THE PRESENT CRISIS: LIFE DOWN TO ITS ESSENCE

Times Square, NYC. Flickr.

Who ever imagined that Times Square in the Big Apple would empty into a ghost town or the streets of Toronto would clear like smoke? Shuffling behind Asia, we’ve surrendered our Starbucks ritual, vacations, graduations, and worship gatherings. And in so doing, we’ve torn from the social fabric of our humanity: community. What has really upended our life in the West is the power of choice the pandemic has compelled us to forfeit. In our technological prowess and the comforts it’s secured for us, the loss reveals a people who are culturally not very good at suffering. >> Read more.

DH. The Banner magazine

Cancer, COVID-19, Game On

The Surprise

I woke up with a big lump in my neck the Wednesday before Easter in 2018. My wife was on her way back from a business trip. That night I went to the hospital because it was getting worse. She met me at the hospital, I had emergency surgery that Friday because they didn’t know what it was. I got the call from the doctor that Tuesday. He wanted me to come in, I asked him for the news over the phone. Stage Two Hodgkins Lymphoma. It was in my neck and a node behind my heart. Close friends came over that night. I wanted a second opinion for the course of treatment, and my father who’s worked in the health care industry many years got me an appointment at City of Hope for a week later. They confirmed the diagnosis. We didn’t cancel the trip we had planned to DC. The doctor said we could take it. We went on the trip with the boys, thinking it might be our last vacation. We had a great time but my wife got upset with me when I kept stepping away from the family at times. She wanted me to be more present, didn’t know I was having my moments, passing by these monuments, looking at the three of them, feeling like a ghost.

The Journey

August 2018: With Family During Chemotherapy

We came home, I started treatment end of April, which went through Sept 2018. I started eight rounds of chemo. My wife wondered how I was going to handle it ‘cuz I hate needles. Thirty-seven pokes. I documented my journey on Facebook, calling the day we got the diagnosis Day Zero. Highs and lows. I wanted to show people that God had this under control. We were not going to be fearful. We were going to be fearless. I didn’t paint a pretty picture but a realistic one. I told people the days I felt like absolute junk. I wanted my boys, who were nine and seven at the time, to know that whatever happened to me, God had a plan and it really made an impact, I think. Their class, their school, their teachers, our Little League, my CrossFit gym, our church, my dad’s church, the whole community was behind me.

Fear

When you get cancer, it’s what everybody feels right now with COVID-19. Keep social distance. What everybody is concerned with right now is what a cancer patient deals with on a daily basis while they’re going through treatment. We’re told that if we have a common cold, a fever of 99+, we gotta go to the hospital. So I’ve lived this. My family has lived this. So what people are concerned about – welcome to the cancer world. At the same time, everybody’s cancer journey is personal. And you can’t tell a cancer patient how to act and react. But I chose to be proactive, use common sense. I never stopped working and working out. I stopped traveling because I didn’t want to get on a plane. But I still met with customers. I practiced good hygiene, washing my hands. I would still shake people’s hands when I was sick, though I would do a lot more fist-bumping. because I had a great God. I was not going to let the cancer dictate my situation. Was I scared? Yeah, but as a believer in Jesus how can I be so scared that I was gonna stay tucked away in my house? No matter what happened, God had it under control. I used the strength of the community to give me that guide. Text messaging, phone calls, video calls, what people are doing right now I did a lot. But I’d still go out in public, I’d still go to gyms and still work out, but I’d use common sense and listen to my body. I exercised, ate the right foods.

Making a Difference

We started a company called Move through Motivation with the people that actually came to my house the night I found out I had cancer. I’ve known these people for 15 years. We have a Youtube channel, a podcast about my mission and the story behind the story. The podcast shares people who’re going through struggles and what their life is looking like right now. Feel free to go on. I wanted to start a company that got people even just walking, exercising in an encouraging environment to show them how that would keep them healthy. And so Pray and Move is a small group we started in 2017 with some guys from our baseball group and friends from church, and we meet every Sunday morning at 5:15. We’re still meeting every Sunday. Because the parks are closed, we’re practicing safe social distance running on the streets in our neighborhood. This past week there were six people that came. I’m a military man, served in the US army, I deployed in 2003, was in a severe accident, landed in the hospital. I’ve been through many tragic experiences that have set me up for this and to encourage people in this current situation. But further than what’s going on with COVID-19, my goal is to help people with health. So if you’re sitting on your couch all day, I want to be the encouraging voice that says let’s get up and go for a twenty-minute walk. If you need an encouraging group, I can find people you can be accountable to and I will be that motivation, although I can’t be the driver. The drive has to come from you day in, day out. I want my company to inspire people. Before COVID-19 hit, we were about to start a Just Move campaign with our two neighboring cities to help families come out and move, provide fun activities. If I can change the mind of just one person to walk just twenty minutes everyday, to do something more than what they were doing months ago and start them on a track to health and wellness, normal and healthy people will be able to fight a pandemic like this. The cancer didn’t define me. It just motivated me to help others any way I can, whether they’re going through cancer or just struggling to move more.

What happened at the end of your treatment?

The chemo killed the cancer cells. I’m in remission. We get a five-year window. So far after a year and five months, I’m clear. I scan every six months.

What was the greatest lesson you learned?

Spread love and positivity in dark times. When you go through something trying, you have a different perspective on what life’s really about. Spread love.

 

A big thanks to Matt for this conversation, his strength, love, and service. He roves the church (when we gather) looking for ways to lighten the load for everyone. Be sure to catch the awesome Youtube he filmed the day he got his diagnosis, and plug into his podcast and adaptable daily regimens on his Facebook page.

Please address comments to the blog host.

 

It’s All in the Suffering

photy.org

I was going to say no, I didn’t fall off a cliff, but actually, I did. And though I lay on the rocks, wishing nothing more than to be wiped off the planet, I somehow made it back up, half-carried by angels, broken bones and all. The bruises linger, but the bones, to my wonder, have healed and the bleeding stopped. I wasn’t done for. As long as I had breath, as long as I could form my words, the world had a place for me. Like the page in this year’s California’s Best Emerging Poets anthology. And the classroom in the private university where I taught composition this past semester. I had walked past that door many times early this year, wondering why a job at a homeschool center across the street wasn’t working out, when God had my name on that door, His writing on the wall. We launched Drummer Boy this Fall. (After 12 years of indentured servitude coupled with preteen warfare, I was done. I practically threw him over the school fence.) It was time for me to launch, too. I enjoyed the teaching immensely, and although the steep learning curve on school protocols, the grading platform, and the amount of writing to grade made for a ride under a dam that had burst, I didn’t feel mentally challenged. And the impossible hunger pangs for the writing – to do it, not just teach it – didn’t help. I’d been away from the page too long.

In thinking through what the upcoming years might look like for me unchained to my son, I discovered the other night a generous, astonishing opportunity a prestigious institution had extended me on LinkedIn months ago. Two, in fact, when I failed to respond. I glossed over the solicitation before tearing up the golden ticket and tossing it not only because the timing was implausible for me as a mother, but because it was such an amazing invitation I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Then there was my age: my son’s long-awaited self-sufficiency would put me over 50. Yes, I want to build a career with the teaching and writing, but I’m supposed to start tiring after 50, not go pursuing the academic equivalent of a rhino chase on an African safari. But Awesome Friend #1 started taping up the ticket: It seems doable, she wrote. And Awesome Friend #2 pressed it in my hand : Why limit yourself? Who cares how old you will be?

Turns out, I was the only one who cared. I was the one who intended on losing steam after 50. And as the playback on my life revealed, I was the one who’d chosen the classrooms with the low ceiling all these years, afraid to prove I really wasn’t smart or capable. But we won’t find our greatest self where it’s safe or comfortable. Retired Navy SEAL and seemingly superhuman athlete David Goggins says we have to suffer. He named every fear he could before running straight into each one because it was only when he had to decide if he would go on with the broken leg and bloody hands that he met with his highest self, not when he was downing a dozen doughnuts on the couch at 300 pounds. He discovered “that the answers are all in the suffering.” Accustomed to them, I am very good at anguish and affliction. I am less skilled at mapping the endurance into lasting victory beyond survival. Hope is not a plan. And no matter how we might dress it with color on a vision board, hope glorified, called a dream, will remain nothing more than a pretty picture without concrete day-in, day-out goals we move toward both physically and mentally.

I am coming out of a brutal year, one in which I faced the hardest truths about myself. And yet grace has met me in the dungeon, thrown open the doors, and held up a breathtaking life that is mine for the taking if I will shed the self-doubt and get to work. At just a few words from friends who wouldn’t let me shortchange myself, my life took on sudden definition. So I’ve drawn up a game plan that will reorder and fuel my life, the things time and stress had gotten in the way of, but that now tangibly serve a larger purpose, from organizing my house to working out again, studying, and writing. No longer am I sitting and hoping that my writing will be good enough and that the future will favor me. I’m gettin’ up to go git it. I will make my work good enough, silencing the imp on my shoulder that’s whispered all my life: but there are so many writers better than you. I shoved Goggins’ book in her face and refuse to hear her out anymore. I couldn’t care less who’s over me or in front. I will continue to write as though my life depends on it because it does. God has shown me that the works I have published and the classes I have taught are only a prelude to what He has in store if I will reach for the life that is bigger, so much bigger, than my failings and my fears.

Sometimes They Love You, Sometimes They Don’t

I would rather be read than seen, but delivering my poem on that stage to an audience serious about art and beauty was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. I have watched my favorite poets online present from their book at readings the way I’ve appreciated figure-skating on the Olympics channel. Very cool, and fat chance that’ll ever be me. But there I stood – while part of a collection – sharing my words out of a book. I was just a blade of grass, but had left the desert.

Beautiful cover, isn’t it? The SDPA is out on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and in all the San Diego public and university libraries in California. The 13th edition contains poetry from emerging and established artists in the region along with the international poetry contest winners. Apparently, the honorees from the competition comprised 1/9 of the submissions. We had to have made the final lists of two judges. To be able to read my work among distinguished guests including the Poet Laureate of San Diego, and receive the feedback I did were no small affirmations. I took the gift as a hard-won treat in wrapping up a school year that had revolved around my son.

People back home were so happy for me. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere – not I the mother or educator, but the writer who no longer remembered what she looked like apart from the mirror. And then life spun its crazy turns.

I refrain from the details, partly to keep the bleeding in check. But long sad story short, I found myself misrepresented sorely in the eyes of someone in authority at the hands of someone I had liked and trusted. The roughest of the ride behind me, I stand, shaken but more secure. I was able to move away from the anxious indignation, so bound up in the ego, to the stuff of real consequence, trust in God’s redemptive plans. I am a note in His symphony – a reminder both humbling and exalting. There is much more to my life than…me, and what people think.

The self-help gurus tell me I can be anything, do anything, and success is to be found in strength. In the quietest, deepest places, I know real growth comes by loss. If I am to offer up my God anything, I need to have something to give up. What can I surrender when the sun smiles upon me, when readers throw bouquets of praise, when my child is winning awards? Without struggle, there is no conquering.

When Life Doesn’t Cooperate

JK,

I wish I had the words and muscle to help bear your load. You have borne your distresses with such amazing grace. Caring for the elderly becomes much like the labor over young children and you are pressed on all fronts with little margin to tend to your own needs.

Ariel Levy, staff writer at The New Yorker, recounts in her memoir her traumatic miscarriage out in Mongolia at five months. She speaks of grief, loss, growing up, thinking she had been getting somewhere with her career, love, playing house, motherhood, when it all came crashing on her head and she realized she’d just been driving around. She longs for her lost child in the crushed dream of motherhood, and confesses the fear of being without a companion. I thought of you but also of us all.

She quotes a famed writer, a woman in her ritzy apartment late in life who, when asked about her unfulfilled desire for children, answered simply that everybody cannot have everything. Ariel came to see – slowly – that we can have some things. I would add that every gift, every station in life, comes with a dark side we don’t think too much about in eyeing what we don’t have. This side of heaven, as you know, life is a burden, the burden of our humanity. T’s hobble from a judo injury has tapered to a limp. But I am reminded that we all limp. And joy can be found in all things.

Life here has been too full. I don’t have hands enough for all that needs doing, putting one fire out after another. Preoccupied as I had been with T, it took 36 hours for me to look down and understand that my thumb was (very) mad at me and was shouting up through my shoulder. I had forgotten the freak wrench off the joint after that first scream. In the resentment at being stretched like taffy, at being kept from the writing in life’s madness and the home school, it hit me last night that I have one shot at this. No matter how hard I try in the future, I will not be able to do this day over with T, resurrect his childhood and do motherhood more patiently and sweetly. I will not be able to care for him as I would want to. In a blink these years evaporated, leaving me with the freedom I gasp for some days and the house quiet. What lessons in character that he has learned from me (by watching) will he take into the world, into his own life and family? Faced, in the past, with the choice of alter egos for a life I could relive, I would’ve – so satisfied with my person – chosen my present self. Now, I would jump at the chance to be anyone else. Someone better at happiness, someone who knows worrying saves no one. In all that selflessness of yours, be selfish with the joy, JK. I don’t envy you your sorrows but no need to look this way through frosted windows.

Love always,
D.

Dear God, yes, I’ll take Combo #4. The family free of injuries (could we throw in my parents?), obedient child, antiaging powers, and that book deal we’ve talked about. But on the days that a smile is a workout, I’ll take it à la carte, the grace just to get through and to know You’ve got this.

midnight in wonderland

we felt so grown up 
when we were kids
and now wonder that 
we are so old when 
we're not yet grown

we started losing 
our parents to 
time and frailty.

in the cycle of life 
things go upside 
down sometimes

you rush
d o w n
the
  rabbit hole
      into a world
above the logic of sorrow

and find you are so
small, but remember:
Mom's high ceiling, 
your sure ground.

see the sky and trees
in your pool of tears
they're the other side 
of life. how beautiful 
things are when they drown

how clear it is underwater.

you long to run 
to the garden 
beyond that door 
but you don't fit

life would feel deformed 
under the weight of loss 
if it weren't for the faith 
that was bigger than the 
life that shut down

she archived her fears and 
hopes in her kids, did
anyone hear the story 
in between, did
anyone  look?

hold fast 
your heirloom assurance

the midnight of your dreams
is really a new day.

for HJ &
anyone else
who would like it

This I Believe

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
I am ashamed to claim faith in Jesus Christ, unworthy as I am
to bear that name and call myself a Christian. For my sake he was
crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried.

I love the order and witness of the Christian faith;
the unassuming birth, disarming life, unjustifiable death,
and the deserted tomb that answer prophecy of Scripture.

A burning stick snatched from the fire, I believe I am more sinful
than I could imagine and more loved than I dare hope.*

Yet I worship at the altar of Self, and often insist and want and
worry as though there were no God. As though I were not loved.

I believe in right and wrong, and that I need saving from myself.
I need a God who is wiser than my purposes, deeper than my
hopelessness, higher than my dreams – a God who owes me nothing.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, Resurrection power
in this flesh and in the heart that fails me.

But how easily would I make my professions on a bed of nails,
not the carpet of ease and cultural civility of my times? On my deathbed
I will call myself Christian because grace will have won out in the end.

This I believe.

 

*This line a summation of the gospel by author and pastor Dr. Timothy Keller

I Will Sing: Faith

branches

Unless you’re helplessly tone-deaf, you’ll hear the unvarnished attempt of a songwriter
whose gift wasn’t singing. I can’t help wince at my voice but if the Scriptures sung in crude,
bare worship should bless anyone, the embarrassment will have been worth it. I thought
the song of hope would take us nicely from the last post Beauty From Ashes to the
one that’s coming up. You can zoom for the lyrics. Thanks for listening. Love, Me.

 

Faith01a

Faith04

A New Song

We don’t see it’s really
sand beneath our feet.
We draw noise and light
and words over the untidy
fear of our last sun.

What will remain of the
demands I have made,
the accolade, the love
I have given, the grief
I have drunk, the hours
I have written
riven by loss, borne back
in battle, visited by
seasons of joy that robbed
me of language?

When the plans and pages
that had filled my life flutter
to the floor like careless leaves

On sure ground will I return
this borrowed breath
the sonatas I have performed,
the dreams I have played will be
— I will see – but a note
I surrender for a new song.

Why I Don’t Pray More

I’d have to face the ache of my longings. Go deep into the back room, unearth the box to surrender and and open it to see my heart bleeding. I know in my head my God is more than able to comfort and to provide as He pleases. But I’m like my boy has been – terrified over the sight and taste of his own blood, praying God remove the tooth without pain. Tennyson would rather eat and go about his day pretending he’s fine, that it doesn’t hurt. He is afraid of being afraid.