Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

Sticktoitiveness

DSC_0407

Birthday Buddies in Bow Ties!

The day after Lisa died, I sent an email to a group of friends asking them to meet me in the church fellowship hall thirty minutes before her Memorial Service.  I told them we would save seats for them up front in the sanctuary and that they would all walk in together, united.  I wanted to be able to look over and see those I knew would usher me through the intense shock and pain I was experiencing.

I also told them that they were the ones, like it or not, who were stuck with me, that I needed them to stand by me until I got my feet back up under me.

I think I underestimated their sticktoitiveness.

Last week, on my fiftieth birthday, five years after Lisa’s death, this incredible group of friends threw me a surprise party.  They rented out the second floor of a bar and filled it with the people in my life that I love the most.  When I walked up the steps, there they were, this incredible group of folk, who genuinely care about me.

It sort of blows my mind.  I haven’t been as good to them as they have been to me.  Man, am I blessed.

This past week, I was in Greenville, SC, speaking to a group of YMCA staffers.  After my talk, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes.  She said, “I’ve heard you speak before.  I just want you to know that I keep you and your girls in my prayers.”

Maybe that’s why we’re all doing really well!

As I write, tears well up from my gut.  They aren’t tears for loss.  They are tears of knowing that I can never repay what has been given to me.

When praying, I sometimes struggle to remember those around me who hurt.  I forget the guy I met with a few weeks ago who recently lost his wife or the high school buddy who has been diagnosed with cancer.  They roll through my head on occasion, but I don’t have the same level of persistent, perpetual care that others have had for me.

My friends and family could write the handbook on caring for those experiencing grief.  For them, it isn’t a short story.  It’s an epic novel.  They’ve been working on it for five plus years.  I have this feeling that it will go unfinished.

Sunday Post 127: Through Their Eyes

For the past three years I have dreaded dropping my kids off at sleepover camp.  In fact, when Michelle said she just wanted to attend a one week camp this year, I jumped on board fast!

“That is fine with me!  Maybe Daddy and Michelle can do a special little trip while your sisters head off for a month.”  That’ll fix ’em.  I’ll take her to Disney World – we’ll see what they choose next year.

Lisa went to Camp Seafarer as a kid, and I work for the organization that owns the camps.  I know it’s a great experience in so many ways – independence, leadership development, new friendships – but four weeks away is a long, long time.  The house just seems so quiet and empty with them gone.

But this year, something was different.  For the first time since Lisa died, I was able to see through their eyes.  Instead of focusing on what I was going to miss, I was able to see what they were going to gain.  They were so excited!  They talked about friends they couldn’t wait to see, camp songs they wanted to sing and the skills they were going to master before coming back home.

DJ is a counselor in training this year and was fortunate to be chosen to work on her favorite activity, sailing.  Stephanie ensures me that she will achieve her Sunfish Master, a difficult certification for a kid who never sailed until last summer.

Both planned their outfits and shopped for their needed camp items.  They were quite independent in their quest to prepare for their journey.

And their dad, for the first time since I’ve been in charge of dropping them off on my own, was able to look beyond the dread 26 quiet nights and instead live vicariously through their joy.  My excitement for them took away almost all of my angst.

I wish I’d do a better job of stepping back and putting myself in their shoes.  Too often over the past three years I’ve been so wrapped up in my own selfish thoughts that I’ve missed seeing and celebrating the happiness of those around me.

I hope I’m beginning to make that transition – from selfishness to selflessness.  Check with me in three more weeks, I should know by then.

Sunday Post 107: Breaking the Slump

Ever get in a slump?  I know a few folks who just live there.

I have an acquaintance who is always weary.  Every time I see him he shrugs his shoulders.  He’s out of breath.  Tired.  Unable to take what life has handed him.

I know another who is always frustrated.  Someone is always out to get him – his wife, his boss, the government – in his mind, he just can’t get a break.

I can relate.  I’ve gone through a couple of years of rut.  In my mind, it wasn’t my fault that I was miserable.  It was God’s fault.  It was the doctor’s fault.  I was tired, had too much to do.  In my mind, my grumpiness was justified.

The problem was, it was chronic.  For a period of time, I was really, really unenjoyable to be around.

Some would say I’m still that way at times, and they’re probably right.  But I think I’ve at least figured out that my outlook on life is my responsibility.  What happens to me happens to me.  Sometimes it feels like a lot, but I’m not carrying any greater burden than a ton of other people who are walking around with a smile on their face.

Everyone has their battles.  Some you outwardly see.  Some are masked from the world – but they are there.

Over the past six months, something has changed within me.  I think I realized that I was allowing the world to get me down.  People were getting on my nerves.  I was impatient, and I was self-centered.

I also realized that this frustration with life and negative attitude was affecting me more than it was anyone else.  Others would laugh at my sarcasm, feel sorry for the widower and then, they would go enjoy their lives.  I was the one who had to live with my miserable self day in and day out, and that was painful.

I’m not quite sure how one reframes life.  It’s almost like trying to stop smoking.  It’s a difficult thing to do.  I’d say step 1 is to realize that you are unhappy or cynical.  Step 2 is to want to make a change.  Step 3 might be to realize the good that is in your life.  And step 4?  Make a move – do something that helps you reframe.

The world has thrown me some curve balls.  I don’t want to get hit and writhe on the ground.  I want to take what was thrown and knock a homer.

Sunday Post 98: Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving after Lisa died, I couldn’t sit at my parent’s dining room table.  There was something about that extra leaf – the additional chairs crowded around the dark walnut wood, the missing place setting, the stuffing she offered to make because she didn’t much like my parent’s South Carolina cornbread dressing – not on the table that year.

It was painful just to walk in their house.  There were so many good memories – and at the time, every single one of them seemed torn to shreds.

The second year, the meal was easier.  The family enjoyed conversation.  We didn’t avoid her name – but the memories shared brought more smiles than tears.  But it was still difficult to be thankful.  My focus was on what I lost, not what I had.

How do you bow your head and thank God when you feel He has taken your most valued relationship, your very best friend?

I think it starts when you stop looking within and begin looking out.  Anger is natural, but it’s also pretty selfish.

When I got to the point that I could put my life into perspective, when I could see how many others in this world had so many bigger obstacles than I had, then and only then could I find a reason to be thankful.  The real kicker came when I saw numerous others, who had suffered a great deal more than I, talking about how grateful they were for their many blessings.  I couldn’t see mine, and I certainly couldn’t see theirs.

This year is different.  This year, I see so much good.

My three girls

My good friends

All of the grandparents

Uncle Jesse, Aunt Sallie, Uncle Dash, Uncle Matt and Aunt Mel

My job and my co-workers

My church family

My home

and that’s just scratching the surface…

Sunday Post 87: The Grief Relapse

This weekend marks three years since we learned that Lisa had cancer.  There are really only two dates left that without fail I will feel sadness – the Friday before Labor Day and February 24, the day she died.

I don’t typically burst out in tears anymore.  I have sad moments – watery eyes at times – but not the hard stuff.  But twice this week I had a grief relapse.  

It’s OK.  In a way, the release feels good.

As I approached this weekend, I looked back at my journal to see where my mind was one, two and three years ago.

September 2009

It’s cancer.

Fear, Sadness. What does our future hold?  It’ll be OK

Talked to Brad on the back porch – he said, “It’ll be OK.”

Talked to mom and dad, they said, “It’ll be OK.”

I don’t believe any of them.

September 2010

Not only do I miss Lisa, I miss US…She was my companion, my answer to the children leaving home – my Friday and Saturday nights and New Year’s Eve.

And now, my biggest fear, loneliness, stares me in the face – and for now, my biggest fear is winning.

September 2011

Today I began to see the sun again.  And today, I cranked open the car windows, all four of them, and the sunroof, and turned the volume of my stereo as loud as it would go, and I sang with all my might.  A woman with big hair in the car next to me looked my way – I’m sure she thought, “What’s up with that guy?”

And I thought of Lisa – but they were happy thoughts.  Thoughts of her cracking up when I sang all the words to rap songs on the way to Target.  Thoughts of her singing in the passenger seat not knowing that I was hanging on every word.  And I didn’t cry.  And I could breath again.

My grief counselor lost her husband many years ago.  She told me that there would come a time when I didn’t think of Lisa every day.  She was wrong.  Not one goes by without her face appearing in my mind.  Perhaps I’m reminded by a song or by an expression of hers now being donned by one of the girls.  Often I think of her right before I go to sleep – her side of the bed empty.

It doesn’t bother me to think of her each day.  I actually find it sort of comforting.  So I’ll not fight the memories; most are so very good.  I’ll be thankful for our time and thankful for my growth. 

I think the life I’m building has room for those reflections.

Sunday Post 61: Count Your Blessings

Posted by Danny

A couple of years before my maternal grandmother died, she lost her mind. It was a sad sight to see. She was the grandmother who would drop what she was doing when my brother and I came to town. She’d sit in the floor and just be with us. Fond, fond memories.

Her last year or so, she would sit on her couch with a pad of white paper and write, over and over again, count your many blessings. She had lost her mind, moved out of her house, had very few belongings left and yet, the phrase she was compelled to write was count your many blessings.

It sort of makes me feel like a fool.

I have so much to be thankful for, and yet, sometimes I spend a ton more time thinking about what I’ve lost. Understandable, and yet, perhaps too much focus on the wrong thing.

When Lisa died, she wore a necklace that a friend, Charlotte, had given her the weekend after she was diagnosed with cancer. Each of our girls had an identical piece. It had six charms – one with each of the girls’ initials, one that represented love, one for faith and one for hope. I wanted to wear her necklace at Lisa’s Memorial service, for some reason it made me feel closer to her, and I think it sort of represented a bond with my girls.

Charlotte heard me say I wanted to wear that girly necklace and immediately phoned her friend back home in Boulder, the woman who made the necklaces. Overnight I received a one of my own – it was a bit more manly, like dog tags for a soldier. It had three of Lisa’s charms and two of my own – 1) Lisa 2) Always.

The woman who made my necklace and overnighted it to Raleigh had no idea at the time that she would experience a similar loss in the year to come.

You see, her infant daughter, Lilly, died 18 months after Lisa. I have my girls – I am blessed. Sahra lost her daughter – a pain I can’t even imagine.

This woman who worked hard to get me my most prized possession, is now struggling, just like I have. This is her story:

Yesterday morning we held our little girl as she passed into her next adventure. She was loved and held and so peaceful. It happened in moments, she opened her eyes and smiled and then she was gone. She lives in us now, in all of us and in our hearts we will carry her.

http://lillianmeredith.wordpress.com/

Even I, who has experienced such deep grief, cannot relate to her pain.  And yet, we find that with those who have significant loss, good things come. This is Sahra’s response:

http://www.loveforlily.org/

My loss leads me to want to find a cure for colon cancer and to help young dads who have suffered similar losses to mine. I’m not sure how I will do that, but I pray that God will open doors. I am determined to do good with the blessings that I have.

Perhaps that helps give meaning to something that seems so meaningless.

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