The Summer of 1975

Everyone needs a place to go to be a kid.  For my buddies and me, that place was ten minutes from home if you walked it.  It was a world all its own. All the kids from that sleepy little Ohio town would gather there. It is where we grew up.  

Together.

That summer, the place to be was Teagarden’s Pool in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

So many things happened there… so many memories.

But of course, none of it was permanent.  Unless you count the flashes of images and thoughts of a time not cluttered with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Each day was filled with the shrieks of laughter and catcalls, as me and all my friends would swim on endless summer days.

Sure, they called it Teagarden’s Pool, but we knew better.   That pool… belonged to us.

On one beautiful day in June, I was at the pool to take a Junior Lifesaving course.   I had known how to swim since I was five.   I had worked my way through the Tadpole, Guppy, Dolphin and Shark divisions.   Now I was on my way to becoming a “lifeguard”.  

Looking back on it now, I probably took all of those classes because of the fact that they were taught by girls, not just any girls… but older girls… girls in bikinis.

And on this particular day, this pretty girl was there to take the class.    Now I knew all the girls in my age group from our little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio.   But this girl wasn’t a girl that I knew… she was “new”.    A rare find in our little town.

I tried not to look like I was staring.  I quickly looked away if I saw the slightest twitch that she may look in my direction.   I sat there trying to look like I was paying attention to our “instructor-in-the-bikini”, but I couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful stranger that was dropped from heaven.   Who was this new girl?   Where was she from?   Where was she living and more importantly was she staying?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who eyes were fixated on the new visitor.   I looked around the class and every hometown girl who was taking the class was staring as well.  The evaluation was in full motion.   As my eyes and all of the others boys were looking in approval, the other girls there were judgmental and critical of new-found competition.

As fate would have it, when it was time to break up into groups for our first activity of the class, I was placed in the same group with her.   I couldn’t believe it, what luck!

She was walking my way and my mind was racing a million miles per hour.    I was going to be the first to talk to her.   I was desperately trying to think of something witty to say, something profound. Something to break the ice… something to let her see I was a “cool” guy.

I was sure I did not want to say something like…”Hi, my name is David.   What’s yours?  Where are you from?   How old are you?   Why are you here?   Did you move here?   Why are you taking this class? “

No… I did not want to say these things… but I did.

As a matter of fact, I said it without taking a breath and yes, I said this whole statement in less than 1.2 seconds.  

A world record I’m sure.

She was just staring at me.   The look on her face was evident that she thought she just  met Oak Harbor’s village idiot.

Her jaw dropped and I could see that she was trying not to laugh at the jumbled mess that just came out of my mouth.   She was trying to respond, but could not for fear that she would make fun of the village idiot.   So she spoke in precise, deliberate and painfully slow words.   She spoke loud.   You know, like when you talk to someone who is deaf or from a foreign country.    Like somehow if she talked louder, I would be able to understand what she was saying.   “MY NAME IS KAREN” she slowly exclaimed!

It was evident that I lost any chance of convincing her that I was a normal “cool” guy.   So I relaxed.   I interrupted her and told her that I wasn’t deaf and I was at least smart enough to follow what she was saying.   I tried to be coy and told her I might not understand everything she said but I would at least try.   She told me she was 15 and was from Cleveland.   She was camping at a local campground for few weeks with her grandparents.    She was bored at the campground so they let her take this class.

I was so glad that she didn’t catch me staring at her.  I mean, I already made an absolute fool out of myself; I did not want her to think I was a pervert as well.

Maybe she was just a kind-hearted soul that took pity on village idiots or she indeed liked being with me, because for the next two weeks we were inseparable.    I would wake each morning and hurry down to the pool at 8:00 AM and sure enough there she would be waiting there for me.  

After class we would stay at the pool until it closed that night.    We would swim and talk for hours.    We never left the pool.   Karen told me about everything in her life.    She told me about her school, her friends and her family.   She never had or wanted a boyfriend.    She told me how her father died when she was two and her mom had recently remarried a man she did not like.   He made her feel uncomfortable.   Always making comments and touching her in ways that made her feel uneasy.   That was really why she was in Oak Harbor in the first place. She was trying to get away from some things she did not want to deal with.

We talked and talked. I didn’t mind.   She told me things that she said she never told anyone else.   I guess in some way, I made her feel comfortable. Maybe she knew that she could say exactly what was on her mind and not feel judged because of it.  She was sharing her memories, feelings and her dreams as she spoke them to me.

At times, she would just stop talking and get real quiet. She wanted me to just to talk to her about my life.   We would talk about my brother’s death and life in a small town.   We talked about religion and what we believed.   We shared our love for music and what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.    It was special because we could talk, knowing that we could say anything and we would not be judged like we would have been had we been talking to our friends that we grew up with.  

And we both knew…it couldn’t last forever.

Soon that inevitable time came upon us and neither one of us wanted to admit was taking place.   She had two more days before she was going to go back home.   It was Friday and she would have to leave Sunday morning.   As the pool closed that warm summer Friday night, we stayed a little longer talking at the gate before her grandparents picked her up.   She looked nervous and I asked her what was wrong.   She just looked at me and stared.    With the sun setting in the distance and the color of her blue eyes reflecting off the last remaining rays of light, she looked up and kissed me.

No… it wasn’t my first kiss.  Maybe it was her first kiss, I don’t know.    But I do know that this was different.   This was not about a boy and a girl.    For in fact, in the two weeks we spent together we had not as much as held hands.   This was about friendship and the special time we spent together.

Karen placed a letter in my hand and asked me to promise not to open it until I got home that night. We had one more day together and we made plans to meet the next day at the pool, like always.

And in an instant she was gone.

I took my time walking home that summer night. I wanted to remember and etch it in my memory.

I read her letter.  She wrote of our first meeting at the pool.   She told me that she thought it was cute how I kept staring at her that first day and how I tried to look away when she looked over at me.   She had caught me staring!!  I thought I had hidden it.   She talked about the pool and all of our talks we had.   She told me she would miss me.  She told me goodbye.   Her grandparents were leaving early on Saturday morning, not Sunday. She wouldn’t be coming back to the pool.

I knew at that moment, that life was not fair.   In the haste of the last night together, I never got her address.   It was hopeless. When you’re fifteen, Cleveland is so far away. 

It might as well have been on he other side of the world.

I’d never felt like that before in my entire life.   The next day I ran down to the pool in the fleeting hope that she would be there.   Maybe there was a chance she would stop by before she left for home.   She wouldn’t come to the pool that day.  

Our time together that summer was over.

That was 40 years ago.   Even today, I think about a friendship that lasted for two weeks that I have carried with me for all these years.    I wonder what ever happened to her.  I wonder what would she be doing now and if some of her dreams came true.  I wonder if she still thinks about a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

I like to think so.

I kept that letter she wrote me in an old shoe box.   Over the years, I took it out every now and then, unfolded the tattered, yellowed pages and I was immediately taken back to another place and time.   Suddenly for a few moments, I was fifteen again and life wasn’t filled with the responsibilities I have today.

I have no idea where that letter is today.  It was probably thrown out with the trash when I wasn’t paying attention to what was in that old shoe box.

But I still have the memory.

Memory has a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are and the things you never want to lose.

Cause when you’re fifteen, it’s a long way to Cleveland.

 

Two Pennies

“While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box.  Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them.   For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”                                                                        

Luke 21:1-4

As I have grown older, I admit that I don’t think I do much for God that matters.  I have always tried to convince myself that over the past 8-9 years that I was doing something worthwhile in my writing.

But in truth… it really hasn’t amounted to anything.

There was a time, years ago, when I really felt that I was part of something that was doing something for the Lord.  In light of where I am in life, it is very clear to me that since 1995… I have been on the shelf. Not really doing anything of significance for the Lord. I used to say, like Moses, I was on the backside of the desert and I was on journey that would bring me back to where I could be used once more for God.

That is just something that I don’t believe any longer.

I am convinced that the reason I am still “on the shelf” is because I have always been waiting for the opportunity to teach an adult Bible class. I have not been willing to do the “small” stuff.  I was waiting to be reconciled to the point that I could once again open a Bible and teach like I did all those years ago.  And as much as it pains me to admit, I see now that I still struggle to truly give the little I have to offer to do the small stuff to be used of Him.  I have been looking for something bigger to do. 

Here is the truth… God knows my heart.  He knows my pride.  He knows my intention. 

It’s been 21 years and I am still not far enough on my journey to be completely restored.  I have more miles to walk and I have more layers of my heart that need to be stripped of my pride.

Now before anyone who stumbles upon this post and may  think that I am feeling sorry for myself, I’m not.  What I have come to realize is that I have been the one that has kept me on this journey away from serving God and I have exiled myself to the shelf. 

This is not a place where God has put me.  I have done this to myself.

When I look at the world around me and all that is happening I am tempted to ask, “So what difference can I make?  What I could do will not change a thing.”  

As I read this story this morning, once more I watch Jesus highlight the little things…the things we miss.   He tells the disciples, “Hey, did you see that?  That was amazing!”  And they reply, “What? What? We didn’t see anything.”  Jesus responds, “That woman who put two cents in the offering, did you see that?”  I’m sure they were thinking, are you kidding me?  What difference does that make?

To God it was big, to us it was nothing.

I am convinced that I miss the big things because they seemed so small to me.

God sees the small things, the things done for Him.

Yes, even when no one else sees them, God sees.

He sees our intentions.

He sees our hearts.

He sees who we really are.

We’re not fooling anybody.

What Can I Say? It’s Part of My Story

A few months ago I wrote on my other blog about the death of Prince.

Since then, a few people have questioned why I would honor Prince.

He was, after all, controversial, edgy and so on.

I’ve asked myself why when I heard of his passing.

It took me a few days to process why and I have finally come up with the answer.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself.

It boils down to this – Prince is a part of my story. 

Now before you fall off your chair from laughter, let me first clarify something. While I liked some of his songs, I am not nor have I ever been a purple rain loving, party like it’s 1999, little red corvette driving, let’s go crazy, raspberry beret wearing, sad when dove’s cry crazed fan.

But to say that Prince wasn’t part of my story would not be telling the truth.

I have written about it before but I have based almost every lasting memory around the music that I was surrounded by at the time of the event.

For me, the music memories are so vivid that at times they overtake the memory itself. You see, music, invokes such memory that at times I can even remember the smells associated to those memories.  A simple melody has the power to burn a memory in my mind—engraving its memory on me so that every time I hear it I return to that emotional place.

I love that—the power of a song.

I first felt the impact when I was nine years old. Listening to CKLW out of Detroit and hearing the song “I’ll Be There” by Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five.

Over 45 years later, when I hear that song, it invokes memories of my brother Bobby.

It was such a big song… #1 from October all the way through November 14th 1970.  My brother was killed on a Thursday, November 5th, 1970.

Normally, I have always struggled to remember my brother.  I was five years younger and he was too old to really play with me when I was really little and at the age of nine, I was just a pest to him and his other fourteen year old friends.  He was taken too soon and I never really got to know him.  I was devastated by the loss but this song brings him back to memusic memories.  I only think of him every time I hear it.  It invokes good memories and softens the hurt that came so many years ago.  It is when I remember him most.

I could tell every story that is associated to a song that is burned into my memory.  But that would be a really long post so I will just leave it at that.  I am sure you understand what I mean.  I will write about those memories and songs as I continue to write this blog.

Music influences every post I ever write. No matter how well I map out what I am going to write, I can’t catch my flow of words until I have music playing in my headphones. And almost always it’s the music that reveals what I need to write about.

While I always have music playing when I write, I can’t stop myself from singing along with it.  I envy the writer and the way lyricists can tell a story in a few stanzas.  I struggle to put a sentence together, let alone a song.  It is one of the great mysteries of life that I ponder. The whole process of writing a song is one of the great mysteries in life.  I do not have the talent to write lyrics and for me, someone who can write lyrics has truly a gift from God.  My favorite artists are those that sing and write their own music.

So, basically, for as much as I love music, I’m locked out of the process of making it. I really can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument, and I can’t write lyrics. But the artists who can?  They rock. I wish I could do it.

So there you have iMusic Storyt.  Music is what I use to define periods of my life.  Music tells my story.  It’s that important to me.  It allows me to write pages of my life and my music will tell you more about me than I ever will.

I’ve learned that until you fully embrace your story, you can’t move forward writing new pages. The story will include good and bad. There will be wonderful memories and times you wish you could erase. Removing those memories, removes pages from your story. It minimizes what made you who you are.

So now back to Prince. Prince was big in the early 80’s and at a time when I was in my college years.  I was going to a Christian college and trying to hide the fact that I loved music.  Most of which was banned at that time when I was in college.  Rock music wasn’t allowed and I had to be very discreet with my music. I was a young man trying to figure things out, in time when legalism flourished in the church.  Anything with drums was taught as being evil and I tried to hide it as best I could.  It was a time of friends and dates.  It was the age of excess with big hair, fluorescent clothes and the music.

Oh… the music.

I could go on and on and tell so many stories from those years. They are treasured.

Sure, there were broken hearts and scars. There was puppy love and having no clue how to treat our dates. But we were writing our story. We were learning the mistakes to teach our children to avoid at all costs. The habits, the trials and the things our parents said we should avoid.  These memories are locked into the music from that time.

I’ll leave you with one last thought.  My parents bought a VCR in the summer of 1984. Not everyone had one. We finally got ours. I had just returned from a summer of traveling across South Africa.  I came home to find that VCR hooked up to our TV.  I made my first trip to the movie rental place.  The first video I ever rented and watched was one I have never had the guts to admit to until now.

The movie?

“Purple Rain” by Prince. Not exactly the way to bring confidence to the purchases you make. It was edgy. It was a little raunchy. It wasn’t a highlight for me choosing movies for sure.

But now you know the rest of the story.

What can I say? It’s a part of my story.

I embrace it. I lived it, loved it, recovered from it and at times, miss the simplicity of it.

That’s why I mourned Prince when he died.

I mourned another reminder that my story, my songs and my history is slipping away.

Thinking Back; Looking Forward

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 55th birthday. “Celebrated” is an interesting use of the English language. Because, in truth, I more “endured” my 55th birthday than any thing else.

Have you ever thoughthttps://i2.wp.com/www.meducom.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Thinking-back-looking-forward.jpg about why we even bother to celebrate birthdays? When you think about it, they’re really just another opportunity for your family to congratulate you for surviving another year.

I get it… it is scientifically proven that those that have more birthdays live longer.  Right?

So it was my birthday. I don’t have to be happy about it. Who needs to be, annually, reminded that you are one year older and closer to ‘…knock, knock knocking on Heaven’s door.’

I personally believe that after 50, all birthdays should be ignored and that dreadful question of ‘is this the big one?’ posed by well-meaning friends be confined to the scrap heap.

At 55… I hit the “BIG ONE” five years ago.

Hello, people, after 50 they are all big ones!

Like many my age, I’m thinking back and looking forward.

Life has happened so quickly, passed by so rapidly, that I suddenly look around and exclaim, “hey, wait a minute, that ride went way too fast!!”

Life is short.

I heard that said when I was young, but never believed it.

In the early years of life we think time crawls, but as we age it moves more quickly and soon it’s hard to keep up.

It seems only a few days ago that Bryan Blakely and I were riding bikes and exploring the world in our small town of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  We chased dogs, built forts, pretended https://img0.etsystatic.com/031/0/6533227/il_fullxfull.642836572_ohia.jpgto be soldiers on secret missions. The imagination is such a wonderful gift to young boys. The only requirement had been that we were home by the time the street lights came on. After that, we were confined to our block.  It was a time of great memories.

Our mother’s had no idea where we were, but it was rural Northwest Ohio, and it was the days when life was much safer.  Those days when you did not have to worry about your picture ending up on a milk carton.

School days, summer loves, college, travel, marriage, kids, diapers, a new job here, a move there… time kept passing and before I realized what was happening the kids were grown and I am left wondering where did the time go.

All that to say, at this moment in time, the most important thing I ever did in my entire life was trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and surrender my life to Him.

All the rest, both the good and the bad, have a completely different color and a different taste because of that one decision in 1970.

Again… life is short.

Enjoy every moment, but know this – trusting Christ and surrendering your life to him is the most important thing you will ever do.

There is nothing more important than that. 

How wonderful to look back and know that God has worked in my life and to look ahead and see Him at the finish line.

To be honest…  I am in no hurry to get to heaven and on to eternity. 

I’m still good.  I have a lot to live for and to look forward to.

My expiration date hasn’t come up just yet.    

Strong in the Broken Places… A Birthday Tribute to My Mother

She loved you before she even knew you.

And from the moment you met in person, it was all over for her.  

She’s sacrificed her own possibilities for the chance that you could have, do and become more. She hurts when you hurt. She hopes when you can’t find hope. She dreams bigger dreams for you than you’ve ever dreamed for yourself.

And she’s convinced you’re worthy of it all…because you’re special… to her you always have been.

Her love is beautifully irrational.  She looks beyond your faults and flaws and sees the very best version of you. She believes that’s who you are.

If belief alone could get you there, she’d hand-deliver you to your destiny.

It’s all because of a woman we call MOM.

Today is my Mom’s birthday. It’s a special day.

Truly, a mother’s love and influence are among the most powerful things a person could ever find in this world.  If you doubt it, compare notes with someone who no longer has their Mom – or someone who never had her to begin with.

For better or worse, no one shapes our lives more than our mothers because they do it from the inside out.  We find their fingerprints on everything – from our grandest deeds to our most tucked away thoughts.

And she was always there for me – and for my brother and my sister (and for many others). Always. Ma, Mom, Mommy. She took this role very seriously and never wavered.  No matter what.

So I will do my best today to say, “Thank you, Mom. I want you to know that I know there’s no way I’d be who I am – or where I am – without you.”

I have said it before and I will say it to my dying breath…  any good quality that I show in my life is directly given to me by my mother.  I have written about her before (click here to read)  in my post called “Confessions of a Momma’s Boy”.  

Hemingway once wrote: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Hemmingway 2My mother was one of those people who healed stronger in the broken places. Despite great obstacles she bounced back repeatedly: an extremely difficult childhood, choices she shouldn’t have had to make at such an early life, scant financial resources, losing a child at thirty-nine, losing her dearest friend (Leta Chandler) and I could add many more examples of things my mom endured but came out stronger and better on the other side.

My mother is a petite woman, but there is nothing small about her legacy, or the impact she has had on others.  It is a strong, beautiful, vibrant, legacy.

So as I sit here and think of the influence of my mother I want to share a few of her traits that I am most grateful for…

Generous, kind, loving, sweet, caring, honest, fastidious, brave, strong, energetic, resilient, thoughtful, hopeful, selfless. My mother possessed all of these qualities for sure.  But if I had to put it to one word  it would be…

Sacrifice.

In today’s society this word has much less meaning than it did in the past, but this single word describes my mother best.

A child and mother’s life is deeply connected. There is this love that a mother feels for her child. Mothers carry their young and take care of them until they become adults. Mothers make sure that their children are safe and happy. Mothers sacrifice their own happiness just for the wellness of their children.

My mother sacrificed her life for her children.

I am humbled when I think of all that she sacrificed for me.  Being thankful  seems trite but it truly is what I feel.

Thank you Mom for giving me the freedom and space to dream.

Thank you for creating order in our house despite the disorder that you tried to shield us from.

Thank you for pushing me to go to college even when everyone told me I wouldn’t make it.  Though you never had tIMG_0247he chance to go… you are still the smartest person I know.

Thank you for allowing me to disagree with you when we have our “discussions”.  I guess that is just other ways I am like you… strong in principle and knowing what you believe and not being afraid to defend it… even if it’s not popular or easy.

Thank you for showing me how to be a real friend. Thank you for teaching me how to be compassionate and forgiving. Thank you for telling me you loved me every time we see each other and every time before we hang up the phone.

Thank you for being strong in the broken places.

Thank you Mom, you are my rock, my anchor, and my one true North.

I Love You and Happy Birthday Mom!!

Leaving The Porch Light On

One week ago, I had the honor of speaking at my daughter’s wedding ceremony.  Not many get that opportunity to speak and share from their heart at such a special occasion. 

It was just about a year ago, I received a call from Cassidy and she told me he popped the question and she said yes.  I already knew that this was going to happen because the young man who was asking for her hand in marriage, had already talked to me and asked permission.

None-the-less, it was a shock to my system that it really was going to happen.  I wrote about it here: Then They Do (click on this link).

So flash forward 11 months and I finally give some advice to them about their new life together. A number of people have asked me if I could share what I said, so I am posting my speech in its entirety. It’s not word-for-word but it is close… here goes:

Good afternoon everyone. I’d like to welcome the friends and relatives of both families who are gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of Cassidy and Andre.

Thank you for taking time from your busy lives to join us on this afternoon.

Some of you have traveled quite a distance to be here. And we are thankful for that.

We hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the evening and we hope you will remember this day as fondly as we will.

Wedding1I feel so proud today to be standing here given the opportunity to take part in this special day.

I am also extremely grateful for the chance to speak to you today.

That being said, there will be three ways I will remember this speech… the one I practiced, the one I am about to give and the one I wish I would have given.

Hopefully… You will hear the one that is closest to the one I wish I would have given. But I make no promises.

I’ve learned that life is circular, it’s full of beginnings and endings, there are times of extreme joy that can be followed by hard and difficult times.

New chapters of life begin while others will come to a close. I believe that life is meant to be lived looking forward. It is to be enjoyed. As James 4:14 says, Life is just a vapor… it appears for a short time and then vanishes away.

Life moves fast and before you know it your child is standing in front of their friends and family committing their life in marriage to another person.

As parents, on many levels our job is done. While we will never stop being a parent, a new chapter is starting for us.

One season is unfolding into another and we will close the chapter of raising our children. The responsibility of raising them has been lifted.

All you can do as a parent is thank God for the opportunity and hope that some of the wisdom of our life experience was passed down.

Just like many othPam and Davider parents, we spent the vast majority of our lives raising our children to become productive adults and become good people.

The journey of being a parent is not for the faint of heart.

There are twists and turns, surprises and disappointments. There are moments of extreme pride and moments of regret.

It’s a rollercoaster of emotions.

As a parent you sojourn through the good times and the hard times because that is your job. It is what you do.

You do all you can to protect them, you provide for them and try to take care of their every need. In most examples, there is not a need in your child’s life they have not been given.

Then in many situations … somewhere around the age of 16 they look at you and tell you they can’t wait to move out of your home. They inform you that they “WILL NEVER raise their children the way you did.

It leaves many parents wondering what they did wrong.

But let me make something perfectly clear today. That is not the story of Cassidy.

As a child, Cassidy was strong-willed but loving.  This strong-willed aspect is something she and I had the opportunity to discuss many times in her younger years.

CassidyThis loving, strong-willed little girl brought those traits into her adult life. In times when she could have made other decisions, she kept her “will” strong in serving the Lord when it would have been easy to go the other direction.

Along the way Cassidy has picked up many skills, some from her life experience and some as gifts from God.

Cassidy has always worked hard at becoming a better person. Always strived to become better at what she does, and becoming the caring person that she is today. She has made me unbelievably proud. I am thankful that I have been able to be part of her life.

If I am honest today, I cannot deny that I feel a loss. After all, for the first time in many years, when I go home tonight, I will turn the light out on the porch knowing that she will not be coming home.

Our little house is the one home on our street where the porch light burns. porch Light

As it burned for her sister before she got married, a light has always been left on until Cassidy came home at night. 

When I turn that light out tonight, I will cry. But they won’t all be tears of sadness.

Rob and Leslie, Pam and I, have raised her to get to this point in time. We all spent time preparing her for this day and this new adventure.

For the past twenty-two years, this house where the porch light burns has been her home.

You know… we could have moved from that old house on Stilwell Ave. We even made plans to do so. We could have moved from the house where we raised four children with only one bathroom.

But there are reasons we didn’t.

One reason is because of a door jamb in our kitchen.

A door jamb where pencil marks measure the growth of a family. Each mark a memory and each  mark with a date written beside it to note the growth.

This door jamb tells the story of children growing up and becoming adults.

Each dated mark one step closer to this very day.

These marks will remain on that door jamb until one day the new owners of our home decide to paint over them and make marks of their own.

Another reason why we have not moved is something that I want to share specifically with the two of you.

You know that I have profound hearing loss. As I grow older my hearing will get worse. 

I hope not… but there may be a day when I lose the ability to hear all together.

But for now, I hear things that most people don’t.

You see… this little home where the porch light burns, speaks to me.

In the quiet, I can hear the echo’s of our children laughing. I hear the chatter of you having your friends over for movie nights. I hear the sounds of the TV marathons you had, watching the complete series of Friends, The Gilmore Girls, Supernatural, Full House, Boy Meets World just to mention a few.

To be honest… I sometimes wish I could un-hear the sounds of how many times you watched the Disney High School Musicals.

The walls of our home reverberate with the sounds of Birthday parties, of long talks at the dinner table, and the precious sounds of Christmas celebrations.

If I really concentrate, I can hear the click of the door closing behind you when you were out at night. That wonderful sound that you were home, safe and secure.Cassidy Singing

One of my favorite sounds that still ring through the walls of our home is listening to you sing as you got ready for school or work. Cassidy, you will always be my favorite singer.

The walls of our home emit sounds of a family that was trying to find their way in this life.

It surely wasn’t perfect but the wonderful sounds that come from the walls of our home, far out-weigh any noise of discord that there may have been.

In time… these wonderful sounds will fade… many are already being replaced by the laughter and the banter of our grandsons playing in the living room. 

When it is time, you guys can help in filling our home with the sounds of future grandchildren that will be absorbed into the walls of our home.

My challenge to you and Andre is to fill your home with sounds of love, sounds of joy and sounds of happiness. If the walls of your home would speak, may they share sounds of forgiveness and acceptance. More importantly, may the walls speak of a young couple that loved the Lord and made Christ the center of their home.

Too many homes todawedding2y are filled with discord… filled with hateful words and fighting. My prayer is that the walls of your home will never be saturated with these kind of sounds.

In closing, every parent wishes that one day their child will find the right person for them to spend the rest of their life with. The fear of any parent is their child making the wrong decision about that.

When I first met Andre, I learned quickly that he was a good man, and would not be the type to hurt Cassidy. Once I got to know Andre, I couldn’t have chosen anyone more suitable. He let her be herself and did not try to change her to make him happy. He’s very considerate and thoughtful. I appreciate the way he treats and makes Cassidy feel about herself, I cannot thank him enough. We are confident that he will take good care of her.

Traditionally, at this point, I guess I should offer some advice… so here goes.

Andre… Always leave the porch light on for your wife.

Cassidy… Anything Andre says in anger 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all negative comments made by Andre become null and void after 7 days.

Andre… Cassidy is not a morning person. Stay clear… enough said?

Cassidy… Andre is not a mind reader and he never will be. His lack of mind-reading ability is not proof of how much or how little he loves you.

Andre… Whenever you’re wrong, admit it. Whenever you’re right, Take pleasure in knowing that you are and then keep it to yourself.  Just keep it to yourself!!!

Cassidy… leave the porch light on for your husband.

I cannot encourage the two of you more than to have your home filled with sounds of happiness, forgiveness and love.

May you continue to serve the Lord with your life and in your marriage.Speech

You both have been raised in love. You have been raised by parents that love you more than life itself.

We are filled with joy that you are getting married today. It’s a new journey and a new beginning for you and for us. May your love always be an example to all of us that are here to witness your vows to each other.

One last thing… in the future… remember to leave the porch light on…  so that your children can always find their way home.

So that’s it… we are one week in to being “empty nesters”. 

We could not be happier for Cassidy and Andre!!! 

We are excited to see what the future holds for them and for us. It will be new adventures for all of us!!!

And while our children are now all on their own, all becoming productive adults and good people. 

I’ll still leave the porch light on… just in case they ever want to find their way home.

Viewing Life Through A Broken Lens

About a year ago, I bought a used IPAD from a friend. I was told upfront thcrackedat the screen was cracked.  

And then I saw it. 

All along the left hand side of the screen was cracked.  It was bigger than I expected but I was committed to get it fixed right away.

For the first few days, it’s all I thought about when I tried to use it.  It was right in my face.  It seemed to be staring at me. 

It was the first thing I noticed every single time I used it.  No matter where I looked, it taunted me and contorted my view of the pictures on the screen.  I couldn’t wait to have it fixed now, but I needed to delay it for a few days.  I had a lot on my plate, so I planned to take it to get fixed the following week.

But within a few days, the cracks began to fade into the background.  A week later, and I’d all but forgotten the cracked screen.  

I barely noticed it.

In those few short days, I grew accustomed to the cracks in my window.  I compensated for them.  I accepted them and the distorted view that came with them.  What had once been an obvious, irritating distraction became familiar enough that I looked right past it.  It was almost like it wasn’t there.

But it was there.

It’s like looking through glasses with a broken lens.  It distorts our view.  We don’t see things as we broken-glassesshould. An obvious lesson here is that when we ignore small problems, they grow bigger and spread.

When we avoid paying the smaller cost today, we’ll likely pay a larger one tomorrow.

But there’s an even more important lesson for me.  Maybe for you too.

Where else am I looking at my life through broken glass?  Good and bad, what’s true about me that I refuse to see? What’s in my way that’s obvious to everyone but me?

This week I found some things that I have been ignoring.  The cracks and broken pieces of perspective have come back into focus to show me where I have been living in denial.  I have been living my life by not acknowledging the obvious.  The issues associated with growing old and having serious health problems belonged to someone else and surely not me.

My mind and eyes adjusted so quickly to my bad situation that I no longer even saw things as they were.  I ignored the problem so well that I didn’t see the thing right in front of my face obstructing my view.  I looked past it, even as it worsened.  It became normal to me.

I have been living there, in denial, for a while now. I have a serious problem with high blood pressure and I have diabetes. No matter how much I would like to deny that these issues are true, I cannot stop them from affecting my life.

Last week I was having chest pains.  You would think I would have said something to my wife but I didn’t. I couldn’t rest and I couldn’t sleep. Much like the crack on my IPAD, after a few days of pain I just looked past them in ignorance. The more I tried to ignore the increasing pains and pressure in my chest the more I started having this sinking feeling and thoughts that I was soon to die.  I thought of impending doom. Still I did nothing. Denial and pride kept me from reacting to what my body was telling me.

After almost a week of this I finally gave in.  I could no longer deny that something was seriously wrong. I sent a text to mSky Highy wife and told her that I was having issues.

I soon found myself heading to the ER.  When I got there I was immediately rushed in to the cardiac unit.  Initial tests showed that my blood pressure was “sky-high” as the doctor put it.  I was about as close a person can get without having a stroke or a massive heart attack.  The reason for why this was happening was still lost to me but was obvious to the doctors that were treating me. I was soon going to get a real clear picture of why I was in the hospital and in the condition I was.

It was painfully obvious and acknowledged that I had not been taking my medications the way I should have.  My broken “lens” was ignored and I looked past these health issues as if they belonged to someone else.

They had to bring my blood pressure down slowly so as to not induce a stroke so I was subjected to a few days of tests and treatment to bring it down and get my diabetes under control. I can no longer look past these medical issues.  The good news is that my heart is in pretty good condition considering it’s owner. No blockages and the potential of stopping any more damage if I can get back on the path of good health.  I want to live another 30 or so years, and it was made real clear that I that will not happen unless I make some changes in my life. 

Another second chance.

I am home today… still having residual chest pains that will go away with continued treatment as prescribed. Reminders of a fool who still viewed his heath problems through a cracked lens. The signs were all around me. I just never let myself see them.

I have to ask myself some real important life questions.

Where else am I looking at my life through broken glass? 

Good and bad, what’s true about me that I refuse to see?

What’s in my way that’s obvious to everyone but me?

These are painful questions to wrestle with, and trust me, I’m aching having gone a few rounds with them.  But who wants to live a life seeing things as they aren’t?

We all need to see our circumstances as they truly are.  We cannot continue to look at life through a broken lens. Our challenge is to not ignore what’s broken.

If life isn’t shaping up as you’d hoped – If you’ve been circling back to the same person or problem again and again – If you’re in a destructive relationship – especially if it’s with yourself.

Maybe you’ve got a crack in your window. Maybe there’s something right in front of you obstructing your view, keeping you from seeing things as they really are,keeping you from being who you were meant to be.

What is it?  It’s not a mystery.  It’s in plain sight.  Once we name it, we can deal with it and move on.

So, go a few rounds with these questions that are taking me to the mat.

Am I viewing my life through a broken lens?

What does it keep me from seeing about myself?

What am I denying about the circumstances I’ve created?

What old pain have I grown accustomed to and embraced?

What if I laid it down?

What would be possible if you could see yourself and your circumstances as they truly are?

Answer them before it’s too late.

Mr. Lee Died A Long Time Ago

The other day, a co-worker asked me some questions about my career in Education and my time of being a principal back in the day. When I began talking about it, I suddenly felt myself getting stressed.  I unconsciously began fidgeting with my hands, my voice changed slightly, and my breathing became shallow.  

It was like I was back in my old office again.

I quickly answered his basic question and laughed it off with a line I have used for some time now,

“That was 25 years ago, and Mr. Lee died a long time ago.”

I get different reactions when I say that.  Some get it… they realize that that was a long time ago.  I am no longer that person.

I have often told my wife that I have blocked out most of the memories of that period of my life when I was a teacher and principal of a Christian School in Fremont, Ohio.  Although she doesn’t really believe it, I hold to the fact that the statement is true.  I have watched videos that were taken during that period of me speaking and I don’t recognize the person that they say is me. I don’t know who that person is.  It surely is not me. It bears a resemblance of me, but I struggle to remember being a tca1part of any of the events.

For me, the years I spent there are much like watching a documentary on the History Channel.  I remember being taught that the events took place but I am not part of it. I vivid memories of the time I was in college.  My days at Liberty University are clear and I have wonderful memories of college life and being part of a missions team that traveled across America and around the world.  I can remember specific events and even conversations I had with people. I remember and think of these memories often, but memories of the school not so much.

In truth, I know that the memories are there.  I choose to block them from being in my daily thought process.  It is better to leave them where they are.  When I run into former students of mine, my memories of them are still stuck in the 80’s and 90’s.  They have not moved on in life and in my mind they are still in 8th grade and not the 40-year-old that stands before me.  When they address me as Mr. Lee, I quietly ask them to call me David.  Again… Mr. Lee died a long time ago.

When my co-worker asked me those questions, I was shocked at how easily I plunged back into that old reality.   It has been over twenty-five years since I was Mr. Lee.

I post that as a simple statement of the fact. If you think I make that statement as a reflection of something I view as negative, let me make something very clear… I don’t. 

I don’t view it as a negative time in my life at all.

No offense to any former student or staff member during my tenure there.  It is just some of those memories I’d really just rather not remember. That includes both good and bad memories.

I hold that time in my life as very precious and it took years for me to be able to move on.  It took me years to come to grips with the loss of my ministry.  When these memories are dredged up in my heart and mind I am reminded of the times I was in my office working or in the classroom teaching.  Those were the times I cherished and when I had clarity that I was doing what I was intended to do at that time. I was confident that I was doing what God wanted me to do.  

That was and is a wonderful place to be.  Being confident that you were doing exactly what you were supposed to do.  Not many people ever get to really experience that in their life. I am grateful for the 12 years I spent there. I cannot deny that there is a part of me where that office still resides deep inside of me.  Even after all these years, I still have a space in my soul that defined who I once was.

After I resigned my ministry, like a prodigal son… I ran.  theprodigal

I ran from God for a long time. As a matter of fact, I ran from Him for almost as long as I was in the ministry.  Twelve long years.  I avoided anything that had to do with my life as Mr. Lee.   I worked real hard to kill him.  I could not find any peace with God.  I could not forgive others and more importantly I could not forgive myself for what I allowed to happen.  I made sure that Mr. Lee was buried before I stopped running.

A prodigal son.  We all know one, have been one, or are waiting for one to come home.

Then a miracle happened.  No… I did not walk on water and no water was turned into wine.  But it was a miracle in my life and it’s significance could not be any less than of those.  I found a place where I could heal and I did not have to carry the baggage that I carried for all of those years.  I think of it in terms of being spiritually rescued. I had lost hope and a life line was thrown to me when I was about to go under for the last time.  Grace Community Church of Fremont, Ohio was that refuge that I needed and when I felt there was no place for me to turn to, I felt the warm embrace of fellow believer’s allowing me to sit in church without the  judgement and disdain I had felt in other places. 

I needed to sit. I needed to heal. I had felt so betrayed by the pastor’s I had worked with in the past that I had sworn that I would never be “pastored” again.  After running so long on my own, I realized that I needed to be under a pastor’s teaching and leadership once again.  I found that in Pastor Kevin Pinkerton.Grace-Logo-Color-011

So I sat.  I took the time to sit and be still, heal and be forgiven. Slowly God began working in my heart and I started to have forgiveness towards those I had felt had done me wrong.  I started to write this blog in 2008, and there is no doubt that for the past seven years it has almost filled the hole in my heart.

Finding a place to heal and recover from failure was a miracle to me.  We’re foolish to assume that miracles don’t happen anymore. I have learned that miracles come out of a gut-wrenching need and your last flashes of hope. If were not this way, we would not think of it as a miracle but as something common and not from God.  All things would then just be taken for granted. Finding a place to sit and heal, finding a place to forgive and be forgiven is nothing short of a miracle and I will never take it for granted. Still it took years to forgive myself.

Walking on the water means burning doubt and the terror of roaring seas, it’s not an option you choose for fun. It’s what you pick when you have to know that Jesus is big enough, and that He can come through when it’s devastating. Believing in miracles is one of life’s hard lessons I have learned.

I choose to still believe.

It is with that aspect that I still wonder what the future holds for me. What is next for me? As I wrote a few weeks ago in my post, The Next Big Thing  I am no longer looking for something “BIG” to happen for me. But I can say that I am open to whatever God would have me do.  I am looking for open doors of opportunity. 

Mr. Lee died a long time ago.  I want to leave him buried where he is.  I have no desire to bring him back. In so many ways…  I am a much better person than he was all those years ago.

The next stage of my life will not completely take the old memories away, but it will continue to redefine them and I can always pray the prayer from Psalm 139:22-23,

Search me, O God, and know my heart.
Try me and know my thoughts.
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

These Things Take Time

Years ago… I used to stay at my grandfather’s house for a week or so during the summer. I have so many great memories of those times and I think about them often. 

During one of these summer visits my grandfather and I planted a tree.  He told me that it would grow and that one day it would be huge.  He told me just to sit back and I could watch it grow.

I took him literally. I watched it all the time I was there and it didn’t do anything!  I was hoping to see it grow, but it Tree in a handdidn’t move, it didn’t change….it didn’t do anything! I’m sure you’re thinking, “You’re crazy, you can’t see a tree grow!” 

I remember the last day of my stay that summer and I asked him why the tree didn’t grow while I was there.  He looked at me, paused, chuckled and then he said,  “These things take time.” 

My grandfather knew that it would be a long time before his prediction would come to reality.  He knew that he would not live long enough to see the tree grow to its full majestic size.  He knew it would be something that I would remember in the future. And… sure enough few years ago… long after my grandfather died, my wife and I were driving and we found ourselves in the area of my grandparents place.  We drove by my grandfather’s old house and there was the tree that was planted all those years ago. It was huge.  The biggest tree on his old property. 

He was right…  these things take time.  

It was the completion of one of the many lessons that he taught me when I was a young boy.  He knew that there would be a day in the future from that hot summer day that I would drive past that tree and remember him and that special day we planted it.

But the lesson of this tree has taught me more than I ever could imagine.

I have always been a person to question things.  There are so many things I don’t understand.  There are many questions that I want answers for.   I get frustrated at times when I don’t get the answers I am looking for. I am not very patient. Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to find and I want to know all the answers.  It is during these frustrating times I have to remember that tree and remember that answers some times take time to receive.

I also used to get so frustrated when I would look at other believer’s. I could watch someone for months and they may not seem to change at all!  I could quickly conclude they weren’t really a Christian in the first place or they weren’t really Take Time“serious about their faith” because I couldn’t see their growth.

Why do we expect the growth of a person to be something we can see and measure?  I have learned that it’s usually not something I can see immediately.  True growth is slow, steady and calmly happening…it takes time….you won’t see it but it’s happening.

Again… these things take time.  

Paul wrote to the Christians  in Ephesus, “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” 

I have been a Christian for more than 45 years….most of my life…and I still have so many things that aren’t as they should be….but I’m growing.   One day, I will finish the race and become what God made me to be….until then I’m going to keep growing and look for the answers that I am seeking.

Be patient and just watch because these things take time.

Then They Do

(NOTE: I wrote this on Thursday, November 6th… I am just getting brave enough to post it.)

Oh yeah… tonight was a tough one.

When I say “tough” let me be quick to point out that the word is relative.

Then They doI knew that it was coming and I know that it is going to bring great joy to our family.  But it still was a tough night.

It is one of those nights when you try to look for that chapter in the parenting manual that covers how to handle these type of situations.

Truth is there is no manual. It doesn’t matter if you have been through it before, nothing prepares you for it.  Even when you know it is inevitable.

It is about seeing your child make a decision that they have waited their whole life to make. It is about pushing them where you can while allowing them to make their own choices.  It is about knowing the consequences of those choices.  It is about trust. Trusting them to apply everything you have tried to teach and them trusting you as a parent to let them go when it is time.

I must admit there are tears.  Yes… in the privacy of my hotel room, I am in tears… but not tears of sadness.

When you aAndre and Cassidyre a parent there is so much you anticipate. You assume things. You dream big dreams for your children. You want all of those dreams to come true for them.  You hope and you pray that the dreams you want for them will somehow become dreams that they want as well.

Her mom has waited for this moment since the day she was born. And I have been wishing for her dreams to be fulfilled since I married her mother. Yet, I feel thoroughly and utterly unprepared for this.

Just moments ago, Cassidy called me with the news, the news of a lifetime. Andre popped the question and she said yes. They both decided!—he is the one for her, and she is the one for him—they’ve each found their life partner. We are thrilled for them and my words cannot express how happy we are for them. And though the last few days I’ve known and anticipated this, I am speechless now as I ponder on what to write.

A lifetime of advice can’t come from one note. So I won’t try to cover everyCasssidy Ringthing here and now. And she doesn’t need me to. We have a year of planning.  I know that the time will go quickly but for now I want to stop and just say I am so proud of Cassidy.  Always have been. She has made our job as parents easy.  I trust her and I am confident in the decision she made tonight.

As it was when Crystal got married, I have a year before I will not have to wait up for her to get home at night. A year before it will no longer be my responsibility to make sure she is ok. I have waited for these days to come and you think you are prepared for them. You want all the dreams they have dreamed of to come true… then they do.

And it is then you realize you are not prepared at all.

These lyrics really hit home tonight…

I look over at their pictures,
Sittin’ in their frames.
I see them
as babies:
I guess that’ll never change.
You pray all their lives,
That someday they will find happiness.

Then they do, and that’s how it is.
It’s just quiet in the mornin’,
Can’t believe how much you miss,
All they do and all they did.
You want all the dreams they dreamed of to come true:
Then they do.

No more Monday PTA’s,
No carpools, or soccer games.
Your work is done.
Now you’ve got time that’s all your own.
You’ve been waitin’ for so long,
For those days to come.

Then they do, and that’s how it is.
It’s just quiet in the mornin’,
Can’t believe how much you miss,
All they do and all they did.
You want all the dreams they dreamed of to come true:
Then they do.

As a parent we will face moments when we will “help them find their wings but we can’t fly for ‘em.” Wisdom tells us there will be days when we wish we could step into the moment for them.

But it’s not our stage and it’s not our spotlight.

We’ve gotta let her go.  Life is to be lived moving forward.

You want all the dreams she dreamed of to come true… then they do.

Heal The Wound But Leave The Scar

Earlier this month I posted the following statement on my Facebook wall.

Listening to throw-back Thursday on Proclaim FM… They are playing Michael W Smith’s “Friends are Friends” song. Suddenly… I am over whelmed with memories of a time in my life that I buried a long time ago… a time when I was known as Mr. Lee. He’s been dead for 20 years now.

I had posted that as a simple statement of the fact that the song brought back some memories of a time in my life when I was the Administrator of a Christian School. I had a few comments to my post about how that time in my life wasn’t all bad and I basically shouldn’t think of it as a negative time in my life.

Let me make something very clear…I don’t. 

TCAI don’t view it as a negative time in my life at all, but there are some memories from that period of my life that I would like to forget forever.  To be honest, there are things that I have honestly blocked out of my mind.  I will have former students come up to me and remind me of something I did or something happened in the school and I just don’t remember many of those events.  No offense to any former student or staff member during my tenure there.  It is just some of those memories I’d really just rather forget.   That includes both the good and bad memories.

I hold that time in my life as very precious and it took years for me to be able to move on.  It took me years to come to grips with the loss of my ministry.  When a song like the one mentioned above comes on and the memories flood my mind it brings back the hurt that I caused and it reminds me once again of my failure in my ministry.

God has been very gracious to me and has allowed me to move on.  The hurt is not what it once was and there are periods of times in my life that I don’t remember the hurt at all.  God has taken away much of the pain but the one thing He has not done is remove the spiritual scars that I earned during that time in my life. 

Truth is… I have many scars.

Not as often as in the past and honestly the only time I see the scars that I carry is when those memories are stirred by a conversation.  Or as in this example, a song.  The memories can be so vivid and that they  take me right back there again. I usually wrestle with the Lord a little, wondering what is the purpose of this remembering.

Why do we need to feel it all and hurt so much again? Now, it never goes away, there is always pain, but it may not be as intense as it can be sometimes. Something reminds us and the pain comes again. What is the Lord’s purpose in those painful memories and why are they still necessary?

Over the past few years I believe that I am coming to terms with accepting these memories.  I am starting to understand that these memories come up so we can remember not to lose our compassion for others, especially when there are many people are struggling in their life. Maybe we need to spend more time praying for others who we know are hurting.  Maybe we need to reach out and give a hand to one of these people.  It obvious that sometimes it takes a lot for the Lord to get our attention off our selves and put our focus on others.

I want to keep my scars.  Not from a sense of pride but for a reminder of what happens when you take your eyes off of Jesus Christ.  I have always been amazed that Jesus kept his physical scars.

Did you ever wonder why He kept the scars?  If He was the son of God, why not completely heal those hands and feet.  Why bear the scars?  Why did Jesus keep the scars, show the scars and why does He through eternity keep those scars?

Was it simply to show them that he was the same person that had been crucified?  Was it simply to historically verify that the same person who had been brutally treated, died, was buried, came to life again? Or was there a My Scarsdeeper meaning in his scars that he so willingly showed his disciples?

The most obvious reason He showed His disciples the scars, and continues to wear the scars even in eternity is because scars tell a story. Probably if each of us to survey our own body, we would be able to tell the story of virtually every scar that shows.  The reason for that – scars tell a story.

We all have wounds in our hearts, either from sin in our lives or painful things that happen along the journey. Whatever the wound is from is not important, what is important is that we have that scar to remind us of what God taught us through the pain.

My prayer is that each wound the Lord heals in my life I only hope He leaves the scar so I won’t forget.  Our scars should lead us to honor God for His mercy and remind us of His love and mercy for us.  They should lead us to have compassion for others.  

I thank the Lord for leaving the scars in my life.  I hope that they continue to tell a story of God’s forgiveness and healing in my life. 

May this be your prayer as well. May we always ask God to heal the wound but leave the scar.

The Way I Tend to Be

I was trying to fall asleep one night, when I started to think about the fact that we really do not know those who are around us… even our own family.

By that, I mean we as people… being who we are – whomever that may be and whatever that may look like.  My thoughts mainly focused around the idea of pigeonholing people. We like to think we have a particular person figured out. For example, I would love to say that I have completely figured out my wife.  I believe I do know her quite well, but I could never know exactly who she is.  Some days she is a complete mystery to me.   I guess I am a mystery to her as well.  That being said, my wife probably knows me better than anyone but I know that I still surprise her from time-to-time.  Sometimes that brings her frustration and other times happiness.   How could she not know me after knowing each other for over 35 years?  The question that really needs to be answered is, “How do I expect my wife to know me when I am not sure I know myself?”  There are things about me that stay the same because there are some things about me that are the same way I was when I was five. 

In other ways I keep changing.  Yes, I constantly change.  I am influenced by education, interactions, music, experiences, opportunities, all of that.   I keep discovering things about myself and sometimes what I find out is not pretty or good.  I am sad about that.  I wish I could hide those bad things from myself and more importantly from my family.   The truth is not that simple.  They see my faults before I do.
puzz

Like a puzzle, I have always made it a life goal to never be truly figured out.  I always wanted to keep ‘em guessing.  The problem is that I have finally figured out that I worked way too hard at that.  It’s been really easy for me to focus on the negative things I have learned, especially since I’m trying to improve my weaknesses as a husband, father and grandfather.   Lately, however, I’ve noticed more positive things. I’m discovering new things about myself that have me a little excited – and surprised. It’s not that these new things are so exciting in themselves; it’s that I’m understanding myself better and seeing more clearly who I am.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”  – Dr. Seuss

I thought I would have had this figured out a long time ago.  However; the excitement I’m feeling about discovering new things about myself is worth the pain of finding out things I don’t like. Thinking that I’m one thing and finding out I’m something else entirely is scary. I’ve certainly ran away from discovering things about myself before, and I’m absolutely sure that I’m not alone in that.

I want to show you who I am, but I really want to show you that I’m not who you think I am.  I’m different.  I am many things—and I am one thing.  That is for sure, but I am much more than that.

Who am I?  

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

I am a man.  I am a “brother” and I am a “son”.   I am a “father” and a “grandfather”.  

I am trustworthy and loyal, but at the same time I am no Boy Scout.  No, I am certainly not. I am quite the opposite, in fact. And by opposite I do not mean Girl Scout.

As a child I was known as the baby of the family.  I am also a “mommas boy”.  I was known as the “Lee boy” and Linda Lee’s little brother.  I was known as the brother of those that were killed in the car/train accident. 

I was picked first and I was picked last.  I was the center of attention and I was ignored.  I was loved and I was forced to grow up too soon. I was easily forgotten and lost in the crowd.  My elementary school classmates would have hard time ever remembering me.  Just a picture of someone they don’t remember.

leisure suitIn Junior High, I continued being known Linda Lee’s little brother.  I was known as a stutterer and a Smart Aleck to cover the embarrassment of my lack of confidence. I was sure that a light blue Leisure Suit was the solution for all my problems.

I was now known to usually to get into fights  because I was small for my age and I would not have anyone try to put me in my place.  My anger and temper would usually get the best of me and the opponent was usually bigger and older than me.  I never walked away from a fight.  I’d like to think I never lost one but I am sure there are those that would have a different opinion.

I was legendary at Nerf Basketball in my bedroom and I was sure that with every Beatle, ELO, Elton John, Areosmith, John Denver and Temptations record I sang with would make me a star one day.  

RunnerIn high school, I was still known as Linda Lee’s little brother but I was also known as a runner, the cross-country kid that got de-pantsed in front of the whole school.  I was known as the first student in my class to earn his Varsity Letter as a Freshman.  I was also known as a transfer student and a basketball player.

I was too short, too skinny, too tall, too angry, too jealous, too loud and too confident.

I was known as being smarter than I let anyone know.  I did what I had to do to stay eligible for sports.  I was a underachiever and at times I overachieved… far beyond my abilities.  I was lucky and I was cursed.  I was not expected to amount to anything and yet I surpassed everyone’s expectations of what I would do in my life. 

Truth is…  I have never reached my full potential.

There was one thing I was but I wasn’t known for it.   I was a “Born Again” Christian.   I had a very deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ but unfortunately very few people knew this about me.  What many knew about me was what they would see at the parties and other places.  I would hide this relationship with Jesus Christ yet I would freely show everyone the desperate attempts of a young man trying to fit in.  It is truly one of my greatest regrets of my childhood.  I wish I would have let others know of my faith.  I wish I would have been the witness that God wanted me to be and that includes the time I was a student at Temple Christian Academy. 

People have known me by many titles and nicknames.

My sister calls me Dave.  (she is the only one gets away with that to my face) She has also called me “Dew Worm” as long as I remember.  Why? Who knows?  My brother had other nicknames for me that will forever be confined to vaults of my memory and hopefully to those of my family.

--In high school, I was “Double Deuce”  not because of the modern Urban Dictionary definition of the act of sticking up both middle fingers instead of just one for added emphasis on the unspoken message; while that could have applied to me in some ways it was rather the fact that I wore the number “22″ for every sport I have ever played.  I was the original “22″. 

I was known as Pam’s ex-boyfriend and from time to time, Michael.

I was known as the first of my family to go to college.  Then as a traveler.  I left the small confines of that small Ohio town and swam in the Amazon River and sojourned the plains of Africa and shook the hands of two US Presidents all before I was the age of 22.

There was a time when I was known as the “Sound Man”.  I engineered the sound board for many of the popular Christian acts of the early ’80′s.  I was also known during this time as a roommate to some of my lifelong friends.  Then I was known as a college graduate and someone who they used to know.

There was a time when I was known as Mr. Lee; but he died a long time ago.

To some, I was known as Coach, to others the teacher and to some the Principal.  If you knew me then, you would much rather have “Pepsi and Popcorn” than “Coffee and Doughnuts” with me.  (An inside joke and shout out for all to whom it applies).

I also was known as an ordained minister… a Bible teacher… to some a youth pastor, to others a Sunday School teacher.

I am no longer any of these things.

Today… to some I am known as the boss and to some, David. 

I am a parent.  Parenting is the kind of job for which there is no practice.  You give it your best shot, and trust that it is enough.  You hope that God will make your children resilient enough that they don’t suffer too much from who you are.  I am “Dad” to Nathan and Adam and “David” to Crystal and Cassidy.  There is no such thing as “step” anything.  

I am my own worst critic. I am success.  I am failure.  I am the silent majority.  I am a loud minority. I am a friend and I can be a foe.  

I am the proud husband of Pamela Renee.

I’m not what I thought.  I’m more than I’ve been.

I am Indiana William and Brody Michael Kirchenbauer’s grandpa.

I am a man that has come to the conclusion that compassion, understanding and forgiveness  of others and their problems are far better than the  judgmental legalism he raised with.

I am a simple man looking for grace and forgiveness.

I guess I am just starting to get to really know who I am just because I have the unmitigated gall of taking the time to understand and know who I am.

This I know…

I am not the man I was 20 years ago when I failed in my first marriage and lost my ministry.  I am convinced that myMyStory story is one of caution.  Caution for all, because if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

  It is a journey that is more common than anyone wants to recognize.  My story… follows a well-traveled spiritual pathway that leads from sin and failure right up to the Cross of Calvary, where our Savior died so we could know forgiveness, grace, and unconditional love.   That’s where you’ll find me today, gathered with all the other people who are scarred by their past but who’ve been forgiven, redeemed and gratefully clinging forever at the foot of the old rugged cross. 

If you’ve also made mistakes in your life and you long for restoration and wholeness, I hope you’ll come along and share my journey.  But please understand…these are my words and I am accountable for them. 

They tell my story, my journey and the way I tend to be. 

David Michael Lee

I AM CLEVELAND

It’s been over 48 hours now.   You and the rest of the world now know that Lebron is coming home.

I wanted to write about this yesterday but this is my first opportunity to get enough time to gather my thoughts together and put it all into words.

Before I really get into it, I need to unpack my mind of a few things.  Hopefully you’ll stick around for the whole post. Especially if you’re not from Cleveland or Ohio.  Even if you swore you’d never forgive what Lebron did or if you, like me, could care less about NBA basketball.

I need to make sure everyone knows… I AM CLEVELAND.  However, IACI was not born in Cleveland, Ohio.  I was born in Sandusky, Ohio.  That is about 60 miles from Cleveland.  Lebron James was born in Akron, Ohio which is about 40 miles from Cleveland.  Lebron says he is coming home and if “home” is 40 miles away from Cleveland then I will take liberty and say I am from Cleveland as well.  I mean what does 20 miles make when it comes to being home?  That being said, I have no ties to Cleveland other than the fact that it is “in Ohio”.  

My first loves of sports teams did not start in Cleveland, they were found in Baltimore.  Where Johnny Unitas threw the football and the Orioles were playing in the World Series. I did what kids have done since the beginning of time… I just followed where the championships were won and became a bandwagon fan.  Not because of the love of the team but because at the time that was all you could watch on TV.

Then as the championships faded away and those Baltimore teams fell into mediocrity, I became less and less interested in following them.  I could not identify with them. Then just like the first time you realize the existence of girls, my twelve-year-old mind and heart started searching  for something real, something I could love forever, something I could identify with.

I found it… or rather it found me in the city of Cleveland.

I don’t need to go through the list of heartache the City of Cleveland has endured cleveland-city-1when it comes to sports. The list is long and heartbreaking. I can tell you where I was when a majority of them happened. The City itself has had it’s share of tough times. It has rebounded and fallen again. It seems like just when the sun starts to shine on Cleveland, something happens and the clouds arrive again. I think that is why the people who love Cleveland live and die (more die than live) with their beloved sports teams. It’s their escape.  No matter how bad a team is, each season begins with it a hope that this is the year.  That “just once before I die” finally comes true.

It’s well documented but Lebron was one of our own.  He knew our long history of failure.  In a way that was both unhealthy and unfair, we thought he was going to be the guy.  He was just out of high school and we thought the storybook ending of one of our own delivering the thing that has eluded the city for so long was perfect.  I have always maintained that I wasn’t mad about his “decision” to leave. I was mad about HOW he went about it.  The “Decision” that took place four years ago wasn’t supposed to happen.

For the past four years I have always felt that Lebron was never comfortable in the role of villain.  He never wore that well.   He regretted the decision but it was something he had to do. Don’t we all chase something at some point in our lives? Sometimes it turns up as expected, but often it does not.  I always believed that Lebron would someday return, I just didn’t think it would happen now.

As the days passed the tension in Cleveland began to build.  I believed that if he chose Miami or anywhere else this time, it would crush Cleveland once again and I braced myself for that to happen.  This was not the 2010 decision.  He remained quiet.   Social media, national media and fan hysteria began to build like a title wave.   For days, twitter was a constant refresh and sports talk radio was filled with talk of Lebron.  Where was he?  What was he doing?   Who wewtam1100re the sources?   How would we know?   Web sites crashed.   Planes were tracked.  It was all a bit too crazy.

Then on Friday, I was driving back from Elyria with Cleveland Radio blaring in the background.  I also had my phone on just in case some news broke.  In a “where were you” moment, a “breaking news” alert came across the radio and my phone rang.   I listened as my brother-in-law (a devout Piston fan) yelled into the phone, “Your boy is coming home.”  Even he admitted that it was good for the people of Cleveland.

One after another after another, tweets linking Lebron’s essay on SI.com.  Apparently, Lebron wrote a letter explaining his decision and it was used as a press release.  The local radio hosts were going insane. It was a moment I will never forget.

And then they read the letter…..  (Click here to read)

I was smiling ear to ear as they began to read Lebron’s words.  Chills covered my arms and legs, as the radio host james16closed out the final words of his letter, he couldn’t finish.  He was choked to tears.  He paused, gathered himself and finished it out.  I understood everything he was feeling because I was misty eyed too.

Lebron was coming home.

But the emotion I was feeling wasn’t about Lebron… this wasn’t about basketball and it certainly wasn’t about sports.  This was about a love for a city.  This was about the city of Cleveland and it’s people.

I said this before and I say it again….with every fiber of my being, this is not about the Cleveland Cavaliers.  For me it’s not.  I am not even a fan of the NBA.  Oh sure… I sort of paid attention when Daugherty, Nance, Price, Hot Rod and Harper played for the Cavs many years ago.  But I am not even sure I will watch much more NBA now that Lebron is coming home than I did this past year… which was almost none.

I’m sure there are people who celebrated yesterday just because they believe this man will bring home a title.   For me, the last thing I thought about yesterday was titles and wins.  I thought about a City I call “home.” I thought about the financial implications.  I thought about the closed bars, restaurants and businesses that sit around the arena.  In true Cleveland fashion, they have fought and tried to come up with ways to give some kind of life to these establishments.  It’s been a struggle but they never quit.

With those three simple words, “I’m coming home”…  life and hope were delivered to a city I love.

People will come to downtown.  Life will be breathed into a city that desperately needs it.  People began to gather downtown as soon as the announcement went live yesterday.  The Cavs sold out their season ticket packages in record fashion.  Those are dollars that will be invested into the City.  They will arrive early and stay late.  They’ll support local businesses before, during and after the games.  Hopefully, they will continue to see a winning product on the court for years to come.

I can’t speak for all of us that are fans of Cleveland, but I think I can.  They, like me, love the City of Cleveland.sports They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I’m not just referring to their sports teams. They want to see their city alive like we’ve seen it before. They want Cleveland to be something other than a punchline or report of some bad press. They know the beauty that lies on the shores of Lake Erie. We’ve heard all about the “mistake” by the lake but we know the “potential” of what Cleveland can be.

I don’t know who’ll read this. I don’t know what city you’re from.  Maybe it’s a city that has always been on top.  It’s easy to cheer for a winner… it’s tough to taste heartbreak and loss.  Maybe you rolled your eyes at the endless string of Lebron posts on social media sites yesterday.  Maybe you’ve never understood “Cleveland Fans” or their reactions to the misery. 

If you feel the need to hold up your hand and show how many championships your team may have won and/or you feel the need to always make Cleveland the butt of a joke then you just don’t get it and I feel sorry for you.  Because you will never understand nor appreciate what it is to be a Cleveland fan.

For one day, for a few crazy hours, Cleveland fans lost their mind.  Emotions ran wild and this time it was mostly positive.  Frustrations were released.  Like I said, many probably are dreaming of championships and now place a huge weight back on the very broad shoulders of Lebron James.   Fair or unfair, that challenge is going to be his responsibility to make it happen.

Today… I celebrate for the City of Cleveland.  I am glad that Lebron is coming home.

After all… I am Cleveland.

Tis the Season…

Gifts boxesI know some of you are already finished and everything’s wrapped beautifully beneath your tree. I wanna let you in on a little secret – the rest of us don’t like you very much.

I’m that guy who’s out on the 24th and wrapping things minutes before the gift exchange, so right now I am cruising.  No need to panic just yet…I’ve got plenty of time.  I always think it’s more exciting with the panic and road rage I’ve grown so accustomed to.

Truth be told… I could live without all of the craziness.

Unfortunately, I don’t hide my feelings very well (understatement).   So much so that my wife sometimes teasingly refers to me as “Scrooge”.    But she knows me better than anyone else…  she knows that I amscrooge not a “scrooge”.  I love to give presents. I love to give them and watch my children and grandchildren open their presents.  I admit I am not a fan of the process, so much so that I defer to my wife to do the buying but I have no issues with doing the financing.  I just really believe that my reactions to the Christmas season can be misinterpreted. 

So what is my problem? What is it that keeps me from really enjoying the Christmas Season?

I’ll tell you…

I don’t like the process of me receiving  gifts.  Strange right? 

I find it awkward.  Uncomfortable. 

I am always the last to open my gifts and I just would rather open them up at a time when I am alone.  I know that that could get interpreted as being ungrateful (which I never feel) or maybe that I am taking away the enjoyment that someone would get when they give me a gift.  My intention is to not encourage either one of these reactions. So what is my problem? Why do I struggle with the process of accepting and opening presents that have been given to me? 

This is not something new to me.  I have always felt this way.  I do not remember a Christmas or birthday that I was looking forward to opening presents that were given to me.  As a matter of fact, I don’t remchristmas-listember a Christmas where I ever really asked for anything or was hoping for a certain gift or toy.  To the best of my recollection, I have never made a list and I most certainly never “expected” anything.  I don’t say these things to sound noble or selfless… it is just the truth of how I honestly feel and how I am.

I know that most people won’t get or understand this.  But after I resigned from my job and made a career change in 1994, I had to reinvent myself. I felt like a complete failure in life. I had never really had anything in life as far as material things go… so it wasn’t like I had lost a lot of “things ” in this life.

But as a result of that event in my life, I have learned some valuable lessons in life. First of all, I am here to tell you, you never know where life is gonna take you. You leave home, go to college or start your life and you do the best you can.  In that process it is so easy to get lost in this old world and forget who you are and where you came from. It is so easy to start believing that material “things” are more important than they are and you equate success to having “things”.  

I don’t want “things”. I could have a nice big house (with a nice big mortgage) and I could have the new car sitting in the driveway. I don’t ask for them because I don’t want them.  I have indeed re-invented myself and I have learned that having success and living a great life aren’t the same thing. You know? Success might hand you everything you ever thought you wanted… but nothing will keep you from a great life more than chasing after things and comfort.

We all work so hard to create a comfortable life, but most of us get chained up in the process.  And once we finally do get comfortable, we wouldn’t possibly consider changing course because of all we could lose. We make most of our life choices based on mortgage payments, car loans, insurance, and our 401K.

I choose to have a great life as opposed to having “things” that might be considered having success. My happiness is found in my relationship with Jesus Christ, my wife, children and grandchildren. It isn’t found in any “thing” I have ever had in my life.

That is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the gifts I have received over the years.  It is just I never expected them and most certainly were not taken for granted.

I guess it’s because my favorite Christmas presents I have ever received have not been neatly wrapped in paper and sealed with ribbons and bows.  My favorite presents have not come in boxes and as matter of fact… I struggle sometimes to remember physical gifts that have been given to me.

The gifts I remember and I cherish are the ones that hardly get noticed. At least not noticed by anyone else except me. I received one these gifts this weekend.  Our grandsons were spending the day with me and my wife. I Brody22was holding Brody (4 months old) as he drifted off to sleep and when I looked down to see his sleepy eyes close, I was warmed with the love I have for this child. My gift this year for Christmas is the opportunity to hold him in my arms and etch that memory in my mind and in my heart.  These times will pass me quickly and soon this little boy will grow up and move past having his grandpa hold him as he falls asleep. A wonderful moment in my life.  A gift. A gift I don’t take for granted.  A gift I don’t want to forget.  A gift that is better than anything I could possibly open in a box. A gift not wrapped up in ribbons and bows but is more beautiful than my words can convey. These are the moments in life that you hold on to.  That was one that I will remember as long as God gives me the ability to do so.

When my two-year old grandson Indiana says to me, “Grandpa… ready…setCARS… go…” I know he is asking me to line up all his cars on the floor and play cars with him.  We will spend the next 1/2 hour or so pushing them across that wooden floor to each other and with each squeal of “ready…set…go!!!” that Indy yells out, I will push each car at his command.  Each one a gift and a memory for me.  He too will one day move on… and soon enough will be asking me for the car keys to drive me somewhere.  Hopefully, I will be around for that one… because it too will be a gift and a memory for me.

I have received some special gifts from my family over the years that will always be precious to me. I have a special gift that I carry with me everyday and that gift is clearer in my memory on each Christmas Day.  These special gifts are the memory of when my children have used their own words and looked me in the eye and told me they loved me. That is the only present I want or need. That present is priceless. They are the ingredients to a great life.

As I stated, I choose to have a great life as opposed to having “things” that might be considered having success.

Tis the Season… yes… we are closing in on another Christmas. How might your Christmas be different this year if you stopped and considered not spending so much of your time and choices pursuing and buying “things” and focused on the important aspects of this life?  

This year, give your family and those you love in your life something they can’t give themselves. Write a handwritten note to tell them you love them. Look them in the eye and tell them thank you and that you appreciate all that someone has done for you in this life.

I can assure you, this Christmas there are no greater gifts you can give.

Foundations

I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life staring into a pit of red Virginia clay.

I was in between my junior and senior year in college and I’d stayed the summer to take some summer classes so BluePrintsI could graduate in December.

I was living in an apartment in Lynchburg and I was having dinner at a friend’s house.  He was a local contractor and was heading up the construction of a large building in the area.  

After dinner he was still talking about the huge project he was responsible for and was showing me prints and artist renditions of what the finished building would look like upon completion. It was obvious that he was so proud of the project and even though they were only three weeks into the project he asked me if I would take a ride with him to see the construction site.

Of course I said yes and soon we were on our way to see the progress of the project.

As soon as I stepped out of the car, I could tell something was wrong. There was nothing to see. No frame, no walls. No bricks, or shops. Nothing at all.

What had they been doing for three weeks?

“Unimpressed?” he asked.  (I must not have been hiding my feelings very well.)

“Aren’t you?”

“Looks good to me…What did you expect to see?”

“I don’t know…At least some framing. It seems like a long time to not have anything done.”

He looked back at me over his shoulder and smiled, but kept walking.

Basement Dug inHe led me over to a big hole in the ground in the center of the site. It didn’t look like anything, but he saw something different. He stopped and bent down, waving me over with his clipboard.

I was about to learn something that had led him for years.

I knelt beside him and looked into the hole. It must have been at least fifteen feet deep. And as I looked closer, I began to see it was part of an elaborate series of trenches forming a perimeter around where the building would soon sit.

He took a few minutes to explain how it all worked together and why this hole was different from the next. He told me they’d fill them with concrete and metal stakes that would secure the building in place.

When he was finished, he looked me in the eyes and said,

“You always have to build down before you can build up. You’ve gotta dig deep if you want to build high. Your most important work is the work you do before anyone notices or cares…It’s what makes everything else stand in the end.”

“I hear you, but isn’t this a bit overboard? Seems like you could have done less and be halfway done by now.”

“Maybe…but someday a storm’s going to come. They always do. And you gotta decide up front how big a storm are you going to be ready for. The time to prepare is way before it shows up.” 

Even in that moment, I realized he wasn’t just talking about the building. He was talking about what we build with our lives.  He was talking about how God can use us in this life to further His Kingdom.

I may not have fully understood at the time, but the years since have certainly made his point clearer.

The bigger your dream, the more you want to be used of God, the deeper you have to dig to make it happen. And it doesn’t matter how impressive things might seem above the surface. If the foundation isn’t solid, your beautiful building, or career, or life will end up crooked, sinking and failing in time.

It’s all about the foundation.  It’s about what’s underneath it all. It’s about how you’ll hold up in the storm.

The same is to said of your walk with the Lord.  Do you want to be used of God? Do you want to make a difference in this liFoundations1fe? Your walk must be formed with a firm foundation and the most important work is the work on your foundation you do before anyone notices or cares. Your foundation must be built on Jesus Christ. It is only that which has a strong and firm foundation on Him that lasts.

If I am completely honest, this is a very difficult lesson in life for me to write about. I am aware of the cracks in my foundation.  I am acutely aware of the failure in my life that can be traced back to the foundational weakness I had in my Christian walk all those years ago.

I have spent the last fifteen years of my life repairing those cracks in my foundation. There’s still so much work for me in the coming years. Even after all this time, God still shows me where He wants me to repair the foundation in my life.

Because a storm is coming. They always do, you know. And the ground beneath you must be able to support the weight of the hope inside you. Your life must be firmly set upon the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ.

But understand this… The bigger your calling, the deeper you’ll have to dig – the longer you’ll spend in quiet preparation before anyone seems to notice or care about what you’re building. 

Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 

I Timothy 6:19

If your foundation is sure, pay no attention to what things look like today. Keep going – keep building. Brick by brick. Stone by stone.  And in time, you’ll find that what you once thought was impossible is now reality…it will stand against the storms of life.

And someday… you will be just what God intended you to be.

A Non-Negotiable of Life

Over the course of the past week, I have been engaged in the preparation for employee evaluations. And in that process, I have to fill out my own personal evaluation to turn into my boss.  It is a self-evaluator tool where you have to write out where you think you are in relation tojob your job goals and performance.  My boss then takes that information and we meet to see if we are on the same page as far as these goals are concerned.

As I made my way through the questions, one question caused me to pause and stare at the blinking cursor for quite a while. I started to second guess myself… Do I be honest and say what I should or do I say what I think they want me to say? What to do? If I’m true to my word, I gotta own it. It’s a hill I’m going to die on. So I had to go with the honesty.

I might be strange, but if you know me, you know I don’t care about titles. I never have. I’m not in this game to get as high as I can on some corporate ladder. As I told my boss, people won’t discuss that at my funeral. They WILL remember how I treated people, how I loved my family and my wife. Was I man that was true to his beliefs and to his faith? That is forever. Titles are not. They fade.

That being said, have you ever established the hills that you would die on?  Do you know where the line is where you won’t cross?

Do you know your non-negotiables in life?nonnegotiable

That is why my family and my wife is a hill I will die on… EVERY… SINGLE… TIME. I will always choose my family and my wife over my job each and everyday.  That being said, I am thankful that up to this point in my life, my employer has not made me choose.

My professional goals at this point in life have changed over the past few years. My professional goal at work is to ensure that my wife is taken care of.  It is my sole purpose as far as my job goes. This may sound like an odd professional goal, but I believe I am a failure at any professional position if I am failing as a husband and my responsibility to make sure she is taken care of.

My children are adults now. They are 28, 27, 22 and 20 respectively and they are all moving on in their own lives.  They have to own their own destinations in life and to how they get there. While I understand that I will always be “Dad” but my job to raise them is over. All I can do now is give advice… I cannot make them do anything.    I also have two grandsons, Indy and Brody. The job to raise them is also not mine… it is that of my daughter and my son-in-law.  I get to enjoy the benefits of just being “Grandpa”.

Family is a non-negotiable in my core beliefs.  So to work a job and a position that fits my professional goal is something I am very thankful for. The job to raise my children is over.  My job is now focused on my wife.  I accepted that responsibility to take care of her when I said,”I do” and it is now primary for me until I take my last breath.

Filling out that evaluation for my boss, I was reminded that sometimes, when you know your non-negotiables in life, you won’t always have to die on that hill.

But sometimes you will, and it will always be worth the fight.

Every Kid Deserves To Be a Hero

baseballsLike many parents in Fremont, Ohio I have spent many late nights at the park watching my kids play ball.  Having my wife be at one game while I was at the other and then switching after three innings so that we could both see our children play are great memories.  My kids are now all grown and not playing ball anymore.  I miss those times. They went by so quickly.  For the past few years, I just drive through the park to get the feeling again.  Everytime I do, the memories flood my mind.  Often, I am taken back to my playing days… a long time ago…

As a kid, I loved baseball.  I would play it as often as I could.  Game days were the best. I usually spent most of the day dreaming of playing in the game that night.  Back in 1972, the ultimate sin on game day was the fact that we were forbidden to swim. ( Is that still a rule?) So, since I could not swim, I would play out the game in my mind. With my wiffleball and bat in hand, I took my place in my backyard playing out the many different situations of the game. In my mind it was always me that was up to the plate at the crucial time…and like always it was me that delivered the mighty blow to win the game.  I would be carried off the field in honor of my athletic feat.

Who of us hasn’t dreamed about the getting the big hit, scoring the basket or catching the pass for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game to secure the win for your team?  I believe that it’s every athletes dream that has ever played the game.

On a hot July day in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio something happened that I have never been able to forget.  It has been 36 years since this event and it feels like it was yesterday.

Here is what happened…

It was every boy’s dream.  We were playing a big game on that hot July day.  We were playing the best team in the league.  I did not start the game that day.  I was charged to sit the bench until it was time for me to get in my required one inning of play.  Don’t get me wrong, in my backyard I was always the hero, but in reality I was content to get my one inning and maybe one at-bat.

It was a very close game.  We had the lead 4 to 3 in the top of the sixth inning.  The coach had no other choice but to put me in the game.  I was sent to my usual place in right field and just prayed to God that I would not have a ball hit in my direction.  I did not want to be any part of losing the lead.  I would just be happy to be able to celebrate with my teammates after the game. Three outs and we would win the game.

The events that caused our lead to dwindle had nothing to do with me.  Not a single ball came in my direction.  The other team scored two runs in the top of that inning.  We now were losing 5 to 4.  As I ran to the bench after we got the third out, I looked up and saw my coach looking down at the score book.  Then it hit me…I may have to go up and bat!!! I went over and looked at the score book and saw that I was scheduled to be the 5th batter.

“Ok, maybe we can score two runs before I have to get up to bat.” I was hoping in my mind.  But fate would have it’s way that day. To my dismay, I was going to have to bat.  We had one man on second base and one on third.  Two outs and now it’s all up to me.  I reached down for the 28″ bat I used and started my way into the batters box. I am sure the sound of my knees knocking in fear could be heard in the stands.

RLLBI closed my eyes and reached deep down inside and gathered all the courage I had in my body. “I can hit this guy,” I thought to myself.  All I needed to do, was keep my eye on the ball. After all, I had done this a thousand times in my backyard.

Just a hit…a hit would at least tie the game.  If I hit it well, maybe I could score both of them and we would win the game.

“Don’t over-swing…just make contact” I told myself.

As I dug my cleats into the dirt, I tried not to show my fear.  I also did not want to look too confident. I only wanted to be the hero.

I settle into my standard Johnny Bench batting stance.

(NOTE: I am an Indians fan.  I have been my whole life, but back in 1973, there wasn’t a whole lot of players on the Indians squad that young boys would try to emulate.  So, just like about every other kid I knew, we took turns trying to look like Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds)

First Pitch…  here it comes…  right down the middle…  it’s perfect… I grip the bat harder with my hands and start to swing and I suddenly stop myself.

“STRIKE ONE!!!” the umpire bellowed.

I didn’t want to seem too eager…”Make him pitch to you” I told myself as I stepped out the batters box.  I reach down and grab a handful of dirt and rub it into the bat.  I would be ready if he threw another pitch like that.

Next Pitch…  here it comes…  it’s perfect! SWING

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, my memories begin with the crack of the bat, and the sight of the ball rising high into the crisp blue sky of summer. My mind raced…  “It was perfect and I got all of it!” I thought to myself.

Then something happened that had never happened before.  I don’t know why I did it but I did…

I put my head down and start to head to first base.  I was sure it was gone and I started go into my  backyard “home-run trot” around the bases.

As I round first base, I  keep my head down and keep on my trot around the bases. Thoughts of being a hero were rushing through my head.  I couldn’t wait to hear the cheers from my teammates, coaches and fans. It was exactly how I played it out a few hours before in my backyard.baseball

I reach second base,  my teammate is still standing there.  I wanted to tell him to run, because I just hit a home run.  But the look in his eye told me something was not right.  He was looking at me like I was the village idiot. Then suddenly I hear the sharp laughter of the fans, not to mention the cries of laughter from the opposing team.

“What happened? There is NO WAY that they caught the ball,” I thought to myself.

Then it hit me… no, they didn’t catch the ball… it fell well short of the fence and in foul territory!

I stop my trot around the bases, hoping to find a place to disappear.  There is no escape from the laughter of the opposing team and the snickers from my own teammates.  I pan the crowd to see who exactly saw this and to my dismay…just about everyone.

I look to see my coach just shaking his head…

I really don’t remember the last pitch.  Just the umpire yelling out, “STRIKE THREE!!!”

I have told this story over the years with many different endings. Sometimes, it’s another player who does this embarrassing act.  I then get to make fun of him. Sometimes it’s me.  I usually get a hit to tie the game.

Not often, but sometimes I tell the story as if I hit the home run to win the game.  I tell the story with as much conviction as any story I have ever told.

So, maybe it’s not exactly what happened.  But that’s the way it should have ended, and that’s the way I like to remember it.

And if dreams and memories sometimes get confused… oh well… that is as it should be, because I believe that every kid deserves to be a hero.  Even if that hero may stretch the truth every now and then.

The Summer of 1979

Young love seemed pretty simple. 

At least once upon a time, it seemed…simple.  

If you liked somebody, you let ‘em know. 

And if you didn’t, you let ‘em know.  One way or another, you knew where you stood.

All of us have searched for someone to love when we were teenagers. Someone who would make us complete.  We would  choose partners and change partners as we started our journey to find love. We would wake up each morning wondering if today would be the day that we would find our match. 

Because you just knew that there was someone, somewhere that would be perfect…  who might be searching just for you.

It was no different for me.

Young love was about sharing little inside jokes when the teacher wasn’t looking.  It was about passing notes during class.  It was about all the really YoungLoveWordstupid things you share.

It was about getting through those difficult adolescent years… together.

Once upon a time there was a girl I knew that lived on another street in some other town.

She had beautiful blond hair and blue eyes.

I fell in love with her the first time I laid eyes on her.  When she laughed, I laughed and when she smiled, I smiled.

She and I had been through it all.

The good times… the bad times.

The ups… and the downs. 

Every single thing that happened to me in my life that mattered, in some way, had to do with her.

She was my girl.

They say you can live a lifetime and never find true love. 

I guess I was lucky.  Because true love crossed my path the first time I met her.

Love makes you do funny things.  It can make you proud and it can make you sorry.

After High School, we weren’t the same two kids we had once been. 

Some things last.  Some things change.

We were young and scared and even though we didn’t know what was going to happen to us, or where we were going, we knew that things were changing on our path to adulthood. 

Change.  At seventeen it’s not always a pretty sight. In fact, it can get pretty ugly.

One night, I think we both knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be.

Other days.  New days.  Days to come.

We just had to understand that growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were and you wonder what’s to come.

One night late in the summer of 1979, we talked… about life… about our times together. 

We promised each other that no matter what, we would always love each other and we’d always know that we shared the best days of our young lives together.

It was a promise full of passion, truth and wisdom. It was the kind of promise that could only come from the hearts of the very young.

There are things in life that matter.  Things that happened in your past which can’t be denied.  She was part of me, and I was part of her. And no matter what, for as long as I lived, I knew I would never completely let her go.

As I reflect on the events of that summer evening, I would love to sit down and have long conversation to the 1979 version of me.

I want to tell that young man so many things…

I want to tell him to get help with his jealousy. I want to tell him to get help with his anger and his temper. 

I want to tell him to slow down, there was no rush, there was plenty of time for life to happen. 

I want to tell him to not miss the opportunity speak up and tell her his true feelings when he had a chance in the coming years. 

I want to convince him to wait six more months when he knew he should have.

I want to tell him to love those that struggle in life and to not be so judgmental to those who did.

I made these changes way too late in life to save people the pain and the hurt that I would cause in the coming years.

Things never turn out exactly the way you planned. I know they didn’t with me.

You go where life takes you.

I remember a time, a place and a particular summer.

I remember how it was.  I remember growing up among people and places I loved. 

Most of all, I remember the girl of my dreams and how hard it was… to leave her behind.

Twenty years later… mistakes, broken lives and broken marriages later… our paths cross once again.

Walking into that restaurant to celebrate the birthday of a co-worker on that fateful day, I was not aware that my life was about to change.  I look up and see her sitting there… the air immediately rushes out of my lungs and suddenly I am seventeen again and the warm winds of the summer of 1979 flood my memory.

Another chance to make it work.

Pam and IPam and I are now celebrating over 17 years of marriage and while it is not always the “picture perfect marriage” I thought it would have been when we were sixteen, it is indeed all I have ever hoped it would be and more.  She makes me very happy.  And I still have to catch my breath each and every time she walks into the room.

She is home to me.

She is my best friend and I am grateful for the life we share together.

Was it destiny? Was it always meant to be?  Who was right, and who was wrong?  Well, I’m 36 years older than that fateful night when we broke up, and I still can’t completely figure these questions out.

At times, late at night, near sleep, the troubles and the disagreements of a young couple in love in the summer of 1979 creep into my thoughts. 

So many things I should have said… so many things I could have done differently.

Over time, I discovered that young love is the farthest thing from being simple.

It’s no different today. 

Men and women suffer alone, over the bad choices they’ve made earlier in life. 

Young girls will get their hearts broken. 

And young men, naive and full of confusion…  full of fear… full of love and courage…  grow up stealthily in their sleep.

If Only I Had Enough Talent

When I was a kid, the thing I wished for most was to be talented. No. Not just talented. I wanted to be special. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to change the world with something I could do. I wanted to be remembered in my hometown.  I wanted to be someone who “made it” in whatever I would choose to do and make my mark on the world that would be remembered for years after I was gone.

And I believed I could…

If only I had enough talent.

That longing lead me down paths that almost all of us have journeyed. Drawn to sports, art, and a short-lived stint in the choir in search of my place to belong.

FootballLike most boys growing up, I dreamt of being a professional athlete.  Playing a sport I loved and getting paid for it was just the ticket for the dreams of a young skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

If I only had enough talent.

When you are 5’4″ as a sophomore and weighed a solid 95 lbs dressed in your footbbaseballall uniform with full pads and helmet… it was painfully obvious that football was not going to be in my future.  The fact that I grew 9 inches during the summer between my 10th and 11th grade years did not make the prospect of being a professional athlete any clearer.  Yes, I was 6′ 2″, but I also only weighed 130 lbs.  A strong wind could and would knock me over.

While I was not the worst player on any of the sports teams I played on.  The evidence was clear that I was not going to take Hank Aaron’s place in the Major Leagues, nor was I going to play for the Cleveland Brown’s at any time in my life.

I had always thought of myself to be artistic.  Why I thought that I have not a clue.  I have always loved to draw and be creative.  I tried to be artistic and there was a time I thought I was pretty good at it. Maybe I thought that because when I was in the fifth grade I won a first place    riLigerbbon at the Ottawa County Fair for a pencil drawing. I guess it gave me enough confidence that I convinced myself that I was talented.  That was until I compared my ability to those around me when I took art classes at Oak Harbor High SchoolI was suddenly made aware that my artistic ability was somewhere along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite’s when he drew a picture of a Liger.  Not so good.

If only I had enough talent.

Then there was the period in my life when I dreamed of what it would be like to be the lead singer of a band.  I mean I could sing all the notes of my favorite songmicrophone1s and bands when the music was blasting through the cheap speakers of my 1976 Ford Pinto.  It’s funny how we convince ourselves that we are as talented as our favorite singer we hear on our radio.  I mean who of us have never sang their heart out using a hair brush as a microphone?  The sad truth is that I found out how lacking of talent I truly was when I tried out to sing a solo for our choir concert. It was not pretty.

If I only had enough talent.

I have written numerous times about my search to find what my talent was in life and I have to admit, when I reflect back at my life, I am hard pressed to state exactly what my talent ever was.  I have had to come to terms that I will not be remembered.  Not even in the small town I was raised in.  I have not changed the world and for the most part the only true mark that I will ever make will be the slab of stone that my family puts up to mark my burial plot.

That being said… I think I have figured out why my mark on this earth is not what I thought it would be when I was Talent-Overrated-titledreaming of it as a child.  I think that talent is over-rated.  Yes…I said it.  Talent is over-rated.  Talent doesn’t matter that much in the real world. It’s a prerequisite to being average. It may open some doors, but it won’t keep them open for long. I’ve discovered in the real world, there’s something that’s far more important. Want to know what trumps talent every time?

Hard Work and Discipline.

I know, I know. They are ugly words! Even typing them makes me feel a pit in my stomach much like I feel when I have to pay my taxes each April. 

If we’re honest, we’ll all admit we should “be more disciplined”.  And it turns out that hard work is, well…hard.

Easier things are easier and usually more fun. So we put off the hard stuff for another day. And we busy ourselves with things we can argue are important, in an effort to avoid what we should actually be doing.

Relying soleHArd Workly on talent to get you through life can often lead to failure.  Why?  Because those that rely on their talent alone often fail to work hard enough to accomplish what they feel should have come easily.  They tend to avoid the discipline needed to overcome those areas in their life that are lacking.

It’s not our talent that sets us apart and opens the door to our future.  It’s our willingness and resolve to face the hard work, again and again – to get busy, not just with doing stuff, but with doing the stuff that moves us forward in our most important dreams and goals.

Like you, I lead a busy life; I can find an excuse when I need one. I can justify my bad choices and procrastination if I want to. But the deeper I get into life, the more I see and feel the price I paid avoiding the important things before me.  I am convinced that ata secret this point the reason no one will remember a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio is the fact that I never worked hard enough and disciplined myself to achieve all that I should have achieved.

Far too many times in my life, I have used excuses that would keep me from doing what I probably should have done.  I would say that I didn’t know what to do.  The truth is that I would choose to avoid the hard work and discipline it would take for me to overcome the obstacles that were placed in my way.

Yes, there are times in our life when we legitimately don’t know what to do. But too often, too many of us set up camp there when we were meant to just pass through. In time, we accept our excuses as truth and trade our energy for apathy. Eventually, we give up and settle in – far short of our potential, far less happy and fulfilled than we could be. And when we do, we tell ourselves we just didn’t have the talent, or the skill, or the knowledge to move forward. When the truth is… we simply did not want to work hard and discipline our lives enough to reach the goals we should have had in life.

So as I reflect on the fifty plus years of this life, I am drawn to challenge myself fopossibilityr what can be accomplished in this phase of my life. There is still time and there is still opportunity. More and more, I’m coming to realize that hard work and discipline isn’t an enemy out to shame me. It’s a friend with a key.

If you want to be special, If you want to stand out from the crowd and change the world by something that you do.

You can. All you need is enough… discipline and hard work in your life.

No, more than likely, I won’t ever be remembered in my hometown and the world will make little note of my passing.  But I believe that there is still more for me to do.  There are things I still want to accomplish in life.  Things I believe I can make the difference in.  These goals can be attained by instilling an attitude of hard work and discipline in my life.

The same can be said for you and the things left for you to accomplish.

And yet, there is a small part of me that still thinks that maybe this will be the year that I will get drafted by the Cleveland Brown’s…

If only I had enough talent.

Letters From The Heart

One of my prize possessions is a letter dated January 13, 1972.   Just a short two page letter that was handwritten by my grandfather.   He sent it addressed to “Master David Lee”.  (In today’s society, the use of “Master” as a form of address is extremely rare.  In my grandfather’s time, it was more commonly used  for addressing  young boys in formal situations )   It was the first real letter I had ever received.  There would be more over the years that he would write but none as special as this first one.

Now over 40 years later, my hands still tremble with excitement when I open that envelope.  I am amazed that he took time to hand write a letter to his grandson. The letter is just a two page note he had written from his winter home in Florida.    Nothing of any great importance in the subject matter of the letter, unless you consider how he expressed how much he missed me and how much he looked forward to the time we would be spending together during the summer months.    But most of all, he expressed how much he loved me.

My grandfather was a writer.  Not by profession, but by practice.  He wrote letters.  He had very nice cursive writing style and his writings were easy to read and easy to follow.   My writings pale in comparison.  I only wish to be as good as he was.

I often wonder if he knew what he was doing when he wrote this letter? Did he know he was leaving a piece of himself with me? I like to think that he knew that he would be making his grandson feel real special for a few days because he received a real letter from his grandfather.  It worked, it made me feel very special. Maybe he knew something that I am just learning.  Maybe he knew that he was leaving a part of his legacy.

In this day and age of technology and e-mail, very few people hand write anything anymore.  Most people do not hand write anything more than their signature on their credit card charge receipt.  I would like to change that.

This past year, I’ve written several letters to friends.  Many of them are living in my same hometown.  Typically, many people think of letter writing as something done with people living far away.   I don’t, however, it does  seem a little strange or even odd to write a friend I just had coffee with yesterday.    But I find many opportunities to write friends, who I see “face-to-face” in my daily life.   Why?  Because writing a letter gives me the opportunity to say thank you or give words of encouragement – not that I’m unable to do those things in person.  For I have a great desire to converse openly both in letter and in person – especially words of love, respect and gratitude.  With a letter, one doesn’t have to find the right moment, or set aside time to say what one wishes to say.  Letters provide a very intentional opportunity to communicate precisely.

One also feels pretty certain they have a captive audience from the reader – that is if they choose to read the letter.  So I’m curious, do you write letters to friends you see regularly or just those far away friends?  Do you even write at all?

My challenge is writing letters to the members of my family.  I have a web site specifically designed for them to read long after I am gone from this world.  But that is not the same as receiving a handwritten  letter from me.   I want to spend the rest of my life being a writer…much like my grandfather, not by profession, but by practice.

If I can, I want to write a handwritten letter to each of my friends that stood by me during my most difficult times in life.  I want to take the opportunity to express my gratitude for the support and friendship over the years.   One thing my grandfather always taught me was the importance of saying “thank you” properly to those in your life that deserve the recognition.  I want to write letters of thankfulness from my heart.

I want to encourage all of you reading this post to take this challenge today.  I am asking that everyone take a pen or pencil out and write your loved one a letter.  Challenge yourself, to answer the following questions:  When was the last time (if ever) you wrote a letter to you spouse?  Men when was the last time you wrote a letter to your wife?  To your children?  To your mom or dad?  To a special person in your life, maybe a teacher or friend?

The window of opportunity is growing smaller everyday.  Do it today…before you regret not doing it after they are gone.

Spend some time today, enjoying spring and writing some words of sentiment to a loved one – in a letter of course!  I know I am.

The next letter you receive may just be from me…

Putting pen to paper,

David

48 written,  136 and counting to write.

Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening

For my friends and me, our Sophomore year looked like it was going be a smooth year for us.  We weren’t the lowest men on the totem pole anymore.  We were men… men among freshmen boys.  More importantly, we were men among freshmen girls.

Sometimes in high school  in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio there were days when you felt like there was nothing much worth getting out of bed for.  But then, you remembered you were going to see…her.  Your day was going to have all these moments that were full of possibility.  You just knew that would see her in the hall.  You hoped that you would catch a glimpse of her as she walked into the cafeteria.  Maybe as the both of you switched classes between science and math class, there would be a possibility of you catching her eye and give her a little smile.  Not too big….just enough to send the message that you approved.  All you could do was hope that she didn’t catch you starring.

Ahhh… fifteen… You’re too young to vote and too old not to be in love.   Or at least in what you thought was love.  You live in a house someone else owns.  Your dreams are already somewhere else.  You are already planning your escape from the tiny confines of that small Ohio town.  You face the future armed with nothing but the money you’ve earned from mowing lawns, a three-dollar corsage and a light blue leisure suit.  And you hope against all hope that that will be enough.

There are very few things in life as purely terrifying as calling a fourteen-year-old girl on the telephone.   Especially a really cute fourteen-year-old girl… I asked and she said yes.  Her parents would only allow her to go if they could drop her off and then pick her up after the dance.  I agreed and as much as that kinda stymied my expectations and definitely ruined most of my plans for the perfect date, I was still excited.    I would meet her at the school for the Homecoming Dance on Saturday night.  

Now, most people don’t know this but there are two kinds of logic. There’s logic-logic and then there’s 15 year-old in love logic.  I was sure that nothing bad could happen.  At least nothing that would leave a permanent mark.  Had I known then what I know now, I would have walked the other way.

So, that Saturday, I stood there in my light blue leisure suit with my new floral silk shirt.  We met in the middle of the hallway.  The same hallway that we passed each other everyday for months.  She walked into the hall with a beautiful red dress on.  She looked just as I pictured in my mind, she looked beautiful.  I gave her the three dollar-corsage and we entered the dance.  The measurement of success that night was more about the entrance to the dance than the actual dancing.  All eyes were fixed on the door for the next couple to come through the paper machete streamers. We made the grand entrance and for a brief moment the world was spinning and revolving around us as we made our way into the room.  We were the center of the universe.

It was painfully perfect.  It was wonderfully uncomfortable.  It was terribly frightening.

After the third song we finally made it out to the dance floor.  We slow danced to a song I cannot remember.  And then she was gone.  She had taken refuge in the safe confines of her freshmen girlfriends and I found myself standing with the other lonely sophomore boys.   And so it happened.  My poor, fifteen-year-old heart crumbled into a little pile of dust and blew away.  It was over.

I still had a little self-respect.  I was not going to stand there with all of my other friends and watch our dates giggle, laugh and dance together in their little group at the other end of the dance floor.  I walked down to where my date was standing and I was going to tell her it was ok, we didn’t have to dance.  She said that she wanted to be with her friends.  I told her that I understood but I knew that it was time to let it go.  Time to move on.  After all, who needed freshmen girls?

I managed to slip out the side door without being noticed.  I walked towards home.  I put my head down as my mind raced to make up a story as to why I would be home so early.   I knew I had a few blocks before I would have to face the music with my family.  As I walked past St. Boniface School on my way home, I suddenly heard voices.  I heard laughter.  I looked up in the darkness and saw a few of my friends.  They left the dance as well and they were now swinging on the swings.  They were climbing and playing on the monkey bars in the playground.   Something none of us had done since our elementary days.

Maybe we all realized that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line  but maybe a series of advances and retreats.  Maybe we were learning that we were growing up too fast.  Maybe it was the fact that we missed something about our childhood.  I don’t know maybe we just felt like swinging.   But what ever it was, my friends and I made an unspoken pact that night to stay young for a little while longer.  Even if it was only for a few more hours.  There was no need to rush into life.  The responsibilities of growing up would come soon enough.

Eventually…I made my way home.  I walked slowly.  Walking past each one of those houses, called homes, I started to realize something.  I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front and its white bread on the table and the TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle to find love.  I was just starting out on my journey to find it…“LOVE”…I wasn’t even sure I knew what it was anymore…but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.

Walking up my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by starlight.  The world smelled fresh and clean.  I turned the handle of the front door and opened it.  Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.  As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up.  I could see in her eyes that she knew that I had a tough night at the dance.  She  gave me a big hug.  She never said a word and neither did I.  We didn’t have to…for in that moment I felt like a kid again.  Life and all of its responsibilities would have to wait.

Years passed and my quest to find love would be fulfilled along the way as I journeyed through life. 

It was everything I had hoped it would be and more…strange thing is… thirty five years after this “Homecoming Dance” I still find love to be…

Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening.

I’m Not Here For Myself

Standing there in the dimly lit hallway that leads to the maternity department, I watched as my son-in-law came through the door to announce the birth of my new grandson.  Grandson number two had made his appearance. Brody Michael Kirchenbauer was born on July 9, 2013.  

As it was when my own children were born, the reality and truth of the great news he just delivered caused a small piece of “me” to fall off from the man I am.  The wonderful desire to become my grandson’s teacher, protector, provider and friend, suddenly overtakes any desire that I may have had for myself.

I am reminded once again that I’m not here for myself.

Grandpa and BrodyBut it is different for me than it is for my daughter and for my son-in-law.  They have the responsibility to raise him and while I don’t have that responsibility I still feel a sense of purpose and a responsibility to do what I can to help my grandsons reach their dreams and goals.

As this “small piece” fell away from me, a much larger piece had just fallen off of my son-in-law.  I look into his eyes. His eyes have changed.  If you didn’t look closely it would have been easy to miss.  It is something that happens when the weight and responsibilities of a father of a new-born son and a budding toddler come crashing down upon his shoulders, he suddenly seemed far less concerned about his own future and desires.  His eyes tell the story as personal goals suddenly seem less important.

It has happened since the beginning of time. The moment when you first hold that child in your hands for the first time, the bulk of your attention and hopes are now focused on someone else and not on yourself.   The joy of receiving a child into your life gives you something outside of yourself to hope for – someone to dream harder for than you dreamed for yourself.  There is no way to truly understand until that moment  and your heart desires change.

I’ve thought about my journey with my own children. And I can’t help but think back to another me I used to be all those years ago.  I was single with no kids. I saw all the new movies and every concert that came to town.  I played music at all hours without interference from the volume police. I traveled. I slept in. I had plenty of time with my friends, and a little more “me” money in my pocket.

I didn’t know it at the time but something was missing in my life. 

I began to understand it in new ways the day my son was born.  He was a gift to me… a key that unlocked perspective and wisdom I desperately needed if I was ever to become who I was meant to be. In fact, I believe it was downloaded into me the instant he wrapped his little hand around my finger.  Five little words came to my mind that had never been truer, and would change my life forever.Clay and Brody

I’m not here for myself.

Do parents have a corner on this market? Do they get some greater opportunity at fulfillment than the rest of the world? Absolutely not! A child is not required. But for some of us, parenthood will lead us to one of the most important lessons we’ll ever learn.

I’m not here to attain or accomplish.  I’m not here to build a name. I’m not here to rise to the top of my field.  I’m not here for what I can earn or have.  I’m not here for myself.

This same resolution was seen in the eyes of my son-in-law as he delivered the great news of Brody’s birth as it was when Indiana our firstborn grandchild was born.  

I understand and appreciate the love we have for a child where we will lose ourselves, our dreams and desires for the hope that is found in having our children and grandchildren find theirs.

We find our purpose by laying down our self-focused hearts, minds and ambitions to offer the world what we have to give.  Hopefully, you and I will accomplish amazing things in our time. But in the end, most of it won’t hold the significance we think it might. We lose ourselves to find ourselves in our children. Our purpose and fulfillment are directly tied to how we can make the life of our children and grandchildren better than ours.  Ultimately our legacy will not be found in what we do but in what we leave for those who come behind us.

May I never forget that I’m not here for myself.

Welcome to the world Brody… your world will be filled with love from the Lee’s, the Sumner’s and the Kirchenbauer’s. 

Just Not Good Enough

It was the first day of practice – I was late.   I began to panic.  Maybe I’d come on the wrong day…maybe I’d come to the wrong place!  Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway.   I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players. 

And that’s when it hit me,  this was Jr. High School. 

And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.

1973.   It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move…looking for answers…breaking new ground and wanting change.

Seemed like everyone was searching for a new identity.  Me, I was breaking some ground of my own. That September I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High.   I was looking forward to new adventures.  I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang.  I wanted to play sports…not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.

After running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.

To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement.  For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed.  More importantly,  I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass  for the rest of the season.

I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey.  Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back.   I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets.  I was so proud.

I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey.  We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied.  I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright Christmas green jersey on.  I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.

I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.

Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 70 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face.  When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different.  Running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard.  This was going to take some time to adjust.

For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire.  Then the fateful event happened.  We had a football drill called “hamburger”, which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching.  On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach.  At that point, they run at each other. The  player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down.  After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.

I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be.  I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me.   So I watched to see who was going to line up against me.   I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size.  I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard.  Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE…front and center!!!”   I had been caught cutting the line…which was a big no-no.

He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball.  He makes me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying.   I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach.  Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player.   Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.

Earl Kashmere…that’s right and he was a monster.   Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High.   He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well.   Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face. 

I had never been hit so hard in my entire life.  My body went completely numb and I saw stars.  I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.    

Have you ever known those moments that changed your life?    Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you?  I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day.  I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t quit.  I stuck it out for the season.  I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I took my position on the team as a bench warmer. 

Profound moments of life are not all good moments.  This moment for me was ego destroying and my quest from that day on was to make sure I “got in the game,” whatever the game might be…even if it wasn’t football.  So my career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.  

That was over 35 years ago and every now and then when I see that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey, I smile and wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.

Every Breath is a Second Chance

Hhttp://thelegacybuilder.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/a_god_of_second_chances_medium.jpgave you ever considered the possibility that with every breath you take is a second chance?  I would like to share a story of how this was made a reality in my life.  I have never talked about this before.  To be honest, I am struggling with telling this story because I do not want the “event” to overshadow the “point” I am trying to make.   But here goes…

Years ago, I was having lunch at Bob Evan’s with a few of my friends.  We were talking and laughing and just having a good time.  As we were getting ready to go, I looked up and noticed that a woman sitting at the table next to ours had a very strange look on her face.  Even the people sitting at her table did not seem to notice her appearance.  Suddenly she stood up.  No words.  No noise.  Just silence.  She then started to wave her arms to get the attention of those sitting at her table.  No one noticed.

I am not sure what it was that made me react.  I have never had formal training in performing the Heimlich maneuver,  just what I had read on a chart at work. The only thing I knew was that she was choking and no one was doing anything about it.  I got up from my table and ran over to the now frantic woman.  I spun her around and I threw my arms around her.  I squeezed.  Whatever was lodged in her throat shot out of her mouth and I heard her take a very loud gasp of fresh air.   Within seconds the color came back to her face and although shook up by the whole event, she sat down at her table.  The look of panic on her face was now replaced with a look of disbelief.  That was the same look that was on my face as I turned around to head back to my group of friends.  No words were spoken. Everyone around us was silent.  It was if we all were in denial that what had just happened was real. We all were in shock that the event took place that I just picked up my coat and bill and made my way to the cash register.

This happened so quickly that some of my friends who I had lunch with did not see it.  I do not know how long the woman had been choking but for me the whole event was a mere 15 to 20 seconds long.  It was so surreal that it was like I was just a robot and I was just doing what I had been programmed to do.  All I knew was that for some reason, I just wanted to get out of there.

As I got to the cash register,  the manager came over and  took my bill.   He wanted to get my name and I was telling him that was not necessary.  I did not want to make it into a big deal and I was just glad that she was okay.  I then felt a tap on my shoulder.  I spun around to see who it was and it was the woman who had just been choking a few minutes earlier.   Our eyes met and she was trying to come up with words to say.  As tears filled her eyes, the only words that she could mouth was, “thank you” and she started to sob.  I did not know what to do.  I looked at her and said, “It’s okay, we all need second chances”.

I don’t know why I said that.  It just came out of my mouth.  Much like the whole event.  No plan or preparation… just a reaction.  I hurriedly left the restaurant and I never gave my name nor did I know hers.

I have never talked about it with anyone.  I am no hero nor do I ever want to get recognition for the deal.  I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Who doesn’t like second chances? We all can think of times in our lives that we would like to have a chance to start over.  Don’t you wish there was a big red “DO OVER” button that we could push whenever we messed up?  If you are like me, the button would get worn out because of the number of times it would need to get pushed to cover all of my mistakes.  But truthfully, that would be nothing but selfish. It probably would be better if I had a “Do Over” button that I could push for the people in my life.  When they messed up I could push the button and they would be granted another chance.  We all like to have our faults overlooked, we’re not so good at overlooking (or forgiving) the faults of others.  Why is it that we think everyone else should get what they really deserve, but we should be given a break?  Why is it that it’s okay for us to take a Mulligan, but we get irritated with others who do?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that this random, chance meeting of two people in a Bob Evan’s restaurant in Toledo, Ohio has made me a better person. It has allowed me to consider the fact that God’s entire kingdom is built around Second Chances.  He gives us breaks, forgives our sins, moves us into a different future…and this to people who have blown it again and again.

So consider this,  for every breath you take…you get a second chance.  A chance to get it right.  Another chance to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. A chance to forgive and be forgiven.  Another chance to say “I love you” to those that need to hear you say it.  A chance to “right a wrong”.  With each breath you take, you have a chance to change your life forever.

Sometimes I wonder what that woman did with her second chance.  Did she “right some wrongs” in her life?  Did she love her husband more?  Hug her kids a little tighter?  Did she have or start a better relationship with God?  Did she tell the people in her life that she loved them more often? Did she become a better person?  I do not dwell on these questions because I will never know the answers to them.

What I now realize in my life, is that when our paths crossed on that fateful day, I was a bitter person. I blamed everyone else for the problems in my life.  I was a hateful, angry person that took out his frustrations on people who did not deserve my wrath.  I had carried this angry, bitter, unforgiving attitude for years.  That day was the beginning of change in my life.

I am not sure if that woman made any life changing decisions as a result of this experience.  Maybe for her it is just a story to tell her children.  For me, I cannot help but think that maybe the second chance that was given by God that day wasn’t intended for her at all.

It was for me.

Love Your Dad? Ditch the Tie

IMG_0303Last night my son, Nathan, took me to a ballgame.  He bought my ticket and we enjoyed a victory by the Cleveland Indians.  We shared the moment just like we did when I took him to his first ballgame he was five. It was a great night… but not because of the Indian’s victory and it wasn’t great because it was “dollar dog night” or because there were fireworks after the game.

Father’s Day is tomorrow. If you haven’t already, you’ll be spending this afternoon running to the mall in search of the perfect present.

On behalf of all fathers, I’d like to deliver a message to anyone who has a Dad or is married to one. It might be the thought that counts, but you can’t wrap thought up in a box.

So let me give you some advice… if you are looking for the perfect gift and you find yourself in the tie department at Macy’s, hating yourself along with the rest of tie-giving children of  father’s like me. It’s time to realize it’s too late, futile and time to give up.

Your father doesn’t want another tie.

If he wants to read a book, he’ll buy it.  He doesn’t need another shirt, but if he did, he’d go get one. There’s not much he wants that he can’t get on his own.  But there’s one gift he longs for that you alone and only you can give – and you won’t find it at Brookstone.

Let me let you in on a little secret…

Inside the heart of your father and almost every man you know is a young boy who once wrapped a Super Hero Cape 2towel around his neck and pretended he was Superman.  He wears that cape proudly because it makes him believe he can fly. It makes him believe that all things are possible and it makes him believe that he can be a hero that can make a difference in this world.  Then one day this young boy grows older and abandons his dreams to fly, but he never quite loses the hope that he can save the day. He spends his whole life chasing his moment of glory, trying to build something bigger than himself, something that will leave a mark on the world that he couldn’t.

Then one day, hopefully sooner than later, if  you’re lucky, you will come to realize that the mark that he wanted to leave in this world …was you. You are his legacy. You are his reason why. You’re directly tied to his purpose…and therefore, his self-worth as a father.

So you won’t find what he wants at the mall.

Want to make this the best Father’s Day ever?

Tell your Dad you love him. Don’t write it down. Just tell him directly, with your own voice and not through a  Hallmark card.  Speak from the heart.  Make a moment of it. Thank him for the work he’s done and the sacrifices he’s made for your sake. Thank him for the best of what he’s planted in you however smSUPERMAN_LOGO_all or big that may be.  And maybe once again in his life he can feel the cape of Superman around his neck.

I am no different from these other fathers.   Along with my wife, I have raised four children and if the walls of our home could speak they would tell a story of the struggle of a blended family trying to make it work.  It wasn’t perfect and I made mistakes and there were times when life was hard on all of us.

But I have a special gift that I carry with me everyday and that gift is clearer in my memory on each and every Father’s Day.  That special gift is the memory of when my children have used their own words and looked me in the eye and told me they loved me.

So last night, after the game, when I dropped my son off at his apartment just o28 (2)utside of Cleveland.  He looked me in the eye and told me he loved me… I received the best gift I could ever receive for Father’s Day. He gave me a gift only he could give…one that did me a kind of good I can’t even fully explain. Words fall short but for the moment I could feel the cape around my neck once again.

Love your Dad?

Ditch the tie.

This year, give the Dad in your life something they can’t give themselves. Tell him you love him…with words you’ve never used before.

On behalf of all fathers, I can assure you, there’s no greater gift than to give him another opportunity to wear the cape once again.