More Than Four Wheels (Part 2)

*Last week, I told you about one of my favorite memories of my Dad: the day of my college graduation party when he gave me a car as a graduation gift. Check out Part 1 of More Than Four Wheels here before you read on!

When you’re fresh out of college and you’re driving around in a nearly-new car gifted to you by your parents, you drive with an extra sense of caution because of the sentimentality of the vehicle. When you park in a lot, you park a little bit further (and at least three miles away from the nearest cart corral at any Wal-Mart). You take a little extra time at a stop sign. You drive even slower on a snowy day. You drive with a purpose, because it was purpose that gave you the vehicle you drive.

But even the most careful driving style leaves a car vulnerable to the wear and tear of the open road. Math is math, and miles add up. Engine parts give out. And no matter where you park at Wal-Mart, a cart from a careless shopper is almost guaranteed to bang into your bumper causing a disproportionate amount of damage (just another reason not to shop at Wal-Mart, I guess…)

In the blink of an eye, and definitely before I was ready to let go, my precious Envoy started to see the effect of both age and my rather aggressive driving style. For those of you who knew my Dad, you knew he was a tried and true parishioner in the Church of Offensive Driving. He had passed on this impatience, frustration, and love of the accelerator to his son. God bless him.

Over the years I had toyed with the idea of selling my Envoy, but I learned to deal with the occasional vehicle repair or failure on the side of the road. I was willing to put up with a slightly dirty interior, the minor rip in the leather interior, or the all too frequent inability of the air conditioner to actually condition the air.

And then, in the summer of 2013, my Dad passed away.

In that moment, in spite of the Envoy’s miles, scratches, or lack of reliability, I knew that I never wanted to let that car go. Along with many of my other physical possessions that my Dad had given me throughout the years, the Envoy became a tangible and lasting testament of my Dad’s love. Every time I got into it, I would think of him. My mind would go back to the day when he gave me that car as a gift for my college graduation. All I had to do was look at the Envoy and I could see him standing in the driveway again equipped with a camera and a huge smile. I can remember the feel of the hug he gave me. I can picture him tossing me the keys, and I can relive that first drive as a proud new car owner. To let go of the Envoy would be like letting go of all those memories and special moments. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

When Dad Gave Me My Car

But at some point, you don’t have the choice to get a new car—you’re forced to, and I feared that day was approaching. Without my Dad to help me change the oil and take care of minor repairs, the Envoy started to become quite a financial burden. Every three months I seemed to be on the receiving end of a four-figure bill from the auto shop.

I slowly watched the odometer creep up and up the more I drove. 140,000. 150,000. 175,000. And I remembered taking a picture of the odometer when it hit 190,000 miles. I had made so many great memories putting those miles on the meter, but now when I thought about the impending problems that would be associated with increased mileage, I wished I would have taken my friends up on their offers to drive to dinner a few more times than I had.

I pledged that I was going to drive the Envoy until I couldn’t drive it anymore. It was a senseless decision fueled by love and memory, but it was something I felt that I needed to do to hold onto my Dad. I prayed that I could at least get the Envoy to 200,000 miles. I didn’t know what I would do with the Envoy once she sputtered across the finish line, but I would find a way to preserve her memory…and my Dad’s in turn.

But as soon as I started formulating this game plan, I heard a noise. No, not the voice of God or the trumpeting of an angelic chorus. It was a knocking from one of the rear wheels. This was a new one. I had heard many, many noises over the years from this particular vehicle. The squealing of brake pads. The hissing of parts unknown under the hood. And I swear, for all the great things my Envoy offered, I went through more squeaky serpentine belts than any care owner I knew. There are few things more embarrassing and annoying than puttering down the road as people turn their heads to look at your car because it sounds like a small woodlands creature is being tortured underneath your hood. If I ever did sell the car, the perfect customer would need to be an elderly person with severe hearing complications.

I pulled into my parking spot at work, worried and terrified that the knocking noise was something severe. Something I wouldn’t be able to repair. Something that my Dad would have been able to fix had he been here to help me. But he wasn’t.

And neither was his truck. The truck that I should have bought but didn’t…


My Dad was a truck man. It’s as simple and plain as that.

In fact, for my entire life my Dad drove trucks. It all started with a blue pick-up that I remembered from my childhood. And then a 1992 gray GMC Sierra with a single bench seat, manual windows and locks, an air conditioner that wasn’t very reliable, and a built-to-last gray toolbox in the bed. That Sierra became my very first ride when I turned 16. I drove it for one year in high school, and I had more problems with it than I would have thought any single vehicle could have in its entire lifetime. But I drove it and envied my Dad as he cruised around in his new, sleek Silverado.

Yes, a Silverado. The envy of any Chevrolet man with a desire to own their own “most dependable, longest-lasting full-size pickups on the road” (Chevrolet’s words…and probably my Dad’s too). The dark grey Silverado he chose blew my mind on the day he brought it home. It was a four-door truck, which I had rarely seen. The leather interior was spotless. The truck ran smoother than any vehicle I had ever been in—especially at high speeds. And I knew that because my Dad loved high speeds. He would take me out on backroads near our home, and my Dad and I came from the same school of thought in regards to speed limits. (Sorry, Mom.) Speed limits are merely suggestions. This truck allowed us to test that out.

Dad drove that truck for a long time, putting many miles and many memories into it. Aside from a few minor problems, it was a great vehicle. But not as great as the one he would buy next.

In 2012, unbeknownst to my Mom and me, Dad started to shop around for a new ride—and boy did he find a good one. Dad always bought his trucks from Rose Chevrolet (now Rose Automotive), a local family-owned dealer with a tremendous reputation. He liked the dealership owner, Ed Larkin, and Dad always tried to buy things from people he liked.

Ed called my Dad in 2012 with a surprise. He had an almost new 2012 Chevy Silverado on the lot, and he knew my Dad would just love it. And he was right—Dad absolutely adored it, probably drooling a bit the first time he saw it. It was a lighter gray than his previous truck, but much, much newer. The previous driver had bought it, and after adding only about 1,000 miles to it, decided he wasn’t happy with it and wanted something else. His loss was my Dad’s gain, and Dad left Rose Automotive that day as a happy man in a new truck. He came home with a big smile on his face. I’m sure that smile faded a bit when he and my Mom had to have a “discussion” about his proclivity for expensive things, but Dad eventually charmed her into accepting the purchase. It only took one ride in the truck to realize why he bought it. It was spotless, beautiful, sleek, and perfect. And Dad was really happy.


I was sitting in the driver’s seat of that parked truck, alone and feeling very different from the first day I had sat in it.

My Dad wasn’t there to drive that truck anymore.

We had just had Dad’s funeral a few days earlier, and I was coming to terms with the face that he would never drive this truck again. His work-worn hands would never again feel that steering wheel. His heavy foot would never use that accelerator to defy another speed limit. His 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew would never rest in that cup holder ever again. His favorite country albums would never blare through the speakers with the windows down on a warm summer afternoon as he rode home from work.

He would never drive it again…but I could still feel him there.

When I sat in the seat of that truck, I could hear that familiar laugh of his. I could see that same familiar smile. I could feel his presence there with me.

I just sat in his truck in my parent’s driveway, slowly running my fingers over the same buttons and switches that he had once touched. I flipped through the loose items he had accumulated in the middle console: pens, scratchpads, hand sanitizer, the floss picks that he often drove my Mom and I crazy with as we drove home from dinner. I laughed at the memories, and I was upset that they were now only memories.

My Dad had worked so very, very hard to get that truck. Weekend shifts. Overtime calls. Side jobs. Whatever it was, my Dad had always taken extra opportunities to earn money to provide for our family. Thanks to the hard work of both of my parents, we had always led a comfortable life. Not extravagant, but comfortable.

I was mad and I felt robbed because this truck was, finally, my Dad’s opportunity to be extravagant. And he had only been able to enjoy it for a few months. I’m sure those few months were great for him, but Dad deserved years, maybe decades, of driving around in this truck. He would have taken care of it like it was his own child. He would have changed the oil before it needed it. He would have spent weekends performing routine and preventative maintenance to make sure that his truck would look newer and newer as it grew older and older. Dad deserved this truck. He deserved more than what he got. It was the first time I felt angry after Dad’s death. But I wasn’t angry at Dad. As much as I hate to admit it, I think I was angry at God for taking him away from all of us too soon. He had so much more life ahead of him, and so many more miles to drive.

I knew that I would only be able to sit in his truck and get angry for a little while longer, because my Mom had a tough but inevitable decision ahead of her. Dad had just purchased the truck a few months earlier, and we knew regardless of the emotional connection to it, there was no way we could keep it. The payments were just too high, and my Mom and I couldn’t let our hearts outweigh the reality of dollars and cents.

Although we had tried. Mom had asked me if I wanted to buy the truck, saying how much my Dad would have wanted me to have it. I knew she was right, but I also knew that even with a “family discount” there was no way I could afford it. Working in education is rewarding, but not so much on the “monetary reward” side of the scale. Working in an entry-level job and attending graduate school simultaneously while paying for my own house was too much some months. I couldn’t add a truck payment on top of that, even though my heart told me I should. My Mom knew the answer, but she needed to ask—for me and for her. My heart broke, but I knew what she would have to do.

We would have to sell my Dad’s truck. And I would always regret not buying it.


A few weeks later, my Mom called me in tears, which wasn’t unusual at this point in our lives. She would call me crying some days, and I would call her crying on others. But this one was different.

“Ty, I wanted to call you and let you know that Ed found someone to buy your Dad’s truck.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks, but I tried not to let it show because I didn’t want my Mom to be any more upset than she already was. I knew that I needed to be strong for her. I knew that this was just as difficult for her as it was for me. I knew that she was hurting, suffering, and having a hard time letting go of the pieces of my Dad’s life. Letting go of his truck made this all too real, all too final.

We talked for a little while through tears about how much Dad had loved that truck and how it wasn’t fair that he didn’t get to enjoy it more than he did. We talked about how much we missed him, and how we would give anything to see him pull into the driveway in that gray Silverado one last time.

Mom asked me if I wanted to see the truck again, one last time, before the new owner bought it from the dealership.

“I can’t. I just can’t.”

She understood. And just like that, my Dad’s truck was gone.


Two years down the road, I had put many, many more miles on the Envoy that my Dad had given me. With every thousand miles there came new, nerve-inducing noises. Knocks in the rear wheel wells. A haunting creak when you opened the door. Every day, I prayed that my plan to drive the Envoy “until the wheels fall off” wouldn’t involve them literally being blown off by an explosion.

I hated to admit it, but I didn’t know how much longer I would be able to hold onto the Envoy. I was starting to think I needed to cut my losses. I should get a couple thousand bucks out of it before I had to turn it in for scrap metal and parts. Each and every morning, I would say a quick prayer on my way out to the garage, and then I’d gamble. I’d turn the key in the ignition and pray that it started—and that there were no new noises. Some mornings I won, and other mornings I lost terribly. And, just like a casino, my wallet felt considerably lighter every time I lost.

But no matter how much it cost, how could I just let this car go? It was a gift from my Dad. It was a piece of him. And I had had to let so many pieces of him go over the past two years. Letting go of another one, especially one this significant, would hurt too much. I wasn’t prepared for the pain. I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye.

I prayed, a lot. I asked God for guidance. I told him that He knew the ins and outs better than anyone. I asked Him to give me the wisdom to make the right decision.

And one night, randomly, I was at the gym and I decided to send a text message that would change everything.

I was fortunate that a previous coworker happened to be a relative of Ed Larkin, the owner of Rose Automotive where my Dad had purchased all of his vehicles. Ed had been kind enough to sell the truck for my Mom after Dad had died, and he had also made sure that she received any of the profits that were made on the sale. He was one of a kind, and I knew that if I needed to buy a truck, Ed had earned my loyalty.

So, I sent the text to my old coworker, Karen, and explained the situation. “Karen, I think it might be time to sell my vehicle, and I’m hoping you can get Ed to help me. I’m having a really hard time thinking about selling my Envoy because it was a gift from my Dad, but I know that it’s time to start looking. I would love to get a truck, but I’ve never bought a car before and I don’t really know what I’m doing. My Dad always used to help me with this kind of stuff. Can you have Ed get in touch with me?”

Karen, always helpful, certainly agreed and said she would send Ed a text message and let him know all about the situation. I was shocked when I looked down at my phone about fifteen minutes later and saw her name on an inbound call.

Karen and I quickly exchanged hellos, and then we exchanged one of the most heartfelt conversations I’ve ever had in my entire life.

“Tyler, I really can’t believe this, but the person who bought your Dad’s truck returned it to the lot today,” she said. “He traded it in because he just wanted something new and it’s in spectacular shape. I talked to Ed, and he said the truck is yours if you want to buy it.”

Right there, in the middle of the gym, I fell onto my knees and started to cry. I couldn’t believe it. My Dad’s truck. It was coming home.

Karen was still on the phone, and said “Ed didn’t know how you would feel about it, and he completely understands if it’s too emotional for you…”

“I want it,” I interjected. “I’ll be at the lot tomorrow morning.”


“Mom,” I said, sitting on a bench at LA Fitness a few moments later, “You’re not going to believe this.”

“What’s going on?” she said nervously through the phone.

“I don’t even know how to tell you this, but the person who bought Dad’s truck traded it in today. Ed wants to know if I want to buy it.”

My Mom’s voice broke. “What?” and she started to cry. We couldn’t even talk to one another. We just sat on the phone, tears falling on both ends of the line.

“Ty, your Dad wants you to have this truck,” she said.

We just sat on the phone and cried together for a long while before she could ask me questions. And before I knew it, our conversation had steered from the truck to the reason that it had such sentimental value for us.

“I miss him so much, Ty,” my Mom said, a heartbroken wife opening up to her son.

“I do too, Mom.” And with that, I knew I had to buy the truck and bring it home.


I pulled into the lot at Rose Automotive the next morning, and although it was a gloomy day outside, my heart was full and bright. I was excited, but I was also nervous. I didn’t know how I would react. Would I be excited to see the truck again? Would it have changed too drastically to remind me of my Dad? Would it be too emotional for me to even drive it?

I didn’t have much time to collect my thoughts, because when I pulled in I saw it right away. And the tears immediately began to fall.

There it was. My Dad’s truck. Just as I had remembered it, but absent its familiar driver. I tried to contain both my excitement and my raw emotion, but was unsuccessful holding in either one.

Ed Larkin, the owner of Rose Automotive, was there to meet me with a smile and a handshake. “Ed, I just can’t believe this,” I said to him through budding tears.

“Tyler, I’m the one who can’t believe it,” Ed responded, as shell shocked as I was to be standing in front of the truck again. “The last person who owned it took tremendous care of it, and it looks just as good as the day we sold it to him. I was contemplating whether or not to call you and tell you that your Dad’s truck was back if you wanted it, and that’s the exact moment that Karen called me and told me you were looking for a car.

“I’m not just saying this as a car dealer trying to sell a vehicle, but Tyler there’s someone bigger at work here in this,” Ed said.

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded.

And just as my Dad had done many times before, Ed tossed me the keys to the Silverado and told me to take it for a spin. I hopped in, drove away, and although he wasn’t there, I could feel Dad in the passenger seat with me.


It’s been a little over a year since that day, and I’m fortunate that my test drive didn’t end on that day. I’ve been driving my Dad’s truck since December 2015, and owning his truck is one of the greatest honors of my life.

Dad's Truck

I was fortunate that in my Dad’s absence, God positioned so many people in my life to help make this dream come true. He put Karen there to help connect me with Ed. He put Ed there, an honest and caring individual, to think more about the emotional value of the truck than its monetary worth. He put my Mom there to encourage me to buy it and help me with the down-payment. He put her there to encourage me and love me, and although it always feels a little emptier than either one of us would like, we ride together in that truck frequently and remember the happy days we shared with Dad in it. I was thankful to have my friend, Chris, to consult with when I thought the truck might be out of my price range. I remember Chris telling me “Don’t let a little extra money on the payment steal this away. This is your Dad’s truck, and you’ll find a way to make it happen.” God put all these wonderful people in my life to make sure that my Dad’s truck came home with me. And it’s been bringing me home every day ever since.

I know that God doesn’t always concern Himself with material things, but I know that He concerns Himself with things of the heart. God was able to use this material thing, a truck, to provide me with another connection to and memory of my Dad. He was able to use a truck as more than just four wheels. He was able to use that truck to help me grieve—and ultimately draw closer to Him.

I feel like I was able to hold on to a very important piece of my Dad by buying his truck—and not just any piece, but one of the most valuable and most memorable. My Dad loved his truck. He loved all the trucks he drove over the years. He took care of them and maintained them. He kept them clean and often criticized me when I hadn’t been to the car wash in weeks (or likely months). To my Dad, the truck was a symbol of pride. It said something about his character.

Anyone who drives a truck knows that you instantly become very popular with any of your friends who are moving or who need to haul heavy items or landscaping supplies. It’s fitting that my Dad drove a truck because he was always, always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it. My Dad would frequently sacrifice his personal time to help other people, from hauling items around town in his truck to extensive home repairs. It makes so much sense that my Dad always drove vehicles that would allow him to help other people, because my Dad truly had a servant’s heart.

When I sit behind the wheel of that truck, I can feel my Dad there with me. My mind flashes back to a happier day—the day my Dad brought that truck home and the first time he let me drive it. I remember that he let me drive as he sat in the passenger seat, probably anxious that his son was behind the wheel of a very new (and very expensive Silverado). Always trusting, however, Dad and I rode around in the truck for a few minutes, rolling down the windows on a cool Fall day, letting the sunshine and the open road renew our spirits.

2015Holidays-298

Although he isn’t here anymore, I still see him in that passenger seat every time I look over. I can picture it as clear as any real passenger that’s ever been in that seat. I can envision him with his harm hanging out the window. I can see him bobbing his head and thumping his thumb against the door to his favorite country song as it plays through the speakers. I can see him running his hand over his bald head after a hard day at work. I can see him leaning the seat back to relax his work-worn muscles. I can see him grabbing a bottle of Mountain Dew from the cup holder and taking a big swig on a hot summer day.

But more than anything, I see that smile of his. I see him smiling at the fact that his boy is driving his truck again, the way it should be. I see him proud that the truck found its way home.

And occasionally, I’ll see him in that passenger seat when he turns his head towards me and says, “Nice ride, huh Bub?”

“The greatest, Dad,” I’ll respond with love. “The absolute best.”

Dad, I don’t think I could ever accurately describe the joy I felt in my heart when I heard that your truck was back at the car lot and for sale. I had been so anxious about getting rid of my Envoy, and I couldn’t have dreamed for a blessing as miraculous and perfect as the one God provided. I try to make you proud and honor your memory each and every day, but I think your truck is a daily reminder of that call. You’ll be happy to know that the interior is still spotless, and I wash the truck weekly—just like you taught me. I take care of that truck because, although the title might have my name on it, I know that it’s really still yours. You gave it to me, Dad. Just like you and Mom gave me the Envoy at graduation, you gifted me another car—but this time you did it from Heaven. I can’t wait for the day when I can hug you and thank you in person. Every mile I add on that truck is one mile that I’m closer to seeing you again. But until that day, I’ll take good care of the Silverado. And until that day, seeya Bub.

P.S. You’ll be happy to know the Silverado is still out there breaking speed limits, in your honor…

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22 (NIV)

More Than Four Wheels (Part 1)

My best friend Chris and I stood over the opened hood of my 1998 GMC Envoy pretending to know what we were looking at. We knew for sure that the car wouldn’t start…and that was about the extent of our mechanical assessment.

Chris and I were just graduating from Miami, and this night was a rarity for us—we had actually been invited to a party and we had girls to go with us. Those same girls were now sitting impatiently in the backseat of a GMC Envoy that was parked on Bishop Street in Oxford and had no plans of moving from that particular location any time soon.

“I think we’ve almost got it fixed,” I yelled as I poked my head out from underneath the hood, flashing my best smile to our damsels in distress. Both girls smiled and laughed, probably knowing that I was using a liberal application of the word “almost”.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at here,” I said to Chris as we peered over the engine. I probably also added a few additional “adjectives” to help capture my emotions towards the vehicle, the car my Dad had bought for me during my senior year in high school. When he had bought it, I was super excited to have a car with a leather interior, a CD player, heated seats, and a sunroof. Four years and lots of driving, however, had gotten the best of the Silver Bullet. She was exhausted from the over 160,000 miles she had earned. The victim of my Dad’s attempts at numerous repairs had gotten the best of her. And now she was refusing to do the one thing I needed her to do: to start.

So Chris and I did what any college boys trying to impress a couple girls would have done. We took off our button downs, bent over the engine in white t-shirts and jeans, and started banging unmercifully on any piece of the engine that looked like it needed to be hit.

And when that didn’t work, we called my Dad.

Dad had received dozens of these calls over the years. “Dad, I went to get in the car after work and it won’t start.” “Dad, I have to be to class in 15 minutes and my car won’t start.” “Dad, I’m stuck in the middle of Route 4 and my car just died and there is an angry mob with pitchforks and torches ready to flip this hunk of junk if I can’t get it going. I might join them.” He always had a solution, usually something completely outside of my technical understanding of motor vehicles, but more times than not he could tell me what I needed to do to get the car moving, at least temporarily until we could get it to the shop.

But on this night, our call would be different. Memorable, and different.

I dialed his number and told him the story. “Dad, Chris and I and some friends are stuck in Oxford because my car won’t start.”

And then, he did the unthinkable.

He laughed.

“Did you hear me?!” I said, ready to explode. “I said my car won’t start! We are stuck. I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, I don’t know. Do you have the hood open?” he replied.

“Yes, Dad, of course we do.”

“Have you tried banging around on the engine yet?” he said.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?! DAD!”

He laughed even harder. I, on the other hand, found myself within moments of violating a handful of the Ten Commandments in a single response.

“It’s a Friday night. Hang out in Oxford for a bit, try to start it again, and if it doesn’t work you’ll find a way to get home,” he said. “Maybe this is why you don’t get invited to parties that often,” he said in between his maniacal fits of chuckling.

I closed my phone, looked at Chris, and gave the only response I could possibly drum up that would explain the conversation I had just had.

“I think my Dad is on drugs.”

So, Chris and I regrouped and came up with a new plan. We would bang on the engine even harder than we had done the last time, and then we would start feeling around for parts that had popped loose and we would jam them back into the spots where we guessed they probably belonged.

And, miraculously, the car started.

Sometimes, a little dumb luck and advice from your Dad goes a long way.


“I can’t believe you were just going to leave us stranded up there!” I yelled at my Dad after getting home much later than I had originally planned. “You know I’ve got a big day tomorrow, and you were no help at all!”

Dad just sat in his recliner, smiling from ear to ear. He had stayed downstairs watching television, probably falling asleep in the recliner and waking up once he heard me come through the door. I swear I saw popsicle sticks laying on the side table. The audacity! Your only son is stranded and you have the nerve to eat popsicles?!

“You got home alright, didn’t you? Did you bang on it like I told you?” he smirked.

Yes-I-banged-on-it-like-you-told-me-to. And it worked, but that’s not the point!”

“Is the point that you want to thank me for giving you such great mechanical advice?” he said, with that all-familiar smugness of a Father knowing he has his son cornered in an argument he can’t win.

I turned around, face beat red, ears burning, and said “I can’t talk to you when you act like this.”

“We will fix it tomorrow,” he yelled up the stairs. I ignored him and went into my room, slamming the door in an all-to-predictable move for an angry son.

As I stormed up the stairs, I could still hear him laughing to himself in the chair. That laugh would infuriate me more than anything. I was half-tempted to tell him I hitchhiked home with a drug dealer just to see if it would get him to stop laughing.


I hadn’t lied to my Dad when I told him that the next day was a big one. Maybe more busy than big, but jam-packed nonetheless. It was a hot day in the early summer of 2009, and I had classically overcommitted myself yet again. I was scheduled to referee two soccer games in the morning. Then, I had a brief break in the middle of the day before I needed to leave and announce a post-season baseball game. After that, I would have to scurry back home, clean up, and leave again because that night promised to be a special night.

My college graduation party. My Mom and Dad had worked really, really hard to put together a beautiful graduation party for me to celebrate the end of my time as a student at Miami. They had rented out the athletic center at a local school that my Dad had helped to construct. My Mom had ordered a ton of food from my favorite Greek restaurant in town, and had also cooked many more items for everyone to enjoy. They had each set up tables, decorated, set up cornhole boards, hired a DJ, ordered a cake, and done just about everything they could to make this an amazingly special night. They had invited hundreds of our friends, family, and neighbors to come to the party, and I was beyond excited to see everyone.

I got home from the morning soccer games on that Saturday—sweaty, smelly, and overly exhausted. I hopped in the shower, put on some fresh clothes after, and hit the bed for what I hoped would be a brief and refreshing nap. And as soon as I did, I was disrupted.

“Ty,” my Mom said from the bottom of the stairs, “we need you to come outside for a minute. There’s someone here who wants to see you and say hi.”

I immediately felt annoyed. I was tired, and wanted a nap more than anything to prepare for the rest of the day.

“Okay, Mom,” I said. I got up, dragging, and made my way down the staircase.

As I made my way down the staircase, I saw a really sharp black SUV parked in our driveway. I tried to look out the windows in the hopes that I might recognize who it was, but I had no idea. This being my graduation party, I figured it was probably some long lost relative that my Mom and Dad wanted me to meet. Whoever it was, he/she drove a really nice car. I made my way through the foyer, opened the front door, and stood there with a look of shock on my face as I saw who was waiting in the driveway.

It was my Dad, standing next to the black SUV, with a camera in his hand—pointed directly at me.

“Happy graduation, Bub!”

When Dad Gave Me My Car Surprise

When the reality of what was happening actually set in, I completely broke down. I started crying, and I turned around and hugged my Mom, who stood in the doorway right behind me.

“We love you, Ty,” she said. “Happy graduation!”

“Mom, you guys shouldn’t have done this,” I responded, tears already forming.

“Ty, your Dad really wanted to do this for you,” she said.

I ran out into the driveway, and threw myself into my Dad’s arms. He put his camera down and hugged me really tight—I can still feel that hug. “Happy graduation, bub. You’ve made us all really proud, and you deserve this.”

I opened the doors of the new car—my new car–another Envoy, but much sleeker, newer, and reliable than the one I had previously had. It was absolutely beautiful, and it looked brand new. It had everything I wanted in a car. I just couldn’t believe it was actually mine.

Envoy New

Dad had gone the extra mile, as he did with everything in life. He had driven all the way up to Oxford and bought Miami University license plate frames, window decals, and some of my very first Miami “Alumni” items that I ever owned. We walked around the car, checking everything out from top to bottom. The engine grill was mesh and really made the car pop. There wasn’t a scratch to be found on it. The interior was spotless.

When Dad Gave Me My Car

“Want to take it for a quick spin?” Dad said. He tossed me the keys, and of course, he had added a Miami RedHawks key chain to them.

I hopped in the driver’s seat as Dad climbed into the passenger seat and Mom hopped in the back row. I began to drive down the road, shaking my head the entire time and repeating over and over again “I just can’t believe you did this.”

We rolled down the streets of our neighborhood as Dad showed me all of the cool features that the car had. He rolled from the main console to the seat controls and to all of the other things that this car had which my old one didn’t. We rolled down the windows and rode together as a family down Canal Road near our home, basking in the sunlight of a summer day and a boy with fresh wheels.

And then, it hit me.

“THAT’S WHY YOU WERE LAUGHING LIKE A MANIAC WHEN I CALLED YOU LAST NIGHT!”

And there it was again. The same laugh I had heard the night before when I stood over a cold engine on the streets of Oxford. The same laugh that is burned into my senses anytime I think about my Dad now that he is gone. The same laugh that brought me, my family, and anyone who met my Dad such tremendous joy. The laugh that I long, more than anything, to hear again someday.

Yes, the night before when my old car had once again failed to start, my Dad knew all along that he would be giving me a new car the very next day. As a matter of fact, I found out that my Dad was actually cleaning the interior of my new car when I had called him. With a bottle of leather cleaner and a microfiber cloth in hand, Dad was laughing at the irony of the situation—and probably at the thought of how much more I would appreciate the new ride in less than 24 hours.

My Dad understood that for a boy in college (or freshly graduated from it), a car is so much more than four wheels. A car tells a story about the driver. A car is not simply a transportation device to get someone from Point A to Point B. A car has character. A car has its own story to tell. And a car, in my life, represents much more than freedom.

“You’ve worked really, really hard in college,” my Dad told me as we drove around. “I wanted to think of a way for your Mom and I to show you how proud we are of you for working so hard.”

That new Envoy was a trophy. It was a daily reminder, each day that I opened the door, of how proud my Mom and Dad were of me. Every day when I opened that car door, I could feel a sense of happiness, appreciation, and confidence wash over me. It was a daily reminder of the love my parents had made me feel my entire life. And it reminded me of the sacrifice they made—and had always made—to show me how loved I was.

I remember pulling into the parking lot at Foundation Field later that day to announce the baseball game, and the look of surprise from the coaches who saw me roll into the complex in a sleek new ride. They all came jogging out to the spot I parked in (very, very far away from the reach of any particularly pesky foul balls) and put their arm around me when they saw the new car.

“My Dad and Mom gave it to me,” I said proudly as I shook my head. “I still can’t believe it.”

After the game, I drove with a new sense of pride and purpose to my graduation party across town. Dad made me park the Envoy right out in front of the door, and he went back to work on my new gift—polishing, cleaning, waxing, and perfecting. Apparently, Dad had told a number of people that we worked with what he was getting me for a graduation gift—it was amazing that his secret actually stayed a secret!

That car became a reminder of my Dad each and every time I opened the door and sat behind the wheel. He had found the car from an old coworker and friend and bought it while it didn’t have many miles on it. Even though it had miles, it looked brand new. He had come up with the idea of getting me a car for graduation, and convinced my Mom that it would be a great idea.

And then, when my Dad passed away, it became a tangible reminder of his love for me. Daily, that car would bring me back to happier times when my Dad was here to love all of us in person—but it also reminded me that he was still loving me and my Mom and our entire family from the other side of Eternity. After he was gone, I often that back to that day when I stepped out of our front door and saw him standing there with a camera. It’s a memory, thankfully, that is burned in my mind forever. I’ll never forget the feeling my parents gave me that day, and I’ll never quit seeing the smile on my Dad’s face.

But even the very best cars that are gifted from loving parents will break down over time. The interior will dirty and the engine will fail, and there will always come a time when that car is no longer as functional as it was before.

But how do you let go of a car that is more than four wheels? A car that is a gift from a Father who is no longer there? A car that is a physical reminder of the Dad who raised me, loved me, and taught me how to drive and so much more?

I’ll tell you how I let go next week in the conclusion of this story.

dad-in-redhawks-sweater-with-sb-logoDad, I still remember that Saturday afternoon when you and Mom gave me the new Envoy for graduation. I remember the smile on your face when you saw me come outside. I remember that you took so many pictures, and I remember how happy you were to show me every detail and feature the car had to offer. I cherished that car and I will always cherish that day. You made that entire day so special, but more than any tangible gift you ever gave me, you always told me how proud you were of me. I never told you how much confidence that gave me and how your belief in me helped me overcome so many obstacles. After you left, there were so many days where I would just hop in the car, drive down the road, and reminisce about the day you gave it to me. You blessed me with so many gifts in this life, and I am eagerly waiting for the day when I can see you and thank you again. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Think to Feel: Guest Blog by Jeff Yetter

Ty: I can say this with the utmost certainty: I have never once blamed my Dad for his death.

I have never once been mad at my Dad for leaving us earlier than he should have.

I have never once been angry at my Dad since his death.

But that doesn’t mean there are things I wouldn’t change about my Dad’s struggle. 

When I look back at my Dad’s experience with depression and his eventual suicide, there are definitely moments of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” that I would return to and reverse if I had the capability. I think back to my first response to learning of my Dad’s depression, and how I wish I would have treated him with more love and compassion (read more about his in an earlier post). I think back to all the moments where I told him I didn’t have the energy to go on a bike ride or toss in the yard, and given the opportunity to change it, I would have put down the television remote and spent more time with him. I would have never left him alone that morning that he died. I would have prayed with him.

But if there is one thing above all that I wish my Dad would have done differently, it’s this: I wish my Dad would have gone to see a professional counselor.

Let me reiterate: I’m not blaming my Dad for his untimely end. I’m not even saying that this would have definitely changed the final chapter of his life, because that’s for God to know—not me.

What I am trying to do is understand the things that went wrong in our story in an attempt to prevent these same situations from happening to other fathers, other sons, and other families.

I’m trying to understand the reasons why my Dad wouldn’t go see a professional counselor, and they are reasons that aren’t unique to his situation. As a culture, we are often afraid of the stigma or stereotype that comes along with going to see a mental health professional. We are afraid that it makes us look weak. We are afraid to admit that we have a problem. This, coupled with a masculine cultural reinforcement that we simply need to buck up and hide our feelings kept my Dad (and plenty of others) from getting the help they need.

But there’s one more reason worthy of our exploration together: the fear of the unknown.

I know this fear all too well. The first time I decided to go to a counseling session, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had seen depictions of therapists in movies and on television, and I worried that it was all hokum designed to make a quick buck.

I’m so glad that my counselor proved all of these stereotypes wrong.

If my Dad knew what counseling really was, he would have gone. If he knew what actually happened in those sessions, he would have gone. If he knew that getting help was not a sign of a weakness but was, instead, one of the boldest, bravest decisions an individual can make, he would have gone—if not for himself, for my Mom and I.

Which leads us to this post. Welcome back my friend (and I hope yours) Jeff Yetter—Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, and the man who has walked with me “arm in arm” through so many struggles. He is the counselor who helped me realize the power and potential of going to see someone who can provide help. Jeff is a sincere, authentic, man of God who has provided so much brightness in the face of the evil that has invaded my life. Jeff’s first post detailed how we came to know each other and how we’ve come to walk together through the trials of my life. Now, I’ve asked him to provide a description of his unique counseling style—a theory he created called “Think to Feel”—in an effort to destigmatize the counseling profession.

So, if you find yourself needing help but are too afraid to pick up the phone and schedule that first appointment, I hope this message provides the ultimate encouragement you need.


Jeff: I am so humbled and grateful to have been asked by Tyler to contribute, again, to this amazing blog. What an incredible ministry this is for Tyler, and for all who come here to read, and share, and learn, and love! It is an honor to be with you all once again…

For this post, Tyler has asked that I share with you all the way that I “do counseling”. He has asked that I share my primary method of working with the folks who come to see me, because he believes this has been helpful on “our walk”.  I sincerely hope you find it valuable as well.

A Little History…

As a first-semester graduate student in counseling studies, way back when, my earliest recollection was being directed by department faculty to decide what theory of counseling I was going to practice when I completed my degree. In other words, I needed to decide what I believed about human beings and their behavior, in order to know exactly how I was going to do counseling when I got out in the “real world”. Sure, there were courses on counseling theories and techniques, and I learned about the greats in the field, like Freud, Jung, Adler, Rogers, Skinner, and Ellis (to name a few). But where did I fit in this picture? I knew I wasn’t going to be a “clone” of one of these theorists, and I had an inkling that I believed in Cognitive Behavioralism (“thinking” as it relates to behavior), but I was pretty uncertain as to which direction I was going to go as a practitioner. So, I left grad school with three wonderful gifts: excellent grades (all grad students do well, academically), a beautiful diploma (fit for framing), and infinite confusion with regard to theory and effective techniques of counseling practice. So…

The Birth of a Theory

I entered the counseling profession determined to help people. True, the notion of “helping people” emanates from the minds and hearts of nearly every recent graduate in the health care field, but I really believed it was possible – I just didn’t know exactly how to go about it. I needed to think about what I believed about human beings, their behavior, and what, if anything, produces change in human behavior. So, I started to actually practice counseling. I was nice. I listened well. I could paraphrase and re-state what I heard with the best of them. But this wasn’t enough to me. Not to mention, I was placing an incredible amount of pressure on myself to heal my patients. This was not going to work well for me, if I wanted to be in the field for very long. So, I began to consider, “What makes me feel?” Seemed like a logical place to start. And that was it – “makes me feel”. I realized that NOTHING “makes” me feel. Things, people, songs, movies, situations, the weather, do NOT “make” us feel. We actually “make ourselves feel” by the way we THINK about these things. And a theory was born. My “theory”. Simply put, we “Think to Feel”.

Think to Feel

Ok, Jeff, what are you talking about? We think to feel? What?? Like I said above, nothing “makes” us feel. People come into my office every day with the belief that things, people, situations, movies, music, etc. “make” them feel. Have you ever said, “a sunny day makes me happy”? Or, “that movie made me cry”? Or, “he really makes me mad”? Well, that’s not true. Any of it. And believe me when I say this, that’s GOOD NEWS! Allow me to explain…

If a sunny day “made” people happy, EVERYBODY would be happy on sunny days. If movies “made” people cry, EVERYONE watching the same movie, at the same time, would be crying. The entire audience. All of them. This simply does not bear out. There is always variation in an individual’s response to his/her environment. Different people “feel” differently, because they “think” differently. In other words, it is the way we “think” about the sunny day that produces the way we feel about it. For instance, I may look out the window and say, “thank you Lord, for this day. I have my twins (9 year old son and daughter), my health, and I’m doin’ ok”. So I feel ok. Someone else may look out the window and say, “yeah it’s sunny, but it’s still too cold out there”. So, he/she may feel less than enthused with the weather, and therefore he/she does not allow for a positive impact on his/her mood. Similarly, when watching a movie, it is what we are thinking when we are watching that produces how we feel about the film. We may be engrossed in the story, identify with a character, or relate it to something in our own life, and ultimately shed a tear. Someone else may be watching the movie, thinking of all he/she needs to do at work tomorrow, and has no feelings about the movie, whatsoever. Thoughts “produce” feelings. Things do not “make” us feel. Let’s continue…

Powerful

The foundation of my theory is one of “empowerment”. I want people to feel strong and empowered. I want people to know they actually have a choice in how they feel about the things they encounter in their lives. And this is the crux of “Think to Feel”: THE ONLY PERSON IN THIS WOLRD YOU CAN CONTROL IS YOU. Think about this for a second. “I can only control me”. Pretty cool, right? Also happens to be true. We can only control ourselves. Consider this: God gave us Free Will. He made us, He created us, and yet, He doesn’t “control” us. He allows for us to make choices. His will, yes. His plan, absolutely. But our choice. Free will. I figure if this logic was good enough for the Lord, it probably makes sense for us as well. Therefore, we cannot control what another person says, does, thinks, or feels. And conversely, no one controls what we say, do, think, or feel. Pretty powerful, if you allow for it to be. The only person who can “make you feel”, is you.

Feelings are choices. Not like choosing a flavor of ice cream, but choices nevertheless. Because “choice is power”. Think of this example: if I say “Joe Blow makes me mad”, who has my power? Joe does. Now, I am mad, but powerless to do anything productive about it, because my power resides with “Joe”. However, if I say, “I’m mad at Joe”, I am mad, but my power still resides with me. May sound like “semantics”, but rest assured, it is not. Two very different and distinct subjective experiences. One: you are mad and powerless. The other: you are mad and “in charge” of your feelings. You have “chosen” to be angry. And that’s fine. Feelings aren’t always pleasant, but they are always a choice.

To further this “power” example, I use the sport of football. Many years ago, I was a quarterback, and in the huddle, when I would call a “hand-off”, I would kindly remind the running back to “hold the ball”. Meaning, don’t fumble. Don’t put the ball on the ground. Don’t toss it up in the stands to your friends. And don’t hand it to the linebacker trying to tackle you. Seems logical. But my point is, the football represents the team’s power. Without it, you can’t score. For metaphorical purposes, I refer to “holding the ball” in life. Don’t give it away. It’s your power. Don’t give your power to the weather, to a movie, or to another person. That “ball” is yours. It’s your power. Hold onto it. Hold the ball!

Positive Thoughts: That’s It?

Ok, now some of you might be thinking, “Alright Jeff, if we “Think to Feel”, all we need to do is just ‘think happy thoughts’, right?”  We just need to “look on the bright side, and all will be well?”  Nope. Believe me, if thinking happy thoughts worked, I would be unemployed. Everyone would simply walk around thinking positively, and all would be well. But of course, that is not how life works. Bad things happen. Sadness and depression are part of life. People get anxious. Sometimes we feel lousy. Negative feelings occur all the time. See, even though we “think to feel”, and feelings are a choice, sometimes the appropriate or even necessary way to feel, is to feel “bad”. “Thinking to feel” is not a “cure” for feeling bad. It simply allows for the “ownership” of those feelings. “I feel bad”, versus “it makes me feel bad”. A choice. Therefore, empowered to do something about it. It’s the difference between “having bad feelings”, and “bad feelings having us”. The difference between “having depression” and “depression having you”, etc.

Although life doesn’t “make us feel”, we are still very much “affected” and “impacted” by life. I always say, “if you jump in a lake, you get wet”. Life “affects” us. We are “impacted” by things people do and say. It’s just that those things don’t “make us feel”. We get to “hold the ball”. Keep our power. And now, life becomes a little more manageable. And in essence, that’s what I do each and every day. I teach people how to “hold the ball”, keep their power, and learn how to “think” in ways that allow them to “feel” better than they did with their old way of thinking. So, each day, each session, each person who comes to see me, learns that we “Think to Feel”.

Always Help

Like I mentioned in my first post, we all have hurt, confusion, pain, and issues. But it’s important to remember: you’re not alone. Because we “think to feel”, it’s important to remember that we are never alone. It is times when people believe they are “alone”, or no one understands, that they feel hopeless. That “thought” of being “alone”, produces the “feeling” of hopelessness. But as I said, we are never alone. There is always “someone”. Whether a family member, a friend, a clergy person, a coworker, or even a professional. There is someone. Let’s all find that “someone”, and maybe even be that “someone” to others. The thought that there is someone out there, produces hope. And that’s the goal of “Think to Feel”. To offer hope…

Bless you all. Until we speak again.

– Jeff

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7


Dad Smiling Against StairsTy: Dad, you would have loved spending time with Jeff, and more importantly I’m confident that he would have been able to help you find a level of peace and comfort in the midst of your depression. I have many regrets in this life, but one of my biggest is that I didn’t encourage you to go seek professional help more vigorously. I know that his style of counseling is something that would have resonated with you. I know that you would have been comfortable talking to him, and I have no doubt that you would have befriended him, just like you did with nearly everyone you crossed paths with. I wish that, as a family, we could have found a way to make you more comfortable with the idea of counseling. But, I find peace in the fact that you are now in a place where you no longer experience the pain of depression. You are living in a beautiful paradise with our Maker in a land where the trials of this world are long forgotten. I long to see you experience this peace, but until then, seeya Bub.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

jeff-yetter-headshotJeffrey Yetter, M.Ed., LPCC
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Jeff Yetter has practiced in the field of counseling and psychotherapy for the past 24 years. He has worked in both the public and private sector, and is currently in Private Practice in Middletown, Ohio. Jeff has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Counseling at Xavier University. Academically, Jeff completed his undergraduate study at the College of Mount Saint Joseph (now, MSJ University) in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He completed his Master’s Degree in Agency and Community Counseling at Xavier University. He completed his Post-Master’s Endorsement in Clinical Counseling at Xavier University as well.

Quietude

“You better slow down.”

It was a constant refrain from my Dad when I was fifteen-and-a-half and he was teaching me how to drive. I was planning to inherit my first vehicle: My Dad’s old 1992 Chevrolet Sierra pick up truck. It had a single bench seat, manual windows and locks, and roared pretty loud any time you hit the accelerator.

“Is this the pot calling the kettle fast?” I would reply. It was ironic that Dad was telling me to slow down, because he was the family member with the heaviest leadfoot.

Dad enjoyed driving fast because he enjoyed feeling the power of a vehicle. He never drove fast because he was in a hurry. He drove fast because…well, he just enjoyed driving fast.

Whether I realized it or not, I inherited the gene that causes leadfoot syndrome, and like my Dad, I enjoy driving faster than I probably should.

But Dad also had an uncanny ability to slow down—and I’m not simply talking about his ability to ease his foot off the accelerator. My Dad was a pro in slowing down at life and eliminating the noise that so often crowds our minds. Dad was very good at embracing the quiet and simple moments of life, and I’ll always envy his ability to do that.


My Dad was a man who could enjoy the simplicity of everyday life. The moments that so many of us take for granted were moments of complete serenity and clarity for my Father. When things were quiet, my Dad was at an extreme peace—a level of peace I hope to obtain someday.

I think some of it may have been a result of his vocation. My Dad was always a physical laborer. He started out in construction, and during his life he was able to build remarkable structures: from the garage and foyer addition of our family home to a handful of wooden crosses at our local cemetery’s veteran memorial. Where there’s building there is often banging, and the sound of a hammer pounding a nail was a natural one for him to hear.

After his career in construction, my Dad worked in a number of different steel plants as a maintenance technician. If you’ve never been inside of a steel plant, they are notoriously noisy places. Machines bang and whir as they roll out steel and cut it into pieces for customers to use. Cranes fly overhead and forklifts zoom across the floor, picking up steel while honking, buzzing, and beeping to alert pedestrians of their impending arrival. Dad, being a maintenance technician, was very close to all of the machines in the plants where he worked. It was his job to know that machine inside and out; to capture the intricacies of how it worked so he could fix them when they didn’t. Dad was very, very good at his job; but being good at his job required him to be in the midst of constant noise.

So when Dad came home, he got very good at finding ways to escape the noise and enjoy the peace and solitude of our life in suburbia. And Dad enjoyed finding that quiet peace outdoors.

The weather can be a bit of a mystery in our corner of Ohio, but from mid-April to September you can usually rely on a nice evening with a beautiful sunset rather regularly. Where most families like to eat at a dining room table, my Dad was always fond of eating outside. When I was young, he built a beautiful brick patio that became our family’s private backyard oasis. Dad would often grill (I mean burn) our dinner, Mom would salvage the meal with a handful of delicious sides, and we would all settle in to share a meal. Dad, often covered in the grease and grime of a hard days work in a steel plant, would sink back in his patio chair, eat his meal, and throw back a can (usually two cans) of ice cold Coca-Cola. There was nothing fancy about these dinners, but you could tell Dad enjoyed them.

And although he would talk and converse with us, we didn’t have to say much for the dinner to be enjoyable. Dad would enjoy listening to the sounds and sights of birds flying through the air. He would watch clouds as they moved across the sky. He would laugh as a squirrel tried to steal food from our bird feeders, or watch our family dogs as they meandered across the back lawn. Simple things brought him extreme pleasure.

On a nice summer night, Dad usually enjoyed a bike ride. My family was fortunate enough to grow up within biking distance of Rentschler Park, a beautiful hidden gem in our neck of the woods. Rentschler Park is full of hiking trails, natural woods, and a waters-edge view of the Great Miami River that is hard to beat. Whenever I take a bike ride, I will nearly always have a pair of headphones in, listening to my favorite music; but Dad’s bike rides were different. My Dad was never a big fan of headphones. He enjoyed taking in the natural beauty and wonder of the world around him without the noise of every day life. He would ride his bike, yes, but he would also make a stop near the river bank and listen to the wake of boats as they lapped against the shore. He would stop and listen to the stream near the hiking trail, or watch the waterfall as the cool water meticulously pelted the gray clay of the streambed. He would listen for birds as they chirped, and talked with any stranger who had a dog—always eager to steal an opportunity to befriend a puppy.

And when he would come home from these bike rides, usually after an hour or so, Dad had a favorite spot in our backyard. It was around the fire pit that he built for all of us to enjoy. My Dad enjoyed so many sounds, but I think he enjoyed the pops and crackles of a wood burning fire more than any other. Using the flame thrower that he “engineered” (an extremely dangerous toy that is hooked to a propane tank which I was fortunate enough to inherit after his death), Dad would start the fire, toss on lots of wood, grab our family dog and a lawn chair, and settle in for a few hours of quality rest and relaxation. He would try out new burning materials to see what interesting sounds they might make. He became a particular fan of bamboo which, if you don’t know, makes a loud explosion when it burns. Or pine tree limbs which, after a significant drying period, will burn faster than just about any other material. For hours my Dad could sit in his chair with the warmth of a good fire on his face. He would drink yet another Coca-Cola, eat a few popsicles or Klondike bars, and stare at the night sky above him. He would wonder at the marvel of the moon and the stars overhead, pointing out obscure facts he had learned about them over the years. No frills, nothing fancy—but completely and utterly at peace and happy.

Not every night was like this for Dad. There were nights where my Dad would have to work late or get called in after returning home. There were nights where he would go out to eat or come to one of my baseball games. There were nights where Dad would work side jobs in an effort to support our family financially. And on the unfortunate night that the rain and foul weather would prohibit any outdoor enjoyment, Dad would be relegated to the couch for another night of UFC reruns.

But I have no doubt that my Dad was happiest on the nights where he could enjoy nature and the peace and solitude they provide. I have no doubt that my Dad experienced a slice of heaven on those nights where he could escape the noise of everyday life and marvel in the joy of the world around him.


Mister Rogers popularized a unique phrase: “quietude”. Quietude was the act of withdrawing from the noise and constant chatter of the world we live in to embrace the beauty of God’s creation and listen as He speaks to us. Mister Rogers was a tremendous appreciator of silence, and he found ways to make quiet time for himself each and every day. Mister Rogers would wake up early each morning to pray, and then he would swim laps relentlessly. In one of his books, he even talks about a day he spent doing nothing but reading, praying, and listening to the world around him. He said that that particular period of “quietude” led to a restful night’s sleep and an extremely productive day of work. Fred Rogers said that his moments of quietude were an opportunity to “stop, reflect, and receive.”

I like to think that my Dad was able to achieve this same state of quietude pretty frequently in his life. Although he may have lost his final battle with depression, I like to think that he was able to fight of the mental illness for so long and so successfully because he was able to close off the distraction and noise of the world around him and embrace quietude. He was happiest listening to a bird chirp. He was happiest listening to a river flow. He was happiest listening to a dog bark. And he was happiest listening to a fire crackle. He didn’t need to talk to be happy. He didn’t need to be productive twenty-four hours a day to enjoy God’s creation. He took God’s command to relax and enjoy life seriously. And he lived it in a way that we should all strive to do.

Although it’s been many years since my Dad gave me that initial driving lesson, I think he’s still telling me that I better slow down. I think my Dad is still telling me that I need to find ways to take my foot off the accelerator of life and strive for a level of quietude that will brighten the world around me. There are so many times where my “to-do’s” distract me to the point that I can’t enjoy anything else I’ve already done. I’m constantly thinking about what’s next, what I can be doing to be successful, and all the ways that I can be productive and contribute. I rarely think that the best way for me to be productive might be to slow down, but I’m still learning this lesson from my Dad—even if he’s been gone for over three years.

There are days, less frequently than I’d like, where I’m able to replicate the life my Dad led. I’m trying to take more bike rides and make more backyard fires. I’m trying to listen to the natural world around me and pay attention to the amazing things that God has created all over. There are days where I’m able to hop on his bike, pedal my way back to the park, and enjoy the sights and sounds of a sunset over the river bank. In those moments, I find myself hearing the still, small voice of God that is so often described in the Bible.

But I also find myself hearing my Dad’s voice. We have conversations with one another. I’ll ask him questions about the tough things I’m dealing with in life. I’ll ask him to help me fight my feelings of doubt and insecurity and uncertainty and hopelessness and fear. I’ll tell him that I still don’t understand why things happened the way they did. And I’ll tell him how much I miss him and love him.

And I know I’ve found Dad’s quietude on the nights where I hear him answer back. And more than anything, I always hear him say “I miss you, but I’ve always been here and always will be. I love you, and I can’t wait to see you again, even though I see you in every moment of every day.” I hear it in the break of a wave against the shore or the flap of a bird’s wing overhead. I hear it in the crackle of log in the fire, too. But there are many times where I hear it in his voice. Speaking to me, from the heavens.

When I force the world around me to slow down and get quiet, I hear some of my favorite noises. I’m thankful to God for all that He’s created, but I’m especially thankful for my Dad for showing me how to slow down and enjoy it.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, I know that there were so many times when I didn’t understand why you would tell me to slow down, but now it all makes sense. I look back on the moments when you were happiest here in this life, and it seemed to be the moments when you were unplugged, disconnected, and severed from all the chatter and distraction that we think is important. You found what was really important in life, and you embraced it head on. You found ways to enjoy the beauty and simplicity of God’s creation, and you found a state of quietude that led to happiness and rest. I’m striving to be like you in so many ways, Dad, but I’m working especially hard on slowing down. You’d be proud to know that I still drive a little fast, just like you, but I’m slowing down to enjoy the things that were important to you and are important to me. Until we can enjoy them together in heave, I’ll seeya, Bub.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” Psalm 23:2 (NIV)

Questions

“How could God let this happen?”

Nearly eight hours earlier in the day, I had been told that my Dad was gone. Just like that. A victim of suicide. I sat on my bed, completely exasperated—full of pain, and full of unanswered questions. Across my darkened bedroom sat my pastor, Reverend Harville Duncan. He sat in a chair, looking directly at me, shoulders hung low with a face full of sympathy. This was the man who had dedicated me as a baby. This was the man who had baptized me as a young believer. This was the man who had led me through so many spiritual battles and questions.

Now would come one of his tougher tests.

Reverend Duncan has been in the ministry longer than I’ve been alive. He has more spiritual knowledge in his thumb than I have in my entire body. He has probably read thousands of books on God and Christianity throughout his life. He has earned multiple degrees and has studied theology with reputable Christian scholars. He has done everything he could to position himself to answer life’s toughest questions.

But as I looked at him across that room, I could tell that he was at a loss for answers just as much as I was.


Just like I tried to do in the aftermath of Dad’s death, I’ve tried to get out of writing on this topic. In all honesty, I’ve avoided writing this post and put it off until the last minute because I don’t enjoy facing these questions. I don’t enjoy facing them because I don’t have answers for any of it.

Ever since my Dad died, I’ve been flooded with questions big and small. They come in waves, but they come every day. And it’s rare that I’m able to provide an answer to many of them.

The death of a loved one, especially a parent, is a pivotal juncture in one’s life journey, particularly as it pertains to spiritual matters. When that innocence is shattered and when that familiar protector and provider is no longer there, it creates serious unrest in the lives of those left behind. How will I survive without that person? Why did this have to happen? What will life look like without the joy that person brought into it?

Suicide, however, adds and additional layer of questions that I never expected I would have to deal with. How could my Dad think that life wasn’t worth living? Could I have done more to convince him that this wasn’t the end? What factors made him think that life was unlivable? How could God let one of his believers, a man who lived the truth of the Gospel, meet such an untimely end?

I don’t know that these questions will ever cease. I don’t know that they’ll ever disappear from my life, because the pain of losing my Dad will always be there. Even though life has had it’s wonderful and bright moments since we lost my Dad, there’s been a dullness that sort of clouds every good thing that happens to me.

I have so many questions for my Dad; but I have so many more for God.


When you start to question God in front of a veteran minister, you wonder what kind of reaction they will have. I don’t remember all of the particular details of my conversation with Reverend Duncan on that day. But I do remember this—at no point did Reverend Duncan try and make me feel like I was a bad person for questioning why God would let something so tragic happen to my family. At no point did he belittle me, make me feel inferior, or try to minimize my pain.

We sat together in that darkened room for nearly an hour. Reverend Duncan mostly talking, and me mostly listening. I could tell that on a different level, Reverend Duncan was heartbroken. My Dad had been one of the original congregation members at our church when Reverend Duncan began his ministry there over thirty years ago. He enjoyed my Dad’s company, and my Dad enjoyed his.

In a way only he could do, Reverend Duncan assured me that the pain I felt was real. We talked about bad things happening to good people. We talked about God’s ability to take something bad and make it into something great. We talked about suffering and the pain my Dad must have felt trying to combat his depression on a daily basis.

And Reverend Duncan assured me that both my Dad and my God still loved me dearly.

But Reverend Duncan did something really unique on that day that has set the stage for so much of my healing. He let me ask questions, and he didn’t pretend to have all the answers.

Yes, a studied and learned member of the religious clergy told me that, together, we were going to encounter many questions on this side of eternity that we would never have an answer for. We would probably never know why my Dad did what he did. We would probably never know why God allowed him to suffer. We would probably never know why God allows something as horrific as suicide to weave into his master plan for our lives. We would probably never know why God thought we were all strong enough to live life without my Dad.

Together, there in that room, Reverend Duncan prayed over me—one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a private and unbelievably special moment that I’ll remember forever. I don’t know that I’ll remember the words or the phrases he spoke, but I remember a feeling of God being there with us in that room. And just like Reverend Duncan, he wasn’t mad that I had questions.


I don’t know if this is theologically correct or sound, but I’m of the mind that God is completely okay with us asking him questions.

Let me explain what I mean before I start getting messages from people who might cringe when they read that statement.

There is a difference between questioning God and asking Him questions.

When we question God, we are essentially telling Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. We are telling Him that we know better and could figure this out our own. When we question God, we are practically telling Him that His ways are wrong and our ways are right. This type of questioning comes from a deeply-rooted proclivity for disobedience. Questioning God means you doubt whether the promises He delivers through the Bible are actually true and actually accurate. Instead of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” it’s “Jesus, I’m So Sick of Being a Passenger Because You Drive Like a Maniac” (doubt she would have won a Grammy on that one…).

But when we ask God questions, we are doing something entirely different. We are coming to Him as humble servants. We are expressing, honestly, the innermost workings of our hearts and minds to the one who already knows them.

When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He exists. Would you ever ask a question to someone who didn’t actually exist? You could, but it would probably be a pretty quick conversation. When we ask God a question, we validate that He is there with us. But more importantly…

When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He’s in control. Even if we don’t understand what He’s doing. Would you ask a question if you already knew the answer? Most likely not. When we ask God a question and are legitimately seeking answers for the tragic things that happen to us in our lives, we aren’t doubting God. In fact, we are doing exactly what He commands us to do. We are submitting to Him and saying “God I don’t have any idea why you would let this happen. I don’t know how to reconcile this with the truths of your Word. Help me understand.” We are recognizing that God knows more than we do or ever could, and that only He can provide answers to the questions we have. And…

When we ask God questions, we are drawn into a closer relationship with Him. Let’s face it! If you’re having questions, God already knows them. Psalm 139:4 says “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (NIV). In even simpler terms? “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord” (NLT). If you’re feeling guilty because you have questions for God about the things that are happening in your life, don’t feel that way or don’t try to hide them. He knows you inside and out, and He’s known you forever, and even though He knew that you would have all these questions about how he can grow love in a darkened life, He still sent His Son to the cross to die for you.

When I was little, my Dad always loved it when I would ask him questions. Whether it was about a game or a car or something completely irrelevant on television, my Dad never tired of giving me answers. He never once told me to be quiet and quit asking him questions. When I asked him those questions, I acknowledged that he was important to me and that he knew more than I did. And I think that made him feel loved, and important, and worthy.

I imagine our Heavenly Father has that same smile on His face when we ask questions.


I definitely know this part isn’t theologically sound, but I’ve often envisioned my first days in heaven as an episode of Gruden’s QB Camp (except God will be nothing like Jon Gruden…I think?). I imagine that God is going to take me into a small film room, just me and Him, and he’s going to hit play on the tape reel that sits in the table between us. Then, the two of us will sit and watch my life play out in front of me. We will see all the bright moments, and all the moments of defeat.

But then, the tape will get to July 24, 2013. We will watch the heartache of losing my Dad. We will experience the moments of shock and horror that accompanied his death. And then, I’ll slowly reach across the table and pause the tape. I’ll look at God, not with accusation but with a desperate longing for wisdom, and say “Can you explain what you were doing there?”

I imagine that God is going to come around the other side of the table. He’s going to put His arm around me. He’s going to embrace me in a way that only a loving Father could. And He’s going to explain how my Dad’s death fit into His ultimate master plan.

And I’ll finally have answers to the questions that plague me.

But to get to that point, I’ve got to trust that He has the answers. I’ve got to trust that the questions I’m facing now will be answered eventually, but not on this side of the grave. I’ve got to find comfort and solace in the fact that, in the times where life seems to be bursting apart at the seams, God is there to stitch everything back into place.

I’ll live my entire life with questions about my Dad and why he had to leave us so soon. But I’ll live in heaven knowing that my Father knows them all and loves me still.

dad-and-me-in-pool-with-sb-logoDad, There are so many days where I can’t get the questions about your death out of my mind. There are moments where the questions are so tense and overwhelming that I can’t seem to let them go. The more that the days go by since losing you, the more unanswered questions I seem to have. But I know that you’ve found peace in Heaven. I know that you’ve found comfort in the arms of God. I know that each day, I am one step closer to seeing you again and having those questions answered. Until that day, I’ll rest easy in the fact that God knows exactly what He’s doing. And until that day, seeya Bub.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 (GW)

Friendship Through Fire: Guest Blog by Chris Beatty

Ty: “Have you talked to Chris lately?”

My Dad would always ask this question, knowing darn well what the answer was before he even asked it. Chris and I hadn’t talked in a long while.

And that, in and of itself, was extremely unusual. There was a period of time when Chris and I would have called each other three or four times throughout the day to share a joke, tell a story, or just chat. Chris Beatty and I had been the best of friends for many years. The type of friends who were completely inseparable. We spent nearly every night we could hanging out, going to country concerts, and commiserating over our inability to talk to women. Now, it had been months since I had even heard from Chris. We let a disagreement get the best of us, and now it was showing our worst.

“You know, you really should call him. Life’s too short,” my Dad would always say. I had no idea at that time just how short life could truly be.

But I was stubborn and I was afraid to admit that I had made a terrible mistake and sinned against my fellow man—and not just any fellow man. My best friend. I was too arrogant to pick up the phone and call him. I let anger consume me for no reason other than haughty self-righteousness, and it was tearing my heart to pieces. I was too ego-conscious to drive over to his house and say I was sorry. I was too focused on myself to focus on God and what He wanted me to do to repair this friendship. And I let self blind me to everything that was important in life.

Even in the immediate aftermath of my Dad’s death, I had people telling me that my God could take horrible situations and make something good out of them. That even in the midst of tremendous, lifelong heartache, God can create brightness. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, God would be able to take this pain and bring His people closer together.

“Well, God,” I thought, “you’ve got your work cut out for you on this one.”


Chris: I was driving home the night I got the call.  In her most comforting, yet emptied and wounded tone, my mom asked me if I could pull off to the side of the road because she had something ‘very important’ to tell me.  This was a tone in which I have never heard from my mom’s voice, so I ‘pulled off’ the highway and prepared myself for the coming words that would change my life, forever.

“Chris, baby I don’t how to tell you this.  Scott passed away.  I don’t know all of the details, but he committed suicide.”

My body went numb.  Honest to God, I literally pinched myself twice to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.  It was at that point, that I really did pull off I-71N to clear my blurred vision from the tears that had cascaded my eyes.  After gaining my composure, and taking a few deep breaths, I did something that I couldn’t bring myself to do for last 2 years.  I swallowed my pride, dialed those 7 numbers that I still had memorized, and waited in anticipation for a familiar voice on the other side…

For those of you that don’t know, Ty and I met each other in Mrs. Hopkin’s 2nd grade class at Fairfield North Elementary.  Since 9th grade, we have been best friends, and often mistaken for lovers by many.  I guess going out with your buddy for ice-cream on a Friday night might’ve been the wrong play when trying to pick up girls.  Ty and I share countless memories, many of which his dad played a part in.

Of all the memories, my personal favorite was when Ty and I started a business one summer, called Beatty & Bradshaw Landscaping.  Scotty let me use his truck to pull out all the stumps and bushes from the ground.  He also let us use his chainsaw, flame thrower, pressure washer, and Cub Cadet riding mower!  I forgot to mention, all his tools were brand name and looked legit, which in turn, made us feel like real men.

*Side note: During our 2 years as business owners, Beatty & Bradshaw Landscaping had 1 client and 2 total invoices.  We later liquidized all assets of the company and took up poker instead.  That, too, was a failed venture.

beatty-and-bradshaw-landscaping

Admittingly, I am a prideful person.  Prideful to the point in which I squandered a lifelong friendship with Ty over something trivial.  During our 2-year sabbatical from each other, a lot happened in our lives.  We got real jobs; we each bought houses; I got married.  In planning my wedding, there were some important questions…location, church, venue, colors, wedding party, honeymoon, etc.  Up until that point, I had one obvious choice as my best man.  Despite desperate attempts from my future wife and family to bring us back together, my pride restricted my ability to pick up the phone and make things right with Ty.  As the wedding planning proceeded, Ty was not my best man. He nor his family were invited to celebrate the best day of my life.  That decision was a life lesson that I learned the hard way.

Two years later…

Anxiously dialing Ty’s number, a number I had dialed so many times before, a calmness and a sense of compassion that only God can give someone filled my entire body.  I heard Ty’s voice, but it was just his voicemail.  I have no recollection of what I said, but in my most sympathetic tone, I asked him to call me.

It was the next day, I was about to walk into my office, and I saw those 7 familiar numbers pop up on my phone that I had answered so many times before.  I can’t recall what Ty even said to me, but it didn’t matter.  Differences aside, I knew this was the moment that Ty needed his brother.  I cancelled all my meetings and raced to his house, which I realized was the same yard where we completed our 2 landscaping jobs at Beatty & Bradshaw Landscaping.  Talk about poetic justice.

I remember apprehensively walking up to his door and thinking about what I wanted to say and how I was going to say it.  How do you approach someone who you’ve known since you were 7, yet completely shut out of your life for the past 2 years, who just tragically lost his father?

God has a great way of working things out for you when you put your trust in Him.  I walked inside and Ty greeted me with the most exposed, regretful, and heartbroken hug I’ve ever received.  I spent so much time rehearsing what I would say and how I would apologize.  Instead, we hugged each other and sobbed in each other’s arms for what seemed like an hour. It was at that point that every chain and shackle had been lifted off both of our stubborn hearts.

My greatest life lessons have always been learned the hard way, and this was no exception.  It took a tragedy to bring my brother and I back together.  Since that day, Ty and I have picked up where we left off; going to Red’s games, eating at Buffalo Joe’s and ordering extra blue cheese, singing every word to “We Rode in Trucks,” in Scotty’s GMC Silverado, and yes, still going out for Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream.  In fact, we recently checked off a life-long bucket list item the other night when we went to go see Garth Brooks in concert.  It was such an honor to share that experience together because we both had that same dream since we were 7 years old.

Pride blurred my vision, causing me to view myself in a distorted reality.  Pride shields sin as strength and steadfast.  I am so thankful that my God forgives me for my transgressions.  If someone tells you that a burnt bridge will never be built again, or forgiveness isn’t possible, I can tell you differently, in ways not a lot of people can.  While Ty and I will never get those 2 years back, I’m excited to open new chapters where I can be a part of the memorable moments in his life.

I know Scotty is smiling up there seeing his two boys back in action again.

Thanks, Scotty.  I love you, man.  I’ll thank you again in person one day, but until then, Seeya Bub.

opening-day


Ty: Dad, Your death created a lot of heartache in my life that still continues today. But I’m also amazed how God was able to take this horrible situation and shine a light in other areas. I know that you are happy looking down and seeing Chris and I have mended our friendship. If it was possible, I think we’ve become even better friends than we ever were, because we know what truly matters—and Dad, you taught us that. You taught us that forgiveness isn’t an option, and that love for your fellow man is what matters at the end of this life. Chris and I are both able to cherish the example you set for what it means to be a friend to someone, and we are thankful that you are still watching over us, at times laughing with us and other times at our stupidity. I have no doubt that God has his hand over our friendship, and I have no doubt that you are there right next to Him, watching along and smiling at your boys. We miss you terribly, Dad, but we will see you again soon when we can all laugh together forever and ever. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

chris-beatty-headshotChris Beatty

Chris Beatty is the Sr. Vice President of Business Development at Hyur Staffing Services, LLC., specializing in customized recruitment and staffing support.  Chris graduated from Miami University (Oxford, OH) obtaining his B.S. in Marketing from the Farmer School of Business.  He is also a member of Inner Circle Cincinnati, Inc., a 501©3 non-profit organization and men’s ministry devoted to turning lukewarm Christian men into spiritually mature disciples and leaders.

Visions

I haven’t seen my Dad in over three years. But I see him every day.

I remember the first time it happened. I was walking through the mall doing some shopping before Christmas when a sight stopped me dead in my tracks.

I could have sworn it was my Dad. A man was walking a few steps ahead of me, and everything in me told me that it was my Dad. The glare from the mall’s overhead lights shone off his bald head (a fact that I had teased my Dad about so many times before). He wore a shirt that my Dad would have worn, along with jeans and boots that I swore I had seen him wear before. I could see glasses hanging over his ears, and I knew in that moment that my Dad was there, walking just a few steps ahead of me.

The moment I saw him my breathing ceased. I felt a tightness in my chest that I hadn’t felt since the funeral. I was almost paralyzed in the middle of that mall, but as I stood there stock-still, he continued to walk.

I realized I was losing him, so I quickened my pace, bobbing and weaving through nonchalant mall-goers in an effort to catch my Dad. With quickened breath I evened myself with him, and as his head turned towards me, I saw a man who was not my Dad. A man who, from another angle, resembled him, but a man who could never fill his shoes or the hole in my heart. A man whose outward looks captured my attention because I longed to see him again so badly.

I nodded briefly with a disappointed look on my face, and veered off to a bench in the mall where I sat down and attempted to recapture my emotions. I sat there wondering how many more times I would see my Dad in the physical features or gestures of other people.

I haven’t seen my Dad in over three years. But I see him every day.


I saw my Dad nearly every day of his life. I saw him at home, yes, but most often I remember seeing him at an unlikely spot—at the games where I would announce.

When I was in college, a random flyer on a campus corkboard led me to a unique career that continues today. As I was making my way down the stairwell of Mosler Hall on the Hamilton Campus of Miami University, I saw a flyer that jumped out at me: “Interested in becoming a Sports Announcer?”

I had never shared this with anyone, but from the time I was in high school I had always had an underlying desire to become a sports broadcaster. Partly because I knew my voice could cut it, and partly as an effort to redeem my horrible history as an athlete.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my days as an athlete were few and full of trouble. For some reason, the genes that allowed my Dad to be successful at about any sport he ever played had not been passed down to me. I was even bad at tee-ball, which I didn’t know was possible. I didn’t envision anything getting better once they took the tee away, so after a short-lived and completely underwhelming career in youth recreational leagues all across Southwestern Ohio, I retired—much to the excitement of the other kids’ parents who wouldn’t have to watch me any longer.

But I loved baseball, and I loved basketball, and I loved many other sports, even if I couldn’t play them respectably. My favorite pastime in high school was going down to Great American Ballpark and watching a good…well….watching a Cincinnati Reds game. I loved watching Kentucky Basketball, and had grown up a fan of the Wildcats all my life. If I had a chance to go to games on campus at Miami as a student, I always went, no matter the sport. All along, I envisioned myself being in the shoes of those athletes, knowing darn well that I would never come close. The mind wanted to do it, but the hands couldn’t make it happen.

Sports announcing was my way of bridging the gap, and I got that job as an announcer for the Miami University Hamilton athletic department at the end of my freshman year. My debut came during a women’s basketball game in the Fall of 2016, and although it was a small crowd who came out to watch the Harriers, the most important people in the crowd that night were my parents.

My parents came out to see me announce, but it was a deeper commitment than seeing the novelty of my first game. They were there for that game and they were there for nearly every game that came after it. As the years went by, I continued to find new jobs as an announcer. I started filling in for games at the main campus in Oxford, and then when a new summer collegiate baseball team, the Hamilton Joes, established themselves in my hometown, I was tapped to be the voice of the team. No matter the sport or the team, chances were always good that my parents would be in the stands cheering on the team I announced for—and silently watching over me. I often joked that I was the only sports announcer at any level whose parents would travel to watch him at any game, but underneath the joking was a deep sense of gratitude. I absolutely loved having them there.

Whenever I finished announcing a basketball game, Dad always made it a point to stroll across the hardwood floor and visit me at the scorer’s table before he left for home. We would catch up on our day as I packed up my things. We would talk about the game. We would criticize the players who had made boneheaded decisions. He would tell me that I sounded good that night or compliment me on a particular line I had used. Those five or so minutes were always extremely special to me. I would introduce him to all of the people within the athletic department, and he would befriend them like he did nearly everyone he came into contact with. As much as I appreciated those interactions after the game, I definitely didn’t realize how special they were until he was no longer there to greet me.

Of all the teams I announced for, I think my Dad was happiest when I became the Voice of the Hamilton Joes. I loved baseball, and so did my Dad. There was something about the team and the experience at Foundation Field that he loved from day one. Dad was so excited when he found out the team would start playing in the summer of 2009, right after I had graduated from college; and he was absolutely thrilled when I told him I would be the announcer.

dad-mom-and-i-at-joes-game

Maybe it was the fact that the players truly hustled as they tried to turn the eye of a major league scout and up their draft stock. Maybe it was the fact that he got to see college players using a wood bat. Or maybe it was just his love of being outside on a warm summer’s night. No matter the reason, Dad absolutely loved being there watching the Joes.

He was “all in” from that very first season—they both were. Dad bought a t-shirt that first season, and he and Mom rarely missed a game. He wore that t-shirt to nearly every game, and loved wearing it around town, even when the Joes weren’t in season. When the team made it to the league championship in only their second year, Dad made sure that he and Mom were ready to go on the road with the team to watch them win. We travelled to Granville, Ohio—I was in the broadcast booth calling the win, and Mom and Dad were sitting in the stands cheering like crazy. Dad was so happy that night, but win or lose my Dad was always happy to be watching his favorite team.

As much as he enjoyed watching the game, I think that Dad enjoyed being there with the team and the other fans just as much. My Dad was a man who was able to relish in the simplistic beauty of life’s regular moments, and I’m always envious of his ability to slow down and experience joy in the everyday. He found joy watching college kids play baseball. He found peace sitting in the stands as the sun would set at his back. He found happiness eating a hot dog and nachos and washing it down with a Coke on a July evening. He enjoyed life the way that I wish I could.

me-mom-and-dad-at-gabp

And he made people feel so valued and so important when he was there, too. Shortly after I launched Seeya Bub, Amy Baker (the daughter of the team’s owner) submitted a story about my Dad through the “Scott Stories” link that warmed my heart and reminded me of those wonderful summer’s nights (I’d love to see you submit a story about my Dad if you have one too. Use this link). She wrote:

Scott was always one of the first people to say hello to me and my children at the Hamilton Joes baseball games and the Miami Harrier basketball games. He was always so proud of Ty and his passion for sports announcing. I envy the support he gave.

I’m sure that most people who interacted with my Dad at Joes games felt the same way, because he had a way of interacting with people that made them enjoy life too.

My Dad died right at the end of the Joes 2013 season, and I just couldn’t bring myself to announce the few games that remained that year. I didn’t want to go the stadium knowing that he wouldn’t be there. I didn’t want to look down from my perch in the press box and see an empty seat in the grandstands where he sat. I had looked down from that press box window so many times and watched my Dad’s bald head glaring in the stadium lights. I would see him smiling and laughing with my Mom or a fellow fan. And I was desperate to see that vision again, knowing deep down that I would never see him sitting in the stands at one of my games ever again.

That summer mercifully expired, but I knew another would be right around the corner. And with it would be the painful reminder that the game and the team my Dad enjoyed so much would continue to play without him in the stands. As awful as this sounds to admit, life moves on in the face of painful tragedy, especially for those who aren’t in the epicenter of the trauma. Some are more prepared for the moving-on than others, but I was definitely not ready for a season of Joes baseball without my Dad. The pain was still too real. The sleepless nights and vivid nightmares were still too frequent.

I thought about whether or not I should even return to the pressbox at all, but every time I thought about my options I knew that I only had one. I had to return, because it’s what my Dad would have wanted me to do. My Dad would have been so disappointed in me had I let his death ruin my love of the game and being behind the microphone. I wanted to honor him, and as painful as it was to think about getting back to business without my Dad, I knew that I had to do it.

So, in June of 2014, nearly a year after my Dad had passed away, I made a familiar walk in unfamiliar territory. I returned to the broadcast booth as I had so many times before, sat in the same chair, put on the same headset mic, and went through many of the same motions I had gone through so many games before.

And then I stopped. And I looked out from the pressbox window. I looked at the spot where my Dad had enjoyed so many Joes games. And that spot was empty. And even if someone sat in that spot, I knew that for me it would always remain empty.

I made it through that first game back, but there were numerous moments throughout those nine innings where I had to turn my head towards he wall and shed a few tears. I would lean back in my chair a bit so I couldn’t see my Dad’s seat—even though I desperately wanted to see him.

When the game concluded, I began to pack up my things as I had always done, but I felt something coming over me that stopped me dead in my tracks. Before I could even gather all of my things, I made my way out of the broadcast booth and descended the grandstand stairs. Then, I made my way over into the bleachers to the spot where my Dad had enjoyed so many games, took a deep breath, and sat down.

I sat down next to that spot and surveyed the field with tears in my eyes. I thought about all the great times we had enjoyed together at baseball games and other sporting events. I thought about all the times I had looked down from my pressbox perch and witnessed my Dad cheering, eating a hot dog, and enjoying the simplicity of a summer night at a local baseball game. I thought of all the joy that those games had provided for him night in and night out. And I thought about how many bad days he might have had that were completely remedied by sitting in those bleachers and watching a game.

And I turned my head and looked next to me, and I could see him there.

I still see him in that seat. It’s been over three years since he died, but every time I look at that spot in the grandstands I seem him sitting there.

Don’t get me wrong. It still hurts every time I look down from my perch and see that empty seat. But then I see my Dad, and I see and remember the great times he had watching baseball. It doesn’t make losing him any easier, and I would still do absolutely anything to have him occupy that seat again. But it also reminds me that he lived life to enjoy it, and I’m so very thankful for that.

I haven’t seen my Dad in over three years. But I see him every day.

And as painful as it is to see him, I’m so grateful that I do. I’ll never stop seeing him—and I love that.

family-at-joes-gameDad, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss seeing you at my games. I may not have always shown it like I should have, but I always loved having you there. You made it a priority to come and hear me announce, and you didn’t do it out of obligation—you did it because you loved me. You did it because you enjoyed the simple moments that life provided. Every time I look down at the grandstand at a Joes game, I picture you sitting there. Every time I announce a game at Miami Hamilton, I can still see you strolling across the court towards me once the game ends. I long for the day where I can be there at a game with you again. If there are baseball games in heaven, I can’t wait to sit next to you and enjoy one together. But for now, seeya Bub.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2 (NIV)

Olives

To say that my Dad was a terrible cook is a gracious understatement.

dad-turned-around-in-chair-with-sb-logoOf all the talents that God gave my Dad—and he gave him many—cooking was not one of them. As a youngster, my Dad often worked second or third shifts, which meant he would usually pick me up from A.M. kindergarten. We typically arrived home around noon, and I had always worked up a healthy appetite from all the finger painting and make-believing that had occurred that morning. After getting home, Dad would head into the kitchen to embark on a culinary expedition, perusing the items in the fridge and freezer, but always deciding on the same entrée for our lunch menu…

Corn dogs.

Yes, corn dogs. An American classic with all the nutritional value one can pack into cured and processed meat. Dipped in batter. Deep friend. Frozen. Packaged. Transported. Microwaved. And heartily consumed, usually covered in mustard.

Yes, corndogs are usually individually wrapped with heating instructions on each package, but even as a youngster part of me secretly worried that Dad was still going to burn them.

I once heard a rumor that he burned soup. I don’t even know how that happens, or whether or not it’s true. But if anyone could burn soup, I think my Dad was the guy to figure out how.

When he would grill burgers or hot dogs or steaks on our back patio, you had two temperature options to choose from: “well done” and “I didn’t know steaks could char that much”.

As I grew up, Dad’s cooking skills didn’t get any better, which was mostly a result of his not needing to know how. I rarely saw him in the kitchen, unless it was to reheat something my Mom had made us. Thankfully, for our entire family, my Mom has always been an outstanding cook—and I mean truly outstanding. I was fortunate enough that my corn dog lunches were always supplemented with something delicious on the dinner table made by my Mom each night. From lasagna and casseroles to childhood staples like burgers and tacos, Mom always knew how to satisfy our tastes. I hate meatloaf, but even her meatloaf is good (when she leaves the ketchup off, that is). Her desserts, especially the chocolate strawberry pie that Dad and I would devour together within hours of Mom cooking it, were next-level extraordinary. My Dad always made sure to tell me how smart he was for choosing a wife who was such a tremendous cook. I argued it was more lucky than smart, but it was probably a bit of both.

All of this created a bit of a problem, however, on the nights when Mom wasn’t home. There was always the rare occasion that Mom had to work late, or had plans to go out to dinner with friends or family, leaving her boys stranded and empty-stomached. Dad’s lack of cooking acumen left us only one real option. There’s a void that’s created when you love to eat but can’t cook that can only be solved with one solution—going out to eat. It usually didn’t take us long to decide…

“Hey boy, want to go get dinner at LaRosa’s?”

For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in the dining mecca that is Southwestern Ohio, LaRosa’s is a Greater Cincinnati pizza chain of epic proportion. LaRosa’s has always been one of my favorite pizza spots, and my Dad felt the same way. Whenever he and I would grab dinner together, LaRosa’s was nearly always our first choice. We would slam back Cokes (his regular, mine diet), order calzones or pizzas and a salad, and enjoy a meal with one another. It was a tradition that I loved, and one that is desperately missing in my life after Dad.

As much as he loved the pizza and calzones, and as many Cokes as he might have drank, I think Dad’s favorite part of the meal was always the salad. Ironic coming from the man who based my entire childhood noontime diet on battered hot dogs on a stick, but yes, the salad was always his favorite. He told me time and time again over our dinners that his favorite salad was the one from LaRosa’s. A bed of green lettuce, shredded mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes, red onion rings, olives (one black, one green), croutons, and dressing (Dad went with French, I usually went with Ranch). It was always a great combo to go along with a hot pizza.

larosas-salad

The salad was great, but I particularly disliked two of the ingredients: the tomatoes, and the olives. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never liked raw tomatoes. I don’t eat them on burgers, tacos, nachos, and the thought of ever eating a slice of tomato completely on its own makes me nauseas as I type. The tomatoes at LaRosa’s were particularly pesky because they were always diced. I always asked them to leave off the tomatoes, but if they forgot it would take me a good twenty minutes to pick them all out of my salad.

After the tomatoes, I always directed my scorn at the olives. Whether black or green, I showed no discrimination in my hatred and utter contempt for olives. I’ve tried them from time to time, and each time I attempt to stomach one, I am overcome by how such a little morsel can pack such an overwhelmingly disgusting flavor.

My Dad liked tomatoes, but he absolutely loved olives. Not just at LaRosa’s, but anywhere. If we were at a party with a vegetable tray, Dad could decimate a bowl of olives in just a few minutes. He would pop them like Skittles while I looked on with utter disdain. He would eat them at the house as a snack, which is shocking considering we had so many better snacks than that in our house for him to eat. When we ate together at Grecian Delight, one of our all-time favorite restaurants located in Middletown, Dad would savor the Greek olives that were in his salad, even with those annoying pits.

For Dad, olives were a precious treasure. The fact that he got not one but two on his salads at LaRosa’s made him almost giddy.

And thanks to his son’s hatred of those tiny morsels, Dad actually got four olives every time we went to LaRosa’s instead of two.

Whenever we went to LaRosa’s together, I always ordered my salads without tomatoes; but because the olives were easy enough to pick out of my salad without contaminating its overall flavor, I would always allow the servers to put the olives on my salad. Once they sat the bowls down on the table, my process was always the same—I would pluck the olives from my salad, put them on a plate, and slide them over to my Dad. He would always smile, offer a “Thanks, Bub”, and eat them with glee. I could see him eyeing them the second they sat my bowl down, and I would never disappoint him.

But sometimes, the smallest of vegetables (or are they fruits?) can cause a tremendous amount of pain.

One evening shortly after Dad’s death, Mom and I decided to get LaRosa’s takeout for dinner. We ordered our dinners, and I drove to the restaurant to pick them up. After returning home with boxes in hand, we set the table with our meals in the bright, windowed sunroom of our family home. We had done this so many times before, but this particular time there was a noticeable and looming absent place setting at the table next to me. That table felt vacant and empty, but I was afraid to say anything to my Mom about how I was feeling for fear that I might upset her.

Mom and I sat down together, justifiably more quiet than we typically were, as this was one of our first meals alone together without Dad. We were trying to preserve any semblance of normalcy that we could in a new world for us that felt so different and so much emptier than it had been.

I sat down to eat my meal, opening boxes and taking off container lids. I moved from my calzone to my salad, and after opening the lid and shaking up my dressing, I did something I had done during so many meals before.

I picked out the olives, put them on a plate, and instinctively pushed them away from me towards the spot where my Dad always sat.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing in that moment. I was so used to removing the olives and giving them to Dad that my body had trained itself to do this involuntarily, even when he wasn’t there to take them.

Immediately, a flood of emotion overcame me—intense and uncontrollable. I felt a wave of tears overtaking me, and before I knew it, my head fell into my hands and it took everything in me to not collapse in my seat. I broke down at the table, sobbing, with two small olives sitting on a plate in front of me.

Without hesitation, Mom got up from her seat and made her way over to me. I didn’t even have to say a word. She knew right away what was going on. She knew that for years I had always passed my olives to Dad, and now I would never be able to do that again. Mom, crying along with her son, put her arm around me and just said “I know how much you miss him, Ty. I miss him, too.”

I couldn’t stop the crying, all because of two seemingly inconspicuous olives.

Although my response isn’t as intense, I still think of my Dad every time I pick those olives out of my salad. I don’t break down and cry each time, but I still think about him and long for the days when I could pass them over to him. Now, I try to order my salad without the olives to avoid some of the pain, but I still think of him each time I go to LaRosa’s. Because it was such a special place for the two of us, I just can’t envision a day where I’ll ever go to LaRosa’s without thinking of my Dad.

But olives aren’t the only foods that make me think of him—there are so many more. I can’t eat a corn dog without thinking of a simpler life that existed when I was much younger and my Dad was an invincible hero. Even a kid gets tired of eating corn dogs, but I wish I could go back and live in those days forever.

Whenever I make a bag of popcorn, I’m reminded of him. It was his late-night snack of choice, and the smell that invades my house from the microwave makes me remember him. I’ve never been a big fan of popcorn, but every now and then I will make a bag at home and eat a few kernels just to remember him.

We used to fight over pints of Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream in the freezer. On occasion, Mom would splurge and buy us each a pint, which would last any normal person a week or so if they ate an appropriate serving each night. It was a miracle if our pints survived for 24 hours. If I was feeling particularly pesky, I would stake my claim by digging my spoon into his pint before he could get to it. It was a solid attack because Dad was such a germophobe that he would never think about eating a pint of ice cream that I had defiled—even if it was Graeter’s.

Now, I get all the pints of ice cream to myself—but I would give anything to have to share them with him once again.

The death of a loved one creates a weird phenomenon where the most seemingly insignificant aspects of life and our relationship take on an entirely new meaning. Mundane things, like olives in a salad, become symbols and reminders of the love we’ve lost and the pain we experience. But for me, those olives have also become subtle reminders that I had an amazing Father who made a tremendous impact on me for the 26 years we spent on this earth together. Whether it’s olives or popcorn, corn dogs or ice cream, I’ve found ways to cherish the positive memories associated with those foods. And the progress I’ve made from tears to treasured memories is evidence that God works in all things—even if it’s something as seemingly regular as the food we eat. I’ve always associated food with great memories, and God knows me better than anyone. I’m amazed at how He has been able to comfort me when something as insignificant as an olive causes my emotions to overtake me. And I’m reminded of this profound truth: If He cares about me in a moment as mundane as a meal, then I have to believe He cares about the big challenges of life without my Dad just as much.

Dad and I always enjoyed our meals together, and now I have to enjoy them differently while remembering all of the great ones we shared together. There are nights when I eat alone, and I’ll often look across the table and see my Dad smiling there after a hard day’s work. I’ll see him pouring a Coke (or two) into his glass of ice. I’ll see him smiling and laughing about something I said. I’ll see him thoroughly enjoying the food he’s eating, but even more I’ll see him cherishing the people he’s eating with. I’ll look across that empty table, and every now and then I can picture him popping an olive into his mouth—and I smile. I’ve still never acquired his taste for olives, and I don’t think I ever will. But I have learned to be grateful for all of the wonderful meals we shared together, and I’ve accepted the fact that olive-induced tears are my way of saying how much I miss my Dad.

Dad, I’m grateful that you always made it a priority to share a meal together. A weeknight dinner at LaRosa’s just isn’t the same without you. Every time I go to Graeter’s for a dip of black raspberry chip, which is way more often than I should, I think of you. Certain foods make me miss you tremendously, and the heartache of losing you so unexpectedly is sometimes too much for me to take. But you taught me to enjoy good food and good company. You taught me to share a meal with the people I love whenever I had the chance, and your inspiration continues to guide my life each and every day. You taught me that life is never too busy for a pizza and a fun night together. I’m looking forward to the day when I can pass my olives across the table to you once again. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

A Joyful Noise

Some of my earliest memories of music are with my Dad. I used to ride around with him in his blue pick-up, strapped into my child seat. Bottle of juice in one hand, toy in the other, we would bounce along the road as his cassette tapes played through the rattling speakers.

My Dad and I were simpatico in the fact that we both had a deep, appreciating love for country music. I’m not sure when his started, but mine had been around since those early days. Amidst all the things that are memorable about my childhood, I remember that Dad had a mixtape with some late eighties country music on it, and we would ride down the road listening and singing whenever we got the chance. The tape had one of my favorite country songs of my youth on it—“The Church on Cumberland Road”, an old Shenandoah song that I still listen to on occasion to this day. Dad would sing and tap his hands on the steering wheel or beat his hand on the seat. He always took music and made it fun.

I spent a lot of time with my little cousin Jake when I was growing up, and when Dad would drive us around to go to softball games or get ice cream at Flub’s during the summer, the country music still played. Jake was a big fan of another country “classic”, a Tracy Byrd song called “Watermelon Crawl”. Dad would scan the radio dial back and forth until he found the song every time Jake was in the truck with us. Once he found it, Jake would try his best to sing along and we would both laugh as he jumbled the words.

I outgrew that car seat, cassette tapes went by the wayside, and Dad eventually traded that beat up blue pick-up in for a Gray Sierra and then a sleek Silverado, but one thing never changed. Dad always had music on in his truck. The artists he listened to might have changed a little bit over time. By the time I reached high school, Dad and I were listening to a lot of the same country artists: Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Travis Tritt, Shania Twain (you bet we did), and Brooks & Dunn. But his love for listening to music never changed.

And anytime he was working on a house project or fixing his truck in the garage, Dad always had a radio nearby. I was never much help on those household projects, but there was one simple thing that I could master. If a song would come on that my Dad really liked, he would look to me and say “Oh, this is a good one. Turn this one up.” Sometimes I agreed, and other times I didn’t, but I usually always went to turn up the volume knob for him. Or made a snide comment about a song that I didn’t like and criticized his taste.

Although we never had a chance to go to a concert together, Dad was a big fan of live music, too. Our family has always vacationed in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and one year Dad asked if I would take him to the Florabama—a local bar of with a legendary folklore that has been beaten by hurricanes too many times to count. Dad and I sat at one of the wooden tables covered in permanent marker messages of years gone by, and listened to the band that played Southern rock and oldies on that particular night. Dad sang along to the songs he knew, tapping his foot and bobbing his head like all middle-age Dads seem to do in the presence of a live band. It’s the type of move that embarrasses teenage sons worldwide.

Wherever we went, Dad always seemed to have music around him.

Listening to music and creating music, however, are two entirely different things. My Dad was not a musician, vocal or otherwise, in any sense of the word. Dad liked to sing in the truck, but I don’t know how many people truly enjoyed listening. He didn’t have a bad singing voice, but he didn’t have a good one either. He excelled at so many things in this life, but singing wasn’t one of them.

Among many genes, he has unfortunately passed this particular one along to his son. I’m praying that I inherited this gene in place of the “lose your hair at 30” gene, but I’m not holding my breath. I try to sing only when I know my voice will be drowned out because I’m embarrassed that I sound so off-key. I’m always in awe of those who have beautiful singing voices because mine is so unfortunately terrible. Like many other areas of my life, I’m easily embarrassed and overly concerned with what other people think of me—and my inability to carry a harmonious tune is at the top of that list.

Like me, I think Dad probably recognized that he didn’t have the best singing voice. I think that Dad knew what his talents were, and I’m sure he knew that singing wasn’t what God had called him to do as a profession or vocation.

But that never stopped my Dad from having a song in his heart, and one area where I’ll always remember this is in church. Knowing that he wasn’t called to sing, my Dad never signed up to sing a solo in front of the congregation, and he never joined the choir. I appreciated this for many reasons, one of which was that I always got to sit next to my Dad in the pew on Sunday mornings.

In the churches I grew up in, singing was always an important part of the worship service. As a congregation, we would all stand together and worship God together, singing hymns and songs together to show our love for our Heavenly Father.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been conscious of my less-than-harmonious voice, and I’ve always been embarrassed to sing in church. I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt extremely self-conscious during worship services. I wish I could blame this one on my Dad, too, but I can’t…

No matter how off-key he might have been, and no matter whether he knew the lyrics well or not, Dad always tried his hardest to sing in church. His singing voice in church was rather deep, and I can always remember hearing him sing next to me as I stood nervously next to him in the pew. Because his singing voice was so deep, it was almost like the pew would vibrate a bit when he sang. Occasionally, Dad would try and get me to sing along. But I would often shake my head no or ignore his request. But he never let that dissuade him from singing along in worship.

And now, sitting in a pew without him at church, I would give anything to hear his off-key singing again.


I have to confess, I hadn’t intended to write a post about singing; but God has this really weird way of putting a song in your heart (get it?) or a sermon in your podcast list. This week while driving to work, I was listening to Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas. Matt has become one of my favorite preachers to listen to since a good friend from the gym recommended him to me shortly after my Dad’s death.

For the past few months, Matt Chandler has been preaching a series on the book of Exodus[1]. In a recent sermon on the 15th chapter of Exodus, Chandler talked about singing and shared the following truth from Scripture that I never knew: There are over 400 verses in the Bible that refer to singing, and there are 50 explicit commands from God for his people to sing[2].

Even though God makes this a pretty black and white issue more than a handful of times throughout the Bible, this is one of those commands that I always try to gloss over or completely ignore. I try to play mental gymnastics and convince myself that God only wanted this command to apply to the people he blessed with a great singing voice, but the example my Dad gave me as a youngster has convinced me otherwise.

In his sermon, Matt Chandler refers to numerous verses, mostly in the Psalms, that clearly say “make a joyful noise”. Notice that God does not say “make a good noise” or “make a pleasant noise”, but instead instructs His followers to “make a joyful noise.” Chandler says “It’s not about you performing. It’s about you receiving. See, that’s the big confusion around corporate singing. No, no, no. We receive when we sing together as a body. We’re not performing…It’s not that God is in need; it’s that we’re in need.[3]

My Dad understood that singing in church wasn’t about whether or not he satisfied the standards of good vocal talent. My Dad knew and believed that singing in church was his way of saying “thank you” and “I love you” to the God of the universe. It was about connecting with God, similar to the way we do when we pray. It was about my Dad telling God that he was open to his guidance and direction for his life. In an imperfect voice, my Dad would cry out to our perfect Creator, asking for God to carry him in those areas of his life where he might have been weak.

I often think of what my Dad looks like on the other side of Eternity (full head of hair maybe?), but I have to confess that I’ve rarely thought about what he will sound like. I’ve rarely thought about the fact that my Dad now resides in a perfect Kingdom where he worships God each and every day. I’m thankful that he had a lot of practice here on Earth, and that he never let his musical inabilities inhibit his love for God.

I know that I should sing because God instructs me to, and I shouldn’t need any other motivation than that. But it doesn’t hurt that I had a real-life, personal example of the need to sing and honor and God. It’s been a painstaking process for me to come out of my shell and sing in the pew at church. There are some days when I do it without hesitation, and others where my embarrassment still gets the best of me.

And on those days, I remember my Dad. I remember that he never once told me, even as a child, not to sing, but instead encouraged me to do it. As a way to honor my Dad while also honoring God, I try and sing when I’m in church now. Even though I don’t always know the words, and even though the rhythm will sometimes get the best of me, I do my best to join in the chorus of the congregation, albeit quietly and still off-key.

And I apologize to the folks who sit near me and have to listen—you can blame it on my Dad.


When my Dad died, I was fortunate enough to inherit many of his things. Although the things can never replace the man, they do help me hold on to the memory of who he was here on this Earth and the impact he had on my life.

One of the things I was lucky enough to take possession of was my Dad’s book of CD’s. Yes, CD’s. The only iPod Dad ever owned was the hand-me-down iPod Mini that he got from me, and unfortunately he wasn’t with us long enough to use it substantially.

It wasn’t entirely full, but that CD book was something I always associate with my Dad. He kept it in the middle console of his truck at all times. Dad was the type of person (very unlike me) who would listen to an entire CD all the way through, and once it reached the end, he would start it again at the top. Then, after a few days of listening to that CD, he might switch to another. Or perhaps he would just continue to listen to the one that was currently in the player. My Dad enjoyed the simplicity of life, and listening to a CD was one of the simple pleasures he enjoyed.

Every now and then, especially on days where the thought of losing him is too much to bear, I’ll pull out that CD book and grab a disc to listen to. I’ll throw it in the CD player of my truck, and although he might not be there with my physically, there are times when I can see him riding in the passenger seat next to me. There are days when I can hear his voice again. There are moments when I swear I can feel the vibration of his thumb tapping the steering wheel. And on those days where it seems like he’s right there with me, I am thankful that for the 26 years I spent with him, my Dad always had a song in his heart and never shied to share that song with those he loved.

dad-in-redhawks-sweater-with-sb-logoDad, What I wouldn’t give to hear you sing another song right next to me. What I wouldn’t give to go back to those days where we would ride around in your truck and listen to country music together. I’m thankful that you always set the right example for me in church by singing along with the worship songs. I’m thankful that you always remembered that singing songs of praise and worship aren’t about us but are about developing a relationship with God. Certain songs come on the radio, and I still think of you. I’ll always be appreciative of the memories you gave me as a young child listening to country music in your truck. Thank you for being a Dad who always had a song of love in your heart. Until we both join the chorus of heavenly angels together, seeya Bub. 

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100:1-5 (NIV)

References:

[1] http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/series/exodus/

[2] http://thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/e/0e5770908_1483456017_exodus-part-17-from-bitter-to-sweet-t.pdf

[3] http://thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/e/0e5770908_1483456017_exodus-part-17-from-bitter-to-sweet-t.pdf

23 Pushups

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I actually go the gym four to five times a week. And I know what you’re thinking… “Man, you should really demand a refund.”

I joined the LA Fitness in my neighborhood many, many years ago with grandiose dreams. I was hoping to go from chubby to Channing Tatum in about six weeks. I could feel a six pack just lurking underneath the surface of the five or six Frisch’s Big Boys I ate every week. I planned to put in a few hours at the treadmill each week, a little bit of time throwing some weights around and grunting, and before you’d know it I would have to buy all new shirts because my biceps would tear holes in the old ones.

In what is an inexplicable physical anomaly, I can guarantee you that my muscles haven’t even come close to warranting a new wardrobe. Oftentimes, I find myself embarrassingly being outlifted by nearly everyone in the gym, including one hilariously painful endeavor where I dislocated a rib doing dumbbell flys with…well, not much weight. I’ve blacked out on treadmills, slipped from pull up bars, skipped nearly every leg day, and taken it upon myself to provide a nightly comedic act for the other patrons of LA Fitness.

But since Dad died, I don’t go to the gym for the same reasons I used to. Don’t get me wrong—if God wants to bless me with a Herculean physique, I’ll be grateful and gladly accepting of this gift. But if that doesn’t happen (and let me assure you, it really will take a miracle of God), I’ll still keep at it because there’s more at stake than muscle.


After Dad died, I knew that I would need to take some time off from work and my usual routine to get some clarity on the entire situation. I ended up being away from work for about four weeks, which was a blessing that I’ll always be thankful for. My supervisors at Miami made it possible for me to take all the time I needed to recollect and regroup before I got back into my new normal, and I did my best to heed the advice of so many others I had talked to about grief when they told me “Don’t try and rush things.”

The unintended consequence of all this time off, however, was that it gave me more time to sit and think about everything that had happened. As people started to return to the routine of their own lives, I began to have more and more time to myself. And for someone who can easily get lost in the drama and intensity of my own thoughts, this wasn’t always a good thing.

So, by week two I knew that I was going to have to start filling my time with things that were more productive and would occupy both my schedule and my mind. Summer was nearing its end, which gave me plenty of options. I could attend baseball games, or go to the movies, or visit the park and spend some time outdoors.

“Or,” I thought one morning, “I could start going to the gym again.”

Because things had been so busy earlier that summer, the gym had become more of an inconvenience than an opportunity for stress release. Every night, I found myself coming home and reading and working on assignments, so the gym just wasn’t an option on a regular basis.

So to try and get my mind off of all the trauma it had experienced, I promised myself I would go to the gym every day I could. I would show up for a few hours each day and do my best to get active. Instead of obsessing over the tragedy that had occurred, I would go there and challenge my mind instead.

I’m not going to tell you anything new that you haven’t heard from the fitness addicts in your own life, but it’s another voice to add to the chorus: When I went to the gym, I felt better. It was hard to explain because I didn’t know how to feel better having just lost my Dad so suddenly and unexpectedly, but my body and my mind felt better during those hours at the gym than trapping myself in the solitude and emptiness of my house.


A few months later, I would get some clarity on why I felt so much better. I had the privilege of joining my mentor and friend, Dr. Bob Rusbosin, and a few Miami undergraduates for a research presentation at a conference at Florida State University. The conference was on college student values and the concept of wellness, and we submitted a presentation on the research we had been doing on television icon Fred Rogers. As I perused the conference booklet, I noticed an interesting keynote that would take place later in the week. A psychiatrist and M.D. from Harvard, Dr. John Ratey, would be speaking about wellness and health from a medical doctor’s standpoint.

Dr. Ratey is the author of a book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science Exercise and the Brain (visit the “Library” section of this page for a description and link). At about 9am midway through the conference week, Dr. Ratey engaged in a heavily scientific explanation using phrases related to brain anatomy, neurotransmitters, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and a million other scientific terms and processes that were completely foreign for this particular audience member.

And I was completely and utterly fascinated.

Dr. Ratey says it much more intelligently than I ever could, but the premise of his argument is this: physical exercise benefits the brain just as much as it does the rest of the body.

And for my particular life situation, Dr. Ratey gave an explanation that really hit home—that physical fitness could lead to the prevention of mental illness like depression, thereby also diminishing the likelihood of suicide.

The introduction to Dr. Ratey’s book says it all. It’s a quote from Plato that reads “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

Let me give you the best explanation I can of the research Dr. Ratey has done (please keep your author in mind, as there have been episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy that have tripped me up before). And forgive me for the technical description, but please understand–this disease killed my Father. I want to know everything I can about it so I can prevent it from happening to anyone else.

Brain signals are sent via neurotransmitters, or chemicals that send messages from one brain cell to another. Psychiatry has identified three primary brain transmitters that regulate everything the brain does: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. When the levels of these neurotransmitters are unbalanced, mental illnesses can occur. Most medications target one or two of these neurotransmitters, but exercise has a different effect. Exercise and physical activity actually have the capacity to elevate and regulate all three of these neurotransmitters simultaneously.  Exercise also increases the presence of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF), a crucial protein that can help our brains maintain and create healthy neurons. Dr. Ratey calls BDNF “Miracle-Gro for the brain” (I’ll reiterate, he explains this all much better than I ever could, and I would really encourage you to grab his book).

Here’s what all this talk of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals equates to:

  • Exercise helps our cognitive functioning and ability to learn
  • Exercise can help us relieve stress
  • Exercise can be an effective in the prevention or treatment of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit (or can help in conjunction with other treatments)
  • Exercise can change the way our brains react to addiction
  • Exercise can help fight off brain-related aging diseases, like Alzheimer’s

Even though there were many factors at work in my Dad’s death, and even though he still had many more years to live, I constantly remind myself that my Dad fought successfully against this demon for decades of his life. I can’t help but think that the extremely complex concepts Dr. Ratey so beautifully articulated were playing out behind the scenes of my Dad’s own brain chemistry, helping him fight off his own periods of darkness for many, many years.


Although he didn’t do a very good job of passing the athletic genes on to his only son, my Dad was often the epitome of an active lifestyle.

My Dad was always an extremely energetic and “on the move” type guy. He was the Father who never got burdened by his son asking if they could go outside and play together—because he was usually the one doing the asking.

“Hey boy, you want to go for a bike ride?” was his common refrain after our family dinners. My Dad loved riding his bike. My family was fortunate enough to live close to a beautiful local park, and my Dad loved riding his bike back through the woods and the trails on a warm summer night. Much more adventurous than me, Dad would fly through the trails on his 21-speed mountain bike, never allowing fear to outweigh his desire to have fun.

Summer nights after dinner were always full of some kind of physical activity, even on days where I knew Dad was tired from a long day at work. Tossing a baseball, swimming in our backyard pool, or taking our family dog for a walk—Dad always found a way to get up off the couch and get moving. But more important than the movement was the smile on his face the entire time.

And Dad, a man who loved people, usually found a way to stay moving in the company of others. For as long as I could remember, my Dad had always played weekly pick-up basketball games with the guys from our church. He loved the competition, and he definitely loved showing the younger players a thing or two as he’d easily outsmart them as he cut to the rim for bucket after bucket.

A true renaissance athlete, Dad was also a tremendous softball player—in fact, the best season I ever saw him play was cut short by his own untimely death. He never hit for power. Actually, in all the years he played softball (over 30), he never hit a single home run (the critical sports announcer in me always reminded him of this weakness). But he was fast, and that gave him an advantage at any church softball league where most of the players had partaken in far too many Sunday potlucks. He could cover ground in the outfield better than anyone. He could turn a lazy single into a double, and usually a triple if the fielder had a poor arm. He would play any position he could, and could usually do it with ease. I was always in awe of his contributions to the team and the seamless ease with which he performed.

Unlike me, my Dad’s mind seemed to clear when he was playing a sport. If you aren’t familiar with my lack of athletic prowess, read….well, pretty much any other post I’ve ever written. Everything just seemed to click when my Dad was active—life was in harmony, completely balanced. He found happiness in the activity, and joy in the camaraderie.

When Dad was happiest, he never wanted to sit still. I was just never sure whether the happiness caused the activity, or the activity caused the happiness. And because I now know how happiness and being active were so intricately intertwined in my Dad’s life, I’ll try and do the same.


Every day, I do at least 23 pushups. I do them with strained effort, and probably incorrect form, but I make sure I do those 23 pushups. The 23 reps are not a random number—there’s a method to my madness.

At one time in this country, it was reported that 22 veterans of the United States Military (particularly the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) were victims of suicide. This led to the creation of great military support organizations, like Mission 22[1], which provide resources and support for veterans struggling with mental illness. Recent numbers have shown the number is probably closer to 20[2], but even if the number was 1, it would be entirely too high.

I added that last pushup in for my Dad. No, my Dad was not a veteran, but mental illness is the enemy we all fight against, service member or not. Military family or not, anyone who loses a family member or loved one to suicide suffers a similar heartache when those we love leave us earlier than they should. When I do those 23 pushups, I’m simultaneously honoring the people that suicide touches and making sure that it never ever impacts my life in the same way it has theirs.

I’m very aware of my need to go to the gym, because I know that every time I step foot on a treadmill or lift a weight, I’m fighting back against the same depression and anxiety that took my Dad away from me. People say that depression and mental illness are so difficult to fight against because they are invisible—and I agree with this claim. But the things we can do to fight against these unseen enemies are often very visible, and very tangible. Staying active is just one of the many tools I’ll use to fight back against the darkness.

I’ve also found that going to the gym allows me to work through my grief. I’ve made great friends at the gym, Godly men who have listened to my pain and helped me work through it. There have been days where instead of lifting, we’ve stood near a machine together and talked about our lives and how God loves us in spite of our circumstances. I have been able to share things with my friends at the gym and connect with them on a brotherly level that I never would have been able to articulate in any other environment. In the same way that a therapy session clears my brain, I’ve found the same peace and sense of calm after spending a few hours at the gym with my friends.

There are plenty of days where I just don’t feel like going to the gym—and my body is probably a reflection of giving in to that impulse for far too long. But the fact that I don’t feel like going to the gym is exactly why I need to go. As Dr. Ratey has found, every time I choose activity over laziness, I’m boosting my brain’s capability to fire on all cylinders. I’m re-wiring my brain to choose action of victim-hood, bravery over surrender.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying—if you are suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts, a 15 minute sprint on a treadmill alone might not save your life. You should still seek treatment on all fronts, including medical or psychiatric care. You should still seek professional help. You should still talk to someone who can help you in your fight. But physical activity is one “tool in the toolbox” that can help in that fight, and combined with other forms of treatment, it can be a very powerful remedy.

Whether grieving from a loss or trying to prevent your own mental illness, exercise and physical activity can play an unbelievable role in the road to recovery. No matter how pathetic my physique might appear, I’ll always be a staunch advocate that those dealing with mental illness or those fighting through grief should try and find relief by getting up and getting going.

And if all that activity and brain boosting just happens to lead to six pack abs along the way…even better.

dad-mom-and-lucy-walking-with-sb-logoDad, I always admired your energy and vitality. You attacked life and took on new challenges, and you were never that Dad who loved the couch more than he loved spending time with his family. In your life, you always seemed to be able to find a good balance between rest and being active, but when you were active, you always made the most of it and there was always a huge smile on your face. Whether it was riding bikes, walking the dog, playing softball, schooling a bunch of youngsters in basketball, or simply goofing around in the backyard swimming pool, you realized that life was designed to be lived. Even though I didn’t always listen (and boy do I wish I would have), you always encouraged me to get up and get going. You always encouraged me to believe there was life outside of a TV set or computer screen, and since you left I’ve tried to live this out. I’m looking forward to many bike rides together on the other side of Eternity. And if you could talk to the Big Guy upstairs and have him send me a little more muscle mass, I’d be appreciative. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 (NIV)

References:

[1] Mission 22 Website: http://www.mission22.com/#ourcause

[2] http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2016/07/07/va-suicide-20-daily-research/86788332/