Thursday, September 30, 2010

Come, October!

Who among us of a certain age does not have a certain wistful, almost sentimental feeling about the month of October?  It is a month of contrasts and dramatic changes that delight and intrigue all at the same time.  The seasons have finished their transition with the beginning of the month as the pageant of color begins its magnificent parade.  Wildlife of every kind can be seen busily gathering food and eating more than their normal share in preparation for the cold, stark months ahead.  Afternoon skies, deep blue more so now than at any other time of the year, begin to usher in the chilled evenings as air conditioning gives way to fireplaces and iced teas give way to hot chocolates and soothing hot tea.  It is a time of magic, a time of shifting our gears as our playground now begins to shift from outdoors to in.

Again, who among us of a certain age, cannot fail at this time of the year to remember the aroma of leaves burning in late afternoons and early evenings.  Neighborhoods would gather on their lawns for the annual harvesting of the summer leaves now lying still upon the ground as precious tree sap retreats to the insulation of underground for their winter nap.  Those leaves only days before painted canopies of color that even the most talented of artists could not possibly capture with any accuracy.  The gentle winds of the season blow them about as those released from their branches dance their way to the earth.

We retreat indoors more frequently and, in some ways, rediscover each other.  We reach out to family and friends for more substantial meals beyond the hot dogs, hamburgers, and ribs of our summer cookouts.  Aromas of slow cooked sumptuous meals fill the house with an intoxicating smell that cannot be experienced in any other way except for being there in the moment. 

The boys of summer close their season as the gridiron warriors take center stage, the nation's pastime giving way to the nation's passion.  Football parties in living rooms, family rooms, and the ultimate fans sports room takes on a ritual feel. 

Chilly rains and leaden gray skies lead us to think more frequently of the upcoming months, the months filled with holiday preparations.  Afghans appear on the backs of couches as the weather cools and cozy becomes a comforting thought.  The north winds begin their season long dominance as the southerly breezes make fewer and fewer appearances.  Thoughts of snow begin to creep into the consciousness as reports reach us of mountain snows in the distant Rockies.

October!  A month of excitement and celebration.  A month of warm sunny days at the start of the month, and a month of crisp autumn nights as the month closes out with ghosts and goblins roaming the cityscaspes and countryside.  There is no other month like this one because nature delights in ways beyond the color and enchantment of spring.  For a few short days, the colors seem beyond that of nature as we treasure our moments with them, knowing that the browns and plain colors of late autumn and winter await.

October calls us to live life to the fullest.  To enjoy each passing day with the enthusiasm of a child who sees their first multi-colored leaf.  It invites us into ourselves and our families unlike any other season and month.  It calls us to treasure the moments of our lives when family warms our hearts and gives us the comfort of life continuing no matter come what may.

October!  Come, October, and enchant us all once more!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Peace Be With You

Peace.  That elusive element in all our lives that we spend so much time searching for really isn't all that elusive at all. 

We human beings tend to look for the things for which we most yearn in every place possible except the most likely of places.  In the matter of peace, we search out places, other people as companions, certain situations or settings and while we may actually find some sense of peace in these places, we can never seem to come to rest.

Since our beginnings, we have wrestled with chaos and peace.  The peace process is not an easy one, especially within ourselves.  Many of us are born into chaotic situations that make peace within ourselves a near impossibility.  Still others are born with what seems to be a wandering spirit, always unsettled, always searching.  We look for inner peace because inner peace leads to peace between peoples. 

The woes of the world, I believe, can be directly linked to the inability of a vast majority of us to find that inner peace for which our soul cries out for.  We are insecure beings, always looking over our shoulder for the approach of the enemy while often the enemy comes from within. 

It is hard to look inside in an honest fashion to discover what may stand in our way to our path toward peace.  It usually involves reliving to a certain extent painful memories of incidents that may have long since ended but whose effects still live on in our hearts.  Often, on our way to this inner peace, and thus, harmony with ourselves, we discover that we must forgive others or even, perhaps, ourselves.  This is a most difficult task that requires a great deal of energy, time, and most importantly, an honest love for ourselves in humility and understanding.  We must hold ourselves accountable for those things which stand in our way to peace.  And we must develop the ability to move on beyond our deepest wounds so that peace may provide the healing balm to our woundedness.

There is only one true source of this kind of peace and you cannot find it "somewhere."  You cannot touch this source as you might touch the softness of a newborn.  You cannot see its majesty as you can view the power of the mountains as the sun sets gently beyond the horizon.  This source is mystical and divine in nature and far beyond our poor power to explain or understand.  To experience this source requires the faith of a child and the observation of a hawk in flight.   It requires surrender to ourselves and our surroundings so that nothing interferes with our journey.  It has had no beginning and will have no end.  And, yet, there is no physical evidence of its existence, nor is there any proof that it acts in humanity.  Yet, we know that it does.  Who or what is this mysterious "it?"  God.

God is the source of all true peace.  His is the peace of the divine not the mortal.  His peace is beyond all understanding and is given freely to all who earnestly seek this gift.  Seeking the gift requires prayer, moments of contemplation, and study. 

Prayer allows us to open our hearts to God.  Every time we open our hearts to our Creator, our hearts become a little softer, our judgements a little less harsh.  Prayer unites us in mind and spirit with God and we are taken in to Him and encounter His peace.

But prayer is not the only thing we need to practice in order to acquire this peace.  We must be still.  Too often we bombard God with endless babble that we call prayer but which is really only our feeble attempt to cover physical silence with spiritual nonsense.  We must still our minds, being careful to eliminate all "clutter" and then, and only then, will we be able to clearly hear the voice of God. 

In addition, we must study the word of God as found in Sacred Scripture.  We must prayerfully contemplate the words of God to gain a deeper, more meaningful and realistic idea of who He is.  This takes time and persistence.  But it can be done and we will be the better for having done it.

Once we find the heart of God, we will have found the heart of peace.  Then we shall have discovered that peace that all of us yearns for.  And then, once we have become awash in God's peace, we can communicate that peace with others in our lives.  Harmony will follow, though not without difficulty.

Peace.  That elusive state of being and mind that seems to escape us all is quite attainable.  We have a God Who is more than willing to lead us to this state.  We simply must cooperate and follow His will.  Then, despite the chaos swirling around us at any given time, peace, true peace, shall be ours!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

September: A Month of Transition

Among the many mysteries and marvels of life, one stands out in my mind that we seldom give much thought to.  What an amazing mystery and truth we have in the changing of the seasons.  The change is as predictable as anything we encounter in life, yet, every time the seasons change there is something different, something almost mystical about it.  The month of September is a perfect example.

Early September still resembles August.  There is still the heat and humidity with little relief over night.  But as the month progresses, a change, which has in fact been occurring since late June, begins to be very noticeable.  Each day, the sun sets a little earlier than the next.  We don't notice it because of the majestic and ever-present spinning earth slowly but surely moving north to south and south to north on its axis.  However, in early September, there seems to be one day when almost everyone notices just how dark it is getting so much earlier.

Birds seem to be hungrier than before.  At our feeders just outside our living room window, birds flock in higher numbers than in the summer months, gobbling up all the seed they can in apparent preparation for the harsh winter months ahead.  Many who only weeks before sported the bright colors of their breed now begin to molt, their color fading in preparation for the stark landscape that awaits us all.  Humming birds in particular, gather in greater numbers with voracious appetites as they seek as much energy producing they can find just ahead of their great migration to the south.

Skies, once milky white, filled with heat and humidity brought about by the summer climate, now become a deeper blue.  When clouds gather and rain falls, the temperature drops noticeably and the ceilings above us somehow look much lower. 

Our thoughts begin to turn to more indoor activities even though there is plenty of warm weather left to enjoy the great outdoors.  Such events as Halloween and Thanksgiving begin to announce their arrival if only on he fringe of our consciousness.  With the kids back in school and football in full swing, the thought of family get together arises and we begin to recall those rituals that we may have celebrated as a family for years.

September is a month when life slows down a bit from the frenetic pace of the summer months.  Sure, there is a lot to do especially when kids are present and school activities begin, but the month is a time to shift gears.  We begin to prepare ourselves for the long season ahead of chilly days and cold nights.  The reality of the cycle of life begins to renew itself in this month of change and while the colors of autumn have not yet made an appearance in this part of the country, it is but a few weeks before the majesty of fall makes its presence felt.  September ushers this dramatic change in as the deep greens of summer fade.  Cornfield ripen into the gentle golds that stretch from horizon to horizon.  Soy beans late in month ripen into their familiar browns.  When the north wind blows towards the end of the month, we begin to feel its chill for the first time in months.

September.  A month of transition.  God's gentle way for preparing us for the months of darkness and chill that are just as necessary to life as the warm months that come alive with outdoor activities.  This month is a mystical experience that occurs so slowly that we, with our busy lives, barely notice until the changes become so dramatic that we cannot help but see.  Take some time to notice the changes and realize the miracle of the predictability of this time and marvel in how much different this September is from last and how much different next year's September will be from this one.  It is a mystical season!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11...A Proud Day!

As the United States observes the ninth anniversary of the attack on America, we in the King family have a whole range of emotions.  Certainly, we feel the sadness and relive the shock of that horrible September day those many years ago.  We feel for the families of all the loved ones who perished in that tragic turn of events.  However, there is great joy in our hearts as well because at 3:45 this morning, September 11, 2001, the newest member of the family took front and center stage.  Noelliah Hayden King began her adventure in life at 7 lbs 1 ounce and 19 inches long.  She and mom are doing quite well and there are two big sisters who are thrilled with their newest family member.

What great pride and joy we feel at this wonderful event.  New life is always a matter for celebration and joy.  I believe that the joy we feel on this particular day is one of the healing balms that God has allowed to heal at least a little part of a hurting world.

Just as her sisters before her, Noelliah represents hope and anticipation for the future for our family.  She has a lifetime ahead of her of growth, of life, and of loving life and embracing it.  She is truly blessed to be surrounded by a mom and dad who are fully dedicated to her in these her first hours, and who will continue that devotion throughout their lives.  She has two sisters who eagerly await to show their new sibling "the ropes."  One thing is for certain, with Aliyah and Kiki around,  little Noelliah will certainly become a book lover!

Noelliah Hayden is love personified.  She has been lively all during the pregnancy as if to show her parents the kind of spirit she has.  I can't imagine anyone who could be any prouder of the moment than her grandfather.  There is a quiet joy within me that has brought a sense of peace to me.  Being a grandparent is a relatively easy thing.  We get to spoil the child and then return them to her parents to undo some of the little things we may have thrown out of whack!  But it is all done in love.

Celebrate with us, if you will, this new life and new hope for the future.  Life is extending itself on this morning and afternoon of tragic memories.  Tragedy is replaced by supreme good and while we still may feel the sting of that 9/11 of nine years ago, the happiness of the birth of Noelliah Hayden King, reminds us that with faith and belief, joy will return!

Happy Birthday Noelliah!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Milestone Moment

As I write this I find myself experiencing a sense of complete awe.  A long journey that my wife Joan and I began over five years ago has come to an end.

You see, five years ago this past February, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Not only did she have cancer, her cancer was in stage three, no a good place to be.  The tumor measured 4.5 cm by 5.5 cm, roughly the size of a small egg.  Doctors delivered the news grimly and with great urgency because of the large size of the tumor.

Immediately, she began what was to be six rounds of chemotherapy in an attempt to combat the cancer prior to surgery which would be performed down the road.  The hopes were, in the beginning, that the tumor would, perhaps, shrink by half and hopefully not have metastasized.  Every three weeks, we traveled to Springfield, Illinois, where, under the watchful eye of the staff of the SIU School of Medicine, the toxic chemicals were administered.

The staff couldn't have been better.  They were kind and very understanding.  We had heard so much about the horrible complications of chemo, yet, we also knew it was the one way we had of combating this dreadful disease.

I watched as Joan braced herself with each visit for all the sticking of needles and the slow drip, drip, drip of the medication that was formulated to seek and destroy the cancerous lesion.  One of the chemicals, a bright red liquid resembling cherry kool-aid had to be administered by a nurse who was dressed head to toe in a specialized suit designed to protect them from the chemical that they slowly injected into Joan's frail veins.  The chemical was so strong that if but one drop happened to spill onto the skin, it would quickly burn through the layers.  Fortunately that never happened.

Round after round of chemo, I watched Joan and developed a deep admiration for my wife that I had not had before.  Her chemo treatments involved a number of different needle sticks.  This would not be a problem if she had veins that were easy to access.  However, her veins did not cooperate.  They rolled, shrank, and did everything but disappear the minute the cold steel of the needle came into contact with them.  Time and again, she withstood the stabbing without uttering a word.  I saw the pain in her eyes, but she was determined that this not get the best of her and it never did.

In addition, the violent illness we had heard so much about surrounding the administration of chemo never materialized.  This was due, in part, to some wonderful drugs that were administered a couple of days before and after the chemo itself.  And, if these things weren't enough, within 48 hours of the chemo, she had to return to the doctor to endure a shot of a drug designed to boost her immune system so that she would not be susceptible to such things as colds and flu which, without her immune system in full strength could prove to be fatal.

After six rounds of chemo administered over an 18 week period, doctors found upon examination of the tumor that it had shrunk to nearly nothing.  It was now time for surgery.

On the morning of August 9, 2005, the woman that I love so very much, accompanied a surgical nurse down the hallway of the operating suites of Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, to have the tumor excised and to ensure that there had been no spread of the cancer. 

The clock, at that moment, stopped for me.  Every second seemed an hour and every time someone came through the door from the operating rooms area, I jumped up expecting to talk to her surgeon.  I tried to read.  I paced.  I drank what seemed to be gallons of water from the nearby water fountain.  Still, no doctor.

Now during this time, your mind likes to conger up everything that could have gone wrong or imagine that a new and even more frightening discovery has been made.  Finally, after about 50 minutes, the doctor came through the surgical suite door and called out my name.  I sprang to my feet and was at his side in a second.  He then delivered the good news.  When he entered the area where the tumor was located, he could not find it!  It had shrunk to 2mm!  The surgical team could literally not even see it, finding only the little clip that was implanted into the center of the tumor before chemo began.

Once Joan healed, she then faced 36 radiation treatments.  Every day with the exception of Saturday and Sunday, we trekked over to Springfield for her five minute treatment.  With radiation, she was first given a general area dose of the invisible rays.  Her last 10 treatments, however, were concentrated on the exact spot where the tumor had resided.  This caused intense burning that was every bit as painful as a deep sunburn.  Still, Joan did not complain.

Once the treatments were complete, it was time to go back to the doctor and for the next five years, visits to the oncologist became a way of life. 

Today, on our final visit to Springfield, we were given the word.  There has been no recurrence of the cancer and it is, in fact, in complete remission!  In other words, the doctor said, Joan has been completely cured of breast cancer.

What an emotional moment.  I remember back to the dark days right after the diagnosis and my sleepless nights worrying and wondering how all of this would turn out.  I turned to God and my faith to sustain us.  I knew that the Heavenly Physician would take care of things and that if it meant a cure, fantastic.  But I also understood that it was quite possible that a cure would be impossible and that would have to be fantastic as well.  Whatever the outcome, we would deal with it in dignity, integrity and with complete faith in God.

Thankfully, the route granted by God was a cure. 

During these five years, much has happened.  Joan's mother died shortly after chemo had begun.  It was a sudden death.  We welcomed into the family a little girl named Keirah who brought a sense of joy into our lives that cannot be expressed.  Earlier this year, Joan's beloved father died, also quite suddenly.   And, then, of course, there were all those daily stresses and strains that make up life. 

I am humbled by so many things in this story.

First, I am humbled and eternally grateful to a God who stood by us through the whole ordeal, giving us the strength to press on.  He gave Joan the courage to endure the pain of chemo and surgery and the burns of radiation without losing her faith in Him.

Secondly, I am humbled by the courage and bravery exhibited by Joan.  No one can ever know what she went through inside, but I had the honor to accompany her on this journey and saw the inner strength of a woman that is beyond remarkable.

Thirdly, I am humbled by all those who offered their prayers and support through all of this.  In particular, I am so thankful for Joan's family who, like a rock, served as an anchor through it all without ever really knowing it.

And fourth, I am humbled that I could have been guided to marry such a courageous soul as Joan.  She has always sustained me and I was only too glad to lend what support I could to her as she endured the physical and emotional pain through this trying time.

Now that we have emerged on the other side of this journey, I can truly say that we are closer than ever before.  God has granted this miracle (one of the doctors actually called this a miracle!) so that we may now reach out to others in our own way so that as they begin facing the crisis of a cancer diagnosis, they do not have to give up or give in.  Through Joan's story and countless others similar to this, they can know that real miracles can and do happen in this day and age.

As the future unfolds before us, I ask a gracious God to guide our path to do His will, to give Him honor and praise in thanksgiving for this amazing outcome.  Take this story into your hearts and hold onto it for those days when all seems lost.  For, as I have learned, nothing is ever lost as long as we have faith!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning the Koran

The deicision of a Florida preacher and his congregation to burn copies of the Koran to commemorate 9/11 this coming Saturday is not only outrageous but a completely cowardly act.  The minister, whose congregation numbers about 50 members, is completely misguided in his pending actions. 

Yes, constitutionally speaking, he does have the right to burn the books.  There is no arguing that.  The same can be said for the planned mosque in New York.  The owners of the property do have a right to build anything they see fit on their lot.  However, in both instances, the right does not translate into the prudent act.

Burning the Koran will undoubtedly lead to violence against America and Americans accross the globe.  It is an unneccessary act that will only promote more bloodshed in an already too bloody conflict.  The Koran is the holy book of Islam and, as such, should be respected for that reason alone.  If a group of Muslims were to publicly burn copies of the Holy Bible, what would the minister say to that?  How would he respond to such a provocative action?

Our Lord is very clear on this subject.  There is no room for debate.  He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."  (Mt 5: 44-45)  This is the real course of action that should be taking place this Saturday.

We do need to take a stand where extremism of any kind is concerned.  Extremists, also known as Zealots, never bring anything good.  They do not stop to consider the position of the oppostion and become self-righteous in the process.  This is the case here.

What will take place if the Koran is burned, is not an act of a Christian, a true believer in Jesus Christ.  In a sense, this misguided minister becomes just like those whom he protests against--an extremist.  He performs an abhorrent act using religion as a convenient cover for his hatred and anger.

All of are saddened and angered when we think of the events of nine years ago.  Who can forget the images that were burned into the American consciousness that morning of the two towers belching black smoke accross the clear New York sky?  Who will ever forget the horrifying pictures that came to us of people jumping from windows 100 stories above the pavement rather than facing burning to death?   We will never forget those events of that day, but we must not allow ourselves to become an extremist in response to this kind of action.

Does the minister have the right to burn the Koran in protest?  Yes.  Is it the prudent thing to do?  No!  We must find more peaceful and more powerful ways of communicating our anger and distrust than the destruction of the Koran or the books will not only be consumed by the flames.  The flames of hate will, if we are not careful, will consume us as a society, destroying the best hope for peace on the planet.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Kiki's Day

A very sweet little girl who is so special in the hearts of all her family, celebrates her fourth birthday today.  Four years ago as she made her entrance into the world, we all sat in exciting anticipation.  Her big sister Aliyah was probably the most excited since, with the arrival of the new little one, her position in the family would be elevated to that of "big sister."

Keirah, or Kiki as she is most commonly is called, is a bundle of love.  She has a sweet and loving nature and when she looks at you with those beautiful eyes, you melt and would willingly do anything that she asked of you.

Kiki loves to share.  As her grandfather, we have shared many a moment going over an incomplete inventory of dolls and other collectibles that she has accumulated in her four years.  The only reason the inventory was incomplete is because we seldom have enough time to make a thorough scan of all those things.  She is sharp as a tack, able to name all her dolls, stuffed animals, and other assorted goodies she can produce in a heartbeat from her room.

She and her sister are inseparable.  Oh there are little disputes between them from time to time as can be expected, but neither would ever dare to think what it would be like to be without the other.  Aliyah delights in looking after Kiki's needs and Kiki delights in mothering everyone in sight.  Even at four years old, she seems to have an innate sense about those who may be in need and is more than willing to do something for them.

Most of all, from this grandpa's perspective, Kiki is a spark of life that is beyond precious.  She slowly warms up to me on those times I am able to see her, but once she does she has my heart.  She brings a wonderfully warm sense for life with a smile that is filled with love and a twinkle in her eye that tells of her enormous spirit tucked away inside this little dynamo's body.

Kiki is special to all the family and being her grandfather is a blessing indeed.  Now, as we celebrate her fourth birthday, we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new sister.  She can't wait to be an older sister and she has had an excellent role model in Aliyah.  Kiki, I am sure, will shower her new sister with all the love she can muster and this new little girl will never be without attention.

Happy Birthday, Kiki!  God has blessed us with you and you have lifted our spirits higher than you will ever know.  I am quite sure that you will be the best big sister any little girl could ever want!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Season of Lunacy

September.  Labor Day.  The unofficial end of the summer season.  And, also, the start of the season of sheer lunacy also known as campaign time.

It is the time of the year when our thoughts turn toward those cool, crisp days ahead filled with yellows, golds, crimsons, and every other color imaginable.  Football once again resumes and the days grow shorter as thoughts of the upcoming holidays begin to creep into our minds.  However, along with all these pleasantries comes the blaring on radio and television of ads touting one candidate for congress and the senate over the other.  They aren't ads that educate since most of them tell us what kind of jerk they're running against.

The biggest joke of this political season stars (who else?) President Barack Obama.  Here comes a man, a great communicator, who will tell us that happy days are here again because the unemployment rate climbed another tenth of a percent from 9.5% to 9.6%, a clear indication (says he) that things are really improving.  His befuddled vice president Joe Biden gleefully declared that this was to be the "recovery summer" where the economy is concerned.  Well, Joe, take a look around you!  Unemployment is climbing (despite what you want us to think) and there doesn't appear to be an end to this mess any time soon.

Then there's the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Michelle Obama.  Michelle is out there telling every parent in the land that she know how to control the problem of obesity.  She is telling the medical profession that they should begin prescribing medication for children with weight problems to bring this epidemic under control.  She urges people to eat more healthily, which is a good thing.  However, every time you see the Obama family out and about whether on one of their many vacations or in Washington, we are shown images of the First Family gleefully downing huge ice cream cones!  I thought that stuff was supposed to kill you!

On the Republican side of things, we have a party who does nothing but tell you how wrong Obama has been on everything.  They try to convince you that they have all the answers.  Just leave it up to them.  Well, we did for the first six years of this decade and what happened?  Record deficits piled up as our national debt climbed to dizzying heights.  Two wars drained our treasury and, worse yet, took thousands of young American lives.  Constant bickering and posturing ruled the day and then, like now, nothing ever was really accomplished.  The question must be asked, then, "Why should we put you back in charge?  Because you aren't Barack Obama and the democrat party?"

What we need to do is become more and more involved as citizens.  We need to look at our elected officials with respect but also with a sense of profound suspicion.  They give lip service to how important we are in between election cycles and then go right ahead and do as they please.  (See health care reform!)  We need to hold each one of them accountable, questioning all their decisions and weighing their judgement by what we want as a citizenry.  Yet, in this season of lunacy we are told how intelligent and important we are, that we have the wisdom of Solomon and will do what is right for the country.  Don't believe a word of it.  They are simply jockeying for power and prestige.

Follow the campaigns in your districts and states this season.  Follow them closely.  If a candidate says something, challenge them through email campaigns, town meetings, and debates.  Don't let them answer in the political speak that the mainstream media just blinks at and participates in.  We as a populace are intelligent and we can see for ourselves what is happening.  Try telling one of your neighbors, friends, or family members that the economy is getting better just after they lose their job.  See what that poll will tell you.

Democrats need to be fearful of the results this fall but republicans can take little solace while salivating over what appears as a sure shot take over of the House and the possibility of gaining a Senate majority once again.  Both parties are a disgrace to the American system and this experiment that was begun well over two hundred years ago.  Time for the jokes has come to an end.  We, as the electorate, must turn the lunacy season into the serious season whereby we, the people, assert ourselves once again in the American political process.