Silver and Gold Sunday, Jul 22 2007 

I stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. I remembered finding this piece of silver at a garage sale years ago, one of many I had rescued over the years. Tarnished and ignored, it had sat in someone’s cabinet or drawer and now after what I assumed was a tortuous process they had decided to part with it.

More than likely it only cost me a couple of dollars, still, I took it home and with care and love polished it, hid it away, treasured it. I imagined the grand dinner parties I would someday give, of friends remarking on the beauty of every place setting, each one unique and refined. Of the joy I would have in telling them how little I had actually paid for everything. How I had found this particular piece under a pile of junk on a folding table or that one in a box of someone else’s discarded dreams.

I have always loved the idea of an elegant dinner with a few close friends. The ideal wine served in fine crystal glasses; chosen not only for its subtle nuances that precisely matched the palates of the dinner guests, but whose characteristics were also in perfect harmony with the entrée.

Perhaps I did use this silver tray once, I can’t be sure. I ended up after so many years with so many garage sale finds that I stopped polishing each piece, stopped displaying them in my sideboard. Instead I would wrap each one carefully, place it in a plastic container and hope that the oxygen wouldn’t get to it too much, so that when – if, I ever had that party I could simply unwrap everything and not have to spend too much time in preparation, silver polish in hand. My time it seemed was becoming more precious and less.

But now I found myself at a crossroads. A widow, a single mother of three, selling the only house my children had ever thought of as home. I never had a home myself, I am a nomad by nature and by experience; my home has always been wherever my feet have taken me. Once again I had no idea where the path ahead of us would lead; no expectations of what our lives would look like in the future.

I had struggled for years collecting things, bits and pieces of a life lived here and there. I moved so often I finally lost count of how many times I had packed and unpacked, each time dragging with me not only cherished memories but tangible evidence of them as well. Souvenirs of each experience, each friend, each place that had been a part of my life. But now, seeing all these things together in one place, well, the burden of carrying them any further began to overwhelm me. I had my children in my arms now and I was beginning to feel that some things needed to be put down so I would be able to hold them well enough, close enough.

So I stood, looking at my long forgotten silver, wondering should I now be the one to place this tarnished beauty, this treasure lost in the garage sale pile? I might still use it – I could have that dinner party one day, when the kids were older and off on their own, when my friends and I weren’t quite so busy.

Then it suddenly hit me like awakening into a sunrise after a dark and moonless night. Yes, someday I may actually find the time to polish all the silver treasures I had found over the years, but if I did finally have the time, would I really want to spend it polishing silver?

So I stood there holding in my hand what once had appeared to me a fine and precious metal, but now only looked like weighted lead

You see the truth is I do have dinner with friends quite frequently and sometimes the wine is spectacular, but more often than not it’s a beer drunk straight from the bottle, which is more than fine. What I realized in that moment, that epiphany, is that my priorities have become such that I would rather eat on paper plates than fine china. That it’s more important for me to have leisurely yet great conversations with friends then spend time washing crystal carafes and polishing silver. My priorities were never that far off-center actually, but in my youth I had an unrealistic expectation that I could somehow do it all. I think perhaps I had the notion that I would be a better friend, maybe even a better person if I could live a life touched by elegant things.

So the silver tray was placed, with a certain amount of joy on the garage sale table next to an old waffle iron and some spatulas. As I laid it down a lightness found me and I realized I have with age and wisdom arrived at a resting place, a place where I don’t desire silver treasures anymore, in fact it is quite the contrary. They have come to represent to me all the immaterial objects that I have held onto throughout my life, the things that don’t ground me but in reality pull me just below the surface of the water. Now more than ever my time, especially the time I have been given to spend with ones so loved as my children and friends is gold.

Travelin’ Light
Written by: Allison Mellon, Marc Byrd, Brown Bannister and Steve Hindalong
“Well I was doublin’ over the load on my shoulders
Was a weight I carried with me every day.
Crossin’ miles of frustration and rivers a ragin’
Pickin’ up stones I found along the way.

I staggered and I stumbled down pathways of trouble
I was haulin’ those souvenirs of misery.
And with each step taken my back was breakin’
‘til I found the One who took it all from me.

Down by the riverside,
I laid my burdens down now I’m travelin’ light
My spirit lifted high,
I found my freedom now and I’m travelin’ light.

Through the darkest alleys and loneliest valleys
I was draggin’ those heavy chains of doubt and fear.
Then with one word spoken the locks were broken
Now He’s leading me to places where there are no tears.

Down by the riverside,
I laid my burdens down now I’m travelin’ light
My spirit lifted high,
I found my freedom now and I’m travelin’ light.

From the album: Songs from the 23rd Psalm/Traveling Light
Music inspired by the writings of Max Lucado and the Psalmist David
Available at http://www.independentbands.com/cd/travelinglight.html
Copyright 2002 Mellon/Byrd/Bannister/Hindalong

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Art Too Monday, Mar 26 2007 

When Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge set out to “cleanse” the Cambodian people in the 1970’s, their targets were very specific. Not only did they take aim at the crippled and lame, but the educators, the social elite and those who had close ties to the West as well. In addition, to make sure they would not only gain but also maintain control of millions of people’s bodies and minds, they targeted and killed all of the artists.

I remember watching in horror a few months before the attacks of 9/11 as two ancient Buddha sculptures, which had been chiseled into the sandstone cliff’s of Afghanistan in the 3rd and 5th centuries, were packed with dynamite and exploded into a million tiny pieces of rubble. I’ll admit I didn’t know much at the time about the horrors happening in Afghanistan, the Taliban was something I was familiar with only in passing. But as I saw those beautiful works of art and religion crumble to the ground, a wave of pain and sorrow overtook me and I knew we were all in trouble.

Art can be a very dangerous thing. Tyranny requires a silencing of opposition, and art has been used throughout history as a sometime subtle, sometimes bold form of resistance. Even when a people are kept ignorant and uneducated, unable to read or write, art has given them not only an outlet for dissention, but also a way of discovering the differing points of view of others.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
John Keating

Any artist who tries something new, something different, who is honest and unguarded has my respect, whether I enjoy and appreciate the art form or not. Pushing the envelope, risking, is as much a part of the artistic expression to me as the end resulting art itself. Even when I find things distasteful, I generally respect an artist’s attempt at something new, as long as it’s done with complete honesty.

Does art have to inspire the entire world to be important or is effecting one person, one community enough? Great art does not have to alight a revolution of ideas but the potential for it should always remain and never be dismissed, especially by the artist himself. I have been witness to artists who dismiss their creations out of hand, as if they had done nothing more important than take out the trash. Thankfully dismissing the significance of ones own work does not dilute it of it’s potential.

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Anais Nin

Throughout the years I have rooted for artists to make a living at their art, but almost none of them do. Most must do some other form of it to survive. Producing artists they don’t necessarily believe in, writing music for television or film, working on commercials, all to be able to fund their true creative endeavors. I don’t slight them for doing what is necessary to earn a living, quite the opposite; I’m impressed with how hard they work for it. But when they cease to purely create at least on occasion because being creative doesn’t pay, they cease to be an artist. I have seen artist start down a capitalist road, taking work that will pay the bills so they can afford to continue their creative pursuits, only to eventually refuse to be freely creative in their artistic expressions because doing so might jeopardize the cash cow they have found at the tit of the record companies. It is sad to witness artistic brilliance quashed sacrificially by an artist, for fear of rocking the boat. The same boat that artist refused to ride in at the beginning of their journey, and that by all rationale should have been sunk years ago by it’s own acceptance of mediocrity.

So when I hear someone who wants others to believe that they are an “artist” ask “What is the incentive to create, I will not see a dime from it.” I begin to question everything they produce, where is the passion? Can true art be created dispassionately? If you cannot create for the sake of creating, but only when it has the potential to offer you a paycheck, then go become an accountant already, because I want to hear about your heart, not how big your mortgage payment is.

So why create without the guarantee of financial reward? Because it is your passion, if it is no longer a passion, you have no business doing it. Art and commerce are mixed together in a soup that cannot easily be separated. But an artist who puts commerce before art, is no longer an artist, at least in my opinion.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”
Paul Gauguin

I have heard some artist claim that music is all the same, there has not been anything new in rock and roll in the last forty years so what’s the point. I’m trying to imagine My Chemical Romance or Powder performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, somehow I don’t think they would have made it past the 1950’s sensors.

Louder or offensive does not necessarily mean new, the music my nephew listens to does have it’s roots in blues, jazz and rock after all, but it certainly doesn’t sound like any of those to me, so I do consider it something new.

Seeing a band on stage that is free and passionate in what they do makes me love their music even when the style is something other than what I would normally be drawn to. Watching someone who is passionately free in their expression is liberating to my soul no matter what form that expression takes.

This summer I walked through the Chicago Institute of Art. I saw all of the “Great masters”. I stood and cried at the self-portrait of Van Gogh, yet felt no emotions in front of the Rembrandts. I appreciated their beauty but they did not speak to me. Dali’s “Birth of Monster’s” however disturbed me so much I felt sick to my stomach. I hated the subject matter; I hated what I was looking at. But I forced myself to study it for a few minutes until I got chills and had to leave. He had something to say to me. It may not have been something I was comfortable hearing, but it was passionately expressed – so I listened.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
John Keating.

For centuries art has been a catalyst for change, from Shakespearean plays, renaissance paintings, to counterculture poetry. Satirically poking fun at the king or calling for the overthrow of a tyrant has been tolerated through art when freedom of speech was not even a concept. Most of us have come to take for granted those freedoms, and it seems therefore we have stopped expecting artists to move beyond the pale.

So what of those still oppressed by tyrants, held in poverty, consumed by the ravages of ethnic cleansing? I wonder, given the tools of artistic expression what they might have to say. Is there a young Van Gogh, Mozart, or Yeats wandering amongst the refugee camps of Darfur? Is there someone there, who, if given a voice, the tools to express them selves might someday set their world on fire?

“ I don’t tell the other kids I am sick because they will bully me and torment me. I just wish I had some crayons and some books to write in.”
Noah age 8 – HIV positive – Africa

http://www.invisiblechildren.com

Bar Stool or Church Pew Tuesday, Mar 20 2007 

“Do you feel more comfortable sitting on a bar stool or a church pew?” That’s a question I have asked numerous times over the last year while I’ve been interviewing musicians from several “Christian” bands. I thought I knew the answer for most of these boys, but I haven’t received the responses I expected. Some were honest, a few who said church pew, the ones who I expected to say bar stool either glossed over the issue or said they didn’t have an answer.

Honestly I have rarely felt uncomfortable in a bar, I wish I could say the same about churches. I don’t drink or smoke and I rarely dance in public, still, I can walk into almost any bar and feel completely accepted. Contrast that with the fact that I have actually been accosted at churches when I showed up not dressed “appropriately” or when I haven’t played by their rules of when you need to sit, stand or get up to use the restroom. A church I went to for years began filming the service for television broadcasts and suddenly there were rules about when you could get up to go pee! I left and have only been back once years later, by then the imposed structure of the service had become extreme. I was nursing an infant, who I brought into the sanctuary with me, the ushers were not happy. “He might start crying” they said. I was also saving seats, apparently a mortal sin. My nephew who attended this church, a somewhat mellow kid usually started panicking. “They’re about to start,” he said “they’re going to come and we’re going to get in trouble, you can’t save seats.” My heart was broken, he was terrified of these people, a child should never have a sense of fear going to church, I’m fairly sure it’s unscriptural.

Twenty years ago, at the end of the service, the pastor of this church would walk down the front steps of the stage and head directly to the back door where he would stand and talk to anyone who needed him. When I went back to visit all these years later, he was ushered to the pulpit, preached for thirty minutes or so, then was quickly ushered off the stage not to be seen or heard from again until the next week. I would not have been at all surprised to hear an announcement as the service was ending, “The pastor has left the building.”

Contrast this to the first time I visited my parent’s church, a medium sized community church in the mountains of Southern California, I guarantee you there are no visions here of a worldwide televangelism empire. During the worship I went to check on Cole, my youngest who was about three years old at the time. I heard him before I saw him. He was in the nursery kicking and screaming; furious that he had been left somewhere he was unfamiliar with. Seeing the teachers pleading look, I took him out, brought him to the lobby and began trying to calm him down. After a minute or two a middle aged man dressed in kakis and a Hawaiian shirt approached me and said, “It’s ok you can bring him in with you. I don’t mind kids making a little noise – they’re kids.”

As I walked into the sanctuary a few minutes later with Cole in tow, now sufficiently calmed down, I looked up to see the man from the lobby approaching the pulpit. This man who had graciously invited me to bring my screaming child into the sanctuary was the senior pastor. Quite a difference in attitude to say the least and given the choice, which church do you think I will return to?

“Suffer the little children, do not hinder them from coming to Me.” Matthew 19:4

SUFFER:
A verb – To put up with someone or something unpleasant.

A few months ago while on my way to my tiny store front church with a teenage friend, we drove past the “mega church” in our town. She jokingly said, “Hey, let’s go there instead. We could go shopping at their mall.” I have never once heard any of the tatted, pierced, smoke-covered teenagers I know, mention that church with a positive reference. One had gone there while homeless, and stood looking on, his stomach empty, as patrons excuse me – parishioners, filled up on Lattes and donuts at one of the TWO overpriced coffee bars. He doesn’t go to church anymore.

Another after getting saved at this church was told by a youth pastor there if she continued to dress the way she did she would end up pregnant by the time she was sixteen. It’s been a long time since I attended Health class but I remember it fairly well, I must have been absent the day they showed the “Clothing That Can Get You Pregnant” filmstrip. This girl never went back to that church and I wonder exactly what has been gained by berating and embarrassing her. Is she in more jeopardy now that she doesn’t go to church? But perhaps the question really should be, “In jeopardy of what?” Would it have been better for her to stay there, change her appearance and become as judgmental of others as this man was of her? Honestly I think it may be more prudent not to attend any church if the message your getting there is that you’re unacceptable to God simply because of the way you look.

I’m sure there are many wonderful people who attend this church, but it’s a sad commentary that all I have heard from those on the outside looking in are negative experiences. In fact the one time I set foot in the parking lot of this church on a Sunday morning I was accosted by two security guards before I could get anywhere near the buildings. To be honest I was not in anyway trying to attend the service, I was there, dressed in shorts and a tank-top hoping to find someone in the office on this Sunday morning who could answer a couple of questions I had about their bookstore. As I walked towards the office – which was closed by the way – two men approached from different directions and asked quite sternly, “What do you want?” Don’t be mistaken, I was not being offered help, I was being told, in a not so subtle tone that I was the wrong person in the wrong place. As I turned to leave, a little shaken and ticked off, I heard one of them ask the other, “Did you hear the alarm go off?” I picked up the pace walking back to my car. I was more than a little upset and angry as I drove away, not because I had not been given the help I needed and was treated rudely but because I could have been a woman who needed some real help. If I had been a someone searching for love and assistance from Christians I would not have found it there. What I found instead was condemnation which I can only assume was because of the way I was dressed. It saddens me and turns my stomach that there are people seeking God who will forever be turned away from Him because of the way they look, act or dress.

Are you uncomfortable sitting in church when the infant in front of you is crying, or that teenager next to you smells like smoke and is wearing a pentagram pendant over his “f*** you” t-shirt? If, in your discomfort, you welcome that person in without condemnation or judgment you are doing exactly what Christ requires.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of being judgmental myself. I tend to be more than a little uncomfortable in a church where all the men are wearing suits and ties and none of the women are wearing pants. It’s because of my history. Last year I went with my father to a church in New Mexico that has supported him for over 30 years, I wore very conservative clothes yet still was prepared to be judged for the way I looked. To my surprise after the service I found myself talking to the youth pastor, who was a little younger than myself, about alternative music, his tattoo and his Harley. I had prejudged the people of this church based on my past experiences of such churches – shame on me.

Everyone should be able to find a church they are comfortable in; I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is our insistence that every church and every person in them must look something like us.

I wonder if it’s just too simple for us? Have we become so arrogant that we think Christ might have actually missed some requirement for salvation that we have somehow stumbled upon? Or is it, that in our selfishness, in the protection of our comfort zone, the idea that we must be right is so much more important to us than someone else’s soul?

Jesus died and ripped the veil between the Holy of Holies and us. He gave us, for the first time since Adam, the freedom to walk “naked” before God in all of our filth, humanity and failings. But instead of rejoicing in that freedom, we –and I mean all Christians – seem to have in our complete arrogance, rewritten that law, one law at a time only it now mirrors our own prejudices. I do not understand why we insist on making it so complicated, when Christ made it so very simple.

My father tells me that when he was a youth leader at his church in the early sixties, the youth services were held on Friday nights. When he asked the Youth Pastor why and could this be changed, the kids wanted to go to the High School football games on Friday nights, the pastor said that was exactly the reasoning behind it. “What would happen if Jesus returned and you were at a football game,” he asked. “How could He possibly find you amongst all those sinners?” I’m happy to say this man has changed significantly over the years but the underlying problem remains, we’ve only shrouded it better. I hate religion, because all religion is, is a means by which we can take Gods words and twist them in such a way that Christians feel holy and justified by separating ourselves from the world. Yes Jesus spent time in the temple but that was not where he lived.

I’m fairly confident that when Christ returns He’s going to go to the streets, filled with the lost and needy looking for His church. I think He’ll be more than a little disappointed to find most of us not there, but sitting in our air-conditioned sanctuaries sipping Lattes and lamenting the sinful state of the world.

“To the Moon”
By Sarah Groves

It was there in the bulletin
We’re leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we’re going to
Take our church to the moon

There’ll be no one there to tell us we’re odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here at our church on the moon

We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’ll be leaving soon

Last week my father, who has been a missionary for over 30 years, stopped by a church he happened to be driving by to see if he could speak to the pastor there. He wasn’t dressed in a suit, but jeans and a t-shirt. He walked around for a while looking for someone to talk to and finally found the church offices. Walking down the hall still looking for someone to help, he was approached by a man in his early thirties who asked what he needed. The question was not posed as an offer of help, but rather a not so veiled accusation questioning his motives for being there. My father asked to speak to the pastor at which point he began to be interrogated by this man, who still had not introduced himself. After refusing to tell him whether or not the pastor was there, this man, who turned out to be an assistant pastor at the church, said to my father, a man he did not know but who was simply standing in his church asking for help, “Well I don’t know you do I? ”

“I don’t know you.” I don’t know you? Does that sound at all familiar? It should for those of us who are familiar with the Bible, it sounds an awful lot like Mathew 7:23.

21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’

23 And then I will declare to them, ’I NEVER KNEW YOU; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

One friend I was interviewing when asked the question, “Bar stool or church pew” gave the most thought provoking and honest answer I’ve received thus far. He said, “I’m equally comfortable in both. In fact they’re very similar, there are a lot hurting people in both places.”

So ask yourself where do YOU feel more comfortable and if you have the courage, go and ask your neighbor. But don’t be surprised it they say they feel more comfortable sitting in the bar on the corner, then in the church down the street.

So then, what to do? We could start serving beer at church I guess, one church I attend does on occasion tap the keg after worship, especially when we have visitors from England. But better yet, perhaps we Christians should go to the bar on the corner with our neighbors, buy them a beer and watch the game. I could be wrong but I think that’s precisely where Christ is expecting to find us.

“ I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
John 17:15-18

Amazing Grace Tuesday, Mar 13 2007 

This is my favorite song in the world. I have always loved it, I think initially because grace is described as a sound, something physical. I like the idea that God’s grace is so powerful that it can be experienced as a “sweet sound.” I grew to love this song even more when I learned the story of it’s writer. I have heard recently some people say that they were saddened when seeing the movie to find out that John Newton, the lyricist of Amazing Grace, remained for years afterwards the captain of a slave ship.

How truly amazing that we are the recipients of Gods complete, unwavering, and continual grace, despite the fact that we remain in our sin. The same sin that has led us here to rock bottom, to this last ditch sinking of our souls, to a place where we have nothing to cry out for but Gods grace.

THAT is precisely the point. That WE are not required to be perfected at the moment of receiving grace, but that Gods grace is sufficient to cover us while we remain, as humans always will, in sin. I think that is why this song moves me so. I know the story of it’s writer, how while still on a ship full of slaves, while still caught in sin, causing such suffering and agony not only to the very being of so many others, but also to his own spirit, while still there he caught a glimpse of grace, perhaps had an epiphony like many of us have – fleeting, yet life changing. That it is not a requirement for us to become perfected or even palatable for God to bestow on us His forgiveness is the definition of grace.

If we can live with that truth in front of our eyes continually, we surely would be less judgmental not only of others but of ourselves as well. I have often disregaurded a leading from God to do something He put in front of me because I saw it as something that required one more holy, more worthy than myself. How many of those things He asked of me never got done because I believed the lies that Satan told me instead of believing in Gods Grace? The lies that I was not worthy, not capable, not deserving of that grace. God is gracious and we need to accept it readily because only then will we actually realize that there is no human being capable of doing Gods work, but God is doing it ALL through us. We are only a vessel and He is miraculous and gracious in His willingness to use such flawed and ugly hands.

Read the lyrics carefully. John Newton is not saying in those lyrics that he was a wretch, he is saying that he is a wretch. He WAS lost – now found, but still a wretch. That, I believe is why this song moves me so, because I understand his amazement. I am a wretch who has been granted grace, and it is amazing.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far
And Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be 
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this heart and flesh shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Miles and Miles Thursday, Feb 22 2007 

I have been seperated for nearly three years and going through a divorce for over two years. It has been a difficult experience but has brought me to a place where I am stronger, closer to God and able to handle whatever life can throw at me.

On December 14 life got very complicated. Dave, my ex was in a serious motorcyle accident. When they performed a CT scan the next day they found that he had Stage IV lung cancer. He passed away on January 29, just six weeks after being diagnosed. I have not had time to write lately but all I and my children have been through in the last two months is floating in my head and I know I won’t be able to be silent much longer.

The following is an email I sent to my friends.

All that is meant for destruction when laid at the feet of God with prayer and faith is returned to us as blessings. (Romans chapter8)

I have been through every human emotion there is in the past few months and just in the past three weeks the differing shades of grief I’ve experienced or been witness to have astounded me. There have been so many things to grieve and they all seemed so clear so vibrant as I sifted through a lifetime worth of photographs, trying to narrow them down, searching for a handful that would sum up a life. What I found were memories of hopes, of dreams, of sorrows. The loss of innocence of my children. The loss of a marriage that seem to be derailed from the start. The faces of two hopeful people I could barely remember, but I did remember them. The starting out – still seeing mostly the good in each other. The wedding photographs, smiling, dancing, laughing; sharing a joke long forgotten, but the dreams of a bright future still clear on those faces. The father holding his firstborn son as they stared into each others eyes for an hour. A train ride to San Diego. Feeding the dolphins at Seaworld. Three boys who couldn’t wait to show their parents every seashell they found on the beach “Look mommy, this one looks just like the rings of Jupiter.” The first flight in a jet plane, then the first plane ride with daddy as the pilot.

So many firsts to remember and yet so many still left to be experienced without him. A nine-year old boy, too grown up for his age, “I keep thinking about all the things daddy won’t be here for.” The heart can break in so many ways it seems, even when it’s already shattered.

A Grandmothers prayer, that her grandson would have dreams of his father in heaven – at peace. Then the answer found in the stars. The night of his fathers memorial service, Miles came to me with a picture of him and his dad that he had drawn. He does this every night now, it is the only way he knows how to express himself, to ask his mom to hold him so we can cry together. To take the time to ask the questions that there are no good answers for, “Does daddy miss me as much as I miss him?” “I’m afraid that daddy is sad.” ‘Where is heaven?” But this picture was different, every picture thus far was him standing next to his father. After two weeks the portrait of himself was the same…tears. But the expression he drew of his father had changed. No longer standing beside him, but above him now, kneeling on a cloud looking down on him and smiling. He had seen him in the stars he said, a small cluster that he knew was his father’s smiling face, telling him he was ok. Then tonight a picture of the entire solar system with him standing here on earth and his dad, beyond the asteroid belt, Saturn and Neptune, in a small circle he labeled as heaven. He is letting go. He is allowing the realization of the distance, the time, the sorrow to slowly seep into his heart. It is a painful road to walk with him, but we are not walking it alone. The prayers of the saints are poured out at the feet of God in Revelation, nothing is ever wasted with God. In the end those prayer are all returned to Him as songs of praise. (Rev 5:8)

I see that Shakespeare was right “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at the scenes that have played out in my life thus far. The curtain has come down on the second act of my life, but only the first act of the children’s. What scenery will be on that stage as the curtain rises in the next few weeks is up to us.

“You have your whole life ahead of you,” a friend told me Saturday. I do. I am only thirty-eight after all, yet I am a widow and a mother of three, my life is still being written and there is much still to tell. The curtain is about to rise on the third act of my play. If I am blessed with a long life I know that I will someday sit in a rocking chair, reminiscing with my great-grandchildren at my feet. I will tell them of “the old days”, when men did not yet live on the moon and I went through trials of fire that made me stronger, wiser, gentler; and that all these years later when I look back, I can see in every one of those moments, the merciful hand of God pulling me through.

2-11-07
The memorial service was a beautiful gift to my children. Bill Baumgart, Dave’s best friend since high school, spent two weeks putting together a video of friends and family telling the story of Dave’s life. The day of the service he hadn’t slept in over 50 hours…apropos considering that is how he and Dave finished every album they ever did together. The video was filled with memories, photos, videos and songs, it is something my kids will be able to watch for the rest of their lives and catch a small glimpse of who their dad was. Bill playing piano and accompanied by a cello also obliged one of my requests and sang “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” from the new Chris Tomlin CD. I don’t know how he got through it, I was weeping, but that song always makes me weep.

Rick Elias – someone Dave considered a brother – opened the service singing “Pilgrims”, a fitting song. He also ended with “Stripped” from his first album. He did a great job of it, remembering every note though he hadn’t sung it in over ten years. He never missed a lyric though he had to dodge several Lego’s shot at him from the catapult my kids had constructed at his feet – he is a true professional.

Lary Melby (from Liaison – an 80’s Christian band) was also there as was my brother which meant all of the groomsmen from our wedding were there. We also had Doug Mathews (drums) and Marc Hugenberger (piano) playing so the band was nearly the same one as at our wedding, I thought that was fitting. It was a difficult day but a defining one. I tend to mark my life with punctuation and that day was a definite period.

Once again thank you all for your prayers and support. I have been shown again and again how truly blessed I am to have true friends, it has been noticed and felt in our hearts believe me. God Bless.

Beth

Filling in the Gap Tuesday, Nov 28 2006 

There comes a time in every person’s life when a little assistance is required. When they encounter a gap in the road, no way around, no way across the chasm they are confronted with. Poised on a precipice which separates who they are from who they could be if simply given the chance to reach the other side. The distance may appear to them impossible to traverse, but the canyon they face may in actually be quite small and crossed fairly easily with just a bit of help from another.

Recently while having dinner with a few friends I was relating a seemingly insignificant incident which occurred this year involving a couple of members of my family and was quite shocked at one friends response to it. A little background is required to get a clear picture of the situation. My sister has only two biological children, but has “adopted” dozens of others simply by opening up her heart and her home to them. They come to her when they need a bed to sleep in, a shoulder to cry on, or a prayer said on their behalf. As a result my parents are also now considered “grandparents” by dozens of hard-core, tattooed and pierced teenagers. My mom delights in cooking them special vegan and vegetarian dishes, not an easy task when you grew up on southern cooking. But she’s quite creative and the kids are always surprised and appreciative when she makes them something they can enjoy with the rest of us. She prepared her first “Tofurkey” this Thanksgiving to the delight of many who had not been able to find suitable sustenance at their own family’s celebrations.

The story I told my friend was this. Last March Dawn and I were in Nashville visiting some friends but not all of the kids in her small town knew that we were not in California that weekend. About 4 AM Dawns cell phone rang. It wasn’t one of her two kids or even one of the other four who were living with her at the time; it was Adam, Josh and Joseph. It had been snowing in the local mountains all day and always up for an adventure they decided to take a drive to check it out. They brought with them no chains, no snow tires, just excitement and the ignorance of youth.

It continued to snow all day and late that night as the boys tried to make it up and over the last hill before freedom was theirs, the reality of the situation smacked them square in the face. They ended up sliding into a snow bank and armed with nothing but their wits could not get themselves out of it.

These boys are from San Bernardino, where it rarely gets below 50 degrees so they weren’t exactly dressed for 25-degree weather and 10 inches of snow. Being in the mountains they also found themselves without cell phone service. So there they sit at two o’clock in the morning dressed, well – like teenagers from Southern California. Luckily the people who live on this particular stretch of road are used to stranded motorists and actually sit on their porches when it snows to watch the “lowlanders” slide down the hill into each other. My mother and I were rescued in the exact same spot, by several teenagers who lived on this street not one week earlier. Not only did they bring shovels to dig us out, but also their mom took my kids inside her home and gave them hot chocolate while her heroic children rescued us. So when these boys walked up to a house at two am, knocked on the door and asked to use the phone, they were welcomed in with open arms.

At four am in Nashville Dawn gets a call, “HELP!” She explained to Josh the she was two thousand miles away but that she would call her dad who lived near by in the mountains to see if he could help. So, at 2 am my 66 year old father, drags himself out of bed, puts the chains on his truck, loads up some coats, more chains and ropes and he’s off to rescue some teenagers he’s never even met. He couldn’t pull their car out that night so instead he loaded them into his truck and brought them home for the night. The next day he took them back to their car and called a tow truck, which managed to pull their car out of the snow bank. You would think when talking to these boys now about their little adventure that night, that they had been lost at sea for a week with no food or water and that my father had come steaming to the rescue bringing the entire US Navy with him.

When I related this story quite casually, to my friend Steve his first question was to inquire which of Dawn’s kids it was. “It wasn’t one of her kids” I said “it was friends of her kids”. “Why were they calling her then?” he asked indignantly. I just sat there and stared at him confused. “Because they knew she would help.” I said. He couldn’t believe it. “They’re not her kids she shouldn’t be helping them, they should be calling their own parents.”

This little story tends to makes Steve sound like a jerk but in truth he really isn’t. Which is exactly the reason I guess that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him. I argued, to no avail, that they were after all somebody’s children and human beings deserving of help no matter how foolish their actions may appear. He was unwavering. They should not be rescued. In his opinion they should have been taught a lesson. I tend to disagree that being left in a car overnight in below freezing weather is an appropriate response to a teenager’s reckless need for adventure; after all, it’s exactly the type of thing my father would have done at 16 – or 66 for that matter.

It may not seem like something very significant, it wasn’t to Dawn or to my dad, they have rescued people out of much more dire circumstances I assure you and on occasion have been in need of some rescuing themselves. They are always there when someone needs help, even at two am when it’s snowing – it’s just their nature to help someone when asked.

Upon hearing Steve’s reaction I began to wonder why it is such a difficult concept for so many in this day and age to understand, the simple idea of being a helping hand.
I do not understand the argument that a teenager in crisis is not my problem. If I don’t take action when no one else does that teenager may fall through a gap and become everyone’s problem. Prisons today are filled with good people who were left to fend for themselves when no one showed up to help bridge the distance. Stranded on the wrong side, I have often wondered who they may have become if they had managed somehow to reach the other side.

I have heard many people question the worth of not only my parents life spent dedicated to other peoples children, but now Dawn’s tireless efforts on behalf of these kids. She works a full time job, which is over an hours drive from her home, yet she sees her real work, her purpose in life when she walks through her front door.

She has tried to bring others in to help on occasion, but they usually want signed releases from parents saying it’s ok to feed their kids, or take them to church or to a concert. One person even mentioned getting liability insurance! Perhaps a prudent coarse of actions considering the wild and crazy Tuesday nights they all spend at Bible Study in her living room. These kids don’t come with disclaimers, they come with broken hearts.

Most people just stand in awe of her – as do I. Many have given not only praise and prayers for Dawn’s home, but furnishing, food and occasionally a little financial help. But it’s the few who never give, but seem overly concerned with the details, not having any understanding of why she does it; she gets no grants no subsidies after all. It’s those few people asking the value in it, the purpose of it that confounds me.

Numerous people have asked me why she does it. Because they are there, they just show up needing her. Does she get financial help? No. What about the parents of these kids? That is a question I do not have an answer for. Some come from wonderful homes, some have survived home-lives I cannot begin to relate to. But here they find complete acceptance of their music, their tattoos, the searching for their own identities.

My sister has on her wall the lyrics to a song entitled “Mercy Live Here”. She practices it and simply put that is the answer to why these kids keep showing up on her doorstep.

Mercy Lives Here
Words and Music by Derri Daugherty
From The Choir album:
Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen

An empty street in Ohio
Lookin’ to kill some time
We stumbled into Cairo
Egypt must be divine
And the jukebox plays
While a little clown sways
Hey it’s two songs for a dime

Mercy lives here
Oh mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

A girl in the corner is crying
The silver haired lady’s alone
And the queen of the boulevard’s trying
To hustle somebody home
The smokin’ man shakes
While the broken girl aches
And the clown starts to sing his song

He sings mercy lives here
Oh Mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

Mercy, oh mercy
Mercy, oh mercy

Dawn’s cupboards are always bare. Several rooms in her house smell like “teen-age boy”. She gets very little sleep. But she would never turn her back on someone in need. My parents and I help out as much as we can; however we can. Most of the time it’s just prayers, hugs and a shoulder to cry on, but sometimes it’s a snowy midnight rescue at five thousand feet.

Occasionally Dawn will find herself rescuing a child on the edge of that precipice, most often not even aware that they are about to fall in. It is those times, that we can look back and see days, weeks, even months later, a clear picture of the broken road they were on, patched like quilt work, every stitch directed by the hand of God. It is in those moments that I truly understand how a simple gesture, an outstretched hand, can not only mend a heart but fill the gap as well.

Don’t Just Sit There It’s Rock-n-roll! Thursday, Oct 26 2006 

I screamed! I got chills. I jumped up and down. Not only was I watching Heart do a kick-ass version of Zeppelin’s Black Dog but also I was watching it with two “kids” who were even more excited than I was. Heart is their favorite band and this was the first time they had ever seen them. They were more than overwhelmed, so was I.

Cheez is nineteen and I have no idea how a band that I started going to see when I was 16, yes 22 years ago, three years before he was even born, became his favorite band. But the boys got taste I will give him that (tonight he’s off to see Pink Floyd).

I have seen Heart play at least 12 times over the years, and they’ve always been excellent, but this was the best time I’ve ever had at one of their concerts, perhaps any concert I’ve ever been to, because Cheez and Johnny could not, would not contain themselves. If fact the police almost threw us out.

If you don’t know anything about Heart, this year is the bands thirtieth anniversary, which means that Ann and Nancy Wilson, the two sisters who front the band must be in their fifties. These chicks can rock and I’m sure could kick my butt any day of the week. They are great musicians, born performers, rock as hard as they did 30 years ago and are both ravishingly beautiful – still. They did not disappoint but the audience sure did.

As I said, we almost got kicked out. America may be the birthplace of Rock and Roll, but as far as I can tell if you’re over thirty rock might as well be dead!

When I came to pick them up Johnny and Cheez were writing in black marker “ANN” and “NANCY” on each of their forearms. Johnny had “bedazzled” his jeans with the bands name, and Cheez had brought the covers to his vinyls – the original ones he’s managed to find in used stores over the years-, which he showed to every one he saw that night. He thought he might get them signed as we hoped to meet the band after the show, my sister knows the manager. I think it best we didn’t meet them that night though, I’m not sure the girls would have made it out alive.

So there we were, in the cheap seats, still $28 bucks a pop, and these girls are kickin’ it hard. After about three songs the chubby old man behind us had had enough, he asked us all to sit down. My 17 year old niece had already done so, she hates confrontation, Dawn and I are really too old to give a crap, and I guarantee Johnny and Cheez never would have been able to survive Barracuda or Crazy on You sitting on their butts… I don’t see how any one who is a true fan of rock and roll could. Until the day I die I will never be able to reconcile the picture I have in my head of 5000 people casually sitting on their butts watching Ann Wilson cover Misty Mountain Hop (Zeppelin again) as if they were watching the evening news. I have seen these people get more excited at their kids pee wee soccer games for goodness sake or for that matter when they get a free 5 gram sample of cheesecake at Costco!

So off goes Dawn to find some help before Cheez gets punched out. She found a couple of police officers and explained the situation to them and asked what we should do, they told her to sit down. I didn’t know this and when I saw them approaching us went over to get their help as well. I asked them if there was something that could be done and imagine my surprise when I was met with “He needs to sit down.” To this I replied, “It’s rock and roll and we paid $150 for these seats.” Their response “Well you should have paid more.” I stood for a moment in stunned disbelief, “But it’s Rock and Roll.” I said, “You can’t make us sit down. It’s a rock concert.” I went back to my seat dejected and told Cheez, “They said you have to sit down. Don’t worry if you get arrested, I’ll bail you out.” About this time, Dawn returned, bloody and screaming…she’d found seats in the back row. (No, she had not been punched but had fallen down the stairs; Cheez happily smeared the blood on his jeans as a souvenir.)

We enjoyed the rest of show from the back with a few other people who had moved back there as well to jump, scream, and pretty much experience the sheer euphoria that only a great kick-ass rock concert can give you.

I remember going to see Steely Dan in the 90’s, it was as if I had died and gone to heaven. It was something I thought I would never see, I mean Steely Dan didn’t tour even when they were an active band. Of course it was easier to believe what I was experiencing with the amount of pot smoke floating gently over the lawn – it made it an even more surreal experience. All smoke gives me a headache but it just wouldn’t have been right to sit on the grass and watch Steely Dan performs Hey Nineteen, hearing fifteen thousand people sing “The Cuervo Gold, the fine Columbian…” without a little bit of a buzz I guess. I think you must be suffering from a contact high to get the true Steely Dan experience. It was the same when I saw the Eagles. I’ve seen Steely Dan, The Eagles, Iztach Pearlman, Miles Davis, Eddie Van Halen, two of the Beatles and might be seeing Bob Dylan next month…wow – I’ve been so lucky to see some of the best.

I now go to shows with kids half my age and sitting down is not an option, generally there are no chairs. I wish I could jump with them, but I’m old and I have two bad knees, so I jump in spirit. But I still fondly remember the days of my youth, when my friend Van and I would always run to the “dance” floor every time a certain punk song would be played so we could bang our heads…I would always end up giving myself a headache but it was worth it.

I’ve been thinking lately that ticket sales should be divided not only by price but also by the type of fun you intend to have. I really wouldn’t mind having an “I paid way too much for these tickets but I’m so drunk I might as well be seeing Air Supply” section. Or the “I’m going to pee myself and puke on a stranger” section. This would save the rest of us much aggravation and dry-cleaning bills. We could also have the “Share your pot”, “Can’t keep my hands off my girlfriend” and the “I’m a loudmouth ignoramus and don’t know the first thing about this band but I’d like to share my ignorance with you throughout the entire show so you won’t be able to hear even one of the songs” section. But most of all can we please, please begin to divide ourselves, seeing that some of you out there are apparently getting really old, into either the “standing, dancing, rocking out and partying” or the “”sitting all night” sections. I’m sure we’d all enjoy the concerts much more that way.

In the meantime, when you go to a rock concert and see a couple of women, who are getting a little older, who seems to be enjoying the show just a little too much for their age, please excuse us, but no we will not sit down. While the rest of you sit on your ever spreading behinds and sip your chardonnay, I’ll be buying my sister a beer and we are going to act like the free-spirited, rock and roll loving Americans that we are. So stay out of our way…. because THIS IS ROCK-N-ROLL BABY!!

“I Need Some Happy” Thursday, Oct 26 2006 

I have over the past month been on a rollercoaster of emotions, brought on by not only difficulties in some of my personal relationships, but comments directed at me because of some of those difficulties.

I am, as one friend puts it “brutally honest.” I don’t mean to be harsh but I often tell people too much and sometimes things I say are too strongly worded. I have had comments dolled out to me recently, in response to things which I have said that were misunderstood. I am one who blames myself, even for things that I am not responsible for, so when I receive a critism, it is not only taken to heart, it is held there, a wound now seemingly self-inflicted that I will revisit and allow to ruin me if I am not held in check.

The miracle of the past month and the harsh words I have not only given but taken, is that for every harsh word there have been fifteen encouraging ones. They have come from every direction, many of you who read this blog have said some amazing things to me recently which I have chosen to hold in my heart along side those destructive ones. When those shadows of doubt about myself arise, when I find myself questioning my purpose and worth, I have in the past week found myself reading again some emails I’ve received which have amazed me.

The first came through MySpace of all places. A woman I’ve not seen or talked to in at least 12 years, maybe more, had found me through my sister and has been reading my blogs and stopping by to say hello. On this particular day two weeks ago I had received an email which sent me into a tailspin. I felt attacked, hurt, angry and almost immediately guilty. Dawn tried to “talk me down” and I knew I shouldn’t let this particular person get to me, but that’s just not my style. As I headed to bed I checked my email one more time, a myspace message was waiting. As soon as opened it I began to cry…

“Beth,

You’re on my heart tonight. Maybe just because or maybe you need encouragement…or maybe a zillion different scenarios. I think God put you on my heart so that I would pray.

So Im praying for you…

Im praying for you to know how thrilled God is that He has you. And that His power in your life would be clear to you and those around you. Im praying you’ll be encouraged and empowered in a new fresh way. Im praying you will have a sense of contentment and fulfillment you havent known before, but be inspired to keep moving.”

I have been conflicted by the words thrown at me recently, but I am choosing to walk forward and not focus on the negative. To listen, not as my human nature tells me to my own self-destructive heart, but as God tells me. I know I have many lessons to learn, that I should be slower to anger, calmer under pressure and gentler with people. Those unfortunately are just a few of the things I must work on. But God has been showing me this week, again, that He is not waiting for me to perfect myself, there is no condemnation in his eyes. He has countered, through dear friends every hurtful word I have received recently.

“You are angry” was followed by “You have a depth of character and a heart towards God.”

“You are bitter” turned into “With you, I can just be the kind of friend I want to be, unhindered. I can trust you.”

“You are becoming ugly”, gave me an opportunity to hear “you are intelligent, passionate, witty, beautiful and sexy.”

“It’s not important, it’s stupid” yet I chose to hear instead, “He must have amazing plans for you. Don’t be distracted by circumstances or people.”

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah 4:2

I woke up today, hoping beyond hope that the Raiders would pull just one out of the crapper and maybe salvage this weekend for me. I watched the game at my sisters condo and when it became apparent that football would not give me any peace I told her, “I just want some happy, any kind of happy will do.”

She smiled, laughed and jokingly offered me some Kalua. I don’t drink, but she made me laugh, she always does. Three hours later I walked into her new house with my neice to find a surprise birthday party waiting….I had no idea it was coming. Even my boys, who I never get to see on the weekend were there, along with Diggs, Alicia, Ralphie, Ben, Adam…so many great young friends even Dukie and Nick showed up. Thank you all for that by the way, it was exactly what I needed today. It was not a big party, but I have people who love me, seeing that is enough to make this day wonderful.

For those of you who’ve been talking to me, encouraging me, emailing me, praying for me, thank you so much. I cherish your friendships and your kindnesses, they make all the difference in my life. Listen to God’s leading when he tells you pray or write or call.

“The birds may come
the winds may blow,
they’ll never steal
the seeds you sow.”
The Listening

The emotional rollercoaster continues and I’ve actually decided I don’t want to get off. I’m very much a control freak and I don’t like adrenaline rushes, but I’m just going to go with it. This ride of life has not taken me where I expected and sometimes I feel like I’m on Space Mountain. I can’t see the next curve and though it’s driving me crazy, that’s the best part isn’t it. If I had planned my life out and been able to control everything, this is not at all where I would be, and my life would, I think be quite boring. God’s dreams will always be bigger than the ones I could dream for myself.

“I’m excited to see what God has in store for you.” – Toni

You know what Toni, so am I, so am I.