The Back Forty

•June 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

 

I’m halfway to Heaven, so statistics say
But they could call my number any day
Can’t take a single breath for granted
I’ve got to bloom right where I’m planted

I’m working on the back forty
Knock on wood
I’m taking what life has for me
and it’s all good
I’ve traded in my dreams of fortune
For rockin’ out on our front porch and
Dreaming up the next part of this story
I’m working on the back forty

I thought by now I’d be a millionaire
Not even close my friend but I don’t care
My wife and children are my treasure
I couldn’t have planned it any better

I’m working on the back forty
Knock on wood
I’m taking what life has for me
and it’s all good
I’ve traded in my dreams of fortune
For rockin’ out on our front porch and
Dreaming up the next part of this story
I’m working on the back forty

The older you get, the faster time flies by
My daddy told me it was true
Days turn to decades in the blink of an eye
We lost him last September, but Daddy, I remember

I’m working on the back forty
Grateful for this life before me
I’ve traded in my dreams of fortune
For rockin’ out on our front porch and
Dreaming up the next part of this story
I’m working on the back forty

 

Copyright 2020 Marcus Rowe/The Nectary Music Publishing

This Finite Life

•January 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I am, by all accounts, in the prime of my life.  I’m 43.  I have the most beautiful and amazing wife as my best friend and partner.  My three teenage kids are still without a criminal record or a failing grade (none are driving yet).  My business has endured significant challenges, and has, by the grace of God, blossomed over time.  We have a beautiful home with all the trappings of a comfortable suburban paradise.  This is the life.  Right?

I lost my dad in 2014.  Stomach cancer.  It was 4 months from the first sign of trouble to telling him goodbye in that hospice room.  The ironic thing is that we thought Dad was the healthy one, between he and Mom.  My mom has advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  She and dad were married for 49 years, and he was her primary care giver.  Once Dad was hospitalized, the vast majority of what was left of Mom went away as well.  Although Mom is still with us, in many ways, I lost both of my parents in 2014.

We all realize that we will all die.  And yet, somehow, it just seems as though your parents will always be there.  The same is true for the manner in which a parent believes their children will outlive them, and yet many – including some of our close friends – experience the unimaginable pain of burying a child.  I have largely been spared from death in my 43 years, but I have been struggling lately to wrap my brain around the temporary nature of life on earth.

This isn’t even intended to be a spiritual conversation.  I’m not talking about or thinking about eternal life.  I’m talking about this finite life.  In the same manner in which I nearly make myself dizzy trying unsuccessfully to comprehend that the universe goes on and on and never ends…   It seems simply unreal that all of these years, more than 15,700 days on earth, and everything I have learned, and the human relationships I treasure, and the material comforts I crave, and the future I’m planning with great anticipation – could end in the blink of a drunk driver’s eye, or the wrath of a tornado’s fury, or a heart that inexplicably stops beating.  I sort of chuckled just now at the well-known phrase, “living on borrowed time.”  Let’s face it, it’s ALL borrowed time.

I graduated from college in 1994.  It’s 2016.  It is downright sickening how quickly those 22 years have flown by.  When did a week become a day, a month become a week, and a year become like a month?  In another lightning-fast 22 years, God willing, I will be 65.  My dad was 73.  Yes, any of us may leave this world at any moment.  However, even in a best-case scenario, where I live a long and happy life, I know it will be like the blink of an eye.

It doesn’t matter if you’re John D. Rockefeller or Michael Jackson or Paul Walker, no one is exempt.  Today, tomorrow, 22 years from now, 43 years from now…  this life will end, and none of us truly knows exactly what comes next.  So if there’s something you need to say to someone, or something you’ve dreamed of doing, or some risk you’ve been afraid to take, it’s now or never.  Live boldly.  Love deeply.  Give generously.  Find something to be grateful for every day.

One thing I know for sure…  When I leave this world, I simply hope to leave this world better than I found it.

Shoes That Can’t Be Filled

•September 25, 2014 • 2 Comments

Ed Rowe holding little MarcusThat’s my dad and me.  We lost him on September 13, 2014, after a four-month battle with an aggressive form of stomach cancer.  In spite of his cremation, the memorial service, the graveside service, and the many, many tears, it still hasn’t really hit me.

Last night I told a good friend that this is the first time in basically my entire life that if I call the phone number my parents have had forever, no one will answer.  Mom is still with us, mostly – her beautiful mind now ravaged by Alzheimer’s.  Most days, she doesn’t know our names.   And yet, she most certainly wept for Dad.

My sisters and I were each given the opportunity to eulogize our father – a daunting and yet therapeutic task which I nearly made it through without losing it.  I have decided to share my eulogy here, in order to share with the world just a few details about this amazing, amazing man.

——-

My full given name is Marcus Edward Rowe. He lives on in me in more than name.

There are many words that described my dad: Selfless. Funny. Tall. Giving. Animated. Sincere. Loving. Forgiving. Humble, and many more. Let me touch on just a few of these.

Selfless. Dad poured everything he had into our family. It was hard at times. Now that I am a husband and father in my early 40’s, it gives me a whole new perspective on Dad at that age. Times were tight, and while my sisters and I lamented the fact that all the other kids had cable TV or an Atari 2600 or Kaepa shoes, Dad never complained. There were no fancy cars in the driveway. The golf clubs stayed in the basement. The only vacations were going somewhere to visit family. Most of the furniture had been there since before I was born. And yet, the kids all got braces. He found a way. In fact, he found a way for all three of us kids to go on trips to Europe with the SMNW Choir. It would be more than 15 years later before he and Mom went to Europe, in 2005. He found a way to send three kids to out-of-state, private colleges, something he would continue to pay for years after graduation. Instead of trips. Instead of cars. Instead of recreation. We were the desires of his heart.

Funny (or Punny), depending on who you ask. I inherited this one, for better or worse. Dad had this stable of jokes or comments that lasted a lifetime, eliciting laugher from those outside of the family and the rolling of eyes from the rest of us. Even in the hospital, in his last truly good days, he was telling people that he only liked three kinds of pie – hot, cold, and a la mode. When the nurse told him that her dad’s name was also Ed, he replied, “Two Ed’s are better than one.” As I stand here now, I’m having trouble remembering very many other examples. I wish I had compiled a list as the years went by. There would have to be at least one or two useable bits in there.

Humble. At times, to a fault. Always giving credit to others. Often, accepting blame that wasn’t his. When I was 14, which was during that period where times were tight, I got caught shoplifting. It’s a long story – something about a Billy Idol cassette and a pair of sunglasses. At any rate, I still remember standing there in our living room, in front of Dad, who was in his brown recliner in the corner, by the picture windows… and hearing him say something like, “I just feel bad because I don’t have any money to give you to buy the things you want, so you have to steal them.” So, I did what any 14-year-old boy who should be in huge trouble but sees a way out would do. I made some tears and nodded my head. I hope, somewhere inside, Dad knew that wasn’t why I did that. It had nothing to do with him.

This was but one example of how Dad’s love imitated God’s love for us. Years later, when my own children were small, I began to feel his pain, so to speak. When you have small children, you may tell them 100 times NOT to do something. Don’t hit. Don’t talk back. Don’t run in the house. Whatever. Still, they will continue to do whatever it is you tell them not to do. It doesn’t make you love them any less. It drives you mad, yes. And so you tell them again… Don’t do that. And they do. And you love them just the same. That was a big lesson for me. Especially, looking back now. In spite of the shoplifting, the mysterious circles of red spray paint I placed around the outside of our house, repeatedly threatening to kill my sisters, the message on the answering machine saying I left the now wrecked car on the side of Johnson Drive and went on to the school dance anyway, and putting my foot through the attic floor directly above Mom and Dad’s bed… Dad just loved me. There was no, “What is wrong with you?” There was only love. There was no, “Why can’t you be more like your sisters?” Only love. Now, my sisters would simply say that I got away with everything. But I hope and pray my own kids get the same message when they screw up – and they will screw up. There will be consequences, for sure, but nothing will change my love for you.

I think my favorite single memory of Dad is this: When I was young, he would lay on his back on the living room floor, put his hands, palms up, on either side of his head, and let me stand on his hands. He would then basically bench press me – until he had lifted me – standing – a full arm’s length into the air. Then, he would gently bring me back down to earth. I couldn’t get enough of it. And I knew without a doubt that he would catch me if I fell. This was my strong dad. My rock.

I will close with some lyrics I wrote – years ago, actually – that sprang to mind just hours before Dad left us last Saturday. They have never been more true.

The lessons that you taught me
Have made me who I am
You showed me by example
What it means to be a man
Though it took me half a lifetime
I finally know the truth
I may follow in your footsteps
But I’ll never fill your shoes

I love you, Dad.

Name that Cancer / Have You Met Marcus?

•July 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I am blessed with two wonderful parents.  I fully realize that many of my friends and acquaintances lost their parents years ago.  Some never knew them at all.  Some had abusive parents.

Mine were and are the how and why of who I am.

DSC05628I have written before about the way in which Alzheimer’s has been ravaging my mother’s mind for years now (My Mother’s Only Son).  In fact, that post was written nearly two years ago, and much has changed since then.  I spent an extended Mother’s Day weekend with my parents – Thursday through Monday.  Monday was the only day she spoke my name.  My Facebook status on Mother’s Day was:

She keeps taking my hand
I think she knows who I am
Just don’t ask her my name

On another recent visit, when my oldest sister entered the room where Mom and I were sitting, my mother asked my sister, “Have You Met Marcus?”

These are excruciating moments.

While I was home that Mother’s Day weekend, my dad started experiencing pain in his midsection.  We all essentially chalked it up to the Pancreatitis he has battled for years.  Since that time, Dad has undergone numerous endoscopic ultrasounds, and had multiple biopsies taken – he’s even had test results sent to the Mayo Clinic for analysis – in order to determine whether he has an aggressive form of stomach cancer or a less aggressive lymphoma.  All tests have been inconclusive.  This week, nearly two months since Mother’s Day weekend, he will have a surgical procedure that could involve removal of his stomach, which would come with great risk.

My dad has already had the “if I don’t make it through surgery” conversation with my sister.

These are excruciating moments.

And so, we will pile the kids into a rented minivan and drive 9 hours because we want them to see their Grandpa before surgery.  Although he is already, physically, a shell of himself – having lost way too much weight recently – they need to see him and hug him and tell him they love him.

September will mark 49 years of marriage for these two.  In June, we moved them onto separate floors of a senior living community.  Mom is on the Memory Care unit on the third floor, and Dad has a place in Assisted Living, on the second floor.  This all hits a little too close to the lyrics of “Where’ve You Been?” by Kathy Mattea.  I used to love that song.

If there is a point to this post – aside from allowing me to put my thoughts into writing – I suppose it is simply to cherish each day.  Thank God for the people in your life who love you, and tell them, often, what they mean to you.

Life is short.  Pray hard.  Love deeply.

The Rock and the River

•February 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

RockRiver
In the middle of a river, there is a rock.
The rock is strong and stubborn.
It takes whatever the river can throw at it.
It will not be moved.
Day after day, the rock holds firm.

When the river overtakes the rock, the rock holds its breath.  When the river runs dry, the rock bathes in the sun.  The rock is proud.  It knows it is stronger than the river… at least for now.  Over time – more time than any of us has on Earth – the river will wear away the rock.  But not today.  And not tomorrow.

The rock will be right where it sits, laughing at the river.

All around the rock, there is a river.
The river is also strong and stubborn.
It always finds a way around the rocks.
It will not be stopped.
Day after day, the river flows on.

When the storms clouds come, the river grows stronger.  When the river runs dry, its bed soaks in the sun.  The river is fluid.  It knows it is smarter than the rock.  Over time – in mere moments – the river will leave the rock behind, ready for the next rock or fallen tree or beaver dam or waterfall.

And though the rock remains strong, its circumstances never change or improve.  It gains neither strength nor experience nor wisdom.  Every day there is only…  the river.

Meanwhile, the river will learn from each new challenge, absorbing the fullness of the highs and lows of its journey.  The river will press on relentlessly toward the goal – ever forward – ultimately becoming one with the infinite ocean and all the wonders it holds.  It will have long since forgotten about the rock.

In life, you are one or the other. Choose wisely.  Be the river.

Every Day is Once in a Lifetime

•June 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

sunrise
Today.  It’s not a long word – only five letters.  When spoken, it doesn’t take long to say.  It rolls right off the tongue, and is gone.  And while you can simply say it again, it can never, ever, be spoken again in exactly the same way, in exactly the same place, at exactly the same time – not for all of the riches on Earth.  Most of us forget, pretty much daily, that these same truths that can be said of today, the word, also apply to today, the day.

So, the sun came up this morning, just like it did yesterday, and the day before.  Big deal, right?  Most of us – certainly non-morning-person-me – rarely see a sunrise.  And yet, what a miracle, the sunrise.  And this morning’s sunrise, whether viewed from a remote mountain top or a suburban kitchen table, was completely unique in the history and future of our world.  That moment when the first glow peeked over the horizon, as the breeze gently blew and the birds sang their song, was a one in infinity moment.  And so was the one that just passed as you read that last sentence.

It’s so easy to assume each day will be there.  Children grow up so fast, and many of us put off throwing a ball in the yard with our son or embracing the silliness of dancing on the bed with our daughter for even just one memorable moment.  We believe the lie we tell ourselves – “There will be plenty of time for that.”  And then they’re teenagers who want nothing to do with us.

We leave so much unsaid between parents, siblings, friends, and other loved ones, and then they’re gone.  Parents grow old.  Friends move away.  Life gets busy.  A year becomes as one day.  Decades are amazingly fleeting.

And so I try to do the impossible, to instill in my kids what my dad told me years ago – that the older you get, the faster time seems to pass by.  Eleven years old seems like, well, a lifetime, when you’re eleven years old.  But the eleven years between eleven and 22 will be an amazingly brief journey.  And the twenty-two years between twenty-two and forty-four?  You just will not believe it.

We are all busy.  We all have trials.  We all have bills to pay.  We all let days and even weeks go by without calling that old friend, without telling someone we love that we love them so much.  Hug your kids.  Kiss your spouse.  Pet your dog.  Say what’s on your heart.  Hold a hand.  Pick up a stranger’s tab.  Hold open a door.  Say, “thank you.”  Give thanks.  Write that book.  Call your mom.  Don’t hold grudges.  Bury the hatchet.  Forgive.  Sing out loud.  Laugh even louder.  Cry when it hurts, and there will be hurt.  Love deeply with your whole heart.

We all search for those once in a lifetime moments in life.  Today is a gift.  That’s why they call it “the present”.  Truly, every day is once in a lifetime.

Times when you probably SHOULDN’T hyphenate your name

•June 7, 2013 • 1 Comment

Times when you probably SHOULDN’T hyphenate your name:

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You Could Have Saved Yourself

•March 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

jesus-on-the-cross1

One word from your majestic lips
That’s all it would have taken
In one breath, you could have flipped the script
and shown them all they were mistaken

You didn’t have to close your eyes
When you chose to pay the price

You could have saved yourself
Let the world go to hell
You could have saved yourself
You saved me

What if you’d spoken the Father’s name
and summoned twelve angelic legions
With your accusers on their knees in shame
You shook the Earth out from beneath them

That’s how the story could have gone
Instead you took our burdens on

You could have saved yourself
Let the world go to hell
You could have saved yourself
You saved me

They stripped you, they crowned you
They laughed and danced around you
They struck you, they mocked you
They spat on you and flogged you

You bore it all, you held your tongue
You said, “they know not what they’ve done”
You chose to die, love that endures
When you said, “Not my will, but yours”

You could have saved yourself
Let the world go to hell
You could have saved yourself
You saved me

© 2013 Marcus Rowe

The View From the Back Forty

•November 14, 2012 • 1 Comment
2 Days Old

Two Days Old

40 found me today.  I guess my dad was right.  He told me a long time ago that the older you get, the faster the days fly by.  He’s 71 now, but I’ll bet he remembers turning 40 like it was yesterday.  I still remember the first time I really started to grasp how quickly time passes, and how helpless we are to stop it.  It was my 10th birthday.  Thirty years ago today.  I can still hear, word for word, someone (I can’t remember who) saying, “Just think, Marcus – No more single digits!”  It was a simple, well-intended comment, but it saddened me for a few minutes – to the point of tears.  My childhood was slipping away…  and then there was cake and gifts and the rest is a blissful blur.

I remember 11 and 12.  Junior High.  I met my best friend for years to come, Dave Miller.  Dave introduced me to

Almost Five

Almost Five

U2 (we’re talking The Unforgettable Fire) and we eventually lived out high school around an eclectic mix of that great band and others like UB40 (an ironic name considering this post), The Style Council, Sinead O’Connor, Erasure, Yaz, Bob Marley, and Icicle Works.  We also learned a lot about life from that great philosopher, John Cusack.  The Sure Thing and Say Anything can be quoted from start to finish.

I remember 13-17 like it was yesterday.  High School.  Good, good times.  Here is where I literally found my voice, thriving in the musical and dramatic arts and evolving into the singer/songwriter I thought the world would know and love.  I found my first love and spent more than two years in the relationship that I thought would last a lifetime, but it was my own naiveté that broke her heart (and eventually mine).  At 13 to 17 years

7th Grade?

7th Grade?

old, you think you’re immortal.  You believe that any decision you make can simply be corrected if wrong, and that consequences are irrelevant.  For the most part, these beliefs held true until after High School.

18 to 21 was tricky.  College out-of-state, 600 miles from home.  Free to make my own decisions, for better or worse.  It was during this time that I learned the hard way that some decisions can’t be reversed and will affect the rest of your life.  You can only hurt some people so many times before they decide not to take you back.  “Elective surgery” will come back to haunt you.  It destroyed my singing voice and whatever shot I had at becoming a recording artist (a real one according to my vocal coach).  Consequences became not only

High School Graduation

High School Graduation

relevant, but very real and lasting.  This is a conversation I will be having early and often with my kids.

My twenties are a little fuzzy.  The aforementioned consequences and circumstances shattered my self-confidence and brought about depression.  I got married partly because I had convinced myself in the Summer of 1994 that I was ready to get married – even though I wasn’t dating anyone at the time.  The next person through the doors eventually became my wife.  We did ok for several years, but in my heart I knew that something was amiss.

College (Fabio Phase)

College (Fabio Phase)

And then there were my thirties.  It would become a decade of tumultuous and lasting change.  My amazing Sam and Sophia were born the year I turned 30.  My divorce was final before they were 4, the same year I would later meet my partner and soul mate for life, Missi, and my equally amazing step-daughter, Liv.  It was Missi’s uncanny ability to make anyone feel as if they have been friends their whole lives that drew me in.  Her drama-free prospective on life and grace drew me and my battered self-esteem out into the light, and I literally felt like an adult for the first time in my life.  At 36, Missi and I were married beneath a Willow tree beside a peaceful pond.  At 38, I dove head-first into self employment with my company, Nectar Media.  Yes, these have been huge tectonic shifts in the landscape of my life – all for the better.

Modern Day Me

Modern Day Me

And so, even if the good Lord blesses me with a long life of 80 years or more, I am half way there.  None of us knows the date and time, of course.  For all I know, I could die tonight and this post would become a posthumous summary of my years on Earth.  So, I stand here and gaze out upon the unexplored, undeveloped “back 40” acres of my life with great anticipation and curiosity.  It will not be without its challenges and heartache.  Of that I have no doubt.  The Lord has so richly blessed me – so much more than I deserve.  It is my sincerest hope and prayer that my life, in return, will be a lasting blessing to others.  “For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” — Luke 12:48.  I hope and pray that I am becoming a better role model for all three of my kids, and that over this next decade – including all of their teenage years – my relationship with each of them individually will establish deep roots for life.  I can’t wait to spend whatever amount of time we have left with my beautiful wife.  I’m not sure she understands that this is the real reason I want her to quit her job.  I want to be with her as much as possible.  I want to be a generous and cheerful giver, even when it’s hard to let go of what God has given us.  I want to honor my mother and father as they require more and more care themselves.  I want to chill the heck out and try not to get so worked up over things that are beyond my control.  I want to try to be a problem solver instead of a complainer.  And when it is my time to go, I want to leave my kids just a little gift of money (as opposed to a ticket to easy street) and a wealth of memories, wisdom, and love.

Thank you, precious Lord and Savior, for forty years of living and loving and learning.  All because of You, I am.

My Mother’s Only Son

•October 2, 2012 • 3 Comments

Hello, My Name is MarckusI am my mother’s only son.  I’m also “the baby” – the youngest of three children.  My older sisters have almost certainly referred to me as “The Anointed One” somewhere along the line.  Right smack in the middle of the quarter year that started yesterday, I will turn 40 years old.  That’s 40 years of being my mother’s favorite son.

A couple of months ago, Mom, now 69, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  While this did not come as a total shock to anyone in our family, as there have been subtly increasing memory issues for quite some time now, it was the first time that a doctor had specifically used “the A-word.”  This was particularly devastating for my dad, who “looked like he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him” according to my sister, who was in the room at the time.

For me, the decline of Mom’s memory has been less obvious than for the rest of my family.  You see, I live 600 miles away from “home”, and am lucky to see my parents twice a year.  Over the past few years, when I have been able to spend any time with her, part of it has always been spent trying to stealthily analyze where she stands.  It’s been at least a year since I prepped my kids about what to do when Grandma asks you the same question more than once.  “Just answer the question again.”

Reality hit me the hardest when I went home over Labor Day Weekend.  We were at my parents’ church on Sunday morning.  Dad was introducing me to someone.  As the small talk ensued, I could see Mom as I looked between Dad and his friend, about 15 feet behind them.  She was standing at the name tag table and she looked confused.  As she caught my eye, being the sarcastic, always-ready-with-a-joke kind of guy that I am, I said (rather loudly), “It’s spelled M-a-r-c-u-s!”  No response.  When I made my way over to the name tag table to help her, what I saw nearly crushed me.  Mom truly was confused about the spelling of my name.  The name that she had given me 40 years ago.  The name that she had called out so many times over the years (often along with my middle name, for emphasis), when I had misbehaved.

The name tag looked a lot like the image on this page.  I will never know which was her first instinct – a “c” or a “k” – but she had tried it both ways.  It was then that I realized what a long and trying road lies ahead.

We spent part of that weekend watching old home movies from the late ’60s and early ’70s.  Dad had recently had them transferred from Super 8 to DVD.  Mom was rattling off names of neighbors from 40 years ago like they still lived right down the street.  That was encouraging.  But the little daily details would soon fail her, and she often can’t tell you what day it is.

She cried when I hugged and kissed her at the airport.  It’s not the first time she’s done that, but something was different.  She held me a little tighter and a little longer.  I think she knows that a part of her is slipping away – that a part of her world is slipping away.  I truly hate that for her, and for me.

I love you, Mom.  I pray, of course, for many, many more years of life with you.  I hope you will see my kids graduate from high school.  And college.  I hope you get to hear yourself referred to as “Great Grandma.”  I just want to thank you now, while I’m almost certain that you truly hear me.  I don’t care how you spell my name.  My name isn’t who I am.  Who I am, and always will be, is your son.

 
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