Spring descended on Auckland this weekend, with glorious warm blue sky days. Chores, laundry, groceries, catching up with friends in familiar places and spaces – it felt good to be outside. I found myself thinking back to spring last year when there was a very different sort of activity in the house: Jared was home from the hospice, Elise was 7.5 months old, the daily rhythms were Jared’s care and Elise’s routines. On one hand, Jared was dying and every day for him was an arduous mountain of fatigue and symptom management punctuated by visits from the hospice, district nurses, pain team, pharmacy, GP….on the other hand we were together again as a family, Jared was where he most wanted to be, and the changing of the seasons was accompanied by a new sense of hope and purpose.
David Williams, previously a stranger to us, had arrived on the scene to help Jared write his book – the book that many who read this blog had encouraged Jared to write. Each day, at 12pm, David would arrive with his iPad and camera, climb the stairs, sit with Jared for an hour and record their conversations. There were 21 conversations in total, covering everything from the story of Jared’s life to the reality of dying to Jared’s hopes and dreams for the book, and for Elise. These conversations, together with excerpts from Jared’s blog, form the basis of “Message to my girl”.
Jared’s commitment to the project was absolute. In many ways this was his “best” hour of the day, or, at least, the one he poured all of his available energy into. While battling pain, muddled thoughts and crippling fatigue, he would press on, aware that this final task was worthy of everything he had. Words can’t express our gratefulness to David for taking on this project. His courage, sensitivity and commitment to seeing Jared’s final dream realised were extraordinary.
“Message to my girl” is told in Jared’s words with his trademark openness, honesty and humour. It is a beautiful account of his life, and the purpose, courage and love that motivated him to the very end. My first copy arrived last weekend – I was struck by how proud Jared would have been that he had co-authored such a book and how precious this gift will be for Elise.
For me, the public release of the book is both exciting and anxiety-provoking – the spotlight was very much easier to share with someone as gregarious as Jared. However we were always united in wanting this story to be told authentically and honestly and the courage I need to gather for the next little while is nothing compared with that Jared displayed in his final weeks.
“Message to my girl” will be in New Zealand bookstores from Monday 28 September. It can be bought online at Fishpond and Mighty Ape (NZ). It is listed with the Book Depository (UK, ships worldwide) and may later be available through Amazon.
The official book launch will be on Monday 28th September at 6.30pm at “Crave”, 25 McDonald St, Morningside, Auckland. We’d love you to come – there will be refreshments, some of the key people telling the story of the book and copies available for purchase.
Finally, Spring presented the opportunity to introduce Elise to the snow. Her frown belies her southern roots….I have great hopes that future snow experiences will be more successful!
Did you know that based on population data, I only have a 20% chance of being alive this time next year?
The odds are long, but then they always have been, and so far, I sit way out on the bell shaped curve, probably 2-3 standard deviations out, in terms of my survival. But when you are confronted with a statistic like that, how should we respond?
Do we give up hope, wait for the inevitable?
Do we plan for the inevitable and go sit on a beach somewhere?
Or do we just ignore that statistic and pretend it doesn’t exist?
Many people try to sell me hope on this journey, and the sales pitch comes in many forms which can probably be put into two broad categories. First, is the alternative medicine category; “I have the cure for you”; “you should try this diet”; “I know someone in India who can cure you” characterizes this response. This versions of hope is sold to me on the premise that there is an undiscovered cure for cancer that people know about, but the medical establishment has turned a blind eye to. The second category is more a faith based one. It is often characterized by comments like “Claim the healing and God will heal you”; “if you have faith, God will heal you”; and sometimes, just as “God will heal you”.
“I think hope is sometimes a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. We live in hope for one thing because the reality of the alternative scares us too much. In actual fact we are living in fear… or denial.”
This was a Facebook status I mused upon recently and the premise for the third response. What I have discovered is that there are in fact two types of hope. The first of which is characterized by the kind of blind faith that is often sold in the above formats, be that a faith in alternative treatments or a faith in God. This kind of hope has grandiose promises of a life free of suffering. These promises seem to offer a freedom from the life we may think we are stuck with, and a future fantasy that often really only serves as a form of escapism. At the heart of this kind of hope though, is the fear of our reality. Its a belief in the possible because the probable is too hard.
Its thinking we live in hope, but actually living in fear…
It’s a form of denial…
Which is why very often this kind of hope will collapse in the face of suffering, cause disillusionment, and become its antithesis, hopelessness.
This begs the question, what IS hope?
For me, hope is found by acknowledging my reality. It’s embracing the fact that I only have a 20% likelihood of being alive in a year, and knowing that my future will have suffering. It is taking my fears, my anxiety, and the life I find myself in and giving it over to something greater. When I submit my fears, I relinquish the control I try to have over them and I am stripped back to the absolute core of who I am. In the process of that submission hope is birthed…
Acknowledging, and then submitting my reality to God, is the only place I have found hope. Hope that energizes me, hope that motivates me, and hope that what I do in this life, is working towards something far greater than I could ever imagine.
It is by knowing my reality, rather than ignoring it, that the seed of hope grows…
And true hope has powers far greater than fear…. It even conquers death.
I am at peace with my diagnosis and prognosis, yet I have hope. The hope is not necessarily in a cure, or in healing, it’s an intangible hope that permeates everything I touch and every day that I am alive. It’s a hope that is beyond the natural, that is Christ fueled, and allows me to live the life I was meant to, even if it wasn’t the life I had planned.
When hope is born from suffering rather than fear, that is when it becomes real.
Thanks for listening.
[Updated] Last weekend I had the privilege of being a significant part of an Easter Camp at Mystery Creek in Hamilton. The camp was populated by 4300 youth aged 13-25 from all over the upper North Island. The camp started on the Thursday evening, and finished Monday afternoon. I was scheduled to speak on the Saturday evening.
The experience was quite surreal. Four thousand and three hundred people is a difficult number to imagine, this photo shows a glimpse of what it was like.
Apart from a few nerves prior to speaking to such a crowd, all in all it went pretty well. There was a pretty huge response, with about
400-500 1000-1500 (The camp director read this and wanted to correct me… I’m a little skeptical that it was quite that number) people coming forward afterwards. The crux of the message was the same as I have shared before, i.e. we are all dealing with stuff in our lives, but it is how we deal with it that makes the difference, rather than letting it deal to us. The following day we scheduled a seminar that was arranged at the last minute, so not on the official program. The idea was that it provided an opportunity to explore some areas a bit more, particularly around the ideas of what a theology of healing and suffering might and should look like. The bulk of the seminar was question and answer, so it allowed people to ask specific questions and to explore these issues. The seminar seemed to go pretty well as well, with about 500-700 people showing up…. it gets hard to estimate numbers when you get to that sort of size!
All in all, it was a pretty rewarding experience, and amazing to see God changing peoples lives, and using my story of suffering to do it. WIthout a doubt the weekend as a whole was a pivotal point in many young peoples faith journey.
I will post a video of the main message I shared on the Saturday night when I get my hands on it.
Some one in my recent history once described me as an anti-hero. The terminology came about as a reference to the kind of message I have been sharing, and why it seems to resonate with people of different walks of life.
So often in life, we are sold ideas and and methodologies of how to ‘win’ in life, how to ‘succeed’ and how to get everything you want. Such is the fairy tale ending that we all seem to be after. Our lives, no matter which part of the journey we are on, seem to be aiming for this ultimate destination where we can say we have won, or succeeded, or found that place where we can live happily ever after. This idea of thinking is endemic in our culture, and is also seeping into Christian faith based practice. It would seem the measure of our life is by how well we have done in either our marriage, our job, or our material possessions.
When we are children, we cannot wait till we are teenagers and the world is our oyster. When we are teenagers, we can’t wait till we leave school and gain some independence. When we have left school, we can’t wait till we have graduated to get our first job and start earning money. When we are single, we can’t wait till we are married (or settled down) with the women/man of our dreams. Then, kids become the panacea, followed by the desire to be rid of them. Finally, retirement seems to the pinnacle of our life’s achievements. At every step of the way, the next step seems to be greener grass that we desire. The fairy tale ending is just within our reach, yet just beyond it.
By far the majority of us will never find the promised fairy tale ending. Most of us will keep reaching for the next branch, thinking that will be the final one, only to discover it wasn’t as good as we anticipated, or that there are many other branches to climb before we arrive…. arrive where exactly, its hard to say.
Perhaps that is why my story resonates with people. Statistically, I’m unlikely to find my fairy tale ending. The next steps in life for me are probably going to be painful, and full of suffering. I will endure some of the hardest things I will ever have to face, and friends and family will be dragged through the same turmoil. There is no fairy tale ending here, only sadness, mourning, loss, and grief.
If we try to find our purpose in the ending, we only end up losing ourselves in the process of getting there. What I have discovered is that the purpose is in the journey, no matter where that journey leads us. The path we are on, no matter how successful or unsuccessful is littered with stories of meaning, of relationships, and of purpose. Through finding meaning in the journey, I am at peace that my outcome will NOT be the fairy tale ending, I have found purpose in the day to day living of my life. The colours are brighter, the relationships more vivid, and what it means to serve humanity is more apparent. I’m okay with dying, and I have come to that place by finding meaning and purpose in the journey rather than the destination.
Let’s also be clear, I’m not saying that meaning is found by accepting our inevitable and slow demise, I’m saying that by realizing it is the journey that is important, the inevitable demise no longer matters. The ending, whether good or bad pales into insignificance when contrasted against the reality of living the way God intended in our lives now.
I also have to be clear on another point. I have described the meaning found in the journey above without using God language, but the reality for me is that faith is an integral part of that journey. I cannot imagine any of these things apart from God. The meaning, the sanctity of life, the value of serving humanity, all comes from one source. And as such, deserves all my attention, all my focus, and all my energies.
This is why I’m an anti-hero. I don’t talk about conquering, overcoming, or being the victor. I talk about the reality of suffering in my life, and why I’m at peace with that. I talk about why more often or not, there is no fairy tale ending.
Thanks for listening.
Over the past two months I have been extremely privileged to travel around the country and speak at Promise Keepers events. For those of you who don’t know what Promise Keepers is, it is basically a men’s based movement that seeks to provide inspiration and change in the live’s of men. It not only spiritually engages with them, but also helps to provide practical advice on how to look after their marriage, and how to be effective role models in the live’s of their kids. The latter part being particularly important today when there are such a huge number of absent fathers.
I was invited to speak at Dunedin and Tauranga in their 3rd session, as well as the youth section in Dunedin, Christchurch, Tauranga and Auckland. After the main session in Dunedin, the invitation was extended to speak in the main event at Christchurch and Auckland as well, but in a slightly different capacity.
The Auckland event was the final big shindig, with over 2500 people in attendence, and was located at the TelstraClear arena down in Manukau. It was really great to be able to contribute in such a way that will hopefully change lives.
With the events all over, I can start to share some videos from them, this one, and the one from Auckland when it becomes available. For those of you who do not share my faith, I will warn you that these videos have very high faith based content in them, but that should not exclude the underlying messages I was trying to communicate. 🙂
So, without further adieu, Promise Keepers Dunedin…….
I’ve recently had another interview air on the radio.
This time the station is Life FM, and the interview takes a slightly different tac than previous interviews. The tempo is a bit faster, its a bit more aggressive, and covers almost the same amount of topic in 1/4 of the time. I guess this reflects the different audience/demographic that Life FM tries to hit.
Anyway, if you are interested, have a listen and let me know what you think :-).
Thanks for listening.