Category Archives: A Rediscovery of Life and Love

Getting thrown into a new life is the most uncomfortable thing I have ever had to do. In it, I am discovering new things in this journey in relation to life and love.

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.

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…

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.

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.

2016: My Walk to Remember 

Everybody dies… but how many people live?

William Wallace (Braveheart)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Gift You Can Give

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

Matthew 25:35‭-‬40 NASB

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

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

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

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

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

Learning What Love Is and Isn’t 

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


1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NASB
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I ask for?

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

–James 4:2‭-‬3 NASB

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

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

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

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

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