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January 16, 2017

Life is a funny thing (this is a “peculiar funny”). It has ups and downs, good times and bad. A normal life will have both mountaintop and deep valley experiences. I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy the mountaintops, I despise and dread the valleys. So many times, I long for a life of mountaintops. Of course, that’s not realistic. In my more reflective moments, I recognize it’s not even desirable.

I really enjoy gourmet food. I don’t eat it all the time, though. Though my wife and I both cook, and cook pretty well, we can’t afford the time or money to cook it all the time and we certainly can’t afford to have someone cook it for us. I enjoy other food, too. Often, it’s plain and simple, but I enjoy it. Occasionally, my wife and I will go out to eat. We are disappointed almost every time. Sometimes, we’ll get together with friends. Sometimes we cook. Sometimes they do. Sometimes, we all cook. We’ve come to realize that some of our friends can cook…and some of them think they can. A bad meal, is a sort of valley experience, though not a very deep one. It’s more like a dip in the road. I don’t even remember most bad meals. Truth be told, I don’t remember a lot about most great ones. There are other memories, though, that are far more vivid.

The births of my sons were all high points. There is something about being a parent that is sobering, overwhelming and unspeakably joyous. Shortly after my oldest son was born, we were told he might have a serious kidney condition, and he was rushed to the Children’s Hospital some 45 minutes away. That was a low point. I spent more time in prayer that night than I had in my entire life up to that point. His final diagnosis was far less serious than expected. He is now a fine young man of 27 years old. The younger two are turning into fine people, themselves. I am unspeakably proud of all of them. Definitely high points.

When my first wife and I got married, that was a high point. The end of our marriage, and the accompanying realization my relationship with two of my sons might never recover was physically painful. Time has worked some magic and my relationships with each of my youngest two sons are slowly getting better. They aren’t mountaintops, but the valleys aren’t nearly as deep.

The woman to whom I’m now married became my wife a little over a year ago. I could not ask for more from a wife and partner. Definitely a mountaintop.

We’re coming up on a year since the death of my father. The pain is still fresh. My father, my friend and even as an adult, my hero, I miss him so very very much. A deep, dark valley, indeed.

That’s how life is. Mountaintops, valleys and everything in between. We don’t get to have only mountaintops and we need not expect everything to be only the deep valleys. What we can and should do is this: embrace the totality of life with all its highs and lows.

As I recall, Jim Rohn once said it’s both unrealistic and counter-productive to expect life and people to be always positive. We need to embrace both. If you’re a church goer, why would you go to a church where everything is positive? All the sermons, all the songs and all the prayers positive all the time is not good. “Who,” Rohn would ask, “is going to pray angry prayers? Who is going to weep for the lost children?” Good questions.

We appreciate the mountaintops, in part, because they are so vastly different from the valleys. We recognize the valleys because they are so different from the tops of the mountains. We are able to empathize because we, too, have experienced both. As one ancient script puts it, we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep. Without empathy born of our own experiences, good and bad, high and low, mountaintop and valley, positive and negative, we simply can’t do that.

There are lessons to be learned from our happiness and our sadness. None of us would be who we are now without both of them. Finally, I’ve come to realize that the way the highs and lows affect me, what they make of me, is largely determined by what I choose to let them make of me. I can choose to be insufferably arrogant because of the highs. I can be equally insufferable by choosing to cling bitterly to the misery of the lows. Or, I can choose to grow, to feel, to appreciate and to empathize with others and lift them up. I wish the same for you.

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