I try my hardest not to write until I get up in the morning.
Most often, I find myself waking up in a rush about 3:00 AM.
My thoughts rushing through me and just flooding my mind.
I want to jump up and put them sentence form. Inspiration on overload.
I fight the urge to get up and turn on my computer. I do what I can to force myself back to sleep. Work awaits in the morning and I have to get up in a few hours. I try to convince myself that I will remember the detail and will be able to write with the same feeling and perspective in the morning.
Much like the dreams we dream at night, we never quite remember them the same way in the morning. Those vivid dreams that seem so real in that moment of sleep, most times are not so vivid when you try to explain them to someone the next morning. It usually comes out as a bunch of blurry details that don’t flow together at all.
They sure do seem real and clear when we experience them right?
That is how these thoughts seem to me when they are so clear at 3:00 AM but seem empty and blurry when I am pressed to try to write them down in the morning.
Now to clarify… I honestly do not feel like I am a good writer. Regardless of when I respond to these moments of inspiration, my words lack the same impact of those I read by real writers. The thoughts that I have in these bursts of inspiration are not worthy of much more than making me feel able to express myself.
In that expression, I find a sense of being comfortable in my skin.
It comforts me. It doesn’t matter if they are good or not.
I write because it makes me feel productive.
I know that my grandmother loved to paint. While my family always was kind when she would paint something. It wasn’t until she passed away that her paintings took on a different appreciation. They are so valuable to me now.
I would love to see them survive for many years to come.
Are they great? Will they ever be hung in an art gallery? Absolutely not.
That really isn’t the point. These paintings express her inspiration and in some way made her feel productive and complete. They are a reflection of who she was.
Over the years, I have always said that I write to leave something for my grand kids to read on day.
While I convince myself that this is true on some level, the truth is I write for me.
I have been given a gift of being able to write and feel complete and productive as I express myself in words. It doesn’t matter if anyone likes them or not. They don’t have to be good in other people’s opinion. I do not need that affirmation to feel better about myself.
When I reflect over the past 9 years of writing this blog. I have found that I am not the same person I was from all those years ago. From my perspective, the bitterness that I so often directed at people who did not deserve it when I was younger, has been tempered by my ability to express myself in words. I express myself better in writing than in my spoken word.
I wasn’t planning to write anything today in this space but I find that my little writing corner on the internet gets quiet when I get away from the creation process and spiral into trying to be perfect. It’s a tiring game to think of things to write. I struggle with looking at the lives of other people who seem to have it all together and wishing I could be more like them.
So at 3:00 AM this morning, in a burst of inspiration, I sat down in front of my desktop. The message is for all who read this is to find a way to express yourself. Find a way to make your mark. Find a way to let people know you were here. Express yourself your own way.
Don’t stray from you. Don’t look to other people as if they are going to start your journey for you. Sit down and find someway to express yourself. You’ll find freedom you never thought was there. Do your thing. Use your keys to this life that God gave you. It’s your journey and it doesn’t belong to anyone else. No one but you will suffer if you never take the journey. Time is of the essence. The time is now. Don’t miss or grieve over the life you didn’t live.
If you are someone who creates things then make life about the creation. You can admire the creations of others but don’t waste your best hours of the day watching other people. Use your hours wisely. Do the work. Even if you only get 20 minutes in a given day to make something, make it happen.
We run around like maniacs claiming there isn’t enough time in the day. Complain over the most trivial things. We hurt ourselves with the curse of being “busy.”
We don’t see how much time we waste with scrolling, clicking and liking.
Maybe you get wrapped up in stuff that doesn’t matter. Maybe you have forgotten what you truly love. Time isn’t up though. You can still go back to yourself. You can start over. You can open doors to new things. You can have a new beginning. You can find the peace and freedom of expressing yourself and leaving a mark on this earth, for the good. You can leave something that people will remember forever. You can do this.
Life hasn’t called and asked you to come and turn in your keys yet.
I recently was in a training session for work. The question was asked, “If you could speak with any kind of expert about anything in the world, what would you want to know?”
The group came up with a lot of good questions. Most of them were about money, health, career, family and more.
But one person responded, “How can I know my life’s purpose?”
The room got really quiet. The trainer just kind of laughed it off and moved on. It was obvious that he did not have an answer to that one.
For the rest of the day, this person’s response weighed in my mind.
Can you relate? I’ll bet each of us would admit that at some point, that question was at the top of our list to get the answer.
How can you know your life’s purpose?
Over the years, I remember desperately longing to know my purpose and wondering if I was somehow missing it.
For a long time, I couldn’t relax in my work (and otherwise) for fear that I was off course and somehow ruining my future.
But today, as I sat there thinking about the question, I came to this conclusion…
“What is my life’s purpose?” is one of the least helpful questions we’re all asking ourselves.
Yes… I said LEAST helpful.
Because here’s the thing – it’s unanswerable.
We’re obsessing over a question we don’t have the capacity to answer.
There’s a better question for us, one that will help focus our efforts today and lead us to where we need to be tomorrow.
That question is… “What is my purpose for today?”
Don’t you like the sound of that better?
Far too many times, I have been wondering about the future, making plans and waiting for it to come around. I thought that “someday” I would finally find out what my purpose in life really was.
Will I have a great moment in history? Probably not.
Will I do or say something someday that will change the world?
Again… probably not.
Truth is… my purpose is to do and be the person I am supposed to be today. If I take care of today… tomorrow takes care of itself.
This is the real stuff that makes a life. This is my purpose… now.
It may seem obvious, but look around. How many people in your life are waiting for some big revelation before they’ll start?
We have no promise of a tomorrow. Only today.
And as we do the things we know to do today, we will stumble into things we could never plan and in the process, we change the world in a thousand ways… that only we can.
How do you know what your next purpose is? I can’t say for sure, but it is not easy to find when you consider your fears and the lies swirling in your head that keep you from doing what you need to do today.
How about doing this…
How about we start by considering the needs of those who are directly in our life?
Seems like a worthy place to start to me.
So maybe it’s time to give up trying to solve the unsolvable,
To know what’s unknowable,
To see what’s unseeable.
Maybe it’s time to ditch the question, “What is the purpose of my life?”
And replace it with, “What is my purpose for today?”
Friday morning about 3:00 AM, I woke up and tossed and turned for a while before I got up and sat in my office. A story that I had never really thought about was suddenly in my thoughts. I could not shake these thoughts from my head. I wanted them to go away so that I could go back to sleep. It didn’t happen.
What were these thoughts?
I could not shake the thoughts of when I taught my daughter, Cassidy to ride her bike.
Why did this story flood my thoughts? This happened a long time ago.
I just could not stop thinking about it. I had to get some sleep because in the morning I needed to drive my sister-in law Lynn to the Cleveland Clinic. She has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her journey to fight and overcome it is now in front of her.
Driving home from Cleveland it started to make sense to me.
God was telling me to apply the lessons learned from this story.
The encouragement from it is directed to our family. The call is for us to remain positive, resilient, unified in the common cause, to help Lynn overcome that which is placed in front of her.
And while it is easy to question and wonder why all of this is happening. We will remain steadfast and persistent in the confidence that God knows what He is doing.
My hope is that this will be an encouragement to all of us and to those that may read this.
Cassidy was ecstatic – until she noticed that I’d removed her training wheels.
“David, where are the little wheels?”
“They’re gone, You’re 5 now. You don’t need them anymore.”
“No, David; I do! I can’t ride without them. Will you please put them back?”
“Nope, it’s time. You can do it. I am here – I’ll help you.”
Much whining commenced, but in the end, she relented and got up on her bike to try. I assumed the position that every parent has found themselves in at some point.
Left hand on the handle bars, right hand under the seat – trying to run sideways as fast and as far as I could.
Which as a fat man… wasn’t very fast, nor far.
And when I couldn’t keep up, I gave her a push.
“You’re doing it! Keep going!”
It was a beautiful sight… for about 3 seconds… and then she crashed… hard.
I coaxed her back up a few times, but it always ended as it had begun – Cassidy on the ground, scraped up, crying and working on a new bruise.
If you knew Cassidy at that time in life, she had quite the stubborn streak. When she’d had enough, she stood up, left her bike where it landed and began walking home.
“Cassidy… where are you going?”
“I don’t want my bike anymore, I can’t do it.”
She wasn’t trying to be dramatic. She meant it.
She didn’t see a way over the hurdle in front of her. In her mind, it was impossible for her to ride it without the crutch (those little wheels) she’d grown to expect and rely on.
So she gave up; she quit.
In that moment, my heart broke a little. The thought of her feeling incomplete or incapable in any way pierced me, even over something so small. I wanted to intervene, I wanted to force her but what could I do?
It wasn’t enough for me to believe she could do it.
She had to believe for herself.
This was her journey – and she decided she was done.
So, I picked up her bike – and walked her home.
Thankfully, that’s not how this story ends because after a few days, I talked her into trying it again. And before you credit my parenting skills of breaking the iron will that Cassidy had, I must admit, I was afraid she would give up.
Such a pivotal moment for such a young child.
Would she always back down when things that became hard and difficult? Would she shy away in fear of failure? Would she quit when it seemed impossible?
What happened next changed my perspective on life.
Cassidy climbed up on her seat and with the best push-off I could muster, in a burst of energy and faith, she took off.
Tons of passion – not a ton of skill, so you know how that ended.
As she stood up, looking at a freshly scraped knee and then at me. She gave me a look like only Cassidy could and I felt a chill run down my back. She was not happy.
I could almost see her standing at a crossroad.
She could retreat to where she was safe – and sad – or she could try again and move a little closer to the awesome thing waiting for her.
This moment would cut a path for her, in either direction.
I shook off her look and I ran over to her and put my face close to hers.
“Do you wanna know a secret?”
She nodded her head.
“Did you know there’s a really special trick to riding a bike that only big kids know?”
Her eyes got big and she looked at me with a puzzled look.
“What is it?” she asked.
Slowly, like I was delivering top-secret information, I whispered,
“Are you listening good?” she nodded again in approval.
“You’ve gotta steer straight, keep your head up, look forward and keep peddling. Just keep pedaling… don’t stop!!!”
“No matter what, you can’t stop pedaling or you’ll crash. And even if you pedal really hard, if you jerk the wheel around all over the place, you’ll crash. You’ve got to keep your wheel straight, keep your head up, look forward and just keep pedaling. That’s the secret. You got it?”
“Yes” she nodded, but not quite convincing herself.
Cassidy resigned herself to give it one more try. I was nervous because if she failed again she would not ever believe me again. She would start to believe that she could not trust me.
Cassidy climbed back on and positioned her feet for takeoff. I gave her a little push and as she pulled away, I reminded her to “Steer straight and keep pedaling… Steer straight, keep your head up and keep pedaling… Steer straight, look forward and just keep pedaling… don’t stop.”
Losing her balance, she jerked the wheel far left and right a few times, but this time, she immediately corrected and steadied herself.
Her head was held high and looking forward now, instead of down – and her courage began to swell.
She picked up speed and I whispered to myself, as if I could will her to get it right, “Come on Cassidy… steer straight and keep pedaling… don’t stop.”
With her wheels turning faster and faster, moving farther away from me, I yelled out one last time… “Steer straight and keep pedaling!!”
And in that single moment, right before my eyes, I watched Cassidy step out of her past and into her future.
It’s rare that we get to see someone’s moment of breakthrough so clearly. Watching it up close was inspiring – not because she learned to ride her bike – but because she overcame her fear and the lie playing in her head that she couldn’t do it.
What had been impossible for Cassidy just a day before not only became possible – it became reality.
Lynn… in the coming weeks and months there will be times that you will struggle. There will be times when you want to quit. We know the challenge that you are facing. Days will seem impossible. You’ll fight the urge to quit.
You most certainly will have doubts. But know this… we are here.
With one hand on the handlebar, the other under the seat. If you fall… we will help you get back up.
We will hold you until God takes over.
Lean in with your head up and keep pedaling.
When you think, you can’t, when experience says it won’t work, when the pain affects your will, and when you bear the bruises and scars of previous attempts…
Be Brave… keep steering straight, keep your head up, look forward and keep pedaling.
Don’t stop. We are here… to win it… with you.
As a family, we will press on. We will encourage each other.
We will stay the course. We will remain #CASESTRONG.
In the valleys that are in front of Lynn, we are comforted by knowing that God will not leave her there. Because we know that God knows what He is doing.
Steer straight Lynn… keep your head up, look forward and don’t ever stop pedaling.
Life has been interesting for the past several months.
I had surgery and was off work for a month or so. It was the longest time I was off work since I graduated from college. I thought I was going to be able to finish a project I have been writing. I had been so inspired to write about growing up in a small town in Ohio. Try to write short stories about those experiences and maybe one day put them together in book form for my grand kids to read one day.
It sounds so selfish and self-serving when I put that desire into words.
Truth is… I just have not been able to write.
Several times I was inspired but couldn’t bring myself to face the keys.
I have been distracted by other things. Over things I have no control.
Elections, politics, rumors, marches, riots, hateful rhetoric, families fighting amongst each other and people posting things just to stir things up on social media.
Truth is… people really believe that all of this stuff is new. It isn’t.
I am old enough to remember the late 1960’s. Civil unrest… marches, riots on college campuses, racial wars and division, scandals, war in Vietnam, environmental groups that told us that we would no longer exist by the mid-eighties, Communism would over-take us by 1976 and if not, we would be wiped out by Russia’s nuclear bombs. Fear was rampant.
Flash forward 40 years and history is repeating itself. None of this is new.
Truth is… the biggest difference is social media. Instant postings of fear or support for individual preferences has caused so much division.
Yes… elections have consequences but those consequences are issues I cannot control.
Truth is… it is what it is… whether I like it or not.
Whatever those consequences are should point me to trust and deepen my faith in my God. He is the one that is in control and the results from this election are not surprises to Him.
Never-the-less, I have let a lot of what I see on social media get to me. It discouraged me and I let it affect me. I had to break away and un-follow and delete some friends and family.
Truth is… I have not posted who I supported in the election nor have I attacked anyone for their political perspective. All I have said was that it is futile to post pro-Trump or anti-Trump posts because it changes nothing. I feel that posting political things on social media really changes nothing and all that does is cause division among friends and family.
Truth is… I still feel that way.
So many people are so angry and hateful. Some of these people have not had an actual conversation with me in years, yet they attacked me like they know me and what I think.
Truth is… they don’t know me.
One of the things I was accused of being was a hypocrite. Acting one way in real life and then acting like a spiritual giant by what I wrote. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Truth is… I am keenly aware of my failures.
I am aware of who I am. I’m not always the person that I want to be or should be. I slip, I fall, I make mistakes, and do things that I shouldn’t. My thoughts are not always the best, my words don’t always speak life, but I do thank God His mercies are new every morning.
Truth is… my failures are just that, my failures. I will answer for them. I write about them. I always have. I also write about the grace of God. I write about forgiveness. I write about my beliefs. I write and share my beliefs so you’ll know where I am coming from in any given situation, not in an attempt to force them down your throats because I believe “I am right and you are wrong.”
Truth is… I’m not going to apologize for my relationship with the Lord. He knows me. He knows my failures. And while I answer to only One person for how I live my life, I have no desire to offend the masses in my process of living or writing.
I try to share what the Lord puts on my heart to write and I keep the rest of it to myself, which is why I do not post on a daily or even a weekly basis.
Truth is… it’s easy to focus on the negative.
This morning, I was thinking about all of the things I wish were different about me, and although I believe it’s a good thing to be aware of our shortcomings and to bring them to God, it also occurred to me that if my focus is there too often, it can cause me to lose sight of the things in my life to be grateful for.
Truth is… I am working on turning my gaze to the blessings in my life. When I begin to think about those blessings, I realize that I didn’t do anything to deserve them. They are just gifts God chose to give me.
Truth is… it is the same with His gift of salvation. Salvation is not something we can earn; God only asks that we believe in His Son. It is something God extended to us because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.
Truth is… I do not claim or even secretly believe to know it all when it comes to living for the Lord. I am simply sharing with you how He’s leading me in the hope that it will encourage you and/or maybe you have some words of encouragement for me.
So friends, please, know that when I write I am sharing from my heart. I desire to be real with you about the struggles and the joy I find on this journey of life.
Even more so, it is about the faithfulness of God in the midst of it all.
Truth is… to me, that is what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
As we enter 2017, I am astonished about the level of fear and loathing among us.
I guess I shouldn’t be. It has been the theme of 2016.
The angst is palpable.
Many people fear the future. Fear based upon speculation and the unknown.
In an age where most media sources are proven to not be trusted, I cannot believe how many people base what they believe on biased information and on an agenda to be close minded… even though they claim to be open-minded and free thinkers. The internet is full of “fake news” sources, all designed to skew a person’s belief and perspective. It is intentional and calculated. And most of all… it is effective.
Many people base what they believe to be true based upon what they hear on a podcast or read on Facebook. Their news sources and range of perspective is narrow. Meaning that they are all listening to the same biased podcast or source. They believe that they, themselves are the smartest person they know or at least the smartest in the same room as them. Anyone who disagrees with them are considered unintelligent and ignorant.
Do these people ever consider that all they are doing is adding to the fear and loathing?
An example of this is the latest news story of “voter fraud” in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. I cannot tell you how many people were convinced that this was a “true” story. After Jill Stein raised over 7 million dollars (twice what she spent on her campaign) to do a recount in those states. We know the results of those re-counts… Trump actually gained votes over Clinton.
I could go on and on about all the different aspects of this past election year and the fear and loathing that is out there.
People are having a hard time with accepting the truth.
All of us have trouble accepting a difficult truth. It’s human nature to see what we want to see, especially when the truth makes us uneasy. But acknowledging and exploring the truth can liberate us and lead to greater opportunities.
One of the great challenges of life is just the simple task of living in this moment, living a “present tense life.” There are two great enemies of accepting truth. One is “the fantasy of what could have been,” and the other is “the fear of what might be.”
Let me address each one of these for a moment.
The fantasy of what could have been– We all live our lives looking back to the past or ahead to the future. It’s rare that we live in the present tense. One of our enemies is the “fantasy of what could have been.” We will often look with a longing for a change because of our present adversities…
“If only I had married the other person,” or “If only I had finished college,” or “If only I hadn’t made that horrible mistake” then life would be great.
Thoughts race to alternate present reality because of our dreams of “if only.” Dreaming about what could have been can be a wonderful diversion, but it’s ignorance of the reality of truth.
The truth is that there is no “if only.”
There is only what is.
Accepting truth’s that you don’t like is one of the hardest things to do.
Dreaming about an alternate life that would turn out different is a fantasy that brings nothing good to our present situation. It only makes the “now” harder because our fantasy solutions would have eliminated our real dilemmas and the need to trust the Lord with our real problems today.
When you are tempted to visit the land of “if only” make the decision not to go. It’s a trip that only brings disappointment to what is your life right now.
The fear of what might be– The other problem I see many struggle with is “the fear of what might be.” They are experts at worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet. As it pertains to Donald Trump, he hasn’t even been sworn into office and people are wailing and predicting doom. It happened with Ronald Reagan too.
Those fears and impending doom never came to fruition.
If you are living in fear of Donald Trump… your faith is weak. You knowledge of the Bible is soft, or at least became soft. Do you really think that electing Trump as our President is a surprise to God?
There is no way any of us can see the future, so for us to worry about it before it ever gets here is a clear lack of faith in God to care for our tomorrows. It also shows that people have stopped reading their Bibles and have based their beliefs and perspectives on other sources.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34
Jesus clearly said, “don’t worry about tomorrow.” He knew we were tempted to do this, and warned us against it. Fear of what might be often keeps us from walking with God and trusting him RIGHT NOW. We miss the joy of a walk with God in the present tense.
We each must live a present tense life intentionally. The distractions of fantasy about the past and fear about the future will easily get our attention away from a walk with the living God right now. I mentioned the word “walk” intentionally. It’s the word that the Bible uses to talk about our lives of faith. The Bible calls it a walk because there are some wonderful present tense elements to a walk that will help us stay focused on the now.
A walk demands a destination, but it can only be done one step at a time, one foot on the path toward the goal, one decision at a time to reach the goal. A walk demands a present tense life. That word, walk, often helps me get back to “now.”
That is why God implores us to keep our eye on and press towards the mark of following Christ. If you are so worried about the future, you obviously do not want to accept what the Bible says about the future. It’s in His hands. I cannot worry over that which I cannot control… those are the things I need to trust God that He has it under control.
As you go through each day of 2017, living your life and find yourself buying into the temptation toward fantasy or fear, stop for a moment. Focus on things that really matter and what you can do to control them. The balance is trust and dependence on God to take care of the rest.
It is then called having “Faith” and not fear and loathing.
I hope you truly have a great year and I hope that all of your fears are tempered by a loving God and that our faith grows deeper in Him each day.
Year after year I would wait anxiously on Christmas morning to wake up everyone, I always thought it to be my responsibility since it was the assumed job for the baby of the family.
Even now as I look through boxes of old Christmas decorations, I am reminded of the Christmas of my childhood. I can remember each Christmas since I was probably 6 or 7. I remember every year, starting at Thanksgiving, my growing eager anticipation for the coming Christmas season.
I always knew Christmas was getting close when Santa, in all his glory, would be waving to everyone from the top of the Oak Harbor Fire truck as they paraded through our little town.
Even as a child I always thought is very suspicious that “Santa” would take time out of his busy schedule to ride around the little town of Oak Harbor. Considering that the only world that I knew as a child was defined by the town limit signs, it made perfect sense that he would pick Oak Harbor to start the celebrations, even if I was a little suspicious about it.
I felt bad for the kids from other places because we had Santa here in our midst and they did not. All of us kids would be lined up — pressing our noses against the cold glass of the picture window, waving at Santa as he made his trek around town.
Each and every child filled with visions of Christmas.
Presents dancing in their heads and memories etched forever in remembrance.
It might just be my imagination, but it seems as if there were more homes with Christmas lights back in the day. As a kid, I would always looked forward to the time when we would drive through town looking at all the lights strung across Water Street in the downtown area, as well as the many neighborhoods that were lit up. I still drive around Oak Harbor sometimes just to see the lights. It makes me feel rooted, a part of something in my past.
I remember that back then spending time “uptown” during the Christmas season was a celebration in itself. Long before the “Mall” killed the small town businesses, each local store would display sale items in their front windows. We would go window shopping to find items for our wish list. I can remember a year when I would stop and stare at this pair of ice skates in the Western Auto store window.
I just knew that this pair of skates would make me the fastest skater at Gleckler’s Pond. Oh how I wanted them, but as Christmas came and went, the skates stayed in the window. We just couldn’t afford them.
Each year, especially as we get older, things change and it’s during the holiday season is when you realize them. Most of the stores that once lined Water Street are no longer in existence. The 5 and 10 of W.R. Thomas, The Portage Store, Van Atta’s Restaurant, Lantz’s Rexall Drug Store, Western Auto, Felhaber’s Photography, Nehls Market, Faunce’s Furniture, Hutchison Jewelry and the Modernette Gift Store to name a few.
Even to this very day, it brings a pain to a place in your heart where all your hidden feelings go. You mask it as progress but in your heart you know that pieces of your childhood are fading into lost memories. Never to be remembered except for a picture or two. My children and grandchildren have been cheated. They will never get that experience of window shopping the same way I did as a child.
I can always remember running down the steps on Christmas morning and looking around the tree for the biggest box. I always believed that within the biggest box under the tree would be the most expensive gift and best gift.
I always hoped it would be for me.
But as time works its magic over the years on the mind and soul of a young man, I soon realized that each and every gift was special, unique, and meaningful.
It wasn’t about the size of the gift but rather the act of giving that brings the best feelings and memories of Christmas mornings.
In fact, the presents that I remember most are the gifts that came directly from the heart. Christmas truly is not about the gift itself, but rather the thought behind the gift.
I learned this truth on a snowy evening a few days before Christmas in 1970. My brother and cousin died in a car-train crash in early November and it did not feel like Christmas to anyone in our family that year. My mom was trying to go through the motions of the season for us kids but as you can imagine there wasn’t a lot to be happy about.
I was nine. It was easier for me to be distracted by the celebration of the season than it was for my parents and my older brother and sister.
But I knew. I knew that my mom was not the same.
It was a struggle and she was drowning in the loss of a child.
I cannot think of anything more tragic. A parent is not supposed to out live their child. It is something that I hope my family never has to experience again.
I could see that my mom was different. The sparkle in her eyes that I always remembered had dimmed. I tried to think of a way where I could make her smile again. I had never given my mother a present that I did not make on a piece of paper or a craft made at school. At that time, I really liked to color and draw and make abstract pictures. So I sat down and did my very best to make the best picture I have ever done in my life. I was sure it would make all the difference in the world.
As a father, some of the most precious gifts I have ever received were the scribblings on a piece of paper made by my children. But when your nine you start to think there is no value in that so you want to do more. I looked at my picture that I put all my energy and creative juices in and I just thought it would come up short in making my mom happy again.
I had $1.25 in my piggy bank and I knew what I had to do. I had to go uptown and find her the perfect present. Something that would make her be “happy” again.
Oh… the thoughts of a nine-year old boy.
Somehow I convinced someone to walk me uptown on that snowy afternoon just a few days before Christmas. I was armed with cash and I was on a mission.
The Hardware Store was my first stop. As a child, when I would walk into the store, I would take a big whiff. I loved the smell of the hardware store.
I was never quite sure what made those smells so intoxicating. Maybe it was the hot, oily machine parts from some of the equipment that they sold or just the decades old hardwood floors of the store. I can only imagine how many spills of paint, turpentine and oils that floor has absorbed. It’s now toxic aroma is just hanging limply in the air along with metal nail dust, shiny tools, and plastic snow shovels. Yes, even as a child, as I walked those old hardware aisles, I soaked in memories. I remember clearly the creaking wooden floor and that jingle-jangly door clang as the door shut behind you. It was nostalgic then and even more so today.
I didn’t find anything at the Hardware store for my mom that I could afford so we moved on to the 5 & 10 store. Now one would think I could find something in that store for my mom. I just could not decide and was overwhelmed with all of the options. I was confused and wasn’t satisfied with any of my choices.
I suddenly found myself in Lantz’s Rexall Drug Store.
I was sure I was wasting my time there. The high school girl who worked there was trying so hard to find me something in my price range to get for my mother. It simply wasn’t going to happen. I would have to go back to W. R. Thomas and sift through the options and find something back there.
It was at that moment that I now realize that angels appear every once in a while.
When you least expect it.
I hear a voice coming from the high window where a man was always standing whenever I was in the store. I never saw him ever come out from behind that Pharmacy window.
He asked me, “Are you one of the Lee boys?”
“Yes, sir.” I said.
He came out from behind that window and walked towards me.
He said, “How can I help you, young man?”
“Well sir, I am looking for a present for my mom.”
“How much do you have to spend?” he asked.
“All I have is $1.25.” I replied.
“What are you looking for son?
I said, “I am not sure but I want to get her something special.”
He asked, “Does she like perfume?”
“Yes sir, but I do not have enough money to buy something t
He reached up on the top shelf of the perfumes and grabbed a bottle and said, “Do you like this one?” I nodded in approval.
He looked at me and said, “Well son, this is your lucky day.”
With a big smile, he said, “This went on sale today and it costs exactly $1.25.”
The high school girl who worked there, wrapped my present and I gave the man my money and thanked him. As I walked out the door, I looked back and I saw him still looking at me and smiling. I smile back and he says, “Merry Christmas, son.”
As a nine-year old, I thought it blind luck to get such an expensive gift for my mom. It surpassed all of my expectations. I have no idea how much that perfume actually cost but I know it was more than the $1.25 that I paid for it.
Almost 50 years later, I realize that Mr. Mac McBain was an angel sent to help a little boy bring some joy back into a family that had experienced tragedy. It was all he could do.
I gave that present to my mom on Christmas Day. She smiled when she opened it. One of the first smiles I remember from her in a long time. Now I know it didn’t make everything ok and my mom wasn’t instantly happy again. But as a young boy it was all I had to offer.
Angels… every once in a while.
I believe that God allows it to happen just enough in our lives to allow us to keep faith in a loving God and the ability to hold on to the hope for a better world.
My angel that year was Mr. McBain. He made the difference in a little boy who just wanted to make his mother happy once again.
My thoughts are upon you sir… I will never forget you and that day. It made December 25, 1970 feel a little bit more like Christmas.
I’ve noticed that some who have walked with Christ, people who I know are Christians, have simply wandered off.
Sometimes done quietly.
Sometimes done with loud, boisterous posts on social media.
At the end of the day, they simply wandered away from things they once believed.
Some are angry. Some have an axe to grind. Some have something to prove.
They want to shove their rejection of the faith, they once claimed they held, into everyone’s face.
So many excuses and self-justified reasons.
Some aren’t angry, or even mad really. Some aren’t even discouraged.
They have simply not seen the life of God in the community of faith and have lost interest.
They hold to the thought that life is busy, work is hard, things are crazy, why waste time with church and church stuff when they get nothing from it? Why invest time when no one really knows them or even cares? They’d rather sleep in.
Yes… life is busy. Work is hard. And there is no doubt that things are crazy in this time of life. But this is nothing new. It has been this way since the beginning of time itself.
When this millennial generation raises their collective heads from their smartphones and for the first time they really take a look at life, some don’t like what they see.
They see the ugly part of life.
They see political chaos.
They see the horror of war.
They see the senseless acts of terrorism.
They see people separated by social class and race.
The haves and the have-nots.
Yes… this world is ugly. It has been this way since the beginning of time. Read the history of the human race. More importantly… read the Bible.
All documented there… the ugliness of the human spirit.
This generation sees the reality of life and for some their first take is to reject the faith of their family and of past generations.
They believe that the church is to blame.
Surely their parents got it wrong.
They quickly head in other directions.
One direction is they dig deeper into their social media outlets and escape the realities of life. They become naïve to this world and have no interest in dealing with this reality they see.
Now there are many “escapes” that can be found in social media. We live in a world that people have the most information at their fingertips but fail to learn and retreat to a fantasy world. Not in all cases, but I am sure that many would rather escape into the fantasy world that doesn’t exist rather than understanding their responsibility to reach a lost and dying world for Jesus Christ.
I wonder the impact on the world if they used this same passion into reaching others for Christ.
I think, in these days of craziness, the biggest enemy of the church is apathy.
Apathy is a slow chilling of our faith and interest that leaves us unfeeling and uncaring about the most important thing in life – a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Apathy kills the passion for the truths of Jesus Christ. It causes us to doubt. It causes us to question His existence. If you think that Jesus Christ wasn’t born of a virgin, if He wasn’t the Son of God, if He could not pay the price for sin and without a real belief in what He did for us on the Cross of Calvary, then why should we keep going? Why should we continue to be part of something that does nothing for us?
This is apathy. Our faith… on ice.
Apathy kills our faith. We get cold to things of God. It’s easy to wander, to become apathetic, to grow cold. It’s a challenge to stay near the flames, to seek out community even when you don’t feel like it. It’s important because the greatest weakness in our life is not outright sin… it’s apathy.
You need to know this can happen to all of us! We all can become cold to the truth of Scripture.
The flames of our faith are something we must protect. Your faith should not be dependent on what you see. It is better to believe without seeing, that is why it is called FAITH.
The direction that some take, is for many to question everything about their faith. They assume that because they don’t like the world they see that the church has failed and the church belief system is wrong.
The convince themselves that the Bible is wrong or at best the Bible is allegorical. Meaning that Bible is simply symbolic, figurative and metaphorical. It is at best a representation of moral truths. Surly not to be taken as literal truth and that many of the stories we read in the Bible are to be taken in as allegorical. Any truth in Scripture has to be “proven” by the scientific method. They hold that belief isn’t dependent on faith. It is based upon if it can be proven by science. I have had interesting conversations in discussing these issues, it has caused me to deepen my faith.
I still am bound by the fact that I don’t have to know everything about “how” something happened in the Bible. I am called to have “faith” to simply believe what God has said. I cannot pick and choose what I believe in Scripture. It is either all true or it is not. I am of the personal belief that if you choose to “not” believe something happened the way it says it did in the Bible, it becomes a slippery slope to unbelief in the whole truth of Scripture.
I have close friends that can be found in all of these directions. I am not here to take unfair shots at them. I have had constructive conversations with them. They know my beliefs and I will listen to hear their perspective and I will not argue with them. I don’t have to agree with them and in turn, they don’t have to agree with me.
In case you are wondering, I clearly post my Statement of Faith on this website. These are my truly held beliefs.
We all need to find the journey to truth.
Some journeys take a long time. Some never make it back.
What I have experienced since that cold brisk November day in 1970 are not waves of grief.
To be honest, instead of feeling waves of grief that come every now and then, I personally have felt grief every single day. No waves, just one consistent shade of grey that washes over me.
It is something that is part of me.
It isn’t something that I chose to have in my life and I work hard at hiding it, but it is always there. It is as close to me as breathing. It has been my life-long companion and it is as normal in my life as putting my clothes on in the morning. To be honest, I don’t even think about it that much anymore. In order to go about my day, I have to put clothes on. I can never consider another option without striking fear and disgust from those who would see me naked and exposed. That is what grief is like to me. Like the clothes I have to wear, it is something that I put on every day. I don’t have a choice. I wish I could but I can’t wash it off in the shower. I push it down as far as I can, but it’s always lurking and hiding somewhere just under the surface. It is a grey filter that clouds my world and I have carried this dark passenger with me since I was nine.
What blindsides me is not grief.
I have never shared this with anyone. It is something that I have struggled with since that horrible day. Guilt comes to me in these huge sucker-punch hits that I never see coming. They hit me so hard that it rams into my very soul. It feels as if someone has hit you so hard in the stomach that it sucks out everything you have – your heart, your oxygen, your whole being. It hits me out of nowhere. I cannot predict when or where it will show up. I cannot control it. The pangs of guilt hit me when I am doing some of the most mundane, common things in life. Like when they hit when I am driving in my car to work, or when I am listening to music or when I am working in my garage. They hit me when I walk into a room and see the pictures of my wife, my children and grandchildren hanging on the wall.
There have been times when they have hit me when I shop at the grocery store. Of course, no one else knows it. I remain still and stoic. I smile at the person I pass on the same aisle and I continue to fill my cart with milk and bread. But it’s there, spasms of guilt, flooding my heart and soul. A sucker-punch of the worst kind. No one is the wiser and I carry on with life. Never knowing when I will run into it next.
I sort of live in fear of that.
If you considered my world in 1970, you would have found that other than the 6:30 news bringing the horrors of the Vietnam War, the Manson Murders, the Kent State shootings and the occasional blurb about the civil unrest on the college campuses across America into our living room every night, I had always been protected from the outside world. The bad news that was projected on our black and white television was often tempered by shows like Gilligan’s Island, Mayberry RFD and the Beverly Hillbillies. This was long before reality TV. Almost all the programs on our television at the time were based upon some type of non-reality life. The premise of a hillbilly living in Hollywood with a cement pond, or the plausible reality of a group of people, on a three-hour tour, to be forever stranded on a deserted island was all the reality we needed.
In early October 1970, I had some medical issues that required surgery. I was being admitted into Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton, Ohio. I was going to have surgery and I would be absent for two-weeks from Mrs. Gulau’s classroom at R.C. Water’s Elementary School.
Mrs. Gulau was my 4th grade teacher. While there is no doubt that she was a wonderful teacher, she seemed ancient to me. She seemed out of touch even by Oak Harbor standards. Mrs. Gulau was old school before old school was a thing. She was a strict teacher. She allowed no excuses for missing homework assignments and ran her classroom like a well-oiled machine. No deviation from the schedule was permitted. I struggled with her being my teacher and I will admit it wasn’t her fault.
It was mine.
At the young age of nine, I had figured out that the best way to get through school was to not make waves. At all costs, I would try to not to get noticed and for the love of all things pure and holy, I never raised my hand to answer a question. I was always smarter than I ever let on, but I wasn’t willing to try to talk in front of people for fear of my stuttering and making myself look foolish in front of people. I was content to fade into the background. I was easy to not remember. I am sure if you asked a few of my classmates from that school year, they would struggle to ever remember me.
Just someone they used to know.
After a few days in the hospital, I was discharged. I was home bound for a week before I was permitted to go back to school. After I started going back to class, Mrs. Gulau had made arraignments with my mother to have me stay after school for a few weeks to catch up on my studies. I would stay until 3:45 PM, about an hour after school let out for the rest of the students.
Then November 5th 1970 happened.
It was a cool day, about 45 degrees and a little windy as I remember it. I had a pretty good day at school and I was finally feeling like I was getting back into the routine of Mrs. Gulau’s classroom. The school day ended and I completed my hour of tutoring with my teacher. I was now waiting by the west side door, that the teachers used. Normally, I always came in and left through the front door of the school. I always rode the bus that would take me and the kids from my neighborhood to the High School on Church Street. From there, we would meander the two blocks or so to get home in time to watch Gilligan’s Island that came on at 4:00 PM every day after school.
But the last few days were different. There wasn’t a late bus to take me home and I was too young to walk all that way back home before it got dark at 5:30 PM. So I stood there in silence as Mrs. Gulau looked impatiently out the door to see if my ride was there yet. My cousin, Larry was picking me up and he obviously was running a little late.
I always heard Larry’s car before I could ever see it. Not because his car ran bad or had a loud exhaust system, but rather Larry always played his music loud. I mean really loud. As predicted, Larry’s music was blaring from his car as he pulled up to the side door to pick me up.
Larry turned down the music and the passenger side door flew open as he stopped the car. I mumbled, “Goodbye,” to Mrs. Gulau and I saw the look on her face as she pushed the school door open as I started out to get into the car. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the loud music or because he was late to pick me up. Either way, it was clearly a look of displeasure that she was giving.
Larry said, “What’s her problem?” as I slid into the front passenger seat of his Chevy Corvair. I responded, “I have no idea.” and then I hear my brother Bobby and his best friend, Buster laughing from the back seat. They were always laughing when they were together. I never really knew what they laughed about all the time but here they were laughing about something and they were the only ones that knew why.
I slam the car door closed and Larry cranks the music even louder than before just to see if he can get another reaction from the teacher. She disappears into the darkened hallway, shaking her head with displeasure, and we pull out onto Ottawa Street to head back to our home on Walnut Street.
I settle into my seat and I notice that my brother had his dog with him.
“What are you guys doing?” I ask.
“Wouldn’t you like to know!!” my brother said in sarcasm, as only brothers can. It was as if he knew I was going to ask that question. Buster and Bobby mumble something to each other and they burst out laughing again.
Larry, seeing that my feelings were going to get hurt by the banter that happens organically between brothers, put his cigarette down and said, “I‘m dropping them off so they can check their traps on Mylander’s farm.”
“Can I go with you?” I asked inquisitively.
“Dude, your mom told me to bring you straight home. You’re going to have to ask her. But you’re going to have to ask fast because I have to get to work soon.” Larry explained.
I nodded in silence and I distinctly remember the song, Lola by the Kinks was blaring on the radio and as my brother and Buster were laughing and playing with the dog in the backseat. I was right where I loved to be. I always rode around town with Larry whenever I could. I loved it because Larry would play the music really loud and he would tell me stuff about why this song was great and why he felt that song wasn’t good. I always felt accepted and thought he enjoyed having me around.
Besides the occasional outburst of laughter that came from my brother and Buster from the back seat, we road back to our house in silence. Only the sounds of the Kink’s reverberating throughout the car.
We pull into the driveway and I see my mom waiting by the kitchen screen door. She obviously was wondering where we were because we were getting back a little later than normal. Larry turned down the radio and as the car comes to a stop. I push the car door open and step up on the seat of the car and pull myself up to look over the roof.
“Hey Ma, can I ride with Larry to drop Bobby off?” I asked.
“No, Larry is running late and dinner will be ready soon” she responded.
“Come on Ma! Larry said he would drop me back off” I yelled.
“I said NO!!” she pushed back. “Come in the house so Larry can get to work.”
I started to respond but the back rest of the car seat flew forward and my brother started to climb out from the back seat. As he pushes me away from the car he says, “Come on Larry, let’s go before it gets too dark”.
I am so angry that my mom would not let me go. I had been working so hard after school to get caught up on my schoolwork, that I could not believe that she wouldn’t let me do this one thing. I mean, I hadn’t been able to ride around with Larry for a long time and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to me. I trudged over to the front door and my mom opened the door a little wider to let me in. I stormed past her, bumping her with my shoulder. I hit her hard enough that I was certain that she was going to grab my arm and make me settle down, but she didn’t.
I stormed through the kitchen and down the hallway to the living room. All the while, mumbling under my breath about how unfair it was and how angry I was at my mom for not letting me go with them.
My sister, Linda was already in the living room watching TV and an episode of Gilligan’s Island had already started. I hear the radio from Larry’s car as he pulled out of the driveway and headed down to Benton Street. I sat myself down angrily on the couch and pulled the curtain back and watched that black Corvair disappear on its way down the street. I turned around and started to watch the TV.
It seemed like only a few seconds before I started to hear the shrill whine of the sirens. We lived a few blocks from the main siren in town and for some reason it seemed unusually loud and never-ending.
My mom walks in to the living room and doesn’t say a word, but just the look on her face tells me that something is wrong. No words are spoken and she makes her way down the hall and back into the kitchen. It is then the kitchen door busts open and I hear unfamiliar voices coming from the kitchen and in an instant, there is confusion in our house. I hear a voice above the noise, “There has been an accident and they think it’s the Lee boys!!”
I hear my mom talking but I can’t make out what she is saying and my sister and I are left alone in the living room just staring at each other trying to process the chaos that has just forced its way into our lives.
Next thing I know, Linda and I are shuttled upstairs into my parents’ bedroom and we were told that our mom was going to check on my brother. Nothing else was said to us and the door was closed to separate us from the rest of the house. We sat for hours, in silence, on the edge of my parent’s bed, knowing that something bad happened but we did not know what it was. We never considered that death was a possibility. Our family had only dealt with the death of a great-grandmother and none of us had ever considered that it would ever touch our family.
With my sister and I quietly sequestered upstairs in my parent’s bedroom. There wasn’t much need to check in on us. We could hear the commotion downstairs. The loudness, the overlapping voices, the sudden periods of extreme quietness. The constant opening and closing of our back door.
Finally, I had enough and I snuck out of my parent’s bedroom. I made my way quietly down the wooden steps of our home. The landing of the stairwell opened up into our living room and it was filled with people.People that I am sure were familiar to me but as I recollect they all seemed faceless, except for their eyes. It seemed to me that people looked through me as if I did not exist. People who did not know what to say or simply ignored the traumatized nine-year-old that was walking in their midst. I made my way down the dark hallway towards our kitchen.
As I got to the doorway that opens up into our kitchen, I heard my mom talking on the phone.
It was at that moment that I would learn the truth. “I need to get a message to Robert Lee” my mom pleaded. “I need him to call home as soon as possible because his son was killed today in a car accident.”
Some calls change your life forever.
Waves of grief? No.
As an adult, I get the reasons why things happened the way they did that day. No one did anything intentional. Everyone was in shock. No one ever spoke to me about it. In fairness, I never spoke a word about it either. No one sat down with me and helped me come to terms that it was just an accident. No one ever saw the guilt that was heaped onto my shoulders. No one saw that there was a nine-year-old boy who to this very day carries the weight for what happened.
Why did I have surgery that October? Why couldn’t it have waited until Christmas break? Why did I have to stay after school? Why did I ask to go with them in the first place? Why did I ask my mom in the first place? Surely my delay caused this to happen. Why didn’t I protest more about not being able to go with Larry? Maybe I should have taken more time and delayed them. The train would have passed before they got to the railroad crossing. Thirty seconds either way and the results would have been so different.
Somewhere deep inside of me is that young boy and he will never come to terms with the results of that day. The same could be said for my mom, my brother and sister too. I am sure that they have their own grief and have to deal with the guilt that comes from these kinds of tragedies.
We have never discussed this as a family.
Life has to be lived and you have to move forward.
However, it doesn’t lessen the pain of guilt that I experience. I feel guilt because I have been able to live a long life. I have been able to experience the wonderful things that this life has to offer. My brother and my cousin Larry never got to experience the joy of bringing a child into this world. They didn’t get to travel around the world or shake the hands of two US Presidents, like I did. They will never hear the joyous sound of a grandchild yelling, “Grandpa!!!” in excitement when you walk into a room and they see you.
After 46 years, the pangs of guilt don’t come as often, but they still lurk in the dark places and appear at the most unexpected times.
I have been blessed by a mother who chose not to let me go on that fateful day. I will continue to live life to the fullest.
It is what Bobby and Larry would have wanted me to do.