What Hospice Has Taught Me

Six months ago, Karen began a decline in her health that led me to believe we were looking at a few days remaining.  But true to form, she is still hanging tough and fighting to the very end. We engaged hospice care in June and it has been the right choice for us since we decided to forgo any further chemotherapy.  I’ve been told that people often involve hospice too late. I’m glad we have that component in place and have been proactive. 

Another decision we made together was for me to commit to become her primary caregiver and not look for fulltime employment.  Anyone who has made this decision knows the unique challenges that come with being a caregiver.  At this point, hospice is as much for me as it is for Karen.  The support they provide helps lighten my load as well as hers.

When this third diagnosis came to us last November, I vowed to do some things differently.  I knew from the previous two times that I had choices. Even though I did not choose cancer, I could choose to refuse its dictation.  I made a resolution that cancer would not tell me what to feel, nor would it leave me hopeless.  Cancer is invasive, but I would not let it invade the greater parts of my soul.

When I was a young boy, my dad had a standard reply to any question that had a complicated answer and require an advanced explanation.  I can remember asking him to tell me about the Vietnam war or Watergate and his response was always, “It’s hard to describe, son. You just have to pay attention.” Even though I was too young to understand what he was doing at the time, I’ve taken that advice into my midlife years.  When a situation defies explanation, often the best approach is to slow down and pay attention.

In this third season, I’ve done just that. I willfully and deliberately make choices that allow me to pay attention. I miss working, but I will never get this time back.  There will be plenty of time in the future to work.  The time to pay attention is right now.

As I pay attention, I notice new things.  I notice that crisis makes friends feel helpless. When they ask me what they can do for me, they mean it. And I’ve learned to lean into that.  I’m perfectly capable of mowing my own lawn, but when a deaconess from my church suggested having members come over and take care of the grass, I said yes. At first, I felt guilty, but after the second week, I saw it differently.  Letting people aid and support me prevents them from being robbed of the joy they acquire when they serve in a practical way.  And it frees me to keep my mind on other things at hand.

I pay attention to how the house smells.  Without realizing, aroma is helping etch memories of this season of hospice.  Aroma is our biggest memory trigger; therefore, I make intentional effort to make the house smell pleasing with candles, essential oils and baking bread.  The payoff is seen when nurses or visitors stop by and comment how great is smells in here. And even better to hand out fresh sourdough bread as they leave.  I want guests to encounter something unusually hospitable in this less than pleasant ordeal.

I pay attention to my thoughts more diligently now because everything flows from how I think.  If I think this season is unfair, that reasoning will certainly lead me down a path I have resolved not to take. If I think life is hopeless, then I will begin acting that way.  Instead, I monitor my thinking and refuse to let it dictate an undesirable outcome.

On the other hand, there are some things I don’t pay attention to.  I don’t pay attention to statistics on cancer.  Karen’s OB/GYN taught me the importance of ignoring statistics.  He said the internet is full of numbers and figures, none of which belong to Karen yet.  His advice was to pay attention to everything good in our lives and to focus on the things we can control and let the chips fall where they may. This was so helpful because Karen has already beat the national average soundly.

A New Chapter.

Click here to pre-order bread&cup: beyond simple food and drink.

Tomorrow opens a new chapter in a story I never thought I would be writing. My first book goes public for pre-sale on Indiegogo, Tuesday, October 01.  I never thought I would write a book. But neither did I imagine the other changes in my story that were drastically different than I preferred.

When I went into business as an entrepreneur, I didn’t envision losing everything I worked for. I didn’t plan for bankruptcy at mid-fifty. I certainly didn’t foresee cancer getting the best of my wife.  No one chooses hardship as a way of life. But no one escapes it either.

bread&cup: beyond simple food and drink is a compilation of stories, recipes and details about the 10-year life cycle of my restaurant, bread&cup.  I had no intention of doing this project a year ago .  I didn’t think it would be interesting or useful.  Who wants to read a story about a guy that failed?  This was the question posed to me as I was contemplating the possibility of writing a book.

I wrestled with that question and came to this conclusion.  This book is important for me. I am its main audience. I am writing it to myself first.

My business partner, Kerry, always reminded me that bread&cup was about my survival, that I needed it as much as anyone. I was in stagnant place in life and I needed its vision to pull me up and move me forward to a better place.

And here I am, several years later, in need of an another impetus.  After failure, I needed something to help me believe again.  bread&cup the restaurant was about renewal and hope. It was discovered in a dull and declining season of my life.  It convinced me that I could follow a new path and create again.  bread&cup the book is no different.  It is helping me overcome the losses I am facing. It is helping me overcome the detractors and negative voices in my head.  You know, the ones that speak fear and tell me I’m going to fail again and again.

You probably have them, too.

It’s in this thought that the book might be for you.  You might be in a similar place of self-doubt or boredom and wonder if your best days are behind you.  You might be facing a risk to step out in faith on an idea that seems far-fetched, especially to those closest to you.  Maybe you’ve experienced the kind of loss that blindsided you, that you never saw coming.

Or maybe you were a fan of our restaurant and you just want to know more about how it came to be and why it closed.  Or maybe you just want the apple butter recipe. The book includes all these. I offer them for the same reason I set our food on your table at the restaurant.  I wanted to see the delight on your face and the enjoyment that comes from sharing good food and conversation.

This link will be active Tuesday morning for you to watch the video and reserve a copy of the book that will be available in January 2020.  Thanks for your belief, interest and support. I appreciate it.

Click here to pre-order bread&cup: beyond simple food and drink.

In hope,


Hope and Generosity

Sometimes when I’m sitting in my little room typing out my thoughts, I forget there is an audience out there actually reading what I’ve written. In the last week, a number of people have recently said this exact sentence to me, “I’ve been reading your blog.”   Whenever I see trends like this, I stop and pay attention.

Patterns can give me insight and inform me about my next move.  When I resurfaced our basement stairs, I tore off old laminate from the treads, creating an ever so slight variation in some of the steps.  Before I resurfaced them, I would trip at the same place every time I would ascend the stairs. After the third time, I paid attention to this pattern and consciously made note to watch that step next time.

What is my take on these unusual amount of comments about my writing?  Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe I’ve found a point of connection that is resonating. 

When I write an entry here, rarely does it take long to begin putting words on the page.  I try to start with what I am thinking and what seems relevant to me at the time. This is why Hope spills out.  It’s what I need, therefore it’s what I give. 

Generosity works in all things, even and especially in times of need or lack.  I was shaped by this kind of gesture when I traveled in Eastern Europe as a college student 35 years ago.  Romania was under communist rule, and it’s citizens suffered economically. But in every home we visited, we were treated like royalty through lavish food and gifts.  Our translator pointed out that one host had spent approximately a months wages to share his feast with us. My initial response was out of guilt. How could I accept such a gift?  The translator said, “if you don’t receive this, you will rob him of the joy of blessing you.” I’ve never forgotten that, and still use that statement to this day. 

Perhaps it is this spirit of generosity that my reader is discerning.  In this challenging season, I choose to be generous. I need Hope, so I give Hope away. In doing so, it comes back to me many times over.

Thanks for your encouragement.

Hope and Despair

Hope and Despair Audioblog

Does Hope have its limitations?

It might seem like it to anyone who has had a loved one take their life.  Death is difficult enough on its own. When it is self-inflicted, it goes to a new level of pain.

I’ve had a few friends who have taken that path.  All of them young. I can still feel the churning in my gut upon hearing the news of death. One particular night, I went out to the dumpster in the alley behind the kitchen and sat down on the curb and sobbed.  I distinctly remember going through thoughts of feeling like we had lost, not just a life, but a battle for a life. What could I have done to prevent this from happening?

I know intellectually their death was not my fault, but sometimes I can’t help feeling like it was.  In my reflex to help try to make sense of the ache, I can miss the greater question. What will I do now in light of this tragedy?

For me, one step in a new direction is to never be silent on the subject.  To do that, I choose to write and tell my story, how Hope stepped in and gave me new life.  I can’t make choices for someone else, but I can give it my best effort to influence them in a positive direction.  I can’t just assume that depression and mental illness isn’t treatable or curable. Hope is an incredibly contagious ideal.  Why assume the dark side has all the power? Even a tiny match can illuminate a very dark room.

I’ve had suicidal ideation in the past, when my whole world was falling apart.  What I remember about that season was how much it made sense in my broken mind. I remember believing I was a burden, a failure and an embarrassment.  I felt totally worthless. Despair was closing in on me and I was losing my will to keep going.

I’m glad those days are behind me, but I won’t forget them. Because of that experience, I now have insight into depression that I never had before  The depressed mind doesn’t think correctly and it is hard to change, But Hope keeps guiding my steps forward.  I will wave my banner of Hope to all who can see it and maybe in doing, impart some strength to those who need it.

Hope and Song

Hard to believe this song is 20 years old. Hope has been a burning subject of mine for even longer than this. Here’s a blast from the past when making music was my main love.

Come to the Fountain

Come to the Fountain

I’m comin’ up slowly for air that I can’t breathe
I’m drowning in the sea of tranquility
I just can’t seem to get enough of what’s killing me
All the things I try I can’t get satisfied
I always seem to keep on asking
When will I stop doing what I want
And start wanting what I do

Is there a way? All I can say
There must be a way out of here

I’m comin’ up slowly for air that I can’t breathe
I’m drowning in the sea of prosperity
I just can’t seem to get enough of what I don’t need
Give me more. Give me more. I know I’ve said it before
What makes this time any different?
I can’t wait for satisfaction.
I just want relief

Come to the Fountain
Let the water pour
So deep within me
Deep within my soul.

©Kevin Shinn, 1999

Hope and Pain

Hope and Pain Audioblog

Why is Desire so important to Hope? Isn’t my Desire the thing that gets me into the most trouble? Isn’t that why I want to eat too much, drink too much, sleep too much, or get angry too much?

How can Desire have anything to do in helping me build my hope?

This was once my internal dialogue.  I used to think that my problem was that I wanted too much.  I thought I wanted too much out of life. I thought I wanted too much out of my work and marriage.  I was even led to believe I wanted too much out of my faith, and that the things I yearn to see and encounter just don’t happen any more.  What changed?

Change came when I discovered that wanting too much wasn’t the problem.  Instead, realized I don’t want enough.

In the season of my darkest days of 2016, I came face to face with the brutal truth that life was not working out the way I had hoped it would.  My career as an entrepreneur had led to an ending I never wanted or imagined. The internal, emotional pain of that time was the worst I’ve ever had to bear.  I started questioning my decisions and the reasoning that got me into this position. Why was I so stupid to think I could succeed?

The internal dialogue continued as did the pain. All pain demands relief and I was looking for a solution.  So I drank a lot, which helped to silence the negative voices in my head and so I could fall asleep. It worked for a while.  But there was one voice I could not keep quiet. It was the voice of Hope.

Hope was persistent in reminding me why I took such a big risk to become an entrepreneur.  Hope worked to convince me that immediate relief from the pain of loss was going to keep me from finding satisfaction in moving toward the better future again. Hope reaquainted me with Desire.

As a result, I started wanting more again.  

I was no longer content with relief from pain. I wanted more than escape.  I wanted to keep going. I wanted to keep searching for the better future that I had always imagined. I started to believe I would create again. Desire was indispensable in this process.  Without Desire, I would have lost my way completely, and I certainly would not be writing this post today.

I’ve come to learn how many of my decisions in life are made from a motive of avoiding pain, especially the pain of disappointment.  Hope doesn’t take away the pain, but it does help me overcome it and try again.

Hope and Desire

I’m in a challenging season right now.  I’m not the guy who has it figured out and looking to sell my online course to teach you how I succeeded in life. Just in the last month, I lost my job, my truck and am in the process of losing my wife to cancer.  My hand is full of uncertainty and it feels like the deck is stacked against me. And I don’t like playing that game.

I’m writing this post today for me.  This is how I started blogging 13 years ago.  My first audience was myself. I wanted a record to look back on and see the progression of my thinking and experience so I could better remember the story. Some of those early blog posts are funny, and some are downright embarrassing.  I’m glad I get a chance to change my mind along the way.

I write today because I believe some of you might be in the exact place I am, but need a voice to articulate your feelings.  Some of my favorite authors do that for me. I might be confused or unsettled in my mind, only to read the thoughts of another and find out that there is a new language available to me. It’s a new language that provides me hope.

So how does hope work? I use that word everyday.  I say out loud; I hope it doesn’t rain….I hope you have a safe trip…..I hope to see you soon. Is hope nothing more than wishful thinking? If I think real hard, will I end up getting what I want? Is there anything wrong with this Desire?

I now hold fast to the idea there is nothing wrong with my hopeful or wishful thinking.  I spent years trying to convince myself otherwise. I once believed that the key to life was in letting go of what I want, that all my desires are selfish and I should daily lay these down and take up a life of service to others and therein I would find happiness. It sounded good, but in practice, it felt incomplete.

What I discovered is that I cannot have life to the full without first being full of desire.  I can’t experience anything fully by not wanting it. As I was taught to fear my desire and distrust its motive, I learned how to destroy it.  But in the process, I destroyed it all. Like a napalm bomb, I took out the good with the bad. Being left without Desire is to be left without Hope.

Now my Desires are the starting point of my Hope.  What is it that I want today? I want work that matters.  I want a reliable vehicle that runs. I want to live long with the wife of my youth.  I want all this and more.

How does Hope influence these three desires?  Does Hope get me what I want? My old answer was, no, it doesn’t, so stop wanting so much.  My new answer is actually a new question: How acquainted am I with my Longings?

An ancient proverb says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a Tree of Life.”  The constant in this equation is Desire. I cannot have Hope without Desire. Neither can I have Fulfilled Desire without Unfulfilled Desire.  I can’t just go along not wanting something and suddenly have it granted.

My old way of thinking was nothing more than a strategy of avoiding pain and disappointment.  I will never go through life unscathed by the pain of unfulfilled Desire. I won’t ever get all that I want in this life.  But I refuse to stop wanting and stop hoping for it.

Choose Hope

Try my new Audio Blog feature

I can’t say I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I’ve known for a long time that I could write.  It’s only been in these mid-life years that the urge to write has increased to the point where I feel compelled, almost obsessed, to put words on a page.  It’s a feeling other writers can relate to.. Michael Ruhlman put it this way: “don’t write if you can help it, and don’t write expecting to make money. The only really good reason to write is because you have to.”

I’ve now come to that point in life where I have to.

I have started writing a book about my experience as an entrepreneur, chef and restaurateur.  It was not a book I could have begun even 6 months ago. I know this because I shopped the idea six months ago.  I sought some advice, factored the costs, etc and decided it wasn’t the right time. So what changed?

I think I now see that bread&cup was only a season in my journey.  Before, it was my dream. It became my identity. It encompassed my entire life.  I thought it was the best of what I was going to be able to achieve in my short life here on earth. I could not see past it because I was still grieving its loss. Grief takes time, but it isn’t forever.  Not if you have Hope on your side.

Hope won’t abandon or leave you alone. It is incredibly patient and chivalrous.  It won’t rush things. It’s never rude or boorish. Hope allows grief to run its course.  And when grief has done all it needs to do, Hope can take over, but not until it’s time has come.

The book of bread&cup is not a cookbook.  It’s a book about Hope. That’s’ why I feel compelled now to write it.  The world doesn’t need more recipes. It needs more Hope. And I plan to dump out as much of it as I can to anyone who will listen.  NT Wright says, “Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible.” This sums up my change of mind about writing and why I now choose to write.

It’s ironic how Hope and hopelessness are both contagious. Both are choices.  I can be infected by either one and I can transmit either one.   Which one will it be?

It comes to pass, not to stay.

I find it ironic that once I got serious about writing a memoir about bread&cup, the process has already begun to give something back to me. The dream that started to germinate as far back as 1994; the same dream that required all my creative energy and financial resources I could throw at it; the very dream that eventually got buried on December 10, 2017 has already begun showing signs of new life again.

Two weeks ago, I lost my job suddenly.  Ten days ago, my mom had surgery to address unknown source of pain and discomfort in her abdomen.  Six days ago, Karen entered the hospital with a mystery infection that is still undetermined. This is a lot to deal with in a short time.

As I was writing this week, I discovered the longest chapter in the book of bread&cup is the one titled Cancer. We came face to face with this enemy in May of 2010 and have been contending with it off and on now for nine years.  It has sought to dominate our lives, but we have refused to allow it that much power.

If there is one thing I have learned through the difficulties I’ve experienced in my life, it is this primary thought: circumstances do not get a say in how I choose to believe.  Try as they may, I can refuse how they attempt to define me. I’ve had to deal with the untimely deaths of loved ones. I’ve walked through business failure and bankruptcy, through cancer and disease, through loss after loss. Each crisis offers me a message, and the theme of that message is always negative.  It has helped me to recognize their words and resist them before they ever take hold. Mine always begin with the word You.

  • You’re such a failure.
  • You have the worst luck.
  • You didn’t plan properly.
  • You’re screwed now.
  • You need to stop dreaming and come back to reality.

Bad circumstances are inevitable.  Everyone takes a bite out of the shit sandwich.  Some more than others. Everyone will experience difficulty they do not want regardless of how much effort is exerted to stay in control.  

All negative emotions and experiences are temporary.  Sorrow is only for a season. Hardship is not forever.  Grief comes to pass. It doesn’t come to stay. On the other hand, Joy is persistent. It always wants to find its way back home.

My circumstances and all their messages don’t get to define me.  I won’t escape their effects, but can I refuse to believe their words.

Today I side with Hope.  I like what it says to me.  It tells me better days are always ahead.