Lost Joy Found

It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;

Matthew 20:26‭-‬27 NASB

This past Good Friday turned out to be a Good Friday like no other ones I had ever experienced. Then again, I had never experienced a loss like this and this would have been my first Good Friday without Joelle. I’m sure that one would probably surmise from my last bunch of blog posts just how much I really miss Joelle, and the emptiness and longing that I feel on a daily and rather continual basis is often consuming at times. It has been five months and admittedly the struggle to find joy in my life becomes evident as each day passes. The absence of joy often has me feeling like I am just wandering this earth until I die sort of thing. I guess you could say that I an already walking dead.

Good Friday changed all of that for me and God helped me find that joy that I had been missing for the past five months. It wasn’t by anything miraculous that happened, really. All I did was participate in preparing and serving breakfast at the church. I It was a joy that I have been searching for, for the last five months.

Other than always being in a state of tears ever since Joelle was diagnosed with cancer, there was one other thing that I had done, which was pray. Not that I didn’t pray to God before, but that time it felt like I prayed with a sense of mission. Knowing that Joelle was sick, and for some unknown sickly feeling at the time, perhaps from all the other people I had known and loved that I lost to cancer, feeling that it wasn’t going to turn out good, my prayer to God was that this could very well be the last time I get to be a husband, especially a husband to Joelle, and asked God to make me into the man that she needs me to be for her life and whatever remaining days she had. Even though the seventeen month journey was difficult and often heart-achingly painful, I’m rather confident that God was answering this prayer because even though there was pain, there was joy in caring for Joelle. There were jobs that I took on that I swore I would never do in a lifetime, but I did them with joy and out of love for Joelle. Sometimes, even Joelle was surprised that I went off my usual Aspie beaten path to do these jobs, because she knew that Aspies are very much routine-based and things like this often make us uncomfortable. What she probably didn’t know was that I was already uncomfortable. Or, maybe she did. I’ll never know. This entire journey was shaking me to my soul. However, there was joy in it. A joy in serving and caring for Joelle, and making sure her needs were met. I had always known in the past the Joelle loved it when the little things were done for her, such as cleaning the kitchen after she cooked a meal, bringing her a late night coffee from Tim Horton’s when she’s taking down a wedding and then helping her take down the wedding and drive home together in our separate cars but on the phone with each others (don’t worry, the cars were always bluetooth equipped), or even wiping the snow off her car before I went to work. To her, that said that I loved her. She really taught me servitude, however, when I was injured and immobile for 3 months. Or, should I say that God showed me servitude through Joelle. Suddenly finding the roles reversed, I knew that this was the person I needed to be for her and I knew that I needed God’s strength to do it. And, in discovering that servitude towards Joelle, I found joy. And I had that joy right to her last day.

Suffice it to say, that joy was lost in the days following her death. I not only miss Joelle terribly, and miss everything about her, I also miss being that servant to her needs. I discovered that I want to be that person God started me out to be. I thought to myself that in the off chance, God were to one day give me that second chance, I would want God to once again make me the person that someone needs me to be. I am not so concerned with my own needs these days, because I know that God knows them very well. He seems to be listening to my cries into tear-soaked pillows and sometimes I can see Him answering them in one way or another. In the meantime, what am I supposed to do while life 1.0 crashed beyond repair and I am waiting for life 2.0 to install and start up? Yes, I am supposed to wait for God, but I don’t believe I have to sit and do nothing while I wait.

Sure enough, a clipboard at church circulated the congregation at the service asking for men to volunteer to help prepare and serve breakfast on Good Friday. This may have been the first time I ever felt pulled to sign up for anything. It was like God wanted me to show Him that if I really meant what I said, then I need to start small. After all, it does say in the scriptures that if I can’t be trusted in the little things, how could I ever be trusted with big things? So I signed up. I prayed up until Good Friday to make me that kind of servant that the church needed that morning. To me, it really didn’t matter what jobs needed to be done. Honestly, I did worse jobs that I swore that I would never do previously, but found myself doing them out of love. Wherever they needed me, I wanted to be there. There was a lot of setup to do when I got there. Funny enough, setting everything up from the breakfast almost felt like setting everything up for one of Joelle’s seders. I was actually driven. It was almost as if I was doing it for Joelle. Next thing you know, I found myself serving sausage patties to everyone. Yeah, it doesn’t seem like much to anyone else, but it felt great to be serving them. We managed to get a few laughs and the interaction was a lot of fun. And even though it felt very uncomfortable, it felt like it was where I needed to be. I don’t know if anyone out felt blessed, but I know that I was blessed by everyone I came into contact with. Heck, someone even came up to me and just smiled and said “Hello.” She didn’t even want a sausage patty. That made me feel good, to be worth a hello for no other reason. 

The morning passed by so quickly and by the time I got home, I was filled with so much joy from being able to be a part of that morning that I was crying tears of joy instead of the usual tears of pain and suffering. Yes, I could tell the difference. Maybe, just maybe, this is the key to having that joy that I once enjoyed. It seemed so little to do to put smiles on people’s faces and hopefully helped lift their hearts and spirits. And yet, putting that smile on everyone’s faces gave me a reason to smile. And being there to serve those who needed me gave me that joy I felt I lost. It’s a joy I hope to feel again, so maybe I know what to pray to God for. 

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.