Sometimes when I’m sitting in my little room typing out my thoughts, I forget there is an audience out there actually reading what I’ve written. In the last week, a number of people have recently said this exact sentence to me, “I’ve been reading your blog.” Whenever I see trends like this, I stop and pay attention.
Patterns can give me insight and inform me about my next move. When I resurfaced our basement stairs, I tore off old laminate from the treads, creating an ever so slight variation in some of the steps. Before I resurfaced them, I would trip at the same place every time I would ascend the stairs. After the third time, I paid attention to this pattern and consciously made note to watch that step next time.
What is my take on these unusual amount of comments about my writing? Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe I’ve found a point of connection that is resonating.
When I write an entry here, rarely does it take long to begin putting words on the page. I try to start with what I am thinking and what seems relevant to me at the time. This is why Hope spills out. It’s what I need, therefore it’s what I give.
Generosity works in all things, even and especially in times of need or lack. I was shaped by this kind of gesture when I traveled in Eastern Europe as a college student 35 years ago. Romania was under communist rule, and it’s citizens suffered economically. But in every home we visited, we were treated like royalty through lavish food and gifts. Our translator pointed out that one host had spent approximately a months wages to share his feast with us. My initial response was out of guilt. How could I accept such a gift? The translator said, “if you don’t receive this, you will rob him of the joy of blessing you.” I’ve never forgotten that, and still use that statement to this day.
Perhaps it is this spirit of generosity that my reader is discerning. In this challenging season, I choose to be generous. I need Hope, so I give Hope away. In doing so, it comes back to me many times over.
It might seem like it to anyone who has had a loved one take their life. Death is difficult enough on its own. When it is self-inflicted, it goes to a new level of pain.
I’ve had a few friends who have taken that path. All of them young. I can still feel the churning in my gut upon hearing the news of death. One particular night, I went out to the dumpster in the alley behind the kitchen and sat down on the curb and sobbed. I distinctly remember going through thoughts of feeling like we had lost, not just a life, but a battle for a life. What could I have done to prevent this from happening?
I know intellectually their death was not my fault, but sometimes I can’t help feeling like it was. In my reflex to help try to make sense of the ache, I can miss the greater question. What will I do now in light of this tragedy?
For me, one step in a new direction is to never be silent on the subject. To do that, I choose to write and tell my story, how Hope stepped in and gave me new life. I can’t make choices for someone else, but I can give it my best effort to influence them in a positive direction. I can’t just assume that depression and mental illness isn’t treatable or curable. Hope is an incredibly contagious ideal. Why assume the dark side has all the power? Even a tiny match can illuminate a very dark room.
I’ve had suicidal ideation in the past, when my whole world was falling apart. What I remember about that season was how much it made sense in my broken mind. I remember believing I was a burden, a failure and an embarrassment. I felt totally worthless. Despair was closing in on me and I was losing my will to keep going.
I’m glad those days are behind me, but I won’t forget them. Because of that experience, I now have insight into depression that I never had before The depressed mind doesn’t think correctly and it is hard to change, But Hope keeps guiding my steps forward. I will wave my banner of Hope to all who can see it and maybe in doing, impart some strength to those who need it.
Hard to believe this song is 20 years old. Hope has been a burning subject of mine for even longer than this. Here’s a blast from the past when making music was my main love.
Come to the Fountain
I’m comin’ up slowly for air that I can’t breathe
I’m drowning in the sea of tranquility
I just can’t seem to get enough of what’s killing me
All the things I try I can’t get satisfied
I always seem to keep on asking
When will I stop doing what I want
And start wanting what I do
Is there a way? All I can say There must be a way out of here
I’m comin’ up slowly for air that I can’t breathe
I’m drowning in the sea of prosperity
I just can’t seem to get enough of what I don’t need
Give me more. Give me more. I know I’ve said it before
What makes this time any different?
I can’t wait for satisfaction.
I just want relief
Come to the Fountain
Let the water pour
So deep within me
Deep within my soul.
Why is Desire so important to Hope? Isn’t my Desire the thing that gets me into the most trouble? Isn’t that why I want to eat too much, drink too much, sleep too much, or get angry too much?
How can Desire have anything to do in helping me build my hope?
This was once my internal dialogue. I used to think that my problem was that I wanted too much. I thought I wanted too much out of life. I thought I wanted too much out of my work and marriage. I was even led to believe I wanted too much out of my faith, and that the things I yearn to see and encounter just don’t happen any more. What changed?
Change came when I discovered that wanting too much wasn’t the problem. Instead, realized I don’t want enough.
In the season of my darkest days of 2016, I came face to face with the brutal truth that life was not working out the way I had hoped it would. My career as an entrepreneur had led to an ending I never wanted or imagined. The internal, emotional pain of that time was the worst I’ve ever had to bear. I started questioning my decisions and the reasoning that got me into this position. Why was I so stupid to think I could succeed?
The internal dialogue continued as did the pain. All pain demands relief and I was looking for a solution. So I drank a lot, which helped to silence the negative voices in my head and so I could fall asleep. It worked for a while. But there was one voice I could not keep quiet. It was the voice of Hope.
Hope was persistent in reminding me why I took such a big risk to become an entrepreneur. Hope worked to convince me that immediate relief from the pain of loss was going to keep me from finding satisfaction in moving toward the better future again. Hope reaquainted me with Desire.
As a result, I started wanting more again.
I was no longer content with relief from pain. I wanted more than escape. I wanted to keep going. I wanted to keep searching for the better future that I had always imagined. I started to believe I would create again. Desire was indispensable in this process. Without Desire, I would have lost my way completely, and I certainly would not be writing this post today.
I’ve come to learn how many of my decisions in life are made from a motive of avoiding pain, especially the pain of disappointment. Hope doesn’t take away the pain, but it does help me overcome it and try again.
I’m in a challenging season right now. I’m not the guy who has it figured out and looking to sell my online course to teach you how I succeeded in life. Just in the last month, I lost my job, my truck and am in the process of losing my wife to cancer. My hand is full of uncertainty and it feels like the deck is stacked against me. And I don’t like playing that game.
I’m writing this post today for me. This is how I started blogging 13 years ago. My first audience was myself. I wanted a record to look back on and see the progression of my thinking and experience so I could better remember the story. Some of those early blog posts are funny, and some are downright embarrassing. I’m glad I get a chance to change my mind along the way.
I write today because I believe some of you might be in the exact place I am, but need a voice to articulate your feelings. Some of my favorite authors do that for me. I might be confused or unsettled in my mind, only to read the thoughts of another and find out that there is a new language available to me. It’s a new language that provides me hope.
So how does hope work? I use that word everyday. I say out loud; I hope it doesn’t rain….I hope you have a safe trip…..I hope to see you soon. Is hope nothing more than wishful thinking? If I think real hard, will I end up getting what I want? Is there anything wrong with this Desire?
I now hold fast to the idea there is nothing wrong with my hopeful or wishful thinking. I spent years trying to convince myself otherwise. I once believed that the key to life was in letting go of what I want, that all my desires are selfish and I should daily lay these down and take up a life of service to others and therein I would find happiness. It sounded good, but in practice, it felt incomplete.
What I discovered is that I cannot have life to the full without first being full of desire. I can’t experience anything fully by not wanting it. As I was taught to fear my desire and distrust its motive, I learned how to destroy it. But in the process, I destroyed it all. Like a napalm bomb, I took out the good with the bad. Being left without Desire is to be left without Hope.
Now my Desires are the starting point of my Hope. What is it that I want today? I want work that matters. I want a reliable vehicle that runs. I want to live long with the wife of my youth. I want all this and more.
How does Hope influence these three desires? Does Hope get me what I want? My old answer was, no, it doesn’t, so stop wanting so much. My new answer is actually a new question: How acquainted am I with my Longings?
An ancient proverb says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a Tree of Life.” The constant in this equation is Desire. I cannot have Hope without Desire. Neither can I have Fulfilled Desire without Unfulfilled Desire. I can’t just go along not wanting something and suddenly have it granted.
My old way of thinking was nothing more than a strategy of avoiding pain and disappointment. I will never go through life unscathed by the pain of unfulfilled Desire. I won’t ever get all that I want in this life. But I refuse to stop wanting and stop hoping for it.
I can’t say I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I’ve known for a long time that I could write. It’s only been in these mid-life years that the urge to write has increased to the point where I feel compelled, almost obsessed, to put words on a page. It’s a feeling other writers can relate to.. Michael Ruhlman put it this way: “don’t write if you can help it, and don’t write expecting to make money. The only really good reason to write is because you have to.”
I’ve now come to that point in life where I have to.
I have started writing a book about my experience as an entrepreneur, chef and restaurateur. It was not a book I could have begun even 6 months ago. I know this because I shopped the idea six months ago. I sought some advice, factored the costs, etc and decided it wasn’t the right time. So what changed?
I think I now see that bread&cup was only a season in my journey. Before, it was my dream. It became my identity. It encompassed my entire life. I thought it was the best of what I was going to be able to achieve in my short life here on earth. I could not see past it because I was still grieving its loss. Grief takes time, but it isn’t forever. Not if you have Hope on your side.
Hope won’t abandon or leave you alone. It is incredibly patient and chivalrous. It won’t rush things. It’s never rude or boorish. Hope allows grief to run its course. And when grief has done all it needs to do, Hope can take over, but not until it’s time has come.
The book of bread&cup is not a cookbook. It’s a book about Hope. That’s’ why I feel compelled now to write it. The world doesn’t need more recipes. It needs more Hope. And I plan to dump out as much of it as I can to anyone who will listen. NT Wright says, “Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible.” This sums up my change of mind about writing and why I now choose to write.
It’s ironic how Hope and hopelessness are both contagious. Both are choices. I can be infected by either one and I can transmit either one. Which one will it be?
I find it ironic that once I got serious about writing a memoir about bread&cup, the process has already begun to give something back to me. The dream that started to germinate as far back as 1994; the same dream that required all my creative energy and financial resources I could throw at it; the very dream that eventually got buried on December 10, 2017 has already begun showing signs of new life again.
Two weeks ago, I lost my job suddenly. Ten days ago, my mom had surgery to address unknown source of pain and discomfort in her abdomen. Six days ago, Karen entered the hospital with a mystery infection that is still undetermined. This is a lot to deal with in a short time.
As I was writing this week, I discovered the longest chapter in the book of bread&cup is the one titled Cancer. We came face to face with this enemy in May of 2010 and have been contending with it off and on now for nine years. It has sought to dominate our lives, but we have refused to allow it that much power.
If there is one thing I have learned through the difficulties I’ve experienced in my life, it is this primary thought: circumstances do not get a say in how I choose to believe. Try as they may, I can refuse how they attempt to define me. I’ve had to deal with the untimely deaths of loved ones. I’ve walked through business failure and bankruptcy, through cancer and disease, through loss after loss. Each crisis offers me a message, and the theme of that message is always negative. It has helped me to recognize their words and resist them before they ever take hold. Mine always begin with the word You.
You’re such a failure.
You have the worst luck.
You didn’t plan properly.
You’re screwed now.
You need to stop dreaming and come back to reality.
Bad circumstances are inevitable. Everyone takes a bite out of the shit sandwich. Some more than others. Everyone will experience difficulty they do not want regardless of how much effort is exerted to stay in control.
All negative emotions and experiences are temporary. Sorrow is only for a season. Hardship is not forever. Grief comes to pass. It doesn’t come to stay. On the other hand, Joy is persistent. It always wants to find its way back home.
My circumstances and all their messages don’t get to define me. I won’t escape their effects, but can I refuse to believe their words.
Today I side with Hope. I like what it says to me. It tells me better days are always ahead.
I’ve been writing my thoughts and chronicling my experiences at breadandcup.com for over 10 years. Now that my restaurant is closed, my writing will continue on at this site. I am currently working on a memoir of that experience that will be released October 2019. Thank you for reading.
It’s the phone call you don’t want. Its the word you were dreading. It’s the situation you didn’t ask for but were just handed. You just got some bad news and you feel like you just got punched in the gut.
We all have had our share of bad news. Some more extreme than others. Some more often than others. But there is no escaping this life without having to deal with dreaded circumstances along the way. I’d like to share a practice that has helped me walk through my difficult times.
Practice is an interesting word. You usually think of athletes or musicians practicing, but the same is said of doctors and lawyers who practice medicine or law. I like the idea of the basketball player practicing free throws, but do I like the idea of my doctor practicing on me as he removes my thyroid?
Practicing is the repetitive, recurrent action or skill applied to a particular discipline in order to improve or develop proficiency. The basketball player practices free throws to be more likely to make them in important game situations. And the more surgeries the doctor performs, the better she will become. The old saying is true in any field:
Practice makes perfect.
And the single most important practice
that I have engaged in as I face bad news is the practice of
gratitude. Which might sound like the dumbest advice ever, but let
Gratitude is not about giving thanks
for the bad news, being thankful for the cancer, or for the car
accident. We are never thankful for travesties. No one wants to
lose a loved one or lose a limb or good health. Bad news is bad.
But we can never let it lead the way.
The most visceral, immediate and natural response to bad news is anger. Anger is that feeling that alerts us to when something is severely wrong. Anger is an important emotion, but it is also a deceptive one.
Anger is a better beacon than a guide. We do well to pay attention to its signal, but we shouldn’t trust it to lead us forward. Action based in anger won’t end up anywhere good. Anger will try and convince you to put a hole in the wall with your fist, or finish of that bottle of whiskey by yourself. These are not good solutions to assuage anger.
Take note of anger, just don’t obey
what it tells you.
Once anger is acknowledged, turn to a
more trustworthy practice: Gratitude. Anger and gratitude don’t play
well together. They are like oil and water. They don’t mix. As you
move into a mindset of gratitude, anger will decide to leave the
Too often gratitude shows up too late,
after the fact. Then you end up regretting not telling the loved one
how much they meant to you, or taking note of the joy you deeply
experienced because of them. The practice of gratitude is the same
as the basketball player practicing free throws. You spend time
doing it before you need it, before its too late.
Again, gratitude doesn’t mean you are
thankful for the bad news. It does mean you find all the other
things for which you are thankful. And when you count your
blessings, you find you are much more wealthy than you ever realized.
When friends started asking me this week how Karen’s surgery went on Friday, I realized I need to bring an update. There was no surgery, and right now, it appears there may not be a need for it.
Last week was a time of big decisions. We were at a crossroads in her treatment plan, and it wasn’t clear where we should turn, weighing out the pros and cons of each decision. Remove the drain and have surgery? Remove it and wait and see? Remove it, have surgery and continue chemotherapy? It wasn’t a clear cut path.
In the process of consideration, we met
with her oncologist on Tuesday of last week to hear his opinion and
how it might factor into our decision. During the consultation, he
indicated that the CA125 blood test (used to determine activity of
ovarian cancer) had dropped from a high of 1200 down to near normal
levels of 46. In our amazement, we asked what caused that drastic
change. He grinned, shook his head and offered a few thoughts. “I’d
like to think it was my doing, but I doubt that. It could be
everything you are doing, and so whatever that is, keep doing it. It
could also be an act of God.” We both breathed a collective sigh of
And so our next question was, what does this mean? It was agreed that the urgency level has dropped and we have some time to watch and wait. So the drain was removed that day and our new plan was implemented. We would forgo any more surgery, medication or treatment and let her body recover naturally and holistically. Since then she has begun to feel progressively better day by day. Her appetite is improving and her ability to actively work is lengthening in hours. Needless to say we are very grateful and in Karen’s words, feeling a new lease on life.
So what were the things Karen was doing that the oncologist mentioned? She made a pretty big lifestyle change back in November, first beginning with adopting a ketogenic diet, but chemotherapy can cripple the taste buds, and that approach was too limiting. So we morphed into more of a keto-tarian approach, a high fat, high vegetable diet focusing on foods that have natural anti-angiogenic properties. This means lots of color in the food; red, blue and black berries, dark greens, red cabbage and onions. It means fermented foods like sauerkraut and Kimchi. It also means no grains, beans, or legumes.
So was that the key? Was this the
X-factor that led to the precipitous drop in the cancer marker? How
about the kind support from friends and family via reaching out
through phone calls, cards, letters, text and groceries? What about
the prayers offered, many from people we don’t even know? What’s the
cause? What’s the secret? What’s the special sauce?
While I would never discount any of
these things, the one thing I return to over and over again here in
my middle years can be summed up in one word:
My point in mentioning faith is not to
advertise or defend it or try to sell you on it. It’s simply to tell
my story as I know it and have experienced it. It’s my story and it
brings me great joy and therefore I am happy to tell it to anyone who
wants to listen.
Faith is described as confidence in
what you hope for, of being certain of what you do not see. Seeing
it this way takes some of the guesswork out. If I am not confident,
maybe I’m not living by faith.
Here in my middle years, I’m learning that faith isn’t a crap shoot. Its not rolling the dice and seeing what happens. Its not gathering as many friends as possible in hope you reach a tipping point when you get enough people involved. I no longer find safety in those kinds of numbers.
Instead, I am finding that faith is more about engagement and involvement with the One who created me. And when crisis hits, the first thing I do isn’t to pray, because crisis can create panic and I certainly don’t know what to pray for in a state of panic. The first thing I do now is enter into a place of thanksgiving and rejoicing and put my mind at ease in the fact that the One who created me has not changed, even though my circumstances have. It’s in this mindset that I can begin to listen and tune in to the what the Man of Sorrows is praying and how the Comforter is interceding for me. If these two are in accord, it only makes sense that I join in with them.
This is where I find my confidence in
faith comes from.
Thank you again to all who have been
there for us. One of the coolest things has been the generosity of
our church family, where someone every five days brings us groceries
that meet Karen’s dietary requirements. We have a stack of cards and
notes sent the old fashioned way through the mail, some even
anonymous that have special meaning. Thanks to our employers at Blue
Blood and The Mill for being so accommodating of our needs for time
off. These are among the list of things I mention when I enter into
thanksgiving and rejoicing. Even this act has power to heal.
Lastly, we give permission to anyone to
ask us about how we are doing. I learned this years ago in dealing
with the grief of a family who lost a child. They said the one
statement that was the most frustrating was when someone would say,
“Oh, I thought about calling, but I didn’t want to upset you.” I
will never forget what the mother said, “This is our life we live
24/7. How can you upset us?” We want this story to provide hope,
therefore your questions are welcome.