The Struggle Is Real

This mantra has become commonplace over the past few years, especially in my kids’ generation. My thirty-something daughter recently text me about something and at my age I’ve forgotten what it was exactly, but my reply to her was simply ‘the struggle is real’. She replied back that I had never sounded more millennial.

Me millennial?
Made me LOL! #word

Struggles have been a part of the human condition for as long as the Earth has been spinning. The world was doing just fine right up to the time Adam and Eve ate that apple. Just think what our lives would be like today if they had never indulged in that forbidden fruit. We’d all be living in a world of beautiful gardens. Living in peace. And harmony. And naked. Sorry to plant that seed in your imagination but hey we’d be used to it. Right?

If you’re like me, struggles come in groups or seasons in your life. Seems we’re on a journey through gentle valleys of peace and then all of a sudden we’re climbing up towering mountains of struggles. Wouldn’t it be nice to always live in a place halfway between the valleys and mountains? Still peaceful enough to enjoy the higher view?

A number of times I have lived in that place. Things were going pretty well. No real hardships or burdens. My job was going well. Our family needs were being met. The kids were growing. Our marriage was exciting. We were just enjoying life and coasting along. I’m thankful for those times and the loved ones I shared them with.

But then things would start to change. Finances became an issue. A job changed was needed. Kids struggled in school. Pressure was put on our marriage. Life’s struggles seemed to first trickle in then soon enough a full fledge flood was roaring into our lives. The struggle became very real.

Those times of struggle can be tough and overwhelming. Many times we feel there is no way out of the mess we’re in. How in the world will we ever overcome this and get back to better times? Get back to the peace in the valley again. Those struggles are very real when we’re living in the midst of them.

I’ve determined from my life experiences that the key to handling struggles in life goes back again to the beginning. Before that darn apple. Back to when the world had no struggles. Back to the garden. Back to living in peace with the world. And its Creator.

If you are a follower of the Christ like I am, you probably long for the garden and living in peace with the world and God. It’s hard, I would suggest the hardest thing we will ever try to do. Knowing and truly living the peace of Christ.

I would argue no human since Christ walked the earth has been able to fully live in peace. Many have come close but I think all have struggled and fallen short. But that should not hinder us from continuing our struggle to live with Him. For Him.

Our calling is perhaps not to overcome our struggles but to allow God to help us through them. To walk so closely with Him that we can lean on Him when we need to and allow Him to carry us when our struggle is too much. I’m not sure if my thinking is theologically sound but this is what I’ve come to understand.

Did you ever think about how human kind had our first shot at getting it right in a garden (Eden) and then how God himself went to another garden (Gethsemane) to take upon Himself all of our burdens, all of our struggles, all of our sin, to get it right for us. Guess that’s why I really love spending times in gardens. I’m drawn to them. I’m drawn to Him.

If you find yourself in a real struggle right now, try going to a garden, either in your community or in your mind, and talk to your Creator. He knows your struggle is real. He’s dealt with it before. And He will get you through.

Somewhere on a mountain side, just about half way up from the valley below, is that place, your place of peace. Where your struggles aren’t so great and you can sit back and enjoy the view knowing that peace, His peace, is also real. The Real Deal.

Now that’s the true #word.

See you down the road my friends….

Please Stand By

When I was a kid back in the 60s, frequently the message “Please Stand By….” would appear on our television. Usually right in the middle of my favorite shows like Jonny Quest, Gunsmoke, or Mission Impossible. Mom didn’t know about Mission Impossible so I guess you could say my secret agent skills were pretty good.

There seemed to always be something going on in the world that would be important enough to pre-empt my enjoyment of watching Jonny and Hadji help Dr. Quest and Race defeat some evil villain. I mean was it really that big of a deal, the whole Cuban Missles thing or all those updates on Apollo 11? I know those were significant historical events but watching Marshall Dillon and Festus save Miss Kitty was pretty important to me. Ok, maybe it was just watching Miss Kitty that was important.

If you’re 50 or older, you probably have your own black and white memories of the networks cutting in to let you know something was going on in the world. Maybe not in your world but in the larger world around you. So we would all stand by and watch the special report and just hope they would cut back to our show before it ended. That’s right kids, back in the day there was no pausing of your show. It kept right on playing. Bummer huh.

For the past few years, my life has seemed like a series of those “Please Stand By” moments. Have you had that experience as well? Your life is moving along just fine and pretty entertaining until out of the blue you’re pre-empted. Something that’s not part of your regularly scheduled programming pops up and you have to stop and focus on the unexpected or unwanted. You have no idea how long this unforeseen interruption is going to last nor do you know what you may find once it’s over and your show, your life gets back to normal. By the way, is there really anything that’s normal? A chat for another time perhaps.

Most of you know I started writing posts on Facebook and then this blog, to help me cope with my wife’s cancer journey. Cancer is about the biggest unplanned event any of us can ever have occur in our lives. It interrupts everything. It takes over and we have no choice but to go with it. It becomes the only thing on every channel of our life. And sadly for many, it ends the life we once knew and we now find ourselves cast in a show we don’t want to watch and a role we have no idea how to play.

But the show must go on, right?

It’s been 27 months now since my wife finished her season with cancer. I like to think, no, I know that she is now enjoying and is part of THE most spectacular, beautiful, and uninterruptable season humankind could ever hope to experience.  No pre-empting. Nothing cutting in. Just one continuous unending live performance of the best show on earth or above. I’m looking forward to that myself. I hope you are too.

My show, my life, honestly has been pretty good for the past year or so. The interruption of despair has ended. Sometimes grief breaks in and throws me off a little but that’s becoming less frequent and doesn’t last long. I look at those times now as my “Please Stand By” moments where my show pauses, I reflect and process the grief, and then get back to my regular programming. Although that regular programming is different than the life I had before, I find myself starting to enjoy it. To really appreciate it.

There’s a new plot taking shape for me. I’m still figuring out my role and I’m learning as I go how to make this season a good one. One of the best perhaps. There will be twists and turns I’m sure but I now know that when interruptions come, they are really just part of the larger production that I’m a part of. I believe that the Director will guide me to do my best and that the Producer believes in me no matter how many lines I forget or mistakes I make.

So just as Mr. Phelps always found a way to overcome the challenges, I too will get through my Stand By moments and keep that fuse burning until my mission is complete.

And the Emmy goes to…

See you down the road, my friends….

At The Surface

There really is something about being by water that is calming for me. Be that an ocean, river, or lake they all seem to bring me to a place of calmness and peace. Healing waters or perhaps just a restoration of balance. I really love being by the water and it’s kind of ironic. You see I can’t swim.

I guess I’m okay as long as I’m by the water and not in it. Although donning a life vest and floating along I’m very okay with. Gotta have that one life saving device that keeps me from going under and drowning. I prefer the orange colored life preserver myself as it seems to compliment my complexion. Pearly white.

This past Sunday while listening to our pastor give his message on parenting, my mind began to wander. I believe my wandering thoughts were triggered by something the pastor said about living in the moment with your children. So of course my thoughts immediately jumped to spending some time away from my beautiful loving kids. Guess a Freudian moment for me. See pastor Mark, you never know how your message will motivate us. 😄

Being so inspired, I went home after church, packed up clothes, supplies, and Izzy the Doodle and hit the road. Once I was driving, I headed East and decided to go to the Chesapeake Bay Area for five days. Not my first spontaneous road trip but the first I hadn’t at least researched a little before leaving. So the first time my bladder and the Doodle’s needed a rest stop, I took time to google a place to stay and booked an AirBnb on Gwynn Island in Virginia before continuing East.

Why Chesapeake Bay you might ask? Simply because I had never been there before and it was water. Plus the weather looked a lot better for the week than it did in Central Ohio. It’s now Wednesday and I’m very happy with my choice. Temps in the 70s, sunshine, cool breezes, and the peaceful sounds of water lapping on the rocks and birds singing in the trees. And very beautiful sunsets!

This trip has nothing to do about seeing the sights or finding entertainment. This trip is about slowing down and relaxing. About re-centering myself to what my life and living really should be about. A getaway. A retreat. A trip to focus on the water and allow it to restore my body and spirit. And a time to drink in more of the water of life.

As I enjoy this afternoon I’m watching the water in the bay. On the surface, it’s pretty calm and that brings me peace. Some moments the wind increases and the bay waters begin to wave up from the blowing. The water seems to speed up on its journey. And that makes me think of my life and how outside things or events can influence the flow of my living.

We all experience the hectic life. Where we are going with the current trying to keep ourselves a float. Sometimes it’s easy and we float along enjoying the journey. But other times things move too quickly, the waters get rough, and our sense of peace becomes panic as we just try to keep our head above water. And sometimes it’s so rough we truly feel like the waves are overwhelming us and we’re running out of breath. My life has been like all of these over the past four years.

But today and for the past few months, my journey on the water has been fairly peaceful. Watching the waters of the bay I’m reminded to look just not on the surface but also below. You see while the wind may be pushing up ever rougher waves on the surface, below the surface it’s calmer. And the deeper we go the more calm the water becomes. It’s in that deeper water we can be at peace. We just have to figure out how to breathe down there until we can come back to the surface.

I’m beginning to discover that when things get rough in life, I shouldn’t hold my breath until it passes. I’m learning that when life’s waves start to overwhelm me, that’s the time I need to dive below the surface to the place where I can breathe in peace. Where the water is calmer as I get closer to its source. I need to trust that the waves will not keep me down. That because I know the source of the water of life, I’m going to resurface and will be able to sustain the waves when they come again.

We all have access to that source. It’s up to each of us to not panic because of the waves but to dive deep under the waves and seek the source of peace. To get close and breathe it in.

What is the source? For me, it’s my faith. My faith in a God that is above and greater than any waves in my life. Knowing that as I get closer to Him, through prayer and reading His book, He gives me the water and breath I need to survive. And not just survive but thrive once again on the surface of the waters of living.

As I spend my last two days at the bay, I’m thankful for the water. For the way it ebbs and flows. Even when the waves get rough I’m thankful because I know they will eventually calm. It’s up to me to find the peace that sustains and thankfully I’m finding it more and more.

And so can you. Dive deep my friends.

See you down the road….

Every New Beginning…

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while now, you may have picked up on the fact that music has played a major role in defining who I am. Music has brought me to my faith, lifted me up when I’ve been down, and moved me to tears more times than I can count. Both happy and sad tears.

Since my childhood, listening to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other early rockers on my record player, through my teenager 8-track tape years listening and cruising to Boston, Foreigner, Foghat, and the J Geils Band, through the many genres and decades leading up to today, music has always brought meaning and emotion into my life. It’s sorta in my soul I think.

Bob Seger was one of my favorite singers in the 70s and 80s. I bet you can hear one of his songs in your head right now. Old Time Rock and Roll, Night Moves, Still the Same, Against the Wind. The rhythms and lyrics of many of these songs have stuck with me over the years and I find myself going back to them at different times to help me get through things going on in my life. I wonder which artists and songs have stayed with you over the years. Which have carried you through?

One Seger song that I’ve always loved and yet haunts me is Turn the Page. If you’re familiar with it, you know it’s about a singer on the road playing in different cities night after night. It’s about the grind and toll it is taking on him and how he wishes the trip was through. It’s about encounters with people in places he doesn’t know or even want to be with. It’s about the empty feeling he has in his soul.

I do like to sing but I’ve never been on tour so I can’t personally relate to what Bob Seger was specifically singing about in Turn the Page. But I can understand and relate to the empty feeling caused by what he was experiencing. There have been many times in my almost 60 years, that life events have made me feel exhausted. Burned out. Wanting to just give up. And a few times I have. I just couldn’t turn the page in my life to see what was next and frankly didn’t really care. I had had enough. Have you been there?

In 1998, the song Closing Time by Semisonic came out. At first, I didn’t really like the song much. I mean come on, it was about a guy at a bar hoping a certain someone would take him home after the bar closed. Maybe it brought back memories of some closing times at Mickey’s in my home town back in the 80s. Might have hit a little too close to home for me but that’s another story for another time. Maybe over a beer. You can buy.

But in the song Closing Time, there is one line that over the past 20 years seems to always come back to my mind. And during the last two years, it has come to mind many times when I’ve been really struggling with turning the page to the next chapter in my life. And I have found encouragement in the words.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Pretty simple right but oh so hard to think of when you’re in crisis, or grieving, or just worn out. If we allowed every page in our lives to just go on and on, nothing would ever change. We’d be stuck on the road night after night, perhaps playing star over and over again just like Seger.

Thankfully, I’ve come to understand a new beginning is only possible if we move on or close out the current page we’re living in and release the empty and scared feelings to allow our lives to begin again. Ain’t easy to do but I’ve found I can.

Which page are you on right now? Are you at the end of a chapter in your life and finding it really difficult to turn the page to something new? I want to encourage you to keep going, close out the page your on now, and turn to that new beginning that’s waiting for you. You can do it. Put on an old song that lifts you up and move on. It’s closing time. The rest is still unwritten.

Oh wait, that’s another song. Perhaps for another time.

See you down the road….

The Rocks and Stones

When Jesus Christ Superstar came out around 1970, I was just 10 years old. Through my teenage years this musical perspective of the days leading up to the Christ’s death on the cross, the songs from the musical, especially the lyrics, led me to want to learn more about the story.

I’ve always loved rock music and the JC Superstar production is one thing, possibly the main thing, that led me to read the Bible, talk to God, and 15 years later at age 25 accept Jesus as savior and begin to follow Him.

I’m still following and trying each day to live my life to the fullest. Not always easy and many days I fail in following Him. But because of the grace God has given me and the sacrifice the Christ made for me, I go on.

There’s really nothing in this world that can change that. Many things have tried but no pain, no sadness, no success or failure, not even death can stop the shouting in my soul of my thankfulness to God.

The song Hosanna from the musical has the following lyrics, which I believe for all of us that are followers of the Christ, really convey the joy we feel.

Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?

Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.

If every tongue were stilled

The noise would still continue.

The rocks and stone themselves would start to sing

As we walk through this week leading to Easter Sunday, it is my hope and prayer that each of you are intrigued by some aspect of the story and the mystery of the Christ.

And that you explore what Easter is really about.

And who this Christ really is.

Happy Easter Friends.

See you down the road….

The Fork In The Road

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

One of the greatest philosophers of our time was Yogi Berra. If you’re over the age of 40 you probably know who Yogi was. A baseball player, a sometimes TV celebrity, and mostly practical guy with a funny way of stating the obvious. And if you don’t know Yogi, we’ll you’re in luck as most of his qoutes are available all over that internet. I’ve read his qoutes so many times myself that “it’s like deja vu all over again”.

Many folks may feel that Yogi was just a ball player that was kind of simple minded and didn’t really understand the world but I think Yogi in his simplified way of thinking understood the human condition pretty well and had great insight into how we should live.

Eclipsed

Did you see the super blood moon last night? The sky was clear here in central Ohio so it must have been good viewing. I wouldn’t know because having a head cold, I decided to stay in and go to bed early. Single digit temps and a cold virus just didn’t sound like a good time to me. Plus I’ve experienced a number of eclipses in my life so skipping this one seemed reasonable enough.

By definition, an eclipse is ‘an obscuring of the light from one body by the passage of another between it and the observer or between it and its source of illumination’. Last night that was the earth passing between the sun and the moon causing the earth’s shadow to alter the appearance of the moon. Going from bright light to blood red. For some a beautiful sight and for others perhaps frightening.

Today we understand the astronomy and physics of an eclipse and with this knowledge, there is no fear but imagine a society of people experiencing a lunar eclipse without this knowledge. Historical accounts tell us that events such as last night struck fear and panic in those that experienced it. Many perhaps thinking it was the end of their world. I wonder how many had their lives changed by something they had no understanding or control of.

Our lives are abundant with eclipses. Those that we see in the sky and those that we feel in our hearts.

For many of us, the light shining in our lives that brought warmth and comfort was eclipsed, taken away. A shadow began to spread across our world until the light we had come to love and cherish was gone. Replaced by the dark fear of living in a world we didn’t know or understand. It seemed, as if in an instant, that everything had changed. Everything, the thing, the one that had made our life bright and whole disappeared into the shadow and we were left in a very deep and dark hole. Alone in a world, we did not expect.

The darkness seems to never end as we live in the eclipse of our life. But the truth is it will end and light will return. Not necessarily the exact same light as before but the warmth and comfort we lost will return. Just as the moon moves out of the earth’s shadow, our life will move on and again be illuminated. We just have to ride it out.

I’m finding this to be very true in my life these days. The eclipse of the heart I experienced with my wife’s passing almost two years ago, is slowly brightening. Life will never be as it was but my life and my world do go on. The light has not been put out. It was darkened for a while but the darkness did not and cannot overcome it.

So as you experience the eclipses of your life, do not fear the darkness. Go through it. Lean on the knowledge that the light will return to you and shine upon you. Look to your faith and those that love you. Let their light guide you until you step out of the darkness into your new light. Be strong. Have hope. Welcome it back into your life.

May your light shine my friends and see you down the road…..