Well, almost. Maybe not quite. But it comes pretty close!
I remember walking from our compound in Kwa Iddi to the main road transecting Arusha. Not right! But I carried an excuse in my imaginary knap sack. Good exercise! My walk to the corner, maybe a light kilometer, constituted good exercise. Not a heavy knap sack. In fact, the excuse that it carried weighed less than a guilty conscience.
I knew the virtue of abstinence. But the allure of ice cream pulled at me like forbidden fruit from that famous garden. I pulled out my ten spot (maybe $.50, if you round up). Indulged.
The after-life that most of us dream of! Couldn’t wait, though. Needed my fix of what I grew up being spoiled on. Ice cream! The next thing to heaven. But, here on earth.
“Father, forgive me. But, abstinence doesn’t quite suit me!”
I think He just gave me that sideways look. His eyes said it all. “Child, control yourself! You know what’s good for you. And, what’s not! How many people can you count, living in your Kwa Iddi neighborhood, that can afford the luxury of ice cream? Go ahead, you’ve got ten fingers. See if you can extend them all. One by one! No, you can’t count by twos. No, not by fives, either. No, not by tens either! Go ahead, one by one. Not likely that you’ll run out of numbers. Give it a try.”
My knap sack got heavier. I think I traded my excuse for a guilty conscience.
Didn’t learn my lesson.
Next trip to the corner involved crossing the street to pick up a doughnut. Knap sack weighed twice as much, as I bit into that luxury of deep fried grease. Tried to jog back. Up hill. Just to make my knap sack full of guilty conscience lighter. Good exercise, I suppose. Quickly lost my breath. Knap sack seemed heavier. Go figure!
* * * * *
I grew up in, what I considered, an average middle class home. I experienced heaven on earth many times over. Vanilla ice cream on pie! Black cherry, my favorite! Apple pie’s not bad. Just not as heavenly as black cherry. But I got to taste many different pies before I landed my airplane called, “Favorite” on black cherry.
Now I go to church, in part, to yield to temptation all over again. Doughnuts at half time! Some with cherry or cream filling. All with tons of sugar. To die for! Well, not quite that heavenly. But, it’s more than what other folks, all around the world, can afford. I’m spoiled. Still!
Well, maybe I deserve better than others! Maybe, it’s just the luck of the draw. I get to taste heaven when others don’t. Why not? If God didn’t want me to enjoy a doughnut every once in a while, why did He put them right in front of me?
Then again, why did He tempt His first, natural Son? His line-of-David Son? Maybe, I shouldn’t think about these things. Could lead to a heavier back pack.
* * * * *
Went to church this morning. Started reading the book of James. Didn’t get very far before reading about my temptation. Started out pretty smoothly (1:2)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
You see? My back pack just got lighter! Temptation is “pure joy”. Even better, the doughnut that constituted my temptation.
Should have stopped reading right there! The trouble with context; it sometimes switches the meaning of things. (1:13)
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God [does not] tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”
I got dragged away. Enticed.
* * * * *
I remember growing up, trying out for the little league baseball team. Must have been about twelve years old or so. I was the best. Even though I struck out more times than the other boys. With one more swing of the bat, would have hit a home run.
“Put me in, Coach! Put me in!”
When the day for making the team came ‘round, I cried. Didn’t make the team! Even though I knew I played baseball better than most of the other guys. The Coach just didn’t see it that way.
Thought I reached the furthest distance from heaven. Felt like it, anyway. Never thought about other boys who never got the chance to try out. Sense of competitiveness made me believe that, if I didn’t demonstrate athletic superiority over the other guys, I was a nobody. A reject. Someone who just didn’t belong with the elite. Humble pie tasted yucky!
In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t take another guy’s spot on the roster. My folks parked a trailer all summer, right next to Lake Michigan. For several years, spent my summers enjoying the summer break from school, swimming, playing tetherball, exploring nature, and just plain having fun. Not baseball. Just fun.
Actually, I knew that, had I made the baseball team, I wouldn’t be able to stick with it, anyway. For me, it was all about ego. Mine! I needed to be the best. Better than the other guys.
* * * * *
I experienced a birthday, yesterday. Made it to 69. Amazing! A lot of guys don’t. I wonder why I made it, but other guys don’t?
Somehow, perspectives change over time. I don’t consider myself needing to be better than other guys any more. Not in many things, that is. But, in some things, I still decided I am. Decided to put a talent or two to work.
For some strange reason, I took an interest in my neighbors living in Tanzania. I found out that most are better than me in a lot of ways. In fact, most have humbled me beyond ways that I can describe.
I just paged back to the book of Matthew (5: 3-12). The Beatitudes. Written about my brothers (and sisters) in Tanzania. Later (18:1), “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Later (20:26 – 28)
“. . . whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave. . . .”
I know that I will never be as great as so many of my siblings in Tanzania. The humble love demonstrated so consistently by those whose opportunities for human greatness remain persistently suppressed, shall one day lead their faithfulness to positions of exultation, to positions of greatness that I will never see. But the spirit that I witnessed there has given me insight into greatness in a way unimaginable in my younger days.
* * * * *
Shortly, I will taste a different kind of pie. No ice cream, I suspect. Around here, many would call it, “Humble pie.”
In three days, I will receive my first injection to suppress testosterone in my body. Testosterone is the stuff of arrogance, pride and competitiveness. These things all propel my instincts, my desire to be better than other guys. They make me the man that, at times, I really shouldn’t be.
A week later, I’ll hook up to an intravenous injection of, what is commonly referred to as, “chemo”. Humble pie, as I understand it. No ice cream on top. Just a good dose of humility.
Earlier this year, I told myself that I would make at least one more trip to Tanzania. I would write a book. I would liaise the start of a medical mission for US doctors and Tanzanian sick and injured. I would visit my partners and aspiring entrepreneurs whose business plans remain in various stages of work-in-progress inventory, to borrow an accounting term. I would follow-up on the relationships established two years ago, and that could use refreshing.
* * * * *
Eleven and a half years ago, doctors diagnosed me with prostate cancer. I believe it was January 1, 2008, when the doctor called with the results of my biopsy. A couple months later, another doctor surgically removed my prostate. He told me that, if the prostate cancer spread, I might have 10 to 15 years from the date of diagnosis to live. I followed-up by undergoing radiation treatment. Should have gotten it all.
A few months later, a “rising PSA” caused the doctors to conclude that the cancer came back. Nevertheless, at that point, it was so microscopically small that it constituted only a rather academic finding. Nothing to worry about, in the short term.
About 2 weeks ago, in preparation for entering a prostate cancer research study, the body scans indicated that my cancer spread to at least one place that represents an unusual type of metastasis, for prostate cancer, anyway. Therefore, instead of “bookending” my hoped-for Tanzania trip of 2019 with research study treatments, the doctor recommended to me that my research study participation be replaced with a more aggressive series of treatments that will continue into the latter part of August. After that, I will need another 4 weeks to recover, due to anticipated fatigue and other side effects. In all likelihood, I will not be able to visit Tanzania during 2019.
Although disappointment accompanies this communication, I remain hopeful that my future health will hold firm for a while. I’m “playing in overtime” already. I would like to play another inning or two.
To my good friends in Tanzania: God blessed me with a wonderful life, and I can only continue my thankfulness for undeserved blessings. When I am able, I hope to continue doing as much as I can to leverage my experience and “talents” on behalf of people I have grown to love and respect. Tanzania is filled with individuals capable of greatness, born of humility, and rooted in limited opportunity. Your lack of opportunity has given me the opportunity to share experience and learning with great people, such as yourselves.
If you offer a prayer on my behalf, just pass along my thanks to Him for the life that He gave me. And, if it’s part of His will to enable the furtherance of our friendship and working-together, we should do our best together to make our partnerships and friendships as productive as we can. As for me, I will pray for your success, and your elevation to levels of self-sufficiency that you might not have otherwise achieved. I want you to be quietly proud, born from the womb of humility, and flowered with the cultivation of greater opportunity. And, I pray that you pass it on.
* * * * *
Over the next few months, I intend to learn abstinence. I want to cut out sugar from my diet, a luxurious form of decadence that has made my knap sack rather heavy. I love a good cold sugary soda. I’ll try to abstain from black cherry pie and ice cream. Doughnuts, too. Things that I have taken for granted. Things that many brothers and sisters have not gotten to share with me. Things that seemed so close to heaven, but in fact, were simply imitations not fully appreciated, and not freely shared.
Who knows where heaven lies? It may straight ahead, maybe just a light kilometer or so. Then again, it may just be a good jog until I find myself hugging and puffing again.
On the other hand, maybe if I appeal to the Coach, He’ll put me in the outfield. Maybe I’ll take another swing at the bat, and this time hit a home run!
Frankly, I tend to think His judgement might be better than mine. And, His use for my fielding and batting prowess might incorporate His strategies for winning that are different than this wannabe player’s.
May His will be done!
On earth, as it will be in heaven!
I wonder who I might see standing tall up there? Wherever that is.
Whenever I get there.
In the meantime, maybe, I’ll get another turn at bat. I’ll swing again, maybe hit a home run! Who knows?
Maybe the Coach.
He knows better than I.
All the best;
May 5, 2019