ARE YOU KEEPING A RECORD?

 “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” – 1 Corinthians 13:5

 

 

John 13
tells us that we are supposed to love one another as Christ loved us. For most
of us, that is a very difficult thing to do isn’t it?

 

 

Recently my wife and I attended Love Worth Fighting For, which is led by Kirk Cameron. We knew what Kirk stood for, and that his events were Christ centered. We didn’t go because our marriage was in trouble, we just wanted to see if maybe we could improve our marriage somehow. Since both us of had a broken marriage in our past and we both knew how those ended years before we signed divorce papers, we wanted (want) to get this one right. As the event unfolded, a man named Warren Barfield took stage to sing and give his testimony. I have to say he’s one of
the funniest people I’ve seen perform. Not only is he a talented singer / songwriter,
he’s also an excellent speaker.  During Warren’s testimony, he began to tell the audience of a fight that he had with his wife
years ago over a dropped pretzel. The fight quickly escalated and became so toxic
that he was about to walk out the door and give up on his marriage. Over a pretzel? Hardly. Warren realized the fight wasn’t really over a dropped pretzel – it was over six years of wrongs each of them had kept of the other. As one spouse pulled something off the list, the other did likewise until it was an all-out marriage-ending-type fight. Warren tells of how something stopped him at the threshold of the door. He credits God-sent angels and decided to start fighting FOR his marriage instead of IN his marriage. A few years later and his wife gave birth to two beautiful children that almost never existed. Those were gifts that God had for Warren – gifts Satan almost stole from him before they ever happened. As I sat there listening to Warren speak, I thought “for some reason, we like to keep records of wrongs”. Oh, we will quickly find a reason – any reason, to dislike or even hate someone – even someone we hardly know. We keep records for people that have done no wrong against us. They can wrong somebody we like, and we pull out the record and start sharpening our pencils. Sometimes, we even keep a record of wrongs based on the wrong information. Even if (or when) we learn the truth, somehow that old record of wrongs still leaves a trace like an old worn out pencil eraser leaves faded traces of lead. We humans can be mean and cruel in that regard. And what about the people we love and that love us? How quickly are we to keep THOSE records? Those we love the most can certainly hurt us the most. When we do get hurt by those we love, we make sure we bear down as hard as possible
when we write that record on our hearts don’t we? I guess we want to leave a
scar or maybe make sure we can recall it on a whim years later for ammunition
if need be. If we think about every person that has ever wronged us, and the
record we’ve ever kept of that wrong, how many scars do you think our hearts
can carry?

 Warren’s story made me realize that I’d done the same thing throughout my life and I didn’t even realize I’d been doing it. Even when “old” hurts somehow worked their way into conversations, I didn’t realize it was because I was recalling from some
old record I was keeping in my heart. I was even doing that in my marriage –
which happens to be a very good marriage. I’d spent many years around some of
the most openly hateful, toxic, people I’d ever known and who thrived on
spreading their own misery to everyone around them. I found myself immersed in
a sea of hatefulness and I carried it on my shoulders like an 800 pound
gorilla. I wanted nothing more than to separate myself from the hatred they
spewed and that’s exactly what I did. But when those same type feelings dwell
within our own hearts, we can’t separate ourselves from them without it separating
our heart from all that is good in life. What a miserable life that is. We all
need to stop long enough to think about that “list” we are keeping, the joy it
is stealing from us, and what it is destroying in our lives. Is it really worth
it? We need to wonder what gift God might have waiting somewhere down the road
that we may miss or some wonderful relationship we will never have because we
decided keeping a record was more important than wiping the slate clean.

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To My Son, Who is Getting Married Today

You are the only biological child I will ever have. With you, I feel like I made all of the mistakes a parent can make while trying to feel may way through being your dad. You weren’t blessed with an older sibling that got to experience those and save you from the lessons learned. I wouldn’t trade being your dad for anything in the world, but know that being a parent is the most important job in the world. It is also the most difficult. There are a million books that tells people how to raise a child, but since no two children ever born are alike, those don’t help much. And those books can’t possibly address every single situation a parent will encounter trying to raise a child. I remember leaving the hospital a few days after you were born. Honestly, I was thinking “Is he ready to take home? Shouldn’t he be a little more done or something? HE WAS JUST BORN”. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t some kind of operational manual people took home with a new baby, but NOPE, there isn’t one. However, it didn’t take long to figure out when you were hungry, since you turned beet read and let out blood curdling screams at the first hunger pain, which seemed like every hour. And heaven knows it didn’t take long to figure out when your diaper was dirty either. I learned to change diapers at the same time you were learning how to dirty them up. Little did I know that your entire life would be like that – me learning on the fly as events happened in your life. It was all new to me – every. single. day. I guess you could say, as you were growing up, I was too. I didn’t have all the answers I needed in raising you. Heck, I didn’t even have half of them.

Today you’ll be getting married, and I’ll be wondering what to say to you. I knew this day would come, and I honestly thought my biggest question to you would be “Are you sure you’re ready?” I’m a little shocked that I’m not asking you that question, but rather asking myself “Am I sure I’m ready?” I’m not. But that has nothing to do with you… or Casey… or the wedding. It has to do with “time” and how much has passed by so quickly. I realize you are your own man now, but you’re still my son too. I will always have more years to make more mistakes than you will. I will also have more wisdom in life because of them. But I’ve learned from them and I will always try to spare you from making the same mistakes. I will always do and support what I believe is best for you. So know that I am so very proud of you and so happy that you’ve found “the one”. I’ve always been closely involved in your life and know you better than anyone on this planet. I’ve never seen you so smitten with anyone, so I know Casey is the one you’ve been looking for. And I’m so happy to embrace Casey as a new daughter on this day. We love her like our own and will always treat her as one too! And I know what it is like to be married to your soul-mate and what a wonderful, happy, life that follows. I know you and Casey will have that type life and it fills my heart knowing I’ll get to watch it unfold.

I love you Dane!

Dad

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Chasing the Ghost of Success

It was the biggest career decision I’ve ever made – and probably the easiest.  People that knew me early in my career would never believe it. Colleagues that know me only on the professional level may think I’ve lost my mind. Friends and family that know me personally understand it perfectly. I had an opportunity for a promotion – a big promotion… to a position I’m perfectly suited for… and I said, “No thank you.”

I’ve never told anyone this, but I’ve chased a ghost my entire federal career. For some unknown reason, it has always been very important to me to reach the same level of success that my dad reached. Maybe I wanted him to be proud of me…or maybe I wanted to be as much like him as I possible could be… or MAYBE I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it too. Whatever the reason was…it was always there in the back of my mind. Before dad passed away, and by the time I was thirty six, I’d almost reached the same level of success he had. Almost. But it took three more years and accepting a job seventy miles away to finally get to that level. “Dad would be proud” I thought. But I also knew I had many more years to work before I could even think about retiring. Could I actually exceed what he’d accomplished? Not only was it possible, it was almost assured. The opportunity came five years ago, but another person was selected for the position – for no other reason than to help them get their high three years before retiring. It was her time. Mine would come…. Some day.

Several years passed and suddenly I saw the opportunity for a promotion slipping away. Things changed. Times changed. What had seemed such a sure thing years earlier had suddenly become my Red Herring. Had I somehow missed an opportunity as I rested on my laurels that it was bound to happen? But as I began to contemplate a possible promotion, I began to wonder,

“What would be required of me?”
“How many more hours would I have to work?”
“How often would I be called at home…at all hours of the night?”
“How would it impact my personal time? My family?”
“How much more money would it actually be? Would it be life-changing money?”
“How much is my time worth?”

For the first time in my life, I was thinking about no longer chasing that ghost.

A few weeks ago I was called into the office for my annual review. During the conversation, an opportunity was laid out on the table for my career path over the next several years. Not only did it include a promotion… but another promotion beyond that. I would possibly be replacing my boss upon her retirement. It would put me at a place that was far beyond where I’d ever imagined being. It was RIGHT there for me to take. All I had to do is say “Yes.”  But as any family man should, I needed to talk it over with my wife. I wanted and needed to know what she had to say about it. It would be a lot more responsibility…. a good bit more money… and a good bit more of my time. This isn’t just about my career. This is about our lives.  As we sat and talked in a restaurant at Universal Studios, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear her say, “After all you’ve been through with the cancer and stuff, why would you want to take on something like that?”  It was all I needed to hear and the confirmation I wanted.

So today, I sent in my formal reply to remove myself from consideration for the position. I’m at peace with the decision I made… I’m comfortable with me…. The extra money could never buy my time. And finally…  I’m no longer chasing that ghost. Dad WOULD be proud.

 

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An Open Letter to Cancer

Joey-Feeks-Rory-Joey-header                                     (Joey Feek and her daughter, Indiana)

Cancer, I hate you. It’s as simple as that. I’ve fought you and I’ve beaten you – more than once…I’ve spoke against you…raised money to defeat you…and spent endless hours wondering what I did wrong to deserve you. I’ve lost family and friends to you…many more than I care to count. As the years have passed, I’ve tried to forget about you but I’ve never been able to. As November approaches each year, I’m reminded of how you touched my life eighteen years ago. It was this time of year that I learned of my father’s journey that would eventually result in you taking his life seventeen months later. Since that day, the mention of your name pierces my heart when I hear it. Maybe it was often spoken in my presence before that day, and I paid no attention to it. But I think I’m so keenly aware of you now that I never miss hearing your name as it rolls off the lips of others. I can hardly turn on the TV or computer and not see your name…or a bald head…or some prayer request. Most recently, I’ve followed Joey and Rory Feek’s journey with you, and in my heart I know exactly what they are thinking and feeling. It’s heart-wrenching. If that wasn’t enough, the month of March is Colorectal Cancer Month which is the cancer that my father and I had, April is the month my father passed away, May is Relay for Life, June is National Cancer Survivor Month, July is the month I was diagnosed the first time, and September was the month I learned of my recurrence. If I ever needed a reminder (and I don’t), I guess you’ve pretty much got the year covered huh?

And the more aware I am of you, the more I realize just how destructive you are. You attack the old, the young, the rich, poor, black, white, red, yellow….it matters not to you. You indiscriminately destroy the lives of a lot of good people. You crush hearts and destroy dreams.

But as I watch Joey Feek’s battle, I’m reminded that you never really “win”. As a survivor, I’ve spoken with too many other survivors and their families to know the depth of that truth. You create a determination within us that never existed before. You uncover courage within us that generates an unmeasurable desire to live life the way God wants us to live. You make take a life, but only if it falls within God’s plan. Even then, their loved one’s find something amazing beyond their pain and sorrow. They find God’s Amazing Grace.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ” – Romans 8:18

 

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Trusting In Him….

I wanted to be healed – immediately. The cancer that had been growing inside of me had probably been there several years. I wanted it out of me as soon as they could put me under the knife. When my prognosis came back and a treatment plan was established, I wanted to start the chemo and radiation treatments as soon as they could inject the poison and turn on the microwave. I knew there was going to be a battle – a very, long, battle. I wasn’t looking forward to any of it other than just getting it over with. I wasn’t even thinking about the five year window that every cancer patient wants to get to – not in the beginning. But after twenty weeks crept by of wearing a chemo pump 24/7 and that started off with twenty-eight radiation treatments, I had plenty of time to think about a lot of things. It was 2001, and in my mind I’d circled 2006 as THE YEAR! This would be a day that I could finally say, “I beat it!” and never look back. Yeah, right.

 

Oh, when my battle began, I was as determined to beat my disease as any cancer patient ever was. I was laser focus, committed to the battle, ready to hit back and punch cancer right in the face. I went at it wide open and was determined to keep the pedal to the floor until I’d beaten my disease. But I started to understand that it’s a slow process – getting through a cancer battle. You have to have patience, which I’d never had before. I’ve often told newly diagnosed cancer patients and their families, “This fight is a marathon – not a sprint. You have to pace yourself because it will take some time.” I’d learned that day-after-day-after-day is excruciating when contemplating a five year long battle. That is a very long time to fight for your life. Each day was filled with anxiety and those days couldn’t go by fast enough. On one hand, I wanted the days to fly by like seconds. But on the other hand, if the outcome was going to be me losing my battle, I wanted them to pass by like years. That juxtaposing position is enough to drive anyone crazy.

 

But two years into my battle…after all the scars had healed…the radiation effects worn off…the chemo side effects long gone…I had to reset the clock back to zero. My cancer returned. My five-year window would be at a minimum seven years – probably more. More surgery…more chemo…more CT Scans…more of everything that I hated about cancer. It broke me, but in a good way. My clock and my calendar didn’t matter anymore. The only “day” I needed to circle on my calendar was “today” – “everyday”. What I learned was to be patient and trust God and trust God’s timing.

 

The way a lot of people approach life these days is to rush it. They are always trying to get to something else. They want to hurry time up so that they can graduate from school, and go to college. They want to hurry and graduate from college so they can start their careers, which they need, because they want to hurry and get married.  They have to get married quickly so they can hurry and have kids. They need that to happen quickly because they want to have everything settled until they finally retire and have grandkids. Is that what we are racing toward – retirement and grandkids? Not that I’m not looking forward to both someday, I’m just not rushing to get there. I can tell you right now, if that is the way you are living your life, you are not LIVING your life. It seems like so many people are afraid life is going to “run out” if they don’t go ahead and get theirs. It’s a “drive-thru-I-want-it-now” mentality…the old microwave oven lifestyle. But the stress it creates is crippling. It’s living life at one hundred miles per hour and with constant change. No wonder mood altering prescription drugs are at an all-time high and coping skills are at an all-time low.

 

Even in our spiritual journey, we want to rush God’s plan for our lives. We pray for healing of ourselves or others. We pray for a job, or to be able to meet our financial obligations. We pray for a sign or some enlightenment for His will in our lives. Shouldn’t we just be praying for His will and let Him handle the rest? The Lord is much better at guiding my life than I am – believe me, I’ve tried it both ways.  And while we are at it, why don’t we just slow down a little, trust God, and trust His timing? Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us exactly where to put our trust: “Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”  I’ve learned to live one day at a time and not think to long about the days, weeks, months, and certainly not years ahead. One day…this day… is all I can handle – I’ll let God worry about the future days since he already knows what they hold. Oh, they are important – don’t get me wrong, but I’m not going to worry about them. I trust He will take care of those for me…if, and when they come.

 

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“Direct your children onto the right path, and then they are older, they will not leave.” – Proverbs 22:6

fathersday

This is the seventeenth Father’s Day since I saw your face or heard your voice. Some days I don’t think about you being gone – not because I can’t remember, rather because I chose not to believe it. But as Father’s Day nears, I have no choice. You are about all I can think about to be perfectly honest. Most of my fondest memories of you were when I was very young…before I “knew everything”…before I had any decisions to make or responsibilities to see to. I know my eyes would light up after supper when you’d grab a baseball glove and ask me to throw with you. I can still hear the “pop” those saddle-soaped gloves would make as the ball hit the pocket! We’d throw until it was almost too dark to see those dirt-stained baseballs. I wonder how many times we through a baseball to each other?  And you know those long Sunday drives that I pretended to hate so much? I was actually in the back seat pretending the dust from all those dirt roads we were taking was my “bat mobile smoke screen” I was laying down for the villains in the cars following us.  There was just this unconditional trust I had with you, and I knew you would never steer me wrong. My best interests were always your first priority and I knew you would always take care of me

As I grew into a foolish young man, I certainly never realized just how much my actions must have affected you. I naively believed my lack of good judgment was only a reflection of me, and who I was as a person. It never occurred to me that you felt it was also a reflection of who you were as a man… or more importantly – as my father. I never realized that others might view me and my life as an extension of you. After all, I carried your last name. Some accountability came with that, and I wasn’t even aware that it did. I was often selfish, inconsiderate, and disrespectful.  I know my actions must have been embarrassing to you more times that you wanted to keep count – yet you always claimed me as your son. You tried to explain all of this to me many times, and I wouldn’t listen. I wish I would have. I don’t have any excuses or alibis, even to this day – only the truth. And the truth is I thought I knew everything and you knew nothing. I believed that times had changed and you were out of touch with reality. As for me, well, I was living in it. I was ignorant to the fact that honor and respect are timeless. They never change. Typical of many young men, I was ten feet tall and bulletproof. Nothing could hurt me and that included my reputation. I was wrong…so wrong. Worse, I know the things I did sometimes hurt you. I know you’ve forgiven me, because you loved me… I am learning to forgive myself. And I know it is much too late, but I’m so, so, sorry Dad. I wish I could tell you that to your face.

If there is any consolation, it is that all the time I was living my life the wrong way, there was a little voice inside my head letting me know that I was. It was the moral compass you gave to me as you provided a Christian example of what a real man should be. I was fortunate that it was stronger than any of the temptations that found their way into my life. I want you to know… the words you said, I heard, even though you thought I wasn’t listening. The example you lead, I saw, even though I pretended I wasn’t watching. They’ve never left me after all these years!!!

Somewhere along the way…through losing you…a broken marriage… and two very difficult battles with a life threatening disease, I’m becoming the man you would have wanted me to be. I’ve still got a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but I’m trying. I’m also beginning to understand a lot more about you dad, as I’m reminded daily of the old saying “you don’t know what it’s like until you walk in another man’s shoes.”

I think you’d be happy to know that as I’ve read more of God’s Word, I’m starting to get it. A Father will love His son unconditionally…and even when a Father’s heart is broken into a million pieces, He forgives quickly and completely. That story was written between the books of Genesis and Revelation…but through your example as my Father, it is also what you taught me about being a father too.

Happy Father’s Day! I love you dad!

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What I Love About You….

Bike BW What I love about you…..

What a difference those five words have made in our marriage.

My marriage to Brigett is relatively new. After all, we’ve been married only a couple of years. One would think since we haven’t had time to accumulate mountains of negative emotions over decades of time, we don’t have the same challenges that married folks have who have been together for years and years. The first thought that comes to most people’s mind is “It SHOULD be easy”.

The truth is, we have a blended family with five kids (four are hers and one is mine.) All of them live in the house with us. There are four boys (ages twenty, twenty, sixteen, and fifteen) and one girl (twelve). It probably couldn’t get any harder than blending an only child with four more, one of which is a girl, or adding yet another boy to the mix since they’ve already developed that competitive nature that males often possess at those ages.

family  With seven people in the house, one of the biggest challenges (other than finding an empty bathroom) is finding even the smallest amounts of husband and wife time for just the two of us. Ninety five percent of the time we are serving in the roles of mom and dad – not husband and wife. The other five percent…well, it takes work. Considering that it usually comes at the end of some very long days and well after our careers and our kids have sucked out most of our energy, the challenge is even greater. But we recognize the challenge and we’ve done something about it.

We’ve both been in a previous marriage that didn’t work, and we both know why it didn’t. It doesn’t take much of an IQ to look back and see what went wrong or what we could have done differently. We’ve vowed to make this one different – and we’ve done exactly that.

The great things about Brigett are she is extremely intelligent and she is every bit as determined to make our marriage work as I am. She is also immensely creative in how to make a family of this size run. We’ve traveled a little, planned couple “get-aways” from time to time, set aside date nights on the rare occasions we don’t’ have kids with us, and ensure we make the best of our time when we are alone. Those are all excellent things to do in a marriage. But just because we have a great marriage doesn’t mean it is okay to take the hand off the steering wheel until we see it running off the road and into a ditch. It doesn’t mean we should be lazy in our efforts to ensure our marriage is hitting on all cylinders. Let’s face it, a lot of marriages start on a downward slope and the couple never seems to do anything to stop it. Why not? Many times there has been an accumulation of hurt feelings, distrust, and anger that becomes an impenetrable obstacle to overcome. Our defensive nature to protect our hearts and our pride becomes a brick wall in our path to getting our marriage back on track. Ultimately, bad feelings lead to more bad feelings which lead to more bad feelings. They feed on each other. But the same can also be said about good feelings too – they feed off each other much in the same way, which leads me back to those five words “What I love about you…”

Engagement  Recently I decided to begin texting my wife in the mornings around the time she wakes up. Normally, I’ve already gotten ready, kissed her goodbye as she sleeps, and had breakfast. Her alarm is going off for the first time (of many times) as I’m heading out the door for the office. Each of my texts starts out with “What I love about you” or something similar. Within the hour I get a reply back from her that begins the same way. I can’t believe what a difference it has made in our relationship. I started out thinking this would just be a nice thing to do – and that was it. But then I realized sending those texts has served as a reminder of what I love about her and what she loves about me. In the beginning of a relationship (when everything is new) we feel so much excitement about discovering new things about our spouse. Once the new wears off, we don’t recognize those things as we once did. But by reminding myself what I love about Brigett, I’ve discovered those positive feelings regarding our relationship have fed other positive feelings for each other. The way we handle problems, our demeanor, our patience, our tolerance, and our forgiveness have all improved. Even the way we communicate has changed for the better.

Most of our friends see us out holding hands or showing other public displays of affection and keep thinking, “They are newlyweds. The honeymoon will end soon.”

If only they knew….

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