The Whistler's Dream

Everybody needs a dream...
Mine is to go to Oklahoma and play whistles for The Pioneer Woman. (Having been invited, not in a "creepy stalker" kind of way, for the record.) Heck, I'd play in a pup tent in the backyard for the joy of the cows and critters. What can I say? I'm a fan.
Everybody needs a dream...

Random Fluffy Foto!

Random Fluffy Foto!
Writing in bed, and Beka editing by ear. Really. The ear typed some letters. Really.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Captain Cal - now and ever!

The other day, I walked into a room and a friend said, “Captain Cal! Or, um, maybe you don’t want to be called that after...” (After the layoff, is what he was saying. After spending 5 or so years of my life as Captain Cal on His Kids Radio.) And I’ll admit, in the first few years after being laid off, hearing that name did sting a little, because so much of my world was wrapped up in my identity with that job.

Interestingly, and in a typical example of God always being about 2 million steps ahead of us, Vicki and I had talked about just this thing - how hearing the name “Captain Cal” sometimes jabbed me a little, usually from specific people in a specific place. It provided a place for Sightblinder to zing me one more time, remind me of what is past and perhaps get in a few digs about how I must have failed miserably or else I wouldn’t have been “dumped.”

I’m not going to let Mr. Big Ol’ Poopy Headed Person get away with that.

(I’m a little immature sometimes. Didn’t know if you noticed that.)

What I had remembered when Vicki and I talked about it was this: I’ve been Captain Cal for way, w-a-a-y longer than my history on His Kids Radio - that’s been my name for years and years. Actually, I was graced with that name by someone my freshman year in college - he just started calling me Captain Cal, and it hung around in the background for a while. When I started doing magic and storytelling, that was the logical name to use as my stage name. And, for lots of kiddos over the years, Captain Cal and Miss Vicki became a good alternative to Aunt and Uncle or Mr. and Mrs. I’ve been wearing my “Captain” for a lot longer than my time on the air.

It’s amazing what our enemy will try and use to make us miserable - even a name. Sightblinder will try and hang all sorts of associations on something as simple as a nickname, and then tie that to a big ol’ anchor and try to throw us over the side to drown. And all too often, I’ll stand there and let him do it - I’ll give him the rope, watch as he ties the knots, even provide the anchor as I get thrown over, and think “poor pitiful me” as I’m sinking.

But, if I open all the doors and windows so that God’s light shines in to every corner of my life, then all the raw materials of shame, regret, anger, bitterness and so many others are exposed for the lies they really are. They can’t stand in the reality of God’s love, grace and mercy.

Here’s the tough part: too often, I allow that crap to just roll around in my head, gaining momentum and speed instead of allowing God to show me they are lies. I’d much rather wallow in self-misery than turn to the One who can make everything plain and clear.

So I try once again to develop the discipline of turning to Him first, now and always when darkness threatens to cloud my mind. To live in His light and truth, rather than living in my own misconceptions. Every day, every hour, every minute - all to Him.

So, please... call me Captain. :-D

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tabula Rasa... again

Tabula Rasa = “clean slate”

I’ll have to admit - my brain isn’t really normal these days. (Of course, if you know me at all, you know that the word “normal” hasn’t really ever been something used to describe me.) But it goes a little beyond the usual eccentricity that I’m known for - beyond purple shoes, a three wheeled pedal conveyance, a walking staff with a bear on top, or a fez with a wingnut embroidered on it.

The only way I can express it is, I don’t know what I’m passionate about. I should say, I don’t know what I’m passionate about doing. I love my wife, I love the Lord, I love my dog, I love my church family - there’s no doubt about those. I love riding my trike - again, no question. But when it comes to what I should be or want to be doing, I’m not sure. Even as I’m writing this, there are a number of creative projects that I should be working on, but don’t really feel a desire to pursue.

“Grow up!” I know - there are times when we all must quit waiting for our muse, stop sitting around until the mood strikes us, and just get to work and get stuff done. I understand that - all too well. And one theory I’ve been kicking around is that I’m just lazy. Or that I’m being exactly the type of creative person I despise - the one who is of no use whatsoever unless “inspiration” strikes them. If they don’t feel inspired, they simply do nothing. Grrrr... Useless. But I don’t think terminal lazyness is the problem here. Granted, I’m an expert at putting off ‘til tomorrow what I ought to be doing today, but I think something deeper seems to be going on...

Over the past few months (almost 4, to be not quite exact), my world in general and my body in particular has been through tremendous changes. As I write this, my weight is 312.3 lbs, which is over one hundred pounds away from where I started before surgery March 30th, at 414. And is worlds away from when this whole process started at Weigh to Wellness in January of 2009, when I weighed 480. I’ve went from not being able to stand more than a minute or two before my knees wouldn’t hold me up to riding 14 miles on my trike without stopping. The only time I use my wheelchair these days is when I have time to shop for more than an hour and I want to work my upper body.

But my head hasn’t quite figured out what that means yet...

At times I’m overcome with excitement - the possibilities are endless of what I can be and do. From hopeless to unlimited is quite a journey to make, and it staggers me to think of where this path might lead even a year from now. Vicki can get her arms all the way around me to give me a hug, and that delights her. I can move, I can walk with her in the store, I can do things around the house, I can go down to the basement or upstairs for the first time in years...

But I have no idea what I want to do.

It almost feels like I’m waiting for something - something to happen, permission to be granted, an act of Congress (hope I don’t have to wait that long...), or some switch to be thrown that turns everything on. Maybe a door to be unlocked or at least a key given. I don’t seem to move forward... I just wait.

The things I seem to spend my time on are the most mindless things I can find... Spool knitting or kumihimo. Loom knitting. Riding the trike, where the body is engaged but the mind is in neutral - sort of. Anything that asks for more of me than those simple tasks gets put off. Why? I have no idea.

Some folks whose counsel I trust have said that time is needed - my mind needs time to catch up with the tremendous changes my body has been going through. It’s like someone who has spent the last 30 years imprisoned in one cell. That’s all they’ve seen for the last 30 years. Now, quite suddenly, the door has been unlocked and they’re free to walk out into the sunlight. But their head is still in the cell - still in prison. The body is walking free, but the mind hasn’t grasped that freedom yet. I notice that in myself somewhat - I’ll sit down, not because I’m tired but because “I can only stand for a minute or two before I have to sit down.“ The habit takes over before I realize it.

It’s been months - maybe even over a year - since I seriously worked on music. My keyboard has sat silent for a long time, and I’m not sure how to begin again. It’s been almost a year since my job ended at CBH when Gilead wrapped, and I haven’t done any serious audio work since then - I have projects waiting, but it’s like I don’t even know where to start to pick them up.

I play music every week, between my gigs at coffee houses and the worship team at church. But to work with it - to construct and compose, to arrange and record - I’ve been a long time away from it. Back when my energy was all used up just trying to live through a day. Somewhere along the way, between my most recent lowest weight (366) through being laid off and getting back up to 480, and now at 312, I’ve lost the process of making music - the routine of getting into a creative mindset, finding inspiration and working toward producing music.

When the Lord shattered my chains, when He set me free from food, He did it completely. The human side of me is waiting for the old habits to come back, but the part of me that trusts Him knows that they won’t. There’s a reason He put those words into my mind when I awoke in the hospital - “my chains are gone, I’ve been set free.” But Sightblinder is never happy unless he has someplace to nail us. I told Vicki I believe that my mind is the battleground now, and not my body. By His grace I’ve been set free from bondage to food, but the enemy won’t stop coming after me - he’ll just find a new place to attack.

In the end, I have to realize that I AM Tabula Rasa - a clean slate. And it’s going to take some time - a lot of time - to see that reality. I’ll never be the same, but in God’s grace I’ll be right where He wants me. So we keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. Finding my way back to creative pursuits, from a whole new perspective. And perhaps letting some things go - I’m sure that some of the things I’ve pursued in the past simply won’t seem as interesting or important anymore.

Patience. It’s not that the passion is gone, but rather that the scene has changed. The slate is clean, and what comes next will be from a heart that understands how deep and high and wide is the love of Christ. So I officially give myself permission to take time. Starting a new life doesn’t happen instantly. Living without chains takes some getting used to - all the opportunities and options seem more than I can take in. Time and patience along with an abundance of God’s grace will sort it out.

So ease up on yourself a little, Cal. Don’t stop moving, but don’t get frustrated when you’re not sure where to put your feet. Until recently, walking wasn’t all that easy for you. One step, one move at a time, “’till by turning, turning, we come ‘round right.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Chains are Gone...

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood, His mercy rains -
Unending love, amazing grace.”

- Chris Tomlin

The phrase “my chains are gone, I’ve been set free” is one of the first thoughts I remember when I woke up in my hospital room on March 30th. That sense that God had delivered me from a chain that had held me prisoner all my life was so overwhelming, that it brought tears to my eyes. And so far, He has shown me that breaking the chain is exactly what He did. No difficulties adapting to my new life, no long times of lamenting over cookies and rolls never to be eaten again, and no regrets on following His path into this new way of living.

In short, there is nothing I’ve given up that is worth everything He has brought me to. My body is changing daily, my health is improving, and I’ve smiled more in the last three months than I think I did in the previous three years (or more). (and did I mention that Vicki and I went twelve miles on our trikes last Monday??) Am I tempted to see what I can “get away with?” No, not really. Does food still look good to me? Of course - it was my stomach that was taken, not my eyeballs. So do I then grab what looks good and eat it regardless of the consequences? Nope. I don’t know what some things would do to me, and I don’t feel like finding out.

“Wow. You must have some will power.”

No - not really. I mean, look at me. If will power is what was needed, how did I end up looking like this? It took Divine mercy and grace to free me from bondage. Nothing less than the power of God to release me from something that had held me in its grip all my life.

And realizing something important that will help keep me on this path...

Long, long ago - so far away that I can’t remember when - I made a decision. I decided that I would never consciously consume alcohol. I’m sure that somewhere along the line I’ve eaten something at some restaurant that contained alcohol, but I made a decision to never drink. Ever. As the child of an alcoholic, I knew that the same thing could be released in me if I let it. Better to never know what it’s like - the taste, the effect it has on me, all of it - than to try and walk away after the fact. And that’s a decision I’ve never broken. I won’t consume it, I won’t cook with it, and even though I’m sure I drive Vicki to the point of wanting to drink sometimes, she’s joined me in this lifestyle.

(For the record, I have no issues with someone’s decision to drink. I do think it’s something that you need to give careful thought to, just as we should with most areas of our lives, and to listen to God’s guidance in that decision. That being said, it’s an area of liberty that believers can decide for themselves. My decision is just that - mine. Your mileage may vary...)

I was and am a food addict - my dad chose alcohol, and I chose cupcakes. And hamburgers. And fried chicken. And donuts. And... sorry. You get the idea. But then God intervened, setting me free in ways that I’m just starting to realize. And the decision not to eat things that I know will harm me is becoming a decision very much like a decision to not drink alcohol. That same resolve, that same “no question about it” has begun to apply to more than just drinking. When God released my chains, He did more than unhook them - He shattered them. Does that cinnamon roll look amazing, gooey and tempting? Oh yeah. Am I going to eat it? No - not really interested. I’d much rather keep on this path and see where it leads.

Finally, I do realize that I’m still in the “honeymoon phase” of my new life. Just over three months out, the weight is dropping off, I’m doing things I haven’t been able to do in years, and all is groovy. But at six months? A year? After I hit the first plateau and stop dead in my tracks? What will happen to all my sunny resolve then?

That’s why I’m laying these words down. I’ll need them soon, to keep my eyes and my focus where they should be. So that when it’s snowing and ten below outside, and the trike is all bundled away for the season, and I’m stuck inside with nothing but a recliner and a bag of chips to keep me company, I can be reminded of how incredible today is, and where God has brought us over the last three months. And I can remember that just like that decision I made so long ago, I’ve made another decision - with the same resolve - to keep on this new path and live this adventure that the Lord has put in front of us.

(My nephew has volunteered to help with this - something about “if we see you slipping, we’ll slap you.” That’ll keep a guy on the straight and narrow, eh?)

Then we’ll throw the trikes into the van, pack a bag and head down to Andy & Shan’s place. Hopefully they won’t have too much snow and we can get a little mid-winter trike riding in. Or really late fall. Or really early spring. Come to think of it, it might be time to go visit that lot in Arizona we’re interested in. Should be nice triking weather down there! We’re gonna be spending a lot on gas...

Saddle up, buttercup - it’s gonna be a great ride!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Come to the Table

I am so long overdue to begin writing again that I almost wonder if it’s worth getting back into the habit. (rhetorical question - I know that writing is something I need to do!)

As I’ve said before, writing is where I take some of the chaos that fills my mind and get it out there where I can take a look at it. Some of the stuff is “Stones” - reminders of places I’ve been on this journey and God’s faithfulness through it all. Some of it is lessons to be looked at, learned, and filed. Then there’s a whole pile of garbage - things that simply aren’t true, and that need to be taken out and exposed for the lies that they are. If those stay floating around inside for too long, they gradually become part of the way I think - lies that I begin to believe.

I guess writing is like flushing the biffy. Sort of. At least parts of it.

(Anybody from Oscoda remember this? “Go, Tawas, Go! Go, Tawas, Go! Around the bowl and down the hole - Go, Tawas, Go!”)

(Apologies to folks from the fine and friendly communities of East Tawas and Tawas City. Some old rivalries die hard - and probably should be flushed down the biffy.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah...

When I don’t write for long periods of time, the clutter in my head grows almost as fast as the clutter that fills my house - and that is truly frightening. Problem is, I always seem to need to go “somewhere” to write. So that means packing up my laptop, heading out, deciding what to drink at whatever coffee house I end up at, and then getting lost in reading feeds in Google Reader. Not very productive.

Today, I think I finally found a place to write at home...

Whenever my mom would come and visit us, her favorite spot in our house is what we call “the Nook.” It’s off the kitchen, not really a breakfast nook but the closest our old dwelling comes to one. It has windows on three sides, so it gets the most light of any room in the house. Mom would usually get up before us, head out here and make some coffee, and spend time in the Word and in prayer.

(Sometimes, she’d also make some toast... and our cross-eyed German Shepherd, Buddy, would make his way out here for a little toast date with Grandma. It was years before we knew that was going on...)

The Nook was overrun with clutter, and we haven’t used this room for a long time. (Other than a crap catcher, that is.) Earlier this year, my nephew and I made a start into reclaiming the Nook, but it was nowhere near useable, until today.

Today, I decided to make a path to the table, clear an area, and see if I could find a place where I could write. Not perfect, it’s an island in the midst of stuff. But it’s enough room for my MacBook, a chair, and a rug for Ezri if she feels like joining me. There’s even room next to me for a coffee mug. And it makes me smile to think that I’ll be sitting in Mom’s favorite room with a cup of coffee, writing and reading and praying.

But not sharing toast with Ezri. She doesn’t get people food, and I stay away from bread. Poor Ezri - life is so unfair.

The table I’m sitting at has a connection to her as well. This oak table is the only custom piece of furniture we’ve ever owned (or are likely to...). It was made in a size to fit here in the Nook, although it expands when needed. (Not that there’s room to expand it - the Nook is pretty tiny.) The finish of the oak matches the paneling in the Nook, and we even have a napkin holder and lazy Susan that match it. (There’s also a thimble case, which needs to be hung someday.)

We bought this table with money from our inheritance when Mom died. I think she’d be pleased with that - a lovely table for her favorite room.

So I begin to write once again, sorting through the thoughts, ideas, memories, lessons and garbage roaming around in my noggin. Trying to make sense of it all - one sentence at a time.

See you at the table in the Nook - soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Adjustments: the third adjustment

My walk on this path depends on a careful balance of many things. And I’m afraid as the days wander along that the balance is in danger of being totally destroyed. Why? Because there’s only so much room and so many hours in the day. And everything that has been added to my daily walk because of the surgery takes a LOT of time (as mentioned in the other adjustments...).

So, the third adjustment? Banishment. Or, putting it simply, “NO.”

We have a friend who is getting married soon, and for a brief moment it looked like I was going to be able to play the prelude for her wedding. I was thrilled... until I looked carefully at the calendar. I already have a gig that day... Now, the idea of doing two gigs in one day is not impossible, and frequently necessary - especially when one makes part of their living from such activities. But then we looked at the specifics - the timing of the first against the timing of the second, factor in time to tear down from the first and set up the the second, consider that the first is in Lansing, the second in Grand Rapids...

And, with much muttering and gnashing of teeth, I have to say no. We might be able to *just* scoot from one and make the other, but the chances are better than average that both would suffer. And should a traffic mishap occur, the second goes down the biffy. Too tight to justify trying to make both work.

I hate it when that happens.

I love “YES”. I’d much rather say yes, because I like meeting other’s needs. I like to help. Vicki and I are both like that - Vicki much more than I. She will move heaven and earth to offer help. I never really understood the term “servant’s heart” until I met her. Now I’m pretty sure her picture should be next to that entry in the dictionary.

A brief and W-A-A-A-Y overdue apology to my beloved...

I’m sorry. For so long, I didn’t really understand the gift that God has blessed you with - the desire and drive to help whomever, whenever, wherever. I would roll my eyes when the lost person found you at the gas station, the confused person in the store, or any of the other times when you were in the right place at the right time to offer help and shine His light into someone’s life, even for such a short glimpse. I was wrong, in so many ways.

You are blessed, my beloved. Your open spirit and caring heart shows them what loving others really means, and the way you will throw yourself into any situation or challenge to help someone else is a living picture of the words in First John: “Love one another.”

Forgive my blindness and my selfishness. I simply didn’t see or understand. But I do now. And when I see that confused-looking person standing by the gas pump, I now smile, because I know who is going to help them. And I laugh with joy - because my wife lives Kingdom life right here, every day, just by being who she is. What a blessing.


So, we tend to throw ourselves into whatever is needed. And we say yes a lot.

The problem? We say yes... a lot.

And in the enthusiasm of helping, we find ourselves cornered with this mountain of things we have promised to do, and no way to ever get them all done. It creates frustration, bitterness, and we end up getting overwhelmed and not doing anything, because we feel like we are drowning.

(by the way - if you’re one of the many waiting for something that we are going to do, or make, or help with - sorry. We are trying to get to the things waiting by saying no to the new ones. The battle continues... slowly.)

(And Aaron - forget it. The afghan is never coming. I’ll show you where the sweater machine is - you can do it yourself. :-D )

Now, let me turn off the “we” and get down to “me.” What these last few weeks have said to me is, “ if you’re going to get this new lifestyle right, you’ve got to pay attention. This takes more time and detail than you’ve ever paid to yourself before, but if it’s going to work as it should, you HAVE to take that time.” There HAS to be time for the details - making sure I’m getting in all medicines, vitamins, protein (which is HUGE) and exercise. The exercise hasn’t really happened yet, and I’m already suffering as a result.

(Anybody want to go for a walk? Or in my case, a shuffle and limp?)

I work in our home, and have discovered that all the clutter and chaos of our house has a direct impact on my work and my creativity. It’s hard to get excited about making music when you have to move piles of stuff to even get to the computer. It’s impossible to follow an inspiration for a jewelry piece when you can’t even see the bench. As for writing, I’m sitting at Biggby - does that answer your question? There is so much clutter and chaos that I get overwhelmed, find my chair (an uncovered oasis in a sea of stuff) and just sit. I don’t even start to try and fix it, because I honestly have no idea how to even start.

(Anybody want to spend a week helping us list stuff on eBay and Craigslist? We could really use the money to pay for the new trike that’s on order... And hey - if it sells, we’ll give you part of the profit! :-D)

So, this adjustment is Banishment. There are things that I am not going to do anymore. And when I hear of a need, I’ll consider it... for a while. If you ask me something (and feel free to do so...), don’t expect an immediate answer - I need to consider it, look at the balance of everything else, and then see if it fits. And, sadly, the answer will be “no” more often than “yes.” Or at least it feels like it will be at this point.

This is stuff most everyone already knows, but I’ve always been a slow learner. So it makes sense that learning priorities would be something I’d wait to do until my “second life.” How long will this resolve last? We’ll see. But I will say this - this is directly linked to how well I’ll do with making my new lifestyle permanent, so it’s a pretty high priority.

Time to move along... things to do. :-D

Placing the Stones - documenting the story: An Interlude...

We ended up in the Healing Garden in the last chapter of the story. Since then (two days after surgery), life in real-time has moved to 6 weeks post-surgery. I’m sure I’ve lost some of the details, but I’m going set down as many as I can remember, because I need them. These past couple of weeks have reminded me that life and all its chaos will suck away every bit of wonder and joy from all I’ve been through if I let it.

I’m as guilty as the next person of reading the Old Testament, looking at the Israelites walking through the Red Sea, following Moses to the mountain, walking into the wilderness, eating heavenly food, then whining about going back to slavery in Egypt, and to comment, “Stooooopid Israelites! How can they even THINK about running back into slavery after everything they’ve seen God do! Are they idiots?”

And God replies, “ok big boy - let’s see how you do... We’ll walk through pre-surgery, where I’ll move every obstacle aside, then we’ll go through the surgery where I’ll allow the whole procedure to be completed and have everything go as perfectly as it can, and to top it off, I’ll give you a recovery that is so smooth that you’ll think the surgery never happened. I’ll open the path before you, walk with you through it, and be the guard at your back to keep and sustain you. Now, six weeks later, what do you have to say?...”

And, after looking honestly at myself and my attitude over the last couple of weeks, I say nothing. When I see what a roller coaster of emotion Vicki has had to put up with, when I see the turmoil and stress in my head (mostly of my OWN making) and when I see the lack of trust in my behavior, I say nothing.

“I place my hand over my mouth.” - Job, who is a LOT wiser than me.

There are many, many reasons that God tells us over and over to “forget not.” To “remember.” To “recall” and “rehearse” and to “teach” and to “write them on the door of your home” and to “place these stones so that when others see them and ask ‘what do these stones mean?’, you can TELL them.”

But the reason that matters to me? I’m a dumb sheep. I’ll only see the here and now, and get so wrapped up in it that all the glory of past days will seem as a mist - gone and not remembered. Unless I teach myself to see it with my waking eyes, to keep it in front of my confused mind, and to recall it as I lay down to sleep, I’ll forget it ALL. And I have. And I do. And I’m saddened and ashamed of that.

So, I will continue to write down the story. And I’ll continue to remember the story.

Other things will be let go - they simply don’t matter anymore. I’m afraid that sometimes when people ask things of me, the answer will be, “sorry, but no.” I’m not going to head for seclusion, and I’m certainly not going to become a person who never lifts a finger to help his brother or sister. But I am going to find where the boundaries are. This is way too important to allow chaos to drive it away.

I am determined to live wrapped in the wonder of God. I’ve been given new life (physically) to match my new life in Christ. And I have a limited amount of time, in His grace - I certainly can’t waste it with things that don’t matter or that clutter my head and take my focus away.

“Sometimes, your second life is even better than your first one.” - Stick, from the end of “Electra” (slightly misquoted, but there it is)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Resurrection Story - May 2, 2010

Our pastors asked us to write and submit “Resurrection Stories” - examples of how God is at work in the lives of our Church family. On Sunday, May 2nd, I was asked to share my Resurrection Story...

During Holy Week, 2010, I will always remember that my life was changed. But it wasn’t something that I did - rather, what God did.

God has been in the process of re-building me, beginning with flattening my whole world in January 2006 when I was laid off from my job of almost 20 years. Over the last four years, He has shown me that in order to remake me into what He intends, the old construction has to be gone. He won’t begin building new until the old is cleared away. This is not punishment - rather His great love and desire to make me new.

Cracks in the foundation have been found, and although they aren’t perfectly mended, the process has begun. But one thing remained - my weight. I struggled with it, tried different things, but never gave it all over to Him.

Over the last year, He made it clearer and clearer that it was time to consider bariatric surgery. I had applied for it twice before, and been denied. I realized that in both of those times, I had applied for the surgery without submitting to Him - my mind and heart were not willing, thinking of it as, “well, I guess I have nothing else to try.” And this was not the attitude of heart and mind God wanted for me.

This time, He was asking me, “Son, do you trust me? I have a path for you to walk - will you walk it? Will you go where I’m leading, without reservation, not seeing it as ‘the last resort?’ Will you follow Me?” And, to the praise of His glorious grace, I said “yes.”

From that point, what happened reminds me of how Mr. Beaver describes Aslan in “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” when asked if he is a “safe” lion... “No, he’s not safe. But he’s good.” Rich Mullins calls it “the reckless raging fury, that they call the love of God.” The path opened, and God’s will rushed forward in a flood.

Approval came back in two and a half weeks, when it could have taken up to eight. With it came with the news that the surgery would be in two weeks - March 30th, two days after Palm Sunday. Along the way, God calmed my fears, began to restore my heart in worship, and took us down the path in the palm of His hand. God was before us, showing us the way, and His saints were at our sides and backs, keeping us upheld in prayer. The morning of the surgery, Pastor Craig asked me how I was feeling, and I truthfully answered that I wasn’t nervous or scared at all - just ready to go. The surgery went as planned, no complications, the entire procedure completed, and a recovery so smooth that I was here on Easter Sunday to sing His praise with my family, just five days after surgery.

I’m coming up on five weeks since my surgery, am already over 40 pounds lighter, and am amazed by His love and care. Sometimes, all He is waiting for is our answer: “yes.” And I’m continuing to rejoice with these words, the phrase that kept repeating itself to me almost as soon as I woke up from surgery:

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood, His mercy rains
Unending love, amazing grace.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Adjustments: the second adjustment

The first adjustment? WONDER - seeing it in everything! Not letting the mundane outweigh the sublime.

The second adjustment? SLOW DOWN!

Learning to live with the aftermath of bariatric surgery is a lesson in slowing down! Everything seems to require slowing down. For example:

Taking my medicines becomes a 30 minute task, since I have to take the pills one at a time, and allowing time to pass between the pills. If I took them all in one gulp (as I used to do), they would either get caught in the plumbing someplace, or would all hit my tiny stomach at the same time and cause me to be sick.

(I’ve been here writing for about 45 minutes... I just finished taking my morning meds. That’s how slowly the task has to be done.)

Eating is a slow-mo task too. There’s only so much space, so to get a half-cup of cottage cheese down, it’s taking one bite, chew it until nothing remains, put the spoon down and wait, then pick it up and take the next bite. And, for the record, it’s tough to get that whole half-cup down. I get full right about the time I take the last bite.

Drinking is slow, since if I gulp my water, I’ll get air mixed in with it. There’s really no room for air bubbles down there, so it’s got to get out. If I just chug the water down, the air will come up and bring a cargo with it. (I’m putting this as delicately as possible...) So slowly drinking, trying to keep air out, is the way we do it. And no drinking when I eat - no fluids 15 minutes before to 45 minutes after eating. It takes up room that is needed for protein.

Getting ready to go out for the day? An exercise in slow. Thinking about what I’ll need to eat while I’m gone from home, packing it and making sure I have enough. Then packing my water, along with whatever else I need to take along. It’s kind of like packing up a toddler to go away for the day - all the various things necessary need to be brought along. Fortunately, I don’t need a pack-n-play. That puppy would be HUGE...

Slow is not easy. In all of our lives, slow is not only hard, but nigh unto impossible. The pace of life seems to demand fast - after all, if you snooze, you lose. Reach out and grab... something. The early bird eats worm guts. Something like that. Slow is definitely not considered a virtue.

And yet, slow seems to be where I have time to notice things. I see God moving when I’m moving slow. I have more time to appreciate all He has done for me, when it takes me so much time to work through it all. I have time to see just how sweet life is, and how amazing it’ll continue to be as He keeps us on this path. I have time to see the wonder, and not just watch it all flash by.

Not everyone has that luxury, and I realize that. I am grateful for this time, where I move slow and see God all around me. I know as I get used to the routine, it’ll get faster, and in gaining that I’ll lose something. So for now, slow is alright. I’ll take my time and store up good things to carry me through faster times.

Placing the Stones - documenting the story pt 3

After a none-too-brief pause, we carry on with the story. It’s been two weeks, and I’m sure I’ve already forgotten some of the amazing details. But as best as I can recall, here we go...


As you might expect, I don’t recall much of Tuesday, March 30th. I remember going into the operating room, but that’s about it. Waking up afterward, getting to my room - all gone. (I do remember one of the last things said to me by the anesthesiologist - “remember, this is just a tool. You can regain all your weight back - it’s just a tool.” Um, thanks. I know that. Can I go to sleep now?...) The only thing I remember about being in my room is wanting that catheter OUT. NOW. And the happy feeling when my wish was granted. :-D

I remember somewhere along the line that I was told that the operation went very well. The WHOLE operation - both parts. The full duodenal switch. It was complete - my only prayer had been answered. That was a reason for joy. Other prayers were answered too - I was at peace through the whole thing, including the recovery. I was comfortable - no mind-numbing pain - it was all well-controlled, and I wasn’t having to “press the button” every 10 minutes for another shot of painkiller. Oh yes, I DID use that button, but I didn’t have to depend on it. I used it to keep things under control, not to deaden dreadful pain.

Like I said, there isn’t too much else I remember clearly. If there were horrible things, Vicki might remember, but she hasn’t mentioned them. Perhaps what happens in recovery STAYS in recovery...

I do remember, however, when the nurse said, “it’s time to get you up for a walk.” Now, I knew this was coming - we had been warned that about 4 hours after getting back from surgery, I’d be getting up and walking. But knowing that and being faced with the reality of it are two different things.

God was so gracious - He kept a peaceful spirit within me, so I didn’t turn into “Crabby Cal.” Did it hurt to try and get up? Oh heavens yes. Did I get snitty about it? No, by God’s grace I didn’t.

But moving from the horizontal to the vertical was the weirdest feeling I’ve had. It took a moment, when getting to my feet, to adjust. The feeling was one of things moving into place, and it was weird. Not really painful - ok, a little uncomfortable, but not a real “ouchie.” Just weird, as “stuff” found its new location. (In fact, it was kind of a test of my recovery. When I was able to get up and not feel “stuff” looking for a new place, I figured that I was healing pretty well.)

Ok - I’m now in an upright and locked position, ready for takeoff. So we walk - the nurse was moving my I.V. stand, and I was using my canes to stay moving. And I walked. Not very far, mind you, but enough for that time. First time up, walking down the hall, after having my innards remodeled. Weird and wonderful, to quote Elton the bard. And it got a little easier every time... Except at 4am. There’s something about having to get up at 4am to go for a walk that just doesn’t seem right. I tried to be gracious and accept that it’s something I need to do, but still...


I’m not a towering example of optimism. If you know me, you know that. Perky? No - not really. And yet, I have to say in all honesty that my feelings were feelings of gratefulness. I was thankful. I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness. I was amazed to be doing so well, just hours out of surgery.

Most of all, this phrase kept running through my mind:

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.”

(As I type those words, tears come to my eyes. We sang that song last week at First Cov, and I’ve never sung it so loudly. It continues to be the tale of my body and soul - “I’ve been set free.”)


Our overnight nurse, Karolyn, was amazing. She was a dear saint who made me smile, even when rousing me at 4am for a walk. She encouraged me to keep walking, understood when I just couldn’t keep moving, and was a true blessing to Vicki and I. She was the one who said “His wife will be here soon, and he’ll be well-cared for.” I was well-cared for, both when Vicki was there, and when she was gone. God gave us some very special folks to look after us. We gave Karolyn one of my CDs, to try in some small way to thank her for all her care. I hope that little token lets her know just how much she meant to us. There were a few others that we gave a CD to - just to try and say thanks. After all, if they hate the music, they can always turn it over and use it for a mirror. (thanks, Dodd...)


If you’ve never seen the Lacks Cancer Center at St. Mary’s, you should. It’s incredible. The bariatric patients are housed on the 4th floor, the rooms are amazing, and the staff is wonderful. Vicki tells me that the food there is also great, since Lacks has their own kitchen. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to be - it was great.

Our favorite part is the 5th floor... When you see the Cancer Center from the outside, you’ll see what almost looks like a lighthouse tower on the corner. On the 5th floor, in that tower, is a conservatory. Lovely, with some incredible plants. There is an indoor path you can walk that goes around the Healing Garden, and it’s a nice walk. On my second night, Vicki took me up there and we walked all the way around the garden. The next day, I got to go outside...

Thursday, April 1st was one of those “what the heck is a summer day doing here in early April” kind of days. It was sunny, warm, and the kind of day you expected to see everyone heading for the beach. Except that it was April first - no foolin’. (sorry - couldn’t resist...) So, this was a great day to get outside.

The Healing Garden is in the middle of the 5th floor - an outdoor garden with a courtyard and a path around it you can walk in the shade. It’s a peaceful place, with places to sit and enjoy the outside. We’re guessing there’s water involved out there someplace - I’ll have to go back this summer to see.

I walked all around the garden, then a lap around the sunny courtyard for good measure. It felt so good to walk in the sun - the brightness outside perfectly matching the brightness inside me.

to be continued...


It’s been a little humbling to see how many people are watching this journey. It’s also been amazing to see others relating to the path - the steps we have taken, the thoughts going on behind the path, and all the other random ponderings. Vicki and I are so blessed that our story is encouraging others, and yet that’s the way it’s supposed to be...

Talking of our lives, sharing our stories is how life in Christ is supposed to be. These stories remind us that we’re not the only ones on the journey. If all we ever see is shiny people on Sunday morning, smiling and happy, we get the idea that the garbage that hits us on a daily basis is only happening to us. No one else seems to have these kinds of struggles, so I must be doing something wrong. Everyone else is shiny and happy - why am I so miserable?

When we hear other’s stories, we come to realize that others are also digging themselves out of garbage. We all struggle, we all deal with the mundane, we all try to limp through our days and still remain upright at the end of the week.

I’ve tried to be open in these posts, and will continue to do so, lest someone get the impression that it’s all easy - that our path has been an easy walk so far, and all is happy and shiny. There has been a lot of that, by God’s grace, but there is also mud. There are times of discouragement, times of weariness, times of pain. The point is, at the end of the day, the wonder always is greater than the mud. God makes it so, if we lift our eyes to see it.

Our church is taking time to share those stories - “Resurrection Stories.” We’re hearing what everyday life and everyday faith looks like in the lives of our church family. And those stories are worth SO much - to hear and identify and see where faith becomes real in the lives of our brothers and sisters makes it easier to recognize where faith becomes real in MY life.

(This week, it’s my turn to share our Resurrection Story. I need to write it out, and give it to Pastor and Jeremy. I really got to get to work...)

As Vicki and I walk this path, we will continue to try to be transparent. Both the good and the not-so-good will be out there to see. We need to put the story out there, for others and for ourselves. If you have a chance, don’t hesitate - tell your story. We all need it.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Adjustments: The first adjustment...

Whilst catching my breath in the telling of the tale of my surgery, I realized that I had something else going on in my head that needed to get put down. So, I shall. Now. Here.

So here’s my first thing: The MUNDANE seems to always outweigh the SUBLIME.

Isn’t that sad?

I’ve been through a few incredible weeks lately... From word that the surgery was approved, to God’s hand as we prepared to the procedure itself right up to these weeks of recovery, it’s been nothing short of amazing. And yet, all it takes is a day or two of “the same old grind” and I’m back to where I started. Mentally, that is. My innards are still as shuffled as they were when I came out of the operating room. (I pause while you try and get that image off your retina...)

I’ve been someplace that we all wish to go - smack dead center in the tidal force of the will of God. It’s a wild ride, an unstoppable force and somewhere that convinces you that absolutely nothing can hinder God when He moves. There is no stopping Him, no slowing Him down - when He moves, everything moves. And yet it’s all too easy to forget that rushing torrent and to get stuck in a mud puddle.

You arrive in the mud puddle, and start to believe that this stagnant water is all there is. That life is reduced to this little brown patch of stuff. It doesn’t take much to get you stuck there either - a small distraction, a tiny diversion, and splat - you’re waist-deep in the muck and don’t even realize that you’re stuck.

So let’s put it right out there: LIFE IS WONDROUS! Life in Christ is filled with light and wonder and amazing brilliance, but too often we settle for MUD. The mundane can outweigh the sublime, and all the wonder that is abundant life gets lost in a mud slide.

So, my first “adjustment?“ To be more like Edward Magorium - ”Toy Impresario, Wonder Aficionado, Avid Shoe-Wearer.“ Ok - not so much for the toys... except for Nerf guns. I love those things. And as for shoes, again, not so much. But wonder? Oh yeah. The world is full of wonder, and the days are too short to take it all in. So I dare not lose a moment stuck in mud - I don’t have time for muck, with so much wonder to pursue.

It starts with my focus - where do I look when I start my day? I need to lift my eyes, even on a grey day when rain obscures the sky. God has filled this world and this life and this new day with wonder, and it’s my job to recognize it - as much of it as I can. Out of a wonder-filled heart comes gratitude and praise, two things that can keep me mud-free.

Easy to say, hard to do. But I’m up for the challenge - lately, I’ve been doing a number of hard things. :-D

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Placing the Stones - documenting the story pt 2

To simplify stuff, I’m going to use a few abbreviations...
MMPC - the place where I first went through the medical weight loss program
GHP - Grand Health Partners, where Dr. Paul Kemmeter now works
WtW - Weigh to Wellness, where I did a medical fast in January of ‘09 and still go for followup

Have you ever noticed that when God decides that the time has come for something, that nothing (and I mean NOTHING) ever stands in His way? You can almost imagine the Red Sea flying back to the shore, leaving very surprised fishies in its wake. God points, the path opens, and nothing can stand in the way of His will.

We began to consider the surgery option in October and November, beginning to jump through all the little hoops that so delight the insurance industry. And yet, it was more like the hoops being flattened than jumping through them. God pointed, and we followed, more amazed at each step.

You’ll notice that I’m saying “we” a lot... no, I haven’t suddenly ascended as the reigning monarch of Olsonhaus, speaking in the Royal we. Vicki and I have both been walking this path. I might be the one whose innards were redecorated last week, but Vicki walks with me through all of it. She was the one waiting through the surgery, while I snoozed. She was the one who greeted me when I finally came back to the world of the semi-concious. She was beside me, walking the hallways and keeping me moving after surgery. She came home with me, making note of what meds I go back on, how much protein I have to take in, water intake and all of those details that make me dizzy. I’ve done the easy part - take a nap, wake up, drink, eliminate, repeat. She’s done the heavy lifting. And I try, but can never thank her enough for being by my side. Our favorite nurse said it best - “His wife will be here soon, and he’ll be well cared for.” Indeed.

We walk this path together, now and always.


When I first considered surgery, I met Dr. Paul Kemmeter at MMPC, and we liked him a lot. But that wasn’t God’s time. Dr. Kemmeter has since become a part of GHP, and knows Dr. Turke and her work at WtW. (Anybody else seeing a connection here?) The door opened (was blasted off its hinges, actually) and we went to surgical orientation at GHP. There were appointments to keep, tests to be run, but all was finally in place. If approved, Dr. Kemmeter would be my surgeon, doing the procedure that he first recommended when we first met - the duodenal switch.


The term “bariatric surgery” actually means a whole flock of procedures - from the Lap Banding (which places removable bands around the stomach to constrict intake) to some that aren’t even done anymore. A large number of patients receive Roux-en-Y gastric bypass - it’s not really correct to call it “stomach stapling,” since it’s more complicated than that. If you know someone who has had bariatric surgery, there’s a good chance it was Roux-en-Y. Similar is the sleeve gastrectomy, which turns the tummy into a tube. Want to know the details? Wikipedia is your friend. :-D

The duodenal switch is a two-part operation - part one is sleeve gastrectomy, and then the duodenal switch - the small intestine is divided, part connected to the liver and part to the stomach. The result is restriction of intake and malabsorption. Dr. Kemmeter put it this way - for me, the difference between Roux-en-Y and DS is the difference between trying to drive a spike with a ball peen hammer or a sledgehammer. With my body mass and everything else considered, the duodenal switch would give us the best chance at the outcome we were hoping for. Harder surgery, tougher recovery, more meticulous maintenance - and exactly where God wanted me to go.

There was a good chance that he wouldn’t be able to do both parts of the procedure at the same time. If after finishing the sleeve gastrectomy, he found that the small intestine wouldn’t reach, the operation would end. And maybe in a year or so, after losing some weight, we’d be able to go back and finish with the duodenal switch. So my only prayer about the operation became, “allow him to do both parts.”


So we waited for insurance approval, which could take 8 weeks. And we waited on the Lord. Not patiently, with halos perched on our noggins, but we waited. And yet, patience came. And peace - knowing that it was all in His hands, in His time, and we were to just sit back and watch.

Less than three weeks later, the phone rang. “This is GHP calling to schedule Cal’s surgery.” Ok... When? “March 30th - two weeks away.” Ok... yikes. :-D

A mighty wind was blowing the sea aside. So He pointed and we walked...

Dr appointments. Down to 800 calories / day for two weeks. All liquids after 6pm on the 29th. The time flew, and yet we were in the eye of the hurricane (my friend Dr. John calls it “The Eye of a Miracle”) and all was peaceful. Reminds me of what Rich Mulllins said in The Love Of God - “Makes me glad to have been caught in the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”

The Saturday before surgery, we were getting “things” in order - will, patient advocate forms, etc. That was my only time of fear and anxiousness. Not for myself, but at the thought of leaving Vicki behind and alone. That was almost more than I could bear, but when one is weak God strengthens the other. Vicki had no fear, no doubt - the path was clear and she was eager to follow it. And she carried me along for a bit when my feet wouldn’t move.

Sunday morning, Palm Sunday, and God was in da house. I was doing my usual thing, playing the bass in our worship team, when He showed up and healed a connection I had been missing since January 2006 - the connection between the mechanics of my instrument and the heart of worship. I worshiped while playing my bass, and rejoiced at God’s grace. He blew away the darkness of Saturday night with the light of His presence, and it was amazing!

After the service, brothers and sisters gathered around me and prayed over me. If you’ve ever been at the center of a circle of prayer like that, you understand the overwhelming feeling of God’s presence. God met us in that circle, hearing my family as they raised us up in prayer. Praying for my only concern - that the whole operation be completed. I wasn’t concerned about anything else, but my family was - they prayed for peace, for comfort and for God’s care over both of us. Sitting dead center in the Eye of a Miracle.

Monday - more things to finish up. Got to spend some sweet time catching up with Pastor Craig, recounting all the steps that brought us here. Before we knew it, we were getting into bed Monday night...

and I actually slept pretty well. Amazing? No - it’s just like God to do that.

Tuesday morning - at St. Mary’s by 7:45am. In we go, and all is still peaceful. “Scared?” “No. Not at all.” “Really?” “Yeah. Cool, eh?”

9:45 or so, I say goodbye to my best friend and get wheeled away. She has the long wait ahead, and I get a long nap. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

-- to be continued --

Placing the stones - documenting the story pt 1

Vicki was excited when I said I thought I was going to go and do some writing today. I know she’d never pressure me, but she wants to make sure I make note of the steps we’re taking in this journey, so that we don’t forget just where from and how far we have come.


Yeah - I know. It’s been a long, l-o-n-g time since I wrote. September of ‘09, according to the posts on TW’sW. A lot has happened since then, but I seem to have forgotten that writing is the thing I must do - it’s how I process my thoughts and feelings, it’s where I place the Stones to remind me of the path and to help me keep sight of God when I lose faith, and it’s the place where Vicki can see what’s going on in my brain without being overwhelmed.

(Vicki will often make my eyes glaze over with details of what she does at work - the type of digital sorcery she engages in makes no sense to me whatsoever. I sometimes forget that I often do the same thing to her... late at night... in bed... when she’s trying to settle in and rest, and I’m chatting for all I’m worth as everything I’ve thought about all day suddenly tries to jump ship at the same time. If I write, those ideas get out there when she can actually see them, take her time reading them, and not feel like I just ambushed her with a fire hose...)

So, it’ll take a while, but I’ll catch you up with where we are. Then we’ll talk about it. Saddle up, buttercup...


Last fall, almost a year out from my most recent medical weight loss program, my doctor and I began to discuss the possibility of bariatric surgery. I’ve considered it over the years, even went so far as to pursue it a couple of times only to be turned down by two different insurance companies. And frankly, I’ve always been a little scared of it.

It seems like everyone you talk to knows someone who has had “the surgery,” and you’ll hear tales that range from, “oh, they’re doing GREAT!” to “well, they did lose some weight, but now they’re bigger than they were before!” It’s all too easy to take that huge step, make some good progress, and end up worse than you were to start with because you’ve regained everything and stretched your stomach to a dangerous size. And that’s what scared me - I know me, sort of, and at the end of the day I seriously doubted I could make the kind of lasting change that would make surgery a safe and successful option for me.

But that changed...

it was in October that Dr. Turke (my doc at Weigh to Wellness) and I realized something - I was almost a year out from my medical fast in January of ‘09, and I was still at the weight I was when I finished. Actually, I had managed to lose a few more pounds since May of ‘09. And I hadn’t been doing anything to really make it that way. We looked over my history, and discovered something pretty significant: I don’t lose well, but I maintain beautifully.

It’s pretty much the opposite of most people. When I settle at a new weight, I tend to stick there, instead of ballooning back up the moment I get off of a “program.” I tend to land at the new place, and stay there instead of running back up to where I was.

That’s a biggie.

Now, back when I first went through a medical fast, I got all the way down to 366 - over 100 lbs off. And I regained back to over 460. That doesn’t sound like I stick very well, does it? So I thought...

Until Vicki reminded me that one little tiny thing happened in the middle there - losing my job of almost 20 years and becoming unemployed. And that was a very dark time - my heart was so wrapped up in that job and what I was a part of that it was a long time before I could even think straight. My heart went to stone, my joy was down the biffy, and worship became cold and stale.

Since then, I’ve learned some significant stuff. No job will ever have my heart again - it belongs to God alone. Work gets my allegiance, my best efforts, my full concentration and ability, but not my heart. So when my job at CBH ministries ended in October, I left and my heart stayed with me.

Have I recovered fully from January, 2006? Yes and no. I know enough now to keep myself and my work separate. But the wounds to my heart and my relationship with God? Still working on it. Making some progress, but working on it.

So, our original observation still stands: when I lose weight, I tend to stick there. It’s hard for me to get it off, but good when it’s gone. Knowing that, I started to explore the surgery one more time.

Little did I know that God was WAY ahead of me, as He always is...

-to be continued-