Ever since I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I have always said that I am extremely lucky. If you go by the stats alone, only 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumor live 5 years from the date of diagnosis. Often times people are given a year to live. For my type of tumor, the life expectancy is about 12 years. I think that counts as being lucky. One question that often pops up after people find out that I have had brain surgery and have brain cancer is: ” Do you have any side effects?” Now immediately after my surgery, I have to say that I was a complete wreck. My left hand didn’t work properly, I had a hard time recognizing what I was seeing, I was in a constant zombie-like state and I was exhausted all the time. Train wreck for sure. However once I got past the initial surgery recovery, I really have only been left with one exterior side effect. Which is an occasional stutter. I actually did spend some time in speech therapy to try and work on this. When I was tested I actually scored just slightly over normal. I notice it all the time. However I think only people who knew me well prior to surgery can really notice it. Again, considering all of the other side effects that come along with brain cancer, I would say that I am pretty lucky. Although I constantly think I should have “played up” the side effect angle with people just to mess with people. As I know that right after I think people weren’t sure if I would remember them or not. They would look at me and be like “do you remember me? I am _______.” They would be totally expecting me to be clueless on who they were. I missed out on a lot of fun, by acting as if I had major memory loss and didn’t know who people were. What is interesting looking back, though, is that is the expectation people had of me after surgery. The expectation that I would have side effects and not be the same person as before. Point learned: give brain tumor surgery patients the benefit of the doubt after surgery, before assuming that something will be wrong with them.
I have mentioned the exterior side effects, however I think for me the larger side effects have been internal. Since diagnosis, I look at the world a little bit differently. My long term plans now seem to have about a 12 year life-span. My goals have shifted. I feel like some innocence was taken from me. Like someone took a little bit of the joy out of me. Its kind of hard to explain, but I would say that I am different now. One of the more challenging things for me has been work related goals. Not in that it’s overwhelming or more challenging now due to Goliath. I actually think that I have settled back into my job and can do it just as good now as I could before, maybe even better. I have not lost any capacities. I had a long term goals set in motion that I have been working for quite some time and now the 12 year time bomb has changed my outlook on things. Causing me to ask if I still really still want the same things I once did? A career used to seem like such a huge thing. As a man I think we wrap a lot of our identity into what we do and it can be hard to separate the two at times. I hold fast to the notion that, yes I do want to push for the same goals. Despite the 12 years – I have always vowed to be the exception. I do want to advance my career as I planned many years ago when I was in college, and started making some of my career decisions. I have always had other choices and opportunities, but I always seemed to come back to the same path that I am currently on. Which tells me that is the path I belong on. And I know that am going to continue on that path. I am going to try my best not to let Goliath alter things, alter my goals.
The other issue that comes up is how do you tell a new client that I am a CPA that has brain cancer. People work with me because of my brain, my knowledge, my ability to help them. However without my brain operating at a high level, I can’t perform my job. A fear of mine is that people will look at my ability to perform my job differently, because of Goliath. That they will see me as a risk or a questionable option. I think that is a natural reaction for people, so I can’t really blame them. Do you really want to hire a CPA with a disease in his head? It has been a challenge for me to figure out what to disclose and what not to disclose. Although if you look me up you can find my blog and things, so my brain cancer is not really a secret, but how to I deal with it in terms of my profession? I actually think this is going to be an issue I am going to be working through for a while.
One thing I do know, is that Goliath creates uncertainly, which leads to fear and doubt. That is what I would say my real side effects are. Fear and doubt. It has caused me at times to doubt my abilities, to doubt if I can and should chase my goals. To question if I am still capable of the same things I once was. This is something that never would have crossed my mind before Goliath. Doubt has reached my life in the form of wondering if I can achieve the fitness levels I had prior to surgery. Doubt that I can be the person that I once thought I could be. Being full of doubt is an extremely difficult obstacle to deal with I have to say. Its hard to always tell yourself to push through regardless, not worry, not to fret. But that everything will be OK, when you know that may not be the case. Doubt sucks.
It has also brought fear to my doorstep. Fear for my family. Fear for my two boys, that they will loose their father at far too young of an age. Fear that I will not leave my Family financially secure. Especially since, per the life insurance companies, I am not insurable anymore. Fear that I will start to have seizures once again. I am still climbing and I would be a liar if the seizure issue doesn’t lurk in the back of my mind at times. A seizure while lead climbing would not be good. Fear of what my climbing partners think as a seizure would most likely put them in danger as well. Fear that I will have to go back on chemo or radiation. Fear that if I have a headache, its the tumor. Fear that memory problems might be in my future. Fear and doubt, those are the side effects that I have been left to deal with. They may not be on the exterior, but they are even more frightening for me.
At first, I wasn’t going to write on Father’s Day. But after going to see How to Train your Dragon 2 at the movies, something changed my mind. I don’t want to be a spoiler for the movie, but I will say that it contains a sad moment (if you have seen the movie this connection makes complete sense). I got the report from Jessica that Cade had some tears rolling off his cheeks. After the movie, he pulled me aside and said “Dad, at the sad part in the movie, I almost started to cry.” (I didn’t tell him that we all knew that he really was.) The truth was that I was in the same boat.
I think as kids, we view Father’s Day as a time to make a card for our Dads, maybe see some family, and say the common line “Happy Father’s Day.” We don’t really understand the impact that our fathers have on our lives until we get older. I know that for me the impact of my Dad has lasted well beyond his lifetime. He was a teacher, a mentor, a coach, a friend, an example, a hero. He was a lot of things. But thinking back, the most important and lasting impact that I think he made on me was that he was not only present, but he was engaged in me and my life. I actually talked about this at his memorial service. He was always there. But not only was he physically present, but he was always engaged with what I was doing and what was happening in my life. I think its huge as a child to feel secure, to feel loved, to know that someone always has your back. That when the stuff hits the fan, you know that someone will be there to pick up the pieces. Probably my favorite story of this occurred when I was in college. It was right before a break, I was supposed to pick-up two high school friends who were both in school at nearby colleges in Oregon, and take them home. The night before, some friends and I went out to dinner. I was one of the drivers, on our way home, I got into a car accident. A driver made an illegal turn and collided with my car. Both the person riding with me and myself were unharmed, but my car (a 1986 Acura Integra, AKA Hot Wheels) was not fine. Back at the dorms, I called my parents and told them what had happened. I was fine but my car might be totaled. Then I realized that the next day I was supposed to be heading home, but picking up people along the way. Crisis. What am I supposed to do? My Dad rearranged his work schedule and took the day off. He drove down to pick me up, then made the 45 minute trek down to McMinnville to pick up Billy Ojeda, then we all drove to the University of Portland to pick up Amanda Kelley, then we made the trip back to the valley. It was about 12 hours of being in the car for him, and on a day off that he rarely took. But that is who he was.
He was the person who would give me information just as it was. While doing sports, I could go 0-3 in baseball with 3 strikeouts and my mom would tell me that I played great. However my Dad was the realist. Not only would he tell me like it really was, he would also talk about what I needed to do to improve and he would be willing to help me make it happen.
Some of my favorite moments were out fishing with him. We would go on vacation to a fishing lake in Canada each year. The two of us would basically spend just about the entire day out in a boat fishing. It was great. There would be moments of great fishing action, where we would only keep trout that were 16 inches or bigger. There would be times of great conversation. Times peeing in a bottle, since the fish were biting, thus we couldn’t spare the time to go in and use the bathroom. And there were times of just silence. Which was just as great. Sometimes silence is all we need.
I was taught to always do my best, no matter the circumstance. That not trying was something I should never accept. I used to be asked, why I didn’t just take over my Dad’s business. The truth is that he forbid me from following in his footsteps. However, I did spend a summer working for him after my freshman year of college, which was a great experience and lots of hard work, but lots of good father-son time. Following in his shoes was not an option for me. College was the only option he really gave me. However he was not able to see me graduate. Even when he was sick, he wanted me in school and to stay on track. He did know my career choice however. He was happy with my selection of becoming a CPA.
In looking back, I realize that we have shared some different, but yet very similar challenging experiences and unexpected curveballs. One thing that comes to mind is losing a friend as a result of alcohol. My Dad lost his best friend and business partner, Mike. M&M Floors was founded for Mike and Mark, which unfortunately turned into just Mark after Mike took his own life as a result of battling an addiction. Tough to lose a friend and your business partner. For me it occurred a few years after I graduated from college. My best friend from college and really the person who got me into climbing, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He had been out drinking and got on a motorcycle, he crashed and never got up again. I lived with him for 2 years at college, he was the person who taught me to lead on rock and place gear. He was taken too early for sure.
Cancer is another thing that we share. We have both been told that we have cancer and that our type of cancer has no known cure. That lifespans can vary, but we can’t “cure” you. We both have been through chemo. His was much worse than mine, so I can’t completely compare our experiences, but that is a bond that we share, It’s hard as its something that I can’t talk with him about it. I am not able to have shared experiences about feeling weak, being afraid, how hospitals really, really suck if you have to spend any time there. We can’t talk about the side effects and how to deal. There are some experiences that it sucks to share with my Dad.
So in past blogs, I have talked about how I found Jesus on a mountain. Through Young Life’s Beyond Malibu. I was on a mountain in the Canadian Coastal Range. I was about 6 months removed from being told that my Dad had terminal cancer. I held most of my anger and sadness in. To a point, where I basically just exploded on the trip. One of the days, we had some quiet time. I remember laying out on the side of the Mountain and asking that God would heal my father. I was asking for a miracle. The response I got was “David, your Dad is going to die, but you will be OK”.
My response: “But there is still a lot more that he needs to teach me. I am asking for a miracle here and I think that I am owed one.”
The answer: “He has already taught you everything that you need to know.”
When I reach a point in life, when I really wish I could seek his advice and counsel, that is what I come back to. Whatever I need to know, he taught me. My challenge is to figure out which lesson that was. So far it has held to be true. He did show me or teach me what I need to know. I reach back and think of my Dad in the same situation and ask myself, what did he do. That answer has guided my course of action. The part that is hard for me though is looking back at the parallels, I was 21. What happens if Goliath comes back? At 7 and 9, would God give my boys the same answer? Have I taught them everything they need to know?
Happy Father’s Day Dad!!
So my Mom will be retiring this year after 29 years working for the School District. Last Friday she had a retirement party that was wonderful and fabulous, a huge thumbs up to those involved with putting it together and for all of the people who came. It was lots of fun. I enjoyed seeing her as the center of attention, versus always being in the background. I thought I would share my notes I put together for my talk about my mom. Granted I went by memory, so what I actually said was different than this, but here are my notes:
First though, I have to be honest. Although this was the goal she set a couple of years ago for retirement, heading into this school year, I was pretty apprehensive about her being able to make this happen both from a financial point of view and from just an emotional-what is she going to do? Point of view. I was concerned that she would just turn into a house hermit. However so far, she has stepped out. Starting with a trip to Israel. Which is completely and totally out of her comfort zone. She is branching out and that is a wonderful thing. Which brings me to a challenge to all of you. The challenge is to keep her active and challenging herself to grow and experience life in new ways and new things.
Through her 29 years of working for the district, there was a small period where I was at a school that she worked at. For a few years (although I really only remember my sixth grade year) I was in the PAT program and so one day a week, they would have us ride a bus from Cherry Valley (Stillwater was built just after I had already moved on to Tolt Middle School). My mom was at Carnation Elementary. I would spend one day at Carnation a week. I would see her during the day as she would be in the office and sometime out at recess if needed. As the first few years progressed and I got to sixth grade, I think I was entering the period in which I was starting to be “too cool” for parents. Thus she would get a hello, but not much else from me. Even though should would get hugs and big hellos from my friends! What a wonderful son I was! But in times of need, I would forget about trying to be cool and she would be there to help despite my being too cool.
She started at Carnation and after Stillwater was built, school district employees could request to transfer to the new school. The District would then decide who would go based upon years worked and need. The reality is that she requested to move to Stillwater to be the assistant secretary under Jackie. She didn’t want the full responsibility. But cooler heads prevailed and her request was turned down and she then became the lead secretary at Carnation. Not knowing then that her path would ultimately still lead her to Stillwater. In a nutshell, she sort of ended up with a career that at first she never wanted.
So in first thinking about what I am going to talk about in regards to my mom retiring. My first thoughts focused on three words that describe her in both from a personal and professional view. Those words are Selfless, Endurance, and Dedication.
Selfless – My mom is probably the most selfless person I know. She qualifies under the thought process that most often, our perceived weaknesses are often simply the over usage of our strengths. So if she ever seem meek, that is just due to her amazing strength.
Growing up my parents never made tons of money, however Keri and I have both always commented on the fact that we never felt that we lacked something we needed, whether it be clothes, things for sports, etc. Most of that was because our mom made sure that we never lacked anything, she would go without so we could have what we needed. When you go somewhere in Duvall or Carnation with her, she is always stopped and someone always says Hi. That is because she has spent the last 29 years investing in people. She is a giver. And she doesn’t hesitate or shy away from that at all. And what is really cool is that even if it’s not convenient for her, she will still give. I would say that everyone in this room probably has a story about something she did, something she said that impacted them and it was something that she didn’t have to or wasn’t forced to do, but she did it and it changed them.
She is the person who is the first one there and the last one to leave. That is just how she rolls.
So when thinking of endurance, commonly people thinking of physically strength. But when I see my mom, I think of someone who has endured. She has been down a difficult road on several accounts, but continues to stay the course. Her Stillwater family has also walked with her on some of these paths. And for that I know I appreciate many of you who helped her through some difficult times and who still help her down some challenging paths. She is a women who has endured and continues to move forward with a smile and continues to give, despite the hard times. She has endured 8 principals during her time.
I thought I would share a story about Sue that maybe a few of you know, but probably not a lot. And it goes along with my word endurance. Although I have used this word to show that she has preserved through difficult waters, I want to share a story about her proving that she also can be super strong and amazing when needed. She can boast that she has survived a plane crash! A plane crash in the water. And a plane crash in Alaska, in the water. This was back in her younger days – I believe she was 17. On a summer trip organized through an organization through school. Her plane was going to Alaska. The plane ended up crashing in the ocean. She along with everyone else in the plane was in the water. A boat that was nearby. Not only did she manage to collect the bag that had the group’s information and money – as she was the group leader, she also managed to job out of the water and onto the boat, without Help! That is some crazy strength right there. To top it off, she doesn’t swim. Imagine, you are in the water, in Alaska, your plane just crashed, you are floating in the ocean, it’s cold and you don’t swim. What do you do? You make sure to grab the crash and then jump into the waiting boat! Right that it what you would always do in a plane crash. To this day she still doesn’t like to swim and with 3 grandkids that love to swim, I think it freaks her out at times. That just shows that she is a women with great strength and endurance.
I think this one is pretty obvious. My mom is the type of person who is truly dedicated and committed. She is fiercely loyal and has been to each and every principal that she has had! She will follow the company line, even if it seems crazy. I can’t tell you the countless times she stays later than her hours, especially before school starts. When she was at Carnation she would have Keri and I collating and stuffing welcome back packets during the summer. I have received several calls from her asking about how to complete the school’s budget or other financial questions. My response is always, wait a minute, why are you doing this? I don’t think it comes with your pay grade. The response is I have always done it and besides if I don’t do it no one will! That is dedication. She is an ownership person. Meaning if she is in charge of a task, she owns it and make sure that it gets done. She has been dedicated to being a Hawk for 20 years and now it’s time for her to turn to a new chapter in her life.
And as I said before, it’s time for everyone her to make sure this next chapter is full of fun, grow and adventures that will push her beyond her comfort zone.
Enjoy your new freedom Mom! You have earned it. Love ya!
So the start of this blog actually occurred a while back, towards the end of tax season. I had put in a 12plus hour day at work. My family was off enjoying the final weekend of spring break. I was heading home, driving, listening to Pearl Jam, of course, the song “Infallible” came on. (It’s on the album Lightning Bolt) This is the chorus of the song:
“By thinking we’re infallible
Oh we are tempting fate instead”
It made me stop and think. If there is one trait that I would love for my kids to have, that trait would be humility.
Here is what the dictionary has to say about the word infallible:
I know that I have been guilty many times of thinking that I am incapable of being wrong or making mistakes. Far too many times in my life do I think I know all of the answers, sometimes I don’t even wait for the question to be asked, before I provide the answer – the problem is that its my answer and not the answer. That is the opposite of humility.
I thought more about the concept of raising kids to be humble. I thought about all of the things that they now have to deal with, that I never had to growing up and I thought, man this will be challenging… My kids are growing up in a time in which it is all about me. When do I get mine! The newest craze is the selfie where we tell the world, look at me, I am awesome! Watch me, I am the greatest, I am above it all. I am like the great Icarus, who didn’t heed his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun and then plunged into the sea as his wax wings melted from the heat of the sun. He was humbled all the way to the sea and to his demise. Humility is hard to find in the world today.
Having coached many sports with my boys the last several years, I have found many kids are more concerned about their year-end trophy than playing and having fun. The key is the prize at the end, because I deserve the prize! Its not about the team, the accomplishments, its all about what belongs to me. That is not humility, that is not showing grace and class.
Then I thought of what first comes to my mind when I think of the word infallible. The first thing that came to my mind was the Titanic. A ship that was perfect, without flaw, the greatest of its kind. It was the unsinkable ship. Something that was made far before its time. Yet on its first voyage, it sank. The boat did not have enough lifeboats installed, simply because it was thought too great to sink, thus why waste the time installing something that will not be needed?
“Pay disasters no mind
Didn’t get you this time”
The second thought that came into my head was Lance Armstrong. He was a cancer survivor, a hero, a 7 time Tour de France winner, one could argue the greatest athlete alive at the time. He started a non-profit that has helped millions. (I actually have the Livestrong cancer journal and survivors guidebook- it actually is some really great materials) He started a huge trend with yellow bracelets and brought cancer to the forefront. He was considered above reproach for all of the good stuff he did. Yet in the end, the truth was that no matter how hard he tried to be perfect, the reality was that he was human: flawed and broken. And still even now when you hear him speak – recently in an Outside Magazine interview – he still sounds like he believes himself to be infallible.
“When progress could be plausible
In the verse we curse ourselves
By thinking we’re infallible”
I thought back to my past and thought about the times in my life where I felt really humbled. Some things raced through my head: Having to have my parents buy special pants for me in Little League because the largest pants provided by the League did not fit. They were a close match, but not exact. Trust me other kids notice those types of things. Humbling…. Getting shot down my sophomore year when asking a girl to homecoming – yea that sucks. Humbled… Losing my Junior year in the league wrestling championship finals – to a kid I pummeled every other time I meet him, expect when it meant the most and I was the overwhelming favorite. Humbling… Sitting on the side of a mountain, being told that my Dad was going to succumb to cancer, then realizing that I am weak and without faith in God I am nothing. Yes my concerns and issues felt pretty small in the presence of God. Humbled… Coming home after brain surgery and discovering that for a short time I had to have a bench and special shower head installed just to be able to take a shower. Humbling… Not being able to drive for 6 months because of seizures. Be 100% dependent on others to get from point A to point B. Humbled… I could go on for a while. But the point is that I could instantly recall many times where I was literally dropped to my knees due to things that showed me my real place in the world. I would like to think that I have always learned my lesson from experiences, but the truth is that I know that I haven’t. I know that I will be continually humbled, because I am human and for some weird reason, after some time will go back to thinking I have everything figured out and that I am always right.
So back to thinking about how I can teach my kids to be humble. I thought back to my Dad and moments where he was humbled. From when his body started to get worn down from years of laying hardwood floors, to watching him battle a knee infection that seemed to never go away, trying to quit smoking and failing multiple times, to seeing his business go through some pretty tough times financially, all the way to when cancer stripped him of most of his physical capacity. Although I watched those times in his life and saw this person, whom I looked up to, be humbled numerous times by life, I don’t think it was something that I was ever taught. There is a part of me that thinks Goliath isn’t done with his own lessons of humility for me. Its not a question of if, but a question of when Goliath will humble me once again.
It is hard to think about how to raise kids that are humble. For me humility is a lesson that I am continuing to learn through life’s experiences, not something that I was taught. I know that some day I will have to watch my boys think that they are infallible, think they are invincible and then I will have to watch them come crashing down to earth. I will have to be like Daedalus, the father of Icarus, who had the misfortune of watching his son pay the ultimate price for a lesson in humility. That thought in-itself humbles me.
“Our ship’s come in and it’s sinking
Of everything that’s possible
In the hearts and minds of man
Somehow it is the biggest things
That keep on slipping right through our hands
By thinking we’re infallible
Oh we are tempting fate instead
Time we best begin here at the ending”
One of the things I have realized is that the more I have jumped into the brain tumor world, the more I feel the tragic pain of loss. The reality is that brain cancer sucks, the stats are awful, there is no cure, and ultimately people die of this disease. I have found that I enjoy reading blogs and posts of other people who are brain tumor warriors. Through there writing and works, I feel connected to them as they have similar stories, similar fears, similar experiences. Social media, especially Twitter has open connections for me to find other Brain Tumor Warriors and learn about themselves, their lives, their struggles, their triumphs. These connections are important to me and strong.
Over the last few months some of these people whom I have become connected to in some way have lost their battles with brain cancer. Granted I don’t truly “know” these people, I just have a connection of some sort. But I see myself in them. I see my struggles, my fears, my doubts, my pain, my uncertainty, my frustration, my anger, my hope, the impacts on my family. In many ways their story is my story, which makes it hard when the magnitude of this disease sets in. I thought I would share a little bit about some of these courageous people and even some connections can have big impacts.
Tracey Clarke – So my connection to Tracey is actually through her husband Craig. In 2012, when I was going through chemo, I had a lot of time on my hands. I would be home and would go stir crazy. There is only so much Xbox or reruns of Friday Night Lights that one can watch over a one week period. So I started to get into Twitter. I quickly realized that you can gain access to a huge network of Brain Tumor Warriors, it’s pretty amazing. It provides lots of support, information and understanding. I quickly found that you could find blogs and other resources through twitter. So I did, I actually still follow and read several people whom I discovered via twitter. People who use either the hashtag #BrainTumorThursday or #BTSM. It was great to not feel alone or isolated and have an outlet to converse and discuss issues related to brain cancer. Craig was one of the first people to follow me back and send encouragement my direction. The real connection came early in the morning. I was on a chemo cycle. We were actually down in Sun River, Oregon near Bend. Despite still being in the worst part of a cycle, we decided to make the trip anyhow. The ride was hard to sit through; I had a bucket in the car, just in case! When we got there I was basically confined to the vacation house. I laid around for the first several days. My family went rock climbing at Smith Rock, went swimming at the SHARC and I just laid in bed. Sleeping was always hard for me when I was on chemo. I would be super tired, but had a hard time actually sleeping for an extended period of time. I was frustrated and mad, I was stuck suffering while everyone else was having fun. I was up, it was probably like 4 am, I couldn’t sleep, so I went onto Twitter and tweeted out an angry, chemo sucks type of tweet. Within a short period of time I received back a tweet of encouragement from Craig Clarke. He is someone that I don’t know, will probably never meet, he lives in Virginia, but at that moment in my life he sent me something that I desperately needed – a lift, a warm fuzzy to get me through that cycle. Sometimes in life things that seem so small and insignificant are actually quite huge. Craig’s wife Tracey past away in December of 2013, after a hard fought battle against brain cancer. You can find her story here:
Ed Elston - I had the pleasure of meeting Ed at one of the Seattle Brain Cancer walks, my connection to him was actually through his daughter Maria. I heard her speak about his battle at a Brain Cancer Luncheon in 2012. Again I was on chemo while attending the event. She was very articulate about his battle and the process by which they were making decisions and going about dealing with brain cancer. I soon realized that we shared the same oncologist. Her speech was one of the reasons that I jumped in headfirst to working with the Chris Elliott Fund and EndBrainCancer.com. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to have some kind of impact on others that are battling this disease. It was a moment of inspiration for me. Things sort of came full circle, as the following year, I was the one speaking at that same luncheon. It makes me realize just how small the world is and how some things work out in an amazing fashion. That speech by Maria, really jump started me to choosing to take a stand. Her speech was inspired through the love of her father and his battle with Brain Caner. Connect the dots and you find a connection. Ed also succumbed to his brain tumor this past December. Today Maria still battles on as a brain Cancer supporter.
Joe Northrup - Joe is someone that I never met. Several years ago I worked with his mother, Sue. Probably about a year ago I learned that she had a son that was battling brain cancer. I became friends with her on facebook and then saw that he had a website that shared information about his battle with brain cancer. I would check in on her posts and on a website created by some of his friends. I would see from time to time how things were going and how he was doing. I enjoy following up on those impacted by this disease. He did a funny standup comedy routine, something that he always wanted to do:
It made me laugh and brought some needed humor to the crap that is brain cancer. Its inspiring to see people still running down their dreams, even when things are bleak. Just from watching this and seeing updates on his website, I got the sense that he was a pretty cool dude. That he handled his cancer with courage and humor. Character is forged when stuff hits the fan, not when everything is going well. From my point of view, he for sure seems like a guy with character. He took his poor diagnosis in stride and moved forward with a smile, that is rare and hard to do. He is a young guy with a young daughter and wife, which makes brain cancer all that more painful. On March 3, he passed away peacefully after a six year battle. He had family and friends around and was at home. More information about Joe and how to donate to help out his family can be found here:
Despite not being directly connected to any of this people, I feel a sense great loss. Three great brain cancer fighters, all with their lives cut short, all having to endure difficult surgeries and long challenging chemo treatments. The truth is I see my own life woven into their stories, the impact on their families and loved ones, the pain on their children’s faces, the toll this disease takes on a person’s body and mind. I can tell myself that my tumor is different than theirs (which it is), that I am somehow different (not really), that I will have a different outcome (still to be determined), but in the end I am fighting the same battle: brain cancer. It makes me sad to see lives cut short and to see families in pain. I have found this to the be the difficult part of being involved with other brain cancer warriors, is that sometimes we lose great people.
Prior to my first seizure and revelation of Goliath, I was dealing with a difficult situation in my life. Some people who were extremely close to me, made some poor decisions that resulted in a breakdown of trust and left me feeling betrayed. These are the types of things that lead to bitterness. (See one of my recent posts for a deeper discussion of bitterness). I knew that this was not the path for me. The next step was forgiveness (again see my recent post on forgiveness for more information on how that process works). For me, the question I had was what’s next? What comes after forgiveness? In terms of dealing with these individuals, how do I act around them? What is our relationship supposed to look like? I didn’t have an answer that made sense to me. Often times I have heard people say “the bible says that we are required to forgive, but we are not required to reconcile.” I will be honest, I struggled with this statement as for me, the entire concept of Jesus, is that through him, we can be forgiven and reconciled to God. The reality is that we are all sinners, we all make mistakes, we all screw-up. But we have hope in Jesus, that even in our weakness and when we are at our worst, we can be restored and made whole. Through him we can be made into new creatures.
“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I kept asking myself, would Jesus ever forgive, but not reconcile? So I did some reading. Keep in mind that I am not some scholar, I am a CPA, a numbers guy, I am not a psychologist. In fact I am a person with brain cancer – so I am not an expert on this topic by any means. So upon my reading of the bible, I did not find a place where the bible directly links forgiveness and reconciliation together. However on the flip side, I did not find a place in the bible that says that the two are not linked. So I am not sure that I would agree with the comment that that bible says that we are required to forgive, but not to reconcile. Omission of something, in my mind, does not mean that something is confirmed.
The closest thing that I found was this:
New International Version (NIV)
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
New International Version (NIV)
Warning and Encouragement
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Basically from my point of view we are commanded to make every effort to live a peace with people to the best of our abilities. The truth is, when it comes to a relationship, it takes two people not just one. Our requirement is to fulfill our end of the bargain. But we are only one side of a two sided equation.
I view this as we are asked to try and reconcile, where it is possible. Now I will be frank, there are some times in which reconciliation is not OK, there are times when reconciliation should not be present. The most obvious case is abuse. In a relationship where abuse is present, forgiveness is not a good enough reason to reconcile. Safety must be present. This is critical, in an unsafe relationship, reconciliation should not occur. It may lead to a continued cycle of abuse, which is not right, nor how we are intended to live.
In my circumstance, abuse was not present, nor were their any issues of safety, it revolved around a lack of trust and betrayal. But I would argue there is a part of emotional and mental safety that is still important. As I went through the process of being truly able to forgive, I really struggled with the “what now” question. Now that I have forgiven these people, how am I supposed to act? How am I supposed to be when I am around them? This was a difficult situation for me. I knew that I need to have a buffer of emotional safety in future interactions, but what does that look like. If I am excluding these people from events and functions in which they were once welcome and then asking others to exclude them from events and functions all on my behalf, is that truly an act of safety? Or am I mixing in a little bit of punishment. I am using my need for “safety” as a justification for inflicting pain?
Granted we all have a price to pay for our sin, that is not something that forgiveness excludes us from . There are consequences that we must pay for our transgressions. However if we truly have forgiven someone and they have paid for their transgressions, I think that if we keep looking for ways to punish them, then we really have not truly forgiven them and we are fooling ourselves to think that we have really forgiven them. We can’t claim to forgive, but keep looking to punish. The two cannot coexist. That was my huge struggle, I felt like I needed to protect myself and be safe, but I had a very difficult time figuring out where safety ended and punishment began.
I knew that I didn’t want to be one of those people who would claim to forgive, but be out the next day speaking poorly of the people that hurt me or be the person who cited the virtues of forgiveness and the cross, but was still looking for ways to punish and judge the people who had hurt me. The truth is that as people at some point we will all screw up, we will all hurt someone deeply. I know that I have done it, and will probably do it again. I would like to live my life as Christ did, which means not being a hypocrite. I did not want to be like the pharisee in the parables of Jesus. Saying one thing, but then living another way. But at the same point I wanted to make sure that I was safe and would not open myself up to be deeply wounded again. I knew that I needed to reconcile, but how to do that?
One of the concepts that I thought about was the fact that forgiveness is provided by grace. Whereas reconciliation is something that is earned. The person who committed the offense does not need to do anything to be forgiven, but if they desire reconciliation, there are things they must do to earn it. They have a path to walk out, if they desire reconciliation. In some cases the offender does not desire reconciliation – they are not willing to walk the difficult path. In that case, we need to forgive, but their will not be any reconciliation, as again it takes two.
I came up with some ground rules for myself to follow during this process of reconciliation. Here they are:
1. Repentance: This is the first step. The offender must truly realize what they did was bad and truly be sorry for what they did. When my boys get into arguments, many end with me intervening and then asking one of them to say they are sorry for there actions. After one of them says they are sorry, a common phrase from me is “OK now say it like you mean it.” Too often we say that we are sorry because we are supposed to or because that is what is expected. But really we are just sorry that we got caught. We aren’t truly sorry. If this is how the offender feels, than their is no reconciliation. The first step, to me, is true repentance. The offender must understand the true depths of their actions. If this does not occur, then I do not think reconciliation should or could ever occur.
2. Change: This is the part of the process, if the offender truly wants to reconcile, then they need to seek assistance to try and fix the issue that lead to the problem. For example if someone is causing breakdowns in relationships because of an addiction problem such as drugs or alcohol. It is imperative that that person seeks assistance for their problem. I would also say that this assistance needs to be from an outside source. Too often we think that we can fix ourselves. But the truth is we can’t. If the offender is not willing to get help, then again I don’t think that reconciliation should or can proceed. In some cases, the change could be quitting a job or moving to get away from the temptation or influence that led to the transgression. It can be a lot of things, but it must be the active choice of the offender to resolve the underlying problem. They need to get to the root of the problem and get help in most cases that is beyond themselves.
3. Boundaries: The next step is the boundaries need to be developed and implemented. Boundaries keep us safe and this process is critical to the restoration of trust. Most of the time, trust is broken due to the lack of boundaries, someone crosses a boundary and it destroys trust. So to restore trust, boundaries must be made and the offender needs to respect and follow the boundaries. During this process the boundaries can be adjusted at any time if the offended deems it necessary. One key is that no matter how silly these might seem, if the offender truly wants to reconcile, they must respect and honor these.
4. Time: Time is key. The offender must walk out the above items over time. In many cases, that is not an easy task. The old rule of thumb is that it takes a few weeks to form a bad habit and months to break it. Trust works the same way. It takes years to build, but can be destroyed in a few minutes. Time is required to re-build that trust that was broken and so a path that the offender is willing to walk the walk for a while. Each person will have their own time table and in each case, time is something that can’t be rushed.
5. Expectations: This is important as well. The offender must be willing to walk out the above items without expectation of anything from the person they hurt. This is not a situation where a tit for tat mentality can be present. In some cases, trust may not be restored, despite the offenders best efforts. Also the truth is that no matter what, the new relationship will have new rules, new boundaries. It can never be the same as it was before. The relationship will forever be different. I am not saying that it can’t still be a wonderful relationship, but it will be different. It will have different boundaries, different rules. Thus both parties must know that things will be different and should not bring future expectations into the process. The only appropriate expectation is that the boundaries will be followed.
This the game plan that I have chosen to use. Granted it won’t work for everyone. But it has for me.
Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son. It is one of those stories that we have all heard. The son who asks for his inheritance ahead of time. His father grants his request and gives him his share of the family fortune. The son takes the money leaves home and then proceeds to enter into a life of friends, partying, and free spending. Soon he finds himself broke and rummaging just to find food. As it looks at stealing food from some pigs, he realizes that he royally messed up and decides to go home and admit his failures. He figures that he could be at least a laborer on his father’s fields and he would eat better than he is now. He realizes his folly, reaches a moment of true repentance. Then he makes a change in his life and heads home to is family. Upon his return, his father runs out to meet him and claims that his son was lost, but now he is found. His father could have met his son with anger and bitterness. He had ever right to be angry and upset. However his father greets him with forgiveness and reconciles and restores his son to the status of his son and then decides to throw a huge party to welcome him home. He could have allowed him to work in his fields and to live on his property again. Most would have found that an acceptable resolution. But no, the father restored his son, back to the status of his son. This story is in Luke 15 11:32 To me is shows what the process of forgiveness and reconciliation look like.
It is a process that takes two people working hard to make it happen. It is not an easy process and is something that for the most part, our society will not understand. Most will think we are crazy to offer forgiveness and reconciliation. Must we look to seek revenge and would want to continually extract payment from the offender. But to me that is part of what is so powerful about grace. It is something that we don’t deserve, yet it has amazing powers of love and healing.
Reconciliation is not always the correct course of action based on the circumstances. Nor is it an easy process when the circumstances are right for it to occur. But I can say that when the situation is safe for it to occur and it does the results can be pretty amazing. I guess I look at it like this: I know that at some point in time, I will completely screw something up. I will separate myself from God and Jesus due to my sin. When this happens, do I want a to have a Jesus that reconciles coming to my rescue? Or do I want a Jesus that does not reconcile? Do I believe in a Jesus who invites me back to his party, after my sin – assuming I am willing to change, or is Jesus one that only lets me watch his party from the outside, looking in through a window due to my sin? I know for me I believe in the latter.
So just how do you deal with Bitterness? The truth is that everyone probably deals with it differently. As for me, I think the first step to beating down Bitterness is forgiveness. We are called to forgive. I think the bible is very clear about this topic. Jesus was sent to be our sacrifice for our sins, our evil. He came to take the punishment for our wrongdoings. Through him, we are forgiven. It is free to us, it is through grace by which we receive this forgiveness, we do not deserve his forgiveness. It is strictly through grace. We are called to forgive others, just as we have been forgiven. To me this parable sums up this entire concept quite well:
New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In life, I think it is often way too easy to be like the ungrateful servant. We look for forgiveness when we fall short and totally mess things up. But when someone sins against us, it is often hard to turn and provide that same grace. It is easy for us to say to the other person, that they need to forgive others, but really, really hard when the offense is made against us to provide that same grace. We have been wronged and our human nature dictates that we should seek some revenge or that the offender must somehow pay for what they have done. But we are commanded to provide grace, to forgive. Anyone who tells you that forgiveness is easy, is a liar, its not. Plain and simple, it is extremely difficult. It is not a natural way for us to think or react. It is one of the most difficult things the we will be ever faced with.
Over the past couple of years, I have been faced with this challenge. I have been harmed, betrayed, and hurt deeply by those close to me. I had a choice to make. To forgive or to be bitter. I choose the path of forgiveness. It was not easy, in fact I would say that choice has been one of the most difficult paths I have ever chosen in my life. And a path that I am still walking each and every day. It is hard. At times it also sucks as you have to put aside natural reactions like rage, anger and bitterness. But I can truly say that it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Looking back I truly believe that without this choice, I would be consumed with bitterness and anger – but worst of all I would have been able to justify it all. That is what makes the path to bitterness so challenging. As you get deeper and deeper in it, your actions and its evil become easier and easier to justify – you are the one in the right, you are the one that has been harmed, thus you are not only OK to be bitter, but you are justified. Through this process I thought I would share some of the things that I have learned:
1. Forgiveness is not a one time thing: Most people think that once you have made the choice to forgive, that it is done, its over – you have forgiven. I don’t think this is true, I think it is a continual process. Sometimes it requires forgiving daily. I would forgive, but then the next day, those same feelings would reappear and I would have to do it again. Thus I think we should approach forgiveness knowing that it is a constant process, not a one time deal.
2. We will feel like we are the one losing: When we choose to forgive, we are giving grace, meaning the other person does not deserve our forgiveness, but we are giving it anyhow, despite what they have done. Yes we feel like the losers. I know I felt like I was the victim, yet I was the one that had to give something. Shouldn’t I, the victim, be the one who gets something from this ordeal? Yep, when you forgive, you feel like the one losing.
3. There are no Buts in forgiveness: Often times we forgive like this: “I forgive you, but you did something really, really bad.” That doesn’t count as forgiveness. Remember this is about grace, the sinner doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, but we are giving it to them, free from conditions. But’s are conditions. So if we forgive with a but, we are not really forgiving. Even worse, when we forgive with a But, we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that we actually did forgive, however, the reality is the but negates the forgiveness.
4. Not everyone will understand it: We live in a society that feels entitled, we should be compensated for anything and everything that has a negative impact on us. Forgiveness is counter-culture to the ideas that exist in our culture today. Not everyone will understand your choice to forgive. That is OK though, don’t expect everyone to understand because they won’t.
5. Check your actions: One common problem when we forgive is that we tell ourselves, that we forgive someone, we tell them and think all is well, but then in the next moment we are talking poorly about that person or spreading gossip about what happened. Our actions speak loudly, forgiveness didn’t happen if we forgive in one moment, but then talk smack in the next moment. Our actions need to reflect our heart and our choice.
6. It’s not about them, it’s about us: The main reason we are called to forgive is for us, only a small portion of the process is for the sinner. Its really about us and our heart and keeping ourselves free from anger, hatred and bitterness. We forgive to free ourselves from bondage, not just to free the sinner.
I think a lot of this can be summed up in a great quote from the Return of the Jedi, from Luke Skywalker to his father, Darth Vader ( a man consumed by bitterness, fear and anger)
“Search your feelings, Father, you can do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.”
That is why we are called to forgive, to let go of our hate, our anger, our bitterness and when we do, I think that we will be happier for doing it.