Keys

I had lunch with Weed yesterday and when I got to the pub late, I found him at the table reading my book.  He let me know that this was the first book he had read in a long time because of dyslexia. But to overcome it, he told me how he learned over time to assign colors to words, and that they became more like symbols he could recognize, since the words themselves might appear jumbled or backward.  I was moved by his story because it showed me how he refused to let his limitation stop him from overcoming.

As a writer, I accept that there are times when I sit down to this computer in the morning and feel completely inadequate to communicate anything. Sometimes I am so full of intensity and sentiment that I have no familiar words to describe it.  In frustration I have to assign a few of them that I know to try and form a thought that might make sense to you. More often than not, I finish a post like this wondering if it’s just gibberish. It falls so short of my internal experience.

But the desire to connect with and communicate a message supersedes the restriction.  It’s in our nature. It bourgeons like a bud in spring. It wants to be seen.

One symbol I have assigned to my writing is the icon of a key.  A key is meant to unlock, open up and allow entry and passage. I can lock my front door without a key but I can’t open it unless I have the right one.  I never want my words to bind or restrict. I want them to liberate and emancipate.

Words are my keys that I hope will open up a whole bunch of locks. This drives me to keep writing even when I feel like I just spent 45 mins tapping out nonsense.

Your words have the same loosing effect on me.  They open me up also. Some of you have taken time to write back about your grief journey and it’s helpful and appreciated.  It gives me insight I didn’t have before.

When I take the risk to reach out and share a story, it sometimes feels like reaching for the doorknob in the dark, fumbling through the keyring, hoping that the one I selected from the many in my hand will fit and lead me inside.

We all possess keys to unlock each other’s heart.  I love finding people who hold one for me.

Save Some For Seed

It’s been important for me to recognize the role of hospitality amid my grief.  In the restaurant, I tried to always make a point to my staff that we show hospitality to each other first, then to the customer.  I can’t give what I don’t have. It becomes much easier to serve kindness to a guest if my starting point is kindness.

Even if I know how to extend toward and receive kindness from people. I need to include myself in that mix.

Do I know how to be kind to Kevin?

If I spend all my energy taking care of others, I will most certainly deplete my source. Eventually I will have nothing to give. I will be doling out rations from an impoverished heart. If I’ve stored up nothing, I will have nothing to offer in the upcoming season.

A principle like this comes from farming.  There is seed for sowing and there is seed for food. It’s important to keep those distinct and separate.

The farmer instinctively knew to hold back a portion of seed from the best looking plants after each harvest. He would save this selection to plant next year.  The rest could be ground into flour to make the bread for the family to enjoy. He didn’t eat the seed. He kept it separate from that which was designated for food, else he would have nothing to sow in the springtime. Much of that farmer’s job was to take care of the Homefront.

Dad taught me the importance of this principle when he or someone else would gift me money.  He would say, “Don’t use that all up at once, son. Save some for seed.”

This little lesson has stuck with me through grief. Kindness is both seed for sowing and seed for food. I must scatter it as well as consume it. I can’t act foolishly by thinking it doesn’t matter.  The farmer kept the majority of his seed for food. He knew if he didn’t take care of his household, he wouldn’t be around to continue sowing and reaping for them in the future.

If you’re grieving today, I identify with your pain, but I don’t know what it means to be you. What you’re feeling is unique and personal.  I sow this thought with you in the midst of your hurt. Take a moment to consider what it would mean to be kind to yourself. You matter. Even though the pain tells you otherwise. Someone will need your story someday. And I want you to be around to tell it.

Lack of Faith Isn’t The Problem

Someone told me recently, “I liked your recent entry about faith. I wish I had faith like you.” I said “Faith isn’t usually the issue. I think what you’re talking about is your lack of Hope.”

I get this from this simple definition I have adopted:

Faith is being sure of what I hope for,

Certain of what I don’t see.

You may have never thought of it this way, but Faith and Hope need not be proportional. If a grain of Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain, I’m positive that you and I already possess this measure of Faith. 

As I see it, what’s missing isn’t Faith.  It’s Hope.

That’s why I describe my book as a Story of Hope Amid Severe Loss. Hope got it all started. Hope dreamed it. Hope sustained it and Hope pulls me through my hardships of late.  This was the constant thought that kept me writing amid self doubt. I kept repeating, “I hope this work will matter to someone. I hope it will lift somebody out of their hopeless situation.”

My Hope knew where it wanted to go. Faith shoved me out the door.

I’m flush in Hope now, and I plan to dump as much of it out on anyone who will listen and receive.

I write knowing I’m in the middle of a story. It’s not even close to being finished.  But I take the risk to put my thoughts in cyberspace because your story isn’t complete either. You’re also in the process of wondering if you can Hope or not.

  • You’re in a relationship that you’re settling for.  It’s not driven by Hope. It just feels better than the thought of being alone.
  • You’re stuck in a shitty job. It feels hopeless.  But at least it’s a paycheck and they provide healthcare.
  • You’re getting older, feeling the limitations of an aging body.  The Hope of anything being better sounds foolish. 
  • You’re 60 and have no retirement savings.  This wasn’t the way you planned it. Where’s the Hope now?

These aren’t theoretical situations. I’ve been there. And how often do I combat my hopelessness with a salvo of defensiveness? 

  • “Nobody understands.” 
  • “My situation is different.”
  • “That’s nice for you, but I live in the real world.”
  • “Hope doesn’t work that way.”

Faith will see to it that I get what I want, regardless of how great or small.  If I merely don’t want to be alone, Faith will obtain that kind of relationship for me. Faith won’t find me a deep intimate connection unless Hope desires it.  Faith will take me as far as my Hope wants it to.

Faith will keep me in my shitty job if that’s what I hope for.  Faith will get me up and out the door every morning to collect my paycheck. But Faith won’t go beyond my Hope to seek out anything better.

Faith always likes Hope to take the lead. 

Faith will pack up the wagon and drive it wherever Hope says to go. It’s not an easy path to travel, at least not in my experience.  Hope will lead through valleys as well as peaks and soaring vistas. Faith might walk for years before even getting a glimpse of what Hope is talking about. But Faith is being sure of what I don’t see.

On another note. I received word that all tests from my cardiologist were negative. Everything showed a normal functioning heart. The only thing abnormal was the episode that Sunday night. I’m feeling right and continue carry on. Thank you to so many of you who reached out once you heard of my news. That means a lot.

What To Do With Someone’s Tears?

My eyes leak regularly and I’m OK with that now.  I tear up daily and often several times a the day.  My Today’s a Good Day song might move me somehow. The show on Netflix this week spurs emotion.  Your story about your loss might trigger something in me. All of these experiences are somehow punctuated more accurately with tears.

So what should you do when we’re meeting for coffee and you’re in mid sentence and you see my eyes begin to well up?

You let me cry. Then ask me about it.

You have not upset me.  You have not induced the tears. My emotion is not your fault.  You are not the reason I’m crying. It’s actually the opposite.

Something good is going on inside me.

Grief takes me to a good place, even though it doesn’t feel or look good at the time.  It can even make things awkward between us. But like any generous gesture that is difficult to receive, my tears may become a gift for you if you are open to accepting them.

Ever wonder why the tear ducts are in the eyes? Why not tuck them away where they can’t be seen so obviously.  Why not the armpit? Then they could blend in with the sweat or be held back by anti-perspirant and no one would be the wiser.

I believe it’s because tears are not meant to be hidden. I’d rather see someone cry than watch them sweat.

Crying makes me more vulnerable, but it also makes me more alive and human.  Tears are a signal to those around me that even though my world is out of sorts, my soul is operating properly.  As you see me cry, you acknowledge that I have not numbed my inner world. In spite of this circumstance, I still have the ability to be moved. Yes, I’m very much alive.

I write this to you today who may have someone like me in your life and you’re never quite sure what to do when you’re around them.  You’re afraid to say anything because your person seems to be so unstable and unpredictable. You’re at a loss so you either say nothing or try to cheer them up somehow.  As food for thought, let me pose this reflection:

What are their tears telling you? What are they making you feel?  Are they reminding you of something and you just don’t want to go there? In this way, your lamenting friend might be in a better place than you.

I’m so grateful for the ability to weep now. I’ll welcome anything from a misty-eyed moment of beauty to a full-on ocular deluge.  I’ll try to be sensitive to the situation, but then again, I may let it flow. I won’t worry about you and how I might make you feel awkward.  My emotion is extending a key to you to unlock something in your heart.

Hound of Heaven

Faith informs every aspect of my life.  It is central in my decision making process. It guides my thinking and how I observe the world around me.  It influences my view of politics and community involvement. And certainly the most fun part about faith is how it prompts me to engage people in my life.

One of my favorite names for The Author of Faith was coined by English poet, Francis Thompson. He wrote a poem titled The Hound of Heaven. It tells of the process of a man being sought by the Voice and the Feet of a pursuer.  The man ran, even for years, from what he did not want to reckon with. It only took me 17 years to stop running.

If you’ve ever watched a pure-bred hound out in the field pick up the scent of its game, it’s a very fascinating sight.  This cute little dog transforms from a sweet pup into a single-minded animal-tracking machine. Everything goes out of focus for the moment.  The hound won’t stop until it finds what it is looking for.

Over the years, I have the same fascination of watching The Hound of Heaven at work in my life and in the lives of people around me as He seeks us out in compassion and kindness, wooing us into a better, more secure place in the knowledge of a Love that knows no end.  Even now as a grown man I can recall the feeling of joy of being caught by The Hound as a teenager. And life has never been the same since.

But He’s not done. Even still, the Hound is constantly on my trail, looking for me.  He is always inviting me away from waywardness to a better place of peace and rest.

How do I know if the Hound of Heaven is after me? I pay attention to these three encounters:

Dreams – I dream at night constantly and have for years. I have vivid stories played out in my mind, many of which I can recall in extreme, stark detail.  At first I thought they were normal and everyone had them. But when I began to share them with friends, I would get puzzled looks back. I quickly learned that my dreams of this nature were not common and that I should pay closer attention to them.  When I started writing them down, I could see a new meaning in them. I’ve come to recognize the baying of The Hound of Heaven through my dreams. That sound is unmistakable now. He has something for me in them.

Abundant Blessing – I keep a timeline in my journal titled History of Provision. I regularly look back through it and see the times where I have received abundantly and unexpectedly.  One most notably was the gift that enabled me to retire all of Karen’s medical debt in 2012. The points on this map lead me back to my knees in gratitude and awe far more quickly now that I keep this perspective. Gracious Provision is another effective tactic of the Hound. HIs Kindness is the impetus for repentance, not judgment. 

Mysterious People – I love how The Hound brings mysterious people into my life to carry a message to me. It is the unlikely or even uncomfortable source through which He likes to speak.  During my college days, I recall the street preachers on campus who liked to yell condemnations to passersby. And every time there were students ready to take the bait and could not resist the urge to yell back.  At the dorm one night, one of my hallmates was gloating about his exchange with Preacher Jim that day. “What an idiot,” he kept saying. I stopped him and asked, “Yeah, but what if a greater purpose out there was not about him at all, but about getting you to think differently about the course of your life.” The conversation immediately changed from gloating to vulnerable dialogue. The Hound was seeking him. I could see it and had fun watching Him work.

If you have a friend or relative that prays for you regularly, expect a mysterious person to show up and get your attention.  That person will have a word for you. The Hound of Heaven has great hearing and doesn’t let the pleas of these faithful souls go unheard. My mother was that person for me, and still is. I attribute my turn towards a life of faith as a result of her petitions.

I was raised in a faith tradition that taught me I needed to tell people what to believe or else.  I’ve rejected that position long ago. Showing Kindness is now my first concern and far more effective than judgment. I prefer to watch the trail where The Hound of Heaven is going and follow along.  

Listen to The Hound of Heaven by Michael Card

How Do You Get There From Here?

My dad had a number of proverbs that he often quoted to me as an impressionable young man.  Some of which were a bit racy and would incur a chiding from mom. “Jack, don’t use that language with him.”  She especially didn’t like it when he explained to me, “Son, all that glitters is not gold. All that titters is not tit.” But it was his way of teaching me in a memorable way that everything is not as it appears, so don’t let yourself get distracted.

He taught me much in the way of practical skills around the house and farm.  At 10 years old I knew how get under the hood of an F100 to pull and replace spark plugs on a 352ci Ford engine and how to pull the flywheel off a Briggs & Stratton mower motor. In these many tasks, there was usually a procedure that needed to be followed.  He drilled into me that as I took something apart, I should lay the parts out in sequence on a towel so I can put it back together in reverse order and not forget a crucial step. I can still hear him say:

“Remember son, you gotta go through Bowlegs to get to Maud.”

Only the truest of Oklahomans would remotely understand this geographical reference. If you don’t get the implied meaning in this, I won’t take the time to explain it. You might need to pay attention.

Like my engine repair skills, Grief requires a protocol.  I will have to go through Grief to get anywhere on the map.  All roads will eventually lead through Grief. But it’s not a town to move to or set up shop in.  There’s a better town out there. 

Joy is the community where I want to build my house, where the constant year round temperature is Peace and its skies are filled with Hope.

“Remember son, you gotta go through Grief to get to Joy.”

Getting Used To The Light

I feel like I turned a corner a couple of weeks ago in my grief process. Light is returning to my eyes and I am not squinting as much any more.

I am acquainted enough with grief to know that I need not fear this condition.  Isn’t it easy to be fearful when things are going well? Fear is lurking nearby, whispering it’s destructive message.  “Yeah, but It won’t last.”

Anything good in my life will always be subject to this assault.  Blessing, Hope, Prosperity, and Joy are more challenging to embrace than their counterparts.  They only feel more dangerous because Fear is lying to me about their true character.

In some cases, the darkness can feel better or at least feels more familiar.  The more accustomed I become to the dark places in my life, the more my eyes fear that initial pain of adjustment of coming out of a room with very little light into the bright sunshine.

The medical term for this in the physical experience is heliophobia, the fear of light.  It manifests itself in panic and fear when exposed to light. It’s traumatic causes are many, but the base outcome is the same.  It leaves the victim in a state of fear. And fear is never a desirable place to live.

I recall in times past where I distrusted people who seemed to have it together.  My judgement of them took the condescending tone that they probably aren’t being real or authentic or must be living in some kind of bubble. My fear of their light stemmed from the fact that I refused to believe that things could actually be better than what I am experiencing right now. So I must be right and they must be wrong.

I’m happy to repent of that position now.  I’ve come to embrace Grief for a season as a necessary portion of Life.  But it’s not a place that I want to live. I will visit from time to time when invited back there, but the Light is where I choose to dwell and be awake. I see better as a result. And when I see better, I make better choice. And better choices lead to better relationships. On and on it goes.

Light has powerful healing properties and by faith I will rest in my belief that when the night begins to surround me again, tomorrow will eventually come. The sun will rise.  I will feel its warmth. I will see clearly once again.

What You Don’t See

Fits OK?

Words are powerful. I don’t take them for granted. I don’t like verbal fighting for this reason.  I’m afraid I will say something I regret. I’m usually a risk taker, but I am very cautious when it comes to speaking.

In 2011, I was invited to present a talk at TEDx Lincoln on the topic of entrepreneurship. I never get used to seeing myself on camera, and wish I could go back and change my delivery.  But what I wouldn’t change are the words I spoke. What was resonating inside me then still rings true today.

One point in that talk referred this truth: They need to see what you see.

One gift an entrepreneur holds is the ability to see what others don’t, can’t or won’t see. In business circles this is called vision. Seeing the unseen. Holding a clear picture of a better future. Knowing the destination even though the path to get there is uncertain.

But vision is not limited to business.  It’s critical in relationships too. There are times when I need someone to see something for me because I’m stuck and don’t see the way out.

On page 262 of my book, I share a very personal story about a conversation between my sister and me. It was a phone call that changed my perspective on my circumstances. Quite literally, it saved my life.

I was in the depths of despair, standing on the edge of the abyss.  All I could see was a dark pit below my feet. But she saw something different and had the courage to paint that picture for me. I caught a glimpse of her vision that I was missing on the phone that morning.  And I’m deeply grateful.

We all have people like this in our lives.  People that can see what I don’t see. You have at least one you can think of right now.  But there are more. Trust me. There are people all around us that possess vision and the ability to see beauty, joy and peacefulness. 

Go find one of them today. I guarantee they will have a gift for you to open. Ask what they see. And trust their vision.

The Parting Glass

Listen to The Parting Glass by Cara Dillon

Those in attendance probably didn’t notice, but I held a wake last night.

The book signing at Francie & Finch was a culmination of many years and of energy expended to sustain an idea. One that was bigger than the restaurant, Bigger than simple food and drink. And hopefully, bigger than me.

The desire to matter has always been a current flowing through my life. And as I shared the story about my dad from page 39, I think this is where those headwaters began. I was shaped by the example of a simple, yet thoughtful man who loved his wife and children, led a quiet life tending to his trees and rural property and maintained a deep abiding faith that I want to emulate.  I don’t know that dad would ever concur with my sentiment. I’m not sure he sought to make a difference. He just did.

Maybe it’s the generation into which I was born. I’ve never been through war. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve had most everything I wanted. I’ve lived a comfortable life.  I’ve gained much in my days on earth. Could it be this is the impetus for the question: What would I leave behind?

Over time, as the weight of the dream of bread&cup started to cause my shoulders to sag, it was the desire for it to matter that got me up at 4am the next day to do it all over again.

Someone asked me if last night’s event was a dream come true. I said no. That’s because I never dreamed of writing a book. I didn’t think it was a story worth telling.  Who would want to read about a restaurant that closed. This was the story I told myself.

For me, writing is similar to cooking.  I’m preparing something for you to consume, to take into you and let it have an effect on you. Hopefully it’s to nourish and delight you, but fearfully that it might displease or bore you.  It was this trepidation that kept me from the risk of reaching inside and printing a piece of my soul on pages bound in hardcover for all to see. Was I ready for that?

The thing that changed my mind about creating the book was discovering a different story.  A story about a restaurant that closed is too small. A story about how Hope inspired me, sustained me and is currently holding me up? Now that story might be worth the risk. 

As I left the bookshop, on the way to my car, a familiar feeling hit me.  It’s a feeling I’m well acquainted with. Why was I grieving on a night I should be happy and celebrating?  I had texted Warrior earlier and that’s when he said I was preparing for a wake. I was in the process of laying an important season to rest. He was there before it all began.  He experienced the same personal transformation by Hope that the building of bread&cup forged in me. It was through this lens of perspective he could see to the end.  

The life of the restaurant has concluded, but new Hope is only beginning. The book is my symbol of that transition. 

To Jerry.

Slainte’

Now What

I share these thoughts this morning with a disclaimer.  Grief is a personal journey. It is non-linear. It comes in waves. Sometimes those waves feel oppressive and induce a sense of drowning. Those who are currently in that ocean or have swam in it understand this first hand.

But how one treads that tumultuous water and stays afloat is not easily taught. Responses of some include flailing, dog-paddling, kicking and screaming while others might appear to be swimming safely back to shore.  It’s easy to make comparisons with others who are in the same water. Everyone reacts and responds differently when the loss occurs. There is no right way to do it. And certainly no room for judgment for those who are overwhelmed by it.

With that said, let me share a description of my swimming lessons.

As a young boy with both parents working, I spent a lot of time alone on our 26 acre farm.  Before I was old enough to work in the hayfields or other employment available to country kids, I had to figure out what to do with my time.  There was no cable service with 155 uninteresting and unwatchable channels. Our black&white set only got 3 uninteresting and unwatchable network channels over the rabbit ears antenna. Video games weren’t invented yet, so I had to go about it the old fashioned way.  I had to get creative.

This was the season when I learned how to fish, shoot rabbits, ride a motorcycle, build a treehouse.   I loved doing craft projects. I still have Christmas ornaments I made out of a kit my mom bought me. I got into leatherwork and made belts and wallets.  I even planted my own tomatoes in a plywood box that I also made. What 11 year old kid does all that?

Oddly enough, being alone is not my biggest fear now as a widower.  I learned a young survival skill that would serve me into adulthood.  I knew how to be alone. That was not going to be my hurdle.

Mine would be regrets. And what to do with them.

One wave I was blindsided by was unresolved conflict.  Remembering a fight or argument that will never get settled. Words that were said that leave me with regret, knowing I can never take them back, never being able to say “I’m sorry.

This is what washes over me.

I tell you this because you might have a chance to settle the score with someone before it’s too late.  What’s your inner voice saying? Take the time to make things right.

Make today count.