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!!!