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….

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.

Hey Soul Sister Happy It’s Raining Men

At my age, things are starting to run together in my mind. I mean after close to sixty years of sensory input, my brain is probably ready to burst from all the things I’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched. I know supposedly we only use 10% of our brain’s capacity to store and process information but I’m telling you my head must be so full of it, be careful now what you’re thinking, that I’m not sure I can take in much more.

When my friends and I get together our conversations usually end up on movies, songs, or tv shows we’ve enjoyed over the years and our talk becomes a rapid fire rendition of lyrics and quotes that somehow all seem to connect across our memories. One after another rolls out of our mouths and after just a few minutes we have no idea what we were originally talking about. Might just be our age causing it but mostly I think we’ve just evolved into a higher consciousness where we see in our minds eye how everything in the world is connected. Sort of a paradigm of hope!

Movies. My friends Darrell and Peggy can move through lines from O Brother Where Art Thou, Forrest Gump, Smokey and the Bandit, Christmas Vacation, Star Wars, and Airplane (among many other favorites) so quickly that your head begins to spin and you realize you “picked a bad day to give up smoking” among other things. I try to keep up but usually I just sit back and laugh in admiration. And “that’s all I’ve got to say about that”.

TV Shows. I grew up a kid in the 60’s and teenager in the 70’s. I loved the Saturday morning cartoons followed by western movies in the afternoon. I would watch shows back to back for hours until mom would either give me a chore or chase me outside to play with some friends. When I think now about some of those TV shows I can see myself pretending to be the heroes in each one. And for some I had the matching outfit. White hat and all!

Jonny Quest was a favorite of mine. Each episode Jonny, with the help of his friend Hadji, dog Bandit, dad Dr. Quest, and Race Bannon, was able to overcome villains, tragedies, mysteries, and some pretty scary monsters to win the day. This show taught me at an early age that I should never give up hope nor give in to my fears. So did John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Stewart in all the westerns I watched. You see pilgrim, “Courage is being scared and saddling up anyway”. And what was it Jimmy Stewart said?  Oh yeah, “I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been looking for”. Movie lines or perhaps mottos to live by that have stuck with me my entire life.

Songs. If you know me even just a little, you know that music is a big part of my life. Just sneak up to the windows of the Terra sometime and most likely you’ll hear me singing some Eagles, Bob Seger, or just about any song from the 70s. Don’t look in because if you hear Old Time Rock and Roll, I’m probably dressed like Tom Cruise sliding across the linoleum in Risky Business. Got that visual? Good! Now where’s my tube socks and white shirt?

Which brings me to the title of this post from along the road, Hey Soul Sister Happy It’s Raining Men. Three titles of perhaps not the most profound songs ever recorded but each one has very special meaning in my life. Do you have songs, maybe from the B side of the record, that are special to you? I’d love to read your comments about your timeless classics of tv, movie, or music.

Hey Soul Sister, Happy, and It’s Raining Men each connect to some pretty great memories for me and fun times shared with my wife Barb over our 30 years of marriage. The first two, Hey Soul Sister and Happy, were songs you could catch Barb humming or singing almost anytime. And It’s Raining Men, believe it or not, was kind of our song. Stick with me on this for a moment.

Barb really enjoyed Hey Soul Sister by Train and it’s upbeat swing about finding someone that was “one of her kind” that “gave her life direction – a game show love connection we can’t deny”. Of course she was thinking of me with this song. Right?

Hey Soul Sister came out in 2009. It might had been a couple of years before this song caught her ear but boy once it did you could catch her singing it about anytime. If you see my kids, ask them about their mom spontaneously busting out in song and dance whenever she heard this song. That thought and this song will always bring a smile to my face whenever I hear it. She sure could “cut a rug” and for this thug “watching you’s the only drug I need”.

Happy by Pharrell Williams was a go to song for Barb. Anytime it was played at a social event or wedding she moved quickly to the dance floor to “clap along like a room without a roof”. I’d usually catch up with her by the second verse and we’d dance like we were in our twenties again. Happy was released in 2013 and when Barb’s cancer showed up in 2015, this song took on additional importance. I think for Barb and I know for me the lyrics in the second verse were not only fun but also gave great strength to us.

“Here come bad news, talking this and that
(Yeah) Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold it back
(Yeah) Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine
(Yeah) No offense to you, don’t waste your time
Here’s why – Because I’m Happy…”

And It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls from 1983. Barb and I met in January of 1984 at Mickey’s in our home town. I remember that is was a Saturday night and me and the boys were out having drinks and a good time watching all the single ladies on what we called the old side at Mickey’s. We were sitting upstairs so we had the best view of the dance floor and while purveying the crowd below, I noticed Barb and her friend Kathy sitting at a table next to the dance floor. There was a guy, who I’ll call Farmer Dan, who had drank a few too many and was being rather persistent about asking Barb and Kathy to dance with him. It looked to me that both ladies were getting rather annoyed by Farmer Dan’s persistence, and in that I saw an opportunity.

I tapped my friend Dave on the shoulder and said “I’ll bet you a quarter that I can get one of those two girls down there to dance with me”. He took the bet, I approached their table, and Barb said yes. And yes I know her motivation to dance with me was not due to my handsome persona nor my John Travolta dancing ability but simply to just get away from the Farmer. Poor Kathy was left to fend alone for herself but half way through the song, my buddy Dave got her out on the dance floor. What was the song? Yep It’s Raining Men. I guess it did that night for Barb. After all I was sitting up in the clouds looking down on her. And I made a quarter. It was a really good night!

Our lives, short or long, are filled with moments where something we experienced becomes one of the great memories in our mind. Over the past two and a half years since Barb finished her journey with cancer, my mind has reopened to memories of movies, tv shows, and songs that I had not thought about in a very long time. And it’s great as these memories, running together one after the other, bring me great happiness and peace. As well as a smile to my face and a dance in my step.

To quote Forrest, Forrest Gump; “My momma always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on”. I think momma was right about that but I also think I’ll keep those special memories from the past in my back pocket as I continue to move on.

I’ll 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.