Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

Others or yourself?

My dad is a great teacher.  He is very involved in his church and is constantly leading classes on raising kids (not sure if he has credibility there), marriage (he nailed that), communication, and other life stuff.  Recently he sent me the book The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley.  Dad’s using it for a class right now.

I’ve meandered through the book over the past month, and one of the big ah-hah’s for me has less to do about relationships and more to do with self.

Dr.  Smalley suggests that happiness comes from within.  He quotes Abraham Lincoln who said, “I reckon that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  Smalley goes on to say that a relationship with another flawed human being will not make you happy.  He asks, “Do two unhappy people normally form a happy couple?”  The answer is no.

I’m no expert on resilience or tackling hard issues.  I just did what I had to do.  But one thing I did realize through my grief was that I couldn’t live in a state of unending sadness.  I remember my counselor telling me in an early session after Lisa died that it would be three to five years before I would feel normal again – and that’s if I worked hard.  My response to her was, “That is unacceptable.”  I could not stay in that state.  I had to get out.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends, including three incredible kids, who injected joy and purpose into my life on a daily basis.  Although I was mad at God, I also had my faith.  I knew there was something more than we see here on this earth.  I clearly didn’t escape on my own.  But there was something in me that drove me to seek more.  That internal drive gave me my life back.

It wasn’t easy.  There were times that I actually felt guilty about being happy.  I had feelings of betrayal when I enjoyed life.  But I kept thinking, my kids deserve a happy dadThey’re going to face other significant obstacles in their life, and they need to see that there can be happiness after tragedy.  It was an example I had to set for them.  And that drove me to get better.

I worked diligently to get my grief out – like sweating out a fever.  I looked for ways to give back to help others in my situation.  I leaned on Uncle Jesse and followed his lead of reinserting zaniness into our house.  I leaned into my grief while simultaneously running in the opposite direction.

This strategy of aggressively facing my grief while looking for ways to combat it worked.  It gave me the ability to develop new friendships, to have the courage to try new things and find new passions, and to enter into an incredible relationship with Julie, my girlfriend, who I truly, truly love.  I can’t imagine my life today had I taken the alternate route.

Movement forward doesn’t come from others, although they can help.  It comes from within.  It comes from perseverance and an internal rejection of sadness or anger or resentment or whatever other negative emotion that festers inside us.

Those who know me would not describe me as an over the top optimistic dude.  I’m naturally sarcastic and can be a bit Chicken Littleish, one eye always watching for the sky to fall.  But those who look beyond the facade, they see more.  I saw an old friend in downtown Raleigh recently.  She looked me up and down and said, “I can tell you’re happy.”  How refreshing to be described that way.

I am grateful I had it in me to declare war on grief.  It’s a battle worth fighting.

Five Years and Counting

My first visit to a grief counselor was in March, 2010. She was cool, full-time counselor and part-time yoga instructor. I sat on the couch embracing an aqua Pier 1 looking pillow, protection from the questions she might ask.

I was there for grief, but clearly she’d bring out more. Trudy was going to force me to dig deep, to explore myself, my fears – ones I’d buried underneath my marriage. In many ways, Lisa was my security blanket. Now I was exposed. Nothing to cling to. Nothing to hide behind, except the pillow.

I hurt so deeply.

“How long will I feel like this?” I asked.

“It takes most people five years to feel completely whole again.” She didn’t sugar coat.

“That’s unacceptable. I can’t feel like this that long.”

She explained that my grief would not be as intense for five years, but that it could very well take a long, long time to move forward.

Yesterday marked the five year anniversary, and Trudy was right. I do feel whole again. Looking back, it seems like so much has happened over the past half-decade. But in many ways, it doesn’t seem so long ago that I first met my counselor.

Time goes slowly when you look forward but it seems fast when you look back.

I remember three things Trudy told me that could help to speed up my healing:

1) Lean on those around you

I was a master at that. I let folks support in any way they were willing. At times I told them what I needed. All stepped up to the plate.

2) Lean into your grief

She told me not to run, to allow myself to feel it. To cry. To talk it out. Not to hold back. Again, a tip I conquered.

3) Find new interests

I’ve tried. I wish I had more, but I’ve discovered writing, acting with my kids, and I’ve ventured into dating and spending time with some really cool people. I’ve got some work to do on this one though.

There were two other things I found important in my journey. One was to keep busy, especially in the beginning. I think it could have been easy to sit in bed and watch TV. Fortunately for me, having kids did not allow that.

The final piece of my healing puzzle was building a stronger belief in the long-term future. Having faith that I will see Lisa again has given me the ability to enjoy this life more fully. That may sound counterintuitive. Maybe it’s like an upcoming vacation. Enjoying day-to-day life is easy when you know that you have something really exciting to look forward to.

So many people hurt for so many reasons. My hope is that they will find tools to move them forward. The darkness can be suffocating, but with hard work and time, there’s a whole lot of light to find.

Sunday Post 182: Teaching to Pray

Last week my Sunday School class talked about prayer. We were discussing the news story about the woman who owns a restaurant and gives random discounts to customers who pray before dining.

The conversations in the room went from exasperation with those who would criticize the woman for her spiritual price cut to folks who felt praying in public was not what Jesus preached.

After reading the lesson, I was torn. It almost made me feel like praying with my kids at night, in particular my older two, wasn’t a great idea. Perhaps my push to pray at meals and bedtime was teaching my kids that those were required. Maybe we reviewed the same prayer list too often. Am I teaching my kids to have a conversation with God or am I teaching them an obligatory recitation?

That night I went to tell DJ goodnight. As I was walking out of her room I said, “Don’t forget to say your prayers.” And then I said, “Or not! I mean, pray if you want to – if it feels right. If not, don’t. You can pray later. Tomorrow. At 3:32 if you want. In the bathroom. Whenever. Goodnight.”

Later that week I ate lunch with a friend of mine. When we sat down at the table, with tons of folks around us, he looked me in the eye and said, “Let’s have an open-eyed prayer.” He then looked across the table at me and thanked God for our friendship and for our food.

He did pray in public. He just did it in an unobtrusive way.

After much debate and discussion, I think our class decided that there were two things we needed to keep in mind when praying:

Pray because you feel led to pray. Don’t pray for recognition or because you want others to see you. That ain’t what it’s all about. There’s no reason not to pray in a restaurant, but you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t. There isn’t an obligation to pray at any given time.

I don’t think God wants us to stand on a corner and shout at folks about His love or redemption. I think He wants us to quietly show.

I would rather see a sermon than to hear one.

Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 155: Totally Fulfilled…by a Fart

In the fourth grade, Wendy Templeton farted… out loud. We had our books out, focused on our Scholastic readers. Her row of desks was facing mine. She was wearing a short red dress. Mrs. McNally, our stodgy old teacher who was nearing retirement, was at her desk in the front of the class. She was wearing a large, black pleated skirt down to her ankles. Damn that was a lot of fabric.

I couldn’t believe it… she just let one rip! It was loouud; I guess it echoed on the metal of her chair.

I felt bad. She was so embarrassed. Her light complexion turned the same color as her dress. She slouched in her seat and propped up her folder to cover her head.

I tried not to laugh, she was my friend. But when Mrs. McNally announced, “Get back to work, it’s a natural bodily function,” I lost it.

I don’t care how natural it was, it was also hilarious. I was sent to the hall, unable to contain my amusement with Wendy’s wind.

Farts are still funny to me. I’ll be in a bathroom at work or church and some old man will let one rip. It’s all I can do to make it out of the bathroom without audibly cracking up.

Once a boy, always a boy I guess.

Maybe it would serve us all well to be more like kids. I don’t mean we should all laugh when someone passes gas. The older we get, the more that’s gonna happen – certainly it will get old eventually.

But isn’t it beautiful to be amused by such small surprises? How wonderful to be totally fulfilled by a fart.

Now, it takes so much more – an expensive house, vacation, kids with straight A’s, 106 Facebook likes, the right job title.

It used to be so simple. Joy, amusement, laughter, and life seemed endless – striking me from every direction.

When and why do I let that go?

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 148: Christians Unite

Aren’t we supposed to be on the same side?

I grow so weary of Christians attacking each other.  I grow so weary of disagreements on issues driving us to question each other’s commitment to Christ and in some cases leading us to question someone else’s faith altogether.

How could we possibly determine whether someone is a Christian simply because of his political affiliation?  How could we imply that we love God more because we stand on one side of a single issue?

Yeah, there are those who believe that it’s not possible to lead a Christlike life if you’re not exuberant about paying significant taxes to support those who haven’t been born with as many earthly blessings as you.  And, there are those who condemn someone to hell if they support gay marriage or the pro-choice agenda.

I get it!  I have passionate views as well.  But I wouldn’t question someone’s personal relationship with Christ because they don’t fully agree with Danny Tanner’s social and political views.  I might argue with them; I might wonder why they believe what they do; but that’s as far as I’d go.

I don’t like Fettuccini Alfredo.  Does that mean I don’t like Italian food?  It does not!  I just don’t particularly like that white goopy sauce.  Do I think you’re ignorant because you do?  No.  I think you have different taste buds.  If I’m splitting dinner with you, I’m going to try to pursuade you to order something else.  But I won’t question your commitment to the Italian food cause.

An athiest who reads this blog once commented that if every Christian talked about their faith as I do that maybe she’d be more interested in learning more.  That made me feel pretty good!

I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.  How could someone who doesn’t believe in God have any interest whatsoever in learning more while watching us condemn each other?  It is so NOT what Christ would do.

Let’s celebrate Christmas by doing what He would want us to do.  Go find a Christian you don’t agree with – and give him a hug, and begin acting out your faith with those who are actually on your side.  Once we get that down, we can reach out to those who have no understanding at all.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and BraidsAmazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:  Click here.  And thanks!

Sunday Post 140: Better Than OK

When Lisa was diagnosed with colon cancer, a man from work came up to me and said, “My son had cancer.  It was the best thing that ever happened to our family.  It brought us closer together than we’d ever been before.”

You’re a nut!  I thought to myself politely noddingHis son did live.

I found myself in a similar position to that man this week.  I had a conversation with a friend who was going through a very difficult time.  The table had turned.  I was now the encourager.  And I did my job.

But the interesting thing was that I believed, because of my experience, that she would be OK.  Although her situation seemed dire, I could genuinely see her bad news as an opportunity.  A time for her to turn over a new leaf, to move forward.

THAT’S NOT ME!  My glass is half empty.  What’s going on here?  I can’t take all of this positivity.

How in the heck do you suffer, tremendously, and come out thinking that others can perhaps grow through their trials?

I guess its because –

1)  I made it through and didn’t wilt, which I, and perhaps most other people, thought I might

2)  Good things have happened to me since Lisa died

3)  I have grown significantly through this process

I don’t want to blow smoke up someone’s behind telling them with hollow voice that “everything will be OK.”  I don’t want to be that glass half full guy who says “God will take care of you.”  But I think that I’ve grown to sort of believe that stuff.

Life isn’t always happy.  I have tough days and better days.  In many ways I’m not as fulfilled or content as I was when Lisa was alive.  And yet, I’m OK.  Yeah, better than OK.  And I believe my friend will be too.

Sunday Post 123: 97.6% Sure

I run into folks who have the faith of a giant.  No doubts whatsoever.  100% sure.  They are as convinced that there is a heaven as they are that there is mustard in their refridgerator.  It’s remarkable to watch.

Me, I believe too.  But I’ll have to say, at times, a little doubt creeps into the corner of my mind.  A little gnawing question passes through my cerebrum, “What if there isn’t a heaven?  What if you’re wrong?”

It’s generally fleeting, but it leaves enough of an impression that at times it gets me down.

Why in the heck didn’t God create a large bay window between heaven and earth?  If I could see all of my friends and family there, it’d be so much easier.

If your kid goes to overnight camp, you still get letters – you can see their picture on the camps’ online photo site.  You know you’ll see them again in a few weeks.

Why can we have Instagram with people in heaven?  Perhaps a Facebook page with ongoing updates from life up there.

I’ve got some great ideas.  If I get up there, I’m gonna make some serious suggestions.

Sunday Post 116: Doing It Yourself

On Monday, I was driving back from the dance studio for the seventieth time this week, this time with Michelle.  We passed an ambulance and she asked, “Dad.  When you see an ambulance or a fire truck drive by, do you say a prayer for the people they’re going to help?”

I responded, “You know Michelle, I actually do.  It just pops into my head.”

“Yeah, me too.  Do you think God answers our prayers?”

“I don’t know.  What do you think?”

“Sometimes I think He wants you to do it by yourself.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, when I was trying to quit sucking my thumb, I asked God to make me stop, and He didn’t do a thing about it.”

“I understand.  I’ve experience similar situations.”

Sometimes I think He wants you to do it yourself… hum…

I don’t know that I really have a problem with people praying to win a ball game or praying for a good parking place at the mall.  I guess that’s sort of between them and God.  But to be honest, if He won’t save my young wife from dying, I sure hope He’s working on something more important than finding parking places for someone.

Maybe there are times He intervenes.  Maybe there are times when He wants us to do it ourselves.

Life certainly isn’t easy, and I sometimes think I feel God’s presence.  I sort of see His hand in things.

At other times, I’m disappointed He hasn’t more quickly and apparently stepped in.  Maybe He’s busy helping someone else.  Or maybe He thinks it’s about time I took things into my own hands and took responsibility for my own actions.  He probably isn’t gonna yank my thumb out of my mouth!  First I have to want to stop sucking.  Then, and only then, might He help give me the strength or put the tools in place to help me.

I don’t think that God can cure my grief if I don’t work at it too.  It isn’t like Bewitched, a squenching of the nose and all is well.

Is it possible to rely too much on God?  I’m not sure.  But I’m confident that at times I don’t rely on myself enough.  I don’t take responsibility for my own actions.  Maybe that’s what that great philosopher Michelle Tanner was talking about.  Sometimes I just need to look myself in the eyes and begin the process of change.  I think He can usually help, but it’s likely that we may have to do some of the work ourselves.

Sunday Post 103: Happy Times

Being in the play A Christmas Carol does a lot of good for me in many ways.  When you spend 75 days listening to the lines of a grumpy old man whose only life’s focus is money, it begins to sink in.

Toward the end of the play Scrooge says, “I was just remembering my happy times.  They seem so very far away.”

I wonder how many people there are in the world who share that same sentiment.

There have certainly been times over the past couple of years when I felt like life just didn’t seem to be worth living without Lisa.  But life is big.

Perhaps I won’t ever find love like I had with her, maybe that is behind me.

But as I look at those around me, I’m beginning to realize that few of us live with every aspect of our existence exactly where we want it to be.  Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to find other areas of my life that are really very good, even without my wife.

I can’t say: I lost my wife therefore all of my happy times seem far away.  No, I lost out big time, and it stinks!  Now I must create new happy times.

I can wallow in lost dreams or I can rearrange them – I can make new ones.  I’m going to try to do the latter.

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