Life’s Journey

Life’s Journey

I stare at the calendar after I turn the page,

For the month has arrived that I increase in age.

I pause for a moment to look back in time,

And consider the mountains that I had to climb.

Some peaks were chosen, but many were not.

Deep sadness and great joy have both been my lot.

I doubt I’m alone when my head wants to know,

Have I chosen wisely each step I did go?

The answer’s not easy, if truth would be known.

There are those disappointed in what I have sown.

It seems I’m rejected more often than not.

And it’s hard to find many who want what I’ve got.

But you cannot judge rightly when you only look back.

For the truth of the ending you surely do lack.

The seeds sown today rarely look all that great.

And a life as it grows is a tough thing to rate.

So, I also look forward to the mountains ahead,

The ones filled with joy and the ones filled with dread.

For both are a part of this journey of life,

The paths that are pleasant and those filled with strife.

The secret I’ve learned is to keep looking above,

To the top of the mountain where I’ll rest in God’s love.

He helps me along when the way looks so dim.

And I find there is hope when I’m focused on Him.

“Well done, good and faithful” l do long to hear.

So I just keep on climbing, knowing He’s always near.

© 2019 by Tom Lemler

The calendar says I will be turning another year older this month, though there are days that I think I already have. 🙂  It is easy for me to become very reflective regarding the past and it seems these poems flow most freely when those times of reflection are filled with great discouragement.  I suspect it is God’s way of walking with me through the discouragement and helping me to see the hope that He offers to me and to all those who remain faithful to Him.  The mountains and valleys of the past have shaped me, but in the perspective of eternity they don’t define me in the way that being faithful in the journey yet ahead will.  I pray that wherever you are in your life’s journey, whether looking back with pride or discouragement, you would choose to look ahead to the One who calls you to Himself and only asks that you arrive as one who is faithful.

In prayer,
Tom

CFS: Looking Back

CFS: Looking Back

As I was looking for something else today, I came across a little booklet I wrote many years ago, so I decided to type it up as a blog post as another means of preserving the story.  I suppose I have a digital copy of it somewhere, but if I do it is on a 5 1/4″ floppy disk that does me little good today. 🙂  

CFS:
The Truth and Consequences

May 31, 1990

It was 3:00 PM, Thursday, December 8, 1988; a time I had come to anticipate, yet fear, more than anytime before.  It was an hour later than our appointment when a doctor finally comes in and informs me that all their testing has found nothing significantly abnormal and she believes I have had an untreated viral infection resulting in my present illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).  With these words I am told she is late for another appointment and I am to be dismissed following a thorough exam in their cardiology department, thank you and goodbye!  Thus ended a two-week stay in Rochester, Minnesota with eight full days of doctors and tests.

Little did I realize at the time, my nearly two year search for answers was not going to end there at the Mayo Clinic.  In fact, it was to begin a period of more questions than answers and of learning to cope with a disabling illness that I did not understand, and about which there was little information available, and those around me had never heard of before.  At this point, it is  hard to determine which has been more difficult; reaching this diagnosis or learning to live with it.  After a study of current expert medical opinion, the following is my explanation of what has happened in my life.  My struggle with CFS, also currently known as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, probably began on an otherwise innocent early spring day during February of 1987 when I contracted a viral infection which left me with a severe sore throat and nearly unable to speak for two weeks.  This triggered my immune system to declare war against this viral intruder to ward off its ill effects.  Not being one to let such “minor” problems temporarily slow me down, I spent the next four months deeply involved in working, often averaging three to four hours of sleep a night.  Even at this rate of activity, it did not take long for my immune system to win out over this virus and this “temporary inconvenience” was seemingly gone.  At this point, no one knows for sure what happened or why, but for some reason, quite possibly assisted by my state of exhaustion and continued pace of activity, my immune system did not shut down its attack.  With the virus gone, my immune system then looked for other foreign intruders to conquer.  Not finding anything of significance, it soon turned to fighting anything it perceived as having, or having had at some time, a foreign substance or virus attached to it.  This soon left me in a state of being virtually allergic to myself.  Words are not adequate to explain the ramifications of this statement or its impact.  I believe the best way I’ve seen it described is in an analogy that states the fatigue and related symptoms of CFS is to the ordinary end-of-the-day tiredness as lightning is to a spark.

As I wrote the preceding paragraphs two to three weeks ago, I was attempting to begin a written account of my experiences and life since becoming ill.  In doing so, I realized something about my illness, and myself, that I had not realized.  I have often read in books and articles about the accompanying mental confusion and impairment of CFS, to which I attributed my loss of memory.  To those who have never been able to remember very well this may not seem to severe, but to me it was devastating.  It was my memory that got me through high school and a year and a half of computer technology courses at Ivy Tech with practically straight A’s.  It was often noted by others that my memory was amazingly sharp, but now this is gone.  In contrast to this, the area I discovered while trying to write my story is much more valuable to me now that it is gone than it ever was when I had the ability to use it.  The area I’m referring to is speaking and conversation.  Because of my nature to be a loner, and not being known as a talker or conversationalist, it wasn’t until I started these writings that I realized I could put my thoughts down in writing so that others could understand me.  However, when I tried to speak these same thoughts, the words somehow became mixed up and lost before they reached my mouth and what I said didn’t make nearly as much sense, if any.  On the conversation side of this, one of the symptoms of CFS is the inability to think clearly.  This reveals itself in a confusion that impairs the ability to reason.  A CFS patient is most aware of this when attempting to perform some simple mental task.  I can listen to people speak and not understand what they are saying, as if they’re speaking at 78 rpm but I’m listening at 33 1/3.  I can be asked a simple question such as, “would you come to dinner?” or “would you come to this meeting?”, and I’ll often respond with a blank look or empty-sounding answer simply because I didn’t understand what was being said.  At times it may take several hours to respond intelligibly to even the simplest of questions, but if pushed for an answer I’ll respond with what seems to be an appropriate answer yet it often falls short simply because I haven’t really understood what was said.  It was for these reasons; that what I say isn’t necessarily what I think I’m saying and what I hear isn’t necessarily what is being said, that I attempted to summarize in writing CFS and my struggle with it, so that others could understand me and help explain CFS and myself to others.

Much of the following summary is either directly or indirectly taken from a book entitled, “CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME:  A Victims Guide to Understanding, Treating, and Coping With This Debilitating Illness” by Greg Fisher.  Although I am able to put things in writing, it still takes a lot of effort and energy, so I use words already written when available to save these precious commodities.  The major component of this illness is a fatigue that stretches to its outermost limits so that the word hardly seems adequate to describe the condition.  It is misery to go through each day as exhausted as the day before, to go to sleep knowing I am not going to feel rested when I awake.  Resting doesn’t eliminate the fatigue, but it does prevent me from feeling worse.  To someone with CFS, not feeling worse often seems like the next best thing to being cured.  There is nothing that I do without first weighing the benefits against the detriments, for there is nothing that I do that is not detrimental to one degree or another.  I prioritize, eliminating from my schedule activities that require the most amount of strength while giving the least reward, because I pay for every action with the currency of exhaustion. 

CFS sufferers know malaise, meaning “ill-feeling”, as my “dazed CFS feeling”.  That probably doesn’t explain much to someone unfamiliar with CFS.  If I said I was sick to my stomach, most people would understand  exactly what I meant.  But how do I tell you what it’s like to be sick to my brain?  I don’t mean a headache, I mean a brain ache!  My mind refuses to function properly, but it’s not just an inability to think clearly, this is a related but separate symptom I mentioned earlier.  It’s a pressure in my head that forces me to focus inward on my illness, making me unable to interact with the rest of the world.  Sometimes even emotions can’t breach these prison walls.  I feel as if I exist on a flat emotionless plain with none of the peaks and valleys of normal experience.  There are other times, though, when just the negative emotions come through.  My anger, frustration, and despair overwhelm me and I long to be back in the emotionless state.

Joint pain has been a symptom that has fluctuated more than the previously mentioned symptoms.  While the other symptoms have been fairly constant, varying only slightly in intensity from time to time, the joint pain comes and goes seemingly at random intervals and intensity.  This has been so intense as to make it difficult to get around, yet at other time it has simply been more of a minor inconvenience when compared to my other symptoms.

It is not easy falling asleep when your throat hurts, your head is splitting, and your joints are aching.  It is quite easy to understand then that sleep, even for people as exhausted as I am, is not easily achieved.  Even if sleep finally comes, there is no guarantee that it will be long or restful.  I have often slept for twelve hours or more only to wake up feeling much sicker than I did the night before.  I believe part of the reason is that I did not get a good night’s sleep.  Sometimes I wake up two or three times a night, totally disoriented.  Other nights I toss and turn so much I use more energy than I gain.  I will often awaken suddenly to find myself dripping with perspiration, as if I had run a marathon in my sleep.

This pretty much sums up my condition for the past three years and the present.  There are also various “minor” symptoms that I have had which led to this diagnosis of CFS.  I have just recently come in contact with a state support group and a CFS Clinic in Indianapolis, which will keep me abreast of any medications or breakthroughs with this illness.  As for now, though, there is nothing that has been found to cure or relieve the symptoms, except on a limited basis with a few of the minor symptoms, of this disease.  It is unlikely that I will be able to return to the lifestyle I once enjoyed any time soon.  Until a cure is found, there is no agreeing evidence or expert opinion in the time span of this illness.  In 1988 I was told ten to fourteen years was normal length of illness, now more medical experts are saying it never really goes away, CFS patients just eventually learn to believe that their adapted lifestyles and symptoms are to be considered normal for them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The above article is something I wrote nearly 30 years ago!  I wish I could give a more detailed accounting of the when and how of overcoming this illness, but the improvement was so gradual that I’m not sure how it came about except by the grace of God.  Today I direct a prayer ministry and work full time doing building and grounds maintenance.  I’ve learned to be careful when I’m not feeling well, to slow down and get the necessary rest before too many of the old symptoms resurface.  And just as when I finished the article thirty years ago, I’m still not sure if CFS is really gone or if I’ve just learned how to manage it so it doesn’t control me.  I suspect it is more of the managing of it as there are times when I can feel it lurking just below the surface when I push myself beyond a normal weariness.  I share this as a means of remembering for myself, but also as a message of hope for people who may be in the midst of the struggle.  

In prayer,
Tom Lemler

Living the “A” Life

Living the “A” Life

Observing my daughter teaches me a lot about myself.  As I watched a recent struggle she had with wanting something that we couldn’t provide quickly or easily, this poem showed up in my mind.  A great sadness overcame her life as we searched high and low for a stuffed animal that would be close enough to what her mind was picturing.  No amount of reasoning or substitution was satisfactory as her mind had latched onto a specific image from somewhere.  Eventually we found what her mind was stuck on and it immediately set her at ease.  I don’t think the poem is finished but I’ve gone a couple days with nothing to add to it, so I’ll share what I’ve got.

The autistic mind
is a very strange place.
At least to the one
who must look in its face.
For the things that it holds,
there is little control.
And it helps not at all
to say, “Just let it go!”

The details that move in
and put down a root.
Don’t take too kindly
to be given the boot.
To take every thought captive
is not easy to do.
But without such a measure,
I’m left feeling blue.

© 2019 by Tom Lemler

In prayer,
Tom

Living As Fully FREE! (Sermon Audio)

 

This is the audio from the July 7, 2019 sermon, “Living As Fully FREE!”, shared by Tom Lemler at the North Wayne Mennonite Church.

 

Text: Luke 15:11-32

Here are the main points from the sermon:

In Christ, we are fully  . . .

  • Forgiven:
    • 1 John 2:12 — When we come home to the Father, our sins are fully forgiven because of Jesus . . . not because of us or our efforts.
  • Restored: 
    • 1 Peter 5:10 — Even through suffering and difficulty, and sometime because of them, we have a God that will fully restore us to Himself when we “come to our senses” and return to Him.
  • Equipped:
    • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 — The freedom we find by gazing into the perfect law of God’s Word will fully equip us for every good work He calls us to do..
  • Embraced:
    • Luke 15:20 — From wherever we are, our return to the Father will be met with a loving embrace.  His touch gives us the hope and courage to grow from the child He created to the son or daughter He designed us to be.

Until we find true freedom in Christ, the freedoms we chase after will only be temporary at best and will never fully satisfy.

When the Winds Blow

When the Winds Blow

Over Memorial Day Weekend this year, I traveled with International Disaster Emergency Service to the panhandle of Florida to listen to people’s stories as they continue to recover from a hurricane which devastated the area last fall.  IDES was on scene shortly after the hurricane went through and has been involved in disaster relief and recovery efforts through the coordination of resources and workers.  The trip I was on had been designed specifically as follow-up to listen to stories in order to find ways to better serve the emotional and spiritual recovery as well as the physical needs.

This week, in a small way, I experienced first-hand the stories that I consistently heard from people.  Sunday evening as we sat in the house, an isolated tornado formed and passed directly over our property.  There was no warning, just a horrendous sound and sudden loss of electricity that got our attention in time to go upstairs and realize that whatever had just happened was already past.  On one side of the house, large tree branches had been ripped from trees and blown to the north.  On the other side of the house a towering pine tree had come down and fell to the south.  As we’re surveying the damage, the tornado sirens finally go off making us wonder if another one is coming — there wasn’t, but in the moment there was nothing but uncertainty.

As I surveyed the house, it appeared the only damage to it was two crank-out windows that had blown out and off their hinges.  Using my phone, I was able to access limited information and learned that a tornado did indeed go through and had destroyed a daycare building just north of us.  I also learned that power wasn’t expected to be restored until sometime the next day — which for our neighborhood meant not just no electricity, but no water as we’re all on private wells.  

Anyhow, that’s a lot of background simply to introduce a few things that I heard from people recovering from hurricane Michael that I also experienced in a much smaller context than they did.

  1. When disaster strikes, confusion will generally follow.
  2. Our immediate response is probably a combination of our temperament and adrenaline.  I quickly grabbed a chainsaw and began clearing brush from the roadway.
  3. Once the adrenaline is gone, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  After a restless Sunday night, I found myself staring at the mess on Monday morning wondering where to start.
  4. Disasters can bring out the best in people.  Once I began working on the cleanup Monday morning, it wasn’t long before the neighbors began theirs and we were soon working together throughout the day to clean up the three properties.
  5. Disasters can bring out the worst in people.  It didn’t take long on Monday morning before what I call “the vultures” started showing up — a steady stream of people with business cards and price sheets wanting to “help”.  I suspect some, and perhaps many, were legitimate businesses but not all appeared to be.  In the already present confusion of disaster, it is easy to see how many people are taken advantage of.
  6. Public servants just might be an oxymoron.  The help that one might expect to get from any level of government that those affected pay taxes to, will likely not be timely or  helpful.
  7. The “fog of disaster” can make it easy to see all the loss and difficulty while blinding a person to the good that remains.
  8. Learning to praise God before the storm makes it easier to praise Him during and after the storm.

I suppose there is more that I could add . . . and who knows, I may just come back and do so at a later time. 🙂  While going through this tornado hasn’t been pleasant, it was meaningful to me in that it confirmed so much of what I had taken away from our times of listening in Florida.  It helps me pray even more deliberately, and perhaps effectively, for those in the midst of disaster recovery.

In prayer,
Tom

Building On the PAST! (Sermon Audio)

Building On the PAST! (Sermon Audio)

 

This is the audio from the June 2, 2019 sermon, “Building On the Past!”, shared by Tom Lemler at the North Wayne Mennonite Church.

 

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

“. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

We tend to approach the past in one of two ways. 

One, we try to ignore it and thus learn nothing from it.  In this mode, we tend to remove/replace/destroy anything that we feel doesn’t have meaning regardless of the history and/or functionality to someone else.  

Two, we worship the past and still learn nothing from it.  In this approach, our “rose-colored glasses” keeps us from seeing things as they really were.  We hang on to things that represent who we once were regardless of whether we, or anyone else, are still being served by those things.

God’s approach in scripture seems to be that we would learn from the past so that we can be built up into the body He desires.  

Here are the main points from the sermon:

As we look back, we must make plans to build on  . . .

  • Promises:
    • Building on promises requires that we are people of our word.  When we build on the promises of God, we find a foundation that will never crumble, no matter how much it is shaken, because God always keeps His promises.
  • Actions: 
    • Building on actions requires that we acknowledge work that has already been done.  We are where we are because of the work done by those who have gone before us.  As Christians, we not only build on the work of the people in our immediate history, we build our life on the work done by God since the beginning of creation.
  • Sacrifices:
    • Building on sacrifices requires that we acknowledge and honor those who have given up things of value to them so that we can be where we are today.  There is no greater sacrifice that we can build our life upon than the sacrifice of Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin.
  • Triumphs:
    • Building on triumphs may sound like the best part, yet many of us struggle to “rejoice with those who rejoice.”  When we build on the victories we have experienced, we celebrate what has been accomplished while keeping our gaze fixed ahead on what is yet to be done.  Building a life that endures will require that we build it around the triumph that Jesus claimed over death.

Building on the PAST is how we are able to celebrate the work of God without becoming complacent to the extent that we no longer expect Him to work.  God wants us to take all of the lessons He will teach and use them to help others desire, seek, and have a relationship with His Son, Jesus.

Learning To SEEK God! (Sermon Audio)

Learning To SEEK God! (Sermon Audio)

 

This is the audio from the May 5, 2019 sermon, “Learning To SEEK God!”, shared by Tom Lemler at the North Wayne Mennonite Church.

Text: Isaiah 55:6

“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.”

Here are the main points from the sermon:

We SEEK God when we learn to  . . .

  • Serve God:
    • Joshua 24:14 — In a world filled with many voices claiming to be truth, we must choose to serve God in order to seek Him with a whole heart.
  • Expect God: 
    • Psalm 5:3 — Seeking God wholeheartedly requires that we learn to wait in expectation, trusting God to work in the time that is just right.
  • Engage God:
    • Deuteronomy 30:14 — As we grow in our desire and practice of seeking God, we must learn to engage every part of our being with Him.
  • Know God:
    • Psalm 46:10 — Perhaps the most difficult part of seeking God is the simplest part to say . . . be still and know.

Seeking God is not a “once and done” activity but rather a lifetime of learning.  When scripture teaches that we should “seek the Lord while He may be found”, it suggests that there could be a time when He can’t be found.  Our walk on this earth is the time given to us to seek God.  Once we are gone from the earth, whether through death or the Lord’s return, the time of seeking and finding will be over.