Month: November 2018

The Changing Seasons of Life

The last few weeks of my life have been a time of reflection. I spent a week down in Virginia to visit my mother who had some health issues and ended up in the hospital. When you consider that she is 87 years old this should not have been a shock to me. Throw in the aspect that my dad is closing in on 90, there is a reasonImage(1) for our family to not be used to dealing with the fact that we are entering the season where health, life, and death are daily concerns. 

For the most part, my parents have been relatively healthy. For the past 20 years, they have been living with my sister Linda and my brother-in-law Albert. Linda has been the principal caregiver for them during this time. I can never repay my sister for the commitment she has made to our parents. There is no doubt that Linda has lived close to the fire and probably has been forced to recognize the signs of this “season” much sooner than I have had to.

There is a difference between recognizing the signs and accepting them as a reality in our lives. It is clear I am not ready on any level with accepting that I am forced to deal with this looming “season” in my life. I can only truly speak for myself… I have been living in denial.

The reality is that my parents are still here. For that I am grateful. It is a gift that God has given my brother and sister. I want them to live for as long as possible.

Image-1For me, having my parents still here is the reason that has kept me from acknowledging that I am getting older. This “season” isn’t just about my parents entering the last chapters of their life, but rather the recognizing that we as their children are getting old ourselves.    

Life is changing.

Life is rushing by… we are checking off days like they are insignificant and of no value. One more day towards the weekend. One more day closer to vacation or retirement. Then suddenly you find yourself sitting next to your mother and you find yourself thinking that when you leave in a few days to get back to the “rushing” this could be the last time you have a conversation with the woman who gave you life.

Life doesn’t seem fair when you are forced to deal with such things.

As I pulled out of the parking lot of the hospital to start to drive a long 10-hour trip back to the “rushing,” it gave me time to reflect. I drove for the first five hours or so with the radio off.

I drove in silence.

Silence… shutting out the noise of life.

Here’s a quick fact for you: more than 30 million people in the United States are exposed to harmful sound levels on a regular basis. This doesn’t just lead to hearing loss, but sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Too much noise is not good for our health. But, even worse, it’s not good for our peace of mind.

Unfortunately, silence isn’t always golden. It can be torture, or at the very least, uncomfortable, and it forces to think about things that you have been avoiding.

Silence forces us to stop working, stop doing and, above all, stop and face ourselves in the mirror. I don’t know about you but spending time with myself is no picnic. That’s why TV was invented.

But, as difficult as it may be, silence is also the space where you find peace and stillness, and if you get good at it, wisdom. The answers to all our questions are there in the silence. And not just big and bold, “why am I here?” questions, but everyday stuff, like “what am I ignoring? Putting too much attention on? Attracting into my life?” questions.

Not to mention the dreaded questions of sojourning life during and after this “season.”

Nothing is too big or small for silence to answer.

Related imageThere’s no way we can spin certain things that happen as we get older. Feet that never stop hurting. Real sleep is a rare commodity. Bad hearing. Oddly flowing urine (too much information? Sorry, not sorry). Hair growing in odd places… especially ear hair. Embarrassing pauses in speech. It’s downright inconvenient. And, of course, there’s nothing funny about losing a parent or a spouse. Nothing funny about having you or a family member face a life-threatening illness. The fact is, we could fill volumes on all the challenging ways we get older or all the things we can no longer do.

Life is rushing by.

But, I’m looking to do something different.

I’m looking to lighten up my life, in spite of my circumstances, however overwhelming they may be. I want that for my brother and sister too. In realty, I want this for anyone who may be reading this. We all can begin by injecting a new brand of optimism into our blood.

I want to live life in this season of life.

This will not be in denial. Or avoidance. Living life in this season isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses, holding hands and wishing on a rainbow that our skin would suddenly tighten up and not sag so much.

We can sing Kumbaya all we want and we’re still going to end up one day with our kids asking for our license because we are not safe to drive anymore, regardless of Image result for keysour self-conceived confidence in our driving ability.

It’s not if, it’s when.

And let me be the first to break the news: somewhere out there in the middle of space, probably a thousand light-years away, asteroids are ricocheting off of stars at 17,000 miles per hour. And, should one of these make an untimely left turn at just the right spot, there is a centillion-to-one chance that it could end up crashing on your front porch. It’s unlikely that any amount of positive thinking will change that.  But, don’t worry. I’m betting the asteroid will miss us. We should still take care of ourselves health wise and plan for the long haul.

The fact is, living life in these changing seasons, isn’t about changing the world or redirecting the planets so they align with our personal wishes.

And living life in these changing seasons is also not about pretending to feel good when you don’t, or saying you’re happy when you’re obviously miserable. Living in this season means that we don’t bury our head in the sand and pretends that life is a stroll down Main Street at Disneyland.

It’s not.

Living life in these changing seasons is about being vulnerable enough to acknowledge that life sometimes hurts. And our job is not to ignore the suffering, but to transcend it.

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Living life in this season is about focusing on what we have, not what we lack, and seeing what is, instead of what is not. It is a cultivation of gratitude that allows us to appreciate whatever falls on our plate.

Even if that means dealing with the mortality of your parents.

And when it really, really, really comes down to it… living life in this season is about living as if everything in our world is here to point us toward some deep secret that will change our world.

It’s about living as if every moment and experience has something to teach us, empower us, and free us. Even—and especially—the hard parts of life.

We can still face our challenges head on, and always knowing that when we say we need to live in this season, what we really mean is that we need to bring light and meaning to things that were once dark and meaningless.

And, that my friends, will be the secret sauce to a life well lived in the changing seasons of life.

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The Best Was Yet To Come

A friend tagged me in a post on Facebook and my face stared in disbelief as I read the comments.

“Hi everyone! It’s that time! That’s right: it’s been 40 years since we graduated from Oak Harbor high school!!!  Does anyone know if they are planning a reunion in the summer of 2019?”

First of all, that can’t possibly be correct.

Forty years? (wasn’t it just a few years ago?)

Secondly… I did not graduate from my hometown high school. Why would they ask me?

My guess is there might be some confusion.

Some confusion might be from the fact that it has indeed been 40 years… memories are the first to go.

The other is I wrote about a book about my memories of growing up in my hometown. I tell stories of being a student at Oak Harbor high school. Obviously, Image result for Oak Harbor High Schoolthis friend hasn’t read my book because I document the reasons why I did not graduate with my class.

Either way… I don’t know if they are having a reunion. I am not invited.

But this FACEBOOK post caused me to pause and to start counting on my fingers and toes as to how many years it really had been. I don’t normally keep track of such things.

Has it really been forty years since I received my diploma on that June day? Could I remember a single point of the valedictorian speech that would tell me to chase my dreams with gusto? Had it really been that long since I sat with that mortar board affixed upon my huge head and oversized nose? I weighed all of 130 lbs. at 6’2”.  45 of those pounds were attributed to my large nose.  It took another 15 years for my body to catch up to the size of my nose and now it has far exceeded the proper balance of nose size to body size ratio.

I don’t remember a single thing about my graduation ceremony. Oh… I remember the day, but I was too consumed with heartache.

What I remember about my graduation is the fact that my girlfriend broke up with me 3 days before it took place and I was devastated. It was over for my 3-year relationship with the girl of my dreams. My 17-year-old life was over, and it would never be the same.

At least that was what I thought at the time.

As I sat there trying to squeeze out any memory of that graduation ceremony, I immediately went into shock when I realized that I could no longer count the years Image result for 1979 yearbookI’d been out of school on my fingers and toes. I dug my senior yearbook out of the recesses of my attic. I dusted it off and paged through memories I’d long forgotten: Friday night games spent with my friends on the field and on the court. Long bus rides coming home from a victorious game or the sullen woes of dealing with a loss. All made right when I would spend time with my cheerleader girlfriend. Memories of walking the halls and lunchroom dramas. Tests, quizzes, and term papers. Not to mention the memory of conversations with my favorite teacher.

When I came to my senior portrait, I looked at that skinny young man with the light blue three-piece suit. I so wish he knew what I know now.

As I reminisced, I thought of all of the things I’ve learned along the way that I really wish I’d known ahead of time. Of course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without surviving the disco era phase but, still, there are a few things I would like to have known to make the next 40 years of my life a little easier to sojourn.

As I sat there with my graduation gown on and the graduation cap mashed upon my bulb-ish head I would like to have known these things… (in no particular order).

  1. Travel, while your standards are low. Youth hostels are a lot less glamorous at 57.
  2. Pack up your tiny, barely running PINTO and drive it until it craps out. See as much of the country you can and eat peanut butter and jelly along the way.Image result for john lennon
  3. John Lennon gets murdered, as does Marvin Gaye, so prepare yourself for that. Michael Jackson dies. And so, does Prince. And Tom Petty. So, enjoy them while you can.
  4. Your hair will turn grey, but it will stay where it is, unlike some of your friends, so enjoy it and quit worrying about it. You’re good.
  5. Speaking of hair… it will start growing in the oddest places. It will start to grow out of your ears and you need to keep that stuff under control. They will invent products that will make it easier. Hang on, help is coming.
  6. Enjoy the freedom of being lost on a country road with your best friend as you sing Tom Petty lyrics at the top of your lungs. Technology will make it nearly impossible to be as in the moment as you are right now.
  7. You will not recognize your eyebrows after you turn 40. Seriously, be prepared.
  8. The grunge phase doesn’t last long. I promise.
  9. When your favorite shows end, don’t panic. Turns out, networks “reboot” shows thirty years later and it’s like they’ve never left.
  10. You will discover in the coming years when life settles scores that you will be friends with everyone from your high school class, even the cool kids. And, 20 years later, you’ll talk with the people that ignored you and you’ll all wonder why you weren’t friends in high school.
  11. You will never get over the loss of your first love. But that heartache will lead you the one who will love you forever. As in the fact that she has been your wife now for many years. In the end, it all works out for you because twenty years after she breaks up with you before this graduation day… you will be reunited, and the rest is history.
  12. One day, you will realize you can’t remember the name of the kid who annoyed you in biology class. And you’ll text (yes… you will learn what that is and how to do it) your best friend to ask if he remembers and he’ll have forgotten, too.
  13. High school is good. College is better. Those that you thought were going to be so successful never are.
  14. Wear your faith a little closer to the top. Don’t hide your faith. Own it. Let people see that Christ lives in you. I know you hide it now… but you’ll regret that in the coming years.
  15. You’ll get a VCR but soon no one will use it anymore and this will come as a Image result for vcrshock to you. Also, don’t say “tape a show” to your kids because they will laugh at you.
  16. Cherish the friends you make in high school and do what you can to keep in touch. On the days when life is barely recognizable, they will help you find the guy who wore a light blue leisure suit to the dance. Be prepared, cause your kids they will continue to laugh much when they remind you just how hideous that suit really was.
  17. Be very grateful social media doesn’t exist. Your wild nights with friends won’t come back to haunt you at a job interview.
  18. Two words: Ear hair. Yes, I know, this is the second time I referenced this. It’s devastating. I don’t know what to say, either.
  19. High school football games don’t change. When you attend one in the coming years, you’ll swear you can hear your friends giggling next to you and if you close your eyes, you can see your home team playing on the gridiron. You will come to the realization that at the end of the day… it really didn’t matter whether you played or not. No one made it the NFL.
  20. Relax… you’ll become a teacher, soon after that, you will become a high school principal and you will be exactly what you always wanted to be.
  21. You’ll prove the naysayers wrong. Those that told you that you would not amount to anything will be wrong and you’ll achieve dreams far beyond those encouraged by this valedictorian speech.
  22. Prepare yourself. Read more about the things that excite you, question everything. Learn how to become a better speaker, writer, storyteller, son, friend, leader, boss, and father. Again, be prepared… you’ll discover that you will fail in all of these endeavors, but you can recover it by striving to become better today than yesterday.
  23. Clear communication is a key to personal and professional success. PrPublication2actice writing every day. Write about your day. The show you have seen, your feelings, fears and dreams, love and the perfect world. Make it interesting. One day, you’ll be an author.
  24. Don’t try to be important. It’s not about you. Your ego will demand attention, ignore it. Serve anyone without expecting anything in return. Amazing things will happen once you shift your mindset and start enjoying helping others. You will see how paying it forward comes back in the most beautiful and unexpected ways.
  25. Life is short. And sweet. And it really does go by too fast. As cliché as it sounds, one day, you’ll wake up and realize that 40 years have passed. And you’ll find yourself writing a list like this.

As I wrote these down, I realize that I could write a book about these lessons I wish I would have known when I was sitting on that chair on graduation day.

Truth is… some things matter. Most things don’t.

I would like to have responded “Yes” to attending my 40th high school reunion this summer, I remembered the teachers, the friends, and the memories. I smile at the antics on Fall afternoons, driving cars and chasing my girlfriend. I reminisced about dances, classes I loved and even those from hell. But there isn’t a 40th reunion in my future.

Sure… there are things I hated about it. It wasn’t perfect and there are things I know now I wish I would never have learned. Sometimes life experience sucks. Those things are appropriate for another book somewhere down the line.

Every now and then I wish I could go back… not to change a single thing but to feel the freedom of being young again and not know what I know now.

I know that my life is the sum of all my experiences. The same as it is for you.

I remember being that 17-year-old young man and wondered what would happen to him.  

Mostly, though, I remember myself wearing that light blue leisure suit and hoping that the best was yet to come….

And it was.

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The Threshold of Growing Older

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I am relishing growing older.

Truly. I’m not exaggerating.

I am not just tolerating it; I am not just enjoying it. I am savoring it.

Delighting in it.
Reveling in it.
Luxuriating in it.

I am quietly but gleefully surprised by the gifts that keep appearing in my elderhood.

Gifts like perspective.

Calm.

A deeper gratitude.

Letting go.

And discovering that some of the most meaningful things that I’ve learned have come through disappointment and suffering.

I remember when I turned 50. At the time, on the outside, I was playing it cool… like it wasn’t any big deal. On the inside, it was killing me.

Now I understand for some reading this might be thinking that if you are in your 50’s you are still “young” but all my life I considered “50” as being at the threshold of being “old.”

On my birthday that year, I wrote a long and serious article that I have never Image result for Turning 50published. It began, “I hate being 50!” That really covered it, but my dismay and my angst about becoming “older” demanded much more than four salty words. I filled several pages with my recriminations and my growing awareness of the impossibility of stemming the tide and the gross unfairness of it all.

Even as I slowly made some uneasy peace with my own aging over the next few years, I still lived in tension with the realities of growing older and older… and older.

I was a billboard for the worst prejudices of ageism. Secretly… I worried about becoming incapacitated, dependent and invisible. I had little good to say about getting older.

Then, some months after I turned 55, I began realizing that I was falling in love with life in a whole new way.

After a lifetime of working hard to live a good life, gaining some wisdom in both my successes and failures, I found that with age came changes that I had not anticipated. They just – appeared, surprising me with their quiet and mysterious arrival.

So, it was that the changes that surprised me, that subtly arrived over time, became gifts that I hadn’t expected; gifts that I hadn’t found by searching for them. Delight had quietly found its way into my life over 55 struggling, questioning, wondering, longing years.

And it was delicious.

Image result for turning 57Now, in this newly refurbished life, having now reached 57, I relish the deep, quiet calm of my spirit.

It’s a calm that I cannot manufacture but which is simply there. It is the foundation of most of my days, unlike those days which used to be too full of angst and insecurity and indecision. This amazing calm is not just deep; it is deeply grounded, rooted firmly in the soil of experience and reality and my longing for a greater peace of mind.

I relish the enjoyment of sharing the long histories that I have with family and friends. I am fed by our telling the stories of our lives together, laughing and sighing and smiling and sometimes weeping over every “Remember when?”

Image result for Remember whenOur stories, so long a part of who we all are, have become a healing balm for the soul. And the stories tell me who I have been, the good of who we have been, and the oh-not-so-good places that sometimes scarred our souls.

Regret and forgiveness have become comfortable companions in my life.

I relish the discovery that few things frighten me now. I have been to the depths and survived. I am more resilient now, softer around the edges.

I know from experience that grace lives in the midst of suffering and loss.

I relish the deepening gratitude that has, I suppose, been with me always in some ways. Yet it was so often pushed to one side when life disappointed me and when I failed myself and others.

With the coming of a few physical limitations and hearing loss, I have had to make a choice: complain and grovel about my health issues or smile (even laugh!) at how Image result for Growing oldergood life has been and how good it can still be.

And I relish the new hunger that I have found for discovering who I am yet to become. My purpose on this earth is far from done. What quietly profound surprises await my discovery?

Ah, the possibilities!

I recently learned that when you turn 60, the next 10 years are said to be the second happiest decade of life. And that the 70’s (believe it, or not) are the first!!!

So, I’m going to relish as much in these years as possible.

And I don’t think I’ll ever pass through that threshold and consider myself “old” maybe… just growing “older.”

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