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…..

Merry Christmas Eve Eve

December 23rd.

The night before the night before Christmas. Not the most significant day of the holiday season is it. Maybe you spent it doing some last minute gift shopping or purchasing all the food for your Christmas meal. Perhaps it was spent traveling home or getting the house ready for friends and family to arrive. Or maybe you’ve been alone all day, just like you will be tomorrow, and on Christmas.

It could be a day that’s different each year. Perhaps last year things were going well in your life and you were happy but this year it’s been one problem after another and there just isn’t much to be happy about. The tree is decorated and presents surround it but there’s still an empty feeling. There’s someone you miss or you are concerned about. Or maybe you’re waiting on a lab report to come back after the holidays.

At Christmas we all like to have the holiday spirit but some years it just doesn’t come that easily. We try to be merry, cheerful, and glad but underneath our smiles, we’re hurting. And if we were honest we would say that the Christmas season really isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year.

The past four December 23rds for me have been just about as diverse as they come. A holiday rollercoaster ride if you will with tremendous ups and downs.

Dec. 23, 2015 – it was just 4 months before that my wife Barb was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had undergone surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible and had recovered pretty well from that but in early December a follow up MRI indicated another surgery was needed. So the Christmas of 2015 was spent by our family being thankful for the support many were giving us and also preparing for another unknown outcome. We would spend New Year’s Eve in the hospital with Barb celebrating with her as she recovered from what we hoped was her last surgery.

Dec 23, 2016 – the past year had seen Barb not require any further surgery for which we were very thankful. She had completed her radiation treatment and had been receiving chemo treatments for a number of months and was surprisingly strong and doing well. It had been 16 months since her diagnosis. It was our first Christmas with our granddaughter and even in the midst of uncertainty, we celebrated the season and thanked God for His love and gift.

Dec. 23, 2017 – this was our first Christmas without Barb. In January of 2017, the cancer began to grow again and Barb made the decision to not try any other treatments as there were none that were viable and would give her a good quality of life. She declined quickly and went to her heavenly home on March 7. It was the lowest of times for me. I had never felt more lost in my life. But as the year went on, I came to understand that even in the midst of my grieve I could still celebrate the Christmas season and be thankful for all the years I shared with Barb and the way God walked with us through both the good and tough times.

Dec. 23rd, 2018 – today. The present. Another Christmas just two days away. This holiday season I’ve been missing Barb, again. The kids and I are continuing our traditions of putting up the tree, baking sugar cookies, and having our family Christmas eve dinner but each of these still have a feeling of incompleteness. Not really sad but just not the same as before. That will probably always be the case. And that’s okay because our traditions were made with Barb. So I will celebrate and honor those memories as I thank God for where He has brought me and how He continues to love me. And for who He is bringing into my life.

I don’t know where Christmas Eve Eve finds you this year but let me encourage you, if you are down, to not give up but to look up. And if 2018 has been good to you, I encourage you to lift up those around you that are feeling down.

In good times and bad, God’s love for us and His gift to us does not change. He is always there. No matter where we go or what we endure, He is with us. Look for Him. You will find Him. Emmanuel is right beside you this day and every day. And He loves you.

I pray that this Christmas you may experience the glad tidings of the good news that the season is really all about. Look beyond where you are now to where God can take you. Where He will go with you.

Merry Christmas my friends and see you down the road….

The Calm After The Storm

Not quite the saying we’ve all come to know. Usually we say ‘the calm before the storm’ for which I’ve found this description: “a quiet or peaceful period before another period during which there is great activity, argument, or difficulty.”

Since childhood, I’ve always been intrigued by the force and the fierceness of storms. How the world around me can go from its normal, everyday commonness to a thunderous downpour of raging rain and wind. It can happen so quickly and sometimes totally unexpectedly. You’re not prepared. You’re caught in it.

I’ve been caught many times in storms. Riding my bicycle on the backroads of Coshocton County as a kid. Or at a football game and not close enough to the car. Or sitting in our kitchen as my mom tells me my dad had just died in the hospital from his cancer.

The first two situations were true surprises. The third was not but in my 15 years of living, it was by far the most devastating storm I had been caught in. Even though I didn’t show it.

I don’t remember exactly when my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer but I believe I was still in middle school. I know my teachers and school officials knew what was going on but only a few of my closest friends knew.

It was hard for my adolescent brain to fully grasp the depth and importance of something like that and I mostly tried to live my school life in denial. I created in my mind a world that was at peace. A calm place. I tried to ignore my dad’s cancer and in that process I also ignored him.

Dad went through a few years of different treatments. I would stay home or at a friend’s house when mom would go with and later drive my dad to his appointments. I seldom would ask how the treatments were going or what was next. When you’re living in a world of denial, that information isn’t required.

So for that time period between my dad’s diagnosis and his passing, I lived in the calm before the storm. But his passing for me wasn’t really a storm. It was just something that happened. It was over and my life went on. Calmly just as before.

It wasn’t until my wife lost her fight with cancer that the storm really hit me. It’s like over the 40 plus years since my dad’s death, it had been slowly brewing within me and was released a little at the time of Barb’s diagnosis and then exploded in full force the morning of her passing. I was caught in the middle of the strongest, fiercest, darkest, most devastating emotional experience in my life and I had no idea if I would get through it.

But somehow there was a growing peace that soon subdued the winds and rains and brought me out of the darkness. Back into light and the calm. An assurance that the storm was over. That I was okay and Barb and my dad were okay too. The calm after the storm.

It’s been three years since Barb’s diagnosis of brain cancer and roughly eighteen months now since her passing. As many of you know, I started writing about what I was experiencing during my wife’s journey with cancer as a release or therapy to help me process my emotions as well as my faith. I’ve continued that writing since her passing and I have found a calmness, an assurance, that is true and I know it will sustain me through all the remaining storms that will blow into my life.

More storms will come, I know that. I don’t know exactly from where or when but they will come and that’s okay. Because I know that there will always be a peace that will get me through and a calmness waiting for me after the storm.

Storms come upon all of us. I encourage you to search for the calm that is waiting for you and the peace that will get you through your storms.

Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago but felt it wasn’t time to share it. Knowing that many folks are experiencing Hurricane Florence tonight, I thought I’d share this now. My prayers go up for all those in the path of this storm and those ready to help in the midst of and after it. May the calm come quickly.

See you down the road….

12:30 – A Love Note

Recently while flipping through some books my wife Barb had kept, I came across the following note she had written.

She wrote down scripture verses, quotes, and devotional thoughts all the time as reminders to herself of who she was and whose she was. One of her ways of journaling.

Around our home she would tape many of her reminders to the kitchen cabinet doors (both inside and out), the refrigerator door, and mirrors. At her work she had them taped to her desk, filing cabinets, and computer monitor. She kept Post It Notes and 3×5 card manufacturers in business for many years.

I have kept the notes she had taped up around our home as they are another reminder, now to me and our kids, of how strong her faith was and just how much love she held in her heart for everyone.

This note is from her years of serving youth groups at the churches we’ve attended and specifically her middle school small group from just a year or two before her cancer diagnosis.

She absolutley loved helping teenagers come to understand, know, and believe in the Christ. Not traditions of religion but how to begin and grow in a relationship with the God that loved them with all of His heart no matter their current circumstance or what they had done in their past. She knew this kind of love and wanted, no, she had to share it.

Barb’s words in this note should be the mantra for all of us that are followers of Christ. And not just for serving teenagers but all persons. I think she really understood the Great Commission.

I’m not sure what the 12:30 she wrote referenced. Was it a time or scripture verse? I plan on asking her when I see her again someday but for now I’m choosing to think it referred to Mark 12:30:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

She lived this out each day. I believe she abounded in this love and shared it with all those she met on her earthly journey. And now great is her reward in Heaven. I’m striving to do the same.

So let me encourage you to take those notes of love, love letters if you will, that come to you and tape them up in your life so that you’re constantly reminded of how loved you are and how wonderful it is to share that great love.

See you down the road….

Every Rose Has Its…

I love flowers. Especially roses.

The Park of Roses in Columbus, or Clintonville to be precise, is a favorite park for our family. Over the years, from each Spring to Autumn, we have spent many hours there walking among and enjoying all the various varieties. The colors, the scents, even the structure of each plant are things to admire and appreciate. The beauty that comes from some very prickly plants is amazing. Kind of like some folks I know and I bet you know a few too.

My wife Barb especially enjoyed the Park of Roses. The heritage varieties were her favorites. She enjoyed talking with the volunteers that grew and maintained all the plants in the park and learning about new varieties and the care of the plants. At each house we’ve lived in, she would plant one or two rose bushes shortly after moving in so we would be able to enjoy them for years to come. She was good at caring for flowers as she was with almost everything in her life. Whenever I see a rose I think of her.

The photo with this post was taken by a family friend recently in the Park of Roses. Thanks Emily for letting me borrow it. The contrast of decaying blooms with vibrant flowers, really struck me. Realizing that both life and decay were occurring from the same plant, at the same moment, was thought provoking. And inspiring.

Every plant or if I may, every person at any moment in their life, most likely will experience life and decay at the same time. One part of our life may be fading away while another is reaching full bloom. Two realities existing as one.

We experience disappointment and even hurt as things once beautiful and strong begin to slip away from us. Maybe our health or perhaps a relationship is beginning to fade. The beauty, the happiness, we once enjoyed is leaving. What seemed to be the most important thing in our life is going. And we question why. Why is this happening to me? Sadness starts to discolor our world and our joy is taken away.

These past few weeks, the message our senior pastor has shared with us at our church has been based on the book of Ephesians and the Uncommon Joy that can exist in our lives. A joy that stays with us no matter what is changing around us or even happening to us. A joy that goes deep, down to our roots, and no illness, hurt, or decay can take it from us.

I’ve found that type of joy, that internal strength and beauty, but it took me a long time to really understand what it is and from where it comes. It’s something that was always with me, planted deep inside, and over the years I’ve tried to be happy, to grow my joy, but something would always happen that would bring sadness into my life and the blooms would fade and die. I’ve repeated this cycle of growing and dying over and over again with my emotions and I probably will continue to repeat it until my time is up on this earth.

But joy is not an emotion. It’s not like happiness or sadness. Joy is not a feeling. It is a confidence and a contentment in knowing yourself and your source of life, from where life comes. A strength that no matter what this world throws at you, no matter how bad it hurts, you know that you will be alright. That is the joy I’ve come to know and allow to grow in my life. It really is uncommon yet available to everyone. Everyone.

As many of you know, this weekend Senator John McCain passed on after losing his valiant battle with brain cancer, a glioblastoma.  The same type of cancer that took my wife in March of 2017. Both Barb and Mr. McCain fought a good fight, gave their all, in trying to overcome the disease and both lost their life to it. But from what I know about Mr. McCain and from the life I shared with Barb, I can say neither of them lost their joy. The decay of cancer may have taken their lives but the blooms of joy from living and loving continue in those of us that lived and loved with them. They knew the source of their joy and it did not leave them. And now their joy is complete.

“Contentment is not about what we have but who we have.” – Mark Krenz.

I encourage you to search out that source of contentment, that joy, and claim it. Let it take root inside you and grow to make you strong. Even strong enough to overcome the decay of this life.

To be able to bloom. Always and in all things.

See you down the road….

A Better Boat

Really, I don’t dislike worms.

When I was a child, my dad took me fishing many times and I enjoyed everything about it except baiting the hook.

I didn’t mine worms. They were actually very interesting to watch but poking the hook through the worm, night crawlers usually, I swear at times I could hear the worm cry out in pain. A kid’s imagination. Right?

Sitting along the bank, casting out, reeling in, watching the water roll by. Some pretty great days even with the worms. Days I wished I could have spent more with my dad. But cancer and his self medication in dealing with life problems cut our fishing days short.

Regardless, I have some pretty fond memories along and on the water fishing with my dad. One such memory was camping and fishing at Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri.

Around the Fourth of July most years, my mom, dad, and I would spend a couple weeks in southwest Missouri for our annual family reunion on my mom’s side. One summer, all the dads and kids that wanted to, went to Table Rock for an overnight fishing excursion. We camped in tents, trailers, and the beds of a couple pickup trucks but not much time was spent sleeping.

Just before sunset, we took boats out on the lake to string lines of baited bottle floaters. Our goal was to catch lake trout and other varieties overnight in order to cook them up for breakfast in the morning. I’m happy to say our goal was achieved. And it was delicious.

Being out on the small boat was a lot of fun for my ten year old self but one thing I was not initially informed of was that at least twice during the night we had to go back out in the boats to check the lines and re-bait as needed. Again not much sleeping happened but that was ok. We were doing man things.

On the second trip out to check the lines that night, the sky got cloudy and a wind kicked up out of the south. This made our small boat rock quite a bit and the re-baiting pretty difficult. Being not a good swimmer, my ten year old self became quite nervous. About all I could do that second trip was hold on to the sides of the boat and try to not fall in the lake. In my mind I was shouting, ‘We need a bigger, better boat!’

Although shaken and somewhat wet from the rain that came with the wind, we made it back to land ok. I can laugh now looking back at myself on the water that night and realize that it wasn’t really that bad. I was with my dad and uncles and if anything went wrong they were there to help me through.

You know though, I can still feel like my ten year old self sometimes even now in my fifty-eighth year. Dark nights come. The wind and rain begin to blow and my life boat gets rocked. There’s no time to enjoy what’s going on around me as holding on is about all I can do. Bet you’ve felt that way too. We need a better boat.

There’s a song out right now by Kenny Chesney and it’s title is exactly that. Better Boat.

It’s a great song with very meaningful lyrics. If you’ve ever felt like your boat is taking on water, sinking, and there’s not much hope of making it back to safe dry land, I want to encourage you to listen to Kenny’s song.

Below is the chorus. Simple words that hold great encouragement. We all need a better boat at times in our lives. Let’s all keep building while we hold on. The storm will pass. There’s still a lot of good fishing to come.

I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t workin’, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussin’ out
Now and then I let it go, I ride the waves I can’t control
I’m learnin’ how to build a better boat.”

See you down the road…

Route Recalculating

Hey there. It’s been a while.

Life got very busy for me over the past three months. I retired from a thirty-seven year career in the I.T. field, sold our family home of the past eighteen years, moved into an apartment for the first time in my life, and I’ve been helping my daughter get her business off the ground.

Yep – I’m taking it easy in retirement.
Not really sure how you do that but I’m working on it.

Retiring at Fifty-eight was not in my original life plan. Nor was losing my wife to cancer. But one thing I’ve discovered through the past few years is that when the road we’re traveling in life changes and our destination becomes uncertain, who we are as the traveler doesn’t really change. Here’s what I mean.

Throughout my working life, I’ve always worked with computers in one way or another. Programming, in my opinion, is a form of art. It’s creative, it can be original and unique, and it can be awe-inspiring to see the final outcome of your work. It’s not a symphony by Beethoven or a masterpiece by Monet, but in its own way, a well-done computer program is a work of passion that any I.T. geek can be very proud of.

I loved the various types of work I did and positions I held over those I.T. years but in all honesty, over these past few months, I really haven’t missed it. What I’ve learned is that it wasn’t the type of work I was doing that was fulfilling to me but it was working with others that were just as passionate about their work that brought me wholeness. My experiences with my teammates, my coworkers, my “life traveling” companions is what made it all fun and meaningful.

As a child, I was pretty much a shy introvert. I had a hard time feeling comfortable in meeting new people and being in large crowds. I preferred to just hang out with a few close friends in our neighborhood most of the time. This led to some lifelong friendships but also kept me from getting to know a whole bunch of other folks. I sometimes wonder how many friendships I missed creating back then and experiences lost.

But when I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license, my world expanded in both area and relationships. Those four years of high school were a time of so many memorable experiences for me and I cherish them all. The good, the bad, and the ones I’m still surprised I survived.

At my 40th High School reunion a few weekends ago, many of us from the CHS class of 1978 laughed and enjoyed looking back at our high school journey and reliving the past. Matter a fact we relived it so well that the local deputy paid us a visit around 2am at our hotel. We’ve still got it was our motto for that night! Not sure what that ‘it’ really is these days but it’s still ours.

While I was driving home the next day after our reunion, I was thinking about friends that were not able to make it this year and some of our shared memories. In particular, I was thinking about one childhood buddy that wasn’t there with us. Bob. He is one of the twelve classmates we’ve already lost. Cancer got the best of him in 2017.

A number of us talked and laughed about times with Bob during our reunion weekend but while driving home I became rather angry over it. Angry that this damnable disease has touched my life and the lives of so many of those I care about. Everyone dies but cancer, this horrible disease, takes too many too early.

I hate it. I asked God to destroy it or take it far from this earth so it could no longer strike down those we love. I was becoming quite upset when at that moment a song came on the radio that brought me out of my anger and back to a place of peace. And the next song that played confirmed that peace and a few tears of thankfulness.

The songs ‘Praise You in this Storm’ by Casting Crowns and ‘Even If’ by MercyMe, both speak to the struggle we face in our lives due to illness, relationships, or any hardship. Dark things that we can’t control that are put in our path that we have to somehow try to navigate around, no, make it through. Horrible things. Things not planned in our life journey.

Both songs brought me back to my faith and belief that there’s really just one way to make it through those dark times. We can try all the human ways of dealing with tragedy and death, and believe me I’ve tried many over the years, but the one thing that has gotten me through is giving the anger, pain, and hurt away to the One, the only one, that can truly make it easier. Not necessarily take it away but carry it for me. I’m grateful for that each and every day.

This past weekend here in Columbus was the Pelotonia. The annual bike ride to raise funds for cancer research and to find a cure. Many of my friends touched by cancer rode again this year. I believe for them as well as myself the lyrics from ‘Even If’ sum up how we feel and where our hope and strength lie. Give both songs a listen to perhaps hear for the first time how you can make it through.

“They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone”

May it be well with you as you continue your life journey – see you down the road.