There are seven hills in Rome, but I can’t pronounce them because they’re all like, well you know, in Italian….But I can pronounce the river that runs through it. The Tiber River. Pam and I had a wonderful time in Italy a couple years ago on a trip with my sister and her husband, Bob. We took a trip to Rome this weekend. It has seven hills, but this one has three rivers around and through it. Yep, it was Rome, Georgia. It is a beautiful city that has seven hills like Rome, Italy, but no Tiber River.

We were visiting dear friends, Amber and Charles Maxwell…and I spoke to the music students at Shorter University. We attended a lovely recital by five musical theater students and then I gave my presentation, which was followed by a Q and A session. I am grateful to Dr. Alan Wingard, Dean Emeritus of the School of Fine Arts and Performing Arts along with Dr. John McCluskey, the Chair of the Music Department for being so extremely welcoming. John is a very close family friend.

Afterwards, we drove around the city and toured the Seven (redneck) Hills of Rome. Later that afternoon, we visited their home place in the country, had a great time with extended family, ate some great hamburgers and finished it off with banana puddin’!! The next day we headed out to a beautiful rock garden behind a church near Calhoun, Georgia. Before we left for home on Sunday, we worshipped together, listened to Amber, her mother and father sing together, and heard a stirring message on gratefulness from Charles. 

Our love for Amber, Charles and their four boys were the genesis for traveling there. I first met Amber when she friended me on Facebook and later contacted me about some of her songs. I told her I’d be glad to help her, though I had never met her. I saw great promise in the songs she wrote and long story short, her husband, Charles and she came to Nashville to talk about songwriting. Later, they brought their four boys to Nashville as well. Pam and I were smitten with this family. They came to New York for the 25th Anniversary of Saviour performance at Carnegie Hall. Ambers first plane ride. SCARY!!!!

Charles is a bi-vocational pastor and works in the insurance business as well. He is ADHD and can fix anything. That’s just weird. Their boys include: Morgan, a bright, well-spoken college age student bound for medical school, Grant, a blossoming music producer/songwriter, Parker, who loves the way things are engineered (i.e., rockets) and classical music. The last is little Charlie. He’s five years old. Master Charlie is full of questions, sweet, loving and in perpetual motion. The common denominator of these boys is that they are extremely articulate, intelligent, respectful and a wellspring of theology.

Amber has homeschooled each one, maintains her home, serves in her church and still has time to write. Her background is singing traditional and southern gospel music with her mom and dad in the church. She is a fireball of energy and has a prolific output of songs. It is a joy to get to work with her. She has this background in one genre of music, but her heart and hands go to sounds that are more artful and elicit deep emotion. She’s had measured success in traditional music, but now finds the music she writes finding a home in mainstream denominational publishing, not southern gospel.

She’s met with a lot of rejection. Her husband, Charles, who’s one of the most impressive men I have met in a long time, also had his share of rejection as a young boy. As he detailed his growing up years, it was unbelievable to me what he’d faced. We talked about it. I shared with them about rejection in the music business.

When I first came to Nashville, a record executive told me to go straight back to North Dakota, because I did not belong in the music business, much less Nashville. I was told that one early record I did was the worst record that executive had ever heard. When people say things to you like this…it sends you reeling. Initially it makes you feel worthless and off balance. But you have to stop, take stock and learn from each set back. You weigh what is being said, adjust and move on…not backwards. I was sure of a couple things. I knew without a doubt that God had sent me out from His Kingdom, and He didn’t send me out to fail. I had been prepared since birth for what I was doing now. I would just dust my shoes off and keep going.

I told Amber that each publisher looked out the creative window differently…she just had to find the right window. It was important that she go back to the basics of writing a solid song. Even if you have spent long hours, days and months writing a song…it doesn’t mean that it will have wide acceptance. But at it’s worst; it will be solid and structurally sound. Sometimes a song will take years for others to come to it. Any songwriter will tell you they have experienced the same thing. We think everything we write is pretty darn good…but three days later we ask ourselves, “What in the wide world of sports was I thinking???”

I have learned something very special in these days. My life is not about music…the music only brings me to people and let’s me express my soul to people I may never meet, or people I meet along the way, people who give me a hand or I give them mine. Not fame, not money, not stature, not power…. People…..People like me.

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