Sunday, April 22, 2012

still choosing joy, or trying to

I recently got a Vizio tablet. Not quite an ipad, but it is somewhat similar, and does a lot of cool stuff, so I like it. I'm typing this post on my tablet, still trying to get used to the touch keyboard. It amazes me how kids today type so fast with just their thumbs.

Anyway, not what I wanted to write about. A couple weeks ago I wrote about choosing joy. Someone asked how I was doing with that; the answer is--not too bad.

I have been trying to keep the phrase "I choose joy" in the forefront. It often slips to the back of my mind, but it's never too far away.

I've had a few days when I've been tired and grumpy, and don't act very joyful, but I think I've been able to come back around better than I usually do.

I do feel like I'm more aware of the good and the positive. Of course the biggest thing in our lives right now is Jamie's cancer. She has had a rough week--very tired, nauseated, dealing with a lot of pain and discomfort. It's got her pretty down.

She has bounced back--went to Ashley's soccer games Friday and Saturday and out to dinner on Saturday. I am proud of how she fights to keep going.

Back to me (not to be self-centered, but it is my blog). It's strange being in this position--walking beside someone with cancer.

I think it's forced us to get along better. I try to be more patient, less reactive.

I think I have been looking for and noticing the things in our lives that do bring joy. When I simply stop and live in those moments, I do rejoice...

  • Jamie's treatment has made her more dependent on me. I think I've done a better job than usual of serving her, and she has been very grateful and patient with me.
  • The boys had their first T-Ball game last week. It was fantastic watching them get dressed in their uniforms, go out to the park, warm up, and play the game.  
  •  4 and 5 year-olds playing T-ball is an organizational mess, but it was beautiful. Both boys hit the ball well. One inning, Brady was on the pitching rubber and Cash played first. They made several good plays together. I was so proud and full of joy watching and cheering them.
  • On Sunday we went to the kids' cousin Ira's birthday party. It was a beautiful spring day, sunny, warm. Jamie was worn out but sat on the patio, ate, and watched the kids play. It was a great day. 
  • I had a blast watching Ashley play soccer. A few years ago I asked her coach to work with her on being more assertive/aggressive. Boy, did he. Now in high school, she is usually one the smaller players on the field, but is usually the toughest and most aggressive (in a good way).
  • Every night we read before bed. It used to be me reading stories to them; but now all three of us read--Brady reads incredibly, and Cash is learning more every day--I am so glad they both love to read
  •  One day I picked up the kids and we all went to dinner at Wendy's. It was so much fun just sitting there, laughing and talking while we ate. I got a frosty for the boys and me (Ashley had her own); we sat there taking turns with it; so much fun!

I have a friend (as we all do, or have) going through a divorce. My heart breaks when I talk to him. I cannot imagine going through that--not being able to read with and tuck in the boys each night. Not having those rare, precious moments with my daughter when she is no longer a crazy a teenager, but for a bit becomes my little girl again.

It has made me a little more aware lately of how special those little experiences are--each hug, each kiss, each conversation. Each opportunity to praise them and watch their joy and pride, knowing they have done well and Daddy is pleased.

I pray that I would better see and cherish those moments, and at the same time recognize that those moments are not just between my kids and me, they are also shared with our God, who loves us in a similar way, but bigger, stronger, perfectly.

There are still some situations (and people) that are frustrating in my life. Some things I'd like to change. But I'm trying to not let them bother me too much. Trying to not dwell on them, but turn my thoughts to the good, and beautiful, and encouraging.

With an amazing wife who is full of strength, and the three most beautiful, wonderful children in the world, it's not that hard to do.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Voluntourist -- A Must Read

Ken Budd is my friend, brother, college roommate, frequent Springsteen concert date, GMU season ticket partner--one of my dearest friends over the last 26 years (wow).

He has been writing for years, but is about to publish a fantastic book; The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem.

I was privileged to read much of it as Ken wrote it, and was blown away by his honesty, insight and humor.

Ken's writing is usually very funny, but it is amazing how his story quickly turns and touches you deeply. I'll do a formal review soon, but want to just share a little about Ken today.

He tells the story of how we first met in his book; but I'll share my version here...

I was in my second semester of college at George Mason University, and was placed in an apartment with Ken. We had never met, and he was already living there when I moved in.

I first showed up about 8 in the morning; Ken was still asleep. One of the first things I noticed were the liquor bottles on the kitchen table. I was a new Christian, recently out of the Army. I went from being  someone who drank A LOT to complete alcohol abstinence (it didn't last long).

I unloaded a few of my belongings and went to class. When I came back, Ken was gone, off to class himself.

I continued to move in and unpack.

When Ken and I finally connected, we talked a little bit. Both of us seemed unsure of the other.

A couple nights after I moved in, Ken got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He had drunk quite a bit, and fell asleep on the bathroom floor.

I needed to use the bathroom, and wondered what the hell was taking him so long. I finally knocked on the door. I heard him sort of grunt, then he got up and opened the door.

"Sorry about that," he said, and went back to bed.

We have often joked in the years since how we first perceived one another.

When I finally got all moved in, he looked around at my side of the room--shoes all lined up under my bed, bed perfectly made, Jesus posters all over the room--and thought, "My God, my roommate is an anal-retentive, militaristic Jesus Freak."

I looked at the alcohol bottles, bathroom passing-out, and nocturnal schedule and thought, "My God, my roommate is a lazy, late-night party animal well down the road to alcoholism."

We were both wrong. We quickly became close friends and had a great time together in college--late night 7-11 runs for big gulps and cookies...hours watching Letterman when we should have been studying...getting a glimpse of being a minority when we were the only white people in a Literature of Black America class...lots of concerts including Springsteen, U2, Hank Williams Jr., Randy Travis, The Monkees, and many more...late night tennis games and field-goal kicking contests...

We stayed close even when I left for Texas for ten years, and picked right back up when I moved back, going to GMU games and conference tournaments for the past ten years.

We were in each other's weddings, and were there for each other when we both lost our fathers a year apart.

Ken is strong but soft-spoken, very bright, witty, and has a huge heart. Ken and I lived together for a couple years, and have been friends for decades, yet have never had an argument--because Ken is by far the most easy-going guy I've ever known.

I am a better man because he is my friend and has always supported and encouraged me.

But I also love him enough to be honest. If his book stunk, I'd tell him (gently, of course). But it doesn't. Ken is a great writer, and The Voluntourist is a great book.

Read it, I promise you'll be glad you did.

Monday, April 02, 2012

I Choose Joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

--James 1:2-4

I had one of those great moments with God in church yesterday. It doesn't happen often for me these days. I'm struggling with cynicism--not about God, but about church and people. More on that another time.

But yesterday in church I had a great connection with God. I'm not a "God told me" type of person. But three words came to me as we took communion, and I believe they came from God.

"I choose joy."

The past few months (actually the last few years) have been the most stressful time in my life. We moved, left family and friends, home and comfort, to start a new life on the other side of the country.

I started a new job that is fun and challenging, but brings a lot of pressure.

I am getting used to a new church, trying to make new friends, and learning a new town.

I am trying to help my kids get through the challenges of change and transition.

And in the midst of all this, my wife gets cancer. I have always been very self-aware, but I'm struggling to identify my feelings about all this. I feel for Jamie. Compassion. Sadness. Empathy. I wish this weren't happening to her. I'd rather it were happening to me. I hate being powerless.

I've never been one to worry much about the future (I can worry well enough about the right now.) I don't have anxiety about the future of Jamie's health; I hope and pray that the current course of treatment will take care of everything and that cancer will be only in our past.

Stress has sneaked up on me in recent years. I dealt with very little stress in my 20s and 30s. I was single, very little responsibility; working jobs that I really enjoyed. I had great churches, great friends, and the freedom to do what I wanted.

Life was good, easy, light, simple.

In the last ten years I moved from Texas to Virginia, got married, worked in several fun but challenging jobs, had three children, lost my father, lost a job I loved under difficult circumstances and moved into a season where we struggled financially for several years.

Then we moved and started much of life all over again.

I'm not complaining--I wouldn't change much of what happen. I have lived 46 fun, adventurous, exciting, enjoyable years. I've been able to experience more than most.

I love my wife and my children. I've received a great education, both in the classroom, and in life. I have enjoyed trying different things and working in different jobs and ministries.

I love being a dad more than anything--It brings greater joy than anything I've done, even though it is often challenging and exhausting.

But in the normal flow and change of life, I never realized that my stress level was growing until I hit a point where it was really affecting me--trouble sleeping, worrying like I never had before, making it difficult to stay positive and encouraging.

A recent event has caused my stress to increase again--a situation that has been eating at me, causing me to struggle with anger, envy, disappointment, feeling I've been wronged.

Those feelings had been taking over my thoughts and emotions, until yesterday in church, when those words filled my mind and my heart. "I choose joy."

I choose joy, even when life doesn't seem fair, or just, or make sense. I choose joy, even when there is loss and sadness in my life, or the lives of those around me.

I look back at those years of being single and mostly responsibility-free, and I think part of the reason I was happy and at peace was because I was very much in control of my life. My decisions only affected me for the most part, so I could do what I wanted.

I could choose to do what brought me joy.

Now that I have a wife and three children and house and car and credit card payments and a challenging job, I don't have the freedom to choose everything. I can't control the way my wife or my kids or my co-workers act. I can't control the choices and decisions others make, even when those choices and decisions affect me.

I can't control people's health. I can't control how I feel sometimes.

But I can control how I react to life and to people and to situations. I can choose joy. I can choose to turn my eyes to God. I can choose to be grateful for the good in my life. I can choose to think of my children and the blessing they are.

I can choose to love my family, encourage my co-workers, and do the best I can to help others succeed.

I can choose to ignore the ways others treat me wrongly or disappoint me. 

I can choose to hope. Hope that what feels like injustice will be made right. Hope that God uses everything--even decisions that don't make sense now.

I choose joy. Not because I feel happy. Not because my problems are solved. I choose joy because I have seen God work over and over again, and I trust that He still has more to do in and through me. And I believe that as I choose joy, God strengthens my faith, and calms my heart, and uses me to bless others.