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….

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…..

And The Night Comes

What is it about the stillness of the night?

You should be sleeping but in the quiet, your mind is replaying the events of the day, the things you should’ve said and done, or what you need to do tomorrow. There’s not a sound in the space around you but in your mind it’s a non stop race of thoughts.

I spent today catching up with a good friend over lunch, helping another with some car issues, and hanging out with my daughter while watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. There were laughs and hugs. It was a good day and yet tonight I’m lying in bed trying to sleep and just can’t seem to get my mind to relax.

I’m thinking about friends dealing with illness or addiction. Others grieving the passing of loved ones. The struggles some families are going through with their kids. Couples in conflict. Souls feeling rejected and forgotten. The misused, mistreated, and mistaken.

My life has been pretty good lately. Actually very good and I’m thankful for that. But this world we live in is still full of problems and as I see others going through tough times, I’m reminded of the struggles and challenges that have come my way over the years. Some easier to live through than others but all changing me from who I was to who I now am.

Next week I’ll turn 59. Just another number. Another step in the marching of time. My life, just as most everyone I imagine, has been a cycle of ups and downs. Good times and bad. Things expected and some not. But they all have led me to where I am now.

And tonight, as the night comes, in the midst of my sleepless thoughts, I’m asking God to not quiet my mind but to show me, to use me, to somehow help those that I can. To be brave. To be true. To be compassionate. To be a friend.

A common saying among the followers of Christ is ‘to show others the love of God in all that we say and do’. I haven’t been very consistent with that. I’m human and my humanness often overpowers my faithfulness. But I’m working on it and as a work in process, I’m grateful that regardless of the mistakes I’ve made I’m still given opportunities to do what is right and be who I’m called to be.

So tonight until sleep does come, my prayer for myself, for all of us, is that we find hope and peace right where we are. That we are thankful for all that has been and that when the morning comes, we’ll be ready to bring that hope and peace into the lives of those that we hold in our thoughts. In all that we say and do.

See you down the road….

Please and Thank You

I think it’s highly likely that we all have either had children or were one at some point in our lives. There are a few of us that I think are just now living out our childhood years. I know I am in retirement. I can’t really do all the childhood physical things now but in my mind, I can. And it’s glorious except for the whole aching joints and sore muscles thing of course.

My grandkids are helping me to remember how to live as a child again. My grandson Teddy is only six months old and his way of living is still pretty much eating, pooping, sleeping, and smiling a lot.  He’s quite good in all these categories. Funny the similarities between the newborn and we aging.

My granddaughter Heidi is two and a half years old or as she says ‘Big Girl’. She’s funny, inquisitive, loving, active, and quite the communicator. She loves to tell me what she was doing or what she is thinking. Most times I can follow her story but on a few occasions her words get going faster than I can follow and I have to try and catch up by asking ‘Did you really?’ or ‘Ok what else?’ or ‘Was it fun?’. I don’t always understand her completely but for now, I have her fooled. I think.

As my mom taught me and as my daughter is teaching Heidi, it is important in communicating with others that you be polite and always use our Please and Thank Yous. Heidi is picking up on this and has summarized that part of the conversation to save time by simply just saying Please and Thank You together up front. Genius don’t you think? I mean why wait to the end of the conversation to thank someone.

I thought about this tonight while enjoying a dinner at the opening night of a restaurant here in Powell. I sat at the bar, grabbed the corner ‘Norm’ stool which I am claiming as my spot, and while chatting with the bartenders and owners I noticed how polite everyone was speaking to one another. Staff and guests all were pleasant and appeared happy to be there. Enjoying each other and their conversations. Cliff didn’t show up while I was there. He must have still been out on his mail route. But Claire was there tending the bar but I’m going to call her Carla. (Where everybody knows your name…)

Anyway, my mind wandered as it often does, and I started to think about life and how important it is to keep our politeness or let’s say kindness always present in our encounters and conversations with others. Even when our lives are not going that well and we’re struggling with one thing or another, I’ve found that if I purposely show kindness to others, I receive it back and my mood is improved. It’s important to understand that if we aren’t kind to those around us, we will probably not receive kindness in return. Seems pretty basic, right?

But unfortunately, it’s not that basic anymore. I hear too many times parents being rude and harsh with their children, couples heatedly arguing with one another, strangers or even friends getting very vocal with each other and belittling one another. And all this in public settings. It’s saddening to see this happening and that our children are picking up on it and emulating this learned behavior. It’s not how we are supposed to relate to each other. It’s not how society is to successfully live together.

Kindness is not something you earn from others. It’s not a right or entitlement. It’s something we should freely give away. Even in our disagreements and frustrations, if we are kind to one another, we can almost always find common ground and a way to first understand each other’s opinion and secondly maintain mutual respect for one another. It’s as easy as starting out with Please and Thank You and letting those simple words guide our encounter.

If you are a follower of the Christ, we are shown many times in the New Testament writings, how we should live with one another. Two verses that come to my mind are Hebrews 10:24 ‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds‘ and Ephesians 4:2 ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love‘. To me, these are not just good words for Christians to live by but good for all humankind regardless of your faith, religion, or belief system. Kindness is universal and for all people to freely give and receive.

Not sure why my mind when in this direction tonight during dinner but thought I would share it with you. My hope is we can all share kindness in our everyday living to all those around us. To our families, to friends, to strangers, and especially to the children.

Please and Thank You, 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….