last few weeks especially, of people's care and concern for me. Many have asked questions and wonder how I'm doing. Fortunately, at this point I feel pretty normal, health-wise and am in no pain (this of course will change after the surgery;)). I know that many are praying for me and I can't properly express how much this means to me. I certainly believe in the power of prayer and have seen a lot of evidence in the past months of how God's hand has been on this situation I find myself in. I so much appreciate the support everyone has shown to me. Please continue to remember my family (Beth and the children, my mom and dad). It's been said that it's often more difficult in these circumstances to have to stand by and watch a loved one go through it.

     I wish I had saved the updates I sent out after the surgery but the things I remember most are:
  • driving up north the weekend before the surgery, listening to a new Sara Groves CD when the song "It's Going to Be All Right" came on and I started weeping, as it spoke so clearly to me and my situation 
  • waking up after the surgery and having such a deep sense of thankfulness (which I apparently expressed over and over and over!)  
  • a terrible day (the 6th) in the hospital, where I got sick in the morning and then felt my body was in some sort of shock as every tiny noise was very jarring
  • Pastor Stan coordinating and working on building a new roof over our family room as I was in the hospital recovering 
  • the lovely taste of a homemade grilled cheese sandwich when I got home from the hospital
  • standing at our back window in the middle of the night experiencing an intense sort of euphoria (possibly drug related) and appreciation for life 
  • the love and support of so many people, especially my family 
  • the accomplishment of walking up our stairs for the first time, or walking a bit in front of our house
     Obviously this kind of event changes your life in significant ways and gives a new perspective on many things. My scars (chest one not very noticeable but they took an artery from my left arm to do a single bypass while they were in there) are a vivid reminder of how much I have to be thankful for. Oh, and my appointment with Dr. Kim went fine, though I did wear a Holtor monitor for 48 hours to make sure my heart is not in atrial fibrillation (in which case I'd need to go back on the blood thinner I took for many years pre-surgery).

Sunday, October 16, 2011


    Last Saturday Beth and I visited the Waterloo (St. Jacob's) Market and ordered our winter supply of fantastic sweet rolls (25 dozen, which we'll freeze) from Martin's Baked Goods. We also picked up a few fruits and vegetables. This kind of shopping sure fits nicely with the book I read this week called 'Colossians Remixed'. The authors did a great job showing how the global economy and hope through technology are tools of the empire, but that we are called to live in a new kingdom of love and grace (and subversion). It was pretty heavy philosophical reading at times but some of the chapters were quite creative and practical (who would have thought that our faith can even impact what we do about diapers?). I really liked their line about how there really is no 'away' - that is, we don't throw things 'away' we just move them to a different place (where they can continue to have an environmental impact). It kind of reminded me of a great Earth Day thought I read about years ago - don't you think the Enter and Exit signs at malls and stores should really be reversed (think about it). After the market Beth wanted to go to Crossroads Family Restaurant in Elmira for their breakfast buffet. I'm not a big fan but it was still pretty good.
     We got together with some friends this week to discuss about a possible March break trip to a resort and the Dominican Republic seems to be the best possibility so far. We'll have to see if everyone wants to go and make a decision soon. I find that it's always nice to have something to look forward to but Beth is struggling with the higher prices of flying during March break.
     I led music at church this past week and ended up breaking a guitar string during the second song. It didn't affect the songs very much at all but it did kind of throw me off and so I forgot one part of the service in my rush to replace the string (which never worked anyway and just added to my stress level).
     I went to see the movie "50/50" in the afternoon for a bit of an escape but it ended up being a powerful story about dealing with cancer, which brought back lots of memories of Beth's battles with this disease.
     I spent about 2.5 hours at school Monday morning and it felt good to get some things caught up or in place. In the afternoon most of the family went to Rockwood for a hike. It was a beautiful fall day and the scenery there is quite spectacular. Then we headed back for Thanksgiving dinner at David & Rachel's. It was nice that they wanted to have everyone over and it was great that we could all be together for a delicious meal.
     On Tuesday I had an echocardiogram as part of my regular followup to the heart surgery I had back in 2005. I got called the next day by my cardiologist's secretary to set up an appointment for next week - I'm going to assume it's just a routine checkup, not that he saw anything abnormal in the echo (no sense in worrying).
     Friday evening I attended a presentation at church on The Bible at the British Museum. It was led by Paul Kiss who has been living in London the last few years. He included a lot of excellent information showing how historically accurate the Bible is. He also talked about the confidence we can have in the transmission of the New Testament documents. I have read about this in the past but it was good to have this important information reviewed. I really liked the fact he shared about how we can reconstruct all of the NT (except for 11 minor verses) based on quotations by the early church fathers (first 200 years after Christ).
     I've been listening to page 2 (lots of B's) in my music tracking list, trying to complete a full page - Billy Crockett (his live release 'In These Days' is fantastic, really highlights his amazing guitar talent), Bob Bennett (wonderful songs and guitar and voice - reminds me of his visits in '05 & '06 when we got to hang out) and Bill Mallonee.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Moving On

     So last Saturday Alison moved to the apartment she'll be sharing with her friend Julie. It's not too far away and is quite spacious (it even has a nice little sunroom area). It should be pretty quiet too as most of the residents are seniors. It's a little heart-wrenching to have our 'little' girl leave but we also support her decision to spread her wings a bit. Still, I'm something of a worrier so think of her lots. This great saying: "Why pray when you can worry?" helps me keep a better perspective, knowing what to do with my concerns. The move went pretty smoothly - we just loaded up the 3 vehicles and made it in one trip, then we made a couple of trips to David's house to pick up some items he and Rachel were giving her.
     That night we had a nice visit with our old friends [the friendship is old, none of us are;)] Marg and Frank. They were babysitting their first grandchild nearby in Petersburg at their son's house/mansion. Marg is pretty excited about her new grandmother role.
     On Sunday night we decided to check out the Alpha Marriage Course that is being offered at church. It mainly consists of viewing video segments about various aspects of the marriage relationship and then interspersing it with short discussion times for the couple to interact (just the two of us, not in a whole group). Some of the talking on screen can seem a little long, but there are good ideas shared and Beth & I sure enjoyed the chance to talk together. One of the ideas that came out of that time was that I saw the need to be of 'more practical help' so I tried to be more conscious of that this week (and of course I always had to mention how I was being 'a practical help').
     We found out last week that Mom has developed pneumonia for the first time in her life. She did get onto an antibiotic pretty quickly and is feeling better now. But she did need to stay cooped up for quite a few days.
     It's been interesting to see reactions to Steve Jobs' death on Wednesday this past week. I haven't read or heard a lot but most things I did see usually resonated at some level. I, of course, had to say something on my Facebook status as a long time user/fan of Apple products (Josh reminded me our first computer was an Apple LC 475 - probably around 1992). And I found myself surprised, along with one writer, at the level of sadness I felt at this loss of a man I certainly didn't know very well at all. I guess I am thankful though for the many advances he brought in technology. He certainly was a world-changer and I've recognized and promoted his innovative spirit for years. He often seemed to anticipate or initiate new ideas. I remember how crazy it seemed when the new iMacs came out with no floppy drives (remember those? - now definitely ancient history relics). One of my favourite stories was finding out years ago that one of the flagship PC graphics magazines admitted to being published using Mac computers! It seemed over and over again that Apple would release a new product and within 6 months the rest of the tech industry would create some less expensive (and lower quality) clone of that idea. And of course the iPod has definitely revolutionized how the world (including me) listens to music.
     Christianity Today rereleased an interesting article about Jobs from earlier this year that ties in well with the book I'm currently reading, 'Colossians Remixed'. Both show how our culture today puts so much hope in technology to save us. I know that Steve Jobs embraced Buddhism later in life, but I found it interesting that he had been confirmed as a Lutheran (like me!).
      Friday, after school, Beth and I went over to Alison's to put up some pictures and stuff for her and Julie. It was nice to be able to help out and it all went pretty smoothly too (for a guy who is somewhat handyman-challenged). I was also glad to be able to attend both of our small group gatherings this week.
     I finished listening to the audioversion of Rob Bell's controversial 'Love Wins', which is ostensibly a book about hell (and heaven). I found it thought-provoking and would like to download it to read it in print, highlighting and studying his ideas more closely. I also completed reading Doug Pagitt's 'A Christianity Worth Believing', which I think did a better job explaining some of the concepts Brian McLaren is promoting through his 'A New Kind of Christianity'. Doug's book is great (he gave it out for free at his session at the Wild Goose Festival back in June) and if it doesn't come out in an audiobook format I may have to record it myself (to share with others). The reading I've been doing in the last month or more is really making me look at my beliefs and opening me up to some new ways of thinking about faith. It was nice to get together with our friends Carla and Dave this past Tuesday to talk about some of this stuff as Dave has read many of the same books.
     I've enjoyed listening to some of the CBC Laugh Out Loud Podcasts the last couple of weeks. Many of the comedians featured are indeed pretty funny. I have to be careful though when listening to this stuff while working out at the gym as my laughter sometimes affects my ability to lift weights.
     I've also been listening through Bruce Cockburn's discography (at least the 25 or so albums I have on my iPod) many mornings at school, along with Randy Stonehill's "Spirit Walk", the Keaggy/Stonehill collaboration "Mystery Highway", and a free Bill Mallonee download "Last Days, Early Mars" which ended up being a compilation of many songs I already know (still excellent though).