Sunday, August 29, 2010

Christelle's Pride and Joy

School started for Christelle about the time of my last entry. She has now started her last year in high school and seems to be having fun. Yes. I did say fun. The child has always loved school and has never found it difficult, which, by the way, is an indictments of the schools. She is one of too many kids who learn more out of school than in school. But that is a discussion for another day. I don't think she sees the matter quite as I do, since easier schoolwork leaves her with time and energy to pursue her music.

When she started high school, she played her grandfather's trumpet in the band. She has since switch to playing the oboe, and oboes don't march, so she plays 'pit percussion,' which for her translates this year to the xylophone. No, she doesn't march with a xylophone either. She is positioned next to the field.

In the Fall semester, they do marching band. they have about 100 students in the band and auxiliary 9the dancing girls). In the Spring semester, they focus on Wind Ensemble, when they play classical music. The Hillcrest High School Wind Ensemble has built a solid reputation for quality music. People move to our neighborhood for their children to be in the band program. This last Thursday the football season started and the marching band played their first performance during the half time break.

For your delectation, I include a videoclip of that performance. Christelle is the tiny figure on the sideline to the right of the bandmaster. Once you view this video on youtube, you'll see there are many other videos of their performances from last year also.

if you wish to see a much better quality videoclip of the wind ensemble performance at a prestigious event in Chicago last December, please go here.

I hope you will enjoy this brief insight into Christelle's life.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Joy of Grace - A Catharine health update

Firstly, I want to apologize for the messy formatting in the previous post. Somehow photos interfered and even though I previewed it and tried to fix mistakes, I guess I am not an expert on Blogger.

Now, about how I am experiencing grace this week. (With some suffering included.)

My brother Ben arrived on Tuesday for a ten day visit. Chris picked him up at the airport, brought him home for a tearful reunion (I cried, he teared up), and a shower. Then we left for Houston for my new set of tests and meeting with Dr. Trent, one of the worldwide experts of my type of cancer. We traveled well and talked and talked and talked.

In Houston, I went to all the different places where I had to have tests, and this is where the suffering comes in. The wait times were interminable. I had to wait three hours for the CT scan, and the doctor was two hours behind. The administration of the hospital has certain rules about scheduling apparently, that does not allow enough time for patient treatment according to how much time it really takes to treat each patient. Why, I can't imagine. But it creates a situation where VERY sick people have to sit for hours in uncomfortable waiting rooms and wait. And wait. And wait.

Anyhow, the grace really kicks in here. When I saw Dr. Trent he had good news about my tumors. For the CT scan, I have to drink two bottles of barium fluid - thick white stuff that tastes like chalk. Apparently this fluid spreads throughout one's intestines and allows the intestines and some organs to show up on the scan. Then the radiologist puts me on a bed and a thick ring that contains the laser beam moves over me. At specific points I have to breathe in deeply and hold for about five to ten seconds while the laser scans my body. At some point, they inject what they call contrast into my veins. It is apparently slightly radio active and it interacts with abnormal cells to make them show up better on the scan.

Dr. Trent said the scan showed that the tumors had shrunk slightly since March when I last had a scan in Houston. More significantly, the tumors showed significantly less interaction with the contrast. In his words, the tumors seem to be "shutting down." In a word, they are dying.

I thank God for that good report. It is grace in it's purest form.

Another thing the doctor suggested, was to lower my chemo medicine dose. He was concerned for the side effects I am experiencing. Apparently the sore mouth and cracking skin is part of the side effects of the toxic chemo. So, I am to suspend taking the chemo (currently three capsules a day) for a week, then take one capsule a day for a week, and up to two capsules. It seems that I may be able to continue for a considerable time on two capsules. He has great confidence that the side effects might be mitigate that way. I am hopeful.

Grace is defined as "unmerited favor." Miriam-Webster dictionary defines favor as:

Verb: Feel or show approval or preference for:
Noun: An attitude of approval or liking.

So I wanted to make sure you understand that though I talked about the cost of grace, we cannot earn it in any way. I know it is difficult to get your head around. It seems a contradiction in terms: You cannot earn grace, but it is costly. I did not earn God's grace, I never could.

He gives it freely.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Cost of Grace

Last night I completed my grading and entered all grades online, so my students now know finally how they did. I have kept the online grade book up to date, so nothing should be a surprise for anyone, because the last grades to be added were for the final assignment.

I celebrated by playing online mahjong. It is the kind of game that relaxes me because I don't have to think too much - just the thing to relax after strenuous cognitive activity. It is a pattern matching game, where you click on two tiles with the same pattern to make them disappear until, hopefully, there are no tiles left and you win.

When I went to bed, curiously enough, I started thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German theologian who was adamantly opposed to Hitler. Bonhoeffer preached against Hitler and his policies and once, when speaking on the radio, he was cut off midsentence. This relatively young man, who was 28 or so when the radio incident happened, fervently believed that the Jews were God's chosen people and that the Nazis were sinning against God with their policies and actions.

Many historians say that Bonhoeffer got involved with the Abwehr (a German intelligence gathering operation that coordinated anti-Nazi resistance efforts) and were actually involved with some of the plots to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Dohnanyi were actively involved in helping Jews escape to Switzerland, and was arrested by the Gestapo on April 6, 1943. On April 8, 1945, he was condemned to death, without witnesses, without defense, and no records of the proceedings have ever been found. The next morning he was executed by hanging.

The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer ... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

I found this last quote on WIkipedia. I do not know all this information about Bonhoeffer as part of my working knowledge, so I did a little research :) What I do remember, is Bonhoeffer's theology. I was about 24 or so when I discovered Bonhoeffer and I vividly remembered how his beliefs spoke to me. It in fact changed my life, because for the first time, I was confronted with the idea that Jesus suffered in his obedience to God. Christ is the center in which God and the world is reconciled through the suffering of Christ. For Bonhoeffer, the duty and joy of a christian is to be an imitator of Christ and to be the center in which the world and God is reconciled. As christian, we have to be involved with people.

Faith, in Bonhoeffer's view, is actuated by two elements: implementing justice, and accepting divine suffering.

Probably his best known book is The Cost of Discipleship, first published in 1937, and published in 1948 in English. The central idea is that of "cheap grace," which he defines as:
"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace with discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

Cheap grace is to believe and preach the following: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." There is of course no mention of giving up the sin, of changing, of becoming more like Christ - cheap.
  1. Costly grace, on the other hand, "confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus said: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'"

I realized last night, as I was pondering Bonhoeffer and how he lived his beliefs, to the point of being willing to give his life to fight injustice and to imitate Christ through
suffering in obedience to God, that Bonhoeffer's mindset has been very influential in how I approach my illness. I'm not exactly fighting injusti
ce just sitting here, but I think I did some of that when I was healthy. And I have always tried to be the place where God and people c
an become reconciled. Now, I am suffering.

I try to keep up my spirits and have a brave front. And I deliberately count my blessings, but the
re are days when I feel the suffering, when life is difficult, and when my physical frailty irks me beyond what I think I can stand. I also experience Jesus' light and easy yoke: just when I think I can't sta
nd it anymore, something happens or something says something, or I receive a facebook message, or I receive a photograph like the one below.

This photo was taken recently by Andre Lottering who runs the French speaking operations of AFMIN . He was in Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, involved with church leadership training. It shows the attendees of the training school praying for me. Andre said they spent at least an hour, standing and sitting before God, interceding for me and our family.

It makes it worthwhile, knowing God's people are concerned for one another, and are willing to spend time praying for each other - reconciling people with God.

I am confronted everyday with the choice between accepting God's grace together with the suffering He is allowing in my life, or rejecting the knowledge that God knows best and is control of the whole thing. I would rather experience His grace at whatever cost He imposes, than live on my own terms, choosing my own way, and taking whatever comes my selfish way.

At least this way I know there is grace.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Another Favorite Thing

I love Pandora Radio. It is an online service where you can have a free account and create different "radio stations" that play specific styles of music. This afternoon I have been listening to my Hillsong Australia stations. They play Hillsong music, and a lot of other artists in the same style, like Ross Parsley and New Life Worship, the Desperation Band, Passion, Chris Tomlin and Darlene Zschech, Matt Redman, it goes on and on.

My other stations are: Martin Sexton Radio, and Chris Botti Radio.

You can find it at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For Alice

This entry is for Alice - my little cousin. She is my cousin Nicci's daughter and also blogs. I won't give the address of her blog, since she is keeping it anonymous - a very good idea for a teenager. In one of her entries, she mentioned bringing friends home and having a spat about every aspect of pizza choice. While this is part of the fun for a teen, I thought I would give Alice (and everyone else interested) an idea for easy entertaining. Next time you bring friends home and want to feed them, Alice, try this recipe for chicken salad.

You'll need
2 large, plump chicken breasts, skin removed. Keep it on the bone for the initial cooking.
1 can of chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
3 whole black peppercorns
Handful of parsley, leaves for salad and stalks for cooking
1 onion for cooking and 1 small red onion for the salad
2 celery sticks, including leaves, 1 for cooking and 1 for salad
1 cup grapes or ½ cup raisins
1 small apple – I prefer a green apple, or firm red apple
¼ cup walnuts (optional)
1 cup mayonnaise or ½ cup mayo and ½ cup greek yoghurt
1 large pickle

Here's what you do to cook the chicken:
Put the chicken, chicken stock, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, and parsley stalks in a pot. Chop one onion and one celery stick and the celery leaves roughly and add to the pot. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down to gently simmer until the chicken is tender and its juices run clear. Be careful to not overcook. You don't want dry, rubbery chicken. Leave the chicken in the pot to cool down in the cooking liquid.

You can see that this part you can do ahead of time. You can also use left over chicken, although I don't suppose there will ever be two to three cups of leftover chicken in your house. Of course, you can also use a rotisserie chicken from the store.

To make the salad, take the cold chicken out of the liquid and gently wipe it down with a paper towel. You don't want too much liquid in the salad. Take off the bones and discard. You can use the cooking liquid for a soup base or a gravy base if you want.

Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes and add to a bowl for mixing. Peel the red onion. I like the color of a red onion, but you can use any onion you have on hand. Cut in half and slice very thinly. Add to chicken. Trim the celery stick and slice very thinly. Add to chicken. The onion and celery add good flavor and some crunch.

Rinse the grapes and cut into halves. I rather like to use dark grapes for color, but you can use any grapes you have. If you do not have fresh grapes, just use raisins. Add the sweet, crunchy fruit to chicken.

Don’t peel the apple. The skin adds color and a lot of nutrients. Half and core the apple, and then slice thinly, or cut into 1 inch cubes if preferred. Slice the pickle very thinly. Add to the salad. You will notice we have highly flavorful chicken, and we have added color and crunch with the other ingredients.

Make a dressing according to your taste. I like the tang of mayonnaise, but if you are careful about adding fat, you can mix it with Greek yoghurt. If you like a more complex dressing, you can always add mustard too. I like it simple.

For those who can't lay your hands on Greek yoghurt, you can easily make it yourself. It is just plain yoghurt that has been drained of excess liquid, so it is thick and creamy. To make your Greek yoghurt replacement, line a sieve with cheesecloth and pour a container full of plain yoghurt into it. You can control the fat content by using full fat, low fat, or no fat yoghurt. Put in the fridge overnight, or for at least three hours. Squeeze out the excess fluid and you are left with a creamy, cottage cheese like substance. Yummy!

Mix in enough dressing to coat all the ingredients and bind the salad together. Taste the salad and adjust salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until you need it.

This is a very versatile recipe. You can serve it on lettuce leaves on pretty plates for a full meal salad with really good bread and butter.

Or you can make a sandwich. Butter the bread you will use. Layer on a thin slice of onion, a nice thick slice of tomato and a heaping scoop of chicken salad.

Or you can fill little phyllo pastry cups with the chicken salad for appetizers. Other ideas for appetizers are:
- little toast triangles with chicken salad topping
- flapjacks (or dollar size pancakes) with salad topping
- crostini (french bread cut on the bias, rubbed with garlic and olive oil, and toasted in the oven) with salad topping.

I hope this helps, Alice, to impress your friends.

I'm sure your Mom would love an elegant chicken salad lunch as a surprise one day :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Short Chris Update

Chris went for physio-therapy these past two weeks.

He says it hurts when they push and pull, but it is alleviating pain somewhat. He faithfully does his exercises at home. That hurts too, but helps overall for pain. He still feels pain in his leg, but at least he could stand right through worship at church yesterday without having to sit down.

At his last therapy visit, the therapist tested strength in his legs and said he would need at least another two weeks of therapy.

One good thing has come from this as far as I am concerned: he does not try to do too much, although he has already started mowing the lawn again. At least, he has asked one of our friends to help with the painting of our entry hall. In fact, Chris did more supervision than painting, to my great joy. The greatest danger is that he overextends himself as his pain level subsides before he is completely healed.

He finds that the big recliner chair helps when he hurts, with the result that he sits downstairs with me more often, especially when he has computer work to do. The downside of this is that I can watch fewer cooking programs, because they bore him hugely. Ah well! I guess his company is better than that of Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri.
(For those who don't know, these two gentlemen are chefs who have cooking shows on FoodTV.)

Perhaps my obsession with cooking shows springs from the fact that I can eat such limited foods at this time. I enjoy watching other people make wonderful food, and I am learning all sorts of great skills by watching. When I am up and about in the kitchen again, watch me!

In the meantime, we thank the Lord for improvement in Chris' back pain.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Step Forward, One Step Back

This sore mouth business is not much fun. I have adapted by drinking my meals, since my tongue is so sensitive, even icing sugar feels granular. So all is not lost, and it is forcing us to be creative about what I eat - I mean drink. At left a picture of my Jack LaLanne Juicer.

A friend sent me some information about the benefits of asparagus for cancer patients, and I have since taken asparagus everyday as one of my meals. Apparently the asparagus has to be cooked, so to make things easier for my personal cooks, Chris and Christelle, we are using canned asparagus. They put the contents of the can in the blender and it creates a rather thick fluid. They mix 4 tablespoons of this asparagus juice and chicken stock, heat it up a little, and then I drink it. It is delicious, always provided you like asparagus, of course. I have also discovered I can eat cheese wedges. It is smooth enough that it does not hurt my tongue. Other cheeses do, so I am very thankful for creamy cheese wedges.

So much for the forward steps. Initially, my doctor gave me something they call the miracle mouthwash. It deadens the mouth, but I think I told you before, if I eat right after taking the miracle, I can't taste anything. Then they said perhaps I have a yeast infection, and prescribed a medication designed to heal candidiasis or yeast infection. For a week or so it seemed to help, although it really burned my mouth when I swished and swallowed. Then yesterday, I started throwing up everything I ate, and being the good, informed patient that I am, I read the materials about the medication onnline, and found that this medication can cause nausea as a side effect. A phone call to the doctor, and now I should discontinue this yeast medication.

They also prescribed a third medication to counteract possible ulcers. Usually they use it for patients with stomach ulcers, who are to swish and swallow for ulcer relief. I should just swish and spit, not swish and swallow, because I might have ulcers in my mouth, definitely not in my stomach.

The Mystery of the Sore Mouth is a saga that will no doubt continue, and I will keep the story going. I hope it ends after another episode or two, but there is no denying that it might, just might become a soap opera that carries on and on and on. It seems the doctors don't really know and are making educated guesses.

I sure hope their guesses are educated.

In the meantime, the juicer is running and Chris tells me I am to have peach-carrot-apple juice for lunch, with a triangle of creamy swiss cheese. Yum!