Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lessons From Home

Sometimes I find myself having difficulty remembering my childhood (actually, most of the time) , but he passing of Mom this past June has given me cause to do some reflection. And while there are many specific memories that I doubt I will ever recall, I have had the chance to think about the legacy that our parents left us. It’s with that in mind that I identify a few of lessons that they imparted to me specifically, but I think all four of their children collectively.

1. The gift of generosity. Mom was probably more guilty of this than dad was, but she loved to give things away. When she was able to financially…and even when she wasn’t, it seemed that she was always buying us something. She did her best to make our Christmas’ and birthdays special. And as we got older, if she had the opportunity, she would often try to send something she may have bought on HSN home with us.

Each one of us kids seem to have that same characteristic, although I think with a greater degree of fiscal responsibility. I am in awe at times of the generosity of Debbie as well as both Frank and Geoff (and of course their spouses – Walt, Clare and Lynn respectively). Whenever given the opportunity, each find a way to take care of a need or a want that they see in others.

2. The gift of hard work. It can never be said that mom or dad was lazy. From as early as I can remember, and throughout their entire lives, both of them spent countless hours trying to make our lives as comfortable as possible. While we had the dairy, they were both invested in making it successful. Dad would work six days a week driving the milk route while mom would process and bottle the milk. And when they weren’t doing “dairy” business, it was working in the fields for dad and running a household of four kids for mom.

When each of us was old enough, we were given a “job” as well. First it was helping dad on the milk route, but as he got bigger and stronger, we moved up to washing the dirty milk bottles. A hard job, but it paid a lot better. We also had our daily chores and opportunities for “seasonal” work like mending fence during spring break and putting in the hay during the summer. When mom and dad sold the dairy business, each of us found jobs as soon as we were old enough to have a social security card and have been gainfully employed since.

3. The love of the water. I really don’t know if when mom and dad bought the dairy in Sandpoint if they were thinking about the fact that it had two creeks running through it or not. And I don’t know if they considered the location of Lake Pend Oreille nearby in their purchase decision. But is has always been apparent that they loved the water. Part of that love may have been instilled by Grandpa Lyons and his love for the water and his lifetime spent building
boats. Both mom and dad spent parts of their early life on Lake Coeur d’Alene with their families. As we were growing, we enjoyed the “big” creek that wound through the farm and the “swimming hole” halfway down the property with the old stump overhanging the bend in the creek that we used as a diving board (and the site of my first, but not last, belly flop). We spent many summer hours molding blue clay we dug from the bottom of the creek bed into a variety of crude pottery items.

When they could, mom and dad would take us into Sandpoint to the City Beach where we improved our swimming skills until we were able to swim out to the docks and feel a bit more grown up. They purchased a ski boat that each of us learned to water ski behind and that Geoff caught his large Kamloops trout during fishing derby week. Later, when Grandpa died, dad inherited the cabin cruiser and even more time was spent on the water. Today, Frank and his wife Clare live full time on the water in their boat. All of us love going to the beach and feeling and smelling the freshness of the surf.

4. The love of the country. I’m sure mom and dad could have chosen to live in town instead of out in the country. I have to admit that during times growing up, I wanted to live in town. That’s where all the action was and it seemed where all of the fun occurred if I listened to the other kids talking at school. But in reflection, I’m so glad we grew up in the country. The farm offered us a place for adventure…and sometimes danger. That was a perfect recipe for kids. And while we didn’t have a lot of neighbor kids who lived close by, it also provided us many opportunities to learn to play and get along (at least most of the time).

Mom and dad also used the country side as their own form of escape I think. It seemed on at least one weekend a month, we would take a “Sunday” drive someplace. It would always be out in the country, never into the city. Dad would drive the old Rambler station wagon up old logging roads or through the back roads all over North Idaho and Eastern Montana. And when the opportunity arose, if there was an old abandoned building along the way, we would pull over to the side of the road and do some exploring.

There are other lessons that we all learned from mom and dad. Some were good and others, not so good. But I believe they did their best. As I look at our family now, I think they would have much to be proud of. Their children love each other with deep compassion and with respect for what we do. Each of us has excelled in our chosen fields of profession. Even though we don’t always agree on everything (which is a good thing), we’ve not allowed rifts in relationships to become chasms that can’t be crossed. While we weren’t raised in a “church” home and religion never seemed to the center of discussion, they both renewed their commitment to Christ in later years. And today, all of us kids love God as well.

I can only thank them for the lessons I learned.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Rise From Ashes

He startled me as I walked around the corner at the annual "Coffeefest" trade show in Seattle. I was walking through the trade show with my younger brother Geoff, who owns a coffee shoppe in Bothell, and my sister Deb who had made the trek up from Battleground to experience the latest in caffeine delights. Suddenly out of no where, a large African American man was calling my name and rushing through a throng of people to get to me.

I recognized his smile immediately and moved toward him. A handshake was quickly followed by a hug and we stood there momentarily holding each other. When we separated, he stood back and I felt a deep warmth as his face beemed with a a smile stretching from ear-to-ear.

"You finally did it!", I said. "I am so proud of you.".

I marveled as I looked around at his display area. His booth was surrounded with a throng of people stepping up to sample his home-made organic teas. Three young women were creating the hot beverages for the eagerly waiting crowd and an older gentleman sitting near the back of the booth was putting together sample bags for the trade show participants. My friend stepped away for a moment to hijack a potential customer...mildly chastising them for attempting to pass by his booth without experiencing the best new item at the show.

Moments later he was back, his voiced filled with excitement (and what I could sense as humble pride) as he quickly described the last year of his life. I introduced him to my brother and sister, and when he saw Deb, he stepped back and looked at Deb in wonderment.

"You're the writer", he nearly shouted as he extended his hand as though he were meeting a celebrity. "I love your stories", he added . "Mark gave me the address to your blog. The stories are wonderful!". As I watched my sister, I could see the pleasure of meeting this man expressed throughout her entire being. Like me, she knew some of his story.

I had met this man nearly three years earlier whe we were both in a treatment program together. Like me, he had made a serious mistake that had cost him a promising career as an educator. And like mine, his fall was very public...and painful. During our time in group together, he had experienced the nightmarish life that is common for felons after their release from prison. A few months in a group home. Then finding himself living on the streets, his nights spent in a homeless shelter with other outcasts from our society. A weekend in jail for a miscommunication with his probation officer when he finally found a place to live...but it was in the next county.

As our friendship grew in group, I would usually find myself giving him a ride "home" to the little house where he lived with a group of other men. On on rides in the car we would talk about his desire to start a tea business. He talked about the classes he was talking through the Small Business Administration and I would share resources with him to create a business plan. We would talk about our families...or more accurately, about our ex-wives and the marriages we once had . Stories were shared about our children and the uncertainty of our futures.

Eventually, he graduated from group and I lost track of him. I would ask a few of my other friends from group if they had heard from him, but they too were unaware of what he was doing or where he was. I oftened wondered if he were pursuing his dream, but I also knew that the last five years had shattered the self-confidence of this amazing man.

When he called out to me on that Saturday afternoon in September, he helped to renew a bit of my own self-confidence. He reminded me that none of us are what we "were" when we fell from grace. He helped me to see that it is possible to overcome the barriers that we face that are often created by poor choices that we sometimes make. He restored hope in my life that the dreams that I have for my own business can be reached. And most importantly, he gave me great joy in being able to share in his rise from the ashes to become a successful entrepreneur

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Roller Coaster

The knot was still there this morning, feeling almost larger than it was on Friday when I got the call. I have been working with Jamie (my probation officer) to get permission to purchase an electronic tablet that my sister Deb and her husband Walt had sent me money for to buy for Angelwings. The money has been sitting in my bank as I did my research to determine what kind of tablet would best fit the needs that I have as an antique dealer. Last Monday, I talked with Jamie and she said she didn’t think there would be any real problem but she would have to run it past her supervisor. She told me that I had her support. And then she told me that I was being taken off of electronic surveillance on my computer. My heart quickened…a small light at the end of the tunnel of these past eight years of incarceration and supervised release.

As I hung up the phone and her words sank in, it helped me to realize that there may actually be an end to this journey that I’ve been on. The man who started is not the same man who is ending it. The “roller coaster” of emotions that my mind and body have gone through over the past 2,810 days has had more twists and turns than the wildest ride at any Six Flags amusement park. Most have them have resembled the emptiness in your bowels that you feel when the car takes the sudden drop or hairpin curve that you didn’t see coming. There have been a few moments of the peace and rest that you feel as the car just slogs along as you come to the end of the tracks.

When I talked with Jamie last Monday, it felt like I was on that final part of the ride when your heart finally stops racing at 120 beats per minute and your stomach starts to settle back into where it belongs. But Friday’s call provided one more twist in the ride. She told me that before I can purchase the iPad, I need to take another polygraph. And then that I could expect to take another before my release from supervision date in August. Finally, I was informed that I’d have to do another “one-on-one” evalution with my treatment counselor. Heart racing…stomach dropping. So much for the smooth ride to the finish.

I’ve tried to reflect over the weekend why I have so much anxiety about the polygraphs. It’s not that I’m not confident in my answers – I don’t need to be afraid that I’ll be lying about anything. I like the man who will be performing the test…we’ve gone down this road together now for a few times. What it really boils down to is trust. As much as I try to trust, there is a deep wound that I haven’t been able to heal that makes it difficult for me to trust. It’s not only people that I have difficulty trusting, in this case it’s also the system. And the problem is compounded for me because what a polygraph actually measures is anxiety. This is a test that the results could never send me to prison (because the results aren’t reliable enough), but they could send me back.

Like that man in the car on the roller coaster, I grip the handrail and let out a scream (silent in this case) as I take this unexpected turn. The adrenaline kicks in and all of the feelings that are associated with that chemical ravage my body. But I stay in the car. I’ll take the test. And I’ll wonder when and where the next unexpected turn is going to come. I can’t trust that there isn’t another one.

Photo from Flickr - by Markku

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The aisles of the antique store were crowded and tight together. Often times I would run into a dead-end and have to turn around and find a new path to the next row of potential treasures. I didn’t come to the store often…it’s located on a one-way street in a city about a half an hour away from my home. I only found myself here today because I was killing some time before I went to an antique auction being held in a gallery up the street. I had nothing particular in mind as I wandered. I simply love antiques and like to browse shops any time that I can.

I finally found myself in the back of the store where it appeared the owner simply unloaded stuff through his backdoor, waiting to be sorted and placed on the sales floor. As I looked around, an item caught my attention. It was an old antique armoire/wardrobe that was being used as a janitor’s closet. It wasn’t in really good condition with veneer pealing in a few places and a sagging bottom where cans of paint and cleaning supplies were haphazardly stacked. There was a price tag on it of $300…not a bad price for an older piece, but not a steal either.

I had started to keep my eye out for an old wardrobe about a month earlier when the owner of the antique mall where I have my space told me that he often converted wardrobes into display cases. In fact, he had just sold one that I had my eye on a few days before our conversation. At the time, I didn’t realize that it had at one time been an armoire. So as I looked at this old piece, I made sure that it was structurally sound (which it was) and took a few pictures. The following day, I sent them to my sister Deb for her feedback. As we talked, it seemed that it might be worth making an offer on the wardrobe.

The next day, I placed the call to the owner of the antique store and made him a reasonable offer which he accepted and made arrangement to pick the armoire up. It stood over seven feet tall and was more than six feet wide. My younger brother Geoff used his van and helped me pick it up and move it to his place where we were going to rebuild it into the display case.

For the next three months, I would make regular trips to my brother’s place as we planned to reconstruct the wardrobe. Off came the doors and the end panels that would be replaced with glass. The crown on the top was damaged so we redesigned it and found trim pieces that would give the old piece of furniture a new look. We devised a system of interlocking pieces on the front that would cover the slide rails for the new front doors. Finally, a colored was decided upon and week after week, the new case moved closer to completion.

As I reflect back on the transformation of the old, battered armoire that I found stuffed in the back corner of an antique shop, I realize that the journey that the antique piece took isn’t dissimilar to the transformation that takes place in people…certainly that took place in me. Rebuilding the wardrobe was NOT an easy process and at times it seemed like some invisible force was trying to prevent it from happening. Plans for free mirrors that ultimately didn’t work out. Glass panels for the ends that first broke, and then were cut the wrong size. Difficulty in finding the right kind of replacement hardware and locks. Unforeseen costs that kept adding up. While there was never a thought of giving up on the project, there were times when I wondered what the ultimate outcome would be.

Even as I write these words, my own life is a transformation. Like the antique armoire, at one time my life looked really good. I was successful, in a happy marriage, respected by peers and the community and it seemed that it would always be that way. But after a few bad choices, I found my own life seemingly discarded. Time in prison has a way of making you look at yourself differently and assuming that everyone else does too. Like the old armoire, it seemed that my life was no longer useful for much.

But transformation is an incredible process and sometimes it just takes some time and love for it to occur. There are a lot of people who have invested time and encouragement in me over the past four years. And I know that there is a God who is orchestrating all that is going on in my life. Like the armoire, there is great comfort in knowing that there are no plans for giving up on “this” project. But there is also wonderment on what the ultimate outcome is going to be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Out of the Darkness

The sun was shining as we stepped out of the car and walked the brief expanse across the warm, asphalt parking lot. My sister, Deb, and I had spent the morning at the Seattle Gift Show and we had driven across town to check out the permanent showrooms. The trip had taken us on the city streets through the commercial warehouse section of the city that we’d never seen. As we stepped up on the sidewalk, Deb notice the flowering trees and leaned into to it to check out the beautiful, white blossoms. The trees were located on the western side of the building, close to the awning which only provided it with afternoon and late afternoon sun. As a result, the trunks on the trees each had a distinctive bend to them…appearing to reach to the sunlight to the west.

“You know why the trees are leaning to the west, don’t you?” I asked my sister.

“Well yes,” she responded. “Plants always grow toward the light.”

“Actually the light is retarding the growth, I replied. "The growth is actually taking place on the dark side of the plant. The light is actually preventing the growth."

My comments stopped her in her tracks. I had taken college Botany close to 30 years ago and I remembered performing the experiments in the lab where light was only provided to a plant on one side and we would monitor the growth of the cells. In other experiments, we would measure the growth of plants where they had light 24 hours a day or where we would deny the plants light at all. What we discovered was that plants will grow faster then they don’t have any light at all…for a while anyway. If the light is restricted long enough, the plants will die. I know now my explanation wasn't completely scientifically correct, but it is the dark side that is actually growing taster.

As we drove back to Tacoma later that day, we talked about the light…and darkness…and growth. It is amazing when we think about the interaction that occurs between those three elements. And not only in plants, but in our lives as well.

Like many people, one of my phobias is the fear of the dark. I really think that it is a natural, innate fear in most of us that gets reinforced in a variety of ways throughout our life. For me, I had plenty of opportunities during my childhood to reinforce the fear. His name was Geoff (my little brother.) He seemed to take great pleasure in finding ways to startle…or outright terrify me in the dark on our farm in North Idaho. Eerie old barns and garages and trees gave him all the tools that he needed. Very few people like the dark.

But sometimes the seasons of our life can also be filled with darkness. They are times when we can’t see clearly what’s going on…or where we are headed…or what the future holds. I’ve been there more than once. The three years I spent in prison were one of the darkest times of my life. I saw a lot of men there who were slowly dying. Not in a literal sense, but dying nonetheless. They hadn’t learned the lesson of the plant.

An interesting phenomenon is actually occurring in the plant on the dark side…on the side away from the light. When the light strikes the plant, a hormone is produces that migrates to the cells located in the darkness. And this hormone causes an amazing thing to happen. It causes the plant cells on the dark side to stretch!! As a result, these elongated cells “bend” the plant toward the light (which we interpret as growing toward the light.) I love this lesson of nature because that’s what I need to do when I find myself in a season of darkness.

When we are surrounded by darkness, that’s when we have the opportunity to grow the most. We get stretched in ways we’ve never been torn before and find ourselves facing situations that we don’t have an answer for or an understanding of. The real growth in our lives occurs during the darkest times. It’s when we feel hated and ostracized that we can best learn to love and forgive. It’s when we are poor and have nothing that we learn the real value of giving…even if it means we give the last that we have. It’s when we are sickest that we appreciate what little health that we have remaining…or choose the live out the last days of our lives the best we can. It’s when we see someone that we love dying (or hear of their sudden death) that we examine the true value of every person’s life.

But like the plant, we have to allow the “light” that is there to stir within us the willingness to be stretched. We have to be willing to endure the dark season because it leads us to the light season. A time when our life flourishes and grows stronger. When we can celebrate the lessons and changes that occurred in the darkness. A time that we can let our light shine into the lives of those who find themselves in the dark.
Photo from Bing Images

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I’ve always loved numbers. I remember as a little boy…laying in bed at night and silently counting as high as I could before I would fall asleep. Not counting sheep, just practicing my numbers. I did the same thing with the multiplication chart. Over and over, I would do them in my head. As the train would pass by on the Great Northern railroad tracks that ran behind our dairy farm in North Idaho, I’d try to count how many cars were in the trains as it whizzed past. Even as we would lay out on the front lawn in our sleeping bags in the summer at night, I’d look into the sky and count as many stars as I could. Counting cars on our Sunday drives provided a nice distraction to the bodies of three siblings squeezed into the backseat of the Rambler station wagon with me.

My wife Paula was always amazed that I could remember phone numbers…and dates. I knew (and still know) the date that we met, the date of our first date, the day I proposed and our wedding anniversary date. Sadly, I also know the date that our divorce was final. The birthdates of our children and our grandchildren and engraved forever in my memory. I guess sometimes, it’s a curse to remember too many numbers.

August is a month full of numbers for me and I have found them swirling in my mind a great deal this past week. It seems each one is associated with a memory…mostly painful. A grandson’s birthday. Release from prison. A date with Paula. Since I’m not getting any younger, I thought I’d put down a list of numbers that seem to have some significance.

6427 - Number of days Paula and I were married
2564 - Days since I last saw my grandson and grand daughter
2552 - Days since I kissed Paula
1463 - Days I've been out of prison
1086 - Days spent in prison
851 - Average number of days between seeing Paula in the past seven years
365 - More days of supervised release
341 - Number of days I've had my antique business
284 - Number of days that I've been selling antiques at the Tacoma Antique Center
260 - Miles round trip my sister Deb drives when she comes to auction with me
137 - Milepost number on I-5 that you take to go to my antique space
43 - Number of antique auctions I've attended in the past year
41 - Number of months I was sentenced to serve in prison
26 - Number of birthdays my grandchildren have had in the past seven years
26 - Number of birthdays I’ve missed for my grandchildren in the past seven years
23 - Hours spent on a bus from Seattle to Bakersfield, California
23 - Date in July of 2004 that my marriage ended
23 - Date in February of 2004 that my life changed forever (can you spell FBI?)
13 - Date in December of 1986 that we were married
13 - Date in August of 1999 that I had my first grandchild
6 - Thickness of a prison mattress…in inches (if you're lucky)
4 - Number of grandchildren
3 - Numbers of siblings that I've renewed a wonderful, loving relationship with
3 - Number of children
1 - Years until I can move freely…anywhere I want to without permission
0 - Number of parents still living

Not all numbers are bad. They are just real. And they serve as reminders to me. There’s one other thing about numbers that I like though…some of them change. Some get bigger, and some get smaller. As I reflect on the list, there are numbers to celebrate...and numbers that I'd like to just let slowly fade from my memory. Maybe....just maybe, time will allow that.

Photo from Bing Images

Thursday, July 28, 2011


The footfall on the deck outside the door to the office caught my attention as I sat at my desk putting price tags together for my antique business. I wasn’t expecting it yet…Lee usually doesn’t return from lunch until about 1:30 and the clock was reading just after one. A moment later, the door opened and Luann walked in…visibly shaken. I wasn’t expecting her either. When they had left for lunch an hour earlier I thought that I had heard Lee say he was taking his wife home before coming back to the office.

I glanced up at Luann as she closed the door. She took a couple of steps and stopped. Her hands shook slightly. “My purse was just stolen while we were at Starbucks.” I sat there, looking at her as she took a few more steps and paused. Before I could even comment, she added, “and I had just taken $5,000 out of the bank.” I could hear the pain in her voice as it cracked…and as she turned away, I could tell that she was on the brink of tears.

All I could say was “oh, Luann!!” What other words are there? I could feel my stomach knot up as I watched her walk around the cubicle to her desk. Why did this have to happen? Of all people to be faced with this, Luann should have been on the bottom of the list. Both she and Lee have faced so many changes and obstacles in the past year or two.

Just a few months ago, their home was broken into and robbed. Beyond of the loss of valuables were electronic photos of family that can never be replaced. When I met them almost four years ago, their net worth was in excess of $12 million. Today, they are on the brink of bankruptcy as a result of the real estate market crash. No one is building houses so no one needs the work of our site development business.

Lee and Luann are an amazing couple. Old enough to be my parents, they remain active and vibrant. Even in the midst of all they have lost, Lee maintains one of the most positive attitudes I’ve ever seen in a person. At nearly 77 years old, his mind never stops. He reads voraciously and in his mind he creates constantly. Unafraid of technology, if we had the resources in the business we would have the latest and best that money would buy. And he would be looking to upgrade next week.

But aside from his intelligence and creativity, the attribute that I admire most in Lee is his resilience. It seems there is nothing that can keep him down. A strong believer, his faith keeps him going each day. The loss of $5,000 is significant but he knows that he serves a God who provides. Even though we have submitted bids on more than 25 projects this year alone (and come up short on every one), he keeps a positive outlook and simply encourages me to keep looking for new work.

These people are one of God’s blessings to me in the four years since I’ve been out of prison. When no one else would give me a chance to work, they did. In a business that two years ago had a payroll of more than 100 employees a week, today there only two of us. Only Lee and I remain. And I’m here because I was the only one that he wanted to start over with.

There are days that are difficult for me. Days that I wonder if I will ever be able to move completely beyond this season of my life where it seems I am reminded daily of the cost of a poor choice. But I am also reminded daily by this energetic man who holds a big place in my heart that today holds new possibilities. Reminded that even in the midst of all the negative that life can throw at us, we have a greater purpose that we may not see. He reminds me to simply maintain my faith.

As a side note, Luann’s purse was returned…minus the $5,000. All of her personal items, including her driver’s license and credit cards were still there. The sheriff deputy took the report, but told Lee that there is so much of that type of thing happening today that they won’t assign an investigator to follow-up. The case load is simply too great. But even as he gave me the update, I could hear strength in his voice…not defeat at being robbed. The vacation plans for next week are still intact. It just means that they won’t spend as much. Once again, his resilient spirit denies the enemies attempts to discourage him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Last Family Portrait

The warm sun licked my skin as I sat at the patio table scanning through the photographs that had been most recently uploaded onto our family Shutterfly page while sipping an ice cold can of Diet Coke. I’d spent an evening the week before with my older brother Frank helping him to add his pictures from our Mom’s funeral and from a recent golf tournament that we had played in as a family. I also looked again at the pictures my sister Deb had added a couple of weeks ago from our childhood.

There are literally hundreds of pictures that grace our “Den of Lyons” webpage, and while we’ve only had it for a little more than a year, as I peruse the photos I can see the changes that can take place even in a couple of handfuls of months. That’s one of the wonderful things that pictures provide for us…an opportunity to look at things as they were at a particular moment in time. As I took my time under the warm July sun to look at some of our family photos there, two struck me more than any of the others.

The first one had been taken in 1964-65 at the dairy farm in North Idaho where we grew up. I hadn’t seen it for many years until Deb had given me a copy as part of a box of old family photos at Christmas this year. While we all look so pathetically poor in the picture, it is still one of my favorites. The picture shows our family as we were. Four children ages 7 through 13 and mom and dad…and our wiener dog, Clementine.

The picture reveals so much about us I think. Geoff, the youngest with is mischievous grin. Just looking at his face makes you wonder what he just did that he didn’t get caught for…yet. It seems he always did eventually. The torn knees in his jeans and the rolled up legs most likely a hand-me-down. His shirt, unbuttoned half-way down is one that I had probably worn the year before. His hands hanging at his sides, not willing to be held still in a folded gesture.

Frank, the oldest son standing with his hands neatly folding in front, standing tall with his shoulders back…his legs straight. Perhaps an indicator of his future as a doctor in the army. Or maybe just being careful to stand tall as he had undoubtedly been told to do countless times by mom and dad. His shirt buttoned to the top…stained with a variety of “who-knows-what”? His jeans also reveal tears that have yet to be sewn up. A tentative smile reveals a sense of peace and confidence.

Located between my brothers, I notice that I’m standing a little behind them…my body turned slightly askew. Mom is only touching one of us in the picture…me. Are her hands placed there protectively…or for some other reason, I’ll never know. My smile is one of shyness, not really sure what to think of this backyard family photo shoot by the local newspaper. Unlike my brothers, my jeans appear intact and “hole-free” revealing my aversion to getting too rough or dirty, even as a young boy.

Deb stands in the back row, a beautiful smile gracing her face. The smile I’m sure part of the reflection of her status in the “adult” row, standing beside mom. The toes of her bare feet scrunch into the quack grass that we called a lawn…her eyes squinting slightly from a source of sunshine not apparent in the old black and white photo.

Standing in the center is mom in a sleeveless plaid dress, not looking at the camera…apparently trying to avoid eye contact with the photographer. Or perhaps in her mind she believes if she doesn’t acknowledge the camera, it might mean that she really isn’t in this place…that perhaps this life that she is living is only a dream. Her eyes reveal a depth of fatigue that can’t be described. Or is it disdain? Clearly, she doesn’t look happy.

Beside her is dad, standing in his uniform of the day…the white pants and short-sleeved shirt that identify him as the “milkman”. The ever-present pipe protruding from his lip…although this one had a straight stem rather than the bent style that he usually smoked. In his arms sits Clementine, herself a little apprehensive about all that is going on. Ironically, dad too avoids the camera with his eyes and his expression masks any feelings that he may have. Are they pride in what he has accomplished on this dairy or is it covering the dreams that he still holds that are unfulfilled?

Whatever this family portrait reveals, it is what our family was nearly four and half decades ago.

The second photo is actually our “last” family portrait. We never had a formal portrait taken of our family growing up. Only the occasional snapshot that an aunt or uncle may have taken when the six of us were together. Maybe it was because it was dad who usually had a camera and his nature wasn’t to ask for help…even a passing stranger to take a picture of his family all together. Or perhaps because there were very few times that seemed to be worthy of capturing on film as a reminder of where we were, or perhaps of who we were. And certainly, it would have been a cold day in hell before dad would have paid money to have one taken professionally.

But on a cool, misty June day in Newport, Washington we all gathered for one last day together. Forty-five years after that black and white picture in the backyard was taken, a new image was captured. We had come to celebrate and remember the lives of our parents, and to bury their remains together.

Ironically, just as in the photo from our childhood, the four of us kids are all facing the camera and smiling. Deb’s eyes are twinkling as they often to when she reveals her beautiful smile. Frank stands beside her, holding her in a loving and protective grasp. A fedora covering his graying hair. On the opposite side, Geoff stands with his arm around me, his other hand still hanging and his mischievous smile bracketed by his goatee. Slightly behind, my balding head in the shadows, I smile as I feel my hand against Geoff’s back…feeling his presence close beside me.

In this photo, mom and dad don’t have an opportunity to face the camera. But they are there. Mom in a beautiful black, floral urn…a reminder of the beauty of her youth. And dad in a plain, bronze box…in a similar way a reminder of the simplicity of his way of life. We can’t see what expressions they might have shown the camera on this day, but I’m certain that it would be one of pride and joy and a sense of completion. Their family had gathered one last time, caught on film for all eternity.

Black & white photo- Unknown

Color photo by Clare Lyons

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Calls

As Debbie knelt down and placed two long stem roses…one white and one red, into the rectangular hole on top of the two urns, it was finally over. What had started five years earlier with a phone call while I was in prison was ending in a way that I had never expected.

It was early June in 2006 and I remember the announcement that came across the “yard” as I was walking back from my job assignment in the chapel.

“Patrick Lyons, report to your counselor’s office immediately.”

I didn’t often hear my name broadcast over the PA system and my heart quickened when I heard my name called. I walked into the unit and took a quick right and knocked on the counselor’s door. She looked up and motioned me to sit down.

“Do you have a brother named Geoffrey Lyons”, she asked.

My mind raced as I told her that “yes, I did” and she reached over and picked up the phone and started dialing without saying another word. I sat quietly and watched, wondering what was going on. A moment later she handed me the phone and I listened. After a couple of rings, I heard my younger brother’s voice on the other end.

I asked if everything was OK and he briefly told me that our mom had been moved to hospice and the doctors gave her less than two weeks to live. I was dumbstruck for a moment. I knew that mom was in the nursing home but had no idea that her health had been failing. I asked a few questions as the counselor sat quietly across the desk…watching and listening. He said that he would call when she had passed away and wondered if I would be able to make it home for the funeral. I told him that I would look into it and let him know.

We hung up and I quietly handed the phone back to the counselor. She said that we was very sorry and that if Geoff called back, she would let me know immediately and see what my procedures would be to get a short-term release from prison to go to my mom’s funeral. It became apparent very quickly that I would not receive permission from the prison to go home and in my mind, I accepted the fact that I would never see my mom again.

Days turned to weeks and weeks to months as mom got better. When I was released from prison 14 months later, she was back in the nursing home. The doctors had adjusted her medications and she had regained her strength. When I visited her when I got back, she never did recognize me. She would smile and appreciate the fact that “a nice man” was coming to visit and would smile and giggle when I would give her a kiss good-bye. When I visited with Geoff, he would tell her that “Mark” was her to visit and she would smile and nod, but there was never a glimmer of recognition.

Mom went into hospice again last month. As I was leaving work for lunch two weeks ago today, my phone rang and it was Geoff. I asked how he was doing and he said that he had just received a phone call from the nursing home.

“I got a message from the nursing home to call them. Mom passed away at 5 minutes to twelve today”, he said quietly. I could hear the pain, and a little anger in his voice…not only from the loss but the way that he had received the news. I asked if he was OK and he acknowledged that he was and said that he would get me more information when he could.
My mind was momentarily numb as I continued to drive. It’s not that it wasn’t unexpected…mom hadn’t been well for a long time. We just weren’t expecting it to be so soon and thought that maybe we would have the opportunity to be with her when her time came. Instead, she simply didn’t wake up for lunch one day.

For the next week, Geoff contacted all of the family members and friends’ of mom that he felt would be interested to know of mom’s passing. Plans were made for the service to take place in Newport, Washington where her ashes would be buried near her mom and her brother and with our dad.

Because the funeral would be across the state and out of my “probation territory”, I made contact with my probation officer to get permission to travel. We visited on the phone and she told me that it wouldn’t be a problem and to get her the paperwork. I mailed it off and waited for the permission form to be mailed back. By the Thursday morning before the Saturday funeral, I began to get a little nervous because the permission slip still wasn’t in the mail. I made a call to my probation officer and left her a message with my concern. When I checked the mail again Thursday night and it wasn’t there, I began to wonder if I would end up missing the funeral after all…even though I was no longer in prison.

I placed a phone call, leaving a message and followed that up with an e-mail from my Blackberry asking my probation officer to contact me. My mind started to process what was happening and I considered calling my sister Deb. She had asked me to facilitate the service and travel to the funeral with her. I knew that she, and the family were counting on me and she was planning to pick me up at work on Friday afternoon. A while later, my cell phone rang and I looked at the “caller ID” and saw that it read “unidentified number”. I answered and it was my probation officer on the other end.

“I just got your e-mail. When is the funeral?” she asked. When I told her that it was on Saturday, she apologized and said that she thought it was the following week. She said she would process the request first thing in the morning and asked if she could send it by e-mail when it was completed and I told her that would work great and thanked her as she hung up.

I finally received the permission just before noon on Friday and I put everything in my luggage in the car with the notes that I’d prepared for the service. My sister arrived in the early afternoon and after an overnight stay at Geoff’s, we made the 350 mile trip across the state to mom’s final resting spot.

The rain danced softly on the roof of the canvas tent as each of us said our good-bye to mom. It was a small group…ten of us in all as we sat and listened. An occasional tear would fall from someone’s eyes as stories were related about mom and letters of farewell and love read aloud. After a final song of “I’ll Fly Away”, we removed the Astroturf covered plywood that covered the small hole and Geoff carefully and gently placed the urns holding mom and dad’s ashes into their final resting place. Debbie knelt down and placed two long stem roses…one white and one red, into the rectangular hole on top of the two urns, and it was over.

Photos by Mark Lyons and Deb Shucka

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spreading Our Wings!

I stood and looked for a moment at the drab, pale yellow walls and tried to visualize in my mind’s eye what this space might look like when we were finished. We’d made the little cut-outs of the furniture we’d be placing so we had a general idea of the layout. And many of the antique items we’d be placing in the various pieces of furniture had already been in the case that I was moving out of. But still, I wasn’t quite certain how it would all turn out.

My sister Deb had driven up to help me this weekend as we were expanding our antique business and moving into an actual space that could hold furniture and other larger antiques that couldn’t fit into the small five foot glass case that I had occupied for the past seven months. We had been keeping our look out for the right pieces of furniture to put in the space and sought out other items that might fit the “look” we were trying to accomplish. My little fifth wheel trailer that I call home had become so full of boxes and small pieces of furniture that I gave up on trying to sit on the couch weeks ago. It was beginning to look like one of those places you see on programs like “Hoarders”.

Soon, the walls were being transformed from a state of depression to a palette of vibrant and lighter pinks. As I walked from the space to go out to my car to get some more supplies, one of the antique mall employees called me over to his desk. “You know…your space is looking a little ‘gurly’”, he said. I smiled a little and told him he just needed to wait until it was finished. As I walked out into the parking lot, for a brief second I once again wondered if it would turn out as we had imagined.

Deb did most of the painting while my brother Frank and his wife Clare brought their trailer over so we could move some furniture down to the mall. Unfortunately, Frank had ‘tweaked’ his back that morning and was in considerable pain. The furniture ended up being a little bit too large for the trailer to transport in one trip so our plans were altered slightly as we placed the first piece of furniture in the space as Deb continued to transform it. As the day ended, the paint was still too tacky to put the finishing touches on the walls…a dark mahogany chair rail that we hoped would add the touch to the space to give it the look we desired.

We knew we were going to have a long day in front of us as we sat in the small restaurant nearby. Deb and I talked about all that we needed to get done this morning to be able to get finished by the time the mall closed tonight. While we thought that we had given ourselves plenty of time to load up all of the antiques and some furniture from my place, we still ended up starting the day about 20 minutes behind schedule.

The walls in the space looked radiant as we carried the tools into the mall. We were soon busy getting ready to cut the chair rail and miter the ends so we could start to move the antiques into the space. I should have know when the miter box I was using didn’t open wide enough to accommodate the chair rail that this part of the project wasn’t going to go smoothly. After two attempts to cut the miter with the saw failed, we decided that this wasn’t going to work. I called my brother Geoff who was coming down to help us to bring along the “right” tools to get the job done. The problem was, it would still be close to an hour before he would get there.

Deb and I looked at each other and she suggested that we at least place the chair rail on the back wall so we could move the first piece of furniture in and start to load it. Our time was too valuable to spend the next hour doing nothing. Pulling out the small coping saw, I tried to “eye-ball” a 45 degree angle and started cutting. Somewhat satisfied with the results, we nailed the rail to the wall and stepped back to check it out. I can’t describe the difference that having the dark, mahogany wood made in the space. The mall employee who had said the space looked “gurly” the day before walked up a few minutes later to check it out. His comment this morning said it all. “It really looks rich”, he said. Deb replied back, “that’s what we were hoping for.” And it was really beginning too.

Patience isn’t one of my greatest attributes (nor is it Deb’s) so we decided to try to hang more of the chair rail so we could keep working. Using the handheld coping saw, I carefully cut the pieces we needed to finish two of the three walls. While the miters weren’t perfect, they were good enough to hang. With each piece of chair rail placed on the wall, the feel of the space continued to be transformed.

I was soon moving the smaller pieces of furniture from the truck to the space and placing them against walls and in corners. It was fun to watch the reaction of the mall employees and other dealers as each piece was brought in. After each item was placed in the space, we could count on one of the workers coming back to see what we had this time. They seemed to be as curious as we were impatient.

A short while later, Geoff arrived and with the right tools and we cut and hung the last pieces of chair rail and the palette was complete. While Geoff and I made one final trip to pick up the rest of the furniture, Deb began to place our treasures in the various display cases and curios. As Geoff and I moved the final pieces of furniture into place, I smiled to myself at how well it all fit into place as Deb and I had envisioned.

The rest of the day was spent unloaded containers and placing them in the cases. Geoff artfully filled the case with the sterling pieces while Deb pointed out where the pictures should be hung and carefully unwrapped the smaller items and placed prices on them. Soon, there were more empty boxes than full ones and the places to put the antiques were filling up.

Before we knew it, the announcement was made that the mall would soon be closing. Fortunately for us, this was a “dealer night” and we would have a little more time to work after dinner. Geoff left to go home as Deb and I visited with other dealers over the chicken dinner the mall was providing and soon lifted our tired bodies out of the chairs to finish our project.

I have to admit…the space didn’t turn out exactly as I had envisioned it. I’ve been in a lot of antique malls and have walked into literally hundreds of dealer spaces. They all seem to have their own feel and identity…and there are some that I’m happy to get out of quickly because they are not inviting.

The space that was created on that Friday and Saturday was something special! We wanted a place that had a Victorian feel to it…a richness that would transform you to another time and place. What we saw as we stood back at the end of the day was a “destination” space. Without question, it is the most beautiful space in the mall. Rich, the mall owner, was visibly pleased as he came back to visit with us as the night ended and told us how much he loved the space.

When I started my antique business, Angelwings Antiques, last August I really didn’t know what it would look like. It just started as a dream. This past weekend, we spread our wings a little bit. Who knows how far this dream will go.

Photos by Deb Shucka and Mark Lyons
A special thank you to Deb who helped to make all this possible!

Monday, April 25, 2011

God Has No Grandkids

She turned nine years old on Saturday. If I saw her walking across the street, I wouldn’t recognize her nor would she recognize me. The last time I saw her or held her in my arms was she was barely more than a year old. I’ve heard stories about this beautiful little girl, and she’s heard some stories about me as well. And surprisingly, what she has heard about me is pretty good.

For obvious reasons I thought a lot about little (or not so little) Brooke this weekend. Paula, my ex-wife has been in Hawaii for the last week with Brooke and her family and she texted me on Brooke’s birthday to tell me how much fun they were having celebrating her birthday. And while I missed being there, I was okay. I knew that her day was going to be special with her mom and dad, older brother, a favorite uncle and Grandma Paula. She would definitely be surrounded by love.

I work with a pretty incredible man. As Lee came in to work this morning, we took a couple of minute to just visit. He and Luann had celebrated Easter with most of their family at their home and he was sharing some stories. Lee is nearly 77 years old and has experienced a great deal during his walk on this earth. He is a very godly man who loves Jesus with all his heart and he is never hesitant to give a testimony or simply talk about how great life can be when we have Jesus in our hearts. He was telling me that he was visiting with his grand-children about how God created each of us as human with the ability to make decisions. And then he made a statement that penetrated to the innermost part of my heart.

“God doesn’t have any grandkids”, he said.

It is such a simple statement, but it struck me in a particular way because my sister Debbie has been working on a memoir for the last couple of years. When she titled her first draft, she called it “God Has No Daughters.” I didn’t like the title (and actually shared with her why and offered a few “little brother” suggestions for something better) but as I reflect back now, it was the right title for her story. She had never felt loved by God and as a result she didn’t feel like a daughter loved by God.

Debbie and I have spent more hours visiting in the last three years than we had in the previous fifty combined. During that time, she has shared with me her perception of who God is, and was, to her and has helped me to understand why. Debbie gained her understanding and perception of God through our mom and through the experiences she had while in a cult for a number of years. She was having her picture of who God is painted with the brushes of others, and as such she was not seeing God as He truly is.

I love to take pictures and often these days take photos of the antiques that I sell. Sometimes I use my camera on my phone and other times I use my small Nikon camera. Each one takes a different quality of picture. They both look pretty good with the original shot, but when I try to enlarge them something happens. The more picture is enlarged, the farther the pixels are spread apart and pretty soon what seemed to be clear is now indistinguishable. Even with the higher quality Nikon, before long the image is no longer able to reflect the beauty of the original object.

And that’s what God wants with us…with me. He doesn’t want our image of Him filtered through the eyes and experiences of others. He calls us to be His children, not His grandkids. Dad’s discipline more than grandpa’s do. And they withhold more than grandparents do. Dads don’t spoil their kids nearly as much as grandma and grandpa do. Because of His nature, God simply can’t be a grandpa. So we can’t be His grandkids.

But God is a lot different from many dads in one important way. He is able to love us like a grandpa does. He’s never too busy to play with us or to come to our events. He doesn’t judge or try to live His life through us. Actually, He wants just the opposite…for us to live our lives through Him. When we need to talk to Him, we are more important than the game on TV, the golf date with His buddies or work. We don’t have to get straight A’s in school, be the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader for Him to glow with pride in us. And when we fail, He doesn’t ground us for life or tell us how worthless and “good for nothing” we are. He simply helps to pick us back up, show the direction we need to be going and loves us. He loves us the way most grandpas do…but how every dad should.

Photo from Flickr, by riffsyphon1024

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Shout it out loud!"

My eyes are getting older I guess. I find them burning in the late afternoon much more often that I used to. At night, they itch and burn as I try to relax watching re-runs of “Criminal Minds” on a cable channel. It seems that every couple of pages of a book I’m reading is followed by the rubbing of my eyes. Even as I sit as the computer terminal at work, I find I need to step away a little more often to let my eyes rest so they can stay in focus.

It’s not only my eyes are struggling to stay in focus these days, it’s also the direction of a book I’m trying to write. I had the pleasure of attending a Christian writer’s conference with my sister Deb a few weeks ago and it got my “writer’s juices” flowing again…well, at least trickling a little bit. For the past several months I’ve found my mind pulled in so many different directions that the book has been set on the back burner as I’ve worked to establish a small antique business. Even in the midst of the busyness of my thoughts, my mind continues to go back to the story that I’m destined to write. But it seems that every time I start to focus on the book, I realize that I’m not sure of the story that I want, or need, to tell. What I’ve needed is a clear picture of message that God is intending through my story. I think I’m finally getting closer to what that is.

As we drove back from the conference, Deb and I were discussing what impacted us most about all of the sessions that we had sat through and the speakers we had listened to. For me it was the need to discover what that one absolute truth was in my life that my book could illustrate. Initially I thought about the truth that I serve a God of “second chances.” Certainly my life is a reflection of that as are many stories in the Bible.

But my story is deeper than that and my sister reminded me of a story that I’d shared with her only the day before about the sermon my pastor preached on the Sunday I got on the bus and headed south to a Federal prison in California. He told his congregation that he was going to go visit a friend after church that day who was getting ready to spend the next three years behind bars…in a prison far away from his friends and family. And that he wanted to visit with me and pray with me before I got on that bus. But then he reminded the people sitting in the church pews that morning that although I was going into a “physical” prison, I was so much freer than many of them were because they were living in their own prisons of sin and secrecy and unforgiveness. I knew that place because I had lived there much of my own life. And Debbie was right.

It always amazes me how God reinforces what He would have us do. We’re in the midst of preparing for our Palm Sunday concert at church and one of the songs that the choir will be singing is called “The Very Same Power” and it contains a chorus that has resonated with me this week.

“No more chains, holding me. From now on, I am free…I’m gonna shout it out loud!”
In that one line of the chorus I’m being directed on the direction that my book will take. My life was a prison and I was shackled with chains that nearly destroyed my life. And like many people I’ve found freedom from those chains. Now I am called to “shout it out loud” in pages of a book.
Photo from Flickr

"Very Same Power" lyrics by Free Chapel

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One Man's Trash...

It was a pretty innocuous looking box. There was a set of fairly new silver-plate cream and sugar and one older, well-tarnish creamer. A blue crackle-glass vase, a broken toy boat of some kind, an old metal letter holder and a few other odd items were also lying on top of each other in the box. What had caught my eye in the first place was a bisque figurine of a boy. It wasn’t really the type of piece that I collect, but it seems like I can’t keep them in my case at the Tacoma Antique Center where I take my antiques to sell. I put a “maximum bid” number in my auction catalog and kept moving around the room previewing the rest of the lots that were for sale.

The auction was on a Wednesday and the house wasn’t nearly as packed as it was the night before. On Tuesday’s, this auction house puts their “higher end” items up for auction and that draws a lot attendees…some that actually bid, some that I think just enjoy the activity of an auction. Wednesday night is more of a “box lot” and “primitives” night. As a result, the auctioneer goes at a pretty fast pace. Even the on-line bidders have to be quick with their bids or the hammer has already fallen and he is on the next lot.

I had about 15 or 20 lots highlighted in my catalog for the auction and sat in my regular seat with my bidder’s card ready. I won a number items that came up, and lost a few. That’s what you have to expect at an auction. Even though you would like to, you can’t win them all…unless you have boatloads of money to spend and you’re not buying to resell.

The auctioneer called out “lot 1105” as the next item on the block. It was the box with the figurine so I got my card ready. The assistant pulled out a couple of the items in the box to show the audience. As always, Joe (the auctioneer) made comments about some of the pieces and how “with a little work” some of them might be really valuable. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid of $500, then $100, $50…all the way down to $5 before I raised my bidder’s card. Other’s countered with $10…then $15. I sat there briefly, then raised mine for a $20 bid. “Any more bids”, he asked? “Sold!”, and he was off to the next lot.

For the next hour and half, the auctioneer sold lot after lot of items that someone had accumulated for years. At the end of the night, I’d made nine purchases and I settled my account and got my items boxed up to take home. Over the weekend, I went through the items that I’d purchased, deciding which would go into my space at the antique mall and which I would try to sell on ebay. I got box lot 1105 and started to pull the items out. When I lifted out the figurine, my heart sank because there was a small chip his hand. It looked fresh. It could have happened after I’d previewed the box or I might have missed it. Nevertheless, the “one item” that I’d wanted the box for wasn’t going into my case at the mall.

I pulled the other pieces out of the box and realized they were all “ebay” items so I got them ready to photograph. The crackle-glass vase and a small “peapod” spreader were in really good shape so I took a half dozen pictures of each of them and set them aside. I picked up the toy boat and took a closer look at the axel underneath that was broken. It was a clean break so I got out some glue to try to repair it and while the glue was setting, pulled out the metal letter holder. It was definitely an older piece so I cleaned it up and took photos of it as well.

I picked up the toy boat to check the axel and it glued solid. I gently rolled it across my table top and the heads of the two musicians in the boat raised up and down and the hand of the guitar player moved to “strum” the guitar. The other musician’s arm raised up and down but his hand was broken off and the drum was missing. I figured I could put it on ebay for a few dollars and make a little something back on the $20 I’d spent on all of the items since the figurine wasn’t worth selling.

The following day I went to my office after work to start listing the items. As I always do, I went on-line to try to find something out about the piece so I can give a good description to the potential buyers. I typed “antique toy boat” into the Bing search window and a number of entries popped up. I was directed to a site referring to the type of toy as a “Kobe” toy from Japan. A few more searches caused me to stop for a moment. Some of these toy (even in poor condition) had sold for hundreds of dollars. There was one listed on ebay that day at a “Buy it Now” price of $1000. I searched previous sales and decided to post a starting price of $99.95 (which was about $95 higher than I was thinking on Saturday when I pulled the toy out of the box.)

I’m relatively new at selling items on Ebay, but the next seven days were fun. More than 40 people checked out the toy on the auction site and 15 had tagged it on their “watch” list. Within the first twenty-four hours, someone had bid $200 for it. When the auction ended a week later, my $4 investment had turned into a $325 return. The antique letter holder also sold that day and those two items more than paid for everything that I had purchased at the auction the week before.

That…is the thrill of the auction and the satisfaction of dealing in antiques. You never know exactly what something is going to be worth. Personally, I never would have purchased either of those pieces for myself. But for someone else, they were the treasures they were looking for.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jesus In The Mosh Pit

It was an interesting question…one that has been around for a couple of thousand years. I was on my way to work, driving the back streets as I do every morning on my twenty-five minute drive from the little 5th wheel trailer I call home to the office. As I do every morning, I was listening to a local Christian radio station during their morning call-in segment. The discussion topic for the day was “what do you think Heaven will be like?” It was the last call that I heard before I pulled into the parking lot that got my attention and caused me to reflect back on the centuries old question.

The caller responded something like this.

“I think Heaven is going to be like a big worship rock concert with Jesus leading the worship. And during one of His songs, He’s going to jump out into the mosh pit!”

Jesus in the mosh pit…what a concept! For this caller, Jesus was someone who knew how to have fun…at least the caller’s definition of fun. That was her picture of who her Savior is. And it was that thought that led me to my reflection of the question that Christ asks His disciples – “Who do you say that I am?” I love that question probably more than any other question that Jesus asks in the Gospels (and He asks a lot.)

If someone would have asked me that question ten years ago, I would have said the Jesus was my Savior and probably wouldn’t have added much more detail to my answer. The reason is simple…I didn’t really know WHO He was, at least not personally. And my answer would have been right. He is my Savior.

But if you would have asked me that question exactly seven years ago today, my answer would have been different. At that time, I would have been trying to pull myself out of the depression of my arrest, the loss of my wife and family, the reality of unemployment and prison time and a depth of loneliness I’m not sure I’d ever felt before in my life. On that morning, if the question would have been asked, I would have responded that He is my Comforter. Once again, my answer would have been correct.

Over the next several months when I was intentionally spending time with Him as I walked and prayed and wrote in my journal, I met Jesus in a new way. I heard His voice. His presence beside me was real each morning when I would take my walk or climb up on a rock on the hillside overlooking the golf course where I lived. He would ask me questions and I would answer…and when I asked Him, He did the same. My answer during that period would have been that He is my friend. Bingo…correct answer.

He has shown Himself to be all those things and so much more in my life during the past seven years. He’s also my Father…and a loving Mother (with the unique ability to love as only a woman can.) He has been my protector and my source of strength. He has made me laugh…and He has made me cry.

What I’ve discovered during this season of my life is that He is exactly what I need, when I need it! And the reality it, He is all of that to anyone when they need Him. He takes us through every season of our life, whether they be the "good" times in a quiet way...simply there if we need Him. Perhaps doing nothing more that pouring out His blessings on us. And He is also there during the "bad" times when we need Him to give us comfort, peace, strength, courage, relief from pain (both physical and emotional), love or simply His presence.

And when I think about that caller's reponse, I love the fact that if I’m ever at a worship rock concert, He would be in the middle of that mosh pit beside me…having fun as only the God of the Universe could have fun. Now THAT’s a Heaven that I want to spend eternity in!

Photo from Bing Photos

Monday, February 14, 2011


Over the past several weeks, I’ve been exposed to several new words that have really spoken to me. The most recent word was “bounceology” and when I first read it, I wasn’t too sure that it was even a word. So I went to my trusty on-line “Webster’s” and it wasn’t there. Then I went to “Urban Dictionary” (because every word that isn’t a word is usually listed there) and I still couldn’t find it. So I just “Bing’d” it and sure enough, there it was. There were a couple of uses for the word…from “hard dancing” to the “the size of the bounce.” It was the last application of the word that spoke so deeply to me.

Most people would agree that the “bigger you are, the harder the fall”. This can refer to simply tripping and landing on the concrete or a fall from a public position. I can relate to both of the applications personally. I’m not a small man and I’ve suffered physical damage to my body by falling on the ground because of the impact of my weight slamming onto a hard surface. The result was a separated shoulder. I’ve also suffered the public humiliation of falling from a very public position when I was arrested and spent three years in prison for making some very poor decisions. In both situations, when I fell I didn’t bounce back up very quickly…or very high.

But the definition of “bounceology” that I came across the other day has helped me to see that it doesn’t have to be that way. That definition says that “the harder you fall, the bigger the bounce”. I’m a former science teacher and I understand that literally, “bounceology” would be defined as “the study of bounce.” If we examine the study of a bounce, it has 4 parts. Falling, impact, expansion and elevation. The implication in the article was that God has implanted in each of us the ability to bounce back from all things. It went on to apply the four parts to a bounce in an interesting way:

Fall – this is falling, not “failing”. This is where panic sets in and we try to control what is going to happen
Impact – the explosion. This part hurts, but hang on, God has something bigger planned
Restoration – your true identity. You have absorbed the impact (learned from it)
Elevation – being uplifted. That which is against you is now for you.

As I read this short narrative, it struck me that the stages being described weren’t too unlike the stages of grief. In the grieving process, you can’t get to “acceptance” until you’ve gone through the previous four stages. And in a like manner, you can’t get to “elevation” until you’ve gone through the pain of the fall. It’s been almost seven years since my “fall” and it was interesting to see where I am in these stages of “bounce”.

I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been elevated. That it is all behind me and everything is “hunky dory”…but it’s not. Life is not easy. Nor is it what I could define as “normal” for most people. I still have great restriction in my life and a multitude of barriers that most people don’t have. There are still elements of society that are still against me as a result of the choices I made that resulted in my fall.

But I can say that I believe I’m in the “restoration” stage. The panic from the fall and the pain of the impact are behind me. The destruction caused by the explosion that rippled through my family has been put back together for the most part. And the result of the impact and the explosion is that it has revealed my true identity. No more masks to hide behind. No more secrets too embarrassing to conceal. I’ve learned from the choices that I’ve made and the end result is that I will be a better person for it. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this stage or when I’ll achieve “elevation”.

The parallel between the stages of bounce and of grief have hit very close to home for me in the past month. My sister Deb is currently moving through the stages of grief over the death of her daughter just before Christmas. And my brother Frank and his wife are going through the same grief over the death of a son. I’m sure that like me, they would like to be at the point of complete understanding and acceptance of what happened without going through the pain and frustration of the earlier stages. But life doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to the end of the journey without following the path all the way. What I’ve discovered is that sometimes even the most painful journeys can end up transforming us and enlightening us in ways that never could have occurred without the pain.

"Bounceology" from Jentezen Franklin

Image from "Bing" images

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Boy - The Scout

He sat in the back of the bus…the cherished seat. Surrounded by his friends Daryl and Dan…and a few others, his words and laughter would occasionally find their way forward to where I sat about half way back. His brown, curly hair didn’t show the signs of the regular crew cuts that dad would give us in the same way mine did. While the “sidewalls” around my ears seemed accentuate the size, his face was well proportioned. Dressed in a brown, paisley shirt that he and Debbie had picked out and the wide corduroy bell bottoms and wide black belt, he was the epitome of fashion in 1968. My own blue jeans and button-up shirt were nice…they were new this year, but didn’t have the pizzazz that his did.

The bus stopped in front of the old brick building…three stories tall with the flag pole standing proudly out front. There was laughter and pushing as we all rushed to get off the bus. It was the first day of school…and for me, my first day of Junior High. I really had no idea what to expect what I certainly had my reservations. I had always liked school and my early elementary at the Old Farmin School had been filled with wonderful memories. However, the two years at New Farmin had been difficult. My assimilation hadn’t been smooth and the friendships that had been nurtured during my first four grades had all but disappeared. Kids from some of the other elementary schools had joined us during those two years and it seemed I didn’t fit. I didn’t realize until Junior High that part of the reason that fifth and sixth grade were difficult socially is because “he” wasn’t there.

I don’t think that he knew the anxiety that I had about another school. We didn’t have the same kind of relationship that Geoff and I had. He was two years older, while Geoff and I were only thirteen months. Frank had already found himself working away from the farm by the time he reached his freshman year and had begun to “grow up”. While he still occasionally took the time to play with Geoff and me at this point, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. He still shared the same bedroom with us, but he no longer slept in the bunk beds. His bed was set on one side of the bedroom as a single, while Geoff and I had a double bunk.

I watched as he and his friends walked with ease up the front steps in a manner that let you know that they had been here before. This was their school and they were comfortable. The heads of the ninth grade girls turned to watch as he made his way to the front door…a burst of giggles and heads wagging as they watched him disappear. I walked with uncertainty, following the other kids as we made our way inside to find assigned lockers and classrooms. The hallways were crowded and I was greeted with bumps and shoves and the dreaded “Hey Sevy…get out of the way!” as I scurried to the edge of the hallway to accede to their demands with the other seventh graders.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but it was early in the school year. It was down on the first floor…on the gym level and one of the ninth graders on the football team with Frank walked by me and gave me a kidney punch. I don’t think I had ever felt anything so painful in my life! Even the spankings and willow switch never felt like this. Tears immediately welled in my eyes as I hunched over…gasping to catch my breath. I tried to straighten up and keep moving, not wanting him to see my pain and my fear. A moment or two later, he saw me and could see that something was amiss.

He walked over and moved me to the side of the hallway and asked what was wrong. At first, I just stood there quietly…trying to hold back the tears and accomplished it with some success. I didn’t want to be a “tattle-tale” and stood there with my eyes on the floor. Again, he asked what happened. I finally told him what had just occurred in the hallway and after some prodding, gave him the name of the kid who had hit me. I could see the anger flash in his eyes as he stood there and listened. It was almost as if I could see his mind saying “this is family, and no one does this to my brother!” I don’t have any idea what Frank did, but the kid never bothered me again. Even when I passed him in the hallways, he seemed to move away from me instead of closer and his eyes would look furtively around…perhaps checking to see if he might be watching.

As I moved through junior high, it seemed that Frank was there for me in one way or another. By the time my eighth grade year ended, he had his own car and was able to drive at night. I was still without my driver’s license and it seemed part of his mom-assigned “job” was to occasionally be a taxi. It was the last day of school before summer vacation and I had been invited to my first “party”…and there would be girls there. While I didn’t have a “date” date, I was going to be meet a girl there and mom and dad had graciously allowed me to go. The only caveat was that Frank would need to pick me up at 10:00 at the end of the party and bring me home. He told mom that it would be no problem and it was all set. He would come by the place of the party and pick me up.

The party ended as planned and parents began to arrive at the large house and pick everyone up. Everyone that is…except me. I waited for a little bit and Holly’s dad asked if I had a ride coming and I assured him that I did. I wasn’t sure where Frank was, but I had complete confidence that he would be there to pick me up. The minutes passed and I began to walk out toward the road at the end of the driveway. This place was set back a few hundred yards and it was possible that Frank had passed it by and I thought it would be easier for him if I got out on the main street. I stood there for a few minutes as I watched for a headlight, confident with the knowledge that behind a set of one of those lights, my brother would be coming for me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Frank had forgotten. He had been out on a date of his own and had gotten all the way home and had gone in to tell mom that he was home. It was only when she asked if I had fun at the party that he realized that I was someplace about ten miles away and not down in the bedroom where I belonged. He told her a quick “yes” and quietly opened the front door and went out to his car. Taking the car out of gear and leaving the lights off, he pushed it to the end of the driveway and let it coast to the bottom of the hill before starting it and waited until he was at the highway before turning on his lights.

I had walked several miles by the time he finally pulled up beside me and told me to jump in. His apology flowed from his lips and came more than once. I wasn’t greeted with a feeling of putting him out or of being an inconvenience. He was genuinely sorry that he had let me know. We talked about the party on the way home and I shared that I had my first “real” kiss. We pulled into the driveway with the lights out and quietly walked to front door. We were somewhat shocked to see mom standing there and she kissed me good night and talked briefly with Frank before he too went to bed.

As I look back on those days, it’s easy to see how often he was there for me. Frank opened many doors for me that I know were closed to him. And it seemed that whatever he did, I wanted to do as well. I followed in his footsteps in football as well as wrestling. The classes that he took, I wanted to take too. He wrote for the school newspaper so I enrolled in the class my sophomore year. It was the only class that we shared in high school. His participation in student leadership encouraged me to try it out as well. I will always be grateful for his presence as a part of my life, for his generosity and for his support.

This is one of a series of stories written for my family - Christmas 2010

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Boy - The Daredevil

The sun was warm as I sat on the front steps, watching the activity in the dust that was taking place on the edge of the driveway before me. The look of concentration on his face was a marvel…his short hair still blond and his back and arms a golden bronze from the many hours spent running around the farm shirtless. Light brown freckles decorated his small, upturned nose. His hands were dirty and covered with grease and oil and he would occasionally use his biceps to wipe the light layer of perspiration from his eyes. The gas fumes from the old coffee can that sat off to the side made my nose and eyes burn as they were carried on the breeze as it moved across the yard.

My little brother was in the process of tearing apart an old carburetor and putting it back together again. Even at age 10, I marveled at his ability to take things apart and always manage to reconstruct them. It didn’t really seem to matter what it was that he wanted to take apart…whether something off an old car or lawnmower, or an old motor off of a worn out washing machine, he always seemed to have a knack for anything mechanical. And while he also occasionally removed the legs or wings off of the grasshoppers he would chase across the lawn to catch, that was one thing he wasn’t able to put back together.

Aside from being mechanically inclined, Geoff had another characteristic that I was envious of even at an early age. He seemed to be completely fearless. Whether it was climbing the log walls in the old barn that stood on the homestead property or climbing up the trees in the wooded lot that was situated near the south end of the farm, he always seemed to climb the fastest…and the highest. There was no hesitation on his part to jump from the branches of one cedar limb to another as we would play out games out in the woods.

Speed was never a deterrent to him as well. As kids, he and I spent countless hours on our bikes. We both had “Stingrays” that were fairly lightweight and were easy for both of us to ride. I can remember the occasions when Geoff would take off on his mike pedaling as hard as he could, generating maximum speed, and then stomp on the pedals to slam on the brakes. He’d shift his weight, almost laying the bike and its side and come to a screeching halt just inches from potential harm. He would set up ramps and jumps to fly over on the bike, trying to gain as much air as possible. If he began to lose balance in the air, or even fail to make the jump and crash on the other end, he was never deterred. He would simply pick up the bike, brush off the dust and gravel…maybe lick the blood off of his bleeding elbow and simply get back on the bike.

Nothing seemed to faze him…even the dark or strange noises. The old barn had become our “fort”…a place where we would often play and sleep in the summers. He and Frank and I had walled off a portion of the upstairs loft in the old barn made it ours. It was strewn with a plethora of toys…mostly guns or swords that we had accumulated over the years or made out scrap pieces of lumber. Hours were spent either defending or attacking the 100 year old building and many choruses of “gotcha” and the predictable “no you didn’t, you missed” echoed across the fields during those summers.

But when we would sleep down there in the summer, it was always late at night when we would finally leave the house for the short walk down the hill to the old barn. Even with the outside light on the pole near the garage, by the time we were half way there, the light was gone and we were walking from shadow to shadow. I would often times feel my heart in my throat and the light sheen of perspiration on my skin by the time we reached the barn. I think Geoff knew that the walk down often scared me. There were times when he would take off a moment or two before me and by the time I turned the corner of garage, he was nowhere in sight. My hope was that he had run down to the barn and I would soon see the light from the loft area come on. But that usually wasn’t the case. Instead, he would find a hiding place and hunch down…waiting for me to pass by. And then with a banshee shriek, he would jump out behind me and cause me to nearly wet myself. The loud yell would be followed by his gentle laugh and he would take off down the hill followed by my screams and seemingly scamper up the wall into the loft and I would soon see the light coming from the doorway.

The night sounds that crept through the old hay loft would still have me on edge by the time I climbed up the ladder and into the “fort”. It might be the sounds of mice scurrying along the walls or the night birdsong…but there were always noises. Old boards have a way of creaking and old hinges make strange noises as they are moved ever so slightly by the evening breeze. Sometimes, there were sounds from below where the old milking parlor once stood that would be carried on the wind up to us. But for Geoff, never a flinch…never a “I wonder what that was?”…never a “Mark, I’m getting a little scared here.” Those were the voices in my mind but not from the mouth of my little brother.

Without the words finding their way to paper, he might never know the influence he had on my life as a young boy. Too often, stories are never told. Feelings never shared. Memories are lost. In my eyes, Geoff was always strong, brave, creative…the sibling who was always willing to go out there a little further than the rest of us. A brother that I feared at times because of his fearlessness…both for his safety as well as mine, and wanted to emulate at the same time.

This is one of a series of stories written for my family - Christmas 2010