Tuesday, December 9, 2014

One Year Ago: Thanksgiving Continues On

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me.  I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all that live to see such times but that is not for us to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
                                                                               - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It was the week of Thanksgiving 2013 when I finally went to get a check up on my health.  Over the few months prior I had dropped 25 lbs and developed a few odd symptoms.  One was that I had a major cough for about a month.  The other was a little more grotesque.  At night I was sweating.  Not like I had a bad dream about falling and woke up sweating, but my back was completely soaked every morning.  Not only that, the sweat smelled terrible.  I felt like I was leaking acid through my pores every night.  I know that this is gross to think about, but it truy was awful.  I refused through the months of September and October to go to the doctor, because as a teacher, I could only go get a physical after 4 at MEA and it is always packed.  So I waited.  We bought new clothes because my old ones didn't fit anymore.  I was actually excited from my great slim down.  Of course now we all know why I had those things going on, but at the time I was just fine.....except those night sweats geez.  But the week of Thanksgiving rolled around and I couldn't wait any longer.  I made an appointment for a physical at my local MEA Medical Clinic and waited for a few hours to get in.  Once in I had a typical physical and bloodwork done and yet there was something wrong.  I was anemic and really nothing else was showing signs of issues.....just my blood.  So I stayed and took a quick X-ray.  That's when something went wrong...or right if you look at it like that.  I was released with a bit of unease that day.  Something was going weird and my doctor scheduled me to have a CT Scan done on the Monday after Thanksgiving.  

I spent the rest of the time that week enjoying family and even made the trip to Starkville for last year's Egg Bowl.  Ironic now that I look back, during the Egg Bowl there was a Stand Up to Cancer add where it said 1 in every 5 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.  I felt that my odds were pretty good to not have that happen to me since my father had cancer only 15 years ago.  The monday after Thanksgiving I went to get a CT Scan done.  I went during the early afternoon and had no wait at all for the scan.  This was my first major scan of any kind.  I had to change into a medica gown and they put me in a big donut scanner and I laid down and held completely still for about 20 minutes.  The machine also told me how to breath during the entire process.  Easy as pie.  After the scan was done I headed home, which was a good half hour drive.  They told me the scan would be ready later that day so I was expecting to hear something the next day.  I missed a call on the way home.  It was my physician.  He had the scan.

By this time I was at my house with my wife, Carly.  I will always remember that phone call back to the doctor.  I was standing next to our bed with my cell phone pressed to my ear.  I called back and got my doctor on the phone.  All he said was, "I got your scan back and I see lymph nodes."  Now to most people this would mean nothing.  But my father also had swollen lymph nodes.  That was his sign of cancer.  His doctor that found the lymph nodes was the same as the one I was on the phone with.  At those words, "I see lymph nodes," I sunk to the ground, Carly by my side.  He told me that he was scheduling a visit to a oncologist in Jackson for me to see ASAP.  I told him thank you and he said just how sorry he was for delivering that news, but that he was glad to have answers for me.  I hung up the phone with him and that moment was the one moment where I probably lost it the most.  There was no wailing or screaming, just silent weeping from myself and Carly.  I vaguely remember saying, "I don't want to have cancer," with Carly's response, "I know, me either."  We sat for a while just trying to grasp how to feel or react to the news.  At first you just want to break down and think about how many people lose their lives from cancer every year and how bad the stories are.  Then you step back and realize that this is a great opportunity to see what you are really made of.  Either I could feel despair and anger from this news or I could embrace it and use it to strengthen not only myself but others around me.  Plus I didn't even know the depth of the news.  All I knew was there were lymph nodes.

As I sit here typing exactly one year from these events, it is easy to see what decision I made.  In the moment though it was a bit unclear.  I chose to embrace the challenge.  I was almost excited if that is even fathomable.  I was ready to see what challenges were ahead and how I would face them.  But I really only think that the reason I felt that way was my deep belief that Christ would lead me through it all.  That He would take me in His mighty right hand and heal my cancer wounds no matter how they appeared.  

As the holiday season is upon us, take time to see where Christ wants to lead you through your trials.  Take the opportunity to be excited about the challenges ahead, because you know that His plan and will are good.  We might not be able to stop the trials from coming our way, but we can absolutely decide how to face them.  

Journey Strong

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Magical Blogorail - Holidays Around the World at EPCOT

Welcome to those of you joining me from Home is Where the Mouse Is and those of you just hoping aboard.  This is the 4th stop on our Magical Blogorail.

As Halloween fades into the past for 2014, Disney World is already in full swing for the Christmas Season.  At the parks, there is no big Thanksgiving celebration.  It is out with jack-o-lanterns and in with christmas trees in a matter of days.  I personally have never been to Disney World during November or December (an issue I hope to remedy someday), but I do know a bit about enjoying the hoiday offerings at Disney Word.  This week's Magical Blogorail focuses on celebrating the holiday season at EPCOT and there is really no better place than World Showcase to do it.  I want to not only share some of my favorite holiday happenings in World Showcase (that I have never seen!), but I also will share a few ways to bring these moments to your own home.

So if I was going to sum up the holiday entertainment into a top 3 at World Showcase I would say:

1. Candlelight Processional
2. Illuminations with Holiday Ending Tag
3. Holiday Storytellers

The candlelight processional will be discussed on the next stop on the Magical Blogorail so I will let you read about it there.  

Illuminations is arguably my favorite fireworks show at Disney World.  It has always inspired me and the music is equally as incredible as the actual show.  During the holiday season, Illuminations adds a "tag" to the end of the show.  This involves of course more fireworks and also special holiday music to synchronize with the show.  I have never seen this tag in person, but have heard this show many times on various podcasts and other media outlets such as YouTube.  I will include some links at the end of my blog that will allow you to see or listen to the holiday tag at EPCOT.

A very intriguing part of World Showcase is that you have 11 countries within about 25 minutes of walking between all of them.  So you have 11 different ways of celebrating the holidays.  Each country in World Showcase is decorated for the season while trying to mimick the traditions of its homeland.  I think this is really cool, but Disney takes a step beyond decorations by adding Holiday Storytellers to each country.  These Storytellers are live actors that use entertainment, humor, and knowledge to tell the traditions of the country they are in.  I have heard a few of these performances again by way of podcasts.  Here are a few examples:  In Mexico the three kings tell about Mary and Joseph traveling and Mexican traditions during the holidays, in Norway there is the mischeivious elf, Julenissen, in China the Monkey King talks to guests, in America there are separate Hannukah and Kwanzaa storytellers, and towards the right side of World Showcase you have a few Santas, Pere Noel in France and Father Christmas in the UK.  Each tale is entertaining and informative, but I have always heard that the storyteller and elf in Norway is not to be missed by families with children.

So those are the best holiday happenings that I have never seen at World Showcase, but I must say there has to be SOME way for me to bring home the magic of the holidays at World Showcase.  And there is!  Here are a few ways my family has done it.

When my wife, Carly, and I were traveling on our honeymoon to Disney World in October of 2011, Disney was wrapping up the Halloween season and revving up the holidays.  So naturally we wanted to find something holiday-ish to put in our first home together.  That is when my wife found the perfect addition to our decorations.  Here I am holding it:

As you can see it is a felt wreath with a calendar that counts from 1-25 days to get to Christmas.  Each day has a holiday shape or Disney character that you remove from the day and stick on the wreath with velcro.  This was perfect for us because at my parents house we have a very similar calendar that I grew up with every Christmas.  We also of course purchased an ornament or two.  Now we enjoy our holiday decor every season and not only does it remind us of our honeymoon, but it is also a reminder of the parks.  And probably the most "Disney Enthusiast" way to bring the holidays home is to download Disney fan podcasts during the holiday season.  There are hundreds of Disney fans out there creating free media for you the fans at home to enjoy.  There are some great shows that I personally enjoy weekly and they have done great episodes covering Disney during the holiday season.  Some of the best are Inside the Magic, Window to the Magic, WDW Today, WDW Radio, and WEDway Radio.  And if you are a big fan of the Muppets, The Muppetcast has some incredible holiday shows that you can listen to every year.  I will include some of my favorite holiday podcast shows with inks below.  

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Window to the Magic - Find episode 218
Inside the Magic Christmas 2013
Voices of Liberty Christmas on YouTube

Thank you for joining me today.  Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is Mommy to All Girls.

Here is a map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ Rolling with the Magic -Germany Pavillion
2nd Stop ~ My Dreams of Disney - Mexico Pavillion
3rd Stop ~ Home is Where the Mouse Is - EPCOT Holiday Treats
4th Stop ~ Journeys from a Follower - Holiday Happenings at EPCOT
Final Stop ~ Mommy to All Girls - Candlelight Processional

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Rant on Mississippi State and Why Cancer is Not Ranked in the Top 25

First off two facts:

1. Mississippi State is number 1 in the AP Top 25 Football Poll for the first time in history.

2. September was blood cancer awareness month.

Now my rant:

Mississippi State has been and continues to be very dear and close to my heart.  I was born and raised loving MSU and being at MSU.  It sadly took all the way to 2014 for me to get a degree from MSU.  I finished a MBA in May.  You can check out my story about becoming an official bulldog here:

So over the past few weeks MSU has truly been playing incredible football.  So many firsts in MSU's history of football.  State has beaten 3-top 10 schools in four weeks and 3 consecutive games.  State hosted College Gameday for the Auburn game.  Lee Corso put on Bully's headgear for the first time and Bully became the 50th headgear Corso has selected.  We broke the attendance record at Davis Wade Stadium this past saturday and I got drenched in the process.  We have a true Heisman quality quarterback in Dak Prescott, who has an incredible story.  All of these are firsts, and yet there are things that we still have that are going strong.  We have a great running game of days of old, we have as tough a defensive line as ever, we have cowbells in the stands, and we have a great atmosphere in Starkville, MS to play a football game in.

And yet with all the firsts and so much positive news coverage, there have entirely too much negativity from others.  And surprisingly I have seen hardly any of these negative things coming from Ole Miss.  So I want to address some of these things.  MSU was not ranked preseason.  We were picked I believe to finish 5th in the SEC West.  We are constantly looked at like a doormat.  We are looked at as  an "easy" win.  So when the LSU game was coming up, I had my doubts about us walking into Death Valley and coming out with a win.  Some students that I teach who are LSU fans constantly said "failstate" to me.  (failstate would be a rip on MSU's HailState)  After the win, did I come back at them with something like "Bulldog Bait?"  No.  I simply celebrated my team's win.  One thing I have learned after years of 2-10, 3-9, and 4-8 seasons is how to win humbly.  Something that I admire greatly.  I have been Tiger Baited, War Eagled, Hotty Toddied, Roll Tided, and worst of all Pig Sooed entirely too much in my life.  People, I was there when we lost to Maine.....let that sink in.  I was there when MSU lost to Auburn 3-2.  It has been entirely too long for me to celebrate a win by degrading the loyal opposing fans.  Yes I know that in the stands the band plays the Hey Song and there is the cheer that says "we just beat the hell out of you."  I am honestly not a fan of that, but creating cheers is not my responsibility.  After beating Texas A&M and Auburn, even more comments are popping out of the woodworks.  Such gems like MSU is paying the refs to make bad calls on the opposing team.  Really people?  Did you see the rankings of top college spending on athletics.  MSU was 58th.  I guess we are spending all that other money on paying refs to make bad calls.  I mean do you ever walk away from a game and say, "whew those refs did a great job tonight!"  No.  Yes I did see the bad pass interference call, but come on people thats EVERY sporting event from BOTH sides of the ball.  So lets stop the charade that MSU has the refs in their pockets and remember that refs are humans too and guess what, they make mistakes.

So to end my rant about MSU.  I am proud of the staff, I am proud of the coaches, I am proud of the players, and I am always proud to be a bulldog.  Thanks Dan Mullen for making us believe in Mississippi State again.

So what does this all have to do with cancer?  Well during the month of October you can hardly watch football without seeing pink breast cancer awareness everywhere.  Now I did not have breast cancer, I had a form of blood cancer.  Did you know that September was blood cancer awareness month?  Not many did.  In fact, I didn't even know that blood cancer existed until my father had Hodgkin Lymphoma 15 years ago (to be honest I didn't even know it was a blood cancer until I found out I had it in December of last year).  That got me to think: "what other cancers are there that I don't know about?"  To further delve into that thought process, I looked up other awareness months just to see if those got any press.  Here is what I found: Not only is October Breast Cancer Awareness month, but it is also Liver Cancer Awareness month.  Also not only is September Blood Cancer Awareness month, but it is also Childhood Cancer, Gynecological Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Prostate Cancer, and Thyroid Cancer Awareness month.  Just looking at a calendar with the cancer awareness months listed for each, only August and June (cancer survivor month) have no cancer represented, and all but January have more than one Cancer represented.  How overwhelming is this?  It was extremely humbling to me.  Out of all the cancers in the world, I just happened to get one that is highly treatable for patients my age.

Here is a calendar for all of you that want to see what month is what:

With the football world focusing on rankings and stats, lets look at some other stats.  There will be approximately 1,665,540 new cases of cancer in the US this year.  There will be 235,030 new Breast Cancer diagnosis with an estimated 40,430 deaths.  There will be 79,990 estimated Lymphoma diagnosis with approximately 20,170 deaths.  Although the success rates seem pretty good number wise, we have to remember that each and every person matters.  Each and every new case is not just a number or just a stat.  Each person has a reason to live and a purpose in life.  I know after my own diagnosis almost one year ago, I could have decided to listen to the nay-sayers.  I could have lowered my head and stopped working and truly just be miserable for the entire process.  Yet I chose not to.  This was partly due to my faith, partly due to my support system, partly due to my stubborness, and yes partly due to the stats.  The stats looked good for my prognosis and I never would have known the stats if it wasn't for great organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  We really wouldn't know the extent of Breast cancer if it wasn't for great organizations like the Susan G Komen for the Cure group and the high saturation of pink during the month of October.  There are so many other organizations and clubs that I could mention, but what I want is for you to go out and get involved.  Pick a team and follow them with all you have.  Find a coworker, family member, or friend who is suffering from disease and go to bat for them.  Maybe it is yourself that you need to support.  Get plugged in, find a chapter, go run a race, go raise some money, do your part.  You can make a difference, you can help save a life.

So yes Mississippi State might be number 1 in the AP poll, but cancer never will be close to the top-25. Lets keep it that way.  

Journey Strong

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Magical Blogorail- Ways Disney can help with grief and sorrow

Welcome to those of you joining me from Saving Up for Disney and those of you just hopping aboard.  I am the Final stop on our Magical Blogorail.

This is a unique blog post assignment for this month from the Magical Blogorail.  However unique I think that every Disney fan and most non-Disney fans can relate to what I have to say.

First some thoughts before my post. 
1. I am a believer in Christ, so I really find my strength and joy through Christ.
2. Because I am a believer in Christ, I know that everyone is created in God's image and unique.  Everyone has unique passions and desires, one of mine is Disney.  
3.  This love of Disney is one of my unique traits that Christ instilled in me.

"To all who come to this happy place, welcome.  Disneyland is your land.  Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.  Disneyland is dedicated to the dreams, ideals, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."  - Disneyland dedication July 17th, 1955.

Yes I did that most from memory.  But that dedication is a great series of statements that encompass why Disney is a great venue for help with grief, sorrow, stress, or even just a bad day.  When I think about my history with grief and sorrow, I have been very blessed.  However, Disney has always been a great escape and aid through the tough times in my life.  When you look at the dedication of Disneyland you see that Disneyland is at first and foremost a happy place.  Now don't get me wrong, Disneyland and the other associate theme parks, sure have their fair share of angry parents and kids, but why do they go to Disney?  Easy answer, because it brings out the childlike wonder and inspiration                                                                                                               of time gone by.  Another note from the dedication speech is that Disneyland is your land.  I really hold to this.  Disney is what you make it.  The way I interpret the movies, music, and park experiences is unique and I embrace that.  Some things like the music from Illuminations inspires me while others might not think twice about it.  So let me take a few instances in my life where something Disney really was a God-send to me in a troubled time.

On the flight to Seattle for my senior trip to Vancouver, I was going through a pretty tough time in my personal life.  I was struggling with a few things that I won't go into detail about, but one was my decision to go to Mississippi College for my higher level education.  On the flight, I was listening to the Brother Bear soundtrack.  Brother Bear, a Disney movie that I just watched in its entirety this year, but have owned the soundtrack since its release.  The first song on the soundtrack is called "Look Through My Eyes."  The song is really the idea of the movie, which focuses on walking a mile in another ones shoes.  As I was listening, I began to realize that God knows life from my perspective because He became a man in Jesus.  What a comfort I found in that!  From a small Phil Collins song from a Disney animated movie that was never a blockbuster, came a message of hope and understanding.

It was in college that I was introduced to the world of podcasting, Disney podcasting to be exact.  This might be the single biggest help to me through my first year of teaching.  I always knew I was not the only Disney fanatic out there and when I found podcasts of guys and girls just like me, talking about Disney for hours on end every week, I was sold.  My 25 minute commute my first year was always filled with Disney news, rumors, and general geekiness.  In the morning it helped wake me up and excited for the day.  In the afternoon, it helped take me away from the stress of school and into a calm relaxing state before I made it home.  Still to this day, Disney podcasting is a source of unending enjoyment for me.  More on that later.

Watching others experience relief from sorrow at Disney is so encouraging as well.  I remember back to a trip that I took with my wife, sister, and brother in law.  We were waiting to see Mickey at Town Square.  The family ahead of us had a special needs child, who was confined to a wheelchair and could not talk.  The family was foreign and looked to be on their first trip to Disney World.  They had about 3 kids and the two that could walk were talking to Mickey and getting autographs.  After they were done the family looked to be leaving, but Mickey would not have it.  He walked right over to the child in the wheelchair and began to wave and hold the child's hand.  The mother was overwhelmed with gratitude as tears streamed down her face (and ours too).  The family simply did not think about letting their other child interact with Mickey because of his special needs.  But Mickey had other ideas. I was speaking to a cast member recently, who was very good friends with a few princesses at Disneyland.  She told me that whenever a terminally ill child had a wish to see her friend Ariel, she requested not to know the disease or how long the child had to live.  She told me that in that moment you have to be the stong one for the child.  You cannot waiver for a moment, because meeting that character is a dream come true for those children and it has to be perfect.

My own bout of cancer was met full force with Disney moments.  I listened to many a podcast during my trips to the doctor and throughout treatments of chemo.  My students would bring me Disney themed pictures and get well cards and posters.  One of my favorite memories is watching a live stream broadcast of Richard Sherman playing and leading an It's a Small World sing a long from Disneyland during one of my chemo treatments.  At that moment I knew I was the best Disney fan ever.  And when I was pronounced in remission from cancer, what did I do?  Yes I went to Disney World.....and Disneyland for that matter.

Yes Disney is usually fantasy.  I even had someone tell me one time that I couldn't just live in my Disney World all the time.  But I think there is something deeper there.  I believe that looking at fantasy is a way to really examine the human spirit.  Seeing an elephant fly, a lion become king, and a beast be transformed with love yeah doesn't happen in real life, but it sure does make me believe that I can do great things with my real life.  That's why I love Disney.  Not because it cures my grief and sorrows, but because it shows me that dreams do come true and that God loves me.

Thank you for joining Magical Blogorail Green this month.  We will be back on October 9th with an all new theme.  Keep checking in with our blogs in between loops to keep up to date with our Disney info, photos, and stories.  If you are looking for more Disney magic, you can make your way over to The Magical Blogorail website to see all our members and their blogs, as well as all our previous loops.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Seeing Cancer from 10,000 Feet

Perspective is a topic that I often write about, but this blog post is very unique seeing as my perspective right now is looking out a 767 aircraft at 10,000 feet.  I remember my first flight when I was in the eigth grade and how scared I was.  I was terrified at the beginning for the flight.  Lifting off was such a new feeling and experience.  I was traveling with my National Junior Honor Society classmates to visit Washington D.C.  It was such a memorable trip and I will never forget rising above the clouds and seeing the view of Mississippi falling away below as we rose into the air.  I think back to my senior trip flying to Seattle, Washington and soaring above the Rocky Mountains.  What a unique way to look at the peaks and valleys.  I remember flying to Hong Kong during college and how I could not even look outside because I was stuck inbetween a fellow college traveler and a small asian man, who helped me with my Sudoku puzzle as we flew overnight.  Now I am flying with my wife to California for a trip of a lifetime and it is such a unique perspective because cancer is behind us.

Looking back at the individual tasks of cancer is tough.  It feels like a decade ago that the doctors poked and proded to diagnose me.  I still remember the call about my swollen lymph nodes.  I remember the chemo treatments that dragged on for ages.  I remember the outcry of support from friends and family.  I remember the moments where I just broke down from the overwhelming weight of it all.  I remember from the not so distant past, the daily trip to the cancer clinic for raidation treatments.  I can still feel the pain in my esophagus from the torn tissue of radiation therapy.  However, with all the memories, I can see the hope of the future.  

The fact that cancer is behind me has not truly sunk in yet.  Yes, I know it has been over two months since being pronounced in remission, but radiation treatments have been ongoing during the summer daily.  Yesterday I entered the cancer clinic twice to ensure I was done for our California trip.  Upon leaving the clinic after the second treatment, I just sat in my car and stared at the wheel.  I didn't know what to do.  Well in truth I had lots of things to do to prepare for our trip, but for a moment I just thought, "wow, it's over."  What a surreal event.  Yes  I will still have follow up appointments.  In fact my next Pet Scan is in 6 weeks.  I still have scars from the trip.  My port is still in, the radiation markings are gradually washing away, and my sore throat will last a few weeks.  But all those things are relative to being alive.  Alive and doing quite well.  Gaining weight, gaining color, growing hair, feeling energy again.  It is amazing to be feeling normal again.  It's also great when people tell me I look good all the time.  That is something I don't think I will ever get used to.  But it is also a good reminder that yeah at a time not too long ago, I was not looking good at all.

Being at the end of one journey means the begining of a new one.  Sitting here looking at the flight tracker show the jounry of our plane traveling across the country, you start to think about the big picture.  What was the point of me having cancer?  Why did that happen to me?  A better question is why did I survive?  Why me, when so many others deserve to live?  I have to rest assured that God holds those answers and will guide me to them.  Because even though I sit in a small town in a small part of the country that many do not know or care about, God sees the bigger picture.  He is always watching from 10,000 feet.  He sees the flight path: the beginning and the destination.  I rest in that.  Looking back at my journey through the dark days, I can see the lead of love from Christ.  He has given me a hope and a future.  I hope to honor him with all I do.  And I will fail at that everyday, yet God loves me anyway.

So no matter where you are in your latest journey, beginning, middle, or end, remember who holds the view from 10,000 feet.  He is watching, waiting, encouraging, and offering something way better than Biscoff cookies (and that is saying something).

And speaking of Biscoff cookies, I need to get back to them and the in flight entertainment.  

Journey Strong

Factoid:  This blog was written in the air over North Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."  - Matthew 24:42-44

"Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have." - 1 Peter 3:15

The hard part is over....but is the story?  No.  A good story really never has an ending, it continues on and on creating new stories along the way.  So where have I been?  I mean you probably saw my post about my dad or my post about our great time at Camp this year with our youth.  You might have even seen the two Disney posts that came into play.  But what about cancer?  Is it gone?  Are you done?  The answer is no cancer is never done.  That sounds a wee bit morbid, but it is true.  This summer has been so full and my life has been so busy since being pronounced in remission that I have really not stopped to reflect on what it is like to live without cancer.  Well the truth is that I am still living in the cancer world even after remission.  Part of the original plan was to have 8 chemo treatments and then do radiation therapy as a precaution.  I am almost at the end of my radiation regime and for the most part it has been uneventful.  Here is how the process goes.

Everyday for the past two weeks I have arrived at the cancer clinic during the 8 o'clock hour.  I sign in the main lobby and sit in the waiting area that contains lots of natural light, two tvs, and lots of seating with that vinyl covering instead of fabric.  In my mind I imagine the staff taking each chair outside and hosing them down then letting them dry in the sun.  They are not too comfortable.  The tvs however are.  It's odd to say that a television can be comfortable, but one of them is always on HGTV and the other is always on the Food Network.  Those two channels are arguably the best chill channels  to watch on cable.  I have started fixing myself a thimble of coffee everyday as I wait.  I do say thimble, because that is about the size of the cup.  The first few days took some time, but since then I just fly right through.  

Two weeks ago I entered into the bomb shelter-ish radiation room and was laid on a table.  What is really nice about my clinic is that on the ceiling there are a few tiles that just have pictures on them instead of a boring old tile.  The picture in my room is of a garden.  Think Mynelle Gardens in Jackson. I like to imagine that it is Buschart Gardens in Canada, which I have visited once when I was 18.  Anyway, they lifted me up on the table and positioned the machine over my chest.  This radiation machine is pretty incredible.  It produced lines on my skin with lasers so that the radiation techs could draw marks on my skin to make sure they always zapped me in the right place.  I have now had those same marks for two weeks.  They iched at first, but now they are just my cancer henna.  

The actual process of radiation is fairly simple to live through.  You lay down on the board with a contoured head rest, a toblerone looking pillow to go under your knees, and then a foam rubber oval that goes over your feet to make sure you down just click your feet the whole time (I am sure I would if I could).  After a few days they started giving me another foam oval to hold in my hands, I guess I was moving around too much so they took pity on me and gave me something to hold.  After I am all set with my various foam accessories, I am adjusted into position.  Everyday they call out 95.3, which I suppose is some position that the machine recognizes as my setting.  Everyone leaves the room and I am staring into the circular machine staring straight back at me.  I stare at myself in the reflection of the dark void of the machine until someone places a steel plate that is located between myself that the rays of radiation.  So there I am, alone in the room.  Just me and the machine.  Then a loud noise hits my eardrums.  I can see out of the corner of my eye a sign that looks like it is straight out of a radio station.  Instead of saying On Air, it says Beam On.  I make believe that I am some super hero being blasted with radiation rays of power, but in all honesty I don't feel a thing.  I don't feel warmth or pain.  The only thing I do feel and I can't decide if it is real or all in my head is my sinuses being cleared out by the beam.  It is as if all the mucus is racing away from the beam and back up into my head.  Kinda gross but thats the best way I can describe it.  Once I have been hit from the top the machine head rotates and the steel plate is removed and I am then blasted from the bottom.  The beam is on for a grand total of 8 or so seconds, but it feels like an eternity.  I am then lowered and the accessories are removed.  I then say goodbye and grab my things to leave.  Pretty simple.

Sometimes when the beam comes on, I want to scream, "no stop thats too much!"  But I never do.  

I wish I could spin this discussion into something more meaningful and insightful, but the fact is that the process is so fast, I never really have time to think about the impact.  It has become a little routine now.  One that is not too disruptive or inconvenient, just another part of daily life.  If chemo was a marathon, radiation is doing a little bit of jogging every day.  You get tired of running a marathon in the middle of it, but doing a little jogging everyday doesn't really seem to wear on you.  Well this week the jogging caught up with me.

I noticed this weekend that I was developing a sore throat.  Kinda felt like allergies/strep.  Felt like it was no big deal.  Well on Monday, I could barely get down food without tears coming to my eyes.  The pain was so bad that I was wincing in pain with every swallow.  Good thing I was eating lunch at Brent's in Jackson, because I ordered a milkshake to finish out the meal and it went down SO well comparatively.  Since then the doctor prescribed some liquid narcotic and I picked up some chloraseptic and throat losenges for extra help.  Eating is better, but it still is painful.  Maybe I will live on soups for the rest of the summer.  

I guess this all goes to show that just because you do something a few times and it does not harm you, does not mean that in the long run it won't harm you.  I went into radiation thinking oh this will be a breeze and I never gave it the respect it deserves.  I am preventing a recurrence of cancer, radiation IS a big deal.  So you got my attention radiation!  Now if you would kindly let me eat food that would be great.  Another hit was that I found out today that I am not scheduled for 3 weeks of radiation, but 4 weeks of radiation!  What's one more week not being able to eat right?  

I must be honest and say that the pain in my throat was a shock to my system.  I was so used to feeling "normal" again that I sort of forgot what it was like to hurt again.  Don't let your guard down and just let life pass by you.  Don't just go through the motions.  Be aware and diligent in your walk and talk.  You never know when some big moment or event in your life will happen and call you to action.  Radiation called me into action again and I must tell it that God will prevail.  I could lose hope and get sad about the pain and have a terrible and unproductive two weeks OR I could gain hope and press on towards the goal of ending radiation and cancer treatment with a smile on my face.

Let me tell you that I got completely complacent.  Completely complacent in my walk with Christ, in my prayers for others, in my words towards others, and in almost every other part of life.  I am far too guilty of getting a prayer answered and then forgetting about God for about a month.  Yes I still attend church and pray and maybe even lead bible studies, but again I am just running through the motions.  I want my walk with Christ to be dynamic and alive at all times.  I am just now getting ready for school to begin again.  And some of you know that getting a teacher back in the swing of things after a few months off is tough.  It's tough because we get rusty and lax during the summer.  But if we are in the middle of the school year, it is hard to slow us down.  Thats how I want to be in my walk with Christ.

Sorry for the long post, but I hope my point is clear.  Don't get complacent in your life.  Life is too precious to just sit on auto pilot.  Get out there and be ready for whatever new experiences both good and bad await.  I definitely was not prayed up for this experience, but through this I have learned how to be ready.  Thanks for reading.

Journey Strong

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Magical Blogorail: Celebrating at Disney - Honeymoons

Welcome to those of you joining me from Frontierland Station and those of you just hopping aboard. I am the final stop on our Magical Blogorail.

There are many things you can celebrate multiple times at Disney World like anniversaries and birthdays, but honeymoons only happen once (of course you can take your spouse on multiple other
"honeymoons" but there is only one first one).  My wife, Carly, and I planned on a Disney vacation for our honeymoon from the get go, but we wanted to do something different.  So we opted for a Disney Cruise Line land and sea voyage.  We did a 4-night cruise on the Disney Dream and then 3 nights at WDW.  It was incredible!  Truly one of the best trips I have been on and probably one of the best I will ever go on.  I could sit here and do a trip report on that vacation, but I could write 20 pages of details that we enjoyed on the trip.  Instead I will give you a few tips about honeymooning at Disney.  The plus is that they will include both Disney Cruises and Walt Disney World.  So here they are:

  One of the best pieces of advice I received before my honeymoon at Disney was to tell EVERYONE!  When you make travel arrangements, be sure to let the cast member know you are traveling on your honeymoon.  If you use a Disney certified travel agent, tell them over and over again.  I make sure I ask my clients what they are celebrating so that I can let Disney know or make special arrangements myself.  While you are in the parks, don't be shy, let everyone know why you are there.  It shouldn't be too hard as you will probably be pretty lovey dovey after the wedding anyway.  

2. Splurge on some once in a lifetime events
  While we were planning our honeymoon, I made sure to add some once in a lifetime activities for us to do.  While on the cruise we stopped in Nassau and I opted for us to swim with the dolphins at Atlantis.  Although pricey, we had the best time at this event and we got passes to the Atlantis waterpark included!  Also we indulged in a couples massage.  The experience on the cruise was indeed magical and extremely relaxing.  While I thought it would be a one hour event, our massage included a foot rub, hot tub time, hot stones massage, and then tea and fruit on a balcony.  Did I mention the cucumber water? It was awesome!  But word to the wise, one massage a trip will do fine, when you do two in two days, you tend to get a little sore!  Eat at the restaurants you have always wanted to and stay at the hotel that has always been a little out of reach.  I am not saying go into debt, but I am saying go for those experiences you have always wanted to try!

3. Table Service Meals are the way to go!
  Table service meals can be as intimate and personal as you want them to be.  For instance, when you make reservations for a meal you can put that it is your honeymoon on the reservation or just tell your waiter or waitress when they greet you for drink orders (Tell EVERYBODY).  Table service meals can also be some of the most romantic times of your honeymoon.  Our first night on the Disney Dream, we ate at Remy, a bit pricey, but it was the best dining experience of my life.  We rolled out of the restaurant 3 hours later.  At the world we had lunch at the Brown Derby.  A cobb salad was our selection to share and we received free grapefruit cake and champagne, because we were on our honeymoon (tell EVERYBODY).

4.  Try something new together! (yes even if you are an avid Disney traveler)
  As I have already said, we splurged on things that we would never do if it wasn't a very special occasion.  This is a tough one for us Disney geeks out there, but rack your brain for something that is new and different to try.  The reason we chose a Disney cruise is not because we had never been on a Disney cruise before, it was because we had never been on a cruise at all!  Everything about it was new for us.  When we got to Disney World, we stayed at the Polynesian hotel, a hotel that I had always wanted to stay at growing up, but could never afford to.  Along with old favorites we tried new things like eating at the Brown Derby and even trying out the dream that is eating inside the castle at Cinderella's Royal Table.

5.  Dress the Part!
  Ok so I know any person can just go in and buy the bride and groom ears at a store, but come on if there ever was a time to wear them, your honeymoon is definitely the time!  We wore ours proudly everyday on the ship and at the world.  We also bought matching cruise line t-shirts and sweatshirts that we still wear at the same time together (awwww!!!).  AND DONT FORGET THE BUTTONS!  Get a button that says you are on your honeymoon!  It is so encouraging and fun to hear congrats all day throughout the parks!  You can see our buttons on my camera bag in the pic below.

 6. Don't forget the camera!
  Commemorate your trip with fun pics around the parks.  I know, I know you are on vacation, who thinks about taking pictures?  Well all I know is that our house is full of pics we took from our honeymoon.  It really was the best!  Here is my favorite pic from our trip.  We took this picture with the seven dwarves at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

Whew!  After all that, I now can't wait to write some more posts about our honeymoon a.k.a the best trip ever!

Thank you for joining Magical Blogorail Orange this month.  We will be back on July 24th with an all new theme.  Keep checking in with our blogs in between loops to keep up to date with our Disney news, photos, and stories.  If you are looking for more Disney magic, you can make your way over to The Magical Blogorail website to see all our members and their blogs, as well as all our previous loops.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:
3rd Stop ~ I Am a Mommy Nerd 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Camp 2014

Thursday I arrived back from almost a week at a summer camp with our youth.  Every summer for the past 7 or 8 years we have taken our kids to the same place: Lake Forest Ranch.  Many churches around the area take their students to Centrifuge camps or other conference type locations.  Lake Forest Ranch is a Christian summer camp that focuses on one-on-one ministry.  Also they minister to the leaders at the same time.  Lake Forest Ranch is located in between Louisville, MS and Macon, MS.  Lake Forest Ranch or LFR has been ministering to youth for over 50 years.

During the summer I work for the non-profit that is housed inside of my home church.  The church is Calvary Baptist in Jackson, MS and the non-profit is His Heart, Inc.  We have been sharing the love of Jesus the inner-city Jackson for over 15 years.  I started volunteering 16 years ago with His Heart, I worked as an intern through my college career, and now this is my summer gig when I am not teaching.  His Heart has been such a blessing in my life to work for and every summer for the past 7 or 8 years I have been traveling with our youth to LFR.  The weeks at LFR are filled with some of my most cherished memories as a His Heart worker, but this year was incredibly special.  

This year my sister, Becca, and myself were the adult leaders that accompanied our 13 youth to LFR.  Traveling to camp is already a miracle as it cost us over $5000 to pay for everyone's way.  Through generous grants and help from local churches our kids were completely paid for.  The cool thing about our kids over the past few years is that we are not all inner-city.  We have a very diverse youth group, but what has been so neat is watching these kids from different backgrounds come together and love each other as if they were family.
Lake Forest Ranch is a non-demoninational camp and every camper is assigned to a cabin with students from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and churches.  Every day is full of activities that include: three meals, two worship services (called Pow-Wows), team competition events, afternoon recreation activities, and a special nighttime program that changes every day.  I really could write a book about all the experiences we had and new friends I made, but I will stick to some of the key moments in our trip.  

The Ropes Course

The highlight most years at LFR has been watching students conquer their fear of heights on the zip line or climbing wall.  This year LFR has built a brand new ropes course with many new elements to try out.  Most of our students tried at least one element and many of those did more than one.  It might surprise you that on one of our guys, Cameron actually did any of the ropes.  Our other boys did not attempt a single one.  Here is a picture of the main platform with the zip line, climbing wall, and flying squrriel all in one.

The top of the climbing wall had bells to ring to signal that you were at the top.

But easily the most terrifying element at the ropes course is the Leap of Faith.  This is where you climb up a pole about 30 feet off the ground and then jump off to hit a ball dangling in mid air.  Then you free fall until your harness is caught by the belay worker on the ground.  You truly have to have faith in the equipment and the people running the equipment in order to jump.

Watching our students climb and experience these elements was amazing.  Some of our kids come from very poor conditions.  They would normally never get to experience anything like this.  Some were terrified at the top and it took half an hour to get them to jump.  And yet some went in with reckless abandon, climbing and jumping with more strength and joy than I could have mustered.  I will never forget the look of joy on one of our girls faces as she flew down the zip line.  I don't think I have seen so much joy out of her in the entire 15 years we have known her.  I will always remember her elation of finishing the rock wall and being the first to ring the bell that day.  Joys like that are not easily repeatable, but they are always memorable.

Pow Wow and "East to West"

Pow Wow is Lake Forest Ranch worship.  The Recharge Worship band out of Sulfer, LA led the music and our camp speaker was Jason Curry.  Our kids loved the band and the speaker, in fact, they were the same as last years camp.  Our students said they did not want anyone else but Jason as the camp speaker.  Jason is truly one of the greatest speakers for ministry I have ever encountered.  He brings truth from the Bible in a completely accessible way.  Students and adults are constantly encouraged by his words.  Jason also used my favorite passage of scripture from 1 Samuel in a message on one of the last nights.  One main point that Jason hit home over and over is the fact that nobody changes tomorrow.  Anyone can make excuses and wait to "clean up their act" before they accept Christ, but the fact is that change has to happen immediately, not tomorrow.  Tomorrow shows results, change happens now.

East to West was the special worship service we had late at night on the second to last night at camp. Students were led out to the lake side apitheater by torch light.  On the way there every student picked up a dark rock from a table.  The dark rock signified their sin.  The whole bible study throughout the week was called, Write It on a Rock, and the verse was Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ."  You could see hundreds of stars above the lake as every camper took their rock and cast it out into the lake.  On the way back they picked up a white rock to signify purity and starting a new life with Christ.  Couselors and adults were there ready to receive students who wanted to pray or just talk about the experience.  One student sat with me afterwards and told me it was time to make a change and that God was calling to him asking him to give it all for God's glory.  Powerful testimony.  East to West was named after the verse from psalms that states, "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (103:12).  

Church Group Time

The best time of our week had to be church group time, which is about an hour every day of just our church being together.  This time has been filled with some great moments through the years, but this year held the greatest moment that I have experienced as a worker with His Heart.  Cameron is our lone senior camper this year.  He has a great heart and giving spirit about him.  During the last night of our church group time, I asked Cameron to sit in the middle of the room and everyone laid hands on him.  It was at this point that I told the group that we would be praying for Cameron as he entered into the next phase of life.  Before we even started praying Cameron was in tears and soon almost every single one of our youth was verbally lifting up Cameron in prayer.  The true miracle of camp is more than just getting away from it all for a week.  The true miracle this week was seeing students whom I have known for years and yet have never heard pray out loud, lift up this young man to their Creator.  It was the most impactful and amazing moment of my time at His Heart.  After the prayer time, we all gave Cameron a group hug and really it was a hug for everyone.  This week we have grown so much.  We have grown spiritually, individually, and as a group.  I can't wait to see what is in store.

Journey Strong

Lake Forest Ranch Website

Jason Curry's Website

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Magical Blogorail: Review of Lou Mongello's 102 Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World

This review for 102 Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World by Lou Mongello is part of a Magical Blogorail sponsored campaign. Copies of the book were received free of charge for a review. Opinions are those of the reviewer and do not represent those of the author.  Your opinion may vary.

When I first stepped foot in the Disney online community back in 2007, one of the first podcasts I began listening to was WDW Radio.  Since then I have been an avid listener and supporter of the WDW Radio host, Mr. Lou Mongello.  Not only has Lou's show won Best Travel Podcast every year from 2006-2013, but he also is an author.  The Walt Disney World Trivia Books (there are two volumes currently) take trivia about Walt Disney World and turn that into fun for the whole family.  More about WDW Radio, The Walt Disney World Trivia Books, and Lou's popular Audio Guides and Dream Team Project can all be found at WDW Radio.  So I have "known" Lou for many years and when I saw that his new project was a book about saving money at Walt Disney World, I couldn't wait to take a look at it.

About the Book:
102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World gives answers to that pesky question most people traveling to WDW have: how do I afford to pay for a WDW vacation?  Not only is this question answered, but it is answered with so much variety that any person who thinks WDW is out of the question for a vacation due to finances will seriously reconsider staying at home.  102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World can be found at Lou's website and is offered in digital form as well as paperback.

My Review:
I knew that I didn't know everything about saving money at Disney World and for Disney World, but I didn't realize just how much I didn't know.  Reading this text was a journey through the mind of a true Disney "life hacker."  The tips begin not as you step on property, but months (or even years!) ahead of your travel dates.  Lou meticulously explains tips that might be obvious: saving for a trip, booking a room, how to dine, etc. to the obscure: partial day tickets, laundry problems, pressed pennies, etc.  What I love about the book is the dedication to details and the feeling that every stone has been upturned for you.  102 Ways is separated into obvious sections of the vacation planning process.  For instance, the chapter that includes when to book a hotel room comes before the chapter on dining.  Also every chapter in the digital version offers links to online content that coincides to the tip in question.  My favorite part of this service is that Lou lists the episodes of his podcast that match the tip.  As I was reading, I tried to see just how many tips you could use out of the 102 on one single trip. This I found impossible, but that was the beauty of the text, because the variety of tips gives everyone reading, no matter the background or financial level, the opportunity to save money (and much more than a few dollars) when traveling to the Disney parks in Orlando.  The book is easy to read and is great as a reference for any and all decisions in the vacation planning process.  Two mouse ears way up for 102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World!

My favorite tip:
While reading 102 Ways, I continued to audibly say, "oh thats a good idea," and "wow, I never thought of that!"  Of course there were many tips that I knew about, but I am sure the typical traveler would probably never know without someone telling them.  No matter if it was a new idea or a known tip to me, this book organized and categorized them neatly in one volume for me.

Tip #87 Save Money at Table Service Restaurants included my favorite nuggets of information in the entire book.  Being a big fan of Disney dining at WDW, this tip included specific and detailed (including prices!) ideas of restaurants and items that could be shared by two people for a meal AND examples of where you can find the exact same item for a smaller cost in the park.  For example in the book Lou states, "Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom --- a bowl of New England Clam Chowder is $6.99 at lunch.  Get the same chowder at the nearby Columbia Harbour House for $4.99 a bowl."

Lou Mongello's new book 102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World is a great read and very worth the cost.  Not only does the book contain details for each of the 102 tips, but it also includes 40 ideas of free things to do or have at WDW as well.  If you a Disney fan like myself this is a great addition to your Disney travel collection.  Check out our Magical Blogorail competition to win your own copy for free below!

Disney expert and podcasting pioneer, Lou Mongello, shares 102 ways you can have the most magical Disney vacation without breaking the bank in this comprehensive, detailed, 197-page guide.  102 Ways to Save Money For and At Walt Disney World guide is a MUST HAVE for any family planning toward a Disney vacation.

Purchase the Book Here 


Enter to Win a Copy of Your Own + a Walt Disney World Audio Tour from Lou Monghello

If you would like a copy of Lou Mongello's 102 Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World please enter to win our giveaway below.  Please click here if the entry widget is not shown below.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I am your father

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." - Neil Gaiman

"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings." - Tolkein The Hobbit

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." - Proverbs 3:11-12

"Train a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." - Proverbs 22:6

"No....I am your father." - The Empire Strikes Back

When I was born way back in 1986 many things in pop culture had already taken a foothold.  One was The Lord of the Rings trilogy and another was the Star Wars trilogy.  I knew nothing about these things in 1986 mainly because well I was an infant.  I used to love a good story read to me.  And I will always remember the night that dad either got tired of reading the same old stories or decided I was ready for something more and he brought in an old beat up looking book with yellow pages.  He said, "I read this book when I was young and I think you will like it a lot."  It started like this:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

At that moment I was completely lost in the world of Middle-Earth.  And I would continue to be for the next few months as my father read me this story.  I remember the spiders, Gollum, Beorn, the Trolls, and of course The Battle of Five Armies.  Also the death of two of my favorite characters was the first time a book truly made me cry.  It was around that same time that my father told me about Star Wars.  I remember watching the first movie at our old apartment that we lived in while my parents current house was being built.  Again I was opened to a whole new world of adventure and good vs. evil.  I could feel myself using the Force to move things and I WAS Luke Skywalker and lets me honest, every kid took a stick/light saber and made the noises while we fought enemy Stormtroopers.  The very next night we watched The Empire Strikes Back and the ending was the biggest shock of my life.  I don't think I have ever freaked out at a movie more than when those famous words were spoken.  We hesitated for a few months before watching Return of the Jedi, solely because my dad told me you saw Darth Vader's face at the end and I was really not ready for that.  I had nightmares about it.  But these were the days of VHS recordings and our whole trilogy of Star Wars movies were recorded from HBO.  So when we actually did watch Return of the Jedi the recording cut out before I saw Darth's face.  It took quite a few more years before I did and yeah it wasn't so bad.

Why do I tell these stories?  Well most everywhere on the interwebs on Sunday there will be Father's Day posts.  People will change their profile pictures to them and their dads, they will post great stories like the ones I tried to tell well above, and most of all people will eat Sunday lunch or dinner with their dads and then give him a giftcard, tool, or some other item of the manly persuasion.  I can't be with my dad this year on Father's Day because I will be at camp with our youth group, out in the middle of nowhere Mississippi, enjoying the fun and festivities that come with summer camp.  

The first thing that I must say about my dad out front is that he is nowhere near perfect.  That might always be the toughest lesson for a kid to learn growing up is that their dad is just like themselves....human.  But thats where I have to stop and say my dad is far from a failure.  He is a hard worker and has always provided for us way beyond the essentials of life.  Because of my dad's finance savy mind, we were able to take long family trips together every summer and we never missed out on something at school, church, or community because of money.  My dad showed me how to love my family and heritage.  He taught me how throw a baseball, how to drive a lawnmower and weedeater, 
 how to grill the perfect burger, how to play poker, how to swing a golf club, and thats really only getting started.  He also helped to teach me how to give your time at a church, how to use your connections to help others in need, how to lose and win gracefully and with the highest sportsmanship (this is referring to our love of Mississippi State NOT card games, where my dad is an avid cheater:), how to appreciate the smallest of things in life, and how to use your talents for others.  

But one of the greatest gifts that my dad gave me was not in the above list, in fact, it is something that not many sons can say their dad did for them.  My dad showed me that cancer could be beaten.  15 years before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 2B, my father was diagnosed with the same disease, same stage.  Because of the advancements of research and medicine my dad's struggle was a lot worse 15 years ago than my struggle this year.  But the point is that when I was diagnosed, I was not afraid of cancer, because I knew it could be beaten.  Also I had faith that God would deliver me from it and if not, I would praise Him anyway.  My dad brought me up to give back and that is why he is running a half-marathon in my honor in January.  And because my dad knows me he is running the Walt Disney World Half-marathon.  So because I want to give back too we are both running as are our famillies.  We run to give back to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and help the next generation of cancer patients realize that dragons can be beaten.

So thanks dad, for teaching me how to love Bluegrass, a furry footed hobbit, Jedi, Bulldogs, family, God, and a good grilled burger.  And thanks dad for beating cancer and for loving me, while I did the same.  Happy Father's Day.

Journey Strong

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Great Start to A Radiating Summer

"When life gets rough, I like to hold on to my dream, of relaxing in the summer sun, just lettin' off steam." - Olaf "In Summer"

It has surely been a few weeks since my last blog post.  If you are keeping score:  Bryce 1  Cancer 0

So after I graduated from MSU a few Saturdays ago, I rounded out the school year and closed up shop.  It is always a little sad to see my empty classroom with all the books packed up and the floors clear for cleaning.  But it is also exciting, because in summer I work for a non-profit housed in my home church.  It is called His Heart, most of you will know it if you live in the Jackson area.  We work with families and kids in the heart of the city of Jackson, MS.    It is some of the most rewarding moments of my year.  We do our best to be the hands and feet of Christ to those families.  

His Heart Website: 

I also took a surprise trip to Walt Disney World with my wife and our good friends Zach and Jordan.  It was great to be at WDW again.  It was my first time visiting New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and so many more new experiences.  I took over a thousand pictures and most of them will be used for future travel blog posts.  I can't wait to share the fun!  

Throughout the trip I wore a button that said, "I'm celebrating!".  On the button was written, "I am Cancer Free!"  Everyone else had buttons that said, "Bryce is cancer free!"  The response was humbling and uplifting.  Everyone who noticed not only congratulated me, but most shared their story with me in line or passing by.  I remember one cast member on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority or TTA for you Disney fanatics, said "I am too!"  I responded with, "It's great isn't it!"  He said, "Yes, everyday you appreciate more and more.  Have fun!"  Indeed, when we are faced with our humanity and realize that everyday is a gift and could be our last, we sure do live a little better.  That sure is an odd juxtaposition.

I have now been back home for almost a week.  I am still getting back to "reality" and have been working at His Heart collecting forms for Arts Camp next week.  I have stressed over getting everything back in order and back on routine.  Also I have been catching up on podcasts.  One of the best ones I listen to is the Ransomed Heart Podcast hosted by John Eldridge of Wild at Heart fame.  He spoke on the end times and how we are living in the days right before Jesus comes.  He spoke with such urgency and it truly made me think back on my urgency through the cancer journey.  We are a procrastinating people.  We say oh I'll share Jesus tomorrow or I'll start that book when I am out of school.  If the Lord has something on your heart to do, don't hesitate!  Start your dream today!  I am speaking to myself more than anyone.  There are so many things that I know I should do and yet I put it off.  Your life has a purpose.  Take it from me, I am not here to lead a nation or start a revolution, but I know that the Lord has great things in store for me to do.  I am just saying, be alert and be ready to act.  

Now for the radiation.  I met with my radiologist yesterday to discuss when radiation therapy will start.  Wow what a difference in cancer clinic visits.  Radiation is a whole other ballpark than chemo. The office staff was incredibly jolly and helpful.  We met with the business department (always fun) and then the nurse and the doctor.  I really could tell you details about radiation, but this was just an initial visit.  I will go back to get another scan with the Radiology department June 23 and then I will start radiation later that week.  Radiation will last 3 weeks!  That's right only 3!  This was less than half of the amount I thought I would receive AND it allows me to take our youth to camp at Lake Forest Ranch as well!  Great news to start off a great summer.

Thanks for giving me some time off, but I will be back at the blog much more during the summer!  If you want to follow more of what my summer entails you can follow my #79daysofsummer on Instagram.  Follow me @yelverto.

Journey Strong

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thoughts on becoming a Bulldog.....Officially!

Hail dear old state fight for that victory today.  Hit that line and tote that ball, cross the goal before you fall.  And then we'll yell, yell, yell, yell, for dear old state we'll yell like H-E-L-L!  Fight for Mississippi State, win the game today! Go State!

It's the end of May and of course that is the time that everyone starts to think about graduation.  This is a time where dreams come true for students and teachers alike.  For high school students, we see them leave away from a familiar place that for the most part they can't wait to get behind them.  For college students, we see new adults finally enter into the real world armed with knowledge, experiences, and hopefully a job.  Tomorrow is the last day that I will have my current seniors in class before graduation.  It is bitter sweet.  I am sad to see this group go, but also very happy to see where they go from here.  Graduation is one of those events that anyone dislikes attending unless he or she is involved.  Graduations are long, the room is usually crowded and hot, there is always a speaker that talks too much, and you are really only there to see one person walk across a stage, which takes a total of 20 seconds.  But this saturday I will attend a graduation.  My graduation.  One that has been literally years in the making.

I have loved Mississippi State University since I was able to think.  Some of my first experiences as a child were attending MSU baseball games at Dudy Noble Field.  My first stroller was maroon.  My family drove a large maroon and grey van with a license plate that said, "MSU VAN."  The only cups that I drink out of at home are MSU stadium cups.  I have one whole stack of maroon t-shirts in my chest of drawers.  I have multiple cowbells.  My dog owns a maroon jersey.  Have I painted a picture yet?

But this love of MSU is way more than this last paragraph.  My grandfather grew up at MSU, where his dad taught in the poultry department.  He lived in Old Main, the large men's dormitory on campus.  My parents met at MSU at the Cobb Institute of Archeology.  My sister met her husband there, while playing ultimate frisbee.  My family has season football tickets next to our dear friends the Akins, who also go to church with us.   Every year during Super Bulldog Weekend we meet up with our friends the Cliftons, who have been fellow Bulldog fans and friends for years.

MSU was a place where I bonded with my family over football tailgating, basketball victories, bowl game trips, and baseball afternoons.  I have watched seasons of football where we could barely come out with a win.  I have seen years where our basketball team could hardly be stopped.  I have sat through pouring rain just to watch us lose the Egg Bowl.  I have seen us keep that golden Egg only a week before I found out that I had cancer.

The funny part about this story is that I am not a MSU graduate.  I have never taken a class on campus.  I could not tell you where to go if you were a freshman and needed to know where all the chemistry classes were.  But part of that will change Saturday.  I started taking online classes for a Masters in Business in the summer of 2011.  Now in Spring of 2014 I will graduate from the Distance MBA program at MSU with a 4.0 GPA.  I took my capstone class through the midst of chemotherapy treatment.  I cannot tell you how happy I am that this is finally happening.  I am going to sit at graduation just like the rest of the graduates that actually took classes on campus, but I promise you, I will love that moment more.

A few things that I have learned besides finance, management, and marketing from MSU:

1. The rules of football, basketball, and baseball.  Taught by: Joel Yelverton - my dad.  Lessons were learned in the stands or at home watching away games.  He taught me how to look beyond the game and see the intricacies of each sport, developing in me a true love of the game.

2. How to show great sportsmanship.  Taught by: Cheryl Yelverton - my mom.  Lessons were learned while watching my mom take wins with respect and loses with equal dignity.  She has never yelled at an opposing fan and when those Arkansas fans pig sooey in her face, she just walks on by.  That is a good fan.  She congratulates the winners and does not flaunt the victories.

3.  How to always be positive.  Taught by: Terry Akin - my friend.  Lessons were learned during terrible football, basketball, and baseball seasons.  Terry is the son of our friends the Akins, who I mentioned earlier.  He had down syndrome, but that surely never slowed him down.  He was and still is the biggest MSU fan I have ever known.  Every terrible season of football we would look down the row to Terry and he would just make a motion with his hands like shooting a basketball or swinging a bat.  He was saying, "don't worry we have another sport coming up, this season may be over and done, but just let's wait and see what's next."  We all miss him.

4.  How to keep calm in the midst of a highly intense game.  Taught by:  Griffin Sullivan - my brother.  Lessons were learned during overtime periods.  Griffin joined our family in 2012 when he married my sister Becca.  The Yelvertons are not known for watching a MSU sporting even quietly.  Griffin joined our family and showed us how to remain calm, even when yelling at the television, field, Blue, etc. seems like the only answer.

5.  That MSU is more than sports, it's family.  Taught by:  Becca Yelverton - my sister.  Lessons were learned watching my sister interact with her friends made during her years at MSU.  Becca graduated from MSU in 2012, but the friends and connections she made there are still going on today.  It was through her college experience that I saw MSU as a place where students grow not only in academics, but also in connecting with the people around you.

6.  How to teach others to love MSU.  Taught by: Carly Yelverton - my wife.  Lessons were learned sharing with Carly the things I am sharing with you.

So basically this has been a love letter to Mississippi State, but it is also a big thought about education.  Here is what I mean:

"Education is not about obscure facts and little test scores.  Education is about the overall effect of years of slow absorption of concepts, philosophies, and approaches to problem solving.  The whole process is so grand, all encompassing that it really can't be threatened by the occasional late night  no-hitter."  - George Feeny

So go out there and enjoy life.  Have fun.  And also learn a little bit too.

Journey Strong and Hail State!