A prolonged absence from writing anything lengthier than Facebook posts has definitely taken its toll on me; while it hasn’t interfered with my reading other material (including blogs), my available time for writing was spent interacting with people online and off, and once again immersing myself in 12 Step recovery groups while dealing with life on life’s terms. It has been time well invested in mission as well as missionaries, vision as well as visionaries, and while it has been well invested, it has not been without a fair amount of  trade-offs and struggles both within and without. Gains and losses. Joy and grief, and sometimes? Both are contained within a moment.

Examples? Two granddaughters joined us in the greater family – Eliza Rae to Matthew and Laura on August 15th, followed by Anna Elizabeth to Jesse and Jessica on September 15th – and one of Warren’s World War Two brothers in arms died. In the cases of the births, I could not be happier for my sons and their families, but the reality is – with one son’s family in Texas and the other set to relocate to Okinawa within weeks – that I will not be able to do more than see pictures and have the occasional Skype conversation with the grandchildren for the foreseeable future. In the case of Dad’s lifelong friend? The extremely condensed version of a life looks something like this:

Jake BJake Marvin Boomgaarden, of Luverne, died Friday, September 19, 2014, at the Sanford Luverne Hospice Cottage. He was born June 2, 1921, in rural Lyon County, IA, to Lewis and Tilla (Kruger) Boomgaarden. He graduated from Magnolia High School in 1941, and attended Mankato State Teachers College. Jake served his country in the 8th Air Force in England during WWII from 1942 to 1945.

Jake married Evelyn Bartels on December 25, 1942, in Wichita Falls, TX. After their marriage, Jake returned to the Air Corps. He owned and operated several businesses in Sioux Falls, SD. For over sixty eight years, Jake umpired baseball and  softball, and refereed basketball and volleyball without missing a call. He was also honored to umpire the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament. Jake umpired his last high school baseball game at the Metrodome at the age of 88.

He was a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Luverne; the Luverne American Legion; past Commander of the Luverne VFW; and past Master of the Ben Franklin Masonic Lodge. He enjoyed coffee with friends and the “Last Man’s Coffee Club” at Glen’s.

Jake was one of those crusty old characters who could be warmly endearing and highly offensive within the span of a few moments, depending on your sensitivities, and all it took for you to know that would have been to pull up a seat nearby when the Last Man’s Club convened on weekdays. His love for country ran side by side with his biases, about which he was blunt, and his death reduced the club to six active members. While I was sitting listening to the young pastor talk at the funeral service about Jake, I couldn’t help but think that the man he was describing was so unlike the Jake I knew – the guy he was describing might have been a nice man, but I kept coming back to a thought that struck me when I watched the movie “Gran Torino” – when the only person to speak at your funeral is less than half your age and you didn’t see them all that often, the character sketch they paint won’t hold up to close inspection.[1]  I know I didn’t know Jake as well as Dad did, but I also know that the guy I joked with nearly every day for two years about his lousy parking, and (sometimes) fussed at when he would use epithets instead of seeing people as people? He was real. The relationships he shared around the table were real, and if he was frustrating at times? He was also gracious and generous, gregarious to a fault. That is the man Dad will miss –  the man he had a relationship with – not the cardboard cut-out of his friend we all tacitly agreed to pretend was real for an hour.

Real relationships take time, energy, and effort. Bonding? That can (and often does) happen quickly, but my own experiences with long-lasting relationships is that they move past the initial bonding stages at their own pace. Unforced and unhurried, we work through the difficulties and grow into true intimacy with a rhythm unique to us. The internet changes some of the dynamics in that it isn’t always possible to get face to face; just as I will not be able to hold my grandson or granddaughters for a long time, I may not be able to hug a long-time online friend. Though the relationship beginnings don’t always look the way they used to in this wired world? The gifts these new friends bring into the virtual room with them can take your breath away. Consider this, from one of those friends:

Once we have taken the time to listen to somebody’s exhaustive and exhausting tale, after the initial relief born of disbelief (“I can’t believe he actually listened!”) there is a certain…void which opens up in that person. A sort of emptiness where the wound of lovelessness is exposed. That is when we pray with that person.

That description, so perfectly framed as it was, got better with their next entry (in quotes) to which I had to respond:

“Prayer is the intellectually unpopular, but effective, solution.” – Yeah. That? Truth – especially because it puts our intellect out of work and our selves in conduit mode for the miraculous.

Thanking God, as I frequently misunderstand Him, for the relationship with Him, and with family near and far. You, my friends? You are also family. Loved as much as I can, in the best way I can, this day. Forgive me my trespass as I forgive yours, and let us grow into the best examples of what He can do – miracle workers who may never know the part they played in each other’s lives.

  1. [1] I wrote about this particular pet peeve of mine at greater length in this post; pay close attention to the eulogy quote from the movie – it nailed what I was witness to in so many ways.

Reality Check – Part One and Two

A reality check for any of you that this might apply to – hold it until you are ready to deposit it, OK?

Early recovery is tough. I don’t know if you’ve experienced the “pink cloud” phenomenon that a lot of us do where it feels like everything is wonderful, with rainbows and unicorns and the euphoria that comes from not having thrown up on someone else for several consecutive 24 hours at a time; regardless of whether or not you ever did hit that phase, it is not real. Elements of it? Certainly – it is often in this initial euphoria that we make our first efforts to pray, and to thank God for what we are receiving – but make no mistake: this, too, shall pass.

Real recovery is learning how to cope with life on life’s terms; of having to do things you didn’t want to do in the first place not because you want to but because you need to in order to thrive and not just survive. It’s the going to meetings on a weekend when all your friends are going out getting buzzed up and your disease is talking trash to you (“What’s the point? I can’t do this anymore!”). It is paying the bills, not because you want to but because you used the service and want it to continue. Its being there when someone close to you loses a friend or a loved one to illness or accident, just because its the right thing to do. Its learning the difference between “like” and “love” and choosing to love people just like you who may treat you as badly as you once may have treated others, but today – just for today – you’re about changing the world one life at a time – yours. It is – for many of us – when we finally have to face the fact that God is neither Santa Claus (only shows up once a year to give gifts, then leaves) nor genie who grants our wishes. People die from this illness, yes – but they also die in other ways, in other places, from other causes – and sometimes these deaths or major illnesses are a part of the charge needed to destroy a faulty conception of God.

I got clean (and sober, but I repeat myself) when I was 28 – I never expected to live to see 30. I’m 60 now – and there have been some horribly, horribly rough spots in those years. The loss of a child. A business. Friends. A marriage. A serious suicide attempt – untreated depression just amplifies the insanity already there. Two full-blown heart attacks. The most recent challenge was cancer. I’m still here, still willing to help if you – or anyone else – wants the help. But it has to be your choice – life on life’s terms can be lonely, yes – but you do have a say in that. Remember that we’re powerless, not helpless.

OK, check’s all written. I hope you stick around and fight past the feelings and the thoughts that make you think that your friends – who are committing suicide on the time plan – are really having fun, when for you? The miracles are yet to really begin unfolding…

Most of the above was written in response to someone struggling to stay clean, and very recently at that. Part two is what’s going on here, at the same time I wrote the above, on this side of the screen.

Dont give upI’ve made no secret that there are days my cheese is not squared on the cracker on numerous occasions; first time visitors may want to read this post or this one for some background. There are days when depression[1] kicks into high gear; most of the time it is little more than a vapor, but occasionally it shifts form and hits with hurricane force for a while. I start noticing the return of a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Email messages from others – bloggers and friends as well as daily devotionals, ads and sales copy – fill my inbox, and though the machine may send out read receipts? I haven’t done more than click on the message to change the status. Next? Feeling overwhelmed with the nature of our life here[2] – the 24/7/365 responsibilities of being a caregiver and doing the work that is required – and the sadness creeps in a little more with the certain knowledge that there is no respite care available in our community. Even if there were some compassionate souls who could step in and do care for Dad for a week or so (that he would trust, who wouldn’t mind the increasingly more personal aspects of personal care, who could cook, and do the laundry, and the sundry other chores required to keep him at home)? We don’t get paid for doing this – there is no income to budget for a week away. No respite. The best we can accomplish is for one of us to get out of the house for an hour or so at a time – me to my meetings, her to a dinner with friends. We swap out which of us gets to go to church based on whether or not I’m playing. Why? Simply because he is at serious risk of falling with no warning.

Since – for me at least – the early stages of a return bout with depression tend to read (on the screen or the page) almost like a bout of self-pity, when I try to neatly pigeonhole the thoughts and the feelings, it gets difficult to sort through what is and is not a flare-up of my mental illness. As has been noted before, depressives tend to be far more realistic about what is going wrong with them – we often know the why quite well – but feel inadequate to do anything about it.[3]

I made the conscious choice years ago, in close consultation with a competent psychiatrist and my wife, to come off of anti-depressants so that I could once again experience a full range of emotions, not the abbreviated set that SSRI’s permit. [4] It has been, by and large, a choice for mental health over chemical well-being that is still important enough to me that I will not compromise the ability to cry when something is sad, or laugh side-splittingly when something is funny. If I cannot laugh with those who laugh, and weep with those who mourn, I am sacrificing a part of who I am and was meant to be by God. When I talk it out, or write it out? Funny enough – I get better. When I work with others? It takes my eyes off of me, and allows me to come back into the same battle, with the same circumstances, with a renewed sense of purpose. Of mission. Of gratitude.

Objective reality may not change, but my perspective on it does – which is why I am able to encourage others when I feel like I am failing, for failing I may be (someone else will have to determine that – I am too close to the subject), but today, through His grace? I am not a failure, nor will I be, so long as I don’t pick up – and that check you can take to the bank.

Image credit: Petite Magique

  1. [1] As noted, depression is merely one of my mental health diagnoses.
  2. [2] Compounding the recent injuries, Joy and I are both beginning to suffer problems with our right knees, and hers is getting serious enough to require surgery or replacement soon. The funny part is the guy with the COPD and the chronic pain is likely to soon be caregiver to two.
  3. [3] Depressed people tend to have more realistic wold views in general, which fact, when told to my wife (now a Ph.D. of Psychology), prompted her to respond “So, you want us to get them all on pills and deny their reality, is that correct?” That didn’t sit well with the instructor, but he could not argue with the logic or the current truth of the paradigm. For those concerned souls who are thinking “Just get back on your anti-depressants, and all will be well!”? The only thing that will accomplish is a temporary alleviation of my emotional state somewhat equivalent to laughing gas – the circumstances that I have described would still be there. There would still be no respite care, or income.
  4. [4] My choice is not, for most, one I would advise. There are moments that thoughts and feelings combine to form the thunderhead of despair, and briefly – be it ever so briefly – I think about throwing it all away. Those thoughts pass. If you are struggling with them now, call 1-800-273-8255.