UpLIFTed: Pt. 1

To say the music of Sister Hazel has changed my life would be an understatement. The genesis of the life I’ve lived since 2003 is rooted in their music, as well as in the community of the band’s fans known as the Hazelnuts. As I continue to come across milestones that represent the passing of the last decade, I would be remiss in not mentioning the influence of Sister Hazel in my life these past ten years. And in joining my wife’s current blogging project, I think I will take the next 3o days to write about the awesomeness that is Sister Hazel.

I have a very special connection to the band’s fifth studio album Lift. It was released ten days before my dad died, and at a time when my life was unraveling. There was so much anxiety, uncertainty, and pain in my life in the late Summer of 2004, one of the few solaces I had was diving into each song on the CD. Many of the tracks would resonate with me, some immediately, some over the following year.

I played it on repeat on my drive from Tampa to Miami before my dad’s passing. I listened to it incessantly as I was working on his eulogy. I still listen to it today when I need ….. well, a Lift in my day.

Lift

One of the songs that has left a tattoo on my soul is Lay It Down. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle spirituality of this song. To me, it’s a reminder of surrendering the burdens we carry, and letting go of the weight that holds us down. All too often we try to put on a strong face for others, when all we’re really doing is living in the white lie of the moment. It has been my experience that truth really does set you free. Only when we embrace the truth, and deal with the realities of life head on, can we allow ourselves to live to the fullest.

My (mis)adventures of 2005 brought this sentiment around full circle, and Lay It Down has become part of the foundation on which God has put me back together and built a ‘better me’. (that’s a tease of the next post)

If you’re not familiar with the song, I hope you will take a moment to give it a listen and allow it to be a positive beacon in your life the way it has been in mine.

“Lay It Down”

You need a little makeup dear
To cover up all your stains
With another trick right here, yeah
You fool them all once again

You need a little emptiness
Before you know what is real
And take a little taste of wine, yeah
To give yourself half a chance

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul

And with these treasures you have found
The broken pieces of your crown
It’s time to lay your cross on down

(Lay it down)
And with this kingdom you have now
It’s time to lay your cross on down
You better lay it down

You carry in a bright white lie
To cover up all your shame
You’re gonna have to testify
To color in all your claims

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul and
Spend your days not falling down
Before your empty idols
[Chorus]

Lay it down
(Lay it down)
Chorus

Succinctly

Today has been a reflective day for me. Thoughts, like a steam train in my head, rolling and rambling non stop. I’ve been thinking about my life, my relationships, my kids, and what happens next. The movie in my head has been a series of flash-cut scenes full of memories, ideas, and wishes yet to be fulfilled.

2014 is a milestone year for me. The past ten years have been whirlwind and amazing. I found myself taking mental inventory of the key moments, and I thought I’d capture them as best I could using a simple phrase.

2004: My world came crumbling down.

2005: I was a complete and total idiot.

2006: I was introduced to the most amazing friends ever.

2007: I jumped out of a plane.

2008: I took the most amazing trip ever.

2009: My world was made complete.

2010: I learned to change my mind.

2011: I got to climb poles for a living.

2012: Music guided me.

2013: I was reborn.

2014: …… so far, so good.

Memory Lane

It’s How You Choose To Look At Your Life

I saw a meme recently. It said something to the effect of, “Nothing makes you clean your house like a friend calling and saying he’ll be over in 10 minutes.” Lee and I are hosting our growth group on Wednesday night, and we’ve been in full cleaning mode since the workday ended.

Normally, this would be a gripe session about an aching back, tired muscles, and dry, cracked hands. But before I started cleaning, I took my wife’s advice by grabbing my mp3 player and listening to a sermon from Elevation Church. Now, I know it may sound strange to fill my time by listening to someone preach, but if you’ve never heard Steven Furtick preach, you’re missing out. This sermon, however, was delivered by Steven’s wife Holly, and it helped me remember to keep things in perspective.

Instead of being pissed about how dirty the grout gets, I should be thankful for the tile floors that decorate the house. Instead of getting furious at the cats that shed all over the place and leave nice, regurgitated ‘presents’ on my lanai, I should be thankful for the companionship they provide and the calm, soothing effect they have on my wife (she’ll be the first to tell you there is no better therapist than those with claws). Instead of fretting about having the house look perfect, I should be focused on the opportunity to invite my friends over and share in continued fellowship with them.

My favorite band Sister Hazel has a song called Change Your Mind. Before he performs it, lead singer Ken Block reminds the crowd that, “It’s not your life. It’s how you choose to look at your life.” All you have to do is change your mind.

So when you’re feeling stressed, change your mind. When you think you can’t, change your mind. When you feel alone, remember that He is always there for you. You just need to change the way you’re looking at your situation.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”Philippians 4:8 

Tasting Colors and Seeing Sounds

I love live music. For me, there’s nothing like it. When you’re invested in a particular band or artist, it makes it that much better.

As I’ve written before, Lee and I are huge fans of Sister Hazel. In many ways, the music of Sister Hazel helped bring us together. When things got really tough for us that first year we were dating, Hazel played a large part in keeping us together.

It’s hard to explain the power, passion, and emotion that goes into watching your favorite band play your favorite songs. Couple that with being surrounded by the friends you love, the very people that make up your music family, and it’s absolutely magical.

We had the privilege of catching Sister Hazel tonight for the 55th time (yes, we’re those types of fans), and it never ceases to be fun and exciting and amazing. My life has been transformed because of their music and the community of fans that music has created. I can’t imagine where I’d be without Sister Hazel, and I am so glad I’ll never have to find out. 

Here’s Lee’s and my favorite song. It is in so many ways “our song.”

Friendly Friday – Danielle Lanier

There are some friendships that can only be described as serendipitous. And in my experience, if there is one thing that tends to create serendipitous moments, it’s music.

I’ve been so very fortunate to be surrounded by such a wonderful collection of friends, all of which share the same passion and affection for music (specifically live music). I like to refer to these people as my music family, and one of these individuals is Danielle Lanier.

Danielle is currently the Director of Program and Family Services at Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa. The Children’s Cancer Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving Tampa Bay families of children with cancer or chronic blood disorders such as Sickle Cell Anemia. Their mission statement speaks to helping families cope, and they could not have a better member on their team than Danielle.

Danielle is full of life and just screams vivaciousness. Her smile can light up a room, and she’s simply a joy to be around. But what really sets her apart are her absolute love for music and her selfless sense of giving. Danielle has merged those two by incorporating music into the many support programs offered at the Children’s Cancer Center. From live performances to field trips to a concerts to simple music instruction, Danielle is helping make the lives of children battling cancer a little bit brighter with every note, melody, and lyric.

And it is lyrics that hold a special place in Danielle’s heart. In addition to her day job, Danielle is also an artist and creator of Lyric Inspired Art. The works are exactly as the name suggests; artwork that is born from the inspiration received by music and the lyrics contained with in. As Danielle states, “I may not be able to perform music, but I am able to pay respect to it on canvas. I am moved by music, the expression, the emotions, the lyrics. My art is a physical recreation of what I feel when I hear songs that evoke an emotional response.” [Be sure to visit and Like Lyric Inspired Art on Facebook.]

I’m honored to be able to call Danielle a friend, and I am inspired by the fact that she wakes up every morning to go something she genuinely loves doing. At the end of the day, that really is what life if all about.

Danielle Lanier with Ken Block
Danielle Lanier with Ken Block

To donate to the Children’s Cancer Center, click here.

Here is a slightly dated article about Danielle in The Examiner.

Friendly Friday – Sue Markovitch

Part of my goal for 2014 is to have a post on my blog site every day. As I mentioned on the first of the year, I don’t want to necessarily write every day (although that would be great). Rather, I want to post something. Pictures, videos, something.

Although I am still working out a ‘subject schedule’, I think I will devote my Fridays to promoting people I know and their works and success. Hence, welcome to the first ever danaCreative Friendly Friday. Okay, I guess you can say the idea is somewhat borrowed from Twitter’s #FollowFriday, but I am going to give you more than just a Twitter handle to follow and forget.

Instead, I will share a little bit about how I know the person I’m highlighting, as well as information on where you can find them on the Internet.

With all that as the backdrop, I would like to introduce you to Sue Markovitch. I first met Sue via what I affectionately refer to as my music family. That is, the collection of music fans with whom I interact, most of which came together through the music of Sister Hazel. It started with us interacting on the old Sister Hazel message board. Her avatar was the tattoo she has of the Lyrics for Life logo. We got to know each other, and we soon came to realize we were, at the time, living parallel lives with regards to love and heartbreak. We were kindred spirits, finding in each other strength, guidance, and encouragement through the emotional tough times. Our friendship was purely virtual and online, but it was, off the bat, something special.

Sue was there for me, specifically when I had an emotionally devastating setback in summer of 2006. I was driving back home from a day trip to Miami, and I remember spending hours with her on the phone and she calmly talked me off the proverbial ledge. This is someone whom I never met in person, but she made the time for me to help me when I needed it most. When we finally met in person a couple of years ago on The Rock Boat, all we could do was hug, laugh, and cry; cry the tears of joy you shed when you see someone you’ve missed for such a long time.

In her own words, Sue is a, “writer, fitness coach, personal trainer, spiritual guide, seeker of truth, child of God, (and) student of life.” She is also the owner of Clear Rock Fitness in Ohio. Furthermore, Sue just released her first book “I Know What to Do, I Just Don’t Do It: How to Break Free from the Lies that Keep You Frustrated, Overweight, and Out of Shape.” I am looking forward to reading it, and I am so incredibly excited for Sue and the success she’s having with both her fitness studio and book.

I Know What To Do

And if you’re looking for a daily boost of motivation, be sure to check out her Twitter feed at @SueMarkovitch

Sue is one of the many people in my life whom I consider a blessing and a great friend. I hope you check out her sites, and that she provides for you the same inspiration she does for me.

Happy Friday!

Sue Markovitch

Reflections and Projections: A Look Back and Ahead

I don’t want this to be another typical New Year’s Day blog, full of resolutions forgotten by February or empty promises I make to myself. I also don’t want this to be a long diatribe year-in-review of 2013, either.

So, instead, I think I am just going to use this post as a sort of mental scrapbook for all the awesome things Lee and I were able to share in 2013, and as a wish-list of what we want to do in 2014. The central theme: gratitude. Yes, Lee and I had some tough moments last year, but they all pail in comparison to the plethora of blessings we were given.

So as we look forward to the year ahead, most of us with the clean-slate optimism of “this is my year to be great”, keep in mind the following:

  • You ARE great.
  • There is no such thing as perfection. All we can hope to do is be better today than we were yesterday.
  • “Be happy in the moment. That’s enough. Each moment is all we need. Not more.” – Mother Teresa

2013 Gratitude List

My Kids
  • Natalie’s continued success with club and middle school soccer
  • Daniel’s participation in Odyssey of the Mind and Math Bowl
  • Daniel attending Camp Gilead and Busch Gardens Camp
  • Chaperoning Natalie to Howl O’Scream
  • Kids spending the week with us over the summer and then again while their mom was traveling
  • Cheering on Wiregrass High School girls basketball with Natalie
  • Their overall good health and well being
Church / Faith
Music Concerts
Friends
  • My 40th birthday celebration
  • Beer nights with the guys
  • Weddings (Patricia & Adam, Tracey & Matt, Leslie Ann & Graham, Stacey & Sanjay)
  • Leigh S. moving back to Florida
  • Dinner nights (Jeff & Ellen, George & Ashley, Stephen & Lindsey, Warren & Gwen, Mark & Renee, Alyson & Tom, Jamie & Jamey, Jeff & Lindsey)
  • Super Bowl and college football parties
  • East coast trips to Casa de Smith
Lee

I am probably overlooking several events and people, and for that I am sorry. I guess it’s a good problem to have when your life is so full of blessings that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

As for 2014, Lee and I have some very lofty financial and lifestyle goals. We want to reduce debt by sticking to a strict budget, and also lose weight by trying the Fast Metabolism Diet. Both will take a serious amount of discipline and determination, but they work hand-in-hand given we spent about three times as much going out to dinner in 2013 than we did on groceries.

We also plan/hope to take Lee’s nephew to Cancun when he graduates from high school in May, and then travel back to Mexico in the late summer to visit my family in Puebla and spread my father’s ashes in his hometown. It will be 10 years in September that my father passed away.

Personally, I want to ensure one post to my blog per day. That’s not to say I will be writing every day. Rather, I want to make sure I add something – be it a written post, a photo, a funny YouTube video: something – to my blog every day.

Through it all, Lee and I know that God will direct us where He wants us to go. I know my faith walk saw amazing growth in 2013, and I pray that it continues to expand in this new year. I wish you all the best with your goals, dreams, and ambitions for this year.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Blessings

126/365 All Growns Up

I’ve written many times before about my music family and how much this special collection of people means to me. On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to celebrate the wedding of one of those family members – one of my little sisters, if you will.

The ceremony and location were beautiful, however the paled in comparison to how stunning the bride was. Lee and I were so very blessed to have been able to be a part of the festivities.

 

Keeping My Eyes Open

Random Writers: Write about a new beginning in your life.

I recently told a friend of mine, “Pain is when we look at God’s will through human eyes.”

As I look back on the event of my life that lead me here today, the vast majority of them occurring in the 2004 – 2005 timeframe, it’s clear to see that every new beginning was preceded by a moment of pain or crisis.

There are so many metaphors and analogies bouncing around in my head right now, it would probably take me hours to write them all down. Still, they all can be summarized with a simple formula.

Pain + Time = New

Yes, it really is that simple.

Pain (or disappointment or crisis or burden) plus the time you spend experiencing it, learning from it, and healing as a result, equate to new beginnings and new opportunities.

True, there are some opportunities that came my way either as a result of hard work, sheer determination, or dumb luck. But the moments in my life that I can honestly qualify as new beginnings all stem from an event that was not fun to go through.

I feel I’ve always lived my life as an open book, and those who know me also know my story. For me, I will always have the one life event that served as the BIG domino that fell and set in motion all the other dominoes that make up my life journey.

Here’s my story, from right to left.

I live my life surrounded by my core group of friends. These are the people whom I trust and whose opinions I value the most. They serve as my gauge as to how I am doing and whether I am doing it right. When I think about that inner circle, I am still amazed at how I came to meet and know those individuals.

We met through our mutual love for music. Specifically, the music of Sister Hazel. The genesis of how we came together was a beach weekend the band put together back in 2006 in South Carolina. It was an event called the Hazelnut Hang, and it was an event that has proven to change my life.

What lead me to go to that event was dinner conversation with my girlfriend at the time – Lee, who is now my wife – and our mutual friend. Our friend was going through a tough time so Lee and I decided to take her out for a bite and be there for her. In the course of conversation, our friend mentioned her mother’s house in South Carolina which sparked the idea of going to the Sister Hazel event.

Lee and I became exclusive in January 2006 following a very tumultuous 2005 in which Lee would learn to open her eyes to the idea of something new only to find me continuing to struggle with the idea of letting go of something old. That something old came to a head in December of 2005.

That was the moment of the big domino.

It’s evident to me, as I trace back the key moments of my life, that I would not be where I am today had the door I had so desperately wanted to run through back in 2005 not been slammed shut in my face. I could not see where I am today through those tears I was shedding that painful December evening over six years ago, yet here I am nonetheless.

I’ve learned that in those darkest and most painful of times, we must have faith that a new light will clear the darkness, and a new path will be revealed. It’s not any kind of easy and everyone learns that lesson at their own pace and in their own way, if ever at all.

Another band that has been influential to me in my life journey is NEEDTOBREATHE, and they have a song that succinctly sums up my life events from 2005. It is what Lee was trying to tell me all along that year. What I didn’t know back then, which is clearer to me now, is that I needed to keep my eyes open. What I also failed to see is that God was directing me every step of the way.

Yes, I believe everything happens for a reason – His reason – and I believe coincidence is our human way of interpreting God’s will. And yes, pain is when we look at God’s will with our human eyes. Instead of allowing the pain to govern our experience, we should remind ourselves that with time and with faith in God, the new beginnings in our lives will be realized.