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