Category Archives: Brain Droppings

My spot for useless ramblings and stuff like that. Just stuff that I can go on and on about without any filters.

Ability to love

Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31 NASB

As I write this post, it has been eight months since losing Joelle to cancer. We had closure this past weekend that I am writing this part of my blog post. It’s that final and even painful acceptance that she’s left this world and seeing that cemetery stone in place is knowing that my best friend in life is now gone from me. Realizing those years of 20-second hugs (and that was the minimum amount of time), her voice telling me she loved me and me being able to whisper in her ear “I love you”, our ” date nights” and “play dates”, and even our fights… all gone. Seeing that stone was like having a bucket of ice water poured all over me.

However, I still haven’t let up on my promises to her. I seem to use my anger constructively to work out. “Hulking up,” as I call it, keeps me out of trouble. As well, I have been starting to write and record more songs and playing more guitar. I’ve even been playing more bass guitar, enjoying getting new ideas out of it.

Strangely enough, one of the songs that I wrote was a love song. That’s right, I fell in love. How do I know it’s love and not just a mad crush? I often test my feelings against scripture and what I often find are that mad crushes are somewhat selfish and going inward. It’s like I almost want to pull her towards me and my life. This seemed to line up with scripture. I find I don’t want anything from her. Rather than wanting to project my feelings on her, I seem to want to hold onto them so she doesn’t know. I am always looking to make things in her life easier. Of course, I do it subtly as to not show my feelings. Would I love to win her heart? Certainly! Will I try to win her heart? Probably not.

Here’s why.

Plain and simple, I am not ready. I’ve just gone through a weekend of huge emotions dealing with the reality that faces me. There’s no way I am going to ask someone else to wade through the shipwreck that is my life. This would be terribly unfair to her, because it is nothing short of being selfish and demanding. It would wind up putting a strain on any potential relationship and would probably drive her away, causing even more heartbreak. My heart is already broken, and sometimes I feel like it would take a God to repair it.

The other reason is that I am reasonably sure that we don’t share the same feelings. It would be almost delusional to believe that she felt the same about me. I can live with the fact she doesn’t feel the same. I just don’t need to hear that she doesn’t feel the same. Therefore she doesn’t need to know how I feel, and no one needs to ask. I don’t need anyone looking at me uncomfortably knowing my feelings for them, or even worse using it as a weapon against a broken heart, because they can.

So what am I to do?

Simply wait. I will wait on God. This may mean having to let go of these feelings for now. It’s best to just let them hopefully die, for the greater cause.

I also have to consider the fact that the chapter of my life in Ontario appears to be nearing its end and holding on to this may be the equivalent falsely hoping for a reason to stay, when my life seems to be calling me out west. I’m only fooling myself by believing otherwise.

However, it is not all bad. I am grateful to know that I do have the ability to fall in love. This is a sign to me that my heart doesn’t need to go cold and hardened after such tragedy. I have feelings and one day I will be ready to run with them. Or, at least I will be in a better position to take a chance with them. For the time being, I can write and record more love songs and trust God and what He has in store. Everything is just a matter of time. God’s time. It will take discipline and focus on His plan this time. It’s not too hard to believe that the enemy is attempting to thwart these plans with delusions and false hopes. I need to be patient and trust in God, and perhaps things will be better than I imagined. I’d also encourage myself to keep falling in love. Love is what made me a better person in the first place. I want to remain a better person. Main difference is that I keep it to myself, and write songs about it, and feel good about knowing that I am blessed with the ability to love.

Who knows. One of these loves songs might turn out to be a bride and groom’s first dance.

“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…

Relearning To Live

… Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.
Psalms 30:5b NKJV

As I start this blog post, I am sitting on a plane headed towards Alberta to not only visit my daughters and grandchildren, but to say hello to my newest grandson. We’re also there to celebrate a couple of birthdays, one of them being mine. Traveling with me on this journey is Joelle’s sister, Debby. You might say that we have become as close as brother and sister throughout this journey of life and the loss of Joelle. If anyone was there for Joelle during her seventeen month long battle with cancer, it was Debby. When Joelle passed away, I can remember Debby telling me that she didn’t get to spend enough time with Joelle. “It just wasn’t enough. There was supposed to be more time. It’s not fair!”, she cried. All I could think was that thirty-six years wasn’t enough time with Joelle. There was supposed to be more time for us, with the kids now grown up. With no disrespect meant towards Debby, it should have been Joelle beside me on the flight out west to say hello to our new grandson, Aaron. It should have been Joelle celebrating my birthday with me, as well celebrating my grandson, Connor’s birthday. It’s just not fair!!

As unfair as life is, both of us have no choice but to deal with the loss and learn how to begin celebrate life again. As big of a loss as it is for me, it is just as big a loss for Debby, just in a different way. Experience has taught me that losing a sister is a totally different feeling than losing a spouse. Just as losing a parent is different. It’s not less of a loss. It’s just a different loss and just as painful. I can say that I know from experience because I have experienced those kinds of losses. Relearning to live from these losses is a process, albeit a painful one.

I’m feeling, however, that the process this time is starting more fragile than any other time. It’s more fragile to me because Joelle was a huge part of my life and when she died, a huge part of me died and the part of me that remains feels rather lifeless at the moment. Yes, I am still alive and I have managed to move forward and get back into routines such as work, and I was able to list a few work accomplishments to my name. I’m also working at keeping the promises I made to Joelle, such as taking care of my health. But, I can’t really say that I am really living. I learned how to move and am learning to move on. Now I have to learn how to live. I won’t be surprised if this winds up being a lifelong process. I mean, it took me 50+ years to discover my strengths as someone with Aspbergers Syndrome in a world of people where I think and act bizarrely different.

Funny enough, as I write this part of my blog, it finds me back in Ontario in one of my usual thinking/praying spots with my thumbs to my BlackBerry spilling my thoughts, as disjointed as they might be. I can definitely say that it was a bittersweet visit. Part of the healing for not just Debby and myself, but for my daughters and their children as well. I recall my fondest memories of my arrival in Alberta which give me reason to believe that life will exist beyond this time. My grandchildren were proof of that. I can still almost feel that feeling in my left arm of as I remembered Arielle jumping into it when she got down the stairs and saw me for the first time since October. I almost think she could have broken my arm judging by how hard she ran and jumped, but I wouldn’t have traded the moment. I also remembered Julianna asking me if I will always remember grandma, and I promised her with tears in my eyes that I would always remember her. Perhaps, that was her way of telling me that I am still here and while I will always have the memories and thousands of stories of Joelle (I always tell everyone that Joelle is the girl with a thousand stories), there’s still a future. There is a Dawn beyond the darkness. There is a life to be lived and I have to learn how to live it.

I face this learning process with so many questions, with one of them being how to face it? Truth is, this part of life didn’t really come equipped with a manual. The bible deals with suffering and death on a spiritual level and does give me faith, but sometimes no matter how time I read books like Job, nothing really prepared me for this on such a huge level. Yes, there are many documents on the internet from many cancer survivors who claim they are experts, but the truth is that they are only experts in their experiences and all I can really do is read them and pick and choose what works for me. Even there, nothing might apply and I still have to figure out life for myself. It doesn’t mean forsaking praying and sometimes being still and waiting for an answer. But it often means thinking for myself because no one is going to do it for me, and when they do, they’re only out to serve their own interests. At the moment, the bottom line is that I will be walking this road with a bible in one hand, a guitar in the other, a computer hanging on my side and camera around my neck, and unless God has other plans, I will be able to record what I have learned, or more to the point re-learned, how to live.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

2015: Here’s what I really think of you

I won’t sugarcoat any of this: The year 2015 sucked.

I never had a year filled with so much suffering in it than 2015. If anything, it felt like 2015 put a noose around my neck and tied it to the bumper of a pickup truck dragging me 80Km/h over a road of broken glass, only to crash into a lake of iodine. And the worst of it is that I’m still feeling the pain after it all has happened, just waiting for the scars to take over so I can heal from all of this.

If anything, it’s hard to ever remember what happened January and February because it got eclipsed by March by tearing the quadricep completely off of my knee, requiring emergency surgery followed by 10 weeks of not being able to walk. I was imprisoned by a 7” drop floor living room. I had to use my arms as legs at times. I felt useless and a burden. Yeah, I will admit that I am walking better now than I have for the last 10 years, but it wasn’t a picnic getting to this spot. Even to this day, I am practicing my physiotherapy and I have been using my exercise equipment as a healing device. I’m probably one of the only few people that do not use it as a fancy coat hanger. But it’s because of the determination that I am not going to let myself be beaten by this injury. In fact, I would use this injury to make me that much better than I was before. But, getting to this point involved a lot of physical pain. The battle was between my determination and the pain that would attempt to stand in my way.

Not to mention that I was burden to Joelle. She had to wait on me hand and foot and do things for me that I never would have asked. I felt totally useless as I was unable to do things for myself in those 10 weeks. And yet, she was there for me. My injury was just as hard on her as it was on me.

And then when we think we’re just about out of the woods, hoping to carry on with our lives, Joelle is diagnosed with Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer. I felt like I was emotionally knocked down on my ass. It’s was like the nightmare that I was hoping to wake up from, but it seemed every day I woke up into the same nightmare. Watching her suffer with chemotherapy has been nothing short of emotionally draining, especially when I am trying to be strong for her, only to wind up losing it by the end of the day. Emotionally enduring her surgery wasn’t any easier as there were so many rocky roads up to today. I often reached times that I couldn’t contain myself and had to just get into the car to escape. And even watching her endure a few more rounds of chemo is draining. I have too many “why” questions and I have had so much anger and hurt this year over it because the answers feel so elusive to me.

So, as I stand here with just a little over a couple of hours before new year, let me tell you 2015 what I really think of you. 2015, I hope that you rot in hell. I hope that every memory of you burns up like tissue paper in a bonfire, so that nothing is left of you but ashes and a scar. You can’t leave my life quick enough and knowing that you will move further and further away in my rear-view mirror so that nothing will be left but a dot is the only comfort I have in the last couple of hours. As much as Joelle and I would love to celebrate your going away and slam the door on your ass, Joelle is unable to stay up and watch you leave due to the fact that chemo has drained all of the energy from her. That does not give me any cause for celebration. Perhaps, the three most painful words of 2016 will be “Happy New Year” as I watch you take your last steps. However, I was stand guard here making sure that you go and take all of your pain with you. The only gift I hope 2016 brings me is the ability to forget what a bad year 2015 was.

Darkness in the Festival of Lights

Once again it is Chanukah and all around the world, we all celebrate by lighting candles on our Menorahs, eating latkes (very yummy potato pancakes) and give presents. And this time, I really have no desire to celebrate. I originally lost the desire to celebrate Chanukah after my father died when I was a child and spent almost all of my teenage years and my twenties raging out at God over it. Mind you, I went through the motions when my kids were young as my hurt wasn’t fair to them. Mind you, having found Jesus, we mistakenly wound up putting our Jewish celebrations on the shelf, at least until Joelle studied and wrote papers on the Jewish feasts.

Truly, I have to credit Joelle for getting us back on track with all of the Jewish celebrations, including Chanukah. Her renewed enthusiasm gave me a reason to celebrate. Even more so, we were having something to share with our grandchildren. They know more about being Messianic Jews than our kids really did. We would all light the candles and join together with our kids out west using Skype and we would all recite the Chanukah blessings. Between Joelle and them, I really felt like I was starting to have a reason to want to celebrate Chanukah again.

Until recently…

Watching Joelle suffer from cancer and all of the effects of chemotherapy and surgery has finally started to take its toll on me, especially after the last emergency visit to TGH. By Friday, I could barely keep a straight face in the office at the end of the day and people were noticing that I was finally starting to break down. I managed to rush out of the office in time to let it all out in the car on the way home. If anything, all I really wanted to do was sleep and do nothing else. Even after 11 hours of sleep, I felt like I wanted more.

Honestly, I have no real joy, or at least joy that I am experiencing, for this time of year when we are supposed to be feeling joyful. Even with all of the lights in our neighbourhood, everything feels dark. I have no desire to celebrate without my best friend by my side. She helped make the occasion bright. She lit up the room on Chanukah. A thousand candles couldn’t take away the darkness in the festival of lights while she is in the hospital.

The only hope I have right now is the one true light: Jesus. I do pray that he hears my voice and our suffering and shine his light on us this year, especially where we are physically, emotionally and in some cases spritually unable to. I pray that he will take his place upfront and center in my Menorah of Life and will shine his everlasting light on us and drive away the darkness.

Scars

It seems that throughout my life, there is one thing that is rather persistent: scars. My life is loaded with them. The ones that are on my body, I seem to celebrate and admire almost as if they were war wounds. I almost treat them as if I had walked out of a major battle loaded with these scars. Then there are many of the emotional scars that I, for some reason or another, seem to cover up and no talk about them in hopes that they will go away. The worst part of that is I don’t know why I do this.

I learned something about scar tissue that I find interesting. Scar tissue is formed by the body in order to seal, protect and repair a wounded area, and is far stronger than the tissue that it is holding together. If anything, it is quite the repair mechanism. One can say that scars make us stronger. We might walk away wounded from a situation, but we come back to it far stronger because of the scar. It’s almost as if it should be a medal of honour for having endured that battle.

I often look at the scar on my knee, thinking how I endured a 10-week long healing process beginning March 4th, 2015. It wasn’t easy, since a good part of the healing meant that I had spent almost all of that time with my leg in a splint, and not able to walk on it. The other part was regaining my range of motion through various floor exercises. It was a signal of a lifestyle change. Almost six months later, I have used that experience to rebuild my strength in my legs and take the rest of my body along for the ride. I walk better than I have in the past 10 years and I’m conquering other areas such as my physical fitness issues. That scar serves as a reminder of not only where I was, but where I am now and what I had to go through to get here.

If their function is such a grand function in the scheme of things, why do we go through huge efforts to cover them up, or remove them, and pretend like it never happened? It is almost as if marketing has been brainwashing us into seeing scars as nothing but ugly marks on our person. We then managed to take it even further with phrases such as “scarred for life”, or “emotionally scarred”. They use it in the sense as if someone has been permanently damaged. Yes, I get that there are many events in our lives that can leave us emotionally damaged. I have had my share, starting with seeing my father dying at the age of seven. It still gets me emotional. Am I emotionally scarred? Yes, in some parts. However, to me, these scars mean that some of the damage has healed and I can look at those emotional scars knowing that I have gone through a healing process. I can look at those emotional scars knowing that I have lived through various ordeals, and in many cases, loved. A lot of the emotional scars that I bear have taught me not only am I capable of love, but also tell me that I know what love is. The scars I bear from love in many ways have made love grow stronger.

Will I have more scars? I’m sure I will. They won’t be pleasant, and some will be from downright painful moments in my life. But, at least I will be able to look at the scars as healing. I will be able to look at them and remind myself of where I am now because of them. I will be stronger, in some way, because of those scars.