Sick In The Valley of Suck: The First Chapter I Left Out

I hate being sick.  I mean, no one really likes being sick, right?  This week it just seems to suck more than usual.  This should be a crazy, fun week! I published a book! Yeah! Turkey hunting season is about to begin! Yeah! Both my kids are about to be drivers! Yeah (or not)!  But nope, I’m sick with a head cold that is just a brute.  

Life sucks.  Seek God.

And that is the problem too.  When I’m sick, I have a hard time with my spiritual practices.  I had very particular plans regarding praying with prayer beads throughout Lent this year.  Plans for specific things to give up.  But when I am sick, it all just goes out the window.  And without Heather here, my kids have to face the reality of their only parent being sick and the truth she protected them from their whole lives: I am a big baby when I get sick.

Today though, I’m pushing through.  Yep, I’m a real trooper here and trying to think on God today.  Partly, I am thinking about something I may have left out LIFE SUCKS SEEK GOD.  I’m guessing most authors probably feel something similar at times. I’ll probably think of a few more that will go into a future revision.  

Maybe it was my kids sharing with me over the past few days their worries about the future.  Maybe it was my own insecurities of publishing my own book.  Maybe it is just this stupid cold.  Whatever it is, I started thinking about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.

Here is what got in my head...who sustains the two sons?  I know, it is obvious right? The father.  But stay with me.  Just think through all the father did along the way.  He built up a fortune and birthrights for both his sons. He gave away an inheritance to the younger and continued to always have his eyes on the horizon.  He continued to provide for the older son, trusting him and sustaining him as he took care of the father’s household.  The father clearly never lost sight of this either.  Both sons take for granted the father has been there for them all their lives.  

That is what hit me.  That is what I left out of the book.  I left out grace.

Why do I say that? Because among all the things the valley of suck has taught me is I cannot sustain my faith - only God can do it.  God’s grace sustains our faith.  We can fall back on God precisely because God is THAT FATHER who does not abandon us; does not get upset when we say we wish he were dead or when we thumb our nose in God’s face for providing for us.

Call it grace by any name you like: common, prevenient, or original.  Call it blueberry for all that it matters - while grace may provide the freedom to turn to God, it is still God’s grace and none of us have that in us by any measure other than what God gives to us.  We so do not comprehend the fullness of grace.

And do we really want to dismiss the God of the Old Testament?  The Psalmist clearly understood there to be a God in heaven whose grace was not only supportive but protective in nature.  I think just two samplings are sufficient for this regard...

I  lift up my eyes to  the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who  made heaven and earth.
He will not  let your foot be moved;
he who  keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:1-4)

He will  cover you with his pinions,
and under his  wings you will  find refuge;
his  faithfulness is  a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)

I cannot sustain a simple practice of praying simple breath prayers when I’m sick with a cold for crying out loud!  What kind of faithless fool am I??  How wounded and weak am I??  I cannot sustain even something so simple.  No.  I cannot.

And this is why we dare not depend on or put faith and trust into our spiritual practices - they do not make us holy.  They do not make us “good Christians.” Our penance only states the fact of our fallenness, not our ability to forgive ourselves.  

Life sucks and we seek God because God is precisely where we are going to receive our help.  God’s grace alone has sustained me.  The habits which nurture holiness are gifts of grace to growing a more intimate relationship with Immanuel.  They do not save us or redeem us.  They make us aware of how much more we need to seek God when life sucks.

To get Ken's new book Life Sucks Seek God click here to buy on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
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Life Sucks Seek God - First Thoughts On A Book I Didn't Want to Write

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Everything changes.  Nothing changes.

Writing a book changes things and yet nothing changes at all.  The work of writing a book, be it an eBook or traditional hard-copy, or published or self-published is so much like the journey through the valley of suck.  Once done, it is done.  You put it out there with hopes it might make a change in a person's life.  Hopefully many people's lives.

This was not the first book I intended to publish but I am glad it is available first.  All along, since I started this was to offer something I could not do on a blog - a concise and practical help for nurturing faith during difficult times and situations.  There are much longer books on the subjects of suffering and pain. There are more pastoral books that comfort and provide care.  This is not those books.

I cover two things primarily in Life Sucks Seek God.  The first is my very real and very simple path to coming to believe in a God worth trusting in during the worst of times in my life.  The second part is to take that faith in God and combine it with simple descriptions and directions for spiritual habits - "faith hacks" - if you will.  These are for everyday use not just my rambling.  I help you with the very things that have helped me through the years and especially the trials of the diagnoses and death of my wife, Heather.  It is also about the days, weeks, and months after her death.

Heather's prayer was that her life and fight would be used to help point people to God.  My prayer is this book might be used to fulfill this prayer she had.  This was a ministry I never wanted and one I would gladly relinquish but I can't. This is why it is free now and will never be more the .99 in the Amazon Kindle store and available to be loaned too.

Sign-up for the mailing list (to the right of this blog).  I will let you know when new items are available such as the study guide for use in small groups and info on future writing projects.

Life Sucks. Seek God. Upcoming Book Release from The Valley of Suck

In just a few weeks I will be releasing my first book!  The valley of suck has far too many twists and turns than I had ever imagined and throw in a book (or two) and you never know what might happen.  But here it is!  This is totally new content, no copy and pasting out of my blog.  This is real and practical.  It gets to the bare-bones reality of true soul healing habits, what has sustained me through the valley of suck of being a caregiver, and now widower and single dad.

This also isn't a "book jacket" hype session but an invitation to be part of the launch for the book.  Being part of the launch means I'm going to send you a FREE pre-release PDF copy of the book to review before it is released on Amazon!  There will be more info along the way and I want to keep you in the loop.  So if you're interested, please enter your e-mail below.  This is no marketing gimmick and I won't be selling out your e-mail or wasting your time.  If you would like to help me get this information to people, please let me know and give me a hand!

Subscribe to join the launch of "Life Sucks. Seek God."

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Don't Trust Me - 5 More Lessons from Grief in the Valley

Do not trust me.

Well, don't take that too literally. But in many ways, yeah, don't.  Don't trust any of us going through the valley of suck. This can be a scary place when everything you thought you knew gets turned upside down.

It changes you.

It can change everything about you.

The processing of grief is different for everyone as I have come to learn. For me, grief has become a counselor.  I'll admit, grief is scary and ugly at first.  It comes at you and doesn't ask for permission when it shows up.  Over time, you get used to it.  When you're going through memories and closets and eveyone else has left you, grief is right beside you and will remind you of why you loved and why you still love.  I've tried to learn to listen and grief has taught me a few things:

1. Slow down.
You cannot hurry grief especially the death of a spouse. It IS different. Heather and I didn't live waiting on the day when our kids would fly the nest BUT we also had plans for that next stage. Those plans are gone now. I can't rush what is next.

2. Cry when the tears come.
It is so easy to fight this but I once read there is a toxicity in our tears. Holding them back keeps toxicity in our bodies. Healthy grief, admitting loss, and crying when the tears come, gets that stuff out.

3. One thing at a time.
Similar to slowing down, you gotta take one thing at a time. Don't bite off too much at once. Focus on small tasks - cleaning out 1 drawer. Taking one box or bag to a thrift store.

4. Give thanks for the old and the new.
Heather ran our home and she was amazing at keeping us all going. It has taken my mind a while to get hold of all she did.  Some things fell through the cracks. She ran the kitchen too. I had a hard time claiming that space. But I took up cooking with cast iron (something she didn't do) and that has allowed me to give thanks for what she did and become confident in what I can do.

5. Be Ready to Say Goodbye to "You."
Grieving the loss of my best friend, wife, and partner has been more than just grieving her.  I'm grieving the loss of me too.  That may sound a bit extreme but I don't have someone to fall back on now like I did.  I've tried to live like I had her there and I don't and I've been hurt in different ways in different scenarios by different people.  So now my skin has gotten tougher. My wits have gotten sharper.  I am still here but I'm not still here.  I'm not the same person.

I am thankful for a faith in Christianity that is full of the reality of resurrection and new life.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien understood the power of this in their stories.  We need to adopt it more I think, and come to remember we are resurrection people - it is OUR narrative.  We ought to be dying and becoming new every day.  The butterfly is a powerful symbol for the Church for this very reason.  It is why Heather chose to have her ashes buried with a butterfly bush.

Another great symbol for the church was the phoenix.  It seems lost to us in our day because we simply see it as part of mythological stories and now the Harry Potter series.  Yet the Church saw this idea of dying and rising again of the phoenix to be another great image for new life.  We live to the full, burst into flame, and then, from the ashes, new life begins.

So when I say "don't trust me," please put it in context.  Don't trust that I am the same person I was 1 month ago or 6 months ago.  Don't trust that I'm the same person as I was a year ago and you know what?  I'll extend the same courtesy to you - I will hope and pray you too have changed.  My changes may be more dramatic but then our journies are different.

Know this too: I like the person I'm becoming.  As a matter of fact, I like me a lot.  I was reminded this past week looking at my kids and working with them, how much of Heather is in them.  But then I was reminded that when we live in close proximity to another person, you rub off on each other.  I am more like Heather now too.  I'm thankful her legacy continues.

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Walking with Saints in the Valley of Suck

"But do not think that you can leave off your search to know God's purpose for you after you've sought Him on this matter for a year or two - or even after ten years! If we do so, we are abandoning our true work of faith like cowards - for our work is to be alway and only obedient, no matter where He leads us. It is well and good that the Lord should see we are not willing to leave anything undone that He wants us to accomplish in this life." - Teresa of Avila from "The Way of Perfection."

It is almost a dis-service to Teresa's words to say anything.  They have stood for a while on their own as well they should.  She is one of the most widely read Spanish writers of all time.  However, to only think of her as a great author is to miss her life of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ.  She knew great suffering as she sought to be faithful.  I have gotten to know St. Teresa of Avila much better lately through Fr. Thomas Dubay's book, "Fire Within," and have gained a much better perspective, not just on Teresa, but on my own life as well.

As I have been working on a book project in recent weeks, I have focused in on the issue of faith in the midst of suffering. I've not only read Teresa's work but other modern authors as well. One thing among many I have learned is this:

Suffering and change go hand-in-hand.

Following the death of a spouse, it is said we shouldn't make any big decisions in the first year. I think this is true BUT only in one sense - in that first year of grief, there are so many decisions to be made, we have to LIMIT our big decisions.

As I progress through the valley of suck, I now found myself facing some of those decisions. Some I have put on the shelf.  Others have had to be faced.  As I have faced a couple of recent ones, I find myself looking to a verse I had memorized years ago:

"We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)

I know these words seem different from other entries into my writings on the valley of suck but in truth, it is more real than you might realize. Heather and I were partners in ministry. We listened and we went where we heard God's voice leading. Some doors opened and other's closed. All along the way we held each other close and together clung close to God. Our obedience to God broke us and mended us.

Heather was no coward. Not in living life and not in facing death. Walking with her through those days and now reading in her journals, I find a woman who was God's workmanship: humble, kind, gentle, sly, quick, joyful, gracious, and courageous.

These are what saints are intended to be for us: heroes of faith. People who in life and death inspire us to greater heights of faith and love.  Consider those in your life who have inspired you.  What was it about them?  They may not be canonized by any church or denomination but it doesn't mean they were any less saintly, just not known fully.

So what will you do with the example set for you? Will you go where God calls or be counted among the cowards Teresa calls out? Will you respond to the call of comfort or the call of Christ?

Anything But Motionless in the Valley of Suck


I'm looking back a week ago. I was recovering from being in a mosh pit with my daughter at Atlanta's Tabernacle and seeing Motionless In White. What a difference a week makes. Sometimes the Valley of Suck is a slow slogging and forcing each step and then in moments, you are in the Millenium Falcon making the "Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs."

I was driving today in Hotlanta five o'clock traffic. Nothing on the radio did anything for me. I realized what I was missing was the loud, honest, gut-wrenching emotions I saw a week ago in a crowd of people who were mostly half my age. Yep, I started a Motionless In White radio station.  In fact, I'm listening to it as I write.

I...DO NOT...listen to music when I write...EVER. Yet, here I am.

Joke if you want about mid-life crisis experiences but I get it. They are real.

The Valley of Suck can make you question everything. It is like a cavernous expanse inside my soul. It is so dark. Every sound echoes off the walls and there is no light to provide clarity or reference. The voices of others provide little comfort. You are clawing and grasping.  You are listening intently but all you hear is your voice.

It is similar to what my friend Sally Wolfe wrote:

I have to be alone
to not be alone."

I have learned not to trust.
I have learned some friends aren't friends after all.
I have learned to play things close the vest.
I have learned to still reach out.
I have learned to find a spontaneity I had forgotten.
I have learned I better know my boundaries.
I have learned the hard way, words mean little.
I have learned that words mean everything.
I have learned the pain of triggers that dredge memories.
I have learned that darkness doesn't have to scare.
I have learned in time that grief becomes a loyal friend.
I have learned the skeletons in the closet must be faced.
I have learned I can't trust my heart.
I have learned to run after that heart even if it hurts in the end.
I have learned to dig deeper.
I have learned to accept the pain as a patron.
I have learned the rabbit trails ARE the trails.
I have learned the rabbit hole IS the hole.
I have learned to stop being afraid to rip open scars.
I have learned to listen to the Scriptures I have ignored for too long.

Like Ecclesiastes 1:1-3
The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
"Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
   vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

I have learned to trust the whole Bible - the voices of the sinner-saints who have lived honestly in the midst of mess. They didn't have surety...they had questions.  They lived under assumptions which were often proven to be false.  They worshiped idols and then tried to obey God. They tried to have it both ways and learned from the messes made.

I have learned to be weary of promises of sure things. The Valley of Suck has made clear again and again and again...what I THOUGHT was sure was nothing but vanity.  Just when I think I have scraped the muck out of the way, more has been dumped into the valley.  I'm still not sure where the bottom is.

I totally get why my daughter loves this music. It is the same reasons so many have loved music beyond the edges of popular genres - they call it like it is...

     In the end, as you fade into the night (whoa!)
     Who will tell the story of your life? (Whoa!)
     And who will remember your last goodbye? (Whoa!)
    'Cause it's the end and I'm not afraid
     I'm not afraid to die.  (Black Veil Brides: "In The End")
I didn't realize these prophets have been pointing out lessons of truth camouflaged in lyrics and music we often ridicule as hard to hear. I still have much to learn but I have also learned so very much.  I still have miles to go in the valley of suck but I have also come so far.  And yet, I have found more hope. My soul; my heart; has been anything BUT motionless.  I am changing and while I am afraid of what may lie ahead, I have the courage to face what I may become.

Worshipping at The Tabernacle in The Valley of Suck

The road is not a short one. It is as long and winding as any in physical path you or I might tread. Each decision we take is a step along the course of our lives. Sometimes those are decisions which are the results of our own design and still others reflect our response to the events which occur in our lives.

But more than anything, our steps are a gift of grace.

The valley of suck is anything but predictable. You can imagine and guess what is around the corner, and then you take a look, and you are surprised: by grace, by gifts, by grief, by good mornings, and by "oh my goodness (or something similar)."

Sometimes you even find yourself in the church or in my case, The Tabernacle.

Last night I took my daughter to see her favorite band, Motionless In White, on their current tour. Now, I'm an honest guy. This was an explicit lyric event, so I am not endorsing their music for your listening pleasure nor for your kids.  But the road of grace and the valley of suck is a winding and twisting path and it brings you to crossroads and bumps where you make choices.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect I was the only pastor at the front of the mosh pit last night with their "baby girl" while guitars wailed, drums thumped and singers screamed. I surrounded her and shielded her from the press of people as she sang along and jumped about and fulfilled a dream so many kids hope to do: rock out with their favorite band.

And when she was tired and her night was done, she laid her head on my shoulder and she said she was glad her dad was there.

There was grace in The Tabernacle last night.  The "worship" leaders at The Tabernacle weren't the ones of Sunday morning, but they are the ones who come to kids in the dark of night in their valley of suck.  I had listened to her music in the weeks leading up to the night.  She "fan-girled," telling me all about the band and what their songs meant.

And then I was invited into the experience.  And I got a glimpse into it last night.  Motionless in White and the bands were class acts.  They were gentlemen and gracious to my girl. I saw through her eyes and the eyes of the hundreds of others heroes of a different sort - ones who could name the pain and suffering and inspire young people to keep fighting.  They didn't know her story and all the other stories - they had their story and so they offered it and it was a word of hope.

Jesus met me in it all last night, at The Tabernacle.  I thought at one point, "Man! If Jesus was here today, this is where he'd be!" And then, like a whisper, Jesus said, "Hey doofus, what do you mean "if?" You're here aren't you so I AM here!"

Yeah. I get it. The valley of suck isn't the same for everyone and the soundtrack isn't the same but the grace is. Even though I'm not pastoring a church, my kids still look to me to act like Jesus - "Jesus, help me do it as well as I seemed to do it last night!"

There was worship in The Tabernacle last night.  I was there and my heart was strangely warmed in the strangest of places.  Grace is still amazing.

P.S.  Thank you to all the fans, the bands, and the event staff at The Tabernacle for being some of the best folks to worship with!

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