Thursday, August 18, 2016

Heart On My Sleeve

Cancer has changed me in many ways. In most ways, I believe it's made me better. Less self-centered, certainly. And definitely happier. More at peace. I think the two go hand in hand. The less self-centered we are, the happier we are. That's certainly been true for me.

I've always been an emotional guy. If I was asked to say grace for a meal with loved ones, I would always get choked up. I come by that honestly. I'm my father's son. But now, I'm that way all the time. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as the saying goes. It was Shakespeare who coined that phrase in Othello in 1604, and we still use it today.

I never used to be one who was moved to pronounce blessings on people. I was never known as an encourager. But these days, I just can't seem to stop myself from that kind of behavior. And I don't want to stop myself. It's too much fun.

It comes out in my desire to mentor young musical talent. I never used to have time for that. I was too busy trying to make money. Now I have this urge to share what I've learned with young people who want to have a career in music. I got the chance to do that recently, and I'm incredibly grateful for the time I got with those kids and my friends. It was, in many ways, just what I needed. I hope I helped them, but I feel like I got more out of it than they did.

Trust me, I was never that guy before. Not even close. Volunteering to help others, unless we were very good friends, was not my style. I was more interested in promoting myself. It turns out that it really is more blessed to give than to receive. The giver gets the greater blessing than the receiver. I wish it hadn't taken cancer to teach me that. But at least I finally learned it.

It also comes out in my intense, constant desire to tell people how much they mean to me. There's been a whole lot of "Sit still while I tell you how much I love you" since I learned that I have cancer. That's the thing about love. The more of it that you get, the more you want to spread it around. And I have received more of it than I can possibly hold. So I have to share the love. If I don't, I feel like I'll burst.

As a result, I tend to make speeches now. I write notes to people. I propose toasts. I can't help myself. It's who I am now. I never used to be that guy, either. Here's an example that I'm not proud of.

When my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in 2002, we had a big party with a recommitment ceremony. We had a cake, and we asked our dear friend Galen Koch to do the toast. He prepared and delivered a beautiful speech which touched us deeply.

Eight years later, in 2010, Galen committed suicide. He had struggled with depression for years. We flew to Ft. Worth, Texas for the funeral. After the service, a group of us went out to eat, and I was asked to toast him. I couldn't come up with anything. It wasn't because I was too broken up about it. It was because I was empty inside. Also, I was angry with him.

But after I got cancer, my attitude changed. I wrote a long, heartfelt tribute to Galen and his family in this blog, Introducing The Kochs. It's one of my most viewed posts. It took cancer to make me realize how much I love Galen and his family, and to tell them so publicly.

Now, when the occasion arises, I'm expected to make a heartfelt speech. If you've only known me well since my diagnosis, you'd think I've always been like this, but that isn't true. Now, I wear my heart on my sleeve. And as I said in an earlier post, I don't care if I get blood all over you if you get too close.

Now, when an occasion is coming up when I feel like I have something to say to someone I love, I work it out in my head ahead of time. I rehearse it. I need to do this so I don't cry. If I try to ad lib, it's all over. I can't get through it. So I prepare.

But last Saturday, I almost dropped the ball. Some close friends of ours who are moving away had a goodbye party for their friends here in Denver. My wife and I were honored to be there, though we had not met most of the guests before. A couple of hours in, it dawned on me that someone should propose a toast to our hosts. Naturally, I thought that someone should be me.

I can't for the life of me understand why I hadn't realized this and prepared for it well in advance. But once the decision was made, I started putting it together in my head. 30-45 minutes later, I was clinking glass together and calling for everyone's attention.  I had to pronounce my blessing. I would have regretted it forever if I hadn't.

Afterwards, the couple I toasted told me that they had both totally expected me to do that. One said she would have been disappointed if I hadn't! I've gone from being the guy that doesn't know what to say to being the guy who is expected to say something heartfelt.

As I keep saying, I can't take credit for any of this change that's taken place. It's not like I sat down one day and said, "Well, Mark, now that you have cancer, you'd better start being nicer to people!" It just happened. It's what another friend of mine calls the gift in the wound. Sounds like the title of a blog post to me. I think that will be next.

I have no interest in going back to being the guy I used to be. Giving and receiving love is what I live for now. I have been blessed, so I must be a blessing. Otherwise, the blessings I receive go to waste.

I don't know how much longer God is going to keep me on this planet, but for as long as I'm here, I'm gonna keep wearing my heart on my sleeve. If it gets bruised along the way, so be it. When I feel the time is right, I may make you sit still while I tell you how much I love you. It may well happen in front of others in a public setting. Don't think you're gonna squirm out of it, either. It's who I am now.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

I'm eternally grateful to God that this has finally come true in my life. My heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh. I wouldn't have it any other way. #waroncancer


  1. I love seeing your heart up close, oozing all over the place! It's nothing short of beautiful, blood and all! You've gotten a bit of it on me and I choose not to wash it off! Keep your heart exposed, Mark. It looks good on you. Love you.

    1. I love this comment and you, Kim! Thank you!

  2. What a beautiful thing to say!! God is using you to reach so many that you probably would never had reached. God is doing a beautiful work in you!

  3. What a beautiful thing to say!! God is using you to reach so many that you probably would never had reached. God is doing a beautiful work in you!

  4. Mark,

    I've been the same way at times by not sharing with others how much I appreciate them, and focusing too much on myself. Can I share with you that as children and cousins that I always enjoyed the time I had with you at our family functions. I always looked forward to being around you and your family. Now as we have grown, and I have seen you even less, I look forward now to being a part of your life through your posts. I regret how our lives have not crossed paths. I want you to know that I respect you and how you are living your life with God as your guide. I know that even though we are separated by distance that we are still brothers/cousins in Christ. Keep living by faith and not by sight,


    1. Thanks, Jeff! I appreciate that very much, and I feel the same way. God bless, cousin.