Heavenly Thoughts…

One of the most important tenants of the Christian faith is the hope of resurrection. The Jesus message brings huge value for today because it invites us into a story that challenges how we do life: beckoning us to a way of life that is marked by compassion for the outsider, hospitality toward the stranger, mercy toward the weak, dignity for all, love to each other, sacrifice as a means to life, and so much more. But without resurrection these ways of living come to a violent end marked by death–and end that is not fitting with the story being told. Because the reality, clearly, is that our bodies and this world are decaying. They are. But in the story of Jesus there is a promise of new life, a promise of a restored and renovated creation where everything will be brought back to its original purpose and intended beauty.

This is the day I live for.*

That day…

I dream of a day where my body won’t hurt. Where going to the bathroom won’t be a chore (yes in that day I’ll still be going to the bathroom because…)

I dream of a day where everything I eat will be exquisite and deliciously fresh. Where the food that goes into my body makes my body and my tongue satisfied beyond belief. Food will forever continue to be the gift God intended it to be but without all this extra jiggly stuff added on.

I dream of a day where fighting will end, where peace will not even be something we fight for because it will be our one and only reality. There will be nothing outside of an existence where people are not stepping on other people to gain, destroy, and control. Peace will control us.

I dream of a day where we laugh a lot and laugh often. Where the tears that stream down our face are from good jokes rather than sorrow, pain, or grief. I imagine that we’ll discover that God gets more of our crass jokes than we ever gave him credit for–that’s the day I dream of. (cards against humanity anybody?)

I dream of a day where everyone is welcome around the same table to feast on the aforementioned food. There is no exclusion based on race, economic status, sexuality, or politic. We will all feast together because we have all been invited to the same exquisite table to feast around, because we all belong, because…because we’ve all accepted the dinner invitation.

I dream of a day where creation isn’t falling apart. Climate change, hurricanes, hail storms, they will all be relegated to a place of grief over our past rather than a worry in our future.** Creation will be what it was forever intended to be except it will be more alive now than ever before. New colors, new trees, new animals will fill the horizon as we experience life unabated.

I dream of a day where our choices are not marked by destruction. We will no longer make choices that destroy ourselves, destroy our bodies, and destroy our hearts. Instead our choices will be marked by exploration, by intrigue, and by love and fascination of self and otherness.

I dream of a day where I will be married to my wife forever. We will live and walk in unity, keeping the commitment to each other that we so desperately do not ever want to break. We will continue our exploration of life, romance, and otherness together as we journey deeper into eternity.

I dream of a day where there’s time to read–where there’s always time to read.

I dream of a world where reality television has been unmasked for what it really is: cheap programing.

I dream of a day where orphans and widows have a seat of honor and are cared for with extra respect and dignity.

I dream of a day where i can ride a bike again.

I dream of a day where we still have cars. Better cars. Cars that don’t break down as often.

I want to dream more. I want to dream lots of things. I want to dream bigger than what I’ve shared above. And I know, (I’m banking on it), that my dreams won’t even touch the amazingly beautiful reality that we’re going to be invited to enter into one day…now that’s something worth dreaming about!

 

*  Though, if you know me and my wife and my family and the lives we try to live I hope you’ll know that I have not fallen out of the boat on this side! I have not given up on the truth that in living for today we have the gift of truly seeing and experiencing every day as a glimpse into eternity. I truly believe that we can bring pieces of that futur reality into today. So lets not miss that when I say that I live for that day because much of that day can be brought into today! (talk about good news right?)

 

**  Yes, in my future dreaming there is still a place for some grief and sorrow. We cannot live a new existence if we’ve forgotten who we are or where we’ve come from!

How to Create Dying Memories

So you’re dying and you want to make every moment count, you want to create amazing memories over your potential last few months, you want to cross things off yours or your families bucket-ish list, you want every single moment to be special and memorable. So you go to Disneyland…or at least we did are.

First off let me say that we’re having an amazing time. But secondly, and this is where I’d like to dwell, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Disney isn’t the problem–it’s as backwards to what we believe in as ever and as amazing and fun an experience as ever. The problem is that no matter how much fun you want to have, no matter how many amazing things there are to do, no matter how many people (surprisingly and in painfully gracious ways) give generously to allow you to do whatever your heart desires…you’re still dying of cancer. And we all know it. I know it. My wife knows it. And my children know it. We are not necessarily talking about it, but it’s there like a dark cloud. In fact, there have been a few moments when my wife and I realize that we seriously only found out and told my kids that I’m dying just a couple of days ago! It literally JUST happened. What this translates into is that my son Jones’ anxieties are at record levels (if you know him and the fact that he has an anxiety disorder you understand what this means), Jess and I are emotional messes, and India can’t function unless she’s sitting on my lap (on my wheelchair). The intensity is painfully thick…painfully.

So what do you do? How do you live in the tension between reality and ideals? Here’s what our meager attempt to allow this trip to be what it needs to be while at the same time trying to make it an epic experience in and of itself is turning out to look like:

  • No pressure. None. If we don’t hit up every ride, if we don’t hit up the best rides, if we miss out on something “important” we’re trying to remember that it. does. not. matter. Not one bit. The point is to be together. Translation: headed into day three we’ve done all of one ride in California Adventure, we haven’t seen any shows, and haven’t hit up three of the ‘big’ mountains yet. It kills Jess and I (who happen to be professionals when it comes to sucking the marrow out of DL)
  • Pretend that money doesn’t matter. We’re not excessive here (I’m not sure we’re physically able to practice this one considering it goes against every bone in our bodies!), but part of the freedom we’re trying to give ourselves and our kids is that they/we can order what we want for dinner. That might be normal for you, but rarely in my whole life have I ordered whatever I want. You share, you buy the smaller version, etc. Stuff doesn’t bring happiness and doesn’t healthily fill a void, but it is fun sometimes! So we’re letting the kids buy a few extra souvenirs, an extra churro here or there, we’re letting them buy those expensive balloons that we know will still be deflated by the morning regardless of cool factor and cost, etc. Translation: we’ve spent more than expected and I’ve eaten well. But lets not lie here, no matter how much you’re willing to spend…a grumpy emotional kid with texture sensitivities and high anxiety will not like anything you buy for dinner! One direction that we’ve chosen to take is to spend a bit more money on memory-type souvenirs such as artwork and photography…and I don’t regret any of this one bit.
  • Pay attention. Probably more than anything it’s this one that matters. The kids need attention, they want it, they deserve it, and as witnessed through their occasional outbursts they demand it. When it comes down to it they could care less about the rides or the food; what they want is our presence, they want to know that even though dad might be leaving he is still here right now. Translation: cell phones haven’t been out much. My legs are raw and have scratches all over them from kids sitting on my lap. Jess and I are fighting being grumpy because while the kids need attention we want distraction more than anything else! 
  • Be Gentle. This is where the rubber meets the road. Stress, intensity, Disney, death, sleepiness, and anxiety amongst other things leads to a context where we’re each needing more gentleness and grace from each other more than ever and yet are feeling less equipped to dole it out than ever before. If this trip is going to work (and it is) it’s got to be on the back of a gentle and kind spirit toward each other. Translation: I’m failing here painfully! Or at the very least I’ll have segments at different points of each day where I come to the awareness that I’ve failed miserably. Jess and I are working together, however, on gently reminding each other of our own intensity and lack of gracefulness in our responses to others (namely the two little ones we brought with us).
  • Be flexible…but remember to eat. Flexibility has been a huge importance…but what we learned today was that it can’t come at the expense of taking care of ours and the kids’ actual needs. There have been times that we’ve all been having such a good time that we forgot to eat a meal…which is fine unless your emotional rope is already a twisted, knotted, and tangled mess. Flexibility has allowed us to make it this far; flexibility coupled with proper self care will get us home in one piece. Translation: I think I already made this one.
Don’t be fooled, though, this trip has been magical thus far. No joke. Staying at the Grand California Hotel has been one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. No joke. My kids love it and would often prefer to hang out on the hotel’s premises instead of going to the theme parks. When we showed up on the first day and greeted my children by name at the door only to quickly give India a signed photograph from a handful of Disney princesses she not only beamed and giggled like a school girl but then turned to Jess and said in the most whispered and sacred voice that can’t be captured via blogging “…mommy…” it was if it was all she could say. Beautiful. Watching Jones go through Grizzly River Rapids with his incredible schemes for never getting wet (that at this point have worked 100% of the time) is so funny and so ‘Jones’. Jess and I keep looking at each other and wondering how we were able to go on this type of trip. We feel incredibly lucky blessed.
I guess what I’m trying to capture here is that I think the collection of ‘last moments’ that we’ll be experiencing over the next 3-6 months (though I’m eager to be completely off in these projections! I’m looking forward to being made a fool when 35 years down the line I’ve got to pay all of you back who are/have helped to make this trip happen) will not be defined based on context, money spent, food eaten, or any other externals. Don’t get me wrong, they are incredibly important. They are, they are very important, hence the reason we’ve got a growing list of places that we would like to go to over the next few moments. But that simply provides a memorable context, they DO NOT define it. It’s the raw knees from kids sitting on them, it’s in the moments of grace and gentleness, it’s in the conversations that happen, the games that are played together, the laughing and crying that happens together, and the “ordinary moments” that will in the end create the extraordinary moments that we are all craving.
Translation: I’m making all this up and I can only say that I think this is what I think. This is my first attempt at all this (my first attempt at having 3-6 months to live). I’m hoping that this is just a trial run and that I’ll get another shot at this later (I’m shooting for having 3-6 months to live in 30 plus years). But until all that’s made clear I’ll just keep trying and keep typing along the way.
Thanks for reading.

“Daddy I Don’t Want You to Die”

This morning for breakfast we ate Easter pancakes. Jess made Easter Egg ones, bunny pancakes, a random caterpillar pancake, and as a final joke for me an empty tomb pancake.

But as any good Christian dad would I tried to take the opportunity to talk to my kids about what the Christian community celebrates on Easter Sunday. First I asked them to see what they’d come up with and I was please to discover that after they’d ruled out Jesus’ birthday they settled on some blend between his death and his coming back to life. Close enough.

I proceeded to dialog with them about the idea of resurrection, about how Jesus died but he didn’t stay dead, and about how we don’t have to have any fear of death because it doesn’t have any kind of permanent hold on us. I’ve got to be honest with you when I say it came out quite eloquently. I did a pretty good job of taking the concepts and relating it to a four and a six year old. Somebody should have patted me on the back (apparently that ‘somebody’ is me)

Then India says:

But I don’t ever want you to die daddy!*

Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that. At this stage in the story, resurrection kind of requires death doesn’t it? It’s a bit of a prerequisite at this point. And speaking to two children who (apparently) are very aware of the fact that their daddy could die young does not make resurrection quite the hopeful topic…not something necessarily to be celebrated at this point.

It broke my heart to be faced with the obvious reality that my children are already grieving my potential early death. It broke my heart to realize that I didn’t have a very good answer to her alluded question: why be excited for new life then when all I want is continued life now. Or put more simply: why hope when my daddy is dying?

I could write all sorts of answers to the question(s). I’ve got theological answers that ring true to me and to the Jesus narrative as I understand it. I’ve got answers that bring ME comfort. But for the child left behind, for the child who is scared of losing their daddy, for the child who is watching their dad’s body deteriorate…what’s the use of talking about resurrection? I mean, seriously, when it comes down to it India doesn’t really care that one day we’ll see each other again or that daddy has been promised a new body that won’t have cancer. She doesn’t. Why should she? In each and every scenario where resurrection is mentioned it requires her losing something she loves. It demands loss and pain in her life. Why is that good news to her?

My hope (I think) is that through my writing, through the life and hope exuded from my wife, and through my presence in my children’s life they will have a context cultivated within them that will allow them to one day understand why the Easter promise is worth hoping in. Part of my reasoning for blogging so openly and honestly about all this is that if I die from cancer I want my children to have a glimpse into what was going on within me. I want them to know it’s ok to be pissed at times, to find joy in small things at times, to have hope despite suffering, that its ok to cry, that its ok to be numb, and that Jesus is with us always. And I know that if I do die from this my wife will continue, as she has always been, to be an example to them of what it looks like to live a beautiful life even when life isn’t so beautiful. And I’m trying my damnedest to be as present and available for my children each and every moment so that there are no regrets if or when I pass. Are those three things enough to shape my children for understanding Easter?

But…lets be honest…this would all just be easier if my cancer would just go away. If my cancer would just go away then we could simply let Easter be about eggs and chocolate with no questions asked. Actually, if only Jess hadn’t made those gaudy and awkward empty tomb pancakes then all of this could have been averted! Lets just shoot for getting rid of the cancer so that this whole blog will be a moot point moving forward. Sound good?

 

* there was much more that followed this statement from both her, me, and Jones. I’d love to recount the whole thing but I don’t think I’d be able. India’s statement captures their thoughts on the matter.

Reflections from Camp

Yesterday turned out to be quite the day full of surprises. The family got up early and readied ourselves to drive up to Camp Yamhill and crash the camp that happens every labor day weekend called Faith Quest. It’s a gathering of 500 teens and chaperons up in the beautiful forest centered around the simple message of Jesus. It’s not one of those freaky camps they make documentaries about but a genuine and valuable expression of community gathered around a common hope. But to be honest our family was headed up there for the day ’cause there were about thirty or forty people I wanted to hug and we knew we could pawn off my kids on grandma and grandpa who were up there already.

Driving up to the camp was surreal because it was one year ago at this exact moment that I was a keynote speaker engaging in dialog with these kids about Jesus–but what was surreal was to realize how much has changed between now and then–to realize how little was known at this exact moment one year prior. It was a strange feeling.

Within moments of arrival we were overwhelmed with hugs, with love from a community that we only seem to see on Facebook, and it was overwhelmingly glorious. Thank you!

Within the first forty-five minutes I was asked if I would share with the camp some of my story from the last four months. It caught me off guard a bit, but at the same time I realized that it would be the first time in this whole process (at least post surgery) that I’d actually spoken publicly in any format. It felt right and there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to share.

Sitting on stage with my wife three hours later it was cathartic to be able to tell the teens that life sucks sometimes (or rather to claim with the teens the reality that life is effed up. Teenagers know this already don’t they? What person in their right mind wants to go back to being in high school or jr. high?) Like I’ve blogged about I went ahead and asked the question “where’s the hope?” Is there only hope in healing? Can there be hope in death? And we talked candidly for twenty minutes about my God’s promise to transform ashes into beauty, sorrow into joy, crap into something beautiful. The hope is in the story that God is able to tell if we let him in the midst of the good, the bad, and the ugly of life.

I don’t know if any kids heard me or if there was anything to hear, but it was good for me…and I think that’s enough.

Then those stupid kids passed around stupid buckets collected up a couple of thousand of dollars in about ten minutes time to help cover our medical costs. Seriously? What kind of teens have that cash? And why do people keep giving so generously to us? And why do I still hate it? (this is me trying to say thank you…I’m still learning)

Our kids had so much fun and played so well that eventually we just put ’em to be and Jess and I stuck around ’till midnight (long 1.5 hour drive home though!). While the kiddos slept we sang lyrics that made me cry like a baby ’cause I was still thinking a lot about death.

“Blessed be your name when the road is marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering blessed be your name.”

“There’s a stirring deep within me, could it be my time has come? When I’ll see my gracious savior face to face when all is done.”

“Wake up O sleeper, rise up from the dead and the light of Christ will shine.”

What an unexpected day filled with surprises. Thank you.

 

Is he dead?

I refuse to do research to confirm or deny the following allegations. But I’m pretty sure the following famous people have passed away:

  • James Earl Jones–He was seventy-five in Field of Dreams.
  • Willie Nelson–Either he has passed or his hair has…or, it might be that they’re actually the same thing.
  • Ringo Star–Someone tried to convince me with actual evidence that Ringo is still alive. I obviously did not believe them.
  • Dustin Diamond– This is a foregone conclusion. How long can one live without the love of his life?
  • John Matuszak— The only way this guy’s career wouldn’t take off after his star performance in Goonies is if he passed away shortly thereafter.