what is fair?

August 21, 2010

Sometimes, life doesn’t seem fair…who am I kidding? Life usually doesn’t seem fair! However, one thing that I am learning as of late is that it’s not up to us to decide what is fair and what is not. We, in our very limited human perspective view the hardships, pain, and trials that we go through as being unfair, and rightly so. They hurt…they suck…and are not pleasant at all. But sometimes we just need to take a step back, take some time to think through and attempt to process the situation, and try (and the key word here is TRY) to view things from God’s perspective.

During my last few months as a youth pastor, I went through some very difficult things, some of which nobody knows about. During these months a majority of my teachings to my students were on the topic of trials. It was very real to me and what I was going through, and I felt there were lessons that I was learning that they needed to learn as well. The main thing that I tried to drive home to them was that sometimes, God uses our trials to teach us something. Obviously He doesn’t want to see us suffer, but He is infinite in His knowledge and all-knowing in everything ever. Because of that, He knows what is best for us and knows what it will take for us to learn the lesson that He desperately wants us to learn. The ironic thing is that most likely, He told us what we needed to learn over and over again but we were too distracted or too unfocused to hear His voice. Because of this fact, He has no choice but to allow us to go through a trial. It’s the only way to get our attention and for us to learn!

I’ve been reading a lot in the book of Job lately. Job was a man who had a reason to think that life wasn’t fair. He was a man that was “blameless and upright!” (Job 1:1, 8, 2:3) Everything he did in his life was for God’s glory and he never had anything to do with evil. So one would think that because Job so obediently followed and lived for God that He would have no problems and that God would bless Him. But that is not how life works. I find it very interesting that this whole “messing with Job’s life” thing wasn’t Satan’s idea, but God’s! Satan didn’t come to God and say “hey, can I try to turn your servant Job away from you?” In actuality, God said to Satan “have you considered my servant Job?” Satan saw that this man (Job) was completely and irrevocably in love with God and he hated that. He wanted to stop it and try to make Job stumble and curse God, and for whatever reason, God allowed Satan to try to do just that. It doesn’t make sense to us, but God saw the bigger picture (or the end result) and knew the plans that He had for Job (check out Jeremiah 29:11).

After Satan sabotages Job’s life twice (killing all of his sons, daughters, and livestock and afflicting him with sores and rashes) Job starts to wish that he was never born and complain. Then Job’s friends start to accuse him of all sorts of things (sinning, living wrong, etc). Isn’t it like this at times in our lives too? We are going through something that only us and God can understand and deal with yet our friends speak their mind and try to tell us what we need to do to fix our problems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, they’re our friends, they love us, and they are only trying to help. But they have an outside perspective and they don’t truly know the heart of the matter. After Job’s friends gave him their two cents, we see that God spoke up.

It starts off by saying “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm…” (Job 38:1). I find it amazing that there are so many different ways that God can speak to us, and sometimes, He chooses to do it through a storm (a very difficult time in our lives where we think the world is crashing down around us). What comes next is very convicting, for me anyway. In verse 2 of chapter 28, God asks Job “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” I find this convicting in that I often am like Job. When things get tough and the storms come, I start to question God and demand to know why things are happening. I argue and wrestle with God, which is ok to do, but this verse always puts me in check. Do I darken God’s counsel with words without knowledge? That’s a scary thing to think about!

Unfortunately, I have no clever concluding paragraph to sum this whole blog up. But what I do know is that I need to take a step back, take some time to think through and attempt to process the situation, and try (do you remember what I said the keyword here is?) to view things from God’s perspective. When I do that and leave things in God’s hands, I can’t fail!

– paulg

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for the worse, for the better…

April 30, 2010

“Lookin back at the moments, black and white…I wouldn’t change a thing that changed my life, for the worse, for the better…”

Those are the lyrics that have been running through my head all day. Today was my day off and by the time 2:30 in the afternoon rolled around, I was bored out of my mind. Being that it was a nice day, I decided to get in my truck and go for a ride up to my camp (about 38 miles away). I grabbed my Bibles, some books, and my laptop. The other thing I took with me was already in the truck, but we’ll get to that in a bit! 😉  It was a beautiful day for a drive. On the way there, the above-quoted song came on the radio. It’s a Kenny Chesney song called “Ain’t Back Yet.” I’ve heard this song many times before, but I’m pretty sure that God wanted it to get stuck in my head on this particular day!

Once I got to my camp, I took my gun out of its hiding place, attached it to my hip, and went for a long walk into the woods behind the camp. I love exploring in the woods, and I love shooting my gun (which is something that I haven’t done in a long time), so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone…or should I have used a bullet? Hmmmm?  On my walk, I did a lot of thinking and praying (when I wasn’t shooting stuff). I thought a lot about how things haven’t really been going well for me as of late, and I started to get a little bit down on myself because of that. But as I started to pray, the line from Kenny Chesney’s song popped into my head and I realized how true those words are.

As I look back at the moments of my life, I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing because everything that happened (both good and bad) shaped me into the man that I am today! Yes, some of those things were very painful and still are, but I learned from them, I grew from them, and I overcame them with God’s help. And if I’m being honest, there are things I’m going through now that I am struggling to find out what God wants me to learn from them. It’s not always easy to see, but I do trust that He’s doing something amazing in me!

After I got back from the woods, I went into my trailer/camper and started to read a book that a lady from my church gave me a few days ago. The book is called Be Encouraged and looks like a book that I would never even think to read. The saying goes that we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest, sometimes we do. This book looks like it was printed in the 1950’s and didn’t catch my interest at all, but it was in my truck and I needed to be encouraged, so I started to read. There are a few things that stuck out to me that I would like to share with you:

“God does not pat us on the head and give us a piece of candy or a toy to distract our attention from our troubles. No, He puts strength into our hearts so we can face our trials and triumph over them.”

Why does He do this? Because He knows that we WILL face trials and troubles in life; He permits them to come (read the book of Job and see what God permitted to happen in Job’s life and you will think that you have it easy)! God permits these trials so that we may grow, learn, and trust in Him to get us through it! Later on in this book, the author says

“God has to work IN us before He can work THROUGH us!”

This is saying that sometimes God needs to allow us to go through trials so that He can do a work in us before He can use us to do work for Him (Him working through us)!

So if you are anything like me, then I want to encourage you to look back over your life and ask God to help you see how He brought you through your trial, how he brought you through your good and bad circumstances at times, and how He strengthened you and helped you to learn and grow!

I already told you that, like Mr. Chesney, I wouldn’t change a thing that changed my life because those things were crucial in bringing me to where I am today! What about you? What would you change? Or do you realize that everything (the good and the bad) is part of God’s plan to bring you to where you are today, or to where you are going tomorrow?

–          paulg


Attitude Adjustment…

February 15, 2010

Much of the way we experience life is determined by the attitude we choose to adopt in a given situation. The attitude you bring into an experience is often times different from the one with which you leave. Understanding this is key to finding hope in every circumstance.

At times, I’ve been able to view my situation with a positive and optimistic attitude. At times, I’ve allowed my problems to become bigger than God, which is the exact thing that I’ve been teaching my students not to do. Some youth pastor I am, eh? (P.S. – No, I am not Canadian!!!)

But you know what? That’s ok! I’ve talked to God about this for countless hours over the past few months and He’s letting me know that it’s ok, that I’m human, and that I WILL make mistakes. Ask any of my students and they will be the first to tell you that I am open and real with them; that I am authentic with them. If I’m struggling with something, I’ll tell them. If I’m extremely happy about something, I’ll tell them. I don’t hide anything, because I think that shows weakness. I want my students to be open and real with me, so if I’m keeping things from them, that tells them that it’s not ok to talk about the struggles, issues, and problems that life throws at us at times.

Often times in life, music will speak to me in amazing ways. That’s what’s so amazing about it. One of the songs that has been on repeat in my truck, in the office, and at home where I am writing this blog right now, is called “I’m Not Alright” by Sanctus Real. The lyrics to a part of the song are as follows:

“I’m not alright, I’m broken inside
And all I go through, it leads me to You

Burn away the pride
Bring me to my weakness
Until everything I hide behind is gone
And when I’m open wide with nothing left to cling to
Only You are there to lead me on.”

I’ve always told people who were struggling with something that it is ok to not be ok! That’s my philosophy on life and I stand behind it. We as Christians think that we need to be perfect, put on this front (or mask) that lets people know we have it all together, when in reality…we don’t! If we were all perfect, we wouldn’t need Jesus!  The singer in this song is saying that he is not alright, and that he is broken inside (in case you couldn’t see that for yourself from the hard-to-understand chorus…haha). It goes on to talk about how all of the things we go through in life (both good and bad) should lead us to Jesus!

I love the next part where it says “burn away my pride…bring me to my weakness…until everything I hide behind is gone…”  To me, this is very powerful. Too many times in my life, God has had to burn away my pride and bring me face to face with my weaknesses. He had to do this by stripping me of the things that I would hide behind. God doesn’t play games with us and He knows that in order to get through to us effectively, most of the time He needs to break us and bring us to a point of weakness. It is in that point of weakness that we grow the most.

Lastly, the song says, “and when I’m open wide with nothing left to cling to…only you are there to lead me on.” This is saying that when God gets through to us, takes away our pride, brings us to a point of weakness, and takes away the things we “hide behind”…it is then that we realize that ONLY HE can lead us on. ONLY HE can bring us out of our hurt. ONLY HE can bring us through our trial, difficultly, or struggle.

Kind of an awesome concept, eh?

– paulg


Alexis Update: A Blessing in Disguise…

February 8, 2010

Hey Everyone,

On Friday February 5, 2010 Alexis had her port replacement surgery. Before I tell you about it, I would like to thank you for praying. God heard those prayers and gave the surgeons wisdom and knowledge in order to see that something was wrong and turn this surgery into a “blessing in disguise” as Ashley called it!

Alexis playing in the snow!

Alexis had to be at Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA for surgery at 5:45 AM. This meant that they had to leave Altoona, PA at about 3:00 AM.

On Wednesday, Ashley got a call from Alexis’ hem/onc doctor and she told her that Alexis would need a plasma infusion when they arrived because the clotting agents in her blood were abnormal, due to the PEG-aspariginase (type of chemo) that she has been given. Ashley said that the doctors said it was totally normal and something that they expected to happen; that’s why they looked for it. She said it was nothing really bad and if it were an emergency, they would have no worries about just doing the surgery. But since it was scheduled, they decided to go ahead and do the infusion to be on the safe side.

There was a bit of confusion whenever they got to the same day surgery unit. No one had any record of Alexis needing the infusion. They made some phone calls and found out that Ashley was correct, and that Alexis was supposed to have the infusion. The doctors opted to give her the infusion during the surgery, which made Ashley a little bit nervous. But she trusted the doctors and let them do their thing.

The surgery went extremely well. They placed the new mediport on the same side as the old port, only lower and more towards the front. Ashley says “It looks AWESOME!!!!!” The new port is less noticeable than the old powerport. When the surgeon came out to talk to Ashley after the surgery, he told them that he tried to place it on the opposite side but couldn’t get the catheter into the blood vessel, so he placed it on the same side as the old one. When he removed the old port, he told the family that the catheter had flipped and was going in the opposite direction. This is where the “blessing in disguise” comes into play. God saw that she needed this done and that it could give her problems in the future, so He gave the doctors what they needed in order to correct the problem before it became a serious problem. Ashley said “SO thank God that she had it replaced before it gave her problems!”

Alexis slept the whole way home from the hospital and was doing awesome by the time Friday night rolled around.

We got slammed with a huge snow storm on Friday and Saturday. God allowed them to get home though before the roads got bad. We got around 23 inches of snow (or somewhere around there). So thank you to those of you who were also praying for safe travels to and from the hospital!

Lastly, Ashley says “Thanks for your prayers and support!!!”

You guys are awesome and I know that God hears our prayers for this little girl and her family and is answering them left and right! Wooo Hooo! Thank you!!!

–          paulg


An Update on Alexis: Praises and Prayer Requests…

February 2, 2010

Hey Everyone,

It’s been a while since I have updated you on Alexis’ battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. There have been some positives and some negatives since my last update, as is normal for what she is going through. I will start with the positives and then finish with the negative, which will also let you know how you can be praying!

Alexis "driving" my truck!

On Sunday January 24, 2010, Ashley got a call during church and had to rush out to take Alexis to the hospital here in Altoona. Her port (the place under her arm pit where they administer the chemo) was extremely red and swollen. They were afraid it was infected. The doctors concluded that it was just irritated from the skin being stretched so tightly over it and her clothes rubbing on it. So that was a relief to hear!

On Tuesday January 27, 2010, Ashley received some very good news about Alexis’ blood counts. Her white blood cells were up (not as much, but still good). Her Hemoglobin’s and Platelets are down (but this is normal for the chemo she has been receiving). But the most amazing news is what I’m about to tell you next! Alexis’ ANC (Absolute Neutrophil Count) was raised significantly from the last report and from what it should be in someone in her condition. Normal ANC should be between 1,000 and 2,000. Alexis’ numbers have been in the 300-400 range as of late, but something happened last week that can only be explained by looking to God, the Mighty Physician and Awesome Provider! Last week, Alexi’s dad was diagnosed with Pneumonia. Alexis was with her dad a few days before this happened, so everyone was afraid that she would get sick due to her ANC being as low as it has been. But God had other plans. When Ashley and her mom (Diana) were told that Alexis’ ANC was way up, Diana said (out loud, in the hospital room) “God knew what she needed to keep from getting the pneumonia her daddy has!” On Friday January 22, 2010, her ANC was 640, and on Tuesday January 26, 2010, her count was 1,800!!!! With the intense chemo she was receiving, the counts should have dropped significantly, not gone up significantly!

Another praise is that due to the intense chemo Alexis has been receiving over the last two weeks, she should have lost her hair by now…and she hasn’t! She still has a full head of hair and is still full of energy, which is something that the doctors said she would lose as well!

Alexis has not been sleeping very well lately and Ashley and her parents are not sure why. Sometimes it seems as if she has a belly ache and sometimes it may be a bad dream. They say she has been crying for a ½ hour plus, several times per night. This not only affects Ashley (who sleeps with Alexis), but it also affects Ashley’s parents. They all wake up to care for Alexis and then have trouble falling back to sleep, and when they finally do, Alexis wakes up crying again.

Alexis is currently (as I write this at 10:15 am on Tuesday February 2, 2010) at Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA receiving a chemo treatment and LP (spinal tap). Here platelets and other levels are good, so she will not need a transfusion today (which is an answer to prayer). As of Monday, her ANC was below 500 though (in the 400 range). Today, Ashley has informed me that it is down to 200. Due to this low number, she is highly susceptible to infection and sicknesses.

I received a text message from Ashley a little bit ago that said that Alexis will need to have surgery on Friday to have her port replaced because it is rubbing through her skin. They won’t find out what time the surgery is until Thursday night sometime. Ashley says that they could possibly not find out until 9 pm Thursday and then have to be there at 6 am on Friday.

So where do you come in? I need you all to pray for several things. Pray for them once, pray for them twice, pray for them a million times. Ashley, Alexis, and family need your prayers so very much right now!

Please pray for:

  • Alexis’ numbers to stay in the normal range
  • Alexis to not get sick due to her low ANC
  • Alexis’ hair to stay for as long as possible (I’ve been praying that she won’t lose it…because nothing is impossible with God)
  • Alexis’ Port Replacement Surgery on Friday February 5, 2010
  • Health for Ashley and her family…they need to stay healthy to make sure Alexis gets healthy
  • Rest for Ashley, Alexis, and Ashley’s Parents
  • Peace for everyone involved

Thank you all so very much for your continued prayers, love, and support of little Alexis and everyone involved in what she is going through.

God is in control, and He hears our prayers. So keep ‘em coming!!! Thank you!!!

– paulg


An Update on Alexis (from Ashley)…

January 13, 2010

Hey Everyone,

Here is an update on sweet little Alexis from her mommy Ashley! I got some of the info wrong yesterday based on the limited communication we had via text message, so here is the full details  on Alexis’ current condition. Please use this to know how to pray for her!

pray for this beautiful/wonderful/amazing little girl!

“Yesterday we went to Pittsburgh for an LP (spinal tap) and chemo. We were also excited to find out the results of the last bone marrow aspirate to find out what “risk group” Alexis was put into.

The first two hours we were there, Alexis was given fluids through an IV. She needed these to prevent damage to her bladder from the Cytoxan (type of chemo) that she received. (She will have to do this again in 4 weeks.) After her fluids, we met with her doctor to talk about her bone marrow results.

The test they did was 1,000 times stronger than the previous tests, and it revealed that there is still Leukemia in her bone marrow. Not enough to take her out of remission, but enough to categorize her as “standard risk-high”. There are 3 risk groups, low, standard and high, and within standard, there is standard risk-low and standard risk-high. We weren’t expecting this AT ALL.

SO what does this mean? She will have to have two extra months of intense chemotherapy. That won’t extend her total treatment time, it will just take two months out of her maintenance period (usually the last two years). AND…if we hadn’t enrolled Alexis in this clinical trial, they wouldn’t have found this Leukemia…the test isn’t standard, strictly for the clinical trial!! So thank GOD we had her enrolled! Otherwise her chances of relapsing would have been GREATLY increased, and by that I mean, more than likely, she would have.

So what’s next? LOTS of chemo. She had two different types yesterday, today she starts in-home chemo, where a nurse comes in and administers it through her port (we came home with it accessed). She will have in-home chemo wednesday through friday this week and next week. Plus she is taking a chemo pill every night for two weeks. Next tuesday, we go back to CHP for chemo and another LP.

They also told us that her hair will be gone by the end of next week. 😦 Her ANC (absolute neutrophil count) is down, so shes not allowed to go out anymore either. They also told us that the chemo can cause fevers, and as soon as she has a fever of 101 or 100.5 for longer than 2-3 hours, we have to go to the ER. They told us to go to Altoona and the will do bloodwork there. If her counts are ok, she can have an antibiotic and go home, but more than likely they wont be, so she’ll get transported to CHP by ambulance and we will be there until she has 3 days in a row fever-free. Basically, we are to expect that to happen. And we aren’t supposed to go back to CHP without a bag packed to stay, just in case. She will be needing more blood transfusions and platelets over the next few weeks because all of her counts will be dropping from the massive amounts of chemo she will be receiving.

Please keep praying, everyone!! We have a long road ahead of us, and it just got longer! But God is good!! 🙂

Ashley”

I’ve been telling you all how strong Ashley has been for Alexis and how amazing she is. I provide you with her words in this post so you can see for yourselves. This is not easy on anyone!

I do have one specific prayer request for you. I got to see Ashley and Alexis for a few minutes today (Ashley and I on the porch, and Alexis inside through the living room window). She was being her cute, sweet, and innocent self. She was full of joy and excitement. She was happy to see me and was excited to tell her grandpap (Ashley’s Dad) about my “scary hat” as she likes to call it! It brought such joy to me to see her so happy and full of excitement. Yesterday, we all found out that Alexis is sicker than the doctors thought, but after seeing her today, and knowing of the terrible day she had just been through, it showed me that she is stronger than we thought! She is a fighter…she is amazing…she is beautiful…and she is anything a mother could ever want in a child. Please pray that she will not lose her joy, regardless of what she goes through. Pray that she is able to remain happy little Alexis. This will help her mommy, her family, and those close to her to stay strong for her!

Alexis needs your prayers. Ashley needs your prayers. Their family needs your prayers. And I need your prayers!

Thank you again!

– paulg


Alexis Update: Urgent Prayer Needed…

January 12, 2010

I just received an update on Alexis, and it didn’t sound good. I am writing this with tears in my eyes, but God is still doing His thing…I can feel it and have faith in Him!

Alexis Running on the Beach

The bone marrow test that Alexis had done two weeks ago came back and the news is not what the doctors and family were expecting. Alexis has come a long way since her initial diagnosis on December 4, 2009 but she is sicker than they initially thought.

On Sunday, Ashley told me about a super strong bone marrow test that was performed on Alexis the last time she was at Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. If they hadn’t put her in the study (which gets her the above-mentioned super strong bone marrow test…that is 10,000 times strongerr than the normal test, they never would have caught the Leukemia cells that are still in her body. Ashley said that because of this test, she is now considered “standard-high risk. It doesn’t decrease her chances of beating this disease, but it does mean she needs an extra two months of intense chemo!

These two extra months of chemo will be added to the original plan of 2 ½ years. She will also be getting chemo every day this week here in Altoona, PA. And she will probably lose her hair by the end of the week. Most of the news on Alexis has been good up to this point, but this is a big setback for her, her family, and those who love this little girl. The family and everyone involved is overwhelmed and could use large amounts of prayer, and that’s why I’m writing and regularly updating you all.

The doctors still feel that a full recovery will happen, but it will just take longer than they originally thought. The doctors initially told the family that the journey would be like this, with good days and bad, like a roller coaster. And that is exactly what it has been thus far!

Please keep praying for Alexis, Ashley, Family, and everyone involved in this little girl’s life. As my pastor put it, “we are in this journey with them…together…in prayer and support!”

I will provide more details as they are made known to me to help us pray more specifically. For now though, this should be enough info to send us to our knees to pray to our mighty, powerful, and awesome God! Nothing is too hard for Him!

As I was about to post this, I text messaged Ashley letting her know I was praying and would be updating you all so you could pray too. I let her know that God is in control, even when it seems that He isn’t, and that I am there for her no matter what.

And she responded with this:

“Thanks…I’m just about in shock. We’re really surprised. They said if we hadn’t put her in the study they wouldn’t have caught it and she probably would’ve relapsed. So THANK GOD!”

I have been teaching my youth group lately that no problem is too big for our God, and this is reminding me again of that. This seems HUGE and hurts so bad to think about, experience, and have happen to someone so innocent and young, but still we MUST worship! God knows what He is doing, and He knows that it will and allows this problem to seem huge to us. I believe He is working here and will prove to us all that HE IS BIGGER THAN leukemia, sickness, disease, pain, sorrow, hurt, uncertainty, and any unpleasant thing that we can ever imagine.

When we can’t, He can!

If you guys haven’t realized yet by these last few months of posts/updates, Ashley and Alexis mean the world to me and they are very dear to my heart. Please continue to pray for them…that’s all I ask! Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO incredibly much! Words can’t begin to describe how much this means to me, and to them!

–       paulg


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