Here are some thoughts for the end of last year/beginning of this new year written a few weeks ago:
On some old advice, a “good word,” from my dear friend Allen Levi I’ve decided to set aside some time today to “reflect on the past year.” Now, per his instructions, this is not allowed to be a casual thing done in passing, but is intended to be more deliberate. For a few years running, Allen and I had an annual New Years Eve breakfast at the Pine Mountain Country Store near his home in Hamilton, GA. It was always a rich time, eating biscuits with muscadine jelly, catching up on the year coming to a close, and dreaming out loud a little about the year to come. And, as he still does when we spend time together, Allen always had some little “good word” in mind – things that make for good moments, but that I’d probably never think of on my own. For example, he told me one day as we worked out on his Georgia farm that as many times as he may move in his lifetime, he intends to always see that the house he’s moving into is a smaller house than the one he’s moving out of. I wasn’t exactly sure why – so I just laughed at him. Maybe it’s just that, as far as Allen is concerned, it’s simply a bit backwards to use up all that good space we already have outside to just build more inside space that’s wholly less useful. But I’m sure there’s more to it than that – with Allen, there’s always more to it. For him, maybe it’s more of an opportunity to be contrary to what our culture tells us about success, what our culture tells us about what we should aspire to – “the more we have the more we are.” Maybe it’s just the product of consistently weighing what he actually needs against what he may just want. Maybe it’s just because he’s Allen. It is a “good word” either way.
At any rate, I’m down visiting my parents in Georgia at the moment, so the spot that I’ve chosen for my reflecting is the hill that looks out over my parents’ house and the beautiful field that sits below it. There’s a wooden swing up here that my uncle made, and it’s hanging from an old oak tree branch as big around as my waist (which is pretty big, if you haven’t seen my waist lately – the stuff that new year’s resolutions are made of). My parents live on about 10 acres just outside of my hometown of Columbus on top of a hill that might as well be heaven as far as my Dad is concerned. He lives to plant things out here, to watch them grow. I think maybe now that his children are grown, there’s something for him that’s somehow paternally satisfying – something that serves as a sort of reminder – watching other things grow. My Dad is my reminder. I can watch him plant a new tree and see the care he takes with it, the deliberate way he stands over it, frozen with garden hose in hand, half watering it, half wondering at it, and I can see the care he took with me.
My mother, in typical fashion, is hosting a little lunch party today for some of her friends. I was informed (maybe warned is a better word) that there are “no boys allowed.” So here I am outside on the swing – just me and the dog. (I guess there were “no dogs allowed” either). Of course, my Mom was just kidding – that was never a question. But just in case I didn’t realize it, she just came outside a few minutes ago and told me that I was, in fact, invited – again, in typical fashion. She’s entirely too tender a woman to let there be any doubt that she loves me. She’d have me live here with them forever if she had her way. I don’t even think she realizes that, regardless of where I live, she will always be “home” to me in so many ways.
I have, for many years now, had a new home up in Tennessee, where God has slowly and beautifully built a community of people around me that love me so well and so deeply. This year has been no exception. I have said many times that one of the great gifts of my life – if not THE great gift of my life – is that despite all of my wanderings and confusions and doubts, I have never, not once in my life, doubted whether or not I was loved. It began with both of my parents, grew from that into a handful of deep friendships like the one I have with Allen, and has settled into a rich and simple home life with my wife, Roshare, and our community here in Franklin. And now that I have 2 beautiful boys of my own, one brand new this past year, my single prayer right now, Lord Jesus, is that I will be a father that fosters that sort of security for them…that regardless of how alone and unlovable they may feel in this broken world, that they will know that they are, and have always been, loved by at least one.
As always, I’ve spent more of this year away from home than at home. But for a few months this summer, I’ve been gone for most of the year. 1996-2010. Fourteen years of playing music. Fourteen years of travelling. Hard to believe. And each day, every place is different from the one before, something I celebrated for so many years of my life. I have literally been given the chance to see this country, to see the world, many times over. But oddly enough as I grow older, every day away from home now somehow seems the same. It is no secret to anyone who knows me that the single greatest struggle I have in playing music for a living is that it takes me from my home, from the ones I love, so much of the time. I feel like a spoiled child when I say that…the boy given his dream of playing music – something that most people would trade for in a heartbeat – who complains that the dream is not exactly as he thought it would be. But isn’t that the way it is with dreams? Don’t we always forget to factor in the reality part of things when we’re dreaming. I think it’s because we’re so emotion driven, that we forget that once dreams settle in, we’re still just broken vessels trying to figure out how to hold water. And the reality is this: We can’t. We can’t hold water. Because no matter who we are, who we know, what we do, or what we accomplish, we are still just broken vessels. And that is why the source of exactly what fills us up is so important. That is why the source of what fills us up must be an Eternal one. The Constant. There are so many beautiful things that we are given in this life, but not one of them IS life itself. So the best I know to do, is to hold tightly to those things that point me toward the source of life, drink in deeply the gifts that I’ve been given and know that they are just that…gifts. Reminders of where life really comes from. If given over to our desires, to our emotions and the never ending “need” to have those emotions filled up, we would be on an endless quest to hunt whatever new source of “feeling” we could find every single day. And that is what most of the world does. And that is why most of the world is so desperately lonely. But as a believer, I am promised so much more, and it has been delivered. As the old hymn sings, “Jesus blood never failed me yet, never failed me yet, never failed me yet.” And this year has been no exception.
14 years of playing music. A lot has changed. And day to day, city to city, skyline to skyline, my world seems to be a revolving door of new faces and new images that music takes me to on a daily basis. And even though all of it has been a blessing that is truly beyond what I could ask or imagine, sitting here trying to reflect on it all leaves me thankful most for the things in my life that don’t change from day to day – my father’s garden, my mother’s luncheons, a friend’s “good word,” and a family and community of people who love me well. Those things, those people consume me right now, because in their simplicity and in their steadfastness, they remind me of the God that never changes, but does indeed change everything.