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.

 

What’s My Role?

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I had the opportunity to chaperone our middle school youth group’s trip to Asheville, NC, this past week.  Asheville Youth Mission is a Christian organization that coordinates service opportunities for groups throughout the year in and around their mountain town.  We took 13 teenagers and experienced six mission placements in a week.

We worked at Manna Food Bank where Michelle, four other kids and I “got” to rip open hundreds of mesh bags full of rotten, slimy okra and toss them into a compost pile.  There was gagging and one episode of vomiting.  Not me or my child.  Michelle is used to disgusting food.  She was just thankful that she didn’t have to eat it for dinner this time.

We planned a pirate party at a day care center for adults with severe intellectual disabilities.  We shared some great jokes with our new friends:

What’s a pirate’s favorite country?

Arrrrgentina!

I left that afternoon both uplifted and incredibly grateful for my healthy children.

This was my second year at AYM, so I wasn’t surprised that I would be spiritually and emotionally moved at some point during the week.  I just didn’t know how.

Day 1 was the okra; not moving – emotionally or spiritually.  Perhaps gastronically, but that’s about all.

Day 2, however, hit me hard.

We pulled up to Hinds Feet Farm around noon.  It was not a corn field.  It was actually a safe place for people to go who suffer from traumatic or acquired brain injuries.   These adults come to Hinds Feet Farm, held in the back of a church, daily, where they build friendships and participate in programs.

I was fortunate to break bread with Sarah, Jay and Vanessa, three of about 15 present last Tuesday.  Jay immediately shared that Sarah was his wife; they both wore wedding bands.  Sarah clarified that their marriage was spiritual, that at this point they were unable to live together and had not yet had an official ceremony.

After lunch, several of our new friends shared their stories.  We learned that Sarah and Vanessa had been in car accidents.  Vanessa’s was three days after she turned 16.  Jay was hit in a brawl, fell backwards, and suffered significant bleeding on his brain.

Although their stories were inspiring, it was the lessons they shared that really hit home with me.

Each told us that they were intelligent; that they weren’t scary; that they just struggled with speech and with memory.  They asked us to treat them like real people.  Not to shy away from them.  Not to assume they aren’t smart.

As I listened to them, I thought about all that is going on in the world today.  Perhaps part of their struggles was my fault.

I don’t hang out with anyone who has a traumatic brain injury, so I simply don’t understand.  In fact, I don’t really hang out with Muslims, the homeless, those outside of my socioeconomic sphere, transgender folks, etc., etc.  Sure, I have acquaintances at work and throughout the community who are different from me, and, they are some of the nicest, most engaging people I know.  But I’m not eating dinner with them on Saturday night.  Instead, I spend my free time with my family (all lily white, middle class, southerners), and friends from church or clubs or my neighborhood (most lily white, middle class, southerners).  I’m guessing it is difficult to truly understand others if you don’t spend significant time with them.  In fact, Sarah said with slow, slurred speech, “You can’t understand if you don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.  And your feet are probably the wrong size.”  I think I should at least try them on.

At times, I get so frustrated with the unrest in our world.  Things seem so dire.  And yet, if I’m honest with myself, I can’t say that I’m doing anything to make it better.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more time pondering my role in all of this.  And maybe I should work a bit harder to connect with those who don’t look, act and think just like I do.

Searching for Meaning

I was recently talking with a friend about happiness.  She too has been through loss.

She shared a book with me by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.  I haven’t read it yet, but she gave me the cliff notes.

Apparently happiness isn’t about how big your house is.  It’s not necessarily about your career, although it could be.  It’s not even solely based on who you love or who loves you back.  According to Frankl, true happiness comes from meaning.

Occasionally, I get the itch to go immerse myself in a community somewhere in the world that could really use a great YMCA director.  Sometimes I long to go.  To move into a mud hut with new mud hut buddies to help make their lives better.

As if me as a next door neighbor in the middle of the jungle could help.  The first sign of monsoon season or an anaconda and my behind would be on a flight back home.  And maybe it’s not them who need to be helped.  Perhaps it’s me.  It flabbergasts me when I see really poor people in the world laughing and having fun.  They must have meaning.

I believe I fear the loss of meaning.  How do you find it when your kids grow up?  If it is built around career, what happens when you retire or lose your job?  What if your purpose is to care for an ailing parent or a sick spouse?  What becomes of happiness when they no longer need you?

My friend and I discussed whether meaning was different for people of faith.  It probably should be.  Faith certainly helps me get through this life.  And yet, I’m no Mother Teresa.

 

I guess I need to stop trying to define happiness by belongings, or the size of my paycheck, or the number of friends I have.  Instead, my focus should be on what I’m doing to make life better for others.  Maybe that’s where I’ll find MY greatest joy.

Visiting the Dead

Sometimes I dream about having the opportunity to talk to Lisa, if only for an hour or two.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could communicate with our loved ones who are gone?  Just an hour a month – or a one week reunion once a year like our family’s vacation trip to West Virginia each August.

I can envision the rush to get to the annual destination, the desire to be there as early as possible to maximize our time with the ones we don’t frequently see.  The hugs.  The laughter.  The recounting of stories that occurred throughout the year.  The asking of advice for the future.  A long embrace at the end of the week, knowing it will be 358 days before we would see each other again.

Before Lisa died I asked her, if there was an option to do so, to come visit us when she got to heaven.  She told me she wasn’t doing that.  “I don’t want to be stuck between here and there.”  Seemed like she had spent some time thinking about it.  “When I go, I’m not coming back.”

Last night I was laying by Stephanie right before bedtime.  We started talking about Lisa.

“I still miss her,” I confessed.  I then shared my desire to communicate with our deceased loved ones on a regular basis.

“I want to talk to her.  I wish she was here, on earth.”

Without hesitation, Stephanie said, “She is.  She’s inside of me.”

Sometimes kids can see things that we, as adults, cannot.

I think God sort of works like that too.  I’m often narrow in my ability to view His world.  I don’t want to be, but I am.  I’m unable, or unwilling, to see blessings, opportunities, solutions right in front of my nose.

Maybe I should just spend more time with Stephanie.  She sure does have a way of enlightening.

Sunday Post 196: Thankful for Hope

You know what I’m thankful for this year?  I’m thankful for hope!

What if you lived life, day in and day out, with no hope?  No possibility that life could get better?  No sense that you could get through the hard times?  No potential to meet those you love in another life?  That would make me miserable!

I’ve heard some pretty compelling arguments not to believe in God.  I have listened to folks who can quite logically explain that this world could have easily been created simply through science.  There are those who are fast to point out inconsistencies in the bible adding evidence to their “There is no God” case.  I can see their side.  I see inconsistencies as well.  I have a lot of questions too.

But man, I have hope!  And I can guarantee you this, it’s a much better way to live.

I can picture heaven.  I fully plan on seeing Lisa again, and my buddy Trey, and my friend Brenda, and grandparents for days!  I sort of get excited when I think about it!  Maybe when my demise seems a little closer I’ll sing a different tune, but for now, I’m not scared to die.  I got stuff to do on the other side – so many stories to share.  They aren’t gonna believe I wrote a book!

I have hope for a good, long, happy life with good friends, grandkids, and close connections with my daughters.

Sometimes I’m scared or uneasy, fearful of the future or worried about some stupid little problem.  But overall, I have hope and faith that in the long haul, it’ll all be alright.

The opposite of hope is doubt.  It’s pretty clear which is the better alternative!

Sunday Post 193: Confucius Say

Last Wednesday I picked Michelle up from dance at 6:05pm, right after work.  We had another event at 7 so we were in a hurry.  Typical.

Michelle was standing outside of the studio when I pulled up.  She climbed in the car and looked me over, “Dad.  You have dark circles under your eyes.  You need to get some sleep!”

“Yeah.  I’m tired.  Late nights this week; early mornings.  It was a tough day.”

My first question when she gets in the car is always, How was your day?  On Wednesday, she beat me to the conversation starter.

“Tell me about it.  What made your day bad?”

“Well, if you really want to know,”

“I do.”

“I had an early meeting.  I hate early meetings.”

“Those are hard for you aren’t they dad?  It’s cause you go to bed too late.”

“Not by choice.  Anyway, I had to speak to a group of about 75 people at lunch today in Durham.  I was on a panel with three other folks talking about work/life balance.  It took me an hour to get there, find a parking place and get to the building.  And then, I spoke for five minutes.  They did table breakout groups after we each introduced ourselves.  An hour to get there, speak for five minutes, and then an hour to get back!”

“What else happened?”

“Then I had a meeting from 2:30 – 3:30 with these other two guys.  And one of them showed up at 2.  And then both of them stayed until after 4!  It took all afternoon!  And now I’ve got 80 emails I have to check tonight when we get home at 9:30!  Oh, and I spilled coffee on my shirt this morning.  It was just a bad day.  I have a headache.”

“Dad, did anything good happen today?”

“Mmmm…I didn’t get shot.”

“Dad!  I want you to think of ten good things that happened today.  Come on.  Think of something.”

I swear.  I’m gonna have to do this. Think     of      something.

“Well, Robyn who sits across from me at work came back to the office today.  She’d been on vacation.  And she’s fun!”

“That’s one!”  She seemed excited.  “And you just made it through that yellow stoplight!  That’s two.”

“Oh, and this woman who knew Uncle Matt came up to me after the meeting in Durham and gave me a big hug.  She said that she really connected with what I said.”

“See dad, in five minutes you made a difference.  You helped her, and then she made you feel good too.”

“Yeah.  It was nice of her to say that.”

“Dad, look at the sky.  I love the fall.  It’s my favorite time of the year.”

I looked up.  The pinks and purples were peering out from behind the clouds.  It was beautiful.

“Dad.  Did you eat today?”

“Yea.”

“You know, there are people right here in Raleigh who don’t have food.  That was a good thing that happened to you today.”

Good lord.  I’ve used those very words on her.  How dare her toss them back in my face! 

At least she’s listening.

“Ok.  Ok.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad.”

“Yeah.  Every day has some good in it.”

It’s like I’m raising Confucius.

 

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 191: My Eulogy

Last week I did my first eulogy.  Do you do a eulogy?  Say a eulogy?  I guess you eulogize someone.

I was honored to be asked by an elderly lady who attended my church and who was an avid exerciser at the Y.  She called me a month or so ago and explained that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  She felt like her time was limited.  She was making plans.

Sarah told me I was a good man and that certainly I could think of something good to say about her.  She was right.  It was easy to think of wonderful things about my friend.

It’s a huge responsibility to speak at someone’s funeral.  The opportunity only comes around once.  It is the single time that folks will outwardly, in front of your friends and family, talk about what you’ve meant to this world.

As I thought about Sarah last week, I also thought about the end of my life.  When it’s all said and done, what would I want someone to say about me?

I really spent some time thinking about this and have decided there are about five things I hope someone will remember when they give that 10 minute synopsis of my life.

1) He made us laugh.

2) He was a really, really good father.

3) He made a difference in this world (and be able to support that statement with several specific examples).

4) He lived his faith through his actions.

5)  He loved people – he loved all people, and it showed.

When I look through this list, there are a couple I think I’ll knock out of the park.  There are a few, though, where I’m currently coming up short.  That means I have to accept that I’m probably going to fail or I’m going to have to make some changes now.

Suppose I lived my life with those five goals in mind.  What if I considered my daily actions determining if what I was doing was moving me toward those goals or away from them?

Perhaps a little focus today, will ensure a more interesting and thoughtful message upon my demise.

Sunday Post 187: The Nurses In Our Lives

Last Saturday I had the honor of speaking at a nurses’ convention. This was a group of folk, mostly women, who spend 40 hours a week on the oncology ward at local hospitals.  I have a special place in my heart for these people.  They are angels right here on earth.

How in the heck do you do that?  Why in the heck would you do that?

These women are our interpreters.  We had one doc who was just too smart for his own good:

“Ms. Tanner, your epidemioctagal levels are elevated and your pennial nervotian might have to be severed into spinial compatulas.”

I’d be taking notes furiously.  When he left the room, I’d ask Lisa, “You got any idea what he said?”

“No.  You?”

“Nah.”

We would then ask our nurse, who was smart, but who could also speak in sentences that English speaking college educated people could understand.

“So he said that her epidemioctagal levels are, ahh, elevated and her pennial nervotian well, he said, it might have to be severed into spinial compatulas.  Is that bad?”

“Oh no.  She’s fine.  I just need to put a band-aid on her toe.”

At the conference, I asked my audience why they did what they did. I shared my admiration.

I told the group, “I couldn’t do what you do.”

One yelled back at me from the audience, “There is NO WAY I could raise three girls on my own!”

“Yea,” I responded, “I’m raising them alone, but I didn’t choose to.  You made a conscientious decision to serve and care for people who are facing the biggest adversity imaginable.”

I’m just too selfish.  I want to do something in life that makes ME happy.  I don’t want to deal with pain and suffering.  I don’t want to face the potential of death day in and day out.

Thank goodness there are some out there who are this selfless.  Those who care more about others than they do themselves.  There are those out there who gain tremendous satisfaction out of serving others, caring for others, making life better for someone in need.

These nurses do this work for people they have never met before.  They take care of us and our kids.  They make us laugh.  They listen to us and believe in us.  And yet, we take them for granted.  We pay them a pittance, and they keep on keeping on.

I don’t suppose at this point in my life I’m going to make a significant career move.  I’m certainly never going to be comfortable sticking someone with a needle or removing a spleen.  But what I can do is spend a little more time being thankful and appreciating those around me who make our lives better.

So thanks to all of you great nurses, oncology and others.  You’re the ones who take our temperatures.  You’re the ones who build relationships with us and who know how hard this is for our families.  You are the ones who treat us like real people, with humor, love and care.

You are angels here on earth.

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 186: A Little Perspective

The other night, one of my younger kids was studying history.  I walked into the living room, and she looked up at me and asked, “Dad, are we the good guys or the bad guys?”

“Like our family?”

“No.  Our country.”

Sometimes kids ask really great questions.

I’ve never seriously thought about reasonable people truly thinking of the United States as the bad guys.  Sure terrorists think that, but not regular folk.  We’re for democracy.  We follow the rules.  We support people throughout the world who are in need, those who are being mistreated.  We send aid to hungry people!

My kid’s comment made me spend a little bit of time thinking about other’s perceptions.  There are some people in the world who get on my nerves, but it has never occurred to me that I could be the person that is the get on the nerver!

Some people dress weird, and speak with funny accents.  You don’t think there’s a possibility that someone could possibly think that my bow ties are too showy or mock me at their dinner table?

Oh my gosh, what if I’m not right all the time?  Perhaps my way of dealing with the problems at work or with the kids is sometimes the wrong way.

Nah.  No way that could be the case.

 

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 183: The Best She Can

I should have lunch with ministers more often. Over a turkey and bacon club, on gluten-free wheat bread (doesn’t make sense does it?), an elder buddy of mine waxed poetic about how we, especially I, could live a better life. He spoke from experience. I think he’d learned his lessons years earlier.

It was general conversation.   I wasn’t asking, and he wasn’t preaching. It just happened to be where our thoughts went.

At one point we were talking about our frustrations – from traffic to work. When the waitress lost our food, she came over to apologize. He told her it was no problem, at all. I, unlike my friend, had a pressing meeting I had to get to. When she walked away I expressed my frustration.

“Danny, you gotta understand. She’s doing the best she can considering who she is.”

At first, I didn’t think that was a very nice thing for a man of the cloth to say. It sort of sounded like he was criticizing her intelligence. I hadn’t noticed anything wrong with her. From my perspective, we didn’t know a thing about this woman, she had just made a dumb mistake.

When I dug deeper, he gave me a broader explanation.

“What do you mean by that? Did I miss something? Do you know her?”

“No Danny. I don’t. But isn’t that what we should all shoot for?”

“What do you mean?”

“I hope when I die that folks will look back on my life and say, ‘He did all he could, considering who he was.’”

We had already talked about how many folks we knew who were struggling with life: physical or mental illness, infidelity, addiction, abuse. I told him the older I got the more I realized how many folks around me were hurting.

I guess that conversation led him to his comment.

“Danny, think about what we were talking about earlier. We have no idea what our waitress is dealing with. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Assume that she has a lot on her plate. Most of us do. Then give her grace. I expect she’s doing all she can, considering who she is.”

If you caught me on a bad day, one where work was overwhelming, one where the kids are trying my patience, one with a spot of self-pity for my circumstances, I’d likely lose an order or two myself.

I get a lot of grace from folks, many exceptions. Give him a break, his wife died.

 I ought to be more generous in doling it back out.

 

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