A WEDDING ADVENTURE

She held my face with both hands, looked me squarely in the eyes and said, ”You’re a good boy, Greg, so I know you’ll want to act nice for your mom and dad.” Her eyes were kind and I knew she was saying that to me in the most caring way, and with the best possible intent. Her name was Vee Strutz. I was five years old and wreaking havoc on the Calvary E.U.B. church on 7th street in Bismarck, North Dakota. Bedlam was my constant companion, but the church family contended lovingly with me. Vee was a very beautiful woman of unpretentious sophistication, graduated from Carlton College and married to Al Strutz, a Supreme Court Justice for North Dakota. I knew this couple very well. I knew where they sat each Sunday at church and where they lived.

As I looked at this beautiful young woman walking down the aisle, I remembered those words uttered from her great grandmother’s lips. I was all teary eyed from both that memory and the stunning elegance I saw in her, borne out of her mother’s, grandmother’s and Vee’s lineage. Her name is Rachael Mitchell, and today was the day she would marry the love of her life, Cole Hession.

Let me first say…I hate going to weddings! My wife is always making me go to weddings. Weddings of people I don’t even know. “Honey, I think it would be really nice if we showed our support for Shirley and go to the wedding of her third cousin once removed by a previous marriage. “ I asked, “Shirley who”. Pam answered, “You know Shirley, she’s the woman from our church who sits two pews back from us.” “No, I don’t know who you mean”.” Pam continued , “Well anyway, I RSVP’d to go to the wedding.”WHAT…WHAT…WHAT? I don’t even know Shirley!!!! I don’t want to go to a wedding of someone I don’t know, watch my wife get all weepy and stuff, blowing her nose while I listen to wedding music I have heard over and over and over and over and over again. I don’t want to go to a reception with people I don’t know, and even worse, end up talking for two hours with someone like uncle Earl, an insurance salesman out of Bucksnort, Tennessee who would like to get my contact info for a free estimate on life and health. He keeps saying, “You know…You know…You know. ”SHEESH< SHEESH< SHEESH!!!! Get me outta here!!!!!

But this wedding is way, way different for me. I have a rich history with Rachael’s grandparents, Bill and Marilyn Strutz. Al and Vee’s son, Bill, is an accomplished trial attorney, with an amazing love for books that includes more first edition and publisher first drafts than you can imagine. He has one of the largest private libraries in the country. His precious wife, Marilyn is a student of the Bible, a woman of unbelievable depth of caring and service to others, and one of my closest friends. Bill was Pam and my Sunday school teacher in our young married life, and he was elemental to challenge my thinking, causing me to look deeper into matters of life and theology.

They have 3 wonderful children, Heidi, Colin and Nat Paul. I had Heidi, Colin and Brad Mitchell, Heidi’s husband in my youth group when I was Youth Director at our church. I have a continued relationship with Brad and Heidi and their children to this day. Brad and Heidi have a fantastic ministry to married couples entitled “Build Your Marriage”. Look them up; it is well worth your time.

Oh yah, one little tidbit about the wedding. I was to play the piano until it was time to seat the mothers and grandparents, then play my cello while they were being seated. I kept looking for the wedding planner who was to cue me….but there was no cue, so I just kept playing, constantly looking back for the cue. My eyesight is extremely poor and hence the reason I find it difficult to drive any longer. It was not until the mothers were lighting the candles that it dawned on me that something had gone awry. I quickly scrambled to set up my cello. I got that accomplished, but as I looked up, I saw the minister standing in preparation for the bridal entrance. They were using a recorded piece of music for that portion of the service. . So here I am in front of God and everybody, sitting ready to play my cello….but alas..my portion of the service had come to an untimely conclusion. I sheepishly tried to fade away with my cello…but had to walk right past the officiant for my exit. AWKWARD!!!

Many of you know me…so I’m sure this is no surprise to you. I’m half blind, wear hearing aids and I’m ADHD. This is a tragic cocktail of attributes when playing a wedding, where you and you alone are left to deliver the music. I compare it to standing with your pants down around your ankles. There is no safety net or the ability to blame anyone else. (Ps. In my defense…the wedding planner forgot to cue me, and apologized later) I did get to play the cello pieces as the people were walking out. As I played…it seemed they were more eager to leave. I definitely think I have an “evacuating” quality to my playing. It’s a gift.

So you can see, when I was watching Rachael and Cole being joined in marriage, it was deeply meaningful to me. Pam was to attend the wedding as well, but unfortunately broke her ankle and could not attend. We were in a pickle because I’m unable to drive. My cousin, Joanie and her husband stepped up. Joanie watched over Pam at their home while Jeff drove me to Ohio so I could play for the wedding. When we realized Pam could not go, my wife shed tears and it was a great loss to us. As much as this wedding meant to the participants, it was a major deal for Pam and me. In the recent years, Rachael came to Nashville to attend a school to prepare her for the music industry. She secured a job at Capitol Christian and has been a bright spark for that company. The four of us are close (They lovingly refer to us as their Nashville grandparents) and we love getting together with them when they can find time

I know most of you don’t even know these people. I just wanted you to know what matters to me. Isn’t that what Facebook is about? I know that this couple has a legacy of great spiritual depth, brilliance, work ethic and compassion for the needy. What better to write about than this?

GREAT JOY

Pam and I treated Sarah and the chipmunks to an evening at the carnival by Cool Springs Galleria. The girls were so excited and could hardly contain their joy as they drove into the parking lot. There were bright lights, loud music and carny barkers galore. We walked to the ticket booth and stood behind parents with small children and some middle school aged girls playfully pushing and shoving each other as they waited.

All of a sudden I felt a rush of tears as I stood there. Sarah saw this, and came up to me asking what was wrong. I told her that I was struck with the realization that I would be attending a memorial service for a precious man who had suffered through a long bout with cancer, and I was feeling the weight of his wife and children’s loss just then. It was a juxtaposition of emotion for sure, because the happy sounds all around me, in contrast to the painful parting for a mother and her tenderlings, were sending my heart into a momentary tailspin.

I remember sitting at the memorial service the next day and thinking about what people actually will remember about us when we pass. The reality is, but for the families of the beloved, the departed fade into the back regions of memory quite quickly. We all move on and the intensity of loss dissipates. I’m not saying we totally forget…the family certainly not, but there is an emotional drift away by the rest of us.

It’s a great reminder that we not take abilities, accomplishments or ourselves too seriously. In the end, but for a short span…. no one else will either, whether we’re president or pauper. At some point, as we near the threshold, we’ll be struck with the fact, that at the end of it all, we only have our family, in whatever context that expresses itself…and ultimately…God.

There are many differing world views on this intersection of life’s end, and the hereafter. For people of Christian faith and reckoning is the belief we will rest in the arms of Jesus, assured that He is there in the instantaneous continuum from “mortale” to God’s gloriously unfathomable presence. It is most certainly, my conviction.

In this regard, I try to be purposeful when someone I love, and have lost, comes to mind. I write a two sentence text or e-mail to one of their family that says, “I was thinking about them today… and I miss them. Hope you’re well.” It’s all I write and takes only a moment to accomplish. It’s heartfelt and meant to reassure. It brings me great joy. Not the carnival sort, but joy much deeper….richer. Cheers!!! ❤️

MORE PRECIOUS THAN JEWELS

She sat there with me as I was being inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame last evening. She was by my side all night

They didn’t give her any award. Often people would come over and congratulate me…and not acknowledge her…as if she were invisible. But she stood there anyway…with me as always…caring, encouraging and supportive. I knew in advance that would probably happen, but this was not her first rodeo

I only had a three minute time frame for my remarks. I would acknowledge her, however briefly. Not possibly enough to let people know the depth of her resplendent inner glow and beauty. She’d listened countless times to me practicing my speech and helped me edit my closing which took a number of tries.

Before we left for the event, I told her that my mention of anyone would pale in comparison to my deep deep love for her. I kissed her. I held her….she smiled and told me she really appreciated that. It was a moment of warmth and love indescribable.

Pam speaks with wisdom, and teaches kindness to her children and grandchildren…and they adore her. I had no idea the incredible gift I was given when we were first married. That realization has evolved over time. It’s like approaching a beautiful painting as you walk into a gallery. The closer you come to the frame….the more amazing its beauty.

She is far more precious than jewels. ❤️

DIET PLAN

Right now I’m reevaluating my weight and trying to do something about it. I’d caught a good wave on a low carb diet, but around Christmas time, I gave it up for Lent and haven’t gotten back up on the board. This Low-carb program was working really good for me and much better than what I’ve done before. I think I’m going back to that one because what I’ve been reading about other diets is not very encouraging.

Just yesterday I read about the “Lest We Forget” diet program that has participants taking daily snapshots of their stomachs and sharing them at meetings. They’re saying this is a fabulous way you can use shame as an incentive. I like this one because at least you can eat anything you want..But I hear going to one of those meetings is a lot like taking a casual stroll to Golgotha.

There’s also the “You’re Gonna Die Early” program that focuses on guilt and all it’s benefits. The marketers of this program take “shoulda coulda woulda” to a whole new level. This diet has what they call the “rainbow curve“. Your day starts on an upward arc that has you happy that you’re not eating anything and telling yourself you’re doing really good. As the day wanes on and you get hungrier and hungrier…. then the arc takes a nosedive by mid afternoon and you end up eating quarts and quarts of low-carb ice cream. Nicknamed the “Type-2” diet, this is a tough program…but you do get to eat a lot of ice cream.

One that I’ve used occasionally is the “Valium Diet”. Here it’s not so much that you eat less….but you do drop a lot of your food…..😵

GRATEFUL FOR THE BLESSINGS

Today as I was writing with my buddy, Bob Farrell, I snapped this shot of him in my writing room…We were brainstorming an idea,….and just for a moment I was caught in a rush of emotion…mindful of his great impact on my life.

We have written together for decades, but it is not the writing that is the most enduring. Bob and his wife, Jayne are from the South Pole of the contiguous…Texas cured. We’ve lived life together, know each other’s children and grandchildren, their names and what they’re doing. We’ve suffered together. Bob and Jayne lost their home in the Nashville flooding some years back; we have both been nigh unto death and sat at each other’s bedsides. We’ve heard our music performed by people all over the world. We’ve had our disagreements and wrangled over ideas…but it was this willingness to be uncomfortable and walk together in the refining fire, that brought a lyric or piece of music to a place of beauty. We’ve written some good songs and our share of some “others”. Of course, at the time we were writing these alleged gems, they all seemed brilliant…that is until we listened to them a short time later and wondered what in the world we were possibly thinking just days earlier.

The preponderance of my writing efforts have come in three distinct periods, with three specific compatriots. The first was with Phill McHugh that began in my recording days in North Dakota and then again in my early years in Nashville. Phill was born into an Irish Catholic farm family near Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was commonly hip, politically aware and viewed life from a vantage point that was different than mine. We were on the same page spiritually, but how we arrived at our conclusions came in different ways. I first met him when he came to my studio in Bismarck to record an album. We bonded in that experience and when he recorded his second album…”Canvas For The Sun’, it was picked up by Lamb and Lion records which was distributed by Sparrow Records headed by Billy Ray Hearn, ultimately leading to my move to Los Angeles and subsequently, Nashville.

Just a short time after we made the move to Tennessee, Phill moved with his family as well. This was very important to us both at the time because we had history together and could trust each other’s instincts. This is so chemically important in a writing relationship.

Pam and I were close to him and his wife then, Dorsey. We watched our children grow, got together many times, laughed and made music…Good times they were. Phill has a poet’s heart and his thoughts come out like that. His imagery and theater is stunning. I’m not sure how, but we sort of drifted away from each other after a few years in Nashville…but we did. It makes me sad, because I love this family very much. Dorsey is an unbelievable painter, artist in her own right. You should check out Dorsey McHugh Fine Art.

The last person with whom I would spend a period of creative years was Paul Marino. I met Paul through a friend who I was involved with in the beginnings of Young Life in my hometown. Paul was in a group called; “River” and I produced a couple of albums with them. He was from St. Paul at the time and later, made the move to Nashville with his wife Karolyn. We loved each other from our recording days together, but when he moved here, we became fast friends….like family.

Paul knows all of my personal ins and outs and has helped immeasurably with getting me out of old songwriting habits. He’s funny as funny can be. A couple of days ago we went to a fund raising dinner for a work in the Ukraine that rescues children from poor living conditions in orphanages there. As we sat listening, Paul leaned over to me and said out of the clear blue…”You know….mediocrity has come a long long way”…and then focused back on the speaker, acting as if nothing happened. (He was not referring to the presentation). Paul is also the king of the misnomer….saying things like ..”Boy…I’d like to be a mouse on the wall when they’re talking”. We can pun back and forth for days. It’s these little things I love about him as well.

These men and their families are precious treasures in my life. When you write anything…the most powerful words and music come from those people and events that move you at a high emotional place….from what you live…from what you believe…and what God has given you to say. And for that…. I’m grateful…grateful…grateful, for the blessings of these three families in my life.

CHOICES

Pam cuts my hair.

it’s not an epic event.

Takes about his long as it does to brew a cup of coffee on a Keurig coffee machine.

She shaves my hair with a no. 2.

Trims my beard with a no. 1… then my eyebrows with a tiny scissor…and that’s that.

So this morning as we were finishing up, I asked her if I still looked fabulous.

She didn’t answer.

So I asked her if she enjoys my Greek god-like profile

She didn’t answer.

Then I ask her if she appreciated the raw masculinity of my buffed out body.

She did answer this time.

“ What was that first choice you mentioned?”

If I’m lyin’..I’m dyin’…..😮

In that regard, I’m posting this picture of my workout partner, Popyou Outchee, formerly from the Ukraine. He’s a cosmetologist by trade and a bouncer at night. He’s a real nice guy, but he tells me he feels so conflicted. Ya think?…..😳

We’re helping each other with a very rigid weight program here at the YMCA in Maryland Farms. I spot for him on the bench press…and he drives me home so I won’t stop at Dunkin’ Donuts….😮

MA’M VERSUS MACHINE

Well it’s the beginning of spring, and time to mow the lawn again. OK, so I go into the garage and walk over to the mower, hit the button that’s supposed to automatically start the mower. Well it coughs and coughs and coughs. So of course…being the mechanic that I am, albeit a Norwegian mechanic, I press the button once again…..Nada…(that’s Spanish for “nothing”…One of eight words and phrases I remember from Spanish class when I was in high school.)

My next move was a masterful approach. I checked to see if there was enough gas. There wasn’t, so I filled it up. Now I’m pretty sure it’s going to start…..NADA.

At this point I did the only smart thing a man can do when he gets in this situation. “Pam, Pam, Pam…. Could you come here for a minute?!!!!!” Moments later, my wife appeared in the garage and repeated a very familiar phrase I hear from her so often, “Now what have you done?”

I explained my dilemma to her and how careful’d I’d been to make sure everything was in order. She quickly responded with another phrase I’ve heard her say many times….”I’ll bet“.

“Did you charge it?” she asked. It’s been sitting all winter.” “Did I CHARGE it?”…I responded emphatically. “Well…of course I..uh…yah…well uh maybe not so much….”Well” she questioned…“What is maybe not so much? A short time not so much? ..Just how much not so much, is not so much?” Now she’s putting me through some changes and just flat wearing me out…Then came my feeble admission…”Well maybe not at all, not so much”. With Pam being a former Catholic and all, I felt I’d just been in a confessional with a priest!!!

Well, we had to wait till the mower charged overnight, but I finally had everything under control. Confident that the mower would start right up this time, I hit the button once again. NADA!!! “Pam, Pam, Pam…. Could you come here for a minute?!!!!!”I heard her open the door to the garage. She already knew the reason she was summoned.

Did you check the gas?“ I responded in the affirmative. “Did you check the oil? “Yup”, I answered proudly..”I filled it to the very top.” At that, she went manic!!! “You filled it to the TOP?”It was at this point I sensed maybe this wasn’t exactly a beacon of grease monkey brilliance…. “not so much.” Pam enlightened me on why there is an oil stick, what it was for and why you don’t fill it to the top. I’m thinkin’..“Oil stick? Who knew…(obviously everybody…except me). I knew they had one for a car, but I never thought about it for a mower. They call it a dipstick for a car…and come to think of it….that’s just about how I was feeling when she explained all of it to me.

We turned the mower over and poured out the oil to a respectable level. And what do you know….it started right away. Muy bueno. Problem solved. Pam gave me a kiss and whispered in my ear, “don’t touch anything else”.

I didn’t touch anything else…Well maybe ANYthing was a stretch for me… I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I left the freezer open all night when I went out to get some water bottles. Question…If ice cream melts…. is there anyway you can make it look like it hasn’t? I’m just asking for a friend. Cheers!! ❤️