How dare I

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

— Matthew 17:20

As I write this post, it is past seven months since losing Joelle to cancer. I’m in the second half of the season of firsts and the hardest day to endure was the first wedding anniversary without her. I have had a few mini tidal waves since, but I’ve managed to find a few things I like doing that seem like therapy. Believe it or not, one of them is barbecuing during sunsets. Don’t know what is about sunset barbecues, but I find them to have a calming nature to them. I have even managed to drag myself into the studio and work on some music. Perhaps , this is a part of Life 2.0 that I have yet to figure out. But I will admit that I am not crazy about this life at this time, mainly because I don’t have Joelle to share it with. I will admit, I find myself wanting to question God about it, because I just don’t get it. However, despite my anger and questioning, I find myself wanting to be closer to God. Honestly, here I am stuck in an emotional hurricane, and in many cases blaming God for it and I have often asked, “what kind of God are you, to let this happen?” And, as I kept my promise to Joelle in that I would not abandon God, and I would not quit the Bible study, I got my answer as to what kind of God He is: He is a loving God. The worst part of this is that I already knew the answer.

It’s not like Joelle and I never faced our share of hardships before. And in every hardship we faced, we never stopped trusting God. Even in our good times, we always felt God was behind those as well. I even remember times we stepped out in faith, such as the time I got fired from a dead-end job and Joelle telling me that she was pregnant with our fifth child. In our usual crazy selves, we said we would not wait for things to get better. We would have more children and make things better. This walk of faith was one of the best things to happen to us. Three days after we decided we would step out in faith, I get a call from EDS and my journey into a new career, and in many cases a new life, began. Mind you, that was a time when I knew Jesus and had faith, although it would be another three years before being totally lit on fire. But, yet, it was that mustard seed faith knowing that God loved us then that moved the mountains that we were facing.

I previously wrote of how I took a contract in Windsor in my last blog post, and the faith it took then. What I didn’t mention was how God pulled us through in the nineteen months that I had no real steady contract work. Let’s face it. We’re talking nineteen months of keeping a roof over our heads, food, electricity, and just the overall ability give our kids some kind of quality of life. Somehow, through the grace of God, all these things were met, either by the generosity of people, or small jobs writing music soundtracks for videos and short films. One particular soundtrack was for a play, called “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames”, and it taught me a lot about writing movie soundtracks, as well as audio production. Who would think in all this time being given small jobs, I was being taught at the same time? One example was the use of a distorted bass on a rock track. It just opened up my mind in music. But, aside from all of the musical skills that God was providing me, He provided me with the skill of having faith. And don’t think it wasn’t tested. I can still picture Joelle crying one night in the car, believing we were going to lose everything. She knew that I was doing everything I could to find work, but she still questioned why I wasn’t working. She would pray, but she felt her prayers weren’t being answered. A few days later, she looked at me and said, ” I don’t care if we wind up living in a tent as long as we’re together.” We surrendered it all to God. That seemed to be the day everything changed. I remember getting a paid ticket to the Promise Keeper’s conference. Our pastor saw me starting to have a breakdown and not only did he pray with me, he told me, “You have already seen God has brought you this far. How dare you to not have the faith that He will take you further than this?” Those words stuck with me even almost 14 years later.  I remembered that Edwin McManus was speaking that year and he was talking about the biblical passages from his book “Seizing Your Divine Moment” and I became so inspired about it that I just had to read the book,  which would have been somewhat of a first as I had not read a book in many years. In it, he talks about the many biblical queues that God provides David and Jonathan, especially with things that their enemies are yelling at them, to assure them the God is fighting their battles. It made me wonder if the same could happen to me. Believe it or not, I read another book that year, called “The Open Door”, by David Jeremiah. It was a similar idea of biblical queues that God provides, to show that he’s opening doors for us. Well, I don’t know what I did, but I decided to pray to God that if a job prospect says a certain group of words in a certain order, that would be my divine moment and open door. And, it’s not like I made it easy. I wish I can remember what I said, but I know I said something that assured me that God could do the same for me that He did for David and Jonathan. I’m not sure if God took it as a game or a challenge, or just wanted to show me that He was listening, because what happened next floored me. I received a call from a company in Windsor that was building automotive build and price kiosks for Chrysler and originally needed one Java developer and one Flash developer. When they spoke to me, they felt I could fill both roles. Then, all of a sudden, Amy, the HR person, out of nowhere said the phrase of words I told God. How the heck did she know that I was expecting these words? It’s not like I gave her any hints or any indication that I made this prayer deal with God.  After I hung up the phone, I look up at Joelle in tears and said, “I think I am going to Windsor.” Of course, Joelle handled things far better than I did. She phoned her friend who owned an apartment block in Windsor which was walking distance from the shopping mall. Her response was, “there’ll be an apartment waiting for you when you get there.” Sure enough, I got the contract, and found myself in Windsor, but my faith would be further tested when I got there. My apartment was not ready when I started my contract there. I was basically living out of our van for over two weeks, relying on the grace of some friends taking me in at nights so I didn’t wind up freezing in the January nights.  That’s when I started listening to a number of Christian artists that I listen to today. After all, the only good radio station was a Christian radio station in Detroit. Songs like “Walk By Faith” and “Child of Mine” became my anthems for getting through this time. Even when I got the apartment, I never stopped listening to these songs. Funny how God had to isolate me then from Joelle and the kids in order to work on me and start building my faith in what He’s doing.  He also started building me up in other ways as I was still training in karate and had my weekly challenges from my Sensei, as I would be back in Guelph on the weekends. He pushed me towards my black belt and by the fall of that year, I was a black belt. That took not only faith in God, but believing that I could do it. They were both total leaps.

There is also my employment at BlackBerry. If that hasn’t been an exercise in faith throughout the years, I’m not sure what would be. Even leading up to working here was an exercise in faith outlined in The God I Know which I can only attribute to God’s hand in all of this. Even more attributable to having faith was the ability to weather all of the changes that BlackBerry has undergone. I can well remember Joelle feeling a sense of panic whenever layoffs occurred. I told her, “Wasn’t it God that brought us this far? If He chooses, He will carry us to new places. I’m not putting my faith in a company. ” I’d even be saying similar things to my coworkers. I knew God brought me there and God would bring me elsewhere should He choose.

Even now, I find God is keeping me stable. It’s definitely not by anything by my account. If anything,  I’ve often had to deal with rounds of burnout and depression and it’s has been difficult. I admit that there are times when I wonder if God is listening. And then there are times looking at the cactus flower blooming in the kitchen window. That thing hasn’t bloomed like that before. I’m totally willing to believe that this is one way God is talking to me, letting me know He’s there. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if He’s asking me the same question that my pastor asked me at the Promise Keeper’s conference:

“You’ve had the faith in Me to bring you this far. How dare you not to have the faith in Me to take you further?”

“I’ll Give It Six Months”

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.”

Proverbs 31:10-12,25,28,30-31 

As I write this seemingly journey back to life and hopefully love, It has been six months since losing Joelle to cancer. It’s true that the pain and emptiness do not lessen, let alone go away; you just learn to live with it. I just learn to make peace with it and even though faith feels like it is hanging by a thread, I sometimes surprise myself at how strong that thread can be. At times, I would metaphorically tie it around me and let myself just hang freely, or I would tie a knot in it and start swinging to new places. Sometimes, I feel like I am able to do this because I feel that I can say that I am living totally outside of my comfort zone. The tidal waves are still there in my life, but they are getting further apart. Today is actually one of those tidal waves, as today would have been our 35th wedding anniversary. But, today especially reminds me of the story of the beginning of our journey as man and wife that almost became the foundation and drive to make our marriage work. 

Rewind back to our wedding day back in 1982. Picture a nineteen year old shy boy and a sixteen year old wild and crazy girl going to the synagogue to get married… on the TTC. To further enhance this picture, Joelle was riding the Bathurst bus in her wedding dress and me in a suit. We knew we couldn’t have the wedding we wanted, but we were crazy enough in love and we had no fear or shame about it. The ceremony was small. A handful of family and my two best friends and a couple of Joelle’s friends as well. And there was my mom and her best friend, and my grandmother. It was quaint and it was was close-knit. But, even as small as it was, it only goes to show there is always one person out to ruin your day because their own life is about as stable as the Titanic.

As Joelle and I walked out of the chapel, we heard my mother’s best friend say to my mother, “Meh, I’ll give it six months.” What the hell did she just say?? Coming out of the mouth of a person who couldn’t even hold her own marriage together and was bitter as all hell, she had no right or authority to even consider such a statement. Joelle and I took it very personally as we looked at each other. We weren’t even married for five minutes and the battle had already begun. We were set on not only proving this person wrong, but were going to figure out what we needed to make this marriage work until death do us part.

Our honeymoon that night was a movie at the Eglinton Theater. The movie was Quest for Fire. Short of the movie being nothing more than looking like nothing more than The Joy of Sex, Caveman Style, it was totally incomprehensible with not only unintelligible dialog of cavemen grunts, but a totally crappy plot with a waste of movie credits. Think about it: what is the use of giving these cavemen names if no one ever called them by it? Hey! What did we know? We didn’t have internet then to see any movie trailers. Otherwise, we probably would have opted for a comedy. Sure enough, that evening Joelle and I made a promise to each other that we would celebrate our 25th anniversary in Hawaii. Of course, at that time, we didn’t know how since we were still crazy teenagers with nothing more than a set of dreams.

Fast forward six months

Joelle and I still madly in love with each other and not only celebrating the fact that we won that bet against my mother’s best friend. We went all out and had Chinese food. Yup, we were living high for a guy still in college and paying rent with a paper route (I had the largest Toronto Star route). I can still remember the day I was told Joelle was pregnant with our first child. I was in the middle of an electronics communication theory exam when my teacher came up to me and said, “your wife called and it’s urgent she talks to you”. At the time I was scared because I thought something happened to her. When she told me, I was relieved, excited and nervous at the fact that I am just about to become a dad. I wound up failing that exam but all things considered, I would never trade the moment, as it was one of our happiest moments at the time with more to come. And we were still married.

Fast forward nine months later

Joelle and I welcomed our first child into the world. I was a dad and I couldn’t have been more excited. Joelle and I, proud parents of a baby girl, named Margot.  Our family was starting. It also hit me that I’m now a dad and I had to make a decision. I wanted to be an example for my children and that meant drop the closet alcoholism and clean up my act. Love had the power to change my life, and as difficult as it was, it would be done. It was more out of my love for them that changed me than anything else. Oh, and we’re still together and as crazy as ever.

Fast forward five years

At this time, we are now a family of six. Two girls, Margot and Dina, and two boys, Henry and Jack. We had gone through hardships such as trying to make ends meet, and Joelle had a hard time, having just lost her oldest sister whom she was really close with. However, somehow through the grace of God, I found myself working for Apple Computers and was a real turning point for my career life. A year later we would own our very own house in Guelph. It was a small house, but it was home. We had good times and bad times; poorer times and richer times, but we stuck together.

Fast forward seven years

Could this be the time that my mother’s best friend’s snide prediction would come true? Joelle started to question whether she loved me enough to stay married to me, let alone loved me at all. It was a trying and painful time for me because my love for her was without question. Yeah, we had trouble relating and we couldn’t figure out why or how to fix it. Joelle just didn’t know if she could handle it anymore. It was a hurtful time, but the only thing I could do is pray that God find a way to help us fix this. I just didn’t want to believe that it was over. I wasn’t willing to let go and give up. Everything looked darkest at that time until one night. I don’t know what happened that night, but Joelle called me from Toronto telling how much she really loved me as if her heart just exploded. She rushed home and we talk all night. The fight to save our marriage was renewed. With love, we overcame this battle for the moment. We knew we had much to figure out, but we knew that marriage wasn’t a fairy tale. It took work from both of us. I had a lot to yet figure out. But, the bottom line was that we would not just give up.

Fast forward twelve years

Joelle and I would welcome our fifth child, Joshua, into the world. However, it was one of the shakiest times in our lives. Joelle, wound up with a really weird disease because her immune system was at an all time low. The doctors were starting to think she wasn’t going to make it. I was scared to realize my life without her at that time. Miraculously she recovered. If anything, it was the start of seeing her in a new light, and realizing just how much of a best friend she was to me.

In time, God would provide an answer to our relational issues through Joshua. Joelle happened to notice Joshua’s behaviour was identical to mine. Further tests revealed him to be high-spectrum autistic, or Aspberger’s Syndrome. Joelle snuck a copy of the test and had me do it out one night after coming home from work. She didn’t tell me what it was about. She just said, “just do it”. To Joelle’s shock, both my answers and Joshua’s were identical. Of course, my twenty-something year journey discovering my strengths and weaknesses with Aspberger’s is a blog post in itself. Suffice it to say, Joelle and I worked through it to help strengthen our marriage and overcome some of the issues that plagued us in the past. Joelle had learned new meanings of the word, sacrifice. But, there was nothing she wouldn’t do for us.

Fast forward twenty-two years

This is the first time in my life that I had to be apart from Joelle many days in the week, only to see her on weekends. We were going through yet another one of life’s challenges as I was without work for 19 months. However, we had a tremendous faith in God, and that is what pulled us through against all odds. Then, I got this contract opportunity in Windsor. It became hard to say no and we both agreed that this was what I had to do. Being able to talk to her made life easier but it was still hard being away from her. She would surprise me once in a while and show up and we would make a night of it. However, in my alone time, I would nurture my passion for photography as it was another thing we loved to share together. From there, not only would we have a been married beyond that six-month prediction, but we would go into business together as wedding photographers. Of course it meant putting up with each other on a totally new level as it meant we now had to be professionals in front of all of these brides and grooms. Yes it was hard at first, but we grew into it because we loved each other enough to share this passion. Besides, our craziness as husband and wife showed through which earned us the “not your regular wedding photographers”. I remember someone once asking me if Joelle was my wife or my boss. I simply answered yes. There were others who tould think that I was not being man enough to stand up to her. I knew better in the sense that she was more capable of running a shoot than I was and she had an artistic vision that I wouldn’t argue with. Sometimes, being man enough to admit when someone is better at something than I am is what really counts. If anything I would support her for the next thirteen years as both a husband and business partner.

Our 25th Anniversary – Wedding Night Promises Fulfilled 

Remember our promise that we made to each other on our wedding night? We were going to spend our 25th anniversary in Hawaii. Yeah, we didn’t know how we were going to do it. We were just crazy enough to believe that it was going to happen. Well, guess what! That is called faith. To paraphrase out of the Book of Hebrews, everything before us was unseen and we had absolutely no idea how we were going to make this happen. But God heard two crazy kids and already had a plan in place. He was already there long before we were. Who knew back then that not only would I have been able to transition to being a software and web developer from hardware, but I would have co-authored four books on web development, including Flash? Admittedly, when the first royalty checks came in, I was disappointed, so I would give them to Joelle to make herself happy. So, Joelle had me make an agreement with her that I would give all of my royalty cheques to her and she could do what she wanted without question. Looking at the amount of the cheque, I was like “yeah, no problem”. I figured it was nothing more than special dinners type of money. Little did I know what I was in for that agreement. When it came for the next royalty period, Joelle approached me and told me the cheque came in and asked me if our agreement we made was still good. I assured her that I wasn’t going to break our agreement. She then showed me the cheque. I almost crapped myself. And don’t think it wasn’t a test of my word, because there was an acoustic guitar that I hoping to get. But, I gave my word to Joelle and I did everything to bind myself to it, no matter how hard it felt at the time. She did so much for me in life that all I ever wanted was for her to be happy. She said she was making a special fund for us. Sure enough, a few more cheques came and we planned our 25th Anniversary in a big way. We not only went to Hawaii, but we went on a 14-day Hawaiian cruise around all of the islands and then back to Vancouver. We made a couple of stops prior, one of them spending a few days in Chilliwack, BC, with some good family friends who were just as crazy as us. Joelle also scheduled a stopover in Calgary to see our youngest daughter for a few hours as she was expecting her second child (our third grandchild at the time) and wouldn’t have been able to see us otherwise as she was close to giving birth.

But wait, there’s more…

If you read this far, you recall that we did not have a big wedding or reception. There was enough left for us to have a 25th Anniversary party along with the help of Joelle’s longtime wedding connections. We renewed our wedding vows that afternoon in front of all of our friends and children (Dina couldn’t make it – now you know why we made that stopover). I couldn’t believe all of the people who showed up. We then had a great reception at one of the golf clubs Joelle had decorated for a couple of decades, and not to mention shot numerous weddings at, and even though we told everyone not to bring gifts, I was overwhelmed at the fact that they just couldn’t help themselves and all of their generosity. Perhaps, we were well known for doing things backwards, but having the marriage beforehand was one of the best things for us. This was the wedding and reception we didn’t have back then and it was a lot more meaningful. And instead of people taking bets on how long our marriage would last, they were wishing us at least another 25 more years.

Oh, and my keeping my word didn’t go without notice. We arrived home from Vancouver on my birthday. Waiting for me was that acoustic guitar I wanted. Yes, Joelle bought it for me and I was totally floored.

The final years – for better or worse

Who knew that this was going to happen? Joelle and I truly believed that we would be seeing the world now that all our children are fully grown and some of them have their own families, blessing Joelle and I with plenty of grandchildren. Everyone would even say that there was no way we looked liked grandparents and I would tell them that this was the absolute best time to be a grandfather, or as I am better known to a bunch of my grandchildren: Papa C. But before Joelle was even diagnosed with cancer, I got one of the best gifts a husband could ever ask for. I got to see Joelle’s heart as open and pure as it could be. I got to really see just how precious a woman’s heart really is, and I got to see it in a way that I never really noticed for the past 30+ years. Unfortunately, it took me being immobile and practically helpless for 10 weeks to see just what I was about to lose. It was at that time that I realized just how unworthy I was to have been married to someone like Joelle. Every she did, she would tell me, “for better or worse”. She even took me in a wheelchair to a concert, because she knew it would cheer me up. When physio said that I would need to bike ride regularly, she found a stationary bike for me so I could begin my journey of rebuilding my leg. Heck, even before my injury, she managed to get a BowFlex for an unrealistic price, which I have also been using in my recovery. There was nothing she wouldn’t do.

And just when we thought life was starting to look upward, in comes the tidal wave. I knew something was wrong before we found out officially, just by the way she was talking to me from the hospital. My feelings were confirmed when I saw my girls in Ontario for the family meeting. The news that Joelle was suffering from stage 3 ovarian cancer hit me like a baseball bat and I was starting to feel broken like never before. The only thing that went through my mind was “for better or worse” and I knew what I had to be for her. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I did a lot of praying and God answered my prayer making me into the husband she needed me to be at the time. Just as Joelle freely gave her heart, really just like she always did for the past 30+ years, but I had to freely give mine. I’m sure I don’t need to repeat anything out of my other blog posts such as Learning What Love Is and Isn’t. This entry is long enough and I am already grateful if you read this far. But, still, the point is that we stuck together at all costs. And this time the cost was not only being together for the rest of our lives, but Joelle’s life itself.

The Bottom Line

Did we win this bet against my mother’s best friend? Well, yes. We did everything we had to do to make our marriage work. True, we could only make it last for thirty-four and a half years. Even when Joelle was going through chemotherapy, we were trying to promise each other at least another seven years and each year would be a massive celebration of life together. When that promise started to fade, we promised to live each day like it would be our last together. And we did, until it was indeed Joelle’s last day.

Right up until the end we can say with confidence that we had and did it all.

We loved, honored, and obeyed and we were never afraid of that word… we both knew exactly what it meant and we did it with joy.

And above all, we stuck together side by side…

in good times and in bad… 

for richer or poorer…

in sickness and in health…

‘Til death did us part…