Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Don't Call It A Comeback

  I love music; I enjoy nearly all genres and time periods with very few exceptions. In fact, I was a music major for my first 2 years of college. Something else a lot of people don't know is that I owned a successful pro audio business for several years during my twenties where I enjoyed a steady flow of DJ gigs, a contract as the PA announcer for a professional arena football team, and even a year of basketball play-by-play commentator work on local television. So yeah, I love all things audio/music/multimedia.

  I appreciate those who are talented at what they do, even if most people don't respect their given method of expression. For example: rap. Say what you will about a white boy from Houston loving hip-hop music, but I do. I admit it's pretty funny, and you probably won't come up with any jokes I haven't made about myself already. My enjoyment of rap and hip-hop began during my teenage years as a basketball fanatic. Basketball culture and hip-hop culture are very much intertwined, so I quickly grew to enjoy the combination of a buzzer-beater and a good beat.

  There is an old-school rapper-turned-actor (and self proclaimed ladies' man) named James Smith, who went by the stage name "LL Cool J". Among the early hits by Mr. "Cool James" is the song Mama Said Knock You Out. What does this have to do with anything? For comedic purposes, humor me for a few seconds and read the first part of this song as a soundtrack to the moment I am about to describe. I promise I am going somewhere with this, and hopefully you will get a little chuckle out of it:
Don't call it a comeback!
I've been here for years,
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear,
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon.
Listen to the bass go boom!

Explosion, overpowerin!
Over the competition, I'm towerin.
Wreckin shop,
When I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops.
Don't you dare stare, you betta move.
Don't ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced.
Competition's payin the price!

I'm gonna knock you out (HUUUH!!!)
Mama said knock you out (HUUUH!!!)

  So anyway, when I woke up yesterday morning my neck, arms, and legs were filled with pain and weakness in a way I haven't experienced for quite a while. When I attempted to get up and my legs did not respond by supporting my weight properly, I was honestly a bit scared as I flopped back down onto the bed. It was then that I heard a villainous voice shout out from somewhere inside my body, challenging me to an epic battle of mind over matter: "Don't call it a comeback!! I've been here for YEARS." And right then, I knew it was going to be a rough week.


  For the last nine months or so, I have been blessed with a period of relatively improved health compared to the previous year. Granted, it's not very hard to improve upon constantly being in and out of the hospital, but I am very grateful for the blessings of peace and relief whenever and wherever they come.

  This is mortal life and opposition is a law, a constant which cannot be avoided. And in the last few days, time has apparently caught up with me. Some of my physical difficulties have made a bit of a comeback and functionality has ground to a halt. As before, it remains important to embrace the opportunity to not let fear take control, to be patient, to face my dragons once again, and to keep seeking the kind of peace that goes beyond Earthly pain-- whether physical or emotional, because one tends to follow the other.

  It's important not to let our hope for relief depend on the wrong thing. If the only way we feel we are being blessed is when hardship subsides and stays gone, we are bound to have a long frustrating ride in this lifetime. My physical trials went into a recession of sorts this year-- but it turns out that was primarily to make room for the mental stress of my wife and I buying our first home. Buying a home is something we have always wanted and something we are tremendously happy about, but is a big project and frayed our nerves almost to the max on several occasions.

  Swapping one type of stress for another may seem like a cruel joke, but I assure you it's not. It is a blessing for which I cannot express enough gratitude because I don't know if I would have been able to handle both at once. God knows exactly which lessons we need to learn while we are here on Earth, and he knows exactly what it will take to put us in a position to accomplish those things. Long before we get to a given turning point in life, God knows what we need to be focused on in order to make the right decisions. But it is entirely up to us whether our hearts and minds are open and ready to receive that guidance. We must be watching, paying attention, ready to see the blessings around us for what they are.

  Life has still been challenging this year, I have not been pain free by any means-- lots of things still hurt and my daily adventures still require caution and conservative planning in order to avoid winding up back in the hospital. The fact that my trials never completely went away is no surprise though. After all, as the song says- "[they have] been here for years".

  Accepting my challenges does not mean I don't have hope of seeing better days-- I do. But I have faith that God will lead me to where I NEED to go. Here's a thought that goes against the grain of our natural instincts: exercising faith does not involve expecting an easy journey. I am here on Earth to learn, and that is what I expect to do... even if it hurts to do so.

  So it's one day at a time folks! We are put here to walk the path before us and we cannot trade lives with anyone else... and there is a very good reason for that. God does not hurt his children on purpose just to teach us. We are dropped into the circumstances of our mortality, and then as a loving parent our Heavenly Father is interested in helping us make the best of our situation, whatever it is.

  My wife's job is doing in-home therapy with autistic children. I have enjoyed soaking up the stories she comes home with each day about experiences which might not seem extraordinary to the casual observer, but offer many profound lessons to those interested in seeing beyond the obvious. The amazing people my wife works with have provided many priceless reminders of the commandment to be non-judgmental and compassionate toward others, and the need to practice humility and grace in my own life.

  Arguably the biggest discovery of the the 21st century thus far concerning autism (and disabilities in general) came organically from one of my personal heroes whom I have mentioned once before: a non-verbal autistic girl named Carly Fleischmann. Carly and her family blessed the world with the revelation that there is a thinking, feeling person trapped inside a vehicle they just can't control. So through my wife our whole family is emotionally and spiritually invested in the journey of learning about what these amazing people do day in and day out to heroically work through their circumstances... come what may.


  So here we are, each of us on our own unique path. There are precious few things we can actually control, and today is the only time that exists. We are given one day at a time to live, one moment at a time to choose to make a difference in our sphere of influence. That is why in the long run steady incremental progress will always out-perform big blustery bursts of success.

  I've said it before, and I'll say it again because it bears repeating-- it's up to us to choose to let go of what we cannot control, and focus on what we can control: our own attitude. Easier said than done, but a key to happiness nonetheless. Learning to compartmentalize our attitude from our circumstances is the great secret to enduring peace.

  God does not expect us to lie and pretend that we like pain, or frustration, or sadness. Hardship is hardship, pain is pain, and no amount of "toughness" is magically going to change the fact that trials are not fun-- but we don't have to let it break our spirit. What God does ask of us is to CHOOSE to live life with an attitude of humility and unconditional love. We would all do well to keep in mind that every day of life is beautiful in it's own way, and there is always something to be grateful for.

Don't think so? Just ask Alice Sommer:

  Alice was subjected to many nightmarish things by her Nazi captors, but gamma radiation sufficient to grant Hulk-like super powers was not one of them. What does that mean for you and I? It means that she has done what she has done with her life as a regular mortal of flesh and blood ...just like us. We can therefore believe that we have the power deep within us to become the master of our own spirit.

  Are there physical and mental limitations which can impair (or completely subvert) a person's ability to choose what their mind and body are going to do for them? Absolutely. I personally know the feeling of facing overwhelming odds with one hand tied behind your back. Apart from the other challenges in my life which I have spoken of at times on this blog, I also live with a mood disorder. I have had to learn to live with the fact that a part of my brain is permanently broken, and despite my best efforts this is going to complicate my life whether I like it or not. I empathize with the torture of not having the degree of control over your experiences that you would like to have. I know the anguish of wiping too many tears from your eyes because your plate is full and you wind up having to pick yourself up over and over from what feels like total failure.

I know what it is like to wake up each day and just... want... to be... a better person.

  But life isn't about fitting a mold of what other people consider the benchmark of success. Life is about doing the best YOU can with what YOU have been given. We need to try to view ourselves as our Heavenly Father views us: precious children who are learning to pick ourselves back up after every fall and continue growing in our own special ways. We need to stop judging others based on our own subjective perspective, and stop judging ourselves based on someone else's view.


  Why do I bother publicly sharing my thoughts and feelings about so many of the seemingly unremarkable steps in my journey? Why spend so much time speaking about the good days and the not-so-good days? Because suffering can isolate us, it can make us feel alone. Connecting with each other and supporting each other is an antidote to being suffocated by our trials.

  So here I am sitting in my chair, writing... to you! I am sitting because I can't do much else today, and I am writing because it is a great outlet to counteract the boredom which comes from having to sit here all day. It's an interesting cycle to say the least, and I am happy to seize the opportunity to squeeze some positive energy out of it. I am grateful for the blessing of a perspective which prompts me to recognize and act on the opportunity to find the silver lining of a frustrating situation.

  One way I cope is by laughing and smiling over the simple joys in life as often as I can. And guess what? I believe you can make it through whatever is challenging you today. We can do this whole mortal life thing! It is up to each of us to decide what kind of energy we are going to harbor inside ourselves, and the energy we pass on to those around us. I cannot stress enough how important that decision is.

  On some level we are all in the same boat, and life is a journey best shared and explored as one big human family. If you read my blog more than once, you may as well just get used to hearing me say that, because it is going to be a theme for as long as I am writing about life on Earth. Plus it feels really, really good to look the dragons in our lives right in the eye, and roar back with confidence:

Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years! Mama said knock YOU out!!  ;-)