At the end of Lonely Street

IMG_2199My family and I toured Graceland the other day. It was kind of funny going from the Biltmore Estate and the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s not to say that Graceland wasn’t impressive, but it was just……different. Biltmore was home to a tycoon while Graceland was home to a king, but we all know that money can’t buy you love, or happiness, or all of the things in life that seem to matter more than possessions.

Walking through the halls and rooms of Graceland, I was mixed with both a sense of awe as well as a profound sadness deep inside. It felt almost like hallowed ground, and I hesitate to even use the term “hallowed” but there’s no other word that I can find to describe it. It was almost as if you could feel Elvis in the air, hear his voice ringing through the walls.

The tour didn’t include the upstairs, where Elvis is supposed to have breathed his last breath. We walked through the first floor of the house, into his dad’s office, into the trophy building, and to the racquetball building. His accolades, accomplishments, and acquisitions were on full display for everyone to see. In some ways, I felt as if I was going over a friend’s house and having him show me all of his treasures and awards, bashfully boasting, but not with an arrogance so much as in an effort to be accepted, to be loved, to prove something to me.

As I meandered through these buildings, taking in all the features, seeing Elvis’ achievements, awards, outfits, and more, I started to think about the fact that he died at 42, a year younger than me. There is no mention in the house of his broken relationship with Priscilla. There is no mention in the house of how he died and what he had gotten into by the time of his death. No, this was a place of homage to a king and one of the reasons why it’s good to be king is that people might only remember the good things that you did.

IMG_2102At the end of the house tour, you find yourself in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are all buried. Standing there a day after the five year anniversary of my mother’s death, I thought that I was going to start bawling like a baby. But why? It’s not like I knew him, but like I said, I was overcome with a deep sadness as I thought about him, his achievements, what he had become, and what he might have been had he lived on. As I saw my children walking through the garden ahead of me, I choked back the emotions that were desperately trying to rise up within my throat.

I stood over his grave, thinking about this man whose end had come too soon. I thought about what he had accomplished in his short 42 years and I wondered what he thought and what he felt in those last hours of his life.

After walking through the house and garden, we walked through the Lisa Marie, his custom airplane. We walked past his cars, his motor toys, and a few of his motorcycles. I’m not sure that you could call it “excess” but he liked things that were nice and he wasn’t afraid to pay for them. He had the money, after all, and looking at it all, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was trying to find something else with all this stuff, if he was trying to find the very thing that no amount of money could ever buy.

He had acquired a lot of stuff, had racked up lots of awards, he even had been quietly philanthropic with his money, giving to charities here and there without the usual self-trumpeting of most celebrities. He was the king of rock and roll, the man who had started it all with his swinging pelvis. His legacy was there before me, I had walked past it and I could hear it in the air, almost feel it.

Sure, he lives on, some may say, in his music, in this mansion, and in the hearts of all of his fans. But I wish that I could have jumped in a time machine and traveled back 50 years or so. I wish I could have hung out with him in the Jungle Room, picked up his guitar and jammed with him a little. In much the same way that Elton John sang about Marilyn Monroe, I think I could say the same thing about Elvis, I would have loved to have just had a conversation with him, to hear his heart a little bit.

I’m sure he was a fun guy, he liked to party, but I would have loved to have been there when the party was over, when his friends left, when there was quiet in Graceland, and when he was alone with himself. I wonder what thoughts he thought, I wonder what dreams he dreamed, I wonder whether he had any regrets running through his mind. I wonder who he really was when the lights were off, the cameras were gone, and he didn’t feel like he had to perform.

The day that we pulled out of Graceland, my son and I walked out to the entrance of the RV Park where we stayed and took the picture above. At the end of Lonely Street is the Heartbreak Hotel. Even if you turned off all the Elvis music playing around you, I think you might hear him faintly singing in the air.

It was good to pay homage to the King, a little sad, but he’s left a legacy, despite his flaws. And as we pulled out of Lonely Street towards our next destination, it was fitting that Elvis was playing in the car!

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Gathering Together

This past weekend, my family and I traveled up to Mystic, Connecticut to celebrate the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. Although I got a cold on the way that was eventually shared with others in my family and everyone was a little cranky from all the traveling, the time together was nothing short of celebratory and even a taste of heaven.

Having lost both of my grandmothers when I was in college, having my wife’s grandmother has been special not only to me and my wife, but to our children as well. She turned 85 last week, but she certainly doesn’t show lots of signs of her age. Sure, she’s slowed down a lot in the time that I’ve known her, but she’s as witty and wise as that day. She’s thoughtful and loving as well, thinking so much of others. She’s always quick to send a card for special occasions but also just to encourage people and to let them know that they are being prayed for and thought about by her.

It’s moments like the ones that we spent last weekend that remind me what a celebration we will experience one day when we will be united together with all of those who have gone before us. Thinking about the laughter and the shared memories, the stories, and the fun only give a glimpse of what we will experience when we one day stand before our Savior.

I chuckled during the weekend at the fact that I’m about halfway to 85 myself. I could only look, act, and feel half as good as my grandmother-in-law if and when that day actually arrives for me.

With 85 years of memories, there are lots to share, but I was struck by the fact that many of the memories and stories that were shared were stories of encouragement, love, prayer, and faith. Her children and grandchildren shared of the faith that had been instilled in them through her. She and her husband had put a priority on that faith and it was evident throughout all of the generations represented this weekend.

As the years swiftly move past, it seems that time acts as a filter of sorts, filtering out the less important things so that what remains is what you can hold closest to your heart. That theory was affirmed this weekend. All five of my grandmother-in-law’s children were there along with all twelve of her grandchildren and all but four of her sixteen great-grandchildren.

Sitting in the lobby of the hotel, passersby would stop to observe the whole family, wondering what on earth was going on. What was this crowd that had gathered? So many strangers came up and wished the “birthday girl” a happy birthday. The celebration was infectious and contagious, it was neat to watch the smiles spread on the faces of those walking by, especially when they discovered what the celebration was all about.

The celebration of a life that is lived is usually reserved for after a person passes. I was so glad to be part of such a celebration that took place while we can still enjoy the company and presence of the one being celebrated. I don’t know how many more celebrations that we can have with my grandmother-in-law, but I look forward to every single one, no matter how far we have to travel, how tired we are, and how cranky everyone gets (including me).

I don’t know how long I’ll be here on this earth, but I do know that I’ve watched a number of people go before me who have set the bar high on standards for living. I’m not talking about how much money they made or how monetarily rich they were, but how rich they were in their relationships with others. Those who serve as examples for me have shown me what is valuable and I can only hope and pray that the example I set for my kids and their kids might be a fraction of what’s been passed on to me.

A Reflection

mirrorEver have a comment that someone made leave you speechless or stop you in your tracks? Not in a bad way, but in a good way.

I was talking with a friend last night on the phone. She and her husband have become surrogate parents to me and surrogate grandparents to my children especially in the wake of my parents’ death. They’ve given above and beyond the call of duty and done everything that family would do for us. Other than the blood connection, there is nothing else that distinguishes them from family.

As we talked on the phone, she was commenting upon a sermon that I had given at church in the morning. She said, “I didn’t know your dad and I never heard him preach, but I can’t help but think about how proud of you he would have been.”

The lump rose in my throat and I was rendered speechless in that moment. A guy who speaks and writes for a living had no words to offer up.

Those words rang in my head for the rest of the evening. I reflected on just what that meant.

My dad and I were different people. While there are certain idiosyncrasies that have reared their heads to remind me of our connection, there are many differences between the two of us.

But there’s something to be said about a reflection. I couldn’t help but wonder the reflection that I have been of my earthly father. Those who knew him may see it more than others. Those who didn’t know him may get a glimpse of him when they see me.

It’s moments like these that I wish he was still here. The old adage that if I knew then what I know now holds true. How I wish that we could have shared more moments of exchanging thoughts, ideas, philosophies, and other things. Our relationship was good, don’t get me wrong, but one of the consequences of loss is that we always will look back at what might have been, and this is no exception.

My father knew no strangers. While I wouldn’t consider my father opportunistic, he never missed opportunities to tell someone about the things that he loved and the people he cared for. He never stood down from his convictions and was never afraid to engage in healthy debates and conversations with someone with whom he disagreed. Never in a hateful or angry way, always in a loving and gentle manner, regardless of what came back at him.

While some of those characteristics are present in me, like I said, I’m very different than my father. But I think my friend was right, I think Dad would be proud if he watched and observed. I still have notes where he expressed that very thing to me, his pride at who I had and was becoming, as a father, as a son, as a husband, as a pastor, as a person. Those notes remain cherished pieces of a relationship that lives on within me.

I can assure you that if my father were still around, we would still engage in some healthy debates. We wouldn’t see eye to eye and our philosophies would most likely butt up against each other, but I think he would be proud to know the values he had instilled in me.

Yes, if he had been there yesterday, I think he would have risen up with pride for who I was becoming. I’m a far cry from perfect, but I’m a reflection of who he was for all to see. More importantly, I’m a reflection of my heavenly Father as well. Even further from a perfect image, but every day becoming more and more who I was created to be.

Striking Gold – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: As I am getting older and my mortality is hitting me in the face, I realize how important it is to make memories and “moments in time” for loved ones to cherish. There is not enough wealth in the world to compare to sharing a sunset with someone you love – whether your children, parents or good friends. When we make memories, we never really leave our loved ones. Hopefully, the most important part of who we are remains intact, to be shared for generations.]

I knew it for years before she died, but since her death and since going through boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, it has been officially confirmed: my mom saved everything. No joke. When I say “everything,” I mean it. I have report cards from elementary school, newspaper clippings for when I was on the honor roll in high school, drawings that I did in art class while in kindergarten, and a sundry of other mementos from my early life and childhood.

What’s been really funny to me is to see how some of these mementos have acted like mental dominos, triggering memories of other mementos which trigger memories of others and others and others beyond that. I can get lost in the memories that are conjured up by the smallest of trinkets or even the faintest of smells.

I found a tape of me singing that I knew existed but wasn’t quite sure where. My mom had played it for me over and over again as I was growing up. When I found it after looking high and low, I played it for my kids, who were getting quite a kick out of hearing their dad sing songs like “The Monkees” theme song, “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Odd Couple” theme song, and a few others.

It’s simply amazing to me how these things have the power of transporting me to a different time and place. That seems to be the power of our senses, all five of them, they can take us away to a place and time far away. With a simple sound or smell or word even, we can find ourselves dreaming about something that happened long ago.

I mentioned to someone the other day that I kept a bottle of my father’s cologne and my mother’s perfume right next to my sink in the bathroom. On occasion, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I will reach down and pick up one of the bottles, put it up to my nose, close my eyes, and take a deep breath in. When smelling my father’s cologne, the day that it usually takes me to was a day when my father was in the rehab facility where he eventually died. I had realized how much of a creature of habit he was when he would get upset with me for not giving him specifics about when I would be arriving to pick him up. Smelling my mother’s perfume brings me back to Sunday mornings in church, sitting next to her, sometimes holding her hand, always feeling safe and secure with her by my side. It reminds me of how the house smelled when she was getting ready on all of those Sunday mornings.

One day, I told my dad exactly when I would be there to visit him and when I got there, I walked into his room to find him dressed nicely with a shirt and tie on. I searched my memory to try to figure out whether I was forgetting something. Did we have an appointment with an attorney or someone else that had slipped my mind? I didn’t think so. So, I said to him, “Why are you all dressed up, Dad?” He just looked up at me with a big smile and said, “My son was coming to visit me.” Cue the lump in my throat. What a special day it was and that’s the day that my brain conjures up every time that I take a deep breath of his cologne.

It’s ironic that things like homemade tapes and bottles of cologne might be considered “gold.” Many people might be looking around for the things that have monetary value, but those things pale in comparison to what I’ve found. These are the things from which memories are made. There is no price that could be attached to them, their value is priceless.

It certainly makes me think through what it is that I am leaving for my children. I hope that memories like these are the things that they value above everything else. When we spend time with those we love, we embed that time into our memories, creating moments that we can call up from our memory banks when we want them or need them. Those are the gifts to me and I am so grateful to have had them.

The Power of Words

angelouHaving been one of those engineering types in college, I merely had to take 2 English courses before I got on with the rest of my engineering studies. When I look back on that, while I was glad, in some ways, to not have to be bogged down with literature courses or creative writing courses, I feel like there is an awful lot that I missed along the way.

English classes in high school feel far off to me now for more than the obvious reason that they were more than 20 years ago. For whatever reason, I don’t remember a whole lot of what we studied, although I do remember some of the books. While there were a number of classics that we read like The Great Gatsby, Catcher In the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, and others, I feel like some other important works and authors of both American and English literature were passed over.

One of those important authors who I felt was passed over died yesterday. Maya Angelou, the African American poet and writer whose work spanned and influenced multiple generations, died in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Although I knew of Angelou by name and even by the names of some of her works, I had never delved into any of those works. I was preoccupied with other things, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that those other things were more important. The beauty of the written word is that it can be enjoyed, cherished, and influential even posthumously. That’s what Angelou’s words will have to be for me.

What strikes me about Angelou is her commitment to words and her commitment to live them out. As unfamiliar as I am with her writing, it doesn’t take a scholar to understand that Angelou was not simply a poet and writer who wrote words to earn a living or to be an influence, she wrote words because it was who she was and how she expressed herself. She was able to capture in story the feelings that many others had experienced before and since her. That is the power of words, to articulate emotions in literary form that have seemed elusive to those who have experienced them.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” has risen to the top of my reading list. I expect that when I read it that I will not be disappointed. I expect that the power of her words will strike me in much the same way that those words have struck thousands before me. I expect that the hype of this author and poet will live up to the expectation that it created.

Thank you, Ms. Angelou, for your courageous words. I look forward to knowing you more through what you’ve written. I look forward to learning more about myself and the world because of what you have left behind.

What’s Left?

Mickey_Rooney_stillLegendary actor Mickey Rooney died this week at the age of 93 from natural causes. Even though he had an unprecedented 90 year film career, his assets at the time of death were valued at approximately $18,000. Seriously? 70 years ago, Rooney was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. How is it that when he died he had such a meager amount of money? What happened to all of the money that he earned along the way?

Rooney, during his lifetime, went through his fair share of money as well as women, having been married eight times. At the time of his death, he had disinherited most of his family, not claiming ill will towards them, but claiming that they had been better off than he was.

It’s always interesting to me, in light of my own past few years, to know what people leave behind. Too often, we look at people who would be considered “rich” by the world’s standards. We hear about the astronomical amounts of money and property that are left behind. We hear about the family squabbles as family members fight over what’s left and who will get the bulk of it. We hear about people who share a family name and even similar genetic make-up who treat each other worse than enemies. For what? Money? Property?

When my parents died, they did not have an awful lot, but considering the fairly humble lives that they had lived, it was fairly substantial. The funny thing was, that stuff was not nearly as important to me and my brother. We weren’t fighting over money and property. Actually, we weren’t fighting over anything other than the fact that we just wanted our parents back again. The things that they left behind that were of the most value to us were the intangible things, what they had given to us along the way, our character, our integrity, our values.

As morbid as it might sound, I often wonder what my children will say about me and what I’ve left for them once I’m gone. Will they fight over any tangible assets, or will they all think about the other things that I’ve given them? What have I given them? Is it worth something? Can they pass it on as well?

Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35-37 ring out to me as I think this through, “For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” We might “gain the whole world,” but what good is it if we don’t have anything else?

While my career may not span nine decades when it’s all over, I hope that what I leave behind will be worth more in the hearts of the people left than on paper. I hope that the values and intangibles are the things that people are talking about, rather than the money. I’m not judging Rooney, he lived his life the way that he wanted to live it, but I am saying that I want to be different, I don’t want the things that I leave to be things that can be stolen, burned, or turned to dust and rust. I want what I leave to last. How about you?

The Trigger

Nope, this post isn’t about guns. Not even close. Sorry to disappoint you if that’s what you came here looking for, but I would love for you to stay and read.

I watched a movie the other night that caused me to write a post yesterday. The movie had to do with a father-son relationship. It triggered something in me that was bound to come. Two weeks from today will mark the one year anniversary of my father’s death. And so, as I began to pour my heart out onto a screen, as I watched the white space be filled with black letters, I should have realized that the trigger had been pulled and that from here on out, at least for the next few weeks, EVERYTHING will be a trigger to make me think of my dad.

The other night, I was at a choir rehearsal and we were going through a hymn book for an upcoming hymn sing that we are having. As I called out the numbers of the hymns we were singing, I came to hymn number 444…..and I began to laugh.

You see, I grew up going to two worship services on Sunday, one in the morning and one in the evening. The evening service was much more relaxed and casual. The order was more freeform and flexible with much less of a liturgy than its morning counterpart. My father, the pastor, would lead the singing in the beginning and would ask for requests. He had a very quirky sense of humor, so he would oftentimes go off on a silly tangent that most people didn’t think was very funny……at least I didn’t, but that might not count since most kids think their dads are dorks anyway.

But as I called out the number……444……it made me laugh, because it made me think of him, of my dad. It made me think of how he would have said it. He would have rolled the number over in his mouth a few times, letting it fall out in a silly and awkward way. 444….spoken with his Brooklyn, New York accent, a big smile on his face, beaming from ear to ear with pride that he had found humor in a simple number.

And there in front of nearly 30 people, I felt myself nervously laughing if for no other reason than to keep myself from crying. I could hear his voice, not audibly and out loud, but in my head. I could see his face. I could just sense the warmth of his personality. And it succeeded at equally causing a smile and breaking my heart simultaneously.

As April 17th approaches, there will be more triggers, more reminders, things that bring me back to my dad. I need to write about them, I need to share them, because, in a way, when I share them, I share him. Far from perfect yet perfect enough for me, I miss him every day, and I look forward to seeing him again.

So, I hope you’ll forgive my tangents down Memory Lane as I recall the man who helped to shape me, who helped to instill in me the faith that has kept me going over these last few years. I hope that I can share a glimpse enough that you can see him, that you can hear him, that you can sense the warmth of his presence as much as I do.

Thanks for reading!

Destined To Be

As the one year anniversary of my father’s death approaches, I can feel myself getting more introspective than usual. It feels like much longer than just a year as so much has happened over the past 12 months. This month is a busy month, for which I am grateful, with the swan song of the month being my birthday on the last day.

A friend and I were discussing the concept that movie watching can be a spiritual discipline the other day. I was glad to find someone else who appreciated the spiritual searching that could be evoked through watching films. It was a reminder to me that I need to get back into my 2014 Watch List as well as my 2014 Reading Plan. After choosing a few movies to share with this friend, I found one to watch myself.

It was a typical story of a son who is struggling to find his place having been abandoned by his father and having lost his mother. Just typing that sentence flips a switch and reminder to me that his story was similar, in a sense, to my own. But this son, Nick, is struggling as a writer, trying to figure out how to exist. His life is marred by broken relationships, failed job attempts, and a general misdirection. Then, he meets his father.

His father contacts him to help him after he has been evicted from his apartment. The encounter is brief and they don’t see each other again until Nick is working at a homeless shelter that his father checks into. The awkwardness is palpable as Nick interacts with his coworkers who have already begun to form ideas both about Nick’s father and about Nick. You can see the looks, you can almost hear the whispers as they see this man whose life has been marked by failed efforts and relationships, and Nick comes to the place that so many of us come to in our lives, the place of questioning whether or not we are destined to become our parents, for good or for bad.

It’s a question that I have pondered more than once in the last few years. There are times that the desire to buck up against the life that my father lived seems to drive me, evoking a defiance in me as I claim that I will not make the same mistakes. Which such passion and defiance, it becomes humbling when those very same mistakes seem to be duplicated in my own life, and I realize that it’s not about trying to undo what’s been done or even making sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that my father made. It really comes down to identity. Who am I?

While there is a driving force that causes me to run far and fast from the evidence of my father that I see in me, to be consumed and focused on that makes it seem as if there was nothing at all good in him, it’s a focus on the negative, on the areas of improvement that he had in his life, and that’s just not fair. Somewhere along the way, I was enlightened to his story, growing up in Brooklyn, the younger of two boys, an alcoholic father, a working mother, and eventually, living in a single parent household in the formative teen years. When I began to understand what he had gone through, I realized that he was doing the best that he knew how considering the circumstances that had shaped him.

Every child who has experienced the difficulty of their parents will always ask the question of whether or not they are destined to become like their parents. Every hint of anything of their parents in them can cause them great dismay and disappointment. I’ve tried not to let that drive me though. Like I said, my father made mistakes, but they didn’t define him, nor should they have had. There were areas of improvement that I have taken notice of and am doing my best to work out in my own life, but I do them in accordance with who I am, not who I don’t want to be.

At the end of the movie that I was watching, the need to not become his father drives Nick towards “success.” He writes the book that his father always claimed that he had written. He pushes away from the addiction that entangled his father. He chooses to live in truth rather than by spinning a web of lies. But he does take something positive from his father, he chooses to use his life to help others and becomes a teacher in an urban setting, helping kids to learn in a difficult setting.

Who are we becoming? Is it really about destiny? In some way, I think it is, but I feel like it’s way more about who God has made me to be than about who I’m trying to avoid being. I am grateful for my father and my mother, both of whom were full of strengths and weaknesses. When I see glimpses of them in me, I hope that they are good glimpses, I hope that they don’t cause me to run and hide, I hope that they might be characteristics that my children will look at and see as beneficial to carry on.

If I see glimpses of things that I want to avoid, I don’t panic, but I ask myself what I am doing to change and why. Some of the greatest growth that I have seen in myself has been when those faults and flaws have been pointed out to me and I’ve made steps to change, not by myself, but with the help of others.

I am grateful that I had two parents who I was proud to say were mine. I am grateful for the way that they raised me, successes and failures alike. I am grateful for those glimpses that I see of them in me and even in my children, for those are the memories of who they were and are, the legacy of who they’ve made me to be.

Daddy’s Banjo

There’s something to buying brand new instruments, the look, the feel, the smell of them.  But there’s also something to inheriting instruments.  They might not always be the greatest quality and they might not always sound as good as your other instruments, but there’s something nostalgic about playing an instrument owned by someone you love, almost as if you can somehow connect with them through time.2013-05-26 11.54.17

My dad was a pastor for many years and spent the majority of his time pastoring the church and caring for all of the people within it.  He didn’t have a whole lot of hobbies.  In fact, one of the fears that I had when he neared retirement was that there was nothing for him to look forward to, all of the things that he had done were taken away from him and there was nothing left in which to invest other than what may have seemed secondary to him.

Years before his retirement, before it was even in sight, my mom, my brother, and I decided to buy Dad a banjo.  He loved to sing and had once played guitar and clarinet, but he had expressed an interest in playing the banjo years earlier.  I had remembered that wish and decided to see if we could introduce him to a new hobby.  We bought him the banjo, friends from church got him some lessons, and he was on his way.

He had a few lessons, but I never heard him play.  I guess in my mind, I secretly wished that we could “jam” together, him on banjo and me on guitar.  Sadly, that never happened.

When he started getting sicker, I decided to take most of the valuable things out of his house and keep them with me.  Among those things was the banjo that we had bought him.  It saddened me that he had really never had the chance to play it, but I figured that I might get some use out of it.

I picked it up here and there, but never really gave it the time that I needed to give it…..until last week.  We had an opportunity as a church to do an evening of music at a local coffeehouse.  It’s such a cool place where we have been having staff meeting and it reminds me of Asheville, a place that my wife and I grew to love in our brief time there.  Very earthy and organic feel.

With the success of Mumford and Sons, many bands have tried to emulate their sound and there was a song that I had grown fond of that just seemed like it was screaming for a banjo.  I decided to introduce it among some of the other songs that we would play that night, and I decided to play Dad’s banjo on it.

I dusted the banjo off, did some minor work to it, and figured out how to play what I needed to play.  Off I went.  It seemed appropriate that the first song played by that banjo in public would be called “Build Your Kingdom Here.”  That was my dad’s heart, to see the Kingdom of God built, and he gave his life for that, fully devoted and committed to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.  Here are the words for the song, and below is a recording of us doing the song.

So grateful for my dad and all that I learned from him.  Sad that he wasn’t able to enjoy the banjo, but glad that I was able to honor him and the God he served his entire life with this song.

75

Dylan & Irene 2In the midst of me sharing about my lessons learned from my excursion into solo parenting for a few days, I would be remiss not to mention someone who had the greatest influence on me as a parent: my mom.  Today happens to be her birthday as well, so my heart is heavy with thoughts of her as it would have been her 75th birthday today.

I miss her very much, but who I am and how I relate to my children is due in large part to the influence that she had on me.  My mom had incredible talents and abilities that she put aside in order that she could stay home and raise my brother and me.  Fortunately, we were able to survive on that, not something that is easy to do in today’s culture.  Things are so expensive and it becomes difficult for only one parent to work, even when the material expectations of the family are not as high as our culture may dictate or mandate.

I’ve heard it say that men generally marry their mothers and women generally marry their fathers.  In other words, they find someone who resembles (in trait) their father or mother.  My wife and I have had discussions about that and have both agreed that in many ways, I am very different from her father and she is very different from my mother.  At the same time, we’ve seen some striking similarities that lie deep within, specifically when it comes to character.  My wife resembles my mom in her heart and that is one of the things that attracted me to her.

My mom was always so loving and gentle with children.  That’s not to say that she never got mad, but she had a way with kids that was so evident.  That’s probably why she worked with children in the school system for over 25 years.  She was perceptive and could always see things in children that others might bypass.  My oldest son was the apple of her eye.  He was her first grandchild and I think he reminded her of me, whom she loved deeply.  She would get down on the floor and play with them, never one to shy away from whatever it is that children were doing.  She was “hands on” in her parenting.

During my time as “Solo Dad” for the weekend, I gained an even greater understanding of the need for that kind of “hands on” parenting.  It’s too easy to be “checked out” in our culture of gadgets and technology.  I find myself zoning out or wanting to run to a computer, tablet, or phone in the midst of moments that will soon pass me by.  When in doubt, my default position needs to orient myself towards my children, especially when it means getting down on the ground and playing whatever they are playing.

My mom always loved games.  We were a board game kind of family.  Scrabble.  Yahtzee.  Trivial Pursuit.  We loved to play games.  We also loved to do puzzles.  Both of these things are things that I have tried to instill into my children as well.  In fact, while my wife was away, we bought a new game that my boys have taken to.  While I type this, there is a halfway finished game of Disney Monopoly lying on the floor of my boys’ room.  These are the moments that I will cherish forever.

They are also the memories that I cherish about my mom and her mom before her.  I remember my brother sharing a memory at my grandmother’s memorial service that had to do with her passion for Scrabble.  That passion was passed on from her to my mom to me and now to my children.  All of us spent time doing puzzles, playing games, and enjoying one another’s company.  Even if we had had the internet, nothing would have compared to what we were experiencing.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it, the legacy that we leave will carry on if we instill it properly.  Of course, that can easily be said of our faults and bad habits as well (but that’s a post for tomorrow).  For now, I will remember my mom today.  I will remember the way that she parented me, the way that she loved me, the way that she still lives on inside of me.  I can only hope that when she sees all of her grandchildren again that she will be proud of the job that I’ve done.  After all, I couldn’t have done it without her.