Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are three movies that I have to watch: White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Of the three, It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite. I am not sure why that is. I guess the movie just speaks to me. It does not matter how many times I watch this movie, I still tear up at the end when all of George’s friends come to help him out. The other thing could be because this movie asks the question that we all have asked from time to time: "Would it matter to anyone if I were not here?"

If you have not seen the movie, George is the main character. He has gone through life giving up his hopes and dreams in order to help others. He finds himself in a particularly difficult financial situation. At the end of his rope he says, “Maybe it would have been better if I had never been born.” Clarence, his angel, decides to teach him a lesson and show him what life would have been like for all of his friends had he not been born. George finally realizes the error of his thinking and decides to live on. Back in his life, all of George’s friends come to help him, and he gets out of his financial difficulties. More importantly, George realizes that he has made a difference.

The first ten or fifteen times I watched this movie my question was the same as George’s: "Would anyone notice if I were not here?" The last few times that I have watched the movie though, I have found myself asking a different question. Now I ask, "Have I made a difference to anyone?" When I ask this question, my focus begins to change. I find that when I ask this question that my pockets always have extra money when I walk by a red kettle. It becomes a little easier to feel sorry for the mother whose child wants everything in the store. When I leave the stores, I am reminded to smile and say, "Have a Merry Christmas” to the clerks--even if they can’t say it back.

This year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, let’s all try to make a difference.

In closing, let me say that there are a lot of people who, if you were not here, the Haga family would miss. Thanks for being there.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rear-view Mirrors

We all know what rear-view mirrors are. They are those annoying things attached to our cars that show us where we have been. We are in too big of a hurry charging ahead with places to go and people to see to worry about what we have left behind. We only check the rear-view mirrors to see if those flashing lights behind are for us. I have recognized over the past few months that God has blessed each of us a rear-view mirror in our minds. They call it memory. Unfortunately, we do not use this one very often either. Over these past few weeks, I have had ample opportunities to check my rear-view mirror while lying on the radiation treatment table.

On Friday morning, October 22, after receiving the news that the MRI showed good results concerning the brain tumor, I was immediately sent to the MDA Emergency Center with a high fever. I was officially admitted to the hospital later that night and was not a happy camper. I was receiving IV antibiotics every few hours, and with each IV change came the question: “Why was this happening again?” I was still confident that God had a plan, but I was beginning to lose confidence in the plan. My faith was being stretched to new lengths.

I will not recount everything that happened that weekend, but there were two significant things that happened. First, the oncologist on call that weekend correctly diagnosed what was happening to me and recommended a complete change in my treatment plan to include radiation treatments that started two days later. Second, this doctor was informed about a new lung cancer mutation that was being found in never-smokers who had tested negative for the other two known mutations. ELM4-ALK is known to exist in only 4% of all lung cancer patients. This would be the proverbial shot in the dark, but he was recommending that my biopsies be sent for analysis. Test results would take six to eight weeks.

On November 16, I completed the recommended radiation treatments. On November 17, my birthday, God gave me a present of a lifetime. The mutation test results had come back positive in less than four weeks. The enemy in my chest now has a name. We are no longer fighting the unknown. The battle and journey are far from over, but now we have a map.

Looking in my rear-view mirror now, I can see that God knew well in advance the doctor who would be on duty, his capabilities, and his knowledge. Too often I forget my simple prayer that God put the right people in the right place at the right time. Once again, He has been faithful to supply that person.

Thinking about the rear-view mirror in my truck, I remember that it has a compass in it. Sometimes you have to look backwards to build your faith that God knows the direction going forward.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Area 51

Well, here it is. Today, November 17th, is my 51st birthday. I am officially now over the hill. I am praying for a long, smooth decent. I have spent the last few days thinking about and comparing what was supposed to be against what has become and shedding a few tears. My 51st birthday was not supposed to be about radiation treatments, chemotherapy, MRIs and CT scans, but it is. DeLayne asked me what I wanted for my birthday and all I could think of was for this to be gone. Fifty-one years have gone by faster than I thought they could. How many things have I postponed thinking that I would do them later and now I wonder, will later ever come? Since the reality of today no longer matches the dreams of yesterday and I do not know what tomorrow holds, I will spend time reflecting and counting my blessings.

One thing that I cannot deny is how richly blessed my life has been. To have been born in this country to Christian parents who taught us the difference between needs and wants is more than what most of the world has been blessed with. We were never a wealthy family but we never went hungry, there was always a roof over our heads and clothes on our back. Being raised with five siblings may not have always been seen as a blessing growing up, but now I am thankful for all of them. As my mother told my brother and me after our Dad’s first heart attack, “You kids are all different and don’t always get along, but when someone in this family needs help, you are there for each other.” Mom and Dad are both gone now and enjoying their rewards, but the legacy of their children remains and I am blessed to call them my family.

I have been blessed to work for the same company 25 years now. Looking back through those years, I can see how God always had a hand on my career. The right opportunities always appeared at the right times. My job has allowed me to go places and see things that others just dream about. There were times that I had to make a choice between seeking advancement and family but don’t recall ever making the wrong choice. My job has allowed us to enjoy family vacations that will forever be locked in our memories. We are able to send both boys to college and have enjoyed watching them grow and mature while there. We can look forward with great expectations as to what God has planned for their lives.

Last, but surely not least, I have been blessed with a wife like none other and two great sons. DeLayne and I have been married for 26 years now. She has become my rock to lean on. After 26 years, we think so much alike; it can be scary at times. There are times now that we have learned that the dinner dishes can wait and just sitting on the couch holding each other is more important. Chad and Shane have both grown up to be fine young men. Both of them have great instincts about when I could use a little tweak or when to call just to cheer me up. Chad and Shane will someday change the world because they will not accept it the way it is. I look forward to watching them both race in France someday.

Yes, I have been truly been blessed these 51 years. This blog today is probably more for me than for you. I need to be reminded from time to time that God has been so good to me and will continue to be so. Although I am 51, I will spend my day much like a little child curled up in its grandfather’s lap held securely in his arms. I will be secure in the loving arms and lap of God knowing that He knit me together in my mother’s womb and only He knows the number of my days and the plans He has to prosper me, to further bless me, and heal me.

I keep telling DeLayne, “I have not had my mid-life crises yet; I should be good for at least 51 more.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'll Tell You a Secret

Last Sunday some good friends, David and Cindy, brought us dinner.  We had a few minutes to visit and reminisce about summers spent at baseball fields.  Cindy then complimented me on this blog and my writing.  I had to confess my secret to her then and I will confess to you now that I almost failed Freshman Composition in college.  The teacher did not like anything I wrote, sent me to writer's lab, and encouraged me to drop the class.  I stuck it out because I just could not see going through the pain and suffering again.  Honestly, most of my life I have not had the talent and rarely the desire to write much more than "Happy Birthday" in a card. 

Why is it important for you to know this?  Because I want you to know that I can not take credit for this blog.  I can't explain how the day after I was diagnosed with lung cancer, the desire hit me to start writing.   This has to be a God thing.  I have asked God that some good come out of this cancer, and suddenly I have this platform.  Some of the topics I write about come to me in the middle of the night, others while I am laying on a table being treated or tested.  Some topics are almost completely written as soon as the idea comes and others take a few days to think through.  I am never quite sure where a blog will go sometimes but trust that God will give me the words I need.  Each time I post I pray that God will use the blog to touch someone in a special way.  I enjoy when people leave comments or send me e-mails because that means prayers are being answered.  

Finally, let me say that I have always felt that God has a plan in all of this.  The fact that I am writing this blog convinces me of this.  I am not sure where the plan will lead but know that God will use this for good.  I do not know for how long God will give me this platform but know that I will continue to use it for for as long as He allows me to do so.  I never thought that the plan would include writing a blog but reminds me to always be open to where God wants to lead.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stinkin' Thinkin'

Looking back through my notes on the verses about hope and my last post, I noticed some items that can only be described as stinkin' thinkin'.  I had grown frustrated and was emotionally down.  I had climbed up on my pity pot and gotten comfortable.  Satan  used this opportunity to pounce like the lion he is and plant ideas about God that are just not true. 

The idea that I have had recently that has unsettled me the most is the thought that God has chosen not to heal my cancer or relieve any of the symptoms because there is a lesson He wants me to learn.  WHAT!?  The only thing I can think of to compare this line of thinking to is that of a father and son.  The father has told his son not to do something but, as boys are inclined to do, he does it anyway. The result is that he breaks his arm.  To teach his son a lesson on obedience, the father decides not to take his son to the doctor for two days.  We all recognize immediately that this father is abusive.  Yet we have no problem assigning those same attributes to God.  How many times have we thought that God has allowed bad circumstances to come into our lives to teach us a lesson?  I am not talking about suffering the consequences of our choices but about things we have no control over, well, like cancer.  I am convinced that God desires the best for me and for me to be completely healed and whole again.  In the Bible Jesus even says, "Who of you, if his son asked for a loaf of bread would give him a stone, or a fish would give him a snake?"  I am going to have to bind Satan daily to keep this kind of stinkin' thinkin' in check.

Some of you may be thinking to yourselves that I am being a little tough on myself.  I have been convicted that I simply can not allow this kind of thinking to enter my  mind and comments.  During my study of the verses about hope, there were several verses that spoke of people who had lost their hope in Jesus or wandered away from God.  Jesus wants His relationship with these people restored.  From the reading of these verses, I am burdened with the thought that they are watching me and probably reading what I write here.  I have to be mindful of that and be sure that nothing I say, do or write validates their belief that God does not love them or care for them.   

Another thing that I have learned the past few weeks is that cancer is not just a physical battle but also a mental and spiritual battle as well.  I was reminded of this when I read 1 Thessalonians 5:8:

"But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation."

I was struck by how the battle gear of Christ covers the two areas that cancer has attacked.  I will daily have to put on this gear to fight the battle with cancer.  God may use the doctors, nurses, medicines and procedures as tools that lead to healing but in the end, God will use faith, love and hope to provide complete healing.

God is not using cancer to teach me a lesson, but eventually He will use my healing to teach Satan a lesson.