Theara and the Beatitudes

I recently taught a Sunday school lesson on the Beatitudes.  I think I may be plagiarizing, but I no longer have a copy of the book, and I don’t remember the author’s name.  So know that credit for the following concept goes to whoever the guy is who wrote this Presbyterian book on the Beatitudes.  Sorry dude.

The author says that often people who struggle economically find their joy in the allness of life.  He says that allness isn’t even a real word, he made it up.  But maybe it should be.

Am I’m making life too complicated?  Maybe it isn’t about the house or the car or the college tuition or the next vacation or the number of years ‘til retirement.  Maybe it isn’t about being included in the important meeting at work or having everyone in the world like you or being President of the Board.  Perhaps it is about being in the moment – being fully satisfied with what you are given today; right now.

Matthew 18:3 says to approach life in a childlike way.

When I worked at the Cary YMCA, there was a kid in our programs named Theara.  She had Downs Syndrome and came to the Y after-school and during the summer most days for years and years.  Now, Theara could get frustrated and definitely told you what was on her mind.  One day we were walking to Bond Park about a mile down the greenway from the Y.  She got tired, sat down, and refused to go any further.  It was hot, and she let us know that we, in her opinion, had mucked up her day with this ridiculous trek.

I sort of liked the fact that you never had to guess where you stood with Theara.  If she was happy, you knew it.  If she wasn’t, you also knew it.

But what I most admired about Theara was that she was full.  She was full of love, and joy.  She delighted in a camp skit, song or cheer.  She loved theme days where you had the opportunity to dress up in costume.  She loved running into me in the hallway, walking up to greet me with a high-five and a joke or some little tidbit about her day.  She would get so excited about the smallest things.

She wasn’t waiting around for happiness to find her.  She found happiness in almost every aspect of life, with the exception of hot walks to Bond Park.

The Beatitudes encourage us to be meek, merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart and several other things that I’m not very good at.  Who in the heck even wants to be meek?  Is that a good thing?

Perhaps what Christ was saying was to take the talents you’ve been given and maximize them.  Or maybe, that the things society says are important, like leadership and clout, are not the things He finds important.  He made this world and wants us to enjoy it no matter who we are or what we’ve been given.

The author says that happiness replaces pain but that joy embraces it.  He explains that joy takes conquest of all the stuff of life, both good and bad, while happiness depends largely on circumstances.

I, for one, too often seek happiness instead of living with joy.  And when you do that, happiness is sometimes evasive.  Joy isn’t fickle.  It doesn’t leave us even when things aren’t going our way.

I think Theara has it right.  She has contentment with who she is and where she is.  Maybe I should spend more times with kids – I might learn something about living.

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Just One Life

When I first met grief, it was all consuming.  I had not experienced pain like that.  It cut to my core.  There was little ability to feel anything except loss.  Grief lived with me for quite some time.  If you’ve felt it, you know.  If you haven’t, it simply can’t be explained.  There aren’t words.

Perhaps that is why I cried when I saw the news last week about the Florida massacre.  Tears rolled down my face.  It wasn’t my pain, but to know that others have to go where I was eight years ago (or perhaps even worse due to the circumstances) made me ache for them.  I wept in utter disbelief that someone could inflict that level of pain on another human being.  I wept that we as a nation have let this continue.

If you’ve felt true loss, you know.  You want to spare any fellow human the agony.

They say that the second amendment gives us all the right to bear arms.  I don’t disagree.  However, it does not say that we have the right to bear AR-15 type semi-automatic weapons, the gun used at Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.

Some say it is hobby – that responsible gun owners should be able to shoot the weapon of their choice in a responsible manner.

I don’t really have a hobby.  I don’t fish or paint or collect stamps.  But I can’t imagine that there is a hobby that I wouldn’t give up if I thought it might save lives, especially the lives of children.  How can one be selfish enough to allow the thrill of shooting to get in the way of potentially protecting our kids?  Would you give up fishing to save lives?  Would you turn in your favorite stamp if you knew 17 teenagers would live sixty, seventy years longer?  How can we as a nation not understand that access to these destructive weapons are a part of the problem?

If we outlaw semi-automatic weapons, I do not believe it will fully stop gun violence.  There are many issues we need to address before we can rest.  But common sense tells us that cutting off legal access to semi-automatic weapons might, just might, make a dent in the problem.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But, in my opinion, it is worth a try.

What if we outlawed semi-automatic weapons, and it saved one life?  Would it be worth it?

It would if it was my child.

The Purge

The idea of eventually combining two households, my fiancé’s and mine, has me a little stressed out.  We would have to live in Buckingham Palace to fit all of Julie’s stuff and all of my stuff under one roof.  So, we are both working to purge a bit.

Since I’d rather spend the day reading a scientific atlas than cleaning, I cajoled my lady into helping me tidy up a bit.  It was an interesting morning.

Julie has a fairly strong commitment to expiration dates.  She felt rather strongly that the oregano that expired in 2003 should go.  Does oregano really go bad?  After some discussion, she encouraged me to toss anything that had expired prior to 2015.  I thought that was a good idea.

Interestingly, I had five containers of Mustard Powder.  I can assure you that mustard has NEVER been birthed in my kitchen.  Did a house guest slip some in my cupboard?  How in the hell did four bottles of Mustard Powder appear on my spice shelf?  Next Saturday I’m going to have a Mustard Powder sale – I’m putting signs up on telephone poles in the neighborhood:  EXPIRED MUSTARD POWDER FOR SALE!  LARGE SELECTION AVAILABLE.

I also have four large cooking forks that I use exclusively to break up and brown ground beef.  My favorite has a blue handle and is slightly rusty.  Julie felt that to avoid botulism I might consider tossing it.  “Honey, you have four of these forks and this one is rusty.  What if you threw this one away” she held up the blue handled.

“But it’s my favorite!  It curves just right and is the king of splitting up the meat when it’s all stuck together.”

“But pieces of metal are getting into the meat that you are then feeding to your children.”

I hadn’t thought of that…

My mom also tried to throw that meat fork out the prior year.  I rescued it from the TRASH CAN!

Julie was very good.  She just made suggestions, asked some thoughtful questions, and let me decide what should go.  “Honey, is there a reason you keep your bug spray on the same shelf with the food in the pantry?  And do you need 8 cans of Off?”

When we got to the bathroom she made interesting observations, “Maybe the drain snake you use for unclogging your shower should be kept in a separate area from your toothbrush.”  She explained to me about the opioid crisis and encouraged me to dispose of the pain killers from my appendectomy of ‘76.  “I just don’t think you would want to take those now.”

“But I loved Dr. McCutchen, and he is deceased.  I’ll never get another prescription from him again.”

I think cleaning out with Julie is better for me than doing it myself.  She constantly thinks of things that never cross my mind.

Coincidentally, Julie’s mom gave me a new meat grinding utensil that is coated in Teflon.  It’s actually BETTER than the blue handled fork.  I’m pondering tossing it.

 

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da BATMAN!

As a young kid in Hickory, NC, one of my favorite things to do was to toss a cape on my back and run around the back yard singing “da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da BATMAN.”  Bruce Wayne had it all – a house with secret passageways, a girlfriend named “Cat Woman,” a cool black sports car, a spotlight that shined his own signature image over Gotham City and… a CAPE.  Who cares about the rest of the stuff when you have a kick-ass cape draped around your shoulders?  It just reeks of fierceness.

Apparently, my brother and I also liked the cowboys.  I remember the caps that came with the guns.  You had to position them just so on the hammer-spring.  And if you did, POP!  The noise would startle any girl in the neighborhood and all adults over the age of 30.

cowboys

Recently, Julie pointed out my obsession with dress up.

It started when I pulled out my personal cape, made by my friends after one of the productions of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol which the girls and I have performed in for the past few years.

“Honey, that’s really nice.  Do you actually wear it out of the house?”

We then looked up appropriate places to wear a cape.  I think a fashion runway in London is likely the most appropriate.  I’m just ahead of my time.

When I was chosen to be a Celebrity Father Chef at my kids’ schools’ annual pancake breakfast, we were given a chef’s jacket and hat to identify us in the worthy role we had attained.  After all patrons had been served, I headed out to the dining room with my loaded Chinet.

cook

“Honey, do you want me to hold onto your hat while you eat?” Julie asked.

“Nah.  I sort of like it.  It’s very tall.”

At Halloween I convinced my children to dress up like nerds with me for Trunk-or-Treat.  We made kids answer math problems in exchange for candy.  I sent Julie that picture as well and tried to convince her that the nerdy guys were actually the best catches.  I think she bought it… I guess time will tell.  She did suggest that maybe one day I could have a dress up closet.  Man, would that be great or what???

nerd

There’s just something about donning an outfit that is typically not fitting.  It lets you be something you’re not.

Hmmm.  Maybe more people “dress up” than you think.  You don’t have to have a cape to hide who you really are.  I know a ton of folks who look one way on the outside but are something totally opposite on the inside.  Sometimes the outside is less pretty than the inside.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes the disguise is to protect from others looking in.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be accepted for who God created us to be?  I mean, He knows what’s under the hat.  If he’s OK with it, why aren’t we?

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.

Words, A Generous Gift

bathroom pic

Lisa did a good thing right before she died.  She wrote a very simple card to me telling me she loved me and that I had done all that I could for her.  She essentially said, “No guilt Danny.  No guilt.”  She told me to move forward in my life – to remarry.  Her exact words were, “You’re not good by yourself.”  Yeah.  She knew.

What a generous things for her to do.  Selfless.  Not surprising.

I have no guilt.  I have no angst about moving forward with my girlfriend, Julie.  I don’t know if I would have without the final check off, mybe so.  But it surely is nice not to question.

In a way, those who know they are going to die have an advantage.  If they choose, they can get their affairs straight.  They can share how much they love their friends and family.  They can help alleviate any feelings of guilt.  They can plan with their loved ones.

One would think that someone like me would fully be prepared to die.  I’m not scared to die, sometimes it is actually more scary to live in this world than to ponder death.  But I don’t think I’ve done a great job of planning for what could come.

Do my kids know that I absolutely adore them?  And not in a general sort of I love you way.  Do they know why I love them, individually?  Do they know what I think is most wonderful about each of them?

At some point over the past year or two, my parents wrote a letter to me just to let me know they are proud of me.  It’s framed in my bathroom (my favorite room in the house).

Do those I work with understand their importance in my life?  How they’ve stretched me and made me grow?

Am I vocal enough with Julie about my feelings for her?  Danny Tanner is not always easy to love.  I come with a lot.  I am thankful she’s in for the long haul.

Have I thoughtfully thanked all those who stood by me in my darkest times?  The ones who tossed my up on their shoulders and carried me when I couldn’t walk myself.

Oh, they’ll get their reward in heaven, but wouldn’t it be nice if I took the time now to let them know that I haven’t forgotten – that I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

I hope I don’t die tomorrow.  I am not prepared.

 

The Kid Sabbatical

They left me.  Yep.  All three of my girls trekked down to Camp Seafarer for a full five weeks.  Today I pick up Michelle, and I am so, so happy.

When Lisa died seven years ago, in addition to drowning in grief, I developed a fear of being alone.  The thought of staying in our house without other human beings consumed me.  I worked to stagger kid sleepovers so that all wouldn’t be gone at once.  I did the same with overnight camp, picking one up before sending the next.  I was paralyzed by the mere thought of quiet.

When I turned 50, I assumed I was complete.  I am happy, understand my strengths and limitations and am comfortable with who I have become.  What I didn’t expect was more self-growth.  I thought my insides were pretty set – sort of like the gray hair – there was no reversing what had developed; it is what it is.

What I have discovered over the past month is that, even as an aging dude, I’m ever changing, ever growing, ever maturing.  Yeah, I have REALLY missed my kids over the past 36 days (not that I was counting) but this time apart has allotted me time to rejuvenate and to focus on areas of my life that I’ve somewhat neglected.

This past month I’ve been able to focus on my relationship with my girlfriend, Julie.  she doesn’t live in Raleigh so the ability to head to Charlotte or on vacation together has given us the chance to pull back the curtain a bit.  I’ve discovered she’s cooler than I had imagined.  And best of all, after getting to know me even more, she’s still taking my calls!

I’ve exercised, slept hard, read and watched my backlog of DVR’d CBS Sunday Morning shows (man am I old).  I’ve eaten dinner with a number of my buddies, visited my parents twice, and I even got a massage.

I’ve surprised myself this year.  Even at AARP age, there’s still hope to tweak my many imperfections and to face down my fears.  It isn’t over!

I have a long way to go, but it’s nice to know it’s not too late for improvement.

The Gut

A dear friend of mine just resigned from the YMCA where we have worked together for thirty years.  She got an awesome opportunity to work with a former co-worker at the Y in Richmond.  Her kids are both in college, and it just seemed like a great opportunity for her to start anew.  She basically lived in Raleigh her entire life and most of her career, although in different positions, has been in one organization.  Gutsy move.

Big decisions are daunting for me.  I play out scenario after scenario – what if…

I recently went through a significant one with Michelle on high school choice.  That one was not mine to make, but I did hold some responsibility for coaching.

Stephanie is beginning to ponder colleges.  Another biggie.  Where you go to college will set the compass for the rest of your life:  where you live, your future spouse, your kids – all of those things ride on ONE significant decision.

Through the years, I’ve had opportunities to apply for other jobs similar to my friend.  I’ve considered selling my house and downsizing.  Occasionally I get the bug to pick up and leave the comfort of Raleigh, where I’ve spent the past 33 years, just to try something new.  But my roots are so very deep.

I have another friend who has had job after job.  She has lived in at least four cities in North Carolina, in Minnesota, and Colorado.  She has gone to various higher education institutions to chase her dreams.  And, she has always made new friends and adapted well.

I once saw a movie called Sliding Door.  The movie highlights Helen’s life.  She gets fired from her job and heads to the subway for home.  In one scenario, she catches the train and finds her boyfriend cheating on her in their apartment.  In another scenario, she misses the train and has no idea what he did.  The movie follows these two parallel lives.  And the outcome at the end is remarkably different, simply because of one train ride.

I suppose the lesson here is that any decision we make, big or small, can drastically change the course of our lives.  Lisa’s sister met her husband at a bar one night years ago.  Had she stayed at home to watch Grey’s Anatomy, who knows?

I asked my friend how she decided to make the move – what pushed her to jump.  Her reply?  “My gut.”

She simply felt it was the right thing to do at the right time.

Although I’m not happy with her for leaving, I’m pretty sure she’s made the right decision.  A little prayer and the following of your “gut” can lead you to some pretty incredible things.

 

 

Lemonade out of Lemons

The girls and I recently became hooked on a new TV show on NBC called This Is Us.  Although my kids can watch a 12 episode series in a weekend’s time, I don’t often have the inclination to sit that still that long.  But, there is something different about this show.

One storyline is set in the 70’s and 80’s and is about a family with three kids.  There is a parallel storyline set today that follows the children as grownups.

I am particularly drawn to two characters in the series.  My first attraction is to the father of the three kids, Jack Pearson.  He has his flaws, but he is an incredible man.  He brings life and fun into the family.  He is wonderfully sensitive, crying multiple times in the very first show.  He just wants things to be OK for his kids and for his wife to be genuinely happy.  It is refreshing to watch how he invests in others.

There is also a 70-year-old man, Dr. Nathan Katowski the wife’s obstetrician, who is also a regular on the show.  He is a widower and sort of mentors Jack.

I want to see pieces of each of these men in me.

At one point, the young father and his wife lose a baby in delivery.  This is the advice that the seasoned Dr. Katowski gives to Jack:

I’d like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me, talking a younger man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. 

I think when you go through tough times, folks are more prone to sharing their setbacks with you.  Perhaps they feel that you can understand.

I’ve recently had acquaintances lose loved ones – children, parents, spouses.  I know of those who have lost their jobs.  I’ve spent time with a widower who has six children under the age of 12.  I am amazed at how many rediscover good out of really nasty situation.

If for no other reason, as a young widower, I was propelled to drive forward for my kids’ sakes.  I couldn’t bear for them to live in a house with a father who was paralyzed by grief.  In the end, I was the one who benefited.  I found happy.

I hurt so bad seven years ago (this week marks the anniversary).  I was messed up.  And yet, today, I can’t imagine there are that many out there with more blessings than me.

 

Healing does not mean forgetting.  For me it is figuring out how to put grief in its appropriate place.

Writing makes you ponder things that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise.  I think about my legacy often – what I want to be remembered for when I’m gone from this earth.  I think it’s important to me for my kids to look back and say, “Man did dad make some good lemonade.”  Like the pink kind with real slices of lemon floating on the top, in a really nice pitcher with grandma ice cubes.

How fortunate I am to be sipping again.

Joy

cogswell-joy

I got a weird and wonderful call this week.

The area code was 910.  I recognized it because it is the same as my parents’.  On my phone screen the word Fayetteville popped up. Most people would not get excited by that word.  My hometown does not have the most exciting nor stellar reputation.  But for me, when I imagine that city, I just get all warm and tingly inside.

The voicemail was jumbled and cut off a few seconds into the call.  But I could clearly make out the name, and I surely recognized the voice.

“Danny, this is Joy from Fayetteville.  I saw a picture of you on Facebook and…”

Joy!

Joy was the pianist and a youth leader at my church when I was growing up.  Although old to us at the time, she was probably early thirties, she was so stinkin’ cool.  She was one of few adults who let my friends and me call her by her first name:  Joy.  How fitting.  She brought a ton of it to me.

In many ways, I was an insecure teen, not quite sure what to think of myself or my place in the world.  I did not peak in high school – that is an understatement – I didn’t even slightly ascend.  But Joy and Doug and Kim and Mike and Mr. Lundy and Mrs. Byrd and Miss Patty hurled themselves into my life with the full intent of helping me to discover all that I had that was good.  I’m sure it was a chore – like finding a pineapple tree growing in the Alaskan Tundra.

It didn’t seem to bother them that I was imperfect.  Sometimes I cussed.  Once I led the brigade of boys on a youth retreat in a full on mooning convention.  We pulled our pants down every single time a girl in our group walked by and even mooned passersby from the church bus windows.  These adults showed me love and compassion and how to invest in the lives of those around you.

Because of my work at the YMCA, I often read articles on how to insure that children grow up with a strong self-esteem and the ability to be productive members of society.  Having adults outside of your family who care about you is a key factor in accomplishing those goals.

I am thankful for Joy and for my church that poured into me for so many years.  I am thankful for the adults who have done the same for my kids.

Now, it’s my turn.