#Best Life Ever.

Trending as of late is a catchy hashtag notion of doing the activities that you love and fulfilling the desires you’ve stashed away in your heart. Don’t deny yourself. Life is truly too short to abstain from anything. You wouldn’t want to lose out on all life has to offer. #bestlifeever! What’s more is you should not let yourself get away with slumbering through the best opportunities you may get. Push yourself by asking more of yourself, and asking more of life in general.

It’s difficult not to notice the first world ostentatiousness dripping off this fad from all corners. The stereotypical picture to go along with this hashtag is the trim bodied fitness nut donning lulu lemon yoga pants in the most impressive yoga pose possible while holding a Starbucks Unicorn Frappacinno at sunrise on the beach. When I see this proposed picture of a “best life”, I begin to wonder if these things are truly part of a best life… for anyone! Many of the preachers of this gospel are in fact those that have suffered a major setback, injury, loss or challenge. Why would these things constitute the best this world has to offer?

Not to be outdone by the gurus of this new way of thinking, I can be seen in the picture in my comfortable stretchy pants, doing an impressive made up yoga pose I call the discharging dog while holding my blueberry mochachino at the crack of 3 in the afternoon. Sunrise is completely looney to shoot for!

Because I heard a famous speaker refer to the movie Chariots Of Fire some time ago and heard the story of Eric Liddle recounted, I think of it often. The segment of the movie referred to is the line where the Scottish Olympic runner tells his girlfriend, “I believe that God made me for a purpose… for China (as a missionary). But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him (God) in contempt. You were right… it’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.” Purpose and pleasure don’t seem to make very good partners. Balance often eludes the best of us; this is a club which refused my membership before I applied.

Instead of spending our hard earned cash on yoga pants and lattes, we may be able to find pleasure in the ordinary and mundane, revelling in simple actions that we accomplish well at any given moment in our lives. Things that give us pleasure through simply accomplishing them are the prizes we take in a normal and real life. Not all of us are in a position to claim Olympic medals, Oscars or Pulitzers in highly esteemed activities. Are simple activities of everyday people as significant? I want to submit that they are even more important.

I haven’t written for some time, mostly due to the requests I have been receiving to do the things I was involved in prior to my accident. Although nervous and scared everyday, I get phone calls to come back. Hard earned abilities acquired over the years served others well and those I worked with recognized their value. Thank God! I will not understate the toll my battle with medications has had on me during this recovery process. All the same, I choose not to dwell on it. Suffice it to say it is the second great loss of my whole ordeal beginning last September. All my midget mind needs as cue to stand up and fight is to be knocked down. Even when the energy to fight reads empty on the guage, I cannot seem to muster the will to budget my efforts for the long term. It is full throttle until the energy to keep going is completely gone.

It was in the mud and mess of an irrigation repair with a foggy medicated mind that a vision of #bestlifeever hit me. I could feel the pleasure of being able to make my hands dirty and tired as I fixed a broken irrigation part. There was pleasure in simply being able to accomplish the tasks that I had become familiar with. I don’t need a special drink or special pants or specific exercises at a crazy time of day. Value in ordinary tasks is there if we look for it. Finding pleasure in life can come from dirty hands in a muddy hole with the taste of sweat in your mouth and the sting of rocks under your knees. All of this could have been taken from me, so the taste is much sweeter as I drink it all in. #bestlifeever

Sunshine After The Rain

Some mornings I sit and stare out the window at nothing and let my mind wander. Sometimes I’m instantly warmed by the vision I see. It’s easy when the sun is shining, its rays warming me through the window. Other mornings, there’s an overcast sky and I see the dread on the faces of those around me and in the posts on social media. I’m disappointed hearing people use phrases like, “I don’t feel like Mondaying” or seeing pictures of someone in anguish with the tag line, “When you think it’s Friday but it’s actually only Thursday”. Before the stroke, I was amused at the sentiment, but since, I’ve found myself in a different space.

Today, while I write, it’s raining again. There’s a part of me that looked out the window as I got out of bed and whispered “more of the same!”, as though I should be bored with it and ready to move on. Fortunately the rest of my mind woke up and shouted back, “you missed the point, dummy! It’s MORE!” Mr. Shout inside my head is right, and thankfully, he’s there to catch me and keep me from lazy thinking. My near miss accident has made me exceptionally grateful for every moment of every day. Does that mean I should ignore engagement with the mundane and always focus on the bigger picture? I don’t think so. I can still be caught up in the news or politics or think about the future impact of using too much toilet paper every time I clean my turd launcher, but the fact that I have a day to enjoy is not lost on a man who has had to take stock at how close the axe came to his own neck.

I’ve been busy the last few days, involved in a project that has been stewing on the back burner for nearly 2 years. The results of the project, once complete, will be more than eye catching and attractive. It’s one of those projects that an aspiring designer would give anything to have in his portfolio. I like to dream of myself as an aspiring designer. The project could be astounding, if my designing eye was set loose. It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “wandering eyes”.

The difference is dramatic. See for yourself.

Lately, for the first time in business, I find it difficult to engage in the race. So what if the rabbit is there; my chase instinct has been replaced with the desire to simply toy with it. But, as Dr. Phil would diagnose, “That dog don’t hunt!” I understand the need to chase after work and make an income for my wife and family. I just have no enthusiasm to deal with the urgency and stress of making it happen. The importance of everything has come up for question. Questioning the value of any endeavor should be ongoing throughout life, if our endeavors are to have any value, but that questioning gains strength if one has recently taken a severe hit. At least it has for me, even though I tend to be a terrible judge of what’s best for me.

For the first time in life, I find myself grateful every morning that I’m breathing and still have the functioning of the body God gave me. When a person’s had a life altering experience, the desire to make an impact with actions simple and complex becomes acute. Mindfulness is not just about being aware of your inner state, but also about being aware of how you’re interacting with everything around you. I’ve come to realize how many bits of my life I had become careless with, not recognizing their value and potential. When one isn’t living this from the inside, it looks intense, giving so much attention to every moment. A person may feel like they’re wrung out like a dishcloth at the end of each day. However, this is upside down thinking and does nothing to capture the essence of what’s going on. The dishcloth gets wrung out by external forces expelling every last ounce of what’s inside. You can be that force upon your own life. Here’s the startling truth; when seeking the value of every moment of every day, you transform yourself from the dishcloth to the sponge. A sponge can also be squeezed out completely, but in doing so the vacuum ready to draw in something fresh and new is created simultaneously. There’s room for more!

Rainy days, the first day of the new week, having to work one more day before the weekend, can sap the life out of you if you’re a dishcloth. But you can also be a sponge! Seeking the value in every moment of every day can create the vacuum within you to draw in something new and fresh. The point really is that IT’S MORE! Replacing duty with opportunity makes it so that even more rain is welcome. Take that opportunity for what it is. Rain is beautiful, even if it is followed by sunshine.

The Big Bounce

Back a number of years ago when I was working as a counsellor, terms like resiliency and support network were huge buzz words or phrases.  For all I know, they are still popular phrases that counsellors use. In fact, every profession seems to have pet terms and jargon that they religiously spew out every time their mouths open. If a person were to purposely try to avoid using those terms, they would just drill in deeper like earworms and find their way out your pie hole anyways. Inevitable. Like water in the mouth of a swimmer that makes you ill if you don’t spit it out. I need to let you know right now that I have no real objection to the words or concepts. It’s just that they were at every turn, to the point of overuse and nausea. Used correctly, they were full of meaning and impact. But in the mind and mouth of someone who just wanted to be on trend and “current”, they also had the potential to fall flat and sound empty. Almost like eating a cardboard picture of a really delicious looking juicy burger.

I always marvelled at how some people seemed to so flippantly use the concepts and not really show a solid grasp of their implications. During my time as a counsellor, I honestly tried to offer solid help for anyone who came to me and asked for it. Some issues were much too complex for me to work through and were referred on to someone with more letters after their name; still others were so intriguing that I persisted in giving them a shot with potential future referral if I saw that they were truly too complex. It doesn’t take long in counselling to start to recognize those that have a great chance of moving through an issue fairly quickly. Let me return to one of those buzzphrases. “Support network” is the one I’m thinking of right now. For me, I always envisioned it like a trampoline. Mad and crazy bounces were not an issue if you were confident in the springs and the bed of the tramp.

Sometimes it takes quite a bit to get used the idea that the tramp will work for you in order to really let go and jump like a pro. Using the tramp to it’s maximum potential could only happen if you let go and trusted in the bed and springs. Our oldest son was just such a person. When he first tried the tramp, he was as stiff as gumby and would hold his rigid pose on every bounce. There musn’t have been any comfort in it, but he persisted in jumping as if to limber up all the stiffness by simply pushing himself past the fears that held him in that pose. On the one hand it was amusing…on the other it was inspiring. We never took any pictures of it because those were the days where digital cameras were just coming into use and the camera we had still used the rolls of film. Memories were much more personal from that era. We may be losing our memory, or the use of it because we have so many pictures of everything. I value those things that only I have seen in the privacy of a non photo era. But I’ve gone off the rails. Lets get back to the topic at hand.

When it comes to the trampoline of life, what kind of things do you look for to help you bounce back? What are the springs? What are those resiliency factors that should be developed and built into your life to help you bounce back when things go south?  I used to work with 5. In no particular order they were Physical, Mental, Social, Emotional and finally but most importantly Spiritual.

 

It’s not common in this era to actually visit the spiritual aspects of your life. For those like me who do include the spiritual in their lives, we have come to realize how essential it is to the overall process of bouncing back. Some things that people look to for the kind of help that will get them bouncing back are actually anchors and chains that pull them down. Wealth of money is a chain that seems to be a good source to sustain you. And sure enough, it will be connected to the frame, but it is not a spring. Fame is another of the anchor series that mislead people to believe they have something to bounce back on but it is anything but.

Developing your spiritual life is essential. You can only go so far with the things of this earth. When things get critical we always look beyond. I hinted on the details of a situation I experienced while in rehab with 3 other roommates. If it wouldn’t have been so serious on the one hand, I would have laughed out loud at my roommate. He would talk pretty crass all day long and on a number of occasions he would badmouth God or belief in God, or the people would bring that topic up. It was very clear from his language and attitudes that he didn’t hold any of it any kind of esteem, let alone have any common respect for those things. He complained bitterly about the hospital food because there was far too much vegetable matter and the meat portions were not at all tasty. Although I didn’t disagree with him on the meat part, I wondered how long until all of this went south and caused a stalemate. At one point in time, his injuries and medications, and lack of physical activity and that marvelous diet he had (his son would visit and bring him Mary Browns fried chicken and gravy and potatoes, of which I partook at one point in time through his generosity) finally came to a screeching halt. All day he spent in huffing and puffing agony as his tennis ball sized diamond in the rough knocked at the door but couldn’t make it a slam dunk. Without any success, the skies grew dark and the lights of the room went out in our room. All night long he cried out saying, “Oh God, please help me.”

I get the fact that he may have been calling on God in vain, so to speak. He probably used His name in a phrase that was common but had no meaning to him personally. It got me thinking though. My roommate was unable to honestly and earnestly call on anything greater than himself in times of real anguish and struggle. And there are times when the circumstance goes beyond mere human capacity. I accept this reality of my transcendent anchor and have the ability to call out to God when things are beyond my capacity. That is one mondo huge spring to bounce back on. Seemingly, I have had a swift recovery from my stroke so far. That is what I hear from the doctors and physio people and the friends that have had a chance to connect since the stroke.  Although I have a lot of work yet to do, I am well on my way. I for one am very sure of the fact that there is power beyond me and as I tapped into that power for hope and courage and persistence to bear the load on the rocky road I had to walk, and am still walking, God has indeed done the heavy work of bouncing me back from the big fall I took. There is a peace and assurance that I am well taken care of in the hand of God, my transcendent caretaker and provider. Maybe that looks cavalier or overconfident to some, evidence of personal determination and drive to others, but I truly know how much that part of my life really comes into play. And that it has nothing to do with me other than the willingness to look beyond myself for the strength I need on a daily basis. If anyone who reads this is struggling with the sheer magnitude of the fall they have taken, I would be more than willing to share.

The Deep Dark Hole

For a couple of months now I have been feeling like I’m falling into a deep dark hole. There was a feeling of optimism and I was on a real strong trajectory forward before Christmas with steady daily progress and the return of what had been lost. And then the doctor started playing with my meds. Since he has been jacking around with the dosage levels, things seemed to be going downhill ever so slowly but surely. I know right? Those of you who have been keeping up with the blog and/or facebook have seen the picture evidence of my 6 kilometer hikes, my family excursions up mountains (more like molehills in comparison, but mountains nonetheless) and numerous other things that don’t fit into the tale I’m trying to tell you right now.

The truth of the matter is I was feeling like I was on a constant downhill roll with my body giving off more aches and pains every day. My muscles were cramping or painful and my joints were constantly feeling like I could not move them. A couple of days were even spent in bed because I felt so terrible that I didn’t want to get up and move around. It’s not that the bed felt any better though. I may as well have shat myself and rolled around in it for as much relaxation and comfort as I got out of the bed on those days.

I shared my feelings and concerns with Sharon one day, telling her that I was feeling weaker and less able to do things, like I was losing coordination and strength in everything I was doing. Anything that I took on I was forcing myself to do. I was able to accomplish much more than I used to, but still the strength felt like it was slipping away. I’m used to aches and pains because I’m getting old enough to be suffering from my less than stellar judgements as a younger man. But these were no regular old people aches and pains. This was full on misery in a five gallon bucket and it was dumping out right on the top of my head! Sharon patiently listens to me through all of the daily grinds that I go through. But what is she supposed to say? She can’t know anything different than what I tell her I’m going through. And I’m no expert either! This is the first time in my life that I’ve recovered from a stroke, so if there is a problem, I don’t even know if it is or not because I have nothing to refer to in order to make sense of it all. So I have just continued falling into this great big deep dark hole and feeling like everything I have been pushing for has been slipping away.

Enter the physiotherapist. It’s been quite some time since I went to physio as an outpatient. They had told me that they were going to do a follow up assessment of me after a while out on my own, just doing my recovery thing. It just so happened that today, Pi day (March 14th) was my appointment. What would they think and what would happen when they found out that I was weakening and slipping backwards in strength and mobility? Would I be sent in for more tests and assessments to find out if something else had gone wrong and I needed to return for more intensive interventions? All the thought of potentially having to deal with more hospital stuff was enough to make me worry. I don’t know if there is an expression strong enough to tell you how much I hate hospitals. May it never be that I have to spend a great deal of time in a hospital ever again. It’s a psychological load I would rather not have to bear. Speaking of psychological loads, the longer I am in recovery, the more I realize that compensating physical weakness with mental determination and willpower also takes a toll. Walking on one leg instead of 2 would be a good analogy. If you are bearing a load normally shared by using something that doesn’t normally carry the load, it has a tendency to wear out a whole lot faster. And I have felt like I’ve been wearing thin lately. Back to the physiotherapist.

I sat down in her assessment room and waited to be interviewed and checked out. The dread in my head was growing with every second that I waited for her to arrive. There she was. I didn’t know what to say. I made some feeble attempts at humoring my dread and fear. She listened and reflected back to me what I was saying to make sure she understood what I was telling her. It all came out. I had to tell her what was going on. And then the worst happened. Out came all of the measuring devices for grip strength, and the stopwatch for timing how long it took for me to walk down the measured section of hallway, AND THEN RUN BACK! The sweat just about started simply by thinking about the whole mess! I didn’t even want to try. So I didn’t. I grabbed the grip strength device and squeezed quickly but put no extra effort into it. Next came the pinch strength device and I grabbed it and flippantly pinched it together and handed it back to her. Pride was completely out of the picture. I remember the last time I was holding these devices I concentrated and put every ounce of effort into my pinch and grip motions. The numbers got written down as quickly as I handed the devices back to her and then she grabbed the stopwatch. One does not look forward to performing a timed walk and run in the hallway of the hospital if you know everyone will be watching and judging if you don’t expect that you will be able to do better than you did the last time. I complained the whole way to the starting mark and made excuses for why I thought I was going to be slower and oh my aching joints and muscles and pity me.

The tests were done, and we went back to review the whole thing………I sat and waited just a few seconds and expected to get the bad news that I would be sent for more tests.

Reveal.

Grip strength up. Full range of motion, no encumberances. Walking was stable and the stroke was visibly undetectable. Walking was quicker. And running was faster as well. But the real change was in my pinch strength. I gained 8 kg of squeeze pressure on my left hand. That is a significant difference. One that is worthy of note. This was confusing news! I had become smoother, faster, stronger….not at all what my mind had conjured up.

After all of the information sunk in, I finally was able to accept that this was all good news at a time when I was falling into a deep dark hole. I had been going on feelings. And my emotions were wearing thin just as my mental endurance was growing weaker and weaker.

Back in the day when I was counselling kids who were facing challenges and needed someone to talk to, I recall a young lady coming to my office in tears because the teacher had taken some points from her for not having her notes and assignments in order as she was supposed to. She sat in my office and decried the fact that she was so terrible and unorganized and a total failure at being able to do these “stupid” task that the teacher had required her to do because she just didn’t have it within her to do it. Except the thing was, the whole time she was almost yelling with her upset voice and rantings, she had been organizing her notes and assignments in one of the most tidy binders I had ever seen. Right before my eyes, she was doing the very thing that she was ranting about to convince me that she couldn’t do it. I must have had a dumbfounded (and knowing me an idiotic grin) on my face because she stopped all of a sudden and looked at me, only to say, “What?” When I told her that I watched her do in front of me what she was telling me she couldn’t do, she stopped her ranting and just looked at her newly organized binder in silence. Then I asked her if what she had just done was something that she could find 5 minutes every morning to do before class started so that she didn’t have to come to my office and be so upset about it. Her response was a fairly quiet, “yes”.

I have been thinking about today’s physio appointment fairly quietly all afternoon. Feelings……they are really a deceiving thing to build truth around. I can relate to the young lady who “couldn’t organize” herself. I’m glad for a moment to have an objective observation done for me. I’ll be quiet now.

The Impenetrable Fortress

Whether it was a rainy day or too cold to go outside or just kids playing around, there is a right of passage for every kid to go through. I am talking about making blanket forts inside their rooms or dragging all of the bedding stuff out to the living room furniture of course. Wild  imaginations in kids seem to be able to conjure up  the most exciting reasons to be hidden under a blanket that is draped from chair to chair, or whatever piece of furniture happens to be available at the time. Depending on the blanket used, it was able to keep monsters, pets, siblings, sometimes parents and even light itself from entering. Oh how strong an exterior the mighty yet humble blanket is. Taken from the simple origins of keeping us warm while we sleep at night and transformed into the iron clad, bullet proof shield made in the forges of our imagination to ward off all comers…intruders into our secret realm. We alone controlled who could lay siege to our kingdom. With the power to repel any who would come and attempt an entry into our domain it was indeed a weighty crown to wear as king for the keys to the kingdom of blanket fort. Not only that, but there was always only ever one ruler in a blanket fort. Even though we wanted to have complete say as to what was done and sometimes even said within the confines of our fabric walled kingdom, it was always desirable to have companions or siblings come join us for secret sharing, wild stories, or games of imagination or board.

Mom was a special force of nature that could override all claims to any throne of the blanket kingdom. If for whatever reason she felt that the fort was in the way, down it came! Whoah to anyone who would dare to stand up against the orders to dismantle the fort after the law had been laid down by mom. One would only have to bock at following the orders for a short period of time in order to discover how swiftly that hurricane would get up to maximum force. You would only ever dare to try and resist such a force once. It took a while for my older brother to get to the point of moving out of the house, leaving my younger brother and I to move into his room. The room was actually the attic of the house with a ceiling that peaked in the middle at about 6 and a half feet. That entire room/attic was like the most awesome of blanket forts without the blankets. Those walls could tell a thousand stories! Maybe someday I will have to share some of those stories.

My wife is busy making quilts for the youngest of our tribe. You can never be too old to use a blankee. She has been putting together these awesome hand made quilts for all our kids so they have a blanket to use as a wrap on cool evenings, or something to throw over their beds as a cover, or whatever they wanted. Now that our youngest, the twins, are getting to the point where they are going to be adulting soon, it is time for their special connection. She has tried to make them so that they reflect their personality and/or personal choices in the process. I watch her labor over these works of love and art and admire how she has involved each of our five kids in the process along the way in some way. I always imagine each of them building a fort out of their blankets someday. It doesn’t matter how old they are or how big the fort ends up being. It’s the imagining that makes it fun in any case. I have even ended up as the recipient of a quilt made by my wife’s own hand as the picture at the top of this post shows. It is an amazing piece of art that she stitched her love into and I really love the end product. It has earthy rustic tones and hunting themes in the pattern of the fabric and although I can see a piece of me in it, I can feel my wife’s love in it as I wrap it around myself. That’s why I call it my love wrap.

When I first came out to Kelowna from Three Hills, I knew I would be living on my own for a bit as Sharon and the boys stayed back in Alberta to finish the school year and try to finish up some other loose ends. I eventually found a place here in Ktown and there was no furniture or anything else to use until the stuff from Alberta started to be moved out. I didn’t have cable or phone for the first while, so there was less to do if I were to just sit around in the evening. I kept busy with other things, but sometimes I would just text on my phone while I was sitting on the floor, wrapped in my blanket for warmth and protection against the boogeymen that were living in the house I was in all by myself. My love wrap came to have a deeper purpose in September of last year. It is a surreal and in many ways scary thing to go to the doctor one day and be told that you are not going home…that they need to keep you in because things are more serious than what you had fist been led to believe. I remember being wheeled into the stroke ward at first so that they could do all the tests. It was when they wheeled me to the far end of the hospital, to the old section where the rehabilitation unit was that things got extremely real. Rehab units are a really interesting place. I suppose we call them interesting when they should realistically scare the shit out of us but we need to keep positive about it. As I’ve written previously about my experiences there, I won’t go into detail about the goings on. But I will say that the nights were long and restless and the days were cold and most of the interactions with the staff were pretty much on a strictly “business” level. The other folks were there to do their job and I was there for a job too.

Sharon couldn’t spend her entire day at the hospital, all day every day just being with me. Even if both of us would have wanted that to happen, it’s just not realistic for that to happen as recovery is long and tedious. One thing above all else I will recall about those days which helped me face all of the stuff of recovery and rehabilitation. That was when my love wrap was brought to the room and I was able to use it to cover myself while I was sleeping or resting or just waiting for the next activity to take place in my days filled with exercise and assessments and learning from the staff what I needed to do and more. I got lots of comments about the blanket from staff and others that would come through the room to do their part in the stuff of hospitals. Some didn’t take much notice; still others had it pointed out to them by yours truly.  My blanket became my fort! There are a lot of things you can do if you set your mind to them. Much more can be done if you are constantly reminded that you are wrapped in the love of someone who cares for you deeply. You can become almost bullet proof…impenetrable! For all the love I received from friends and other family members while I was in the rehab unit, none was more important to me than the love that was wrapped up in that blanket of mine. It was the fortress that kept me warm and safe in the times of darkness and struggle. I hope and pray that all of you are wrapped in a blanket of love throughout your days.

The Details In Dictionaries

Do you have memories of when you were a kid? Almost all of the memories of my childhood I cherish because of their value and life long lessons that they left me with. I grew up in a time and place where it was almost surreal in the things that were lived….experienced as though they were drinking deep of the most nutritious stew of life you could imagine. I digress.

Grandma was visiting our house for supper one night and it was a fairly regular/normal visit as far as I can remember. It was more common for us to visit Grandmas house than it was for her to come and visit our house, so there was an atmosphere of some excitement and enthusiasm. Grandma was a character. It seemed to me that everyone in my hometown, and maybe many members of my own family were caricatures. You know the pictures where the most obvious aspect of a person’s physical being is exaggerated for the purpose of drawing an unmistakable picture that everyone recognizes who is being portrayed. Caricatures aren’t just of the physical attributes. In my hometown, everyone had character traits that were larger than life. The stories of the people I was surrounded with as a kid could go on. Not now though. My grandma was no different. Grandma had some unmistakeable traits that you could expect every time you met her and visited with her. Not physical so much, although 4 foot something and bow legged sort of make you stand out in their own way. It was her other personal traits and habits that were very much larger than life and if those things could have been drawn like a typical caricature, they would have been massive.

For instance, when Grandma had heard enough of what you were saying and was ready to answer or speak at you (notice that’s not converse with you), she would simply exclaim “huh” out loud as though she didn’t hear what you just said and then proceed to answer you with her very strong ideas of how the world worked. Most of the time it was annoying, but it usually ended up entertaining in some way or other. The most raucous family visit with Grandma was one time when a discussion came up about the small pins that hold gears and pulleys in place on machinery. Now some of you who are familiar know and are already referring to them as COTTER pins. But for my non mechanically inclined grandmother, they were “CUTTER” pins. It might not sound like a big deal, only one letter difference in the spelling and a little difference in how it is pronounced, but the discussion quickly changed to the correct way to say the word and what the actual word was, which revealed that Grandma adamantly believed that it was pronounced and spelled as “cutter”. She was so willing to stand by her version of the word that we actually pulled out the huge dictionary we had as a part of the Encyclopedia set our family owned (did your family get hit up by that traveling salesman?) and we were able to look up the word. I still remember to this day the page being opened to cotter pin with the exact picture of the exact item we were discussing right there in bold print.

The story doesn’t end there. After we had opened up the dictionary in our grammar intervention, and laid it out on the kitchen table for her total wrongness to be exposed, Grandma in typical fashion took only a few seconds to look over the picture and review the definition written there. Her response?

“What kind of dictionary is that?” – Rosie Harsch

Our family still uses that line amongst ourselves on occasion to not only make a point to others in our family or others, but to remember the tenacious nature of my fearless little Grandma. I often remember this incident when I’m considering digging in my heals on something I believe. It’s good to remember that some things are worth fighting for, some things are really best kept to yourself if you don’t have enough information or if you don’t have the experience to go to the mat on an issue, and other issues are just funny because they are so out there and really don’t have much impact on real life other than to make for a story that can be told for as long as someone remembers. And sometimes it truly is only about perception. There’s no where left to hide. It’s all in my head.

I had awesome opportunities to meet up with some old friends lately. They were friends who hadn’t seen me since before the stroke happened and so I’m finding out that many are nervous as to what they will experience when they first see me after the long time apart and not being sure how the stroke affected me. It’s actually a bit of a brain twister to think that friends are nervous to visit with me since this accident happened. There is a shared fear that all of humanity seems to have about injury and the injured. Even those who are really close and love us dearly seem to have to muster courage to interact with us after an injury. You who know me and have followed my quite public disclosure of how all of this has affected me have a better idea of what I may be like upon first encounter. I am very grateful that you take that much interest in my little old life, by the way. A close friend who I hadn’t seen for a while came by and shared a meal the other day. As he left he told me that if he didn’t know what he had been told about my stroke, he kind of wouldn’t be able to tell that I had even had the stroke.

The same thing happened last night with people who are not close friends, just acquaintances. Conversation was streaming along fine when they asked how business was and I had to answer by asking if they knew that I was recovering from a stroke so that what I was about to tell them would make more sense. Their answer was that they had heard about the stroke but they really couldn’t tell that anything may be different. It’s clear that the truth can be hidden sometimes, or at least not exactly evident. Truly, I don’t blame anyone for believing something that they really don’t know. If I were ashamed or nervous about strangers treating me differently, I can be comforted to know that in large part I can go about my day almost totally incognito as a “hidden” stroke survivor who is still in recovery. Friends being nervous is another thing to think about, but thankfully friends are willing to get over any anxiety to discover first hand what the real situation is.

It seems that more and more this life is becoming something like my Grandma would make of the world. She was clinging to things that weren’t exactly true for no real good reason other than to be right, but it was so important to her that she was even willing to question a dictionary that clearly countered what she believed. As it turns out, my outward appearance and function may be hiding some of the more hidden facts that only I know for sure (well, myself and my doctor who must sometimes roll his inside eyes at me as I whine about my aches and pains and struggles, although he is too nice to say). In this way, much of what people are left to know about me is inaccurate and probably needs correcting in order to be “truth”. Sometimes what is inaccurate needs to be corrected, sometimes it can be left alone and just allowed to exist as an inaccuracy, and other times it makes for a wild a raucous table discussion that will be remembered for many many years. Working through truth is a tricky thing sometimes.

One thing I cannot change my mind about, and will refuse and resist any attempts to do so is hope. Hope is a part of every day. It doesn’t matter what comes along in life to push back against you, do not lose hope. Hope is that which keeps us going. Don’t lose hope. Hope is something that no one should ever be allowed to change your mind on. I don’t care what kind of dictionary it is. Be hopeful my friends.

Thanks for letting me ramble friends.

 

Crickets Here

Sometimes I get asked why I share the things I do about my stroke. I’ve even been told that I am brave for sharing such private information. I don’t think that bravery is exactly how I would see things. Bravery is a different animal altogether…or at least it seems to be to me. I’ve been thinking about why I share.

I am presently fascinated by the show Alone on History channel. Although the third season just ended not so long ago, I think about the show often. It is yet another reality show that’s premise is about survival. With a twist. The contestants are actually taken to remote locations with a very limited amount of survival gear and they are completely on their own, with only a camera to record what they are up to on a daily basis. Each season seems to keep getting stretched out longer and longer as the contestants have the inspiration of those who were out for over 60 days all by themselves, surviving off of what they can hunt or gather or fish for. If you watch the show for action and quick plot line unfolding, you will be sorely disappointed, as most of the video footage is of the contestants in the show eking out their daily existence and facing the challenges of being on their own. But that’s the compelling and actually riveting part of the show. The part where the figurative brains and hearts of the participants are spilled out for all to see. Producers and editors must spend hours going through footage looking for the moments of revelation that the contestants reveal the thought processes they are going through. There are moments when the anguish and psychological torment of being alone come to a boil and they come out in the speech and actions of the contestants. The challenge of foraging for food and safe shelter, the activities of making safe shelter and going up against the predators and intrusions of wildlife would be enough for most, but the real challenge comes in being alone. If it weren’t for the camera, there would be no one to talk to but themselves. Fun happens when they talk as though they are talking to themselves, while the camera is rolling.

For some of the people on the show, there are simple obsessive loops that start to play in their minds, from which they cannot seem to escape. I think everyone who watched season 2 will remember the fact that David, the eventual winner, was really stoked about Kentucky Fried Chicken. He even went through an imaginary scenario where he was at the order desk, and he clearly ordered what he was dreaming about. If you weren’t ordering right along with him, that may be a sign that you need a therapist or something because we all love the Colonels wonderful chicken. There are others on the show who seem to lose their focus early on and instead of following through on their intent to survive and win the show, they begin to think of their family in such a way that they cannot handle being away from their presence for a moment longer. Each contestant on this show has the ability to “tap out” by calling rescuers on a satellite phone so that they will immediately get medical attention or actually get a ride out. Still others have to call because they cannot sustain warmth in their body or the starvation has depleted them to the point where they make the call because they feel they are on the verge of making bad decisions. To watch it, you can sense the disappointment in those who tap out because they have lost their ability to sustain health or life. A few medical emergencies, a couple of cases of hypothermia and various other reasons come up, but for the most part, it is the alone factor that gets the contestants. They get themselves in a thought loop of thinking about all the other people in their life. Lonliness motivates all of us in different ways, but being alone is never considered a state that we seem to be able to sustain for long periods of time.

I don’t have an extensive group of friends that I hang out with in Kelowna here. It just hasn’t seemed to work out to find people that are available and able to get connected with. As the business I was developing got busier, I was able to connect more regularly with a bunch of people who were constantly coming through my day as I went from task to task and place to place. Without knowing a lot of people, the work connections I had made became a constant outlet and input for me that I looked forward to. I’ve met alot of really interesting people. I’ve learned of conspiracies that would make YouTube dark side of the internet lovers blush, and found out how exactly the world trade center could be an inside job and the like. I’ve learned some ways to tell off people that I like as much as I’ve learned to tell off people that I didn’t like. Construction/trades are some of the most wildly interesting people with ideas and sayings that bring to life a side of society which most don’t regularily see. I’ve learned more about Kelowna in a single lunch time conversation than I’ve learned in the 4 or so years that we’ve been here. There is a different perspective on the world just waiting to be revealed if you get to know people that you don’t normally hang out with. And there is a human side to the rank and file that I don’t find in the hyper educated who seem to grab everyones attention most of the time.

I’ve had to learn to like myself a lot more since I had my stroke. Just more of me time and that means more of me to go around than the “other”. There are visits from some folks, and I do get out quite a bit more than I did in the beginning, but there are much fewer interactions than what I used to have, so it’s been an adjustment to say the least. Talking to myself happens on occasion, yes, but I promise that I keep the arguing and swearing to a minimum. That kind of stuff is not even fun to hear coming from my own mouth. All those around me get concerned when I raise my voice at myself as well. Made for TV movies may be entertainment that we switch the channel to from time to time, but when that s*!# gets real, we actually run away. So I’ve always been aware of this fact and have worked to keep things in check. I know you’re all relieved. There is always something that I can find to do, even if I get caught like a dog tearing apart the couch for entertainment.

Embracing change has become more difficult as change isn’t always welcome when it comes. Change can actually make demands on us that we didn’t expect and it holds a lot of anxiety for those affected. The changes may still come and I will get used to it. Dealing with change in a more disconnected life has lots of interest. Blogging like this is a way to reach out and interact with people that aren’t always able to spend real time with me. Encouragement is not immediate, but shows up in the comments and revelations that come from someone who has read Facebook or this blog and makes reference to something I’ve written about. Those are the true tidbits of encouragement that come in a different form of interaction. And I believe for as much of a struggle as it is to write all of this stuff out at times, it is the reason for writing. I still need to be connected with people. I appreciate it when you read these blogs and show you’ve done so with words of encouragement or reflection. Thanks to you, my friends.

 

Self Made Man

It may shock some of you to know that I don’t perceive myself as a self made man. I know, I know, you could all swear to the fact that I’m responsible for the things I eat, the car accidents I’ve had (all two – a long time ago), the growing Molson muscle I have worked to achieve around my waist…. actually…..I am responsible for those things. In that regard, I am totally a self made man. What I am not responsible for is any success I have in my life. For those things I may have a part of the responsibility, but truly sometimes my parts are small. Very small. Take my large family as an example. On second thought, let’s not use that as the first example. Insinuating that I had a small part of involvement in that makes me feel like my manhood is diminishing. So let’s move on to a better example.

In life, I honestly do feel successful at a few things. But in every case I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the more I have been assisted by others towards that success, the more successful I’ve become. There are few successes in my life that I can claim being the sole one responsible for. If you are honest, the closer you look at your own life the more you see how others have sustained you along the way. I have to be honest and say that I am very little on my own. Even the things that I do independently are buoyed up by the inherent love and support I have from those around me that love me.

If you watch the news, which I do on a regular basis in spite of the fact that my wife and kids with their eye rolls are TOTALLY not into it, maybe you notice the same trend that I do as you hear politicians, protesters, and regular people blaming anything and everything but themselves. Personal responsibility seems to be a concept from the past. But it’s not because they are attributing success to others. No, it’s more because they don’t want to take any responsibility, or accept any designation of being the architect of their own poor choices. There are often public acknowledgements of  what people contributed in the circumstance, but I often wonder if that truly means the recognition of success is different for the acknowledger. I don’t know. I think we have lost ourselves. We all have a tendency towards clinical narcissism to the point that even acknowledging others is a way of building ourselves up. In fact for most, it’s easier to read this as though it’s about someone else than to consider yourself in the implications of it.

Let me do my very best to regain some sanity and temper my narcissism with some open admissions. I really do recognize that I am only who I am and what I have accomplished because of others. There are some key players in that situation. Of course. As of late, I can attribute quite a bit of my recovery to a team of health professionals who have taken it upon themselves to learn every bit of information that they can glean in order to help people recover from injury. There are the selfless friends who offered to get me to appointments and other places when I was unable to do so myself. The networks of people who know we are in a pickle because of my inability to work, so they got together and provided financial help, some pre-made meals, gift cards, gift bags anonymously hung on our door early in the morning. The letter of encouragement along with a gift from an address with no name that thanks to the modern tattle tale tool called the internet can be tracked down and known. The offers of help from those who up until now were not much more than acquaintences. The evidence is all there…to be self made in any circumstance is pretty difficult, but in recovery the help piles up from all angles. For all of this I am exceptionally grateful.

There are still a few things that are self made. For one, my choices. I am the only one who can choose for me. And what I choose is totally up to me. I want to make my choice to live and flourish and be grateful and see the beauty in as much as possible (some things are inherently ugly and/or evil and I don’t see beauty in those things). I choose my reaction to what happens to me and around me. And I choose my actions as I face every day. I choose in all the things that are related to my mind. This area is really all I am truly self made on. Taking every thought captive as my own is important. Doing this to the best of my ability is where I really have the control to say that I am a self made man. I truly want to do my best with these things that are only mine.God help me! God help us all!

Why Not Me?

At my mom’s inurnment (yes that’s a word) we were out at the cemetary in the middle of the Alberta prairie waiting for others to arrive for the little family ceremony we were going to have, and we spent the time wandering around looking at some of the headstones. We came across one headstone of a guy who died at a pretty young age. My dad, who was walking with us said right away when we read the name on the tombstone, “Now that’s an interesting story” as he went on to tell us about a young man who was to be taking over his family farm. He was sweet on a local girl and when he made his crush known to her, she spurned him in a most unkind way. It caused him to snap, so he left the farm and told no one that he was going to the city to drown his sorrows and rejection in booze and destructive living in order to kill himself slowly and miserably. His father loved him and with the help of another family member went and looked for him, found him, took him back home and his parents nursed him back to health and mental wellness. He came around completely and was even excited about eventually taking over the farm again and living fulfilled in spite of being spurned. He was back to living happy and looking for all the good in life. Then one day while on the field with the tractor, something happened and the tractor flipped over and he was crushed underneath the machine.  My brother made the observation, “I don’t understand… a young man that looses desire to live because of significant loss is saved from destruction of himself only to come back to a life where he is excited and enthusiastic about living, and then be tragically killed. It’s hard to understand.”

And then there was my friends younger brother. He wasn’t really someone I knew well, even though I lived in the same house as he did. Age separation was a big part of it. I was a young adult with the cares and concerns of a young adult, only boarding in the house of a friend while working in a small town in the middle of a province far far from my parents and families home and all things familiar. I had bigger fish to fry. This young brother to my friend was just an average kid who had tons of potential. Turns out he had a kind heart, a desire to love on people, natural musical talent and a really magnetic personality for those who spent the time to get to know him better. After I had gotten to know him, he went on to college and got his degree, and also managed to connect with a young lady who he ended up marrying. They had an awesome wedding and were set to go on a honeymoon in Brazil. It all went down as planned and he and his new wife flew off to Brazil to enjoy their honeymoon in sunny newly wedded bliss. The morning after their arrival, he informed his wife that he was going for a walk on the beach to do some praying and stuff. She got worried when he didn’t return as quickly as she expected, so she went out looking for him. There was a gathering of emergency service workers on the beach. As she approached the group, she was able to find out that it was indeed her new husband, my friends brother, who had been struck by lightning and killed. It devastated everyone who knew him. None of us knew how to handle it.

A good friend called the other day to catch up and find out how I was doing. It was a good chance to connect and find out how we were both faring with our lives and just everything in general. I was asked to share about how recovery from the stroke was going and he was able to relate with some of the physical challenges as his body parts were wearing out from the damage caused by an accident a few years earlier. The things that people live through graciously and with perserverance humbles me on a daily basis, if they actually open up and let you know what their challenges are. (I have had more people tell me what they face silently and privately since I began sharing about my recovery and it often leaves me in awe). For all the personal challenges that my friend faced and did well with, his biggest struggle was with the things that his youngest son was going through. In order to maintain a trust I won’t go into detail …that is for the family to disclose, not me. This boy faces a life of psychological terror and uncertainty, with the options being long term treatment of psychotherapy and intense supportive parenting coupled with medications to assist in dealing with thoughts and fears that most of us deal with in much different fashion. We are able to work through issues that this child will struggle with for some time. He has done nothing to deserve this torment. It is nothing that has a quick cure. It was the look forward to this life of struggle and pain that caused my friend to begin to utter the word, “Why……?”

And the trigger to all of this was on my social media feed the other night when another Facebook friend posted the question, “Why me?” The conversation with my friend and the question posed on social media gave me a link in my mind to think back to when I first discovered that I had experienced a stroke. I can honestly say that the question of why never entered my mind, except in one way. The question is usually “Why Me?”, but I have to say that I have reflected on how that question seems to ruin everything. In any case, it is a question that deserves a closer look, because we all ask it. Sooner or later. My experience is so small in scale compared to many others I know who face struggles. What then do I really have to offer to anyone who is up against it and facing huge challenges? Do I have anything to offer and can I really understand pain and loss? Well I don’t know what anyone else faces, but I know what pain and loss was for me, so please allow me to tell you

I remember laying in the hospital bed in the rehab unit just after my stroke and the thought came up of how to frame what had just happened to me in light of what I believe about God and His goodness and how what was happening fits into that whole belief. Maybe it will confound some of you, I don’t know. But I do not believe that “why me?” is a legitimate question to ask. For one thing, if we actualy got the full answer, would we be able to understand it all? More importantly to me, I have come to understand the world in a much bigger way, and the question is more appropriately, “Why not me?”. I always have to remember who I am, what I truly deserve, and who I am speaking to. If I am able to remember these things in the heat of the moment, does that diminish my pain and/or suffering or my sense of trying to seek personal justice? Maybe not, but it is always better for me anyways to remember who I am, what my place is, and what I TRULY deserve before I ever get it in my mind to be asking the “why me” question, which really assumes that I know what is best for me, and that I think I deserve anything better than what I get.

Since I had lots of time to think about things in the hospital, and the ceiling wasn’t at all interesting enough to hold my attention for more than oh say, half an hour or so, I turned my attention to looking at my newly acquired physical challenge as a “why not me?” situation. Does turning the tables like this take away the pain and loss? NO! But how is it going to help anything in the moment or the future to look at it in any other way than what you have to work through and make the best of in life? It doesn’t make the moment or the future any easier to deal with if you start off thinking you didn’t deserve it. Even if you didn’t!!! Especially if you didn’t deserve it. If you recognize that you are in a less than ideal situation, or a situation that you wouldn’t have chosen to be in, and the only choice you have left is how to deal with what comes next, to refuse to choose the best that you can in that moment only puts you backwards, not forwards.

 

Make the most of moving forward, no matter how bleak and impossible it seems. For anyone who claims to have a relationship with Christ, our brother went before us in walking a terrible and treacherous path and knows what it is like to go through darkness and horror. We have a constant companion who knows all about suffering, knows how painful it is, and can sustain us in all our trials and challenges. In many ways this topic is so huge that I feel I will never be able to share everything on my heart and mind with regards to it. I just want to encourage all who struggle that there is, or can be hope in the really bleak and awful stuff that can happen in life. It doesn’t take away the pain, sorrow and challenge. It does bring comfort that we have a sympathizer who has experienced it all. Keep the faith.

Rollercoasters

I can’t remember when exactly I stopped being thrilled with roller coasters. I’ve never ridden one until I puked, or had an incident where I passed out because of pulling insane amounts of G force out of a corner, or any other such thing. Maybe it’s because the actual ride can be seen to be so controlled and the outcome assured that you really don’t need to do anything other than find a way to cap off the vomit as it tries to make its way up the tube. A long time ago, when I was still wild and free and living in Edmonton, I recall the day that the roller coaster came off of its track at West Edmonton Mall; there was a person killed in that incident. For some reason, I was at the mall that day. I doubt it was because there was someone killed and I was a rubbernecker looking for a way to gawk at the destruction and carnage. But I do recall being drawn in further to see what was going on because I was there already and seeing a lot of commotion. Knowing that this actually happened by seeing it first hand didn’t turn me off or make me doubt my safety either. Ir seems that the allure of a “contained” thrill just didn’t do much for me. My stomach can only handle so much because of overactive balance and yet that didn’t stop me all the time from jumping on a ride like that going for it if that’s what I felt like. The whole process just stopped being fun. Rollercoasters haven’t stopped for me though…just the fun.

Tears actually came to my eyes yesterday for reasons other than sliced onions, cold wind in my face or hot wind from my backside. It was a fantastic day overall! There was very little extraordinary about the events of the day which included a coffee meeting with an acquaintance and some other errands which I fit in while I was out. I drove, I walked, I shopped, I interacted, I made a list of things to do and scratched them off as I went through the list and many other little things (probably even got a good deep nose picking in there at least once). The drive home was uneventful and I parked the truck where I usually park it, walked in to the house so that I could take care of the urge that had been knocking on the door for quite a while at that point. Details of the visit to the great white throne can be spared for the purpose of this conversation, so I’ll move on to the hoisting of my pants, and the quick latch of the button and zip of the fly as I walked over to the sink and turned the water on, squirt some soap in my hands to rub away the sins of my previous executive actions as king of the porcelain…..and as I rubbed my hands together it hit me and that’s when the tears came to my eyes. I realized that I had just done things so normally and fluidly and unconsciously, the way I hadn’t done them since mid September of last year. In fact in mid September I remember not being able to bunny hop the chair at the table closer after I sat down, so I would make it as close as possible even though my dead arm would clear the table as I swung it around during sitting. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed looking at all my pants and seeing the buttons and zippers that I had no chance of doing up and deciding on sweats instead. It all flashed back in my mind, playing like a movie of my recent life.

Maybe I was sad that it seemed like I had just taken the whole day for granted. Whatever the case was, it momentarily overwhelmed me to realize that this was a day unlike many I’ve had in the last number of months. It all seemed to come so easy, and that was nothing like I had experienced in a long while. In fact the previous day had not been one that had come nearly as easy, and it seemed like every detail of the day had to be fought like a battle of submission in order to get things to turn out the way I want them to. My leg still wanders from what I tell it to do and my left arm is not strong enough to keep up with my right arm and the two are constantly fighting while I’m just trying to do simple things here. “I’m walking here!” But most days if I’m honest I still feel like I’m the drunk in a convenience store trying to hide the fact that I’m totally loaded and staggering around looking for the corn dogs. Personal criticism is constant as I have to always be aware of how I’m moving and using my body parts so that I can continue to relearn natural fluid movement. I have to give myself a pat on the back from time to time in order to keep myself going. And I know through realizing the little changes from time to time that I am making good progress on a daily basis. It’s that momentary “view” that I get at the top of the coaster once the train of cars reaches the apex of the long climb.

You know that long “hang time” there is as the back of the train of cars all have to make it to the top in order for the full impact of the climb and that momentary realization that you are about to really get into it? Well there are lots of days that feel like that as well. Just hanging there, waiting for things to really get rolling. I’m sure that the twists and turns are yet to come, the ups and downs and barrel rolls along with the screams and wide eyes. Once that coaster gets into it, there is nothing left to do but ride it out. I got into this whole thing without realizing I was in line for a rollercoaster. But now that I’m into it and there’s no choice but to ride it out, it’s exceptionally nice to have those frozen moments in time to have a little mini movie of where I was and where I now am. I’m very grateful to be able to have tears come to my eyes in a moment of sober realization. Yes tears and laughter and every other emotion still come out way easier than they should (lability) but I’m okay when I get a chance to see the change and just be grateful. No moments should be taken for granted, or lived without the intensity of a roller coaster ride.