Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Update on Marian

Marian's white count came down a little more today. It is now 37.8. When she began treatment it was over 50K. She is responding well to CAL-101. But she has developed another problem, which seems to be completely unrelated to her CLL and treatment.

Her blood calcium level is 11.5. Normal range is anywhere between 8.8 and 10.2. So hers is significantly elevated. It was detected two weeks ago in her regular blood work. She stopped taking calcium supplements and had a follow up test today. It was still elevated.

About a month ago, Marian started telling me she was more tired than usual. But I didn't worry about it, since she is 78 years old. Between her age, the stress she's had this year, and having CLL; I thought ... Who wouldn't be tired? But after her last checkup and the phone call about her blood calcium level being high, I started doing my homework on the probable causes of high blood calcium. And I immediately noticed other symptoms I had been attributing to her age.

When she arrived yesterday, she told me she was so tired she felt like taking a nap. Marian never says that. She told me she had been having to make herself eat lately because she didn't have much of an appetite (another symptom) and that she had lost a little weight (another symptom). But when she said, "I think I've lost my taste for wine. I haven't even wanted any. I try to drink it and it doesn't even taste good..." I said, "Houston, we have a problem."

This morning as we were leaving for her doctor's appt., she said she felt so weak and it had worn her out just getting dressed. I could tell she really felt bad. She told me she didn't like the way she felt and it was all she could do to put one foot in front of the other. I just knew her blood calcium level was still elevated.

In my online research, I was reminded of something I knew (and had forgotten). High blood calcium is almost always caused by hyperparathyroidism. The parathyroid glands control calcium in the blood. There can be other causes, but they are rare. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the cause is parathyroid disease. And removal of the parathyroid gland that is not functioning properly cures the problem.

I called this afternoon for the results of today's blood test and, as I expected, it was still high. So I called an ENT surgeon in Evansville whom Marian has seen previously. And we took the next available appt. of January 7. I will drive up there so I can go with her. If he rules out her parathyroid as the cause of her elevated calcium, then we will have to investigate other possibilities. But it only makes sense to me to address the "99% of the time" culprit first. And since I've read that primary care physicians often misdiagnose this condition, I thought we'd save a little time by going straight to the specialist.

Even though hyperparathyroidism is treated with surgery, this would be the most simple problem to cure. And from what I've read, a surgeon whose expertise is in this area can perform the surgery in about twenty minutes and send the patient home the same day.

Jeff (John's brother) and his wife Lu just came to get Marian and take her to their house in Madisonville for a few days before she goes home. She was concerned about being able to drive herself tomorrow. She has slept most of the day.

If you're one of her friends back home in Evansville, be sure to call and check on her next week. And tell her Shari told you to remind her to make herself eat and stay hydrated. : )

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Faith

One of the books I have been reading this past year is "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist."

Because I can't break the habit of spontaneously starting a new book before I finish the one, two or three I'm already reading, it takes me months to finish some of them. This is one that I can easily pick up where I left off -- no matter what I'm reading in between or how much time has passed -- but once I pick it back up, I have a hard time putting it down again.

I did not buy this book because I needed to be convinced of God or Christianity. I'm a strong believer and I have always believed faith is necessary for belief. I'm not one who needs for my faith to be proven beyond all doubt. I have always believed it takes more faith to disbelieve than to believe. I have always seen evidence all around me of the existence of God. And not only do I see evidence in nature on a daily basis, but I see the evidence in the details of my own personal life.

I don't believe in luck. I believe everything good that has come to me has been a gift from Almighty God. And I believe that everything painful and difficult has had a purpose and is for my ultimate good (even if I can't comprehend it in the moment). I am absolutely convinced that God is working all things for my good. The only faith issue I have seriously struggled with over the course of my life is whether or not I am really going to heaven when I die. Because, if it depends on my merit, I know I won't be good enough. And I was taught that I had to reach perfection ... just like Jesus did. So most of my life I was pretty sure I wouldn't make it.

With or without the hope of heaven, I always wanted to live my life as a Christian. I cannot explain this other than my faith being a gift from God and evidence of His mercy. It doesn't make any sense to me that I would want to serve God in spite of not really believing I would make it to heaven. But I did. I never wanted any other lifestyle.

I am not a simple minded person. I think -- being perfectly honest -- that I'm fairly intelligent and a deep thinker. But I have never been on a quest for some kind of proof that God exists. It's something I know in my heart. And you cannot convince me otherwise.

So, why did I want to read this book? I wanted to read it because, even though my faith is not shaken by unbelievers or atheists who pose questions I don't have instant answers for, I wanted to know what some of those answers were. I know there is evidence I have never sought. And I was curious.

I didn't get the book so I could equip myself to debate an atheist. I don't have much interest in debating people. And I don't know if this is good or bad, but if I am to be honest, I don't have an interest in trying to convince someone that God exists or that Jesus is His Son. I think a lot of times a person's unbelief is an act of their will. I think they choose not to believe because they don't want to believe. And that is their choice. I can't stop someone from rebelling against God with a good argument. I believe faith involves divine intervention on the part of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps a person's eyes have not yet been opened and one day they will. I have to trust God for that. I don't want to impose my beliefs on others. I just want to be a witness and be ready to share my faith with those whose hearts are open and seeking. I want to be able to explain my faith to others who want to know and understand. But I have no desire to thump anyone over the head with a Bible and prove anything to them. I don't think debate is a lot of fun. It makes me anxious because I don't like confrontation.

I'm not afraid of it. I won't avoid it at any cost. But I don't enjoy it.

I'm about 60% through the book and I'm amazed at how much logical evidence and substantiated history is presented in this one book alone. Again and again, the authors assert that it takes more faith to disbelieve than to believe. And I completely agree with them.

All my life, I have been unsure of whether or not I would go to heaven. I talked about this in my book. I have had moments of certainty (that I would) in the last several years. But I've also had moments of doubt even since leaving my religious upbringing. I have often wondered, if as Christians we believe we will be in heaven the moment we die, why are any of us afraid to die? It seems like we would welcome death if we were absolutely sure we would close our eyes only to open them in the presence of God. But I don't want to die and the thought of it is still kind of scary to me, even though I believe I'm saved. That seems inconsistent to me -- even in myself. And I wrestle with that frequently.

Last night I was reading about the historical evidence for Jesus and His resurrection. And I was amazed at how little faith it takes to believe if we are simply made aware of the historical evidence and the strength of the evidence (from many angles). Of course, I am speaking as someone who is not resistant to belief. Maybe an atheist or agnostic could read the same book and be completely unconvinced. But I can't imagine that.

As I read about Jesus, I felt such assurance in my heart and mind of the eternal life that awaits me. The eternal life I have doubted so many times, in spite of never doubting that God exists and that He loves me.

I'm not sharing about the book for anyone who is bent on disbelieving. I wanted to share how much I am getting out of this book -- as someone who already believes -- because I'm assuming there may be others like myself who could benefit from reading such a work.

I have grown to love reading Christian apologetics. And Norman Geisler has become a real favorite of mine. Two other books of his that I have gained tremendous insight from are "The Apologetics of Jesus" and "Conviction Without Compromise."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Peace

The King's Peace

I finally listened to this podcast this morning while exercising. My son is the speaker and this was his sermon on the first Sunday of Advent. I think listening to it immediately following the Christmas holiday was good timing for me. And I thought I would share it on my blog.

I pray the King's peace for all of my loved ones in 2011 and beyond.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Random Christmas Thoughts...

I am either getting more organized in my old age or this is just a freak year. We had a trip planned in early December (as our Christmas gift) and, because I didn't want to be coming home feeling stressed out about shopping, I shopped for my grandsons before Thanksgiving. My tree was up two weeks before Thanksgiving this year (a first). And I immediately wrapped their gifts and put them under the tree.

I have never been an early shopper. I normally start Christmas shopping in December. But I enjoyed being ahead of the game so much, I may never wait till December again.

I have shopped here and there the last couple of weeks and finished up the remainder of my shopping two days ago. But it wasn't stressful. For the most part, I was able to find what I was looking for and was able to take advantage of some good sales. Last night I finished wrapping and bagging everything.

Yesterday I baked most of the day. Cheesecake for Danny, Carrot Cake for Connie and Chocolate Cake for me (had a craving this year). I made thousand island dressing for both the kids and John's family. This morning I baked sage dressing to take to Marian's for Christmas dinner. And just a few minutes past 8:00 a.m. my kitchen was even cleaned up.

I'm done. Ready to relax and enjoy Christmas Eve, beginning with our Candlelight Christmas Eve Service at church this afternoon.

I can't believe how fast Christmas came this year. I think 2010 passed faster than any year of my life. Another reminder that I'm getting older. (I get so tired of the reminders.)

I know I've mentioned it before, but I have reflected so much this year on the strain of last year. John was undergoing chemo from early September through the end of January. It was a hard time for John physically, and for me emotionally. This Christmas just seems extra special in contrast. I am so thankful every day for how well he is doing now. I have savored so many small moments this year and this holiday season. My heart is full to overflowing when it comes to gratitude and appreciation.

I am so thankful for John. After seven years of marriage, he still seems too good to be true. I feel so blessed to be his wife. And, oddly enough, he seems to feel the same way about me. I'm thankful God allowed our paths to cross at such a pivotal time in both of our lives. The beautiful mosaic of my life today was created through all the broken pieces of my past. John and I both agree that we probably could not appreciate each other -- or our happy marriage -- to the depth that we do if not for all the hard things we have been through in the past. I listened to a Tim Keller sermon once in which he said that the greatest joy is birthed out of suffering. And I can definitely relate to that.

I am so blissfully content with my life and so thankful for my blessings. But I have to confess that in spite of overwhelming joy and contentment, I still feel a twinge of melancholy this morning, too.

I always think of my mom a lot during the holidays. Every year, as I get older, I wonder how our relationship as mother and daughter might have changed as we both aged. I will never know. But I will always wonder.

I am thinking of Brittany and wishing she was here with us. I miss her. I often think about the relationship I wanted to have with her and feel sad that it was not to be. She would be twenty-five now. I have a feeling we would have more grandchildren if she were still here. But, most of all, I wish John still had his little girl. I wish we could have been a big, happy family with Danny, Rebecca and the boys.

I am thinking about my nephews and nieces this morning. I don't get to see them and spend time with them like I used to. A few of them I don't see at all these days. This wasn't my plan. I was much more physically present in their lives when they were little. Several of them used to spend the night with me regularly. And I loved to spoil them every chance I got. I called them my "practice grandchildren." My plan was to be just as present and involved in their lives as they grew into adults as I was when they were young. But now I live an hour away from some of them and even further from others. I sometimes wonder if the ones I never see have any idea how much I love them. It's more challenging to stay close as kids grow up and lives go in all sorts of directions. I wouldn't change my life. Murfreesboro is definitely where I belong. But I wish my nephews and nieces were right around the corner, like they used to be. I wish I could see them every day.

This will be the first Christmas without Lillian for my Howerton family. None of us expected her to be gone this soon. I know we will all feel her absence this Christmas.

Christmas brings a mixed bag of emotion for everyone, I think. We all miss someone a little extra at this time of year. We reflect on the past year and wonder what the new year will bring. We are grateful for the loving, healthy relationships we enjoy and a little sad about those that are not so great.

My thoughts this morning are all over the place, obviously. But most of all I am thankful. I'm thankful for my blessings, but I'm thankful as well for the whole mixed bag that is life. The hard times enhance my appreciation for the good times. The difficult relationships in my life enhance my appreciation of the relationships that are strong, healthy, loving and nurturing. And the struggles of my life have added to my compassion for others and made me a better person. I'm thankful I comprehend that God has to allow us to go through hard things in order for our character to be strengthened. I don't resent the hard things He's allowed me to go through because of that. I know He is working all things for my good. I truly believe that. And it makes all the difference. It gives me so much peace in the midst of struggles.

I owe my life and all my blessings to Jesus. I am thankful He loved me enough to leave heaven and die in my place. I don't understand why He loves me that much. But I'm so thankful He does. I am thankful for everything He has brought me through and the life He has given me. I can't imagine my life without Him.

I know December 25 isn't really the day Christ was born. But I'm thankful for the celebration of His birth. No matter how many people try to change "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays," this holiday is about the birth of Christ. He is the greatest blessing and the greatest gift there has ever been or ever will be.

I'm glad I spent my morning reflecting and writing. The little bit of melancholy I felt when I started has been processed. And all I feel right now is gratitude and love.

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends!

Savor every moment and every blessing.
(I have gotten really good at that.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dr. Keating has a PDF overview of various areas of CLL research...

CLL Holiday Newsletter from Dr. Keating

Lots of information in this PDF about CLL research, including information about CAL-101.

Lessons Learned

I have been thinking lately about different lessons I've learned this year.

I've always been a very expressive person by nature. I am a born communicator and a relater. I want to understand and be understood. I am terribly uncomfortable with being misunderstood. And I have always over-explained myself to far too many people in my attempt to resolve misunderstandings or misjudgments. Many times I have pursued communication long after it was obviously futile; always thinking I can reach the person I'm pursuing if I can just hang in there long enough.

The truth is, you can't always reach another person's heart just by communicating. And the more you believe it's possible, the more disappointing it is when your efforts fail.

During one such attempt this year, I was sharing my frustration and pain with a few close friends. And one of them said, "You have to stop communicating. You have done all you can do. You can't change another person's heart. And you are not accountable for their heart; only yours." Those words have stayed with me. They rang true the moment they were said. And I knew God was speaking to me through my friend. I did stop communicating that very day. And the feelings of frustration seemed to evaporate.

In another more recent situation, I was tempted to communicate with someone, knowing I should not for many reasons. In some moments, the urge to express myself was very strong. At one point I wanted to give the person a piece of my mind. (You know, a "Who do you think you are?" kind of response.) And at other times I wanted to write in love, trying to reach the person's heart. But I knew I wouldn't touch that person's heart no matter how hard I tried. And I kept reminding myself that the situation isn't about me. It only concerns me because it involves someone I dearly love. And that person is all grown up and in God's care.

My friend's words came back to me again. "You can't change another person's heart. And you are not accountable for their heart; only yours."

I have successfully restrained myself from an impulsive and ill-advised response to a situation that is far beyond my control and not about me. I feel good about that. But what surprised me was how quickly I got past the desire to respond this time. For someone like me, that's a lot of growth.

I told John the other night that I think I have finally learned something important. No matter how strong the urge to respond is, if I resist it for a few days, the urge goes away. I also told him, "You would think I could have grasped this before the age of 51." And we laughed.

But I keep thinking about what an important step this is for me both spiritually and emotionally. I have always responded and reacted. But I am learning that sometimes no response is the only appropriate response. If I can learn this lesson, I'm pretty sure anybody can.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Cold Tangerines"

I never seem to be able to read one book at a time. I think it's partly because I have such a large stack of books waiting to be read. I also have books waiting to be read on my Kindle. Sometimes I am reading up to four books at one time. I have recently finished several books and I have been enjoying reading "Spoken From the Heart" by Laura Bush (on my Kindle). I started it on the plane as we headed for Jamaica two weeks ago. And I was halfway through it by the time we got home. I had planned to finish it before I started anything new.

But the night we got home from Jamaica, I had a delivery waiting for me. It was in Amazon packaging. I knew my most recent purchases had been Kindle books. I opened it. I looked at the book and the invoice and saw that I was in Jamaica when it was purchased. And I was feeling curious about why I got this book when I suddenly discovered the gift note underneath the book. Someone bought this book for me because, she said, while reading it she kept thinking "Shari would love this."

The title of the book is "Cold Tangerines." The author is Shauna Niequist.

I wrote her an email to thank her and told her that as soon as I finished the book I was currently reading, I would read the one she sent, and let her know if I liked it. But the other night I wanted to read in my bathtub, so I needed a "real" book. (I have dropped books in the tub before and don't want to risk the demise of my Kindle.) I decided to read "Cold Tangerines."

At first glance, this book didn't look like one I would buy for myself. And I was a little curious about what kind of book this particular person thought I would love. I think it was that specific curiosity that made me want to read it sooner rather than later.

I didn't connect with the author right off the bat. But I kept reading. And I realized that I was liking this person more and more with each chapter. Not because our lives were similar, but because I related to her as a writer. I loved the way she described the "therapy" of writing...

"When I write, I can see things that I can't otherwise see, and I can feel things that I can't otherwise feel. Things make sense, in flashes and glimpses, in me and around me. They unravel themselves and line-up into black and white rows, and those rows nourish me, sliding down my throat like a noodle...."

And...

"Life reveals itself to me like a scroll unfurling, and I write about it. I struggle against myself, and I write about it. I feel afraid and crazy, and I write about it...."

And...

"I have had my vision, and I thought it would come in a flash, a bright beam of knowing. But it has come to me with a fight. It has come to me the hard way, through tears and fog and fear and chaos, and now has landed in the palm of my hand like a firefly."

I wanted to say to her, "Wow. You too? I thought it was just me."

I am not quite halfway through the book. But I can tell it won't take me long to finish. Although it isn't a book I would have been drawn to by the cover or the description, I'm enjoying it. And I'm enjoying getting to know Shauna. I love to read other people's details.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Marian Update

Marian had a checkup this Thursday. After eight weeks of Rituxan and the first nine weeks of CAL-101, Marian's white count is down to 46.2 and her platelets are up to 262. When she decided to proceed with treatment, her WBC was 53.8 and her platelets were 92. As expected, her WBC went as high as 74.7 before it improved. This is typical of CAL-101. The lymph nodes respond first and then the blood. This was great for John, since all of his disease seemed to "hang out" in his nodes. Marian has had more progression in her blood and bone marrow. But she did have some enlarged nodes which responded immediately.

I expect that Marian will have gradual improvement with every successive checkup now. But I like to update my blog on how she's doing for other patients considering CAL-101 and also for friends who are wondering. She isn't suffering any side effects or toxicity. She feels well. She does notice that she is a lot more tired lately. My reaction is usually, "You're 78 years old. Of course you're tired." But in this week's blood work, her blood calcium level was a little high. And I've done some reading on that this morning. The most common cause of high blood calcium levels is hyperparathyroidism. It could be related to treatment, but she said she had that show up one other time in a regular blood test (which makes me think it is not related to treatment). And because she's been telling me she's so tired and she has also been mentioning forgetfulness (also a symptom), I think she needs to see her general physician and have her parathyroid checked.

She has had a cough for over two months (no fever) and I made her promise that she would go see her general physican before Christmas. So maybe she can ask him to check the parathyroid also. She's had recent CT scans, so I know there isn't a problem with her lungs. But I don't think it's a good idea to ignore something that has hung on for that long and not gotten better. So I intend to call and nag her a bit if she doesn't keep her promise.

I'm not worried. I just want to get to the bottom of it so we can fix the problem, whatever it is.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Be the Match!

I found out some exciting news today that I am eager to share.

A close friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous at this time) told me tonight that she got a phone call last week about being a potential match for someone needing a bone marrow donor. I had forgotten, but my friend reminded me that she had joined the registry a while back when I sent an email urging friends to become potential donors.

I joined the registry immediately after John was diagnosed. I remember thinking that I sure hoped someone would be willing to step up and donate marrow or stem cells to MY husband if he one day had to have a transplant to live. And my next thought was that every person who needs a transplant is someone's loved one. I could be a match and possibly save someone's life by donating something my healthy body will quickly replenish. I also learned (by doing research) that it is not the excruciatingly painful ordeal some believe it is. Anesthesia is given for a bone marrow donation. And stem cell donations can now be given through blood rather than marrow. That's not to say there is no discomfort whatsoever. I just want to help debunk the myth that horrific pain is involved. I know that scares people. Pain scares me.

I joined the registry in 2007 and I am still hoping I will one day get that call saying I'm a potential match for someone. So far, I haven't. But I was so excited when my friend told me that she has. It's the next best thing to getting the call myself, since she told me that John and I were her inspiration to join. Hearing her news brought tears to my eyes because I know what it means to a patient and their family to find a match. I have made many online friends who are battling leukemia. Many of them have been battling a lot longer than John and some are running out of options. And I felt such a deep sense of gratitude for my friend's willingness to give this gift to someone she may never even meet.

We talked about the mixed emotions of excitement and slight trepidation. There are always potential risks and side effects for medical procedures. I have imagined how I would feel if I got the call and I presumed that I might feel anxious as well as elated. This is a very generous and selfless thing to do. I am so proud of my friend.

Because searches for potential matches are often done before the patient has fully decided on the transplant or before all the requirements have been met, my friend may not get another call right away. And even if she does, after further testing, she may not turn out to be the perfect match. This phone call does not mean that she is definitely going to be a donor. But it's the first step. And she was eager to share the news with me.

Before she could ask me, I volunteered to go with her to any or all of her appointments for testing and even for the procedure if it happens. She was hoping I would and had planned to ask. I told her I would have been disappointed if she hadn't. I would feel honored to be a part of this; even just driving her back and forth and sitting beside her would be so meaningful and rewarding for me. I immediately thought of all my CLL friends online and their individual battles. This isn't just about John and Marian for me. Obviously, they are my greatest concern because they are so close and dear to me. But every patient is dear to someone. I feel that bond with other caregivers. What my friend is offering to do for someone is huge. Should she be a perfect match, she has the opportunity to extend someone's life who might otherwise have no hope.

I could go on and on about what I'm feeling emotionally. I have always hoped that either I would be able to donate or I could be instrumental in someone else becoming a donor. No matter what happens in this particular circumstance, though, it's a reminder to me (and hopefully to everyone reading) of what a difference one person can make. Please consider joining the registry.

I asked my friend if I could write about this on my blog without identifying her. She said yes. Her only request was that I ask you all to pray for God's will to be done.

If this donation becomes a reality, my prayer is that the transplant will be successful and everything will go smoothly for both the patient and the donor!

And I will post further developments if and when...

BE THE MATCH!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Life With Johnny

Yesterday I got mail from the North Pole. My letter began:

Dear Shari,

Did you know that all my elves have been talking about you? They are all very impressed with your splendid behavior this year. Mrs. Claus and I are proud of you, too! We noticed your friend, Johnny, has been very good also...

There were two more paragraphs (which I won't retype). And the closing said:

Merry Christmas,
Santa

Included with the letter was a certificate (pretty official looking) of Good Behavior with my name on it, In Acknowledgment of Excellent Behavior and Outstanding Achievement, and a list of Good Boys and Girls with my name at the top.

I was scratching my head trying to figure this out. (I'm such a goon.) I saw "Boys and Girls" and could only think of the Boys and Girls Club, which we have donated to. I couldn't imagine where else this came from, but if it was an acknowledgment of a contribution, it didn't make sense that it wasn't addressed to John also. But then "Santa" did say that my friend Johnny was also good. I set it aside, meaning to ask John if he had any idea where it came from and why. And then I forgot about it.

When John got home, he picked it up and said, "Oh, I see you got a letter from Santa. And you didn't even believe in him." And then he got that little grin on his face that told me who and why. I just cracked up.

You see, a few weeks ago, John and I had a conversation about believing in Santa as kids. I told him that I really don't remember totally buying into the whole Santa story. I do remember my mom writing "From Santa" on some packages and "From Mom and Dad" on others. But we didn't have a big ritual about Santa. Although we did always have to wait for Christmas morning to open presents. I probably believed when I was very, young. But then I figured it out young enough that I don't have memories of thinking Santa really brought gifts to the whole world in the middle of one night. I'm pretty gullible by nature, but that always seemed impossible even to me as a kid. And as an adult, I just didn't see the point in perpetuating a myth to my own kid. I didn't go out of my way to say there wasn't a Santa. But I didn't promote it like some of my friends did. I didn't make it into some magical thing. Maybe my son missed out. To hear John talk about his childhood memories, I feel like I robbed Danny of childhood. (That's a slight exaggeration.)

John has these memories of waiting for Santa and the excitement of listening to radio reports of where he was during the night. His eyes light up when he talks about it. (This is one of the many things I absolutely adore about John. For such a mature and stable adult man, he has some very endearing childlike traits. His inner little boy is alive and well. He even brings tree frogs to the back door to show them to me. I have a picture of him with one clinging to his t-shirt.)

Anyway, he told me that all kids should believe in Santa and he shook his head disdainfully at my "pooh-poohing" of the idea. And then we never talked about it again.

Until I got my own letter from Santa and he had set the stage for that comment...

"And you didn't even believe in him."

Okay, so maybe he's right.
He usually is.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Ideal Christmas Present: The Secrets St. James in Montego Bay

We got home last night from a week in Jamaica. It was our Christmas present to ourselves and it was amazing!

I'm unpacked. The laundry is done. I've uploaded 136 pictures to Facebook. And I really should be working out right now, since I've gained three pounds over the last week. But I guess I can wait a few more minutes to resume my normal routine. I took the entire last week off from exercise, other than leisurely walking. The resort has a nice spa and exercise room, but I decided against both. All I wanted to do on this trip was spend time with John and totally relax. Mission accomplished, by the way.

John found and booked this resort months ago. He got an email solicitation from Cheap Caribbean and decided to book a trip for us in early December. I've told him many times that I would always prefer getting away and spending time with him over getting "stuff" (including jewelry), whether for Christmas or our anniversary or my birthday. There is nothing either of us needs more than time together. So this year our Christmas gift to each other was a trip to Jamaica.

John is a great trip planner. And I have come to greatly enjoy his arranging every detail and surprising me. All I have to do is pack and be ready to go. He planned this trip in July, which I also loved because I had months of anticipation prior to the trip itself.

Neither of us knew back then just how stressful the summer and fall would be for us. In addition to his usual work stress, John lost his sister to cancer in early November. And his mom began treatment for her CLL the first week of October. As you know if you read my blog, she is also under the care of Dr. Flinn in Nashville. He is one of the best and I strongly urged her at diagnosis to establish a relationship with him before she needed treatment. I did not want her to be treated by her primary care physician when she had access to a CLL specialist. And I knew already how helpful it would be for her to have me go with her to every appointment (because I was already so well-versed in CLL). So she has come here every three months for checkups since diagnosis. And when she needed to start treatment (after two years of watch and wait), she stayed with us for about ten weeks until her weekly appointments became bi-weekly. She went home to Evansville just one day before we left for Jamaica. (She and John are both doing well on CAL-101, by the way.)

When John originally planned our trip, neither of us knew our departure date would arrive on the heels of these unexpected events. I told John just before we came home that I thought this was the most relaxing vacation we have ever taken. And he said, "It's probably because this is the most we have ever needed to get away. Both of us." And I think he's right. But I think we also went to the perfect place for the kind of getaway we so needed.

We stayed at an Almond Resort in Barbados (in 2009) and it was very enjoyable. Barbados was a special trip in many ways and different from Jamaica. In Barbados, we enjoyed a "once in a lifetime" experience of dining at a world renowned restaurant (The Cliff) to celebrate my 50th birthday. It was outrageously expensive and we would never go again. But it was an evening I will never forget and it will always be an incredible memory. We couldn't have done that anywhere else. We also went to some natural underground caves and visited a wildlife sanctuary in Barbados. The resort was nice. But it wasn't the highlight.

However, the agenda for our trip to Jamaica was simply to relax and hang out together. We could have gone to Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios, but neither of us wanted to spend hours riding in a car (coming and going). That was one of the reasons John chose Montego Bay as our destination. It was a fifteen minute drive from the airport. John had been to Ocho Rios many years ago and said the ride to and from the airport was awful. He went to the falls on that trip and said they were beautiful, but he didn't care to go again. And I've seen many beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite and Hawaii. So I was content not to go as well. For this trip, the resort itself WAS our destination and fortunately it WAS the highlight.

Secrets in Montego Bay was essentially (in my mind) one resort split into two sections. But they are each listed separately on the Internet. One end was the "Wild Orchid" and the other was the "St. James." We explored the entire complex and talked to some staffers who told us that the rooms are basically the same except for two things.

You can only get a "swim out" room in the Wild Orchid section. (These first floor rooms have access to the pool right from the room's patio area. You step down from your patio into the water and swim under a little bridge to be in the main pool. It's pretty cool, but not something I would really care about. I prefer not being on the first floor for the better view and the privacy.)

The other difference between the two is a matter of location. The Wild Orchid is in the middle of all the activity. All of the restaurants, the piano bar, the dance club and the entertainment venues are centrally located to the Wild Orchid buildings. The St. James buildings are a short walk from all of the activity, but much quieter at night. John booked our room in the Preferred Club section of the St. James. So we were at the furthest point from all the nighttime activity. And we really liked that. After we ate dinner and walked around a bit, we were ready to get away from all the people. And there were couples of all ages in both locations. So it wasn't simply an age thing. I'm sure a lot of couples were there on their honeymoons.

The spa and exercise facility are also on the very end of the St. James side. If I had wanted to work out, I would have been only a few steps away from the fitness room. Both had spectacular views and beach access very close to the pools. Both had pool bars/restaurants and swim-up bars.

Being in the Preferred Club section gave us some extras like free Internet access, our own 24-hour spread of snacks and drinks from continental breakfast to light lunch items, appetizers before dinner, and late night snacks or cocktails. There were always bottles of champagne, red and white wines, plus other drinks, juices and soft drinks. Also, the Preferred Club rooms had soaking tubs on the balconies. They were not jetted tubs. They were just outdoor tubs. I never used mine. I preferred the spa tub in my bathroom -- and the privacy. I didn't see anybody using the soaking tubs. I don't know what the upgrade fee was for the Preferred room. John said after he added all of the upgrades, the initial "deal" went up almost $1,000.00 from the original offer. But he not only upgraded the room, he upgraded the view, added an extra night, and paid extra for a private car to and from the airport (rather than a shuttle with other guests).

The food was good. It was not the highlight of the trip for me. But I heard many guests telling other guests that the food was great or amazing or wonderful. So I guess I'm just spoiled. How great the food was would have a lot to do with what you are comparing it to. We eat out primarily on the weekends, but when we do, we eat at really good restaurants. I didn't think any of our meals were as good as the places we eat at home. But we had good food and I didn't consider any meal a bad meal. The menus were limited and I found it a little frustrating when an item was not available. For instance, we went back to the Italian restaurant a second time. John had really enjoyed their Caesar Salad. But when he ordered it (from the menu) he was told that they didn't have Caesar that night. Instead, they had a Greek Salad. That didn't appeal to either of us. We had the cream of tomato with basil soup instead. And that turned out to be really good. So it was fine in the end. But on the night we were planning to eat Mexican, they turned the Mexican restaurant into a buffet of all kinds of stuff. We had planned which nights we were going to eat certain foods and might have tried the Mexican restaurant sooner if we had known it would not be available on other nights. But even that wasn't a big deal. It's not like I can't get Mexican food at home. I was pretty adaptable when it came to eating because the purpose of this trip wasn't the food. I was just happy I was getting to spend a whole week with my husband in a beautiful setting.

We didn't think the desserts were all that great in any of the restaurants. They were kind of like cruise ship desserts on the midnight buffet (fluff). The best desserts we had were at the buffets where there was more variety and you could see what you were getting. So on two nights we skipped dessert after our meal and went to a buffet restaurant just for dessert. That was fun. Breakfast was great every day. They do breakfast very well. I overate every single morning. So did John. But we didn't go crazy at dinner because the portions were not large. And I didn't feel compelled to finish everything simply because nothing was "the best I'd ever had." : )

The calamari at the Italian restaurant was delicious. The appetizers and the Hibachi grill were excellent at the Japanese restaurant. John had a chicken dish with a bleu cheese cream sauce at the French restaurant that he really enjoyed. My steak was just okay. The most fun restaurant was the Japanese. We ate there twice and also twice at the Italian.

I left on this vacation worrying just slightly about all the bed bug issues I've read about in other places. I did get bitten by a few mosquitos in the evenings and wound up having some weird dreams one night about bed bugs because my legs were itching from the mosquito bites. That was pretty funny. Once I knew John was also awake, I threw on the light and pulled up the mattress to look for any signs of bugs. But everything was spotless. (That was a reaction to my bad dream.) One of the things we were both impressed with about this resort was how clean everything was. It was spotless inside and out. Even the pool and beach restrooms were clean. I really liked that. And there were NO bed bugs or bugs of any kind in our room. I always make the mistake of wearing my usual body lotion, which smells sweet. And I learn the hard way every time I'm in a tropical environment that I should not. In the future, I will not wear any kind of scent and I will also take vitamin B-1 (a recent tip from a friend) to avoid being bitten.

We spent the majority of our time either relaxing on the beach or relaxing poolside. We took walks. We ate. We played ping pong and pool one day in the gaming area. We sat in the piano bar a couple of times and listened to a live band outside the piano bar another night. But I think this was the first time we've gone somewhere and both been so content to do nothing but relax and enjoy the view. We've never spent so much time in lounge chairs. And it was wonderful. We talked and laughed and just enjoyed being happily married. Times spent that way are precious. I savored every moment. And I must have told John "Thanks for doing this" a hundred times. I know how hard it is for him to get away and the stress he comes home to after being gone. I also know how important it is for him to take time to rest his body for the sake of his physical, mental and emotional health. So I appreciated him doing it for himself as well as doing it for me.

I read about half of Laura Bush's memoir (Spoken From the Heart) and I am really enjoying it. I've read the biographies of numerous presidents, but this is the first time I've read the memoir of a first lady. Laura Bush has always been a personal favorite of mine. And as I've read about her, I realize more and more why I relate to her so much. In one word: values. At one point she mentioned that she would rather collect memories than things and I so identified with her. That's why I take so many pictures. I'm preserving memories. I love to look at my pictures over and over, remembering each moment and the little things that made our time so special.

In my forties and now fifties, I seem to have developed this intense awareness that I am living the best years of my life right now. I want to appreciate every moment for the gift that it is. And this week really was the perfect gift.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Random Thoughts on Being a Daughter-in-Law...

My mother-in-law just left after being here for the last ten or eleven weeks. She is done with weekly doctor appointments for now. And, at this point, she will only have to come to Nashville for doctor visits every two weeks through December, then every four weeks beginning in January.

We were standing in the kitchen talking just before she left. I told her she is the easiest house guest in the world, the most thoughtful and considerate mother-in-law, and she is always welcome. I also told her I wanted her to know that if she ever felt like I was a little on edge, it was me and not her. She was never a "problem" to have here. I wanted to make sure she knew that. I would never want her to leave thinking she had been an imposition.

I love her so much. We get along great and I really try to be a good daughter-in-law. But I'm also opinionated and assertive and emotionally expressive. Sometimes I don't even have to talk for someone to know what I'm thinking because my facial expressions are so transparent. And I just know that there had to have been moments over the last couple of months when she worried about being in the way or getting on my nerves. I know that because I know I would worry about that if I lived with my kids for any length of time.

I honestly think that any time parents and adult children live in the same house, there will be moments of tension (even without there being a "problem") or awkwardness. We all want our own space (emotionally as well as physically) and we all have a certain routine that provides our sanctuary, our sense of normalcy. And I don't care how old we get, I think we always want parental approval and acceptance. So when a parent is living with you, you wonder what they're thinking about your routine, or the way you do things, or how you spend your time. I found myself having these kinds of thoughts frequently over the last two months: "I bet she's thinking..."

Chances are, she never was thinking anything I imagined her to be thinking. I just felt like everything I did (or didn't do) was being observed by someone else; someone who might have an opinion (maybe not a favorable one). And the truth is, I did sometimes feel just a little on edge because I was out of my normal routine and feeling "on display."

If I felt like I managed all of my time efficiently and did everything just right, I probably wouldn't mind being on display. But the truth is, I know that I don't. (And it's almost embarrassing how much time I spend soaking in the tub with a book.) So there is something to protect by not being observed! I will never forget my counselor telling me that when we feel defensive, it's because we feel the need to protect something (or ourselves). Learning that has helped me to identify why I get defensive and to more quickly diffuse my thoughts, boil them down to where they really come from! When you start doing that, it's almost scary how many of our reactions stem from feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

My way of dealing with stuff like that is to bring it out in the open, talk about and -- hopefully -- laugh about it. Thankfully, I can do that with Marian very easily. I can say just about anything to her. I am emotionally reactive at times, but also a big time confesser. I will be the first person to tag myself as the one with the problem and repent. And there were times I wanted Marian to know why she felt a certain vibe from me (so that she wouldn't think I was upset at her). Like the time she took my pillow cases out of the dryer and started ironing them for me. You would think my reaction would be, "Why, thank you so much. What a sweet thing for you to want to do for me." But my internal response was, "She probably thinks I'm such a slob that I don't iron my sheets. I cannot measure up to her standards." So I said, "You don't need to do that. Give me those sheets." (As if she were doing something bad.)

The way I look at it, if I didn't fess up and tell her how twisted my thoughts were in that moment, she would think she had done something wrong. Truth is, she was just trying to be useful and helpful.

In those moments immediately following my unfiltered gut reactions to things, I feel like the biggest idiot and a jerk. (Yes, I do have a problem equating imperfection with failure. I'm sure you can figure this one out by now.)

Next thoughts are usually: What is wrong with me? Why would I interpret something thoughtful as something critical or judgmental? This is a problem in me. And I do recognize it. But then that just leads to my feeling guilty. And it can be a vicious cycle ... the internal struggle between the focus on self and the focus on feeling guilty for selfishness. In those moments, I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am for knowing God's grace. And the words of Paul (Romans 7:21-25) are always comforting to me when I am feeling that struggle between who I am and who I want to be.

Anyway, Marian and I were laughing and having this conversation this morning and I was confessing and making sure Marian didn't feel like she was ever an intrusion into our lives. And she was expressing her appreciation for me as a daughter-in-law (which made me cry). And I said, "I love you so much. I couldn't love you more if you had given birth to me. And I'm so glad you didn't because that would have wrecked everything."

She looked at me like, "What?"

And I said, "Because if you had given birth to me, I wouldn't have been able to marry John!"

And so this chapter is closed and we will get back to our normal lives for a while. And I will look forward to seeing my dear mother-in-law again on her next visits.

One of my more frequent thoughts lately is also this: "Be an extra-good daughter-in-law to your mother-in-law. It won't be that long before you are hoping to reap what you sow." (I have no worries in this department, actually. I have already reaped and reaped and reaped the rewards of a wonderful daughter-in-law.)

Of course, this principle can be applied to many other relationships as well.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More Good Results from CAL-101

Today was the day we have been waiting for. Marian's white count finally dropped significantly after eight weeks of CAL-101 in combination with Rituxan. The Rituxan infusions are behind her now and, as of today, so are the weekly office visits. For the month of December, she will return every other week. But after December 30, she will only have to go once every four weeks. She can get on with her life.

As I've explained in previous posts, CLL behaves differently in every patient. Because the blood, the bone marrow and the lymphatic system are all interconnected, any disease originating in one of these will also affect the other two. Leukemias are cancers of the white blood cells. CLL affects B cell lymphocytes. B cells originate in the bone marrow, develop in the lymph nodes, and normally fight infection by producing antibodies. In CLL, the DNA of a B cell is damaged, so that it cannot produce antibodies. Additionally, B cells grow out of control and accumulate in the bone marrow and blood, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. In some CLL patients, the disease proliferates more in the lymph nodes than the blood and marrow.

Even though Marian and John have familial CLL (just like other forms of cancer, CLL can be inherited genetically), their diseases are not identical. Marian's CLL has progressed primarily in her blood and marrow. She needed treatment because her platelets were steadily declining and she was becoming anemic. John's CLL has always progressed in his lymph nodes. His WBC was moderately high, but his other counts were fine. However, his lymph nodes swelled so large that they caused pain. Marian has had some lymph node enlargement, but nothing like John's. John has minimal bone marrow involvement, while Marian's marrow showed 90% CLL infiltration at the start of treatment. Their prognostic indicators are different as well. Marian is mutated (good). John is unmutated (not good). Marian has the 11q chromosomal deletion (not good). John has the 13q chromosomal deletion (good).

The treatments John had prior to CAL-101 reduced his white count, but did not successfully clear his lymph nodes of the CLL. And his lymph nodes were the reason for treatment. Even chemotherapy (FCR) had very little effect on his nodes. Within two months of his last round of FCR, they were already growing again. It was very disappointing and scary. It was looking like stem cell transplant might be our only option. And in order to succeed with a transplant, the patient has to first achieve a complete remission. FCR is usually the treatment used to get that remission and although I knew there were other options, I was feeling pretty discouraged. To fail FCR the first time you use it is not good. Not good at all. I will never forget the day Dr. Flinn looked at us very somberly and said, "This is serious. This isn't good." It was a very hard day.

I had heard about CAL-101 through online friends. But I knew it was very new and unproven. The trials were just getting underway. (CAL-101 is an isoform-selective inhibitor of PI3Kδ that inhibits PI3K signaling and induces apoptosis of CLL cells in vitro). I knew one patient who was getting great results in a clinical trial with Dr. Byrd. He also had the lymph node issues and they were responding impressively. So I started checking into clinical trials (searching online) and where they were available in the hope of avoiding transplant. I knew that Dr. Flinn had trials open using CAL-101 in combination with other therapies. But I was not aware that he was participating in a clinical trial with CAL-101 as single agent. I didn't see one listed online and we were between office visits.

Although I am not a doctor, I am a very educated caregiver. And I personally believed John would be best served by CAL-101 as single agent. (I didn't want him to take more chemo and I didn't want him to take more Rituxan because he'd already had it twice without success.) I remember going to see Dr. Flinn at our next visit and telling him that I had made an appt. for John to see Dr. Byrd in Ohio because he had a clinical trial open with CAL-101 as single agent. Dr. Flinn smiled and said, "I'm participating in the same trial." It was a huge relief to know we would not have to travel. But I would never consider choosing convenience over the best option for treatment. (And if John disagreed with me, this would be something I would be willing to fight about. LOL.)

John began CAL-101 as single agent at the lowest dose (50 mg.) on May 27. Right after he was accepted into this study, it was closed to new patients. But other combination therapy trials opened. And one of them was CAL-101 in combination with Rituxan for elderly, previously untreated patients. (The older I get, the more I dislike the word elderly. My mother-in-law feels the same way.)

In most CLL patients, CAL-101 clears lymph nodes amazingly fast, but initially raises an already elevated white count before it lowers it. That can be a problem, and is one reason CAL-101 is being studied in combination with other drugs. The goal is to blunt the rise caused by CAL-101 with another drug that is already known to lower the white count.

This is just one example of why the same therapy is not right for every patient. And this is another example of the variations between patients even with familial CLL. John was the odd patient who did not experience a rise in his white count at all. And his lymph nodes began to shrink within two days of taking his first dose of CAL-101. After six months of CAL-101, his counts are stable (all within normal range) and the nodes are still shrinking. John says he can still feel a few of them if he presses on certain areas, but they feel smaller and none of them are visible at this point (which makes him very happy because he hated his swollen neck). I don't know if every node will ultimately be reduced to normal size. But we will be very content just to keep the disease under control.

Marian has been the more typical patient when it comes to the rise in WBC. Before beginning treatment, her highest white count was 53.8. Her highest white count after treatment began was 74.7. And that was at the end of the first week. Dr. Flinn said today that without the Rituxan, it probably would have gone higher. Last week her WBC was still 62.7. But today it was 50.7. Dr. Flinn said that the white count usually starts to improve at about eight weeks. So she is right on schedule. She has completed the eight weeks of Rituxan infusions, so from here on she will be on successive 28-day cycles of CAL-101. Today she began Cycle Three. Although the trial is for a total of twelve cycles, patients who continue to respond will just continue taking it indefinitely (as long as it works for them).

Based on the results so far, I believe CAL-101 will ultimately be approved by the FDA for CLL. But one of the great things about being in a clinical trial is that the drug will not be taken away from anyone who is responding to it even if it doesn't get approved. Some people fear clinical trials for some reason and associate them with being a medical guinea pig. Because of all the reading I have done, I don't feel that way at all. I am very thankful that John and Marian both have had the opportunity to be involved in these trials. They are getting cutting edge treatment that is not available everywhere. In John's case, the "gold standard" treatment did not work. I don't even like to think about what we would be going through right now had CAL-101 not been an option for him.

If you read my blog regularly, you have read some of these background details before. But I know that people searching CLL on the Internet often visit my blog -- maybe only once -- and I sometimes go over certain details more than once for the benefit of someone who isn't reading every post. There is a lot of interest in CAL-101 right now -- for good reason -- and I like sharing our experience with others who are seeking information. I knew to ask about CAL-101 because of online CLL friends who shared their experience with it. Actually, it was one specific online friend and his results that gave me hope before I even asked Dr. Flinn about it. (Thank you, Randy!)

I would encourage anyone considering treatment right now (especially if you have stubborn lymph nodes) to investigate the possibility of enrolling in a clinical trial with CAL-101. Medical insurance will often cover doctors and hospitals in other parts of the country and sometimes even travel costs. If traveling to a specialist is an option for you, I would strongly urge you not to choose convenience over an expert opinion and the highest level of knowledge and experience with this disease. It does make a difference, I promise you. And in some cases you can consult a specialist and then have him or her work in conjunction with your local oncologist for treatments that are available locally. Thoroughly investigate all of your options. You won't regret it.

Also, if you have any questions you would prefer to ask privately rather than post a comment, please feel free to email me at ShariLHowerton@aol.com.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nostalgia and Personal Growth

From Wikipedia:
The term nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in idealized form. The word is a learned formation of a Greek compounds, consisting of νόστος, nóstos, "returning home", a Homeric word, and ἄλγος, álgos, "pain" or "ache". It was described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, in the Early Modern period, and came to be an important topic in Romanticism.

Nostalgia, in its most common meaning, caused the old front desk of The Beverly Hills Hotel (from 1942 to 1979) to be made into a bar. In common, less clinical usage, nostalgia sometimes includes a general interest in past eras and their personalities and events, especially the "good old days" of a few generations back recast in an idyllic light, such as the Belle Époque, Merry England, Neo-Victorian aesthetics, the US "Antebellum" Old South, etc. Sometimes it is brought on by a sudden image, or remembrance of something from one's childhood.
~~~

I think that most people feel nostalgic, at least now and then, for a part of their past. I, on the other hand, sometimes feel a little odd about the fact that I don't experience nostalgia for any part of my past. Not at all. Not ever. The most frequent prayer I pray is "Thank You, God, for delivering me from my past life...."

I believe these are the years of my life that I will eventually feel nostalgia for when I am an old woman. Not because my life is carefree or stress-free -- but because I have found the peace and joy I have always longed for. Looking back over my life, I realize that I had neither until well into my forties.

I remember once telling my Christian counselor that I was euphoric because I'd had two weeks of peace. He pointed out to me than an absence of conflict was not the equivalent of peace. And he asked me, "Do you ever really have peace?" The answer was obvious. My whole life revolved around trying to avoid conflict and please others. I knew it. Successfully avoiding conflict for two whole weeks was the greatest happiness I knew and I was thankful for it. I remember thinking that my counselor was raining on my parade that day. But I have reflected on that conversation many times since and realized the sad implications of my temporary euphoria.

As my life has blossomed into spiritual and emotional health, I feel sad for that young woman. It is hard to believe I used to actually be her. It seems like she is someone else. I don't feel nostalgia for her or any part of the life she lived. It's not that there were never any good times. It's more that I cannot separate the memory of a happy moment from the overall context of oppression in which I lived.

I have come so far -- both spiritually and emotionally -- over the last seven to eight years. I have been in a growth process that has required time, reflection and constant introspection. But this past year has been a breakthrough year for me in many ways. I know that writing my book was a big part of putting the past behind me. I feel purged; like I have finally, truly moved on from my past.

I can even think about a few people that I miss -- and still hold dear in my heart -- without grieving the loss of their presence in my life today. I'm free. I not only have peace in my present life; I believe I am finally at peace with the past and all of the wounds I have struggled to heal from. There were many times along this journey that I wondered if I would ever be completely free.

I recently made a silly joke to my pastor. We were talking about Hoedown and kids having fun. John made a comment about all the fun he had as a kid. And I said that I didn't get to have a lot of fun as a kid, which is why I wrote a book. Ha Ha. Then for the rest of the day, I ruminated on that joke. I wondered why I had said that. I didn't write a book because I didn't get to have enough fun as a kid. I really don't even care about the fun I missed out on. That has never been my focus. I don't grieve not getting to wear pants or not going to dances with my friends. I have felt robbed of knowing what Jesus accomplished for me on the cross. So I honestly wondered where that joke even came from. Later in the week I sent him a quick email (so I would stop ruminating on it). He wrote a simple response and signed the email: Onward, Allen.

My current pastor has never lectured me or offered unsolicited personal advice.That is one of the things I have found so very refreshing about his pastoral style. But in that one word he reminded me to keep going forward.

I have been reading one biography after another this year. I finished Abraham Lincoln, then read Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. What I have come away with from those three biographies is how little people actually change from one era to another. The scenery of our lives changes. But the lives we lead, especially the interpersonal relationships and struggles with each other, are very much the same. Everyone has critics. Everyone has a unique set of convictions and passions. Some people are endeared to us and others loathe us.

While reading Whitefield's biography, I was just struck with how little has changed when it comes to the issues that divide us in the Christian faith. And I had to laugh while reading about the pastors who opposed Whitefield's itinerant ministry because it took people and money away from their congregations. As I read and compared the people of colonial times to the people of today, I had to wonder why God hasn't gotten totally exhausted with watching our struggles and contentions with one another by now. I thought to myself, "How much longer is He going to be content to let this all go on?"

As a direct result of reading that book, I decided to finally read "Blue Like Jazz" written by Donald Miller, an author I have previously somewhat dismissed. I have not felt inclined to read any of the books written by "emergent" guys. I read part of a McLaren book years ago and I have read many Rob Bell quotes that I could not embrace. Equally troubling to me was the fact that so many in the cult I left were strongly identifying with emergents. The common ground seemed to be a mutual elevation of personal thoughts, feelings and experiences above absolute truth. I wanted no part of that. I remember having conversations with friends in my small groups about the dangers of deception. I knew several of them just didn't "get" my strong feelings. But I was on a search for absolute truth. I didn't want to read things that made me feel good or better about myself. I wanted sound biblical truths and I had a deep-rooted fear of being deceived. So I viewed the emphasis on feelings as dangerous.

That I am even reading "Blue Like Jazz" is more evidence (to me) of how far I've come. That may or may not make sense to anybody else. But if you and I have ever had one of those intense conversations about "Christian" authors who elevate man rather than glorifying God ... then you know.

I'm only 33 pages into the book, but I am enjoying it. I'm comprehending more fully the common humanity I share with even those I strongly disagree with.