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

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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.  

When Bad News Arrives

It’s the phone call you don’t want. Its the word you were dreading. It’s the situation you didn’t ask for but were just handed. You just got some bad news and you feel like you just got punched in the gut.

Now what?

We all have had our share of bad news. Some more extreme than others. Some more often than others. But there is no escaping this life without having to deal with dreaded circumstances along the way. I’d like to share a practice that has helped me walk through my difficult times.

Practice is an interesting word. You usually think of athletes or musicians practicing, but the same is said of doctors and lawyers who practice medicine or law. I like the idea of the basketball player practicing free throws, but do I like the idea of my doctor practicing on me as he removes my thyroid?

Practicing is the repetitive, recurrent action or skill applied to a particular discipline in order to improve or develop proficiency. The basketball player practices free throws to be more likely to make them in important game situations. And the more surgeries the doctor performs, the better she will become. The old saying is true in any field:

Practice makes perfect.

And the single most important practice that I have engaged in as I face bad news is the practice of gratitude. Which might sound like the dumbest advice ever, but let me explain

Gratitude is not about giving thanks for the bad news, being thankful for the cancer, or for the car accident. We are never thankful for travesties. No one wants to lose a loved one or lose a limb or good health. Bad news is bad. But we can never let it lead the way.

The most visceral, immediate and natural response to bad news is anger. Anger is that feeling that alerts us to when something is severely wrong. Anger is an important emotion, but it is also a deceptive one.

Anger is a better beacon than a guide. We do well to pay attention to its signal, but we shouldn’t trust it to lead us forward. Action based in anger won’t end up anywhere good. Anger will try and convince you to put a hole in the wall with your fist, or finish of that bottle of whiskey by yourself. These are not good solutions to assuage anger.

Take note of anger, just don’t obey what it tells you.

Once anger is acknowledged, turn to a more trustworthy practice: Gratitude. Anger and gratitude don’t play well together. They are like oil and water. They don’t mix. As you move into a mindset of gratitude, anger will decide to leave the room.

Too often gratitude shows up too late, after the fact. Then you end up regretting not telling the loved one how much they meant to you, or taking note of the joy you deeply experienced because of them. The practice of gratitude is the same as the basketball player practicing free throws. You spend time doing it before you need it, before its too late.

Again, gratitude doesn’t mean you are thankful for the bad news. It does mean you find all the other things for which you are thankful. And when you count your blessings, you find you are much more wealthy than you ever realized.

Karen’s New Lease on Life

When friends started asking me this week how Karen’s surgery went on Friday, I realized I need to bring an update. There was no surgery, and right now, it appears there may not be a need for it.

Last week was a time of big decisions. We were at a crossroads in her treatment plan, and it wasn’t clear where we should turn, weighing out the pros and cons of each decision. Remove the drain and have surgery? Remove it and wait and see? Remove it, have surgery and continue chemotherapy? It wasn’t a clear cut path.

In the process of consideration, we met with her oncologist on Tuesday of last week to hear his opinion and how it might factor into our decision. During the consultation, he indicated that the CA125 blood test (used to determine activity of ovarian cancer) had dropped from a high of 1200 down to near normal levels of 46. In our amazement, we asked what caused that drastic change. He grinned, shook his head and offered a few thoughts. “I’d like to think it was my doing, but I doubt that. It could be everything you are doing, and so whatever that is, keep doing it. It could also be an act of God.” We both breathed a collective sigh of relief.

And so our next question was, what does this mean? It was agreed that the urgency level has dropped and we have some time to watch and wait. So the drain was removed that day and our new plan was implemented. We would forgo any more surgery, medication or treatment and let her body recover naturally and holistically. Since then she has begun to feel progressively better day by day. Her appetite is improving and her ability to actively work is lengthening in hours. Needless to say we are very grateful and in Karen’s words, feeling a new lease on life.

So what were the things Karen was doing that the oncologist mentioned? She made a pretty big lifestyle change back in November, first beginning with adopting a ketogenic diet, but chemotherapy can cripple the taste buds, and that approach was too limiting. So we morphed into more of a keto-tarian approach, a high fat, high vegetable diet focusing on foods that have natural anti-angiogenic properties. This means lots of color in the food; red, blue and black berries, dark greens, red cabbage and onions. It means fermented foods like sauerkraut and Kimchi. It also means no grains, beans, or legumes.

So was that the key? Was this the X-factor that led to the precipitous drop in the cancer marker? How about the kind support from friends and family via reaching out through phone calls, cards, letters, text and groceries? What about the prayers offered, many from people we don’t even know? What’s the cause? What’s the secret? What’s the special sauce?

While I would never discount any of these things, the one thing I return to over and over again here in my middle years can be summed up in one word:


My point in mentioning faith is not to advertise or defend it or try to sell you on it. It’s simply to tell my story as I know it and have experienced it. It’s my story and it brings me great joy and therefore I am happy to tell it to anyone who wants to listen.

Faith is described as confidence in what you hope for, of being certain of what you do not see. Seeing it this way takes some of the guesswork out. If I am not confident, maybe I’m not living by faith.

Here in my middle years, I’m learning that faith isn’t a crap shoot. Its not rolling the dice and seeing what happens. Its not gathering as many friends as possible in hope you reach a tipping point when you get enough people involved. I no longer find safety in those kinds of numbers.

Instead, I am finding that faith is more about engagement and involvement with the One who created me. And when crisis hits, the first thing I do isn’t to pray, because crisis can create panic and I certainly don’t know what to pray for in a state of panic. The first thing I do now is enter into a place of thanksgiving and rejoicing and put my mind at ease in the fact that the One who created me has not changed, even though my circumstances have. It’s in this mindset that I can begin to listen and tune in to the what the Man of Sorrows is praying and how the Comforter is interceding for me. If these two are in accord, it only makes sense that I join in with them.

This is where I find my confidence in faith comes from.

Thank you again to all who have been there for us. One of the coolest things has been the generosity of our church family, where someone every five days brings us groceries that meet Karen’s dietary requirements. We have a stack of cards and notes sent the old fashioned way through the mail, some even anonymous that have special meaning. Thanks to our employers at Blue Blood and The Mill for being so accommodating of our needs for time off. These are among the list of things I mention when I enter into thanksgiving and rejoicing. Even this act has power to heal.

Lastly, we give permission to anyone to ask us about how we are doing. I learned this years ago in dealing with the grief of a family who lost a child. They said the one statement that was the most frustrating was when someone would say, “Oh, I thought about calling, but I didn’t want to upset you.” I will never forget what the mother said, “This is our life we live 24/7. How can you upset us?” We want this story to provide hope, therefore your questions are welcome.

Rejoice with us.


Mourning the Loss of Comfort

Sometimes the cure is worse than the cause. At least that’s what the last month has felt like. On December 31, we had to admit Karen to the hospital for a persistent fever and severe joint pain. After 5 days of her in-patient stay, the doctors felt she was stable enough to go home. But two days later, she had to be readmitted for another 3 days as they discovered the source of all this fever and pain was an abscess in her lower abdomen and she was dangerously close to becoming septic. To treat it, a drain was placed into abscess to draw away the infection, and so she escaped a very close call. All of this was a complication from chemotherapy. Now the medical priority has become dealing with this issue, while the cancer takes a back seat. Surgery is scheduled February 08 to repair any damage to her colon, on which the abscess has developed.

In the meantime, we are learning to make adjustments to accommodate the new normal. Dealing with cancer is an invasion and an unwelcome intruder. But we do our best to remind ourselves that it need not dominate nor dictate our thoughts and carry on with finding joy and seeing beauty in the day to day deeds we tend to.

One big adjustment has been the food we eat. Even before diagnosis, we both began to alter our diet to try and address some of the symptoms we’ve both encountered here in our middle years. Since diagnosis, we have taken intentional measures to study and learn as much as we can about the healing properties of food. As a chef, I am fascinated by these new discoveries and the potential that food holds for helping our bodies heal. I am learning a new way to cook and prepare her food.

I am discovering that its not called comfort food for nothing. The food we eat represents stability and dependability. This is why most people eat the same thing when they go out to eat. Venturing out to try something new can be intimidating and risky. What if I don’t like it? Then I’ve wasted my money and should have stuck with what I know.

Karen and I have adopted a whole-food, mostly plant-based diet. Some might call it a keto-tarian diet, a high vegetable, high fat diet. It is already showing positive results, but also has some negative side-effects. One, its not very comforting. Gone are the savory, creamy potatoes and my favorite aromatic sourdough breads and pizza. No more soothing pasta, or ice cream. Sugar is in the rear-view mirror, and its satisfying companions of frozen yogurt and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

This has been an odd adjustment. But we do it for the desired outcome. Any sacrifice needs to be rooted in the joy that lies ahead, else we are left to mourn the loss of comfort and not know if there is anything better left to enjoy.

We are hopeful that better days are ahead, and the best is yet to come.

Patience for the Patient

It began last Saturday night. Fever, fatigue, chills, aching joints. All are expected signs of the punishment of chemotherapy. As it carried into Sunday, her condition got progressively worse, leading her to sleep all day and eat very little. By the time Monday morning rolled around, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen her go through, with maybe the exception of childbirth. She sounded like she was in labor; deliberate breathing through abnormal pain, and there was very little I could do to alleviate any of it. My job was just to stay present.

In this way, I become a patient. Because patience is needed in large quantities in moments like these.

After an initial evaluation, the oncologist determined she needed to be admitted into the ER for immediate observation and testing. Her blood count was way off. Fever indicated some type of unknown infection. They wanted to keep her overnight, both for her well-being and to see if they could identify the cause of her severely weakened condition. This was the beginning of five days of uncertainty. What was happening in her body that stumped so many experts?

When the illness calls for patience., prescribe it in abundant dosages.

When she was diagnosed in November for a third time, I resolved to enter into this experience differently than the previous two. I determined to adopt a mindset that sought to gain through the difficulty. Whenever it starts to feel challenging, that is the point that I need to stop, pay attention and ask myself how I can change my thinking. What am I missing that otherwise I stand to benefit from?

Caregivers, keep in mind that the person for which you are caring does not want to be in the condition they are in. It’s not right. It’s not normal. So if they get edgy, put yourself in their shoes. It sucks to be them right now. And remember the importance of your role.

Its no fun to be in need. Whether its a child, a parent, or spouse in the home, or even if you care for people professionally, there is a weight of responsibility that you willingly carry for someone else when they cannot carry themselves. This is the beauty of the gesture. If it wasn’t beautiful, how many of us would have raised children? The sacrifice of effort always gives way to new discoveries of joy.

It doesn’t have to be a burden.

Karen is home now, resting and recovering, rebuilding her strength. Thanks to the many of you who have prayed, called, texted, emailed, brought groceries, cleaned our house, granted time off work. Being in need like this is obviously not preferred, but it is not without blessing either. The picture I have in my mind is of standing on a well trodden path. And in one direction are my problems and undesirable circumstances, and down the opposite direction are my blessings in all their fullness and delight. I can only stare in one direction at a time. And I would rather stare in the direction of the good and absorb everything I can from it. It doesn’t change my circumstances or make the problems go away. But it does make me see in a different light.

Thank you one and all.

“What I feared has come upon me…”

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.  Job 3:25

A good friend gave me the book, Band of Brothers, several years ago as a marker of our friendship and to commemorate some of the hard times we had gone through together. But I only made it through the first two chapters before I had to put it down. I was overcome by a sense of guilt as I was given a glimpse of life as a soldier in a war that I could never imagine fighting. I became morbidly reflective. What would I have done if I were in Nixon or Blythe’s shoes? Would I have held up under such circumstances? Would I have caved in, or abandoned my post out of fear? Most of my assumptions were negative, keeping me at a distance from these important and heroic stories.

That guilt ended last year when I finally gave myself permission to watch the HBO film series of the book, thanks to my Amazon Prime subscription. The impetus that helped me over my guilt was another friend’s counsel. He told me, “Don’t make their story your own.” He pointed out to me it was unfair to make that kind of comparison. One, it prevented me from entering into their stories with honor by making it all about me, and two, it presupposes the worst about my possibilities if ever faced with such difficulty.

I realize that some people have a similar reaction when I discuss how I’m dealing with Karen’s cancer. In a recent conversation, I heard these two remarks. “I don’t have the same kind of faith as you.” and “I could never be as strong as her.” I think this kind of assessment must be human nature. It’s easy to adopt a lesser mindset when observing others dealing with any kind of pain and suffering, especially if I’ve never experienced the same thing. Let me offer this bit of encouragement.

Cancer is something I would never wish on anyone, even my worst enemies. It is destructive on its own, let alone the impact of some of the side effects of its treatment. It can rob you of a quality of life and ultimately can take away the one you love. I hope you will never face it in your lifetime.

But if you do, I believe there is a special grace available to you, and the crisis makes it more accessible to you now that you have a new battle to face. Its a grace you didn’t need before. But it’s a grace that can overshadow your new enemy, whatever form it might take.

So I speak with confidence; do not be afraid that someone else’s realty would become your own. It’s not worth the energy. If the thing you fear never occurs, then you’ve not wasted time dreading a scenario that only found space in your mind. If it comes, then receive that grace that will strengthen you beyond what you thought you were capable of.  In the meantime, enjoy your special moments today without fear. They will mean more to you as future memories and you’ll find you can savor them more fully.

Cancer is the hand we have been dealt. Karen and I are going to play that hand to the best of our ability. And we have every intention of winning.


Perception vs Intention

November, 13, 2018

As a writer, words are the commodity I trade in. I need to gather words that reflect my voice, but also have the best possible chance of communicating the meaning I am trying to convey. I have my favorite words that I turn to regularly. I’m not sure why, but I like using juxtaposition or superfluous. For some reason I like the way they sound and I can work them into a sentence easily. Yet there are other words I have no idea how to use. Words such as asymptote or tintinnabulation. These would require a dictionary and make my reader feel like I am trying to be the next George Will or Dennis Miller. I stay away from those. Then there are words I refuse to use, simply because they carry connotation and meaning that I would never want to express.

Over time, words change in meaning. To say screwed around my father in law did not imply being put in a difficult or hopeless situation.. The word sucks has certainly morphed over time from how I remember it used in college when yelling the word at a basketball referee.

As we prepare to deal with cancer for a third time, one of the words that has changed meaning and that we no longer use is UNFAIR.

Fairness is difficult to administer because it is often determined by perception, not intention. Parents with small children know this very well. You’ve heard one of them scream,“That’s not fair!.”as your son interprets your action of letting your daughter sit in the front seat on the way home while he has to sit in the back. “I always have to sit in the back. She ALWAYS gets to sit up front. THAT’S NOT FAIR!”

And you may have a thoughtful reason for letting your daughter ride up front, but that doesn’t always matter to the one in the back seat who perceives he is being treated unfairly. This is when you as a parent accept that the child won’t fully understand your motives and intentions.

You love your children unconditionally and your mission as a parent is to make sure they understand this truth. And throughout their young lives, they will challenge you on it. That’s why fairness isn’t your biggest concern.

And this is why Karen and I don’t use that word when describing our circumstances. Our faith is rooted in God’s great love for us, not in how fair we think life is or should be, or why we have to deal with cancer and someone else does not.  We learn to discern His good intentions, and not lean into our small perceptions.