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Sunday, March 18, 2018

I Don't Want to Be A Depressed Christian

*I usually post a cartoon at the top of these, but in this case, the perfect cartoon to fit, is too long to put here* ---Feel free to jump over to this link first: http://adam4d.com/meds/
Then come back. This is probably my most vulnerable post, so bear with it...it's almost 2 posts in one, so take an intermission if you need :)


I think because there is a stigma attached to Christians who suffer with depression, many will not speak about it. We suffer silently.

It's because our brothers and sisters in the faith, who have not had the struggle, may consider it another pray it away type of thing. If you're taking medicine, you must not have enough faith in God to heal you.

I understand where they would get that idea, but God uses our technology, our medicines, and what we have available to work through us in healing. Every healing doesn't need to be a miraculous divine intervention. There are little healings every day that require nothing but a person willingly swallowing a pill, or getting a vaccination.

Yet, I feel judged by the Christian community, though no one has actually ever said anything directly, it's a tough problem to admit. Heck, I didn't even know I had depression until Juliet pointed it out to me. Then, hearing from other family members and friends, it became clear it is something I've struggled with longer than I even realized.

It seems Fatherhood, grand as it is, has somehow activated it to the point that even I can notice it more prominently than before. I can have a bad day, and sense that overwhelming feeling of what can only be described as "blah". A lack of motivation to accomplish what needs to be done, a silent pondering and staring with no joy to be found. Every day worries compounded to the point of nearly being unable to move.

For me, it seems beyond just taking medicine daily, I combat this with hobbies, (or compulsions Juliet might say), that help get my mind off of it, and make me feel happy. My most recent venture, selling a lot of things that were taking up space on eBay.

My original intention was just to sell enough things to try to buy the new Apple HomePod, which I did. But, some of my old "junk" started selling a bit better than expected, and so I was able to get the HomePod, but also had some extra as well. I gave Juliet a cut, so that my hobby could go uninterrupted, and I avoided using our bank money, other than the occasional shipping envelope or card holders for trading cards.

Now, on the surface, and to me really, this was just a welcome distraction from the difficulty of every day life in Oklahoma. I love being closer to family, I love having a daughter, I even love my job currently. But, the move here destroyed me in a sense. I got a lot of my identity from Austin, as a city, and just knowing and interacting with the people there in my little group. I was more plugged in than even I realized, until we left.

To compound that, we lost Jimmy and Pepa months apart last year, during the point after moving in which if you'd paid me enough money, I would have packed up and moved right back to Austin in a heartbeat. I wasn't settled yet, and I desperately wanted to be back in Austin, where my other family members were spending quality time with Jimmy before his passing. I wanted to see his final shows, to sit with him and talk, all of the things my other cousins and family members got to do. But, while I was in Austin, it's not like we sought one another out for lunch, or family get togethers on a regular basis. If anything, my main familial connection was Jesse and Rachel, since Rachel is one person whom Juliet also loved hanging out with. That rare couple in which all parties can converse and hang out with one another comfortably.

At the time of all this happening last year, my manager was the most empathetic, and helpful person I'd ever known in my years with the company. Our weekly 1x1 meetings, supposed to discuss best practices, instead were a session for me to pour my heart out, and for him to encourage me, and sometimes to just listen. It is a big chunk of what kept me going, knowing that at work, I had support.

But, a semi-break down in November while visiting family in Colorado, apparently brought light again to my silent suffering, when I made a small spectacle of myself with some family members. I came back to Ada with the intention to seek out some counseling.

Medications, counseling, these aren't Christian words are they? That kept playing in my head. How could I, born-again, saved as can be, Christian guy be struggling with these things? Am I really saved? Why does God seem so far away at times? These types of questions plagued me, and still do from time to time. I have finally realized; however, it's me who has been pushing God away. Not intentionally per say, just little by little, bit by bit, edging God out of my life in favor of other ventures, most of them worthless.

At the time I should have relied most heavily on God, I was relying on myself, and a bit of others around me. I realize now, this probably only compounded my struggle. Maybe only another Christian who has felt these things can relate, but it's just that no matter how much I wanted to be closer to God deep down, no matter how much I wanted that hunger for His word I used to have, I could not bring myself to draw near. I beat myself up over it, and am still doing so, though improving and trying to come back to Him little by little.

Was my faith not strong enough, as the name it and claim it crowd might think? Doubtful, I had faith inside of me, but I couldn't seem to get it out, to express it, or even to embrace it. It was this thing that I knew was a part of me, but that I couldn't acknowledge, even when I wanted to most. I think that's how depression can affect a Christian.

I think it's okay if it finally brings us to a realization that we can't do it alone, for the Christian, that we can't do it without Christ.

The thing is, the church, is a hospital, yes, but it's also a rehab center, it's a training ground for fulfilling our purpose in Christ. I just got a bit stuck in the waiting room of the rehab center. I came broken and was healed and brought to Christ years ago in the hospital of the church. I even made it through some rehab (spiritual growth), and succeeded quite a bit up to a point. But, one day, I just sat in the metaphorical waiting room of the rehab instead of letting my growth continue.

Stuck in "rehab" I never made it to the training grounds, where a person can find their true place in Christ and God's plan for their life. I dreamed of it, I even thought of things and talents I had that might be put to use. But, I stifled my own spiritual growth. I take 90% of the blame, laziness and distraction were my desires. But, a chunk of it, is this depression. For, even when I can overcome my 90% blockage against things of God, that 10% still wants to fight me. Even as I write this, I want to cry out to God, and my body and mind are saying no, just go watch TV instead.

The heart of my depressed state, beyond the Chemical imbalances is that I don't believe I measure up to what a "good Christian" would be. And, theologically speaking, I know for sure, there is not such thing as a "Good" Christian or person for that matter. So, why do I stack myself up against others who seem to have the faith more figured out than me? Why do I feel inadequate for not raising my hands to praise, when those around me seem entranced by worship of our Creator? It's not that I don't feel that same spiritual connection, but the emotional side of it just doesn't seem to come out as easily for me.

I've turned my Christianity into a logical thing, book learnings and theological pursuit, but I've lost track of the emotional transformation that comes from being made whole in Christ. I want that back, if I ever actually had it. What good is the knowledge and logic, if there is no empathy towards others? If there is no all encompassing desire to dwell in the presence of my savior?

There is, but something else blocks it daily. Again, I'm a depressed Christian, and if that sounds contradictory, maybe it is. It certainly makes me doubt my salvation way too often, considering I've been assured and seen that assurance play out many times. I think I'm simply struggling to reach the "meat" of spiritual food Paul speaks about, and still enjoying the milk too much. The one foot in, one foot out approach. It wasn't always like this, but a long dry season of distraction and other pursuits, has left me stuck here. I wanna get out. I want my God, I want His presence, His word to permeate me again.

But, I don't want others judge me. I don't want my family to debate me on things, or to get stuck in arguments with friends who disagree. Yet, Jesus even said those things would happen. If I could just get to a point of understanding who I am, and not worrying about what others will think of me...I care too much about what others think. Raising my hands without feeling awkward, stating the truth of the Gospel without fearing the loss that could bring someday in terms of earthly things. If I could just step out, God can use me for great things.

That's my prayer. I want it, I desire it, I don't know how to break through the wall to get it. He is with me, I feel the Holy Spirit with me even as I type, encouraging my heart, telling me it's going to be better. I believe that, I trust that. I'm just tired of losing my joy to depression. I'm tired of being selfish, of being sympathetic, not empathetic. Of caring more for myself and my comfort than for others. That's not a Christian way to be.

-------I found some hope today-------

Today, we were raking leaves in our yard, and as I watched them pile up, I noticed all around that the neighbors yards were also bombarded with fallen leaves. And, something possessed me. It wasn't a desire for acknowledgment, it was this overwhelming sense that I needed to do something for someone else, without any expectation of a return on that.

So, in my frenzied state of physical labor, I raked all of the outer edge of everyone's backyards, and moved the leaves into the tree line about 20 feet from there. It took many trips, two rakes holding a pile and walking it over. But, I felt alive for the first time in awhile. I felt useful and productive. I felt helpful, and like I was finally doing something that wasn't for my benefit- other than getting the fresh air and exercise. This may be a key that I've found to unlocking my ability to help, and put others first. Physical labor is not my favorite thing to do, but today showed me that I can be unselfish. I can do something out of a desire to help others, not myself (though I did rake our yard too). I'm not even writing this to boast on it, as many who have read this far will understand, this is to remind myself, that God is pushing me, and instead of pushing back, I need to ride along with Him.

Growing pains are painful, but the end result is reaching potential, growth. God prunes branches, a painful process if the fruit could feel it, so that they can bear more fruit. Struggle and trial brings us to a place of acknowledgment that without Christ, without our creator, we cannot do it ourselves. We can fight and try, and struggle for years, and still not be satisfied. I finally got that taste of satisfaction again today, that I hadn't tasted since probably 2014 if I had to guess. 4 years of knowing God, but being too tired or lazy to seek him further. 4 years of stifled growth, all the while using my gifts to at least hope to lead others in their walk through music. Yet, how hypocritical that felt.

Matt told me once while I was leading that if I was going to get in the way of God moving in the worship, God would just have to move me out, and get it done anyway. The concept being because I had over planned some things, to the point that I expected a certain result, and it would inevitably not come out the way I expected. God would move in those moments where I just let Him move.

This isn't a confession, this isn't a cry for help, though I'd love some encouragement. I need friends, I need trusted Christian people whom I can reach out to and ease some burden. Juliet and I can do so much, but I think an outside source, an accountability partner, someone who can encourage us, is necessary. So, I hope, now that we've found a church home in Ada, I can be in a better place to meet and find those people.

They're surrounding me already I'm sure at Wesley, but I don't want to let the college kids down by showing that a middle aged person can still be struggling to figure it all out. Not that they would judge it, but in a leadership position, I find it harder to be vulnerable. Not for fear of losing that position, but for fear of hurting someone else's growth with my own idiotic need to stay lateral and not grow.

Perhaps these thoughts are better for a journal, as I doubt anyone will read this far. But, I'll put it out there, for the right person or people to see, who maybe find it encouraging to them to know a fellow brother in the faith struggles. Or, maybe even to use it to encourage me. If I'm going to have this disease of depression, I need to at least fight it, and not let it overtake my joy in the Lord. Medicate it with pills and counseling for the physical side, but medicate it with God's word for the spiritual side too.

It feels good to share this, I know things are starting to align, and Ada is starting to feel more like home. But, I don't get out of the house with only 1 vehicle and work from 1-10pm. I can't take Juliet to work, and I have Hannah all morning with me. So, cabin fever is getting me on this new shift. I sure would love some encouragement on that, someone to let me know I'm not just a body trapped in a house all week. Though, I love my time with Hannah, and our schedules not aligning is probably best for her, since she always has 1 parent with her at any given time.

I suppose that's it for now. I am going to watch some TV, but not to escape what I've just written. I am easing my way back into things. I probably don't need the TV, but it's what I know for now. God help me come back to you, though you never actually left me. Let me desire you and your word again, with the same hunger and devotion I've given to the worldly things these past few years. You know writing is where I can express myself best, You've heard these thoughts in my heart already, here they are in black and white to help me stay accountable, and hopefully for you to use to encourage others, or bring me encouragement as well.

Thanks be to God, who is with us in our weakest, and loves us with the same fervor and devotion as when we're strong. Who speaks the truth in love, and doesn't let us sit idly in our sin, but calls us out of it. Who doesn't throw a stone, but who also encourages us to go and sin no more. May He pull me out of the muck I've dug myself into these past years, and bring me to my purpose, and to bring me back to my desire to use my gifts and talents all for His glory, and the spreading of the Gospel.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Song Discussions- An analysis of some original tunes, and my thought process for writing.

Original lyric writing for Street Corner Salvation

I was thinking today how odd it is to keep the meaning of songs hidden. If you think back to a lot of famous songs, it's weird how many various interpretations there can be for one lyric or song. The artists rarely share these meanings, and I've always found that puzzling.

I can see if there is some really intimate subject matter for the artist, why revealing that to a general audience could make them feel a bit exposed, but in general, I love discussing my songs and my thought process. I've been working on what I will call my Worship Album lately. It's going to be at least 4 songs initially, and it's basically finished at this point, other than some professional mastering of the tracks. I've done what I can with my own limited means, so they aren't sounding too bad overall.

I'd like to explain some of my thoughts about the meanings, and ideas behind these 4 songs, to give some insight into my thought process. You can still interpret differently, and maybe your interpretation will make more sense than mine, but I'd like to at least share where I was coming from in the writing and recording of these tunes. I'm quite proud of them, and they're definitely my most produced so far.

Tools of the Trade
I've always used Garageband on Mac for it's simple interface. It's a bit limited when it comes to mastering tracks, but it has the instrument effects, and ease of use that I need when I'm ready to get an idea down. The Apple iPhone App called  "Music Memos" is actually a great new way for me to get ideas down, and even hear a base/drum track with it to see how it would sound full band. It also shows my chords played, to help with transposing.

Usually, I'll start with a general idea, record it in music memos, and then flesh it out. Once fleshed out, I begin in GarageBand with a virtual drummer (I can't drum for the life of me). When I have that and a tempo I like established, I go to work with a basic piano track to get the chords down. Usually, I'll use my Midi Keyboard and actually play the parts out, since I do know how to play piano on an amateur to intermediate level. Adding Bass using my guitar (since I don't own a bass) and a basic guitar track usually follows.

I don't own professional microphones, and perhaps that is my weakness in the recordings, but with Garageband effects for echo, reverb, and others, I can usually take a pretty basic sounding vocal track and make it sound better. One of my crazy secrets is I usually just use my Apple EarPods that come with the iPhone, and the mic on them to record both the guitar (let the mic hang down in the guitar hole on an acoustic), and vocals. The immediate effect is nothing spectacular, compared to what one could do with a pro mic, but with the many effects in Garageband, it's easy to flesh it out a bit.

I recently had a chance to record one of the songs on this EP in an actual studio in Austin, TX, with a really nice mic, and it does have a warmer vocal sound than the ones I've done at home with my limited equipment. But, for the purposes of sharing with friends and family, you can still get a decent recording playing with it enough. I know my dad has said he's impressed with some of what I've done that was done just using this basic setup.

Okay, so that's a bit about my workflow/setup. Let's talk about these songs.

*Copy paste the links in your browser to access*

The Lord Reigns Forever: https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/the-lord-reigns-forever

I began leading a worship team in late 2015, and had always wanted to write a good, Bible-based worship song. That was the motivation for "The Lord Reigns Forever"
I'm still surprised this one came out rocking the way it did, my initial acoustic idea for it was nowhere near as bluesy on the guitar riff. That driving riff ended up really making the song what it is.

The lyrics are quite simple, taken from Psalm 9 in the ESV Bible version, and adapted to fit the flow of a verse, chorus type of song outline. They are no less meaningful, but the concept here was something that could be sung in a worship service, so I kept the writing very close to the original Biblical text.

I made the chorus simple so a congregation could theoretically sing along. "The Lord Reigns Forever, He rules the world in righteousness" is all that the chorus really amounts to. A break down chorus of "Sing the praises of the Lord" as well. In this way, I was able to implement it into our worship service as our closing song a few times, and it went quite well. I never got a chance to do the electric guitar live as we only had acoustics, but the overall song feel was there.

This one will be the first of the 4 songs that I worked on, and the one that really showed me I could do a lot on GarageBand if I put the time in.

This song acknowledges that Christ reigns over all, and should inspire trust and assurance for those who believe. Colossians tells us Christ was the agent of creation, and holds the universe together. His reign is forever.

Gracious God - https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/gracious-god-1

The next song I worked on was actually written by my mom, LeeAnn Byers, years ago. At one point, a gospel couple had recorded their own version of it. There is a live video of my mom performing it at a church service, and the organist was playing. I heard it and new I wanted a more up tempo version, but wanted that organ sound to still be prominent.  View that video here: https://youtu.be/auyp84G77VE

The opening notes are played like a church organ to give the false impression you're about to hear a hymn. Then, it suddenly kicks into an almost Margaritaville style bass line, and becomes a tropical sounding song.

I really enjoy this song, and lyrically it's another that is straightforward enough for a congregation to join in. We did play this one for service a couple of times as well, though sadly without an organ/keyboard player, I had to use harmonica to give it some extra sound.

When I recorded this song, I was fresh off of recording "Lord Reigns Forever" and felt like these two song arrangements were some of my best work. The music and lyrics of "Gracious God" belong to my mom, but the arrangement was all sparked by my own exploration of the song.

This song is just a great acknowledgement that God is with those who believe in Him, even "when trouble is around, as far as I can see"

Sacrifice- https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/sacrifice
This song's verse came to me awhile back, and I always thought it made a nice song for communion. The part about taking bread and wine was written with that in mind. It's a reflection really on communion and that dynamic between Christ and us.

The chorus came a bit later, as I was just toying around with ideas, when some great theological lines came to me.

"What can I do, but worship You" is my acknowledgment that really our lives are built for the purpose of glorifying God, and really, what else can we do?

"What can I say that would take my sin away" - A plea if there ever was one, but an acknowledgment within that that there is nothing we can say, it's only by trusting in Christ's sacrifice that we can have our sins washed clean and renewed fellowship with our Creator.

"It's by your power, I can believe in you" -- This is a bit controversial, and is a bit Calvinist in its theology. I'm saying, it's only by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the power of God, that anyone can believe in Jesus to begin with. As I've studied theology more, this is where my belief lands. Eternal security for those believing in Christ, because if we were not one of his sheep, we would never trust in Him to begin with. This is a good line on assurance of salvation too, something I used to struggle  with quite a bit. If we are not prompted by God's Holy spirit and his calling on our lives, we would not turn to him to begin with, so if we feel that calling to believe and trust in him, and that desire for Christ, then we can know for certain we are his ("I am yours, You are mine" - line from the verse).

"Here I am, on my knees again" - What else can one do after the lines that preceded it but bow down in awe and praise of this great gift of salvation that is bestowed upon us.

This song started as something discussing the act of communion, and morphed into a song with harmonies and trumpets sounding. I have it at the end of the album right now because that final trumpet blow to end the song, is a great call to the scriptures where trumpets sounding are referenced.
I'd still like to do this one for worship sometime, but maybe more of the original acoustic version I wrote, without as much production. Though, I like how it turned out with all the instrumentation.

For anyone wondering, I don't have a brass section in my house to record. I use the technology that exists now to play notes on a keyboard that I can then transform into a brass sound. My rule for myself is this though, if I could not find someone to play it live, or play it myself live, I don't want to add it. Every instrument and note in here, I could play on keyboard, or have someone easily play on a brass instrument, so I'm happy with it being part of the recording.

Street Corner Salvationhttps://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/street-corner-salvation-1

The title/line "Street Corner Salvation" has been with me for awhile now. I've always thought it would make a great Christian band name, or album title.

It actually first came about when I was playing on street corners in college and after, singing for people passing by. Being a Christian, I took the term salvation and applied it to these Street Corner sessions.

When the time came to write the song, I must say it came together much faster than I would have expected. As my newest original tune, I just told myself I wanted this as a title track, and needed to write it. One day during some free time, the lyrics just began to pour out of me. And, a mental picture that I will share shortly, formed, and helped define what this song brings to my mind.

"It's not just a prayer to pray, repentance and turning away from sin, is where salvation will begin' -
I'm proud of this line, I'll just admit it. It fits nice theology into a long phrasing, but I like the rhyme structure it has. And, repentance and genuine sorrow plus turning away from our sin is really what salvation is about. It's not just saying a prayer once and walking an aisle. It's a changed heart, a changed life from the inside out. We still fail and sin, as we are fallen creatures, but once we have put our full trust in Christ, and sought t remove ourselves from sin as best we are able, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse of from unrighteousness.

"We sanctify daily then, until such a time as when..."
We are to sanctify ourselves, so that we may mature in our belief and grow closer to living a Christ-like life. Sanctification is the ongoing process after initial salvation, in which the believer matures and grows in their faith, seeking to put off past sin, and live on as a new creation in Christ.

"Out on the street we try to get buy, long ago forgotten by our nation"

My first thought writing this was of a homeless believer, who looks forward to their heavenly reward, even though their earthly life may not be the best. They are holding onto their salvation as God's promise of better things to come. They are often on the streets, so a Street Corner Salvation in this context is coming to faith in Christ while in the midst of living on the street, forgotten by most (the nation).

A secondary thought occurred to me though. Perhaps, these are Christians after a time when Christianity is rooted out of the culture. It's already unpopular culturally, so maybe these are Christians who have been pushed to the streets because of their faith. They're also faithful and holding on for the promise of something more. This imagery works in sort of a premillenial end times mind set too, as Christians are pushed underground more and more, they hold onto that salvation.

"What we've got everybody needs, it ain't about religious creeds..."
Another controversial line for me, as I do believe it is necessary for the maturing believer to have weekly or semi frequent fellowship with other believers. People tend to find the institution of the church as overly religious, but really believers in Christ are themselves the church. So, religious creeds can be valuable in certain scenarios, but it's basically saying don't get hung up on trying to earn your salvation with religion, it's about trust in Christ. Theology and church are important, but it's not about a religion- but a relationship (cliche to say, but true).

This song had my vocals and guitars recorded in studio in Austin, so it's technically my first professional recording. My cousin Jesse LaFave did the lead resonator guitar fills, and I built my keyboard and organ part around that. The keyboard riff is meant as a response to Jesse's main fill in the song.

This song came together very fast, as I had only written it around 2 weeks before I ended up recording it in studio. I was fighting a sinus infection, but didn't want to lose my studio time slot, so I am a bit more nasally than usual on it. But, my voice is naturally gravelly, so it fits alright.

I had a crowd review of anonymous users thoughts on it, and a few commented on my voice negatively. But, if anyone knows me, I've always had that unique vocal quality, and I'd never claim to be a choir singer. I own it, and it's my thing. So, not everyone will like it, but that's alright. Those that do, tend to find it much different than what is out there.

So, with my 4 songs analyzed a bit, I hope I've given some interesting insights into the process that went into this album. I've certainly not had room here to cover all my thoughts on it, but I've given the basics. Feel free to ask if anyone ever has other questions about it.

You can listen to all 4 songs on my SoundCloud playlist here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/sets/worship-song-trio

Current plan for track order is:
1.Gracious God
2.The Lord Reigns Forever
3.Street Corner Salvation


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Leaving the Big City Lights

We moved back to Oklahoma in May. My Dad and step mom bought a condo, and are renting it to us. It’s much more space than we had in Austin, and much cheaper. We are also only about one minute up the road from them, so they can see grand baby Hannah anytime they would like. The game plan is finally starting to balance out and come together as well. At first, we had a lot of things still stacked against us. Being close to family was the one main positive in it all.

First, to move to Oklahoma, I had to take a pretty big salary hit. I made up for most of that by working the night shift, which pays an extra 10%. Juliet was still not working, and we still thought finding a job for her would be as easy as it was in Austin. It was not. The medical bills from Hannah’s birth were also finally starting to come due. We found ourselves (and still find ourselves to some degree), still fighting the uphill battle to stay up to date with the bills, while still having enough money to live on. In Austin, leading worship for Calvary provided a source of extra part-time income, that usually would arrive right about the time rent was due. The timing was always just right. Moving to Oklahoma, I had to move on from that position, and I hoped that I could find something similar here. Not the money part so much, as just being connected and playing worship music.

The move back to small town Oklahoma has hit me harder than Juliet, I think. I actually enjoyed living in Austin. It felt like we had accomplished something. If we could survive in the big city, surely we had made it! I also connected more at church because of the worship leading. Juliet had never liked Austin, and was increasingly dissatisfied with it as time progressed. I liked having family and friends close by. I think Juliet only really enjoyed the fact that we could occasionally hang out with my cousin Jesse and his girlfriend Rachel. Her and Rachel hit it off well when they met. Oddly, being in the “live music capital of the world”, I don’t think I ever saw more than a handful of live shows. Juliet has never liked live music, and we tended to morph into homebodies after a long day’s work. So, the transition back to small town Oklahoma, where everywhere you need to go is only 5 minutes away, has been tougher for me than her.

Admittedly, there were a lot of sad things happening the past couple of months since we moved as well. My uncle Jimmy lost his battle to cancer in May, and then my grandpa (Pepa) just recently passed away in July. Nearly 2 months apart exactly. With Jimmy’s passing, I had a lot of regrets about not seeing some of his final shows, or being around him near the end. This hit me hard, but work was busy at the time, and I did not have time to grieve properly.

I’m writing in past tense because currently things have started shaping up, or at least balancing out as I said. But, I’m still not fully adjusted to the new place. With bills piling up, death in the family, loss of salary, no job for Juliet, and just generally not having anywhere yet to connect to people, I was starting to feel pretty depressed.

The silver lining at my job was that my current manager has been by far the most supportive boss that I have ever had. My weekly one to one chats with him are immensely helpful and uplifting, and he has helped encourage me to grow within the company. I’m very thankful that he also understood when I needed some time away over the past few months to just mentally recharge, or for bereavement with the loss of family. Also, sometime back in May, he brought me some good news. They had reviewed my salary adjustment for the move, and decided to reinstate my previous salary that I had in Austin. This means I am now making what I was making before we moved. Had we not been so far behind on bills at the time, I would have been more excited, but as it is, it’s simply helped us scrape by a little bit better. Still, it was unexpected surprise that really will help in the long haul, even if the short term still looks a bit bleak. So, my manager’s encouragement, the reinstatement of my previous salary, and the prospect of leading the Worship for the Wesley Foundation in town, have added some great positives to the move. Another happy bonus with leading music at the Wesley, is that my dad will be playing alongside me. That is something I’ve wanted to have for a long time, playing music with him. It’s a little weird being the “leader” and having to lead him, but I think the dynamic will work out, and I think of him currently as more of my co-leader anyway. He’s been playing with that Wesley foundation since last year, so he is probably more versed in how things go than I am at present time.

Being close to family has been another ongoing positive. My dad and Kristen have been able to see Hannah grow from 4-6 months, and be there nearly every step of the way. My mom has also made many trips down to visit. I’m encouraged that despite my grandfather’s passing, it allowed some time to see the whole family again, even Andy and Liz who I hadn’t seen since March, when Hannah was barely 2 months old. Juliet's parents also stayed with us for a few weeks, and that was a great time. Silver linings.

The adjustment has been tricky for me, but as I say, things are beginning to shape up. I think some of it is just the natural transition that happens with any big move. It takes some time to get re-adjusted to the swing of things.

As part of my ongoing desire to learn as much as I can at work, and build my resume for future career goals there, I applied to a Sales Chat Position. It is a lateral move, but I would be switching from talking to customers on the phone, to chatting with them. I’m happy to say, I got that job, so I will be transitioning to that team starting the 18th of this month. I’m really excited for a new challenge, and I always like exploring other roles within the company. I’m gradually building my skill set, and hopefully will be able to work toward my current goal of being in a more employee facing, coaching type of role.

Moving can be tough on state of mind, finances, and a whole host of other things. But, it is usually done for a positive purpose, and that purpose has a way of shining through, to light our way. I’m enjoying cruising around the Oklahoma highways, and exploring a new town and what it has to offer. I’m anxious to be involved again in worship leading. I’m excited that we have a game plan, however painful, to start getting back on our feet financially. There is still a lot to be thankful for. I may have days where I’m feeling down about the move. I think that’s natural. I’m trying to find other ways to occupy my free time.

In other good news, Juliet now has a part-time job working with one of the Veterinary offices in town. I think it will line up with my work schedule so that we need minimal child care, though my dad has offered some help if needed. With her bringing some money in, I think we’ll be able to get back at least to a more stable place than we have been since May. Hannah is a constant source of Joy, and watching her learn and grow is always a good pick-me-up. 

I haven’t written in awhile, and it’s kind of nice just sitting here typing my thoughts again like I used to do. I’ll try to post a bit more about what’s on my mind, or about relevant topics. We are trusting God, and His provision for us, to carry us into these uncharted waters, and to help us get back on our feet again. We are constantly thankful for the blessings we already have been given, and do not want to take those for granted. It’s been 3 months, and finally Ada is starting to feel like home.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jimmy LaFave- The Influence of a Musical Uncle

Jimmy LaFave has always been my uncle, but this picture marks a more definitive beginning of his influence on me. 

I was 8 or 9 years old, and had asked him to pose in a picture with me as proof that I had a famous uncle. I distinctly remember it being to impress a girl, and I probably had my friend Gary do the actual talking to the girl when the time came. I've always liked telling people he's my uncle, though I feel like he might play down the "famous" part in his humility.

We used to listen to Jimmy's CDs in the car growing up. I've always been a fan, and would be whether or not we were related. 

As I got older, the annual Woody Guthrie folk festival became a great event to attend, and Jimmy was always kind enough to let me and whichever friend I brought backstage to hangout.

At one particular festival, which had to have been over 15 years ago, he gave me an Intellitouch brand guitar tuner. It was when they first developed the tuners that tuned by vibration so you could tune even in a loud environment. He was a spokesman for them at the time I think, and was able to give me a free one. I still use that same tuner now (though it's in two pieces instead of one after years of use).

Christmas Eve 1999 will still go down in history as Jimmy at his funniest. I'm not sure how it all happened but with Jesse LaFave jamming some cover tunes on guitar for background noise, Jimmy grabbed the mic and began improvising humorous lyrics over the familiar tunes. There's a video somewhere I'll have to find and edit down to the greatest hits at some point. 

Jimmy's sense of humor is part of what makes his shows so fun. The banter in between songs with his band or the audience is always right on.

I never really felt comfortable asking him if I could play a song or two to open for him, or if he could help me out with my own music recording in some way. To be fair when he first heard my early stuff I'm not sure I had the caliber of musicianship to be worthy of stage time with him. I also felt it would be an unfair advantage to use the family connection, though I'm sure he would have obliged in some way. 

In college I began covering some of his songs while sitting on the street corner in Stillwater across from Willie's Saloon playing for the passers by.  I would always open my "set" with a cover of "Never Be Mine" to get things going. Later, my cover band, The Huntsmen, had a standing gig at Willie's. It was great to stand in Jimmy's footsteps for awhile. He had played the same bar during his early Stillwater days as well, and a sign with his name on it still hung on the wall all those years later.

In Austin, musically, I have stuck to the Open mic night circuit. I nearly always do at least one Jimmy cover. My favorites to play are "Vanished" and "Going Home" Nearly every time, someone in the audience will recognize the song, or have heard of Jimmy. During one open mic night in particular, there was another guy who covered "Only One Angel" in his set right after mine. Total coincidence, but it brought up a good conversation about Jimmy.

My desire to perform with him, even just once, happened this past Christmas. When no one in the audience knew all the words to Silent Night, I set my nerves aside and spoke up for the first time. He called me up and I sang the classic Christmas tune (though I chose too low of a key) side by side with the man who had a strong influence on me, but perhaps never knew the full extent of it. I could finally say I sang with Jimmy on stage. When he invited me up for the closing songs where he frequently brings up other musicians to jam on familiar tunes, I felt honored to stand beside him. This was huge for me, and I talked about it for days afterwards. I'm sure Juliet got tired of hearing me play the video of it over and over, but to met it represented being a part of something I had dreamed of for years. I got to share the stage, for a moment, with Jimmy. 

Jimmy has always been gracious of his time, and always makes time for family. I last saw him about a month ago to introduce him to our new baby girl, (his great niece) Hannah. He held her for awhile, and he seemed for a moment to forget about all of the other cares in the world. With all he had been going through, the new life in the room brought a smile to his face. I've already started her listening to Jimmy's albums during our morning music time together. In the quiet hours of the morning, I sit in the recliner and rock her, while listening to my favorite music. Jimmy comes into rotation quite often.These are the moments I remember best.

I don't know that I could say anything truly profound here, I just wanted to reminisce on my uncle. Jimmy has influenced me without perhaps ever knowing to what extent, mostly because I was afraid to tell him. My goal as a musician was always to come close to the same measure of skill and composure on stage as him. My voice even began to take on some of his raspy tone over time.
I hope to attend the show at Threadgills tomorrow  night, and I pray it won't be the last time I get to see him play live. 

Jimmy, I am truly sorry that you are going through this, but I admire your desire to let the show go on as long as it can. Thank you for the part you played in my musical influence. Thanks for always being available for family.

"If I don't see you real soon, I'll see you down the road someday."

Love you Jimmy!

Your nephew,


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Think Before You Post: A Plea to Christians

Tuesday is officially Election Day. I don't care who you vote for. I early voted and already made my choice. I care about how you treat others. I care about you respecting their right to their own opinions, no matter how much you disagree.

Christians, I hate to say it about my own brothers and sisters in Christ, but many of you have been the most hateful, antagonistic, slanderous, downright nasty people during this election season. You've disrespected those who disagree with you. You've been passive aggressive towards your neighbor, instead of loving your neighbor.

You've wished ill on other people, whom you should have been praying for. You've been so vocal with hatred towards "the other side" (whether left or right) that you've damaged the faith, and given a bad name to those Christians who took Christ's advice and loved those with whom they disagree.

Am I over-exaggerating? If what I've read on some Christians' Facebook walls, and comment sections is true, then I'm not over-exaggerating at all. Either they are in the camp of not actually being believers, or they are believers in need of some rebuke.

If you follow Christ, it doesn't matter who is in the White House after Nov 8. Christ is ruling and reigning in the Heavenly kingdom, and we are citizens of that realm as much or more, as we are of the earthly kingdoms of men.

Historically, when Christians have tried to merge these two kingdoms (kingdom of man and kingdom of God), only bloodshed and turmoil has resulted (remember the Crusades and the Inquisition?). When we put down our crosses and pick up our swords, trying to gain power, we become a religion of oppression. We must preach Christ-not the Civil Christianity so many wish to impose. 

I disagree with a lot of what the world is doing, but I take heart in the Apostle Paul's words to both Timothy and Titus on separate occasions.

To Titus, who was ministering in Crete, a worldly place if there ever was one, he said,

"1. Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:1-7)

And to Timothy he says, 
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Did you read that? Avoid quarreling, show perfect courtesy to others, pray for kings (leaders) in high positions (including current and future presidents). Lead peaceful and quiet life. 

Your social media posts have certainly not been peaceful or quiet as of late. You have not shown perfect courtesy to one another, but have taken to slandering those who disagree with you. Are you Christian in name only? Where is your faith in Christ? Where is your love for those around you, no matter how badly your world views may clash? I'm disappointed in the name some of you are giving Christianity. The world hates us enough already without throwing wood on the fire.

Christ is ruling and reigning, holding all things together by his power. He is sovereignly in control, and it is part of His ultimate plan that various rulers come to us for a time. If we truly delight and trust in him, what do we have to fear? 

If the economy crashes, Christ is on the throne. If more women continue to have abortions, Christ is on the throne. If illegal immigration runs rampant, Christ is on the throne. If our leaders shut out the sojourner or refugee, Christ is on the throne. If more is required to own a gun, Christ is on the throne. If we burn oil instead of cleaner energy sources, Christ is on the throne. Any issue you can name, on any side of the political fence, is of no worry to us, because our savior is on the throne. So, why are we fighting one another? Why are we trying to convince people of our opinions, when we know we would never be convinced of theirs? Just stop it. Antagonistic or passive aggressive just stop it. You're hurting the body of Christ!

"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (Colossians 1:16-20)

Nobody was ever won to Christ through antagonizing. Nobody ever saw a Christian behaving like an idiot and said, "that's the religion for me."

Historically, it's been the opposite. The church division pushes people away. If we are all part of the body of Christ, how can we expect to move, when half our parts are not working, or are refusing to work as a cohesive unit? Christians do not all have to vote the same. 

Brothers and sisters PLEASE think before you post. Please remember you are talking badly about real humans, whom God may have called to a kingdom purpose at some future time. We preach Christ in love and humility, not anger and hate. That does not mean we have to agree with everything the popular culture agrees with, far from it in most cases. But, we are to be a light on a hill to a dark world. If we dim our light by our attitudes and actions, no one will see, and opportunity for relationship will be lost.

Think before you speak. Think before you act. Think before you post.

Be concerned, not fearful. Have faith, not doubt. Trust Christ in all things, and let the light of His salvation shine through you.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Confessions of a Christian Worship Leader

I lead worship music on Sunday mornings.

I hear the argument often, or maybe I notice the articles more now that they apply to me, about which type of music is best for worship.

I suppose in a general sense, any music we offer to God for His glory, not our own, could be considered worship. Yet, with our modern options, the decision becomes more often about which style of music is most suitable. We treat it as though God is looking down, saying to Himself,
"I hope they don't play that Tomlin song again," or "I hope they play Amazing Grace today."

My impression is that God is not worried about if the drums were too loud, or if the song choice didn't quite flow as intended. He's proven this to me numerous times. I can plan and plan all I want, but if God is ready to move, He will push me right along with Him. He has blessed me with a talent, and with a desire to lead His people into worship. This is my privilege, to offer back what I am able to One who gave it all for me.

Each week I choose the songs for the upcoming Sunday. I wish I could say there was a set process for this, but I tend to look for similar music keys, and songs that could flow into one another. I also like to revisit songs for which I have fond recollection. Though, if I lean too far into nostalgia, I am in danger of making the worship about what I want. If the goal of the worship leader is to lead the congregation in worship, there should be a balance of music that leads both the congregation and the leader into a similar state of worship.

Yet, there is no way to please everyone. And, why are we trying to please anyone, if our ultimate goal is to offer our praise and worship to Christ?

Admittedly, I get bogged down in wondering what the congregation wants sometimes more than I seek what Christ would want. It's those Sundays that a noticeable difference occurs. There is something off. There are people in our congregation who I can sense are put off by certain songs. It's the nature of personal preference. Songs may speak more to some than others. If I begin to focus on a an individual's experience, I am at risk of falling into concert mode, trying to please that individual more than God. It has happened, and I am aware of it in the midst, but find it hard to break out. If we honor God with our worship, He will permeate the congregation and lead them. God is the true leader of worship. The praise team is the vessel by which God chooses to manifest His majesty, as His people give him honor and praise.

The Sundays that I thought I had it all together, and perfectly planned out, God has shaken things up a bit. It's these instances that remind me that while being prepared is important, ultimately letting God take control will lead into a much deeper state of connection with our Lord.

Is there a correct style of music? The traditionalists would argue hymns over the songs of today, and the modern worshipper would want to table those dusty old hymns in favor of a more emotionally charged, intense musical experience. A "concert for Jesus" if you will.

Week after week, I find myself torn between the two. I am given a lot of freedom with music choice. Our pastor will occasionally make a suggestion, but ultimately leaves it to me. While this freedom can be nice, it can also be hindering, as I may get in my own head about song decisions.

For example, this Sunday for the second time during my tenure at this church, we are doing a traditional hymn service (my choice). It is a throwback to the old style of worship. Some might think it odd to do this. In a church that is seeking to bring in a younger demographic, and to grow in general, is it perhaps risky to play such old melodies? I truly think not. It is a tribute to those theologically marvelous tunes upon which our modern worship is grounded (however far from one another they might sound these days). We couldn't have Tomlin, Hillsong, or "insert contemporary Christian artist here" without the hymn writers.

There is a simplicity to the classic songs that is undeniable.

Honestly, this post is more to get my musings on the page, not to answer the question of which style is better. I would encourage my brothers and sisters in the faith to not ever let a personal preference create discontent within the church. There can be no meeting everyone's preferences. And, there is no need. If we can give the honor to God, letting go of the fallen tendency to people please, then by His power, all will be led into worship, and He will receive what He is due.

Contemporary, traditional, or something in between, when we sing whole heartedly to God, He is pleased. Give Him praise today!

"Sing to Him a new song, play skillfully, and shout for joy..." (Psalm 33:3)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Fast and the Furious- How to Watch the Series

They get progressively better-stick it out!

I'm going to stray from the normal writing a bit here, to touch on something of interest to me, having now finished the full set of "Fast and Furious" movies.

I was still in high school when the first movie came out. I remember seeing it with my friend Tyler, who was way more into cars than I was. I'm pretty sure we recognized the bad acting, and somewhat cheesy plot line at the time. All I really remember is everyone pulled out of the parking lot that night trying to peel out and show off their basic cars, in an effort to imitate the movie.

When 2 Fast 2 Furious came out, I recall seeing it more out of obligation (I don't like leaving parts of a series unseen if I've seen one). I recall being more entertained with the addition of Tyrese Diggs in the part of Roman. He added a nice layer of humor to the series.

It was after this point, though, I lost complete interest in the series.

About a year ago, in an effort to collect some digital movies, I bought the Fast and Furious bundle on iTunes (having secretly always wanted to see the newer additions). By this time, Furious 7 had been in and out of theaters, and had received fairly good reviews.

I watched FF1 and FF2 again, but stopped a few minutes into Tokyo Drift. About a  week ago, with some time on my hands, I decided to finish out the series (still skipping Tokyo Drift).

FF4 was pretty good, and re-established the flavor from the first movie. It also introduced some intriguing new characters, and a few interesting plot points. I moved on to FF5, and found it to be the best in the series up to that point. With the addition of Dwayne Johnson (the Rock)'s character, the series took on a whole new flavor. More than just wild car driving, it became almost Jason Bourne in its action sequences and gun fights. Added to that was the trademark crazy driving, and the combo worked.

Mentally, I considered that perhaps this was the beginning of a better "trilogy" of these movies. At this point I was still ignoring Tokyo Drift, the 3rd movie in the series.

FF 6 ended up being the best of the entire series in my opinion, if for no other reason than it brought back all the great characters from FF5, and included the most insane/over the top (CGI I'm sure) stunt I've seen in movies recently. For the record, FF6 and FF7 are basically two movies tied together in plot line, much like FF4 and FF5 tie together.

Now, what I realized only today as I pondered the series as a whole, is that chronologically, Tokyo Drift (FF3) actually did have a place in the series, and contained events that did tie back into the other movies (albeit loosely).

Now, I'll have to go back and watch FF3 to get the full cohesion there, but basically the chronological order of the series becomes the following:

Fast and the Furious (FF1)
2 Fast 2 Furious (FF2)
Fast and Furious (FF4)
Fast Five (FF5)
The Fast and Furious 6 (FF6)
Tokyo Drift (FF3)
Furious 7 (FF7)

Events taking place after FF6 and before FF7 directly relate to events found in Tokyo drift, despite it having been released years earlier. Apparently there is a special feature on one of the discs that bridges the gap with a short film, so I'll have to hunt that down for clarity. But, basically one of the main team members in FF5 and FF6 ends up having a role throughout FF3 and somewhat in FF7.

So, there you have it. The Fast and the Furious series is actually somewhat well thought out, and a cohesive universe as a whole. It's also interesting to note that as the movie progress Dom (Vin Diesel) becomes more and more superhuman, as he begins surviving some pretty crazy stunts by time we get to FF6 and 7. It's an interesting transition from tough guy racer in FF1 to essentially Super human tough guy in FF7.

So, are the films a bit cheesy? Yes. Is the acting a bit sub-par? Yes. But, would I recommend checking all the movies out? Most definitely.

Having seen them all now (Save Tokyo drift which I will watch soon), I can say that they just get more and more interesting as they progress. What starts as somewhat entertaining street racing films, became essentially spy thrillers with cars by the end of the series. And, it has good closure in FF7 (though more movies are planned)- so for a series as a whole up to this point, it wraps up well.

I would suggest, now that I'm more informed, watching the movies in chronological order.

It's possible to break them into pairs or trilogies mentally to help distinguish as well.

FF1 + FF2





Anyway, I know this is a departure from the usual, and probably only interesting to a select few, but occasionally I like to put something like this out there for the benefit of anyone who cares.

Hope it helps. They mature as they progress, and become more like all out action movies than just street racing movies. Though, cars and car stunts are always a big part of them.