Wisdom, Timely and Timeless

It’s not often that you get to read a new passage from a book that’s over 50 years old, and over 10 years since the author has been deceased. But for myself and other fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, we are getting that opportunity.

L’Engle’s granddaughter came across an unpublished passage from an early draft of the book and shared it with the Wall Street Journal this week. Reading the passage sounds as timely today as it would have been in 1962:

For the moment [Meg] felt completely safe and secure and it was the most beautiful feeling in the world. So she said, “But Father, what’s wrong with security? Everybody likes to be all cozy and safe.”
“Yes,” Mr. Murry said, grimly. “Security is a most seductive thing.”
“Well – but I want to be secure, Father. I hate feeling insecure.”
“But you don’t love security enough so that you guide your life by it, Meg.”

[After recapping with Meg and Calvin the children's brave actions, he goes on]:

“I’ve come to the conclusion,” Mr. Murry said slowly, “that it’s the greatest evil there is. Suppose your great great grandmother, and all those like her, had worried about security? They’d never have gone across the land in flimsy covered wagons. Our country has been the greatest when it has been most insecure. This sick longing for security is a dangerous thing, Meg, as insidious as the strontium 90 from our nuclear explosions…”

(via WSJ.com. brackets indicate edits I made for space and relevance only.)

Now, obviously this passage has ramifications both for the Cold War of L’Engle’s day and today’s War on Terror. Looking beyond politics, this has major implications at the personal level.

I just finished reading Brené Brown‘s excellent book Daring Greatly. She talks about how everyone lives with shame, and how dealing with shame is one of the most difficult and brave things we can do in our lives. It involves a willingness to be vulnerable with other people. It involves leaning into shame.

And it involves a whole lot of discomfort.

God designed us in brilliant fashion. We are wired to protect ourselves, and we do a wonderful job of it. We keep up a level of comfort through all kinds of difficult situations. But our hearts are still left wondering. Is that all there is? Doesn’t God want us to grow?

The answer, according to Brown, seems to be leaning into discomfort to the point that we get used to it. Own all of our stuff. Have the difficult conversations. Say no to all of those little numbing tactics we use to get through the day.

Like L’Engle says above, security has its place. But don’t guide your life by it.
Instead, guide your life on a path of “daring greatly”. Make that difficult phone call. Stop and help the stranger, even if it might mean “getting involved”. Try to be an example of a good parent, a good spouse, a good boss, a good Christian.

And as much as we think that example is all about being strong, often it’s the opposite. It’s about admitting we don’t know everything. It’s owning our faults and imperfections, not in a celebrity tell-all kind of way, but in a way that feels natural and right with those who have earned the right to be a part of our lives.

This message means different things to different people. For me it means admitting to my kids that I’m not perfect. It means sharing with my wife all the tough things I’m going through. It means posting some not-so-perfect moments to Instagram and Facebook. It means going against the normal “dude” thing and sharing my weaknesses with other guys. It probably means something different to you.

Thinking back to Meg, she was able to save her father and brother by embracing discomfort. But in the end, she was able to defeat the enemy not by being someone she’s not, but by being exactly who she was. So maybe it’s time to let go of being who everybody else wants me to be. Maybe it’s time to be who I was made to be.

If we all quit trying to be so perfect, if we all quit trying to be so secure, and if we all lean into shame and hurt and not-perfect, we might be able to help each other just a little bit.

So let’s put down our security and get used to being uncomfortable. Let’s pick up our cross and try the higher road for a while. I think we would all be better for it.

Thanks, Brené, for a timely book. And thanks, Madeleine, for wisdom that is truly timeless.

Being a naysayer, or why I haven’t listened to Better Than Ezra in a decade

The 1997 version of me would be confused right about now.

If you had seen me at any point in early 1997, I was driving my pickup truck with the windows down, singing at the top of my lungs.”I remember running through the wet grass! Falling a step behind! Both of us never tiring! DESPERATELY WANTING!” Better Than Ezra was not just my favorite band. They were The Greatest Band in the History of the World. And their single “Desperately Wanting” encapsulated everything I loved about the band, nay, everything I loved about music, in 4 minutes 37 seconds of sheer bliss*.

If I wasn’t listening to it, I was evangelizing it. If one of my bandmates was listening to their Discman at the airport, I would shake my finger at them in that “tisk, tisk” kind of way, hand them my copy of “Friction, Baby” and tell them to cue up track 8**.

If you had asked me in 1997 what I’d be into in 2015, I would have been pretty sure that Better Than Ezra fit into the equation somewhere. But the 2015 version of me couldn’t tell you what they’ve been up to since they had that “Lifetime” song a couple years back. Oh wait, what? That was 10 years ago. So It’s been a decade since I’ve kept up with The Greatest Band in the History of the World.

Moving on, I did a post yesterday about naysayers and the idea of Bless Your Heart. Yes, I am here because I followed God’s path for me and didn’t listen to naysayers. But here’s the thing. I have been on the other side. Many, many, times.

1) I have a friend named Alex. Stephanie went to high school with his wife, and they remain close friends. We were staying at their house in the fall of 2002. We didn’t see much of Alex that weekend because he was working on a movie. I thought it was cool, but didn’t really think anything about it. Then he put the movie out and they played it in a bunch of Georgia theaters. A couple years later, he put out another film called Facing the Giants. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

2) I went to high school with two sisters named Chanda and Christa. A few years back, a friend of mine and Stephanie’s gave us a little elf that the sisters had made. The idea was that the elf would move around your house every night leading up to Christmas. Kids would see this and make the connection that the elf was checking in with Santa while they were asleep. I thought it was a neat idea, but didn’t think any more about it. Of course, that would be the Elf on the Shelf. Yup. That little elf was a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year.

3) Around the time we were recording our first worship album, a friend of ours gave us a demo of a song. I thought it was pleasant enough, but I didn’t really get it. I was adamant that we record another song instead. You’ve never heard of the other song we recorded, but I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of “God of Wonders”. At our studio we have a plaque commemorating that song being played in OUTER SPACE.

So if I tell a story about naysayers, it is only fair to point out that I’ve been one too.

But the thing is, I don’t even think “naysayer” is the right term here, or even fair.

Yes, there are the true naysayers – those trolls who see somebody trying to do something good and start throwing lawn darts at them. I’m not talking about that. Ignore them.

And I’m not talking about those well intentioned friends and family members who might have your best interest at heart or they might be reading your situation out of their playbook and making it harder for you both. That’s a tough one and probably a topic for another post.

I’m talking about a third category. The rest of us. You see, I liked all those things I mentioned above. I thought they were pretty good ideas. I just missed them. Why? I think it’s a question of time and space.

Back to Better Than Ezra. I kept up with those guys. Then Wilco came along, and now I gotta remember to buy the new Wilco album along with anything Better Than Ezra puts out and let’s don’t forget R.E.M. – I LOVED those guys in high school. And what about Oasis? What a great band – I liked them better than Blur but if you really like Britpop you better check out Kula Shaker. It’s hard being a music snob, but I sure tried. Every time something new came out, it got a little harder to keep up with it all. But I somehow managed.

I kept up the music snob thing right up until October 27, 2003. The next morning, my baby girl was born. When I made room in my heart and life for her, I had to give some other things up. One of those was keeping up with the newest, hippest music.

Also, at some point around that time, the radio dial in our car got turned to the country station and we forgot to change it back to the hip alternative channel (they still have that, right?). One day I heard a song by Kenny Chesney called “There Goes My Life” and it flat out KILLED ME. I have been on a constant quest ever since for those story songs that just tear you up. Unfortunately, they’ve been playing all this Florida Georgia mess so I’ll just have to wait a while longer…

But what does that have to do with the Elf on the Shelf and “God of Wonders” and the Facing the Giants guys? I wasn’t naysaying. I really wasn’t – I genuinely liked those things, and thought they were good ideas. I was just busy and distracted. It’s called Being a Dad.

I bristle when people claim that people are all jaded and bitter and don’t give new things a chance. I disagree. People love new things. Every year at the Oscars we embrace a new movie nobody’s heard of because it’s great. Bands like For King and Country come along and win everybody over. They just have to kick up some dust and get people’s attention. Because we’re all just busy and distracted. And tired. Because we’ve got these kids to get to school every morning.

Or maybe it’s just me. I just don’t have time to keep up with the latest and the greatest. And I don’t have the mental space to do it anyway.

You have a band or a blog and you want me to check it out. Here’s my $0.02. If you have something you want to do and you’re good at it, do it. Don’t listen to the naysayers. In fact, don’t listen to anyone. Well, listen to people in your field who know what they’re talking about. Listen to your friends and family if you’ve held their feet to the fire and know they genuinely want the best for you and not themselves. Other than that, don’t listen to anyone.

But keep it up – maybe one of these days you’ll kick up enough dust that busy and distracted people like me will notice it. Maybe you will come up with the next “God of Wonders” or “Facing the Giants” or Elf on the Shelf. Or maybe you won’t. But I guarantee that your life will be richer because you kept at it.

Or who knows? Maybe in 20 years somebody will write a blog post about how awesome you were and wonder whatever happened to you.

* Truth be told, “Desperately Wanting” was my second favorite song from that year. The first would be “Lovefool” by The Cardigans. But I didn’t need to own that record. They played that song everywhere. On the radio, at the grocery store, while you were waiting for food at Wendy’s, in the waiting room at the oil change place, you get the idea…

** Hey kids – they used to have these things called CD’s. It involved this round disc thingy. Kind of like a vinyl album but smaller. You would play it in a DiscMan. They sounded great but they skipped a lot and- never mind.

On Sugar Ray Marimon, and 10 Years of “Bless Your Heart”

I was at the Braves game last night. While I was still waiting in line for peanuts, the Marlins scored three runs. They added another before I got settled in my seat. So before I was officially ready to watch the game, it was probably over.

But there was a silver lining. The Braves took out the starting pitcher, and another guy trotted onto the field. The stadium emcee announced him as “Sugar Ray Marimon“. Sugar Ray? Really? I got out my trusty iPhone and did some research. The Braves just called him up from the minors on Monday, and this was his first major league appearance. He is a distant cousin of Braves pitcher Julio Teheran. And, most importantly, Sugar Ray is his real name.

What struck me most about Sugar Ray Merimon is that he has pitched in the minor leagues for years. He has over 500 innings of work under his belt, and if you average that out, that’s probably about 100 games he’s pitched. On a 5 day pitching rotation, we’re talking YEARS, all spent getting ready for this moment.

I’m sure the first couple of years were exciting. Sugar Ray would go home to Colombia and hang out at the family reunion, sharing stories about going to America and playing professional baseball. But after a couple of years I bet it took a different feel.

I don’t know about Colombia, but in the Southern U.S., we have a phrase for that situation. It’s called Bless Your Heart.

I know this because I lived it for 10 years. I started a band right out of high school, and people thought it was cute. Fast forward a couple of years, when it’s time for me to start getting serious about my career options, and cute is quickly replaced by Bless Your Heart.

I had a couple of family reunion conversations that went something like this:

“Mark, how are your studies coming along at Georgia Tech?”
“I put school down for awhile. I got too busy with the band.”
“Well bless your heart.”

Or at my wedding reception:
“Stephanie, what does Mark do for a living?”
“He plays guitar in a band.”
“Well bless your heart.”

Many times on airplanes as I was traveling to a show, it was like this:
“Oh, you’re in a band. Where are you playing? The arena downtown?”
“No, we’re playing at a church. We do Christian music.”
“Well bless your heart.”

You see, Bless Your Heart is kind of a catchall phrase that sounds nice, but underneath the nice is something akin to “what an idiot”.

I’ve heard it said that there really isn’t a noticeable difference between someone who is pursuing a dream and a literal, certifiable, lock-you-up crazy person. The only way to tell is to just live it out. I guess at some point you either meet success or you get a big enough dose of critical feedback and you move on to the next thing. Or maybe you get locked up somewhere. I’m not sure how it goes exactly.

But maybe, just maybe, you break through. You get called up to the majors. And you will appreciate all the blessings your heart got along the way. Because it doesn’t get any easier. It’s a tough road and you need all the help you can get.

All the best to my new favorite player, Sugar Ray Marimon. I mean, his name is Sugar Ray. What’s not to love?

You don’t like it? Well bless your heart.

 

Can you spare some change?

Whenever we think about change, it’s go big or go home. This is a lovely thought, except for one thing. We almost never follow through with it. Because it’s just too big, too much, too different for us to be able to handle.

But what if change was like, well, change? You know – you buy something, they give you a few coins back and you put them in your pocket. You then go home and throw them in a jar. You don’t really even think about it, but over time that jar fills up. You take it down to that little change counter thingy at the grocery store (man I wish I’d invented that thing!) and what happens. You are always amazed at how much money you had in that jar.

If we treated change like, um, change, then we’re not doing a complete overhaul every time we go to exercise. We’re just going to run for twenty or thirty minutes. We’re not going to write a novel every time we sit at our writing desk. It’s just a page or two.

But then a funny thing happens. All those little times you went and exercised add up. All the times you chose writing over Welcome Back, Kotter add up. And next thing you know it, you’ve changed.

All those small things add up to big things.

Can you do it? Can you spare some change?

10 ideas a day

Ideas are funny things. I can’t decide if they’re worthless or priceless. You pull them out of the air like they’re free, and they kind of are, unless someone else already had the idea and laid claim to it.

Almost all of them are bad. Embarrassingly bad.

But then there are the good ones. The ones that change people’s lives.

But how do we come up with them?

We hold up the concept of eureka and just figure we’ll hang out until a good idea comes along and it will be so good we’ll run through the village naked.

Or we think of Ben Franklin and his lightning bolt and figure we’ll just hang out til lightening strikes us, too. It never does.

Instead of hanging out and waiting, a better strategy might be to come up with a bunch of bad ideas. Just keep coming up with them. Cranking them out like clockwork.

Claudia Azula Altucher has a great book called Becoming an Idea Machine. She suggests making the habit of writing down 10 ideas a day. Her husband James is one of my favorite bloggers and he also talks about this repeatedly, saying things like “ideas are the currency of the 21st century” and “you have to develop your idea muscle”. I’m not sure about that first line – it seems like it would be right but I haven’t really lived it. But I know from experience that the second is definitely true.

In my experience of writing songs, the regular practice of coming up with creative ideas does two things:

1) You get better at coming up with ideas through regular practice – I really think there’s something to this “idea muscle” thing. In my case, working every day helps avoid that dreaded blank screen and gives me something to work on. More importantly, the ideas that I come up with seem to improve with practice.

2) That eureka or lightning bolt still happens, but it is accompanied by a lot of hard work – I might work for four hours on a song that I like OK but feels like it’s not going anywhere. Then later that day when I’m driving around, I’ll just randomly get the idea that makes it all come together. Or, even better, I’ll be doing something else and not even thinking about it, and I’ll get an idea for a better song. But this doesn’t happen if I’m not working.

Yes, I’m using songwriting as an example, because that’s what I know. But I really think this idea generation thing can apply to any realm. Try coming up with 10 ideas a day. After a few months, you will get better, and who knows – it might turn your whole life around.

Try it – write down 10 ideas. Make sure you do 10. It can be a practical list like blog ideas or meal plans, or something off the wall like 10 ways NASA could get to the moon. Just make sure they’re about the same topic.

For more ideas, I highly recommend reading Claudia Azula Altucher’s book. Also James Altucher has blogged extensively about the topic. Start here.

The foolishness of God

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:25

By some divine scheduling quirk, April Fool’s Day falls right in the middle of Holy Week this year. And that seems perfect.

Everybody expected the Messiah to be born in a palace. He was born in a stable.

Foolishness.

Everybody expected God would recruit the best and brightest minds to preach his good news. Instead he went down to the fishing docks and got the first guys he could find.

Foolishness.

Everybody expected God to send a warrior king to storm the city on a horse. Instead he sent a Prince of Peace on a donkey.

Foolishness.

Everybody expected Jesus to outwit his accusers with a sharp wit and verbal acumen. Instead he was silent.

Foolishness.

Everybody expected God to send down angels to save his son from a humiliating death on a cross. Instead Jesus died.

Foolishness.

A foolish end to a foolish kids’ story.

But it wasn’t the end.

Three days later Jesus rose again. Not long after, he ascended into heaven.

All that foolishness was now shown to be nothing short of perfect.

God’s plan did not rely on human status or human wisdom or human strength. Otherwise we might think we can earn our own way.

It’s not about us. It’s all about God. It’s foolish, and it’s supposed to be.

I’m glad God chose the foolish to shame the wise. And I love that he loves a fool like me.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Where do your ideas come from?

I get this question a lot in the musical realm. Where do I get Ideas for songs? It seems that all you need is a good idea and you’re just golden. My suggestion: forget about finding good ideas. Write songs about whatever ideas you happen to have. Even if they’re bad ones. Because writing bad songs teaches you as much or more than writing good songs.

Commit to the process, and the ideas will take care of themselves.

Oddly, those kinds of questions have surfaced in the blogging realm as well. I’ll get there in a minute. But I thought it would be interesting to share a little trivia with you: I write prose because I couldn’t find a book on writing songs.

When I was in college, I decided that I wanted to start writing songs. I had this lofty vision of the creative process. And by lofty, I mean that in the most literal of terms.

I grabbed a notebook and marched up to the top of the nearest mountain. Bear in mind that in Georgia we define the word “mountain” a little differently – think really big hill. But it was still a solid 30 minute hike to the top, and I was pretty exhausted. Didn’t get much writing done. Not to mention that it kind of helps to have a guitar or something when writing songs.

One positive thing did come out of that little episode. Afterwards I went to a local bookstore and looked for books on songwriting. They only had a couple, and they looked kind of lame. But they had shelves and shelves of books about writing. One in particular jumped out at me: Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande.

This excellent little book gets into the mental side of writing like nothing else I’ve ever read. Brande recommends two habits to form at the center of your writing life.

1) Write every morning – Get up very first thing when you get up in the morning and write. Write fast and write furious. Don’t worry about editing – the fact that you are writing so early will help you sneak past that inner voice that tells you you’re no good. This is a little different than the “brain dump” thing I’ve talked about before. You’re trying to write something usable here. At first your writing will be of the “it’s so early why am I doing this” variety. But over time it will evolve into something more valuable. After you’ve done this for several weeks, go back and read it. The writing style and the voice will point towards the kind of writing you want to pursue. If it’s recounting episodes from the day before with lots of dialogue, you might make a good fiction writer. If you write a lot about events from your childhood, you might be suited as a memoirist. If you’re looking for a good entry point into the world blogging, or any kind of writing, this might be the place to start.

2) Write on schedule – In addition to writing in the morning, the practice of writing at predetermined times is important to the budding writer. Whenever you are making your plans for the week, find two or three blocks of time, maybe a half hour each. During these times, sit down and write. Treat these like you would any other appointment. You have to make them. The first couple of times you might just twiddle your thumbs through this time and that’s OK. But eventually you are trying to become a person who writes whether you feel like it or not.

These two practices, writing in the morning and writing on schedule, will put you well on your way to a writing life. I promise that the question of where ideas come from will quickly vanish as you dive into the process. By doing these practices, you will soon be sitting on a wealth of ideas.

So give it a shot. The beauty is, if you try this approach and fail, this process could help you realize that writing is not for you. Crossing that off the list can help you find something else useful to pursue.

Dealing with “grumpy dad syndrome”

I was in the airport the other day, ordering breakfast at a cereal bar. Yes, a cereal bar. You order different kinds of cereal and fruit and they mix it together for you. Then they overcharge you. But that’s OK – because If you ask me it’s brilliant. I can’t begin to tell me how much it blesses me to see one of my little kid dreams played out in real life. But I digress…

While I was waiting on my Special K/Honey Nut Cheerios/Mueslix concoction to come up, a lady came blazing through with her kids. They had to make their flight I’m sure, and she was all business.

“Get your backpack. Get your backpack. Get your backpack.”

Finally one of the bleary eyed children realized he was going to be told this same order until he responded. The mom looked at me with this “kill me now” look and then they marched off towards their gate.

I can totally relate to this mom. I too am guilty of this behavior. And my family is quite aware of it, to the point that there is even a name for it.

GDS: Grumpy Dad Syndrome.

The hardest thing about it is that I don’t even realize it when I’m doing it.

It happened in New York City a couple years ago when we were trying to find somewhere to eat at 10:00 PM. Now, there are a gazillion restaurants in New York, I know, but our hotel was in a business district and everything shut down after dark. We walked and looked and asked and walked and looked and finally found a little Italian place. I was so relieved that we found it that I guess I just sort of clammed up when we sat down. After our food came, Stephanie told me that she was going to take the kids back to the hotel so I could have some time to pull it back together. Wha?

It happened a couple weeks ago when I came home from a run of shows, and we decided to take the kids to a local steak place for a special dinner. I had a great time. I was aware of being tired from travel, but I felt like everything was fine. Except Kitty was excited that I was home and felt the need to climb on me in the booth. Later she told Mommy that I had been grumpy that night.

The best I can tell is that GDS happens when I quit being Daddy and fall back on being the kids’ father. I’m identifying myself by my role and not by my relationships. Their basic needs are provided and that’s about it.

And the problem is, even when I’m in the middle of it, that is the last thing in the world that I want. I want to be there for my kids. I want them to have great memories from their early years. And I want to set the template for how men are supposed to treat them. Because good Lord let’s face it, the male species hasn’t done a very good PR job.

OK, so I’ve identified it. So what to do about it? Now mind you – I’m still kind of in pioneer mode here. I’ve just started to recognize this over the last couple of years. But I have a few ideas on how to combat Grumpy Dad (or Mom) Syndrome:

1) Recognize that it’s a real problem – As with so many things, this is the hardest step. But when you figure out you have a problem, and include your family on it, they can be part of the solution instead of part of the blame.

2) Admit that you’re not perfect. And nobody’s asking you to be – After the dinner at the steak place, Stephanie and I talked about it, and I told her that I felt stressed and overwhelmed. I think it kind of blew her mind a little bit. Because I’m always throwing out the “everything’s OK” vibe, she wasn’t even aware of it. But by getting it out there we were able to talk about it. And we’ll hopefully be better prepared next time.

3) Put your cell phone down – For you it might be a newspaper of a TV screen, but you get the idea. If you’re deliberately spending time with your kids, they deserve your undivided attention.

4) Tell your kids what’s going on – They get it far more than you realize. Tell them you’ve got a bunch of stuff going on at work that has you stressed out. Or tell them you’ve been traveling and you’re tired. Tell your kids you’re sorry if you need to. They will respect you for it. More importantly, they are cueing off of you for how to behave in “grown up” situations.

5) Schedule special time with your kids – 2 or 3 times a month, I take my daughters on “dates”. When they were really little, this would be a simple trip to the pizza parlor. Then it was bowling. I took them last week, and they discovered the glory of Joe’s Crab Shack. Abbie my oldest loves seafood and trying new things, so she was fascinated by the crab legs. Kitty was all about it because they have a playground. But the bottom line is we had a fun night together and created a memory.

6) Schedule time away from your kids – This is a healthy thing. You can’t be “on” all the time. Everybody’s got to recharge their batteries and get back to neutral. For example, I try to go hiking a couple times a week while the kids are at school.

7) Separate “work” time and “family” time – I don’t know if you’ve realized this or not, but multitasking is bullcrap. Don’t even try it. If you’re kids annoy you when they interrupt your work, maybe you’re the problem, not them. I try my best to work while the kids are at school so I can be fully engaged with them when they get home.

8) The obvious – look for things in your life that make you grumpy. Get enough sleep and exercise. Eat a wholesome diet. If you’re not grumpy, you won’t be a grumpy dad.

9) Realize that you’re a work in progress. God has begun a good work in you, and he will be faithful to complete it. Ask God for help, and he will give it to you.

So there you have it. As I said, I’ve only recently realized I occasionally suffer from GDS. But I’m working on it. If you have any tips, I’m all ears.

It’s a heart thing

We did an interview for Fox News recently, and at one point I am quoted as saying simply, “It’s a heart thing.”

In 1995, if you had asked me what my goal was as a musician, it was pretty simple. I had several friends who were in bands that toured. They would drive a van and trailer for 15 hours, do a show, and then drive back home. I thought that was the end all be all.

I had that one accomplished within a matter of months. It’s funny how God has bigger plans for us than we do for ourselves. But I had absolutely no idea that his plan involved us still making music in 2015. On one hand, I pinch myself every day because I am living out a Willie Nelson song, making music with my friends. But there is the sacrifice part. The missed field trip with my daughter. The missed school play. The goodbyes with my wife that you’d think would get easier but just get harder every time. All the moments that I’ll miss with my little ones while they’re still little.

I often ask myself why I keep doing this. The only answer I can come up with is that it’s a heart thing. Music is able to reach people like nothing else can. And we hear stories about it every night.

There was a drug addict in California who was given one of our albums in rehab. He is now a preacher.

There is a little boy in a wheelchair who can’t talk but who lights up every time he hears “You Are So Good to Me”.

There is a preacher in Macedonia who has translated our songs into his native language so he can share the message of Jesus.

There is a mom who was suicidal. She heard our song “Don’t Say Goodbye” and decided she didn’t want to say goodbye to her children.

And then there are my own stories. The people who started out as business partners and have become lifelong friends.

Those other guys who rode in that van with me all those years ago who are now closer than brothers.

Hearing my own daughters singing “Oh Lord, fill us with your Spirit” from the backseat.

It’s not about me. And it’s not about Third Day. It’s about God.

And it’s definitely a heart thing.

10 Christian artists who inspired me

This post comes straight from a question I got a few days ago. Who are some Christian artists who influenced me? Here goes nothing:

1) Rich Mullins – When Mac and I started a Christian band, we thought we were pioneers. I mean, we were aware of Petra, Carman, and the like, but we had no idea there was such a huge Christian music scene. Not long after we started what would become Third Day, a friend invited us to a Rich Mullins show in Atlanta. I knew absolutely none of his songs, and came away a lifelong fan. I loved how he was so personal from stage, and somehow challenging at the same time. I loved that he used all the eclectic instruments. I ran home and bought a mandolin and a mountain dulcimer. While those elements never really fit us, and we ended up doing straight up Southern rock instead, he was the first huge influence on us. Most of all, he had so all those great songs.
(I recommend A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band)

2) Wes King – A friend of mine gave me Wes King’s Sticks and Stones album for Christmas and it became an instant favorite. Wes was a great songwriter and an amazing guitarist. Plus he was from Georgia which was certainly inspiring. I saw him live with a band a couple of times, but I think my favorite Wes show was just him and an acoustic. It takes a lot to command a crowd in that format, and he did it. Mac and I snuck backstage at AtlantaFest one year and met Wes. He was really cool. His mom was there, and even let us borrow her pen to get an autograph. Dude! Wes King’s mom!
(Check out Sticks and Stones)

3) Jacob’s Trouble – Another great Georgia band. They were the first Christian artist I saw who carried themselves like a true band. I went to a couple dozen of their concerts and learned quite a bit about how to put on a live show. A highlight for us was opening up for Jacob’s Trouble at my high school. As you probably know, we even did a Jacob’s Trouble song on the first Offerings album.
(You can’t go wrong with their self-titled 1992 album)

4) The Waiting – While Jacob’s Trouble paved the way for Georgia bands, The Waiting felt more like peers to us. We did several shows with them during the early years, and there was a mutual influence thing that happened. We also got to tour with them later as opening acts for Newsboys, which was a blast.
(My favorite? Blue Belly Sky)

5) Smalltown Poets – Another member of the local Atlanta scene who did good for themselves. We did several shows with them at The Strand as well as a mini tour in Ohio back in 1995. They were a great band and a lot of fun to hang out with. Perhaps their biggest influence was through encouraging us to get involved with child sponsorship.
(I always loved their self titled debut album)

6) Newsboys – Those guys gave us our first big break, allowing us to open up for them on over 100 shows in the late ’90′s. Out of those 100 shows, we probably watched about 80 of them, taking mental notes the whole time. We learned how to be a band by touring with them. Most of all, we learned how to treat opening acts. They were great mentors and nothing but gracious to us.
(Check out Take Me to Your Leader)

7) Steven Curtis Chapman – Speaking of mentors, Steven Curtis Chapman was a huge one for us early on. We met him backstage at a writer’s night in Nashville, and had an instant rapport with him. We had the same manager for a long time, and Steven acted as a “big brother” to us during a critical time in our career. We’ve had the chance to do several shows with Steven through the years and they’re always great. One of these days we need to tour together!
(A good starting point would be The Great Adventure, although he just released a Cracker Barrel album that is amazing)
8) Michael W. Smith – I saw Michael play several times during our early years. He invited us to be a part of his Exodus project, which was a huge honor. One of my favorite memories from that era was recording guitars with Michael for Agnus Dei. It was just me, Michael, and an engineer. It was an absolute blast. Later we toured together on the Come Together and Worship Tour which was a career highlight for us.
(Start with The First Decade)

9) The Choir – Another band that I listened to quite a bit early on. Their At the Foot of the Cross albums were hugely influential for us when we began recording worship music. We got to collaborate with those guys on the City on a HIll projects which was an amazing experience. In recent years I’ve had the honor of writing songs with both Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd.
(Check out Speckled Bird or At the Foot of the Cross, Vol. 1)

10) The Prayer Chain – These guys were like the cool kids and you really want them to like you. They came out of the gate in the mid-90′s and were flat out amazing. We got to open up for them in Holland back in ’95. Singer Tim Taber even bought us ice cream (Hey- they really like us!). Tim has gone on to be a concert promoter on the West Coast and a great friend of ours. But he will always be TIM TABER.
(Listen to Shawl. Your welcome.)