Kid In A Candy Store

My first blog of the new year is a confession of sorts. I like reading. Always have. And now, in my role with Thomas Nelson, I’m like a “kid in a candy store.” According to a dictionary of idioms, this suggests the subject is very happy and excited about the things around them, and may even react in a way which is silly and not controlled. I’ll fess up to being happy and excited, but the rest I’ll leave for others to comment on.

I am surrounded by books, consuming a crazy amount of this “candy,” and encouraged to load up my backpack and consume like, well, you get it. Wow!

In all honesty, there’s a part of me that wishes I could write one of those “Top 10 Books of 2010” posts, but I’m just too exhilarated to get that serious. Can I walk down the candy aisle with you and just point to some of the treats I’ve enjoyed so far?

  • Over there is We Be Big, my most recent read. It’s an entertaining book about the personal and professional journey of the infamous Rick & Bubba radio team. I laughed and shed tears as I walked with them through the story God is writing in their lives.
  • And The Skin Map, by Stephen Lawhead. How have I not read one of his novels before? What a great author.
  • Robert Whitlow’s The Water’s Edge was a page-burner! I’ll definitely be reading more by this guy. I found myself either longing to hang with the protagonist or realizing that in many ways I already do. He was that real.
  • And for the baseball fan in me – reality is I don’t follow the sport at all – there was Pujols, A fast read that reveals a heart for God and an understanding of how God has gifted him for the cause of the kingdom. Turns out he’s quite a baseball player, too. Who knew?
  • And those three over there? They are the first three in a young adult fiction series by Andrew Klavan. I couldn’t read just one. Literally. I finished one and immediately started the next. Hurry with the final volume, Andrew!
  • Pete Wilson’s Plan B is a very important message that resonated large with my heart. As Manning’s Ruthless Trust, it addresses what Brenning calls “the enormous difficulty.”
  • I wish I could stop longer and tell you how I savored so many of these. There are the two modern parables by Andy Andrews, The Noticer and the upcoming The Final Summit, Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is For Real, John MacArthur’s Slave, Lis Wiehl’s suspense novel, Hand of Fate, Phil Cooke’s Jolt!, George W. Bush’s Decision Points, Brennan Manning’s The Rabbi’s Heartbeat, and several early manuscripts, including a great one by Bill Bennett.
  • And then here, at the end of the aisle, two of my favorites. The biographies Bonhoeffer and Defiant Joy! (G. K. Chesterton) are absolutely delightful, deeply satisfying reads.

Maybe by the end of 2011 I’ll be ready to compile a Top Books list. Then again, maybe I’ll just continue enjoying the seemingly endless selection of candy, filled with gratitude for the opportunity.

Thanks for scurrying down the candy aisle with me. And thanks to the early educators who taught me the wonder of imagination, solitude, refuge and hope to be discovered in books.

Happy New Year, thanks for reading my blog, and here’s wishing you some rich reading in 2011!

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Music History 101

It’s been four weeks since I walked through the career change I wrote about in earlier postings, Endings and Beginnings, and during the more recent days I’ve found myself recalling early memories associated with my musical roots. It has been such a rich segment of the journey to closure, leaving me amazed at the arc of my early-developing love of music, my development as a musician, my experiences as a performer, and my career in the music business.

I have often said that I never worked a day in my life in the music industry. (I shudder thinking of a couple of colleagues who might agree far too quickly.) I was, instead, living the dream of a child of the 60s. Music was one of the greatest gifts in life, and to be able to participate in it every day AND get paid for it was “living the dream,” especially for a teenager growing up in San Francisco. Even some the secondary dreams of my adolescence were fulfilled in my career, e.g., what music fan in high school during that era didn’t dream of being able to wear jeans and t-shirts every day and go to concerts in the evenings and on weekends? Come on, those were the days of “battles of the bands” during high school assemblies. Life revolved around rock ‘n roll. Wow.

So where did my love of music begin? I’m convinced there was a “bent” toward the arts in my early years, but it’s very clear that being exposed to music with classical roots every Sunday in our church peaked my interest. The huge pipe organ, with its myriad of voicings, was always fascinating to me. Every Sunday I was either mesmerized by it or complaining that I hadn’t heard enough. As I write this I realize that modern-day  didn’t exist during my childhood, but the pipe organ provided the very same earth-shaking, chest-thumping low frequency sounds that still thrill audiences. (I miss the extensive palette of colors and massive power of such instruments.)

Unquestionably, one of the most significant contributors to the development of my love for music is Leonard Bernstein, who was the conductor and music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. Bernstein, noteworthy for a broad-based contribution to both classical and popular music, was a tireless protagonist for an entire generation of burgeoning music lovers. His commitment to educating America’s youth in the appreciation of music spawned an invaluable series of programs, Young People’s Concerts, that were shown in schools across the country as part of art appreciation curriculums. Bernstein’s passion and his gift for sharing it with young audiences captivated me and built the foundation for my engagement with music. In fact, the only reason I know for choosing the cello as my instrument of choice in the third grade was because of my exposure to the instrument from viewing his series. I was the only cellist in most of the school-related orchestras I participated in, but will never forget the culmination of my study when I was chosen to play in a 50-piece orchestra that included professional players in each of the sections. The performance was for a ticketed event in one of the beautiful venues in the heart of San Francisco. A black tie event. I was living the dream that Bernstein had ignited and fueled during those early years!

At some point in my adult life I began describing great music as “music that reaches deep down into a person and pulls out something they didn’t know was there.” The music gives voice to that something, and the listener is invited to experience a new depth and range of emotions. It wasn’t until this past week that I realized the roots of these words also came from those early experiences with Bernstein. I ran across the following film clip, and there it was. Bernstein had taught me that truth decades ago!

What are your earliest recollections of appreciating the gift of music?

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Stopped By Beauty

Early each morning for nearly four years I have walked around our neighborhood with Connor, our greyhound. It is, most days, a most wondrous time. Connor is, by others’ observation as well as mine, an amazing animal that lives to enjoy relating to anything that moves, but especially humans. His walks are most complete when he is able to cross paths with one or more established or new friends. And if there’s another dog to meet or enjoy, he’s doubly happy. He makes a habit of leaning heavily into those whom he most appreciates.

The mystery of my bond with this creature I am charged to care for seems a vital connection to what once was and what one day will again be. Both Connor and I are fulfilled and reflect the glory of our Creator in these moments together.

Walking in the early hours of each day is an invitation to be present in a way that the noise and activities of the day tend to challenge. The quiet, peacefulness that morning’s first light offers is a breathtaking experience.

I hear more. I see more. I feel more. I process more of life. I laugh more. I cry more. I sing more.I pray more.

Connor and I are surrounded by the music of creation, a symphony to the Creator that is new every morning. When we’re quiet, creation cries out a continuous song of wonder. And I join that symphony most mornings, voicing the wonder of participating in the song.

  • When morning gilds the skies…
  • Morning by morning, new mercies I see
  • And he walks with me and he talks with me…
  • Holy, Holy, Holy…

Then there are mornings that are marked by a moment of breathtaking beauty that literally stops me in my tracks and excites my soul. And though I’ve come to walk in anticipation of these moments, they always come with an element of surprise. It’s as if a veil is lifted and creation’s song becomes much richer and powerful. I’ve been stopped by

  • the beauty of a dark, moonlight-less morning
  • the deafening quiet of creation at rest
  • the powerful light of a full moon in the crystal-clear darkness of the morning
  • the shimmering stars that form the familiar constellations of my childhood
  • the hushed sounds of gently falling snow
  • the mystery of dense fog hanging in the air – the muted colors and sounds
  • the colors in the sunrises – colors beyond the scope of any human artists’ palette
  • the clouds that are beyond my imagination
  • the red fox, coyote, bobcat, and deer that have walked along side us or crossed our path
  • the polyphony of creation’s song – squirrels, birds, dogs, crickets, turkeys, owls, deer, and other yet-to-be-identified creatures

It is in these moments that I experience a perfect storm of sorts, where mysteriously all my hope and desire are exposed. And in the expansiveness of that moment they are met by Him who is Beauty, the object of all my hope and desire. And I can almost hear the very rocks crying out around us.

When was the last time you were stopped by Beauty?

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Beginnings

The golden morning sunlight descends in the trees and on the houses of our neighborhood like the stage curtain at the close of an act; it signals an ending, but that is overshadowed by its signaling a beginning.

These words formed on my lips as I walked with Connor one early morning this week, and I began to understand what I hadn’t found words for since the start of the week.

The week was all about beginnings.

I began the new season of my career when I walked into the offices of Thomas Nelson, slowing only slightly as I waved while passing the receptionist’s desk on the way to my desk. Two visitors were at the desk signing in, so the “Sir!” that echoed from ten feet behind me just made me smile as I continued my confident stride. But when I heard a louder, much more authoritative “Excuse me, sir! Where are you going?” I stopped mid-stride. I’m not even sure my thoughts had caught up with my immediate reaction; it seemed to take a second or two to think maybe I was the target of the receptionist’s assertive inquiry.

I turned and found myself mumbling somewhat feebly about being a new employee and heading to my office, to which the receptionist replied “You will stop here every day to sign in and get a guest badge until you have your official employee badge.” I don’t remember what I said after that, but it was some variation of “Yes, ma’am” as I returned to the desk to sign in and receive my badge. This was a most-fitting way for the adventure to begin, and I’ve laughed about it each day since.

It was a week of embracing beginnings. New people. New surroundings. New responsibilities. New schedules. New commutes. New products. New relationships with former colleagues. New energy and enthusiasm. New stories to tell. New knowledge to assimilate. And so much more.

Exciting beginnings emerge like a treasure from a chest of good endings, and I’m so excited about the days ahead!

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The Day It Ended

Friday marked the close of my 30-year career in the music industry. It was a day I had set in motion two weeks earlier when I resigned from my position with Integrity Media. The weeks were filled with thoughts, memories, and feelings that I did my best to embrace as they came, especially the sadness of leaving a company and the company of dear friends in the process.

Here’s what the day included.

  • Doing some final clean-up of files on my computer
  • Finishing work on some requests that came in at the last minute
  • Packing out the remaining personal items
  • Sending out farewell messages to both my Integrity Media and Provident-Integrity Distribution colleagues
  • Making the final tour of the office, accompanied by Connor, to say goodbye to the distribution team (oh, did I mention I took Connor to the office for the day? I sort of figured the worst that could happen would be they’d kick us out, and that just didn’t seem like such a bad scenario on my last day.)
  • Turning in the key card and office key – the final ceremonial act acknowledging I’d no longer be able to pass the front desk without an approved chaperone (and without Connor)

And so it was finished. After arriving home I checked my E-mail and was able to read a number of very kind messages from colleagues who had replied to the message I’d sent out earlier. And while basking in the warmth of those kind words, it happened.

I knew it would, but I hadn’t anticipated when, and it was quite a shock. My BlackBerry beeped and vibrated in protest of a sudden communication problem with the server in Mobile. Huh? Already? I hadn’t really thought about how quickly the crack IT department in Mobile would shut me out of the system, but they’d done their job efficiently and effectively, as they always have when I’ve required their help.

The sudden feeling of finality immediately reminded of something I’d witnessed years earlier. Shortly after being hired by Word in 1981, I traveled to Waco, Texas, for my inaugural visit to the home office. The morning I arrived there was laughter echoing around the offices over something that had happened before I arrived. The previous day had been the final day of employment for the head of A&R, and when he had returned to empty out his office that morning, his parking space had already been re-painted with a new name. His dramatic reaction when he saw it stirred laughter all around the office. (Contrary to what he suspected, the painter had been scheduled to freshen the paint on the spots for weeks. The timing was coincidental, but of course no one bothered to tell him that.)

So there I was at 6:00 p.m., a mere hour since the official end of the business day, and I’d discovered my parking spot had already been repainted. Hmm. That felt like real finality. This was the day it ended.

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Endings

Recently, a friend was so captivated by a book that they just couldn’t not talk about it. The passion with which they spoke was so compelling that I couldn’t wait to read it.

The topic? Endings.

My enthusiasm toward the opportunity to examine the concept of “endings” in my life was authentic, but mixed with a great measure of apprehension. I had a sense that I was going to be invited to experience some pretty uncomfortable feelings that I’d spent a lifetime developing adaptive behaviors to avoid. Of course I have virtue-laden prose to describe my discomfort of endings; why, most of the time I’ve got myself convinced my reluctance of initiating endings is a strength.

I approached the read with trepidation.

Truth be told, a couple of weeks earlier I’d been visiting someone in the hospital and they’d actually said it. “You suck at leaving, you know?” Ouch.

So I began to read, and there I was, exposed in every chapter. And just after I began the book, a big life change opportunity presented itself and I was immediately living in the tension of what I was reading. What!? As the details of the opportunity were explored, it became clear my path was about to take an unexpected turn, and require me to instigate and negotiate my way through a very difficult ending.

I read voraciously to gain as much encouragement as I could find in those pages, threw my normal caution to the wind, and walked into the required ending.

I’ve begun to learn several things as I’m walking through this ending.

  • Initiating the ending well required that I really believe endings are part of the path of growth
  • Though it just sounds like such a trite cliche, endings are a necessary step toward new beginnings
  • Endings may bring pain and sadness for loss, but those feelings are a powerful reminder of how rich and valued that which is lost is to me, and what a priceless gift those things have been to my journey
  • I’ve begun to recognize a bit of the strength that comes from walking intentionally into and through an ending toward a new beginning

How are you at endings? What does the process of preparing for and implementing endings look in your life? What have you learned?

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Gratitude

She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal…I forgive your sins.” (Luke 7:46-8, The Message)

Those final four words of the passage seem so simple and matter-of-fact. Sometimes life seems so complicated and confusing, and then there are these moments when it seems to become so simple. I forgive your sins. As I ponder that declarative from God and it’s impact on my life, I discover humility and am filled with gratitude.

I live far too many of my waking hours not remembering the weight of my Redeemer’s words. I am so easily distracted from the simple truth of the gospel story in my life.

God, grant that I would live more fully in the presence of this simple truth. And I will be filled with gratitude.

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