Thursday, March 31, 2016

My friend, Zach

I’ve had people tell me that they are inspired by how I live my life.  They’ve said that seeing me maintain a positive attitude despite my challenges inspires them.  Those complements are as powerful as they are humbling.  And though I’m never quite sure how to respond to such kind praises, I always feel grateful to know I’ve helped uplift someone.

Today I’d like to tell you about someone who uplifts me; my friend Zach.

I met Zach at church in Virginia.  We weren’t bosom buddies, but the friendship came easy; we were similar in age, our kids got along well and our wives were friends.  Zach and his family are the kind of people you always feel good around.  His wife, Ginet, makes these awesome chocolate marshmallow cookies that I absolutely cannot stop myself from pigging out on.  And, wouldn’t you know, whenever I really needed a cookie, like when I was struggling to recover from surgery and life had me feeling down, there’d be a knock at the door and Casey would open it to find Ginet and the kids standing there with a plate of goodies.

Time passed and we both moved, Zach ended up in Colorado and I landed in California.  We followed each other via the wonders of Facebook, which was all good until last year when I read an update status that shocked me; Zach was diagnosed with cancer.

Over the months that have followed, my courageous friend and his brave wife have graciously allowed friends and family to keep appraised of their happenings through a blog.  In reading their words, I have had the tremendous blessing of not only staying informed of Zach’s progress, but of witnessing his/their strength.

The dignity, honesty and fortitude with which my friend is battling cancer are a testament to the might of the human spirit.  To the might of HIS spirit.  Some posts openly discuss hardship and disappointment, others celebrate advances and express optimism surrounding his treatments – all reaffirm gratitude for friends, family, faith and prayer.  Each specifically acknowledges the personal growth and spiritual development that come as a direct consequence of maintaining an eternal focus. 

These days, I find myself thinking of Zach and feeling encouraged, hopeful and determined.  There’s just something about seeing him getting out there and getting it done.  Some days he feels down, other days he feels up; but he is never defeated.

Zach never stops.  And because he never stops, he never ceases to press forward, never ceases to make strides and never ceases to inspire.

Fight back Zach; we’re all riding with you.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A promise of things to come

I wrestle with Easter. Not the ham, the chocolate bunnies or the time with friends and family. That part is easy. 

The part of Easter that I struggle with has to do with the fact that I have an unwavering, sincere testimony that Jesus Christ is my savior, that he died for my sins and that he was resurrected three days after being laid in a tomb.  

How can a testimony of such beautiful truths be a struggle? Good question. I'm not sure I can fully answer it, but I'll try. 

Part of my struggle comes from having spent a lifetime grappling with the realities of a debilitating neuromuscular disease. Indeed, without feeling sorry for myself or going into too much detail, I can honestly say that this body of mine has some serious city miles on it. And the pain that I have, and do and will continue to feel is real. 

And so, in thinking about the resurrection, this amazing miracle of miracles, the conquering of life over death, this unfathomable promise that one day my limbs will be fully restored - that every hair on my head will be accounted for and perfected - that I will live in a healthy, pain-free body that does not tire or falter is a dream so rich in its fullness of God's love and mercy, so abundantly filled with compassion and tenderness that the mere thought of it evokes an immensely deep and meaningful celebration, wonderment and reverence within me that I almost don't even dare allow myself the joy of contemplating it for more than a brief moment at a time for fear that I'll lose myself in its promise. 
Put simpler, I look forward to the day when, in my resurrected body, I raise my wheelchair over my head and toss it off the edge of the earth. But, because it would be very easy for me to get lost in that daydream, I try not to spend too much time thinking about it. 
Instead, I try to focus on what I consider to be the even greater miracle associated with Easter; the atonement. 

I say greater because while the resurrection means I'll live again, which is pretty fantastic, it is through the atonement that I can live again with God. To me, that is what brings true value to the promise of a resurrected frame; the opportunity to use it to dwell with my Heavenly Father. 

There are no words to adequately describe the abundance of that miracle. 

Unlike the promise of the resurrection, I find no danger in thinking on the atonement. In fact, I find that the more I think on it, the more it does for me. 

Pondering the atonement makes me more cognizant of my Savior's love for me, of my divine potential, of the gift of forgiveness, the importance of humility and the promise of eternal progression. Put simpler, thinking about the atonement makes me want to be a better man, which, in turn, makes me an improved man. 

And therein lies the blessing. 

Mine is an incredibly blessed life, far from perfect, but wonderful by nearly every measure. And yet, it pales into nothingness when compared to the prospect of eternal life; dwelling with God in a resurrected body. 

Thankfully, we don't have to choose between the two. The promise of eternal life is available to us all. That's what we celebrate and that's where we find our joy - in He who gave up all that we might each posses it.

And so it is that, with a smile on my face and hope in my heart, I wish you and yours the happiest of Easters. 

Oh, and good luck finding all those eggs!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Shout it out

I'm in the living room of my friend's house. I'm surround by friends, many of whom I just met tonight, and everyone is singing Handel's Messiah. Everyone but me. That's because, probably unbeknownst to my friend prior to this evening, I don't sing.

It's not that I don't like singing. I do. I just can't really do it. Literally. I really and truly lack the lung capacity to hold a note, let alone belt out Handel's Messiah. And that folks is why, if you want someone to give a kick butt talk, I'm you're guy. But if you're looking for someone to join the choir, I'm not the wheelchair dude you're looking for. 

But, what I lack in operatic skills, I make up for in heart and enthusiasm. And tonight, I'm feeling it. 

Engulfed in the surround sound of this beautiful piece, my mind is drawn to its composer. Talented, yes, but also a brother of sorts. You see, like me, Handel was disabled. 

Following a stroke, he could no longer play the keyboard and could no longer conduct. Physically, he was broken, he could give no more music to the world. 

And then it happened. 

He found the words. Those glorious words written by Jennens. And they called to him. Oh, how they called to him!

And he responded. 

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Has there ever been a more famous or powerfully composed piece of music?

I'm listening to it now and my heart is full. 

"For He shall reign forever and ever!" "King of kings!"


And so this man, Handel, who, though all stood around him to declare his masterful chorus, was never able to join in their physical exuberance, gave us all this incredible gift. 

I can only imagine that his joy, like my joy, in being surrounded by heavenly voices declaring heavenly praises in heavenly song, was as complete as mine is in this very moment. 

What a blessing it is to exceed expectation, to defy the odds and sing praises in the process. 

Shoot, I may stay here all night.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Looking back...

Casey and I were watching home videos with the girls recently, and, as is often the case when you watch old videos, it was fun pointing out how much we've all changed. Things like Nubbins being a puppy, daddy having super poofy hair and how young we all were. But, of all the changes/differences, that we saw, none were more amazing to the girls than the ones they saw in me. 

No, it wasn't a weight thing. No, it wasn't a greying thing either!

What seemed to utterly shock and delight them was seeing me move in ways they had long forgotten. 

"Oh my gosh, Isabelle, Daddy's feeding himself!" "Whoa, Daddy look, you're leaning yourself forward!" And, "Mommy, Daddy used to move his arms to his controller without help!"

For them, it was incredible. They were giddy, happy and astonished - all at the same time. 

For me, the feelings were different. 

Seeing myself on that screen was surreal. In a way, it was like watching someone else; someone who looked like me, but wasn't. Like a stranger I once knew. 

We live life day-to-day. And because we take it in increments, we sometimes fail to see how much we truly change over time. It's only in looking back that we see how very different the "us" of today is compared to the us of yesterday. 

And sometimes, as was the case on this occasion, seeing those changes is hard. 

It's easy for me to want to be the guy I saw on that screen. Easy to want the strength I had, the independence I enjoyed, the mobility I took for granted. 

Wanting what we once had is natural. 

But then, I realized something I hadn't previously considered: To be that person again, I'd be giving up more than I'd be receiving. 

The person in that video hasn't struggled the way I have, he hasn't had the joy and fullfillment from leading his family in good times and bad and he hasn't grown, developed or improved the way I have. In short, despite how young, strong and vibrant I once was - in the ways that truly matter - I am infinitely stronger today than I was then. 

I do not know how different my life will be when, years from now, I watch videos taken from 2015. But, what I do know is this: Despite how physically strong (or weak) I'll be then, if I continue to strive to continuously improve, if I work on it day-by-day, I'll be a better man then than I am today. 

And that's something I look forward to seeing. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reality check

When I first started blogging, I used to post every day. Then, I moved to once a week. Then I'd take a few months off and then come back and post regularly again.

And so it went.

Though the posting hasn't always been consistent, I've always tried to deliver something of value. Sometimes my posts are funny, sometimes they're sad; often times they're in between. But, always, what I write is genuine. 

Lately, I haven't posted much at all. Life has been pretty crazy since the move and somehow the blogging (probably along with a number of things) has fallen between the cracks. 

In some ways, I'm ok with it. After all, coming up with new content is challenging and sharing your deep, personal, private thoughts and life-happenings can be tough (like when I copped to liking romantic comedies, arg). 

But, other times, I feel bad about not posting more. I feel like I'm letting people down. 

My readers have been kind, loyal and generous and I appreciate greatly that you've let me know you miss the posts. In addition to letting you down, I feel like maybe I'm letting my girls down by not chronicling my/our life for them better. After all, this blog is really for them more than anyone else. It's my way of letting them know who daddy is and what I'm about.

In thinking about this back and forth of feeling ok, then bad, then ok, then bad again; I realized that this is life. Far too often, we take something that was supposed to be fun and easy and we turn it into something to feel bad about. We pick ourselves apart, convince ourselves we're letting everyone down and then sit back and wonder how we got stuck in the mire. 

It's silly. We know this, yet we all continue to do it. And though there's no silver bullet to stop doing it, I suppose acknowledging that it's happening is a healthy and helpful start. 

For me, that means blogging when I can and letting that be enough. 

What does it mean for you?

The fact is that, neither you, nor I, are letting everyone down. We may not always be all things to all people, but that doesn't make us disappointments to the world; it makes us human. 

I can live with that :)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Riding dirty!

My wheelchair wasn’t designed to be an all-terrain vehicle, but I’ve never let that stop me from traversing through snow, four-wheeling across rocky terrain or running over countless people’s toes/feet.  Basically, I do what I’ve got to do to be where I’ve got to be – even if it means riding dirty!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve driven across some pretty hairy places.  Indeed, in my travels to the areas impacted by the fires in Northern California, ash, mud and burnt grass have become a new norm for my tires.  But it isn’t what I’ve driven over that’s left a strong impression on me.  It’s what I’ve driven through and what I’ve seen. 

I’ve driven through scorched landscapes, passed downed trees and through ash that hung so thick in the air it blocked out the sun.  And then there were the people.  I’ve seen the look on someone’s face after they’ve been told they lost everything.  I’ve seen people who evacuated so quickly they left without their wheelchairs.  I’ve seen cot, after cot, after cot filled with people who woke up homeless.

I have seen and witnessed, the worst days of people’s lives.

And yet, despite the soot and ash and heartache, what I have seen more than anything else is something I did not expect; love.

I’ve seen strangers line up to volunteer at shelters; trucks and cars packed full of clothing, food, toys and supplies for victims they’ve never met; and neighbors helping neighbors. 

I have yet to visit a single shelter without being received with kindness and generosity.  These people, who have lost it all, take time out – every time – to offer me a warm cooked meal, show me around and ask me how I’m doing.

And they open up.  They tell me about themselves and share their stories, which are always lined with hope, never despair. 

Ironically, because of their examples of courage, positivity and service, I feel like, in many ways, they’re helping me more than I’m helping them. 

And so it is that every night, when I go home, my head hits the pillow and before I sleep, I think of the people I’ve met.  I see their faces, remember their tales and think of where they’re sleeping.  I think about where I’ve driven and what I’ve seen.  I remember the love I saw and felt that day. 

And then I fall asleep – determined to wake up and fight even harder for those individuals (and the many I have yet to meet) the following day.  Because as one man told me yesterday, “we’re all family.”

You got that right, Bro!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

It doesn’t happen overnight

I’m sitting here surrounded by moving boxes – all of which are in various stages of being unpacked – and I can’t help but think that somehow this process of getting moved in is a metaphor for life.  As much as I’d like to get everything setup overnight, it’s a process; a hard, seemingly impossible at times and definitely slower than we want it to be, process.

And yet, we keep at it.

And so it is with each of us.  We all have a responsibility to do good, to be good and to strive to improve.  But never fear, for the power to change is within us.  We need not, and dare I say we must not, allow ourselves to remain as we currently are (though some of you are, I’m sure, scarily close to being perfect).  For I strongly suspect that there will be no greater blight against us than if tomorrow should come and find us as we are today. 

Let us ask ourselves, “What can I do to be a better husband, wife, parent, loved one or friend?”  And then, let us have the courage to do it.

Improvement will not happen all at once.  Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  But, if we work towards it, brick by brick, we will build ourselves into monuments of goodness.

This is about the happiness that comes from the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of serving others and the peace of a resting your weary body after a day spent working towards something of substance.

“I fail.  Every day I fail.”  You likely tell yourself that a million times over.  But tell yourself the following too: “At times I’m short with loved ones, impatient with strangers and slow to put others before myself.  But I’m trying.  And in recognizing my failures, taking out the chisel of humility and chipping away at my many imperfections, I am sculpting myself into something beautiful.”

Become your own masterpiece and the world really will be better because you’re in it.

And that, my friends, will be a life well spent.