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Stuff I've been thinking about lately...

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“Last Step, First” by Bob Perks

This week I’m excited to bring you a special guest blog from author Bob Perks. His latest book, I Wish You Enough, encompasses 8 values needed for true contentment and happiness, and transforms them into 8 wishes — or sentiments. Through short, inspirational stories about everyday people, Perks reopens our eyes and hearts to the abundance all around that we so often take for granted. Hope this blesses you!


Most anyone would find joy in watching their child graduate from high school or college. What appears in my mind as just yesterday, is in reality 16 years ago.   If one had the chance to thumb through any family photo book, you’d most likely find a few pictures of smiling, happy faces huddled around the cap and gown clad graduate.

What you might not realize is there is often a story behind the picture.

My son Keith had to take his last step on the stage of his high school in order to take the first step in saving his life.

He was already registered for college when we discovered he had Ewings Sarcoma, a cancer of the bone.  The first step off the stage took us on a journey no one was ready for.

I can clearly remember walking with him into the doctor’s office prior to hearing the diagnosis. I remember how differently we walked out of that same office and on the way to the car.  Our steps were slow and unsure.   I don’t remember a word I said to him, but I remember I had my arm wrapped around his shoulders.  I believe it was more to support me than it was to comfort him.

I can see every step we took during his chemo treatments and visions of him standing on crutches in the hallway of the Hershey Medical Center.

The moment I treasure most was sitting in the audience a few years later,  watching him walk across the stage to receive his college diploma.

My mind drifted back to seeing his tiny feet for the first time.  I clearly saw his first baby steps, the first time he climbed the stairs, and the first time he rode his bike.  I cheered him on as he ran around the bases in little league.  I remembered seeing him step into his first car and drive away.

I realized then that our sole purpose in life is to raise our children to be strong enough to stand on their own.

“Keith Perks,” the speaker said.  I stood up and cheered.  Others in attendance saw a proud father.  They didn’t know the real story.  Seeing him walk across the stage meant not only did he graduate, but he lived to do it.

Since then I have seen him walk in to a room to introduce me to the love of his life.  I watched him walk down the aisle when they got married.  One day he will walk down the hallway to introduce me to his first child.

And I?  I will look at her feet and wonder where they will take her.

When my story ends one day, both my sons will carry me to my final resting place.  It will be my last step here and my first step into Heaven.

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Grandma Mildred (1915-2010)

My Grandma Mildred was a poet, a writer, a teacher, a musician. She focused on being creative and then taught others to do so, as well. She demonstrated how to live an unconventional life, showing me that I could as well. She was rootsy and advantgarde before I knew what that meant, or even more, how to appreciate it. She taught me that life isn’t always lived between the lines.

I love that whenever we’d visit her Eau Claire, WI house as kids, the house was full of mystery and intrigue. She always let me explore. She always let me put my hands on new musical instruments I’d never seen before, or to play her big organ with all the fun sounds. She always let me be adventurous. I’m grateful for that lesson and hope to continue to be adventurous, and encourage others to do likewise.

I love that she did an acting stint in the Grande Olde Players in Omaha. She taught me that you’re never too old to put on makeup and get up in front of people and act silly.

I love that she took such good care of our dog Scamp in her final dog days. She showed me that even though you live alone, you never have to be lonely.

Grandma Mildred was never fake or artificial. She never wanted to convince anyone that she was anything other than just herself. Sometimes that meant putting on makeup and big jewelry to go play the piano for all the “old people”. Sometimes it meant just lounging in her nightgown. I’m grateful for her teaching me that there’s a time and place to be fancy, even if other people don’t agree.

I don’t claim to understand a lot about how she lived her life, or how she managed to live as long as she did on her regular diet of crossword puzzles and romance novels. But I admire her contentment with simplicity. As I grow older, I hope to eliminate clutter and excess.

Her love for me appeared to grow with her age. Oddly enough, the less she was able to walk, the more she was able to say “I love you” to me. I hope to say “I love you” more, the older I grow, as well.

Love, Mark

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Time for New Beginnings

Here’s another entry of encouragement for Graduates! This is taken from the inspirational book When God Winks on New Beginnings by SQuire Rushnell. This book would make a great gift for someone you care about who may be graduating. And this short writing is especially appropriate for someone who might be wondering what career path to try and follow. He writes:

So how do you uncover the attributes and passions that point toward the career path you should most likely pursue? The best starting point is to taken an inventory of younr innate strengths and interests. Determine what you are good at. Make a list of the talents you possess and skills you have already mastered. Think about which tasks are easy for you to perform.

Go ahead. Get yourself a pad of paper and start writing down honest answers to the following questions:

• Is it a joy for you to talk with people? Does interacting with others come easily to you and leave you energized? If so, perhaps you could find a job in retail that would place you in frequent contact with the public. Or consider working in sales, where you’d probably talk to people every day, and the more orders you generate, the more money you can make.
• Is it easy for you to organize meetings, events, or parties? Those attributes could lead you into marketing, event planning, or management roles.
• Is problem solving something in your comfort zone? Career pursuits in nursing, teaching, or government agencies may be the right fit.

Perhaps you like to cook or you love cars. Or maybe you enjoy traveling, raiding, or taking things paart and putting them back together again…Each of these interests could be inner compasses pointing you toward a career that is just right for you.

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Advice I Wish Someone Would’ve Given Me

I’m a big fan of going after the desires of your heart—mostly because I believe God put them there, and also because of the joy I get from doing it! If you’re like me at all, you know how difficult it can be to set your sails in a certain direction you’d like to go, only to find out there’s no wind and the boat seems to have leaks in all the strangest places.

This is one of my most favorite quotes: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” —Calvin Coolidge

Here are a few things that I wish someone would’ve told me a while back. I think learning these early on would’ve made my life a bit easier…and perhaps made me see I was less crazy than I am tempted to believe I am.

  1. Don’t waste your time putting energy in fruitless directions. I’ve kept myself very busy doing things to distract me from doing what I really need to be doing.
  2. Be patient—good things happen over time. Great seldom happens immediately.
  3. Be bold when you feel you should be—don’t let fear hold you back at all from what you desire.
  4. Know your audience—be discrete and wise about who you share your desires and dreams with. Some will cheer you on, others won’t. Some who care won’t know how to show it. 
  5. Practice more than you think you need to. As a kid, I used to want to perform my newest magic trick before I had it perfected. I never become a really great magician because of this.
  6. Find your unique story. No matter how much you are looking to follow the path laid down by others, your story will never look their theirs—yours is a unique story that has never been written, and is one that not everyone will understand or applaud. But yours is the story that must be told.
As I’m working on completing the Pilgrim Man CD project, I’m realizing that the world doesn’t need another record that is like everything else, just to try to “fit in.” I need to make a CD that only Mark Smeby could make. I’m going to aim for being the very best at being myself, in life and in music. I hope you’ll join me!