The world you choose? Heavy dues!

As I introspected further yesterday while raking leaves and listening to my iTunes, I considered the lyrics penned by fantastic Kansas guitarist, composer and then-recent Christian convert Kerry Livgren some 35 years ago. His song New Age Blues https://youtu.be/qaimb3IOk3o was at once indicative of the modern thinking and perhaps predictive of how much would change in the coming decades. In 2020, I have to ask: just how accurate was he?

“…you’re caught in the wheel; you’re buying a lie…

Look out, look in; you look for the ultimate answer within.
No loss, no win; anything goes in a world without sin
And the black and white is gray in the world you choose…

“No reason or rhyme, it’s a sign of the times, so whatever tickles your fancy is fine.
You turn to yourself, there’s nobody else: the new evolution into the divine…”

By the time Kerry wrote these words, he had spent his life in the 70s searching for spiritual answers as his band became more famous and the pressure mounted for better and better music. He observed (but did not participate in) the aspects of that culture, and by the time he accepted Jesus, he had a lifetime of experience to draw from for his future composing. In the early 80s when he began writing for his new band AD, he saw how humanity was being sold the line of “self-first”, although it has taken another generation or so for that concept to really become prominent.

As we enter 2020, have we fully erased black-and-white in favor of many shades of gray? Are we truly at the place where anything goes? Between the news and social media, we are bombarded with the concept that the ‘more conservative’ (label only because it’s how things are currently defined) of us have to accept that which is completely contrary to our beliefs. Not just tolerate: accept, or if you will, acknowledge. To fail to do so brings down the ire of those who no longer believe those truths handed to us by our Creator. So if you’re like me and you dislike conflict, do we shrug and say, “Okay. Be it as you will; the consequences are on you and you alone?” Is that another form of “turning to ourselves” and is that any less wrong?

As this likely tumultuous year unfolds, let us prayerfully consider our actions, prayerfully choose our words, and let both be our witness to a world lost and stumbling in darkness.

Study to show yourself approved, do good to all according to your resources, support the arts, and keep the faith.

Blessings,

Sheldon

Man makes plans; God laughs

As I was raking leaves today (New Year’s Day), the song Comedian by Steve Taylor https://youtu.be/O6h0KZ6WXk0 came across my playlist and I found myself really pondering the words. Part of the lyric goes: “The King of One Liners had us thrilled. Then came the punchline; now we want Him killed. And when He’s gone…who gets the mic if it’s on?”

As we have turned the calendar, not just to a new year but a new decade, and anticipate the things 2020 may bring, do we stop to remember that God is always in control, even if we can’t see and therefore doubt? Do we still look to Him as we decide what things we’ll do this year?

The forefront issue in the US this year will be the most raging, turbulent election we have ever seen. Never has hatred (on both sides) been more displayed. We are so focused on who is trying to legislate whom, who is taking money from whom, who is discriminating against whom (sidebar: make no mistake- I have strong opinions on each controversy and I may or may not discuss a few in future blogs but it is not relevant here) that we have forgotten that God already knows the outcome and nothing is happening outside of HIS plan. We’ve tried to shove our own agenda into God’s face; we’ve ‘stormed the stage’ to ‘occupy His place’, but, though He lets us have our way (and face the consequences) for a time, He will not yield ultimate control of the mic forever.

So keep your faith, disheartened one’s: hope and contentment are always just around the corner when you read to the end of the Book and remember Who is in control of the end of all things.

Study to show yourself approved, do good to all as you are able, support the arts, and keep the faith.

Blessings,

Sheldon

Hard to say? Try living with it.

Meet Jackson. At age 1, after a year of café-au-lait spots increasing in both size and number, Jackson was officially diagnosed with NF1. At the same time, an MRI showed a tumor on his optic nerve. The tumor would dissolve on its own, and at age 4, Jackson is currently symptom-free. (source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital)

Meet Ana. As a toddler, her parents noticed something growing on her face that turned out to be a tumor. Despite multiple surgeries to remove the tumor, it would continue to grow back, each time a little more disfiguring, each time leaving Ana a little more self-conscious. She dropped out of college and struggled to find work, in her mind but perhaps also in reality because of her appearance. By age 24, the tumor had grown to two pounds, completely covering her left eye, causing debilitating headaches, and making it hard to eat. Ultimately, Ana would find a surgeon who was more successful at removing the massive growth. (source: Oprah.com)

Meet Bailey, 18 years old. He has NF2 ( a slightly more serious strain). Over the last eight years, he has had 13 brain or spinal tumor surgeries and spine fusion with rods. (Source: CTF.org)

Meet Jeffrey. An award-winning artist on a mission to change the world through art. he is visually impaired from an optic nerve tumor related to NF. Self-taught as an artist, he first began painting while undergoing chemotherapy at age 12, despite his limited vision, and today has raised $2 million for charity through his art. Not allowing NF to define him or derail him from his life plans, Jeff enjoys a very successful art business and career. Living with low vision, learning disabilities and ADHD are the worst day-to-day obstacles. (CTF.org)

Meet Sheldon. Unaware (though looking back, there were signs; however, not much was yet known about NF in the 60 and 70s) and undiagnosed until after the birth of his son (when it was learned that both had the disorder), Sheldon first noticed something was wrong in the fall of 2000. Simple, recurrent left-hand piano patterns that were quite familiar suddenly became hard to play. Gradually, he would lose a little more feeling and a lot more mobility in his left arm and eventually, his left leg. People wondered if he had suffered a stroke. Discomfort (but not pain) increased in moving his neck and soon breathing became more of an issue. Finally, an MRI revealed the source of all these problems – a tumor, lodged between the top two vertebrae of the spine, which was limiting motion anD worse, putting pressure on the nerve which controls the diaphragm. Seventeen years ago on this very day, Sheldon underwent a lengthy (14 hours) and extremely dangerous surgery to remove the growth (later revealed to be the size of a small lemon). There was risk of paralysis or stroke without much vigil and care by the surgeon. But God was good, and the procedure was successful; the doctor basically invented a new technique (later discussed at national symposiums and notated in medical journals) to chip away at the tumor, which was as hard as a rock (it had been there for at least ten years and maybe even most of the patient’s life). After three months of intense therapy, Sheldon regained full use of all extremities and remains symptom-free to this day, though they could return at anytime.

Neurofibromatosis (NF) is a disorder which is nearly always genetic in origin. It has a 50% chance of being passed on to offspring (riskier than the far more deadly Cystic Fibrosis or Multiple Sclerosis). Although 99% of all growths are benign, the word tumor always strikes a little trepidation because, let’s face it, cancer is one scary monster. Tumors can grow along the optic nerve as mentioned above, the orbital bone (Sheldon’s sister has had two of these removed), the tympanic nerves (ears- more of an NF2 occurrence), anywhere along the spinal column or anywhere connected to the Central Nervous System. And these are just the unseen: growths small and large may appear on the outside of the body, typically on the face or near the waist.

Like snowflakes, no two sufferers exhibit the same symptoms. Some have stunted growth, some have learning disabilities, some never show any signs at all beyond the brown spots.

The Children’s Tumor Foundation is dedicated to the research of this condition; there are places in other countries doing the same. May is NF Awareness month and many places will hold walk-a-thons or other fundraisers now and over the next few months.

If you have questions about my story or NF, please feel free to ask them here and I will do my best to answer. Also, you can visit ctf.org to learn more. Meanwhile, as always, dear reader, support arts, music and the education thereof, study to show yourself approved, and always be kind and helpful to others to the best of your ability.

Blessings, Sheldon

Happy New Year to Me!

What’s that? Happy New Year? Aren’t you four months late on that one? Perhaps, but consider the following:

Granted, we celebrate an event we have labelled New Year’s, flipping the calendar from December to January. We engage in much revelry and, dare I say, debauchery as we put our final stamp on the old before ushering in the new.

Other cultures may have a different idea of when this happens. The Chinese, for example, celebrate New Year’s at the end of the 12th lunar cycle, during the first new moon between January 21 and February 20; for them it marks the end of winter and the approach of spring. It is traditional for every family to thoroughly clean the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Festivities can last as long as 15 days.

Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) occurs 163 days after the first day of Passover, and falls between September 5 and October 5, again depending on the lunar cycle. It lasts for two days and involves, among other things, much blowing of horns.

On the liturgical Christian calendar of services, New Year’s begins with the first Sunday of Advent, four weeks before Christmas. For many, it is an introspective time of preparing hearts, souls and minds for the birth of our Savior.

Thinking about our New Year’s, what is a big tradition for most of those who observe it? The New Year’s ‘resolutions’: an ethereal, esoteric list of things we apparently are doing wrong and which we hope to correct or improve over the next 365 days. I submit that, although well-intentioned, without a significant amount of discipline (that most of us, if we’re honest, don’t possess) resolutions are nearly always ill-fated. There are exceptions: my wife, four New Year’s past, resolved to give up diet soda because of the health detriments and has stuck to it (but again, there’s that discipline factor, along with much encouragement from and accountability to her loving husband).

Me? I would never resolve, for example, to start eating better on January 1, knowing full well that I’ve still got leftovers from Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the fridge plus (immense chocolate lover that I am) two major holidays involving candy yet to come. No, a much better time for self-examination comes on this day, my birthday, the day when the ‘calendar’ is truly flipped to being a new year. I offer to you, dear reader, that the same principle could apply to you, if you really think about it honestly.

Last year, as I turned 50, I wanted some changes in my life. To that end, I joined a service organization (Lion’s Club) and started this blog. As I had been in a major lull, I resolved to write more music. I also made the usual ‘resolutions’ to eat better, exercise more, and get upset less. I score myself about a 45 out of 100 on this list: I have written more notes in the last year than probably since college. I think I get upset less, but I’m not really the person to judge that for myself, and being a school bus driver with the majority of my load being 10-12 year olds, well, that really tests the patience of an INTJ personality. The eating thing? Still working on that…

What are my goals for this year? Writing more in my blog, and, as I used to be an avid reader, reading more. Of course, there’s always eating better, exercising more and getting upset less. I’ll let you know how it’s going next New Year’s Day (for me, April 30)! I encourage you, dear reader, to use YOUR birthday as a more realistic roadmap to examining your life and implementing changes you see as necessary.

Thank you, my readers, for your support. Remember to support the arts and music education, study to show yourself approved, and be kind and generous to others.

Today’s Glass: Bring Your Own Ice!

My dad is in the process of selling his home. It was time: it’s been just him living in the house since my mom died nearly four years ago. Although not every memory is a pleasant one, still there ARE memories from the place in where I lived for eleven years straight and eight more on and off during college and prior to my marriage.

This morning as I was waiting to drive my dad to his doctor’s appointment, I was standing in the backyard, a fairly spacious tract of land. This was the place I practiced my swing and my fastball, the place where I learned there was an actual pastime called tetherball (the previous occupant had left the pole), and the place where, on the rare occasion north Georgia actually received snow, I would attempt to sled down the modest hill.

At the bottom of the property runs a creek. On the far side of the creek there once was a vast pasture. Old Man Addington had a cattle farm, and that was the grazing land. There was a small stretch of woods, the outer fingers of which created a blind, a narrow but effective barrier that kept the cows on their side of the creek.

The boys of the neighborhood (because one was the owner’s grandson) would occasionally play football in that pasture. I won’t tell the story of the time I stretched out to catch a pass and landed…let me rephrase: I won’t finish the story. Use your imagination. The neighborhood boys eventually moved away, leaving me as the only child still on the street, and thus ending the adventures in the pasture. Mr. Addington died many years ago, and I guess the land was sold…

…And neglected. Now, instead of a huge flat meadow, one sees twenty-five years worth of scrub pines that have arisen in its place. Although less tall and dense, you can hardly see where the old woods meets the new. I remarked to my father on the wonder of how the transformation occurred; it looks nothing at all like it did before.

I’m not entirely sure why I’ve chosen to share these thoughts with you, dear reader, other than to practice my blog-writing and thinking process. There are ample obvious points you can take from this exercise:

1) Our planet is an ever-living creation. When God sang the world into existence, He not only breathed life into man, he empowered Nature with the spark needed for survival. It recovered from the Great Flood, but was forever changed from what it was before. And left to its own devices, the land that was a meadow lives on, but now as a new entity.

2) If you want what you have to continue in its current form, do not neglect it. Nurturing can result in good things, but as the adjoining property to my dad’s indicates, there are many forms of nurturing, and you may not be pleased with the results.

3) Make memories while you can. If you leave the place of those memories only to return years later, you may find that memories are all you have left.

Until next time, dear reader: support music and arts education, study to show yourselves approved, and always be kind and helpful to others.

Blessings, Sheldon

Who is nuts about the “T” word?

Balls…nuts…’nads…men have many words for that nether region of the male groin. It’s a sensitive area – too much pressure applied or a swift kick produces more than a fair amount of pain. Guys are very protective of this area and as a rule don’t talk about it much.

This month, however, the taboo needs to be lifted. The reason? April is Testicular Cancer awareness month. In fact, the first week in particular is Testicular Cancer awareness week. If you’re into colors, TC’s color is royal blue or purple, depending who you ask. It is especially important to our family because a member had to deal with this very issue nearly two years ago. Our son had some discomfort, found an enlargement, and went to his doctor to get it checked out. A visit to a urologist came after, followed by a procedure known as an orchiectomy. Then…the waiting; a few weeks later, lab tests would confirm what we feared most: cancer was indeed present.

The good news? We caught it extremely early; three cycles of chemotherapy over nine weeks wiped the cancer out, and it has not returned. There is more to the story, but that story is not mine to tell. Suffice to say, God granted the strength for our son to endure the treatments while going to college classes full-time.

I tell you this to encourage, to caution, yea verily to adjure: Men (young men in particular), do not grow lax in watching for the signs of this disease. Just as women must do regular self exams in the prevention of breast cancer, men must check themselves “down there” in the prevention of testicular cancer. They say TC is a young man’s disease, while prostate cancer is an older man’s disease. This largely holds true, but it is not exclusive based on age. There are two primary types of TC and the age range is mostly 15 through the mid- or late- 30s. The slightly more serious type is at that lower end of that scale; our son had just turned 19 when he received his diagnosis. But, just to show that there are no hard rules, we also came in contact with a man who was in his late 40s when he heard the word cancer applied to him.

Testicular is one of the more treatable types of cancer if caught early! There was another young man receiving chemo at the same time as our son. He was only a year older, but was experiencing harsher side effects and struggles because he delayed pursuing diagnosis and treatment.

Men, know your body. There is an English gentleman (cancer survivor) who has a website called “Check ‘Em, Lads!” where he talks about stuff you need to know. In a nutshell: know what feels normal. An unusually large size, particularly if accompanied by pain when palpated, needs to be checked further by your doctor. It often is only a swelling called a hydrocele, and that is easily treated. If something is suspected to be cancerous, though, it needs to be treated before it spreads, particularly to the nearby lymph nodes.

So whatever is your term-of-choice for the testicular region, do not be embarrassed, do not be neglectful. Your own life might be the one you save.

As always, dear reader, I leave you the admonition: support arts education, study to show yourself approved, and always be kind and helpful to others.

Blessings, Sheldon

If April Fools had existed 1991 years ago

Hi there! My name is Pete. I also go by my original name of Simon, but since Jesus changed it everyone has been calling me Pete. Let me tell you about my day.

It was really, really early in the morning and someone goes banging on my door. I try to ignore the noise, but it doesn’t stop. Then a lady’s voice calls, “Simon!” (I should point out here that our chick friends don’t call me Pete yet because they think Simon sounds more macho). Anyway, I finally get up and go to the door; it’s Mary Magdalene.

“Mags! Do you know what time it is?” Actually, I didn’t know exactly what time it was because overnight somebody had reset my sundial forward one hour. “This had better be important!”

“Dude, you gotta come with me! Something has happened!”

“Mary, come on! I’ve had a bad weekend same as you. I was up late last night, and when I finally decided to try and get some sleep, I discovered someone had short-sheeted my bed. This is Iscariot’s sort of stupid prank, but no one has seen him since late Thursday night.”

“Simon, listen. Me and some of the other girls went to Jesus’ tomb to complete the burial ritual. When we got there, the massive boulder the Romans blocked the tomb with had been moved aside. We weren’t sure how; perhaps it was that massive earthquake a couple hours ago. Didn’t you feel that? Anyway, there was this dude sitting on top of the rock, strumming a lute and singing. I couldn’t catch all of the words besides ‘hear the bells ringing, they’re singing’ or some such nonsense. He looked really weird, being dressed all in white and with that shiny face. We tried to ask him if the grave had been robbed and all he said was ‘Jesus isn’t here.’ I said I’d come talk to you and left some of the other women behind. Now you gotta come with me. Bring Johnny if it makes you feel better.”

That was a pretty good idea; after all, why should I be the only one suffering at this hour? So I go and shake John. “Rock, dude (that was another nickname folks were using for some reason),” he says, “quit it. I’m beat. When we got back home, I opened the door to my room and this entire bucket of water falls on my head. I think Nathaniel has been spending too much time with Iscariot.”

“I know, man, I know, but Mary is out there…”

“Which Mary, dude? We know like at least four people with that name”

“Mags, okay? Anyway, we gotta go to where Jesus was buried; something is wrong – maybe some smart-aleck is pranking us by putting graffiti on the body or something.”

So we both go back to the cemetery. The other ladies are waiting for us. “Simon! John! There are two more people dressed all in white inside. Jesus’ body isn’t there; his clothes are all folded up. These men in white keep saying He is risen over and over. Then we were standing outside crying when this other dude comes up and says “Don’t you recognize me?” We think someone stole his body. It might be April Fools Day, but this isn’t funny!”

Johnny and I both turn and sprint for the tomb; he of course gets there before me because he’s this young buck and I’m starting to feel achy after all these years of hauling fish nets.  Once inside, we had a good look around, and although there were no longer any men inside, the scene was just as the women described. Could it be true? Jesus had promised that he would rise from the dead, but to be honest I really didn’t quite comprehend the possibility.

I went home and spent the rest of the day hanging with the remaining disciples. It still seemed the most probable to us that someone or several someones had stolen his body as the ultimate April Fools prank. It wouldn’t be the Romans: they put the boulder over the grave entrance to prevent that very thing. No, it was probably Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin trying to thumb their noses at us. Maybe Iscariot was a part of this, but we had heard rumors that he had committed suicide.

Later that afternoon, Mags came back by and told an amazing story: While hanging around the garden and crying, a man came up to her and when he talked to her, she realized it was indeed Jesus! She believed he was truly arisen!

Suddenly he appeared in the house with us. Literally, like ‘poof!’ “Peace be with you.” It sounded like Jesus; he was always using phrases like that. It looked like Jesus; he even had the scars from his crucifixion ordeal. But we thought it was a ghost, so he asked for some food. Actually, Andrew wanted to give him wine to drink, but we nixed that; if it was a ghost, wine would leave a stain on the new carpet. We always had some fish in the house so we gave him that. At that point, our eyes were opened and we understood everything. It was appropriate that it was April Fool’s Day because we certainly felt quite foolish. But the more Jesus talked to us, the better we felt. Later that night Cleophas and his buddy stopped by and told their story about how Jesus had appeared to them. He really had been resurrected!

Over the years, we began travelling to other places to proclaim all we had seen. Many didn’t believe us, choosing instead to believe in the April Fool’s prank. We died for our beliefs, many of us quite cruelly. I myself would wind up crucified upside-down for proclaiming the good news of the Gospel.

I boldly state to all you who read that Jesus indeed is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who was sent to be born and live among us, who died on a cross, and who God the Father raised from the dead. I, a most humble fisherman, saw him in person, before and after his resurrection and I trust you will have the faith to believe what I tell you because it is not a joke – He is risen! He is risen indeed!

To Stand or Not to Stand: A Perspective

Maybe you’ve experienced this:

You’re at a Christmas or Easter concert, and you hear the opening strains of a very familiar song. Suddenly, all around you a titanic mass heaves itself upward, and you, not knowing any differently, join the swell in standing, being part of the crowd, beLONGing! Why?

For those who don’t know (or haven’t read my introductory blog entry), I am a professional musician: I play piano and percussion in the Toccoa Symphony Orchestra, and I have been a church choir director for nearly 25 years. I have sung in the Messiah several times, and also played timpani. Every Christmas, the symphony (and our symphony choir) closes the program with the Hallelujah Chorus. The only percussion on this piece is timpani, and since I play primarily mallets (there are none in Baroque music), I go up and sing with the choir. On occasion, I am simply attending a performance elsewhere because my wife is playing violin. If I’m in the audience, when the time comes for this song, guess what? I DON’T STAND FOR THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS!!! Why?

Do you, dear reader, know why people stand for “The Chorus”, as I call it? What is so reverent about this song, compared to any other in The Messiah?

Everyone knows that a man named Handel wrote a work (whether they are familiar with the term ‘oratorio’ or not) entitled The Messiah, and that arguably the most famous part of that creation is the Hallelujah Chorus. Since this is the limit of knowledge for most, allow me to educate you further:

After tiring of operas, Handel became fascinated with writing works with less complicated staging; thus the ‘oratorio’ would later become his claim to fame. He would sometimes choose a libretto (story) or write based on a theme of ideas; the Messiah is an example of the latter. Despite any appearance based on a Biblical motif, Handel’s music was written for the theatre, not the church. The composer was a master of word painting (a composition term referring to how the music sounds like what is being said); this device (and as a composer myself, I’ve occasionally used it) has a tendency to sound like an exaggeration. The phrasing in “For Unto Us a Child is Born”, with its endless-seeming melisma (look that one up!) is meant to sound like what a woman experiences during childbirth.

How did this singular oratorio become popular among Christian churches? I suspect it’s because people are preconditioned to only see and hear what they want, and when something sounds like REALLY spiritual stuff, especially if it quotes the Bible, then all other considerations fly out of the window. This also applies to much of modern contemporary church music: The words on the screen strike an emotion within the listeners, and they get so caught up in that aspect that they are unaware that the song is garbage musically (a topic for another day). Think about the words to the “The Chorus”: “Hallelujah. for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (repeated over and over and over); the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (sung just once); and He shall reign forever and ever (and ever and ever…) Hallelujah!” Does this remind you of anything? YES! Handel wrote the first praise-and-worship style music (the 7-11 variety some folks mention)!

To me, the entire Messiah sounds like it’s mocking the very words it’s proclaiming. I hear you asking, “If that’s how you feel, then WHY do you participate?” The answer is that I can separate myself from this emotion and focus singing my part well, while being thankful in my soul for what Christ did for us. The Chorus, however, holds no more special significance than any other song in that work. If I were forced to choose, I believe the closing number, “Worthy is the Lamb”, is much more reverent and ‘worshipful’ than it’s preceding and more popular song. But I still haven’t answered the original question, have I?

One almost never hears the entire Messiah performed all at once; either the first section (referred to by many as the Christmas portion), with The Chorus appended, or the second and third sections (Easter portion), which already include The Chorus, are what is usually sung, and even then in an abridged version. To listen to the entire oratorio would take at least three hours including intermissions between sections. That’s a loooong time to hold your attention or to sit in an uncomfortable chair.

The king of England would often attend at least the inaugural performance of a work by his court or church composers. George the First was in the audience, in his balcony box, at the premier of The Messiah. “Hallelujah” is the closing number of the second section. The king was getting stiff, and, instead of waiting until after this song, decided to stand up and stretch his legs. The tradition (and perhaps the law) was: when the king stands, Everybody stands! And THAT, dear reader, is how this nonsense started! The King of England did NOT stand because he felt especially moved by the spirituality or reverence of The Chorus! However, just as often happens in the present, his action was misinterpreted as some grandiose Christian statement (the king was the head of the Church of England, after all), so, even if he did not attend future performances, the tradition continued, apparently for perpetuity.

So why are we expected to stand every time we hear the Hallelujah Chorus? For reverent or spiritual reasons? Not for those who are truly informed! To honor the memory of George the First? I can’t imagine anyone outside the UK who would answer that with yes. Then why? Simple: We are so ingrained that whatever we do out of habit MUST always be the right thing to do, that there are things so sacred we dare not act in any other way. IS that a reason to do anything? Hmmmm….

Why I Can’t Wear One-Size-Fits-All Caps

Sixteen years ago on this day I endured a grueling 14-hour surgery to remove a tumor from between the top two vertebrae of my spine. The cause? A condition called Neurofibromatosis, or NF for short.

Because May is NF awareness month, I thought I’d share with you, dear reader, about something I consider highly under-publicized. It’s not a disease in the truest sense of the word because it doesn’t spread. It’s a genetic disorder where tumors can grow anywhere along the central nervous system. These tumors are nearly always benign (as mine was), but they can have devastating effects on your body and, as a result, your life. In my case, prior to my surgery, my left-side extremities had lost much feeling and function (I’m a professional musician, so this was noticeably detrimental to my vocation). Also, the nerve which controls my diaphragm was being pinched, so I was beginning to have difficulty breathing.

As I said, NF is genetic; there is a 50% chance of this being passed along to one’s offspring (I and one of my three sisters have this condition; our one child has it). So why don’t more people know about Neurofibromatosis? Perhaps it’s because NF isn’t as fatal as similar afflictions such as Multiple Sclerosis or Cystic Fibrosis, although the genetic transmission rate is lower for those two. Happily, I have been seeing references to NF and the Children’s Tumor Foundation on recent television medical dramas such as Bones and House.

NF is what I have termed a snowflake disorder, in that it doesn’t present in any two persons exactly the same way. Traits that nearly all NF patients have in common include the presence of small skin discolorations called “cafe-au-lait” spots (you usually need six or more of these for a diagnosis), skin tags of two different varieties – one is red that bleeds profusely when nicked – which can cover little or much of the body, and an abnormally large head (which is why I require a size-8 cap; most OSFA hats only expand to 7 6/8). Tumors can form anywhere. External ones are often plexiform; they can become very large and debilitating, like for this young man in England.

https://www.facebook.com/DailyMail/videos/2247853931941009/?pnref=story

Internally, tumors can form along the spinal column, in the abdominal cavity, or in the brain. They may appear in the ocular cavity, on optic nerves, or in the case of NF 2, acoustic nerves. Half of NF patients have learning disabilities. Some have mobility issues due to softening bones, unusual leg curvature, and scoliosis. My son and I are fortunate: we have no learning problems and to look at us, without some knowledge of characteristics, you wouldn’t know we actually have NF.

Although (depending on the type and patient) symptoms may not appear until after puberty, Neurofobromatosis can be diagnosed at a very early age. In fact, I first learned I had NF when our son was diagnosed before his first birthday; it was because so little was known about NF in the late 60’s and 70’s that I was unaware of my condition until then. Our son is now 20 and remains issue-free; the problem which necessitated my surgery surfaced when I was in my mid-30’s.

I do not wish to bore you with too much information, so I’ll not elaborate further. What can YOU do? Start by going to ctf.org, official website for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, to learn more about the different types of NF. Because May is NF awareness month, there are several benefit walk-a-thons being planned around the country; for example, I know of one in Boston, where an acquaintance of mine named Heather (who also suffers with NF) is participating. Click here join.ctf.org/HNiles if you would like to donate in support of her walk. Much more is being learned about NF, including genetic mapping, and we hope to get closer to a cure.

Thank you for indulging me on this topic. Do me a favor, though? Sure, you can just say NF for short, but, since learning is fun, teach yourself to say the entire word. Break it down into its sub-components: Neuro (meaning of the nerves) – Fibroma (a type of tumor) – Tosis (common ending of medical conditions). Neuro-fibroma-tosis; got it? Good!

Have a wonderful day, my friends! Support arts education, study to show yourself approved, and always be kind and helpful to others.

Blessings, Sheldon

#EndNF

Against My Better Judgment…

Hello, my friends, and welcome to the first installment of my blog Lehmanade4TheSoul! There are a couple  reasons I decided to attempt this (and I say attempt because it will take awhile to learn the ropes vis-a-vis all the special trappings I can use to make you like reading my blog more, but meantime you might just decide I’m no darn good at this.): I have written several stories and opinion pieces on Facebook and in my local paper that have been critically acclaimed by my peers, who suggested I go write a blog. Also, on this very day I celebrate my 50th birthday. It seemed to be a good time to venture out into new territories, apprehensive though I be. I recently joined the Lion’s Club service organization, and now I, your humble servant, mentally take pen in hand (though actually fingers to keyboard) and invade your consciousness with the written word.

Allow me to introduce myself to those readers of whose acquaintance I do not have the pleasure, and also to explain how I chose the title for my blog. My name is Sheldon Lehman (pronounced “lay-men” not “lee-men”). A few years ago our son coined the phrase which I immediately deemed to be our family motto: “When life hands you Lehmans, make Lehmanade!” The rest I obviously stole from the book series of the similar title; I hope I’m not forced to change it…

I am a professional musician by trade; I serve as the Director of Music Ministries at my local church. I am a long-time piano and percussion player in our local symphony orchestra. I am a composer in several genres. However, since making music doesn’t pay the bills by itself (unless you are Daniel Barenboim or Emmanuel Ax, which I am not), I also drive a school bus full of middle- and high-school students. Interesting combination of vocations, huh? Yeah, that’s not the word I would use either, but sometimes in life you have to drink the Lehmanade you are poured.

I am married to a wonderful woman who is also a professional musician, namely a private violin instructor and the concertmistress of the same symphony orchestra. We have one child, a son who is a recent graduate of a decent university with a degree in what else? Music! (education).

I am a committed and unashamed follower of Christ, I tend to the conservative side of politics (since society demands we affix labels), and I am quick to speak my mind on a variety of topics. I like to expand my “little gray cells,” so I read and I solve logic problems and British crosswords in what little spare time I have, and I’ve been told I’m good with my words.

What can you expect to read on these pages? First, I might share my thoughts on whatever topic I feel like addressing any given day. Also, I will expound truths to you, truths which may make you uncomfortable but will hopefully also make you think. Lastly, my tortured mind occasionally dreams up short stories or vignettes you might enjoy reading.

Your comments will always be welcome, under the following conditions: they must be free from the profane, and they must avoid ad hominem attacking of others. And for my English teachers’ sake, please try to spell your words correctly!

Have a wonderful day, dear reader! Support arts education, study to show yourself approved, and always be kind and helpful to others.

Blessings, Sheldon