Aug 1, 2016

Mom

For as long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve processed grief in the same way.  I write.  When my dad died, I wrote an article that ran in the church bulletin.  When one of our co-workers at that church died suddenly, I wrote a poem for on his memorial bulletin.  When we felt the grief of losing friends and jobs, I would usually write something - a letter, a blog post, an email.  When Heather’s grandparents died, I turned to my blog to express my pain.  This is how I do things.  I prefer to put things on paper.  I feel like I’m a decent verbal communicator, but I am a much better written one. 

Then Mom died.

There were no words to write.  I couldn’t bear to even think about sitting at a computer and espousing my feelings.  I was hoping I could have something done for her memorial service, but that didn’t happen.  Over a month has gone by since that day and I have not been able to write … anything.  The very thought of writing at all has been paralyzing to me.  Truth be told, many things of late have had that same effect. 

We had one of the most tumultuous periods of our lives in the last six weeks.  The kids finished school, including Josiah graduating from Middle School.  Heather completed her residency and won a ton of awards and received all kinds of accolades.  We packed up our whole house and moved to Houston, Texas.  We unloaded all of that craziness.  My rheumatoid arthritis, which had stayed cooperative while packing, had enough after our drive and it flared with a vengeance.  Then, a week after Heather and the kids showed up at our new digs, I flew to South Florida to tell Mom goodbye. 

There is this website - stress.org - that provides a stress test for you to try out.  There are different levels of stress, depending on what things you are dealing with at the moment in life.  The top level is 360 points and above.  At this point, you are “80% likely to have a physical breakdown related to stress.”  Heather and I have laughingly taken this test several times in our married life.  We usually are up around 300 on an average day.  My rating was 450 points this month.  I told her the other day, “I found out what level that isn’t funny anymore. 450 points.  That isn’t funny.” 

I have been a wreck.  I am overwhelmed.  I get panicked over doing things that I used to do with ease.  I missed an entire cycle of bills because the thought of looking at them made me melt down. I had trouble unpacking boxes, making appointments, going shopping.  It seemed like every time I went to the grocery store with the kids, I would freeze up halfway through and have a mini panic attack.  They weren’t being naughty - it just was too much.  And this didn’t go away in what I considered a timely manner.  I called my old therapist from Orlando last Sunday, just to have someone to talk to about things.  He was, as always, brilliant and insightful.  Then I had the worst week yet.

This past week was atrocious.  I would be perfectly fine.  With no warning, I would be crushed by a wave of despair.  Then I would be down for hours, crying from time to time.  We went out to a mall the other day and on the way home, I told Heather, “That was not a good idea.  That was too much to handle.”  I have felt broken and weak and helpless and useless.  I have been working for the last couple of weeks, but it seems to take all my energy - well whatever little bit I have left after a day full of summer vacation related kid arguments and issues.  Again, the kids are not being naughty; they are being kids.  But it seems like there is hardly any reserve.

I know that everyone says grief is different for every person and that it doesn’t go away quickly.  But that is hard for me to accept.  I have tried to solve this problem.  I have tried to figure out what to do to make this end so I can go back to the way I was.  It doesn’t even make sense, though.  Sure, there are times when I break down and it is a logical event.  When I saw Mom’s birthday on my phone calendar as I scheduled teaching assignments in November, that felt like a knife in my heart.  At church this morning, they sang In Christ Alone, which was a song that my mom loved and had played at her memorial service.  Obviously, that was a tear-inducing moment.  But when I’m standing in the middle of Target, I’m not actively thinking about Mom and missing her.  I’m just looking at school supplies or Funko Pop! figures.  That isn’t something to bring on tears.  I’m not thinking, “Awww man, Mom would have loved that Walking Dead Michonne bobble head.  That folder was righty up her alley.” 

After I went away to college, I have hardly ever lived in the same town as my mom.  There was a brief time when we both lived in Orlando about 11 years ago.  But that was it.   For over 20 years, my relationship with my mom has been nearly exclusively through the telephone.  We would go see her a few times a year - fewer the further away we moved.  Once Facebook came along, there was a little more virtual interaction.  But most of the time, it was over the phone.  I guess I thought that would make it easier.  I didn’t SEE her all the time.  Not SEEING her would mean it didn’t hurt so much.  That was the case with my dad.  The geographical distance helped the healing process.  There had also been some forced emotional distance on my part over the years.  I could not always fill the role my mom wanted (needed?) me to fill.  There were times that I felt emotionally manipulated.  (Anyone who knows anything about me and my church experiences knows that I HATE emotionally manipulative relationships.)  So I put some distance there.  It was necessary so that I could still relate to and interact with her without being pulled into everything she was going through. 

Mom had a lot of physical problems and had battled lots of things for years and years.  The first time she told me she was dying, I was 10.  And that became a recurrent theme for the next three plus decades.  It was hard to balance the pull of a child to his ill mother and the reality of recognizing that not everything required a massive response of sadness.  It was hard.  And I may have gone too far in my protective engineering - especially in her last six months.  But I could not be the husband, father, and employee I needed to be and be in a constant state of mourning for years.  I had to have that buffer to function.  For all of those reasons, I guess I assumed that when Mom finally did pass on, it would be a relatively normal, easy process. 

I completely underestimated just how much she meant.  I couldn’t erase the thousands of hours of conversations that we had.  We would laugh about silly stories.  We would get riled up at things people did to offend us - especially Church experiences.  We would argue.  We would get angry at each other.  We would push each other out of dark spots and challenge each other.  We would have theological discussions, political discussions, educational discussions, culinary discussions.  “Just a phone call” was hardly JUST a phone call.  I remember so many things about my mother: watching her cook or bake, seeing her sit in the living room reading her Bible, coming around the corner after school and seeing her yellow station wagon in the FIRST spot.  But so many of the biggest memories involved us talking. 

There were the conversations from my dorm room at UCF, where I would be so upset and lonely - desperate for someone to love me, wondering why no girls ever wanted to be with me.  There was the first night after I moved to Tampa, when I called her crying about how I knew it was a mistake.  No one knew me; no one liked me; I wanted to go back to Orlando.  There was the day that I knew that I had met my wife - a spunky little blond girl that reminded me SOOO much of the fire and strength my mom displayed.  (I had NOOOOO idea.)  There was the day when Josiah was born, when I called her from my cell phone outside of Orange Park Medical Center.  I was telling her all about him, while trying to understand together what the heck was going on in the world.  (He was born on 9/12/01 and we were in labor all day on THE 9/11.)  There were the countless days when I would call her on my way to pick the kids up from school, or on my way to teach some class in Charleston, or on my way home from a Defender Ministries event.  I can see these moments.  They became such a part of my life that it is only now - after a month - that I realize just how present she always was, even when she was hundreds of miles away. 

Now, I’ll find some great deal on something at the grocery store and think, “I should call Mom and tell her.”  I’ll finish registering the kids for school and be impressed by the faculty there and want to let her know.  I’ll hear that Heather got another recognition at work and I’ll want to brag about her.  (She ADORED Heather. On her last morning, she talked to Heather on FaceTime and she lit up so much.  When they hung up, she said, “Now I’m happy.”)  I’ll hear a good sermon that talks about emotions, which really was just what I needed to hear (that was this morning) and I’ll want to let her know that once again, help came right when I needed it.  But she isn’t there.  I can’t call her.  I can’t send her pictures of the kids’ new shoes.  I can’t post something on Facebook and know that she’ll like it within two minutes.  I can’t text her “I love you” any more. 

We hear a lot of things about a mother’s love.  It is truly one of the most powerful things on earth.  For me, it looked like a phone - be it a coil coming off a handset, a cordless one with a big huge antenna, a flip phone, an iPhone.  Life changed; phones changed.  But there was always a never-ending source of love on the other end of that line.  When I didn’t have any friends that I could count on, she was there.  When I was just a single guy, full of fury and loneliness, she was there.  When I was a confused new dad, a selfish husband, a lazy worker, she was there.  When I was a compassionate father, a loving spouse, and a trustworthy teacher, she was there.  She heard all of that and loved me through every single twist and turn.  I guess it isn’t so easy to have someone that ingrained in your life disappear. 

I held my mom’s hand as she was drifting away.  I looked at Holly and said, “She’s going.”  Holly took her hand and grabbed my phone to text Chris.  I sat down next to her on the floor and held her head as she took her last breaths.  And then I just cried so hard.  For the last thirty minutes or so, I just talked to her.  I told her about our new house, about the new town we were in, about the stuff the kids were into, about how much it felt like Florida.  I asked her if she was getting ready to go dancing.  She said, “I can’t dance.”  I said, “You will be able to soon.  You can dance with Dad.”  She made a face.  To the very end, she was Mom.  I know that in time, things won’t hurt so bad.  I know that I’ll be able to go to the store and not freak out.  I know I’ll find someone to listen to my pointless stories about recipes or shoes or virtual classroom adventures.  (I’m going to be that old man in the Perkins telling stories to the waitress, aren’t I?)  I know that I’ll be able to look at November 4 on the calendar and not get teary.  Some day that will happen.  Some day...

Aug 13, 2015

15 for 15: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

YESTERDAY
I have thought a lot about our wedding day as our anniversary approached. The thing that is perhaps most dominant in my mind is how young we were. When I see the pictures of that day, I am always surprised at how much we look like babies. And I remember having such a immature view of life. That wasn't a bad thing - we were immature yet, as in we were not mature. I know I had so much to learn about life, marriage, everything. I think about how fiery I was about everything. I thought I had figured it all out. I believed it was worth fighting all the time to defend truth!  I even treated Heather that way. I saw myself as in the right; I needed to correct those around me.

I think that I believed if I just pushed hard enough, things would go the way I thought they should go. That applied to issues with work, with finances, with faith, with marriage. But I soon discovered that was not how things worked. It was a frustrating and humbling lesson. I was extremely fortunate that I had an equally determined wife. Instead of a fiery, angry force of nature, Heather approached things very differently. She also had strong beliefs of how things should be. And she didn't relent. Instead she gave me time to work through my pigheadedness until I could actually see that I was wrong sometimes. (Not often. Okay. Often.)  

We had our ups and downs. We did not always see eye to eye. But we kept on working and fighting because we both knew that our marriage and family were worth fighting for. That was one thing that we both were determined about. 

TODAY
Fifteen years later, we don't look so much like babies. We don't see things with such immature eyes. When I pause long enough to examine my life, I am amazed at where we are.  We are sitting in a hotel in Houston, Texas. Tomorrow we will begin looking around the city we will soon call home. We drove through the Medical City today. It is mammoth. It is bigger than downtown Orlando. I just kept looking up at the skyscrapers, completely blown away. Next year Heather will be working there as a fellow. She matched at this incredible hospital and is going to be doing amazing things. How did we get here?

The David and Heather of today are a far cry from the ones of yesterday. Heather has developed into a strong, confident, brilliant leader of men and women. She continues to achieve more and more wonderful things. Somehow she juggles motherhood, wife hood (is that a word?), and doctor hood with style and grace. She constantly impresses me.

I have mellowed quite a bit. I am not the same fiery stubborn man. I still can be stubborn, but I have come to realize that fighting is highly overrated. I am not always right. I do not know everything. I have learned that my ideal view of life is not going to happen - and it is not even worthy of happening many times. I am in a totally different career than I ever could have imagined, and I love what I'm doing. 
I stay home with our kids - something that I love and that they love. Heather is thriving in her job. The kids are doing well. Things are not perfect, and we still are dealing with yesterday's decisions and aftermath. But I am so happy right now with where we are today. 

TOMORROW
Where will the next fifteen years take us? I really have no idea. I still have trouble sometimes wrapping my head around where we are now. Fifteen years from now, our kids will be out of college. Heather will be doing amazing things. I will be teaching. 

At least that is what I assume will be happening. That isn't sure, though. There is no way to know where we will be. People ask us where we plan on going once Heather finishes fellowship. But even that decison - a mere four years away - is impossible to know right now. We could be back in Florida. There are definite benefits to that decision! But we could be back in South Carolina. We have loved our time in Columbia and Heather loves the medical community there. But she could also be offered a job to stay in Houston. Or someone else could try to poach her. We have no idea.  

The future is impossible to know.  All I know is that I am so excited to approach that unclear future with a woman like Heather by my side. She is the most incredible woman I know. Every day I find more reasons to love her. I am beyond proud of her. I know I don't deserve her. I just thank God that He blessed me so greatly. For fifteen years, I have enjoyed that blessing. And I am only beginning to understand just how much of a blessing that she is. I love you, Heather. 

Jul 30, 2015

15 for 15: Kids

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

Up to this point, I have tried my best to not make these posts about our kids.  We love our kids, but once you have children, it is very easy to lose the couple at the core of the family.  So I have spent these posts looking at things that focus more on me and Heather.  However, an incomplete picture would be painted if I neglected our children in this project.

For a lot of couples, they have time to establish themselves as a married couple before children enter the picture.  We did not really follow that schedule.  We found out about our first baby four months into our married life.  He arrived one month after our first anniversary.  So we have had kids almost as long as we have been married.  It is hard to think of being married without also thinking of being parents.  That certainly has been a challenge at times - still trying out how to live with one other person and then suddenly having a brood to handle.  But it also has been immensely rewarding. 

Thanks to Heather’s medical training, we have had a unique situation in our home.  I have been staying home with our kids for over six years now.  (WHaaaaa?  That long??)  So we both have had a LOT of time with these little monkeys.  We both have had the opportunity to stay home with them, which is not something many parents are able to do these days.  So we both have experienced the joys, pains, and adventures that comes with hanging out with kids all day. 

Over the years, I have posted articles about each child on this website.  And we share their stories frequently on social media.  So, if you know us, you probably have a good idea of what our kids are like.  They are funny, smart, cute, talented, and a little bit strange.  This makes sense, with us being their parents.  I don’t want to spend a lot of time rehashing stories for each kid.  Rather, there are some very interesting things about our kids in relation to us that is more appropriate to put here.

First, it is really fascinating to see how much our kids are a blend of each of us.  It is tempting to say that Josiah is just like me, because he looks so much like me and acts so much like I did at his age.  But that really limits who he is as a person.  He may favor me in looks, but there are many things about him that are far more like Heather than like me.  The same goes for Natalie.  She has so many obvious things that seem like duplications of Heather.  But there are elements that are very much her father.  And Gabe is a very unique blend of not only us, but other family members.  His behavior more closely matches his Uncle Mike at that age than either of his parents. 

That is one of the really neat things about children.  You can see elements in them that remind you of both sides of the family.  Natalie has my mother’s eyes; they are almost identical.  Gabe’s eyes are colored in some ways like my dad, but the patterns in them are like Heather’s.  Some of his baby pictures looked like Heather’s dad’s pictures. His teeth are like Heather’s mom’s family.  I find it so cool to see what elements of a person are actually hereditary and not just flukes, like elements of personality and eyebrow shape.

The whole process of two families joining together to make a child is actually very cool, when you think about it.  Two histories, two legacies merging together in a person.  Very neat stuff.  My mom’s side of the family is very artistic - a long lineage of artists, sculptors, bakers, architects.  Heather’s mom’s side of the family has a lot of technically gifted people - engineers, computer scientists, programmers.  (And, yes, there are artists on that side and techy people on the other.  Just go with me here.)  What happens when those sides mash up?  You get Josiah and Gabe.  Both are very artistic, but also very techy.  So they are drawn to areas where they can use both.  I had a great discussion with Josiah the other day about how much he loved creating things on Minecraft.  He loves the creation of it - roller coasters, guillotines, traps.  And I told him how there are people who use their art skills and merge it with design and technology to create amusement parks.  It really struck a nerve with him. 

Second, I have grown to recognize how people who love me, love my kids.  And that really shows how deep the friendship is.  There have been times over the years, especially when we were the first of our friend group to have kids, where our friends saw our kids as an annoyance or inconvenience.  They didn’t get it, and the friendship was damaged by that.  But when I think of our deep friends now, they are people who love our kids because they are part of us.  And I feel the same about their kids.

I’m not one of those people who could just wander into an elementary classroom and be like, “Ooooo, kiddos!  I want to take them all home with me.”  (Admittedly, if I was that type of person I would probably be typing this from a cell as a kid-napper.  Literally.)  I am not an elementary teacher.  Heather loves kids.  She’s going to be a pediatrician.  I intentionally did NOT choose that as a career.  I do great with teenagers and college students.  But, generally I am not a big “kid” person. 

When it comes to my friends and family, though, I love their children like my own.  And Heather feels the same way.  We would protect our nieces and nephews like our own babies.  We have friends where we extend our parental protective bubble around their children.  Recently, we had some very good friends from Florida spend a couple nights with us with their kids.  Our kids adore their kids.  And so do we.  I wanted to see how they were doing and make sure they were happy.  We made sure their stay was special and that they felt loved.

As a parent, when I see one of my friends taking an interest in my kids and trying to care for them, it makes me feel even more loved.  Our friends, the Willsons, that recently abandoned us and moved to the UK (still bitter, yes), they were great at showing this.  They went to Josiah’s performances at school.  They remembered everything our kids were into and would specifically ask them about it.  Christina worked at Josiah’s school and kept an eye out for him.  Whenever I see that, I know that person really cares about me.  They know my children are incredibly important to me, so my friends make my kids important too. 

Third, parents have to choose if children will break them up or pull them together. There have been times where parenting our little ones has been the most stressful thing in our marriage.  We didn’t see eye to eye on things.  We would argue about how to discipline, how loud was too loud, what constituted “yelling at someone.”  Two people with two different backgrounds were trying to find common ground on how to raise virtual clones of themselves.  It can be frustrating.  Very frustrating.

But I never feel closer to Heather than when we are on the same page with our kids.  Sometimes, it feels like us against them, and it is nice to have an ally in the fight.  But, more than that, it is wonderful to know that you are not navigating the maelstrom of puberty alone, or trying to figure out why your kid won’t settle down without anyone to help.  Even if it is just being able to throw your hands up in exasperation and have the other person say, “I know.  I know.  I don’t get it either.” 

We even have our own private jokes about things with this.  I have this theory that sometimes God will get a parent’s back with a child.  Let’s just say that there have been many times where one of the kids will mouth off or disobey and then trip or run into a wall as they turn to flee.  It is like God looks down and says, “I got your back.”  I’ve told Heather this before.  So, invariably Gabe will yell about something and then run into a door.  I look over to Heather and say, “God’s got our back.”  (If I had finished seminary, I probably wouldn’t write that.)  We used to call Natalie’s meltdowns “Natalanches.”  When Gabe is arguing with us non-stop, I will say, “I really hope that he at least puts this stubbornness to good use - like a lawyer or advocate for the mistreated.  Just so we didn’t go through this for nothing.” 

When I was young and naive, the picture I had of a parent was so simplistic.  It consisted of sitting there, playing and being silly or baking, reading and watching tv.  I didn’t understand just how much went into parenting.  I didn’t grasp that it is a perpetual effort.  But I also didn’t really get just how much blessing would come from having children.  It isn’t limited to cute pictures, stories, and baby pictures, either.  It reveals more about your family, your friends, your spouse, and yourself. 
 

Jul 17, 2015

15 to 15: Joy Meets Anger

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.
We recently saw the movie Inside Out.  It was fabulous.  Pixar really outdid themselves on it.  The creativity was spectacular.  The premise is that there is an 11 year old girl named Riley.  Her parents move her cross country to San Francisco.  This entire traumatic experience is mostly related through the emotions in her head: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  It is brilliant, moving, hilarious, thought-provoking, and fun.  Heather and I loved it.  The kids loved it.  Great movie. 

So we were shopping with Josiah at Toys R Us the other day and we saw some POP collectable figurines.  I have always thought that those things were cute and fun, but I also don’t have tons of disposable income, so I have managed to avoid collecting them.  They have Inside Out figures now, based on the emotions.  We thought they were really cute.  My favorite character was Anger - duh!  I thought Lewis Black was perfect in that role.  Heather loved the Sadness character, but she asked which one she would be. I said, clearly Joy.  So we got those figurines, and later Sadness because she is cute.

So what happens when Joy marries Anger?

I got into comic books later in life than most people.  They were not allowed in our house growing up.  (As much as I love them, they are not really allowed in our house now either.)  So didn’t get hooked until college.  I saw the Batman movies, watched the X-Men cartoon and Batman Adventures, saw some other random comic heroes that wandered onto the screen like Blade and Spawn.  (This was all before Nolan and Marvel reinvented comic book movies into the amazing spectacle they are today.)  I really liked the X-Men cartoon a lot.  There was a very cool pairing on that show: Rogue and Gambit.  Rogue was a mutant whose power was that she always sucked the power from other people.  She could then use that power for a limited time, unless she did not control it.  Then she could suck all their energy out and kill them.  Gambit’s power was that he could charge items with energy and make them explode (basically).  Rogue and Gambit have had an off-and-on relationship.  Even when they were together, they could never be too close because of the danger of Rogue stealing Gambit’s powers and memories and killing him. But there was one stretch where Rogue was able to touch Gambit because all she would do was absorb his energy and darkness.  There was an unending supply of those things, so it didn’t hurt Gambit.  It actually would help him not be so brooding.  But it made Rogue darker and darker.

When you have two people who are so different - as I have explored in the course of this series of posts - you have a couple of potential outcomes.  You have the Rogue/Gambit scenario, where the lighter one will be colored by the darker one.  You can also have a scenario where the lighter one completely overwhelms the darker one.  Or you can have a scenario where they learn to live in harmony.  Like Yin and Yang.  Or the old couple in Up

We have gone through all three of those scenarios during our fifteen years together.  There have definitely been moments where my darkness has threatened to swallow up Heather’s brightness.  I have seen her growing darker and moodier.  She began to lose that JOY that characterized her in our early years.  That was heartbreaking to me.  I may not have recognized, or minded, that darker tone in myself.  But it was a terrible thing to witness in my wife. Sometimes, it would seem like I could transfer some of my darkness/moodiness/ANGER.  But it was not a good trade off.

There have also been moments where I got lost in the bright light of Heather’s star.  As she has progressed through her medical training, she came even more alive.  More people were able to see the kind of person she was.  And her light burned even brighter.  Early on in that process, I moved deeper and deeper into the shadows.  Some of that was due to situations in life; some of it was self-inflicted.  It became difficult to see everyone flocking to Heather’s light while I lingered in the dark.  Again, it was not a good trade off.

I am glad to say, though, that as we approach our fifteenth year together, we have learned much better how to allow JOY and ANGER to live in harmony.  I still can be fiery and brooding, but I have learned to live much more in the light.  Heather has taken on some darker hues, but they serve to highlight her brightness even more and at times direct it into new powerful avenues.  It is interesting to see how the blending of those colors and emotions has created something quite intriguing.  Personally, I have learned that I was not nearly as dark and ANGRY as I used to characterize myself.  Light being shined into my soul has shown that some of those darker places were just shadows that were chased away.  Pits became places of depth.  Gloom was reimagined as healthy concern.  And ANGER was directed against true injustice, not just irritation. 

Years ago, I remember Dwayne Mercer preaching a sermon at FBC Oviedo.  He was talking about marriage and how it should look with two people becoming one entity. He at first took two grapes and tried to push them together, with the expected disaster happening.  Then he took a lump of yellow Play Doh and a lump of blue. As he was talking, he was pushing those two colors together.  Then he held it up.  In some places, it had become green.  But there were still swirls of yellow and blue throughout.  It was hard to tell where one color ended and the other began.  It was quite a beautiful picture.  That is how our dark and light has meshed as time has moved on.  Heather has adopted more of my sense of humor, my outlook on some things. I have become less moody and less easily ANGERED.  Darker emotions are often labelled as negative, but there is a time and place for those.  I am able to help Heather express those needed down times.  She is able to encourage me to embrace my more lighthearted side. 

The Avett Brothers had a beautiful song a few years ago called “The Ballad of Love and Hate.”  It is obviously an extreme version of what I am talking about.  If you get a chance to listen to it, do it.  It is truly lovely.  I have seen versions of us in the song several times.  And I love how it ends. “You’re mine and that’s it, forever.”

Love writes a letter and sends it to hate.
My vacations ending. I'm coming home late.
The weather was fine and the ocean was great
and I can't wait to see you again.

Hate reads the letter and throws it away.
"No one here cares if you go or you stay.
I barely even noticed that you were away.
I'll see you or I won't, whatever."

Love sings a song as she sails through the sky.
The water looks bluer through her pretty eyes.
And everyone knows it whenever she flies,
and also when she comes down.

Hate keeps his head up and walks through the street.
Every stranger and drifter he greets.
And shakes hands with every loner he meets
with a serious look on his face.

Love arrives safely with suitcase in tow.
Carrying with her the good things we know.
A reason to live and a reason to grow.
To trust. To hope. To care.

Hate sits alone on the hood of his car.
Without much regard to the moon or the stars.
Lazily killing the last of a jar
of the strongest stuff you can drink.

Love takes a taxi, a young man drives.
As soon as he sees her, hope fills his eyes.
But tears follow after, at the end of the ride,
cause he might never see her again.

Hate gets home lucky to still be alive.
He screams o'er the sidewalk and into the drive.
The clock in the kitchen says 2:55,
And the clock in the kitchen is slow.

Love has been waiting, patient and kind.
Just wanting a phone call or some kind of sign,
That the one that she cares for, who's out of his mind,
Will make it back safe to her arms.

Hate stumbles forward and leans in the door.
Weary head hung down, eyes to the floor.
He says "Love, I'm sorry", and she says, "What for?
I'm yours and that's it, Whatever.
I should not have been gone for so long.
I'm yours and that's it, forever."

You're mine and that's it, forever.

15 to 15: Anger

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

As confusing as JOY was to me, ANGER seemed like an old friend I didn’t want and couldn’t get rid of.  I thought I recognized ANGER.  It was something that boiled up inside of me frequently.  It was something I had seen too often in my father.  We had been burned by that flame many times.  “A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.”  That was the dictionary’s take on it and it seemed pretty dead on to me.  But, as I’ve gotten older, I have realized that I was just as unfamiliar with true ANGER as I was with true JOY.

ANGER is not just unbridled fury.  It is not violence.  It is not rage, abuse, eruption.  Those things may be elements of ANGER, but it is not the true meaning of ANGER.  I felt all of those things in spades.  I have been explosive with people when they hurt me - real or perceived.  I have damaged people and things.  I have a long list of items that I have broken or thrown over the years: a Mickey Mouse keychain that put a hole in my car door, a bookshelf, a cheeseburger, a smoothie.

I knew that feeling all too well.  It would build up - heat and pressure in my stomach and chest.  My teeth would clench.  My eyes would squint.  My whole countenance would darken.  Then the littlest thing would set it off.  Like the chipmunk in Enchanted jumping on a tree limb to drop a dragon, the smallest comment would cause an eruption with yelling and gesturing and sometimes cursing.  It was all too common.  I saw it in my dad and I saw it in me.  It became that I saw myself as an ANGRY man.  People told me that.  When I had to be all vulnerable in Bible Study about my weaknesses, ANGER was what I talked about. 

Three things drastically changed my understanding of ANGER.  The first was a book by Dr. Gary Chapman called Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way.  That didn’t even make sense to me.  But I read it.  Dr. Chapman is the one who came up with Five Love Languages and Five Languages of Apology.  Both of those are great books about how people communicate (or don’t).  The ANGER book did the same thing.  But it also talked about how ANGER can be positive - it is a signal that something is wrong. This was taken further in a sermon series at Summit in Orlando a few years ago.  The pastor talked about how ANGER comes about in response to injustice.  When we see something that is not right, we get ANGRY.  Now, our definition of “not right” may be flawed.  For some people, it may be the way that humans are mistreated in Darfur.  For others, it may be that Burger King again screwed up their cheeseburgers by putting mustard on them.  The goal is to make sure that we are getting ANGRY about the right things. 

When the topic of ANGER comes up in religious circles, invariably someone will bring up Jesus and how he cleared the Temple.  There are a couple of times in the New Testament where Jesus is described as ANGRY: namely at the temple and when he saw how lost and confused the people of Jerusalem were due to the religious leaders.  I never could reconcile Jesus being ANGRY.  He was perfect and never sinned.  ANGER is just condensed vitriolic sin - or at least it appeared that way to me.  How could what happens when I erupt be okay?  There is no way that is okay.

But that sermon and that book began to show me that what I had always perceived as ANGER was a very simplistic and immature view of it.  Most of the time, I saw injustice, but it was that I was not being treated the way I thought I should be.  Sometimes it was a fair assessment and I really was being mistreated.  But sometimes it was just a selfish thing where I wanted things to be different for my own benefit.  That was not what ANGER was intended for. 

The third thing that happened was that I went to counseling. (I know I’ve shared this before.  But bear with me.) In my sessions, I would sometimes say how I was an ANGRY man.  Finally one time the counselor stopped me and questioned that statement.  He said he knew ANGRY men and that I was hardly an ANGRY man.  The pictures of my ANGER on display flashed through my head.  He said that I was usually very quiet and mild mannered.  Even when I was upset in our sessions, I didn’t scream or flare up.  He said he thought I was just a man who lashed out when he felt trapped or like he had lost control.  I had never really thought about things that way. 

As I have spent more time thinking about this concept, I began to understand more.  The ANGER that I knew was a corrupted form of what it should have been.  There is injustice in the world.  People are treated badly on a regular basis.  And that should make us irate.  It should bother us when wrongdoers are succeeding.  It should be offensive when we see inequality, bigotry, poverty.  And we should want to fix those wrongs.  I think people with ANGER problems often have a high moral code.  They hold people to it and they hold themselves to it.  But the problem is, no one can ever reach it. So these people — I’ll just say me, because it is me too.  I would get ANGRY at people for failing.  I would get ANGRY at myself for failing, which made me even more ANGRY at others.  It was a whirlwind inside of me that never seemed to go away. I was upset at wrongs done to me, wrongs done to others, wrongs I did. 

Over the last few years, I have worked hard to change all of that.  I don’t get so worked up over small things … or big things.  It happened.  Getting mad won’t change the reality of things.  The A/C in the car won’t start working because I yell at it.  The idiots in the other lane won’t pay attention because I growl at them.  Now, my kids severely test this newfound approach to life.  They manage to push buttons I didn’t know I had.  And get really upset when I see some of those old habits manifesting themselves in my kiddos.  But now it is even more important than ever to handle it right now, because I have three little ones watching.  I want them to know how to handle ANGER.  Like me, they have a strong sense of justice - even when it is misguided because they want their brother to play Minecraft RIGHT NOW.  They need to know that ANGER can be positive and good, if directed the right way.  It can be a powerful motivator and tool for change.  I want them to understand how to control it and not hurt people.  And I want them to know that decades earlier than I did.