Where is God?

This won’t be the first time I’ve wondered why God doesn’t step in to fix the situation at hand.  I’ve wondered when I’ve seen mass shootings that seem so needless.  I’ve wondered with terrorist activities.  I’ve wondered when those among us die at an early age or when I’ve seen, in my work at the Y, a child who has been physically or emotionally abused.  Does He not see the suffering?  How can He not act, not do something to get His world back in order?

If I were God, certainly I would immediately knock Corona to its knees.  Or, perhaps step in early on and not allow it to happen in the first place.  Where the heck is He?

As I sit in my five bedroom, 3800 square foot house, my most recent vacation still dancing in my mind; my children in private schools; my refrigerator so full I can hardly get the door closed; my twenty rolls of toilet paper scattered throughout my many bathrooms; my healthy children sleeping late with the ability to begin their online classes this week; my beautiful fiancé safe and sound at her home in Charlotte; I scoff at myself for even questioning why I’ve been thrown a curve ball this week.  Seriously, I am complaining about anything?  It’s ridiculous.

I don’t believe that God punishes us, but if He was a God who did that, He would certainly have reason.  Look what we’ve done to our earth?  This quarantine has given God’s creation a chance to rebound from the incessant wear and tear we put upon it.  He might want me to stop dreaming about more and to be satisfied and thankful for all that He has already given me.  Who knows?  He might take all of this, and make something better than we could ever imagine.

But I don’t think that God is intentionally trying to teach us lessons by creating hard times.  No, I think that the world just happens, and God picks up the pieces, supports us, often through our friends and neighbors, and puts us back together.

I’ve seen this story before.  I’ve experienced really hard times and come out stronger for it.  With time and patience, if you watch closely, you might see His hand at work again.

 

Moo

I’m sure Southwest Airlines is a great airline.  In fact, when I got stuck in Chicago a few weeks ago, they got my behind back to warmer weather.  Chicago is colder than a seal’s butt-cheek with wind that can freeze the wax in your ears.  The day I was flying out from a conference, the low was slated to get to -2.  That is NOT a typo.  -2.  If you look at a number line, that would be two dots to the left of zero.

Delta must be a warm weather airline, ‘cause they weren’t moving.  My original flight was delayed, multiple times.  I panicked.  I was afraid I might die if I didn’t get out of that climate.  I had to thaw the hair on my chest with a blow dryer every time I got back into my hotel room after walking several blocks from the conference location.

When I got to the airport that Thursday afternoon I remembered why I never fly on the discounted carrier:  the pre-flight corrals.  I was number 47 in the B group.

On Southwest, there are no seat assignments.  When you get to the gate, you get in line.  It is first come, first serve.  I was the 147th person to get on the plane.  It was clear I was going to be in a middle seat.  I could not pay for an upgrade.  It was what it was.

I mooed and got in line.

As I entered the plane, I saw an empty seat on the front row.  I didn’t look at the passengers flanking seat 1B.  I just went for it.  I figured extra leg room and the assurance no one could recline in my lap might make up for the shoulder squeeze.

As I sat, I realized the guy at the window was a big man.  His arm dwarfed mine.  He was leaning on the window working to give me my rightful real estate.  But he couldn’t.  His barrel chest and triceps spilled over like the top of a mushroom from its stem.

Its two hours I thought to myself, and I’ll soon be warm.

The plane backed out of its parking space, waiting for de-icing.  My buddy immediately fell asleep.

He was holding his right wrist with his left hand.  As he dozed, his left hand would relax and fall in my lap.  He would jerk and reassume his original position.  And then, he would repeat this action.  Hand on wrist, doze, flop on me, jerk.  I began counting.  He finally repositioned after 27 cycles.

At one point in the flight, my neighbor tossed up both of his hands and legs and began leaning in my direction.  The flight attendant, the woman beside me and I jerked with surprise.  I thought he was having a seizure.  I shook his shoulder, “Are you alright?  Are you alright?” I aggressively asked.

He awoke.  “Bad dream.  I thought I was falling.”

His head immediately fell back on the window.  He went right back to sleep.

This was not Southwest Airlines fault.  He was just a sleeper which in and of itself makes me mad because I long to snooze on demand.

As late as I booked my flight, I guess it is likely I would have ended up in the middle even with an assigned seat.  But I do much, much prefer to have some control of my fate.  Unassigned is not for me.

 

The Isle of Man

It is so embarrassing that EVERY attorney in town knows that I got a speeding ticket last week.  I got the ticket and within two days, I received FOURTEEN letters from attorneys offering to help me.  I think I am going to call one of them because it really is not fair that I received this TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY DOLLAR fine and blot on my reputation.  I didn’t even mean to speed that day!

I was just minding my own business, listening to A Prayer for Owen Meany, my book on Audible which is like 62 hours long.  I wasn’t even in a hurry, which is very unusual.

Imagine my surprise when this overeager officer, obviously trying to make his end of month quota, flew up behind me.  I was startled!  I looked for an accident around me and pulled over quickly to get out of his way.  And then… he did NOT go around me to help someone in distress, but instead eased in behind me.

I was floored.  Was I in a school zone?  Actually, I may have been.  But it was only 2:13 PM so I knew school wasn’t out yet.

I immediately pulled my YMCA name-tag out of my pocket and laid it on the console, just so he would know I am a nice person (in general, Y people are nice).  I rolled down my window and before I could inquire about why he pulled me over, he said, “Is there a reason that you were going 57 in a 45?”  I wanted to say, “57 is my favorite number.”  Instead, I said, “No.  I didn’t realize I was going 57 in a 45.”  And then I wanted to say, “Why don’t you go catch a criminal or help an old lady cross the street and not bother me?  I am a good person who just doesn’t always pay attention to speed limit signs.”  But I refrained again.  He took my license and walked away.

I have been pulled six other times and only received two tickets, so I was hopeful he would just give me a warning.  On time I really do think my Y shirt got me off because we talked about the officer’s child being in Y after-school.  Another time Lisa was nursing which was very distracting to the officer.  He was so uncomfortable with the whole situation, he just let me go.  When I got pulled speeding more recently in a school zone, for some reason the guy gave me a pass.  I think it is because Michelle was in the car, and I teared up.   Mercy, I just want mercy!  What was this guy’s problem?

Thanks to him, I am going to have to pay a ton of money, and I just drove to the mountains of North Carolina never exceeding five miles over the speed limit.  It took forever, and I felt like such a dweeb.  EVERYONE was passing me.

I don’t even like speed limits.  They are stupid.

I am moving to the Isle of Man off the coast of the United Kingdom.  It is the ONLY country with absolutely no speed limit.  I looked it up on Google.  And it seems like a lovely place.

adjust when necessary

My niece is getting married in March, and I get to be co-marrier with my dad.  He’s an ordained minister, spent several years in seminary to achieve that status.  I went online, filled out a form, and got a certificate saying I’m ordained!  I don’t know why he spent all that time and money.  I also married my friends Stan and Charlotte.  To be honest, I’m not sure they are really married.  Like who online has the authority to ordain me?  Probably some dude sitting in his boxers on his couch who has enough smarts to build a self-ordain web site for gullible people like Charlotte, Stan and me.

At any rate, I’m trying to figure out what to say to my niece and soon to be nephew at the alter.  I think most of my advice should occur BEFORE they get to the church.

The older I get, the more I realize that a lot of married people don’t really like each other.  What the heck?  Most folks spend a great deal of time with their spouse.  You should like him!  I’m guessing you did at one point.  And if you don’t, you should do something about it.

I am a huge believer in counseling.  When things get tough, work on it.  Communicate.  Get some help.

I guess I’ll tell my niece to enjoy every minute with her guy, and when things get tough, and they will, do something about it.

Kobe Bryant died his week.  It could have been you or me.  Life is too short to spend time mad.  Life is too short to spend time with someone you don’t like.  Choose well, adjust as necessary.

Re-imagine, Meaning, Connection

(View Justin Yopp’s Ted Talk above)

I’ve shared before about the group of men I met in 2010, about six months after Lisa died.  Two psychiatrists from UNC formed a grief group, Single Fathers Due To Cancer.  I apprehensively attended the first meeting.  Four years later our monthly get togethe’rs subsided, replace by annual reunions.

The grief I felt ten years ago next month, seems far away.  In fact, I have isolated it because it is grueling to go back.  The pain, the disbelief, the fear – I don’t ever want to feel that again.  It’s easy to isolate those feelings when you’re happy.

Recently, Justin Yopp, one of our group leaders, did a Ted Talk titled More Than Grief.  He shared our story, seven men who struggled together and, in time, moved forward.

I didn’t know at the time, but Justin was learning from us.  He works with those experiencing loss on a regular basis and listened very closely as the seven of us shared over this 48 month period of time.  Justin shares in his talk that he saw three distinct steps in our recovery from grief:

  1. Re-imagining – Justin describes our grief like a trip.  We were on the highway, moving forward, when suddenly the road stops.  The map says the road should continue, but it doesn’t.  Justin began seeing growth with each of us when we began to re-imagine what life might be again.  For a very long time, we recanted our loss.  For a very long time we lived in the here and now trying to figure out how to manage our day to day lives.  But slowly, conversation turned.  We began to dream again, to imagine another road.
  2. Finding meaning – Justin argues that when we began changing the focus from our loss to helping others, there was movement toward our futures.  When we were able to consider how our group, and how we as individuals, might help other men going through similar situations, it helped us heal.
  3. Connecting – Finally, Justin saw in us a connection that was rare.  We weren’t best friends, but we knew a heck of a lot more about these guys we saw just once a month than we did about folks we saw on a daily basis.  The deep and intense level of sharing was surprising.  This connection and ability to share was crucial to our healing.

What the seven of us learned, what Justin and Don our leaders learned, is that you can create new paths, and you can move forward.  It just takes work – and maybe a couple of other really good men.

The Race Grows Sweeter in the Final Lap

There is a show on Amazon Prime called Modern Love.  It tells all sorts of stories about love – dating, marriage, adoption, young love and the episode we watched last night was about love between two older adults.

It starts with a road race.  A seventy year old woman has her eye on this distinguished, very slow running, soft-spoken gentleman.  She finishes the race before him but waits at the finish line to engage this man she’s had her eye on for some time.

At their first dinner together, Margo tells Ken, I have respect for your 35 year marriage and your sweet wife Betty, but I think you might have room in your heart for me.

He did.

It’s funny to think about folks in their 70’s having crushes and starting over.  But not being as far from that decade as I’d like, it is less surprising than it might have been ten years.  Julie and I are Margo and Ken, minus a few years.

The connection between them is sweet… and funny… and electric.  They sit in bed snuggled tightly together at night.  They read together, have afternoon drinks in their garden, run, go to parties – eyeing across the room – clearly more interested in each other than anyone else.

It doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize there are two story lines in this show.  One is the building of their relationship.  The other is Margo dealing with the loss of her new lover.  It isn’t clear how much time they had together, but this touching love story wasn’t a long one.  It was, however, maybe the most powerful of the series.

As Julie and I sat in the den watching our TV, the tears just flowed.  As Margo shared at Ken’s funeral:

Old love is different – it’s more realistic. We had already been through many ups and  downs in life.  We had learned to compromise, survived loss and mistakes.  Yes, old love is different, and yet it is also the same.  Ken and I did everything that young people do – fell in love, traveled, planted a garden, remodeled a house.  He called me sweetheart and on nights when were out a party, we came home after and sat on the rim of the bathtub, flossing our teeth, and gossiping about the evening.  Every time we passed each other in the house, Ken made it a point to stop and kiss me or squeeze my shoulder or grab my hand (maybe because he was afraid he might lose one he loved again; I get that).  He and I often told each other we are so lucky. 

Young love, even for old people, can be surprisingly bountiful.

Margo’s words rang true for us.  We have had our own ups and downs.  We have loved before.  We have had hope.  We have lost.  We have grown.  Our life maturity has led us to an honest, real, and different sort of connection.

Many couples meet later in life.  I think many also reinvent their relationship as time goes by.  My hope is that all have the opportunity to experience mature, honest love.  It takes a lot to get there:  pain, suffering, loss, and a few hard knocks.  But if you’re open and willing, if you pour in, you might receive in beautiful ways.

Merry Christmas!

From the Tanner house to yours – hope your Christmas is wonderful!

Second Chance

This was the tenth Thanksgiving without Lisa.  I realized it on Wednesday as the girls and I drove to my parents’ house in Fayetteville.

That first year was unbearable.  I told my dad we could not eat at the dining room table.  I could not fathom sitting there without her by my side.  When we arrived, he had indeed set that table.  I refused to sit so the entire family picked up plates and resettled in the kitchen – some at the table, some at the bar.

Even butterbeans reminded me of her.

I don’t like to revisit the pain.  It’s a dark place for me.

What I’m most thankful for this year is second chances.  I’m thankful that I was able to move again after years of paralysis.

Not everyone gets that chance.  Some don’t have the good fortune of accepting the loss and having the strength to find their new selves.  Some can’t get over the hurt, the betrayal the world cast on them.  Some aren’t able to find what I have – genuine happiness in a new partner.

My girls too have found happy again.  They are thriving, each in their own way.  Perhaps the greatest gift I can give them is to be solid myself.  I hope that my example of pulling out of the hole, of giving new life a chance, will enable them, regardless of what they face in their futures, the ability to dig out themselves.

I don’t take my second chance for granted.  I thank God for the people who have been put in my life – the ones who tossed me ropes and ladders and flotation devices not so long ago.  I thank God for bringing Julie into my life at the exact right time – at a time when she and I were both ready to take a leap from tough to happiness.

It’s not easy.  Sometimes grief is more comfortable.  It can be very secure – you know your role.  You don’t have to move.  Sitting is much easier than running.

But had Julie and I not trusted again, had we not been willing to leap, I can’t imagine what life might be.

I hate I went through loss.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I am thankful I jumped.  It was the second hardest – and yet, the most exhilarating of my life.

 

Oh My Grumbling Stomach

My motivational calendar

And then he starved to death.

My blood sugar is high.  My cholesterol is high.  I don’t sleep well.  And I just got rid of a bad case of toenail fungus.

A nightly phone call from my bride to be often goes like this:

Julie:  “Hey honey, what are you doing tonight?”

Me:  “Eating Toll House cookie dough.”

Julie:  “Hmm.”

Did you know you can buy a tub of that stuff for $5.65 from the Food Lion?  No baking needed.  Just a spoon and a willing mouth.  I have both.

Julie wondered if we made a slight adjustment in our diets, perhaps we could reset our systems, clean up my bloodwork, and get her to her fighting weight before the holidays.  We had exactly 30 days between our last parent weekend and grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“Let’s try Whole 30,” she suggested.

“What is that?” I inquired.

“It is a thirty day plan that helps cleanse your system and reset your relationship with food.”

“I like my relationship with food!  I eat what I want when I want.  The food just lies there in the box until I call upon it to meet my needs.  It’s extremely uncomplicated unlike a lot of my other relationships.”

Whole 30 bans breads, pastas, sugar (including cookie dough), dairy (did you know cheese is considered dairy???), beans, peanuts and alcohol.  I live on Wheat Thins (banned), cheese (nope), red wine (uh – oh) and cookie dough (OF COURSE NOT).  This was a nightmare waiting to happen.

My problem is that I am very determined.  All Julie had to say was, “Well if you don’t think you can do it…”

She knows I can’t back away from a challenge.  “Besides,” she reminded me, “you can have all the vegetables you want.”

Oh.  Yippee…

The first sixteen days I was golden.  Well, not really golden, but at least a slight shade of yellow.  I will admit one night I had to brush my teeth and take an Ambien to keep myself from driving to the gro to pick up the dough.  The urge was significant.  But I set up a star system to reward myself when I saw success.  A red mark for following the diet.  Green for a workout.  I like praise, even if only from myself.

At the beginning of week two, when I reported to my competitor that I’d lost eight pounds, my partner in crime was not happy.

“You have to eat more!  Your goal is NOT to lose weight!  Your goal is to clean up your blood!”

I was actually eating more food than I had in decades.  But it’s hard to take in 2,700 calories a day when all you can eat is bib lettuce and salmon.  It’s truly amazing how much you can eat when you put the right things in your body.  All day long I’d nibble with three big meals in between.  I felt like a grazing cow.  And yet my weight was falling off.

On day 17 I headed to Vancouver for a work trip.  I knew I was in trouble when I got to the restaurant with my co-workers and the three appetizers on the table were:  pizza, bread, and chips with guacamole.  Julie was with me but had stopped at the bathroom before we sat down.  When she arrived at the table, I looked at her longingly, “We have a problem…”

She looked down the table.  She could see flour in my thought bubble.  We took the day off – and then headed straight back to cauliflower and broccolini the following night.

As I write, we have eight more days to go.  And actually, with our infraction, we’re doing the Whole 29.  The creator of the diet says that if you break the diet you have to start over.  If she thinks I’m heading back to day 1 after 16 successful days of wheathinlessness, she’s can think again.  I challenge her to eat cookie dough 29 days in a row… not as easy as it might seem.

I do think this experience is changing my relationship with food.  I have greater respect for spinach, am finding an odd attraction to boiled eggs, and I don’t think I’ll be upset if sourdough only shows up on special occasions.  But cookie dough – un, still can’t get her off my mind.

Just Tolerating

I continue to be enamored with flying. Not the act of flying. It’s what you go through to get from destination A to destination B that I find utterly unbelievable.

My infatuation dawned on me as I began putting my clothes back on after going through security this past week at O’Hare airport. The woman in front of me stood right in front of the conveyor belt and fully got dressed, blocking my four containers of personal items, while she buckled her belt and tied her shoes.  You don’t do that!  You quickly grab your stuff and move away to a bench to regain your composure!

EVERYONE is at the airport!  As I waited for the plane, I noticed a couple.  He had purple hair, a tiger tattoo on his forearm and those huge holes in the lobes of his ears.  His traveling partner, who he was holding hands with, seemed, by her dress and head frock, to be Amish.  I am surprised, yet thankful, they found each other.

I discovered a corner, right in front of the China Kitchen, in the food court to eat.  God bless the woman serving the customers.  In the amount of time it took me to gobble up a turkey bagel and baked Layes, she told no less than 30 customers that they could have two meats, rice or lo mein, and a spring roll.  Do the math.  That’s is like 480 rice or lo meins in an eight hour shift.  I could not work at an airport.  All these people going on vacation, all day, every day, right in front of your face while you’re hashing out lo mein requests with purple haired, Amish people.

When I arrived at O’Hare two days before, the airplane taxied so long I thought they had decided to drop me at my hotel before delivering the other passengers at the terminal.

But on this day, I was so glad to head home that I didn’t even flinch at the broad shouldered guy in the middle seat beside me who, before I even got on the plane, took BOTH armrests.  That seems unreasonable to me.  He’s obviously addicted to pull ups.  Unhealthy.

Before I put my phone in airplane mode, I always text my kids and Julie to tell them I love them.  This is code for I think this plane could very possibly crash and I want you to know I love you in the event I don’t get home tonight.

I then plug in my headphones and shuffle my downloaded Spotify playlist.  But I have a major fear that others around me can hear my music.  I take an earphone out multiple times just to be sure.  What if pull up man knows I’m listening to the boyband, One Direction, singing Steal My Girl?  What would he think of me?

I try to sleep but there’s nothing to do with my head. I want a drink but then I’d have to pee.  The narcoleptic woman in the aisle seat across from me is snoozing, with her mouth gaping open, before we even take off.  That makes me so mad I want to shove something right between her upper and lower incisors.  It would take me three Ambien, a sleep number bed, my loose elastic boxers and a long, hard Monday to sleep that well.

And besides, if I do doze off the flight attendant invariably runs into my knee cap with the drink cart which hurts.  Apparently I spread my legs apart when I rest sitting up.

The guy next to me, with his elbow in my right pelvis, checks his email for work the entire trip home.  That makes us all look bad on a Sunday afternoon.  Why can’t he just pretend to sleep like me?

When I finally arrive back in Raleigh, I discover the airport authority has charged me $107 to park for two nights.  Geeze.

Airports have the largest number of people in the world just sitting around tolerating.  Tolerating, tolerating, tolerating.

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