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.

Bookmarks in The Pages of Life

Life is a book of pages. 

We laugh. We cry. We smile. We stumble. We stand. We fail. We succeed. We win and we suffer loss.

Every page defines who we really are. On some level we all “bookmark” the events in life so that we can bribookmarkng them up in our memory to be relived as we move on in life.

The goal in life is to have one perfect memory that is all about those moments, big or small, that make you wish they’d last forever. Those moments you want to stop in time, when everything feels perfect, even for just a split-second.

Snapshots of the mind. Moments to treasure forever.

It is easy to bookmark the great things that happen in our life.  We do not struggle to remember the events in our life that are good.  We can remember almost every single detail of  good life events.  Great memories of graduations, engagements, weddings and almost every detail of our child’s life from birth to this very moment.  These are easy to bookmark and if we are lucky enough, we are able to put a few of these pages together to create a nice “chapter” in our book of life memories. 

The sad part is that we all have bookmarked pages of life of things we do not want to remember.

Life is full of these bookmarked moments.

Life is complicated. It starts before we’re ready, it continues while we’re still trying to figure out the point of it. And it ends before we’ve worked out just what to do.

I’ve learned that in an instant life can change.
Just like that.
No warning.
No rewind button.
No pause or stop button.

Suddenly we are scrambling to “bookmark” memories as fast as we can in our minds.

Sadly, I have had to this a few times in my life.  

My brother Bobby and my grandfather in 1970. Just a few months before Bobby died.

At 9 years old, I had to scramble to bookmark memories of a 14-year-old brother that was taken from our family in a car-train accident.  I can remember almost every minute of that fateful day he was taken from us. But I think that over time when we block out the pain of loss, it causes us to lose some of the precious memories.  These “bookmarks” have faded with time and now at 54, I struggle to remember him.  

I lost my grandfather in 1986. I have great bookmarked memories of him.  He was a great influence on me and there isn’t a day I don’t wish I could talk to him one more time.  The funny thing is that I have some bookmarked memories of him that I choose not to open in my book of life memories.  I systematically only open the pages that make him larger than life.  I only open the pages that fit the image I have of him in my mind.  Those pages of him acting poorly or negatively, although bookmarked, will remained closed and locked. Never to be opened again in the confines of my mind. I guess we all do that on some level. When someone dies, we freely open the “good” pages and quietly put those bookmarks that would taint the memory of a loved one under lock and key. 

Me and Bryan Blakely in our our “Leisure Suits” getting ready to pick up our dates for the 1975 Homecoming Dance.

Many of the bookmarks in my life were influenced by Bryan Blakely, my childhood best friend.  The first pillar in my life.  The days of my early childhood were influenced by his presence in my life.  Not much happened in my life from the age of 5 to 16 that Bryan and I did not experience together.  Somewhere along the age of 16, we started to drift into different directions. Over the next 30 years whenever our paths crossed, we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets in Oak Harbor, Ohio.   He died in June of 2009. 

My best friend from my high school years took his own life.

Steve and I during our senior year in 1979.

Now that is a bookmark that I would rather not have to open. I was devastated.  I was confused.  I was filled with questions. I was overwhelmed with regret.  I was angry.  I was ashamed.  I was frustrated.  I was hurt.  I was all of these things and more.  

I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing Steve Schueren.  Steve was my closest high school friend.  I looked up to Steve and I will always hold him in high regard as a man of God. All the bookmarked memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered.  All of us who knew Steve know that he will live forever in our hearts.

Bob Emrich

About the age of 16, I was introduced to a man who would become so influential throughout my teen and adult years.    He grew to be not only be my friend but he was no less a father figure in my life.  Our father/son relationship lasted for years.  Bob Emrich loved me as a son and he loved me unconditionally.  God took him home after a battle with cancer.  He wasn’t perfect but he taught me so much and I still miss him everyday.   There is no doubt of his influence in my life. Forever bookmarked in my memory.

One would think after reading this, I would have this bookmarking thing down.  But like most people, I move from day-to-day not really paying attention to how quickly things could change.

This past week I was reminded once again of making every effort to bookmark memories on the pages of my life.  Phil Disney is someone who I traveled with when I was in college.  As some of you may know, I traveled with a singing team all over the United States and the the world when I was a student at Liberty University.  Phil was a member of the same team I was on. To say that Phil and I are great friends would be an overstatement. We have the common bond of similar bookmarked memories of our time in college. We are friends on Facebook and every now and then we may comment to each other on something we post. But last week, I was shocked when I heard that his wife had suddenly passed away. 

Phil and Jana Disney
Phil and Jana Disney

There it is again… life can change in a moment.

By all accounts, Jana was a wonderful wife, mother and friend. More importantly, she was a true example of a Godly woman.  I spent a few hours this past week reading all of the comments and memories of her.  What a wonderful legacy she left upon her family and her friends.  All of these memories are the bookmarks that each and every one that knew her will retain for the rest of their lives. 

Another reminder to pay attention to all of our life moments because it all can change in an instant. 

Why does it take big kicks in the behind for us to realize what’s important in life?  Most of the time, I believe, it is because we get caught up in chasing things in life. Whether it be money, materials, certain experiences we think will solve our problems or even people. Sometimes we get so engaged with everything in the future or in the past and what it can bring us, that we forget about all that is right in front of our faces.

Are you paying full attention to the things you love? To each moment? What memories have you bookmarked in your memory? I implore you to start with one thing today. One thing you want to experience fully.  Maybe something that will be with your wife, husband, your children or grandchildren. 

Maybe you need to make yourself available to allow a loved one to make a bookmarked memory with you.  Remember your children are making bookmark memories with you as well.

I realize more and more how incredibly blessed my life has been and I know a good part of that must pay tribute to the people that surround my life, past, present and future.  

Lives that vary so greatly, the people I went to school with formed a good part of who I am today. The good, the bad and all of the in between!  

Time goes quickly and some stay in touch more than others, but there’s a bond in growing up in the small town of Oak Harbor, Ohio or in the time spent in a small Baptist Church and Christian School that only those there can understand.  I suppose it’s the pros and cons of living with a small group of people that knits our hearts together.  The losses that take their toll on such a small community can seem larger than life because of the percentage they take away from the whole. They can feel like holes that are irreparable.   But at the same time the wonderful memories of victories are celebrated as monumental events by one and all and are remembered fondly.

My challenge is for anyone reading this is to take the time to make memory bookmarks in the confines of the hearts and minds of your family.  In turn you will be able to do the same, before it’s too late.

If something were to happen and in that instant when everything would change for my family and friends, I  guess there wouldn’t be much more to say than this…

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.

Being Real: Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

I have been attending church pretty much every Sunday since I was nine years old. 

I am not uniqBeing Realue in that… I am sure many of you who are reading this can say the same thing. 

My church did indeed preach the Gospel. 

Salvation was offered to those that trusted in Jesus Christ and believed that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect, sinless life and was crucified on the cross to pay for the debt of sin that mankind had committed.  He rose from the grave three days later and now sits at the right Hand of God.  All an individual had to do was ask the Lord for forgiveness and accept Him into their life.  That is still what I believe.

However, growing up in a church that tied the reality of your relationship with Jesus Christ based more upon the length of your hair and your basic overall appearance is not what everyone else experienced. 

The church during that period of time was caught up in what was commonly called “legalism”.  The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible.  It is a term used to describe a belief that emphasizes a system of rules and regulations for achieving spiritual growth and evidence of salvation.

The truth is, however, even true believers can be legalistic.  As a believer who has endured the worst that can come from the judgment from other believer’s, I can speak with authority on this subject because I am a recovering legalist.

I spent a good portion of my life judging other people in their walk with Jesus Christ.   For many years, I sat back and did my spiritual evaluation of other believer’s, all the while my own spiritual flaws were masked and hidden by my own self-righteousness.  It is one of the greatest shames I carry in my life. 

I have always said that my greatest failure in life was not the fact that my first marriage ended in divorce.  My greatest failure is that I was part of something that judged and hurt those that struggled in this life.

I am a recovering authority on the subject of legalism.  However, it is not the intent of this post to cover all the issues that come with this subject but I do want to discuss a few of them.

I have always referred to the principles of legalism as “the list”.

dont_listIt was the first thing we gave to new converts. The list was made up of all the things that you were supposed to do and not supposed to do if you wanted to keep God happy and remain spiritual.

Most of the things on the list were good things—some of them even came right out of the Bible.

But some of them didn’t.

They were passed along to me from several sources, some from the traditions of my church, some from my training and education but mostly they were instilled in me by my Pastor. I was “taught” that if I did the things on the list that my life would be good. It was like a bill of goods…if you invested yourself into keeping the list you could reap the benefits of God’s blessings and find true happiness in this life. I bought it… hook line and sinker.

The “list” really came down to one question: “Real Christians don’t ______?'”(You fill in the blank).

Jesus died and rose again, martyrs were split in two, and the Church has prevailed for almost two thousand years against the gates of hell so that Christians today can live out this ever important testimony to a waiting, watching world to tell themselves that… Real Christians don’t ____?

Well, I believe it’s time to get a few things straight. The world isn’t waiting for Christians; the world doesn’t care.

In fact, by a large margin it is only other Christians that care about what other Christians do or don’t do.

Why have Christians made such an important issue out of keeping to this list? I believe it’s because we want something clearly identifiable that will distinguish us from the world. We want to be different. We want being “born again” to evidence itself in some clear, tangible way in our world.

That much is good, but Godly men and women have historically distinguished themselves in much more important ways than keeping a list of do’s and don’ts. 

Christianity gravitated to this list of do’s and don’ts because it spells out the distinctiveness so clearly. However, the problem and the danger at hand is that being born again can become a simple matter of following a prescribed formula as opposed to living a vibrant joyful walk with Jesus Christ.

Not that there aren’t any do’s and don’ts in the Christian faith.

Can you SpotThe New Testament is full of directives for Godly behavior. But the Biblical guidelines are much different from the ones found in popular Christianity, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the difference.

The rules for behavior in the Bible deal with less noticeable things and it involves commands which are harder to fulfill than the non-issues that we have created for our own Christian identity.  So we need to ask ourselves a few questions…

  • Which is easier to follow: Real Christians don’t envy or Real Christians don’t dance?
  • Which one gets noticed first: Real Christians don’t lust or Real Christians don’t smoke?
  • Which is harder to comply with: Real Christians love their enemies or Real Christians go to church on Sundays?

To tell a believer that they cannot dance, smoke and that they should go to church each and every Sunday is easy to define and expect from a believer.   Obviously aspects of behavior such as envy, lust and loving our enemies are so much harder to define and to follow.

I can maintain the “list” and still fail in the envy, lust and loving my enemy’s part and many other tenets of God’s desire for my life. 

Truth is…I believe maintaining a list of do’s and don’ts is a dangerous way to assume Holiness and approval from God.

But that is not how the legalist sees it. The legalist creates their own manageable system of weighing and measuring people.  They become like the Pharisees, who regulated righteousness into a long, involved list of steps and procedures, cumbersome indeed, but fulfillable.

So, in many of our churches, I’m afraid it comes down to maintaining this list of:  Real Christians don’t ______ for many believer’s.  They never have to grow past the need for the list and never really have the need to learn or experience what grace truly is. There isn’t any need for them to do so.

Don’t you think Jesus Christ died for something more?

That being said… many of the principles on the list were good ways to live your life and I am sure good ways to keep you on the right path. But surely they were not absolutes as they were presented.

More importantly none of them had virtually nothing to do with my salvation. Without sounding like an immature Christian, the length of my hair, the music I listened to or the fact that I went to the “movies” should not have defined my Salvation. What it actually did was reduce my spiritual walk to a list of bare-minimums-I-have-to-do-to-be-a-Christian.

I struggled with keeping up to the tenets of the list.  My spiritual life was at best “yo-yoSurvey questionnaire” Christianity. Keep the tenets and all was good… fail at one and you were failing and falling fast away from God.   

My walk with the Lord was filled with up’s and downs. Mostly downs because I couldn’t keep up to the standard of the list.  It did not keep me from trying…I was taught the list was the key to my successful walk with Christ.

The problem was what the list did to my Christianity. It became way too much about performance, and not enough about the reality of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Spirituality” became more of an issue of conformity and obedience rather than living out the fruits of the Spirit as God intended.

The progression of the list leads to what I call “the line”

The line is when you consistently keep the tenets of the list.  When a person kept enough of the list to be what they felt was “spiritual” they could draw a line of distinction between themselves and from those who did not.   If a person could make it to the line, he could feel good about Measure Uphimself and his personal relationship with God.

By measuring up to the line, a person could feel like he was good with God. And he could also feel like he was better than others. I cannot help but think of it as spiritual arrogance.

But sadly “the line” leads to “the look”.

Appearances became the most important part of life. And what was seen on the outside was prioritized over what was happening on the inside.

It’s not that some good things weren’t happening on the inside in my life—they were. But things like peace, love and joy weren’t as important as the Bible says they should have been. And no one was judging my spirituality by that. They were judging me based upon the tenets of the “list” and how close I was to their “line”. 

Both of these things made the “look” all the more important in my spiritual walk.

list2When you are a legalist, you spend a lot of time evaluating others, making sure they measure up. What does their “list” look like?  Does their list include all the important things that are on my list? And where is their “line”? Is it up there where it should be?  Or could I consider myself more spiritual since my line is higher? And do they “look” like they should? Or could I look down on them for looking weaker than me?

This evaluation was often called by some pastor friends as “fruit inspection,” which obviously refers to the verse in Matt. 7:20 where it states, “Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

All masked in the name of spirituality, when in actuality it was judgmentalism.

Many Christians wait and watch to be entertained by the latest episode of spicy details in the rise and fall of another believer. What we have here is not just another failure of a believer but clearly an in-house problem among our body of believers as a whole.  notgossip_lg

From my personal experience, sometimes the greatest gossip opportunities are the very “prayer meetings” we have in some of our churches. Prayer requests masked in the intent to “share” a little of what we heard or know about the failure of another believer.

Nothing but plain gossip if you ask me… but that is another discussion for a different time and place.

One of the most troubling things about legalism is that it keeps us from growing to be totally dependent on God.  Jesus saw legalism in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for their rules, but never for their discernment. Here’s the thing: When we depend on a checklist of rules to determine our decision-making process, there is no room for discernment. The Pharisees’ mindset would be “Give me the law. I want the rules so that I don’t step out-of-bounds.”

Following a checklist rules reveals something else: it reveals a lack of faith in God’s leading in the lives of others.  It says, “My confidence is in man’s teachings” rather than in Christ alone.  But God has a much better way. His way requires a daily surrendering of our will to His.  His way bears fruit.  It’s not burdensome and it’s not bound by legalism.

Ironically, I’ve been wrestling lately with the flip side of being a recovering legalist.  I struggle with judging and we_all_sinbeing critical of those who are caught up in throes of legalism. I find myself making fun of them.  I find myself even thinking that I am somehow superior to them because I see the error of their way and I found the right path.

This type of judgement is just as bad.  It shows my attitude and posture towards other Christians in whom I perceive the tendencies of legalism. Christ has been so patient with me, yet I’ve not always been as patient with them.

Instead, I’ve become so preoccupied with what I perceive to be their tendencies toward an imbalanced judgement of others and a separatist denominational spirit that I’ve sometimes lost sight of God’s grace in their hearts and ministries. This too is a legalistic tendency and needs to be erased from my life.

I also see that attitude among other believer’s that have come out from that background.  The very same haughtiness and judgment that I have witnessed in those that held to legalistic rules and regulations I see in those who are critical of  legalism.  They have no idea that they are just as guilty.

Thank God for Grace… after all, it’s His work, His power, and His presence in our everyday lives that becomes our true source of confidence and strength as we follow Him together.

I am still in recovery and I have a way to go. But now instead of keeping my eyes on the deeds and actions of others, I will fix my eyes on cross of Calvary.  I am starting to see forgiveness much differently than I have in the past. In the past I would simply ask God to forgive my unforgiveness of others… the older I get I see that God wants me to ask forgiveness of those that I have something against. Like Jesus Christ who forgave those that betrayed Him, I need to forgive those that have done me wrong.

So if you can relate to this story, please let me know… there is strength in numbers.  I need to continue my path to recovery and your invited to come along for the journey.  Maybe we can all find forgiveness along the way.

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

Taking Time for Silent Nights

There are only a few more days until Christmas Eve.

I am sure there are people out there that are starting to panic as the realization sets in that the shopping is not finished and the gift’s are not wrapped.

SilentNightsAlthough the Christmas season is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the stress that comes with the season. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in everything you have to do, such as visiting family members, buying gifts and attending multiple Christmas gatherings. Before you know it, you can feel so stressed that you simply want the season to be over so you can have some time to relax. Sometimes life during this Season is so loud it is deafening.

If there is anything we all need to do more of during this season, it is to take time for silent nights.

My wife and I are done with the wrapping and the shopping.  Maybe the better way to say it would be… my wife is done with the wrapping and the shopping.  I’ll give credit where credit is due. She gives me the best Christmas present every year. She takes care of the buying and wrapping and she is gracious enough to me give the opportunity to experience a few of these Silent Nights before Christmas Day.

I am learning that it’s important to take some time out for yourself during the next few days. Don’t turn this Christmas into something you dread. By just taking a little time out for yourself from time to time can help you get your perspective back, helping you to relax and enjoy the joy of the season. Sure, you have a to-do list that is multiple pages long, but if you can take time for a few “Silent Nights” it will allow you to really remember and enjoy the meaning and the joy of Christmas.

Try to embrace the holiday season this year.  Soak up every minute. Cherish every shared laugh of your children and grandchildren.

It is easy sometimes to slip, inviting stress and distractions to interfere in the celebration of Christmas. It is easy to focus on expectations, “to do” lists and activities that the day after Christmas you come to the realization that you were so busy that you missed the opportunity to enjoy the season.

It’s when I choose to slow down and choose to be silent, everything changes.

It is then I hear God’s voice in the laughter of my family and in the giggles of my grandchildren. It is when I feel His love in the hugs of my friends and family. It is when I see Him in the twinkling lights, and in the love that brings us all together.Silent

This year I want to be silent and listen. I want to make memories that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I want no regrets this Christmas. It’s what I want for my family and friends and it’s what I want for everyone that reads this post.

So today, take a deep breath.  Soak up every conversation, every shared moment with those around you.

Be still. Be Silent. Listen.

A Silent and Holy Night is coming.

Don’t rush it. Don’t stress over it.

Embrace it. Cherish it.

Be thankful for it.

Make this choice today and see what happens to your Christmas this year. –

 “Be still, and know that I am God.”

 Psalm 46:10

Joseph’s Lullaby

With Christmas decorations comes the inevitable arrival of Chempty-mangerristmas music… that to some people is pure joy.  I think my sister-in-law, Lynn starts playing Christmas music some time in mid-August.  Normally, I wait until about week before Christmas Day to start the music… but not this year.  For some strange reason I have listened to more Christmas music than ever.  I think it’s partially because one of my favorite bands (The Sidewalk Prophets) put out a new Christmas CD.  Their song “Hey Moon”  (video attached at the bottom of this post) is the best Christmas song I have heard in years.

Last night, like many other nights, I sat down in front of my computer to do some writing and do some editing of posts that I have written over the past month. Unfortunately, I found myself staring at a blank page in front of me.  So I turned on some music for some inspiration.  I like the music of MercyMe and I just sat in my office staring off into the abyss listening to them when the lyrics of one their songs hit me like a ton of bricks.

I love how it’s written from Joseph’s perspective. The new father singing a lullaby to the One that would soon change the world.

Incredible.

Joseph knew what was in store for the child.  He knew the price that was going to be paid.  He knew that this newborn son was born to die and pay the price for the sins of the world and that of mankind. He knew that this child was going to experience pain.  The lyrics of this song really got to me tonight.  Not just the song, but one line in particular. It gets me every single time.

The lyric is this….

For tonight, simply be my child.

I remember when my first-born, Nathan was born.  I really thought I was preHand_holding_finger_bw babypared to be a father.  In reality, I was nowhere near ready to take on the responsibility that soon would be mine.  I am not sure anyone is truly prepared for the changes in life that happen when you first become a parent. My perspective in life changed in the micro-second of when I first touched and held him in my arms. I felt the same responsibility when my son Adam was born as well. For me, being a parent was something magical… something incredible. Your goals change and you realize that you are no longer here on earth living for yourself.  You want to create this perfect world for your child, where they will forever be protected and not experience any pain or hurt in this life.  

My sons are now 27 and 22 years old and the parent in me still wants to protect them. I still do not want any hurt or pain of this life to effect any of my children.

I cannot fathom or comprehend the emotions and thoughts of Joseph and Mary as they held this perfect child in their arms, knowing that he would carry the burden of the Cross of Calvary.  Would it have been selfish of them to ask God to give them a break and allow Jesus to simply be their child for a brief moment?  The father in me says no.

As Joseph and Mary understood that this perfect child was given by God to pay the price for mankind’s sin. They would not be able to protect him from what he was going to face. We as parents realize the same is true with our own children.  We can help them and we can hope that the pain of this life passes by our children but we know that the inevitable is coming. It’s part of life… but that does not keep us as parents to stop trying to protect our children regardless of their age.

We have so many visions and dreams of what our children will be one day. We know early on what their potential is and having lived as long as we have on this earth, we also know the challenges in life which lie ahead for our children. We also know enough to accept the fact that there will be surprises too. As we watch them grow up in the various moments of life, we as parents, often think back to that simple line….

“Simply be my child”

I do not want and most assuredly I do not want my children to speed through the moments of life without having memories to look back on.

I am learning that as I grow older my memories are a lot like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, from personal experience, my advice to all of us would be to withdraw as much of the bitterness, anger and disappointment in your life while you can. Start depositing more family time memories, more contentment and less regret in the bank account of your memories. Because the world and all of its pain and challenges can wait. Soon enough there will be plenty of things that will steal our attention and time.

As we navigate the hustle and bustle of this Christmas season. Take time to make memories. Carve out moments and put the world and all it’s worries and pain on pause.

Allow your child to simply be your child.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

As a Cleveland Sport’s Fan, I Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

In keeping with the spirit of this blog site…I guess I should address why I tend to be a die-hard Cleveland sports fan.  I can’t really explain it without starting to question how I could be so foolish to be a Cleveland sports fan.  But I can’t help myself.  I could no longer deny my love for the Brown’s, the Indians and on rare occasion the Cavaliers than I could deny the love for my own children.

I wasn’t born in Cleveland and I definitely wasn’t born this way.

As a matter of fact, my earliest memories of following a sports team was watching the Baltimore Baltimore-OriolesOrioles.  I was in love with Orioles and Brooks Robinson.  The Hall of Fame third basemen for Baltimore was my favorite player in the Major Leagues. It was easy to love the Orioles during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Because they  were winning five Division Championships (1969–1971, 1973–1974), They played in the World Series in 1969, 1970 and 1971 and won it in 1970.

It was a natural transition to become a Baltimore Colt’s fan during that time as well.  The Colt’s played in the Super Bowl in 1968 and 1970 under the leadership of Johnny Unitas  in which they won the same year that the Orioles won tBertJonesColtshe World Series in baseball.  The center of the sports universe was located in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Colt’s continued their winning ways with the play of quarterback Bert Jones and they won division titles in 1975, 1976, and 1977.

This was during the time in my life that I was the most impressionable. If I was going to be a lifelong Orioles and Colt’s fan, I was primed for it to happen because all of the signals were there.  They were the only teams you consistently could watch on TV and it should have stuck.  I had all the team shirts and all of the posters of the players hanging in my bedroom.  If you would have asked my 12-year-old self I would have sworn allegiance until my dying breath.

It didn’t stick.

I cannot pinpoint the exact time or where I was when it happened.  But make no mistake it happened.  I couldn’t really identify with the success that was going on in Baltimore.  It was too easy. I could never shake the feeling that I was a fair weather fan and I never felt like they were “my team”.  I always felt I was a bandwagon fan that only loved the team because they won and they were on TV.  I am sure that there are many people who fall in love with their sports team because they were the team’s that were winning during their impressionable years.  How does someone from Ohio become a Raider or a Steeler fan?  It’s just too easy to love only the teams that win. It is the only logical explanation.

For me, I started to see that life is not like that.  Life is not that easy…  you don’t always win and you don’t always get to play for the championship year in and year out.  Life is hard and it’s a struggle to ever really “win” at things in life.  I saw that I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth and life was going to give me bumps and bruises.

cleveland_brownsI signed on as a Cleveland sports fan. I found a team that I could honestly identify with. I found a place where I could put on their team jersey and feel like I wasn’t being fake or a bandwagon fan. I was down for the struggle and I was home… where I belonged.

Maybe it is the fact that they are the perennial under-dog or maybe because no matter how promising the plan or how high the draft pick, someone will screw it up. It is the perfect reflection of what I have come know of what life is all about.  It is about the struggle… the hope… the chance that this could be the year that it will happen for us. If not… there is always next year.  It isn’t a given satisfaction and the victories are so much sweeter when they don’t come easy.

It is too easy for others to make fun.

Currently, our new N.F.L. owner, a truck stop billionaire named Jimmy Haslam, is being investigated by federal agencies for a fuel rebate debacle.  The Cavaliers lost 58 games: they would have lost more, but the season ended. The Indians perform in a cloister.

The Indians took the World Series in 1948; in ’64 the Browns were crowned kings of professional Cleveland_Indiansfootball. Since then, nothing. It has been a particularly potent kind of futility. Not a cuddly incompetence like the Chicago Cubs’, each collapse covered in ivy, or the celebrated struggles of the Boston Red Sox.  No “Sweet Caroline” here.  Our ballpark sing-a-long could be the song “Eve of Destruction.”

Periodically, wizards and new owners have arrived to break the curse. They were an oddly bloodless bunch, for conjurers, but spoke well and seemed to understand salary caps. They lectured us on the constraints of a small market, failed, and left. Somehow, misfortune always found a roster spot.

 But these are not the worst of times, only the latest. We are all too familiar with “the Fumble”, “the Drive” and “the Shot” and the curse of Rocky Colavito. There are library shelves that groan with the agony of Cleveland fans.  A generation of futility.

I have caught my share of Indians games at the old Municipal Stadium and I was at Jacob’s Field (forever the name for me) watching the Tribe in the 1995 World Series.  I watched the Kardiac Kids of the ’80’s and I watched the Cav’s in the heyday of the Richfield Coliseum.

We are sports people. We are family. You will never know until become a member of this family we call Cleveland.

As a Cleveland sports fan, I hold these truths to be self-evident:

I will be a Cleveland fan until my dying breath.

I have tried to pass it on but only my son Nathan has a membership card to the Cleveland Sports family. It’s becoming harder to pass down that homegrown pain. Satellite dishes, streaming Internet — the young live vicariously in a world that technology creates. They can watch any game and watch a TV channel dedicated to their respective team 24 / 7.  They are spared of any indignity of disloyalty or shame or loss. They wear Indianapolis hats and Cowboys jerseys and that splayed-leg figure dunking on their hoodies isn’t Mark Price.

We Cleveland fans take victory, like work, wherever we find it.

This year, I know I will not be busy during the playoffs. Any playoffs.

I, for one, sleep well in the knowledge that my car will probably never be overturned in a championship celebration.

And yet…

The first pitch of spring slaps leather, the Indians hang around first place in June, and sports again becomes something beyond a balance sheet. A kickoff for the Brown’s sails high into the autumn air and I start to think anything’s possible.  Hope swells in my heart and I believe that this year will be different.

And for a moment, I hardly notice the years of  futility in my life piling up around my feet.

 

Confession’s of a Momma’s Boy

If I am going to write a blog about the influences, experiences and stories of my life that have shaped who I was and who I am and the “way I tend to be”, I have to start with the one person that influenced me more than anyone else in my life, my mother.

There were no two ways about it.  When I was fourteen… I was a pretty cool kid.  Not in the ninety-ninth-percentile of coolness, maybe, but definitely the top third of my class.  I knew the walk.  I knew the talk.  I had my own kinda… style.

But, like a lot of “cool” kids my age, I did have one tragic flaw.  One terrible secret that threatened the very fabric of my fragile image.  One secret that most teenagers try to hide… I was a momma’s boy.

When you’re a little boy, you don’t have to go very far to find the center of your universe. It’s your Mom.  She’s always there.  It’s a pretty good arrangement.  No matter what happened in your life she was there.  When you went to bed, when you got up in the morning, she would be there when you left for school and there when you came home.  When you’re a young boy, all you can imagine is the fact that you will be with her for the rest of your life.  In your mind, nothing could ever change that.  She would always be there and never leave your side.  I would always be momma’s boy and nothing could change that.

But around age fourteen, there starts to be… a problem.  The problem then is…she’s always there.  And I mean always.

Now a mom has to be a mom, but a guy’s gotta be a guy.  And when the irresistible force of independence meets an immovable object… Sooner or later – somethings gotta give.

Unfortunately it did…

I guess I could tell a story of how we ended up having some big terrible fight or some extreme family crisis and that we didn’t talk to each other for years and we would reconcile years later…however, none of that would be true. 

It may be a better story to be read than the one I’m telling…but what actually took place is something a little more sinister.  Something more hurtful.  Something filled with more regret. I did what teenagers have done since the beginning of time.  I did something that I can never take back.

I ignored her.

When I say, I ignored her; I mean I took her for granted.  I did not take the opportunity to spend more time with her.  I started to make my own decisions and I left her out of most of my plans.  I did not do it intentionally.  It wasn’t meant to hurt her.  It was a part of growing up and I regret it to this very day.

Over the past few years, I have spent much of my spare time writing the story of my family. I am intrigued at how we all came together and became a family. I do as much research as I possibly can. I’ve found that every American family has its own unique blend of personalities, my family is no exception. 

Within our family tree we range the full spectrum of types. From the flamboyant… to the demure. From the repellent… to the ideal.

My mother set the standard of the “ideal” in my family tree…slide7

Agnes Elizabeth Clemens was born in November of 1931 in Washington, Pennsylvania.  She was the oldest of eight children born to William and Lida Clemens.

Her young life was filled with events and situations that would have defeated and broke the spirit of most of the young girls her age.  Times were hard and things were tough.  That’s not to say there were not good times, but as I remember my mother telling me stories, there always seemed to be a common theme…nothing stayed “good” for long.  She felt as if she had the responsibility of her family on her shoulders, with no real help in sight.

She was forced to grow up way too soon.  She left home at 17 and left Pennsylvania and never looked back.  She had to make decisions that would affect her for the rest of her life.  Had not it been for that Greyhound Bus breaking down outside Sandusky, Ohio only God knows what would have happened to her.

b12 She put her childhood and her past on the shelf, met and married my Dad, became a mother and looked to the future.  Her dreams and desires for her life were now solely surrounded in her family…in particular her children.  I have never known her to do one thing in this life where she did not put her children first.  Her eyes sparkled when she looked at her children.
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Simply put…she found her happiness in her children…she found her destiny…she was meant to be…a mother.

She endured and persevered, but lost a part of herself when she lost a child, my brother Bobby on a cold November day in 1970.  He was killed tragically in a car/train accident. That sparkle in her eyes was dimmed and I look back with wonder trying to figure out how she made it through. I can think of nothing  worse than outliving your children.

That wonderful sparkle came back when she got to hold her grandchildren shortly after their birth. And now as she is part of the newest generation of “great-grandchildren” and I am not sure that anything makes her happier.  Whether as a child, grandchild or great-grandchild, each one of us have been privileged to have her love and to be looked upon with that beautiful sparkle in her eyes.

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(Agnes and Robert J. Lee in 2008)

I can never go back and fix the times in my life that I could have spent more time with her.  She tells me that she wants to live to be at least 100, so she can see what the world will be like then.  I don’t know about that.  But what I do know is that I hope she makes it.  Because there is more to this woman than I have ever learned and there is so much more to her that I want to know.

She is the primary reason that there is anything “good” in the way I tend to be.

When it is all said and done, at the end of my life, I am sure there will be many things said about me.  I have left a trail of failure and some footprints of success.  I am sure that the words to describe me will vary about as much as the times I have been successful and the times I have failed. 

Say what you will. 

I can think of no higher honor than to have words that describe me as a man that loved his God, his wife Pamela, his children, grandchildren and that I was simply and proudly a “momma’s boy”.

Live long mom…

“Happy Mother’s Day”

I Am New

I am NewNow I won’t deny the worst you could say about me
But I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made.
Because God says of me, I am not who I was I’m being remade
I am new… I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved I am new.

Who I thought I was and who I thought I had to be
I had to give them both up, cause neither were willing to ever believe I am not who I was… I’m being remade I am new I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved I am new I am new.

Too long have I lived in the shadow of shame, believing that there was no way I could change. 
But the one who is making everything new doesn’t see me the way that I do.
He doesn’t see me the way that I do.

I am not who I was I’m being remade I am new.
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved I am new I am new.
I am not who I was, I’m being remade I am new.
Dead to the old man, I’m coming alive I am new I am new.

Forgiven, beloved… Hidden in Christ Made in the image of the Giver of Life.
Righteous and holy, reborn and remade.
Accepted and worthy. This is our new name
This is who we are now…

JASON GRAY – I AM NEW LYRICS