Remembering Merle

merle haggardMerle Haggard turned 79 today and then died. He had been ill for a good while although he was planning to fulfill some concert dates in the near future. Today was also my father’s birthday, who would have turned 95 had he lived this long. Dad loved to hear Merle Haggard sing and so it was quite a thrill when my brothers and I (with our band Brush Arbor) went on tour with him.

We didn’t get to spend much time with him at all on that tour (five shows). We were the opening act and had a different dressing room. But one evening after the concert there was a large crowd waiting outside where Merle’s busses (license plates HAG1 and HAG2) were parked. So Merle ducked inside our dressing room to wait until the crowd was dispersed. He was tired, so he just found a chair and lit up a cigarette.

Haggard Tour

Brush Arbor on tour with Merle, 1973

We didn’t say much at first but after a while we introduced ourselves and made some small talk, some of which turned to the economy. The economy was big news in 1973 and the stock market had recently crashed, there were long lines at gas stations because of an oil shortage, and a lot of people were losing their jobs. As a result, attendance at Merle’s concerts were noticeably down. We were playing arenas that could hold 15,000 people but there were a lot of empty seats.

Merle said,  “I just feel bad for the working man. It’s not the rich people who are are getting hurt. It’s the poor working man. Families can’t afford to put food on the table much less buy tickets to a concert. It’s a crying shame.” He didn’t say much more as I recall.

But what struck me at the time was that his comment was exactly what so many of his songs were about. He really believes this stuff, I thought to myself. This isn’t just a show to him. He actually does care about the people he sings about, those Okies from Muskogee.

So that’s my biggest memory, my lasting impression of Merle Haggard. He was authentic, the real deal. Those kind of guys are hard to find in the music business these days. Rest in peace Merle and thanks for all the great songs you left us.

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The Legacy Coalition

When I resigned my position as Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church last year, I had to keep telling myself (and everybody else as well) that I was NOT retiring. I was simply taking time off from ministry to get our home ready to sell, sell it, find a new home, buy it, and then move all our stuff from the old place to the new (or get rid of most of it, which we did.) The process took nine months and we are grateful to now be in a place that is much better for both of us, especially for Marci, who has MS and can’t get up and down stairs. It’s a nice compact one-level home that we believe God in his mercy provided for us at just the right time.

But now what? What does God want me to do next?

I didn’t have to wait long to get an answer to that question. In May of last year I met Larry Fowler, a 30-year veteran of children’s ministry with Awana Clubs. He mentioned that after becoming a grandparent, he tried in vain to find some decent resources on grandparenting. There were thousands of books on Christian parenting, he said, but only 7 (seven!) that he could find on Christian grandparenting. And several of those were now out of print. So, he was considering the idea of starting a new organization to help fill that void—one that could provide resources and training for Christian grandparents. He wondered if perhaps I could give him some advice—since I had experience in starting an organization providing resources and training for youth workers a long time ago.

Larry’s vision for starting a ministry to help grandparents really resonated with me. I had seen all the research that had been done over the years on spiritual influences in children and youth. Grandparents consistently came in third, right behind mom and dad. After grandparents came significant adults like teachers, mentors, youth and children’s ministry workers. I had spent 30 years of my life helping youth workers, another 20 years of my life helping parents … maybe now was the time to start helping grandparents!

So Larry invited me to a meeting in August of last year in Chicago at Awana headquarters to explore the idea of starting a new ministry to help grandparents.  About 25 ministry people were there, each offering their perspective on the need to help grandparents and what it would take to get a new ministry going. After much discussion and prayer, it was decided to put the wheels in motion to launch what would eventually be called “The Legacy Coalition.”

I came back from Chicago pretty convinced I wanted to be part of this new effort even though it seemed impossible to me at the time. I would have to work entirely on a volunteer basis. There were no funds to support it (yet) so anyone who got involved would have to donate their time and expenses. I wasn’t even sure what I would do. But the vision was compelling and it felt like the right thing for me to do and now was the right time to do it. So after discussing and praying about it with Marci, I said yes to the invitation to become part of the staff of the Legacy Coalition, even without a clear idea of what all that would involve.

We officially launched in January. The board of Awana Clubs International agreed to adopt The Legacy Coalition as a subsidiary until it is able to become independent. This allows us to operate under the auspices of Awana and utilize many of their staff assets in HR, marketing, finance and the like. Larry Fowler recently resigned from his position at Awana in order to be able to lead the Legacy Coalition full time. I am one of several staff members (directors) spread out all over the country. We meet weekly by teleconference. My specific job on the staff is Director of Conferencing. I have been working pretty much full-time planning the first-ever national conference on grandparenting which will be held later this year (November 15-17) in Frisco, Texas (more on that in a later post.) We have another regional conference taking place in May in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Honestly, the Legacy Coalition feels more like a movement than it does an organization. I could write pages on all the cool things we’re doing but I’ll refer you instead to our freshly-minted website here.  Our goal is to see grandparenting ministries start up in hundreds of churches across the country and for millions of Christian grandparents to become more intentional about leveraging the love and influence they already have for their grandkids.

What we need most right now is funding. We are looking for hundreds of people (and churches) who share our vision for helping grandparents and have the means to support us, even if it’s just a small amount each month. None of us will be able to keep this going without some financial support. Meanwhile, we are all working hard and expecting that God will provide if he wants us to continue. I believe he does and I’m very excited and energized by what God is doing already through the Legacy Coalition.

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40 Years on KSON!

Wayne on KSON top 40 chart

On the cover of KSON’s Top 40 chart in 1978

It was on March 7, 1976 that my radio show, The Bluegrass Special, went on the air for the first time.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I have been more nervous.  When the clock hit 6 PM (the original air time for my show) I played my intro music from a scratchy LP by banjo player Carl Jackson, wiped the sweat from my brow, opened up the microphone and said “Woohoo! It’s time for the Bluegrass Special” probably in a very high pitched voice because I was only 13 years old at the time. Make that 30 years old, but my voice was still pretty high pitched. I then played the first song, Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.”

That’s about all I remember of that first show, because that was a long time ago, folks. On Sunday March 6, we will celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary and begin its 41st year.  That’s a total of approximately 2080 radio shows. I say approximately because my show was pre-empted more than once for special events and there was a two-month disappearance in 1989 when KSON combined its AM and FM stations. At that time, all the programming on KSON-AM went away (including my show). But after hearing from listeners, I was invited back and given the 10pm to midnight slot on KSON-FM where the show has remained ever since.

15 years ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the show with a Grand Ole Opry-style concert and live broadcast from the packed East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon. It was big party and one of my all-time favorite memories. Some have asked if we’re going to celebrate our 40th anniversary in similar fashion? Well, the answer is no. Maybe on the 50th if I live that long and the show survives.

Still, 40 years is something worth celebrating. 40 years of anything is quite an accomplishment. Certainly KSON’s Bluegrass Special has to be the longest-running program in the history of San Diego radio. But it’s not me who deserves the applause. I’ve just been the lucky guy who gets to play the best music in the world on the radio every Sunday night! The real applause should go to the listeners who have kept the show on the air and the terrific folks at KSON. The radio station has gone through four different owners, a dozen or so program directors and the endless ups and downs of the broadcasting industry. Most radio consultants would say (and probably have said) that country radio doesn’t need a bluegrass show. But KSON’s response has been “We’re going to have a bluegrass show anyway. People like it and it works for us.” Numbers don’t lie and the numbers show that we have a good share of the Sunday night radio listening audience. Our promotions director Chris Turner likes to call my listeners “Wayniacs,” most certainly a term of endearment.

So, a big thank you to KSON and all the Wayniacs out there who listen every Sunday night. You have been a blessing to me and to all the musicians and record companies who continue to make incredible bluegrass music year after year. It has been a good run and I hope we can keep it going together for a while longer!

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What Can I Say? I’m a Lucky Guy.

Marci Wedding 350 years ago, the most beautiful woman in the world said “I do” when asked if she would take this man (me!) to be her lawfully wedded husband. I continue to be amazed by my incredible good fortune.

I am sometimes asked about “the secret” to a long and happy marriage. Quite honestly, I know of no secrets. I usually say “I got lucky.” Marci hates for me to say that, but it’s my way of saying that not only did my bride smile on me that day but so did God Almighty. The Lord knows I do not deserve her. I’m not worthy. Yet God in his great mercy gave me Marcella Kaye West on January 27, 1966, to have and to hold, from this day forward, til death do us part, and she has not only been willing to put up with me for 50 years but has filled them up with unimaginable joy. Whenever I see her smile (which is to say, whenever I see her) my heart overflows with gratitude to God. My love for her grows every day and has become so much deeper and sweeter today than when we said our vows half a century ago.

What I am most grateful for is that I have a wife who loves Jesus more than me. She has been a godly example to me of faithfulness to God. I listen to her pray every evening and I am humbled and blessed by the intimacy and beauty of her prayers. She truly loves God and loves people. Even with a debilitating disease that has severely limited her ability to walk and do the things she loves to do, she looks forward to each day with joy and wonder and gratitude.

So I am indeed a happy (and lucky) man on this day of celebration, grateful not only for my wife who I love so much but for all of our friends and family who we both of us love and who have contributed so much to our 50 years of marriage. Thank you!

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Best Bluegrass Albums of 2015

It’s time2015 to make a list of the top 30 bluegrass albums of 2015, as heard on KSON’s Bluegrass Special December 27. If you missed it, you can listen at kson.com/bluegrass through the end of January. This list doesn’t mean that the album listed higher is any better than the album listed lower. It only means that of the more then 125 bluegrass albums that were submitted for airplay this year, these are the 30 I played the most on my radio program.

1. Flatt Lonesome “Runaway Train” (Mountain Home)
2. The Steep Canyon Rangers “Radio” (Rounder)
3. Band of Ruhks “Band of Ruhks” (101 Ranch)
4. Volume 5 “Voices” (Mountain Fever)
5. Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out “It’s About Tyme” (Break a String)
6. Dale Ann Bradley “Pocket Full of Keys” (Pinecastle)
7. The Gibson Brothers “Brotherhood” (Rounder)
8. The Steeldrivers “The Muscle Shoals Recordings” (Rounder)
9. Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman “Purely Instrumental” (no label)
10. Darin and Brooke Aldridge “Snapshots” (Mountain Home)
11. Robert Earl Keen “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions” (Dualtone)
12. Shannon and Heather Slaughter “Never Just a Song” (no label AP Direct)
13. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver “In Session” (Mountain Home)
14. Mountain Faith “That Which Matters” (Mountain Fever)
15. Ronnie Reno “Lessons Learned” (Rural Rhythm)
16. Steve Gulley and New Pinnacle (Rural Rhythm)
17. Della Mae “Della Mae” (Rounder)
18. Ralph Stanley and Friends “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Cracker Barrel)
19. Kathy Kallick Band “Foxhounds” (Live Oak)
20. Sideline “Session 2” (Mountain Fever)
21. Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road “Country Grass” (Pinecastle)
22. Big Country Bluegrass “Country Livin’” (Rebel)
23. Hammertowne “Highways and Heartaches” (Mountain Fever)
24. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley “Before the Sun Goes Down” (Compass)
25. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers “Run Away Tonight” (Mountain Home)
26. The Grascals “And Then There’s This” (Mountain Home)
27. Springfield Exit “That Was Then” (Patuxent Music)
28. Donna Ulisse “Hard Cry Moon” (Hadley Music Group)
29. Various Artists “Orthophonic Joy” (Sony Legacy)
30. Blue Mafia “Pray for Rain” (Pinecastle)

 

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On the Renovation (or Not!) of Old Hymns

A few years ago College Avenue Baptist Church did the unthinkable by pulling the plug on its two Sunday morning worship services. These services, one held in the gymnasium, the other held in the sanctuary, divided the congregation according to their preferred worship styles. One service was casual and hip, featuring music by contemporary artists heard on Christian radio. The other service was formal and not-so-hip, featuring worship music by hymn writers who are now dead. As you can guess, the hip service attracted young people; the formal service attracted all the old folks.

But those days are long gone at CABC. Today, everyone attends the same worship service.  Old folks and young folks (yes, even children!) worship together in the same place at the same time. The emphasis has been on congregational unity and intergenerational discipleship.

But this has not been an easy transition for the church or its worship leaders.

I was reminded of this last Sunday when our worship music team (bless their hearts), after a couple of contemporary songs, led the congregation in the beloved old hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The hymn, written by the English theologian Isaac Watts (1674-1758) is one the treasures of the church, a familiar old hymn with an elegant musical score.

But not so fast. Apparently there is an alternate version of this hymn which is set to the Celtic love song “O Waly Waly” (or, “The Water is Wide”). It is this version that our worship leaders have chosen for our congregation this week.

215px-River_wild_movie_posterDuring the first verse, I look around the sanctuary and see puzzled looks on the faces of older worshippers who aren’t sure they know how this hymn is supposed to go. The words are familiar but the music, the melody … I’ve heard it before. Wasn’t it the soundtrack to the movie “The River Wild” a few years back? There’s confusion in the air and it’s obvious that very few people are actually singing.

The hymn ends and now it’s time for the offering. The ushers – or hospitality team — come forward and our worship leaders begin singing another hymn while the plates are being passed. This time it’s “Be Still My Soul” by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (1649-?). Given that our pastor is teaching this week on the subject of busyness, it’s a good choice right before the sermon. The young woman who is singing lead on this hymn has a lovely voice, but wait … she has changed the melody. I don’t remember it this way. And a new chorus has been added … with a heavy drumbeat. Now I’m wondering what this song is all about. The beat of the drums and the sentiment of the hymn seem to be at odds with each other.

<sigh>

Look, I try not to be a chronic complainer or curmudgeon. My wife and I attend worship every Sunday with the hope that everyone in the congregation (young and old alike) will be able to worship together in unity. I’m all in when it comes to intergenerational worship. But having sat through many good (and not so good) attempts to pull it off, I’ve learned a few things.

First, despite its messiness, intergenerational worship is worth the effort. I love seeing children (even the little ones who have no clue what’s going on) in the worship service sitting with their parents, taking in all that’s going on. That’s how we pass faith on down from one generation to the next. Kids need to see their parents worshipping God. It makes an indelible imprint on them. Likewise, it’s good for older people to get out of their comfort zones and to experience worship in new ways. It’s good for them to be around young people who love and worship the same God they do but have different ways of expressing themselves in a worship service.

Music is of course the elephant in the room that stirs up the most grumbling and disunity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I don’t believe old folks (like me) really want to stay stuck in the last century nor do they want their churches to die of attrition (which they will do it they don’t connect with young people). This may be a bold thing to say but old people can handle today’s new music. Well, maybe not all of it, but certainly they can handle more than most people think. They just need to be exposed to it in a positive and inclusive way. Sure, there will always be resisters but most seniors don’t have a problem with new music at all. They hear it all the time. What they do have a problem with is music (in a worship setting) that is impossible to sing. Honestly, way too many of today’s worship songs were never meant to be sung by congregations on Sunday morning. They were meant to be sung by recording artists in recording studios and concerts. A radio hit may have a catchy hook in the chorus but that doesn’t make it appropriate for congregational singing. Too many worship services resemble karaoke bars.

But back to intergenerational worship. Is it possible for all age groups to worship together even when they don’t all agree on the style of music? Yes, absolutely they can. It’s possible for a worship service to include new music along with a few golden oldies. Why not? The musicians—at our church anyway—are very capable of playing any kind of music they want. I’m a bluegrass musician and even I can handle a set list with back to back songs by Mercy Me and Fanny Crosby.

I confess that I am guilty of leading Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island … but never in a worship service. I’d like to suggest that it would be wise for worship leaders who are leading intergenerational worship to refrain from getting too creative with those old hymns.  A hymn should be sung in a version that is as close to the original as possible, the way older members of the congregation remember it. In my way of thinking, this shows respect not only for the hymn but also for the congregation.

There are exceptions of course. Some old hymns have been renovated with good (or at least acceptable) results. Chris Tomlin’s “My Chains Are Gone” version of Amazing Grace is a good example of this although I remember it took a while for some people to wrap their brains around the idea that Amazing Grace needed any improvement at all.

And while “When I Survey” doesn’t need movie theme music to make it relevant, Tomlin added his “Oh the Wonderful Cross” as a bonus chorus and it works very well. Maybe all future renovations of hymns should be put in the hands of Chris Tomlin.

We still have pews at our church with seldom-opened hymnbooks in the pew racks. Occasionally I pull one out and browse through it.  There are some treasures of the church in there. There are some real stinkers in there, too, but that’s for another article. Truth is, there is a lot of great music from the past that younger Christians should hear (and learn to sing). And there are a lot of great songs for worship being written today that certainly deserve to be heard by generations of worshippers yet to come.

What do you think?

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Remembering Bill Keith

bill_keithBill Keith, newest member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, died on October 23, less than a month after being inducted into the IBMA’s prestigious Hall of Fame. Bill accepted the honor in person at ceremonies held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Confined to a wheelchair, he uttered a brief but heartfelt acceptance speech, thanking his many friends and fans for the recognition.

I first learned about Bill Keith some fifty years ago from other banjo players in California where I live, who were learning to play what they referred to as “Keith-style” banjo. I didn’t know who Bill Keith was at the time but I heard the “style” and was very intrigued by it.  I learned that Bill Keith was a young banjo player working with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys (although in Monroe’s band, he was known as “Brad” Keith because there could only be one Bill in the Blue Grass Boys.) After working with Monroe, Bill played with a number of other bands including Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band

“Keith-style” banjo meant that the notes played on the banjo did not harmonize with each other in an arpeggio style like Earl Scruggs and my hero Doug Dillard played. Instead the notes flowed along in a melodic style, one note after the other, sort of like the flight of the bumblebee which I had learned as a child to play on the piano. Most Keith-style banjo players like to play fiddle tunes note-for-note.

When Steve Martin made his acceptance speech at IBMA this year (upon receiving the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award) he commented that his banjo journey consisted of a series of “OH NO” moments–those times when he heard a newer, better way to play. He recalled how as a young Scruggs-style player, he first heard Bill Keith. “OH NO,” he realized, “Now I have to learn how to play like that!” I laughed at the truth of this because that was my experience exactly. I did try (and try and try) to learn how to play in the Keith-style, but I never mastered it. I learned to play “Soldiers Joy” and “Sailor’s Hornpipe” enough to get by, but that was about it. I never did get the concepts in my head, so I had to memorize those tunes. If I made mistake along the way I would get hopelessly lost and have to start over. But I have always loved to listen to the great Keith-style players (and there are many)–guys like Carl Jackson, Larry McNeeley, Alan Munde, Bela Fleck, Scott Vestal, Noam Pikelny. Out here on the west coast, the first one I heard (and admired) was Pat Cloud.

Bill Keith's Lilly Brothers Speech-1Many years later, I had a chance to meet Bill Keith and even work with him on one project. When I was producing the IBMA Awards Show in 2002, I asked Bill if he would present the Lilly Brothers for induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. He agreed and I met up with him in Louisville on the day of the awards ceremony. He had not yet written his speech for the Lilly Brothers. I told him that we really needed a copy of the speech before the show. So he went straight to his hotel room and scratched out a lovely tribute to the Lilly Brothers on a sheet of Galt House Hotel stationery. A few minutes later, we transcribed it to the show’s teleprompter and the induction of the Lilly Brothers went without a hitch. I have hung on to that sheet of paper … it’s a little piece of bluegrass music history.

During rehearsal for that show, I mentioned to Bill that I had purchased a pair of his famous “Keith tuners” (tuning pegs for the banjo which allowed you do tune a string up or down on the fly) many years ago and that they were no longer operating properly. I wondered if he could give me some advice. He simply reached into his backpack and handed me a pair of brand new tuners and said, “Try these instead. Send your old ones back to me and we’ll fix them for you.” I did and he did.

My only other encounter with Bill Keith was after the 2006 awards show, which I also produced. The show had gone well but there were some controversial moments during the show which had everyone talking. Among them was our decision to combine the individual instrumental awards into one presentation rather than the usual six (requiring six acceptance speeches), mainly to save time on the show. Not everyone was happy with this decision. After the show was over, I went back to the hotel and got on an elevator with Bill Keith. Seizing the opportunity, he pointed his finger at me and said in so many words that he was quite offended by how we had marginalized the individual instrumental award recipients. “How could you do such a thing?” which of course was not a question but a reflection of his frustration and concern. Dell Davis (my co-producer) and I received a lot of criticism from a lot of people regarding that particular awards show (on another issue entirely) and most of it was completely unwarranted. Bill’s criticism, however, was not unwarranted. Had I been been able to produce another awards show, I would have fixed how we handled those instrumental awards.

There are people who add immensely to your enjoyment of life and Bill Keith was one of those people for me. I will always respect and admire him for his immense talent and his generosity, not only to me but to others. Thank you Bill for all that I learned from you and for giving me the chance to know you personally.

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A Celebration of Bill Monroe’s Birthday

The “Father of Bluegrass Music” is Bill Monroe, the first recording artist to incorporate into his band the five acoustic instruments (mandolin, 5-strinbill monroeg banjo played three-finger style, fiddle, guitar and string bass) that make up a classic bluegrass ensemble. He was born September 13, 1911 in Rosine, Kentucky, 104 years ago. September 13 fell on a Sunday this year so I played a lot of Bill Monroe music on my Sunday night radio show. For at least a month, you can listen to it in it’s entirety at kson.com/bluegrass.  Included are performances of Monroe songs by Monroe himself as well as other artists including Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tom T. Hall, Robert Earl Keen, Dwight Yoakum and Elvis Presley.

I do recount on the show a couple of personal Bill Monroe experiences from the days when I was a member of Brush Arbor. We opened for him at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood and that’s one time when I was so nervous I remember breaking into a flop sweat. During one of our faster songs, my thumb-pick flew off my thumb and landed somewhere in the audience. Fortunately, my brother Jim had an extra thumb-pick nearby and handed me one.

We also played a bluegrass festival that same year (1973) which was called “Bill Monroe’s Golden West Bluegrass Festival” in Norco, California. The promoter of the show invited us to play but wouldn’t allow us to set up our drums. Bill Monroe intervened, however, and gave us permission to go ahead and set up our drums on the stage, which was generally a no-no at bluegrass festivals. Today it’s a lot more common, but that experience convinced me that a lot of bluegrass fans put more limits on the music than even the Father of Bluegrass Music himself did. He always encouraged young musicians to play their own music, not just copy what everyone else was doing. Bluegrass music today is much richer and still alive and well because of that.  Happy birthday, Bill Monroe!

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So Long Eucalyptus Hills, Hello Alpine!

100_5799aLast week Marci and I moved out of our home in Lakeside after 37 years. Located in Eucalyptus Hills, it was a wonderful house that we purchased in 1978 after a couple years in another house just up the street. We leave behind a ton of memories in that old house which was built in the 1950’s and moved onto the property in 1972. We did some remodeling along the way and added a driveway, lots of landscaping, a swimming pool and an office/bedroom over the garage among other things. We added so much to the house, I think, that it simply became too big for just Marci and me. In this house, we raised our family, started a church, ran a business/ministry, hosted weddings and celebrated holidays, especially Easter Sunday. This is the house that our children will remember as their home for many years to come, even though it now has a new owner.

easter musicThe decision to sell the house and downsize was accelerated somewhat by our visit last summer to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. It was there that we learned Marci’s disability was caused by a disease called MS and was not curable. Since walking up and down stairs was nearly impossible for Marci, we knew we needed to move to a home without stairs. We also knew that we needed to reduce our expenses considerably since I was planning to resign from the church and could no longer afford the upkeep that a big house requires.

Of course, the decision to move was a hard one emotionally. Telling our children that we were selling the house was almost like telling them we were dying. Of course, we ARE dying, but not just now. The house on the other hand, has to go right away. Besides feeling sad about the decision, we also felt a sense of extreme anxiety. What would we do with all our “stuff?” After 37 years in the same place, you tend to collect a lot of things. We have plenty of storage spaces at the house in the basement, in the garage, in the attic and in two outbuildings. Besides the usual kinds of household items, I collected 40 years of bluegrass LP’s and CD’s from my years as a bluegrass disc-jockey. I also wrote a few books and stashed them in the garage, in the office, under the house and anywhere else I could put them. I do not throw away albums that I listen to and I don’t throw away books that I read. I am a man of many bookcases.

And then there is the memorabilia. I am a collector of memories. I have all sorts of youth ministry memorabilia from my Youth Specialties days that I have no idea what to do with. And having played in several bluegrass bands, I have instruments, sound equipment and music paraphernalia that normal people don’t have. What to do with all this stuff? (In the end, it took three garage sales, a few dumpsters and the rental of a storage unit.)

The other problem was just getting the house ready to sell. It needed a lot of repairs. Some things were little things (like replacing the window screens) and some things were big (like replacing the entire septic system). After my resignation from the church, I spent most of my time (January through June) on this project. One repair seemed to lead to another. It was never-ending, it seemed.

But finally we put the house on the market at the end of June. We met with our realtor (the same one who sold us the house in the first place, Norm Orgel) and started the process by agreeing on a selling price. There were times when I felt like the price was too high (who would pay such a price for an old house like ours?) and other times when I thought we priced it too low (who wouldn’t want to live in an old house like this one with so many happy memories attached to it?)

After the house went on the market (Friday, June 19), Marci and I decided to take a couple days off and go to Rosarito, Mexico for a little R&R. We were exhausted. By the time we got home on Sunday, our realtor informed us that we had an offer on the house … for the full asking price.  We were of course elated. The prospective buyer of our home agreed to our “counter-offer” which was simply to give us a 90 day escrow period so that we could find another place to live.

The house-hunting began in earnest a couple of weeks later after we attended my aunt Mabel’s 100th birthday party in Florida on July 4th weekend. Our realtor signed us up for a real-estate search program that delivered potential houses to our email in-boxes every day. I began to realize that we were perhaps dreaming to think we could find a house that could meet our needs and also fit into our price range. The homes we liked were all way too expensive.

The housing market in San Diego was also heating up in July. Houses didn’t stay on the market very long so we had to move quickly on houses we liked. During the month of July we looked at about 15 homes and couldn’t pull the trigger on any of them. There was always something about the house that didn’t seem right. Our search included east San Diego, La Mesa, El Cajon, Spring Valley, Santee and Lakeside. We wanted to stay in the same general area we lived in before.

As August was getting closer, we were starting to feel a little more urgency because I had a mission trip to Mexico coming up in a couple of weeks. Maybe we needed to just rent a house until we could find something that we wanted to buy? But that would mean moving twice. Still, it seemed like a viable solution, so I started looking on Craigslist and Zillow for rental properties around San Diego. Suitable homes for rent were few and far between. The ones that I visited were in terrible locations or the houses were dingy and smelled like cigarettes.

Then a house showed up for rent in Alpine. I really hadn’t considered Alpine as a place to buy a home but we could possibly rent there if the house was right. So we went to look at it and it was very nice, in a community called Crown Hills. But we were too late. Someone else had already applied to rent the house. We were second on the list and would be contacted in the other renter didn’t have a decent credit score or backed out for some reason.

IMG_20150905_142537442aWe didn’t get that house but we discovered that there were other houses for sale in that same neighborhood. We visited three homes in Crown Hills and the third was the charm. Marci loved it and so did I. We didn’t want to make an impulse buy so we waited one day … then contacted our realtor to make an offer on the house. Our offer was accepted right away and we got the house. We discovered later that the family selling the house connected with us because of our Christian faith, which they likely learned about from our Jewish realtor Norm.

The move happened on Friday, August 29 and the whole experience was both exhausting and exhilarating. We couldn’t have done it without the generosity and hard work of friends and family members who helped us get things packed up in boxes and then help us load and unload on moving day.  Everything arrived safely and now we are trying to unpack, find things and figure out where to put them. We still have way too much stuff.

IMG_20150906_180431107aBut we love our new home in Alpine.  We are so grateful to God for his provision. We wake up every morning feeling like we’re on vacation—but with a very large suitcase since all our stuff is here. There is an artificial brook that runs behind the house which reminds us of the living water which Jesus continually supplies to our hearts. It is God who delivered this house to us and we want it to become a place where God is honored and Christ is served. Come visit us when you can.

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Lost and Found Keys in Mexico

This little girl now has a new house!

This little girl now has a new house!

I just returned from another incredible week of ministry in Mexico. For the past six years, I’ve led a family (intergenerational) mission trip designed to give families and individuals an immersion experience in serving the poor and living in community with each other for a few days. We built a house for young Mexican family, conducted a daily Vacation Bible School (VBS) program for neighborhood children and this year we helped a local Mexican church build a new multi-purpose building that will provide a place for youth and children’s ministry, feeding programs and medical/dental services.

The week couldn’t have gone much better. We had a group of 32 people ranging in age from 7 to 70 and we built a lovely home for the Ramirez-Perez family, appointed with some very nice furnishings that were generously supplied by members of our team. Their previous home was a plywood hut covered with tarps and a dirt floor. What a blessing it is to be able to change someone’s living conditions in such a short time.

Our VBS program went very well, with about 40 children attending each day. They played games, won candy prizes, memorized Bible verses, sang songs, did craft projects and heard “The Big God Story” from the Bible in their own language every day. I was amazed by how the children listened and learned so well. Our goal is to bring joy to the lives of children during the summer and to plant the seeds of the gospel in their hearts. Mission accomplished!

IMG_20150811_123340247During the week we gave all the children white t-shirts with the words “Dios está conmigo” printed on the front (which means “God is with me.”) These shirts were connected to the Bible story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. God was with Joseph, the Bible says, and so he was able to accomplish great things even though his brothers treated him badly and sold him into slavery. The children saw the story acted out in front of them, and then they decorated their new shirts with colorful fabric paints.

Dios está conmigo became the theme of the week. Certainly God was with me on Tuesday night. I lost the keys to my truck … I just couldn’t find them anywhere. I looked high and low—in and around the truck, in and around my bunk bed, in and around the camp (YUGO’s Ensenada Outeach Center). I went to the evening “chapel” service feeling frustrated, worried and very distracted about my keys. I just had to find them. Where could they be? During the worship time (singing), I got up and went to look some more. Still, no luck. I came back into the meeting and tried to listen to the speaker but I was getting more and more anxious. Not only did I lose my truck keys (in Mexico!) but the keys to my house, my office, my radio station locker, etc. etc. I was feeling really stupid. I didn’t want to have to tell anybody that I lost my keys. I’m a leader after all! How embarrassing!

We all had little notebooks where we’re supposed to take notes on the chapel speaker. But I was thinking about my keys and what would happen if I couldn’t find them. I didn’t hear a word the speaker was saying. Then I started praying. I wrote down the “Anxiety” and asked God for help with that. I crossed out the word Anxiety and wrote “Trust God” beneath it. I also wrote down the word “Embarrassing.” Eventually I crossed it out and wrote “Humility” beneath it.

After the evening chapel service, we met together as a team and I admitted to everyone that I had lost my keys. Immediately they began to ask me questions and offer suggestions: “Did you look in the ignition, in the bathroom, in your sleeping bag, in your suitcase, in your pockets, etc. etc.” I answered “Yes, yes, yes ….” Everyone was very sympathetic of course and promised to keep their eyes open for a clump of car keys. Hopefully they would turn up. They’ve got to be around here somewhere, right?

Then we prayed together as a team. I asked several of the children on the team to pray, and they did. They were very sweet prayers and one of the girls prayed especially that I would find my keys.

It was about then that I got the idea to look in the big garbage can where I had dumped trash from my truck earlier in the day. Could my keys be in there?

Swallowing my pride, I started picking through the garbage can, one piece at a time. The can was completely full. I found some of the trash from my truck, but no keys. As I got closer and closer to the bottom of the can, I knew this was a bad (not to mention disgusting) idea. I was getting pretty discouraged.

Then one of our team members shined a flashlight into the can and suddenly I saw a sparkle. There they were! All the way down at the bottom of the garbage can. I grabbed the keys and put my hands in the air … Thank you Lord! This can would certainly have been emptied during the night and the keys lost, probably forever. But God was with me, I truly believe that. I went to bed—not only with my keys in a safe place—but with confidence that the prayers of a young girl had been answered.

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