real life

Too Good To Be True

“It seemed too good to be true. That’s grace.” - Judah Smith

In the last twelve months, I’ve spoken, written, and learned more about grace and mercy than the previous 25 combined years of my life. For a long time, I think I confused the two for being essentially the same. Today I would like to purpose to you the simplest, truest definition I’ve found for both that has cleared it up for me.

Now why focus so much on grace and mercy? Because I have seem first hand the power of both in my life. I would be neither who, nor where I am today if God and so many others had not shown me copious amounts of grace and mercy. Not to mention how I’ve seen it impact my father’s life when I had the opportunity to show him that same grace and mercy I have been given. These lead to forgiveness, and being able to forgive is the greatest give you can give yourself. No matter the situation.

Maybe you’ve been hurt emotionally by someone. Maybe you were physically/sexually/verbally abused by someone. Maybe you were abandoned as a child. All of these situations are things you can’t control, but are all opportunities for you to choose grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Ghandi said that forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. I know this first hand to be true. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but it’s much easier to do something angry than it is to do it afraid, and it’s nearly impossibly to forgive out of anger. It’s rare that someone bestows mercy towards someone they are also angry with. Allow yourself to give into vulnerability, into the strength of forgiveness.

The way I see it, mercy and grace- not fair at all. Forgiveness on the other hand is just. I can choose to forgive just about anyone because of the forgiveness I’ve been shown. It’s only fair that I not withhold that from another person. I say all this to put forth this simple definition:

Grace is getting what you do not deserve.

Mercy is NOT getting what you DO deserve.

Perhaps that’s too simplistic a viewpoint on two such great endeavors that I think we all wrestle with. But, I’ve been known to have quite simplistic views on most things; life, love, the gospel, politics… I’m interested to see what you think though. What do grace//mercy mean to you?

The First Draft

"Tell stories to your friends, and pay attention to when they get bored." - John Green

   I started this project just 13 days after moving in with a new roommate, and since then, he's not seen much of me. I've spent any and all "free-time" I've had working on this film. So I was so excited when I got up from my desk, came out to the living room and said, "It's done! Well, for the most part." 

    I remember sitting on the floor of our apartment when the idea of this whole thing hit me. We were suffering through the 1977 version of Pete's Dragon, which is just unbearable to watch, and I told him I had an idea for a movie. Today (June 22- yes, these are backdated!) the first person I ever told about this film got to see it finally come to fruition. 

    As a creative, there have been countless projects that I've started and never finished. In fact, just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me to send over the draft of a book we'd started more than 3 years ago. I've got three unfinished music albums collecting dust in folders on my computers; needless to say, I've not great at finishing. But... Today I finished!! If you're wondering when or where you can see it, well there's a few things that need to happen first.

    First, I'm going to reserve a small room to hold a private screening of people I trust; some close friends and film industry contacts to get their opinions on it, and then I'll go back and re-edit whatever I need to. Next, I'll be having an actual in-a-freaking-movie-theatre premiere of Searching For Saint Joseph! From there, it will be available online, with priority access to those who gave to the IndieGoGo campaign. 

    All this to say- I'm genuinely proud of myself for finishing this, and I'm forever grateful for each and every one of you. This film is by no means perfect, but I'm so very proud to bring it to you, and I know this is only a stepping stone for bigger things. 

    

Father's Day

"When one has not had a good father, one must create one." - Friedrich Nietzsche 

    The clock on my laptop has just rolled over to 12:00, which means it is officially Father's Day. This is a holiday I've not had to give much thought to until now. I've been wrestling all day with what really isn't a big deal for most people- do I call my father? I mean how do you wish a happy Father's Day to someone who was supposed to be your father, but never really was?

    There's a good to fair chance I'm making a mountain out of this mole hill, but this is one of those things that no one tells you you'll have to think about after you've made the decision to find and meet your father. Do I call him? Do I text him? Do I just do nothing? These have been the questions I've been asking myself everyday this week. One of the things I have to keep reminding myself is that I'm the one who did this. I decided to open the door, and I'm worried I may not be as prepared to actually walk through it as I thought. At this point, I've already done the hard part. I made contact. That's HUGE!! I don't think I've truly given myself enough credit for that.

    It would have been so much easier to go through life angry, and rightly so. It would have been so much easier to go through life curious, with all these questions, never knowing the answers. Well now I know, and as they say, knowing is half the battle. I've chosen to go with door number three, and now I have to live with that choice. So whether it's the car, or the goat, it's mine now. 

    I think I've just solved my own problem. Thank you for reading along through my thought process. I know these blogs have recently been few and far between, but I don't want to just write for the sake of writing. If I don't feel like I have anything to say, then I won't say anything, but my hope is that these entries can help even just one person who's going through what I am. 

    With all that in mind; if you have a father, wish him a happy Father's Day, tell him you love him, and know that you are lucky to do so. As for me, I think I'm going to text my mine. I'm also going to text every father figure I've had, because unlike sons, fathers are not born, but made. And I've made some pretty great fathers over the years. 

Twenty-Six

"When you're 26, you can do anything." - Norman Lloyd

    Twenty-six is by no means a monumental birthday. At 26, you wake up, go to work, and maybe go to dinner. Turning 26 isn't special, unless it is. Well, it is for me. Here's why...

    November 13, 2017 - I'm at Sky Harbor in line at Starbucks, ready to return home after the most emotional week of my life. I get a text message and look down at my phone. It's my father. 

    "Is that your dad?", Caleb (Assistant Director) asks, ready to start shooting. "No, it's my mom", I lied. I wanted these last moments back in Arizona to be just for me. I didn't even open the message for a few minutes. It wasn't until I was in line to board the flight that I read it. 

    Four words. Four words that made me empathetic towards my father for the first time. Four words that left me speechless. 

When is your birthday?

    So yes, this typically unspectacular birthday, for me, is special. It's the first year my father wished me a "happy birthday". It's the first year he even knew when it was. I'm releasing my first film. I'm doing my first radio show. I'm planning my first press tour. I'm working on starting my first non-profit. 

    I think every year can be special. Every year can be full of "firsts". I know it's cliché, but life is what you make it. Don't wait for your birthday, or New Year's to make something happen for yourself. Go out everyday and work harder, and learn more, and love better, and create fearlessly.     

Home

"Home is where one starts." - T. S. Eliot

    I wanted to take a break today and talk not about how I'm feeling, but what I'm doing. Side note: how you're feeling is not how you're doing. Don't get tricked into being led through life by your emotions.

    Okay... Where were we? Ahh yes. The idea of home. So last night, I went to dinner with some of the greatest people I know. They're intelligent, creative, hard-working, and kind. 

    This isn't to disparage any friends I've made over my 25 years here on this flat earth, but in the last 5 years, I've met the people who would become the biggest influences in my life. People who would open me up in way is didn't think possible. I am so lucky to get to do life with people whom I love dearly. I don't know if you know what it's like to call your friend on the phone to congratulate him on his son walking for the first time because you teared up watching the video on Instagram. It's incredible.

    I don't know where life will take me. I don't know where life will take you. My advice, however, is this: be all in. You may be where you are for two more days, or twenty more years, but for whatever length this season is, be all-in. I'd never made connections like this before, because I was discontent and always looking for the next thing; always looking for a way out. But the moment you decide "this is where I am", that can change your life!

    People will surprise you if you let them in. The community in which I've found myself, the friends that I've let in to see all my blind spots, these are the people with whom I want to go into my next season of life.

    These are the people I call home.

Making a Film Is Hard

"All good art, to me, is uncertainty." - Dave Davies

    Somedays I'm able to sit and edit for 12-14 hours straight. Somedays, I don't even think about working on this film. So far, I think the hardest part for me is just having to watch and re-watch myself go through the toughest week of my life. This blog probably won't be very long, as I've so much work to do, but in an attempt at openness, honesty, and vulnerability, you should know that I've not touched this film in 3 weeks. I've been feeling slightly overwhelmed with some things, and trying to edit a film has been the furthest thing from my mind.

    I can tell you with certainty that I do not know how to craft a film from beginning to end, but I swear I'm trying. I gave myself a deadline to release in April. That may have been a bit overzealous. I hope to still be on track for a spring release, but I feel like this story is worth telling, and worth telling well.

    I don't what I'm doing. I can only hope that I'm watching and re-watching a story that's worth telling and re-telling.

5 Things I'm Keeping For My Kids

“You don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” - John Green

    You see, I’m not one for sentiments. I own very little, I’m quick to get rid of “non-essentials”, and am what most would consider a minimalist. Recently though, I’ve found myself holding onto things I would normally throw out. I am certain this has stemmed from meeting my father for the first time, so here are 5 things that I’m keeping for my son.

1. Every Old Notebook

    I’m lucky enough now to be a professional musician/music director, but I spent most of my teens and early twenties playing in bands and writing songs. I have notebooks full of half-written songs, and some of them are just awful, but that’s something I think I’ll want my kids to have. It’s great that I’m much more polished now, but there’s something special about the beginning stages of any art form, in that you’re bad… Really bad. But anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.

2. My First Guitar

    It’s not great. it’s an old, bare-bones, Epiphone Les Paul, but it’s what I learned on. I played it at the first show I ever booked, and to this day it’s in my mom’s basement. It doesn’t hold much of a tune anymore, and I haven’t played it in probably 8 years, but it was what started me on the path to becoming the musician I am today.

3. Clothes

    As I said before, I’m a bit of a minimalist. I have four black t-shirts, one pair of jeans, a red flannel (as a musician, that’s a requirement), and two jackets. There’s something special though, I think, to being able to give my son the denim jacket that I wore basically everyday for years. It’s not much, but I know I wish I had something like that from my dad.

4. High School Memorabilia 

    I’ve moved at least once a year since I graduated high school, and every time I bring with me a box of crap from high school; letter pins, trophies, awards, etc. My mom told me that I’d want to keep that kind of stuff to give to my kids, and to be honest, I didn’t believe her until a few weeks ago. I know now that I’ll never get rid of that box.

5. Memories

    This is the biggest thing I wish I had of my father. We’re on a path now of trying to figure out what a relationship looks like and how to start over, but I’ll never have my own memories of him. I’ll always never have grown up with him. There will always be this long period of time in his life that I was never a part of. I don’t ever want my kids to feel that way. 

 

   These are just a few, primarily material things I’ll keep for my kids. What will you keep for yours?

3 Reasons I Made A Documentary 

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." - Matsuo Basho

 

Why did I decide to make a film about meeting my father, and not simply meet him? Why include the additional stress of hiring a crew, and raising funding, and drag through the editing process? This is why…

1. I Needed Community

    I’ve thought of doing this for years. I’ve tossed the idea around of meeting my father for as long as I can remember. Right up until the moment I called him, I had wondered what I would say to him. If you’re someone who grew up not knowing your mom or dad, I’m sure you’ve thought the same things. I knew myself well enough to know that I needed a community of support, people who had my back every step of the way, before I could push myself to go through with picking up the phone and actually calling him.

    As soon as I had the idea back in April, I immediately launched social media sites to get the word out. I needed people all over to know that I was attempting to do the hardest thing I’d ever done. Had it not been for everyone who supported me, and asked questions about how it all would happen, I may never have met him.

2. This is Bigger Than Me

    I’ve stated many times over the last few months that this isn’t just my story. Forty-three percent of my generation will have grown up in single parent homes, and I’d never really seen a film like the one I was trying to make. I only knew of one person who had actually reached out to their estranged parent. So for better or worse, I knew that I had the motivation, means, and crew to tell this story; to tell our story. 

    First time documentary filmmakers don’t stand to make a lot of money. I knew that going into this, but it was more important to me that this story simply be told. I wanted to tell my story, as well as the story of so many others like me. 

3. To Showcase Grace and Forgiveness

    I know too many people who’ve had similar upbringings to mine, that spend their whole lives angry and bitter and are never able to move on with their lives. I know how hard it is to always wonder “what could have been”. I also know that you can be happy and successful and fulfilled; even with a part of you missing. 

    The intent was never to give parents who weren’t a part of their child’s lives a pass, nor to tell the kids in this situation to suck it up and get over it. Instead, I wanted to show anyone who’s been through what I and so many others have, that forgiveness is possible. It’s not easy. It took me years and years to move from anger to forgiveness.

    Who knows, maybe my father doesn’t deserve forgiveness for not being a part of my life, but that’s where grace comes in. The beauty of grace is it’s unrelenting unfairness to those who receive it. Grace isn’t getting what you deserve, and forgiveness gives you permission to let go.

 

    I do not yet know what impact this film will have. I hold firmly to the belief that if even just one person sees it, and is able to find reconciliation, then it will all have been worth it. I know it was worth it for me. 

This Is for You

   “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” - William Shakespeare

 

    When I was 25 years old, I met my father for the first time. I felt like there was an enormous amount of pressure because not only was it the hardest thing I’ve ever convinced myself of doing, but I also decided to film its happening and make a documentary of it. While I wouldn’t recommend filming a major life event like that, I know that for me, it was the only way I would have been able to push myself to do it. 

    This blog; this manuscript; this amalgamation of words and ideas; this is for you. This is for your son, your daughter, your mother, your father, or your friend. This is for anyone who has ever been abandoned or felt abandoned. This is for the kids who stay up late at night wondering what they did wrong. This is for the parent who wishes they could make things right. This is for you. This is for me.

    When I first had the idea to tell this story, I was on a flight back from Los Angeles. As usual when I fly, I was listening to a podcast. This one was different from the typical comedy podcasts I listen to though. This was about filmmaking. They were discussing the keys to making great films, and said, “If you want to make a film that people want to see. I mean really want to see. Find a story that you can see yourself in. Stories worth telling are those that reflect real life. Reality is the best story.” At the time, I had no idea that this quote would change my life forever. 

    Now why write a blog about the process of making a documentary of finding my father? Because long before I started filming, I started reading. I scoured the internet to find any tips or advice about how one goes about this journey. I had joked with a friend of mine of how there was no “how-to” book about how to meet your father for the first time. While I may not be an experienced writer, I have experienced firsthand the rollercoaster of emotions that goes along with a life-altering event like this. In some ways, I feel as though I have an obligation and a duty to help the millions of people like me who share in this same experience. At the very least, maybe this will help those who’ve contemplated, some maybe for years, what this experience may feel like. 

My name is Marcus Lee, and this is my story.