So it is finally 2017…2016 was a pretty crappy year here in my house as it was for many I know. In all actuality, even though we all say stuff to the contrary, we know that the new year is really just another day in the long line of days that is our life. Life has its ups and downs and sometimes those days are mostly good and we have a good year and sometimes it is the opposite. Perseverance is the key…perseverance and trusting that whatever comes God is on His throne and all things will work out to His glory.
We went back to the mountains for Christmas this year and while I was there I snapped the picture above one foggy morning. It is what remains of an old train trestle bridge spanning the South Holston River. It has always struck me: these small trees have persevered through severe weather only rooted into the crevasses of the stones. How they came to be planted there is anyone’s guess but they have held on for decades in those rocks.
The interesting thing about trees is that their strength comes from their growth rings; the tighter the rings, the stronger the tree. Rings are only close together in the years the tree has to overcome great stresses and thus grows very little; otherwise the tree can grow easily and the rings will be farther apart. The more stress, the stronger the tree and the more likely it will survive whatever comes its way.
It is easy to get caught us in the woes of this world, be it personal or global. I myself have problems not getting caught up in it myself. It is easy, especially in the bad years like 2016, to become downcast and sit in defeat, despair, and hopelessness. I for one have stayed there for far too long. Becoming this way leaves me catatonic in fear as life swirls around me. Life never stops regardless of our personal circumstances. This leads me to complete exhaustion and a complete lack of planning and prone to make major mistakes, and that perpetuates the cycle and lack to margin.
I have this icon of Saint Thomas that I keep in my wallet. I am unsure exactly of how it came to find its way there but I keep it there as a reminder that doubt and fear are normal but easy. It is easier to believe that nothing is going to change and have an “I’ll believe it when I see it” mentality. It is harder to take things on faith. The doubt and fear come from a place of mistrust, or at least, misplaced trust. I fear that XYZ will happen because I am misplacing my trust into myself and others and not placing that trust in the right place-with God.
Regardless if a child has a resurgence of illness or another financial disaster plagues this home, God is on His throne and all will be to His glory. It is laughable that I move my trust from the unfailing God to myself, a sinner and mistake prone human. It is laughable, but oh so easy to do. It is easier to misplace our trust into ourselves and others, that we can see and feel, and not place it where it belongs with God; because that requires that we trust the unknown.
Trials are of two kinds. Either affliction will test our souls as gold is tried in a furnace, and make trial of us through patience, or the very prosperity of our lives will oftentimes, for many, be itself an occasion of trial and temptation. For it is equally difficult to keep the soul upright and undefeated in the midst of afflictions, as to keep oneself from insolence and pride in prosperity.” ~St. Basil the Great
This year I have no resolution…no word of the year. There is no guarantee of tomorrow…or for the next breath, for that matter. Instead of living in fear I choose to trust in God. I choose to work toward my goals every day and no longer look at them as pipe dreams that will happen ‘whenever I get the time and money’ or ‘one day when I retire’. Most of all, I choose life..to live in the world as the creation of God that I am…because to borrow a phrase from the musical Hamilton, “Dying is easy, son. Living is harder”.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ ~ Luke 14:28-30
It has been a while since I have written here. Many things have come and gone…good and bad. In the end nothing much has really changed though. I still have my same job (didn’t get the promotion), Elliana and Josiah are still just as sick, and the doctors still have no certain diagnosis for Elliana. Everything else has come and gone…except my shingles those have come and decided to stay a month or two. It is interesting however to note that for one reason or another I have changed greatly. I’m not sure when it happened but I stopped caring so much, or at least not caring enough to act on every issue. Not in a bad way mind you but in a boundary setting way. I’ve learned to let things be where they are and not try and fix everyone’s issue.
At work this has meant letting things go until the person whose job it is to fix it deals with it instead of jumping in and getting it done because I know how. At home it has meant putting aside external factors and being a bit more lax on the chores to do in order to be more present and engaged. In all of this I have begun to care less and less about what people think of me because of it.
Thing is I grew up in a small mountain town where things move slowly and have for centuries. People take the time to slow down and enjoy the day to day and to help one another. This is a major juxtaposition to where I am living now. Here people, for the most part, are in a constant state of hurry and multi-tasking as they do it. I see it every day, people driving fast and erratic while texting or talking to one another while texting someone else. It is enough to drive you crazy but it is also easy to fall into that trap.
I am ashamed to say I fell into it myself. The cultural push to hurry and get as much done as possible and to be constantly connected to work/social media got a hold of me. I felt as if I was required to respond to those work emails on the weekend or answer that Facebook question/comment right away. I felt that pressure and I know that my boss helped encourage that mindset, she has been known to say ‘You are an exempt employee and I can work you however and whenever I want’. This added unnecessary stress to our already stressful lives.
For some reason I’ve snapped out of it, can’t point to any one thing that made me change my mindset but I have. Truth of the matter is no one will die or even be injured if some computer at the my work isn’t working. There is so many stressors in our life right now that we can’t control (ie.medical and financial) but I don’t need to add anymore stress to the mix. Most likely this added stress was the cause, or at least a contributing factor, in my shingles. Maybe so maybe not but I do know the more stressed I get the more it hurts and the least it has hurt me was when I was on vacation hiking in the mountains with my family.
This is of course the curse of technology. The internet, computers, and smart phones have given us great opportunities and advancements but they come at a cost…as do all things. We as humans, and I am a huge offender, have an issue with counting the cost of or actions before acting. I think this is a human trait and we have done it since creation (hello Adam and Eve) but I do wonder if it is more of an issue in this modern era. It seems that all our modern “conveniences” have given us an avenue to distraction and force us to make rushed and rash decisions.
Luke 4:28-30 sticks out in my mind when I think of this. There Jesus is speaking of the cost of discipleship but he gives the example of a man wishing to build a tower. He say who would not first count the cost and make sure you could finish it so you would not be ridiculed. This is also the verse that I point out when a new building project at a church begins. Sadly all too many times those churches have not made sure and come up short or had to borrow so much it put them in a financial hardships.
I am trying to change that in me at least. To do that however I must slow down and think things through. It is hard to examine a situation thoroughly if you are moving at 100MPH. The world will not end if I take the couple minutes to think. Of course also pivotal to this is to be rested. Making decisions while exhausted has never worked out for me and I dare say most people are the same. Of course this might explain some of my bad decisions. It is also important to note that it is vital that you accept and own your mistakes and work to learn from them. Look for the cause of the mistake not for an excuse for it…often times they are polar opposites of one another. One helps you to accept and heal the other breeds contempt and anger.
The fact of the matter is life is fragile and precious. Treat it with care and enjoy in all it has to offer…good and bad. My grandfather used to say ‘everything (happens) for a reason’ and that is true…even if we don’t know or understand that reason at the time. It is in that process of change from bad to good that I see God in the day to day. He does turn all things to good…we just have to pay attention. To pay attention you must slow down.
When you watch the old war movies every time someone is shot or is otherwise injured, someone near them yells MEDIC. We joke around our house when someone falls or gets a scrape to yell ‘medic!’ for a kiss of the boo boo. As much as this is a running joke in our family-recently there has been a more real and serious side in our house.
Our house is sick. I don’t mean the hundred year old house itself but those inside its solid walls. Last year it was the Elliana scare that finally came to an end with a Celiac diagnosis and after numerous rounds of iron infusions, an iron count worthy of a princess. Praise God for that news. The hematology discharge news cane while my son Josiah, who has dealt with bowel issues since his birth, was in the hospital for the third time. Since then he has been in the hospital for a fourth time and we have finally after years of testing got somewhat of a diagnosis. His colon functionality is non-existent naturally and with medication it is reduced from where it should be.
So what exactly does that mean exactly??? Surgery to place a cecostomy tube. The tube will allow medications to be delivered directly to the colon. IF his function comes back over time it can be removed but that remains to be seen.
While this last hospitalization for Josiah was going on I am having to work, because all of my vacation and medical time off has already been spent up with previous hospitalizations for both Ellianna and Josiah. While wrapping up the day my foot gets caught and I twist my knee. I am injured and have to go see my company’s Workers Compensation doctor who promptly puts me on a immobilizing brace and crutches. I go back today, after being on the isolation brace/crutches for two weeks, to see if a MRI is necessary to see if I tore anything.
Just when you think things can’t get any crazier my Beloved goes to the doctor last week about an issue with her nose and the doctors find 3 masses in her sinus cavity. Today she has a CT scan to see the extent of these masses and surgery to remove them is imminent. They, of course, are concerned that they possibly could be cancerous considering the history of melanoma in her family. So 2 surgeries for definite and 1 maybe (my knee) are in our future.
Sooooo…yeaaaaa…MEDIC…UNCLE….TRUCE…. Can someone stop the bus we want to get off. This makes the 4th time we’ve stared cancer in the face in our lives since 2006. (Me in 2006, Ellianna in 2014, Josiah in 2014/15, and now my wife.) The waiting for those results is excruciating and terrifying. I sat down the other day to map out the medical history alone and figured out we have been in medical crisis constantly since 2008…and that doesn’t take into account anything else during that time.
I know we will get through this. I know somehow we will see the other side but right now the tunnel is really dark for us both, and honestly I am squeamish about the light that everyone talks about ’cause so far all the lights have turned out to be another train. These years of roller-coaster and constant crisis have taken their toll on our health (ironically), financially, and honestly spiritually. I know this is not the plan that God has and He is the Great Physician. This will eventually stop…the question is when and what will the toll be to our family, our relationships, and our finances. Your prayers would be appreciated. (A dear friend has helped set up a Go Fund Me page if you feel so led.)
6 years ago today a tragedy struck our family. While away at a dear friends wedding a baby we didn’t even know we were going to be blessed with passed away. In the days past that we almost lost a wonderful wife and mother as well. Thankfully a very skilled and loving OB surgeon was able to save my wife’s life but there was no saving our precious child we never knew. We erected a simple memorial in a hidden spot on our property in the mountains a few weeks later and that is what you see above.
To this day that grief and pain is still there.Yes God has seen fit to bless us with 6 wonderful children and we a eternally thankful for that, but that does not change the loss we feel for the one we never knew.There isn’t a day that goes by that it doesn’t cross my mind. I have caught myself many times freaking out because it feels like I am missing a child and I count the heads and come up with 6 but that feeling of missing a child doesn’t go away…because there is one missing.
I’ve been talking and thinking about Stewardship a great deal recently. Stewardship is truly a work in progress. It is not something that is automatic. I believe at one point in time it was automatic but somewhere along the way the thought was not passed down from one generation to another. I know this is certainly not the case for me. My wife sent me a link to a blog post over at Charming the Birds from the Trees that I found both inspiring and a bit convicting. I have found Stewardship to be a difficult row to hoe. The thing is those things that are truly worth it are difficult and take investment. We are in a society of mass production and instant gratification. If we want something chances are it is out there had can be had quickly and cheaply. On the surface this appears like it is a wonderful thing… who wouldn’t want to have everything at their fingertips and cheaply at that. The problem is that the value of something is tied to the resources spent on it. Be that time or money. This is why things are cheap…we have perfected the manufacturing process decades ago then we add cheap materials and cheap labor and we have a product we can send out quickly to the masses cheaply. Problem is because it was made cheaply with cheap materials and labor it breaks easily or is not really usable as advertised. The company doesn’t care that just means you’ll go buy another one and they will make more money. This is actually an economic concept called planned obsolescence; where a product is designed to break or wear out after a set time…usually quickly. This low quality combined with the consumerism culture is taking its toll on us. If we want to admit it or not we are damaging ourselves and the earth. According to the EPA in 1960 88.1 Million Tons of garbage was produced… in 2011 that number was 250.4 Million Tons.* (to be fair thanks to concerted recycling efforts that number is slightly on the decline) Not including the environmental toll of manufacturing and shipping that alone is a huge increase in strain.
What is the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on. ~Henry David Thoreau
The environmental impact is an easy one to see but what about the silent erosion of ourselves…this is harder to see. As we diverge from the quality things in life and into the cheap (and I am not just speaking of materialistic things here) we lose the sense of value these things have. Speaking materialistically if we elect for cheap tools we will care for them less and less. They will be left out in the weather, fail to keep up proper maintenance, or maybe even become lost forever because what is the point…I can always get another “new” one for cheap. It is here, in this mindset, we loose the stewardship of the things we have. I can tell you from experience it is easier to take care of a $80 ax than it is a $20 one…it is worth so much more and is less replaceable (especially when you have to run all over town to find it).
Another unfortunate side effect has been we are exchanging real quality experiences for fake virtual ones. It was only a natural progression really…once we started replacing quality for quantity and real for artificial it was only a matter of time that we did the same with our relationships. With the invention of the internet and social media we have replaced meaningful deep relationships with shallow ones. Face to face relationships are becoming fewer and fewer with the majority occurring with our coworkers or other in our church. We have lost the connection to our neighbor. Social media is not all bad…I enjoy using it too (all be it sparingly)..it has allowed us to keep in touch with those that we are geographically separated from but it also has handicapped our relationships we are not geographically separated from. Think about it this way what is the point in asking that Facebook “friend” at church how their week has been if you already know. They may need someone to take the time to ask because they would never put in writing how their week really went for the world to see but the question never comes because it is already known or at least assumed. It also can lead us into a state of envy and discontent. If we are always concentrating on what everyone else has and dreaming of another life it plants that seed. (again speaking from experience)
Whereas social media is not all bad there is one cheapening of relationships that is. Intimate relationships are being replaced by their cheapened counterparts. Anyone in a real intimate, caring and loving relationship knows how hard it is. It takes work and vulnerability. So many are making the decision to forgo the difficulty and chose instead the “instant gratification” of pornography. Pornography has been there for years but with the technological revolution it has gotten so much easier to get…and secretly. No more is there a person checking the ID’s at the smut store it is an automated “I Agree I’m 18” button. Sadly more and more children are seeing porn even before they understand what it is. I am sad to say I was one of those children. I was 11 when I found the “stash” of dad’s dirty magazines. That would have been in 1993 today the average age is 8….8 years old. **
Porn is a drug with the same addictive properties (once again I speak from experience). It is a synthetic method to release chemicals like dopamine into our body and with the more that is released this way the more addictive it becomes. And like drug users it takes more and more to keep getting high. This often leads the person to change their behaviors and they begin seeking increasing more hardcore and taboo fixes. This spreads out into society and the addict stops seeing the women and men around them as humans and only sees them as pathways to pleasure. Pornography has the ability to destroy a marriage with its effects. ***
All of these things..from one extreme to another…have a similar theme and cause. They all stem from the disconnect from the value of the item…relationship…etc. The second we allow ourselves to see something or someone for less than what they are worth we begin to loose stewardship of that person, place, or thing. Sadly by the time we realize the importance and true worth it is often too late. Cue the Passenger music.
So what to do??? How to change??? I hate to say I haven’t figured that all out yet. I can tell you it requires a reboot. A reboot of thought. A reboot of the heart. I started with prayer honest vulnerable conversations with my wife and priest. I walked away from social media and really the internet (as much as an IT professional can) for a while, and when I feel that pull to look at my Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest I walk away for a while again. The smartphone makes that harder but I found the trick is to uninstall the apps and not take it to the bathroom…but make sure you carry a good book or you’ll be reading the shampoo bottle. I will tell you though all jokes aside it isn’t easy and the only way to change is through Gods grace. Trust me I’ve tried doing it on my own only to be left angry and frustrated. It boils down to where we direct our energies…as the old Cherokee story says:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
One final note to anyone struggling with pornography addiction there are places and people to help. A good start is Fight The New Drug or XXX Church. It isn’t easy but it is worth it.
Came across this quote by Wendell Berry. If you have not had the chance to read his writings I highly suggest you do. He is easily my favorite writer/poet.
“We depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”
― Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultura
August 8th has rolled around another year. For our friends a joyous and happy time…an Anniversary of their marriage… the day they began their life as one. We were there that day…my wife a bridesmaid just as the groom had been a groomsman in our wedding. Fitting for their friendship…a bond like family more than friend. On this very day…at the very same time…in the very same spot a child we never knew was there was lost. The days following were wrought with first confusion…for we knew not the source of the extreme pain my Beloved was going through…then fear…for there were almost 2 more angels in heaven had it not been for the skillful hands of an amazing surgeon…then sorrow…sorrow for the loss. That sorrow still lingers… for it never really leaves us. There are times when we are all out and I am counting heads… even though I count to 6 [and sometimes 8 if we are watching the cousins]… there still feels like there is one missing…there is. I have subconsciously laughed at that and ignored the real meaning… I suppose not wanting to admit the pain. We go on…day by day…and year by year. Never really forgetting. I know that God had a reason for this…a reason I do not know. Admittedly I have been angry at Him for it in the past…now I rest in the fact that there was a reason and one day…God willing…we will be made whole again.
A few years ago our world went topsy turvy. Things went crazy…lost a child…lost a job…etc. During that time something happened. Among the survival of putting one foot in front of another something inside was lost…slowly and unnoticed at first. I lost who I was.
I am to this day wondering who I am really. I mean I am James…I am an Orthodox Christian…I am a husband and father…I am a geek…but what lites me on fire…What drives me…What interest me? I am having to figure all that out. I feel like I’m going on a first date with myself some days but the problem is I’m too shy to tell myself anything I suppose.
Here I am 30 almost 31 grown up adult and I’m not sure about myself. Kind of embarrassing. I lived in the same area for 30 years and now I have moved far away from that place. Intentionally I might add. I am in a new place…a place to reinvent myself. I have no idea where to start or where it will lead. I feel most sorry for my wonderful beloved who has been at my side for all these years and now in some ways lives with a stranger. I’m sorry my beloved as soon as I know who I am I will introduce you…I’m sure you will love him…he is sure to be a good guy…if I say so myself. 🙂
Everyone wants that Disney storybook life. That life with one real trial that ends in finding ” prince charming” and living ” happily ever after” with the world right and easy…. but anyone in our near adulthood knows this never happens. Life is full of trials and pains… full of good times and bad. The luckiest of us find that ” price charming” (or in my case lovely princess) to spend our days with. Those not so lucky either brave life by themselves or share it with someone who is not an equal “partner” in life.
The thing is it is in us all to be a Prince Charming or a Lovely Princess. Everyone has the capacity to be the great husband/wife they are called to be. The fact is we are all princes or princess…we are all children of the King and made in His image. The unfortunate thing is we let the stress and clutter of life cloud our lives. As a society we are so busy and so stressed…constantly running around and living a complex and stress filled life.
Science has proven that when a person is in a state of constant stress they have a tendency to revert to their most quirkiest behaviors. This means is you are an introvert and tend to avoid conversing in social situations under constant stress you have a tendency to basically shut down and not talk. You will basically shut down and simply go through the motions of life. If you have a tendency to be outspoken and opinionated under constant stress you have a tendency to become overbearing, bossy, and hateful. We all have this tendency and at times these bad traits come out in all of us but when this behavior becomes constant and continuous there starts to become problems (been there,done that,got the T-shirt…trust me not a good place).
We must guard ourselves and our families against the threat of constant stress, clutter, and busyness. These constant pulls to be constantly connected, to always strive and work for better stuff and “keep up” with the best leaves us tired and spent. There is some stress we can’t control or have at least little control over…these are situations to give to God and trust in Him (still working on that myself)…but creating stress by busyness and excessiveness (if that is even a word) is dangerous to our lives.
The science is there to show how stress affects our health and relationships…but this has been know for centuries. It is not a new problem…it has been there since the beginning and warnings are even in the Bible. There are warnings to not stress about the future (Luke 12:22-29)…we are told to take all cares to the Lord (Philippians 4:6)…we are even advised to lead quiet simple lives (1 Thessalonians 4:11). It has always been know that constant stress can affect our physical and mental health negatively yet we do it anyways… believing the lies of the demons that if we only did more things would be better…happier…more fulfilling; and sadly some people believe this their whole life and wake up near the end of their days and see what was missed.
And now a specific word to the men out there (myself included because I struggle with this as well)
It is time as men of faith to stand up for our families…time for us to make our wife and children our priority. It is time for us to be an Ephesians 5 husband (Ephesians 5 25-29)…to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Sacrificially putting aside our own selfish (and childish at times) wants and desires for what is best for our family (1 Corinthians 13:11).It is time to not take the easy out and escape to work when our wife and kids are sick…it is time to stay and hold the puke buckets and nurture our love ones as best we can.
The hardest thing of course is knowing what to do…what is really best for everyone…that is where we must pray and seek wise council. It is imperative that we have that wise council. It took me years to find that wise biblical council and was not till I began attending the Orthodox church and met Fr. Steve and Sdn. Ephriam that I found this (but that is a whole other post). As husbands and fathers we must do right by God and our wife and children. Trust in the Lord and he will lead…It is scary I know…I have days I get scared of the future too. As I said earlier this is something I struggle with to this day…I am in no ways have it all figured out…If I said or thought I did I would be lying to myself and you. It is only by God’s grace and guidance and the forgiveness and steadfast love of my wife that I even come close to doing what is right.
If you are married strive to be that husband you are called to be…if you have yet to meet that special woman study and learn…learn what you need to become…stay pure and whole for that soul mate God has made for you…prepare yourself for the time you become married. Be the man you are called to be no matter what situation you are in. Those times where you are uncertain of the future…when you are scared of what is going to happen…pray to the Lord with the confidence that He will guide and deliver you from any evil. Pray to Him knowing his truth and know that nothing can really keep you from His love and truth. Here is a prayer I use during those times; I did not write it (not sure who did) but here is where I got it. There are many prayers there that I have found helpful. Maybe you will find them as helpful.
O Lord, You who steadied the hand of Peter as he began to sink on the stormy sea, if you are with me, no one is against me. Grant to me the shield of faith and the mighty armor of the Holy Spirit to protect me and guide me to do Your will. The future I put into Your hands, O Lord, and I follow You to a life in Christ. Amen
As today is the first and everyone is putting up the things they are going to take up this year I am not… I have decided this year I need to cast off more than take on. I am going to cast off many things about myself that I either don’t like or is completely unhealthy. Here are a few that I am willing to share.
– Fear: I am going to cast my fears aside. The fear of the future…where I will live next…where am I going to get the things my family needs…what is going to happen to me. I am not going to harbor that fear anymore. My life is the Lords and he will guide and take care of us. It is not my place to be concerned with the future only to trust in the Lord.
– Anger: I am going to put aside the anger inside of me. Not even really sure why this anger is here but it is. Anger is not healthy to anyone and it is time it packed its bags.
– Pride: I was raised in a home where pride was king. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much unhealthy pride I had. How it was so normal that i never saw it for what it was. Pride is the root sin and is thus the most dangerous.
– Evil Thoughts: Everyone has them…they are those nagging thoughts in your mind saying you are a failure…you are ugly…you are fat…you are never going to do anything right. Those evil thoughts that the demons use to bring you down. They use them to try and separate you from God. They have always been there in my head telling me how much of a loser I am and how I will never amount to anything really worthwhile. They are lies…they are dangerous evil lies. God loves me and has a purpose for my life. And I have a loving wife and 6 loving kids that believe in me and encourage me.
These are a few things that I know I need to change. Casting off of the old and forming anew. Scarry proposition for me to be honest but then again I am casting fear away. 🙂