Life After Loss: “Hope?” ..or is it “Hope!”?

fallen-angelI had mentioned a few weeks back how a friend of mine had lost their Mother abruptly. I reached out to them after class last night to check in and they had slammed home, finally feeling their loss, where they had been in denial the weeks before.

One of the things my friend kept asking me about was hope and hopelessness. Ironically, or as a twist of Grace, it was the topic we had unpacked last night in class.

So, to my friend, I dedicate this article to you. I promise. “Hope?” will turn to “Hope!”. Yes, we will always carry our losses and scars in our hearts, but life moves on, and you will find your light again.

This song was played in my church around the time I really started falling apart, and it broke me; and continues to break me. But today, it’s good tears. A reminder that, from the ashes, I’m making something beautiful from all the broken pieces.

“You can rise up from the ashes
Make something beautiful of all the broken pieces
And I’m believing you’ll come running
Into the arms of Jesus”

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I really had to go back and unpack where I was when this all went down for me. Like my friend, I had a relative peace early on. My own best friend even commented to me about 2 weeks later that I seemed “at peace” with everything that happened. Sadly, that’s short lived for those of us who suffer through grief.

But I digress.. I do that sometimes.

Last night I went and did an inventory of the things that are motivating me currently. Broken into three general categories (Routines, People, Responsibilities), I realized it was a woefully small list. But, today it is a list of things that bring me joy, pride, and a will to see them through to their next level.

People: My children
Responsibilities: My job, Fatherhood, Survival, Ministry
Routines: Fitness

Just as the sun and the moon wax and wane across the sky, there will always be a new sunrise after the sun has set in a season of your life.

Just as the sun and the moon wax and wane across the sky, there will always be a new sunrise after the sun has set in a season of your life.

If I back up to a point relatively recent in my life, that list had nothing in it. Even “Survival” was subject to debate. I remembered driving in my car, eyes just glazed over, instinctively turning the wheel, and simply not caring at all about self preservation. A car could be bearing down on me and a very real part of me simply didn’t care. A dark part of me wished something would take me right then, and end the tears (which would typically be flowing anytime people were away from eye shot).

In those days, I was that person who lived on pure instinct, truly wearing a mask of happiness that fooled 95% of the people in my life. But there were some who saw right through the mask and understood the very real trauma and pain I was enduring. Some people texting or calling me dozens of times a day because they knew I was at a very dangerous point in my feelings of self preservation. As I’ve mentioned in the past.. those people who became my rock had suffered in kind themselves. Or, were still in the process of suffering, but were only a little bit further ahead themselves.

Time off, work from home schedules, weekends; any time in my life I couldn’t will my mind to focus on something else, I was focusing on her.. I would honestly pray to God to see me through hours at a time. Any attempt to think or plan beyond that was a lost cause of frustration, anxiety, fear, and despair.

There were many a week where I’d average 2-3 hours of sleep a night. I’d just lay in bed, and stare up at my ceiling fan, and didn’t know how to will my body to go back to sleep, much less “GET UP!”. I’d just sit there in an endless cycle of masochistic thought, reminding myself of everything I had, what I lost, and just torture myself, putting all the blame on myself, and punishing myself for all I’d done. In hindsight, now realizing how distorted and brainwashed she had left my psyche. But, I was not to be the first (and I wont be the last) lover in her life who’d tell her she was manipulative and controlling.

That’s when I solidified my dependency and relationship with God. He is what pulled me out of it, and to this day I still rely heavily on his whispering and touch in my life for guidance on what to do next.

You know… One teacher last night said it best.

“I wish others in my life could build this relationship with the God I know without having to suffer as I have!”

It’s true though. It’s in these moments of intense pain that most people “Get it.”.

I had attended a class for people who had hard questions about God and faith (Alpha) several months ago. I was asked by one person who was on the fence how I knew God talked to me. I remember telling him point blank that I wish he could understand the God I knew.

I can freely talk to him, and he compels me and answers my prayers. I truly am able to run everything by him and I get very clear answers back on how I should be reacting to an opportunity or scenario in my life. Including this blog and this ministry.

11k+ views for this Ministry category in the last 4 weeks!  - Keep your stories and topic requests coming (jorge@projectwrx.com)

11k+ views for this Ministry category in the last 4 weeks! – Keep your stories and topic requests coming (jorge@projectwrx.com)

The sheer number of people (childhood friends, childhood acquaintances and new friends I met and reconnected with through my Ex, family, strangers, etc) who’ve reached out to me has been inspiring. Thank you! I was touched by God to tell my story; that it would help others. I never imagined the response I’ve gotten from it.

It’s one reason to wake up and live my life.

I’m now at a point where God has provided blessings and opportunities in several aspects of my life. These are part of the reasons I can even begin to build the list of things I actively work towards every day.

Hope

It’s not a question anymore, but a cry of victory.

-Jorge
jorge@projectwrx.com

GEEK TIME: Video and Photo Editing – Full Resolution GoPro video

Sony Vegas 12 for video processing.  Sure, Adobe Premier may be more powerful, but I seem to do just fine with Vegas.  - Camera used in this video:  GoPro Hero4 Black

Sony Vegas 12 for video processing. Sure, Adobe Premier may be more powerful, but I seem to do just fine with Vegas. – Camera used in this video: GoPro Hero4 Black

I’ve had quite a few people ask me over the years just how I do what I do with my pictures, and now videos.

I also had some people who’ve been on the fence over the new GoPro Hero4 Black ask me to put up an uncompressed copy of the video I made a few weeks back. Well, that’s 22GBs.. so that’s out, but I did make a super high bit rate version that is only 2.2GBs.

http://1drv.ms/1yItt1t <--You can download it here. Click download at the top. Yes, you'll need a OneDrive account, but it's free, and most of you already have Microsoft accounts (Xbox Live, etc.. so it'll take moments).

Vegas is what I started learning on back in 2007 when I worked as the General Manager/Tuner for a Tuning Shop I was at. I've upgraded through the years but have realized (recently with this new camera) that the workstation I originally built as a photo process deck is really having it's moments burning through some of the plugins I'm running.

I use a second generation i7 with 8GB ram, Vertex 4 SSDs, Geforce GTX 750 TI, and Windows 7. It works AWESOME for my photo work flow, but took about an hour to render 5 minutes of video with the settings I use.

On the other hand, Vegas seems to not be friendly in the GPU processing realm with serious issues with it’s OpenCL and CUDA implementations (These are programming interfaces software developers use to leverage the stupidly insane processing power of modern GPUs… video cards), so I’m stuck rendering with the CPU only. I’ll have to see what the latest version of Vegas does to solve some of this, because the 750 TI I use is not a slouch. I can play a mean game of Diablo III at 1920×1080 with everything cranked at >60FPS.

RawTherapee - Freeware, community driven photo processing software for those who shoot RAW (...think digital negative).  - Camera used in this video:  Canon EOS 1D Mark III - EF 24-70L f/2.8 lens.

RawTherapee – Freeware, community driven photo processing software for those who shoot RAW (…think digital negative). – Camera used in this video: Canon EOS 1D Mark III – EF 24-70L f/2.8 lens.

But, back to the photo processing for a moment. I have a very simple workflow. I shoot in what’s called RAW. RAW is the equivalent of a digital “negative”, and like anyone who’s ever developed film in a dark room, you know there’s TONS of stuff you can do to enhance, correct, or tweak the final result you transfer to your print. This is the same way. Sure, you can load up Paint, or Photoshop and do tweaking of contrasts and brightness, but it’s not the same at all. Since you’re working with the raw sensor data, and not a compressed version of the image (which, like JPEG already has tons of data lost in compressing it down in size), the tweaks are more exact to what you want. The end result is a picture that has more dynamic range, and better overall image quality.

2014-10-29 17_04_45-Noise Ninja -- [_31F3816.tif] [Auto matched_ CanonEOS1DMarkIIIiso16010mpjpg28e03
I render out the RAW negatives into a 16 bit TIFF file (uncompressed) and then run them through Noise Ninja. This software uses calibrations made for specific makes and models of cameras and does an incredible job of cleaning up artifact noise introduced when you run high ISOs in low light conditions. For those reading this on a whim and don’t follow.. take a picture with your cell phone camera late at night and notice how it looks “grainy”. This piece of software goes a long way to making that picture look awesome again.

From there, I load everything through Photoshop, but honestly, not for any more post processing. I have actions built that automate my water marking, as well as the final conversion from TIFF to 8bit JPEG (including resizing for web sized images).

So you can see, very straight forward! But, back to some of the video editing in closing.

Encoding settings for Sony Vegas 12.

Encoding settings for Sony Vegas 12.

Over the years, I’ve used just about every major type of encoder, always looking for that right blend of size and quality for web work. What has worked great for me is a public domain (free) encoder called x264vfw. Google it. It’s available with installers for a variety of platforms from Windows, to *NIX. In Vegas, you can access it from the Video for Windows options in the rendering dialogues.

From there, you can configure it for your own personal needs. The 2.2GB version I made for sharing is rendered at 30MB/s which isn’t exactly BlueRay quality, but it’ll let people get a real good idea of what the camera can do. Download it and check it out, then compare it to the YouTube version I posted up a few weeks back.

X264VFW codec is a public domain video encoder that's highly customizable and free (h.264/x.264 standard).

X264VFW codec is a public domain video encoder that’s highly customizable and free (h.264/x.264 standard).

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for (at least) the photo processing. Seems that Nikon and Canon are putting out some cool new “Prosumer” model every few months now. But, all of them are capable of doing photo as well as HD video. While I’m no fan of that concept (I’ll buy a camcorder to take videos… WAIT, I did!), at least now you can explore other ways to seriously get some more quality and mileage out of your investment.

Life After Loss: …depression

Depression can be masked by a person if they are committed to putting on a front of happiness.

Depression can be masked by a person if they are committed to putting on a front of happiness.

Month’s before I was supposed to be married, my soon to be wife suffered a tremendous blow in her life.

I’ll never forget this day. We were making breakfast on a Sunday morning when I look out the window and I see her brother walking down the sidewalk towards our house. I look at her and I say “Hey look, it’s your brother!”. I welcomed him in, and was concerned when he had a very stoich and somber look on his face. He simply looked at me and said “…Jorge.”, then looked at my fiancee and said “Amy…” and proceeded to simply say in one sentence that someone close to them had taken their life to suicide.

I look back at my fiancee and she just fell to her knees just repeatedly saying “No… No… No… No..”. All I could do was walk over to her and hold her. Until you’ve been in that situation, you don’t understand the helplessness and powerless place you’re in, where no words come to you; and if they did, they’d be meaningless.

Depression hit her family with the ultimate price. In ignorance, I said I’d never see myself there; how could anyone let themselves get there?!

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This is going to be a bit longer, as this is very close to my heart.. something I supremely empathize and relate to. So, make a bag of popcorn and settle in.

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Well, after my loss in my last relationship, I allowed and enabled myself to do the worst thing possible. I kept contact with my ex girlfriend. Not only kept contact, but over the next several months she told me about the dates she was going on, the guys she was getting intimate with, and how great some other guys were. All this, while still hooking up with her for a late night rendezvous (yes… I’m talking about sex), dinners, dates, day trips; all hoping there was a chance we’d still reconcile.

Like I talked about weeks ago, I was rationalizing the pains she put me through. Forgetting that I was the one who ended it and stood my ground the days after. But, then longing for her and missing the good we had weeks after the breakup. Finally taking advantage of the opportunity she presented to still have her in my life when we finally had that “closure” conversation.

It was hands down the stupidest and worse thing I could have enabled in my situation because it simply sent me down the rabbit hole of depression and borderline suicide. If you read my entry from last week, that’s the metaphor I describe in my essay when I was baptized, being in that barren wasteland of my life.

But I had to somehow, survive…

Isaiah 61: “He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to free you from the prison of darkness … and to comfort all who mourn.”

smiley-plate-237x350I had mentioned in the past that I was told near the end of this “tryst” that it wasn’t about love or relationship, but about what I could provide. Ironically, or as an act of Grace, I had prayed for a sign from God (the night before this conversation) to clearly show me where I stood with her. I got it alright!

I remember that night going to a restaurant I frequented and just sitting at the bar and simply sobbing all night long. The bartender I had grown to know the last several months, and even the people on either side of me could clearly see my distress and let me be. But then in a sheer act of kindness and empathy, my bartender (who felt like the only person on Earth who understood me right then) put a plate down in front of me, made of whatever she had at her disposal, in the form of a smiley face. I looked up at her, tears streaming down my face; eyes as red as coals, and forced a smile. She looked at me with such compassion with a napkin outstretched and simply said… “It’ll be OK, I promise.” Not having any idea why… but still selflessly offering herself to someone she barely knew who was suffering and dying all over again on the inside.

I was touched. I made it through that night, but still had another month of turmoil with that ex until I finally started to find peace. It really drove me to understand and develop tremendous empathy for those of us who have hurts and wounds we simply can’t see from the outside.

In that understanding I quickly came to realize that pain is a natural part of grief.

The sad thing is, the differences between the natural process of grief and depression are hard to see sometimes. One could easily slip from a natural stage of grieving to a level of clinical depression due to the choices they make. In my case.. my lifestyle with her took me to the next level.

So what does normal grief look like?

1: Little interest or pleasure in doing things
2: Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
3: Trouble falling or staying sleep. Too much sleep!
4: Feeling tired or having little energy
5: Poor appetite or overeating
6: Trouble concentrating
7: Lethargy or being fidgety.

By comparison, what’s clinical depression look like?

1: Little interest or pleasure in doing things
2: Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
3: Trouble falling or staying sleep. Too much sleep!
4: Feeling tired or having little energy
5: Poor appetite or overeating
6: Trouble concentrating
7: Lethargy or being fidgety.
8: Feelings of.. guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, self-loathing
9: Focus on negative memories, alienation, inconsolable mindset
10: Self harm, suicidal thoughts, lack of self preservation

What’s the difference between these lists? Simply, anger; turned inward against the self, grief rapidly turns into depression. I was VERY angry with myself for enabling her to use me. Very angry at myself for letting her continuously put the blame on me for everything, always twisting things around to make it look like it was my fault; knowing I’d cave, because I just wanted to make things better, and make it work.

Any level or form of depression results in a chemical imbalance in hormones.

Any level or form of depression results in a chemical imbalance in hormones.

A few things most people don’t realize about depression that I’ve learned:

1: Any form of depression is a chemical imbalance.

Depression starts with stress. The human body is an extremely fine tuned machine. When too much stress occurs, the body ups a variety of chemicals and hormones to compensate for what’s happening. The problem is that you then have an imbalance that affects your physiology. This affects everything from appetite, to the ability to fight off disease and infection, to even how we distort our logic, thinking, and reasoning.

2: The latest research shows that upbringing and lifestyle examples at a very early age predispose us to depression.

It was pretty profound to learn that depression is not genetically linked. It’s a factor of culture and lifestyle. At least, that’s the current theory some counselors and psychologists now are researching. The proverbial question is no longer “What pill to take?”, it’s “What is happening in the family to plant this seed?”

How our role models handle crisis and grief directly wire us for life.

A good metaphor a teacher I listened to used was that a kidney serves the same function from your first breath until it finally fails. The brain is, by comparison, malleable..

Here’s an excerpt from an article in Psychology Today that talks about this:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/driven-distraction/201401/your-brain-is-not-the-hard-wired-machine-you-think-it-is

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For many years, it was believed that the human brain is essentially hardwired—that we are born with a set of cognitive abilities, which are more or less unalterable for the rest of our lives. But the discovery of neuroplasticity—our brain’s ability to selectively transform itself in response to certain experiences—has proven to be one of the biggest paradigm shifts that neuroscience has seen over the last 25 years. Simply put, neuroplasticity refers to our brain’s malleability—its ability to respond to certain intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing and building its structure, function and connections (NCBI).

Faculty at the University of Washington illustrate neuroplasticity through a simple camera analogy. When clicking the image of a tree, the camera film must react to light and ‘transform’ itself to record the image. Our brain is like the film—it reacts and transforms itself when recording or experiencing certain stimuli.

The fact that our brain doesn’t just absorb—but can also re-wire itself in response to certain repeated activities and experiences—has opened new opportunities for cognitive therapy. What it means is that cognitive functions such as attention, memory, critical thinking, decision making, multitasking and abstract reasoning may be managed and improved.

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Families who suffer dysfunction from the very top with the parents, or grandparents before them, who bottle up emotions, and never encourage their peers or children to talk out their feelings are more disposed to planting the seeds of anger, suicide, and depression. Families who have, and encourage, constructive means of communication tend to avoid the proverbial powder keg.

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One of the tools I have used in counseling was the “Burns depression checklist”.

http://healingheartscc.com/docs/first_steps/FS_DepressionQuiz.pdf <-- You can find it here, online.

I remembered taking this within weeks of the start of this season in my life and I scored a 24. I took it tonight, to simply show what God has done in my life as well as the ministry and people I've surrounded myself with, and I'm now at an 8.

So I've gone from mild/moderate clinical depression, to being normal/borderline depression.

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So how do you begin to solve depression?

Professional services:
Individual or group counseling works wonders! There is almost a 90% success rate to pull people out of where they’re at. This is much higher then medication! Massage, or if absolutely necessary (because you simply can’t will yourself out of bed) evaluation for medications to pull you out of that deepest spot while other methods go to work.

Lifestyle:

Exercise! Hands down, the hormone dumps, breathing, and discipline have proven as effective as an anti-depressant medication. I learned that Yoga is huge for those suffering from PTSD and returning from active duty in the military.

Diet Changes:

Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, etc. Well, anything in excess, really. I have learned something about myself. Alcohol takes whatever I’m feeling and amplifies it 10x over. When I was sitting in that restaurant I was a beer in, and I went from being composed, to just coming unglued at the seams. I’ve learned something about myself and alcohol since that day.

Sunlight:

That shocked me, but it made sense. Sunlight hits the retina and the brain releases serotonin. The bodies natural “feel good” drug is released at that time, affecting mood dramatically. Tons of research is available online concerning this, and the “fall/winter blues”. So, especially during this time of year, try and go for a walk during the day… I do all the time and it helps!

Spiritual Practices:

Be in Community:

When you’re depressed, being around the water cooler at work can be a good thing, or a bad thing based on the empathy of the person you’re talking to. Where, if you’re plugged into a small group (like I am in my own church) you are then surrounded by like minded people who relate to you, and empathize with you. In the sharing of those experiances, intense healing arises.

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There are others for sure, and I’m no psychologist, but I’ve learned a lot over the last half year about myself, about the unhealthy life style and habits I had, and what’s good for me.

In finally being open about the feelings and thoughts I’ve shut out from the world, a tremendous healing has finally started in my soul. I encourage you to do the same if you find yourself in this season of your life.

“It’ll be OK, I promise.”

Life 3.0: Fall Colors – 2014 – Final Cut

Starved Rock State Park - Lovers Leap - 2014

Starved Rock State Park – Lovers Leap – 2014

Finally got a chance to get out this last weekend (probably the last good one of the year) and get some awesome footage of our local parks. Also took advantage of a gorgeous Sunday to spend the afternoon at our local track with the car guys.

Can’t believe this short Summer/Fall is already over!

Make sure to click the gear in the lower right of the video screen and select 1080P HD!

Fall Colors - 2014 - Final Cut

Hanging with my boys at the race track and enjoying the beautiful Illinois fall colors!

Fall Colors through the Wisconsin Glacier Lands - 2014

A weekend going through the scenic Glacier Lands of Wisconsin.

Life After Loss: Where is God in our grief?

"The Light of the World" - Painted by William Holman Hunt in the 1800s - Revelation 3:20 - Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

“The Light of the World” – Painted by William Holman Hunt in the 1800s – Revelation 3:20 – Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

A sad (because of the context), but true example of what I’m about to talk about:

Last night, I was compelled to reach out to a friend I hadn’t talked to in months. Just… felt this compulsion to text them and see how they were doing. Within minutes, they told me that earlier that day they received notice that their mother had died. I spent the next 3 hours on the phone consoling my friend and praying with them until they finally willed themselves to fall asleep.

But, here we go…

I received an email the other day from someone I could relate deeply to. Divorced, children, in a relationship with someone he’d known since childhood who was also divorced with children, etc. He was the provider, that rescuer and champion; trying to pour everything into her and their children. All he wanted in return was to be appreciated and affirmed for how much he’d sacrifice for them. Half the time she treated him like her king, the other half the time she was cold and selfish; thinking and focusing on her own agendas and plans. She was very status driven, always needing to be the best dressed, with the best guy, only showing the world her best side, but on the inside and behind closed doors, it was anything but.

We’ll call him.. “Tom”.

I can relate Tom.. Those who know my story, and by testimony to those who’ve known my ex and I both for decades, can relate as well.

One thing in this email that stood out though, was a very simple question we’ve all struggled with, even as believers.

“Why did God let this happen to me? I’m so angry at him!”

To digress, as a nation that’s a typical question. Prior to 09/11/2001, religion as a whole in our country had started to become politically incorrect. People had minimized God in their daily lives. I mean.. Life was good, right? Why mess with a good thing, right?

But after that day, people started to pray like never before. Places of worship overflowed that weekend, and songs like “God Bless America” suddenly had meaning again.

But, in all of that, people also approached God in one of two ways. We sought him out, or we become angry. I had been saved at 18 as a Christian, but never really embraced that relationship and “got it” until I had the infamous “closure” conversation a few weeks after my ex and I finally broke it off. I’ve since been baptized and one of the things you do is write an essay about what drew you close to God. Here’s just a small excerpt from mine.

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“…I just felt myself continuing to struggle with the losses I had self inflicted. I was spiraling out of control and I could see the barren ground below. I slammed home… My body battered and broken.. but I digress.

While I had accepted God as my personal savior back when I was a teenager, I never really embraced the gravity of what that meant. At this point in my life, through tears and desperation, I did something I never had done before.

I prayed. But, I didn’t just pray like we do when we’re saying grace, or putting our children to bed. I found myself broken, sitting in the wasteland that was my damaged and empty heart, turning around and seeing nothing but the apocalypse which was my life, and crying out at the top of my lungs for God to please help me! To please give me a moment of peace from the pressure in my chest, my racing heart, and the depression that was threatening to truly kill me.

Truly, something mysterious happened. I felt a touch (even typing this brings me to tears), a peace and calmness I had never known before. I knew something awoke in me that offered me a peace that no therapy or pill, had been able to at that point.

Since then, God has continued to nurture me, and truly carry me through my depression into healthier states. The hardest part for me (being as controlling as I could be) was being able to close my eyes and let go, and trust in my faultless companion’s ability to guide my life. To trust that God knows what’s right for me, and to trust in his will.

I find that as I start to have true trust in him in my heart, the waves of guilt, shame, and loss in my heart have started falling off my body, soul, and heart.

Now, where those tears land in the wasteland of my life, I’m starting to see something special happening. Where there was nothing, flowers now are starting to push through the burnt soil, trying to reach for the sky.”
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I sought him out. That’s a response born of humility. Being angry with God, as much as he can take it, is born out of pride. We want things to go our way, and if life won’t be played by our rules, then we will take our life and go home. We’re too angry to allow God to be God. WE want to be God and rule our own lives.

Mathew 7:7 says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

If we truly and sincerely seek him, he will come. But don’t always assume he will give us what we need in the way we need it. God isn’t a cosmic bell-hop who is waiting to meet every wish and demand we have. In fact, it’s the opposite. Listen to him and follow his ways and he will bless our lives. That doesn’t mean that pain and suffering like what we had, or the loss of a loved one, or some other tragedy won’t happen. But, he does promise to walk with us and support us during those times. God works through others. How many people come out of the wood work and are there for us when we REALLY need them?

There’s a song by Scott Krippayne called “Sometime he calms the storm”. Part of the lyrics go: “Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes he calms the child.” Think about that for a moment. More often, it’s not the storm he’s calming, but us, if we’re willing.

Have you ever noticed that some of the kindest, loving, and gentle people in your life are those who’ve suffered the most? That’s because, during tough times, we grow. We develop intense empathy and compassion to those who are suffering as we have, and we’d do anything to take their hurt away; less judgmental and more forgiving, because we know what it felt like.

There’s a Psalm that brings me peace. Tom, check out Psalm 23. We all know it, even in pop culture for a non believer.. they’ve heard it.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Even though you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, goodness and mercy will follow you. I promise.

X-Cache, W3 Total Cache and Varnish – Geek time..

After some tweaking and the right optimization website performance is up 3600%!!

After some tweaking and the right optimization website performance is up 3600%!!

I’ve hosted my own websites, and run my own servers for years. So it’s nothing new for me to understand load balancing and server management, but in the last 3-4 months my site readership has increased dramatically, really affecting web performance.

I’m a big fan of the open source movement, and utilize it extensively in my boxes. This site is hosted off a quad core x64 based hardware with 4GB ram. PLENTY for the Ubuntu 14.04LTS LAMP role I utilize it for.

For a quick primer, WordPress (this blog software) runs on an Apache/PHP/MySQL backend. I’ve done a lot of tweaking to optimize and multithread as much as I can in this box, but realized that my Achilles Heel is PHP itself.

X-Cache dramatically improves performance by acting as an OPCode and data cache.

X-Cache dramatically improves performance by acting as an OPCode and data cache.

PHP is a server side scripting language that’s used extensively in web development. It’s honestly the foundation of a large percentage of the websites you travel to daily. The issue with PHP, is that every time you ask the website to do anything, it has to read that programming code, compile it, and then execute it. That’s extremely expensive to the server, and when you guys hit me 40-80 requests at a time, you bring my poor little box to it’s knees. ;)

But that’s where X-Cache comes in. It’s what’s called an OPCode (Operational Code) cache. So, when something is compiled, X-Cache stores it all into a real time memory cache and serves it up as opposed to asking the PHP engine to recompile the same code again. You can see from the screen shot above that there have been tens of thousands of hits to the cache in less than 20 minutes. That’s tens of thousands of CPU cycles saved, improving performance by letting the CPU do other stuff.

W3 Total Cache - for WordPress

W3 Total Cache – for WordPress

X-Cache works hand in hand with a plugin for WordPress called W3 Total Cache (W3TC). This nifty little gem allows you to totally customize what is stored up in X-Cache (they are directly linked) as well. The nice thing is that there are extensive tutorials and online documents discussing how to integrate X-Cache and W3TC in your Apache/WordPress configuration.

The final segment here was how to stop Apache and PHP from continuously having to generate all these dynamic pages. Since I rarely EDIT a page once I’ve created it, those are instances where a more static approach to web design would be beneficial. The solution to this was to integrate a reverse proxy called “Varnish”. Sounds simple, but Varnish is actually used by Fortune 100 companies, high profile publication sites (I.E. New York Times), and it’s completely 100% free!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varnish_(software) <-- Varnish HTTP accelerator software on Wikipedia.

https://www.varnish-cache.org/ <- Varnish Cache main site.

What Varnish does is it sits in front of my Apache instance, and it listens across the internet for requests. When you type in www.ProjectWRX.com, Varnish asks if a cached, static version exists. If not, it then goes to Apache (hidden behind the firewall now), and asks it to provide that page. Then, Varnish stores it for a definable period of time and serves it out. The integration is slick and seamless, and I’ve gone from being able to serve about a dozen pages a second, to about 3600 pages per second now!

So, needless to say.. this little Quad core just scaled up considerably. So if you have that old computer laying around in your closet and it would struggle to run Windows Vista, or 7…. don’t discredit it. *NIX derivatives like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, etc… all are wonderful, low resource needed alternatives that will stretch that hardware out for years!

My little bruiser has found his calling… Baseball

Sebastian at the end of his 1st year of baseball.  -Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final

Sebastian at the end of his 1st year of baseball. -Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final

I’ve spent the last 10 years, 3 weeks, and 3 days wondering just what my prodigy would aspire to pursue.

For back story, it’s worth noting that Sebastian has tried everything from Soccer, to Karate, to Cub Scouts (which I still wish he’d pursue), to now.. Baseball!

Sebastian’s Mom and I have always shared the mindset to offer our children every possible opportunity we could afford. But, for me, I always want them to “stay” with it; so I was understandably hesitant when Amy approached me early this year and said Sebastian wanted to go into Baseball.

OK.. Here we go!

Sebastian rips a solid single during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

Sebastian rips a solid single during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

What ended up happening was pretty awesome. Just imagine this timid little kid walking up to the batter’s box for the first time, and literally and proverbially smashing the ball on his first swing.

Pretty much sums up how he’s matured and grown since.

During the Spring season, Sebastian’s team (the Cubs) went through to the league championship and took the whole thing. He was stoked for “Fall Ball” to start, and has spent the last several months working on his game.

Sebastian did a great job playing as catcher and 1st baseman during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

Sebastian did a great job playing as catcher and 1st baseman during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

Sebastian made great contact the entire game, scoring RBIs for his team during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

Sebastian made great contact the entire game, scoring RBIs for his team during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

But, back to the final.

There was a solid showing by the team, with Sebastian making solid contact with the ball during the entire game.

He advanced his team mates around the plates continuously, and also contributed several of his own runs. The highlight being a white knuckled run to home which I captured here. It could have been a coin toss, but our entire side of the diamond got on our feet and cheered when we heard. “SAFE!”

Sebastian sliding for home and scoring during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

Sebastian sliding for home and scoring during the Crystal Lake AAA Fall League Final.

It’s almost sad at this point. I’ve spent the entire summer and fall carting kids around to their ball practice and games, and am actually going to miss photographing my little bruiser.

I’m looking forward to the spring…

Thanks Amy, for talking me into it. ;)

http://gallery.projectwrx.com/6697501 <– Photos can be found here.

Life After Loss: A Heart Of Resilience

Resilience:  The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.

Resilience: The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.

Resiliency.. a noble aspiration for all of us. Call it thick skinned, call it enlightened, even-keeled, etc. Ultimately, it’s a state of mind and spirit. To tap your inner strength to persevere after some landslide occurs in your life. The loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, trauma, abuse, loss of a job. What is a land slide is uniquely personal to each of us, breaking us in a way only we relate.

…this too shall pass.

For me, this season of my life started with the end of a relationship to someone who was physically abusive and battering, psychologically abusive and controlling, and finally being told that they were using me for what I was providing and not about love or relationship.

Can some of you relate?

Going through the stages of grief, I remember immediately rationalizing the words I was hearing and entering the isolation and denial phases. Justifying how I was being treated. Still wanting to bargain my way back into the good I had. Wanting that “peak” one last time; yet still wanting to ignore the “valley”.

Can more of you relate now?

Then it hits you… free falling out of control, slamming into the earth, and your life shattering into a thousand pieces. You stand up and realize that you see nothing as far as the eye can see and it hits you. Fear, desperation, anxiety, loneliness, rejection, loss, failure.

…but this too shall pass.

How then, after all of that do we aspire for resiliency when most mornings we can’t even will ourselves out of bed, or find our car keys?

Psalm 71:14 says “But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.”.

Every morning I wake up and hold the pieces of my shattered trust and heart in my hands, abandoned in that field, and I look up at God and I ask him to please put them back together and help the scars heal. Every day I ask for him to protect me and have my back because I have realized that no one on this earth can do so as he does.

It will take many years, and some of these wounds will never go away, but I’ve realized that what >I< need to do (and have done) is just surrender. I have full peace in just giving my path to God and letting him decide what this next season of my life is going to be like.

…will this pass?

Endurance:  The power to withstand pain or hardship; the ability of strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions.

Endurance: The power to withstand pain or hardship; the ability of strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions.

Endurance.. an equally necessary part of grieving to be able to achieve resiliency. Without endurance many of us will give up. The lesson I learned this week is very simple. You can’t run from the pain, you can’t numb it, you can’t mask it. You have to be willing to take the gloves off and get into that ring and fight it out. Fight with all the heart you have until you’re done with the pain, and it’s done with you.

Otherwise, if you give up, or aren’t ready to put in the work and heart, the pain will win, and you will be stuck under it’s heel for the rest of your life.

It starts with the heart.. Trauma slashes deep into the heart, leaving behind profound and permanent wounds. Psalm 6:3 “I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me?”

I’m plagiarizing this but it’s very profound and worth spreading.

5 ways to build resilience when your heart is broken:

ONE: Be trusting. Take it to the One who can mend your heart. Psalm 62:8 “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.”

TWO: Be self aware. Know your limits and your needs. Advocate for yourself.

THREE: Be Patient. Healing takes time.

FOUR: Be authentic. Embrace the pain, don’t RUN from it.

FIVE: Shift perspective. Learn to see the bigger picture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWH4VREXFFs <-- This entire point is personified in these 3 minutes and 28 seconds..

God bless all of us who are surviving. Some days we want to give up on life itself. But in those days, give it your very best and don't give up until you have nothing left.

…This too shall pass…

Life 3.0: Fulfilling some dreams for not only myself, but my personal hero.. My Dad.

Door County - Wisconsin - 10/2014

Door County – Wisconsin – 10/2014

I have made it a point to take advantage of this season in my life to accomplish things I always feared I couldn’t, or wouldn’t be allowed to.

For years, I always talked about wanting to take a fall drive through Wisconsin’s beautiful Glacier Lands, capturing nature at it’s most pristine and beautiful. No better season would achieve that but the fall. What I discovered was nothing short of absolutely breathtaking! But I digress for a moment; for me, photography has always been a way for me to personify life. I can tell you how beautiful something looks to me, or I can show you what my eyes see, and the emotions my heart feels at that moment in time. That is what Photography is to me.. an outlet for when my command of the English lexicon fails me.

Fish Creek Wisconsin - 10/2014

Fish Creek Wisconsin – 10/2014

The problem is, that in this case, even my photography can’t capture the raw emotion of what it is to climb up onto some of these bluffs, or towers, and see the raw splendor God created. Just imagine closing your eyes, and being far away from the city.. far away from the white noise that is our life, and just hearing the wind, the cry of an Eagle miles away, echoing over the valley, and the sound of surf crashing onto rocks hundreds of feet below you.

Peninsula State Park - Wisconsin - 10/2014

Peninsula State Park – Wisconsin – 10/2014

Those are some of the places I discovered across hundreds of miles of fire roads, country routes, and places truly off the wayward path that no rear drive roadster should ever try to reach… But the effort was so worth it!

http://gallery.projectwrx.com/6691680_7719469#imageID=225282213 <-- This video compiling some of my trip doesn't even do it justice.. but I'm sure you'll get the idea! This is now going to be a yearly pilgrimage for me. I didn't even scratch the tip of what I had hoped to see or do.

Celebrating my Dad's 68th birthday - 10/06/2014

Celebrating my Dad’s 68th birthday – 10/06/2014

Several days after that, I got to celebrate the birthday of my Father. Having just turned 68, you’d think he’d start slowing down? No.. This is my hero. He’s the man I try and be, the person I hope to make proud, and the person who has taught me all I know about trying to be the most honorable and loving person to others.

Breakfast with my Dad - 10/07/2014

Breakfast with my Dad – 10/07/2014

So, at 68 what does he decide to do? Go flying for the first time! Well.. I shouldn’t say that, because my Dad has flown every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator since the late 80s, and has logged thousands of hours in them.

For Father’s Day I had gotten him his first flying lesson, to see what he’d think. He wanted to wait until now though to use it. Why? Well in typical fashion to how knowledgable he is, he knew the atmospheric conditions would be more ideal for flying in cooler weather. So here then I find myself picking him up at 7:30AM and off to breakfast we go.

My Dad logging his first hour of flight time - 10/07/2014

My Dad logging his first hour of flight time – 10/07/2014

By 9AM sharp we’re sitting in Naperville at the Aero Club waiting for Ron Sachen, our instructor. Now, normally, it costs extra for any guests, but Ron surprised us, and offered me a free trip up with my Dad. I absolutely wasn’t going to turn that down!

After some class time on the basics of lift, wind correction and compensation, and the basics of flight we head out to our Piper. It was a tight fit, but we all got cozy and got to work.

IMG_5042Our flight plan took us from Naperville to Morris IL, where we were using major roads and intersections as practice grounds for learning the difference between paying attention to the nose of the plane, and the destination on the horizon (they don’t want you looking at the nose), and then how to judge and line up turns. Why? Because my Dad was then to line us up and take us in for our first landing in Morris. Went off without a hitch. He’s a natural at this!

Then, after a debrief and rest we then took off on the return back to Naperville, repeating the same exercises and enjoying the scenery.

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This day couldn’t have been any more beautiful and ideal for flying! We had an absolute great time and I’m so proud of my Dad! I’m honored to be here with him on a very special day in his life.

Morris Municipal Airport - 10/07/2014

Morris Municipal Airport – 10/07/2014

Life After Loss: Ministering to those who’ve suffered extreme loss or abuse.

Willow Creek's mid week service.  I've been called to share my story and minister to those who've had abusive or traumatic ends to relationships.

Willow Creek’s mid week service. I’ve been called to share my story and minister to those who’ve had abusive or traumatic ends to relationships.

I had an eye opening epiphany several weeks ago. I’d been effectively indoctrinated into the mindset that the problems you have are meant to be dirty secrets, never to see the light of day. In those actions, nothing but bitterness came from it. I remember being asked by someone I respect deeply to be conscious of other’s reputation and to not tarnish it. I respected that for a very long time, but realized I was the one continuing to be hurt more and more through it.

Somehow, clearly (looking at my web stats), thousands of you have latched onto my prior post. Hundreds of you have emailed stories of your own traumatic relationships, and dozens others have become good friends through all of this. It compelled me to sign up for Willow Creek’s Life After Loss course. There was a very important metaphor I learned quickly. Most people feel that recovering from loss is like a ruler. There are clearly defined mile stones, and an end to it. The reality is that grief is more like a slinky.. Yes, you always work your way up.. but you could be at the top of a coil one day, and find yourself still at the bottom of a coil the next day. That is life moving through the 5 stages of grief.

– Denial and Isolation
– Anger
– Bargaining
– Depression
– Acceptance

holding_hands-1423No, you don’t go through them in that order. No, just because you feel you move through a stage, doesn’t mean it’s not likely you could relapse into it again.

http://grief.willowcreek.org/ <– I realize I’ve recognized my call to ministry. While continuing to tend to my own physical and psychological abuse I had to endure, I realized that there is also something extremely healing in relating and sharing my story with dozens of others. Friends, acquaintances, complete strangers in their own need.. It’s something I freely do now; realizing how it is my path to finally being able to achieve the ability to offer grace and true forgiveness.

Something I truly hope to do one day, because bitterness is like drinking rat poison, waiting for the other person to die.

I pray every day for that healing, and I feel God’s provided me the means to achieve it, while being in the service of others.