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What Are You Going to Do with the Time Given You?

I must admit, I came to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy via the initial movie by Peter Jackson. However I gobbled up all the novels before the last two movies came out. While I love the entire trilogy, I still think the first book and movie are my favorite. And out of many weighty passages, the one that is perhaps most meaningful now to me is an exchange that takes place between Frodo and Gandalf while lost deep under the Misty Mountains in the mines of Moria. Gandalf is providing Frodo deeper context to his quest to destroy the ring. Frodo isn’t happy with his predicament. The back and forth ends with this:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Like Frodo, its your call. Frodo has already endured loss and more will come his way. I don’t expect my life will be free of loss, pain and grief from here on out. What I do know is that I am determined to thrive… to bring life, build up and give hope along the way.

What are you going to do with the time that is given to you?

This One Little Choice Can Change Your Life

I posted a selfie of the children and me on my personal Facebook account today. The caption? “Everything is Awesome!” Really? My last grandparent, my mom’s mom, passed away yesterday. Its the first time death has come close since we lost Kristi just 20 months ago. How could I make that imageproclamation? Because I realize that shortly after Kristi passed, I made a choice to love my life and those in it. Is this the life I would have chosen? Nope. Is it the life I have? Yep.

Two choices then:

Live life kicking and screaming at the injustice, letting everyone I bump into know how unhappy I am at being wronged.

Or, choose to love life as it is. To embrace this reality and work together with my Heavenly Father to bring about every good thing.

I chose the second option. You can too. Its the power of love.

Give, Build Up, Bring Life

 

To Share or Not to Share

Share your story with others. When you find someone with whom it resonates, you’re on the way to building a new friendship. Sound daunting? It might be the first time you try. And the second. But if you keep putting it out there, you’ll keep finding people who connect with it…and you. And your life will have expanded. God’s best gifts are people. You know that. Its why you’ve dealt with so much pain. Losing the greatest gift you’ve ever had likely shattered not only your heart but your dreams as well. You have a choice:

Go into self-protect mode and reduce the connections you have. But staking out a territory to guard inevitably turns into a zero-sum game. Folks figure out pretty quickly they’re not welcome. As a result you end up alone.

Or you go on the offensive. Share, connect and seek to enlarge your territory. You won’t be a fit with everyone, but that’s alright. You’ll be surprised at how many do connect with you. With every connection you’re enriching yourself with another of God’s gifts.

What’s your story? Go on, share it!

On Your Mark!

The Starting Line is one of the many reasons I enjoy race days! Its a visual, visceral reminder that a new beginning is about to take place. Take the 3M Half-Marathon start line in the photo below. I snapped this shot just before being pushed under the arch by the 6700 runners behind

3M Half-Marathon Starting Line

me eager to get underway back in January! The light that dapples the sign isn’t from the sunrise. Rather its from the flood lights set up to illuminate the starting corrals. You can see the amount of daylight by taking a close look at the top right corner of the image. See that steel blue poking color through the tree branches? Yep, it was barely dawn. A new day. A new adventure. A new start. And before the sun was even up!

 

When you go through significant loss, it can feel like life grinds to a halt. When Kristi died, I wondered how I’d be able to keep going. There were days where I just felt like I was turning in circles. Fear about the future can freeze you into inaction and/or open the door to depression. But life doesn’t stand still and you need to keep up with it, especially if you have children, processing and dealing with your grief along the way. Enter the starting line!

 

The Starting Line demands you deal with life in the present tense, the here and now. It calls you to focus on the immediate task at hand. When the horn sounds and the race starts, your

world collapses down to monitoring your physical performance. This monitoring is both mentally and emotionally taxing. When the body is fresh, you have to govern your effort and keep the throttle under control. As the race wears on you transition into mental pep talks and bracing against physical, emotional, and mental collapse as fatigue sets in.

 

Racing is provides wonderful discipline and training of the mind, body and spirit. But the start line is a demarcation that lets you know in a very simple way that you are moving forward. You are not stuck. Life is progressing, at least on some level. In fact, to get to the starting line required a decision and at least some training on your part.

 

Moving forward in life requires a similar decision. Its your choice as to whether you are going to tow the line each day or if you’re going to check out and stay lost and listless. Find a starting line near you and get signed up. You’ll be amazed at how good just crossing that starting line feels.

 

Should You Pull The Trigger?

In less than twenty-four hours my father and I board the plane in Romania and head for home. Its been a fantastic week. New friendships started, old friends greeted, new foods eaten, lives shared, encouragement given and received for the journey ahead. As I prepare to leave, I find myself energized and expectant about the future.

Three years ago I was in the same position. My father and I had just completed a similar trip to Romania. I returned home full of excitement about what was to come. One month later, Kristi was diagnosed with cancer and we were plunged down the rabbit hole that is cancer treatment. Expectation was thwarted, dreams crushed and hope smothered.

That was an awful time, not so far removed that the emotions are deeply buried. It doesn’t require much effort to dig them up. If I wanted. But I choose not to. I choose to not burden this experience in Romania with the negative events that followed my last visit. “You are wise, Chad. You would be foolish to live in such a way.” I can hear the comments now. But that choice wasn’t automatic or quick. Loss and grief of this magnitude color all your decisions.

Obviously this trip has brought to mind the previous one and the events that followed. Its been a natural trigger. I knew it would be before I even agreed to come. I knew I’d be faced with this situation again. But rather than cowering in fear of what comes next, I’ve chosen to walk through this trip and the events that follow with expectation of a different outcome.

When dealing with loss and grief, you encounter trigger events all the time. As I wrote here, many of those events are little things that surprise you. You have two choices when you encounter trigger events, especially those you see coming: Avoid or Embrace

Avoidance can be especially helpful, especially when the grief or loss is fresh. I took my children and skipped out on the usual Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations the first year by going to the other side of the world. We still celebrated but in a way that was so new and unique that it didn’t drag us through all the emotions and pain we were still processing.

But this year I embraced all the holiday celebrations. We fully decorated the house, even doing it before Thanksgiving. There were many trigger events throughout the season that I had to wade through and process. But I was prepared this year and we had a wonderful time together as a family. Poignant with loss yes, but filled with joy nevertheless.

As you approach an event that you know is going to trigger feelings of grief and loss, ask yourself, “Is it OK to pull this trigger?” “Am I ready for this?” There’s no shame in saying no. Its your call. Don’t feel obligated to move forward when you’re not yet ready. The time will come. You’ll know it. And then you can pull the trigger, step into the event and live. If you’re not there yet, know that the day will come. There is hope.

If you’re trapped in fear of trigger events, avoiding them at all costs, and have been stuck there for a while with avoidance your only coping tool, try some training. You’ll be amazed at how good a brisk walk, bike ride or jog will make you feel. You’ll feel better prepared to face those events and pull that trigger to get life moving again.

“PULL!”

Designation VS Definition

My dad turned seventy on Friday. I gave him eight birthday cards, one for each decade he’s lived plus one for his special day. Each card had a title with a prominent name or position he wore for that decade: Donald (0-10), Donnie (10-20), Daddy (20-30), Dad (30-40), Father-In-Law (40-50), Pawpaw (50-60), Personal Trainer (60-70).

Within each card I listed other names and titles he used during that decade of his life. For the eighth card I titled it simply, Friend. Out of all his titles and names through the years, the one I like best now is that one. It’s how we relate to each other.

What started as a cute idea quickly became a profound lesson as I reflected on all his names and titles. I’ve worn many of the titles he has and many of them I hope to wear some day. But right now I’m wearing one he’s never worn: widower.

I never planned on having this title, at least not at this age. This is something that only happens to people my dad’s age, right? Right. But hiding from it doesn’t help. Denying it doesn’t deny the reality of the circumstance. It’s the correct designation. But what does it say about me? Will I let it define me and my future?

There it is. Designation versus definition.

With a life change as significant as Widower, you can’t help but be affected. It is certainly a defining moment. How I choose to handle this will affect the rest of my life. Will it be a designation for this period of my life or define the rest of my existence?

Widow and widower both are terms that grate on the nerves. They portend deep loss, broken hearts and dreams, grief, sadness and fear of the future. Will that be the definition I saddle on my life?

Its a hard place. But in that place I have found resolve. Resolve to continue to love, to expect restoration, to heal my heart, to laugh again and to build new dreams. Where did I get that resolve? Love.

The opposite of fear is not fearlessness, but love. In fact there’s an ancient Jewish saying that says, “Perfect love casts out fear…the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Where do you find that kind of love? Only one place I know. It was demonstrated perfectly in the life of one person. Jesus.

In the tumult of care-giving and fighting Kristi’s cancer and in the wilderness of fresh grief and loss, love is hard to hear and easy to let slip out of sight. Training helped me find it again. Training won’t heal your grief. The love of Jesus can. Training can help you find your way though until you discover it.

I don’t know how long I’ll wear this designation, widower, but it won’t define me. How about you?

On Being OK with Being OK

As we finished up a family devotional time yesterday morning, it came up in the conversation that it has been eighteen months since their mother died. My ever-energetic eleven year old son shouted, “Best eighteen months ever!”

I grinned. But inside I thought, “Hmm, should I be OK with that? Am I OK with that? Shouldn’t he be devastated, heartbroken, weepy and desperate to see and hug his mother?” But I’ve worked hard over the last year and a half to connect with my children and make sure they understand that they are OK and that life hasn’t stopped for them. Certainly not to forget their mother, but to know that she wanted them to keep living. So I was stoked to hear his spur of the moment judgement.

But there you have it. The seeming dichotomy of grief and life. Oh he misses his mother. He tells me that often, usually at bedtime when he also whispers that I’m the most important person in the world to him. But at the same time he’s been able to keep living life. He’s been able to keep living because I’ve chosen to keep living.

And being OK with being OK is a big step and big part of the choice to keep living life fully and fulfilled. If you’re not there yet, I understand. But know that you don’t have to throw a wet blanket on your life with feelings of remorse or regret at being OK.

I remember the first day where I thought, “Today was OK. It wasn’t horrible. I made it to the end.” It was weird. Once that thought was out there, the questions immediately hit me: “Is it OK to be OK?” “Is this somehow downplaying my grief?” “Am I belittling the love that Kristi and I shared for two decades?”

Yes, No and No.

Give yourself permission to be OK.

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This Deserves A Response

Another benefit to letting go of your anger is you’ll find space to respond to life instead of reacting. A response is driven by thought, faith, and deliberation. A reaction is driven by emotion. Rarely will you regret your responses. However reactions, especially those driven by anger, are often embarrassing and hurtful.

Navigating widowerhood demands a continuous string of responses throughout each day. Life does. But when you’ve been used to sharing the burden of those responses with your wife and she’s no longer there, having to handle them all alone seems daunting, overwhelming and impossible. It tires you out.

Trust me, choosing to react rather than respond will only magnify the burden of choices flowing your direction. And yes, its a choice. Anger is a choice. Many people employ it as a tool in relationships. I’ve found it to yield the poorest long term benefit. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Again, if anger is your go-to coping mechanism, you need to Take Time To Train. #4T. I’ll keep saying it, and don’t mind being stuck on the “Repeat Continuously” setting. Its a key component in living Fit, Faithful and Fulfilled. Anger will derail you. Choose to respond. That’s an action that’s fit for a widower.

A Bitter Pill

Perpetually pissed. That’s how bitterness strikes me. When grief first gripped me, right at the start of Kristi’s battle with cancer, I was seriously angry. I yelled on the phone and in person with numerous friends both brave and gracious enough to let me vent. I yelled often during Kristi’s fifteen month battle. Never in her presence, or the children either. Sometimes while running, often while driving. I raged at the helplessness I experienced. I ragged on the process and the treatment my precious wife had to endure. Our life was forever changed and that wasn’t fair. I was pissed.

I get mad quickly, heat flushing my cheeks. But neither do I hold on to anger; I let it go after it runs its course. I realized early on that I was going to have to keep flushing the anger through. Not to deny it or hide it, but let it out in a safe place so I could get back to supporting Kristi and our children. I found solace in long runs, swims and bikes. I could rage while alone if needed. More often I could simply channel the frustration of setbacks into my workout of the day, bleeding off the negative emotions and releasing positive energy that helped fuel me for the long road ahead.

With so many tasks requiring 100% of my time and focus, I knew I didn’t have the energy to remain angry all the time. Being bitter just takes too much effort. It steals what precious reserves of energy I have while robbing me of the emotional sense needed to connect with my children.

Bitterness is a choice. You don’t have to live there. Its not dishonoring to your wife to let go of the anger. And if anger is the only engine that drives your daily living, its going to be a lonely journey, much lonelier than it has to be. Try training. And try this short prayer:

“God, I’m always angry. Its killing my energy, emotions and relationships. I want to let it go, but don’t know how. Would you take this from me, please? Thanks.”

Peace to you my friends.

PS- Be encouraged, if you repeatedly let the anger go, I have found it stops returning after time. I don’t get angry anymore about my situation. I look for joy and a reason to smile each day.

Don’t Be Afraid

…to talk about your wife, especially if you have children. My youngest was barely seven when Kristi died. But he was only five when she was diagnosed with cancer. He can’t remember what he had for breakfast, let alone remember what his mom was like, especially before she got sick.

It breaks my heart that most of his memories of her are from fighting cancer. Every once in a while though he’ll come up with a memory from earlier. So I don’t try to stop the other three from talking about Kristi. They need to remember her as well.

I don’t try and force it either, I just let it come naturally. When one of them does something or says something or gives me a look that comes from Kristi, I let them know. Yes, of course it reminds me that she isn’t here any more. But dealing with loss is part of the landscape now. In fact I just posted about it a couple of weeks ago here.

Keep talking about your wife. Its important in the grieving and healing process. God knows. And you’ll find He provides the strength to do it.