Bonus or Entitlement?

monopoly_edited-1

After no posts for 8 months, I thought it might be time to prove that I haven’t expired yet.

To make your reading simpler…I’ll give you the “bullet points”. Then you can choose to read any additional thoughts at your own leisure.

  • Still alive.
  • Cancer is still labeled as “barely detectable”.
  • Still on a maintenance-chemo regimen.
  • Continue to undergo once-a-month blood tests to re-up prescriptions.
  • Continue to visit the oncologist every 4 months.
  • Doing well physically.   My blood counts are pretty normal.
  • Still experience some fatigue, peripheral neuropathy in feet and hands.
  • Still losing hair on my head but gaining it in my ears & nose.
  • Will have my first-ever colonoscopy this week. (I’ll upload the video later)
  • Still married.
  • Still serving full-time as pastor at LifeChange Community Church in West Michigan. (Hard to believe it’s our 8th winter here!)
  • Buried my 72-year-old dad last summer after his battle with prostate cancer. Didn’t expect that so soon and miss him a lot.

Additional commentary (because medical stuff by itself bores me)

I once worked for a company that would randomly send me an email to let me know that I’d be receiving a lump sum of cash from their profits. I never knew when they were going to do this or if they were going to. But it was always cool when they did. It was their way of giving a bonus.

The dictionary defines bonus as “something good that is more than what was expected or required”.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is an entitlement. Entitlement is defined as “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something”.

In one case, there’s a something that exceeds what you expected (or maybe deserved). In the other, there’s something that can never exceed what you expected but may actually be less than expected.

If you were playing Monopoly, it would be like getting the “Bank error in your favor!–Collect $200” card versus receiving your $200 allowance for crossing the “Go” square.  Both are worth $200.  But one is way more appreciated.

As a visual equation, maybe it looks like this:

Bonus = Transaction > Expectation.

Entitlement = Transaction ≤ Expectation.

Somewhere in the middle is simply a “wage”. You get what you expect.

Wage = Transaction = Expectation.

Why the silly little definitions and formulas?

A little over four years ago at the age of 47, I was diagnosed with a rare and killer blood cancer called multiple myeloma. I was told I might have up to four years to live. You might say up until that point, I had expected more out of life. I deserved more out of life. I was entitled to more.   Life, itself, was an entitlement.

After lots of drugs, a stem cell transplant (2012), lots of prayer, and great medical care, today I’m doing extremely well.   I will turn 52 in about 6 weeks and as of today, my cancer levels are barely detectable and my side effects are tolerable for living a productive and “normal” life (whatever that is).

When it comes to expectations, myeloma patients always live under the reality that the myeloma will return. You then reload your toxic weapons and go through another stem cell transplant (if your body is able to handle it).

Needless to say, my expectations about life have certainly changed over the past four years.   Most of the entitlement thinking has now been replaced with bonus thinking.

It’s amazing the benefits of bonus thinking over entitlement thinking. Rather than thinking God owes me something more (entitlement), I’m keenly aware that every day really is a perk (bonus).

Bonuses are fun. Bonuses bring pleasure. You can actually enjoy a bonus.

Entitlements are typically, at best, a break-even proposition. But frequently, entitlements breed frustration, worry, stress, disappointment and anger.

When there’s entitlement thinking: people, traffic, salary, health, weather, job, spouse, kids, government and you name it, SHOULD perform/relate/provide for me at an expected standard. And when they don’t meet me my expectations, then my satisfaction and contentment level is at risk.

But with bonus thinking, it’s not that you don’t toss out the expectations. It’s just that you don’t let your expectations rob you and keep you from making the most of TODAY. I understand that God and life don’t owe me a dime. They existed long before I showed up. They will exist after I’ve departed. As the Old Testament character Job once stated, “I was naked when I was born, and I will be naked when I die.”

Cancer (and the torture called chemo) has a way of moving things from the “entitlement column” to the “bonus column.”

  • With bonus thinking, age 52 is a nice perk. (and not a guarantee for everybody)
  • With bonus thinking, each new day of my 10,585-day marriage is a reward.
  • With bonus thinking, being able to work is a privilege.
  • With bonus thinking, a good tasting BBQ rib is a treat.
  • With bonus thinking, a nice walk in the country is majestic.
  • With bonus thinking, great friends are cherished.
  • With bonus thinking, grace is a more natural response to other people.
  • With bonus thinking, being able to serve and love others in the local church is a gift.
  • With bonus thinking, reading the Bible and knowing God is more a delight than duty.
  • With bonus thinking, feeling well is not taken for granted.
  • With bonus thinking, my stuff and my money hardly matter anymore.
  • With bonus thinking, why worry so much? We’re all terminal.

With bonus thinking, what’s to fear?   After you’ve been through hard-core chemo, you tend not to fear stuff near as much. In fact, the most important thing that anyone should fear is an eternity without a relationship with Jesus.  After that, everything else is small potatoes.

So you might say…multiple myeloma has its perks. Bonus thinking is certainly a better way to live than Entitlement thinking. And it’s a choice.

Remember that you’re just passing through.   We all are. Consider Bonus thinking. I’m talking about more than just the power of positive thinking.   Real Bonus thinking isn’t about artificial happy thoughts. Real Bonus thinking assumes that there is a divine Bonus giver and you are the receiver in this transaction.

After almost 33 years of surrendering my life over to this Heavenly Bonus giver, I am more convinced now than ever of the truth of His incredible love and promises for those who will take that step of faith.   God never promised that life on earth would be easy (or even make sense). But He does promise to walk along side you during the journey!

If you have God-issues or people-issues or church-issues or faith-issues, just know that you’re not alone. But don’t give up on God. Want to talk about this further? Feel free to send me an email or Facebook me or Tweet me or Instagram me. I am accessible and we can connect. (I consider your friendship a bonus, not an entitlement).

Thanks for your ongoing prayers!  If you’re still breathing, enjoy your bonus today!

Blessings.

Steve

Milestones

Note: One of the “down sides” to feeling much better is that I’m too busy living life to blog about how I “feel”.  Consider yourself spared all of these months!  Here’s a rare update:

Back when I worked at BellSouth doing software stuff, the success or failure of projects all hinged on meeting milestones.  Milestones were so drilled into our heads that I once wrote a song about it on one of my commutes home.  With a little creativity, you might imagine the tune to this made-up song.  It started something like this…

“Milestones, meet the milestones /  They’re a technical necessity /  From the / place called BellSouth / It’s required for project history /…”


(Video clip added for the culturally challenged)  Ok, those hour-long commutes got kinda boring after nine years.

But outside of project management, I actually like the concept of milestones.

The dictionary defines a milestone as “an important point in the progress or development of something: a very important event or advance.”

In many ways, the past several months have been all about milestones and “making important advances” in life.  Some examples include:

  • I turned 51.  Hey, when you’re 47 and the doc says you may have 3-4 years to live, every year is a milestone! (and that’s 20% longer than Elvis, with just as many pills).
  • My daughter (and first child) turned 25.  I’ve now been a parent for a quarter-century.  Boy, does time fly.
  • Child #5 (Philip) has now graduated from high school.  Five down.  Five to go!
  • After 25 years of using a PC, I finally switched to a Mac.  (A great move).
  • After 15 years of BHV’s (Big Honkin’ Vans), we finally downsized to two minivans.
  • My wife (who is currently sleeping and doesn’t know that I’m posting this) discovered a “revolutionary” way for our family to use the bathroom.  She bought us a “Squatty Potty”.  To fully understand this device, you would have to watch this comical (but clean) video (with apologies to my Indian friends):


This video is worth more than the device!  I’ll confess, this particular milestone hasn’t really changed my life yet.

Speaking of milestones, today I went to the University of Michigan to meet with the doctor for the two-year anniversary of my autologous stem cell transplant.  So far, my cancer numbers continue to be “non-detectable” which means, unless I have issues, I don’t have to go back to Ann Arbor any time soon! (I’m still on a maintenance dosage of chemo and continue to meet my local oncologist in Grand Rapids every 3-4 months).

Other recent milestones:

  • I received my final five vaccinations today!  (In zapping and rebuilding the entire immune system after the high-dose chemo and transplant process, you end up losing all those childhood shots and have to get most of them re-done!)
  • I don’t have any more nausea or weird food taste issues.  Which means…
  • I’m now back to my “normal” weight (55 lbs up from the low of 123 after the transplant)
  • I’ve reduced several of the meds, including some of the painkillers that weren’t really helping with the ongoing peripheral neuropathy.   Which means…
  • I have more of a normal sleep schedule and life. (as opposed to being a zombie)

Overall, these are great days.  I’m feeling about as a normal as ever.  We’ve had a great season at our church (www.lifechangeonline.org) meeting with several new couples and families in our community. It was great to connect with almost 40 newcomers last night for a cookout!  Our weather in West Michigan is almost perfect (after record-setting snow).  Yep…after two brutal years of intense chemo and a stem cell transplant, I’m really enjoying “feeling good” this summer!  I’m planning to drive to New Brunswick, Canada in August and I’m going down with a missions team from our church to Ecuador in September.

At the same time, as a multiple myeloma patient, I’m always mindful that the experts rarely use the word “remission” (because cancer of the bone marrow typically returns).  However, the new drugs and treatment protocols are changing rapidly and new options are now available for MM patients that didn’t even exist three years ago.

I’m also mindful of a sovereign, extremely relational God who has been ever-present during those awful days and who continues to teach me about the brevity of life, the blessings of feeling good and the importance of trusting Him and His goodness during the journey!  Psalm 46  is personally a great reminder of that for me. (By the way, I highly recommend the free Android or Apple Bible app from Bible.com!)

Thanks for your on-going prayers and friendship!

(And don’t knock the Squatty Potty (www.squattypotty.com) til you’ve tried it!)  🙂

Blessings!

Steve

 

Me, MySelfie and I

If a cancer patient hasn’t updated their blog in eight months, there are three likely reasons (and one of those is not good).  Hopefully this update will clarify which end of the spectrum I’m at these days.

As proof that I’m actually still around, I’m including a selfieSteve selfie_edited-1You know, one of those pictures that you take of yourself with your smartphone and then upload to social media so that all of your friends can make fun of your vanity.  My kids actually did laugh at me for taking a selfie.

In case you missed it, the word selfie was listed as Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 “Word of the Year”.  Lest you criticize the impact of pop culture on our language, just be glad that the “runner up” word didn’t win (because I would’ve refused any personal references to twerking in my blog).

I’m still stuck on this topic of selfies (which proves that I may be more vain than I thought).  Even President Obama can’t escape being made fun of for taking a selfie (and tell me you wouldn’t take a selfie if you were standing next to him!).  Here’s why this whole thing is silly:

1.  People have been uploading selfies for years, we just used the ones that others took of us.  (The vanity it took to upload was the same).

2.  I’ve literally been taking selfies for decades.  It was called a timer on my Canon AE1 (and it was the only way that this dad was ever going to show up in a few of the 1.3 million family photos that I’ve taken).  It was my only proof that there really was a daddy to this tribe!

3.  Back in another life, I sometimes used to videotape my own selfie so that they could broadcast me on the evening news.  Imagine, the vanity of using the height of a portable light stand to set the proper focus and then using the camera lens as a mirror so that I could comb that lush of hair before the tape rolled (and I always carried a comb!).  It must be considered double-vanity to take a selfie of one’s video-selfie and then upload that.

Shots of TV stuff

Enough about selfies.  Now, let me tell you about my medical issues. (Think of the irony of that statement).  I’ll use bullet points to spare your eyes:

  • I successfully “passed” my one-year anniversary of my stem cell transplant this summer.  Doc gave a “thumbs up”.
  • I continue to be on a maintenance regimen of chemo (Revlimid) which makes me sleepy (almost all of the time) and slightly nauseous (much of the time).
  • I’m “weaning” off several of the pain killers for peripheral neuropathy (cause they’re not really working and they’re not helping me stay awake)
  • As of yesterday’s check-up, my cancer appears to still be at “zero”, my bones look great and my organs show no impact from the myeloma.

It was exactly three years ago today that I was first diagnosed with this killer disease called multiple myeloma.  It has certainly shaped (but not defined) my life and has taken me through more appointments and more needles than I could have ever imagined (not to mention, more than $750,000 in treatment, so far).  Thank the Lord for a job that pays for health insurance.  I’ll let my wife tell you about the required process of signing up through Obamacare!  (Yikes!)

Otherwise, how am I doing?  (another selfie question)

  • Medically, I’m doing really well (say the doctors).
  • Physically, I constantly fight fatigue and the urge to sleep.  Which…
  • Mentally, causes frustration as I try to live the “normal” life of a husband, dad and pastor.
  • Spiritually, is the only way that I can reconcile this crazy life I now live.

The Bible has a lot to say about not being a “selfie”.  (Phil. 2:4, 1 Cor. 10:24).  Our church just went through Rick Warren’s What on Earth Am I Here For? (It’s a refresh of his classic book, The Purpose Driven Life).  Several quotes from the first couple of chapters were great reminders of how we are to properly “view ourselves”:

  • “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness.” (p. 21)
  • “…focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purposes.  The Bible says, “It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power.” (p. 21)
  • “Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God.  He thought of you first.  It is not fate, nor chance, nor luck, nor coincidence that you are breathing at this very moment.” (p. 26)
  • “You are alive because God wanted to create you.!  The Bible says, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” (p. 26)

I can’t exactly explain the why’s and wherefore’s of my life’s journey.  Nor can I predict the number of my days (nor can any of us).  What I can do is come to grips with a God who is teaching me, “It’s not about you, you goob!”  (OK…I added the goob part).  I don’t need to prove myself to impress God.  He doesn’t need me to prove myself to impress others around me (including a church congregation).

What He desires from this recovering selfie is to still do the great commandment thing:  “Love God and love others.”  (Matt. 22:37-39)  Even when I feel like….?  Yup.  (Ironically, it’s when I feel awful that I can’t do much for anybody.  I can only be that guy who loves God and loves others).

Struggling with being a selfie?  Give it up.  Your performance will not impress God.  Get your identity by who you belong to, not by what you do.  The Apostle Paul understood it when he wrote that knowing Jesus was the single most important thing in his entire life (Phil. 3:8).  Now there’s real purpose!

Thanks for reading!   Definitely enough selfies for one post (or for one lifetime).  Your friendship and your prayers are a real source of thanksgiving!  Take some time during these CHRISTmas holidays to worship Christ, enjoy your family and your friends!

Blessings.

Steve

On Turning 50

Steve second grade

This weekend, I turned 50.  Everybody has a birthday (if they’re fortunate to still be living).  And birthdays are really just another day.  But turning 50 just seems different.  My kids have noted that I’m now a half-century.  Lots of people before me have turned 50.  But again, it just seems different.  Obviously our American culture seems to make a “deal” out of turning 50.

Try Google-searching book titles with the phrase “turning 50” and you’ll see all kinds of books on the subject: The Brand You 50, Forever 50, 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50, Turning 50: Fifty Personal Celebrations, Fifty Plus: Give Meaning and Purpose to the Best Time of Your Life. and 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.

Now search the same phrase “turning 60” or “turning 40” and the results are a lot less.  My personal favorite from the search was the book You Know You’re Fifty When.  The book was printed as a “Special Large Print Edition”.  J  You know you’re turning fifty when…

  • “Incontinent” no longer means a large land mass.
  • You put on reading glasses to listen to books on tape.
  • You change a fuse and you feel it the next day.
  • You actually start to obey the “Don’t Walk” signal.
  • You’re considering a move to a gated community (and buying a Ford Crown Victoria).
  • When reading the obituaries, you don’t care who died, it’s how long they lived.

That last one is kind of sobering.  Speaking of turning 50, “you know you’re fifty when…

  • “You find yourself researching life-expectancy data on the Internet”.

OK, I made that last one up.  But seriously.  There’s some INCREDIBLE data out there by the CDC.  Check out:

 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_03.pdf

I can hear my wife saying “You’re the only 50-year-old looking at that data”.  OK…I’m a geek.  But humor me for a minute.  The average life expectancy of a white male born in 2008 is 75.6.  (The females get five extra years on us).  In 1900, that number was 46.  Between 1910-1920, the average life expectancy for white males hovered around 50.  However, in 1918, that number for males was 37 and for females it was 42.  Of course, further research will tell you that in 1918, a world-wide flu epidemic killed 50 million people.  One-fifth of the world’s population was attacked by that virus in 1918.  Plus, 16 million were killed in World War I. More fascinating information about the 1918 Flu Epidemic can be found at:

 http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/records-list.html

In 1963, the life expectancy for white males born (that would be me) was 67.  You could say, that’s my number.  Except it’s just a number.  And everybody is different.  Sometimes I’ve used a different aging system.  I could say that I’m 8-years-old, in Elvis years.  (Elvis died when he was 42 and I’ve surpassed that by 8).

The Psalmist in the Bible makes a general statement about aging when he says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures” (Ps 90:10)but again, that’s just an average.  (And Jesus’ 33 years were certainly above average!)

I have to admit that being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma changes the game for me.  I’m actually relieved to turn 50.  (Who wants to die in their forties?)  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article (click here) that I referenced in my previous post, for someone diagnosed with MM in 2001, their life expectancy was 3.5 years.  In 2010 (the year I was diagnosed) the number was 7.5 years.  Now, in 2013, thanks to the number of new drugs being created and approved, many researchers are saying 10 years.

Again, the numbers don’t dictate anything, they are merely a reflection of a lot of different variables.  And as I always say, “your mileage may vary”.  Yes, I’m grateful to turn 50.   I’d be grateful to turn 60. But nobody reading this blog knows what they’re own “number” is.

Certainly, my focus continues to come from Scripture where the Psalmist continues to provide instruction:  “Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom.” (Ps 90:12)

I also appreciate some other wisdom nuggets:

“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”  Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for all of the birthday wishes!  I think I’ll go home to eat some fiber and watch PBS!

Blessings!

Steve

New drugs, new numbers, new hope

One of the odd things about having a rare disease is that although you are constantly dealing with the effects and side effects of it throughout your day, every day, it is still something that most people know very little about.  For those who are diagnosed, most admit that they had never heard of the disease until they, themselves were labeled as having “the C word”.

Chances are, you didn’t know that March has been designated as “Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month.”  In being a good MM patient, I thought I would share this video news story about MM from the WSJ (which is a rare topic for a mainstream news outlet).

Click here:

http://on.wsj.com/WDWPdr

Video update for Winter 2013

While I realize it’s been several months since I’ve produced an update, life has been good (for the most part) and there hasn’t been much medical drama.  I was too lazy to “type” an update and so I decided to send you a video update from Narnia!  (Apologies for the shaky video from the Samsung Galaxy S3)

Also, here is a family photo from Christmas (it’s the first time that all kids were under the same roof in about 2 years!)

Christmas 2012 with names

No news is great news!

Actually, that’s not always true.  But I haven’t posted anything in about 2 months because I don’t have much to report!  Back in September, I was privileged to have my parents (Ronald and Sue Ann) and my brother (Michael) and sister (Suzanne) up to Michigan for a quick trip from the South to visit me and my family.  In the photo along the shore of Lake Michigan, you’ll see from the family photo, my acorn didn’t fall very far from the tree!

Medically Speaking…

I’ve had a few follow-up doctors’ visits.  For now, my cancer numbers continue to be basically at zero (or barely detectable) thanks to the chemo and transplant this summer.  I’ve resumed a maintenance dosage of Revlimid (one of the chemo drugs I was on last Spring).  I still have several other meds that deal with ongoing peripheral neuropathy, anti-bacterial and anti-viral pills to help protect my immune system, and a host of other pills to “help” with other issues.  I go back to Ann Arbor to follow up with the transplant doc in December, back to my oncologist in February with various blood tests in-between visits.

Physically speaking…

For the most part I”m doing real well.  I may have one or two days a week where I just crash and need to sleep a lot.  I still have occasional nausea and don’t feel like eating much (although I gained 7 pounds last month! 🙂 )  I’m back to work in the office several mornings although not exactly full-time yet.  I”m still not doing many home or hospital visits yet.  I have preached a few times but continue to share the pulpit with our most capable staff!

Family speaking…

There’s always change.  Another kid has graduated and gone off to college.  Another kid gets a BB gun for his birthday.  Another kid is waiting to take driver’s ed.  Another kid is ready for “the talk”.  In spite of my crazy experiences this year, the people in our family don’t stand still. There’s always motion.   While the number of people around the table for supper seems to be dwindling, it seems the amount of food they’re consuming continues to increase.  We miss Abby and Simeon (in Mississippi) Josh and fiance Jessica (Indianapolis), Paul (Zeeland, MI) and Thomas (Spring Arbor Univ near Jackson, MI).

Mentally speaking…

I think for the most part, I’ve been “up”.  However, if I say something funny, my family says it’s the drugs.  If I’m wide awake, my family says it’s the drugs.  If I’m sleepy, my family says it’s the drugs.  If I’m mean, my family says it’s the drugs.  Therefore, I’m not sure what normal is anymore!  I have enjoyed being back to work. I didn’t realize how much I missed the work and calling that I have.  While I’m not mission critical for what gets done in our church, what we’re doing is missionally important.  I’m really glad to be serving in the local church.  I get the privilege to deal with things that really matter in peoples’ lives.  It’s a great place to be (whether you have cancer or not).

Spiritually speaking…

I haven’t had any boxing rounds with God lately (I’d lose anyway).  I’d like to say that during this summer, I had some real spiritual mountain top experiences while I was away from work/church.  The truth is, this summer was so exhausting and nauseous, I rarely left the base of the mountain.  Right now, the staff and I are preaching through a series on Prayer (based on Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker) on Sunday mornings…mostly because I need it.  At the same time, I believe our church will benefit from this.  On most days, I’m encouraged in my faith and I have this awareness that regardless of how I feel, God is never far away.  Every experience (whether happy or sad or mad) is an opportunity to test my faith and see if it’s really authentic.  In the movie “Facing the Giants”, the coach kept reminding the team that “we praise  God when we win, we praise God when we lose”.  Theologically, it’s about the same as what Job said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).  When I can praise God during the bad days, that’s a sure sign I’m growing!  Of course, anytime I read this passage in Job, I hear the (now old) song “Blessed Be The Name of the Lord” by Matt Redman.


Thanks so much for checking in!  Blessings!

Steve