a physical and spiritual transformation…

August 25, 2010

A few weeks ago, I made a promise to myself and to a very close friend of mine. I promised that I would go to the gym every single day. It sucked at first, but now, a week and a half later; I am seeing results and loving it. Of course, there are days where I do not feel like going at all, but the above-mentioned friend sort of holds me accountable and reminds me that I promised myself I would go, and for that, I am very thankful.

The Incredible Hulk

Over the last few days I have been doing a lot of thinking about transformation. I saw how quickly the health (and shape) of my body has been changing from my hard work at the gym. This got me thinking about my spiritual life. If I can devote 2 ½  to 3 hours a day to lifting weights, doing cardio, and swimming, then how would my life look if I devoted this much time (if not more) to spending time with God in prayer, in reading His Word, and in serving Him?

It was a scary realization to come to. If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I have not been growing in my walk with God lately. I have not been spending time with Him.  It has been way too long since I was truly and sincerely seeking Him and striving to grow closer on a daily basis. Sometimes going to a Christian college and having a job that you get paid to read your Bible for will do that to you. It becomes a job and not a desire. I have also been bitter for the last few months and have been completely unmotivated to work on that issue and fix my spiritual life. But that is changing.

Yesterday, I challenged myself to make it a priority to spend as much time with God (in prayer, reading His word, watching and learning from sermons, etc) each day as I do at the gym. It is going to require a lot of discipline and hard work, but so does lifting weights. I’m seeing results from my hard work at the gym, and now it is time to start seeing results from my hard work in growing in my walk with God.

Can anyone relate to any of this? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Post Script – Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

–          paulg


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: 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

One Day at a Time (an update on Alexis)…

January 4, 2010

Hey Everyone,

It has almost been one week since my last update on Alexis and I have the wonderful privilege of bringing you more great news and reasons to thank God for this amazing little girl! God is slowly healing her and her blood levels are getting better and better each week!

momma and her mini-me!

I was hanging out with Ashley and Alexis yesterday whenever Ashley got the call from Alexis’ nurse with the results of that mornings blood work. It brought me such joy to hear the excitement and joy in Ashley’s voice while on the phone with the nurse. To attempt to explain the results, I will first give you Alexis’ results from last week. Then I will give you what normal numbers should be, and then I will give you the results from yesterday! I have no idea what any of this means, but Ashley helped me to understand it a bit and provided me with this information.

Last week’s results:

White Blood Cells:  .8
Platelets:  79k
Hemoglobin:  9.7
ANC:  317

Normal numbers:

White Blood Cells:  5-10 (Alexis’ are going to be low because she’s a cancer patient)
Platelets:  150k-450k
Hemoglobin: 11.5-14
ANC:  1000-2000

Yesterday’s results:

White Blood Cells:  1.6
Platelets:  86k
Hemoglobin:  8.2
ANC:  1067

Prayer changes things. I can testify to that fully! God has been doing some amazing things in Ashley, Alexis, their family, and even my life through all of this. Although we can’t always understand it as humans, God knows the ending, and we just need to trust Him and take it one day at a time.

Tonight is going to be a rough night for Alexis so I would like to urge you to pray. She has to go to Children’s Hospital for a chemo treatment and a bone marrow aspirate tomorrow morning. Because of these tests, she cannot have any food tonight, and due to the steroids that she is on, this is going to be a battle. So please pray for a peaceful night of rest for Ashley, Alexis, Ashley’s parents, and Ashley’s brother. Pray that Alexis will be able to sleep the whole night through without waking up numerous times screaming (because she wants to eat).

Lastly, please pray extra hard for Ashley. She hasn’t been able to get much sleep at all for the past few weeks as Alexis has been on these steroids. Pray that she will be able to stay healthy, composed, and strong for her little girl. Ashley has portrayed unimaginable strength through this all and I tell her all of the time how much I admire it and that she is doing the right thing.  But I can see that it isn’t easy on her and it hurts to see her like that.

So please join me in continuing to pray for Ashley and Alexis. Words can’t express how thankful I am for all of you and your prayers!

– paulg

Alexis Update: God is goood!

December 24, 2009

So, as you all know, I’ve been very distant as of late in the online world. I haven’t been blogging, tweeting, or facebook updating. Someone very close to me was diagnosed with Leukemia and I haven’t had much desire to do anything but spend time in prayer. I’m not the only one either; there have been and are thousands of people all over the country and world praying for Alexis Jane Battisti, the cute/sweet/amazing/beautiful/loveable little 2 ½ year old girl! And God is sooooooo good!

Ashley, Alexis, my Mom's hand, and my dog Pepper!

Three weeks ago, on December 3, 2009, Alexis was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She went in the previous day for a normal check up and blood work. They found out her numbers were extremely low and ordered more tests the following day, and then were told to rush her to Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. You can read more about the initial testing and results at the following links: Urgent Prayer Request and Alexis Update: Day 2.

Ashley (Alexis’ amazing mommy), Alexis, Ashley’s mom, and other family members spent 9 days in the hospital as Alexis underwent test after test, and treatment after treatment. She received blood transfusions, spinal taps, bone marrow aspirates, platelets, and numerous other things. Thanks to God being so amazing, Alexis was able to go home earlier than anticipated on Friday December 11, 2009. Things have been rough since then. Due to the steroids and other medication that Alexis is on, she hasn’t been the same little girl. She eats everything in sight, even more than I do…and I’m a 265 pound 6’4 ½” 24 year old!!! The medicine makes her grumpy and not very Alexis like! And it’s taking a toll on her mommy, the rest of her family, and those that are close to and love her! I visited Ashley and Alexis on Tuesday and it was hard to see Alexis with no cheer and no care about anything. But I was able to make her smile and giggle a little, and Ashley told me that I should feel special because I’m one of the few that can make her happy! And that made my day to see both of them smile and giggle! And yes, I feel very special!

Today, Ashley, Alexis, and Alexis’ daddy traveled to Childrens Hospital for a Chemo treatment, and the results they got were truly breathtaking. I received a text message from Ashley that said:

“Everything’s great, no leukemia in her bone marrow, not even a trace!!!! 🙂 So she is officially in remission!”

I have not been able to stop thanking God ever since then. I spoke with a good friend of mine who is a nurse and she said that she has never heard of the numbers dropping from 90 to 0 in just 3 short weeks. My take on that is that God was definitely involved and was working His Wonders! We serve an awesome God, and He is sooooo good to His children!

Thank you all so very much for your continued prayers, and keep them coming. This is not over yet, but it is a huge step in the right direction. When God is in the driver’s seat, nothing is impossible, as we’ve already seen in the last 3 weeks! Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

–          paulg

Alexis Update: Day 8 (GOING HOME)…

December 11, 2009

Hey Everyone,

Just a quick update on little Alexis! She had a little bit of a rough week with some vomitting from the chemo and a little bit of constipation, but she is doing better now and has pooped! Amen for poop! I spoke with Ashley and she said that there were about 8 diapers in an hour…that is a lot of diapers (are you glad I didn’t say “a lot of poop!”?

alexis and "her paul"

Yesterday, we received word that Alexis’ platelete count was down again (13,000…was 75,000k after last transfusion) so she received another dose of platelet’s to get her numbers up before her bone marrow aspirate that is to take place at 8:30 am today (at the time of my writing this, that was 15 minutes ago). I haven’t received any negative texts yet, so I’m sure all is going well with that!

This bone marrow aspirate will determine if she needs another one next week or if she can wait until the 31st for one! Pray that she can wait because I’m sure it is not a fun thing for a 2-year-old to go through and they have already been through so much in the last week!

If all goes well today, Alexis and family will be traveling home form the hospital at 1 pm…FINALLY! It has been a long, tiring, scary, and stressful week for them. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for Ashley! So please, please, please continue to pray for little Alexis, Ashley, and the rest of the family as they continue in faith through the remainder of this process!

In life, sometimes God gives us pain, suffering, and confusion…and sometimes He gives us beauty in the midst of it! I was having a very rough day (because of Alexis’ and mine and Ashley’s situation) and as I was leaving work (in a very sad mood), God showed me the following picture. It was a dark, gray, snowy, and cold day…and God provided this for me!

When we can't, HE CAN!

God knew I was upset and He provided me with this bit of beauty to let me know that He has things under control and that He can make even the darkest and ugliest thing (Leukemia, sickness, disease, sadness) into something beautiful that will bring glory to HIS name!

Thank you all in advance! God is going to do great things in Alexis and Ashley’s life through and because of this…and He is already starting! Amen!

P.S. – I will be away for a week so I will not be able to make any updates about Alexis, but I will be sure to update as soon as I get back! Thank you all so very much for your continued support of Alexis and her battle with Leukemia. She is a tough little cookie (who loves cookie monster) and she IS going to beat this…with God’s help!

– paulg

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