The first step in forging a path towards your dreams is being honest about where you are now

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I haven’t put out anything in a while but not because I haven’t been writing. I spent many hours on several different pieces detailing the worst events of my life and how I had decided I wasn’t going to let them define me. In a couple of the drafts, I explained how I had worked to redeem the events or how what may have seemed like bad decisions led to a life I will never regret. Going forward, I plan to bring this kind of encouraging language to most of what I write because I believe it.

I wrote other drafts about my writing classes where I decided I would be more intentional about my role as the author of my life. Not only could I choose where the lead character in my life will go, but I could also decide what kind of character I will be. But none of the versions rang true to what I was feeling right now.

What I want most from my character is to be honest. I don’t just want to be honest to those around me or for any potential readers; I want to be honest with myself.

For those of you who don’t know my story, I moved to Austin about two years ago right after my wife died. A few months ago I created a website and named my blog, The Swarm (my last name) ~ A Serendipitous Journey Through a Midlife Crises. I wanted to document the journey I was on for others who have experienced any kind of loss or major life-change that has caused you to question who you are now and what you’re supposed to do next.

 I found a definition of the stereotypical man’s midlife crisis in Wikipedia to include “the purchase of a luxury item such as an exotic car or seeking intimacy with a younger woman.” His midlife crisis of identity led to him choosing to make life changes. But what about the wife he left? How might life changes that she didn't make create a crisis of her identity? 

Sometimes people have a midlife crisis, while others have one thrust upon them. Talking to people, I’ve learned you can’t rank which events may be harder to go through. You may have had an illness or injury. You may have lost a career or the ability to chase a dream or you may have lost someone you loved very much to divorce, death or them simply moving away. All of these things are very real to those experiencing them and they are all really hard. It’s hard because it hurts. But I think what's even harder is living each day having no idea what you’re supposed to do next. 

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I knew the logistical steps to build a new life in a new city. I drove the streets, tried the restaurants and shopped the grocery stores. I went to see live music, walked my dog around the lake and got a library card. I got involved in an amazing church, did things with people from work and went to the events at my apartments. During that process, I managed to make some of the closest friendships I’ve ever known.

In a way, it was easy for me because moving here because I didn’t have to think about it. I was just carrying out a plan that we had already formed together. We wanted to sell our house, move into a cool apartment so we would have less to take care of and travel the world. I have the cool apartment, a new group of friends and I visited four continents last year. I turned 50 a few months ago and I had completed what would hav been the next stage of our vision, but what comes next? 

I want to keep going but without a vision to chase, I realize that I'm tired. I’m tired from all the time and energy I spent building these new friendships. I'm tired of being the sole visionary for my life, the supervisor who oversees the day-to-day operation and the worker who has to carry out all the tasks required. I’m tired of feeling like I’m failing at all of those jobs.

I’m tired of being alone. But I’m also tired of the work required to not be alone.

I’ve read the books. I’ve gone through counseling with people I love and respect. I’ve studied the blogs in preparation for writing mine… But all those facts and road maps and life hacks don’t change the way I feel when I finally turn off all the noise around me and get still, I feel like a little kid again. I’m lonely. I’m scared. And I sure don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do next. 

I tried to write about how I wasn’t going to let my past define me. I tried to encourage with how I have used those things from my past as fuel for my future. Each of those things have been true during many periods of my life; they will be true again. But occasionally I need to fully acknowledge that the painful wounds from my past are still true also.

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My friend, Allen, has talked a lot recently about how a suspension bridge gets its strength from the tension of two cables pulling against each other in the opposite direction. He talked about how we have to often live with to opposite truths about us existing at the same time. Therefore, to cross the gap towards where I want to go. I have to find the balance in knowing I both live with fear about my future and have the courage I need to walk towards it.

Many people have been quoted saying something to the effect that “Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s being afraid and doing it anyway.” While looking up the quote I also ran across this one from Thomas Fuller, “Some men have been thought brave because they were afraid to run away.”  I think that one better defines me in this season because while I am afraid of loving someone and losing them again, I’m even more afraid of a future that doesn’t include me loving and living fully. 

So, I get up every day and I go to work. I meet up with friends. I lead two groups through studies that I went through last year. I read. I write. I watch too many movies trying to glean hope and courage from other's stories. I sit around what feels like way too often doing nothing. And, I look into the eyes of women I walk by each day and wait for that moment when “she” will look back into mine and again, I’ll know… 

I’m inviting you to come on a journey with me for a while – those of you who still have a glimmer of hope that new adventures are possible and that there remains hidden in you courage that you haven’t yet tapped into.

I’m going to start my journey by admitting that… Today I am tired. Today I am scared. Today I am lonely. Today, I still really miss her.

 I have to stop pretending those things aren’t true and pray that my honesty about those things today can be my starting point towards a pretty amazing tomorrow.

Please email me at b.theswarm@gmail.com to be notified of future posts.

Practicing Life

A new day dawning in the midst of the chaos

A new day dawning in the midst of the chaos

In 2010, Lori and I were serving with Kingdom Racing, a Christian Indy car team, at the Texas Motor Speedway when a young man approached us about a once in a lifetime opportunity. He share with us how vacation ownership could change our lives.

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We had attended several of these presentations before so I smiled as Lori took over. “Our schedule is very busy with our son and work, and I’m not sure it would be worth it to drive 45 minutes…” and within a few minutes he had upped his promotional offer to $150 prepaid Visa card and 4 tickets to a Texas Ranger’s game. 

Arriving at the sales center a few weeks later, we “ooh”-ed and “ahh”-ed throughout the presentation as our guide prepared for his big sale’s pitch. For only $20,000.00 we could purchase a whole week of our very own every year at an East Texas resort with hints of trading that week for exotic destinations like Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Europe.

“So… how many weeks can we sign you up for?’ asked the gentleman.

I then began my pitch, “I have owned with your company before along with another timeshare on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale and I’m not sure this is the best option for my family even if you gave it to me for free. To trade for those destinations you speak of, I have to also pay to join RCI which costs this much per year and then I have to pay to execute the trade which costs this much and then you just told me my annual maintenance fees are this much which totals approx. $800 per year. And because East Texas is not quite the tourist capital of the world, my trade value is not exactly top-shelf. Correct?”

He agreed that it was the lowest of the three priority levels and I continued, “We have spent 7-10 days a year at a beautiful resort in Kauai every summer for the last several years through VRBO for about the same $800 and we are free to pick whichever arrival date or day of the week that works best for us, so while you have been an awesome salesperson, I believe we will respectfully decline your offer.” He like many salesman before him blinked a few times and quickly got his manager who came in with an even better once in a lifetime offer, and somehow, every time, our original salesperson was left in a state of total amazement at our good fortune. However, once I reiterated my argument, the manager simply gave us the voucher for our free items telling us to have a nice day so they could concentrate on people whom they may be able to sell to.

I loved going to those because despite the creepy high-pressure sales vibe, I knew enough about the subject to avoid being trapped and we really did get our free stuff. We even picked a Ranger’s game where they gave away a stuffed Nolan Ryan snow monkey to the first 30,000 people. I sold it on eBay the next day for $85 and used that money to buy Samuel the new Madden game for his Xbox. I always felt so cool after those presentations because of the way Lori l felt so taken care of. 

 

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Back to modern day Austin

 

Even though I know I can’t walk in that level of confidence in every area, I expect myself to. I try to give myself grace while finding other ways to make good decisions. For example, what can be just as empowering as knowing the subject well is having people around you whom you trust. I got those new tires on my Jeep last week and because I had a friend who worked for the company who had suggested I wait for an upcoming promotion, I got a deal I feel good about.

But then the Vet called to talk about GiGi’s cancer treatment. I agreed to the additional medication, but told her I would have to think about the $1300 procedure that would only confirm her diagnosis but not actually help her. Because I have already decided not to have her leg amputated, I don’t feel a strong need to go from 90% to 100% positive on her diagnosis, and yet her reasoning still brought doubt and guilt. I really like Dr. East a lot, so why do I find myself feeling like I’m getting sold on things I don’t really need?

I don’t want to go through life cynical and suspecting everyone is out to screw me, but I know that on top of occasional corporate and individual greed, property taxes keep going up in Austin, therefore, some businesses are doing to push things that the customer doesn’t really need just to maintain profitability. Math is math! I see the empty buildings all over town as businesses continue to either close or move to cheaper areas in the suburbs.

 I also think some of my skepticism comes from the time I’ve spent on the other side. For several months after high school, I worked at a call center soliciting donations where they gave us a script prompting us how to respond to the potential donor’s objections. They then taught us to never offer yes/no questions, but to instead ask questions with implied “Yes” answers guiding the customer towards the next step such as, “Would it be easier for you to send us a check or would you prefer to give me your credit card number over the phone?“ Obviously, our only concern was the convenience of donor.  ~ heavy on the sarcasm = ))

 

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I was pondering how to wrap this piece up with an encouraging bow while I drove to Dallas for my mom’s 70th birthday. I had a great time with my family, but while I was there my decision making inadequacy reached a whole new level – one that I honestly haven’t really faced yet.

 

I found out my dad has a vein that is 95% blocked and despite bringing in the most qualified surgeon in the area, stenting him would be impossible. And, as doctors had already determined Dad would not be a good candidate for open-heart surgery, there’s nothing they can do.

I still remember last year when he was taken to the hospital for a mild heart attack and how my visits were not to take care of him, but to take care of my mom. The first time, he was in the hospital and well taken care of and when I went back up after he got home, he was already getting around by himself. He’s kind tough and determined that way. 

 Trying to wrap my head around all of the advice from the Vet concerning GiGi and the doctors that are caring for my dad, the old joke comes to mind about how they’re all just practicing medicine. 

But maybe we're just practicing life, too. We prescribe things we think will help, monitor the situation to see what works and then alter our procedures accordingly.


I can’t possibly come up response plans, to something that hasn’t happened yet and thoughts like, “What the hell am I doing in Austin?” and, “If you were still living in Dallas, you would be able to help,” do no good. 

 

I have to settle on what I know to be true. First I have handled some tragic events in my life already, so I bet the Lord will help me through whatever else might come my way going forward. Second, Austin was no question the right move for me two years ago. Seeing the life I’ve built here confirms that on a regular basis. I have often told people that my life could have been resuscitated in Dallas after Lori died, but it took coming to Austin to be resurrected. Not being able to fall back into old routines allowed me to grow into a better version of me here than has ever existed before. And third, I can choose to celebrate and enjoy today with my parents and everyone else in my life for that matter because I am all too aware of how tomorrow is not promised.

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 My mom said during my visit, “His (dad’s) days are in the Lord’s hands… but all of our days are in His hands whether we know it or not.” Well said, Mom!!

I’m going to do everything I can to live each one of them well.

 

 

 

The Pursuit of Happyness

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When was the last time you were ecstatically happy?

My journal sat open in front of me as I stared out the window struggling with what should have been a pretty easy question. I’ve done the work to overcome the events of the last few years and I’m back to being happy almost all the time – but when have I been ecstatically happy?

Every Saturday morning, a group from our church gathers near Lamar Blvd.on the pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake with a big purple sign that reads “Healing” and asks people walking by if they have any prayer requests. Foot traffic was sparse one particularly cold day last December and I asked my friend what he was doing for Christmas. Steve ticked off all of the various family gatherings he and his wife would attend and then told me they were flying to Haiti, sharing stories about how his family had been going regularly for about eight years to help with an orphanage there. Because I have flight benefits working for an airline, the wheels were already spinning in my head when Steve blurted out, “You should come with us!”

 A couple of weeks later I flew from Austin to Miami and gathered among the throngs of people ready to board the Port-au-Prince flight. the first flight went out full but a few hours later every standby passenger was accommodated. Being a seasoned traveler, I stored all my belongings and was just drifting off to sleep when I heard my name announced over the intercom. There were still open seats but because of a weight restriction, five of us would not be going after all. I texted my friends (who had purchased tickets) and let them know they didn’t need to come to pick me up that evening, grabbed a bite and a couple of beers and found an empty corner. Using my backpack as a pillow, I, not for the first time, went to sleep on an airport floor.

Flying standby isn’t always free. 

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Although cut a day short, my trip to Haiti was amazing. I met wonderful people from Haiti and others from the U.S., I held kids and played and also helped set up for a women’s conference. Among the team, I met a fellow blogger and amateur photographer named Stephanie Cherry. Along with traveling regularly to Haiti, she and her husband bought a huge 100 yr. old home and invite people to stay with them for seasons of restoration and healing. In one of her recent posts, she shared some incredibly profound questions from a journal she was going through. The décor of the book was quite “girlie,” but feeling no need to prove my manhood, I ordered a copy… and then quickly hid it in a drawer. just kidding = ))

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What was this question that was bugging me? If they had asked when I was I last happy I would have probably written, “right now.” But ecstatically happy implies much more than usual.

While searching my entire memory bank for the benchmark, I began reflecting on the countless times with Lori with all of our limbs tangled up, we drifted to sleep together. I thought about finally having close enough friends in Austin where I could just show up and plop down on their couch and just belong, meaning I no longer had to work to build or maintain the relationship. I thought of when their kids beginning to give me hugs and make up names for me or call me Uncle Billy. But that seemed more like extreme contentment. I was searching for exhilaration or exuberance. 

Times when I’m acting completely goofy and laughing till I cry with family and friends would qualifiy. I would also count the times when I’m running around and playing with my kids without worrying about what anyone thinks — times when I feel free.  But what struck me as odd was that too many of my ecstatic memories revolve around sporting events. Some of them were those featured my kids, like Samuel throwing touchdown passes or grabbing an interception late in a game, Somerley hitting an inside the park home run in the late innings with first place on the line or Chad catching six passes for 143 yards and two TDs and a school record. I thought of so many playoff games or World Cup matches I’ve watched with a huge group of intense fans in which losing means the end of the season and at the very end of the game, “my” team makes that one play that seals the victory… and the crowd goes wild!!!  

I recently watched A Call to Courage on Netflix with Brené Brown where she describes how researchers determined that vulnerability is the leading indicator for courage. She contends that to be truly courageous, one must risk failure or put their emotional or physical well being on the line – to be brave, innovative or inspiring, one must sometimes risk everything. I’m now wondering if experiencing ecstatic happiness or joy run some ways requires the same thing. Even those moments laughing and playing with friends and family, I had to drop my guard and risk rejection or embarrassment.

I think what was scaring me about the question is that if so many memories involve with triumph of others who put it all on the line, then how could I expect to live an inspiring and exhilarating life without doing so myself? I then began to ask myself if there was something on my heart that I wanted to step out in, but hadn’t worked up the courage yet? YES!!!

My buddy, Luke, texted me a month before my 50th birthday, “Make a reservation for 7 pm at Café Josie. You’ve got a date Friday night!” Though this would be my first blind date ever, I knew to ignore another friend’s advice, ”Blind dates aren’t much different than the regular ones. You just have to talk louder.“ 

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When Friday came, Luke sent me her number because he was going to be in a meeting for the rest of the afternoon. Crap, I wasn’t nervous until I had to come up with something cool to say to someone I didn’t know. Luke had already broken the ice by sending each of us ridiculous photos of the other, so I sent more goofy photos, joked around with her, threw in scriptures both with funny contexts and also the ones that I had built my life upon. If I was going to be close with someone, then I wanted them to know the real me. It was so fun to be flirting again. Once we finally met at the restaurant, we spent four hours talking over dinner and went out many times over the next few weeks. She’s an amazing woman and we remain really good friends. But as I continue this journey, my buddy, Glenn, among others, told me that all the kids these days are meeting people on dating websites. Even my mom texted me a link for Zoosk.

I met both the women I married in groups, got to know them and things progressed from there. I know I can talk to women.  But, the thing in my heart that scares me is I want to see someone attractive during my day, walk over and strike up a conversation and then ask her out. Why? Because I suck at it!! When I see someone and think about trying, I end up feeling just like I did back in junior high. How could that be when the last two women I’ve kissed have married me? I hold deep and amazing conversations all the time with all kinds of people. so do I find myself searching my database for cheesy pick up lines?

I’ve put myself out there in so many other areas of my life. I moved to Austin where I knew nobody except my daughter 88 days after Lori died and quickly built an amazing life here which includes regularly talking to strangers. = )) I‘ve been the new guy in my writing classes and read my pieces aloud when nobody else was doing so. I flew to London to tell a musician/song-writer from Austin what an amazing human and artist she was, because I knew it would have more impact there than me telling her at the Saxon Pub four miles away. I have visited so many places in this world that my coworkers won’t, because flying standby is a risk. Sometimes you really do sleep on the floor.

If I’m going to build the exhilarating, exuberantly, ecstatically happy life that I dream of, then I don’t have to become some adrenaline junkie. I do, however, have to step out in the one thing that is on my heart to do.

So I’m going to do it. I ‘m going to find some woman out there today and ask her if she gets to visit her dad in jail often… since he got arrested when he stole the stars and put them in eyes. Or maybe I should just walk up like a grown man and say, “Hi, I’m Billy. Do you think we could get together some time . I would really like to get to know you?”

Sounds good in theory, huh? And sitting here at my laptop, I’m all in!!

I’ll keep you posted if and how well I actually pull it off.

  

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Why I Write (part 1)

 
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Shortly after moving to Austin, I began taking writing classes to tell my story well. These were some pieces I wrote early in the process from prompts given in class

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My adequately spacious desk holds my large desktop computer, a few pens and my notebooks. It sits in the corner of my bedroom facing the window. I have a bulletin board on the wall, a cup of coffee beside me and the dog bed on the floor. My bed is made and the room is free of clutter.

I sit facing the window in my comfy chair overlooking Lake Austin. As I turn on my Mac it rings out the opening chord of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy and I am reminded, “Beloved, we are gathered here to give to this thing called Life.”

Light snacks and grapes sit beside me eliminating my need to go off in search or sit there wishing I would. Gigi lays beside me and I gaze at the pictures of Lori and our life together. There are also other photos of people I love and notes to remind me of ideas I want to build and connect. The gentle sounds of the crashing waves being piped in remind me of the many beach vacations we took together and I am transported into my story.

I write about her fears and the way she worked to help others overcome them.

I write to her.

I write to the her in everyone.

I write to myself.

 
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I have been writing about her since I began to take stab at this, the writer’s life, but I now realize I’m in love with Story. Truth be told, I think I always was.

She’s always been there, a mistress as old as time yet as young and playful as an innocent child. I ease drop on others as they whisper about her, describing the adventures she has led them on, how she has hurt them, made them sad, or angry or afraid. I know she gossips. I know she overshares. And when she finally does keep a secret, it is only to hold on to it until such a time that spilling the beans will cause others to never forget it. She’s a frenemy to all. Everyone should hate her, yet so very few do.

Man after man, woman after woman come back to her repeatedly asking her to dance, or walk by the lake, or sit at a dark table with candlelight drinking glass after glass of Pinot Noir. 

All those before have had their turn, but I dare to think she might fancy me now. She seems to sense that I too am a little older, a little wiser, yet I too can live with the hope and wonder and whimsy of a little boy. I find the good, no matter how buried.  

So for now, I will finish this chapter. But soon, I will make my move. For now, I will bide my time. I will watch her and dream about her.  And one day soon, I will open my notebook up to a blank page and begin anew.

I need not fear what will happen to me, because the author is I.