Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Cancer Journey

It has been a while since I last wrote. So much has been happening and I am excited to say that I have been able to return to doing what I love. In the last few weeks, I've been teaching in Honolulu, HI, Billings, MT, Atlanta, GA, Minneapolis, MN and next weekend I will be in Chicago, IL. I've also been actively marketing the new movie called Broken, a faith-based film that is action-packed and full of depth and intrigue. This film is written by my childhood friend, Mark Cramer, and I am proud to be involved in the project.

Many of you have asked me to tell my story, putting my experience into words. Although I have written here about individual instances along my journey, I haven't written about my story from the beginning. As I prepared to speak at Neighborhood Christian Center a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to put my story in a written narrative format. It is written from my heart and I want to share it with you now.

Sincerely,
Robert B. Haase
A Blessed Man


 

My Story


I remember sitting in my office at my desk, alone, on the morning of September 30th, 2008. My doctor called to give me the news. I had cancer. It was almost a relief in a strange way. I had had pain in my tongue for the past two years and I had biopsy after biopsy and each time the doctors would say the same thing. “Good news, you don’t have cancer.” 

In early September, in a voice that was a bit more stern than it should have been, I said to my doctor in frustration, “You know, doc, I’m also not pregnant. My insurance is paying a lot of money to find out what I have, not what I don’t have. Please get someone on this that can give me an answer.”  And that’s exactly what he did.

It was the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that gave my doctor the news. “Your patient has Squamous Cell Carcinoma.”

I was actually relieved in a way. There was an answer to why I was in pain. It still made no sense, whatsoever though. I wasn’t a smoker. Didn’t chew tobacco. Didn’t have the Human Papillomavirus (HPV.) It just was what it was. I drew the “C” card.

Truth be told, I was wondering if my name was spelled wrong by that point. Instead of  “BOB”, it should have been “JOB” from the story in the Old Testament. Not that I went through anywhere near what he did, but I was feeling a test of my resolve to love God and cling to Him versus curse Him and die.

A few years before, in 2004 I lost the love of my life, my girl’s mother, due to a crumbling marriage. I was impatient with her and did not deal well with her reaction to several life events. Rather than putting my needs aside and showing unconditional love, I was selfish and responded poorly, ultimately resulting in our divorce.  I remarried immediately in 2005 to someone that I really shouldn’t have, for a number of reasons. I suppose what I got what was ultimately the result of my own actions when my second wife left in 2008 with her new boyfriend.  Her leaving… and then adding another man into the equation was just more salt in the wounds that had been laying bare in my heart.

Later that same year, the economy started to falter as you recall. The vocational school that I had spent a million dollars advertising and building from scratch into the nation’s only hospital-based myotherapy & massage program had to close its doors. Our students were mostly funded by student loans. Loans that had previously seen 85% approval rates drop steadily until every student loan was rejected. Our $50,000.00 monthly overhead drained our reserves quickly. The good news is that we were able to get our students graduated before we shut the school down. Over 300 massage schools closed that year for the same reason. Since I co-signed for every lease and loan, I had to declare both personal and corporate bankruptcy. First I lost my wife, then I lost my business, having to let my employees go in a horrible economy.  Then I lost my house, then my BMW. Then the call on September 30th that I had cancer. It was crashing wave after crashing wave, knocking me down each time before having a chance to get my footing for the next wave. The last straw was the painful kidney stone that came the week after my divorce was finalized. That year left me a bit bruised and battered.

In the years that followed, I had surgery after surgery. Each time the cancer would be cut out and the doctor would say, “Good news, you’re cancer free!” Then, every 6-12 months, the cancer would return to the same spot on the underside of my left tongue. It would be cut out again, and I’d be cancer free. I had a total of ten surgeries until the fall of 2013.

In August of 2013 the pain returned, but this time it was different. It was more severe and for the first time, there was no sign of it on the surface. It was much deeper. Dr. Myers, my ENT, could feel what I felt. There was a palpable mass deep inside my tongue. On September 4, 2013 I went into surgery with Dr. Myers at St. Peter’s Hospital. When I woke up out of the haze of anesthesia, he told me that he got half of the tumor, but it was wrapped around the nerve that made my tongue movement possible. What was left was only ½ the size of a Tylenol tablet and I needed another surgery, but he wanted someone even more qualified to do it. I needed to see the best in the country for the type of cancer I had and that surgeon happened to be at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

After a consultation that next week, I was scheduled for a September 30th surgery. That was almost a month away. “Perfect!”, I thought. I could use that month to take my youngest daughter, Holly, on her graduation trip to Mexico!

What I didn’t realize is that during those 26 days, the cancer went from the size of half a Tylenol to the size of a Oreo cookie. My new surgeon told me when I woke up that what I was dealing with was an extremely aggressive cancer and he needed to go back in with a more aggressive response to get the rest. The procedure was too complex and he needed his team to help him on October 3rd. “The hard news”, he said, “is that we are needing to take the left half of your tongue, dividing it down the middle. We will use your left forearm tissue to build up the tongue mass, but the right side will have to move the arm tissue around. You should be able to communicate eventually.” I was really glad at that moment that I didn’t have a tattoo on my left forearm. Can you imagine what my tongue would look like? But more importantly, I was a public speaker. I needed my tongue. How was a public speaker supposed to speak with any sort of comprehensible articulation with only half of a tongue, especially half a tongue that had to work dragging the other lifeless half around?

Ever felt like you were in a Twilight Zone episode? He basically told me that if I wanted to live, I had to sacrifice half of my tongue. The cancer was aggressive and moving quickly. Time was not on my side and waiting wasn’t an option. 

I don’t know what the expression on my face looked like, but my heart sank. I was numb, trying to comprehend what he was telling me. It was all too surreal. I have always been an “up” person, glass half full and could always see the good in everything. I KNEW that God has a plan for my life, but I was a public speaker. HOW could THIS be part of His plan?

The surgery went as planned. Dr. Bayles and his team removed the left half of my tongue. Then they removed a large swath of tissue on my left forearm, all the way down to my arm tendons, folded that tissue over and sewed it onto what remained of the right side of my tongue. Next, tissue was removed from my left thigh with the equivalent of a “medical cheese slicer”, using the skin to cover the hole in my arm. The forearm was then stapled up. It was intense and looked freakish, but the team wasn’t done. Next they cut the left side of my neck open and removed 20 lymph nodes in all. One had burst open like a “squished blueberry” and team feared the cancer had escaped into my lymph system. Instead of surgery and 30 grueling treatments of radiation, they also needed to give me chemotherapy in high doses as well.

My radiation oncologist had warned me about what was ahead for me. “I wouldn’t do this to my worst enemy… the treatment protocol that you need is the worst and most painful that I can give. I’m sorry.” She was right.

Five days a week for 6-weeks I had session after session of radiation, each time giving me a sunburn of sorts, re-burning the same area each time. The skin got more and more red, resulting eventually in 2nd degree burns and permanent scaring and darkening of the skin. Chemotherapy was tolerable at first, but eventually led to constant, daily vomiting. The vomiting went on for weeks after chemo was over and at the worst of it, I had dropped from 215lbs to just under 150lbs. Today, I’m a healthy 165.

The good news is that cancer cured my weight problem… I can’t taste food for the most part and more importantly, can’t eat much because the eating process tires me out and the space for food to get down my throat is severely reduced in size. Also, due to the weight loss, my Type II diabetes was cured. My cholesterol levels? Now normal. Blood pressure? Normal!

Between 2008 and 2013 I had lost a business that owned me. I lost a house that was worth half of what I bought it for. I lost a car that was worth half of what I owed on it. It’s like that verse came alive, Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“ALL THINGS”

With the cancer diagnosis, I have heard things that people have said to me that are hurtful and untrue… things like, “You must have cancer because there is sin in your life…” or, “There is cancer in your tongue because there is something that you aren’t confessing…” Even, “There is someone you haven’t forgiven… you need to forgive. You have cancer because of your unforgiving heart.”

You know, as with the story of Job, things sometimes just happen. Matthew 5:45, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Not everything that happens is a punishment, but everything is a chance to draw you closer to God. He allows all the “stuff” and uses it for good…

People say, “God won’t give you anything more than you can handle.” Sorry. The Bible doesn’t say that. What it does say is that we won’t be given any more temptation than we can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 

The truth is, God will allow things to happen that you can’t necessarily handle on your own. But you can through Christ. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I KNEW in my heart that if God was going to allow my tongue to be taken that He must have another plan for my life. A plan that I couldn’t have envisioned. I had two choices. I could either be bitter and angry that things didn’t turn out the way that I wanted, or I could be full of hope, excitement and joy that there was a better, more amazing future that I could not yet fathom.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

You’re thinking, but “He did take something from you and you were harmed”, right?

I have news for you. I have not been harmed. Let me explain…

When I became a Christian, I was healed… my heart, mind, soul and spirit. But as for the body? God intended it to carry our spirits around as vehicles while we walk this earth, but I have some sad news… our bodies are dying a little every day, and worse yet, life is a death sentence. It comes with a guaranteed prognosis. You are going to die.

We are given a finite time on this earth, and according to the Bible, we aren’t designed to last past 120 anymore. We all die of something. If the reasoning that disease is because of something you did or “sin in your life”, then that means we all end our life because of a sin we have committed or as punishment for a past behavior. That’s not true though. Our body gives up from old age because of our cell’s inability to continue replicating in a healthy way. We suffer from physical decay, malfunctions… cancer… Death is a part of life.

I am not really worried any longer about dying. I am worried more about not living while I’m still yet alive.

Stop spending all of your time, energy and resources trying to keep this body perfect and beautiful and start spending your time blessing others. It isn’t about how you will eventually die, but how you will spend the time you have living. I have ½ of a tongue and only one working vocal cord. And I chose to use those to encourage you.

You know, despite all that might be going wrong in your life, you are still blessed. The smallest of things can be blessings, but it is hard to see those things when we let something block our vision.

Take my small iPhone for example. If I hold it in front of my eyes, it is huge, blocking my view of a majority of all that is around me. But if I hold the phone at arm’s length, it blocks only a tiny percentage of what is around me. In other words, the more we concentrate, focus on and hold close what is bothering us, but more it chokes out the amazing blessings that we currently have.

I’ve been told I’m a motivational speaker, but motivation is finding a reason to do something, a carrot dangled in front of you, a reason to move forward. If I had to choose my reasons for living and persevering through the tough times, I suppose those reasons would mostly be encompassed around my family and my three amazing daughters. But I would rather be an Encouragement or Inspirational Speaker. The cowardly lion asked for courage, not motivation, right? It takes courage to face what seems impossible. I want you to know that you can truly get through whatever life throws at you.  As for me, I have the peace that comes with knowing I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.

I pray that you desire God’s will more than your own too. I’ve been learning that it really is so much better and there are better outcomes when I seek His will versus my own. It isn’t necessarily easy. I mean, look at Christ, He prayed to his Father saying PLEASE take this away from me, not wanting to suffer the horror of what he was about to endure for you, but He knew the Master’s plan was so very worth it.

One summer, years ago, I was carrying a heavy box in my garage. As I turned around, the latter that was next a stack of heavy boxes fell towards me and struck me in the back with the heavy boxes crashing against it, increasing the weight and forcing the metal ladder to tear into my flesh. As I took a step away from the ladder, its sharp metal dragged down, tearing more deeply into the tissue. The only thing I could do was drop the heavy box and then turn to face the ladder. That’s kind of like life. Sometimes you need to drop what you are holding onto and face the problem head-on or it will just dig deeper, drawing more scars, pain and torment. Let go, face it and trust that God will give you the courage and strength to get through what is coming against you.

You know, my walk with Christ has become really simplified through this experience, but let me explain by first backing up a bit.

I got into an deep discussion with someone who was stifled in her Christian experience because she’s trying to be “good enough”…  While there are different types of sin, all sins have consequences in the day-to-day reality of your life. What’s worse is, Matthew 5:28 basically says that that if you’ve done it in your heart, you’ve done it… you are seriously screwed.

In the Old Testament, you would bring your lamb to the high priest for sacrifice, using the blood of the slain lamb to cover your sins. The high priest would inspect the lamb first, looking it over for blemishes. If it was perfect, it would be sacrificed to atone for your sins. What he didn’t say was, “Nice lamb, what else have you done for me?”  Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice and his blood washes your sins, past, present and future. All you have to do is accept His gift of salvation, asking Him for forgiveness and His salvation that comes with it.

His work at the cross was enough. If it wasn’t, He wasted His time.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest law was in Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus said the first was loving God with all of your heart, soul and mind and the second was loving your neighbor. He didn’t say, “Don’t steal… don’t kill, or don’t eat the bacon…” Just “love God and love each other.” Simple stuff.

That said, being “saved” and living a pleasing life to God are two completely different things. One is an insurance policy. The other is experiencing the blessings that come from not grieving God. I mean, if you have a habit of robbing banks, your life is going to have a downside unless you really enjoy prison life. The law was written for our own good. Not being perfect isn’t going to end in you losing your salvation, but it will put a damper on the joy you could have experienced while living out your days on this planet.

But I digress… you wanted to hear about my cancer story. The truth is, cancer was frightening, but not nearly as terrifying as what happened on January 11th of this year, 2014.

If you know me, you know I love toys. Electronic toys to be specific. Gadgets of all kinds. I built my first computer in 1993. I look forward to each Apple announcement and each Microsoft, Samsung and Tesla product unveiling. I subscribe to Wired magazine and never miss an issue of Popular Mechanics. I’m a technology guy. Anyways… I’ve watched the news for years and every January have been glued to the newscasts about the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and salivated about what was new in technology and what was coming out soon. Each year it was more and more amazing to see. So after years of wanting to go, this past January I took my best friend with me to Vegas to experience the show in person. Sure, it was only 3-weeks after finishing chemotherapy & radiation and sure, and I was still feeding myself through a stomach tube with oversized syringes… I could handle a trip to Vegas travelling in a confined airplane and hanging around 300,000 disease-carrying people from around the world while I had no white blood cells to fight off disease, right? No worries. Right?  Well, as it turns out, the answer was “no”, not so much.

After spending 3-days in Las Vegas seeing every new gadget and piece of technology, I returned in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, December 10th. Later that morning, I got up, spent the day with a few friends, went to bed Friday night and never woke up on Saturday. 

On Saturday morning, Tamara, a dear friend of mine, was trying to contact me to see how I was feeling after my trip. She knew I was trying to decrease my medications and, as a registered nurse, she was concerned when I did not respond to her emails, texts or voice mails from that morning. She knows my iPhone is nearly always close by and had an uneasy feeling when I was not responding.

As time passed and I still was not responding, Tamera’s gut told her something was wrong and she contacted Brenda, my landlord, begging her to enter my town home to make sure I was okay. Brenda reluctantly agreed and met Tamara at my unit.  Entering first, Brenda yelled out, "Landlord... Robert, are you here?" There was no response. Tamara peaked into the garage on the ground floor and saw my car in the garage. They knew I must be home. Still calling out, there was no response from me. As they entered my master bedroom on the 3rd floor, they found me under the covers in a position described as "decerebrate posturing." I was unresponsive. Tamara was even more concerned from my posture as it apparently most often indicates severe, irreversible brain damage.  My upper body and head was arched back and I was rigid as I laid on my left side. My legs were fully extended with feet and toes pointed down. My arms were curled and rotated away from my body. It wasn’t good. The medics were on their way.

As they waited for the medics, Tamara tried to move my legs and arms out of their rigid state, but she could not.  With persistence, she was able to straighten my torso and arms into neutral position, but as soon as she would let go, my rigid posture and positioning returned to how they found me.

When the medics arrived, more tests began... my pupils were pinpoints and nonreactive to light. I was administered a dose of Narcan to reverse the potential effects of my prescription narcotics. My pupils still did not change making them believe that I truly had a stroke, which can lead to the decerebrate posturing I was holding.

My oxygen saturation was not registering for the EMT's pulse oximeter, which cannot read below 50%.  Because I was found with my head covered and deeply down under my blankets, they believed I had been re-breathing my own CO2 for some time. Not good.

I was hot and pale as well. My first temperature reading was 103.5 degrees, but I didn't sweat until I was uncovered and they had given me numerous painful sternal rubs. Worse yet, I wasn't noticeably breathing initially, but once I started, my breaths were almost described as "agonal" or "dying breaths", but not quite.

With my tongue and throat having gone through surgery and radiation treatment, the medics had a difficult time both intubating me forcing the tubing into a tiny space, causing more damage to a surgical site that was already compromised. Locating a vein to start an IV took some time as well thanks to the scar tissue from so many blood tests and the effects of chemotherapy. Thankfully, they eventually got a vein and rushed me to the emergency room at St. Peter’s Hospital.

Test after test was performed throughout the day on Saturday and the official answer as to what I had experienced was a combination of septic shock, pneumonia and respiratory failure. Any one of those three could have resulted in my death, especially in my weakened state from the cancer treatment. Amazingly, when I finally woke up, there were no signs of brain damage.

I truly believe that the prayers of Tamara and Brenda at the scene in addition to those of my family, friends and Facebook friend's saved my life.


Why Would a Loving God Allow This?

When horrible things happen People often get angry and ask, “Why would a ‘Loving God’ allow this to happen?” They get furious that God doesn’t keep “bad” from happening in this world. The truth is, it was my choice to go to Vegas with a compromised immune system put me into an unsafe situation. We are all given free will and the results of our free will initiates chains of events, ripple effects resulting in negative consequences and outcomes. Even our weather patterns can be affected by our personal choices, or example. When we pollute our water, it can drain into the ocean and that can affect sea life which we ultimately eat which can lead to our own disease… yet we blame God.

You know that Carrie Underwood song, "Jesus Take the Wheel”? Well, if we were ever to really want to keep bad things from happening on this earth, that is exactly what people are asking for when they get angry at God.

Let’s play this through. Say you are craving a greasy, artery-clogging Triple Whopper and you get into your car… you are driving down the road towards Burger King.  If you want God to keep “bad” from happening, like that future heart attack you are working towards, what you are asking for is for God to literally reach down, take the wheel, and drive you to the nearest vegan restaurant. Right? Or maybe you’ve made a decision to step out on your spouse… you’re angry about not getting what you deserve in your marriage and rather than work it out, you lose patience and want to rendezvous with that coworker you have been flirting with. Again, how would you feel if God should reach down and take the wheel from you, forcing you to drive to a marriage counselor’s office instead?

What happens in this world is really all just the result of our humanity enjoying the freedoms of doing what we want, a series of chain reactions resulting in outcomes that are good and bad. And unexpected illness is just the body in its process of returning to the grave.  We are each born, and we will each die. What we do in the time between the two is a lifetime of choices.

What if you knew that you would go to bed a month from now and would never wake up? What would you do with the time you have remaining until then? What would you do differently today? What is your purpose? What choices will you make?


Bitter or Better?

I have been asked if I have grown “better rather than bitter” through all of this, and if I am better, what are the keys to pulling that off.

In general, I have never been a person that gets bitter, and the few times that I have become bitter about something, the emotional toxins that came from it burned so badly that I had to make the decision to release it fully and let it go. 

The Bible says that if we can’t forgive each other, then God can’t forgive us. But what do you do when the one that offends you IS God? For me, the very thought of being angry with God through all of this, through any of this, has never made sense. I mentioned that life is a death sentence and our bodies are designed to live for a finite period of time. Some of us will die of heart disease, others through an accident, others from cancer. Every one of you has cancer cells in your body, but your body does its job defending you, eradicating those cells. As for the cancer that attacked me, my body simply failed to do that.

If 2 out of 5 of us will inevitably get cancer, being angry or bitter at God would ultimately mean I was angry that someone else didn’t have cancer instead of me.

That thought doesn’t compute.  

If Christ can be tortured for me to have eternal life, then dealing with a little cancer and enduring the cruelty of chemotherapy and radiation for the sake of a friend… a neighbor… even a stranger, is nothing.

I have seen too many people in my lifetime that hold onto bitterness and I cannot stand to be around them because of their negativity. I didn’t want to be “that guy.” I knew that how I responded to my battle was a more important witness that would say a lot more about me than just empty words and rhetoric.

So how do you do it? How do you not face the unfaceable and not become bitter? It has been said in many different ways that holding on to bitterness and resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill someone else. Simply put, spending time being bitter is a waste of time. We end up consuming our finite time being angry when we could have used that time to live life. A life of blessing and blessing others. This life is short and spending it angry is really kind of foolish.

A woman I know valued time more than anything in her marriage to her husband. Time together was gold. It was the way she felt loved. When her husband started a new business to support the family, he ended up working long hours, week after week. With each week that passed, the woman grew more and more angry… bitterness took root. She was focused on his being gone and was so consumed by it that when he was home, all she would do was spend their precious time together telling him how upset she was that he hadn’t been there. Ironic, isn’t it? The very time she was craving was right there… but she could only focus on her anger and angrily talk relentlessly about the time that he had been gone. All of the time he was home was filled with bitterness and lecture about how he needed to be home more. The time he was able to offer his wife was wasted, every moment filled with the wife’s wrath and words of bitterness.

Remember the mobile phone analogy? How holding the phone at the bridge of our noses blocks everything else that could have been in our view? The more you focus on what angers you, or the more you focus on the challenge before you, the more you allow your troubles to become the most important thing in your life. You give that life challenge the power to block every good thing in your life. When that happens, we often end up pushing away those who care or want to bless us.


Thoughts on Prayer

This entire chain of events has had a specific impact on my “prayer life”…  or more specifically, how I talk to God.

I want to encourage you to stop thinking about prayer as an item on your to-do list. Sure, setting aside time in the morning for prayer and reading the Bible or a devotional book with scriptures is great, but prayer and “time with God” has become more than that for me.

Paul says to “pray without ceasing.” What does that mean? How do you place your lunch order at Happy Teriyaki when you are supposed to be praying at the same time if you are to “pray without ceasing”? What the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote that to the Thessalonians was more about keeping a constant communication line open with God.

Do you remember the days of dial-up connection to the Internet? If you wanted to get your computer “online”, you would have to launch a program that would tell your computer to connect. The computer would use your home’s “landline” to place a phone call. Then you would hear a bunch of beeps and bong-bong noises followed by a screech and white noise. Then you would be connected briefly until you got kicked off by a bad modem or from some other software glitch. Eventually we upgraded to the new technologies of broadband and DSL… and the constant connection that came with those technologies. No more having to “dial-up” and wait. Today, my prayers are more like a broadband connection with God listening to my ongoing chatter, my thoughts… God knows your prayers before you even pray them. What He wants is to have a relationship with you that is free of judgment and He just wants to love on you when He hears your pains… and hurts… Your communication doesn’t have to sound like “prayer”… just a conversation. If you can quit the old habit of starting prayers with “Dear Heavenly Father” and stop ending your prayers with an “amen”… it becomes more like a never-ending texting conversation with that person you care about… no “amen’s”… no goodbyes. Each check-in with God can simply start with… “I was thinking” or “and…”

Remember not to hog the conversation. Taking time to just listen to what God might be trying to say to you. That “still small voice.” Take time to be quiet and ponder the many little things God has blessed you with… and then listen some more.


Believing in What You Cannot See & Surviving the Flames

It might sound strange, but I am not a Christian because of faith. I am a Christian because it makes logical sense and there is nothing that science throws at me that detracts from the Word of God or Who God is. I believe because of the overwhelming proof that is all around me. The very hands I use in my profession are proof to me of a “handmade” design… Most importantly, I don’t need to “feel” God’s presence to know He is there. I can’t see the wind, but I can see what it does. The wind might not be blowing, but because I am breathing, I know the air is there.

I spend a great deal of time in planes because of my work and my travel habit. A month ago I was in Nashville. A couple of weeks ago I was in Hawaii and then Montana and in two days I am off to Atlanta. If you don’t fly much, you may not have experienced one of my very favorite things… On the darkest, rainiest and most dismal of days, I love to fly because when the plane takes off and begins to climb through the clouds, I KNOW there will be blue sky and sunshine above the blankets of fluffy clouds below. Even though I cannot see the sun on a stormy day, I know it is there just like the fact that I cannot see God, but I know He is there too.

People have said to me, “Aren’t you proud of what you’ve done? What you’ve survived and what you have come through?”  The answer is always, “no.” It was the situation that required me to move. I didn’t have a choice.  

Let’s say you are in a house that is quickly engulfed in flames… fire is all around you so you instinctively run as fast as you can through the flames, right down the hall and out the frond door.  If someone said they were proud of you for running, that wouldn’t compute, right?  For them to be proud of you for running out of a burning house doesn’t make sense. You have to go through it because giving up isn’t an option.

When you go through something as frightening as what I have gone though, at some point the idea will pass through your mind about ending it all. Regardless of your thoughts on suicide, the thoughts will come and you will have to have a heart to heart with yourself on the subject. Even if you haven’t yet faced something like this, I know that some of you have already contemplated ending your pain, if only briefly. You've thought, "If I ended my life, it's no big deal... and I wouldn't feel what I'm feeling now." That is a load of crap.

What I want you to know is that you are more important to people on this planet than you yet realize and leaving us behind would hurt others because of your absence. You have touched someone's life already and your continued presence on this planet allows you to continue to make a difference in touching the lives of others.

I remember over the years many instances people being affected by the smallest of things that I have done or said and I had no clue. To me, those things were inconsequential. To the person I was affecting? Life changing.

When I was in massage school student back in 1991 and had the opportunity to massage a friend of a friend. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to him as Kai.

Kai was a quiet man and gentle in his mannerisms. He was a little introverted, even though he dressed well, and looking people in the eyes didn’t seem to come easy for him.  When Kai arrived for his massage that first time with his boyfriend, who I'll refer to as Brody. Brody was loud and obnoxious in how he carried himself. He seemed to control Kai with a look or a gesture.  Thankfully Brody and Kai scheduled massages at different times, allowing Kai the opportunity to truly relax.

When I asked Kai what kind of massage he was hopping for, he simply said, "I just need to relax." I said, "Okay. I'm going to go wash my hands and let you undress to your level of comfort and get on the table under the sheet."

When I returned, I proceeded to give Kai a relaxing massage, barely saying a word to him, only checking in to see if a certain technique was too much pressure or to ask him to change his position. At the end of the massage, Kai simply said, "Thank you. So, next week... can we come on the same day and time?" I said, "That works. See you then." Kai and Brody’s weekly massage continued for months.

As time went on, Kai began talking more during his massages, opening up and letting me hear about his life, until one night Kai said, "I need to tell you something."
"What's that, Kai?" I asked.

"You saved my life", he said in a soft voice, his eyes directed down at the floor.
"How did I do that?" I said with my eyebrows raised. Kai’s statement caught me off-guard.

Kai then raised his head and looked me in the eyes. Calmly he said, "Remember the first massage you ever gave me? Well, that week I had made the decision to kill myself. I couldn't take life anymore. But, you were the first man that ever touched me that didn't want to rape, molest or hurt me. You just cared and wanted nothing in return. You gave me hope and I felt safe. Thank you for that."

Wow. I had only been doing my job, fulfilling my massage hours for school and, oh by the way, I saved a life in the process. I was needed. I made a difference. Just like you… You are needed and you are making a difference, even when you think you are not.

That said, getting through the darkest of times will require you to take inventory of the times in your life when you thought it couldn’t get any worse and later you realized a positive outcome happened from your experience. Hold on to those moments. Be thankful. Look for the blessings that you have in your life. Regardless of what you may be going through right now, hold on and be thankful. Don’t let your current situation take a position up close, blocking the amazing blessings you’ve had and do have, even the smallest of things. You know, when you put ice cream in your mouth, you taste an explosion of flavor… but I can’t. You see, what I don’t have are functioning taste buds, but what I do have includes family and friends who love me and daughters who bless me.  Don’t waste time thinking about the things you don’t have, because you still have air to breathe. You woke up on the right side of the lawn today… giving you another day to be a blessing.


When Foundations are Temporary

We take so much for granted in life. Some of you have never really known significant loss. Sure, you may have lost a job, but eventually you ended up with another one. Perhaps you’ve been financially blessed with a career and assets that give you the comfort of not worrying about life. But if a situation like the story of Job were to happen to you, what would you do? What would you hold close and never let go of?

My girl’s mother has a saying that I try to live by… “It’s all gonna burn!” and it’s true. The “stuff” you hold dear, your career, your home, your car, your finances… those things can easily be gone one day. The same goes for your health. And mine.

Tonight you will probably go to bed relatively healthy, but what if something unexpected happens tomorrow and you go end your day with a body you don’t recognize? What about your family and friends? We take for granted that they will be there like they always have been. But what happens if an accident or illness suddenly takes them away from you, their loving hugs and laughter gone? What do you do when the ground you take for granted breaks free, sending you into an emotional freefall, dropping you into an abyss of loss?

Putting your faith in yourself and the things you have can be like building your house on the sand at the beach… the waves will inevitably come and cut away at the foundation of what you know to be your reality. For me, knowing that I am loved, eternally blessed and the fact that there is no situation where God won’t hold my hand through it all gives me the courage to make it through. And even when it comes time for me to move on from this life, my confidence stands firm.


Attitude is a Choice

I came to understand the power of words when I was just a boy. While I was still young, my father was a lieutenant in the United States Navy and as a supply officer, he would go out to sea for six-months at a time, leaving me, my mother and my sisters behind. His deployments took place in the days before Skype, email and Tivo. That means that Dad did not have much to occupy his free time except spend time with his fellow crewmembers and read books. Dad had begun his interest in hypnosis while he was a college student but he perfected his skills with continued study while at sea.

My father read book after book about hypnosis and the amazing power of suggestion. He practiced the techniques on fellow students at St. Martin’s College and eventually his fellow shipmates after graduating from Officer Candidate School and entering the Navy. Eventually Dad became exceptional with his skills of hypnotic suggestion.  As a matter of fact, he became so good that he was asked to entertain Navy personnel while at sea. The stories of Dad's performances have reached the stuff of legends.  What he was able to achieve with his words alone was remarkable.

Growing up, Dad would tell me to be careful with what I spoke aloud as there was power in every word. He wasn’t talking about quantum physics and the power of my thought, but actual suggestion to the human brain.

His words to me have proven true over the years. For example, I would be willing to wager a bet that there is someone's name that I could simply mention to you that would give you either a spontaneous headache or feeling of stress or aggravation as soon as his or her name left my lips. The name could be of an ex-spouse, business partner, or even a politician.

My point is this…

If my words can cause you pain, my words can also alleviate pain.

As a medical massage therapist or “myotherapist”, I see firsthand how my words can affect my clients and patients, for both good and bad. Specifically, words directly affect the muscles. Why? Because muscles are controlled by the brain and the brain is affected by what it hears. I can literally help someone stand straighter just with words of encouragement alone. Powerful stuff. But our words also direct focus.

In the lecture portion of my injury treatment seminar, Secrets of Deep Tissue™, I discuss something called the "Gate Theory." This theory applies to my current situation directly.

Let's say you been working in the yard, pulling out blackberry vines next to your home. You are working hard in the warmth of the summer sun and as the day goes on, you find yourself covered in dirt and sweat. While working away, listening to music in your headphones, a neighbor approaches and strikes up a conversation. As he is talking with you, he looks down at your arm, and says, "Hey, you've cut yourself! You're bleeding!" As you look down at your arm, sure enough, there is a long scratch that somehow took place without you noticing from the thorny vines. Amidst the dirt and shimmering sweat, there is a long trail of blood and in that moment you feel the pain of the scratch.

Prior to focusing on the injury, your mind was kept busy. It was feeling the sun on your face and the strain of your muscles working. It was hearing the music of your favorite band and feeling the sensations of refreshment from a bottle of cold water. What your mind did not feel was the 4" scratch on your forearm. Why? Because other sensory input kept your brain busy, drawing attention away from your arm.

So, how does this apply? When facing the unimaginable, my focus is controlled by choice. I can use the Gate Theory for my own good. For me, I needed to stop focusing on the obvious negative impacts of my loss and subsequent treatment and begin focusing on what was important. I have had friends say, "Don't be afraid to be 'real', to be 'human'! It's okay to show weakness!" I agree, but at the same time, when I focus on my pain, guess what I feel? Pain.

Life is like that. When we focus on the negative situations, things we cannot control, physical pain, things we don't have, how others have wronged us, hurts from our past, we feel the emotional scratches from the blackberry vines of life.

My prayer for you is that you are able to put your focus on what is important and the many blessings that you DO have and use the "Gate Theory" for good. Fill your mind and thoughts with that which is good and positive, the silver linings. Let those things make you smile and leave no room for that which would rob you of your joy. I will join you in this exercise and continue to search for my many blessings amongst the increasing pain.

It says in Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Just because you haven’t faced the trials that I have doesn’t mean that you can’t ready yourself and be equipped to handle whatever lies ahead.  Even if you face wave after wave of challenges as they pound you emotionally against the rocks, you can have the tools to get through your own trials when they come. They will come. Would you like to know my secret of how I got through? Although there were several tools I had in my toolbox, there was one that I had to use before any of the other tools would work. Are you ready for my secret of how I got through?

I chose to.

Your ability to get through anything is a choice. There is no sense asking God to have your back and carry you through if you don’t want Him to take your hand to begin with. There will be times when He stands back and encourages you just like a father giving guidance as his child wobbles on a bicycle for the first time. There will be times when He steadies your arm or takes your hand giving you “power assist” up the face of the steepest mountains. There will be times when He catches you as you fall off a ledge and times when He just wants you to crawl into His arms, knowing you are loved and protected. No, you probably won’t necessarily feel those arms, but like the sun above the clouds, He is there and He has His angels surrounding you as well. Choosing to let Him get you though is the key. You have to make a choice to get through and then know He is faithful to see you through.

I remember a story my pastor told years ago when I was a kid about a man that fell off of a cliff and on the way down he grabbed a root that was sticking out of rocks. The man hung there precariously, his legs flailing, trying to get a hold but he couldn’t. He began yelling, “Is anyone up there? Help!”  The voice of God said, “I’m here. All you have to do is let go of that root and I will catch you.”

“Seriously?!” the man yelled. “You want me to let go?” 

God replied with a gentle voice, “Yes, let go and let me catch you. You have to let go of what you are holding onto so tightly. Let go and let me…”

The man thought about it for a few moments and then yelled, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Getting through whatever happens on this journey of life comes down to a series of choices. You can choose to give up. You can choose to do it on your own and push away those who love you or even the help of a stranger, but you still have to choose.

That same pastor talked about God answering prayer with another story. You may have heard it, but it has to do with expecting a miracle and not recognizing it when it is in your face…

There was a flood forming around a woman’s home and a state policeman came and told the woman, “A flood is coming. Come with me now and I’ll drive you to safety.”

“No”, she said. “God is going to save me.”

As the waters rose a boat came to her as the water was level with her second story window. “Get in the boat”, said the man… “I’ll take you to safety.”

“No”, she said. “God is going to save me.”

She climbed onto her roof as the waters continued to rise and a helicopter came by with a search and rescue team. They lowered the basket and a rescuer yelled, “Get in… we will fly you to safety.”

“No”, she said. “God is going to save me.”

The waters continued to rise and the woman eventually drowns and goes to heaven. As she enters Heaven, she asks God, “Why didn’t you save me?”

God replied, “Are you serious? I sent a state policeman, a boat and a helicopter… what else did you want me to do?”

We pray for God to help us get through the trials of life and often are so full of pride that we reject the help of those who offer to help us. My girl’s mother, Debbie, is a tender, gentle woman, but her words of wisdom can cut to the quick… during this process she told me, “When you deny someone the ability to bless you, you are robbing them of their blessing.”  What am I saying? Make the choice to get into the stinking basket! I’m not saying that climbing in won’t be difficult or give you a few scrapes, but you have to make a choice.

You can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens you… you can get through any trial. The outcome of that trial may not look like what you think it should look like. Sometimes God takes your pain away by taking you home allowing you to leave this life and giving you rest. Sometimes He lets you endure because you have unfinished business to complete on this earth still. Either way, don’t focus on how you will die… focus on how you will live.

What will you do today to be a blessing to someone else? How will you use your gifts and talents to make a difference in someone else’s life?  You might give 10% of your income to God or charity, but I would challenge you to give 10% of your time making a difference in the lives of others. There is nothing worse than a “humble brag”, so I’ll spare you the details, but I love using the gifts God has given me to bless others without telling everyone about it. In other words, don’t post a photo of yourself on Facebook with the caption, “Look at me selflessly feeding the homeless at the soup kitchen!” But I will tell you that even when things couldn’t look any bleaker, you can put your problem at arm’s length as you focus on others and then put that outstretched arm around others, being a living blessing.

One final thing that I need to say before letting you go, and that is this… my hope for you isn’t that you necessarily make a decision “for” Jesus, but I want you to first make a decision “about” Jesus. There is a little book that I love by Josh McDowell called “More than a Carpenter” and it poses the question, “Who is Jesus? Lord, Liar or Lunatic?” Systematically, it walks through evidence, logic and Jesus’ own words and arrives at one inevitable conclusion. He was who He said He was.

I was looking for a church years ago and a friend recommended a certain church in my hometown and I called the pastor up for coffee so that I could ask him some questions about his church and see if it would be a good fit for me. Within a very short time, it was apparent that I was destined to be there for his sake and not mine. The short of it is that at one point he said, “Well, we don’t necessarily believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven…” At that point I leaned forward and said, “In John 14:6, Jesus was quoted as saying, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ If God is in Heaven, how exactly do you deal with that verse in your philosophy?”  He started to instantly perspire and with sweat rolling off of his forehead, he looked down and said,  “Uh… we have a hard time with that verse.” I smiled and said, “I bet you do.”


Jesus didn’t deny who He was and we have the choice to choose Him. He was either The Son of God, a Liar who’s wisdom and words should be ignored, or he was a Lunatic. If you look at the evidence, it all boils down to Jesus being THE way.

I hope that my experiences and insights have encouraged you, helping you see that you can and will get through whatever you are facing or whatever may come your way. More importantly I hope you choose to join me in accepting the simple gift of eternal life that Jesus’ sacrifice can provide for you, with no strings attached.

All that said, I may have lost half my tongue, had my body cut apart, endured cancer treatments and almost died, but I have so much more and so many blessings to be thankful for.

God bless you.  If I can pray for you, please e-mail me here.

Yours,

Robert B. Haase
A Blessed Man




Saturday, August 2, 2014

Awesome Things are Happening

So much has been happening and I've had so little time to write. I've had amazing opportunities to encourage and bless others with my story and that alone is humbling and overwhelming at the same time. It is becoming clear now that the direction I am moving in is telling my story wherever I can to those who are supposed to hear it.

My seminar season is upon me and I will start traveling a lot more than I have been. A week and a half ago I returned from Nashville where I was able to spend some time with an old high school buddy of mine. Last week I spoke at all three services for the North Bay Christ the King Church in Birch Bay, Washington, and I leave in a week to help a friend in need for a few days out of state. Then I return, share my story at Neighborhood Christian Center in Tumwater, Washington on August 17th and then fly out to teach on Oahu, Hawaii the next morning. Atlanta, Minneapolis and Chicago follow, and that's just the start.

I know, you're thinking... "Doesn't he need to take it easy and rest?" I realize I am probably pushing myself a little hard. Especially after learning that the radiation killed off my thyroid gland which explains my decreased energy. Hopefully the doctors will get that balanced out with the right amount of medication soon. But, that said, I have great news! I remain cancer free and all of my blood tests are showing healthy results. I did learn that I have been speaking with only one vocal chord though. It seems that the surgery damaged the nerve that affects my left chord. You know what that means?? I get the opportunity to use just one chord to tell the world I'm a blessed man!

Please keep me in your prayers as I keep my eyes and ears open for direction in my future. I've mastered the ability to do things "Bob's Way" so far in life, but I'm trying to learn to do things "God's Way." It isn't easy. It has always made sense to act first, make decisions and then ask God to bless what I've chosen to do. Then I realize the choice I made may not have been "the best" and wonder what would have happened if I had just waited for a peace before acting. Is it just me? The point is I need to listen for that "still small voice" and wait for divine direction. Not as easy as it sounds.

I have had the chance to meet with a few men who are mentoring me in how to share my story. There is so much to say, but having insights on how to squeeze that huge story fit into a 45-minute time frame... how do you do that exactly? What is it that people need to hear when I share?  I know I don't want to be that guy who's a "one string guitar", saying the same thing over and over for decades to come. I do, however, want to share the wisdom and insights that this journey has revealed to me by the Grace of God. The good news is that I am still here... still alive to share, and still realizing every day that I am a blessed man. I have so very much to be thankful for. Thank you all for keeping me in your prayers as I move forward. It means the world to me.

On another subject, I am really excited about a movie project that I'm involved with. I've been made the Chief Marketing Officer for a film out of "Hollywood" called Broken, written by Mark Cramer, who has been a friend of mine since we were just little kids. His first movie, P.U.N.K.S. had Henry Winkler ("The Fonz") as the villain, Randy Quaid as the father and a young Jessica Alba as one of the major characters.  

The movie, Broken, is a faith-based film, but doesn't "preach." Where most faith-based films are kind of boring and vanilla, this one is more gritty and edgy, able to keep the interest of teens, college-age adults as well as families. I'm proud to be a part of this awesome production team. You can see the "teaser to the upcoming trailer" here, followed by a "making of" video as well...


 

Before I sign off, I want to share a video post that was sent to me from a woman at the church I spoke at this past weekend. Her name is Marel and she has agreed to let me share her response to what she heard and read in this blog. It was touching and how she applied what she learned will no doubt bless some of you as well.  It is also an encouragement to me that I am right were I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to do...

I hope that blessed you as much as it did me.



~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man