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….

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….

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….

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….

A Funeral For A Friend

Ever since I was a teenager, Elton John has been one of my favorites. His music in the seventies was new and unique and combined piano and rock in such a way that it connected with me deeply. Your Song, Candle In The Wind, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, and A Funeral For A Friend to this day still move me when I’m listening and singing along.

Sir Elton is currently on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour and I’m planning on going next Friday night here in Columbus. I’ve never seen him in person and I’m excited as a teenager to get this opportunity before he stops touring. And let me take this opportunity to apologize in advance to all those that will be sitting around me for the raspy singing you’ll be hearing. From me, not Sir Elton.

Rock music has always been my favorite genre. I’m a child of the seventies so I guess that makes sense. I have many friendships that began listening to this music. Cruising Main Street on a Friday or Saturday night, windows down and 8 track speakers cranking out the tunes. Singing loud and sometimes dancing around the car at the stop lights. Great memories of great times with great friends.

The song Funeral For A Friend holds special meaning for me today. This morning I was among many who celebrated the life of a dear friend. Richard was a brother in Christ and he made his final journey home. He had a long struggle with illness and finally, thankfully, he found his rest.

There’s a mixed blessing at a funeral you know. Feeling both sadness and joy at the same time. I felt that today. A sadness in the missing of him which we will all feel for a long time and the joy in knowing that he lived his life to the fullest, called all strangers friend and loved his God with all his heart. He was truly a good man. My prayers go up for his family and all of us that were blessed by his friendship.

Today brought back strong emotions of when my wife finished her journey home. Hard to believe that it’s been eighteen months since Barb completed her race on earth and went to Heaven. I miss her still and always will but knowing that she, Richard, and other family and friends are together now in Heaven gives me great comfort and peace. I’ll see them again and that gives me an even greater hope. Death is not the end.

So after today’s memorial, I was back in my apartment and remembered the song Funeral For A Friend. I asked Alexa to play it. In its own rock way, the song, which starts as an instrumental, took me to a place of peace in my mind. It allowed me to flash back to memories of wonderful times. I found joy in playing my air piano and air guitar along with the song. Don’t laugh. I know most of you play air instruments too and let me say we’re all pretty good at it! Rock On!

Anyway, the second half of the song is actually called Love Lies Bleeding. I believe it’s about a romantic breakup if you follow the lyrics. But for me, on this day, that title holds a different meaning.

The main line in the song is ‘Love lies bleeding in my hand’ and today those lyrics took my thoughts to another person who both Barb and Richard knew very well. The person that truly did have love bleeding in his hands. The one person that did what no other could do for a friend and our world. God himself giving his life in our place. ‘The’ Funeral For A Friend.

Tonight as I sit here in my apartment listening to the rain, I’m thankful for the love Barb and I shared. The friendship Richard shared with so many. And the sacrifice made by the One for all of us. Yes, there is joy to be found in a funeral. I felt it today and still do tonight. It will remain.

If you’re on Sawmill Parkway in the days ahead, don’t be surprised if you see me dancing around my car and singing ‘It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside’. Just put your car in park and join me. And be sure to bring your air guitar or piano too.

Rock on 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….

And in the morning….

It’s 6am and I’m somewhere in North Dakota. I’m traveling on the AMTRAK #27 Empire Builder train on my way west to Glacier, Montana.

The light of morning is just starting to brighten the eastern sky. Just enough that I can see there is a mix of clouds above us. Should be a pretty colorful sunrise. That’s my hope.

While waiting on the sunrise this morning, I was reminded of this verse from the book of Numbers:

“Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening until morning. When it lifted in the morning, they started out. It didn’t matter whether it was day or night. When the cloud lifted, the people started out.” – Numbers 9:21 NIRV

As a simple description, the cloud in this verse was the guiding spirit of God that was leading the people of Israel to the promised land. I’ve often reflected on that last sentence, ‘When the cloud lifted, the people started out’. In other words, the people didn’t move until God did.

Have you ever been waiting for God to make his move? To show you what to do next? I have. Many times. And many of those times, my patience wore thin in the waiting and I got mad at Him. I went ahead and made my move without Him. Bet you can guess how well that went for me.

No matter how impatient we become waiting on God to do something, it really is in our best interest to wait for Him. What I have learned is that while I’m waiting I need to be calm and secure in knowing that the move God will make in my life will come at exactly the time that is best for me.

So as I wait on God’s timing, I’m doing my best to be patient and prepare myself to be ready to go. So I can say “It didn’t matter whether it was day or night”, I was ready to follow.

See you down the road….