Welcome to my blog!

I started this blog to share the ups and downs of real life. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the mundane, the insane...you get the picture. Why??? For no other purpose than to encourage others who are raising a family, going through the ups and downs of life, letting you know you are not alone, and that we are not all epic failures for having a life that is not perfect!!!



Thursday, August 26, 2010

When I Don't Feel Like It

This week was my 33rd birthday. Age has never been a big issue with me, but for some reason, this year, my birthday hit me hard. Maybe it was because it was a stressful year. Maybe because I have a 13 year old going into 8th grade!!! Actually, I figured out it was just frustration about things I couldn't control.

Anyway, the weekend before this week, I had planned to go on a father and son camping trip with my boys, and some other fathers and sons from our church. Campfires, good food, fishing, swimming, just hanging out being guys. Sounds like fun, right? For some reason, I didn't feel like going. I tried to find excuses to bail. Work? Nope, already had the time off. Kids? That didn't work, I was taking the boys with me. Car trouble??? Many times before, but not this time. It seemed like the one time I actually wanted something to come up, nothing did.

Then take my birthday. Had to work all day. We had planned to have a big family dinner the day after my birthday at my parents house. Before I could object, or find reasons to get out of it, my wife and parents already had the details planned and the food bought. No getting out of it.

For me, I know when I really don't want to do something that involves groups of people, or building or maintaining relationships, that means I need to do it. People were not created to be alone. It is so easy for us to isolate when we are struggling, or trying to work through some difficulties. It's safer to not be around other people when you are feeling vulnerable. It takes less effort to be alone, than it does to be around others. The problem with that is that it isn't healthy. It hurts our soul. While being around others takes work, and at times can seem dangerous, and opens us up to being hurt, it also opens us up to being loved. To being part of community. To being supported and encouraged.

Incidentally, I took my boys to the father and son campout. We had a fantastic time. We caught a ton of fish, had some great fellowship with our friends, and just relaxed. I slept better than I have in months that night. To think that I would have missed out on that if I had given in to my thoughts on skipping the trip. I also did the whole family dinner thing. Actually, I am writing this entry from my parents house now. Had a great day helping my dad, and my wife worked hard to prepare a great meal. And now, actually looking forward to seeing my whole family here tonight for dinner-even though I didn't feel like it!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Father's Son

I found this picture tonight when I was looking through all our digital pictures. It was back from May of this year. It was a good day- Nathan's tenth birthday. My dad felt great this day. He went fishing in the morning, supervised my sister's move, and then a cookout for the party. This picture is especially poignant to me though, because it is three generations of Howe men. All of us are the eldest of our families, all of us share the same first and last names, and all of us are our father's sons.

My father and I have had a very rocky relationship, from a very early age. He was 17 when he had me. We practically grew up together. He was very hard handed, and his way was law. He raised me to be very hard headed and stubborn, especially when I believed in something, so needless to say, we didn't mix well. We would go long lengths of time not speaking after fights. Time that we would never get back, and given his health now, time I would do anything to have. As an adult, I decided I didn't have to take the strife, grief, pain, and anything else I perceived he did wrong, so the routine became he would open his mouth, I would open mine, all hell would break loose, and we wouldn't speak for months. Things would blow over, and we'd repeat the cycle. I of course placed most of the blame on him. That was until I had a very lengthy conversation with my Grandma Barb, who answered questions and explained to me the cycle of abuse he was raised in. That is when I really set out to try to salvage some sort of relationship with my father. We have both expressed our hurts, disappointments, and resentments we had for each other. We've forgiven each other. Healing began. Throughout this process, I realized I was a lot like my father. I truly was my father's son. At first, I thought that was a bad thing. I blamed all my issues and shortcomings on him. Temper?? Yup- his fault. Saying whatever came to my mind, without tempering it, or thinking about how it would hurt?? Got it from him. Making a decision, regardless how unfair, or irrational, then sticking to it- he taught me well. Eventually though, I had to take credit for my own faults, and realize that all those things that hurt me growing up, were hurting my family. My words were tearing my wife down. My "law" was crushing my kids. Could this be my father's legacy?

Now let me tell some of the other things I have learned from my father. I guess the biggest one is that when you are wrong, even if it is years later, admit it, apologize, and fix it. He never misses the chance to do that with me. Some other things I have learned from my father- to be independent. To be strong. To be a good leader. To help anyone I am in the position to help, but not let myself get taken advantage of. (still working on not getting taken advantage of!) My father was always so confident. I remember this one camping trip we went on as a family. Pouring rain, thunder, lightening, wind. We're all dry, in the tents, and where's my dad? Outside, in the storm, making sure the tarps and rain flies hold. I learned how to be a fierce protector. I learned that no matter what the past, everyone has the capacity to change. And throughout his illness, I learned what a family goes through together. I am closer to my father now than I ever have been, and I am so proud of who he is. His strength, love and devotion for his family, and his new capacity for kindness amazes me. I am proud to say, good and bad, I am my father's son.

Now I am kind of at a crossroads with my oldest son. I had him when I was 19, and much like with my father, in a lot of ways, we've grown up together. My desire and drive to make him better than me, have better than I had, and do better that I did, has caused a rift in our relationship. Our relationship is a lot like the relationship my father and I had. He is every bit as pig headed and strong willed as I am. Fiercely independent too. And his mouth!!! Man alive, the kid has got a mouth. But, you know what else he's got??? His loyalty and devotion to his family. His capacity for kindness. He is very confident, and always a leader. He's his father's son. I also see in him a desire to change his temper, and his attitude. Him and I both desire to change our relationship, and not let it get to the point where we are losing time we can't get back.

Now, here's where I put what I have learned from my father to use. Time to admit the things I have been wrong about. Apologize for my words that have hurt. Use my capacity for kindness and love, for those that matter most- my family. Thank you dad, and thank you JB. We're all our father's sons.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Kindness Of Others

As I am sitting down typing out this post, I am wondering if the title is a little off. You'll see as you read that this post is about actions, but I keep coming back to the root of some of the things I am getting ready to tell you about, and the only thing I can come up with is kindness. Maybe because it's the motivating factor. Maybe because it is something so lacking in our society, so when it happens, we have to call it what it is. You'll see by the end, maybe it should be called kindness of others- paying it forward.

Let me start by saying we are getting ready to start collecting school supplies and backpacks for needy kids at a local elementary school. Our church has done stuff like this before, like winter coats and hats, sponsoring a family for Christmas, helping meet a need wherever we can. This one is super exciting to me though because the kid's program at our church, which I oversee, is heading it up. All my kids in my Sunday school classes will be helping fill the backpacks, helping get the word out that this is what we are doing. A couple of them will come with me to drop them off to the school too. A great experience for them, I am sure. Another reason I am so excited about this is because it is another opportunity for me to pay it forward. Now, let me tell you a story.

Last fall and early winter, I missed a lot of work, being in and out of the hospital for seizures and massive headaches. We're talking migraines that lasted for days. After a 5 day stint, I got out the day before thanksgiving, and was cleared to go back to work the second week in December. I used up all of my paid time off, so I took a pretty big hit pay wise. We were in a position to give the kids a small Christmas that year, but nothing special. And, we were OK with that. We decided it would be good for us, and for the kids, to experience the true meaning of Christmas without all of the materialism. Now at church, we decided to sponsor a family, and the week of Christmas, all of us would deliver all of the gifts and holiday foods we had collected to this family. Even though Emily and I were in no position ourselves, we still gave. Nothing big, a grocery card and some Christmas cookies. I had heard our friends tell us about this family. How they had been through so much over the last few years, and they just couldn't catch a break. About how in previous years, they had given so much of themselves to others, helping others, serving at church. I heard them talk about how great the kids in this family were. I was excited to be able to bless such a deserving family, so we all got in our cars, loaded up with gifts and goodies, and caravanned to the family's home. After about a ten minute drive, we pulled into the back side of my neighborhood. I remember commenting to Emily that maybe we knew this family. Then we turned on my street. It didn't dawn on me until we pulled up in front of my house, that the family being blessed so unselfishly, so kindly, was us. I could do nothing but sob as I watched my friends, and people from our church unload box after box, and bag after bag, into our living room, under our Christmas tree. The boys were all crying, and stunned. Completely stunned. I hugged every person that night. We prayed in our living room, and sang Christmas songs. The tree was light, and decorations out. It was perfect. It was magical. It was amazing. Such joy, such love. When I asked my friend, our pastor, why he selected us, he simply said we wanted you guys to know we care. We wanted you to not just have an OK Christmas, we wanted you to have an amazing Christmas.

Even now, as I am typing this, the memory and feeling of that night is choking me up. The kindness of others brought so much hope, love, and joy into our lives. Here's the thing, if it stopped with us, it would have been wasted. Through the blessings we received, we were able to help my sister, who is a single mother, give her girls a little extra for Christmas. We had a wonderful family meal on Christmas night, which was so important to all of us, since my father was so ill. So now, any chance I get to pay it forward, whether with a kind word, or a hug, or just listening to someone, I do. My wife as well. The best part is that my kids even take the opportunity to be kind to others when the situation arises. (If only I could get them to be kind to each other!!!)

That is why I am so excited to be part of an act of kindness where I am the giver of kindness this time. It came full circle. The bible says you reap what you sew, and I have seen that in my life. My prayer is that I never miss an opportunity to extend kindness to others, and my encouragement for those of you reading this, is to do the same. It does something for your heart, and some day, some way, you'll get it back. Be blessed!!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Inconvenient Faith

I came to a pretty startling revelation today. It hit me at the weirdest time too, right in the middle of my shift at work. As you may have gathered in my last post, I am definitely having a "faith crisis". My relationship with God has been strained to say the least. As I look back to a time when my relationship was God was vibrant, real, living, moving, I realize that at that time in my life, things were great. While we always have financial concerns, (who doesn't), we were stable. My wife and I were both growing in our faith and our ministries. We entered a time in our lives where things at home just fell into place. We were blessed with great friends. Everything was good for us. It was when things started to fall down around us, when I should have held on to my faith, I let it go. In other words, when things were good in my life, God was good. When things were bad, I found myself asking "where is God?"

I have always admired people who have held on to their faith when they had nothing else. People who lived their lives totally believing that God has divinely blessed them. The perfect home, perfect kids, perfect marriage, perfect jobs. On both ends of the scale, I have seen people with amazing faith. Why then, for me, when I started to lose everything, did my faith take a hit??? I used to pray daily, read devotionals with my wife and kids, spend time in the bible. On the outside, I was doing everything a good little christian should do. But in my heart, I never learned to trust God, and lean on God when things were bad. I had very conditional faith. That leads to other issues. How can I be a good representation of my faith, especially since there are so many whack job Christians out there? How can I teach my kids the things of God, when I don't know them? How can I teach others, and minister to kids, when I stopped letting God minister to me?

I don't have any answers for that. What I do know now, is that while my life hasn't gone the way I wanted it to, or expected it to, I am not without blessing. What I do know is there have been time, and situations in my life where I shouldn't have come out on top, or protected, yet I have. And if I open my eyes, and look, and see, God has been trying to get my attention through others. So, that is my quest. Developing my faith to be strong, even when I am not. Developing a faith that still exists, even though things may be falling apart. Developing a faith that isn't dependant on how good things are, but a faith that challenges me to be better, have a better attitude, even when it's inconvenient, or I don't feel like it. Anyone can praise God among blessings, and standing in the sun on the mountaintop. Real faith, abiding faith, is being able to praise God when the storms are raging, and darkness sets in, and your lost in the deepest valley. I want a faith like that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Barbra Streisand You'll Never Walk Alone .

This goes with the post "At the end of the storm, is a golden sky"

At the End of the Storm is a Golden Sky

So, I have a confession. Although my motivation for this blog was to share stories, and lessons learned in the hopes of encouraging others, I have found that so far, the one benefiting from it the most, is me. There's something about sharing your feelings, getting them out, expressing some things you've learned and are working through that is almost like therapy. Thanks for reading, and sharing this whole experience with me.

I want to talk tonight about one of the darkest periods of my life. In case I don't communicate this point, I will start with it. With every storm, there is an end, the skies part, and the sun shows itself again. At the end of a storm, is always a golden sky. Keep that point in mind as you read this.

Five years ago, my wife and I were blessed to learn she was pregnant with our fourth child. We had made some great progress in growing our relationship, and strengthening our marriage, so this baby was like a reward, or gift for our efforts. The pregnancy never developed, and my wife miscarried. My wife was devistated, and I was dealing with it, but still handling everything at home, keeping our family moving forward while my wife grieved. We had the never ending love and support from many people, and we got through it. We continued to grow in our ministries, moved into a position of youth and children's pastor at a church, and continued to build upon our faith. After two years, Emily was pregnant again. We shared this with our friends and family, and prayed without ceasing. We committed to each other and to God that we would trust him, and we placed the outcome of this pregnancy in his hands. We had our first sonogram. So far, so good. Everything looked normal, and we saw the heartbeat on that sonogram. A few weeks later, we heard the baby's heartbeat. We felt overwhelming joy that things were going fine, still praying without ceasing. The next sonogram showed a healthy fetus, and it actually was moving! Little arms and legs, the baby fluttering all over the place. Due to the previous miscarriage after three perfect pregnancies, the doctors set up a sonogram for the next Friday. The baby was hiding that day, so they decided to try again Monday. Emily told me to go to work as usual that day, no need for me to miss work again. I received a phone call at work from Emily, crying hysterically, and all she could get out was it happedned again. The nurse got on the phone, and explained to me that the baby had died at some point over the weekend. No heartbeat. No movement. The fetus was starting to detach, and fill with fluid. No life. The next days were a blur, filled with heartache, worry, pain, the task of telling everyone what had happened. Although we were surrounded by loving, supportive friends and family, it was the lonliest time of my life. After my wife recovered physically, she made it her mission to not let this destroy her. She talked about it. She even spoke about it at church one Sunday, as part of the message that day. I admired her strength. I respected her resolve. And I loved her more than I ever had. I, on the other had, was not doing so well. As a youth and children's pastor, it was my job, my calling, my passion, to love, care for, help guide and teach kids. Other people's kids. It was my life. I couldn't get my head around the fact that the one thing I love so much in this world, is the very thing that was taken from me, not once, but twice. It took me a while to go back to church, and resume my duties, but I wasn't the same. When my little girl died, ( we named her Sarah), a part of me died too. For months, I mourned. I couldn't get out of the darkness that was around me. I was going through the motions, not really meaning what I was doing, or believing in the faith I had spent years teaching. The storm was brewing, and I was lost.

In February the next year, my wfe told me that she was pregnant again. Fear and panic set in, and I said and reacted in a very hurtful way about it. See, I gave up on having a little girl, I was content with the family I had. My reaction, anxiety, and fear during the entire pregnancy took it's toll on me, my wife, and my marriage. During that time, the church I loved, devoted so much to, closed. I had a very painful surgery to fix my nose, and some sinus issues, and it was a long recovery. Emily and I were really struggling with our marriage, and it was falling apart. The storm was now raging in my life, and I was still mourning the losses of the other two babies. It was very tough for Emily too. She had to take daily injections, which were painful, and medication that made her feel sick her entire pregnancy. Even at 7 months when our closest friends threw her a wonderful baby shower, I was still detached from the whole thing. At 9 months when we finished the nursery, beautifully done for a new baby girl, I was still expecting the worst. I never let my self love the baby. I wouldn't let myself believe it would work out. Then she came. My grandmother (well, she's really my great aunt, but she is more of a grandmother to me than any of mine were) was in the room when she was born. She had never had children of her own, so we wanted her to witness it, and be a part of it. Her love and support helped us through so much, and made us feel loved, to an extent of which I don't think she realizes. All at once, I was staring at my beautiful, healthy, pink little girl. I placed my hand on her back, and stared into her eyes, and in an instant, fell in love. I cried so much that day, out of love, out of relief, out of sadness. My grandmother still says she'll never forget watching me fall in love with my little girl.

Fast forward 18 months. We have a beautiful little girl who is such a blessing to us. She brought so much joy and love to our family. We needed her. My boys needed her. I needed her. I still struggled throughout the year and a half. My faith took a hit that I stll feel. There is this weird disconnect with me and God now. I drank again, after being sober for 7 years. My marriage almost fell apart. Even though I had this gift, the storm was still raging in me. I can say now the storm has past, and I see the clouds parting. The sun is coming out. I realized with the help of a good friend, that I made that second loss of my daughter and idol in my life. I let the loss, not the recovery, define me. I never gave God the chance to heal my heart. I was so focused on the hurt, pain, chaos, confusion of all the events of that year, that I lost track of me. I lost track of what I do have. A wife that loves me, and takes care of me, and my children. Three boys who are just as in love with their sister as I am. Four healthy, beautiful, talented, smart children. A home. A job. My health got better. Wonderful friends. A new church home, where people have spent the last year helping us heal. I'm also leading the children's ministry again, loving kids. I still struggle somedays, but the darkness is gone. I'll always think about the little girl I lost. Here's what I know though, if not for those losses, we never would have been given the gift of Emma. We never would have felt, and understood the true joy and healing she has brought for all of us. And one day, when this storm called life is over for all of us, and the clouds part, I have two children waiting to bring me home, and someday, my famly will be whole, and the two we lost, will meet the one who saved me, my Emma.

No matter what the storm, trust me, after it passes, there will be a golden sky. Check out the video posted today too!

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Three Sons, or The Three Stooges, or Animal House

The joys of having three boys in my household. Indescribable. Truly. We have a 13 year old. ( that's him laying in the snow after he wiped out snowboarding.) We also have a ten year old, over there in the yellow jacket, getting ready to take the plunge on a snowboard. Down below, you will see our little monster, our 7 year old. (he's the one that has green hair.)

Now when I say things get a little crazy at my house, let me tell you a story so you know what I mean. One day when Emily was still working, I picked the boys up at the babysitters. Drove home, blasted some music, acted like a bunch of goofs. Got home, put Aiden down, (he was 3 at the time,) and the phone was ringing. Turned out to be nothing that important, very short phone call. However, in that time, Nathan, who was like 6, got dressed in his full batman garb, cape and all. Just as I was coming back into the living room, I see him, on the outside of the staircase with a piece of yarn tied around his waste, and looped around the banister. As if in slow motion, I opened my mouth, and tried to yell stop, but before I could get it out, he yelled "To the batmobile!!!", and jumped. Now in his mind, I'm sure the fast fall and sudden thud at the bottom were not all a part of his plan. Just as I see him get up and run away, obviously fine and unharmed, I hear Aiden yelling, with his little three year old voice in the kitchen, "I need hewp, hewp, hewp", which translated is help. He had stuck his head in between the arm rest and bottom of one of the kitchen chairs, and couldn't get it out. That was very typical of that time. You'll be happy to know, Nathan no longer dresses up in full batman get up, nor does he repel down anything, and Aiden stopped putting his head into things that he can't get it out of. Instead, we have constant bickering. Pushing, shoving, "don't look at me, mom he won't play my way, dad, tell him to put my guy down, it's not his." And the food they eat, my gosh I am thinking about buying a farm. If I tell Aiden to wait 5 minutes for something, he says but then I have to count to 60 five times?!?!?!?! JB informed me that I am violating his constitutional rights when I punish him for being disrespectful, or as he says, expressing himself. Ya know, right to free speech. One time, my wife and I were working on ways to respect each other, and show love to each other, so at dinner time, she made my plate first, before the boys. This was highly unusual for them, and a frenzy broke out. Full fledged panic. They started reaching in the pan of noodles with their hands, grabbing chicken, it was chaos. Completely hysterical to think about now. And speaking of dinner, our dinner time talk usually revolves around farts, burps, who can throw better, or how many times they got hit in the "nuggets" while playing sports that day. My point is, with three boys in the house, one of them a teen, and one of them a preteen, it gets pretty crazy. Its easy to lose track of how much you love your kids in the craziness of life. But, just when we are at our wits end, and frazzled, and totally understanding the concept behind boarding school, and why some animals eat their young, (kidding), my boys do something exceptional. They do something nice for each other, or us. They console, or play with their sister, whom they all adore. They make cards for my father who is very sick, or they help clean up so we can do something together as a family. Whenever it counts, like a family crisis, my oldest rises to every occasion with a level of maturity that astounds me. My middle son Nathan, somehow, someway, has such an understanding of love and caring, and shows it to people daily, and Aiden never misses a chance to make someone smile. Whenever we are out, or they are at someone else's house, we get such compliments on all three of them. While at times they are crazy, gross, rude, annoying, and disrespectful, there are still other times when they are bright, caring, responsible, funny, compassionate, loving, respectful humans. I just have to be ready to witness it, and look for it when it happens. In them I see so much talent and potential. So much promise. So many dreams I could never fulfill, that they will. So many goals I could never attain, that they will surpass. All children have that. My goal is this: in those crazy times, when I see more stooge than son, and more animal house then home, I'll just remember that they are still boys, finding their way, remember the good things about them, how loving they are to their sister, and be happy that they are my three sons, thanking God every crazy step along the way!!!














Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pruning

I have this tree in my front landscaping called a japanese maple. It is a really pretty tree, and I have admired it, and it has been one of my favorite things about my house since we bought it some thirteen years ago. It turns a deep red in late summer, and then really red in the fall. The shape is quite interesting too. About four years ago, the tree was damaged in an late winter ice storm, and one limb specifically seemed to die off totally. That spring the tree struggled, and by summer, I was worried the entire tree would die.

I came home from work one day, to find that the tree had been butchered!!! Well, not really, but it seemed it to me. My mother in law had cut the tree back. Way back. I was livid! I thought for sure the tree would die, but she said I should trust her, and in the next season, it would grow, and in two seasons it would be better than ever. She was right. The tree almlost instantly got greener, and new buds and branches started to appear. The next season, it changed back to it's red color again, and now, four years later, it is more beautiful than ever. Removing the dead, dying, and damaged parts restored it. Brought about new life.

Before you check out, and stop reading, don't- i'm not just writing about landscaping. I used this illustration to explain to my children why my father had to have his leg amputated recently. My father is ill, a severe diabetic on dialysis. He recently had a quadruple bypass and he has vascular disease to boot. He's also only 50, so his health issues have been exhausting for him, as well as the entire family. My boys seemed especially horrified at the idea that he was having half of his leg amputated. They couldn't understand why, and really felt like he wouldn't be the same papa. Well, after I told them the story about my favorite tree, and how removing the dead, damaged parts saved it, and made it stronger than ever, they understood. They have a new hope for my father, and a new outlook on his recovery. They now see and understand that in the long run, this will be great for my father, and may have very well saved his life.

There is another side to the story about the tree though, another lesson to be learned. It goes for us, our souls as well. How many of us have hurts, bad memories, bad experiences, unforgiveness? And what about disappointments and unfulfilled dreams and expectations? I have all of the above. So many of them were causing me hurt, and affecting every part of my life, my marriage, my relationships with my kids. It was until I did some "pruning" if you will. I had to remove some dead stuff, some damaged areas in my heart in order to have new life again. Am I there yet? No, but i'm still pruning. What I am noticing now, is more growth. More new life. More beauty and joy appearing in my life. See, I too, had to ask God to help me remove the dead and damaged to see new life, new growth. It's hard, and painful, and a long process, but so worth it in the end. If you want to read a good book to help you with your pruning, check out "Freedom from Your Past" by Jimmy Evans. Another great one is "Total Forgiveness", by RT Kendall. I should warn you- these books are life changing, so get your work gloves on, get out your pruning sheers, and prepare for some new growth. Be well!!!