NO ONE TIME DEAL

There is nothing that represents The musical essence of gospel music better than a B3 Hammond organ. The other night I had the opportunity to work with a few members from our church choir and two other black churches in Nashville. It was a milestone evening for me.

I get very emotional when I see the tension of race in the media. I feel kind of helpless and want to do my part in making a difference. The other night I got that chance. There was an invitation to Bob Farrell, Daniel Bondaczuk and me to premiere a song from a work that we are currently developing.

This song is one of a group of songs about coming together in the multi-cultural biblical unity we share as Christians. This includes tearing down walls of racial disposition, and most certainly includes the importance of not making judgments on others who do not share our beliefs, but to love one another and be light in a world that now finds itself in a tumultuous state.

After we rehearsed, Bob Farrell shot these segments as we worshipped together for about a half hour around the piano, bass, guitar and a beautifully honed B-3 delivered by my friend, the impresario of all things Hammond, Murph Wanca. It was all spontaneous, but everyone was on the same page. I live for moments like these. The Spirit of something like this can’t be rehearsed or replicated… I wanted it to last for days. It’s inexplicably infectious, but you have to be in the midst of it to fully appreciate the energy.

Keesha Rainey led the way and sang her heart out, Maestro Denzel Bester, Shane Cooper, Saiid Lewis and the B-3 stylings of Alton Gibson took us to as close to the throne room as we could get. Delando Smith brought his wonderful choir joining with the Simeon and Judson choirs. Blessings upon blessings!!! All I can tell you is this. Jesus was there.

One other thing. What you see and hear cannot be approximated or purchased at a store. These sounds come from deep deep waters. The music these musicians play and sing was first heard from their mother’s womb and growing up in the church. It is authentic, and comes about like slow cooked ribs. When these believers sing and play, they’re not thinking about notes, because it is as natural to them as drinking a glass of water. They sing with abandon of the faith that is in them. I do too.

As writers, we lay the foundation of the song, but these brothers and sisters bring the work into a cultural reality. They decorate the melody lines and stylize the feel…the soul…and the essence of gospel music. Apart from that, all we can really do is go to school, take notes and stand amazed at the beauty of culture.

Our humanness is life’s common denominator, to yearn for freedom, safety, acceptance and love. Culture is the world’s story expressing those feelings in music, art, dance, architecture, systems, customs and traditions. They are unique, and those differences are one of God’s most beautiful gifts to us.

(I speak for me, and me only in these next sentences. I know there are many people with varying views on religious or non-religious beliefs.)

Love at best can only be recommended. Hate only tempered. Whether by prescription or law, society struggles with both. My personal belief is that Jesus Christ gives me the ability to love, because in and of myself, I am incapable of the love He requires. When I listen to His voice, His love is at my disposal. When I don’t, ugliness raises its head. Faith is not just about living eternally, it is in part, about intentionally caring for the needs of the poor, orphans, widows… and seeking justice in the here and now as well. I believe in the constructs of the Bible. It is what has seen me through great difficulties in my life, and is the essence of the music I write.

I may be 71, but I keep looking for new friends, new opportunities, and my pursuit and participation in all of this endeavor is ongoing. This is no one-time deal.

COUNT ON IT

There is no more important man in my life then my son, Benjamin Gregory Nelson. He is the last of our family to carry the Nelson name. He has my first name as well. Names matter. They have tremendous meaning, and from the beginning of time they are the fingerprints of our life.

Ben is a leader, extremely bright, hard working and responsible. You can take his word to the bank. Meticulous in everything to which he sets his hand, he understands the balance of work and family. Intentional in the continuum of maintaining that difficult balance, Ben is lovingly supportive of his wife, Emily, and their daughter, Maya. He is also an amazing musician, well versed as a drummer (majored in percussion), bass and keyboard player. Ben played in the renowned indoor drum-line, Music City Mystique, that won the World Championship in two of the years he participated. He also drove his sister crazy when they were growing up….They’re still crazy about each other….a great feeling for any parent.

I particularly enjoy his agile humor, and secretly love all of the teasing he issues me. I learned a lot about his love of family in one particular incident. When my niece, Holly Nelson went missing in what turned out to be a tragic boating accident, Ben was in his first days of training for his company in Florida. They pursued him through a barrage of interviews and flew him to another city to determine if he was the right fit for them. He was, they hired him and his initial training was to follow immediately. This is exactly when he found out his cousin was missing.

He spoke to the company representative and told them the situation, but the training was imperative. He made a decision to look for Holly, even though it could cost him this wonderful opportunity of a newfound job. He came to Nashville and searched for her until she was found. The company kept him. They saw the same thing we do…His love and loyalty to family…. for that is precisely the qualities they want for their company.

Pam and I are proud of Ben for so many reasons. We pray that God would watch over both of our children and their families. The last thing I told Ben every night after praying for him as a young boy was,”You have my blessing, Benjamin.”

There are a lot of important things for Ben to know throughout his life, but I think this is possibly one of the most significant assurances I can give him. He will always have that from me… and he can count on it.

THE BEST WAY

She’s my only daughter. Sarah Nelson Mingle. I need no other. She is enough. She is complete. Sarah is as strong a person as she is kind, and has never given Pam and me one day of grief, and always the one you can count on. (Oh, and one more thing..two really. She talks with her hands and is truly, the fun kind of funny.)

There are no words in the English language or any other mode of communication that adequately describe the love and respect I have for Sarah, or the gratefulness to God I have for giving me this priceless gift. I have only to hold her hand at every opportunity, be a good listener, give her my warmest hugs and whisper my best attempts to tell her how much she means to me. Oh, and yes, I can do one more very important thing .

I can endeavor to be a man after God’s own heart, continue to listen to His voice and understand that as I live my life, I am not making choices that affect only myself, but decisions that will shape Sarah, her children, and their children. And finally, as I love others well, she will realize all the more how much she is loved….It’s the best way for her to feel the truth of these words, “I love you, Sarah Mae. ❤️

FOR NOW

It was 5:00 am, and our bedroom was just getting a glimpse of sunrise as I lay under my warm covers. I could make out Pam’s shadowy outline as she sat up on the edge of the bed, pausing briefly before she continued. As I watched her in those moments, I was so thankful for her and filled with loving thoughts. But just as quickly as those thoughts came to me, a sudden image of my sister, Sigrid, flashed in my mind, and my smile dissolved to tears.

I had just come back from Minnesota where I was helping care for my brother-in-law, Bob Johnson, who is in the final stages of ALS. He is an extraordinary man with a strong resolve in the midst of great health opposition. He is many things, a visionary, Emmy Award winner and a lover of people no matter their position in life…but most of all…a man of impeccable integrity.

Now he struggles to breathe. The combination of medications he takes is hard to regulate from day to day because his condition is continually deteriorating. The simplest of physical transactions are accomplished with great difficulty, and he sleeps a lot. He doesn’t have much of an appetite; there is understandable anxiety and confusion to some degree. He’s lost all ability to handle even his most personal needs and it is disconcerting to him. . His emotions are mercurial. He doesn’t want to linger, but fights to keep active and engaged. I say all of this to tell you that I have no idea what he is experiencing.

Bob is my age, seventy one and it seems to me that it’s too soon for something like this to happen…. After all, I’m the same age; I’m young aren’t I? He was just fine a few months ago…. and then this. It’s too abrupt, and it’s “not supposed to happen like this”, “this stuff happens to other people, not my family.”

Then the stark reality… I’m not in charge of arrangements. Death is as sure as life, and everyone gets their turn…I’ll get mine. People pray for those who are sick, and that’s important…praying against illness…but if God wants you; Honey…you’re goin’.

So what’s the big surprise? You know I never thought about dying when I was young….because I was going to live forever. As I grew older, and dying came to mind, I mused about how strong I’d be. I just didn’t want to hurt when I died…so I much preferred dying in my sleep or something easy like that. When I had cancer and the potential of a less convenient way to get my jet pack came in to view….my heart better understood the lyrics to an old hymn …”Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Bob has the family title of brother-in-law, but for my brother, Corliss and me…he is our brother. We worked in overlapping shifts for about ten days to help my sister and their two sons care for Bob. It’s a constantly evolving experience. You have this confluence of hospice workers, ministers, nurses, schedules, equipment, family and friends wanting to extend their love and concern with phone calls, emails, visits…and of course scheduling meals to be delivered. There’s an issue with the air conditioner and workman add to the contained bedlam, the cleaning lady is there to clean, and someone is always at the door. There are technicians to help with equipment for Bob, the switching of machines due to insurance protocols…and all this along with Bob’s great desire to plan the funeral. Oddly enough, that process invigorates him because planning is what he’s done his entire life. This silent storm is continual and there is no such thing as sleeping all night for Sigrid. After a few days you’re in a survival mode and it can be periodically overwhelming.

I have the treasure of Pam…but soon, for my sister, there will be no one to look after, no one to snuggle up to, to feel the warmth of their hands, their smile, there hugs, their presence, their kiss. There are years of knowing this life and the familiar patterns…but then suddenly…. no more. I can’t imagine it…For now, all I can do is pray and weep.

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.