The Next Chapter Of Life Will Not Be As Sweet

sweets_2623400kLast October I had one of those moments that take your breath away. I wish I could say it was from looking at a beautiful sunset, a display of human compassion, or even the peace of watching the horses in the pasture. It wasn’t. For me, it was a flight of stairs. 10 steps and I was sucking wind like a jet engine.  I was 42 years old and stairs had become the thing I dreaded most. Whether it was the knee that gave constant pain, or the knowledge that I would not be able to talk at the top of the stairs, I had begun to avoid them at all cost.

The next morning after a shower and with  a smile I stepped gingerly on the scale (It is a glass scale, so you will understand my caution in a moment.) to see my situation. I was at the heaviest I have been in my life. Just 3 pounds short of 300. I remember the sense of dread that hit me when I realized I was about to cross over into a world where my weight began with a three. That had not happened since I was 2 years old, and something needed to change. Immediately.

I went to work on it, and started changing my diet. Not huge changes, just being a little more aware of how often I would go back for seconds (or thirds) and not allowing that. I also started eating a salad a day or two a week, and set a hard rule about eating after 9pm. Again, not huge changes, but I was huge, so any change was good!

Results started quickly with me and the first ten pounds were gone in a month or so.  The holidays came next and I got through them with only picking up a couple pounds.  After that I started to average about a pound a week with the occasional stall, but the stall never bothered me as long as it didn’t turn into an upward trend. The stall would result in another little change, and then weight would start to move again. It was going well.

Last Thursday I went in for my annual physical and was actually excited. I had lost 25 pounds and was lighter than I had been in almost 4 years, and felt better than I had in at least that long. The Doc was pleased and we actually did a “high 5” at one point. (If you know my doctor, you would be surprised!) As I was getting ready to leave we briefly discussed the lab work I was about to have done, and how the results of those tests (cholesterol) couldn’t take away from the fact that I had done a good thing and I felt healthier as a result. We left the room with smiles on our faces.

That evening I was at a birthday party for my father-in-law when I got an e-mail to check my patient portal for my test results.  The cholesterol was not bad, but I got a shock I had not been expecting.  There were some bold lines of type with results on my blood sugar and a note from my doctor in all caps telling me I had diabetes and I needed to see him ASAP.  (That sound you heard was the sound of my good feelings being crushed.)

I am a diabetic.

To say that night was a hard night would be an understatement.  I understand now why they offer counseling groups for people who are getting news like this.  It rocked me all the way back on my heels.  I was doing a good job!  I had been losing weight and getting healthier.  Why?  What on earth is going on here?

That night as I lay in bed trying to wrap my head around this while clinging to the encouragement of my wife, I came to the conclusion that there is a reason for this.  God has allowed this into my life for a purpose, and I needed to figure out what it was.  God was good in that He didn’t make me take a long time to do it.  It was pretty obvious to me.

I love to eat.  I don’t just like food.  I love food.  I will sit and think about food I will eat in two hours, for supper tonight, for supper next week!  I will plan how to make sure I get to have the maximum amount of food when it is available even if it means short-changing someone else.  I have shared this sinful pattern before on this blog, but I have not really gotten control of it.  Food has continued to rule my life, and now something is going to need to change.

Things come into our lives for  reason.  Sometimes we get to experience really good things that cause us no pain while giving us the simple pleasure of feeling the love of God.  Sometimes God allows hard things to come into our lives in order to teach us something or to make us realize that we need to stop something or make a better choice.  No matter what is going on in your life, it is there in order for you to look at it and see where God is speaking to you in that moment.

Lying there in bed, I realized that God had allowed this to happen in order to teach me that food is a god that will leave me wanting.  In every way it is temporary, and when fully in control, it is damaging.  It is a substandard god.  It is an unworthy god.  It is a bad god. It was a god that THE God decided I needed to see in a different light.  The next morning I told Tammi that it was like God had just walked in and kicked food off the throne in my heart and said that it had been in His seat for far too long.  It was time for me to learn how good it is to have Him on the throne instead.

The last few days have been a little rough at times.  I’m on a new diet now that has me on a pretty tight leash.  I’m checking my sugar, taking my medicine, and looking at my food in a different way.  I have been very careful, and I have the support of my amazing wife and kids and some good friends and family praying for me as I walk this new path.  It’s a new chapter of my life, and while in some ways it will not be as sweet as it used to be, in others it is already tasting so good!

IMG_20160506_181517I’m still losing weight.  This is a picture of me last summer on our Wyoming vacation where I had not yet hit my peak weight along with me today being down 30 pounds.  I am committed to losing more while controlling my sugar in order to reach a healthy weight.  I’m not sure if God is going to allow me to get off the medication, but right now I believe that is a goal He has allowed in my heart, and I intend to follow it with Relentless determination.

The sugar levels are already moving in the right direction, and my prayer is that when I go to see my doctor in a month, he will tell me that I am on the right track.  It will be three months before I can get my A1C checked again to see just how much movement I have had.  I’m placing that in God’s hands.  He is writing this chapter of my life, and I am open to His direction.  My prayer is first of all to honor Him in this process.  He has placed me here for at least one reason I have already mentioned, but I believe that is going to lead to even more.

I would appreciate your prayers, and I will share my journey with anyone who wants to read or ask questions.  Please keep my wife and family in your prayers as well.  This is something we are all experiencing, not just me.  I am blessed with a family that loves me and is supporting me as we do this together, but I want to show them love and encouragement as well.

Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be encouraged by it.

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Looking Back

no-looking-back1We’ve all heard that hindsight is 20/20.  Choices and actions, once played out, dispense wisdom that would have proven useful at the time!  Even things planned with great care and thought can turn into major disasters when we leave some “minor” or “impossible” factor out of our thought process.

Case in point – the Titanic. In 1907 the White Star Line was watching their fleet begin to age, they began to plan for their next ships.  They wanted the new ships to be larger, faster, and more luxurious for their passengers. After a year of planning, the ship’s designs were approved.  After that, it was almost 4 years before the Titanic was ready to make her maiden journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Deemed “unsinkable”, she was a testament to man’s ability to create wondrous things.

So much planning and work went into getting the Titanic from being an idea, to putting it on paper, and finally getting her into the water.  The result?  1500 people died.  In hindsight, a few things could have been done a little differently:

  • The number of lifeboats should not have been reduced
  • The crew should have been better trained in evacuation procedures as some of the boats were launched barely half full
  • Warnings about ice in the area were ignored
  • The ship ran at full-steam even though visual conditions were poor

1,500 people died in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, but if these things had been carried out, who knows how many might have lived?  Even if the iceberg had still been struck, any of those four things would likely have reduced the loss of life.

It’s easy to sit back and play Monday morning quarterback – especially with the mistakes that other people make, but how often do we sit down and do it with ourselves? It’s not fun to drag up our own mess and pick through it to find things we should have done better.  It brings feelings of guilt or shame, and none of us want that.  If we’re really lucky we might get that occasional treat and blame someone else though! Dig a little deeper and we will always see that the blame we put on others will most often still lead to a missed opportunity to make a better decision.

I don’t want to go through my life pretending that my mistakes didn’t happen, and I certainly don’t want to be one of those people that refuses to learn from them. It has been said that experience is the best teacher, but I can say that somebody else’s experience can be just as good if we are paying attention – and it hurts a lot less.

Relentless Living is taking the time to look into your past, see the things that you did, and pull the lessons from them.  Leave the guilt, the blame, and the shame in the past, but bring out the wisdom from the experience and use it for the things you currently face, store it away for the things you will face in the future.  Make right what needs to be made right and then get back to living!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with this blog lately.  How often do I post?  How often should I post? Is anyone really interested in what I post?  How long should a post be? (I know I have given some long ones lately – sorry about that…)  I decided that I want to start doing something differently.

My new goal is to write something small once or twice a week that is a reflection on a mistake made, or a lesson learned.  I want to take the time to ask myself the questions, “What would I do differently if I could go back and do it over again?” or “What do I wish someone had told me about that before I messed up?”  It should be fun.  Then I will try for one post a week that is more like what I have been doing.

I don’t want to say that the tragedy of the Titanic was a good thing, but it did change how the shipping industry did things after that.  Lessons were learned, and behaviors changed.  That is what I am hoping to do here.  I want to change for the better, and I want that for anyone reading this too.  More importantly, God wants it for us!  That is why He sent His Son to die for us and gives us the Holy Spirit to reside in us.  He wants to help us sort through our decisions, both good and bad, and grow.

So, I hope to see you back here in a day or two!

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Grief, Relationships & Hope

 

grief2November 18th, 2014. Our little town lost two people in a heinous act of domestic violence.  It rocked our little town to the core.  There are still so many questions, so much pain, and no small amount of anger that this happened.  A mother of four is gone.  A husband is gone.  The grief remains.

Saturday, December 13, 2014, I attended the memorial service for Tiffany Ferguson and her dad, Jim Webber. The church was packed with people who came out to pay their respects to those left behind, to offer support to each other, and to say goodbye.  The community came together to show that it was united in grief and loss, but also in a commitment to stand with Tiffany’s mother and children.

I graduated with Tiffany, and most recently, I worked with her at the hospital.  We were both 4-H parents that worked with our kids at the county fair.  I wish I could say I knew her better as a person, but what I did know was good.  I did not know her dad at all, but from what I heard, he sounded like a good man.

This post is not like others I have written.  I think in some ways I just need to sort through my thoughts on a couple of things, and lately, this has been a good way for me to do that.  I just want to share some of my thoughts as I sat there in the congregation and listened and observed.

1. I saw the importance of relationships.  Tiffany was one person, but wore many “hats”.  She was a mom, daughter, runner, friend, co-worker, student, involved parent, committee member, and many more things.  Through those many hats she wore, she was known throughout the community.  I saw many people there who had lost someone they cared about.  The reasons they cared were different for everyone, but at the end of the day, Tiffany had many friends, acquaintances, and supporters, who now feel a hole that she filled.

Looking around the auditorium, I saw people clinging to each other as they wept, silent nods of the head, hugs, offers of tissues, and some laughter as well.  People were relying on their remaining relationships to help them cope or try and make sense of things, or maybe just to get through the service.  Whatever the reason, I saw acted out in front of me that in times of need, pain, grief and trouble, we naturally reach out to the relationships we have for strength, courage, and support.  It was good to see that.

2. I saw the importance of hope.  At one point, the pastor brought Tiffany’s son up on the platform to sit with him.  He was excited to have the chance to be on the platform and look out at the people.  Earlier in the service, the pastor had talked about his own loss of his father as a young boy, and how the people around him rallied around that young boy and poured their lives into him.  They were not trying to replace what he had lost, but they were there to walk beside him, to give him love, to encourage him to keep moving forward.

Watching the pastor sit there on the platform with his arm around the little boy while we all listened to a song, my eyes filled with tears.  In the middle of all of this loss, that act was, in my eyes, a glimmer of hope.  Hope for that young man and his siblings.  Hope that our community can and will rally behind them. Hope that people can make a difference.

After leaving the service, I thought more about the need for relationships and hope.  What makes them so powerful?  What is it about them that gives us power to keep going?

We need relationships. One of the most difficult things for most people to deal with is being alone.  Sure, for a little while, it is nice to have the house to yourself, to be able to do what you want, when you want, and how you want, but what about when you are hurt?  Who is there to help you?  We need people in our lives that can identify with our pain, with our weaknesses.  We need people to laugh with us, cry with us, or just sit quietly with us.  Just having someone there with you can make life better.

We need hope.  Read the stories of men who were POW’s during WWII or Vietnam.  Time and again, I have read their accounts of watching their fellow prisoners die after something happened that took their hope away.  When we have a reason to keep going, we can keep going.  When hope is gone, the burden is heavier, the clouds are darker, and the pain takes us over.  We need something to cling to as a goal, a vision of the other side, a belief that we will endure and not only survive, but have a victory.

Of all the relationships I have between family, extended family, friends, co-workers, church-members, and so many more, there is one relationship I value above all others because it makes all the others better.  My relationship with Christ makes the marriage I have sweeter because I can model Christ’s love for the church.  It makes my friendships stronger as I see how He interacted with His friends, the disciples, in times of peace, accountability, and loss.  It is my relationship with Christ that makes me a better servant to those around me because I saw His servant heart.  I’m not Christ.  I’m not perfect, but I am learning, watching, Relentlessly growing in my relationship with Him and with others.

That relationship has brought to my life a hope that burns brighter than my hope in any other thing.  My relationship with Christ has brought me security for eternity.  It is foundational in how I look at things.  No matter how bad things are, and at times they are quite bad, I KNOW my future is secure.  This life is short.  Sometimes, painfully short, but eternity is a long time, and I know I can endure things here because of the peace that salvation has brought to my heart.  I need not fear loss, pain, hardship, or anything else.  My God is bigger than them all.

This is not to say that I don’t hurt.  I do.

This is not to say that I don’t get scared.  I do.

This is not to say that I have it all figured out.  I don’t

This simply means that today, in the middle of a memorial service for a friend and co-worker, at a time of loss for her family and closest friends that I do not pretend to know, God reminded me of what I have in Him.  A friend that will never leave me hanging, and a future that cannot be taken from me.

I hope that my words do not offend anyone who has been rocked by this loss.  That is never my intent.  I hope that if you are reading this, and it stirs a yearning for a relationship that brings you that kind of hope, that you will reach out to me or someone else that can help you have it.  I would be honored to speak with you.

 

My Dog Clyde. What A Wise Dog.

DSC02920This is my dog Clyde.  I got him on November 15, 1994 from the Kalkaska Animal Shelter.  When I got him he was just a cute little guy with a very big stink.  When I got him home and cleaned him up I was very pleased with the little fuzz ball I had before me.  I distinctly remember the conversation I had with Tammi regarding naming him:

Tammi: What are we going to name him?

Me: (Holding him up and looking in his eyes) His name is Clyde.

Tammi: No. That’s not a good name for such a cute puppy!

Me: (Visions of Clint Eastwood and an orangutan riding around in a pickup flashing in my mind, “Right turn, Clyde.”) Yes.  His name is Clyde.  He will grow into his name and it will fit him well, as he will be my buddy.

Not sure if my wife realizes that I named our first pet after an orangutan, but she will soon!  He did grow into the name, and it really did fit him well.  He was a great dog, and in a lot of ways still reminds me of the orangutan.  Loyal, a great companion, a source of dismay and amusement.  He’s been gone for about 8 years now.  A good dog.  One of the best.  So, why am I writing to you about my old yeller dog?  Well, settle in and we’ll get there.

Let’s talk about hope for minute first.  Why do we hope?  What does hope feel like?  Why do we need it?  Is it really that valuable?  I think it is.  We hope because deep down we know our own limitations. We have an innate knowledge that we are not able to do all things.  We come up against challenges and struggles that bring us pain, hold us down, and we don’t know what to do about them, how we are going to get through them or why we are in them.  That is where hope comes in.

Hope gives us that little bit to do one more day.  It tells us we can handle it one more time.  It is that little push in the back of the mind that says, “I’m going to make it.”  So important when you feel you are at the end of your strength, abilities, understanding.  We recently lost an icon in Robin Williams.  At the end of it all, he had no more hope. I am not discounting the reality of depression as an illness.  It really is, and while medication can be used to combat it, at the end of the day the medication allows people to deal with their depression well enough that they can hang on to that all important thing.  Hope. Hope is a very powerful thing, and we need it for life, but we also need it for beyond.

So, back to Clyde.  He was a good dog that spent most of his time around the house, but like any animal that is allowed to run free (we live in a very rural area), he would wander out from time to time to see what he could see.  Sometimes he would come home with a treasure of some sort: a chunk of a dead deer, a dead bird, and unrecognizable piece of dead something, or just an overwhelming stench from the dead something he had found to roll around in.  It never mattered to him.  He had been out experiencing life, and he was happy.

One day, he came home with something different.  He had found a porcupine, and you guessed it, he had a muzzle full of quills.  Not a happy dog.  It was weird that when I first saw him he looked so ashamed of himself.  He was whining and definitely felt miserable.  He came to me, full of pain and his eyes were pleading for help.porcupine_668_600x450

So, we did the only thing you can do.  We went to the garage and got the pliers and I went to work on him.  I don’t remember how may quills we had to pull, but I do remember that near the end, he was losing his patience with the entire operation.  He never bit or growled at me, but he was whining louder and definitely was showing that he wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

What I remember the most though was his eyes.  He just kept looking at me with those big brown eyes.  I am not a person that looks at animals as human beings.  They are not humans.  I don’t believe they are capable of emotions in the way that humans are.  I say that, but at the same time, I can say that in his eyes there was a mixture of fear and pain that was combined with a love, trust, and resignation to the process.  It was like he knew that with every quill I pulled, as painful as it was; he was getting closer to feeling good again. As I talked to him and stroked his head, he trusted me in the process.

I recently finished a devotional series by Oswald Chambers on hope.  In that study he said something that reminded me of this moment with my old yeller dog.  He said,

“Have you ever had to do something to a pet dog in order to get it well, something that hurt it very much – pulled a thorn out of its foot, or washed a wound, or anything of that sort?  If so, you will remember the expression of dumb eloquence in the eyes of the dog as he looked at you; what you were doing hurt him tremendously and yet there seemed to speak from his eyes such a trust of you as if he would say, ‘I don’t in the least understand what you are doing, what you are doings hurts, but go on with it.’”  That is an apt illustration of “suffering according to the will of God.”

Clyde looked at me with eyes that were in pain and not understanding the why of the situation.  He knew he had done something that seemed right, then not so much, but the thing he had done wrong was gone, why was he still hurting?  All he really knew was who to turn to.

I’ve had trials in the last several years, and there have been times I have felt the same way.  Hurt from my actions, from the actions of others, and sometimes hurt that I couldn’t even understand where it was coming from.  I would try to take care of it myself, but that didn’t work, and eventually I would go to the One who could help me. God.

Sometimes those conversations went well, but other times I could not understand what He wanted me to do.  I would whine and I would thrash, but in the end, I knew that what I needed was in Him.  Staying close to Him was my way out.  Only by staying close to Him would I hear His calming words, be reassured by His people, have the sins in my life revealed and forgiven.  It wasn’t as fast as I wanted, but it always brought the result that I needed… HOPE!

The hope that I have as a result of my relationship with Christ is two-fold.

1.  I have a hope for life.

 “I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13

This is that hope that Clyde demonstrated in me.  This is the hope that we experience from knowing God will be there for us.  We can trust His Word and the promises in it that tell us we will be okay.  This is talking about the struggles we face and how as we stay close to God we will see our perspective of things come closer to His and we can see His hand at work.  Sometimes we see it in hindsight, but He is always faithful to do His work.

2.  I have a hope for eternity.

“For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

We need a hope that takes us past life too.  If all there is in life is what we see, then we are in dire straights indeed.  God sent His Son to help us reach an eternal destination where we can have our relationship with Him be what it was intended to be.  He sent His Son to die for us so we could have that hope.  Real Hope!  A Hope that is Relentless is the life of the Christian.  A Hope that rages against Satan’s lies that will pull us down and make us ineffective or feeling empty.

Do you have that Hope today?  I want that for you.  God wants that for you.  I don’t know how you can go through life without it.  I know you don’t want to go through eternity without it.

Relentless Living is being willing to do the hard thing when it hurts because you have the hope that God is doing something good through the pain.  That He sees farther than you see, and that His methods will work for your good.  Those promises are in His Word, and they are vital to the life of a believer.

If you want to know how to have that hope, I would love to talk to you about it.  There is nothing better than having that hope.

Thanks for reading.  Please share this on your social media with as many people as you like using the links below.  Comment below if you have questions. I would love to hear from you.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong