New Home for the Bluegrass Special

Last month The Bluegrass Special’s almost 45-year run on KSON came to an end. I will always be grateful to KSON for giving me the opportunity to host a bluegrass music radio program in San Diego for so many years.

But the Bluegrass Special is not finished! There is another country radio station in San Diego–Mountain Country 107.9 in Alpine (which is where I live) with the motto “Nobody plays more country” and that is not false advertising. They are a local non-profit, low-power radio station serving San Diego’s east county so it doesn’t reach all of San Diego county. But it does have the power of the internet to reach thousands of listeners, no matter where they live.

The new Bluegrass Special will be on Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m., a much better time slot when people are still awake! And instead of two hours, we’ll have three–so I can play a lot more of today’s bluegrass along with classics, oldies, gospel and local artists. I’ll also keep you up-to-date on local bluegrass concerts and events once they start happening again. This will still be San Diego’s bluegrass radio program.

Here are five ways you can listen to the Bluegrass Special every Sunday:

  1. If you are in the east county (Alpine, El Cajon, Lakeside) just tune your radio to 107.9!
  2. From your  computer or any other internet-connected device, use your browser to find TheMountainFM.com. There is a play button on the home page which will start the music!
  3. From your smartphone or tablet, download the Simple Radio app for Android/iOS. Once it’s installed, search for Mountain Country 107.9 and it will appear. Another radio app that works the same way is Live365.
  4. You can also listen on your Amazon Smartspeaker (ALEXA) or any Alexa-enabled device like Kindle Fire Tablet. To listen, you must first say “ALEXA – ENABLE MOUNTAIN COUNTRY ONE OH SEVEN POINT NINE“. You only have to do that once. After that, you only have to say “ALEXA – PLAY MOUNTAIN COUNTRY 107.9”.
  5. On your AMAZON FIRE TV/ROKU device, go to the app store and download the free ALPINE CHANNEL APP. Press play to listen.

See you on the radio!

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We Had a Good Run!

After more than 2300 radio shows, the Bluegrass Special on KSON has come to an end. My last show was heard on Sunday night, September 13th which coincidentally was Bill Monroe’s birthday. I’m glad that I was able to go out with a show paying tribute to the Father of Bluegrass Music, whose song “Uncle Pen” was the first song I played when I went on the air March 7, 1976.

When I got the call from station management this month informing me about the changes in weekend programming (affecting all weekend programs on KSON, not just mine) I was told that the decision was effective immediately, so I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to my listeners–who some of my KSON colleagues called Wayniacs. So, if you were a Wayniac … So long and THANK YOU! We had a good run and I’m very proud to have been the radio voice of bluegrass music in San Diego for so many years.

In an ironic twist of good (or bad) timing, the end of my radio show coincided with my receiving the Distinguished Achievement Award from the IBMA, one of it’s highest honors. Banjoist Alison Brown made the presentation during the virtual awards ceremony on September 30 and prepared a very moving video tribute in my honor which was at the same time humbling and wonderfully affirming. I’m not worthy but I am very grateful.

I will continue to be involved in bluegrass music as long as I can. I’ll be working with the IBMA’s Bluegrass Trust Fund and maintaining my website bluegrassbios.com among other things. I may not be able to play bluegrass on the radio right now, but I’ll definitely be listening. Stay tuned.

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Writing Through a Pandemic

Wayne Rice - Grade 7

Me in the Seventh Grade

Since March, when the lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic began in our country, I have used most of my newfound time at home to work on my autobiography. This may sound rather presumptuous or egotistical to some, but I am not doing this for publication.  Perhaps my grandchildren may someday read it as a way to understand some of their own history. But I have come to realize that I am getting old and that when I look back on my life, I see patterns–I see God at work. He has blessed me beyond measure and I believe that it needs to be documented–not only for my family’s sake but for mine. With all of the discouragement and bad news that has been in the air (and on the air) in recent weeks, recalling and recounting the events of my life has been very therapeutic and encouraging for me. I am reminded of all the people who have been part of my life and who had such a powerful influence on me. I am amazed by all of the opportunities that have come my way over the years. I can see how God guided me through difficult days and helped me make decisions that had enormous impact on my life and the lives of others as well.

This project has kept me busy. I’m not sure when it will end. Of course, as long as I’m alive, the book will never get finished because … well, I’m still alive. But at this date (June 1) I have written more than 150,000 words and I’m really only through about half of my life (up to the year 1981). A lot happened between my birth year (1945) and 1981, but a lot happened between 1981 and today as well. So I’ll keep writing. It has been a very interesting process setting up a timeline. I can remember quite a few events that happened during my life, but I don’t always remember exactly when those events happened. Many of them run together–all the family events, speaking engagements, musical performances and the like. I did not keep daily journals for many years. I did find some old date books of mine which contained helpful reminders of dates and places, but mostly I’ve had to rely on my memory and several boxes of memorabilia and family photos that I have enjoyed going through. I am inserting photographs into this autobiography throughout the book which I think will make it more interesting to the reader, whoever that may be.

As I said, this is not a book that will be submitted to a publisher yet it may be my best work ever. That’s because I believe that God’s best work is found in the day-to-day lives that we all get to live. Regardless how long this pandemic lasts, I would recommend to all that rather than binge-watching another series on Netflix, take some time to reflect on the amazing life that God has given to you. Who knows, it just might become a best-seller!

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Bluegrass Is More Than Music!

Over the past three decades, I have been an active member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). I’ve been on several committees, given a keynote speech, led workshops, produced awards shows and more. But the most gratifying job I’ve had has been serving on the board of the IBMA’s Bluegrass Music Trust Fund. The Trust Fund provides financial assistance to people inside the bluegrass music industry who find themselves in a serious financial crisis. Recipients of financial help from the Fund have included everyone from hall-of-fame recording artists to little-known side musicians and concert promoters. Sonny Osborne (hall of fame banjo player) once told me “You’ve got the best job in bluegrass” and he’s right. It’s an honor to be part of this effort by the bluegrass music community to give back to those who have blessed their lives with so much great music over the years.

The Trust Fund is supported by donations by individuals and organizations and shares proceeds from the annual Wide Open Bluegrass Festival which takes place on the weekend following the business conference. The IBMA is itself a non-profit charitable organization which provides the infrastructure for the bluegrass music industry and helps advance the careers of bluegrass music professionals. A third non-profit is the Bluegrass Music Foundation, which promotes bluegrass music education for children, youth and the general public.

The IBMA is now requesting bluegrass music lovers to include either of these organizations into year-end giving plans. With much gratitude for the positive role that bluegrass music has played in my life, I support these organizations and am happy to recommend them to you for your financial consideration. Here’s a statement from the IBMA:

At IBMA, we believe bluegrass is more than music. It is emergency assistance, music education, career development, and so much more. It is real impact for real people made possible by your support. Please donate now to the combined giving campaign of the IBMA, IBMA Trust Fund, and IBMA Foundation. In addition to your donation, we want to know what bluegrass is to you. Share your own story by posting a video, picture, or statement on social media using #MoreThanMusic.”

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The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ John R. W. StottThis time of year I usually try to observe Lent by engaging in a spiritual discipline of some kind that will help me to focus on the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

This year I decided to re-read John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ, which I first read some 35 years ago when I was in seminary. More recently, I read Stott’s biography Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott by Roger Steer, and he points out that Stott considered The Cross of Christ to be his magnum opus, his greatest accomplishment as a writer. I have read many of Stott’s books, and they are all excellent. But I would have to agree: The Cross of Christ is more than just another John Stott book. It’s a beautifully written commentary on the central symbol of the Christian faith and what it means for us today.

This reading of The Cross of Christ is probably my fourth or fifth time through the book, so my copy is a bit tattered and underlined throughout. But familiar passages move me to tears every time. One of my favorite passages in the book appears in Stott’s chapter on “Suffering and Glory,” in which he suggests how the cross sheds light on the ages-old question of how a loving God can allow or co-exist with the real world of pain and suffering:

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to the lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours.

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Post-Conference Recovery

It has been one week today since we put a wrap on this year’s Legacy Grandparenting Summit conferencei in Fullerton, which went very well. By all accounts, this was the best conference of the three that we (The Legacy Coalition) have produced so far. Certainly it was the best attended, with about 1200 registered for the conference. The speakers, music and other program elements were very well received and when the conference ended, we got nothing but positive comments.

A highlight for me was being able to perform with my brothers Jim and Joe along with my sister Mary. Jim and his current version of Brush Arbor sang a few of their songs (including a new one that Jim wrote about grandparenting), then Mary did a medley of her most popular songs, then Joe and I joined them for a couple of songs with a family theme. We sounded pretty good if I do say so myself, and it felt good to play music in front of such a large and receptive audience.

The conference left me exhausted, although the conference itself was easy compared to the months leading up to it. On the first day of the conference, it felt like I was tipping over the first domino in an elaborate set-up of thousands of dominoes which had been prepared ahead of time. All that was left to do was watch and like everyone else, ooh and ahh at the results as the dominoes fell over the next three days. Fortunately, they all fell perfectly and the conference was a big success. I am grateful to God and for all those who helped make it happen.

You would think that after a couple of days after the conference, I would be able to relax and rest. But I have not been able to do that at all. I have noticed that the anxiety and stress that I had before the conference still exists, even though I have nothing more to do. It’s below the surface. I am beginning to wonder if chronic stress and busyness isn’t a kind of addiction, a type of disorder that doesn’t go away immediately but instead takes time for healing and recovery. After months of feeling anxious about all the incoming emails, texts, phone calls and things-to-do that need attention, I have found that it’s hard to just stop cold-turkey. It feels very strange right now. I keep checking my in-box but there’s nothing there of any importance. I’m not used to that.

So I’m in recovery mode and hoping that it won’t take too long to find a new normal that includes time to read, rest, and take care of some things that I’ve been putting off for a while.

Will there be another Legacy Grandparenting Summit to plan in the future? Yes, there will be. We don’t yet know where or when it will be but I’m sure the planning will begin soon. Whether or not I will be the one doing the planning is something I will need to decide soon. I have many issues to consider, including the fact that I’m not getting any younger.

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The 2019 Legacy Grandparenting Summit – Getting Close!

For the past four years, I have been working as a volunteer with the Legacy Coalition as their Director of Conferencing, which means that I have been the chief planner of the organization’s national conference on grandparenting, The Legacy Grandparenting Summit.

The first two conferences (in 2016 and 2017) were held in Texas but this year (February 21-23, 2019) we’re doing it in Southern California, at the Fullerton Evangelical Free Church. As I write this, it’s only two weeks away.

And I’m confident that it’s going to be a good one. We have some great speakers lined up like Alistair Begg, Josh McDowell, John Rosemond, Crawford Loritts, John Stonestreet, Beth Guckenberger, Walt Mueller and about 45 more. We also have some talented artists like Fernando Ortega, Scott Wesley Brown, Bruce Carroll, Bob Bennett, David Pendleton and my brother Jim with his current version of Brush Arbor. My sister Mary Rice Hopkins will also be singing. I admit to a little nepotism here.

The goal of the conference is to encourage and equip grandparents in their role as spiritual influencers of their grandchildren. Also, we hope to encourage and equip churches to begin ministries to equip this demographic group as well. Most “seniors” ministries lack a compelling mission. But grandparenting is something that older folks get pretty excited about.

All the information about this year’s Summit is on our website legacycoalition.com/summit. Join us if you can!

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The Big Bang of Youth Specialties

It was the summer of 1968 when Mike Yaconelli and I resigned from our jobs with San Diego Youth For Christ and became youth directors at two local churches. I won’t go into the reasons we left YFC, but we both needed a little more normalcy in our lives at that time. Earlier in the year, Mike and I traveled to Wheaton, Illinois, home of YFC’s international headquarters, to help write a manual for their new high-school club ministry called Campus Life, which had been developed in San Diego. The new manual (called “Impact”) was published in August of 1968, in time for the upcoming school year. It contained hundreds of great ideas for Campus Life clubs–games, skits, crowd breakers, publicity ideas, special events, discussion starters, you name it. It was a gold mine of youth ministry ideas that made it possible for any YFC leader anywhere in the country to duplicate the Campus Life club model with success.

After the manual came out, Mike and I soon came to realize that such a manual or “idea book” would be very useful for church youth workers (which we now were). But church youth workers did not have access to the YFC manual or anything else like it. So … we began digging through our files once again and wrote a new book simply called Ideas. Like the YFC Impact manual, it contained crowd breakers, games, skits–the kind of stuff that we used to attract kids and make our meetings a lot more fun. We typed it up on Mike’s IBM Selectric Typewriter and had the 50 or so pages duplicated at a local “quick print” shop down the street. I silk-screened “Ideas” on a stack of yellow binders that I had purchased at the San Diego State bookstore and our two youth groups did the collating and assembly of the books.

Before we got the books printed, Mike and I named our new enterprise Youth Specialties. Took about five minutes to come up with that name. There was a business located near us called Corvette Specialties (specializing in parts for souped-up Chevy Corvettes) and even though neither of us owned Corvettes (yet), we thought it was a pretty cool place and a pretty cool name. So Youth Specialties it was. I designed a little YS logo to put on the cover and voila! we were in business.

We put “Youth Specialties” on the title page as the publisher and copyrighted the book (dated October 30, 1968, see above) and started selling them out the trunks of our cars to youth workers we knew around southern California. We took some to a youth ministry retreat at Forest Home and we also had a booth at the GLASS (Greater Los Angeles Sunday School) Convention. We ran an ad in Christianity Today magazine. Lo and behold, we sold all our supply of books and had to print more. Things took off from there. More editions of the Ideas books were written, the first National Youth Workers Convention was organized, and Youth Specialties grew like crazy through the seventies, eighties and beyond. And it’s still having an impact today–under new leadership from Doug Fields and Reggie Joiner. From what I hear, the 2018 National Youth Workers Convention coming up this year is going to be one of the biggest ever.

When we started, we had no idea that our little idea book business would amount to anything but I’m grateful that God was able to use Youth Specialties to accomplish some incredible things in youth ministry over the past half century and helped launch the ministries of many others. I’m sure that if there had been no Youth Specialties, God would have used someone else (and he certainly has done that) but I’m honored and blessed that I got to play a small role in the ongoing history of youth ministry. It’s just hard to believe that it all started a half century ago!

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Marci Update

2017 photo taken by our good friend Gary Bell

A good friend of mine, Dave, sent me an email recently asking, “How’s Marci?” He also reminded me that the “Marci Page” on my website had not been updated in a long time. He was correct about that. My bad.

Marci, in case you don’t know, is my wife of 52 years now and she has had some unfortunate health issues beginning with a brain tumor that was diagnosed back in 2001. That led to major surgery (a bi-frontal craniotomy) and several months of recovery. Thankfully, she DID recover fully and the brain tumor—while it was large and dangerous but not malignant—never affected her quality of life after it was removed. We have had many wonderful years together since her surgery, for which we are very grateful to God. That is the story which you will find on Marci’s page, as well as a few updates. But they are now several years old.

So, to answer my friend’s question, let me update you on my wife’s condition now.

About seven years ago, Marci began to notice weakness in her right leg. We were at an IBMA conference in Nashville when she struggled to make the short walk between the convention center and our hotel. When we got home, we made an appointment with our family doctor and eventually saw a string of neurologists and other specialists to get a proper diagnosis. After numerous tests, scans and consultations, one of the neurosurgeons recommended back surgery. One of the MRI’s showed a slight bulging of a disk in Marci’s lower back which might be the cause of the problem. So, back surgery was done in June of 2012. She recovered and went into a vigorous physical therapy program to get the strength back in her leg. Ultimately this was not successful. The weakness in her leg persisted just as before.

Meanwhile, she was able to keep her job (she was on the admin staff at College Avenue Baptist at the time) and do most of the things that she enjoyed doing. She just struggled trying to walk more than a few feet. She began to use a walker (which helped) and for the first time, we got a handicapped placard to put in her car.

Over the next several months, Marci consulted several more doctors, neurologists and neurosurgeons in San Diego to find out what was wrong with her. Even though she saw some of the top doctors in San Diego, they were puzzled by her condition. Finally, one of them suggested that we try to get into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a complete physical exam and diagnosis. We agreed and within a few months, Marci’s application was accepted. We booked our flights and made the trip to Minnesota in July of 2014.

Mayo Clinic is an amazing place. It takes up most of downtown Rochester and everyone in the city is connected to it somehow. We stayed at a hotel in the center of town and were given a wheel chair to shuttle Marci from one appointment to the next—all of which were scheduled over the next several days. When we told our primary Mayo Clinic doctor that our San Diego doctors were stumped by Marci’s case, he replied “We don’t do ‘stumped’ here.” He guaranteed that they would solve the mystery and give us an accurate diagnosis.

And they did. It took more than a week of exams and tests but finally our doctor told us that Marci had “Primary Progressive MS (multiple sclerosis).” The bad news: there is no cure. The good news: it’s not a terminal disease and it moves slowly. But it will continue to weaken and cause difficulty walking and performing other physical activities. We have found this to be true. Marci is no longer able to walk, even with a walker.

On the Greek island of Santorini, May 2016

That however didn’t stop us from celebrating our 50th anniversary in a big way (which was two years ago). We went on a Mediterranean cruise, visiting Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain. The cruise ship was very well-suited for people with disabilities, and on our shore excursions, I pushed Marci up and down a lot of cobblestone streets in a portable wheelchair that we took with us. It was an amazing vacation.

Over the past few years, we have learned a lot more about the disease and have made major changes to our lifestyles. Both of us resigned from our staff positions at College Avenue Baptist, sold our house and moved into a smaller place without stairs or other obstacles. Our new home has been a real blessing to us. Marci can no longer drive, so I am her chauffer and servant, which I am happy to be. Two years ago we purchased a small battery-powered mobility chair that enables her to get around the house, go shopping and have a lot more independence than she would have otherwise. In my opinion, that chair is one of the greatest inventions of all time. We also bought a used Toyota Sienna which was retrofitted to accommodate people with mobility issues. God has been good in providing these things for us.

While the disease continues to weaken Marci’s legs, it hasn’t affected the best parts of her—her beauty, her radiance, nor her determination to make the best of every day. She does have some bad days when the symptoms make it hard for her to function, or she is sapped of energy, yet she remains upbeat and rarely complains. She is a remarkable woman who I love more than ever and despite her disability, she is a real encouragement to me and everyone else she knows.

Some good news: In the last year, the FDA has approved a new medication for people with Primary Progressive MS (the first of its kind) which has proven effective at slowing the progession of the disease. It is not a cure, nor does it reverse any of the symptoms, but Marci was approved to receive treatments (infusions) of this medication and she has now received two. They are very expensive and we are not sure how much we will have to pay (beyond what our insurance will pay) but we are trusting God for his provision as always.

So there’s an update for my old friend Dave and for anyone else who might be interested. I’ll try to keep posting new updates as things change.

 

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MexiGO 2017

So, when you only post one blog per year, I guess you have no right to call yourself a blogger. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about. I do … but I just don’t have the time, or at least I don’t make the time. And in recent years I have become less interested in writing about myself. So maybe I’ll write about about somebody or something else.

But I do feel like I should write something about my annual mission trip to Mexico. This is something I have done now for close to 20 years–first with Shadow Mountain Community Church and now College Avenue Baptist Church. At CABC, we try to take families rather than youth groups, so that parents can experience the awesomeness of serving the poor in Mexico as well as their kids. This trip has the potentiak to disrupt a family’s lifestyle and priorities in a big way.

It’s also good for an old guy like me. This year I didn’t have to be the team leader (thanks Bill Davis!) so I was able to just go and serve along with the rest of the folks who went. It was harder for me to go this year because of my wife Marci’s disability (MS). All of our kids are now living far from us, so it’s harder now for me to leave Marci alone. But Marci’s sister Dixie came to stay with her for the week so I was able to go (thank you Dixie!)

It’s also harder for me to go because I’m not as physically fit as I was twenty years ago. And I don’t like getting out of my comfort zone or putting myself at risk quite as much as I did when I was younger. But I consider this trip to be something of a spiritual discipline for me, something I need to do to exercise my faith and trust in God. Part of me hates the hard work, the time and cost of going on the trip, the inconvenience of living in tight quarters with a bunch of people I don’t know very well, feeling stupid because I don’t speak Spanish, not having the comforts and amenities of home, etc. etc. On the other hand, I need to be humbled now and then and forced to put the needs of others ahead of my own for a few days. I am confident that we do a lot of good in Mexico, but I think that a lot more good takes place in my own soul as well as the souls of other members of our team.

Will I go next year? I hope so, but like I say, it’s getting harder. We’ll see. If you would like to see a video of our team at work (and a few other teams who were there the same week), visit https://vimeo.com/229337401.

 

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