Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Surprised with a Blessing

This week our family received a Christmas card in the mail. It was from a family that I personally have not met. My daughter and wife have met them, but only once. The circumstances which led to the connection of our families, however, I would not wish on anyone, for it was the death of their youngest daughter that brought us together.

Opening the Christmas card, I began to read as tears welled up in my eyes. The personal note written inside was for my daughter, Amanda, who had, in a short time, become their daughter, Giselle's, best friend. They were in the same dorm at college, bonding quickly and as deeply as two friends can. My wife and I learned about Giselle from Amanda as she regularly talked about her, posted pictures of their experiences, and generally raved about what a great friend she was. It was Giselle that made the first two quarters of college for Amanda an experience she would treasure for life. I won't go into the details of the story, but unimaginable tragedy struck one weekend in April of this year when Giselle passed away from a sudden, accidental death. Just like that, a wonderful, inspirational, loving and beloved child was gone.
Giselle (in green) and Amanda

It was at the memorial service that Wendy and Amanda got to meet Giselle's family. It was a wonderful experience for Amanda, as she got to hear from Giselle's parents how much Amanda meant to her, and to them as well. The memorial for Giselle, though difficult, was inspirational, celebrating how she touched so many lives in her short time here. Though our hearts hurt for their family, how they have used Giselle's memory to uplift and inspire others is remarkable.

Surprises can be a wonderful thing, especially when one is surprised by a blessing. That’s what I consider this Christmas card to be. Out of immense pain and loss, a family has looked beyond their own grief and has reached out to bless those who knew and loved Giselle. I cannot imagine how difficult this first holiday season without their daughter is for them, yet they have taken the time to reach out to us and write words of encouragement to Amanda. And because of it, our family has experienced an unexpected blessing. It is one I shall never forget. My hope is that in whatever circumstances I find myself in that I can still bless others in some way. And if it surprises them, it's even more fun.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Confessions Of A Late Blooming Rock Star

The moment I picked it up, I knew I had found my calling. It was a no-name copy of a cherry red Gibson SG. It was cheap, but it was my first electric guitar. I was 14 when my parents bought it for me, and I had been taking guitar lessons for two years with pretty good progress. But one can only go so far on an acoustic guitar. To be a true rock star, it has to be electric. 

I had been a music lover from a very young age, proving this by picking out melodies on the piano when I was in Kindergarten. I have vivid memories of my brothers and I setting up a coffee can drum set and toy guitars and pretending to be the Monkees. My rock star dreams were born. I began piano lessons in the first grade and convinced my parents to let me quit four years later. Then I tried the trombone for two years. But it wasn't till I was twelve that I finally landed on the instrument that actually became a part of who I am: the guitar. 

Not long after getting the SG, I bought a used Acoustic brand amp and began taking lessons from a long-haired rock guitarist in our local music store. After being taught iconic guitar riffs from the mid-seventies, it wasn't long till I was improvising on my own and becoming a pretty decent player. But I needed someone to play with. My brother was learning the bass guitar at the time and I met a couple of other musicians at school. We formed a "band" and called it Outrageous. Our time together consisted of three rehearsals. That's it. No gigs. But at least I got the chance to play rock music with others. 

I had grown up as a church kid, so most of my friends were from the church youth group. When I was a senior in High School I joined up with some friends in my first Christian band called Discovery. Along with a couple of originals, we mostly played covers of Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, The Way and The Archers. Oh, and we did one Osmond Brothers song, too. Our drummer claimed he wrote it himself until my friend said she recognized the song from her Osmond Brothers record. We kept it in the set anyway. This band actually had two real gigs with people there to see us. It was my first taste of the Rock Star Dream. 

It wasn't long before that band ended and I started a new band with some other friends. We called ourselves Logos, which is the greek word for "The Word." A strange name for a band, but our church and youth group had a bit of an obsession for using Biblical Greek words for names of groups (our youth group name was Omega, our mid-week youth group meeting was called Kleronomoi...you get the picture). We had a couple years of local success, did many church gigs, and recorded a couple of demos. It was great fun. Then I quit the band to go to college. 

From then on all my guitar playing was done in church. I mean all of it. I was a worship and music pastor for over 20 years and did all my music within the church. It was, and still is, a great experience, and it has allowed me to continue to hone my skills as a musician by playing consistently and continually. And it allowed me to become comfortable playing music in front of people, from groups of 50 to auditoriums up to 10,000. The thing is, though, in church a musician is always taught to give all the glory to God and be as humble as possible when on stage. No showboating, no flashy clothes, no Eddie Van Halen solos. And I was really good at being a reserved, humble musician.

About five years ago, I decided that it was time to play some music out in the world. Though I had done all my playing in church, deep down I was still a rock and roll musician. My favorite music is still the music I grew up with and learned to play the guitar to: Frampton, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Styx, Kansas, etc. So it was time to go back to my roots and find a classic rock band to join. I looked on Craigslist, and found the ad I was looking for. I auditioned, got the gig, and have now been the lead vocalist and co-guitarist for a Styx tribute band for the last five years. 

I expected it to be a blast playing all that classic music I knew and loved. And it is. What I didn't expect, however, was the internal conflict I would have as a performer. For twenty years I'd not been a "performer," but rather, a "worship team member." No performing allowed. We played on a team in front of people, but the purpose wasn't performance. It was all for God. Humble musicians only. So now here I am in a classic rock band, performing and being expected to put on a great show. Time to develop a second personality. This is actually what I have tried to do. When I play a classic rock show, I literally put on a different hat (to cover my lack of hair) and do my best to act like a rock star. Then when I play at church on Sunday I take off that hat and take the stage as a humble musician, serving with the rest of the team. I have to say that it's quite fulfilling. I get to live out my rock star dreams with the band on Saturday night, then can place all my gifts and talents before God on Sunday as I serve with the worship team. 

Perhaps the best way to describe the difference between playing guitar in the church vs. in a classic rock band is this: at church, the best compliment a musician can hear is "God really used you today," or "The music was really powerful."  At a classic rock show, it's this: "You guys F****** ROCK!" It's a compliment I'll never get used to, but now I love to hear it.