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The call came at 11:45 p.m., waking me from sleep.

“I think your dad had a stroke.”

I don’t live far away, but that was a long drive, despite breaking speed limits and running a couple of red lights.

It took all of about two seconds to confirm my mother’s diagnosis.  I called 9-1-1 and the paramedics arrived shortly thereafter.

By the time we got to the ER, he could not move the left side of his body, and his left eye was drooped closed.  His speech was slurred and difficult.

They gave him TPA, a clot busting drug.  Within 15 minutes, he could move his left leg and within half an hour, he could move his left arm.  The facial droop improved, but his speech never quite recovered.

As we left his hospital room Friday night, he gave us a thumbs up gesture.  Perhaps our prayers had been answered and he would recover from this.  He was in the hospital in May with congestive heart failure, but had done well after that and was back golfing and teaching the residents at the hospital.

But at 4 a.m. Saturday morning, he went unresponsive and had trouble breathing.  They put him on a ventilator and took him for a CT scan.  One of the side effects of TPA is that you can hemorrhage at the site of the stroke.  But the scan showed no hemorrhage.  An EEG did not show seizure activity, but was markedly abnormal on the right side where the stroke occurred.  An MRI eventually showed bilateral cerebellar strokes and a new brainstem stroke.  There would be no recovery.

On the day we stopped the ventilator, I brought him a golf ball to hold, because he loved to play golf and I bonded with him playing that game, and a cold bottle of Sam Adams beer for the other hand. My dad was far from an alcoholic, but he really enjoyed a cold beer once in a while—something he hadn’t been able to enjoy since suffering heart failure in April.

He jokingly asked almost every person who came to visit him in the ICU last Friday if they brought him a cold beer. I couldn’t let him leave this world without his cold beer. So I swabbed it on his lips, and we all shared a Sam Adams. I left the golf ball in his hand.

The next morning, I went jogging, as I usually do about 6 days a week. I always leave my house, go down the back road of our development, and then take a trail that connects the cul-de-sac to the local high school parking lot.  I’ve run that trail for 14 years.

The day after he died, there was a golf ball. Lying in the road. Right in front of the trail. There is no golf course nearby. I have never seen a golf ball down there before.

Golfball2

golfball

I think somehow, some way, he left that there for me.

He couldn’t have left me the beer! My wife says that’s because someone else would have taken the beer, so I have to settle for the golf ball.

Sure, it probably fell out of someone’s golf bag–then out of their car.  But I suspect the odds of that happening on THAT day at THAT time after THOSE circumstances are worse than my odds of winning the POWERBALL tonight.

And even if there is a physical explanation, whose to say his spirit didn’t have a hand in making that happen?

It might not have materialized from Heaven, but my dad brought it to me just the same.

I miss you already, dad.

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Happy Easter!

Enjoy! The Bread of Life . . . broken for you!
Rolls

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Palm Sunday

This past week, I came across a funny video about texting and using phones in church, thanks to Life Along the Way.  My family does things the old-fashioned way.  We scribble notes on the bulletin and pass it back and forth.  We are so last century when it comes to communication.

But I digress.

In all my years of Sunday school in my youth, and countless sermons that I have slept through so as to allow the word of God to osmose into my being, I must confess that of all my childhood memories, I recall the annual fiasco of the palms most vividly.  I grew up with three younger sisters, and I somehow never got the biggest palm on Palm Sunday (not without a considerable fight, that is.)  As a kid, this is vitally important since the palms are traditionally used as “swords” to joust with your siblings during and after (mostly during) the ceremony (since they are usually impounded by parents and not available afterwards.)  The size of the palm is vitally important, especially to boys and men.

Now as I sit in church thinking about how childish and silly that was, I come to the gloriously inspired realization that without my sisters around, I could get the biggest palm this year!  You can imagine my chagrin when some snot-nosed kid from our congregation, who seems to be innocently passing the palms out randomly as he travels up the aisle, hands the biggest palm I have ever seen to some elderly lady sitting in the pew in front of me.  To add insult to injury, he proceeds to hand me what must have been the shortest palm they could find.  I think he cut it back himself or gnawed on it prior to the service just so he could snub me and my masculinity.  I reach out and try to grab another one, but he slaps my hand and hisses “You only get one, mister!”

Some attitude for a church service.  I make a mental note to report him to the pastor, but then my mind is littered with mental post-it notes that have fallen and now clutter my gray matter like a garbage dump.  So I take a new, more adult approach (repressing the childhood urge to jump over the pew and yank the palm leaf out of her arthritic old hand.)  Instead, I  tap the lady on the shoulder and I ask her if I can have her palm.

“Oh no,” she replied.  “I’m going to give this to my granddaughter after the service.”

SIZE DOES MATTER!

Like a four-year old girl really needs one that big.  So when she rises to sing the hymn, I try to reach forward, over the pew and exchange the palms.  My wife glares at me and hits me on the back, causing me to drop my stunted palm.  It also throws me into an asthma attack, and by the time I can breathe, the hymn is over and the old wench sits on my stubby palm whilst brandishing the gorgeous long one in her wrinkled, liver-spotted hands.  (Any other time, the hymn would have six or ten verses and cover two pages of the hymnal, but today it only has three verses on half a page.  Curses!  Prayers have an annoying habit of coming true at the most inopportune times.)

I lean forward to tell her, “don’t you know she could poke her eye out with that?”  I am an eye doctor after all.  I know about these things.  She glares back at me (just like my loving wife) and shifts down the pew away from me, just as my wife and family have done.

I have to come up with a new plan.  Fortunately the pastor is rambling on and on about something up front, so I have time to think and plot.  I pretend to drop my Bible on the floor, and get down on my hands and knees to retrieve it.  I crawl under the pew, and wiggle my way down to where the old lady is now sitting and protecting her palm.  I extend my hand to get some leverage so I can reach up with the other.  Unfortunately, the pastor chose this week to be brief, and the congregation started to stand for another hymn.  The old hag tramps down on my hand and pins me under the pew.

By the time I wriggle free and start to nurse my hand, they are passing out Communion.  I am very hungry and have worked myself into a pretty good snit over this palm thing, so I take a handful of the bread off the plate as it is passed.  The usher starts to protest but I explain to him that I have missed several Communions in the past and I am just catching up.  It is harder to get enough grape juice since it’s poured in little cups—but I manage to down a few before they wrench the cup holder out of my hands.  I would have been able to maintain a better grip except I think that the old lard butt broke a couple of fingers in my right hand.  They really need to consider passing a bottle of wine.  I think that would be a good idea and attendance would probably increase dramatically.

Fully sated, I have to stand up to sing yet another hymn.  It’s like this all morning—up and down.  I don’t know why they don’t just get the standing parts all done at one time, so we can sit and sleep peacefully through the rest.

A man behind me taps me on the back.  I turn and he says, “You’ve got the wrong hymnal.  It’s number 75 in the blue book.”

Well stand me up and paint my hymnal red.  I shrug.

He taps again and repeats his observation, trying to clarify himself as if I don’t know and perhaps even care that I have the wrong hymnal.  It’s as if he thinks I actually sing the songs.

“You’ve got the red book there, son.  The hymn is in the blue book.”

I turn around to face him better.  I show him the red book.

“I’m not on Hymn 75 and the book is upside down. I’m lip-synching to the Penn State Alma Mater because I can remember the words to that.”

Now I know how Milli-Vanilli felt.

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We’ve all heard the miracle stories.  Mr. X was diagnosed with cancer.  People prayed for him.  Suddenly, the cancer was gone.  There’s not even a shadow on the x-ray.  It’s like it was never there!

For non-believers, there’s always an explanation.  Maybe the original x-ray was wrong.  Maybe that shadow wasn’t a tumor after all but an artifact of some sort.  Nothing miraculous about that and the medical profession is well aware of false positive test results.

But sometimes there was a biopsy which conformed the tumor.  Yet, the tumor is now gone.  What are the odds of two tests being false?

For the believer, it is just an unnecessary affirmation of faith.  They believe whether the cancer goes away or not.  Faith is just that.  There is no need for proof.

Anyway, I submit to you my own faith healing story.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I am a runner.  Basically, that means I go outside, I run around for a while, and I end up back where I started for no apparent reason.  That is, I wasn’t running because a bear was chasing me, and I wasn’t running to get a beer.  Both of those scenarios make sense.  I was merely running for my health, which presents quite the oxymoron when you consider all the various aches and pains I suffer for my art.

Last summer, I started having pain in my right leg.  My tibia to be exact.  I eschewed doctors because I was pretty sure their opinion was going to be to tell me to stop running.  After trying to run through the pain, which usually involved limping back home or calling my wife or daughter to come pick me up because I couldn’t make it back, I finally sought medical attention.  An MRI confirmed I had a stress fracture of my tibia.

And guess what the medical experts told me?

STOP RUNNING!

So I did.  Really.  For seven weeks, which is the longest stretch of non-running since 2000 for me, when I committed my body to running to stay in shape and not die as a bloated, out of breath sluggard.

NOT RUNNING WAS MORE PAINFUL THAN THE BONE, truth be told.

A repeat MRI confirmed some healing, but the fracture was still there.  After consulting with enough doctors to finally get a recommendation I could run with, so to speak, an orthopedic surgeon felt there were signs of healing, and blessed me to run 1-2 miles as I could stand, and go from there.  I also used the elliptical because it was low-impact and didn’t stress my leg.

By the end of December, I was running 3 miles three times a week, and mixing 60 minutes on the elliptical on most of the off days.  I didn’t have to limp home or call for a ride, but I could tell the bone didn’t feel right, even though it was my right leg.  Four months, and I still seemed miles away from the runner who used to run 7-12 miles five days a week as if I were some teenager on the track team.  My speed had also fallen quite a bit.

Needless to say, I was frustrated.

Then, while vacation in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, we met with one of my wife’s high school classmates whom she hadn’t seen in years–maybe since graduation.  They were friends on Facebook and when my daughter updated our status as arriving at the airport in Lihue, my wife’s classmate got in touch with us and arranged an impromptu reunion.

Her husband, as luck turns out, is a born again Christian, but not the get-in-your-face-and-intimidate-you kind.  I’m not even sure if he ever asked us if we were Christians, but he may have known some background from his wife and Facebook.

After an evening of catching up on old times, as we were preparing to part ways for God only knows how long, he asked if he could pray for us and help heal us.  This is what he does.

Now before I go any further, I want to note that I am a Christian and we attend a Presbyterian Church.  I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior.  I don’t pretend to know everything about religion but consider myself open-minded.  I grew up studying science and learning about evolution, but found science to be inadequate to fully explain just what life is and how it came about.  I do pray, and I have prayed for healing in my own leg.  I pray for all my operative patients before and after their surgery.  I believe in the power of prayer, even if it probably doesn’t affect the outcome of a Penn State or Steelers football game.  But I digress.

First, he laid hands on my son and prayed for his neck.  He had injured himself on the trampoline years ago–not serious–but had some nagging neck stiffness and limitation of movement.  After the prayer, he asked my son if he felt any different.  He moved his head around and his eyes got wide.  He did feel different!  But that is not my miracle story.

He also prayed for my daughter who has had shoulder problems since she hurt it lunging a horse, and my wife who has had back problems after two discectomies.  My daughter states she felt some warmth in her shoulder when he prayed, some temporary relief, but as of today, she doesn’t think it is any better.  Ditto for my wife, and I’m not even sure she had the warm sensation.

For me, though, I felt something.  I got goosebumps across my body like I do when the Penn State Blue Band marches onto the field at pre-game.  It was  a tingle throughout my body.  And I did feel like my leg was different.  But I was standing in a restaurant parking lot; not running.  We were just hours away from leaving for home, and I wouldn’t have a chance to run for several days.

But since then, my leg is better.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is 100% and it’s not like it never happened, but it is better than it has been since this started last summer.  Some of what I am feeling I think is scar tissue from the healing process and even that is getting better as I run more.  I ran six miles today.  I still ice the leg afterward, which the orthopod recommended, but God can work that way too.  I believe that God works through doctors.  I pray for Him to guide my hands and judgement when I operate and I belive He does.

Two weeks after the healing, I had the orthopod who looked at my scans before recheck me.  He did a fluoroscan–which is NOT an MRI–but the scan did not show any fracture and there was a healed callous of bone.  (An MRI or a bone scan might show residual fracture but he felt neither was necessary if I wasn’t having any pain.  His previous fluoroscan did show the initial fracture back in November.)

That’s my story . . . and I’m sticking to it.  Whether you choose to believe or not . . . is up to you.

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A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.
Victor Hugo

Just an accident waiting to happen?

Recent events have caused me to become reflective.  We got a new mirror.  But that’s not the reflectivity of which I am alluding.

In the course of browsing blogs on WordPress, I came across two by professed atheists, or at least ones who lost their faith, so to speak.  One is a mechanical/aerospace engineer in training, writing on the Blazing Truth, while another atheist is going to read the Bible over the next year and report her thoughts on what she read.  So far she has finished Genesis 1-3.

Pretty strange undertaking for an atheist, no?

Despite not taking a word in this book as truth, I think it is important that I know what it contains nonetheless.

But neither of these blogs, or the countless others you can read under “religion” (2734 recent posts that were tagged as such at the time I type this) is the sole impetus for this entry.

A fellow blogger left me a message on my ABOUT page, asking that I give more detail about what my blog is, er, about.  I actually thought the ABOUT page was information about me, more so than my blog, but after careful consideration, I can see his point.  I’ll put updating the ABOUT page on my To Do list.

But that did get me thinking, what is this blog about?

Your guess is as good as mine.

So far I have written about my dogs, cataract surgery, on-line games, The Rapture, The Rapture that didn’t Capture, Satan reading my blog, having my toenails removed surgically, Adidas Climacool running shoes, my hometown of Altoona selling out its name to a movie, and dog poop.  Almost all of these are written tongue in cheek and hopefully, my readers find the humor in these posts.  That was intentional.  Whether I achieved that or not is up for debate.  I still have not been FRESHLY PRESSED.  I wrote about that too!

So this post will migrate away from being primarily humorous, and will wax more philosophically.

Can one lose his/her faith?

Is there some celestial lost and found box for these poor souls?  But even that slightly amusing but not intentionally humorous question begets an even more critical one: do we have a soul?  I will leave that question for another day, because I want to concentrate on the topic introduced initially:  Faith.

For some background, I was raised in the United Methodist tradition.  I attended Sunday School, and I will be perfectly honest.  The only thing I really remember is not liking it.  I was there because my parents forced me.  Sure, I can recall tidbits of Bible stories I learned over the years:  Noah’s Flood, the Resurrection, Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, etc.  But I’d probably only score a C on a multiple choice test if I had to take one right now.

As I grew and presumably became smarter–graduating high school, college and then medical school–I increasingly became less religious, whatever that means.  Honestly, I stopped going to church, did not pray to God, and seriously questioned God’s existence.  I’m pretty sure I wrote a paper in college arguing in favor of evolution over the creation story.  I was a biology major after all.  I was immersed in the sciences and evolution fit into that paradigm more neatly than God.

One might argue that I lost my faith.

I would argue that I simply put my faith in something else.  Instead of God, I placed my faith in science.  In rational thought.  In proofs and experiments.  I want to point out that religion and rational thought are NOT mutually exclusive.  But whereas religion uses unseen beings (God, angels) to explain solutions, science never resorts to unseen and unexplainable things.  Like gravity.  Science demands proof.  For the most part, religious faith is in spite of proof.  Science rationalizes its unexplained phenomena as theories.  Religion calls them tenets or creeds.  Tomato, to-mah-to.

Atheists have not lost faith–just faith in God; their faith is in what they can see and measure.  They still have faith–just not religious faith.

If you believe in nothing, then your faith is in nothing.

You may not have faith in God.  You may not have faith in science.  You may not have faith in anything.  But you believe something, even if it is nothing.  Your faith is in what you believe.  You may be confused about what exactly you believe, but that is not a lack of faith or lost faith.  Having beliefs–faith–separates us, I believe, from other living organisms.  I doubt very much that celery believes in anything.  It might believe it is a food, but it not only has no calories, but we actually expend more energy chewing it than it contains.  It has negative calories.  It is certainly NOT a food, no matter what the stalk thinks of itself.  But I digress.

Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.
Khalil Gibran

After meeting and marrying my wife, I became religious again.  (I changed my beliefs, I attend church on a more or less regular basis and I pray everyday.)  That is in large part due to her, but also to my own maturation.  I discovered that my faith in science left me unfulfilled.  Something was missing.  While evolution certainly occurs, can it really explain how I came to be here today typing this blog entry?

I think not.

Science has yet to adequately explain how life arose in the first place.  Every thing that is alive today came from pre-existing life.  Science has never been able to produce life in a test tube–without using pre-existing life.  Miller showed that inorganic chemicals under the proper circumstances can produce organic chemicals like amino acids, the basic building blocks of life.  But that is not creating life.  That is like manufacturing a piston and claiming you have made a car.  We can manufacture proteins and enzymes.  We cannot create living cells without using pre-existing cells.

Note:  Once you have the first cell, then I can buy the whole evolution thing.  But it is getting to that first lowly cell that seems to be a problem for science.

Just because science cannot explain or replicate the origin of life doesn’t mean that one must evoke a supernatural entity.  But in the final analysis, whether you believe the universe was formed by a Big Bang and life arose by the random chance of molecules combining to form complex cells, or whether a divine creator is responsible for all this is moot.  Either way, you must take the final product on faith.  Neither side has definitive proof.

Likewise it is with death.  Science simply defines death as the cessation of life.  We can measure it medically in terms of brain waves and EKGs.  We can see the body degrade after death.  But what actually makes an individual cell die?  Obviously a lack of oxygen or nutrients is one answer.  When the heart stops pumping, cells throughout the body die.  One can be brain-dead, but the rest of the body can be kept “alive” indefinitely through mechanical and artificial means.

But if you take one cell out of the body that has died, and ask yourself how is it different from one that was alive only moments before, science is hard pressed to answer that question.  Proteins denature.  Chemical bonds are broken.  Cell membranes break down.  Yada. Yada.  Yada.  These are merely descriptions.  They do not answer the fundamental question of why it happened in the first place.  It is almost a chicken and egg conundrum, but not quite since obviously life came first and then death.  But which can be answered first is the heart of that issue.  Why does life begin is as important a question as how does it end.

Again, it is not necessary to ascribe some soul or life force to the cell which makes it living when it is present and non-living when it isn’t, but there is certainly something special about life such that only other life can produce it, and once it is gone, the processes of degradation and decay take over.

For myself, I believe in a Creator.  God.  I am a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ.  I don’t believe so because I can prove it.  I can’t.  I believe because I have faith.  One of the things that sways me most about the Bible is how the disciples reacted after Christ’s death and resurrection.  This was a rag-tag band of basically uneducated men–manual laborers not priests–who when the chips were down all deserted Christ.  Peter denied Him thrice.  Yet, after the resurrection, this group went out and spread Christianity in a world that was not terribly receptive to them.  Most of them died–were painfully martyred–for their beliefs.  What did they witness that gave them that kind of resolve?  Before his death, they ran scared and lied to protect themselves.  Then, something changed and now they were willing to die for this cause.

Was it mass hypnosis, like the Hale-Bop followers?  Did they drink the Kool Aid?  Or did they suddenly find their faith?

For me, I believe they witnessed the risen Lord and it changed their lives.

But have faith, if you don’t want to believe in that, you can still take faith in that.

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I know it’s getting old, but this thing just keeps rolling along.

According to this article by Garance Burke, Harold Camping has moved the date of the end of the world to October 21st. 

Through chatting with a friend over what he acknowledged was a very difficult weekend, it dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, May 21 had instead been a “spiritual” Judgment Day, which places the entire world under Christ’s judgment, he said.

The globe will be completely destroyed in five months, he said, when the apocalypse comes. But because God’s judgment and salvation were completed on Saturday, there’s no point in continuing to warn people about it, so his network will now just play Christian music and programs until the final end on Oct. 21.

He now returns us to our normally scheduled lives.  For those that gave all their possessions away . . . sorry about that.

“I still have to live in a house, I still have to drive a car,” he said. “What would be the value of that? If it is Judgment Day why would I give it away?”

Why indeed?

Talk about your Looney Tunes . . .

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My LEFT BEHIND is numb.  I guess it’s because I lean that way when I’m typing and I have spent too much time at the computer.

Why you ask?  Am I still playing MahJong?  (I am.)  Is it because I have no life?  (I don’t.)  Is it because I am trying to figure out why the Rapture hasn’t occurred yet?  (Hell no!)

Truth be told, though, I did wonder about all those people who were convinced by Harold Camping that the end of the world was supposed to start on May 21st.  Apparently, he has overlooked something.  Again.

According to Garance Burke, reactions over the failure of the world to end are mixed.  For myself, I am somewhat bummed.  I’m on-call this weekend so now I have to answer calls today.  We have an emergency line and I’ve already gotten one emergency.  Someone’s drops ran out.  Apparently, they weren’t expecting to need them today either.  Worse yet, I have to go to work tomorrow.  Is this the worst apocalypse ever or what?

Believers had spent months warning the world of the pending cataclysm. Some had given away earthly belongings. Others took long journeys to be with loved ones. And there were those who drained their savings accounts.

Seriously?  Why didn’t anyone give their worldly belongings or savings accounts to me?

“I had some skepticism but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God,” said Keith Bauer — who hopped in his minivan in Maryland and drove his family 3,000 miles to California for the Rapture.

“I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth,” said Bauer, a tractor-trailer driver who began the voyage west last week, figuring that if he “worked last week, I wouldn’t have gotten paid anyway, if the Rapture did happen.”

Is the Rapture really better in California?  I never thought about not working last week!  I did take Friday off but it was for a charity golf tournament.  I also went running on Saturday for 10 miles.  I figure if the world was going to end, I might as well be doing something I love.

In New York’s Times Square, Robert Fitzpatrick, of Staten Island, said he was surprised when the six o’clock hour simply came and went. He had spent his own money to put up advertising about the end of the world.

“I can’t tell you what I feel right now,” he said, surrounded by tourists. “Obviously, I haven’t understood it correctly because we’re still here.”

Let me enlighten you on your feelings here, Robert.  What you are feeling is stupid.  I hope Robert doesn’t work on Wall Street.  I’m sorry Mr. Jones, but I liquidated your portfolio to charity because I thought the world was ending.  OR, you would have had enough for your retirement had the world ended on May 21, 2011!

Earlier in the day, Sheila Doan, 65, Camping’s next-door-neighbor of 40 years, was outside gardening and said the worldwide spotlight on his May 21 forecast has attracted far more attention than the 1994 prediction.

Doan said she is a Christian and while she respects her neighbor, she doesn’t share his views.

“I wouldn’t consider Mr. Camping a close friend and wouldn’t have him over for dinner or anything, but if he needs anything, we are there for him,” Doan said.

Wouldn’t have him over for dinner or anything . . . doesn’t that say a mouthful right there.

I tried to log back on to family radio.com to find out what went wrong . . .

I guess the web site was taken in the Rapture after all!

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