One of Karen’s desires on her hospice bucket list was to go hiking in Colorado one final time. We returned to some trails we took several years ago when we vacationed in that same area. Our children were very young and this location provided us with some lifelong memories
During a hike with the family about 20 years ago, we came upon the remains of an old log dwelling (pictured above) and it inspired a poem. I never did anything with it, but when Karen and I saw the same scene this past August, I stopped and quoted her the entire thing as I surveyed the exact spot. She asked, “how did you remember that from so long ago?” I told her I had no idea. It’s not like I rehearsed it in anticipation of the upcoming moment.
It seemed fitting to share it this morning. Its a poem of evaluation, of looking backward and looking forward. Two things I am doing a lot of these days.
Broken Down Shack
There’s a broken down shack on a hill by the trail That I passed as we were walking along As I stopped to observe how I wished these old logs Could just speak or even sing me their song
What would be told About the seeker of gold Who lived here long ago? If he were here today, you know I’d ask him to say
Did you find your dream? Did you find what you’re looking for? Were you prepared for what the journey had in store? If you had a chance to go back in time If you knew what I know Would you do it all over again?
There’s a tiny headstone on a grave in a field Of a war that was fought long ago Even though its well worn you can still see the name Of the man who was laid there below
What would be told About this soldier of old Who fought here long ago? If he were here today, you know I’d ask him to say
Did we find your dream? Did we find what you’re fighting for? Were you prepared for what the battle had in store? If you had a chance to go back in time If you knew what I know Would you do it all over again?
There’s a broken down man in the light of the moon Of a night like so many before Even though he can’t sleep he can still dream a dream Of a life he is still looking for
What would be told Of this dreamer so bold When his last days are through? If we could go there today Would we ask him to say
Did you find your dream? Did you find what you’re looking for? Were you prepared for what the journey had in store? If you had a chance to go back in time If you knew what I know Would you do it all over again?
It wasn’t until my late 40’s that I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. The simple explanation of this condition is when breathing is interrupted during nighttime sleep. It upsets the normal sleep cycle, preventing the experience of full rest. It can be caused by obstruction of the airways, or in my case, my central nervous system fails to communicate to my lungs, and I stop breathing. My sleep study showed these micro-interruptions occurred up to 39 times per hour. That’s a lot of disruption, and a lot of poor sleep over the years.
This condition explained my excessive daytime sleepiness. In college I chose to schedule my part time
job in the afternoon because there was no way I could stay awake studying in
the library. I’ve always needed a nap shortly after noon. My worst hours of the day are between 1pm and
4pm. I’m often gripped by feeling exhausted
during that range.
Before I was diagnosed and before I started paying attention
to the critical nature of sleep, I just marked it up to laziness or weakness and
tried to power through with caffeine when a nap was not an option. I now have a
I now see that sleep is the most underrated and misunderstood aspect of my personal wellness. It became easy to associate it with being soft and inadequate. In my younger years I could push through it and somehow run on sheer willpower, but I don’t buy into that error any longer. I do my best to guard my sleep, which has been a concerted effort throughout hospice care with Karen.
Like sleep, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of my tears
as an essential response that will lead to the wellbeing of my body. It was easy to lump tears in with sleep and
label them both as shortcomings instead of prerequisites to good health.
I cry a lot these days.
Not just because Karen is gone, but because I’ve learned to embrace the healing
nature of tears.
Tears don’t have to be induced by sorrow. On a trip with Karen to San Francisco many
years ago, we were driving north out of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge
when we both saw it at the same time.
The moon was just coming up over the east hills. It appeared twice as
big as it should have been. The
reflection lit up the bay.
I had to pull over to honor it.
It was a magical moment of great beauty and location. We were in the right place at the right time
and stumbled upon a scene that took our breath away. And the best response was
the impulsive response.
We cried together.
Tears are like music.
They let my soul say something that my tongue cannot. Whether in grief
or in rapture, my tears are my deep ally. They have taught me much. And I’m
glad I got over my fear of their instruction.
remember Karen Renee Shinn, who passed away peacefully and quietly in her home
at 5:55am Saturday, November 02, 2019
And this is
our minute to hold our girl, one last time together.
I don’t have
to tell you there Aint’ No Sunshine with Karen now gone.
grieving man, please bear with me, as we all approach grief from different
perspectives. But I have a pet peeve at funerals, one I want to avoid today. It
disrupts me when the officiant tries to pass off the pain of the loss by
telling me not to be sad because she is in a better place and that today is
really a celebration. That’s not what I
need right now. For me, today is a day
for tears, and if you bear witness with this, I would like to invite you to
weep with me today. When we were
originally planning this service, I told Matt I didn’t want to say anything for
fear I might cry and be a mess. I said I
would write something for him to read. But in the process of crafting these
words this week, I realized that no one can deliver them as properly as I can.
Because no one knew Karen like I did
realized that I should never be afraid to cry. Tears are not something to be afraid of. And I
extend that same permission to you.
Tears are essential to grief.
They are like music; they express emotion that words alone cannot. As a writer who understand the importance of
words to convey meaning, sometime there is no right word. That why we need tears to communicate.
Karen and I
battled her cancer for one third of the years of our marriage. It showed up in May of 2010. I learned to shed lots of tears over those
years. And this is what they taught me;
they are temporary. In fact, all
negative emotion is temporary. For there will come a day when tears are no
to pass. Joy comes to stay.
But joy is a
patient emotion. It steps aside
temporarily to be gracious to tears and allow them to do their work. And once they are complete, Joy can step back
in and take over.
Weep if you
two special songs I wanted to share with you today.
The first song
by Bill Withers somehow became our song over the years. I think it was because I had it playing in
the house when she returned from a trip.
Since then, whenever we would hear that song played in public, it was
our invitation to get up and slow dance.
And Karen wasn’t a dancer, but that song turned her into one. And I happily obliged.
because Karen brought you sunshine. A roomful of sunshine.
because I caught a ray of that sunshine in August of 1987.
attending a meeting with my colleagues in Fresno, California and through the
door walked the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. So beautiful, I didn’t
even think to introduce myself. But as
Karen worked the room, we finally met and I looked into her brown eyes,
shadowed with that 80’s blue Maybelline hue.
I melted. But still never thinking I should be interested in her. I felt I didn’t stand a chance with this kind
slow, thick or plain dumb, but it was about 9 months later that I had a
conversation that changed my life. It
was with the Dean of Students at the grad school I was attending. I was driving him to a speaking engagement
when he asked me this question:
Hendrick have a boyfriend?”
ignorantly, “I don’t know.”
He cut to
the chase, “Ever think about doing something about that?”
puzzled and responded, “Do you know something I don’t?”
he said, “Let’s just say I do.”
I got the
opened, the seas parted, and I prepared to walk through.
To make a
long story short, we were married in April of 1990.
Karen and I
made our way to Nebraska in a step of faith.
We were contemplating our new life together and what the future would
look like for us. We had a few options
on the table and Lincoln was one of those.
Our decision was clear when she pointed out that the only reason we
would not move to Nebraska was fear.
would move against fear, into the direction of faith, and begin building our
new life in Nebraska in July 1990
Our initial work
together was in vocational ministry, helping college students find faith and
direction. It was a good fit for us. We constantly hosted students in our home.
Many lived in our basement during the summers. Included in that service was
food. College kids loved to eat, and we
loved to host them.
the way, we both began experiencing a crisis of faith. Even though we were in the role of showing
direction, we were starting to lose our own.
Karen’s constant questions was, “Why is it my experience that we in the Church
don’t love people very well?” This was a core frustration to Karen’s generous
spirit. Karen often pondered, People
need to be loved, not told what a mess they are. They know that already. What people really need is someone to tell
them it’s gonna be OK.
a divergence from the rigid faith that was handed to her, toward finding a way
to express faith that made sense to her.
Not derived from a list of rules, but from a place that treated others
with concern, respect and dignity.
I, too, was
questioning my core beliefs, and together we found ourselves in a place of
transition. We knew we could not
continue business as usual if we were to maintain any kind of integrity. We
both felt the need for a change.
Our idea for
a restaurant had been germinating for years prior. The timing was right. We took another step of faith in May 2005 to launch
bread&cup. It took two more years to open our doors on Tuesday, August 06,
It was a
decision that didn’t make sense, but sometimes faith doesn’t.
I was the
creative side. Karen was the practical
one. She didn’t like abstract ideas or
the design phase of the restaurant. She wanted customers. Upon opening, she became energized. Her words, “Finally, I have some people to
restaurant became an extension of her, and she treated it like her home. As soon as you walked in, you were her focus,
sometimes to the detriment of other details.
Like the day she got to work late, frantically got behind the register
and served through the lunch hour.
Around 2pm one of the guys from BVH next door came over and said, “Does
Karen know her car is still running?” She had double parked in the alley and
forgot about it.
forgetfulness stemmed from being lost in other things more important to her,
primarily conversation with people. This
distraction caused her to constantly misplace things. Staff even started a checklist that included
Karen find her phone
Karen find her keys
Karen know where her glasses are. They may be on top of her head
the little quirks that frustrated, but ultimately endeared us to Karen. She was special in so many other ways, these
things got easily overlooked.
first glimpse, it was her beauty that mesmerized me, and so many of you also.
She was beautiful in her eyes and in her smile. Beautiful in her
questions. Beautiful in her pursuit of
the overlooked. She had an instinct to
find the person in the room most in need of attention and give it to them. A
friend described her this way.
“It’s as if the people she encountered had an invisible sign
hanging around their neck. And she had a
way to read the message and became an advocate for them based on what their
sign pleaded for.”
inclusive to a fault. I referred to it
as “widening the circle.” We kept
folding chairs in our house just in case we needed to add someone at the table.
In Karen’s mind, you belonged at her table.
feeling this aren’t’ you?
of you were the recipient of her hospitality.
You sat in that extra chair that she brought in.
impressed by status; even though she could talk with people of power and
means. One businessman told me that he
sat by her on an airplane back to Lincoln. He admitted, “As soon as she started
asking me questions, I don’t know why but I immediately opened up to her and
told her things I’ve never told anyone.”
care about gender identity or orientation.
What she cared about was your story.
What makes you who you are? How have you been wounded? She wanted to know what love looks like to
you. She was looking for a way to meet that need. You know who you are. She did
that for you.
This is our
minute to hold our girl.
She had a
way that I termed the Karen Shinn effect.
Many of you told me you would come by the restaurant for lunch when she
was working, just as much to see Karen than to eat a bowl of soup. She had a way of making you feel better. She would give you special attention, like
serving you wine in a coffee mug because you didn’t want your boss to see you
violating company rules. Special orders were commonplace to Karen, much to the
chagrin and disruption of the kitchen. She didn’t care if it slowed down the
flow. David wanted his bread toasted and
his soup extra hot and we were going to give it to him that way.
I have some
more images to show you. Pictures are worth
a thousand words. These images are some
of my favorites of Karen. It was
especially helpful and cathartic to step out of the last six months of hospice
and go back through the years when she was healthy, and life felt very
We set the
images to a song that might be familiar to you.
I heard it a few months ago when Karen began to decline. I was familiar with the song prior to hearing
it in the car one day, but its message hit me so hard I had to pull over, stop
the car and weep. Music without context
can become familiar and ignored. But when
this song became attached to Karen’s condition, it became a daily prayer for
It’s a song
about watching a woman die, a grandmother to be specific. And as noble and
glorious as she was, she was still human.
Still scared and uncertain of what lie ahead. Afraid as she awaits the
Wild to come for her. As special as this
woman was to so many, the song writer recognized her one fault; Did she know
how special she was? Was she so busy doing for others that she missed her glory
as a beloved woman, daughter and child?
leave, you must know this one thing; You must know that you are beloved.
This was my
daily prayer for Karen. You see, I knew
her better than anyone, because I got to see the strong and weak sides. We all have them. She was no different than
you. I got a glimpse into those fears
and insecurities. I had a unique vantage
point. I watched her struggle. Even down
to the final days when she was unresponsive and took neither food nor
water. There was a wrestling match
inside. And I was able to pray this for her over and over again:
leave, you must know that you are beloved.
But today, this
song is no longer about Karen. She is in the presence of her Maker, the One Who
Gave Her Life. She knows firsthand she is God’s beloved. By faith we can know
that question is answered now. Scripture
tell us that our tears will be wiped away and our sorrow no more when see Him
face to face.
She now knows
without a doubt she is beloved.
were here, like every conversation you had with her, she would want to make the
message of this song about you. She
would want to make sure you understand.
She would want to know;
Do you know
you are beloved?
singing this chorus to you as I sang over her in her dying moments:
Before you leave, you must know you are beloved
Before you leave, remember I was with you
This is what
her faith came down to. Not some preachy
sermon or list of rules to keep. She simply wanted you to feel loved. This was the image of God in which Karen was
made. The kindness and concern you felt
from Karen is a picture that God painted of Himself directly onto her
soul. You got a view of that picture whenever
you saw Karen. You got a glimpse of
God’s love for you because of Karen. And I think some of you today will get
that, and you’ll never be the same.
Coming from a lifelong involvement in a faith community, I’m familiar with the practice of fasting. Even though I was conversant with the term, it never really made sense to me. Fasting is mentioned many times in the Bible, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. Thou Shalt Not Murder made sense; fasting not so much. I tried fasting many times. I could not graps the value of not eating for a day or a week or, for the truly committed, 40 days. It mainly left me hungry and relieved once the fast was over.
But I’ve taken my dad’s advice to pay attention (from my previous post) and have applied it to fasting. This is what I’ve discovered.
I was always taught that fasting is self-denial and that its
good occasionally to deny myself things I want so that I won’t be so selfish
and self-centered. It didn’t matter that
I didn’t understand it or didn’t feel like I got anything out of it. I was told that it was my duty as a man of
faith and that there is value in behaving without understanding. This was the reasoning I’ve now come to
I now see fasting in a completely different light and I’ve
come to embrace it and find the joy in it.
For me, fasting is a disciplined practice of loss. It’s a
choice to lose something I enjoy, only for a short season, so that I can pay
attention to what’s happening inside me now that the object is removed.
This is an important distinction for me. It becomes important because loss is not something I seek, but because loss in life is inevitable. Loss has been one of the major themes of my journey for the last 3 years.
Food is the easiest place for me to start a fast because food is both a daily requirement and a gratuitous pleasure. I know this because I end up eating more than I need through the day. Backing down to two meals a day with no snacking in between forces me to pause and ask myself why I’m eating when I’m not even hungry.
An even better item for me to ponder and reflect on is alcohol. There was a phase during that 3 years where I
was so deeply depressed, alcohol became my drug of choice to help me get to sleep.
When I started realizing I didn’t want to live without it, that’s when I knew I
needed a fast. I needed to lose it for a
season so I could pay attention to how important it had become to me.
There is one sole object that is more problematic and more challenging
to engage in a fast. Far more than food and drink is my phone. I know this
because of how difficult it is to relinquish. I can drop down to two meals a
day. I can’t pick up my phone only twice a day.
I pay attention to guilt and when it wants to step in and
convince me that I’m failing or not doing it right. This is not the purpose of fasting. My goal
of fasting is to feel better, not worse.
If I’m racked with self-reproach, I’ve missed the point.
I’ve learned to pay attention to the unsettled feeling
inside when I am deprived. Losing my business left the same feeling as not
eating or misplacing my phone for a day.
Six months ago, Karen began a decline in her health that led me to believe we were looking at a few days remaining. But true to form, she is still hanging tough and fighting to the very end. We engaged hospice care in June and it has been the right choice for us since we decided to forgo any further chemotherapy. I’ve been told that people often involve hospice too late. I’m glad we have that component in place and have been proactive.
Another decision we made together was for me to commit to become
her primary caregiver and not look for fulltime employment. Anyone who has made this decision knows the
unique challenges that come with being a caregiver. At this point, hospice is as much for me as
it is for Karen. The support they
provide helps lighten my load as well as hers.
When this third diagnosis came to us last November, I vowed
to do some things differently. I knew from
the previous two times that I had choices. Even though I did not choose cancer,
I could choose to refuse its dictation. I
made a resolution that cancer would not tell me what to feel, nor would it
leave me hopeless. Cancer is invasive,
but I would not let it invade the greater parts of my soul.
When I was a young boy, my dad had a standard reply to any question that had a complicated answer and require an advanced explanation. I can remember asking him to tell me about the Vietnam war or Watergate and his response was always, “It’s hard to describe, son. You just have to pay attention.” Even though I was too young to understand what he was doing at the time, I’ve taken that advice into my midlife years. When a situation defies explanation, often the best approach is to slow down and pay attention.
In this third season, I’ve done just that. I willfully and
deliberately make choices that allow me to pay attention. I miss working, but I
will never get this time back. There
will be plenty of time in the future to work.
The time to pay attention is right now.
As I pay attention, I notice new things. I notice that crisis makes friends feel helpless.
When they ask me what they can do for me, they mean it. And I’ve learned to
lean into that. I’m perfectly capable of
mowing my own lawn, but when a deaconess from my church suggested having
members come over and take care of the grass, I said yes. At first, I felt
guilty, but after the second week, I saw it differently. Letting people aid and support me prevents them
from being robbed of the joy they acquire when they serve in a practical
way. And it frees me to keep my mind on
other things at hand.
I pay attention to how the house smells. Without realizing, aroma is helping etch
memories of this season of hospice. Aroma is our biggest memory trigger; therefore,
I make intentional effort to make the house smell pleasing with candles, essential
oils and baking bread. The payoff is seen
when nurses or visitors stop by and comment how great is smells in here. And
even better to hand out fresh sourdough bread as they leave. I want guests to encounter something
unusually hospitable in this less than pleasant ordeal.
I pay attention to my thoughts more diligently now because everything flows from how I think. If I think this season is unfair, that reasoning will certainly lead me down a path I have resolved not to take. If I think life is hopeless, then I will begin acting that way. Instead, I monitor my thinking and refuse to let it dictate an undesirable outcome.
On the other hand, there are some things I don’t pay attention to. I don’t pay attention to statistics on cancer. Karen’s OB/GYN taught me the importance of ignoring statistics. He said the internet is full of numbers and figures, none of which belong to Karen yet. His advice was to pay attention to everything good in our lives and to focus on the things we can control and let the chips fall where they may. This was so helpful because Karen has already beat the national average soundly.
Tomorrow opens a new chapter in a story I never thought I would be writing. My first book goes public for pre-sale on Indiegogo, Tuesday, October 01. I never thought I would write a book. But neither did I imagine the other changes in my story that were drastically different than I preferred.
When I went into business as an entrepreneur, I didn’t envision losing everything I worked for. I didn’t plan for bankruptcy at mid-fifty. I certainly didn’t foresee cancer getting the best of my wife. No one chooses hardship as a way of life. But no one escapes it either.
bread&cup: beyond simple food and drink is a compilation of stories, recipes and details about the 10-year life cycle of my restaurant, bread&cup. I had no intention of doing this project a year ago . I didn’t think it would be interesting or useful. Who wants to read a story about a guy that failed? This was the question posed to me as I was contemplating the possibility of writing a book.
I wrestled with that question and came to this conclusion. This book is important for me. I am its main
audience. I am writing it to myself first.
My business partner, Kerry, always reminded me that
bread&cup was about my survival, that I needed it as much as anyone. I was in
stagnant place in life and I needed its vision to pull me up and move me
forward to a better place.
And here I am, several years later, in need of an another impetus. After failure, I needed something to help me believe again. bread&cup the restaurant was about renewal and hope. It was discovered in a dull and declining season of my life. It convinced me that I could follow a new path and create again. bread&cup the book is no different. It is helping me overcome the losses I am facing. It is helping me overcome the detractors and negative voices in my head. You know, the ones that speak fear and tell me I’m going to fail again and again.
You probably have them, too.
It’s in this thought that the book might be for you. You might be in a similar place of self-doubt
or boredom and wonder if your best days are behind you. You might be facing a risk to step out in
faith on an idea that seems far-fetched, especially to those closest to
you. Maybe you’ve experienced the kind
of loss that blindsided you, that you never saw coming.
Or maybe you were a fan of our restaurant and you just want to know more about how it came to be and why it closed. Or maybe you just want the apple butter recipe. The book includes all these. I offer them for the same reason I set our food on your table at the restaurant. I wanted to see the delight on your face and the enjoyment that comes from sharing good food and conversation.
This link will be active Tuesday morning for you to watch the video and reserve a copy of the book that will be available in January 2020. Thanks for your belief, interest and support. I appreciate it.
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.