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What She Said Shocked Me, What I said In Response Brought Her To Tears…

I volunteered to help with an event for my son’s class at school today. Afterwards I was visiting with another parent and she asked if I was from California. “Born in Austin, but grew up in Northern California.” I answered, wondering if she knew or cared about the difference between NorCal and SoCal.

“Me too.” She responded.

Oh, this might actually be interesting. “Where?”

When “Grass Valley” left her lips, you could have picked my mouth up off the floor. “No way!” Was all I could muster in response.

“Why?” She probed.

“I graduated from Nevada Union High.” I was grinning now. Joyfully shocked to be in the presence of someone who not only knew Grass Valley, but understood that living back on Retrac Way off Lime Kiln Road meant I lived in the sticks!

“Bear River!” She pointed to herself.

“That’s where my sister graduated! Wait, did you go to Magnolia Intermediate then?”

“Yep!”

“Unbelievable! We grew up in the same town, went to the same Jr. High and you and my sister went to the same high school and elementary school as well!”

With that exchange, we were off to the races, talking about rural, foothill life from a backwater corner of California. As we relived memories and shared how we each made it to Texas, recent history cropped up and in the rapid fire course of catching up, I told her about Kristi’s illness and subesquent death. She was stunned. Tears immediately flooded her eyes and the conversation halted abruptly until she could gather her composure. I consoled her and assured her that her emotion was appreciated in that it was heartfelt.

I didn’t realize she didn’t know our circumstance. I can’t keep track of who knows and who doesn’t anymore. But when I come across someone who doesn’t know, it of course brings it all back to the front. And there it’s stayed for the rest of the day. I left the school and went to take care of some shopping. As I slipped the key in the ignition, the thought, “She’s not here anymore.” went through my head. That’s why you’re going shopping. That’s why you were at the school this morning. That’s why your kids are in school. And so it rolls.

I remember the shock and fog of the first few months. All those thoughts cascading through my brain would threaten to overwhelm my emotional control and I’d be on the brink of shutdown. I’d clinch my eyes tightly but the tears would flow anyway. How was I going to do this? Could I do it? Training was a real salvation in those days. I could let my emotions and brain rest while I pushed my physical limits.

Today, I have to say that by the time I got into the store, I was focused on finding what I needed and getting home before the kids. Its the new normal. It still feels different, its not even a two year old normal. Every day I’m reminded of the new normal. In ways big and small. I can’t escape it. But here it is. And I realize I have license to decide what to do with this normal. Waste it with “what ifs” or “only ifs”? Or live it. The agency to act is mine. I choose life.

I Decided to Try It

This chest cold doesn’t bother me much until the afternoon. Today it dropped the hammer at 2PM and I had to shut my eyes for 30 minutes. After shaking off the grogginess I realized Luke had baseball practice this evening. Nice. A perfect time to see if some light training will help push this cold out.

So when Luke trotted off to the ball field, I laced up my running shoes and hit the trail. 45 minutes later I was back after a nice easy five miles. I felt great as the run ended but wondered if I’d crash when we got home and my body came off the running high.

Nope. I did great through dinner and early evening. Looking forward to rest tonight. Hoping I’ll be on the mend now.

So glad I decided to try and push my limits today. It wasn’t vigorous, it was just a gentle nudge to let the body know it needs to get well. Sometimes you just have to push through the resistance.

Today I Sat

As Katie steered the Honda out of the driveway and off to school, the quiet settled over the house. The sun was shining. Work needed to happen outside. I settled on the back patio, not fit to do much else. I skipped my normal Tuesday morning 5:30AM run with the group. I’m battling some sort of chest cold. I slept in until 6:00AM, what a treat! Saturday is the first long bike ride of the year, 85 miles down around the LBJ ranch. I’d like to be healthy for that. So I’m backing off the physical stress to see if I can kick this.

I felt OK today until about 3:30. Then I just crashed. I went down for a 30 minute nap and then realized when I woke that supper needed to get going because Luke had to leave at 5 for his ball game. I think I’ll need the extra rest tomorrow morning as well so I’m going to skip the 5:30AM swim tomorrow morning too.

Back to the sitting…I sat and I thought and I prayed. What about this? What about that? Little questions. Telling Father what’s on my mind and heart. Giving it to Him to let Him sift it and give it back. No answers yet. That’s ok. I trust Him.



I sat some more tonight. My daughters were inducted into the National Honor Society and as I sat through the ceremony I was so proud of them. They’ve endured so much change in the last 24 months. Their mother went from remission to fading quickly and then gone. They had to go to a new school, make new friends and learn new  skills. They’ve become meal managers and cooks, cleaners and brother sitters. They could have folded, called  it quits and airmailed it in. But they didn’t. I’d like to think part of that reason is that I’ve dedicated myself to being plugged in, leaning into them during this time and forging new relational links that just didn’t have to exist when they had a mother.

Yes, that’s definitely part of it. But part of it is the 50% of their mother they have in them. They’ve handled all the change with amazing grace and skill, just like her. And of course, another part of it is the grace from the Father. He strengthens us when we are weak. All of us have been there. But now we’re working with Him to bring about good things: Luke turns 12 on Monday. We are celebrating on Sunday evening. I’m sorry you won’t be able to come. Its going to be a hoot! LIterally!

Its a Harry Potter themed party complete with owls in cages. Our dining room table is covered in decor, ready to turn our house into everything from Kings Cross Station (Platofrm 9&3/4) to the Hogwarts Castle. The girls are the driving force behind this creative binge, but we’re all engaged. Everyone is excited about it.

We’re doing life together. Celebrating the passage of another year. And believe me, we don’t take those years for granted any more! A birthday celebration is big news!

I thought today would be wasted, in the sitting. But in the sitting I found rest not only for my body but encouragement for my heart and soul.

You.Create

you.create-blog-framed

I carried death yesterday. I was a pall bearer for my grandmother. Bearing the pall. Such a graphic image. The finality was palpable. As we eased her casket onto the rollers over the grave, I was glad to be relieved of my burden.

Death isn’t something we enjoy handling up close. But many of us who’ve been touched by it, refuse to let it go. We carry its pall around with us, letting it color everything we encounter. Of course that’s a choice. There is another alternative.

Create. Creation is the very essence of humanity. We learn in the opening pages of the Bible that God created humankind in his image. The ability to create is at the core of that likeness.

Create what?

Life. Goodness. Wholeness. Just to pick three.

I don’t think its accidental that the first image the Bible paints of Father God is the creator, the author, the originator of good life. He created only good. In fact when God answers Job, his answer is a recounting of all the natural wonders he created. And what he created was good. God isn’t the author of death.  He didn’t create it. He made life.

Jesus demonstrated this same penchant for creating good through the way he lived his life. To make sure no one got confused, he blatantly said: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” In other words, the work I’m doing, this is the essence of my Dad’s heart.

And then he invited anyone who wanted to follow his example. To be a partner in bringing life, freedom and goodness. Then he enabled us to do that very thing through his death and resurrection.

So where does that leave you? You have a choice. Try to hang on, survive, avoid pain and just get by. Or go and create.

Bring life. Build up. Give.

Don’t think you’re equipped to do that? Are you using oxygen? You’ve got what it takes. You won’t be prepared, you won’t feel ready. Just start. It may not work out the first time. That’s ok. Keep after it.

Consistent effort will soon produce a habit of looking for ways to create goodness. Here’s a post I did last year about changing habitual actions in 30 days time.

The choice: carry around death (death is static, unchanging and unable to adapt) or create life, goodness, wholeness, etc?

You.Create (hint: its a command)

 

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?