The Summer of 1975

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

Together.

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

So many things happened there… so many memories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A world record I’m sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in an instant she was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

Our time together that summer was over.

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

I like to think so.

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

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

But I still have the memory.

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

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

 

What Can I Say? It’s Part of My Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that—the power of a song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh… the music.

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

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

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

The movie?

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

But now you know the rest of the story.

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

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

That’s why I mourned Prince when he died.

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

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.

In Search of Inspiration

I have needed some inspiration.  I have been through some dry spells when it comes to my writing before but this last spell has been a rough one.  I usually could come up with something to write Inspirationabout even if it was basically a repeat of something I had written about before.  Not this time… I could not bring myself to even type a word.

No words… no ideas… nothing to say.

I have to ask myself, “Is it time to close the book and pack this blog away with the other million or so blogs that are not being read by anyone?”

I wanted to make it last… I wanted to reach 500,000 visitors.  I am roughly 14,000 visitors short as of this writing. That sounds so self-centered… so… self-serving. But if you honestly know me, you know that I do not write to get recognition. I have turned down opportunities to try to promote my blog on different media sites.  That was not why I started writing in the first place.

I started writing again to fill a place in my life that was empty.  A place that was emptied by the choices I made in life and I needed to fill that place with inspiration and thought. With life running so fast, there’Young man reading small Bibles little time and energy left to try a muster up some inspiration to write.  To be honest with the truth, I long to have another opportunity to teach from the Bible again.  It has been over twenty years since I have had the honor of sharing from God’s Word in a classroom setting. There was always a small part me that believed that I would get the chance to once again be a part of a ministry besides sitting in the pew.  

It is evident to me as I think on these things that God has another plan. As much as I try to believe, I do not believe that it will ever happen. Through the small things and the biggest things, life has certainly taught me this lesson over and over. Things are harder for those who don’t believe. And they’re much easier for those who do. Lord knows that I’ve created a thousand life obstacles by crowding out my faith, or by blatantly ignoring what it was whispering to my heart. It has made life harder because I had to tear down a thousand walls brick by brick by finally believing they had to fall. This is one wall that I have not been able to tear down.

That being said, I must say that I have witnessed others who have endured a divorce and/or failure brickin marriage go on and teach and “do things” in the church as if it never happened.  That opportunity has never been offered to me.

I am not bitter about the price I have paid for my failure or the opportunities that others have been given. It just saps my ability to be inspired at times.

So it’s becoming more important to me that I not waste too much time dwelling on what will not happen and focus on what can be done because my time is running short.  Now before that gets misconstrued, I am not dying, at least I don’t have any plans on dying anytime soon. But blogs and websites like mine are dying daily.  I cannot help but think that this website… this blog… my stories… my words that I write will be the only voice that I will ever have. In no time at all it will be silenced.  

So what can keep me inspired until that day comes? I thought it would be nice to share one thing that has always brought inspiration to me.  As many of you know, I love music.  All types and all styles. It brings me inspiration and I never write unless I have music blaring through my headphones.

One of my favorites is one that I am sure not many people have ever heard of. I am blown away by the composer, Ólafur Arnalds. I discovered him on Spotify.  His album called, “Living Room Songs” is a masterpiece.  Each note has purpose.  The melodies are unique.  Emotion is ever-present.  It Living Roomtakes me on a journey every time I listen. Sometimes it breaks my heart. Sometimes it heals it. I always feel something.  I’m always inspired.

The story behind the album is that he committed to writing one new song each day for a week.  At the end of each day, he gathered a small string section, and there in his living room, they recorded  what he’d written that day on a live microphone. No editing and no overdubs.

It’s beautiful in its imperfection. Each time the piano bench cracks, the pedal squeaks or a violin string falters in pitch for a moment, I smile to myself.  I love that they moved ahead, not feeling the need to repair or hide the ‘mistake’. And somehow, the song actually becomes more beautiful for it.  At the end of the week, it was done, finished – created and shared with the world… all it’s flaws exposed.

That gives me hope.

I’m inspired by what he was able to accomplish in a day – in a week.  And I can’t help but consider what I could do if I lived with that kind of intention and fearlessness.  If I’m honest, it’s scary for me to commit to something before I’ve got it figured out and know what the outcome will be.  Listening to this music makes me want to fly without a net. And it makes me think I can.  It makes me braver.  Not because it’s perfect and grand – but because it’s imperfect.  The flaws are evident… but they still are powerfully touching.

Just like you and me.

We spend so much of our lives trying to cover up our flaws and shortcomings, but what if we could just embrace them and move on?  What if we didn’t let them stop us?  What if they simply became part of the story we’re sharing?

What if I didn’t have to have it all figured out before I was willing to begin? What if I were willing to fly without a net?  What if I lived my life with more intent and focus? What if I made peace with my imperfections and shortcomings?  What if I even embraced them and made them a part of my story? What could I share with the world? What might it inspire in others?

Regardless of the type of music you like, I think almost everyone reading this will fall in love with “Living Room Songs” by Ólafur Arnalds.  It’s perfect background music, especially on rainy days and Saturday mornings. It has become one of my favorites – because it’s more than a piece of music.

It’s an exercise in fearlessness and exposure to what is real, flaws and all.

And that… inspires me.

NOTE: I have attached a video of the process and recording of “Living Room Songs”.  Enjoy!!!

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.

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

Turn The Page

I love turning the page.

To be honest, I always have. I try to make as much noise as I can turning the page of a book – or a pad TurnThePageof paper – or a calendar. I love the cracking sound. It sounds like progress to me. It feels like I’ve accomplished something, and my reward is that now I get to see what happens next. 

The same can be said of when I turn a page in my life. I can’t help but see our lives as stories we’re writing and telling as we go through life. Page by page we fill up the chapters of our life because I believe that each morning we wake up to a blank page and fill it throughout the day with our thoughts and actions. Both the good and the bad. And as I look back on the chapter (2013) that’s closing – and forward to the unwritten page before me, I can’t shake the question, “What kind of story am I writing?”.  Is the journey in this life of mine a love story? A how “not to” book? A mystery? A tragedy or maybe even a comedy?

Sometimes when I look back at some of the drivel I have written over the years, I see each of these aspects in my writing. There are flashes of a love story. A love story of how the love of Jesus Christ has brought me through some difficult times. Definitely the pages that I have filled with words are (at times) a warning of how “not to” do certain things. I also see aspects of mystery because I won’t share everything or name names when I could have and at times should have. I am glad that I have not called out certain people for how they have treated me over the years. However that does not mean I still don’t struggle at understanding how some people hide behind their Christianity. Smiles on Sunday morning but disdain and judgement on others throughout the week. That being said, I am glad that each morning I get to turn the page and see a blank sheet staring front of me. I get to start over and dwell on better things.
tragiccomedy

Probably the best words to describe my words may be linked to them being both a tragedy and a comedy.  A tragedy because of the years wasted at life. I single-handedly destroyed my ministry.   I did it to myself. By my own hand.  There is no one to blame but me. There is tragedy found in what could have been.  But what about the comedy? Yes, I still see comedy in the words that I have penned. I have experienced many things in this life that when taken in context are hilarious.  There are things that have happened to me that if I did not personally experience them firsthand I would not have believed them myself.  I have honestly been asked if some of the stories I have told are true and I am here to tell you that every word I have ever written is the truth of what has happened to me.

Yes… it’s been all of these descriptions at times, and more.  But more than anything, as I look to the future of adventurewhat I want my story to be, I want it to be an adventure. Who wants to read a story where the same thing happens page after page? No plot twists. No great success. No failure that leads someone to find to a better part of himself. Nothing out of the ordinary or unpredictable. Who would want to read that story?  Who would want to live that story? Not me. I want to live my life to the absolute fullest.  I want to open my eyes to be all I can be. I want to travel roads not taken. I want the life that I live for my remaining days to be an adventure.

How about you?

Here is where we stand.  2013 has now been written. For some of you, it was a year filled with struggle and hurt. For others, the greatest success and happiest moments of your lives. But one thing we all have in common is… it’s in the past. A new year of blank pages is before all of us, ready to be filled with the greatest adventure we can dream up. A new year of second chances. A new year with another chance to get it right.

You have a story to tell and you have to face the unwritten page each day. That can be harder to face than itWe-all-have-a-story-to-tell sounds.

There are all kinds of obstacles in your way, tying your pages together, boarding up your heart, building walls around your dreams – doing anything and everything to stop you. It can seem easier to put yourself up on a shelf than to write a new chapter. But regardless, whether you intend to or not… your history will be written.

Even if you don’t get out of bed, your story continues. Even if you do exactly what you did yesterday, your story continues. Even lack of thought will fill the page. Even if you’re unaware that you’re creating your history in every moment of every day, with every choice and every thought your having… you are still writing your history.

Don’t let what has been dictate what will be. You have choices. Just because something has been a certain way for some time doesn’t mean it must continue. Just because you chose something yesterday doesn’t mean you have to choose it today. Even if you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your thoughts and actions. You can absolutely change the story you’re telling.

What if you would approach the new year as a blank page waiting to be filled with the greatest story you can tell? What if you would lay down your past experiences, expectations, mistakes, successes – and start fresh?  What if you would reassess the importance you give all that fills your lives and choose again?  What if you would walk forward knowing that if you’re still here there’s something beautiful waiting for you to discover? What if you would turn the page of the story you’ve been writing and face the unwritten page before you?

As a wise man once said:

“A person unfamiliar with their own history are destined to repeat the mistakes of their fathers.”

Welcome to your new chapter. Live it beautifully.

Now… turn the page and write it well.

A Non-Negotiable of Life

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

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

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

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

Do you know your non-negotiables in life?nonnegotiable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Kid Deserves To Be a Hero

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

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

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

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

Here is what happened…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I settle into my standard Johnny Bench batting stance.

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

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

“STRIKE ONE!!!” the umpire bellowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look to see my coach just shaking his head…

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

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

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

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

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

It’s My Camelot

-af2df12ad21143c0I love you Cleveland.

One week ago… right around 9:45 I was less than pleased. Chris Perez had just blown a critical save for the Indians…..again. With so much riding on every win and loss at that point of the season, my beloved Indians could not afford to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It doesn’t help when Perez is serving up the home runs (2 in the 9th inning last night) has been less than appreciative of the fan base and his own teammates. But there we were.  Staring in at the face of defeat. Another disappointment.

Too many times I’ve seen this movie. Too many times I’ve witnessed the heartbreak. The “Cleveland Sports Heartbreak” is usually played before any meaningful game on sports networks.

With apologies to Journey….for a few minutes I stopped believin’.

Then this happened….


By now you’ve probably heard about it or read it on facebook. We Cleveland fans got pretty excited. It was one of those memorable moments that doesn’t make that heartbreak loop they always show. It was one of those “where were you when” moments.

It was then I started to believe again.  To begin to believe in the possibility.  The possibility that this year may be “our year”. 

It is something that I cannot fully explain… being a Cleveland fan is not something that I chose to be.  It chose me.  It is a common bond… a common purpose…  it is a sense of belonging regardless of the wins or the misery of losing.  It is being part of a family.  Being a Cleveland fan is the core of who I am as a sports fan. 

In reality, it isn’t about how many Championship rings we have or don’t have.  That really is temporary. Regardless of their record… regardless of who they trade or draft… regardless of how they lose… they will always be my team.

I know that people will continue to make their rude comments and have their fun at the expense of Cleveland. That will never change. But those that make their comments just don’t get it.  Yes… I know and I am prepared to never win a championship during my lifetime.  But as a Cleveland fan I have something that most sport fans will never have… a sense of belonging… a sense of family… all sharing in the possibility of what could be.

It’s why I love Cleveland Sports. It is why I love this city.

I know… it’s a dump, but it’s our dump. It’s our Camelot.

As Sean Connery said in the movie “First Knight” –

This is the heart of Camelot, not these stones, not these timbers, these palaces and towers. Burn them all and Camelot lives on, because it lives in us. Camelot is a belief that we hold in our hearts.

I say…

This is the heart of being a Cleveland sports fan, not these fields, not these stadiums, these bleachers and statues. Burn them all and Cleveland lives on, because it lives in us. Being a Cleveland sports fan is a belief that we hold in our hearts.

Cleveland and our sports teams are indeed a belief that we hold in our hearts. 

I know this magic ride the Indians and Browns are taking me on will come to an end.  I know there are other teams that have bigger payrolls and better players.  But I hold a belief in my heart and I am compelled and drawn into the possibility of what “could be”.

I hope I never ever lose that. 

I love you Cleveland.  You’re my Camelot.

The Summer of 1979

Young love seemed pretty simple. 

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

If you liked somebody, you let ‘em know. 

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

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

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

It was no different for me.

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

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

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

She had beautiful blond hair and blue eyes.

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

She and I had been through it all.

The good times… the bad times.

The ups… and the downs. 

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

She was my girl.

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

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

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

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

Some things last.  Some things change.

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

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

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

Other days.  New days.  Days to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to tell that young man so many things…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You go where life takes you.

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

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

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

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

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

Another chance to make it work.

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

She is home to me.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s no different today. 

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

Young girls will get their hearts broken. 

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

If Only I Had Enough Talent

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

And I believed I could…

If only I had enough talent.

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

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

If I only had enough talent.

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

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

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

If only I had enough talent.

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

If I only had enough talent.

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

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

Hard Work and Discipline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only I had enough talent.

Letters From The Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next letter you receive may just be from me…

Putting pen to paper,

David

48 written,  136 and counting to write.

Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening.

I’m Not Here For Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not here for myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Not Good Enough

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

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

And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Breath is a Second Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was for me.

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.

 

Only The Lights Remain The Same

There are not many things I love more than having a free evening and a blank sheet of paper in front of me.  I love it even more when I fill that sheet up with words.

What is exciting to me is that I never know where it is going to take me.  It is always an adventure as to where I will end up.  Each and every time I plan on writing about something specific I never do.  I am never able to plan it out like that.  I just let the story or subject just flow out of my memory.   I like the thrill of looking at a picture or listening to some music that bring back some memories and I just love to let it flow from there and see where it takes me.  It is probably why my writings are so disjointed sometimes.  Like I have always said… I love to write, I’ve never said I was good at it.

Tonight was no different from any other night.  I sat down without a plan and I started staring at the blank page in front of me.   I was wondering where it will take me tonight.  Just then a picture that is in a small frame sitting on my office desk caught my attention. In that frame is a small faded picture of me and Bryan Blakley.  That picture was taken just before we picked up our dates for the Homecoming Dance in 1976.  We were desperately trying to look cool in our leisure suits and long hair.  We failed.

For some reason I started to think about Bryan.  I had known him for over 45 years.  I do not really remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life.  From about the age of 6 to 17, I cannot think of one thing that I was a part of that he wasn’t involved with in some way.  He and I played together and fought together.  We did just about everything together…whether that was skipping school…going on a double date or just hanging out.

One of my favorite remembrances of him was a time that we walked home from the fair about the time we were 16.  We had just spent the last night of the fair walking around checking out the girls and just having a good time.  Nothing of real significance happened that evening at the fair.  As a matter of fact, I don’t really remember anything specific even happening.  Just the two of us acting stupid, (and again) trying to be cool.  We failed again.

The fair had closed for the night about 11:30 and Bryan and I decided to walk home that night.  The Ottawa County Fairgrounds is located about six miles outside of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  At 16, the premise of walking six miles to home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical.  I remember that it was pitch black that night.  It seemed you couldn’t see past your next step.  We took our time.  There was no need to hurry.  Didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.

Maybe it was just the mood we were in or maybe it was because it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  But I remember that Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home.    We talked about our childhood, our families.  We talked about music,  what we liked and disliked.  We talked about girls.  We talked about our future.   He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better.  For me,  I wasn’t exactly panicked about my plans.  I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my life.  Hey – I was sixteen years old.  To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.

We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking.  It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that somehow that night I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life.  I wanted to stay there, in that night… more than anything I wanted before.   But I knew I couldn’t.   I was sixteen.   I slept under a roof my father owned, in a bed my father bought.    Nothing was mine, except my fears.   And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore. Things were about to change.  Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block.  Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families weOHre gone now.  Scattered.  The ones who stayed were not the same.  The world was moving on.  My world… their world… a place where only the lights remained the same.

So… we went home. 

As I reflect on that night, some 35 years later,  I think about a lot of things, like hometowns, like family – the shortcomings, the flaws and the arguments. Still, in a world of inconsistency and doubt… maybe home is what you make it. Like I  have said before, most small towns were all about the same.  Sure, some may have been a little bigger than Oak Harbor, and some may be have been a little greener… but there was only one real difference. Only one of them… was yours.

We didn’t really accomplish anything that night.  At least that is what I thought at the time.  Our remaining high school years that lay ahead would find us moving in different directions.  There would be other nights where we would hang out and try to be cool.  We always failed.  But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one.   That night and the long walk home will always be set apart in my memory and in my heart.

Over the next 30 years when our paths crossed and 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.

A few years ago, I received a phone call.  I just couldn’t believe the news on the other end.  Bryan had passed away.  I was already reeling from the loss of my closest friend (Bob Emrich) in May of that year and now my childhood friend was gone as well.   I was shocked and in some ways I am still not over the loss of my two closest friends.  For whatever reason, God sometimes allows people to be taken very quickly from us.  Many times, so fast that we never get the chance to say the things we needed to say.

I will cherish that time.  The last conversation with him was no different from any conversation I would have had with him over 35 years ago when we walked home from the fairgrounds. Our lives indeed took different paths but we will always share the common bond we found in what we call family.

Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think Bryan and I knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be.  Other days.  New days.  Days to come… when only the lights remained the same.

 

Under The Influence

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of Children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden or a good name; to know that one life breathed easier because you lived…this is to have Succeeded.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I found  statement this on a cold blustery wintry day, just a few days after my grandfather passed away. It was scribbled by him on a scrap piece of paper that I found in a crumpled discarded box that belonged to him. It was just a simple handwritten statement that was tossed aside in a box to be taken away with the next load of trash.

At the time, I did not think too much about this little note. I just folded it up and stuck it in my pocket.  I was too busy trying to throw away the trash that was left behind after the funeral by my family as they “went through” the house that my grandparents built and lived.

Standing there in the middle of the basement, the hard evidence of a life finished was piled up around me. I slowly began to realize that my life was changing. Everything that I had grown up with was now going to be somehow different. The path of adulthood that seemed so clear just a few days before was now clouded with doubt and fear.

I lost my Grandfather. He passed away on Christmas Eve 1986. His heart simply gave out…it was his time. I would like to say that I accepted the fact that he was gone with reverence and understanding – but I can’t. His death came as a crushing blow to me. It was sudden and I was up in Michigan when I should have been at his side.

Only a few days before he was holding my first son in his hands…now my son would be cheated from knowing the man that made me proud of who I was.

This incidence of finding this statement written on a piece of paper took place in 1986.  I remember it so vividly. It clearly was one of those life moments that a person never forgets.  This one was mine.

Sometimes in death of a loved one we sometimes ignore some of the negative things that person may have done in their life and tend to only focus on the good that could be said of that person.  I am sure over the years I have done just that.  I probably have given my grandfather more credit that he deserved.  There have been times where I totally blocked out the fact that at times he was not a great father to his own children and as I strain to think about what I remember of him as a husband to my grandmother most of what I remember is not good.

That being said, I cannot find one instance where I remember him not being a “great” grandfather to his grandchildren. He was always wonderful to his grandchildren.  The perfect example of what a grandfather should be to a child.  If I am going to write a blog about the influences 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 that influenced me as a child.

One of my fondest memories that I have with him was a trip he and I took to the grocery store in Norwalk, Ohio when I was about 10 years old. As we were walking up and down the isles, trying to get everything on the list he had. He leaned down and whispered in my ear that he wanted to introduce me to this man that was walking down the same aisle. He shook hands with this tall lanky manLefty Grove Pitch; it appeared as if they knew each other. My Grandfather said, “Mr. Grove, I would like to introduce your to my grandson, David” He looked at me and said, “David, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Grove.” I shook his hand and I was wondering why my grandfather was showing so much respect?  Why did he use the words, “Mr. Grove” and not just call him by Robert since they appeared to be friends?  I didn’t pay much attention to rest of their conversation. We ended up actually going to a little diner and had lunch and a cup of coffee with “Mr. Grove”.

It was in this diner that I had the realization of the significance of this chance meeting with “Mr. Grove”.

For it was there I found out that Mr. Grove was Robert Moses”Lefty” Grove.
He was a hero tlefty_groveo my Grandfather, a baseball legend, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. He won 300 games and struck out the side with 9 pitches – not once but twice, he accomplished this.

Lefty Grove has led the league with the lowest ERA more than any other pitcher (9).

Once in the ninth inning against the Yankees, with a runner on first, a one run lead and no outs, Lefty struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel on 10 pitches to win the game.

It was a very special day for my grandfather. He was able to have a cup of coffee with a legend that he called a hero. We sat tJames Russel Lee (1942) My Herohere for an hour or so; eventually, it was time to go our separate ways. As my grandfather waved goodbye, I think I saw a glimpse of the young man he once was. He was reliving a part of his childhood.

I waved goodbye to my new friend “Mr. Grove” and suddenly he was gone.

Some people pass through your life and disappear in a flash. You get over it. 

But the good ones… The real ones… The ones who count….stay with you for the long haul.

The thing is, after all these years, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  What do I remember, is sitting in that diner, being young, having lunch with the man who influenced me the most as a child.

My Grandfather, James Russell Lee.

Through the Eyes of a Child

On a hot July night in 2012, I witnessed the passing of a torch. 

There wasn’t a ceremony and no one was there to take a picture to document the event, but make no mistake, what happened that night was something special.

Brian Smith1
Courtesy of DB3 Imaging

As I made my way through the crowd along the dimly lighted back stretch  of the racetrack, trying to get to Brian Smith’s pit stall.  I could not help but notice that the people who passed by the “Grace Car” that night were not aware of the magic that was taking place right in front of their eyes.  

But I did.

As the adults and race fans were getting the opportunity to see the “Grace Car” up close, Brian Smith, a 26 year veteran sprint car racer from Fremont was kneeling down talking to a young boy.  I could see the eyes of this young boy as Brian bent down and talked to him. The look in this young boy ‘s eyes immediately went to a look of awe.   

While other drivers lined up their race cars to get them on the trailer and get out of there.  Brian was still there… no hurry… sleep could wait… there was more important business to do.  I immediately could see the sparkle in the eyes of this young boy as the transformation had begun.  The torch was passed on to another generation.

No one noticed that Brian had just performed magic. He just transformed a young child into a lifelong race fan.  He just made a young fan believe in heroes. One that is not found in the comic book store or on the movie screen.  A real life hero… living right here in Fremont, Ohio.

Heroes emerge, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.  

I know this to be true…because my hero found me at the same little dirt race track in Fremont, Ohio.

Harold “Mac” MHaroldMcGiltoncGilton.

For those that don’t remember him, Harold may be just another name in the record books, just another plaque on the wall.  To those of us that remember him, he’s a legend, a hometown sprint car racer and a cherished memory.

I first met Harold McGilton in the early 1970’s. I think I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a chance meeting and though it was a long time ago…I remember it like yesterday.  I watched him drive his sprint car full speed into the corners of that wonderful dirt track in Fremont, Ohio and slide through the turn and then fly down the straight-a-way passing cars  and winning races.  In my mind, Harold never lost a race… there were just times he didn’t win.  However, when  Harold would win his race.. he  just didn’t win, he beat the other drivers. 

Har carAs a young boy, when I rode my bicycle, I imagined that I was Harold making the heroic and dangerous pass on that final turn to win the race.  And when I played with my “Matchbox” cars…I had a special car that was “Harold’s” car.  It NEVER lost a race.

I am sure there were times when in my mind…I was more Harold McGilton than the real deal.  I am also sure that his family had a different perspective on Harold and his life as a hero.  After all he was human… just not in my eyes.

Harold McGilton had no way of knowing that when he stopped what he was doing after a race all those years ago and took the time shake my hand  on that July evening, at the Fremont Speedway, he would have had such an influence on a young boy from Oak Harbor, OHarold McGiltonhio.

Harold never knew my name, nor did we ever talk to each other since that first night I met him.  However, Harold “Mac Attack” McGilton had a tremendous influence on me during those early years. He just never knew it.   He was larger than life to me and I idolized him and when he passed away a few years ago, I cried.

Tonight as I sit at my desk , I imagine I hear the roar of the engines of the sprint cars as they fly around the track just a few blocks from my home.  As I imagine each lap as the cars go around, I wonder if there is another young fan in the stands watching their favorite driver take their car into a 100 MPH slide through the corners of the Fremont Speedway.  Much like I was in the early ’70’s,  I came to the track one night a young fan of the races and little did I know that I would leave a few hours later with a hero in my life that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

Brian Smith understands this… he too has heroes.  His grandfather and father were racers and heroes  that planted a seed in him that he passes on each week to each child he talks to.  

I have said this many times, in my life, I have traveled around the world. I have met a number a professional athletes, politicians and famous people over the years. I have even had the honor of meeting two Presidents and shaking their hands.  All of these people would be considered heroes for many people, but not for me.  I did not have to travel all around the world to find a hero… He found me at a little dirt track in Fremont, Ohio.

There are those of you who say that there are no real heroes in life.  I say you just don’t know where to look.

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.

scan0003
(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”