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 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….

A Walk and A Talk

The sunsets the past two nights here in Central Ohio have been gorgeous. So many hues and colors. The science behind why this happens is very interesting but for me it’s the beauty of it that amazes me the most. I just have to pause and give myself time to take it in. To be awed and inspired.

Tonight while walking the Doodle and watching the kaleidoscope of color in the western sky, I found myself thinking about the past two weeks and the people and places I’ve encountered.

I recently returned home from a trip across the Northwestern United States and during that trip I visited places and met people that were truly beautiful and awe inspiring.

I traveled by plane, train, and automobile (sounds like a movie huh). I visited Glacier National Park, Multnomah Falls, Mount Saint Helens, and Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach.

I saw the beauty of plains and prairies, mountain peaks and lakes, pristine forests, mighty rivers, and a glistening ocean. So many spectacular places that moved me, many to tears, by their splendor and majesty.

I was inspired by many people I meet as well. Daniel, a Native American Blackfoot, who shared some of his life story about growing up and living on reservation. Neil, a driver and baggage handler at East Glacier Lodge, who made a living working seasonal jobs across the country. I met Martha and Karl as well as Ron, at the two Airbnbs I stayed with and was blessed by their hospitality and kindness. And I was happily surprised to meet up with an old young friend, Austin, whom I hadn’t seen in quite a few years.

My trip was a wonderful journey which allowed me to see some pretty amazing places and get to know some pretty cool folks. And my trip has also given me the opportunity to think about all the places I’ve been and people I’ve known along my life journey. I think it’s when we reflect back on our lives, that we truly see and appreciate where we have been and who we have known. And helps us to better understand who we have become.

The message our senior pastor shared this morning was a message focused on belonging. He talked about how in today’s society, we are encouraged and even pressured, to do everything on our own. To be self-reliant and independent. To be strong. To be successful. To be a force of one.

He went on to explain that as a follower of Christ, we are called to find our strength, our greatest potential, not by going it alone but by belonging. Belonging to a God that loves us and belonging to one another through love. That the strength found in belonging is greater than anything we can achieve on our own. My life experiences show me this is true.

I see it this way. Through belonging, our individual strength is increased because of the support and encouragement we receive from those around us. Those we belong to. And in return, our increase strengthens the group of those we belong to.

It’s a cycle that is like a mountain which over time continues to strengthen and build itself higher with each new uplifting addition. And like a river that continues to grow deeper and wider from the inflow of its tributaries as it flows to the ocean. And like a forest that grows stronger and closer with each new sapling. Belonging to someone and something greater than ourselves. This is where strength comes from.

Tonight, once the sun had slipped below the horizon and the night sky began to replace the setting colors, the Doodle and I finished our walk. While we were walking, I talked with God about what I was thinking and feeling. I thanked Him for the beauty of His creation and the people he has brought into my life so far. I thanked Him for accepting me, no, make that saving me, so that I can now belong in a family, His family, where I can become stronger with those that love me. And I asked Him to continue to guide me to the places I still have to go and people I still have to meet.

The world around us is an amazing thing which can be overpowering at times. But you don’t have to go it alone. May we all be strengthened, inspired, and awed in belonging to God and one another.

See you down there road….

Tiny Little Dog

Go back and read the title of this post again but hear it in your mind with a Native American accent. Keep that accent and add a little Canadian to it as I introduce you to Daniel. You got it, eh?

Daniel was the driver for the Sun Tours 8 hour trip I took yesterday around East Glacier National Park in Montana. He is a full member of the Blackfoot tribe to which Glacier Park is a neighbor.

Daniel showed us beautiful mountains and stunning views of many areas of the eastern side of the park. He also shared with us historical information about both Glacier Park and the Blackfoot nation. His humorous approach in telling us stories was a whole lot of fun and I highly recommend him for a tour.

The Niitsitapi, which is the native word for the Blackfoot nation, means ‘The People’. Daniel explained that many of the North American tribes call themselves ‘The People’. I like this. How cool is it that the majority of the members of over 500 different tribes all see themselves as part of one large group of ‘the people’. Unity with variety. We non-native American tribes can learn from this.

He mentioned a few tribes refer to themselves with other names and one of those is the Cheyenne. He said they call themselves not just ‘The People’ but ‘The Beautiful People’. Touch of ego? Probably not as Daniel laughed his almost Santa like ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ (remember that native American Canadian accent) and told us that most other tribes agreed. The Cheyenne are beautiful people. Which made me think, aren’t we all both inside and out?

I asked him what his traditional name was as many Native American families have an ‘English’ name as well as a tribal name. He replied, ‘I’m just Daniel’. But then he added, his mother’s family has the tribal name ‘Shoots many guns’. Ho,Ho,Ho he laughed again.

He told us stories of other Blackfeet members and their names. He mentioned the elected mayor of their town, Jack ‘Makes Cold Weather’. Sounds more like the name of a meteorologist to me.

It was wonderful hearing Daniel’s stories and learning about him and his people. But the thought came to me that he and his people are really no different than you or I. All of us know folks with funny sounding names right? Be kind now. 😀

We may live in different places, live different lives, and speak a little differently but are we really that different? I think we humans have much more in common than not. We should do better at living in that unity with our variety.

Today is my last day at Glacier Park. I board the Amtrak westbound train again tonight to go to the Portland, Oregon, area. The beauty of this place is breathtaking. The creation around us, both down the street and across the world, is something we all should try to see and experience more of.

Nature, our world, wants to show us that life is best lived simply and in harmony. As I was thinking about these things sitting at the East Glacier Rail Station, I noticed etched into the outside of the station’s wall the words ‘Tiny Little Dog’.

I’m wondering if this was a Native American traveler or a well trained Shihtzu just passing through in ’76. Doesn’t really matter as I just hope they really enjoyed their stay at Glacier and the journey they were on. I know I have and am.

See you down the road….

The Road Of Remembering

The past four weeks have been pretty hectic. Life can get that way at times you know. Too many things going on at the same time which cause us to stress out. I’ve been there before. The hectic nature of these past four weeks did give me some stress but it also gave me the opportunity to remember some pretty spectacular things in my life.

Four weeks ago I retired. After 37 years of working in the I.T. field, I decided I had had enough fun and needed to get serious about this ‘adulting’ thing. So, to have enough time to figure out what being an adult really means, I retired from work. So far I have no clue and I’m starting to think Peter Pan got it right. Bang-a-rang!

Along with retiring, I also sold my home of the past eighteen years, and have now moved into a new two bedroom, two bath apartment. Definitely, a downsizing move and I’ll be spending the rest of the summer going through a lifetime accumulation of stuff. The things we keep over the years. I’m not the only one with twelve copies of the same photo of the Oscar Meyer wiener mobile, am I? Be honest now.

And just two days after moving into the apartment, I drove to Missouri for a family reunion with all my crazy cousins on my mom’s side. Thank goodness I have a wonderful house/dog sitter that didn’t mind all the boxes and clutter left from the move. Perhaps the resort style pool at my apartment complex made it a little easier for her. I hope to get to the pool myself this week if the weather gets warmer and dryer. I prefer to get wet by being in the pool and not just from walking to it.

As I was driving westbound on I70 last week, I had the opportunity to relax a little and think back upon recent events in my life that have brought me to where I am now. The time on the road allowed me to remember many things and I can honestly say, the happy outnumbered the sad many times over.

Times I’ve spent working with some very talented and carrying people. Folks that were patient and understanding with the new guy and others that were gracious enough to allow me to lead them. Memories of rubber band wars in the cubicles. Of office Christmas party shenanigans. Of long days and nights with project implementations. The many sayings of hellos and goodbyes. Friendships created. Successes celebrated. Failures learned from. All memories that I will cherish through my retirement and will bring a smile to my face.

Selling and moving out of the house my family had called home for the past eighteen years was not easy. So much had happened in that home over the years. Celebrations and conflicts. Kids struggling through school and kids blossoming into adults. Birthday parties for family and friends. The planning of a daughter’s wedding. And the sadness of saying goodbye to the one I loved more than anything or anyone in this world. All memories I will never forget nor take for granted as each one from my time at Laura Lane has contributed to who I am and to whom I may become.

This past weekend with my cousins in Missouri brought back some wonderful memories as well. My earliest memory of going to old MO for my mom’s family reunion is when I was four years old. Mom and I took a passenger train from Coshocton, Ohio, (my hometown) to St. Louis. I don’t remember why but my dad drove to the reunion while mom and I rode the train. Dad picked us up in St. Louis and then we drove the last few hours to Marshfield to see all the family. The train ride was awesome watching out the windows as the world passed by. Probably what gave me my love for travel.

Our family reunions were no small affair when I was a child. My mom was one of thirteen siblings (3 brothers, 10 sisters) and many of my aunts and uncles had three kids or more. We were a large extended family and on my 16th birthday which coincided with our reunion that year, I counted close to sixty first cousins at the reunion. Many of us took over my aunt Mary’s home for a night, supervised by some of the older more ‘mature’ cousins, where we played cards, watched a Star Trek marathon on local TV and stayed up all night doing what cousins do. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

I did not grow up with any brothers or sisters so my cousins, back then and even more so today, are my siblings. Even with the miles and years between us. This past weekend was another installment of fun and love in my life with this crazy group. The hours we spent laughing while playing Liverpool Rummy for three nights reminded me of our aunts and uncles playing the same card game all those years ago while we kids could only watch. I’m sure they were all looking down this past weekend laughing right along with us as we continued the tradition. I’ll buy that (if you’ve played Liverpool you’ll understand)!

As the mile markers rolled past my car, it seemed each one brought to my mind milestones, memories of all the years I’ve been blessed to live in this world. What is life without our memories and experiences? So many good times and yes a number very sad but it’s a package deal in life. I’ve come to appreciate them all and cherish each one.

The road of life is a journey just like the drive to a family reunion. On that journey, I’ve learned to take my time and enjoy each exit, detour, and stay over for what it is and what it brings to me. And I’m thankful for what lies ahead and the new remembering the road will bring.

See you down the road…

Front Porch Sittin’

It seems summer has come early to Central Ohio. Today, the temps were in the mid 80s as it has been for the past four or five days. Tonight there’s a cool breeze as the Doodle and I enjoy the front porch. That breeze also has the scent of rain so something is coming our way it seems.

Today was a really good day. Actually, the weekend has been very special.

Our family celebrated Mothers Day this afternoon to honor all the mom’s in our family. Three generations. This morning, our extended church family stood and affirmed our commitment to 10 young children being dedicated by their parents. Two were my grandchildren. That commitment of love makes my heart full.

Today was also my two-year-old granddaughter’s birthday and last evening we partied like a two-year-old to celebrate her presence in our lives. She and her little brother bring incomparable joy to my life.

And Friday night I was able to go with a group of friends to see a band perform the hits of Fleetwood Mac. One of my favorite groups from my youth. Music has always moved my soul.

So tonight while doing some front porch sittin’, I’m lingering in the stillness of the evening with a full heart, a joyful spirit, and a soul that is singing a song of gratitude and thanks.

Oh, how I wish my wife Barb was still here with us to celebrate these precious moments. They are the life events she loved. From the hanging out with friends to celebrating special days with her family, she deeply enjoyed times like these. And you know, I’m confident she did so this weekend.

I don’t really know if our loved ones, who have passed on, do have some heavenly view over our lives but I like to think so. Even though she is not physically present, I can sure feel her with us.

I felt her Friday night at the show and could visualize the two of us dancing away the night like we used to. She was with us last night as we enjoyed and celebrated the blessing of our granddaughter, and her spirit was with us today during the dedication of our grandchildren. Her joy tonight must be beyond abundant.

I find comfort in knowing Barb’s joy is abundant and complete. How awesome that must be. I can’t wait to experience it for myself some glorious day.

But for now, I remain here in this life. And I have to say it’s a pretty good one. I’m surrounded by family and friends that love me and one another. And with that love and grace, there isn’t any storm that can overcome the hope and joy I have.

So tonight I’ll leave the windows cracked and let the breeze blow in as I listen to the rain on the roof. It will give me peace. And there again I’m reminded of Barb and her love.

Peace to you my friends.

See you down the road…

Strength In The Broken Pieces

Have you ever broken something?

I know, a silly question isn’t it. We’ve all broken something during our lives. A toy, a glass, grandpa’s storm door, a friendship, a heart. Some breaks are easy to fix while others are hard. And sometimes what has become broken is the hardest to mend. Our self.

Through this first year without my wife Barb, there have been many times that the brokenness I experienced was so complete that I honestly felt lost. Lost to the point I had no idea where to find or how to put things back together again. Have you felt that way? It’s an empty, deep, dark place to be.

When you lose that one thing, the person, that brought wholeness to your life and fullness to your heart, it’s, well, indescribable. It’s one of those things that until you have experienced it you really cannot understand how it feels. Have you been there?

As many of you know, my wife’s brain cancer was not the first brokenness our family had felt. Just a few years before Barb’s passing, her younger brother Greg also died of brain cancer. To lose one was tragic but to lose both of them to this vile disease has been truly devastating. It felt like our lives had been broken into pieces and scattered across the table. Spilling onto the floor. And some pieces seemed to have been lost. That’s what cancer can do to a family. It was not the first time cancer broke me.

When I was 15, my father died of lung cancer and other complications. Dad was a smoker and a drinker. Two habits he developed during his youth and service in WWII. When he was wounded in Europe and sent stateside to recuperate, he met my mom.

I was their only child. They adopted me in 1959, eleven days after I was born which is a story for another time. Through my childhood, my dad was not totally present in my life. He lived with mom and me, took me fishing and mushroom hunting, took vacations with us each year, but being a fully involved fulltime father he was not.

I resented my dad for that and when he was diagnosed with cancer and started to spend even more time away from home, at the hospital, I resented him even more. Such a foolish, childish, selfish way to feel as my dad struggled with his illness. When he went to the hospital the last time, I never went to see him. He died and I stayed home due to fear and that resentment. It’s something I will never get over. I wish I could go back now and be there for him. Do you have regrets of resentment like that? It’s another empty dark place to be.

But we do not have to stay there.

When our lives are broken and become scattered, we have choices to make. We can choose to allow the darkness to hold power over us or we can choose to overcome the darkness to live again. I’ve learned this now. I’m stronger than before. I’m no longer that young man afraid and resentful. I’m learning to find the broken pieces of my life and put them back together. Not the same shape as before. A life that is different for sure but also a life that is strong.

I’m finding strength in the brokenness through my friends, my family, and my faith. This cord of three has proven to be unbreakable in my life. It has pulled me up, gathered me in, and put me together again. It is healing and powerful. It is a gift.

If you have this cord of three in your life you know how great a blessing it is. If you do not, I encourage you to reach out to those around you who are waiting to help you heal, to mend. You don’t have to go it alone.

But you should know there are really four cords involved in living. Friends, family, faith, and the fourth cord is yourself. It’s up to you to first start putting yourself together and although it can be a rough start, you can do it. If I can you can too.

Over this past year, I’ve read many books, watched many videos, and prayed many times to find strength and wholeness. You have to find what connects best with you. One thing that has helped me very much is the book “Healing After Loss” by Martha W. Hickman. Her short but spot on daily meditations are really helping me grow stronger through the healing process. You may find her words helpful too. I’ve included a link below regarding her book.

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, if you are feeling broken, I want to encourage you to not give up. It’s hard, this grieving process, but you can get through it. Persevere. You can find strength in the brokenness and that strength will lead you to a life of renewed meaning and wholeness. You are stronger than you know.

See you down the road.

Martha Higgins’s “Healing After Loss” is a wonderful book of daily meditations to help you through your grief. Available on Amazon via the image above.