Ok, the title might be slightly misleading, but stick with me.
I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan in the world. I like the movies. I have fond memories of the three originals (Episodes IV-VI). But to be honest, I saw The Phantom Menace (Episode I) when it came out in 1999, but never saw the next two because I thought it was lame. So do I wear Luke Skywalker PJs to sleep or do I have a Yoda fathead hanging on my wall? No.
But here’s the thing…I do love people. And people love Star Wars. So I’ll love Star Wars. If you want, be a Christian leader, speak out against The Force Awakens or be a contrarian because you want to go against the grain. But know that you are now missing a connection point with 95% of the people you’ll talk to.
In certain areas, be set apart. In certain areas, draw your line in the sand. But don’t draw it between you and millions of other people who you can connect with. Use it as a launching point for deeper relationship, not the launching point of your irrelevancy to their lives.
May the force be with you. (And also with you.)
Two years ago today, Emily received a re-infusion of the stem cells from her bone marrow and completed a 2-3 month long process for reseting her immune system. That was the end of a 5-6 year period of struggles/challenges/trials that came with an MS diagnoses on her 21st birthday.
Because I’ve only met many of you within the last two years, you probably had no idea that any of this existed to us. So I want to give you a quick rundown of our journey.
Two weeks after we got married, on her 21st birthday, Emily was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is a disease that is unpredictable. There is no known cause and it acts differently in different people. Within the first year, it was clear that Emily had an aggressive form. The doctors worked hard to keep her as comfortable as possible, but we knew that we were basically just managing the disease and the future was unclear. She went through periods of not being able to see, speak, walk, feel her hands…basically her body wasn’t working at all. Through this time period, we tried to remain positive. It was difficult to always be on the same team, but we always found time to laugh and keep things light.
In 2009, Emily was admitted to a clinical study at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (Chicago) where they were resetting patients’ immune system through chemo and cryopreserving stem cells. While she was admitted to the study, she was randomized to the control arm, which meant no stem cell transplant. We were disappointed, but it was only by the grace of God that we felt peace. We had learned that ultimately, we could only do our best at the legwork, and everything was out of our hands.
The disease was up and down for a few years. She continued on the most aggressive medicine possible. The doctor’s were concerned that because she was so young, she’d lose many of her basically abilities for the majority of her life. That became real in June 2013 when she could no longer walk and ended up in a wheelchair. I called Chicago to update them, and they suggested she come for a follow up appointment. They said that because she was so bad, there was a good chance that they could cross her over to the transplant side of the study. We came back to Virginia and prayed and trusted that this was what was best.
So in October 2013, we wheeled Emily to Chicago (not all the way, just from the airport ha). On December 22, she walked out of the hospital. They took stem cells from her bone marrow, gave her chemo for five straight days, and then reinserted her stem cells on December 10, 2013. Within a day, she was already improving. Her hands were functioning normally. She walked around the hospital floor and re-learned how to keep her own balance. She’s been on no medicine. She exercises. She cooks and cleans. She goes to the mall. She drives. We go to concerts. Etc. These are all things that most people do, that she could not.
That’s an extremely quick version of the story.
We could not have done it without friends and family who so graciously prayed daily, sent encouraging words and gave financially so we could afford to make all of this happen. But most of all, we never lost hope. We believe that nothing happens accidentally. After going through the process in 2013, we realized that we were not ready the first time around. 2009-2012 prepared us for what was to come in 2013. Something crazy happened through this process…we experienced true joy. In a season that would seemingly be chaotic, we experienced very real peace. In fact, while many things were difficult, we look back on that season of life with reverence. It was an adventure that has truly given us a new perspective on our life, and of those around us. We may be strong people (and Emily is especially strong), but there is no way we would have kept the positive attitude, maintained joy and hope, or experienced the peace based on our own understanding. Our experience revealed to us that the hope of Christ and the hands of God are enough to carry anyone through the darkest times and to celebrate the best ones. We know that not everyone gets this chance. And we know that even when it didn’t seem like Emily would, we experienced God being good to us. We are thankful for the transformation and new beginning that we were given through this resetting of Emily’s body and the new life we’re given daily because of God’s grace.
In March 2013, I was notified that I was named 2012 CCM Network International Songwriter of the Year. That was such a great surprise and very humbling. I won radio promotion, amongst other great things.
In February, I won the 2014 WAMMIE (Washington Area Music Award) for Gospel Vocalist of the Year. I had been nominated a few times before, but I assumed I’d come up short again. Emily and I didn’t even attend the awards. However, I won! So exciting.
Then in April, I was notified that Made for More won the 2014 KCCM (King Cat Christian Music) Song of the Year. With that award, I won some recording gear, a MIDI guitar, cash and other things.
***Added June 2014 – Turns out I also won the 2014 KCCM Live Performance Award for Dance Dance Dance from Our Hope [Live]! You can see the trophy above.
In February 2015, I won a WAMMIE for both Gospel Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year, for Our Hope [Live]. We also played live at the WAMMIES and played Dance Dance Dance, mashed up with Beat It and 25 or 6 to 4. Great night!
I continued to be very humbled by the opportunities and recognition I’ve received recently. I 100% know that God gave me the gifts I have, so I’ll continue to use them to impact people for Him. However, just because God gives us gifts, it doesn’t mean they’re handed to us. I have and will continue to work hard at playing guitar, singing, songwriting, etc. It’s important for me, and you, to remember that God may give us things, but we are the stewards of them.
Im pumped to be playing pregame at the Washington Nationals Faith Day. Each year, the Nats host a Faith Day where players give their testimonies postgame along with live music. This year, DC area choirs are performing along with the players. This year, they’ve added live pregame music as well. As a Nats fan, I’m excited that we get to be a part in this way. If you’re coming to the Nats/Marlins next Saturday, September 19, come early when gates open and hang with us on the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk Stage!
“I believe we all have a purpose. No one purpose is greater than another purpose. You all have a purpose.” -Tori Kelly, last Friday night.
Friday night, Emily and I saw Tori Kelly’s Where I Belong Tour at The Fillmore in Silver Spring. It was exciting for us, because we had tickets to see her in 2013. But the day of her show was the day of Emily’s stem cell retrieval (and essentially the most traumatic day of the entire stem-cell transplant season). So the tickets just went to waste. So Friday, for us, was kind of a celebration of things coming full-circle.
So back to the show…Obviously, musically she was incredible. Rare vocal talent. We got to meet and chat with her for a second before the show and she couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming. But some of the things she said during the show challenged my perspective.
Tori talked about her family. She spoke so highly of her bandmates. She talked about her song inspirations. During the Q&A, she talked about her logo being inspired by favorite Bible verse (Psalm 91:4). She displayed obvious humility throughout the night, even while the crowd was chanting her name. Her band was visibly praying on stage, if you paid attention. Emily and I had a conversation on the ride home that in many ways, we walked away feeling more like we were at a God-inspired show and heard God-inspired music than at some church events I’ve played at. But the thing is, it wasn’t at a church event. It was out in public. With thousands of people. And it was impactful.
I think many times, as Christians, as pastors, as leaders, we get competitive and closed minded. We have to get people to our church to build our thing. When we do that, we fail to support those people who use their gifts in other ways…in sometimes ways we wouldn’t consider. We fail to get out and meet people where they are. But Tori Kelly is not failing. We are on the same team, and we should act like it. Many other artists who are Christians write positive music. Some with Christ-centered lyrics. But because they aren’t a “Christian artist” we ignore them or write them off. Let’s not get it wrong this time.
Go buy Tori Kelly’s album, Unbreakable Smile, and tell your friends. No she isn’t a CCM artist. No she isn’t on a Christian label. No she isn’t writing the songs we sing in church (but she was videod singing Oceans in Central Park, for those of you that have Oceans as a deal breaker ). But she is making Jesus famous in places where many of us will never go. And, by the way, her music is incredible upbeat, positive and catchy.
Get it here: Unbreakable Smile (Bonus Track Version)
ps. She’s going to win a GRAMMY or two. Just remember that I said that.
For the last five or six years, I’ve been operating my band as a sole-proprietership. That essentially means everything we make when we play somewhere or I sell a t-shirt, etc., is personal income and I have to claim it every April 15. And every time I spend money, it’s legally my personal money, even though it’s separated as a business expense. I make sure everyone else gets paid before I do. My time is invested and spent. That’s just how I’ve operated and I’m fine with that mode of operation. I’ve basically been operating as a non-profit business.
But now I’m getting more and more opportunities and invitations. And wider ones. Recently I was in South Africa doing leadership training for kids and leading worship. Later this month, I’m speaking at a huge youth conference in Florida. Next year, we’re heading to Portland to play at the International UMC Conference. These types of things are in addition to the normal worship leading and playing at conferences we do throughout the year.
While these things have been going on, I’ve had other ideas to push things further. I had someone donate a guitar for me to take to South Africa, which I left with a new friend I made there. I did the same thing in Ecuador a few years ago. Gap Community, the organization we were with in South Africa, asked if I had any connections to provide a keyboard to a church in Zambia. The point is, somehow, I’ve become a point person for collecting and donating instruments to people that otherwise can’t get them. I’ve also started consulting/training other worship leaders and artists how to do what I do. And those are just two quick examples of things that could continue as is, or grow in the future. But as it is now, I’m limited with what I can do.
SO: things are expanding and I want to do more. So I am currently in the process of starting a non-profit ministry. Through this, I’ll be able to empower others and reach people using primarily, but not limited to, music and other creative arts. Not only will our non-profit be a 501c3, tax exempt, organization, but it will allow me to get others involved to use their gifts to impact the world. Recently I had someone ask if my ministry was a non-profit. They wanted to make a tax deductible donation, but as I explained how things functioned, and described that they couldn’t donate as a write-off, I realized I have been aligned in this world to do something even bigger but I was limiting myself. There are people who want to make an impact in the world, but will never the opportunities that I have. So I want to bear that responsibility. We will start small and simply employ those I already work with, but has potential to expand to unknown possibilities. Only God knows where this will lead.
In the short term, it won’t change much in what you see from me or the band. This will just widen the scope of what we can do as things move forward. So don’t worry, we’ll still be around the same places you usually see us.
I believe this will be a game-changer for the band and provide more opportunities for Emily, the band, you, others and me to make a mark on the world. We are going worldwide wide wide wide.
I know this seems very vague at the moment. I promise there are tons of ideas stirring in my head. Stay tuned for more info soon…
Thanks for supporting, as always. I truly want this to be something we do together.
We are pretty pumped to invited to play at The 2015 Wammies. The Wammies are the Washington Area Music Awards, aka Washington Area GRAMMYS. I’ve been nominated, and even won one in the past. They don’t typically have Christian artists play live at the event, but in addition to being nominated for three awards (Gospel Vocalist of the Year, Gospel Group/Duo of the Year and Gospel Album of the Year), we are going to be rockin the Wammies stage for the first time.
Tickets are available to the public for $35. If you tickets, let me know and I can get get them for $15.
Thanks, as always, for supporting, reading, praying, etc.
Glory to God,
So yesterday, Emily and I were minding our own business shopping for an ugly Christmas sweater. I swear I don’t seek this out, but naturally this is what happened…
Yesterday I preached at my church, Vine Church. The sermon was called, “Know Your Why” and we discussed how to align what we do with our why. You can check it out below.