December 26, 2014

A Year of Hard Roads…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


For have you not retrieved from exile the desperate lives
of men who never found their home? Have you not opened
your dark door for us who never yet found doors to enter?

—Thomas Wolfe

Well, it’s that time again. Seems like not that long ago, when I last posted that last blog of the year. When one looks back and takes stock a bit. I guess that’s what one is expected to do. It’s what I’ve done, mostly, in the past. Look back, recount and reflect. And tab it out, all the stuff that happened. Good, bad, ugly. And I was figuring to do just that. But when I sat down to pound it out, there was one thing that kept surfacing in my head. One new realization, one new thing of wonder, that stood out above all the rest.

That right there was the opening paragraph for my last blog of 2012, almost exactly two years ago. And I went back, and looked at that opening paragraph. And decided to copy it over, word for word, to open this last blog of 2014. Back then, that “new thing of wonder” I discovered was how much I am like my Dad. And it was a big deal to me to figure all that out. This year, that new thing of wonder is way out there in left field, in a totally different dimension. But still, those opening words are every bit as true as they were two years ago. Just in a different way.

2014. It’s been one rough and hellish year. I won’t beat around the bush about any of all that. It was a year of real hard roads. A dark year, when pretty much anything that could go wrong went wrong. Almost from the first day, it was that way. Well, at least since last March. March has been kind of an evil, skittish month to me, in the past. That’s when Ellen left our home, in March, seven years ago, after seven years of marriage. It all was what it was, timing wise, and I’m sure the month of March would protest, if it could, that I hold it in such low esteem. And yeah, maybe I have a little chip on my shoulder, at it. But still. Just look at the record. This past March was when my heart went all whacked out and crazy on me. It was pretty brutal stuff, and it came down in a real dark place. I wrote it all out when it happened.

I remember talking to a friend, soon after I got out of the hospital last March. When I was on all that poisonous Coumadin they sentenced me to take every day. I was pretty depressed about it all, and told him so. He told me. If you get your heart worked on, especially if you’re a man, you will go into real depression at some point, soon after you get out. My friend was talking about the more serious heart procedures, like the one he went through, more than ten years back. Mine was just a flutter, that they went up and seared.

And I told my friend. Yeah. I hear that. I wasn’t in a good place emotionally, when my heart went all crazy. And I remember how vivid all of life was to me, right after I got out of the hospital. All of it, the colors, the feelings, the intensity of it all. I guess that happened because you get a real sense of your own mortality, when you get your heart worked on. And yeah, I sank down into a real dark place, right soon after I got out, too. It was all pretty brutal. And I stayed there in that darkness, off and on, for way too long in 2014.

One thing I did, though, this past year. I wrote it as it came. I wrote from where I was, from all the dark places that came at me right out of nowhere. And I gotta say this. I look back at my production on the blog this year, and I feel pretty satisfied. Some of that writing is the best I’ve ever done. The best that ever came out of me, including the book. And I don’t need anyone’s permission to say that. I can just say it, because that’s what I think. That was one bright spot, looking back over the bleakness that was this year. The writing that came was first class stuff. Not all of it. But some of it. And, yeah, sure, I know. It’s all free, right here, that writing. It just doesn’t matter to me, that little point. That’s how I produce. This blog is the norm, the place I speak from, the place where my writing voice was born. The book was an aberration that may or may not happen again.

After March, here came April. That’s when Mom left us, after a brutal week-long struggle with the flu. They told me, the ones who were there at the end. It was not a pretty, peaceful passing. It was the ugliness of death, the ugliness of life slowly seeping from a frail and wasted body, when there was nothing left to hold on to. There was no dignity, there at the end, for Mom. It was a cruel death. Dark and senseless and brutal. The family gathered from all over, and we grieved the matriarch of our clan. And then we buried her. It was an intense and bonding thing.

Somewhere in there, soon after Mom’s funeral, I kicked the medical people out of my life. Got off all the pharmaceuticals they had me on. It was all pretty strange, in a lot of ways, how that all happened. And from somewhere it came to me, about right then. Sit down and write. Write your next book. So I boldly stated on my blog, soon after March. Some serious writing’s coming. I don’t know for sure what it is. But I’m feeling it. And I’m fixing to invite it all in, real soon. I don’t give a hoot about a sequel. I really don’t. If it doesn’t come right, it’ll never get told. And I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather be remembered as a “one hit wonder” than to ever crank out another book that’s not coming from my heart, simply for the money.

And now, as 2015 comes at me, I’m fixing to poke around a bit, to see if a second book can come right. I have a pretty good idea of the parameters of that book, at least how I saw it when I was getting ready to go in and relive it. It’ll open, with me driving up to Aylmer to see Dad, like I wrote in July of last year. It’ll open with the opening scenes of The Lion in Winter. And it’ll close with the two most wayward sons stooping to place roses on the soft earth above their mother. Between those two scenes, I figure, there’s a flashback book in there somewhere, about what all happened, and how it all got to where it did. In 2015, I plan to play around with all that. I most definitely plan to. I have no idea if it’ll take off or not, the writing of it. If it comes, I’ll speak it. If it doesn’t come, I’ll wait until it does. But I feel it coming, the next chapter of my story. It’s close. Soon, it will come. It’s close.

And this is just how it went, last summer. I was figuring to work a bit, on the sequel. I had the outline in my head. And just about when I was ready to walk into that opening room, here came more of the pure hell that was this year. Little Abby drowned. That pretty much took the sails out of anything I had, other than walking into life and writing what I saw from where I was. It was a brutal, brutal loss, the death of Abby. I’m not sure if the extended family has fully grasped what just was taken from us, as a clan. Well. I mean, I’m not sure any close or extended family can ever fully grasp the depth of such a loss. It all made me want to rend my clothes and curse the heavens in despair, back when it happened. But I didn’t curse, and I didn’t rend my clothes. I just wrote the story, instead, from where I was. Abby’s blog and Mom’s funeral blog. Those two narratives are among the very best of anything I’ve ever written.

And then Dad almost left us. I mean, it was that close, he was gone. Somehow, the man pulled back. He is one tough, tough, old guy. And I went up to see him, just a month or so back. He was excited to see me. And now, he’s all excited to be going down to Pine Craft, the first of the year. It’s what keeps him going, the excitement of all that. The anticipation. That, and he’s still got another three volumes to write, for his memoirs. He just came out with the second. My Stretch in the Service. He sent me a signed copy, and I’ve been perusing it. It’s much better writing than his first book was. I think the man is finding his stride, when it comes to telling his story. I’m reading stuff I never, never knew before.

And I kind of looked forward to it, the last blog of this year. It should be pretty simple, to get riled into a real rant about it all. That’s what I figured, and that was my full intention, when I started writing this. To get all riled up. To grumble and seethe at God. To just tell Him how it is. To rage at Him like I raged, back when Mom was just hanging on for no reason, except He wouldn’t call her home to Him. And yeah, I’m still a little pissed about how that all went, with Mom. Moving on up to now, though.

My life has been nothing but pain, lately. That’s what I figured to tell the Lord. Come on. You can do better than that. Give me some blessings, once in a while. Not that You haven’t. Like the Bible Study. That came out of nowhere. But lately, those sure have been sparse. I’ve seen nothing but bullshit, most of this year. And yeah, I’ll use that word when I’m talking to You. You know full well what I mean. It’s been crap, and You know it. I’ve been self-medicating, in ways I do not like. I need to get a grip. I’m just waiting here, to get all healed and speaking praises. Come on. Work your magic. Heal me from this year.

Those are the things I figured to say to God. Without any shame. You speak from your heart, that’s what I’ve said before. That’s what Pastor Mark always preaches. If you’re brooding and wounded, speak from that place. Well. It’s not turning out quite the way I thought it would, the writing of it from that place. And I’m not quite sure how to describe it all. So I guess I’ll just turn to a story that I feel like telling right this moment, for some reason. It’s a story I heard many times as a child. Mostly I heard it told in church, as a tiny little sliver in some otherwise long and droning sermon. In rough memory form, the story goes like this, right here.

There was a prophet, back there in the Old Testament. A prophet from God, living out there in the wilderness. In the land of a heathen king. The king knew the prophet, knew that he was a man of God, a man who had some special powers. And the king came to the prophet one day to call in a favor. Or maybe he was courting, for the first time. I don’t remember. But the king wanted help. There were some people passing through the kingdom, a great tribe of warriors. And the king was very scared of that tribe of warriors. So he came to the prophet with gifts of great finery, gifts of gold and linen and fine clothes. “Come with me to a high place,” the king said. “I want you to curse the invaders. I want you to curse them in the name of your God.”

The prophet was a bit of a shyster, I’ve always thought, from hearing the story. Not saying that I would have reacted any different, had I been him. I’m not judging his heart. He was flattered that the king came to him for help. He was flattered, to be so important. And he agreed, quite cheerfully, from what I heard told. So off they went, the two of them, and the king’s large entourage. The king took the prophet to a high place, and they looked down on the great tribe of warriors, camped out in the valley below. “OK,” the king said. “Now curse those people for me. I’ve paid you good money, to do this. So curse them, in the name of your God.”

The prophet stepped up to speak his curse, just like he’d been paid to do. But strangely, when the words flowed from him, those words weren’t curses. It was all blessings, that came out of his mouth. They would be victorious, wherever they marched, those warriors down there in the valley. They would be victorious. And the king, the very king who was paying the prophet to speak, that king would be their servant.

I imagine the king was pretty speechless, right off, after the prophet quit speaking. But not for long. You can bet he hollered at the prophet. “What? I hired you to curse the children of Israel. You took my money. And you just went out and blessed them. Are you insane?” And the prophet was all greasy, being the shyster he was. Pay me again. I’ll curse your enemies, this time. I think the prophet had every intention, to go through with his promise. He figured he’d deliver a curse on the king’s enemies, this time. And the king bought it. He paid the prophet again. And again, the two of them went to a high place, from where the prophet would spit out all the curses he was paid to speak. They would be cursed, those invaders.

Again, the prophet opened his mouth to curse. And again, only blessings rolled out. The king about had a stroke. And he yelled at the prophet again. “What in the world do you think you’re doing? I’m paying you, here.” And the prophet could only shrug his shoulders helplessly. He could only speak the words the Lord allowed him to speak. That’s what he told the king. And in the end, the king gave up, trying to tell the prophet to curse his enemies. It obviously wasn’t working. I figure the king actually feared the prophet as a man of God. Otherwise, he would just have had his head chopped off. I figure there was fear, there, in the king’s heart. Because that didn’t happen, no matter how mad he was at the shyster prophet.

And what does that little tale have to do with anything? You might ask. You might, indeed. I’m in a very strange place, here. A place I’ve never seen before. I mean, I want to rage against all the crap that this year was. I want to seethe, and I want to vent against God for all the BS that came at me in 2014. I really, really want to. Just as much as Balaam wanted to curse King Balaak’s enemies. I really want to speak all that darkness, cry to the heavens, call out in despair and grief and gloom. But I just can’t. It’s so clear to see, from here, when I’m trying to write it. I can’t speak curses. I can’t grumble against that which God does not want me to speak. I just can’t do it. It’s like my hands are tied.

I can only speak words of blessing, looking back over the year that was. And I can only speak those words from a grateful heart. Because all of life is a gift. And all of life is a precious and beautiful thing. That’s what I’ve always claimed to believe, when things were pretty much going my way. It’s either all of life, or it’s not, what I believe. And I have only words of blessing, for all this past year hit me with. Words of blessing, because it all was what it was, for reasons I will never understand. The Lord does that. Brings stuff into your life, to forge and shape you. Oh, yes. There was all kinds of forging and shaping going on that I wasn’t seeing, back when I was focused on all the crap raining down around me. Oh, yes, there was.

Funny thing is, though, when it comes right down to it, I’m not even sure what real words of blessing sound like when you speak them. I’ve never been here before, in a place as strange as this, where I’m called to speak when I don’t know for sure what the words I’m supposed to speak sound like. But I’m committed to speaking them. I’m not quite sure how this will all turn out. I’m in a new place, and I’m just telling you what I see and feel, walking through that new door. Just give me a little time. I think I’ll figure it all out.

I have no idea what 2015 may bring. I have so looked forward to this year being over. Just to move on, to leave behind all those hard and ugly things. And I simply don’t know. Maybe that new place will bring even worse stuff than what I saw this year. It doesn’t matter, though, whether it’s worse or better, what the New Year will bring.

All that matters is this. I’m looking forward to it. And it will be a year of blessings.

Happy New Year to all my readers.



  1. Ira , I’m so happy that you can express what many of us must certainly feel, this was a difficult and tragic year, and I pray God’s special blessings on you for 2015, your writing enriches my life, thank you.

    Comment by Georgia Pearson — December 26, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

  2. Letting God plan our lives is painful. It is faith that makes us give him all, no matter what is dealt to us. Even though you are in a bad place, you are right where God wants you; living with the pain and trusting in Him, as you should be. All of our lives are like books written by God and we are the living stories that inspire others to have hope. Wishing you a blessed New Year.

    Comment by Carolann Ellmore — December 26, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

  3. I am also looking forward to 2015 to arrive and for 2014 to be over – but we do not know what’s in store in the New Year. I’m optimistically looking forward to a new year that will be just as good as this soon to be last one was bad.

    Comment by Pete Beckary — December 26, 2014 @ 7:12 pm

  4. I think you’re feeling like the caged bird that sings because he still has a song after all the crap he’s endured. You see the fullness of life because of the finality of death and realize that God’s miracles are still happening, even in the passing of loved ones. When we can look back on this year and know it changed us in ways we can’t comprehend, then what awaits us next year? Only hope and kindness get us anywhere in life; that is why the caged bird sings.

    Comment by Pam Moore — December 26, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

  5. I agree some years can be really bad but then a new year comes in and we find we have grown in profound ways from the previous year. I have had those years too and now I am a different, better and wiser person from my earlier years. The Lord brings us through the fire with blessings. May you find rich Blessings in 2015.

    Comment by Linda Ault — December 26, 2014 @ 8:31 pm

  6. I enjoy reading your posts because you are always so honest. Sometimes brutally so, but I always come away feeling that I have met the real thing. The genuine article. Looking forward to reading more chapters in your story in 2015.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — December 26, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

  7. Liked the mesage! Keep it up!

    Comment by Kathy Dean — December 26, 2014 @ 9:04 pm

  8. Thanks Ira, great read and looking forward to more.

    Comment by Steve Beiler — December 26, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

  9. I could have written parts of this. It’s been a very tough year, starting with our son-in-law being killed last December, leaving our daughter with 2 little ones to raise by herself. I think it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. This coming Monday my husband is facing his third back surgery in 9 months, and we’ve had to deal with a drug addicted son coming out of rehab.I know I’ve grown and been stretched in ways I never have before. And your last paragraph especially caught my eye. I have been praying to God to bless us with some good things in 2015. And lest I sound like I’m very depressed, I’m not. I know we’ve also had blessings in 2014, they’re just a little harder to see through all the pain. And we never could have gotten through it but for the grace of God.

    Comment by Ann — December 26, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

  10. You spoke my heart. As Ann stated I keep seeing so much pain as I look around – it’s everywhere. As we sat around our Christmas eve candles and read Luke 2 and went around the circle with our usual “things we are thankful for” ritual, I found myself weeping and barely able to squeak out what I was thankful for. My mind kept wandering and in my grief I wished for a brief moment to be back to the years when life was good…really good. When you were talking about being the Grinch, that thought hit me again….Back in the early 90’s when all that really mattered was passing our high school and college classes and bouncing back from bad relationships. None of this crazy loss stuff… losing Mommy, spouses leaving, and babies dying crap. We all had each other and our health. Though none of us was rich, life was rich and the blessings truly abounded.

    As your blog has once again beautifully done, the reminders do come at the right time. God does indeed have plans for us. I know it’s hard to cling to that when our hearts are broken. You have blessed me much this year, Uncle, in the midst of the darkest season of pain I have ever lived. Losing Abby was not just a thing that occurred and affected us for a day or a week. It is the sole turning axis of most moments of my days. Thank you again for verifying my grief process by sharing her blog…Here’s to all of us experiencing God in deeper ways in 2015 and basking in a year of blessings. I love you!

    Ps. comment hog here ;) Should have just sent a private message!

    Comment by Dorothy Miller — December 26, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

  11. His Blessing is found in the surrender of self to God’s will. As it was with Jesus on the cross, “Not my will, but Thine be done..”
    We love you, Ira, for reminding us all of the precious gift of His Son.

    Comment by G racina — December 27, 2014 @ 12:06 am

  12. We are the clay and God is the potter. It is difficult to let the potter do His molding of our lives.

    Comment by Warren — December 27, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

  13. Your expression of blessing is touching. Your words remind me of a teaching-quote by Tim Keller. “Everything He sends is absolutely necessary, nothing He withholds can possibly be necessary.” If this is true, it changes everything in relation to our outlook on life’s many and varied experiences…

    Comment by Reuben Graber — December 27, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

  14. Ira, I’ve probably never told you this before, but your writing inspires me to write. It’s on my bucket list, and my dear wife is relentless about when I will begin. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to travel at a distance with you through a portion of this year. As a result I have learned the value of getting out from behind the mask of the disingenuous. For that I thank you, fellow traveler!

    Comment by Ervin Miller — December 27, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

  15. You’re written yet another thought-provoking post that moved me enough to make a comment on here! My community has lost 2 wonderful people in the last week, one was extremely untimely while the other was expected but still difficult. Your words are a comfort. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing.

    Comment by Kathy — December 27, 2014 @ 10:14 pm

  16. Thank you, Ira, and a very happy new year to you too, from both Germany and Austria!

    (We’ve just had the first snow of the year here in Germany last night, and today the sun is shining on a brilliant, beautiful landscape in white… all full of hope. May 2015 bring happiness and good things!)

    Comment by Birgit — December 28, 2014 @ 10:13 am

  17. How I hate the times that are hard. Feeling abandoned or picked on by my loving Father. Thinking “With a friend like You who needs enemies?” or “I know You didn’t cause this, but why did You allow it!” Only a foolish person would claim to have the answers for such questions. Why your mom got Alzheimers, why a young mother dies, why a town is wiped out from a tornado, only God knows. This I do know-in the midst of sorrows I would much rather be with God than without Him even if I am pointing my indignant, little finger at Him in disgust. What a brat I can be. Yes, tis true, but I’m God’s brat and that means something.

    You’re the only blogger I know of that writes from his gut. Man! I appreciate that! Life, oh, life! In all its hideous angst and euphoric glory is to be caressed and consumed and…LIVED! To go through stifled and miserable and dull. Is there a greater sin than this?

    With 2015 knocking on the door I thought I would try something this year instead of making a doomed-to-fail resolution. I’ve always struggled with keeping a tame tongue. When I was in elementary school my teacher sent home a note telling my mother I lacked sensitivity, at times, with other children. Lo and behold that horse is still in the stable. This year, I decided I would ask God to help me or do for me what I can’t do for myself. So, if you notice a taming of this shrew… rejoice with me. If you notice nothing, pray for me.

    Here’s a good book: “Where is God When it Hurts?” by Philip Yancey for anyone that may be intersted.

    Comment by Francine — December 29, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

  18. This blog touched me deeply, maybe because I am going through a dark time. Planning to rage and blessing instead…only God can do this in us.

    Comment by Tina Eicher — December 30, 2014 @ 10:29 am

  19. Thanks Ira, I enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve lost that person close to me, where his death made no sense. I love the story about the prophet only being able to give blessings. I remember it so well. It gives a big impression of who our God is, and when you’re called to certain things in life. I also love the fact of how you and your Dad both have the gift of writing, and as the two of you keep sharing your latest stuff, the relationship will probably bloom too. I very much believe in speaking good things to ourselves, because I’ve seen them come to pass. I believe God is way better that we’ve ever been taught (and I grew up in the same kind of household you did) and I believe He’s given us the power to do way more…just by believing in Him. I, for one, am still growing in this.

    Comment by Lena Wickey — December 31, 2014 @ 8:13 am

  20. Its been a pretty decent 2014..a relationship that started with a bang at Christmas 2013 bumped and thumped along only to fizzle out midyear and it had a lot to do with me backing away, my warning bells were going off big time. It hurt some, at least I listened to the inner voice..this time. And then there were the thots, been there done that, and, this too shall pass. It helps to dig out the tool bag and fish acceptance out of the bottom of it. That works, if I can get into it. In fact it is the answer too everything, my partial cop out is to say I accept it but I don’t like it.

    The world isn’t run by me, that’s God’s job, but I still like to think I can stick my fingers in to it. The old adage about being powerless over people, places, and things pops up, and I don’t much like that one either. The times when I’m roiled up pretty good and open my mouth to really throw down on somebody, instead positive things come out, that still amazes me. That’s not my doing, it’s gotta be God I’m thinking. This article and the comments reflect the similarities of life and people instead of the differences and that’s a comfort to this old boy..Peace to all..

    Comment by Lenny — January 4, 2015 @ 11:12 am

  21. I’ve finally come to the deep realization that I can trust my Papa God’s heart to see what I need to change and His awesome ability to with loving intensity set up situations that teach me in a way I will never forget. He created me for a reason and when I stray from that destiny, He is so good to bring me back on track. Of course, I could stupidly go the wrong way again because He allows us to have the freedom of choice. But why would I want more grief as He surely wouldn’t let it go at that, just like loving parents who keep training as long as it takes until the child gets it. God is the best dad in the whole world.

    Comment by Heidi Whitman — January 4, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

  22. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of just going through the motions in life. Conversely, it sounds like you’re trying to be engaged. So, good for you. Keep on keepin’ on.

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — January 6, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

  23. Beautiful, Ira. Just beautiful.

    Comment by Tharren Thompson — January 7, 2015 @ 10:25 am

  24. I am amazed. Thanks Ira.

    Comment by Rachel — January 7, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

  25. As always revealing and touching upon the human experience. Thank you . Happy New Year to you.

    Comment by Emelda — January 7, 2015 @ 4:46 pm

  26. Great conclusions you came to in this blog. It shows your maturing spirituality. Keep your eyes focused on the blessings. They are to be found in all circumstances. Looking forward to what you have to share with us in 2015.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — January 12, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

  27. Will He answer when I ask,why? As He dries each tear I cry. His presence may not be describable cause he gives “peace that passes all understanding and Joy unspeakable” though, you may be able to as gifted as he made you. God Bless,(a fellow seeker)

    p.s. I lost my 92 year old ex-amish dad 6 wks. ago so I know a little but not much

    Comment by Roger Otto — January 13, 2015 @ 11:04 pm

  28. Great article Ira….keep it going….I enjoyed it and hope you continue to write more…..

    Comment by Kentucky Lady 717 — January 16, 2015 @ 8:41 pm

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