Cancer Survivor 2.0: Transitions

“You were dying.” I seem to get that a lot, and by “a lot” I mean more than once. Once is enough, right? The first time around, it revolved around the cancer itself.[1] This time, it had to do with the aftereffects of the treatment.[2] I was well out of the woods, the base-of-tongue tumor a good five-plus years in my life’s rearview mirror. But I wasn’t well. “Glad to see you made it in,” the doctor said when the test results came in. “Because looking at these numbers, I don’t know how you’re still walking around.”

“He’s been grumpier than usual,” Heidi, my wife, told the receptionist after I dropped the clipboard with the new patient form down on the counter in frustration and told Heidi she could fill it out. It was a rude, inexcusable, over-the-top reaction to her matter-of-fact observation that my handwriting was illegible. It was March 8, 2019. Grumpiness earned me a doctor’s visit. Hopefully, that says something about my regular demeanor.

Without controversy, 2020 has been crazy. But the crazy for me started well before the pandemic and violent protests of this historic year. In retrospect, the cause of my condition should have been obvious. All the symptoms lined up, I just never assembled them for the same crime. If I had, I might have agreed to see the endocrinologist when I could still manage to keep my cool.

Suspect No. 1: High Cholesterol

My previous employer offered yearly wellness checks, part of which was a basic blood test to measure cholesterol levels for heart disease risk. In June 2016, my total cholesterol level (TCL) was 311 mg/dL (less than 200 is the desired range). We made some adjustments to my diet, substantially decreasing the large daily dose of raw eggs that were a major component of my protein shakes. Two years later, my TCL had climbed to 390, nearly double the healthy range.

The result made no sense. From 2016 to 2018, I lost weight—two pounds, to be exact, but decrease is decrease. I carried 171 pounds on my 5’ 11” frame with considerable ease. It wasn’t the food, so I blamed cortisol, the body’s stress-response hormone implicated in high cholesterol levels. Not that I “felt” stressed, mind you. But my body has always been a faithful witness to what my soul ignores.

Suspect No. 2: Peripheral Neuropathy

I wear gloves in summer and make a point to push my legs to their limit because Cisplatin, the chemotherapy drug I was given as part of my cancer treatment, did a number on my nerves. Walking was difficult during the initial recovery phase. Cold hands and numbness in my feet persist. lists peripheral neuropathy as a less common but serious side effect from the drug and notes that “neurologic effects may be irreversible.”[3] Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Suspect No. 3: Depression

Depressed? Who, me? No way.

I was sad. In early 2018, after seven accolade-filled years of managing the hauling operations for my former employer, they gave my post to someone better suited to their executive succession plan.

I was lonely. Work moved me from my central-hub office that I affectionately named The Fish Bowl, to an office in a practically abandoned suite at the back of the maintenance shop I called The Cave, where I toiled away—a manager on hold with only contracts to supervise.

I was grieving. My brother Eric passed away on New Year’s Day, 2019.

Suspect No. 4: Fatigue

As a hauling manager, I regularly worked 10 to 11-hour days, five days a week. When they changed my post and I became effectively a manager without portfolio for close to six months, I still put in over forty-five hours a week on average. In August of 2018, I began managing our main recycling facility. 55-hour work weeks were not uncommon. I walked five miles a day doing the job. Then came the weekend when I studied, preached, and wrote. Yep, I was tired. I had reason to be.

Suspect No. 5: Emotional Lability

I didn’t see this suspect, my family did. Emotional lability is the psychological term for rapid and often exaggerated changes in mood where strong feelings such as uncontrollable crying or heightened irritability—hello, grumpiness—occur. I wasn’t irritable. I was focused. And if I cried at the drop of a hat, it was because it reminded me of my brother. At least, that’s what I told myself. My family told me I was grumpy. It wasn’t until I was getting better that they told me I was dying on them.

It’s late August 2013, before the chemo, before the radiation. The professionals reviewed the treatment protocol with all its promises and potential pitfalls. I listened. Heidi took notes. The chance of the treatment not working was low, the possibility of coming through unscathed nil. We knew at the start that the radiation would bombard my thyroid gland on its mission to destroy the cancer cells on my tongue and in my lymph nodes. Once I could eat again, we folded in a natural thyroid supplement into my protein shakes. As the years ticked by, the level of supplementation increased. If I missed a dose, I had a sense of crashing. I should have stopped. Instead, I fell into my default of pushing through.

I pushed through projects. In March 2018, I published Wind, Water, and Fire, a book about the Holy Spirit. As soon as it launched, I began writing Love Everlasting: A Practical Theology of Time, which I published in March 2020. In the same time frame, I started writing Valley of Wolves, the sequel to Gypsy Spy.

I pushed through work. In August of 2018, I assumed active management of our community’s largest post-consumer recycling facility. I had managed a small materials recovery facility and transfer station in the early years of my waste management career. Taking on this plant was like going from a go-cart to a high-mileage Ferrari. The workers and machinery required direct attention. I jumped into the fray at full-throttle. The post was nominally an office job. I was the general manager of a multimillion-dollar operation. I wasn’t in the office much. Flesh and blood, metal and grease are more my style.

I pushed through play. I went on business trips; nice trips to San Diego and Orlando, company funded and wife accompanied. I attended writing conferences that we turned into family vacations. Slowing down is something I am still learning to do.

While preparing for this post, I came across a line of dialogue I had jotted down in my idea journal. It’s dated May 22, 2018. I didn’t assign a character to it and can’t be certain of its inspiration. Did I overhear someone say it? Did I read it somewhere else? Was it just part of one of those conversations that fictional players have a tendency to whisper in my head? Maybe it was just my Freudian slip showing.

“Too many folks hurry about like they was rushin’ to die.”

You think?

We met with the endocrinologist. He ordered the blood work and told us he would see us a couple of weeks after the results came in. I went in for the blood draw on the last Monday in March 2019. That Thursday, the 28th, held the typical whirlwind of activity during which I either ignored my cell phone or couldn’t hear it ring (recycling plants are noisy). I walked up to the main office and the receptionist told me I needed to call home—now. “The results are in,” Heidi said. “The doctor wants to see you today.” Today? What happened to two weeks?

I like to think of myself as brave, but let’s be honest. Once you’ve been a recipient of a deadly medical diagnosis, a busy doctor saying you need to come in immediately is terrifying. My boss’s face when I told him I had to go didn’t help much. He was still a bit traumatized from watching me go through treatment. “You gave us a pretty good scare there, Nik,” he told me once. For a reserved man, his confession exposed much. He looked at me wide-eyed. “Good luck.”

They led Heidi and me into the exam room. We knew our places. She sat in the chair. I perched on the exam table. We waited. We wondered. We prayed. The doctor came in, report in hand. He looked at it, he looked at me. “Glad to see you made it in. Because looking at these numbers,” he lifted the sheet of paper, “I don’t know how you’re still walking around.”

He had ordered a thyroid panel. They checked my blood for T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine), which are produced by the thyroid and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which is released by the pituitary gland when it thinks the thyroid needs some encouragement. My T3 and T4 levels were nowhere near the low end of the reference range. And my TSH?

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m still working over fifty hours a week. I probably walk five miles a day going through the different plants.”

“Well, let me put in perspective for you. Most of my patients, if their TSH level is at 10, are in my office demanding that I do something. At 12, they are barely functioning. Yours is at 72.75.”

Measured in microunits per milliliter, the sweet spot for the TSH level is 1.8. My pituitary gland was on overdrive trying to wake up my radiation exhausted thyroid. I was in full-blown hypothyroidism, symptoms of which include high cholesterol, peripheral neuropathy, depression, fatigue, emotional lability, and weight gain.

What, weight gain? Wait a minute! I was a full-grown male, average weight for my height with a body mass index of 24 which was thankfully inside the normal range. Funny how we can use one fact to deny that a part of us is dying.

“It was like it took everything for you just to hang on,” Heidi told me. “We were watching you. You were gray. You didn’t look well. You snapped at us. You were dying.” She got me to the doc. My mother was a nurse. Dodging medical diagnosis was a habit I learned early in life. Heidi saved mine. Again.

Medicine is a practice. Over the course of the next several months, the doctor increased the daily dosage level of my thyroid medicine. The good news: I was getting better. The bad news: the edge on my emotional lability took a while to dull. Generally diplomatic to a fault, I had become increasingly frank with my boss and with ownership. I jotted a note in my journal after a particularly trying meeting with them in early August 2019.

“The false satisfaction in blame never resolves the problem.”

It all came to head a couple of weeks later during a staff meeting filled with brass in which I made statements and presented information that painted upper management into a corner. Speaking truth to power is never without risk. Doing it on edge can bring sudden life transitions.

After 12 years of a job I often described as “a joy ride,” my employer and I had an amicable parting of ways. I left the world of a thousand spinning plates to return to the trade of an office furniture installer—a hybrid of mix of carpenter, mechanic, assembly line worker, and logistician. It’s difficult to measure the load you are carrying until you put it down on the scale. I never fully appreciated the level of tension I was under until my employer released me. I breathe easier now.

I had blood work done at the end of August 2019. Treatment was working. My total cholesterol was down to 170, a 56% drop from its highwater mark and inside the normal range. My T3 and T4 levels were normal. My TSH was at 1.31, which made the doc happy happy. I was less grumpy. And my weight? Apparently, I was overweight at 171 pounds. When I was 18, fresh out of high school, I might have weighed 152 pounds soaking wet. I am fifty-five. In my current job, I walk about seven miles a day, some of it on my knees and much of it carrying or pushing freight. The hours are reasonable, the stress negligible. If I stick with eating five times a day, I manage to keep 150 pounds on my 5’ 11” frame.

If you had sat down with me seven years ago and on the tail of hearing from the medical professionals all the true horrors of the treatment I had signed on for and said, “After all this is done, you are going to be a better man than you were in your 20s.” I would have laughed. And cried. My thirty-year-old self was in much worse shape than the twenty-year-old version and I had added a lot of mileage since then. But my Father is the Creator of the heavens and the Earth. My God is the Redeemer. In His hands, nothing goes to waste. He makes all things good. He is the master of transition and transformation. Just keep holding His hand. Everything is going to be okay.

[1] In case you missed it, you can read about it in “Dealing with a Death Sentence.”
[2] I shared about my treatment experience in the post “Pizza Night: Milestone on Recovery Road.”
[3] accessed August 29, 2020.

Impeachment: The mis-State of the Union

What is worse than a conman parading as a statesman? A Supreme Court Justice who believes he is a legislator. What is worse than a Supreme Court Justice who believes he is a senator? A senator who believes he is powerless? What is worse than a senator who believes he is powerless? Constitutional illiteracy.

One paragraph in and I find myself compelled to make several disclosures. I am a lifelong conservative, born into a Republican family and embracing conservatism—which used to be known as liberalism until the term was hijacked by socialists—in my own right after much study and investigation; in other words, I have matured into conservatism to a greater extent than I ever received it from my mother’ milk. I am no Trump fan and never have been. Last but not least, I have unplugged from the political debate since the election as vociferous member of the Right trumpet louder and louder delusions while apparatchiks on the Left appear unable or unwilling to attack their displeasure of the presidential election results with the legitimate tools at their disposal. All seem to have devolved to the level of elementary school name calling and sandbox pushing. Today was a near final straw for me.

Driving home while surfing radio stations in search of at least one decent tune for the ride home, I landed on NPR. The story of the day on All Things Considered was Michael Cohen’s guilty plea on numerous criminal charges in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday. Mr. Cohen’s plea is troublesome enough as the continual denials of a White House fire by Twitter Trump and the surrounding Trumpsters amid the chocking smoke that surrounds them stretches the extreme limits of legitimacy of the office of the President, let alone the Donald himself. If that wasn’t tragic enough, Senator Chuck Schumer decided to add his proof of personal ignorance (or incompetence, I’ll let the reader decide).

At issue is the coveted Supreme Court, a branch of our government that has gained exponentially more power than the Framers ever intended because our partisan parties would rather bet on the civic complacency or the Constitutional illiteracy of the citizenry than actually exercise their function as balancing powers to preserve our liberties. Today from the Senate floor, Schumer stated:

“It is unseemly for the president of the United States to be picking a Supreme Court justice who could soon be, effectively, a juror in a case involving the president himself. In light of these facts, I believe Chairman Grassley has scheduled a hearing for Judge Kavanaugh too soon and I am calling on him to delay the hearing.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he said this in the Senate. Leaving aside for the moment his reason as why he believes it unseemly, let us constitutionally examine his questioning of a sitting President nominating a Supreme Court justice. Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution delegates to the President the power to nominate judges of the Supreme Court. It matters not that both parties have grandstanded as to when a sitting president should or should not be able to do so. The law of the land—and we are supposed to be a nation governed by the rule of law—is that the president has this power. If Senator Schumer does not think the nominee appropriate, then he has a constitutional means by which to block it. He needs to convince enough of his colleagues that Judge Kavanaugh is not fit to be a Supreme Court Justice on Mr. Kavanugh’s own merits, not on the grounds of who nominated him. Instead, Senator Schumer takes to the microphone and makes an emotional appeal based on scandal for a delay of a vote he must believe his side will lose. And why doesn’t he want to lose? Because allowing black robes to legislate is easier than actually doing the hard work of drafting sensible laws and guiding them through the process.

Now, let us take in review his ridiculous reason as to why he thinks it unseemly. He thinks that if confirmed, Kavanaugh could be a juror in a case involving the president himself. Unless Schumer has sunk to the level of confusing what the meaning of the word “is” is, a juror is a member of a jury. Judges and Justices are judges, not jurors. Of course, if one is predisposed to allowing constitutional erosion through judicial decision, his confusion might be understandable. But it certainly is not excusable.

Senator Schumer posits this potential as being proximal, a case soon to be under the purview of a Supreme Court Justice. Such a case could only be an impeachment proceeding. And in an impeachment trial, it is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who presides as judge and the senators who are the effective jurors in the case.[1] Once again, the Senator has exposed his penchant for granting to the judiciary the power which belongs to the legislative branch alone.

The mis-State of our Union saddens me. I pray that all freedom- loving Americans can remove their Left and Right lenses and read our Constitution in the true light under which it was written and in future elections, vote accordingly. God bless America! Heaven knows we need it.

[1] Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

A Patriot’s Ponderings

Independence Day 2018, I am heading down the highway to pick up my son from work and happen to catch the last bit of an All Things Considered broadcast on NPR. The guest is Sheryl Kaskowitz, author of God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song. The point of discussion between the host and Kaskowiz was the different venues and groups in America that had appropriated the song for its message and was capped by an audio snipped of Irving Berlin singing the song. It was an encore broadcast chosen, I suppose, because today is the 100th birthday of the song that is considered our unofficial national anthem. Berlin’s voice and all it evoked was inspirational and set me to thinking.

In our current (and past) political climate, much is made about those in power diverting from the American ideal or the Father’s framing of our nation. Polarized pundits proclaim that they are ruining the country for us and that we cannot let them get away with it. Whatever happened to WE the PEOPLE of the UNITED states? America does not belong to the conservatives or liberals, the left or the right, the religionists or the secularists. As a true monarchist—I owe the reader that disclosure—I believe the United States of America belongs to God Almighty.[1] Its stewardship, however, is the responsibility of us all.

The Preamble of the Constitution should be familiar to us all. “We the People of the United States, in Order to from a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blesssings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Constitutional scholars like to point out at times that this is just an introduction and doesn’t hold the weight of law like the body of the work itself. I am not a lawyer or an academic, but if the stated intent of the document doesn’t educate its interpretation, language should be thrown out as an intelligent means of communication. The drumbeat of the Preamble is unity: we, people, union, common, ourselves, our, united.

I remember an appearance of the comedian Paul Reiser on the Tonight Show years ago. He was joking about the shortest length of time possible was the length of a salsa song on the radio before he changed the station. I think I have him beat. The instant a talk radio pundit states that this country has never been as polarized as it is now, my hand moves in a lightning strike to extinguish the noise. The thunder that follows is my fuming over their intentional disregard of our history.

We live in the most politically polarized period of our history? I suppose in their view Tories (the “right” during the Revolution) and the Patriots (the “left” or “liberals” during the Revolution) weren’t polarized. Maybe the talking heads think that hateful half-truths spit across the aisle are more polarizing expressions than congressmen cracking skulls with canes during debates. Perhaps the Blue (the centralizing-of-power nationalists) and the Grey (the libertarian-constitutionalist states-righters) were only out exercising their Second Amendment rights as “sportsmen” and over 600,000 of “We the people” died as a result of unfortunate hunting accidents. Maybe the young men and women dying under our flag in Vietnam didn’t have that much of a different mindset from those burning the same flag on American campuses.

Conflict and debate were the midwives at the birth of our nation. War was its delivery room. As the doctors attendant, the Founders showed their genius in their acknowledgement of the diversity of opinion and the absolute need for unity. They provided to us, their progeny, with a system of governance well-suited to the tasks of maintaining both. I thank God for their accomplishment and pray that our nation remain as a home and bastion of freedom so long as the King should tarry.

In the simple and beautiful words of Irving Berlin:

“God bless America
Land that I love
Stand beside her
And guide her
Through the night with the light from above.”

[1] This may seem contradictory to my prior sentence regarding “religionists,” but in my view religion has much more to do with man than it does with the living God.

And Then There Were Four

I am the youngest of seven children born under three marriages, but comprising only two constellations of siblings: Russell and Larum. I was perhaps six months old when my eldest brother Ronald went off to Vietnam. That should give you some sense of the remoteness the baby in the family can feel toward his oldest siblings. But ours was far from a normal family. “Blended” wouldn’t do it justice, so I leave that tale for another day.

Six boys and one girl, which means that both mom and sis were strong women in a way that could put to shame many a man I have known. Mom buried three husbands and two sons. I am very grateful she was already home to greet the latest departure. On Friday, September 29, 2017, Michael, my third-oldest brother, went home to be with his Lord and enjoy a family reunion I can only hope for. And then there were four.

The Four crop
The Four at Mike’s Night to Remember. R-to-L: Ronald, Eric, Barbara, and me.

One would think that having six siblings would minimize the intense sense of loss somewhat. But it doesn’t. Seven is the full set. Anyone missing leaves us less. I felt this first at the news of my brother John’s death in 1992. He was only forty-three; I was nearly twenty-eight and already overly familiar with the process of grief having lost my father when I was thirteen. As I recall it, I was deep into a construction project with my son Nikolai—a toddling two-year-old who loved stacking the blocks up into imaginary castles almost as much as I did—when I received the news. I was totally unprepared for my reaction: shock, sorrow, and relief. Relief? Yes, relief. I suppose it is time to introduce you to my brother John.

John Clark Larum
Brother John in his younger years.

John was my mother’s second son. She was a recently minted nineteen-year-old when she had him. Though young, the drama of life had already swept her into a tale that would ultimately rival any soap opera and still surprises audiences when I tell it. John was the only boy among us with black hair. “You don’t look like the rest of them,” folks would often say. “If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that,” was his frequent reply. The rest of us boys were redheads. Barbara stood out because she was the girl. John, well, John was different.

All my siblings are charming, but I admit I am biased. John was charming in a way that would make women who knew better swoon. Handsome, athletic, driven, brilliant and armed at an early age with a sociopathic lack of conscience, John was an exhilarating and dangerous roller coaster to ride. As life would have it, he was the older sibling who showed up on the scene to “help” my mother when my father was dying of emphysema and lung cancer. “Help” meant that he was there to engage and challenge his teenaged baby brothers, Timothy and Nikolas (that’s me on the right—people often confused us even though our names only share two letters), who were the last left at home. And “help” is in quotes because his move to Arkansas from California wasn’t motivated by any sense of obligation or altruism. Narcotics officers were hot on his tail and he thought it best to let his California market fade away in his rearview mirror.

John taught us all the things older brothers shouldn’t teach their younger siblings and a few that they absolutely should. The shoulds ran the range from expanding my literary horizons to knowing how to put my fist through wood if necessary. The should-not’s I won’t list, except for this one: if you want to score a million dollars, don’t try stealing it from one guy; instead, find a way to con a million people out of a buck. That was John, the consummate conman.

Our last conversation was a godsend. We must have talked on the phone for nearly two hours. I laughed so hard I couldn’t cry anymore. “I finally got your number from Mother, but she still wouldn’t give me your address,” he said. I laughed. “John, you know I love you. I simply can’t afford you.” He laughed. Good times. He died of an overdose not long after that call. It was like having a chunk of my heart pulled out. I was sad he was gone and relieved that the danger had passed.

2007 was a monumental year for me. In June of that year, I began a new career in waste management. After nearly twenty years working in the installation and warehousing side of the commercial office furnishings industry, I landed a job managing a materials recovery facility. Essentially, I went from opening cardboard boxes to recycling them. I knew next to nothing about waste hauling and even less about running a processing facility. Fourteen-hour days were not uncommon and the commute simply added to the load. It was about midday on a Thursday when my wife called me with the news. There was no easy way to say it. My brother Timothy had passed away the night before. I have never been a big Halloween fan. His death on October 31, 2007, didn’t improve my opinion of the day any.

Classic me, I tried to keep working. I think I was able to function for about an hour and half before I admitted to myself the impossibility of it. I had to go home. Tim was my Irish twin. He was No. 6 to my No. 7, the only other biological child of my father. I should have been prepared for my reaction to the news: shock, sorrow, and ultimately relief. Relief? Yes, relief. Please let me explain.

Timothy wasn’t dangerous like John. As far as I know, he never ran a con in his life. He loved his family, cherished our mother, and adored his daughter. He was physically talented and fearless. I see cliffs as something to climb. He climbed cliffs to find higher ground to dive from. I learned to fight for self-preservation. He liked to fight for fun. I had to teach myself how to laugh out loud. His laughter could always shake the room and was more infectious than Ebola. Though some may disagree, I believe my head outweighs my heart. His heart was always bigger than his head.

Timothy taught me to dance, got me hooked on restaurant work, and had a way of talking me into schemes I should have known better to avoid—like driving him and his best friend to a party because mom never said I couldn’t take the car, never mind that I was only fourteen and unlicensed. In many ways, ours was a case of classic sibling rivalry. But our conflicts were always tempered with an abiding affection for each other. Being last in line, we experienced the most together. It was a treasure trove of memories none of the other siblings had in common. News of his death was like taking a .45-slug to the chest. The hole is still there.

My last conversation with him was a godsend. I was at work checking on one of our auxiliary warehouses when he called me on my cell phone. He was distraught over many things. He had recently been assaulted at a gas station by a group of thugs who felt he had cut them off on the highway. The experience had left him humbled and profoundly shaken. Our brother Eric, with whom we were both very close, had moved back to Spain. To make matters worse, the Spain we had grown up in no longer existed. Prone to nostalgia, the physical loss of the country he grew up in left his identity somewhat adrift. Last but not least, his little girl was going to be a legal adult and the chances of her deciding to move out to him were slim to none. There was really ever only one salve for our wounds: Jesus.

As I spoke with Timothy, we encouraged one another in our faith. I believe I helped him define his distress and in doing so, brought some relief. If the above leads you to believe that the conversation was sad and somber because of its content, then I can only surmise that the reader hasn’t spent much personal time in the company of Larums. That is not our way. There are few traumas that we can’t laugh our way through. Aside from the usual jocularity, the joy of this conversation was in the shared hearts of brothers who truly knew each other.

Timothy Larum
Brother Timothy as he was often found – laughing! (With his daughter Tiffany.)

Timothy worked hard and played harder. He died of a heroin overdose. Mother said he must have been shocked to come to and see Jesus. She believed as I do that the high was his aim, not suicide. He was only forty-four years old.

Hard as John was to live with, Mother never fully recovered from his death. Timothy was the only honest-to-goodness mamma’s boy among us. I feared she would sink in the sorrow of his passing and never return to us. She proved me wrong. She was always surprising like that. I had been casting about in my mind for how to broach the subject of God’s mercy in Timothy’s exit with her. She kindly beat me to the punch. “Sad as I am,” she said, “I am thankful he went that way. Maybe God allowed it to save us all from something worse. What if he had gotten into an accident drunk behind the wheel and killed someone? He wouldn’t have been able to live with that. I think God was merciful to us.” That is what I mean by relief.

My earliest memory of Timothy and Michael is the same. Ron and Mike were playing catch with Tim in the living room of our California home. Timothy was the ball and he was having a blast. Having older brothers over six feet tall when you are a toddler is like having your own personal amusement park. If Timothy wasn’t an adrenalin junkie at birth, he certainly was one by the age of three.

My next memory of Michael was of him working on our mother’s car. It was an Opel coupe. I recall coming out of the house and walking down the driveway just in time to see him reach under the hood, pick the engine up, and set it down on the ground. Did I mention that Michael was big? Some people don’t believe in giants. I grew up with them.

An imposing six-and-a-half feet tall, Michael was a gearhead and a consummate prankster. When Charles Manson was going helter-skelter, Michael was knocking on the neighbors’ doors and keeling over with a toy knife protruding from his chest, his white t-shirt smeared with ketchup. I don’t know if he ever encountered an engine he didn’t think needed to come apart. He worked as a lumberjack, married young, had two children, and ultimately found his way to being employed by IBM. My grease monkey, lumberjack, giant of a brother wound up being an executive in a high-tech computer company. Folks who may consider me to be loud and perhaps a bit obnoxious have little appreciation for the din of brilliance I grew up under. As the baby, I had to be persistent to be heard. If that didn’t work, I got louder.

November 2005 – the last time we would all be together. L-to-R: Barbara, Timothy, Michael, Mom, me, Ronald, and Eric

Our last conversation was a godsend. Michael suffered a catastrophic stroke early in 2012. We were unsure at the time if he would survive it. He did, but not entirely. Strokes have a way of removing restraint on certain aspects of personality. Certain aspects of Michael’s personality were in continual need of restraint. His wife and children were heroic in his care, but not without a price. Eventually, my nephew Matthew had to set Michael’s phone to receive only. I had not called him in some time. My sister Barbara reached out to me to let me know Michael really wanted to hear from me. Were it not for her, I would have missed the opportunity.

I am ashamed to say that I never ventured out to California to see him in the nursing home. At first I was dealing with enough fires on the home front. But ultimately, it boiled down to plain selfishness. Selfishness and fear. I had made my way through cancer. I was weary of digging holes. I didn’t possess the courage to see him that way. I kept my distance. I’m the baby, gotta love me.

I called Michael and we had a beautiful talk. He reminisced about his last visit to Virginia. I had taken my two oldest boys, Nikolai and Gavin, to play disc golf with my brother Eric. While we were chatting in the park, an old geezer who looked like a slightly run over Mark Twain shuffled his way to us and started talking to the boys. It was all I could do to keep a straight face. Michael had them going a good while before he stood up to his imposing full height and removed his Billy Bob teeth to reveal himself. We still laugh about it. The kids were so impressed that my wife bought Billy Bob teeth for all to wear when they met the new dentist. The gag worked great. Thanks, Michael!

We talked about that epic day in the park, about the time he came to my church, about the grace of God, about the love of family. In his bed, paralyzed from the waist down and a good chunk of his brain missing, Michael talked with me as a loving, older brother. He asked about my life, about my kids, about my plans. How does someone love like that? Here I was, almost put out to call him. There he was, laid low in a nursing home loving on his baby brother. It leaves me undone.

He wrestled with survival, unsure of whether he wanted to stay or go. When the news came, the feelings were familiar: sorrow and relief. His suffering was over. His time had come. Mom had a party in heaven, I am sure.

I know our times are in His hands. I believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ and hope to experience having my mortality swallowed up by life. But if that doesn’t happen in my lifetime, I know that my corruption will put on incorruption. All that being said, if I go before He comes the only one I want feeling any relief is the Devil. I want to be full of years and in a good old age. I want to be in the same shape as Moses, whose eye wasn’t dim nor his natural force abated.

Rest in peace, my brothers. The days of our reunion will by far outweigh the days of our lives.



We the People

Once a glorious laboratory framed in robust Federalist rhetoric and purchased with Patriots’ blood, America sits now as a sick room, a critical care unit to a liberty nearly dead. The Republic wheezes as the SCOTUS tube drips its poisonous public policies into the network of our societal veins while the executives debate over how they plan to pull the plug. And We the People look up to them from the gurney: polarized, afraid, and caustically accusative. How did it happen? We forgot.

When memory fails, we fall for fallacies. Once the lies are believed, liberty bleeds out of us and feeds the despotism of deception. Think I overstate my case? Take the short quiz below:

President Barack Obama is responsible for the Affordable Care Act, which is why it is commonly called Obamacare, true or false?

A strong, conservative president can repeal the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, true or false?

The purpose of the Supreme Court is to decide on the constitutionality of the laws passed by Congress, true or false?

If you felt any of these were even partially true, you have contracted Despotic Deception Disorder (DDD). I mean no disrespect with my diagnosis. The disease is hard to avoid. DDD vectors are pervasive in the Republic and can be found in the very clinics that are intended to inoculate against the malady. The free press, politicians, parents, preachers, and teachers have transmitted the propaganda of the President being the most powerful person on the planet along with the myth of the mighty court.

The Chief Executive and the Supreme Court are both part of the machinery of governance. But they are not the seat of power. They only become so when we cower under their orders or opinions to the peril of our premier founding document, the Constitution. “We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” So long as we recall that we are a nation of laws established by the governed, we will retain the liberties those laws were instituted to protect.

Which is the most powerful branch of government? Constitutionally and logically it is the legislative branch. Congress, as the direct representation of the people’s will, far outweighs the executive and judicial privileges. If only we the people would hold them to it! I believe the cure for our current malady lies in a revitalized interest in our law-making bodies, from city councils to state legislatures to US Senators and Representatives. Is the reader aware of who represents their neighborhood, county, or district? If not, I beg of you to become aware. The increasing nationalization of our politics have sapped them of substance and turned them into a Survivor-type reality show.

Does anyone seriously believe that a Hillary Rodham would have been elected as the Senator from New York, appointed as Secretary of State, and now stand as the nominated candidate for the Democratic Party? Do even sycophants the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity believe in their heart of hearts that Donald Trump was ever qualified to run for President let alone be one? Without his brand recognition, Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP would have been impossible. The Reality Show Right refuses to admit it, just as the DNC will turn a blind eye to Mrs. Clinton’s corruption.

All this became possible because neither party is constitutionally minded; and we the people have suffered under their continual insults to our liberty for so long, I fear we have lost sight of constitutionalism ourselves. Both sides are banging the drum of the Executive to appoint the right Judiciary to reign over us. All Hail the Chief! All Hail SCOTUS!

Last I checked, Americans are supposed to elect our lawyers or hire them. Once we are in a place that the Lawyer must be appointed, our “free” phone call will be worthless.

True Horror: A Halloween Tale

Rationalists are ill equipped to deal with the realities of the underworld. Reports of paranormal activity are viewed skeptically if not derisively. People who swear they have seen a ghost or are sure that their house is haunted are considered gullible, delusional, or deceitful. Scientific man wouldn’t recognize a demon if it slapped him in the face. After all, in a universe without God, how can there be such a thing as a devil?

Despite the substantial gains that secular humanism appears to have made in establishing a materialistic world view for the masses of Western civilization, popular culture belies their success. If rationalism reigns supreme, why is Halloween one of the fastest-growing consumer holidays?[1] Modern man may take his stand to explain this away with psychological arguments about humanity’s proclivity for pretense or sociological theories about the propagation of the traditions of youth that adults bequeath to their children in commemoration of romanticized memories, but this doesn’t go quite far enough to justify the macabre. A recent survey of Halloween costume picks has witches, zombies, and vampires in the top ten. No one should be surprised, least of all the Devil; who came in a disappointing eleventh in the survey just below a three-way tie between serial killers, tarts, and politicians[2] – which one could argue would give him tenth place representation on influence alone.

To Christians who bemoan the open embracement of the occult that Halloween provides, I would advise a review of Church history if they wish to know the reasons for its popular continuance. The ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), the festival of the dead, was transmuted by the Church into All Hallows Eve through the implementation of celebrations and rites that incorporated the pagan holiday in order to be culturally relevant in their outreach.[3] This approach continues into the modern era in which fellowship halls across the Evangelical spectrum are opened up to alternative events where children can enjoy a little bit of dress up and lots of sugar in a “safe” environment. Personally, I think it would be safer for them to see the realities of the spirit realm.

The ancients believed in sacred times and places, seasons and shrines where the vail between this dimension and the next was nothing more than a wisp of gossamer easily moved aside by the wind. Such instincts led them to communal worship in admiration or for appeasement and safety. When the otherworldly was afoot, best be in the company of brothers. Anyone who has had even a fleeting moment of fear in the dark knows the sensation of a haunted place. And most have felt this brush on their skin at one time or another with the lights on. To encounter the spiritual is common to the human condition, for we are spirit beings. Halloween’s centuries long continuance is a testament of this.

But the pretend horrors of Halloween are nothing compared to the true terrors that the spirit realm holds. The costume masks are mere grotesques of the dangers of the dark. And the children of darkness hold no candle to the terrors of the heavenlies. One could pile demons, ghosts, and lycans atop all the wiccans, walking corpses, and blood suckers[4] in the world and not come close to matching the menace of the lowly insects of the spirit realm, let alone its higher beings.

Revelation 9:1-12 (Contemporary English Version)
1 When the fifth angel blew his trumpet, I saw a star fall from the sky to earth. It was given the key to the tunnel that leads down to the deep pit.
2 As it opened the tunnel, smoke poured out like the smoke of a great furnace. The sun and the air turned dark because of the smoke.
3 Locusts came out of the smoke and covered the earth. They were given the same power that scorpions have.
4 The locusts were told not to harm the grass on the earth or any plant or any tree. They were to punish only those people who did not have God’s mark on their foreheads.
5 The locusts were allowed to make them suffer for five months, but not to kill them. The suffering they caused was like the sting of a scorpion.
6 In those days people will want to die, but they will not be able to. They will hope for death, but it will escape from them.
7 These locusts looked like horses ready for battle. On their heads they wore something like gold crowns, and they had human faces.
8 Their hair was like a woman’s long hair, and their teeth were like those of a lion.
9 On their chests they wore armor made of iron. Their wings roared like an army of horse-drawn chariots rushing into battle.
10 Their tails were like a scorpion’s tail with a stinger that had the power to hurt someone for five months.
11 Their king was the angel in charge of the deep pit. In Hebrew his name was Abaddon, and in Greek it was Apollyon.
12 The first horrible thing has now happened! But wait. Two more horrible things will happen soon.

If you think these scorpions are bad news, consider the specter of the horses of the underworld:

Revelation 9:17b-19 (CEV)
17b The heads of the horses looked like lions, with fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
18 One-third of all people were killed by the three terrible troubles caused by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur.
19 The horses had powerful mouths, and their tails were like poisonous snakes that bite and hurt.

As bad as these are, the Dragon is even worse.

Revelation 12:3-4 (CEV)
3 Something else appeared in the sky. It was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and a crown on each of its seven heads.
4 With its tail, it dragged a third of the stars from the sky and threw them down to the earth. Then the dragon turned toward the woman, because it wanted to eat her child as soon as it was born.

No horror tale pretended to by man in a bid for free candy or filmed by him to sell sweets and popcorn to the adoring masses can touch the realities that hell holds captive. And the dwellers of the dark kingdom are but pale shadows of the terrifying light of the bright ones.

Ezekiel 1:4-14 (New King James Version)
4 Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
5 Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.
6 Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.
8 The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings.
9 Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.
11 Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies.
12 And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.
13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.
14 And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.
24 When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army; and when they stood still, they let down their wings.

These creatures – taller than tornadoes, brighter than lightning, loud as the voice of the Almighty – worship One more terrifying than themselves.[5]

Revelation 1:12-18 (NKJV)
12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;
15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;
16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

John’s vision of Jesus glorified was far more terrible than his glimpse of Him transfigured.[6] True horror would be to perish beneath the sword of the Living Lord returning from Heaven[7], to die at the hand of the One who died for you because His grace was rejected.

2 Corinthians 6:2 (NKJV)
For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”  Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Matthew 10:28 (NKJV)
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

This year, as in the centuries before it, many will don themselves in mockeries of the spirit realm. They will mum their way through occult pantomimes, oblivious to the true dangers lurking in the darkness or the worse danger of rejecting the Light. Man’s reason may deny these realities. But his heart and the hair at the nape of his neck know better. Evil is real, but it trembles before God.[8] It is far better to feel His embrace at our repentance[9] than to face the hand of His judgment,[10] for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

John 3:16 (NKJV)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

[1] Treacy Reynolds, “Record Number of Americans Buy Halloween Costumes”,, accessed 10/18/15.
[2], accessed 10/18/15.
[3] Jack Santino, “Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows”, The Library of Congress American Folklife Center,, accessed 10/30/15.
[4] The reader is free to choose vampires or politicians or both for this reference.
[5] See Rev 4:6-11
[6] Matt 17:1-2
[7] Rev 19:11-18
[8] James 2:19
[9] Luke 15:10
[10] Heb 10:31

Ten Ways to Kill a Werewolf

45061324 - halloween night and werewolf on moon background, illustration.

In the healthcare debate, lunatic lycans are getting short shrift. Typically, our government is offering no solution to this scourge.  Instead, they are hiding as they usually do behind environmentalist ideals and a liberal morality that oftentimes does more harm than good (e.g. “Save the owls, starve the loggers, fight forest fires!”).

Their cohorts in Hollywood are no help either, offering a steady stream of false mythology and monotonous meme mantras. “Silver, silver, silver!” they chant while mining our gold and attempting to confiscate the very tools we would use to propel such a charm. Idiots. Most folks know that there are more ways to kill a cat than choking it with cream.  But sadly, due to government neglect and Hollywood disinformation, most only know of one way to kill a werewolf; and it happens to be dead wrong.

Thankfully, a wealth of information exists about this problem and its potential solutions. These solutions are not for the squeamish. There are those who believe in the rehabilitation of the werewolf; of bringing it back from its bestial curse into the full fellowship of man. I think they are misguided. My step-father was a rancher. If wild dogs or coyotes dared pester his livestock, he shot them. In like manner, when werewolves attack, one needs to kill them. Following are ten different ways to get the job done.

1) Wear It Out
Werewolves have been known for millennia, but their terror and ferocity entered the consciousness of the civilized European world in the bowels of the longships. Among the thousands of Norsemen who would go on a viking[1] in lower Europe were a special class of warriors known as ulfhednar, men clad in wolf skins. They were devotees of Odin and were known to work themselves up into a tremendous rage prior to battle. Once loosed, nothing but death stopped them. Their more well-known name is berserker, bear coat, and several famous ones make our list.

The first is Kveldulf Bjalfason. King Harald Fairhair betrayed Kveldulf’s son Thorolf and killed him. After hearing the news, Kveldulf and his other son formed up with a band of berserkers and took their revenge on the king’s men. Worn out by his berserker rage, Kveldulf died of exhaustion soon after.

So, when a werewolf threatens you, befriend its firstborn and then kill it. This will enrage the werewolf (or hamrammr, shape-shifter, as Kveldulf was also known) to such a degree, that he will come after you with all his bitter energy. Then, all you have to do is survive the attack until he wears himself out. Problem solved.

2) Impale It with a Lance
The Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066 was a pivotal day in English history. But aside from unintentionally paving the way for England’s demise under William the Bastard, it also gave us two useful ways to kill a werewolf.

The Norsemen under King Harald were expecting surrender from the English King Harold that day, not an attack. The first push from the massive English army drove the unarmored Norsemen over the bridge in bloody disarray. All, except one massive Viking who stood his ground on the narrow causeway. This ulfhedinn held the bridge single-handed in a berserker rage as the English pushed forward, four abreast. None could break past. One wily Saxon saw that frontal assault was fruitless. He stowed himself away in a barrel upstream and floated down to the bridge. Once under the Norse giant, he thrust upward with his lance through the chinks in the bridge and impaled the warrior through the groin. The Norse hero died, but not before having killed forty Englishmen while defending the bridge.

Solving a werewolf problem requires cunning as well as courage.

3) Shoot It in the Neck with an Arrow
The other famous werewolf at Stamford Bridge that day was King Harald Hardrada himself. Once the English came across the bridge and broke through the Norse line, Harald went berserk and charged into them without any body armor, swinging his sword double-handed. The sagas report that “neither helmet nor mail could stand against him.”[2] In the heat of battle, he was shot through the throat with an arrow and died.

4) Wait it Out
Werewolves can be dangerous and destructive. But sometimes it’s prudent to simply wait them out, especially if one happens to be ruling your country. Such was the case with Vseslav, the famous werewolf Prince of Poltosk. He died of old age (for his time) at sixty-two in 1101 AD.

On rare occasions, if you wait it out, your problem might just go away.

5) Burn at the Stake
Henry Boguet (1550-1619), the accomplished witch-trial judge of Burgundy, sentenced all convicted werewolves to be burned at the stake. One must suppose that they died, along with the other 30,000 suspected werewolves who were put to death in France from 1525 through 1625.

6) Tear Its Heart Out
Removing the heart was the Russian solution to their volkodlak problem. The English developed this particular method of werewolf control independently (and accidentally) in York while dealing with a particularly troublesome revenant werewolf. Run of the mill lycans are bad enough as humans by day and wolves by night. Revenants do the wolf-by-night bit, but add the nasty habit of being a corpse by day into the mix. As bloodthirsty as vampires and nowhere near as charming, they are highly disruptive to communities and downright scandalous to morticians. Having had enough of their revenant, the menfolk of York dug him out of his grave and found his body turgid as a tick with blood. They hacked through his rib cage with their spades and pulled out his heart and then burnt his body for good measure. He was never heard from again.

Sometimes, to solve your werewolf problem, you just have to get to the heart of the matter.

7) Decapitation with a Spade
Taking the head off anything is a fairly effective way of killing it. The revenant problem was not relegated to England alone. Eastern Europeans had their issues with them too. The condition was thought to be caused by dying in mortal sin. Safety-conscious Polish peoples of the 17th and 18th centuries would have revenants exhumed and beheaded with a spade. After an exorcism by the parish priest, the head would be thrown into a river where the weight of its sins would drag it down to the depths.

Getting rid of sins in water isn’t a new idea. But it works best when one is still alive.

8) Wolfsbane
The herb, not the band (though loud and persistent doses of heavy metal can also prove fatal). This herb was actually first used on werewolves by well-intentioned folks who wished to cure lycanthropy. Like many medical practices in our own time, the cure was worse than the disease (for the patient). Wolfsbane, or aconitum, is known as the Queen of Poisons. Take note: common cures can be deadly.

9) Pour Salt in the Wound
This method, without a doubt, is the most challenging to employ.[3] Difficulty number one: wound the werewolf while remaining unscathed yourself. Difficulty number two: get close enough to the wound to pour salt in it without getting killed in the process. The mid-evil Slavic heroine Kandek seems to be the only one who has successfully pulled this one off and it required all the courage and craftiness she could muster. But in the end, she successfully defeated the Hag Werewolf of Armenia.

10) Ignore Them
This is one of the standard government solutions, which first reared its ugly head in the Canton of Vaud in 1670. A boy and his mother claimed they could change themselves into wolves. But unlike the witch hunters of earlier years, no one took them seriously. Technically, this isn’t solving the werewolf problem by killing it. Its ignoring the problem by denying it. It can, however, be fatal if you’re wrong.

As you can see, the silver bullet method didn’t make the list. It is a myth from modern times, born in the twentieth century retelling of the death of the Beast of Gevaudan in 1767. This werewolf was killed by Jean Chastel, who employed prayer and common, powder-propelled lead.

There is no magic bullet, no cure-all nutritional supplement, no single investment strategy, no foolproof parental policy. One size doesn’t fit all. This world is complex. Best learn to be flexible.

[A note from the author: Thank you for spending time with me in Larumland, a unique mental landscape where spiritual contemplation, life experience, historical reflection, and current observations meet in provocative prose. For longer works by the author, please visit I cordially invite you to visit my other blogs as well, and]

[1] Viking was originally a noun that described an activity, namely an overseas expedition.
[2] 1066 The Year of Conquest, David Howarth, © 1977 by David Howarth, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, New York, p. 140. Harald Hardrada was praised in the poetry of his day. One popular line: “the wolf was always well fed before you went homeward.” (Howarth, p. 111)
[3] Almost as difficult as catching rabbits by sprinkling salt on their tails and much more dangerous.

Quick Reads, Long Thoughts

Story shards. Poetic pieces. Quick quips. Each paragraph its own universe. Read the lines, build the rest in your mind.

He had lost faith in gravity. Tragically, gravity still believed in him.

He couldn’t stand Yankees. Always in a rush, even on a Saturday night. “If’n I gotta git ‘er pulled out by another tractor, it’s gonna cost you extra.” They didn’t care. Finish it already. On a Saturday. In the rain. The backhoe slid another inch deeper into the clay. He spit through a sneer and glared at the hole. Digging fresh graves never bothered Buck much. But he was plain ornery digging old ones.

His toe rubbed across the lip of the gallows door. No one missed that step deliberately.

The steady rhythm of the clock measured the whisper in his ear. “Your dreams remember your dreams better than your consciousness. In dreams, what sleep may come?” His mind clawed for the clock. Stay here! Don’t leave! No use. The world was gone.


Mystics and mages,

Wise men and sages

Come for relief to never-never land,

Where memories of the future

Are but things of the past.

At last I realized that I had marked her as deeply as she had ever marked me. Her wounds just took longer to show.

He was a man ahead of his time. Time was not pleased.

I wouldn’t call her an intentional glory hound, but she would steal light from a dark room.

His brow cocked and he sniffed at the question. “Time will come when Feynman’s diagrams will seem but the crude carvings of a caveman,” he replied and walked away. He was a beautifully dangerous man.

Better an approximate answer to the right question than an exact answer to the wrong one.

How like the roulette the

Centrifuge appears —

Will it birth miracles

Or spawn our deepest fears?

Nothing was injured but my pride. Unfortunately, it would heal.