BEAUTIFUL WORDS

We were childhood friends, and did everything together. There were football games, swim team, school activities, dances, movies and getting into trouble. We majored in getting into trouble, it was a special skill set we developed at a doctoral level in our youth. Greg Larson was my buddy then, and he and his wife, Diane Larson are our buddies now. Pam and I had a beautiful time with them during their visit to Tennessee.

It was the first time in years we got to spend quality time together, getting to know about each other in more depth. As children and adolescents, you really only know each other on a “what you see is what you get“ basis, but for many, there were deeper, familial issues going on just below the surface. Some problems we knew about, but it was too personal to tell anyone.. .so we didn’t. And there was also disfunction we didn’t realize was going on until later in life. We shared some of those realities and difficulties we experienced growing up, as well as the joy and abundance with which we are now blessed. God and time heals.

These are two very bright and caring hearts. I learned so many interesting things from both of them. They are leaders in their respective areas and it is a rich experience to be in their company.

They came to church with us and spent time together in our home. The next day, Pam and Diane visited historic Franklin and the Carnton House, which of course included perusing the downtown shops (i.e. buying stuff). While Greg was in his final day of meetings at the Opryland hotel, Pam, Diane and I had brunch at the iconic Pancake Pantry and afterwards, toured the Capitol of Tennessee. Diane, a North Dakota state senator, got a picture with Tennessee secretary of state, Tre Hargett.

We picked up from where we left off in life….Didn’t skip a beat.

Debbie Smith wrote these lines to the music of her husband, Michael W. Smith for his recording entitled, “Friends”…

“friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s hands we know

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends.”

I know these words are true….they are beautiful words.

ALONG THE WAY

I learn a lot of interesting things from the many beautiful creatives I mentor. They are so enthusiastic, so motivated to be excellent. I benefit from their energy in many many ways.

I don’t try to tell them how to be an artist, producer or writer. You can’t give them more talent. You can only hone what they innately have. Oh sure, I can lay out perfunctory guidelines that don’t take a rocket scientist to understand, like creating storyline with emotion, tension, release and using various lyrical, musical and technical devices at their disposal to create riveting theater. For artists, actors, authors, poets, songwriters, musicians, producers and mix engineers…most all these same principles apply….Because we’re all doing the same thing in different applications….telling the story.

No doubt, technical facility is the key unlocking a creatives ability to express what is in them. You can have that agility, along with an understanding of the process and construct….but true artistry is in it’s Implementation. I go to school every time I sit down with another writer and go through the process of writing a song. Real learning is in the doing.

One thing for sure…these are the burgeoning authors of refreshing, untainted intellectual property. My best gift is to nurture and encourage, being careful to let go of myself…because my day was my day…and now it is theirs, full of new and youthful passion. I can teach them to be curious and glean from their greatest influences…but not be them. I know this on a personal level.

I failed at every point in my life when I tried to write or produce like the creatives I admired. i was chasing something I wasn’t. When I did, my work was weak, like that of an imposter. They were way better at being themselves than I was…but eventually, I learned to have the grace to be me. ..and it felt good…powerful…and liberating. So these days I much prefer being myself.

Just one of the lessons I’ve learned and try to pass on along the way.

BUT STILL

Two of our dearest friends from back home in Tennessee, met us at the airport in Bismarck, North Dakota. Our long time pastor, Gene Mims and his lovely wife, Ann, journeyed to the north country specifically to see the places about which I wrote in my book, “Runaway Horse.”

When we visited their church for the first time fourteen years ago, it wasn’t two weeks later that we were sitting at their dinner table with two other new couples who had visited the church. This is standard procedure for them, and with that, we knew this church was the right place for us. They are loving hosts and caring ministers. It was very clear to us, that to them, we mattered.

We’ve never joined a church for the music, although we enjoy Judson Baptist Church because I can play my cello in the orchestra each Sunday. Our new pastor, Jeff Mims is a dynamic teacher and steady hand for our congregation (Yes, he’s their son). Pam teaches a Life Group class of women ages 40 to 60. We don’t want to be anonymous members but to give, serve and be invested in the people…and be family. There are so many needs in our community, our country and the world. There’s no shortage of work to do

Gene is originally from Texas, but at age 14 moved to Appomattox, Virginia. Ann is from a small, but difficult to pronounce town outside of Jackson, Mississippi. She is the consummate purveyor of hospitality and the epitome of “southern grace.”Gene has referred to himself many times as a “chicken eatin’ preacher”…but in reality, he is a brilliant speaker, teacher, author, a former executive at LifeWay Christian Resources and an amazing leader. He’s ADD, and so we communicate perfectly!!!!

Our two days were spent re-counting Pam’s and my home places, favorite haunts and a trip through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Medora Musical. Got to get together with friend and Medora impresario, Bill Sorenson, in his last year starring in the musical and as speaker at the Medora Gospel brunch. We were also thrilled see and meet with the amazingly talented cast member, Taylor Leet, who along with her parents, Jon and Jennifer, are very close family friends.

On our way home the next day, we stopped at Fort Lincoln State Park In Mandan, North Dakota. It is home to the On-A-Slant Indian Village which thrived for 200 years. The Mandan were hunters and gardeners who lived in these permanent villages. The home in another part of the park is that of General George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby. Also featured in the park are some reconstructed military lookout towers.

Our last stop was to the capitol. This building has great meaning to me because my father served as State Superintendent of Construction. Two weeks before my daughter, Sarah was born, he walked to the capitol from his home two blocks away, sat down for a morning coffee in the cafeteria and fell over dead of a heart attack. I was numb, he was 56.

Dad just loved side pork. He fixed it all the time. He’d suffered a heart attack when he was 30, but he couldn’t let go of that side pork. So when people ask me how my father died, I tell them he died of side pork.

Gene said in a sermon to us, “Death runs in my family.” He’s right. My dad’s passing came way too soon for our family…but in God’s perfect time. I understood that…but still…there was so much that he missed, and that we missed with him.

THESE THINGS I PRAY

It’s Sunday today, but the sermon for me was preached earlier this week.

As I was leaving a restaurant in Minnesota the other day, a very tall person with long straggly hair, baseball cap turned sideways and what I thought was a scowl on his face, brushed by me very hurriedly. I thought, man, where’s the fire? Immediately I passed a multiple of judgments on this guy. . What a rude, self important and unkempt person he is. Like a light switch being flipped, my spirit went dark and I was momentarily unreachable.

I came to find out, that as quickly as I had flipped that switch, I would meet with deep regret only seconds later. This because that young man, on whom I had made my pronouncements, had rushed by me not for impatience or impertinence…but because he was hurrying to hold the door for me. “Hope you have a great day, sir.” I was immediately filled with private embarrassment and guilt because of my reaction to this young angel. I thanked him and smiled a big smile, but my heart was heavy. When I got outside, I saw him sit down on a bench with his father. He proceeded to put his arm around his dad, smiling a big smile.. it was a beautiful scene. But as for me….I felt cheap. I don’t need to say more, because there are some things you can never retrieve.

It doesn’t take much to get me on my high horse. And how I love to shove people into categories. It’s so much easier or me so I can criticize without thinking. Of course I don’t let anyone see my unseemly constructs …that would be perception suicide. As much as I can, I let people see only my supposed, good nature, which is of course, a myth. A myth perpetuated because of a percolating ego known only to God and myself. All of these character impediments are quite hush hush…because I do have a reputation to uphold.

But all of this will be outed eventually. “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8: 17)

My prayer for today:

Lord, instruct me in Your ways of unconditional kindness, and show me what Your graciousness really means. Root out my judgmental arrogance and smug notions. Teach me your statutes in real time and real life scenarios as you did that day.

Wean my malevolent predilection, and lead me along the streams of love and benevolence. Most importantly, forgive me for continually excusing my sinful nature. May my reactions radiate a tender faith more and more each day. These things I pray. Amen

REACHING BACK GENERATIONS

She was a Carlton College graduate and he was Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court. Alvin C. Strutz and his wife, Vee, were members of the Calvary E. U. B. Church (Evangelical United Brethren) in Bismarck, North Dakota where my family attended when I was a young boy. I knew the pew in which they sat every Sunday. I loved Mrs. Strutz because she was always extremely gentle and kind to me, even knowing I was the unholy terror of the church. They were friends to my parents and my memories of them rest fondly.

Their son, Bill Strutz taught Pam’s and my Sunday School class when I was the Director of Youth at what had become First United Methodist Church (This when the Methodists merged with the EUB denomination). My father and his brother built this new church. Bill was a well-known attorney defending doctors in malpractice cases. Both he and his lovely wife Marilyn are avid readers and a two story library is the centerpiece of their home. Marilyn is a mentor and caring friend to many, and when our Sarah was born, the first home she came to after her own, was Bill and Marilyn’s. When I was attending high school, she was a substitute teacher for me from time to time.

The next generation was Bill and Marilyn‘s daughter, Heidi, with brothers Nat Paul and Colin. Heidi was one of my kids in the youth group at our church. She married a fine man, Brad Mitchell, who is a pastor. They have a ministry called Build Your Marriage.

Finally, Heidi and Brad’s daughter, Rachael, came to Nashville to find work in the music business. That was when our lives intersected. She found a good job and married her husband, Cole Hession soon after attending a course in music industry studies. I played piano and my cello at their wedding. We proudly are considered their Nashville grandparents.

It is a lifetime of rich family kinship we share. Every time we are in North Dakota, we stay with Bill and Marilyn. From invigorating evening conversations of faith and life to morning prayer and scripture on their back porch…or what I call “Mornings with Marilyn”…our time together is beyond description. I have no deeper ties than with this family, reaching back generations.

The most beautiful things are not associated with money; they are memories and moments. If you don’t celebrate those, they can pass you by. (Alek Wek)

TREASURED , TETHERED TIMES

The clouds were drifting, with billowy images kinda like massive birds with porpoises swimming around them…. and on each side of the whiteness stood darkened seahorses ready to storm. Well at least that’s what the sky looked like to me as we traveled through the waters of Lake Itasca on the Chester Charles tour boat. Our destination, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The mouth of this river begins as a trickle and swells in size as the waters of the Missouri, Ohio and later, the Tennessee River among others, pour themselves into her waves.

This little expedition was all part of our potluck reunion birthed in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1974. Initially, we were five couples, all too poor to dine out, so we got together each month to eat, play games and visit in each other’s homes. To this day, we send a round robin letter that continues throughout the year, and get together every three years or so.

This year the location had special meaning. We stayed at a spacious cabin at Lake Kabekona (Ojibwa for “End of the trail”) near LaPorte, Minnesota…vacation home of the Don and Sylvia Schmid family, and it has a tremendous history.

A group of students from Luther Seminary were determined to find a place where they could reunite each summer. After three years of research they found a place, and to make a long story short, purchased land around Kabekona Lake in 1932. It was not until 1947 that they begin building on the land. One of those seminary students was Casper B. Nervig, Sylvia’s father. And to this day, many of those families have remained there along the lakeshore and the dressing of Maples, Norway and White Pines.

From the cabin we could view the beautiful setting of trees around the lake. Outside, the rain poured down, but the wood-burning fireplace was ablaze with the warmth of conversation and heartfelt love for each other. We spent hours laughing, reminiscing, grateful for the friendships and stories of where life had taken us. So like those Luther seminarians, we were reunited with a tie that binds. Treasured, tethered times they were.

I love these lines from Edgar Guest’s poem, “Old Friends”

“The tenderness of folks who know just what your sorrow means,

These are the things on which, somehow, your spirit always leans.

When grief is poundin’ at your breast — the new friends disappear An’ to the old ones tried an’ true, you turn for aid an’ cheer.”

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIX

We headed out from our hotel in Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia, to the Kaslo Jazz Festival about twenty minutes away. This wonderful opportunity was at the kind invitation of our cousins, Greta and Glen Cosby from Spokane, Washington.

It is breathtaking country here, and as we drove alongside the majestic Kootenay Lake, her water sparkled against a backdrop of sleeping mountains resting in the winds of First Nation culture. This liquid blanket, like a Norwegian fjord, was lined with banners of teeming evergreens everywhere.

Whoa Nellie….Initially, that’s what Pam and I felt as we arrived at the festival. We were transported from the throes our sedate gated community in Franklin, Tennessee, to a free-spirited culture reminiscent of the 60s, with colorful quirky fashion, unusual accessories, creative hats, swimming in the lake, bare feet and attendees from babies to octogenarians. The grounds were kept extremely clean. People were very friendly, conscious of recycling any containers or trash…and the food trucks were as culturally diverse as the crowd. We intermittently caught the scent of unique smoke product we understand is indigenous to jazz and rock music festivals.

There were two alternating stages with music everywhere from Dan Brubeck, Funk bands, World Music, Bluegrass, Ani DiFranco to Harry Manx. All this, including intermittent aerial silks presentations next to the main stage and some fine dancers in the audience.

When you’re thrust outside of your day to day grasp, it is somewhat unsettling, but that has little to do with age. It is more about experiencing a different perspective, not as distant perception, but at a face to face, visceral level. In that regard, this event was far richer and more meaningful than I imagined. This doesn’t mean I’ll be wearing tie dye anytime soon…but I saw the world looking out a different window. I had many invigorating conversations with very loving people.

All 3 days were peaceful with absolutely no disturbance. This all in the wake of the bloodshed at El Paso and Dayton …and my heart was somewhere in the mix.