Connected

Connected

I am not sure why we experience surreal moments, and I’ve often wondered why we have feelings that leave us questioning the validity of an experience.

I was sitting tonight conversing with my wife’s cousin’s husband Frank as my wife Lee and her two cousins Kathy and Marcia were catching up on old times and working on a craft project. Frank is a terrific and engaging man. A twenty-four year Army veteran and now retired school teacher, Frank’s stories are always intriguing and oftentimes spellbinding. Frank now volunteers at an equine therapy ranch where kids with disabilities, both physical and emotional, receive therapeutic treatment via their interactions with horses.

As Frank was telling me about the work he was doing at the ranch, he segued into a conversation about working with at-risk youth. Specifically, he told me about a young man in his class some thirteen years ago that stood out because of his bad and bullying behavior. Frank explained how through a classroom exercise he had determined this particular boy needed help. He was not in a normal state of mind. A social worker that was with Frank framed it more specifically. “He’s a sociopath,” said the social worker. And shortly after that, this boy dropped out of school.

Frank did not hear about this boy again until he saw news reports about a murder committed during the burglary of a jewelry store in New York. The suspect was not apprehended on Long Island and had slipped into Connecticut where he ended up killing two more people in another jewelry store burglary. The victims this time were a husband and wife.

My heart skipped a beat.

“Wait. When did you say this was,” I asked?

Frank confirmed the timetable for me.

“What was this boy’s name again?”

Franks confirmed that for me, too.

Chris DiMeo had been his student. Now he was a felon convicted of the 2005 murders of Tim and Kim Donnelly. Tim and Kim’s son Eric is the guitarist for The Alternate Routes, a rock band out of Connecticut and one of whom I’ve been a fan for several years.

In 2016, Eric wrote a touching and heartfelt song about the events surrouding the death of his parents. Lee and I have seen The Alternate Routes perform live since then, and I spoke briefly to Eric about the impact of his music. I wish I had delivered something of eloquance in our quick conversation, but I think all I could muster as I wiped a tear from my eye was, “Dude, that song is incredible and amazing. Thank you for sharing it with us.” As always, Eric was humble and gracious and so very appreciative for the feedback.

As I sat here tonight talking to Frank and I realized his former student is the man who took so much away from Eric and his family, I became dizzy in the surrealness of the moment.

And I wish I could wrap this post up in a wise and witty bow that brings this whole conversation full-circle, but I am at a loss for words. My heart aches anew for the pain Eric and his family experienced. My heart aches for Frank and his knowledge that one of his students went on to become a monster. My heart aches for the next person who will receive a life-changing phone call (see video below).

I don’t have an answer to the questions rattling in my head except, perhaps, to say we must keep on fighting the darkness with light and attacking evil with love. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me right now.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12 NASB

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Mental Shuffle

Mental Shuffle

Yesterday I wrote about things I am going to miss once Lee and I move to the Dominican Republic. Tonight’s post is kinda’ the opposite, but not entirely.

To say my music family has changed my life is a dramatic understatement. When you follow the dominoes that have fallen, it’s very clear Lee and I would not be preparing for this move into full-time mission work if not for our music family. We ended up at Relevant Church as a result of being invited by our friend whom we met through our music family. Our introduction to Advocates of Love came as a result of my best friend whom – again – I met through our music family. Being introduced to that community of friends back in 2006 has been life-changing.

Part of this music family experience had been The Rock Boat, a floating music festival that is the best vacation you’ll barely remember. Lee and I have had the pleasure of taking part of seven TRB’s, and each one has been uniquely special. From our first in 2007 to our last in 2015 (we missed a couple of years here and there), thinking back on TRB memories makes my heart smile.

I say “last” one because we sailed on TRB XV a day after returning from our first ever mission trip in January 2015. Even though we had a good time, there was something off about that boat. For Lee and me, it was not the go-for-broke party atmosphere we’d enjoyed on previous cruises. Rather, there was an almost somber undercurrent, a whisper from God telling us TRB XV was our last hurrah.

He was preparing us for our next steps.

So here I am, on the sail away day for TRB XVIII, seeing the Facebook posts from literally hundreds of my friends who set sail for five excellent days of music, sun, fun, and killer hangovers. And it’s interesting how The Boat is no longer a priority in my life. Instead, I am filling my days with process steps I need to complete in order to move to a foreign country and serve God with the work my wife and I do.

Just like with old computers when you’d run a defrag command in order to re-order the hard drive, God performs a spiritual defrag in us according to His will. Things we once thought were important are moved out of the way in order to make more room for Him.

Would I like to be on a music cruise with my friends right now? Of course! Is it where I need to be right now? Not even close. Where I need to be is here, prepping my house so I can sell it, reaching out to other ministry organizations seeking partnership opportunities, and praying everything for which we’re hoping comes to fruition.

So instead of pining away about a ship that has already set sail (literally), I’ll close out with a nostalgic look back at what used to be. Enjoy.

Voices That Care

Voices That Care

Lee and I are hoping to finalize our commissioning as missionaries with Advocates of Love next week when we travel to the D.R. for a site visit. Tonight, however, we had a chance to take in some live music and enjoy the amazing voice of Elizabeth Bergeron, one of the board members for Advocates of Love.

Elizabeth and Dustin Sedlak make up Peaches and Dust, a fun, lively, and talented singing duo that gush joy and fun in their performances. As I mentioned the other night, I love music and it was great to sit back, eat some deep-fried bar food, have a couple of beers, and just let the songs lighten my soul. The fact the voice providing the notes and melodies belongs to someone who has a passion for service and shares the vision Lee and I have for what we can do in Samaná makes it that much better.

Lee and I are looking forward to establishing strong bonds with all the AOL board members, and a night of Buffet covers and brews is a great place to start.

Words for the Road

Words for the Road

Back in November when I found out I’d been laid off by Verizon, I posted this on my Facebook page:

I love music and what it means to me. My life has been dramatically changed because of the wonderful friends I’ve met as a result of music. Outside of God, I find most of my strength to persevere through the tough times in music.

As I drove home from Miami tonight listening to my playlists on Spotify, Hard Love by NEEDTOBREATHE came on, and the song got me thinking about how I was unable to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish while in Miami. Sometimes love – a hard love – gets in the way, and we’re better off counting our losses in retreat than pressing forward and making matters worse.

Life is ups and downs. Sometimes love comes easy, and sometimes loving people is hard. The key is to learn from each of these experiences.

His Showmanship

His Showmanship

If you will, indulge me with a little story of art imitating life.

Lee and I went to see The Greatest Showman this evening. It was mesmerizing. The cinematography was brilliant, and I cannot put into words how precise and perfect the choreography in the movie is. Each song is captivating, and the flick is exciting from start to finish. It was simply electrifying. It is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, and that is coming from someone who is not exactly a fan of musicals.

There is one scene in particular that captured my attention and, quite frankly, hit close to home. It is where Hugh Jackman‘s character (P.T. Barnum) is trying to persuade Zac Efron‘s character (Phillip Carlyle) to join his venture. Together, they sing the song The Other Side. With the exception of the verses about bargaining, the lyrics spoke to me in a personal way.

Credit @zacefron Instagram

Having recently made the decision to transition to full-time mission work, I heard those lyrics in the context of the conversation I had with God when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let go of life as I know it. My decision to surrender my future to God was not an easy one, although I do want to emphasize it is a decision my wife and I have made with certainty. Nevertheless, there was a moment when I wrestled with the question and found myself asking God debating with God.

Watching the sequence between Jackman and Efron in the film moved me to tears, and I believe it was a reminder from God to trust in Him so I can live freely.

So with apologies for a couple of ‘damns’ in the song and the aforementioned lyrics about bargaining, I hope you take a listen to the song. Hopefully, it will stir something in you the way it did me.


[Verse 1: P.T. Barnum]

Right here, right now
I put the offer out
I don’t want to chase you down
I know you see it
You run with me
And I can cut you free
Out of the drudgery and walls you keep in
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see

[Chorus: P.T. Barnum]

Don’t you wanna get away from the same old part you gotta play
‘Cause I got what you need
So come with me and take the ride
It’ll take you to the other side
‘Cause you can do like you do
Or you can do like me
Stay in the cage, or you’ll finally take the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly you’re free to fly
It’ll take you to the other side

[Verse 2: Phillip Carlyle]

Okay, my friend, you want to cut me in
Well I hate to tell you, but it just won’t happen
So thanks, but no
I think I’m good to go
‘Cause I quite enjoy the life you say I’m trapped in
Now I admire you, and that whole show you do
You’re onto something, really it’s something
But I live among the swells, and we don’t pick up peanut shells
I’ll have to leave that up to you

[Chorus: Phillip Carlyle]

Don’t you know that I’m okay with this uptown part I get to play
‘Cause I got what I need and I don’t want to take the ride
I don’t need to see the other side
So go and do like you do
I’m good to do like me
Ain’t in a cage, so I don’t need to take the key
Oh, damn! Can’t you see I’m doing fine
I don’t need to see the other side

[Verse 3:]
[P.T. Barnum]

Now is this really how you like to spend your days?
Whiskey and misery, and parties and plays

[Phillip Carlyle]

If I were mixed up with you, I’d be the talk of the town
Disgraced and disowned, another one of the clowns

[P.T. Barnum]

But you would finally live a little, finally laugh a little
Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll
Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking
But I guess I’ll leave that up to you

My Brothers

They say insult is the language of intimacy among men, and there is truth to that. Still, there remains a sense of hesitation and reservation when it comes to men expressing their love for other men.

A couple of years ago, I put my thoughts on this subject together in a poem. I was reminded of that today when a friend of mine shared the new video for NEEDTOBREATHE‘s song Brother. The video is fantastic, but I prefer this recording from a live performance just a little bit better. I truly shows the amazing experience that is NTB live.

To my brothers: Thank you all for being mentors, inspiration, pillars, and safety nets in my life. It goes unsaid all too often, but know with bedrock certainty that I love you.

Brotherhood

You answered the phone when I called late that night
You had my back when I got caught in that fight
You helped me up all those times I fell
You guided me out of my personal hell

It’s strange how strangers can come together
And for this circumstance we are both better … off
Both as individuals and as men
And through it all we’d both do it again

We don’t share DNA, we don’t even share a name
Yet through it all, you’re my brother all the same
We live our lives and go about our separate day to day
But I’m with you, brother, every step of the way

Our kids come together and they play
And we hope that their kids will do the same one day
We watch some football and have some beer
We talk about life and those things we fear

We’ve redefined what it means to be family
‘Cause you and I don’t share a branch on a tree
Yet we share an unspoken love that bonds like no other
A bond that can only be defined as that of a brother

It’s in the lyrics of a classic tune
It’s in the games we watch on Saturday afternoon
It’s in the motorcycles rides that take us away
It’s in all those bar tabs you decided to pay
It’s our respective better halves keeping us straight
It’s knowing because of them we’re able to be great
It’s in keeping perspective every time we compete
It’s in living a life that is full and complete

We don’t share DNA, we don’t even share a name
Yet through it all, you’re my brother all the same
We live our lives and go about our separate day to day
But I’m with you, brother, every step of the way

Adventure, Camaraderie, Companionship, Love, and Fun

I’m going to start with the obvious. Cancer sucks.

We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Miami is my hometown and Tampa is where I now reside. However, Orlando holds a special place in my heart. Yes, Disney is one of those reasons, but also because Orlando has been the host to so many music related memories for me. The nightlife in O-Town in electric, and the music scene is exceptional. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours (and dollars) have been spent at the House of Blues Orlando experiencing the music and basking in the fellowship of my friends.

HOB is also a venue frequented by Sister Hazel. Lee and I have had the privilege of seeing them perform there nine times, and each show is equally fun and amazing. Unfortunately, the last time we saw them there was bittersweet. It was April of 2013, and it was the day our friend Dave Hewey lost his battle with Cancer. We got the news as we were pulling into the parking lot at Downtown Disney, and we knew our minds and hearts would be with his wife Lori and her son Colby that evening.

But as is usually the case with live music, something magical happened. Sister Hazel prepared to perform their song Karaoke Song, a song in which Dave and Lori are mentioned in the lyrics. As front man Ken Block introduced the song, he paid a quick tribute to Dave and spoke about what he meant to the Hazelnut community.

“Tattoo Dave would have liked us to play this song and have a great time because that guy’s entire life was about adventure, it was about camaraderie, it was companionship, it was about love, but most of all it was about fun.” Anyone who had the honor and pleasure of having known Dave would most certainly agree. Dave lived his life the way he wanted to live it, and his memory serves as an inspiration to me when I feel I am holding myself back. Trepidation, doubt, fear; I don’t think those were words in Dave’s vocabulary.

I think we all want to live our lives that way, free from our own limitations and full of a genuine appreciation for the living experience. A life that is lived with such passion and love, it merits being immortalized in the lyrics of a song by your favorite band.

Tattoo Dave
We love you, Dave, and miss you tremendously.