I have always loved nature. Growing up, we did not have a tv in the house, so we were entertained by God's green earth, and not by the television or video games. If I was bored, I would go to the wood pile, fetch me some lumber, and go build a deer stand. I was always hunting, fishing, frog-gigging, bicycling, or camping under the stars. I was a whole lot more of an outdoorsman growing up, than I was with my three kids. Or was I? I recently took a stroll down memory lane by looking at pictures from the past. Granted, my pictures only extend back about 12 years in Google Photos, but the memories live on in my head and heart. Take a stroll down memory lane with me.
It all started in 1974, the year that I was born. I was born in Cincinnati, OH. My mom moved my brother and I to Kentucky in 1985 when I was 11 years old. I was always labeled as a city slicker, but I can assure you I wasn't. I confess that I was not well versed in stripping tobacco, bailing hay, or pulling a calf at that point, but I later got my farm boy education from my neighbor J.C. McCurdy. The above two pictures are from 1978. My brother Michael and I were and are thicker than blood (I am on the left in both pictures). We are two peas in a pod, and still to this day talk to each other daily. Mike is almost 3 years older than me, but I think that we have both grown into looking up to and respecting the other. The above picture that has 1978 written on it, was taken when I was 4 years old. Ironically that is the age of my grandson Thomas, and boy do I see the resemblance in that picture. My brother Michael is wearing the shirt with 12 written on it, and to his right was our childhood best friend Michael Haines, and our best friend Tammy Matson who is climbing the tree. She was the tomboy amongst us that taught us about life in a circle of boys. Without one of the four of us there, we just weren't complete. Each one of us was part of the "Foxhunter Lane Gang" and we trolled the streets on our little Schwinn bikes like there was no tomorrow. We would take off while the sun was up, and knew to return when the sun was setting, or when we heard mom ringing the cowbell. Either way, the world was ours to have, and we weren't going to waste our time indoors.
The above pictures were all taken through the years in Ludington, MI. I grew up vacationing in Michigan, and my mom did with her family since the 1940's. I have so many fond memories of Ludington, and continue to go back there. My brother Michael and I are taking a brothers trip there this fall to relive some of the memories, and to create new ones. In 2017 I had asked David to go to Ludington with me for 5 days on a Father-Son trip. He was going through a rough patch in life that year, and decided not to go with me. I instead took Hannah on a Father-Daughter trip, and we had a blast. The next year I took Nathan on a Father-Son trip to Ludington, and we also had a good time. By that time, David had enlisted in the Army and was off to basic training, and we never got to take our trip. He would mention to me through the years that followed, "Hey Dad, do you think that we can take that Father-Son trip to Ludington that I missed out on?" I told him absolutely, and we would plan it, but his overseas deployment to South Korea prohibited this. Well in the fall of 2020, David started asking me more about taking that Father-Son trip the summer of 2021. One of the last long conversations that I had with David over the phone in December of 2020, he asked me again, "Hey Dad, we are still planning our Ludington trip next July, right?" There was nothing that could keep me from taking that trip with David, or so I thought. On December 23rd, 2020 David was taken from this earth in an auto accident. I remember thinking to myself how I longed for that trip to Ludington with David, and I still do. As promised last summer I went to Ludington by myself, but with David in my heart. I have to admit it was not the same. I went and retraced all of the things that we used to do both as me growing up as a kid, and later when he would grow up as a kid. I would eat fish at Bortello's, but it wasn't the same. Getting ice cream at House of Flavors without him wasn't the same. Riding in the Jon boat without him weighing down the front, just wasn't the same. That week I realized that that as much as I yearn for reliving those memories with David, I have to move forward and make new memories. He will always be in my heart.
Amy is going to be mortified that I put the above picture on this blog for all to see. Sorry dear, my editing functions are broken on my website, and it won't let me take it down. :) I put this picture of David on here, because I took it, and it absolutely makes me laugh every time I see it. David said to me, "Hey Dad, take a picture of me at the water fountain. It makes it look like I am peeing!" It was not just the act of David doing what came so natural to him (acting mischievous, not the peeing part, well that too) but the look on Amy's face. She was so embarrassed in public that her son would do something like that at a playground where other families were milling around. Of course she was right, but I am so thankful for this picture, as I need a smile brought to my face these days. It just sums up David being all boy.
My jam was always dove hunting. I first went dove hunting when I was 10 years old. I had a single shot Harrington & Richardson 12 gauge shotgun that I used, until I bought my Remington 1100 12 gauge when I was 12 years old. I still use both shotguns to this day. I always enjoyed taking my three kids out to the field to hunt with me. Even Hannah loved hunting, and when she was too young to shoot, she would go run and fetch the downed birds. I am so thankful for these memories of us getting out in nature and hunting and fishing together. I would add that we used to fish for bluegill and bass in farm ponds around Shelby County, and for muskie and pike up in Ludington, MI. One of my emblazoned memories of David was on 09/11. I was out fishing with David in a little Jon boat. He was 2 1/2 years old and Nathan was a year old. Amy and Nathan were back at the cottage in Ludington while David and I were out on the Jon boat fishing for Northern Pike. I had just landed a Pike, and was proceeding to hit it over the head (It was hissing and snapping at me) while Amy was yelling at me from shore that a plane had just hit a building in New York. While I was hitting the pike, David was yelling "Bap...Bap..." mirroring what I was doing to the pike. Good times hunting and fishing.
The above pictures are just a collage of different outdoor pictures taken through the years where we let nature rub on us a bit. I am not trying to bore you with pictures from my past, as I know that they mean way more to me through sentimental nostalgia, then they do to you. I would like to make a point that we have become a society so turned towards the indoors, that we forget to get out and enjoy nature. I am speaking to myself on this front. Many days I work in my office all day, that I just want to call it a day and sit in front of the tv and veg. Making memories is one of the best things that you will ever do in life. I know so many workaholic friends that never get outside and enjoy life. They feel like they have to make another dollar, but fail to realize that it will never be enough. I have had many friends work for the end goal of that stacked 401(k) only to end in divorce, and have to split it anyways. A wise man once told me to always date my wife, and to always make her feel special by taking her on a special trip without the kids. That my friends is my secret to a healthy marriage. Well of course communication on a daily basis is essential. I never had the extra money laying around to just take my wife away on a separate mini-vacation, but I knew I couldn't afford not to. I knew that the second I stopped investing in my marriage, was the second that I was handing the keys to my marriage over to satan. I didn't have extra money to take my kids on Father-Son and Father-Daughter trips, but I knew that I couldn't afford not to. Once they grow up and leave the house, your time of doing some of those things diminishes. Or in my case, I know that David always regretted not going on the Father-Son trip to Ludington, MI with me, and I mourn not having that opportunity with him. Time is short, and life flutters by at a rapid pace. I want to be known as a man who left this world in a better place when it is my time to be called home. I want to have assurance that I loved my wife to the fullest, and invested into her life. I want to have no regrets on the time that I have poured into my kids, and took them on special trips. I would add that I still take my daughter on dates. She thinks that term is so weird, but I take her out on meal dates where we catch up on life, and she gets to see her dad treat her special. The sole purpose of this through the years, is for Hannah to see how a man should treat her for when she gets her family in the future. The same goes for my boys. I want Nathan to remember all of the times that I took him hiking, hunting, fishing, etc. so he can then one day carry that forward with his children. And David, I have got this! I will continue on in the same vein with Thomas of making sure his PaPaw shows him what it is like to live fully. Trust me David, he has no problem letting nature rub off on him. He is just like you!
I know...I know...nobody uses snail mail anymore. The standard method of personal communication these days is not handwritten letters, notes, or cards. We have resolved ourselves to the electronic domains of texting from phones, or social media accounts. The lost art of sending a written note to someone via the post office, has been replaced by the mundane callousness of bills. Nobody looks forward to walking out to the mailbox any longer, as they know they will either be greeted by an unsolicited bill, or the dreaded political flyer, landscaping service, etc.
My address these days resides at the corner of Availability, Authenticity, and Vulnerability. By now you are saying, "Okay Greg, I see what you are doing here. You tricked me into reading this blog thinking that you are requesting my physical address where I live!" Yes, I did use a bit of tomfoolery in my approach, but I am more interested in where you reside emotionally. My emotional address is not so illustrious these days, but I feel it is a residency that most should experience. I acknowledge full well that this is a topic that is not openly discussed, so allow me to dive in with both feet.
In case you are new to my blogs, my writing these days is formulated out of my grief journey. This particular journey started 17 months ago when I found out that my son David, who was serving in the Army at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, CO passed away in a vehicle accident. Since that time, my life was thrown a curve ball, and I am still trying to make sense of what is up, and is there even a down. The things that mattered to me 17 months ago, have no blip on my radar, and the things I would never have thought about writing a blog about, now pour out of me. Hence these three important topics that I am going to delve into.
Availability. What does that even mean? How do you make yourself available to all? Well, you can't. I am talking about allowing God to use you on a daily basis to those around you. First off, let me throw out the disclaimer that I do not have it all figured out. I am writing this blog just as much for me, as I am for you. We can only make ourselves available to those around us in our daily sphere of influence. For example, yesterday I stopped by my sons grave in the middle of the day. I was finishing up a call with a work colleague as I pulled up the road in the cemetery. I noticed that it was especially busy with three cars right where I was going to park. I got out and immediately noticed that there was an older woman trying to carry 2 bags of topsoil and 2 bags of mulch about 200 feet to a gravesite. I immediately ran over to her and told her that she did not need to do that, but I would be glad to be her muscles for the afternoon. She was dumbfounded that somebody would offer such assistance to her at the cemetery, a place where most are mourning and keep to themselves. Come to find out that she is 82 years old, and was planting flowers at her husbands grave, who passed a year before my son. She said, "people keep telling me it will get easier, but I just miss him more every day!" I asked her if I could give her a hug, and she was delighted that I would be a ray of sunshine to not only carry over dirt and mulch, but to be concerned enough to ask about her journey, then to follow it up with some love and kindness. I then walked over to another older gentlemen who I noticed was weeping at the grave in the row in front of my son. He had walked back to his truck, and I asked him if he was okay, and if that was his wife's grave. He acknowledged that it was, and I told him I didn't want to bother him, but wanted him to know that he was seen in his hurt, and that I grieve alongside him. I then said hello to another woman who was trying to figure out if she should water some flowers before the storm that evening. I am not bragging at what I did. Quite the contrary. I am simply stating that in our brokenness (lets face it we are all broken in one way or another) we can come alongside our fellow man and love on them a bit. I could have used the excuse that I am hurting too, and nobody today has volunteered to speak to me. Or throw a pity party for myself and been selfish and made excuses that they didn't want to be bothered. Instead I let each one of them know that they are seen. In a world of seclusion and selfishness, most of us just want a little acknowledgement that we are seen and not put out to pasture.
Authenticity. Man, that word sounds so deep, and I struggle with its meaning most days. I think of what the word authentic means for a product. Years ago I was downtown Chicago at night (not something I would do now) and a street peddler came up to me and tried to sell me a Rolex for $50. Of course it doesn't take a genius to know that this is a knock-off watch that is not authentic. There is a big difference between a Rolex and a Polex. One is made with such craftsmanship, and the other is a cheap throw-away that will quit soon after starting. The Polex looks identical from the outside with all its glitz and glamour, but inside the craftsmanship and stamp of authenticity is just not there. Our creator and maker, God the Father, crafts us for such a time as this. He wants us to be authentic and genuine, and not some gimmick. In order to be this, we have to submit to His all consuming power to shape us into His image. Outside, we are already in the image of God, but just like the difference of the Rolex and Polex, it is about the guts internally that make the watch. It is about our inner spiritual being that makes us authentic. Titus 3 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, so much so that I had it engraved on my own tombstone. Verse 5 says "He saved us, not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." So as many good works as we do, if we are not authentic inside, then they fall by the wayside as a cheap knock-off and counterfeit money.
Vulnerability. This is aimed at all of us, but especially to my guy readers. This is not an address most of us have visited or choose to reside permanently. Maybe we have done a quick drive-by from the road and said NOPE, that is not for me. Most people do not like opening themselves up to what makes them tick. We all have fallen short of the glory of God, it is just that most have a hard time admitting there shortcomings. Last night a group of 6 of us guys who have lost a child in my community got together. It was the first time that I called a meeting like this, and nobody knew the others. I thought to myself, man Jacobs this is going to be like pulling teeth. First, men don't open up with other men they don't know. Secondly, they definitely are not prone to making themselves vulnerable to other men about their grief journey. For two hours I sat there and watched these men talk over each other, interrupt, and share their journey. You are probably thinking that I am using the talking over each other and interruptions as a negative, but it was quite the positive. Out of all of the men, I was the least down the road on my journey at 17 months, and one of the guys was 10 years down the road. They all were talking so much, because they couldn't believe there were other guys out there that were going through the same thing as they were, and they had a story to tell. All it took was me seeking them out in the community (and I know there are so many others) sitting us down in introduction, and turning them loose. Many expressed fears in coming to the event held at the park, as they didn't know what to expect. I would venture to say that the biggest choke point of hesitancy for vulnerability, is quite simply the fear of the unknown. Once you dip your toes in that water and realize it is tepid and not freezing, you are more willing to immerse yourself in the blessings that vulnerability can bring. It is not always fun to share with others your deepest darkest secrets (and I would emphasize that wisdom in knowing your audience should be practiced) but in order to mature with wisdom in life, making yourself vulnerable is the absolute foundational building block.
In summation, I reside at the corner of Availability, Authenticity, and Vulnerability. Not just because I was thrown into this environment kicking and screaming against my will. No, because my will said that I want to relinquish control of oneself to understand that God is in control and I am not. In order for me to grow in wisdom and learn from my circumstances and help my fellow man, I need to reside in those three areas. There is such freedom and liberty in letting go and making oneself real and honest, and dropping the fake façade that we are so surrounded by in todays day and age.
I hope that my blogs have been challenging and inspiring to you. I love reading the comments that you leave, so fee free to leave me a comment directly on this blog or on Facebook. Blessings to you on your journey, and I hope to come alongside you out there as we figure out life together on this road wrought with such turmoil.
All through both of my sons teenage years, we would go biking. Usually they were 10-20 mile bike rides, but my son Nathan and I did a 45 mile ride up in Michigan. All of these were solo casual rides, and were not competitive. I just enjoyed spending time with my boys out in nature. The most adventurous ride we ever did was down Pikes Peak Highway. We road a cog railway tram up the mountain, then met an outfitter at the top with bikes stacked up on the roof of a van. Once we added winter clothing (hats, gloves, coats, etc.) David, Nathan, and I jumped on our mountain bikes and followed the leader. We clocked ourselves going down the mountain at a top speed of 45mph, which I assure you is fast when heading down a mountain. Amy and Hannah rode most of the way down inside the van until we got to some flatter parts that did not have shear cliffs. I remind you that the summit of Pikes Peak is 14,115 feet. The oxygen is scarce, the temperature is in the 30's, and there are no guard rails to keep you from plummeting to your death. When I look back on this excursion, it was definitely a once in a lifetime event that will never be repeated by me. I am not so sure the girls didn't exercise more wisdom than us boys, but man do I have the memories for a lifetime.
The above picture was taken in 2014 in Louisville at the Parklands (Floyd's Fork). It was my favorite place to ride bikes with the boys. I was in great physical condition then, and they were just young teenage whipper snappers. I love this picture because it is taken from the rear. As one who is a leader, I let the boys lead a lot of the time. Not because they were faster, as I could definitely out peddle them. No, it was because I enjoyed watching over them and also drinking in their enjoyment of the ride as well. On this particular day, we had already passed a copperhead snake sunning itself on the concrete, and I yelled at the boys to stop for a photo op. I remember thinking to myself, hmmm....we are about 10 miles from the car, and it sure looks stormy up ahead. I cautiously asked the boys if they thought we should turn around, and they laughed at me and the storm. Needless to say we kept going, and the return ride was definitely adventurous in the pouring rain.
I say all of that to say that sometimes we are on this path of life, and the storms looks impending up ahead. I am not saying that we don't exercise wisdom in everything that we do, and instead tempt fate and stand in the middle of a lightning storm with a golf club held high. No, that is just stupidity. I am saying however, that you can't hide your whole life and be risk adverse to everything. THE STORMS ARE COMING IN YOUR LIFE!!! That is just a fact. We can't prevent life from happening with the ups and downs. Storms are inevitable. It is what we do in the storm that matters. Trials, tribulations, and testing's are as natural as frogs in a pond. The problem is that we are not taught or prepared in knowing what to do, and instead we panic.
What are some storms in your life? Divorce seems to be a biggie out there. Health issues. Financial problems. Anxiety and Stress (I would almost beg to differ that this is an after effect of a storm). The list goes on and on. You can insert whatever storm you want in this space. How and what do you do when the storm comes? Well lets back up a bit and do a little preventive work here first. It is absolutely unequivocally important that you are not naïve in this area of thinking that storms won't and don't effect you. They will and they are coming. Maybe you encountered some small ones in life up to this point and you allowed a little apathy and cockiness to creep in to your thinking that you can handle whatever life throws at you. BIG MISTAKE!
1) Don't be Naive. Understand that the storms are coming, and be prepared. Communicate with loved ones ahead of time about worst case scenarios and how to possibly handle things.
2) Be Preventative. I know that I said that they are coming and not to be naive, but there are some storms that you can prevent. Do all marriages have to end in divorce. Heck no. Infidelity is a surefire way to end a marriage, so communicate with your spouse and have safeguards in place. I am just using divorce as an example, but lets say it is health issues. Maybe if you are obese and drinking 64 ounces of Mountain Dew every day, and eating cheese burgers, you might be jonesing for a Type II Diabetes diagnosis, or heart isssue. Be Preventative, so maybe even if the storm does come, it doesn't wreck you.
3) Don't fear the storm. This is easier said than done. I am simply saying that you can encounter the storm with God's help, and not live in fear of the storm in your life. Do life together with others so you aren't shouldering that weight all by yourselves. We are big on saying that when the going gets tough, people tend to meld back into the woodwork and are nowhere to be found. Well, do what I had to do and seek them out. Ask them for help and be proactive.
4) Understand that there are just some storms that you can't apply the above 3 tips too. When my 21 year old son died in an auto accident on 12/23/20, there is nothing that could have prepared me for the ring of that doorbell the next morning on Christmas Eve by the Army Chaplain. I wasn't naïve that any of my kids could be taken from me, but lets face it, that is not something we dwell on. There was nothing preventative I could have done. However, I did fear the storm. I am not being hard on myself, as I think considering, I have and am weathering the storm of this tragedy the best I can considering the loss.
In closing, as I look at the above photograph, I am reminded that the storm was coming for all of us. I just didn't know when and how and who. I am stronger today as a result of the storm, as much as I would give everything to be weaker again. I have more self awareness of the devastating effects of storms on peoples lives, including mine. However, it does no good for me to fear this storm or any future storms, as I trust in God. Psalm 91:1 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." Yes, I memorized the King James Version growing up. Verse 4 goes on to say "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust." That paints for me the picture of a mother duck sheltering and protecting her little ducklings under her wing during the midst of the storm. They didn't avoid the storm and fly around it, but rather they are stuck in the storm, but under the protection of the wings of the mother duck. If you are submitting your life to God, you don't need to fear the storm.
I am not a guy that has to have music on at all times. As a matter of fact, when driving down the road I rarely turn on the radio, but appreciate the windows down and the wind blowing. I wasn't always that way. When I was a teenager, I was quite the opposite. I would blast Guns N' Roses, Van Halen, etc. while driving down the road and would tend to surround myself with music at all times. In the past 16 months however, my happy place is during the worship service at church. During that 20-30 minute time frame, I feel close to my deceased son David. Come along on this roller coaster of a journey with me, while I give an explanation.
In September of 2020, my wife, daughter, and I flew out to Colorado Springs, CO to visit our son David at Fort Carson. He had been stationed there since July of 2020 after returning from Korea. On Sunday September 6th, 2020 David wanted to go visit New Life Church, a large non-denominational church in Colorado Springs. I will never forget that morning. We were sitting on the 2nd row, and David was directly to my left. I remember looking over to my side, and I saw David with his hands held high, eyes closed, and worshipping the Lord. He was singing loudly from his heart, and the peaceful look on his face is permanently emblazoned in my mind. I didn't think that much of it at the time, but since, it has become one of my favorite cherished memories. After church that day David pulled me aside and said that he would like to just go out to lunch with his dad and get some "Dad Time!" I knew the girls would feel slighted, but I ever so gently told Amy and Hannah that David wanted to spend some one-on-one time with his dad over lunch. We went to an "Omlettes Etc." restaurant across the street, and proceeded to talk about life. It was the first time that I felt like David just wanted to talk with his dad man to man, without any set agenda or topic. I will always cherish that day!
Fast forward 20 months from that day, and I now thank the Lord for that alone one-on-one time with my son. It wasn't anything glorious or deep conversationally, but it was the simple fact that my son had requested some alone time at lunch with his dad. Since that Labor Day weekend was the last time that I physically saw my son alive, I reflect a lot on that time. Worship for me at church has never been the same. Every time the music starts, I enter into the presence of God. Allow me to rewind and remind you that there was a time that I never thought I would be able to worship again. The first month that I returned to church after David's death, I sat there with my arms folded and a scowl on my face. After all, how could everybody be joyful around me? Did they not know what I was going through? How could I sing praises to God? Did He not know that I had blamed him for not preventing my sons death? Gradually, as the weeks unfolded, my arms became untangled from my chest, and eventually I would either fall humbly to my knees, or I would raise my hands heavenward. It took me some time. I would like to say that it was instantaneous, but it just wasn't. It was like God was slowly untangling the knot of resistance and bitterness in my soul.
One Sunday while at church, I heard a song that a friend of mine Bryce Osborne wrote (Awaken Worship). He is the worship pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. I had gotten to know Bryce's heart, as he led a small group that I participated in. The name of the song is "Chose Me." I asked Bryce if it would be okay if I typed up the lyrics on this blog, and he said of course.
This world is sifting sand. It's not my solid rock. When nations rise and fall. Lord you still my heart. When tomorrow's on my mind, and worry has my side. This place is not my home. You're with me through the night.
I know you chose me, because you love me, No powers of hell can stand against your word. I know your for me, you'll never forsake me, no matter the cost, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours.
When the world breaks around me, I know whose in control. If you set it all in motion. You can calm my anxious soul. Remind me now to trust you, and see the mountains that you move. You still make ways in the valleys, cause that's just what you do.
I know you chose me, because you love me, No powers of hell can stand against your word. I know your for me, you'll never forsake me, no matter the cost, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours. I know who I am, I know that you chose me, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours, I know who I am, I know that you chose me, I'm forever yours.
No fear can hold me. No lies can shake me. Here in your presence, I stand secure. I know where I'm going, I trust in your promise, my name is written on the palm of your hand. No fear can hold me. No lies can shake me. Here in your presence, I stand secure. I know where I'm going, I trust in your promise. My name is written on the palm of your hand.
I know you chose me, because you love me, No powers of hell can stand against your word. I know your for me, you'll never forsake me, no matter the cost, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours. I know who I am, I know that you chose me, I'm forever yours, I'm forever yours, I know who I am, I know that you chose me, I'm forever yours.
THAT SONG WRECKS ME EVERY TIME!!! I can't stop crying while I am just sitting here typing out the lyrics. Bryce sat down and wrote that when the US was withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in September of 2021. He wrote it knowing that there were a lot of Christian believers being persecuted and killed at the hands of the Taliban. The lyrics just speak volumes to me that God has chosen me, and that no power of hell can stand against His Word. I know God is for me, and that he will never forsake me. I would refer back to my last blog where I identified the fact that our faith can't and shouldn't be based on feelings. It is not how I am feeling as to whether or not I am saved or realize that God is in my corner, but rather to have faith to stand on His Word. He declares me his child, and He sent his son Jesus to die for me, in order that I might live.
This morning at church we had my 4 year old grandson Thomas in the worship service with us. It was the first time that he has not been in children's church since David died. I would remind you that Thomas is David's son that he left behind for us. He is such a joy and blessing. As soon as he came down the aisle to the fourth row where I was sitting, he immediately held out his hands for me to pick him up. As soon as I did, I once again, like every Sunday for the past 16 months, felt my son on my left side worshipping, as that was my last memory of him in Colorado Springs. I cried while holding Thomas as I continued to worship with Thomas in my arms. I whispered in Thomas's ear that I loved him, and he whispered back to me "I love you too PaPaw!" Then it happened!!! Our worship leader Luke started playing "Chose Me." For the first time, I heard David whisper to my soul "You've Got This Dad!" I lost it. I thought I was going to drop Thomas. My whole body started wracking in sobs, while I held my hands lifted high. Once again I let the lyrics wash over me from that song. Never before has there been a song that I felt was written for such a time as this. As I stood there holding Thomas, wracking in tears, arms held high, I realized what had just happened. For 16 months I have been telling David, "I have got this David." I will raise your son to know you, to love God, and to carry on your legacy. He reminds me so much of you, and he talks about his daddy quite frequently, and points to you in the pictures around the house. For whatever reason, just like you said that Sunday in Colorado Springs that you needed some dad time, I felt like you gave me some dad time with you this morning. Instead of me reassuring you that I have got this, in my time of weakness, you looked down and instead affirmed back to me that "You've God This Dad!"
I would like to thank Bryce Osborne for being used by God in his writing and delivering of such powerful inspired worship music. I also want to reiterate that I am a work in progress. One of the main times that I break down crying anymore is during the worship service on Sunday. Thank you David for suggesting that we go to that church in Colorado Springs that Sunday. You gave this dad a memory of hope every time I worship now. I continue to move forward each day, but it doesn't mean that I heal a little more each day. I also want to thank my readers (unsure how many of you are out there) for reading my work, and leaving comments. This has been more therapeutic for me than you will ever realize. I know that some of my writings can appear dark and heavy at times, but I promised straight out of the gate to be authentic and vulnerable. So I leave you with this thought. As hard as life is at times (and trust me I know about hard times) You've got this. Not on your own accord, as that is impossible. But if you surrender your life to God's all consuming power, He promises to never leave or forsake us!
Love you David. You will forever live on in my daily memories!!!
I am writing this from a position of one who has been very close to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ since February 19th, 1992. That was the day I yielded my life to Him. However, I have never felt further away from my maker than I do now. WARNING...what is to follow is the ramblings of a broken man who is about to share his heart through authenticity and vulnerability! If this is not something you can handle, or if you feel that you have this life all figured out, I would highly recommend you not reading this blog, as it might not be for you. For all of us others who do not have this journey figured out, and who feel inept at times, then come alongside of me as I explore what it means to feel broken in the site of our creator.
For years I walked around cocky and prideful thinking that I had life figured out. Well I can honestly say that on December 23rd, 2020 when my 21 year old son passed away in a vehicle accident, life was turned upside down for me. I have heard from many people in grief circles when they lost a child that they struggled with "losing their religion." Let me say that this is also something that I have struggled with as well. I use the word "have" loosely, as to be honest with you, I still am struggling with the concept of where God is in the midst of my storm.
Our pastor preached an incredible message this past week on emotional blind spots. One of the things that he drilled down on is the concept of comfort versus counsel. He said that sometimes his wife is looking for comfort from him by just listening to his concerns, but he wants to turn around and give counsel. The reverse is also true, however I would argue that more offense is often bestowed upon others when they give unwanted counsel rather than just listening. Nobody is going to be offended if they are looking for counsel, and you just listen. Let's face it, we don't always have wise counsel to give, nor should we at times. With all that being said, I am not looking for counsel on where to find God. I am very mature in my Christianity with God, and the countless hours in discipleship I have spent at the feet of the Master. This is something I just have to walk through and figure out on my own. That not withstanding, I need fellow pilgrims to come alongside me on this narrow road I have chosen to embark upon.
I am not here today to parse out the significant differences in Protestantism regarding the chasm between doctrinal theology of Calvinism vs. Wesleyan Armenianism. Trust me I am very familiar with both theologies, and whether one can or can't backslide and lose their salvation. The topic I am addressing today has nothing to do with my view of God and His sovereignty, but more in my view of where God is. I don't feel Him, I don't see Him at work around me, I feel dead inside; and I have stood out at the gravesite and cursed at God demanding to know how He could allow this to happen to me, when I have faithfully served Him in lay ministry for so many years. Ooops...did I just express my vulnerability in a way that was unbecoming of a church-goer and follower of God? I know right now some of you are judging me and glad you were not standing next to me when I cursed at God, as you might have gotten struck by lightning. Well I am here to say that I didn't get struck, nor will I. The God I serve is a wee bit bigger than that, and understands my hurts and weaknesses.
Why does it matter where God is in my or your life? Well if we are a follower of God, then we want to know that He is in our life and watching out for us. We turn to Him for comfort, direction, and answers. When you are used to feeling and seeing God in everything around you, then the dark abyss seems to envelope every area of your life with the feel of His absence. It is a drastic difference that can feel smothering most of the time. My days are spent in a very functional capacity. You might run into me at the grocery store, gym, or even church, and think that everything is okay with me. It is not that I am intentionally putting on a fake façade (is there any other kind), but rather I have a career and occupation to conduct. I have grass that needs cut, and dishes that need washed. I have groceries that get consumed and need replenished way too often (don't let me start talking about the inflationary environment), and life that just needs to be lived. However, as stated before, I feel dead inside. My friends that are dealing with this same type of grief have told me they totally understand and feel the same way. Many just aren't public with their feelings, and in some ways I have turned into a voice piece for showing the outside world what this struggle looks like. Trust me, I don't thrive on bearing my soul and sharing my deepest darkest secrets. It is just something I feel I am supposed to do in order to leave a mark on this earth and help somebody else out that is struggling on their journey.
Feelings. What does that word even mean? Well, in life we go off of feelings for most things that we do. Whether it be our physical senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing, etc. or the emotions of optimism or depression; we exercise and express feelings all throughout the day. I was recently talking with another dad who had lost a son, and we were both expressing that most days we just want Jesus to take us home with our sons, and that the trials of this earth just weigh us down. First, let me assure you that I am not suicidal with that comment, I just long for heaven! Second, I have not lost site of my wife and children on this earth and living a full life for them until God calls me home. I just know that I am a pilgrim passing through an unholy land and long for heaven. So as stated, most of life is based on feelings, however this is where I get to the meat and potatoes of this blog. Faith my friends is not based on feelings. I was raised in a Pentecostal household and I was taught that they were synonymous. They are not! My faith is not based on whether or not I can see, touch, or feel God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. Job said that "though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." In other words, I am the creation, and He is the creator, and no matter what happens in my life, God remains faithful and in control. Nothing shocks Him or takes Him by surprise. There is no panic in the throne room.
Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost For His Highest, "The height of the mountaintop is judged by the drab drudgery of the valley, for it is in the valley that we live for the glory of God. " Basically, it is the mundane day in and day out that we go through slogging and trudging through the muck and mire everyday that is where we are living for the glory of God. It is ever so nice when we have those mountain top experiences, but they are few and far between. We do not live on top of the mountain, but amongst all the crap down in the valley. I love what Deuteronomy 31:6 says: "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you." I hold to that promise, because no matter what I feel in this world, He promises to be right next to me walking this journey with me. I love what Matthew 11:29-30 has to say: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." If you think of a yoke on oxen, it is tying two oxen together. That to me speaks that God's yoke is easy and the burden is light when I am yoked to God. When I am yoked to this world, the inverse is true. My problem is remembering this, and applying it. There seems to be a disconnect between my brain and heart quite often in this matter. It is like two electrical prods where the electricity is just not arcing between the two.
I am getting there, but it is a slow journey. If you see me on a Sunday morning raising my hands in church, it is not because I have it all figured out, but because tears are coursing down my face as a broken man, and I am humbly raising my hands towards heaven asking God to shine down once again on this hurting man. If you ever see me praying with you, it is not because I have words of wisdom to impart, but because more than likely I am praying for myself who needs it just as much as you. If you see me smiling at the grocery store, I am not trying to be disingenuous, but I really am on a rapid journey to find my joy again. More importantly if you see me at the cemetery laying on the plush green grass next to my sons grave staring up at the beautiful sky, just smile and know that I am at my happy place. Friends, life is too short to be caught up in shallowness and appearing to have it all together. Life is about coming alongside others and loving on them and helping them on the journey, because whether or not you want to admit it or not, we are all weak.
God, where are you? I might not see it, feel it, or hear it on a daily basis, but you are here. Even now I cry at the absence of feeling your presence, but I will stand strong in my long ago established faith in trusting you, in that you have got this. You know what is best for me, and I will continue to yield and submit to you. God, forgive me for being a Pharisee in the past, and thank you for allowing me to be broken so that I can finally be used by you in the capacity in which you want to use me.
End note...I promise I am not self-seeking for comments, but they help me to see that these blogs are being read and maybe I am having an impact on someone who feels vulnerable like me. So feel free to send me a personal message or comment if you so desire.
Where am I going? What is around the next corner? Will I be successful in life? What tragedy is lying in wait? Will I be lonely? Are my friends genuine friends or just acquaintances? I am not sure I can handle another rejection! I want more out of life, I just don't know what!
These are all fair questions and statements that if we are honest, we each wrestle with either on a daily basis, or throughout life. I would like to say that I have all of the answers to life, but I take the stance of Jack Palance in the movie City Slickers when Billy Crystal asks him about the secret to life. Jack Palance holds up his gloved finger and says it is that one thing. Billy Crystal asks him what that one thing is that is the secret to life, and Jack Palance says that is what you have to figure out. I love this movie because it really breaks down life for us as Americans. The cowboy represents a different by gone era, and we as City Slickers/Americans are jumbled up with life. Jack Palance goes on to say that "You City Slickers worry about a lot of "stuff" (word changed).
How true that last statement is! I find that the majority of my life was so entangled by anxiety, that I could barely breathe at times through the choking stronghold it had around my life. What if I get disabled? What if I don't have enough retirement? What if my wife leaves me? What if I don't make it to heaven? What if I lose everything and live Chris Farley style in a van down by the river? What if...What if... Well, I refuse to live my life that way anymore. Don't misunderstand a lack of worry and anxiety for a lack of vision. I very much have vision for my life, I just work daily on removing stress and anxiety out of my life. When my son David passed away in a vehicle accident 16 months ago, I realized that the things I used to get bent about in the past, just don't matter in the grand scope of things. Take a step back and evaluate what you are worrying about, and does it really matter that much.
Stress! What is it? Why does it enter into our lives and wreak havoc? It is definitely not of God, so therefore it has to be from satan. When I look back on the past 48 years of my life thus far, I am amazed at some of the stupid decisions and traps that I entered into. My kids played every sport under the sun. We even did a travelling track team for a season (granted it wasn't multi-state like a lot of them are now). I remember those evenings where my wife and I had to divide and conquer because we had three kids in three different sporting events that evening. Inevitably, fast food was in the equation. We run ourselves ragged and don't even realize it most of the time. I am all for getting kids involved in sports, I just don't think it should dominate your family time, and definitely not the weekends. We have changed as a society. There was a day not too long ago where coaches wouldn't schedule practice on Wednesday evenings because of church, and there definitely were not travelling sports teams on Sundays. I am not trying to be an old fuddy duddy, but I am just observing the degradation of family time through the years, and the rise in stress, anxiety, marital problems, high blood pressure, etc.
How do you rectify the past with the future when it comes to regrets? That is not an easy thing to change. My point being that you can't live in regrets of your past, as it will do you no good. We can't change the past for our lives. The could of, should of, would of, don't equate and wash out in the end. No, but you can change your future habits in what are priorities in your life and others going forward. I want to be a voice of change and caution to future generations. Maybe some of my readers are on the cusp of exhaustion now and in the thick of what I have just written about. There is good news for you, it is not too late to prioritize and ponder what you can remove from your life, and what needs to be added back in. If you keep eating bacon double cheeseburgers every single day, don't be surprised when you end up obese, with high cholesterol and blood pressure. It is not much different in our activities on a daily basis. When you constantly put busyness in your life that is taking away from quality family time, then don't be surprised when the anxiety, stress, and sleepless nights take hold of your life.
Rest! Whoaaa...What is that? Well, it is something we do not get enough of. In the 21st century we have been programmed to be efficient and methodical in all of our actions at all times. We have been told that we are lazy if we just take a breather and sit down (I am not talking about vegging out watching hours of sports on tv). However, rest looks different for each person. I have found that I also rest better when I exercise daily. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but in order to rest, we need exercise. Life is about a fine balance of moderation in life. Too much of one thing is not good for you, and too little of another might not be either.
I took the picture for this blog several years ago while on a business trip through Indiana. I was so enamored by the road and trees, that I stopped my car, got out, and took a picture. I knew that one day it would make a good blog picture and story, so here it is. It speaks to me that sometimes life is lonely on this journey, and that we don't know what is up ahead and around the bend. In summation, I would say that it is time for all of us to slow down and enjoy life. Rub a little nature on you. During your lunch break, get out and go to the park. Listen! You will be amazed at what nature and God speak to you. I am speaking to myself as well. Last year I had 3 owls roosting in my back trees. I would spend hours in the evening on my back deck looking at them with binoculars, and watching them fly from tree to tree. Life's Journey! Well, it is kind of hard to do life with others, when they are so busy, or you are swamped. Take time to recharge, come alongside someone, and walk this journey of life with them. Life is lonely without friendships, and they can only be made through spending quality time with others. You have got this, but you need to slow down, shed anxiety and stress, and exercise Psalm 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God!"
Several years back, I was travelling through central Iowa. It was my first experience in the Midwest state, and I was enamored by all of the houses completely surrounded by evergreen trees. If you have ever been to Iowa, you know that it is about as flat as Indiana, Kansas, etc. The trees are meant to be a wind-block to protect the house from straight line winds. That is a little piece of useless trivia I thought I would pass on. What was really intriguing, was this stop sign on wheels that was rolled out into the middle of the street in this itsy bitsy tiny town. It was not a school zone, nor was there any other identifying event that I noticed would either warrant a temporary stop sign on wheels, or a permanent stop sign in the ground. It was truly one of those things that makes you go Hmmmm.....
I have saved this picture, and have actually used it in one of my prior blogs years ago. I find that from time to time it comes up in my mind as a reference point for where I am at in life at that current moment. It might mean something different for each person, but allow me to dig in a bit as to what it means for me at this stage in my life.
"Life comes at you fast!" That is the Nationwide Insurance motto that they used on their commercials for years. How true that is. One minute you might be cruising down that figurative Iowa road, and then next minute a stop sign on wheels might be rolled out in front of you. You have two options at that point. 1) You blow past that stop sign in your life. 2) You stop and see what God is trying to teach you. I can assure you that the latter is always the better option, but it just might not "feel" like it at the time, or soon after.
December 23rd, 2020 I had a stop sign on wheels rolled out in front of me. My 21 year old son David, who was serving in the Army in Colorado, was killed by a driver who side swiped him and caused his car to flip into a light pole. No, my blogs are not meant to be depressing or always about my son passing, but I will never make an excuse for sharing what I am currently learning. Just this week, two of my friends posted on Facebook that they were alcoholics, but by God's grace they were being delivered from that lifestyle. I am so proud of them! That is the vulnerability and authenticity that I live my life by daily. So for the sake of not digressing, I want to drill down on not the event that changed my life forever, but the event of mobile stop signs that are there to teach us a lesson.
Let me start off this section by saying, not all mobile stop signs in life have to be painful or traumatic. My example listed above was both, but sometimes they are just ways of God trying to get us to slow down in life. We can be cruising along thinking and feeling like everything is just fine, but God wants to remind us of a lesson he would have us learn along the way. For example when you go hiking, it is always best practice to know what is at your feet on the trail, but to not just keep your head down the whole hike. I want to have my head up in self-awareness where I can see the nature around me. Life is much like this as well. So many times we just have the cruise control set, that we forget we need to slow down and learn a thing or two in passing.
I find it interesting to note that the stop sign in this picture is on wheels. That says to me that there is not a permanency to this sign. Not all things are meant to bring you to a grinding halt and keep you there the rest of your life. In my case, I am burdened with an unbelievable amount of grief the rest of my life. I didn't say unbearable, as I have learned to cope with my grief, and be productive in my day by helping others on this journey called life. I have had to learn the lesson that came with having my life slammed into park in an instant, and no it was not joyous or fun. There were no amount of scripture verses that helped, or well wishers. God had to let me be broken in order for Him to fix me. I was cruising along with pride and arrogance in life, and now God has imparted much wisdom to me to learn and come alongside others.
So in summation, what stop sign on wheels has been rolled out in your life? Have there been a couple that you have blown past in denial and stubbornness, and you are now suffering the consequences? Still further, are there stop signs that you have stopped at, but the lesson was too hard, so you put it back in drive and kept going. My hope is that when you come across a figurative stop sign on wheels in life, that you stop, get out of the car, and ask God what you need to learn at this stage of your life. Hopefully you will make yourself authentic and vulnerable to all of us to share what you learned from that experience, as we all need to grow from each other. I had the stop sign rolled out into my life. I stopped and thought I would die, but through God's grace, love, and mercy He taught me how to move forward, just in a different fashion than before. I absolutely hate and detest that my son was stolen from me too young, but I am thankful that God promised to never leave or forsake me, AND HE HASN'T!
Spring is here, but David is still gone. How do you reconcile those two statements? Too be completely honest with you, I don't know, and neither does anyone else. Reason being that each person that experiences loss, encounters a completely different journey then the next. Sure there are some absolutes when it comes to loss, such as it sucks, and it feels suffocating at times, but each person has to experience their own journey. I invite you to come along on my journey, as I address and tackle some hard issues of life. These blogs are not meant to be touchy feely and self seeking for comments and likes (although both are very welcomed), but rather to seek out a little more healing as I cope in the loss of my 21 year old son after 16 months have passed since losing him in an auto accident while serving in the Army. Will you follow me on this journey and come alongside?
Today my wife and I spent almost 4 hours at the cemetery planting flowers at David's grave. Some of that time was talking with another family who lost their 17 year old in an auto accident 3 years ago. Their sons grave is across from David's. It was good to talk with the mom and dad and to hear different perspectives on how they have handled grief, and how it never really gets easier. I am so thankful for families like theirs that are willing to open up and share in their journey as well.
So getting to my title, and my thought process behind reconciling the two. Spring is here! We know this not only because the calendar validates it, but because everything turns to life in the spring and is in full bloom, to my allergies detriment I assure you! Tree pollen is all over the cars. The grass is green and needing cut every 4 days. Life just seems to come alive around me from every angle...BUT the angle that I want and need it to be real. David is never coming back, and I understand that concept. However, for those that have not lost a close loved one, this next thought might be lost on you. It is possible to still have life after death. I am not talking about heaven and hell, although as a Christian I fully believe in those places. I am talking about taking David's memories with me wherever I go. Just this evening I told my other son Nathan that I was going to write another blog, and that most of them tended to be about David. He laughed and said that there was nothing to really write about him, which is absolutely not true. I have also had to get over writers remorse of using this avenue as an outlet to talk about my dead son, and not my one who is alive, and my daughter. We have talked through this, and they understand my purpose of healing in writing these blogs, and they don't feel slighted for not writing about them. Rest assured, their time is coming when I will write about how much I love both of them, and how I am so proud of them.
So life after death while on this earth? No, I am not promoting some kind of phantasm or ghost of David following me around. Quite the contrary. I am talking about keeping David's memories ALIVE! Allow me to share with you some memories and pictures from three years ago to the week. David was at Ft. Eustis in AIT out in Virginia Beach. Being that I controlled my schedule for work, I was able to schedule myself an audit trip out there one week. It was such a sweet time that I cling to and will never forget. I remember flying into Virginia Beach, and picking up my rental car at the Hertz counter, as they had upgraded me to a convertible Mustang. I very casually texted David to inform him that I had landed, and that they had given me a blue Chrysler Town & Country minivan. His response by text was, "Are you freaking kidding me?" I told him we would have fun that week, no matter what ride I had. I asked him to look for me on base in 30 minutes in the blue minivan outside of his barracks. Needless to say, I will never forget the smile that was on his face when he came outside and saw me leaning against the Mustang with the top down, and not a soccer mom mobile.
Every day that week I got done early in the afternoon, and picked him up on base. He would ask that I buy him a $7 smoothie with matcha powder (who drinks that crap) at Tropical Smoothie Café, while I got the blueberry acai smoothie. I admit we both felt a little emasculated walking out of the café with our tootie frootie high priced smoothies. We did it every day, and boy am I so glad I didn't complain about the price, as I will always have that memory. We would drive the Historical Triangle of Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown. I remember him asking me on day one if he could drive. The black and white compliance officer that I am wanted to say, "No, you are not on the rental agreement." However, I told him sure, and tossed the keys to him. Man oh man I am glad that I was not uptight that week, as he had so much fun driving with his dad with the top down, while blasting "Old Town Road." I will never forget the feel of sitting next to my son realizing he was maturing and growing up. He was running a tight ship in training, and would eventually graduate a few weeks later as the top of his class.
One day David and I went over to the backside of a Navy base near Cripple Creek where the Seals train. He flashed his Army creds, and we were waived on through. I looked at him as though he was big stuff, and he looked at me and smiled, and simply said, "Huh, I wasn't sure that would work." We got a big laugh out of that entrance. We drove down the road, and he wanted to pull off at an old abandoned base house that was on the sandy beach. The roof was falling in, and needless to say it had seen better days. He opened up that screen door, unbuttoned his shirt, and posed for what could have been a GQ picture. David always thought about modeling, and was so photogenic. After leaving that base, we went to go eat us a seafood dinner at a dive restaurant just off the beach. We both ordered Shrimp Po Boys from that place, and I remember taking a call from Amy while we were sitting there. We informed her about our adventures that day and had some good laughs.
I share all of these stories with you for one purpose. I wish to have life after death. I know that my son is never going to come back from the dead, but I can work hard on keeping him alive in my memories. The way that I keep David alive is by keeping his memories alive, and that is not based on the seasons. This winter when everything withers away outside, I am not going to put David on a shelf until spring time. I will continue to share and live his memories in honor of him. David went out with his boots on (My favorite quote from the movie Secondhand Lions).
On the back of David's gravestone we have two quotes that were his favorite. We talked about the first one numerous times together, and thought about incorporating it somehow into a "Jacobs Boy Tattoo."
"Fate whispers to the warrior, you cannot withstand the storm!" And the warrior whispers back, I AM THE STORM!"
"Die with memories, not with dreams!"
David personified both of those quotes, and never lived a dull day. He was not reserved and cautious, but knew how to live, sometimes too hard. He was adventurous enough to leave his base in South Korea, and to take a train to Seoul, hail an Uber driver to take him to the base of the mountain. then proceed to climb to the top. That is not something I taught him, but something that was ingrained in him to do. He was an adventure thrill seeker.
David, I might not be a risk taker like you, but since your death you have motivated me and given me purpose to live. I will try to be a better man for you, since you weren't able to live past your 21 years. I will show your 4 year old son Thomas what his dad was like, and will continue to love on him as I know you would have. David, I love and miss you every day (and cry most of those), but just as the season has changed and shows new growth and life, I will continue to keep your memories alive in sharing in all that I do. Love you son!!!
Thoughts to ponder by: