PURSUING PEACE FROM THE PACIFIC NW

A Personal Update after a Relocation Marathon

Idaho View

This post marks my first blogging effort from the famous potato state. While Jan and I miss our families, church, neighbors, and friends back home, we thank God for bringing us to this gorgeous place on our latest adventure.

I last posted on August 15. You can read about peacemaking lessons gleaned from my fifteen years at Orlando Grace Church here.

The challenges of moving from the tropics of Central Florida to the wilds of North Central Idaho put any writing assignments on hold longer than anticipated. Time to blow the dust off the blog again.

“Move” is a four-letter word.

The image above shows the view to the west from our new street address. Just to the right, a 1/4 mile gravel road leads down to our doublewide home.

Talk about a whirlwind change!

In forty-five days, Jan and I left OGC, visited my Pennsylvania roots, held an estate sale, closed on our home, flew to Boise, bought a vehicle, and turned a vacation house into a permanent residence.

Where do we go from here? Three things:

One, rest. We plan to make no decisions about the next season of ministry until the end of the year. The succession push took its toll. We welcome some quality downtime.

Two, wait on the Lord. He knows what the future holds in terms of my employment. Proverbs 3:5-6 defines our agenda on a daily basis.

A small church plant in the area has expressed interest in me as a part-time pastor. I will preach there for the first time this Sunday. The need there played a significant role in influencing Jan and me in the decision to move to Idaho.

Three, strengthen the platform for my book.

FBheader

Baker Publishing Group has confirmed that TPC will hit the shelves on November 20. They produced this Facebook header for me along with a similar version for Twitter.

All that to say, the emphasis for now involves resuming my online presence and other means for getting the word out about the book. Prayers are appreciated.

Jan and I don’t know how the Lord might work to guide our future through the book’s release, but we are asking Him to use it to help believers to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in their churches (Eph. 4:1-3).

His will be done!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

OPERATION ROBOJAW COMPLETE

A Survey of My Unimaginable Journey

New Teeth

I’ve waited a long time to log this post. It required an image of my nine-teeth-brand-new-bridge in place before writing.

What a beauty!

The sheer joy of biting down on a sandwich again. The exquisite pleasure of chewing on the right side of my mouth again for the first time in years.

It has been three years to be precise.

My jaw started to fail in May of 2015. An implant inserted to replace a failed root canal dislodged over breakfast one morning. Little did I know what dominoes would fall from there.

My PCP, fearing a recurrence of oral cancer, sent me to a local oral surgeon. He hit me with a diagnosis I never heard of before–osteoradionecrosis–bone death by radiation.

They fried my jaw back in 2005 to save my life. I’ll live with the tradeoff. Pun intended.

After hospitalization for excruciating pain in December of 2015, a CT scan revealed a pathological fracture of the right mandible. I would need a jaw transplant. Gulp.

Fortunately for me the main man for this kind of herculean undertaking works for UHealth in Miami–Dr. Robert Marx. What a gifted, skillful healer.

We got to be buds over the next two years. Talk about someone who knows you inside and out.

February 2016. Eight hours on the table to remove half my jaw and insert a titanium implant. No fun at all.

A total of 45 hyperbaric dives before and after that procedure ensured needed wound care. No fun at all.

November 2016. Six hours on the table for bone graft surgery to rebuild the mandible in preparation for teeth. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks while the graft hardened. No fun at all.

March 2017. Two plus hours on the table for a hip debridement procedure. Inflammation caused the wound from the last surgery to open. Nothing else could close the incision.

That procedure occurred two weeks before my wedding to Jan Leslie. No fun at all. Not the wedding and honeymoon, of course–sutures in the hip notwithstanding.

August 2017. Another couple of hours on the table at Jackson South to sink four implants in the rebuilt jaw. Four more teeth were extracted. No fun at all.

February 2018. Two more hours in surgery at my Miami home away from home to expose jaw tissue for placing healing abutments on the implants. A nightmare splint held them in place for three miserable weeks. No fun at all.

March through July 2018. Several trips to team Tiralossi/Pileggi dental reached the finish line of this marathon.

After wearing a temporary bridge for several weeks, the final product pictured above got screwed in place. No fun at all–except that it is finished.

Lessons I’ve been learning? Among them . . .

One, life in Jesus is a perpetual test of faith (Heb.11:6). God’s promises sustain through trials from start to finish (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

Two, suffering of any kind promotes humility and dependence upon God’s care for persevering over time and awaited outcomes (1 Pet. 5:6-7).

Three, the help of others at strategic points along the way eases the burden and lifts the spirit (1 Sam. 14:7-14).

Nancy, Jan, Chuck, Rob, Ryan, Ross, Dan, OGC, my family, my doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, et al carried my armor up the mountain to slay my personal Philistine.

I am forever grateful.

Four, I am learning–always learning–to run with endurance the race set before me looking to Jesus who alone sustains and empowers us to the finish line (Heb. 12:2).

Question: What lessons has God taught you through a challenging season of life?

ROBOJAW 3 REPORT

Update on My Most Recent Jaw Reconstruction Procedure

Dr. Marx

Last Thursday, August 10, I underwent the third in a series of surgeries to rebuild my right-side mandible.

Radiation treatment in 2005 eventually undermined the integrity of that bone. I suffered a pathological fracture as a result in late 2015.

Tongue cancer was painful. A broken jaw was excruciating. Worse than that, one can’t chew anything. Something had to be done.

Fortunately Dr. Robert Marks, an oral surgeon in Miami, knew just what to do for me. He is one of a kind. I’ve complained about having to travel 500 miles round trip each time I see him. But then I thank God he doesn’t operate out of Seattle.

Robojaw 1 took place in February 2016. They removed half the mandible and replaced it with a titanium plate.

After six months or so of healing, Robojaw 2 occurred the day before Thanksgiving that same year. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks to keep the bone graft to rebuild the mandible fixed in place until it was hard enough for me to safely chew again.

Another six months gone by brings things to the present with step three. Dr.  Marx removed four additional teeth in the lower front of my mouth. They would have eventually died from radiation treatment as well.

He also placed four implants below the jaw line. All this acts as a prelude to getting some teeth back in my mouth so I can chew food on that side, speak better, and prevent the upper right teeth from growing down and falling out since they have nothing to bite down on.

The surgery went well. It lasted about two hours. They were so pleased with the ease that they discharged me that very day. There was no need for an overnight stay for observation. I’m sure that made the insurance company happy.

Next Tuesday I will make yet another Miami trip for my two-week post-op check up. At that point I hope to confirm the timing for Robowjaw 4, six months from now and what it will involve.

By next February the implants should have become integrated with the bone. They will affix posts to the implants. These will set above the jaw line.

After three weeks of wearing some sort of mouth guard to keep them in place, the climax will happen. I will get eight teeth where now there are none.

I’ve already got a celebration plan mapped out. We’re sitting on a wedding gift card to Ruth’s Chris. I’ve never been. Might as well take those new teeth out for a ribeye spin and see just what they will be able to do.

Thanks for all for your prayers and support!

DIFFERENT DAYS & ASSIGNMENTS

How Ecclesiastes 7:14 Informs Choices in Plenty & Want

In recent years I have returned to this text time and again:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Adversity has characterized the better part of my last three years. Great loss, grief, physical sufferings and more have visited my household.

assignment

The wisdom writer calls for different responses for different days. Adversity necessitates reflection.  Consider is the assignment. God brings both plenty and want into our lives. He is sovereign over all. We ponder this truth that we may not find out anything that will be after us.

Puritan commentator Matthew Henry observed:

Day and night, summer and winter, are set the one over against the other, that in prosperity we may rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and in adversity may weep as though we wept not, for we may plainly see the one from the other and quickly exchange the one for the other; and it is to the end that man may find nothing after him, that he may not be at any certainty concerning future events or the continuance of the present scene, but may live in a dependence upon Providence and be ready for whatever happens. Or that man may find nothing in the work of God which he can pretend to amend.

I have done my fair share of considering of late. That has been true even most recently as well. It explains in part the absence of blog posts for more than a month.

I developed a post-op infection in my hip following my November 2016 jaw reconstruction surgery. A draining wound has plagued me ever since. Doctors finally determined the need to debride the hip on March 10. They feared the presence of bone infection that would necessitate continuous IV antibiotics for six to eight weeks.

This past Tuesday proved an occasion for rejoicing. Frankly, I prefer this assignment. Who doesn’t? My Miami surgeon gave me a good report about the incision. He removed the stitches. He does not think I have any lingering infection. I should be fine. Talk about a day of prosperity!

That, in conjunction with my marriage last Saturday to Lady Jan, has brought me into a season of great joy. I’ve not been this happy for a long time. Thanks be to God.

Still, I remain mindful that I don’t know what providence will bring in the future. Different days will require different responses.

May God give grace to rejoice or consider as assigned.

GOD OF THE NEW THING

The Best News I’ve Had in a Long Time

A dear friend recently encouraged me with these words from the sacred text:

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43:19).

The purpose of this post is to report a new thing, a good thing, I perceive the Lord doing in my life.

Development business concept

Recently I’ve begun to get to know personally a godly woman in my church.

Jan Spence has been a covenant member at Orlando Grace for a couple of years now. I approached her a month ago with the notion of entertaining something more than a shepherd/sheep relationship between us. Would she even consider praying about it?, I asked–half expecting to get shot down in a ball of flames.

Though my initiative shocked her somewhat, she chose not to run for her life. She prayed. Then she hit me with some forthright, understandably necessary questions. I answered each honestly before the Lord. And then she said, “Yes, I’m willing.”

Well, what in the world to do now? Needless to say, I’ve not swum in these for waters for decades. And Jan has been quite content in her singleness for the last twelve years. We decided to talk on the phone initially keeping things between the two of us.

The more questions we asked of each other and responses we shared, the more our mutual attraction began growing. We quickly discerned the wisdom of confiding in the elders of our church for their protection and counsel. Much guidance has come through them. We welcome their ongoing accountability.

Our biggest puzzle has been how to go public with the news. Both of us want to love our church and friends well. My role as a pastor requires extra care here in guarding the welfare of my church to the degree that I can. Jan wants that very much as well. We have no peace about people learning this piecemeal through here-and-there conversations.

So, the more we prayed and counseled, the more we settled on my doing what I always do. Blog. I’ve sought to cultivate my author’s voice through this medium for years now. It has served me well both in keeping folks up to speed with my health issues and my family losses.

We simply cannot think of a better way to inform as many folks at the same time as possible. Furthermore this creates a written account of things so that those who hear secondhand have a resource to access for the firsthand version.

Jan wisely asked me about my grief process in mourning Nancy. I don’t know that the sense of loss attached to losing someone so special in your life ever completely ends. Honestly, I have wondered myself at times about the place of contentment I found on the other side of my bereavement leave.

I attribute that to God’s grace, enormous support, confidence of Nan’s eternal destiny, focusing on the great marriage we had—almost 42 years I never deserved—and, finally, the anticipatory grief I experienced for fifteen months, which I spoke about in my last post.

But there comes a time for moving on when spiritual, emotional, and mental health permit. Those who know me best validate that God has done a work in helping me in this regard.

The affirmation Jan and I have received from our spiritual leadership, closest confidants, and our extended families has given us great encouragement to continue down the road of exploring what God has for us.

With all the heartache and suffering of late, I welcome this providence as God’s gift and could not be happier for it. Perhaps Psalm 30:11-12 best summarizes my sentiments:

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

In case anyone at OGC is wondering . . . I have asked Jan if she will sit with me on Sundays at church. Though the challenge of assuming a seat once occupied by Nancy is not lost on her, she has agreed to that as well.

Please pray for us to abide in the will of God at every turn as we wait on Him and continue to get to know one another. Thank you.

MY EYE’S DELIGHT GONE HOME

The Obituary for Nancy Jean Heffelfinger

“The delight of your eyes.”

Thus I AM, God over all, referred to the prophet’s beloved when He took her from him for higher purposes (Ezek. 24:16). So it has pleased Him to do with the wife of my youth. He gives and takes away; blessed be His name (Job 1:21).

Nan and Me

As with the loss of Joshua, our firstborn son, I choose to publish her obituary on my blog with its various social media connections.

Nancy Jean Masologites Heffelfinger, age 66, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, went peacefully to her treasured Lord Jesus at home on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. She was born on October 17, 1949, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Broomall, PA, where she attended Marple Newton High School. In addition to her academic excellence, Nancy loved sports. She captained her tennis team and played a fierce game of field hockey. She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics and child development from the University of Delaware.

Much of her work life outside the home involved utilizing considerable administrative assistant and people-relating skills. But she came into her own upon discovering a passion and gift for natural health and nutrition. Countless people over the years  benefited immensely from her testing, counsel, and care. She never met a vitamin/mineral supplement she didn’t like.

Nancy met her husband-to-be Curt on January 5, 1974. That day she professed faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. Six months later she and Curt got engaged; they married on December 21, 1974. After six years of residing in Southern California, she and her family moved to Central Florida. Most of the rest of her life involved making a home in metro Orlando–except for a two year stint in Idaho.

Nancy ran her spiritual race right to the finish line, serving diligently as a partner in the gospel with her pastor/husband at five different churches over the course of their married lives. She possessed an uncommonly positive, even-keeled disposition, rarely complaining about anything–even during her eighteen-month battle with cancer. Whatever it took to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle with the Lord’s help, that she consistently did. She was a “no-problem” gem of a woman.

She is survived by Curt Heffelfinger, her devoted husband, Joel Heffelfinger, her remaining son (Joshua, her firstborn, predeceased her in January of 2014), five grandchildren, Jean, her mother, three younger siblings, and numerous other extended family members.

Please visit the DeGusipe Funeral Home website to post a tribute, if you so desire. A memorial service for Nancy is scheduled at Orlando Grace Church, 872 Maitland Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida, at 10:00 AM on Saturday, June 4, 2016. Refreshments will be served in the fellowship hall after the service. Tax deductible gifts in her memory toward the church’s building fund/capital campaign can be made to Orlando Grace Church where she has served as a covenant member and faithful pastor’s wife these past eleven years. For more information contact the church office at 407.660.1984.

Our deepest, sincere, and heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of support in the way of tears, cards, gifts, meals, calls, texts, emails, posts, and especially prayers. As before, I feel rich beyond my imagination in terms of that which, humanly speaking, matters most–the love and care of others.

With gratitude to the only One I have ever loved more than my Nancy, I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).

Grief is great; grace is greater.

SAD NEWS ABOUT MY NANCY

The Latest on Her Battle with Cancer

Yesterday, May 27, we admitted my bride to the hospital. Over the last week her physical distress rose alarmingly fast. Thankfully doctors quickly stabilized things. She is much more comfortable today.

NanGravatar

This morning we learned the cause for her symptoms. The spread of disease now  compromises some major organs. The weakness of her condition furthermore prohibits the possibility of any standard of care chemotherapy treatment.

Nan grasps the gravity of the situation. She has fought her fight with the courage of her personal convictions. She has done so without complaint. The joy of the Lord has been her strength and remains so (Neh. 8:10). She does not despair knowing what pleasures await at her Savior’s right hand (Psalm 16:11).

A hospice rep will meet with us tomorrow. Joel, our son, arrives tonight. He plans to join us for that appointment with the nurse. As soon as arrangements can be made, likely no more than a day or two, we will move Nancy to the comfort of our home.

Words cannot convey my unique privilege to serve both as Nan’s husband and pastor. We talked and wept together over the news earlier today. I reminded her (and myself) that God regards as “precious”–the Hebrew means significant, weighty, no small thing in His sight–the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15). Her times are in His hands. He will walk with her through the valley of the shadow; she fears no evil (Psalm 23:4).

Lately I’ve spent a fair amount of time meditating on Phil. 4:11-13. Paul writes from prison:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

This turn of events brings me low–lower than my own cancer, a broken jaw, even the loss of our beloved Joshua, or any other hard providence we have faced. My schooling in the secret of contentment faces its biggest challenge. Though I expect the degree of difficulty to grow exponentially in the days ahead, I hope to bank everything on the massive promise of v. 13–I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Please pray for Nan’s comfort and care during this time. I want to love and serve her well at every turn. She’s pretty weak. I’m not certain at what point, if at all, she will desire visitors. We will just have to see how she does once we get her home. Many thanks.

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10), we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

HEALTH SAGA REPORT

The Latest Update on Nancy and Me

As I write the news concerning my jaw journey and Nan’s cancer fight, I am reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

Stamina. Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Resilience

By God’s grace we remain steadfast (James 5:11). The Lord kindly renews us daily with His lavish mercies and great faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23).

Through the ups and downs of doctors’ visits, lab reports, treatments et al, we continue to hang in and trust God’s unwavering goodness. Here’s what we know at this point:

First, regarding Nancy. We finally received the lab results on the fluid extracted from her some weeks ago. They tested eleven different chemo drugs for potential effectiveness on her form of disease.

Not a single one registered positive. Her doctor admitted any attempt at standard of care therapy would constitute a “crap shoot.” Not exactly overly motivating, as one might imagine.

Nan continues to fight fluid build up. It gets drained as needed. She battles away on the alternative therapy front. A new practitioner has entered the picture. She remains optimistic, reporting some symptom progress as a result of new strategies.

Now, regarding me. For the most part, I enjoy good progress since “Operation Robojaw” over fourteen weeks ago. The Lord graciously allowed me to return to the pulpit on May 15. It went better than I anticipated. I must speak more slowly than before–probably not a bad thing–but the articulation issues don’t seem overly distracting.

I’ve started therapy to improve my speech. Unfortunately the exercises helping me so much seem to have kicked up painful muscle spasms in my upper right jaw. Next Tuesday I travel to Miami for my surgeon to address that complication.

Dr. Marx will also review with me the results of my recent swallow study. Surgery changed something in the swallowing mechanism when I eat and drink. I tend to aspirate both liquids and solids.

Apparently my body can’t generate adequate pressure to get the stuff down the esophagus. Hence, something ends up going in the wrong pipe. Choking can result; I need to exercise extreme care with the process.

My primary care doctor has ordered occupational therapy for my swallow issues. Hopefully that will help. One step away from a Heimlich Maneuver unnerves me a bit.

So there you have it. The Heff House saga continues. We remain immensely grateful for the outpouring of support and the prayers of countless numbers of fellow believers.

I will post additional updates whenever we have significantly more to report.

Another Personal Update

More Health News from the House of Heff

Many of our OGC folks and others probably wonder how our busy medical Monday went this week. Here’s the latest:

HealthCare News,Newspaper with white background

First, on my front, Monday proved a total washout. Somehow the wrong test got ordered. Back to the drawing board with my PCP. In other words, still waiting on that swallow study I need.

Now, on Nancy’s front, some significant progress. She underwent an outpatient procedure to remove two liters plus of fluid from her body–ostensibly not that uncommon with ovarian cancer.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT WE FINALLY GOT THE BIOPSY RESULTS! Relatively good news. The enlarged node the surgeon took over six weeks ago tested out as the same ovarian cancer as elsewhere in her body, not some other form of the stupid disease.

Unfortunately the node didn’t meet the size specs necessary upon which to grow a culture. So we still don’t know what chemo drug would best target her cancer, should she choose that route of last resort.

Other than a bit tired and sore from lying in the same position for the procedure, she feels much relief after the siphoning off of all that fluid. A sample of the same now gets sent to the company for testing to determine the best drug for her use. We should hear in two or so weeks.

Yeah, sure.

Forgive my cynicism and thanks for those continued prayers!

A PERSONAL UPDATE

A dear self-professed atheist friend of mine follows my blog. This both humbles and encourages me. But he did recently complain about the content. “Too much religion. Not enough about you.” Just like my buddy. This post he will like, I think.

Sick Leave

I had to shut down the blog for a couple of weeks recently due to ongoing treatment during my current medical absence. Following jaw surgery six weeks ago my surgeon ordered ten hyperbaric dives to aid in my recovery. They completely wiped me out. Productivity of any kind flew out the window from day one. Fortunately I’ve left those in the rear view mirror. I am actually starting to feel human again.

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Before I write anything more about me, let me update on the Queen of the Manor, Miss Nancy. Honestly, we don’t have a great deal to report about her cancer battle. She continues diligent treatment with her latest alternative protocol.

She remains optimistic in every way. She has no pain or symptoms. Still no word on the results of her lymph node pathology. We may wait as many as two more weeks for those. Sigh.

Needless to say we pray a lot through this journey. Thanks to so many of you who join us in petitioning the Father in Jesus’ name for her complete healing.

robojaw

Now back to the less interesting part of this post. How do you like my new look? Yep, allow me to introduce you up close and personal to “robojaw.” This most recent scan shows my titanium implant.

Note the span. It runs from the socket by my ear all the way past the midline point of my chin. Just above the “chain” shows my remaining live bone in the mandible. Noticeable by their absence? All my teeth in that quadrant. Needless to say the left side does all the chewing work these days. I’m wondering if my dental hygienist will discount me 25% now at teeth cleaning time.

I still have some swelling. My surgeon, whom I saw recently in Miami, refers to these weeks as “the accommodation” phase of my healing. But everything looks good. I can eat anything I find tolerable. Some speech and swallowing therapy lies ahead as soon as we can arrange it, but things overall improve daily.

office

Thankfully, this week I’ve returned to the office for a good part of each day. Prime time pulpit work will have to wait a bit longer, but writing and administration–no problem. Seems I can manage the occasional appointment as well. Sure beats breathing 100% O2 at a simulated 45 feet below sea level in a claustrophobic chamber.

Our elders huddle up in a couple of weeks. At that meeting I expect we will discuss my progress and what steps might lie ahead for a more complete pastoral reentry. In the meantime, I praise God for His kindness in sustaining me through this marathon journey. Go ahead and say it “L.” “There you go again with that religious talk.”

I just can’t help myself.