Miles to Go… Promises to Keep

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

— James 5:12 NASB

It’s been a while since I have written anything down, whether it is in this blog, or song lyrics, or even a nice long email for that matter. Truth be told, this is the hardest thing in my life. The pain of losing Joelle is nothing short of waking up almost every morning to one more day of feeling my heart being torn to pieces as soon as I walk down the stairs not only to see that she is no longer here, but realizing that she will never be around physically, won’t be calling me, or won’t be leaving me any emails, or post-it notes on the door. This isn’t even the hard part. This has only been the first four months. In fact, these first six months may be easier to get through, than the next six months, when all of the birthdays, anniversaries, and even remembering all of the summers we would be spending together photographing countless weddings and spreading our own brand of craziness, happiness and love to the countless wedding couples we had the opportunity to meet.

So, in short, I have been battling not only emptiness and heartache, but also depression for the past while, and to be honest, the hardest battle with depression was not knowing that I was depressed until I sat down and read all of the symptoms and discovering that I had all but one – physical issues. The only reason I didn’t suffer any of the physical ailments was more due to one of the many promises that Joelle had me make to her before she died. Joelle knew that this was going to be the hardest thing for me and she wanted to make sure everything was going to be okay after she was gone. She also knew that I was always trying to be a person of integrity. As to how I am doing is up to God to judge. But one thing that she was certain was if I said that was going to do something, or not do it, then I work my hardest to keep my word, regardless of whether it was an vow, oath, promise, or a simple “yes” or “no”. Therefore, she knew that would I not only take my promises very seriously because if I broke them, anything else that comes out of my mouth would be worthless, but I would not want to ever break the heart of my best friend. Ever! And in her fragile state as she was, I would make them to give her the peace of knowing that every word I gave her, I would keep after she was gone. As well, I know that the weight of the promises that my kids made to Joelle are often more than they can handle. Therefore, as a dad and someone who has always been seen by others as leading by example (I am not making this up), I have to show them that I am keeping my promises, no matter how difficult it is. If anything, through the depression, and everything else, it has been these promises that were made that push me through. They’re more or less like my survival goals that I keep my eyes on to help me get through every day.

One of the promises that Joelle had to hear from me was that I would not turn to alcohol or drugs to solve my problems. I’ve sure that many of you are thinking, “he’s not an alcoholic” or the like. Truth is, and if you have read my testimony, I was a teenage alcoholic. I had used alcohol and drugs to try tro kill the pain of growing up with dealing with the death of my father and my mother re-marrying to a man that had absolutely no desire to be a dad to someone like me. It was hell. There was no pleasure in it. Just an escape from a painful reality. Joelle knew what I went through and she stuck with me, never giving up on me, and I haven’t abused alcohol or drugs since turning 20. Joelle knew just how hard it was at times for me to be strong when she was suffering with cancer as I would wind up breaking down right in front of her, having to apologize for the fact that I was often not as strong as we both hoped I would be. The good thing is that we would both pray together and she would pray for God to give me the strength I needed. So, I don’t blame her one bit for wanting the reassurance that the road we traveled together for 36 years would not see me winding up back in a bottle. Trust me, the temptation is great sometimes, but God has been greater.

Speaking about God, Joelle wanted to make sure that I would not turn away from God’s Word and made me promise that I would finish the Bible Study class that we started together. This one is harder than the alcohol promise because I will admit that I am very angry at God at the moment. Joelle and I had always looked forward to growing old together and doing many things. That’s one of the driving reasons to have our kids when we were very young. People thought we were crazy, but we knew what we wanted and we knew what we were doing. Okay, perhaps the latter statement is more like, we were crazy enough to follow through on what we wanted. We talked about seeing the world together after our kids grew up. We were even starting to prepare for such adventures, honing our photogrphy skills that we built up from doing 13 years of wedding shoots and her countless baby shoots. Joelle was an amazing photographer and artist in her own right and she had hundreds of thounsands of pictures behind her to prove it. It was an extremely sad day witnessing her life coming to sudden stop. All the plans we made are nothing more than a fading ember now. So, naturally, I feel cheated and robbed. I am angry at the loss of my best friend and I feel lonely and empty inside, hoping for God to fill it. Yet, with what little faith and hope that I have left, I am keeping my promise to Joelle and continuing with the Bible Study class.

Along with my spritial well-being, she made me promise that I would take care of my physicall well-being. Aside from the no alcohol and drug abuse, she made me promise that I woudl continue to take care of my health in the manner which I had started after I was forced to stop training in Karate due to a knee injury, which was miraculously healed 10 years later by God and a wonderful surgeon after having to have emergency surgery to reattach my quadricep muscle. During that time of not training, my weight shot up 30 pounds and I became a type-two diabetic risk. In fact, my doctor was about to declare me a diabetic. I was determined not to go down that road and took matters into my own hands and worked hard to turn my body back from that path. In keeping with this promise, I have not only managed to drop my weight back to my martial arts days, but I also working on building muscle. This has been one of the primary promises that have helped me steer through my depression. Not to mention that I feel so much better physically in my fifties than I did in my forties. So, hopefully, that will be a prime motivator to keep this promise.

Another important promise was music. She always knew just how much music was esssential to my life as oxygen. She made me promise that I would focus on music during this time of grief. I lost a lot of the motivation to not only work on music while she was sick, but to even pick up a guitar. Anyone who knows me, knows just how much I love to play guitar. So, something was wrong if I didn’t even want to pick one up. Now, however, I am no longer Joelle’s caregiver and my time is about as empty as my life. Joelle wanted to make sure that I would get back to doing the things I loved doing. To be honest, it’s hard. Sometimes I feel like I have to force myself into the studio, regaining the will, desire and appreciation for music like I had before. I knew how much Joelle loved to sing and she would sing even when it was physically imprssible for her to do so. I would hear her singing of her love for God, even in the face of death. So, if she had a reason to sing, there shouldn’t be any reason for me not to put the love that God has given me for music back into music. It has gotten easier, and I have starting working on some songs that I started before she was ill, with one to be posted online soon.

And on the subject of music, she made me promise that if I go out there and happen to see a guitar that I really like, I wouldn’t fight with mself about the price. She kept telling me how life was way too short and I shouldn’t waste it worrying about petty things such as the price of a guitar. She honestly didn’t have to tell me just how short life was, especially one as beautiful as hers. She just wanted me to find some happiness for the rest of mine. It sometimes hasn’t been easy as I am not one for spending money recklessly. I found myself walking away from instruments that felt so right in my hands and fighting with myself about it, only to come back two days later to buy it, remembering the promise I made. Joelle’s brother, Max, has often told me that we don’t choose the guitar, but the guitar chooses us. He right. Even Joelle knew that I never just buy a guitar for the sake of buying a guitar. Throughout our lives, she knew that when i found a guitar that just felt so right in hands and I would ask (almost beg at times) to get it, she never said no to me and would often encourage me to get it because she would see me struggle over the price and wonder if I was doing the right thing. She saw more than the guitar. She saw my love for music through it and perhaps my love for music now may help in stopping from my heart from dying.

There’s another promise that I have yet to keep: Joelle made me promise that when I find that special guitar, I would get her picture put on it so that when I am holding the guitar, I am holding her close to me as well. One of the guys at work showed me a better idea which was to laser etch her image onto the wood of the guitar, after the guitar I had found has a natural wood finish, as opposed to a lacquer finish. After working so hard at keeping my other promises, I do not plan to break this one. All it takes is for me to break one promise for anything I say after that to be worthless. I will find a way to keep it and find a place that does this.

After all, this was my best friend we are talking about.

2016: My Walk to Remember 

Everybody dies… but how many people live?

William Wallace (Braveheart)

When I look back at 2016, I really find it hard to say that it was one steaming pile of crap. Yes, I will say that the time between getting the news that Joelle was terminal because the cancer was so aggressive right up to her passing in November were not happy times, they were indeed joyful. Yes, focusing on Joelle’s death can indeed make 2016 look like a pile of suck, but there is one thing we all need to remember about 2016: Joelle lived more in 2016 than most people I know do in their entire life.  

As soon as Joelle discovered that her time here on earth was limited, the first thing that we did was plan a trip to Cuba where we would make our decisions, or more to the point that she would make her decisions and I would stand right beside her, supporting her, right to the end. Every decision was made with a drink in hand. This was blogged in Life’s Moments and Pina Coladas which I wrote sitting by the pool on my BlackBerry. I remember her saying, as we were sitting in a beach chair facing the ocean, “I’m going to live!” This wasn’t a deluded statement meaning that she was suddenly going to be cancer free and we would grow old together. I knew what she meant: she was determined to not take each day she had left for granted. She was determined to squeeze every bit of life out of what was left in that bottle. 

And she did, right up until the day she died. 

Anyone who knew Joelle, knew that Joelle was all about family. She was in Alberta visiting our daughters and grandchildren more times than ever, maximizing every moment she could. She even cashed in her RRSP, and set up what would be her final trip to the mountains with all of our children and grandchildren. She went to Israel to see her family there, and they gave her a party and everyone come to be with her. When Joelle started to get worse and traveling got limited, she held parties here. There were people who traveled to Guelph just to be at her “Celebration of Life” party in July. When the doctors were no longer sure if she would make it to October for that mountain trip, countless people made it possible for her to celebrate what would be her last birthday at Great Wolf Lodge with all of our kids and grandchildren as well as Joelle’s brothers and sister and their families. Joelle wouldn’t back down, after that. She was determined to make it to the mountains for that final time to be with her kids and grandchildren, and that determination paid off. We all went and had a great time there, despite the difficulty for her to travel or even pack a suitcase. 

We also can’t forget our kids and grandchildren that flew out here when Joelle wasn’t able to go out there. Cassidy and I had some great tines this summer going places such as East Side Mario’s and having some quality grandfather –  granddaughter time. Not to mention Connor being here as well as all of Margot’s children. All of them gathered around Joelle this past summer. So there are plenty of joyful moments and Joelle squeezed every moment she could.

Even up to the end, everyone who knows Joelle knows that Joelle was Joelle right up until the final day. She was barking orders at me, even if she couldn’t speak. She was laughing, trying to sing out her love for God which made me melt. Bottom line is that Joelle lived.

So while I am sure that no one would blame me for wanting to watch 2016 become nothing more than a glowing ember, I am not going to say that 2016 sucked. If anything, it was more like one of the tear-jerker movies that Joelle and I would watch and cry over when the main character dies at the end. And I will not deny that there were plenty of great scenes leading up to it. 

The Greatest Gift You Can Give

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;  naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?  And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?  When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:35‭-‬40 NASB

For the longest time, I had always wondered that if Christmas is such a joyous holiday, why are there so many people suffering from depression during this time? Unfortunately, I got the answer this year in a way I had never in my life hoped to receive. I found out in the worst way possible. I can go as far as to say that I have been put in those shoes and am living it, and I certainly didn’t believe that life would be like this two years ago. If you’re like me two years ago, just try to imagine the future holiday celebrations without the person or people that you hold extremely close to your heart. In no way am I trying to scare you. I’m just telling you just how uncertain life really is and tomorrow is not guaranteed for everyone. I am obviously not the first person to get the answer the hard way and I unfortunately won’t be the last.

So, now that I managed to hit you with a little bit of holiday pain, with sincere gratitude that you let me, what can you give anyone who is suffering in what is supposed to be a joyous holiday? Not just me. There are plenty others around you if you are willing to look around not with the eyes in your head, but with the eyes of your heart. You might be thinking, “Oh, I’ll just buy them something special.” Well, I hate to tell you this, but that won’t make anyone feel better. You see, that is the way the world wants you to think. “Buy someone a gift and everything will be alright” is one of the biggest lies that Satan could ever unleash upon this world, and yet the world laps it up like a thirsty dog at a water bowl. Commercials everywhere telling people they deserve something for Christmas, whether they buy it for themselves or get it from someone else. And if that doesn’t make you happy, then you need something else because that is guaranteed happiness. Guess what… it isn’t. In fact, stuff doesn’t fill you with happiness. It just makes you more empty, because the more you have, the more you want. Honestly, there is nothing you can get me that I could not get for myself and I wouldn’t be happier if you got it for me than if I bought it.

So where am I going with this? It’s simple, really. There’s only one gift that you can give a suffering person that lets them know you really care: spending time with them. It’s the one thing we treasured most with the person who meant so much to us. We’d give up almost everything for just one more day with them. In a way, I was grateful to receive this gift of knowledge in the last few months with Joelle, knowing that no amount of money or anything else I could offer for that matter would bring her back so it was spend every day I could with Joelle before it was one day too late. And even after she was gone, all of the people who would come and just sit with us while we were in mourning was one of the greatest gifts they could ever give to us. Some of them would try to find the right words only to discover that there are none, and yet we didn’t care because all that mattered was that they were with us. Others would ask if there’s anything they could get you, when all that really mattered was just them sitting with us. Some people made the journey from Waterloo to Toronto just to be with us. Many of them would just sit and listen to us talk. They would listen to me tell story after story about Joelle. That to me was worth more than anything else they had in their hands when they walked in the door. Even at this time, if you came over and you just watched a movie with us, and said nothing during the entire visit, it would mean more than anything else because you were there. Recall that I said in my previous blog post that true love is giving everything you have without any expectations of receiving anything in return. Spending time with someone is telling them that you truly love them because you are giving them everything at that moment knowing that you will never be get that time back.

So, if you are looking to give a suffering person something special for Christmas or Chanukah or whatever you are celebrating, then it is time to get off the social media and get more social. Trade Facebook for face time. More greets than tweets. Stepping out of MySpace and visiting someone else’s space. I’m sure you get the picture by now. Go visit someone and give them the gift of your time. People are suffering this time of year not because they don’t have something. We’re suffering because we don’t have someone. It’s usually that someone who could make our day brighter than the most sunniest of days. They made the celebration that much more joyous. Yes they are deeply and sadly missed, making it real hard to even want to celebrate. However, your time is what helps us through these once joyous, but now difficult to celebrate holidays. It just might help us rediscover the joy of celebrating once more, and give us the strength to face a new season just as those we deeply miss would want us to. It gives hope to those who have lost their hope. And don’t think that you have to do something or say something to make things better. Just being there takes care of all that. And even if you have a hard time seeing their appreciation, believe me, they are very appreciative even if it doesn’t show. 

You might not think that you are giving much, but to those who are suffering you are giving a lot. 

Learning What Love Is and Isn’t 

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NASB
 

As I face what is clearly about to be the worst days of my life, walking the body of my wife, my best friend, to its final resting place, I am holding on to the love that Joelle and I shared throughout our thirty-six years of knowing each other. I can truly say that it is that love that is the greatest gift in my life and I am so grateful to have experienced this love. 

One never forgets their first crush. When I was eleven years old, I admittedly had a mad crush on a girl, who I will simply call Andie. Despite thinking at the time that I was head over heels over her, Andie told one of my friends that I didn’t know what love is. Being as young as we are, talk about someone who seemed wise well beyond their years. It was true. I really didn’t know what love was at the time, and it has taken me a lifetime so far to figure it out. While there are a lot of things that I my relationship with Joelle taught me what love is, there are also a lot of things that I have learned what love is not. 

I have learned that real and lasting love takes time. In fact, it takes lots of time. Television and movies have us believing that we are able to find true and long lasting love in the course of two hours, if not less. Is it any wonder why the divorce rate is so high? Joelle put a decal on the wall in the front hallway of our house that every one of her wedding clients would see when they first walked into our house. It read:

Love at first sight is easy to explain. The real miracle is when you are able to look at each other the same way after twenty-five years. 

I can say that after all of the years, I didn’t just look at Joelle the same way. I looked at Joelle with far more love than when I first fell for her, and I fell for Joelle far harder than ever. There were a lot of events in our lives. Plenty of great events, such as witnessing the birth of all of our children. Also, plenty of not so great events, and periods of struggle. I stood by Joelle as she was finding herself through her many businesses and eventually standing beside her in one of them. Did we fight? Oh yes! Some were doozies. But the one thing we learned to do was not run away. At the end of the day, we ran to each other. Throughout all of the things we went through, my love for Joelle grew stronger day by data . My love for Joelle was far more than a movie. It was a journey that we shared together.

I know that we shared true love when it got put to the test for the last twenty-one months we would ever be together here on this earth. 

First, with my leg injury rendering me immobile for 10 weeks. I felt so helpless and never found myself depending on someone to take care of me for almost every chore from the simplest such as preparing my meals to the dirtiest such as embarrassing bathroom assistance, Joelle did it and never gave it a second thought. I felt so bad feeling that she had been reduced to doing these duties that I was so dependent on. Joelle just looked at me and said, “for better or for worse”. I could almost feel my heart melt. She even made my first time being able to go out of the house a momentous occasion, driving me down to Hamilton and putting me in a wheelchair and taking me to see Robin Mark in concert and meet him after the show. We even celebrated beforehand by going to The Keg and when they asked if we were celebrating anything, she excitedly said, “we’re celebrating his first time out of the house since his injury”. It made me realize all of the amazing little things she did for me throughout our lives together. Not to mention all of the amazing things she ever did for our children. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, she went so far out of her way all because of love. She never questioned it and she never walked away no matter how tough the moment got. 

Then the worst happened: her seventeen month long battle with cancer. My heart sank to the pit of my soul. I cried endlessly wondering how the hell could someone so giving and selfless be inflicted with such a punishment? I felt that I deserved it, and not her. With a strong resolve, I swore that I would never leave her side. I would stand beside her in her fight, no matter how tough, not realizing just how tough that battle would be. I went down with her to her first few chemotherapy treatments. Then it got harder. I saw how sick she was getting from all of the poison running through her body. Her two surgeries, one planned and one unplanned, were nothing short of heart wrenching. Late nights at the hospital and traveling home at 3am, because I wanted to know that Joelle would be resting and would be okay before I would make that 100Km trip. In time, the duties increased because of the surgeries and chemotherapy. I had to start learning new duties as I promised her that I would be her caregiver and take care of her no matter what. I started realizing what love was all about. Real love is giving without any expectation of receiving anything in return. It was that same giving that Joelle gave to me when I was helpless. I found myself doing wanting to do anything for her so willingly and without any notion to question or complain about what needed to be done. I gladly took on more and more as I saw Joelle was able to do less and less. I remember her crying, apologizing for putting me through this and I kissed her and said “for better or worse”.

“For better or worse” became a familiar phrase that I held in my heart. While I hoped deep inside that things would get better, reality was that things were getting worse. Yet, the worse things got, the more I wanted to ensure that she would be happy and comfortable. Despite feeling overwhelmed and starting to need a bit of respite time, I didn’t really feel like my needs mattered because I would eventually be faced with all of the free time that I never wanted. I wanted to have as much time with her and be the husband I wanted to be. I felt that this was my last chance. At this point, love meant being sacrificial. It boiled down to what I was willing to give up for the woman I truly loved. Personal music time had to be put aside along with changing a few routines. I used every vacation day from work to spend as much time as I could with Joelle. Even in the face of a company policy change of turning one of our Christmas break days into an unpaid day unless we applied a vacation day to it, I chose to use that day for spending with Joelle, because a day with Joelle was far more valuable than a day’s pay and I would totally regret trying to cut my time with her in order to save some money. If anything, I wanted to be with her as she celebrated what would be her final set of goals, regardless of what it would cost. 

True love isn’t about butterflies and fairy tales. True love is sharing both life’s triumphs and trials. True love is unconditional love even when the one you love feels unloveable. True love is about the willingness to stand beside the ones that you love as they suffer and suffer with them. It is about giving them everything and expecting nothing. It is about doing the jobs you swore you’d never do, and not give it a second thought. It is about never leaving their side no matter how tough the battle ahead is. It is about walking with them, and possibly carrying them, right to the end, even if it means carrying the pain of knowing that you will never be able to look at their face, other than a picture, or hear their voice outside of a recording, or feel a daily 20 second hug. Love is keeping the promises you made, even if you secretly hoped you wouldn’t have to. And anyone that believes that love doesn’t hurt has never fully experienced the feeling of their heart being ripped in two as they say their final goodbye, or the empty void that was once filled with their presence that lit up even the darkest places of your heart. If you think all of the above sounds like a lot of pain, think again. It is the most beautiful experience one could ever have. 

So yes, I learned what love is. I experienced love in its truest form and I am grateful to God for it. My love experienced with Joelle had taught me how God must have felt when Jesus died on the cross. Not to mention how much God loved me enough to sacrifice His Son on the cross. To me, it is a love so beautiful and probably only happens once in a lifetime. However, if you ask if I would ever go through everything that I went through all over again in the name of true love, I probably would because true love is worth it all.  

What do I ask for?

… You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

–James 4:2‭-‬3 NASB

I will be the first to admit that this passage in Scripture troubles me. There are verses in Scripture tthat tell us to ask and if we don’t, we don’t get. Even here, it says that if we didn’t get, it is because we didn’t ask. But, it is also wrong to ask with selfish motives. This is what troubles me? What do I ask for?

I have seen Joelle suffer with cancer for well over a year. I also see that her battle with cancer looks like a losing battle. At least, it does to my eyes, as I hear almost every month that the disease has invaded new areas of her body, causing excruciating pain, and it is ever so difficult and emotionally painful to see someone as beautiful as Joelle having to go through all of this suffering. And when I say beautiful, I am talking about her inner beauty which far outshines her out beauty, and she is beautiful on the outside. During her suffering, I have not only seen her witness the saving grace of Jesus, but I have seen her, in all her pain, lead people to Jesus to be saved. Talk about an amazing person that Joelle is. I have so much trouble doing stuff like that in a somewhat healthy state, but it almost looks effortless to my eyes that Joelle can do this, despite all of the pain and suffering that she is going through. 

It totally makes me wonder what is wrong with me? With everything in my life that has led to my encounter with Christ, including all of the signposts and my Road to Damascus encounter up to today’s witnessing of God’s grace through Joelle’s pain and suffering, have I not yet gotten the message? Am I begging for Jesus to rescue me, when even throughout Joelle’s suffering, He has rescued her? Am I not believing that I am also being rescued? Or have I somehow locked Jesus out of my heart because of everything that I have done leading up to this, and I am desperately trying to pull Jesus into my heart through the keyhole of a locked door? I could ask if I let my heart become stone towards God over this, but if that were the case, would I be trying so desperately to seek Jesus? So, it can’t be that. There’s no doubt in my mind that I want Jesus in my life. And, only a fool in his heart believes that there is no God. I am not that fool. With everything that I have seen in all of my living years, there is absolutely no doubt that God exists. 

So once again, that leads me to the question of what do I ask God for? It’s hard to know what to ask for because I don’t know if what I am asking for is for my own selfish gain or is glorifying God. I know very well that God is not some spiritually cosmic vending machine. There is no name it and claim it gospel. Just asking God to heal Joelle from cancer is a loaded request in itself. Am I asking this for the glory of God? Or, am I asking because I hate seeing her suffer, which I really do? While the latter reason sounds somewhat noble, it is also selfish. Yes, I hurt watching her go through all of this. It feels like my heart is torn into pieces. Honestly, I could not recall a time when I have been so upset. But, could it be possible that I am asking God to end my suffering instead of Joelle’s. Am I thinking of her or am I just thinking about myself? Like I said, Joelle has doing God’s wonderful work out of her suffering and what have I ever done? I’m starting to think that everything that I ever did up until now has been for myself. How much of God’s work has come from my own torment? So, am I asking God for His own sake, Joelle’s, or my own? I really have to search my heart on this one to know what I am asking for. 

It pretty much leaves me wondering what to ask for. I have hope as described in Romans 5:3-5 and Romans 8:28, but sometimes knowing what I should be hoping for is elusive. I have faith in God and I know in my heart that Jesus does love me. I also believe that God does work miracles, but as I said before, God is not a vending machine. His miracles are for His glory and not for our satisfaction. Perhaps some wisdom, encouragement, along with some strength could be a start. 

Rediscovering life in my guitar

It’s not the gift, but what you do with it …

— Joelle Chilcott 

Great words from a beautiful woman. It’s one of the main reasons she lets me have music time. She’s been one of my biggest fans ever since we were teenagers. Every note that I play is dedicated to her. Even the songs I write to Jesus, I think that God lets me share them with Joelle because He knows just how much I love her. Its also one of the reasons why she lets me get musical instruments and equipment. She seems to like to see what kind of music I will make from it. 

This year, Joelle gave me a really special birthday present. I could be shallow and say that it is a multi-effects guitar processor, but the real gift that she gave me was far beyond the processor itself. What she really gave me was the gift of hearing my guitars for the first time in a long time in a way that I have been longing to hear them. It reminds of my first combo tube amp. It was a black Traynor 50 watt combo amp that was so full of life. I felt like I lost that feeling when I foolishly got rid of it. And now, it’s like I am feeling that life once again. Feeling those vital signs of life between the guitar and my fingers that is beyond what the ears pick up. It’s what the inner senses pick up the moments you play. It’s the kind of life that keeps me up all night playing with excitement. And at my age, and with our current situation, it takes a lot to get me to be able to play all night long. This is the real gift. 

This gift has given me a renewed desire to reinvent myself when it comes to playing guitar. For years, I feel like I have just been relying more on my computer and plug-ins to make certain guitar sounds, and I definitely don’t get it from a solid-state amp. Sure, the main source of the guitar sounds came from my POD. However, there was a point where I was wondering if I was playing through the POD, or if the POD was playing through me. You may be wondering where I am going with this. Not knocking down the PODHD500 as it was an amazing device, and the sound coming from it is phenomenal. However, many will agree with me that this is where it ends: the sound. Again, you probably think I am just rambling, and I probably am since this is my blog. However, what mean is that it has the sound, but it stops short of the feel. To me, playing guitar is more than just how it sounds. It’s about how it feels, just like I tried to describe it above. And with that new life comes a new desire to react and interact with my playing. It sings when I play it soft and it screams when I hit it hard. I think that is the thing that keeps me playing all night. I was doing everything from fingerpicking notes to whole chukka-chukka-wukka-wukka thang. 

This need to feel is affecting the music I am writing as well. I find myself using a little less distortion in order to let that feel of the guitar come through. Am I becoming a guitar romantic? Perhaps. Now that I feel like I have discovered life in my guitar all over again, I want to grab it with both hands and squeeze as much out of it. 

I’d rather be the rabbit

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Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
James 4:13‭-‬15 NASB
http://bible.com/100/jas.4.13-15.NASB

Rabbits run around and live for 8 years.
Tortoises do nothing and live 150 years.
Lesson learned… I WANT TO BE THE RABBIT!!

Why do I want to be the rabbit?

That’s simple. The rabbit, while at first glance doesn’t appear to live that long, has a better quality of life. The tortoise is just existing. I’ve tried living the life of the tortoise. It’s not as fun as it seems. Other than going to work to do the obligatory, it would seem that after coming home, I would just sit around and wait. I’m almost wondering what I was waiting for. Was I waiting for the next great and wonderful thing to come my way? You know,  that wonderful thing that is supposed to be so fantastic, that it never comes. And yet we sit there waiting. And I’m not even talking about doing something while I’m waiting. I mean just sitting there doing nothing but wait. Or, am I just waiting for the promise of tomorrow? A promise that is never kept because tomorrow never really comes.

All things considered, I’m tired of the broken promise of tomorrow or the great thing that isn’t. I have life happening right now. I want to experience that type of life even to the point of if I die experiencing it. Let’s face it. There is no promise of tomorrow. Heck, the next five minutes have no guarantees either. So, why should I be under the delusion that a long life is the key? Funny how the argument to this is that if I live longer, I can do more. So really, what you’re saying is that you can do more if you live longer, but you are alive right now and you are doing nothing? How contradictory is that? How is what you are doing called living? It’s not. I’ve been there.

I don’t know how much longer I have on this world. I could be blessed with the number of years a rabbit has, or I could have a third of a tortoises life to live out. Only God knows. He’s keeping count of those years. Here’s what I do know, however. I’m going to live those years pushing myself as hard as I can. I intend to push myself mentally, pushing my mind into new limits and capabilities learning. I love to learn. It seems to keep me feeling childlike in thought. I also intend to push myself physically. I intend to push my body beyond boundaries. I intend to surpass the limitations that seemed to be holding me back. I will discover the strength that I truly possess. In mind and body, it will be about giving that much more when I have nothing left. It will be about reaching out to Jesus to have the Father fill me with the kind of strength that can only come from God. And if I die in the process, I am happy that I will have died doing what I set out to do and never backed down. There’s a Klingon proverb that goes, it is better to die in battle than to live in shame. For me, the shame is not doing what I have set out to do.

Nick Menza was the the drummer for Megadeth on their Rust in Peace album. He died on stage of heart failure, at the age of 51. I just had my 53rd birthday. Yeah, I am sort of sad that someone like him passed away so young. Does his death scare me because we are so close in age? Not in the least. Nick died doing what he loved. He died sitting at the drum kit rocking his heart out. I’m willing to bet that he died happy. Yeah, he died. But, you know what? He also lived. I want to live. I want to die while in the act of being alive.

I want to be that rabbit.

Life’s moments and Pina Coladas

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So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
— Psalm 90:12

Joelle and I are wrapping up our week long getaway to Cuba to cover off all of the heavy decisions that we need to make for the next twelve months, given that this may be all the time left for Joelle and I to be together. Of course, God has made the final decision long ago as to the numbering of our days and for all we know, it could be longer. Or, it could also be shorter. And we’re only talking about Joelle. Who’s to say that I wouldn’t get stung by a jellyfish and drop dead at the beach before we even make it to the plane? Bottom line is that we have no idea as to how much time we have to live. The doctors told Joelle that they felt that they were generous telling her that she had twelve months to live. Only God, in my opinion, has the ability to turn twelve months into twelve years… or even more. And I am not going to be foolish to say if it is God’s will. If God turns months into years, isn’t it safe to say that He had already determined this? Only God can say to the doctor, “No! You are wrong. I have already determined that she is going to live this long. Not a day more and not a day less.”

However, the determination from the doctor has done one thing. If it is indeed true, and let’s face it, God uses doctors in His purpose, that Joelle has twelve months to live, then this is what we have determined to do: LIVE! We are down in Cuba making the decisions about what needs to be done once Joelle is no longer able to function. We are covering off everything including what would happen when I die. We’re making every painful decision that we can think of down here in paradise. And every time, I am toasting these decisions with a Pina Colada. Don’t worry, my church going friends and pastors: many of them have been alcohol free. The point is not the alcohol anyway. It’s more like the sweetness symbolic of the relief that follows the bitterness of having to make such decisions in the first place. It’s the reminder that we have made the decisions and now it is time to live.

It’s been said many times: live each day like it is your last. Even Jesus said that worrying about tomorrow doesn’t add a minute to today. God knows how long we have on this earth. God knows when it is time to come home. Does it make us think? It should! Does it make us lament over the time we have left? It should not! Sure, Joelle and I had plenty of dreams of growing old together and yes the news from the doctor makes me cry and sometimes go “it’s not fair”. But, aside from the fact that nothing is of our own design, God knows the full truth to our existence and has numbered all of our days. It could be less and it could be more. We don’t know. And since we don’t know, we should just live in this moment because it is the only moment we have.

And in this moment that I have been writing this, there is a tall cantina of Pina Colada poolside waiting for me. Time to live this moment with this cantina.

Empty Return

I got home from Alberta on Wednesday and I have never felt more empty. I felt like Joelle and I came home to nothing. This is starting to convince me that our lives are no longer in Ontario. We knew that one day we would move out west to be with our daughters and their children. I just expect to be as driven as I am now. It feels like nothing else really matters. It almost feels as if nothing is keeping me here and is making the decision easy.

It’s funny because I know that my current job at BlackBerry has been nothing short of an exercise in faith. I am always of the belief that God brought me there and kept me going there in the hard times. However, I am starting to think that God did this for one reason: to show me how much He loves me and takes care of me. It’s not about the job or me. It’s about God and nothing more. And if God is starting to pull my heart out west, then His direction is best. Not to mention that everything that I have been seeking in this job doesn’t seem to be for God’s glory. It seems to be for my own glory. I remember being angry about not getting promoted to senior developer even though I believe that I deserved it. If anything, I am just about giving up on that because I don’t believe that it is in God’s plan. And with the wanting to go out west to be with my children out there, it’s starting to feel like there’s nothing holding me back here. In fact, things like my job make it even easier to break away.

Of course, if HR were to read this post in my blog, the flight risk alarm would be sounding in their heads. All I can say is that it is not happening all that soon. Something like this takes time and planning. Joelle and I have started to put together a five-year plan to get things into place for moving forward. The circumstances for going sooner would be if things like my job were indeed threatened, or if the doctors determined that there is nothing more they can do for her. The latter would be a far greater reason, as I would want her to spend as many days with her daughters and grandchildren out there as she could. I would never want to rob her of that. As far as I go, I am in God’s hands and whatever happens is up to Him. All I know right now is that there is nothing here.

Nobody’s Fault

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
— John 9:1-3 ESV

It has been a while since writing something. Admittedly, things have been hard, mainly because I have been looking for answers as why Joelle is suffering so much with her cancer ordeal. Not that I felt like I deserved any answers, but any sign would be greatly appreciated just so that I could not only have some assurance that there really is a reason for Joelle and that it works out for God’s purpose and that it is good for all of us who do believe in God’s salvation through Jesus. After all, the past months have been nothing more than staring down the eye of the hurricane in depression. If anything, it started to make me wonder if I had any type of relationship with God. It made me wonder because I felt like He wasn’t answering any of my prayers. I started wondering even more about this as I was going through a bible study as it talked quite a bit about our relationship with God. It seemed each chapter felt more and more painful as I went on. One part of the study talked about the Holy Spirit speaking to us through prayer, the church, circumstances and scripture. If anything, it really felt like nothing was happening through the first three and I started to think that nothing was happening through the fourth, until recently.

My son, Josh, who happens to be visiting his grandmother, loves to give me what we call the latest “meme-isms”. In other words, all of the crazy things that his grandmother tells him. Sure enough, he doesn’t disappoint this time around. Aside from the usual ” you’re being brainwashed” shtick (to which I managed to give him a decent comeback for), she dropped a new one. She said that one of Joelle’s friends gave Joelle cancer because her friend was jealous of Joelle. Aside from the fact that this has to be one of the most comical things I had heard; I mean, let’s face it, if people got cancer because someone else is jealous of them, there would be no one on this planet. Everybody always wants something that someone else has. Show me someone who is never jealous or envious, and I will show you their tombstone.

However, I will be the first to admit that I often wondered if I may have been part of the cause of Joelle’s cancer. Let’s face it, I am not the greatest person to be around. I can be very stress inducing. Plus, I have had many times where I fear waking up one day and Joelle would no longer be there. Add that all up and I am sure that there is something that isn’t good for Joelle there.

Funny thing happened though. Out of nowhere, I thought of Jesus and the rabbis discussing whether the blind man or his parents sinned, causing the man’s blindness. This all came to me as I was talking to Josh. At that moment, I had to look up the scripture verses and give them to Josh. I told him to read them to his grandmother. I told him to tell her that Joelle’s cancer is nobody’s fault. Joelle has this to reveal God’s Word glory and to show what works from God will come out of this. Even more than revealing this topic Josh, it was revealed to me as well. Joelle’s suffering is not a punishment for anything I did. It’s not even a punishment for anything she did. In fact, the Bible never says if we will suffer. It says when we suffer. And, it is not a case of whether we deserve it or not. In fact, it states in the Bible that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. And we suffer, so that you the glory of God can be revealed.

I didn’t come up with this on my own. There’s no way I could have in this case. The number of scripture verses is overwhelming. Being able to put this in context can only mean that God really is hearing me and is answering me. He answered me in scripture. I’ve only heard this piece of scripture once or twice in the past 20 years. The fact that it stuck out over everything else I have read and heard over the years feels miraculous enough as it is.

Does this ease the suffering? Heck no! Everything is just as hard as it was before God answered me with this piece of scripture. It doesn’t mean that anything will be easier either. However, the one thing that it does do is give me some hope. The hope that at the end of all of the suffering, God is waiting for us. The hope that Jesus is walking beside us with his arms around us. The hope that God will continue to answer my questions and prayers through scripture. The hope of peace.