Saturday, April 26, 2008

Second Thoughts

Seven months ago, I moved to Nashville. In those seven months, Sarah and I still have not found a church that we both love. We have found churches that one of us likes and the other one tolerates, but not one that we both love.

Moving to Nashville was a necessity. We needed to be in the thick of things as my career began to take off (we hope). I recorded an album over a 3 month time and those trips would've been miserable through the mountains of Tennessee in the winter. Plus, with doing songwriting like I am for other people, I need to be here in town.

And I'm gone. A lot. I just had a 3-week engagement come up in June that means that basically between now and the end of the year I will be home for a total of about 3 weeks. Seriously 3 weeks over an 7 month period. So, it's not like I will have many Sundays at home anyway.

But, man, I miss Seacoast.

Sarah and I were coming out of a very tough time in our lives when we found Seacoast. We fell in love with the church instantaneously and never looked back. I started leading worship within 3 weeks of being there and within 4 months, we were leading a small group...a group of people that became our best friends and accountability partners. And we left that to come up to Nashville. Because we needed to.

But second thoughts creep in. We miss our friends. We miss being involved. Life has changed so much and with the so many great things (like fulfilling a dream, making a healthy living, etc.), comes the sacrifices of leaving behind things we loved a great deal.

Returning to Greenville won't happen for a while. It can't. We bought a house, we have laid down roots, I'm getting cuts as a writer. We need to be here.

But we miss Seacoast.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Life of a Christ-Follower on American Idol

If I have one regret about my time on American Idol, it is that I didn't sing some Elton John. If I have two regrets (and this is the real regret here) it's that there was more time to connect with a local body of believers while I was on the show.

On the show, we work 7 days a week, and our work days are never less that 7-8 hours and usually more around the 10-12 hour range. I didn't have a problem with that...I actually enjoyed it...for the first time as an adult I got paid to do something that I loved (music). But it didn't leave a lot of time for extra-curricular activities. The one activity that I would not call extra-curricular, but just didn't fit into the schedule was attending a local church. During my 8 weeks out in L.A. this time, I was only able to get to a church once, and that was visiting the mega church Saddleback, where Rick Warren is the pastor.

I can't explain the emotions I felt as I worshiped with 10,000 people in that auditorium that Sunday (the 2nd week of semi-finals before I sang "Trouble"). It was as if I was coming home so to speak. Worship music is so often so cheesy, and when you take part in it every single week, it can become monotonous and easy to take for granted. But that Sunday, I sang my lungs out and a feeling of refreshment washed over me. It was absolutely strange.

The message that Pastor Warren gave was so touching....the message of it didn't really touch me, since it was all about how to get sin out of your life, and literally my pastor back home had just done a series with the exact same points...but the heart of Pastor Warren coming through was incredible refreshing.

I came away from that service (after taking about 4,000 pictures with church members and after meeting Pastor Warren and receiving a bear hug from the man himself) recharged for the next few weeks.

Honestly, I can't wait till Easter Sunday...I'll be with my home church for the first time in 2 and a half months, and I know the refreshment will wash over me even more so than my time at Saddleback. Plus I get to see my friends again.

Boy, I can't wait!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Traveling Sucks

Originally posted 1-2-07

Germany is 6 hours ahead of East Coast Time. Sarah and I went to bed on New Years Morning at 1 am German time. We knew we were flying back on New Years Day, but we just couldn't bring ourselves to not stay up to welcome in 2007. But the problem with that is that we had to wake up at 6 am to get ready to leave the house at 7:15am to get to the airport in time. Now, just to put this in perspective: we woke up at midnight New Years Morning East Coast time.

We loaded up the car and headed to the airport. Our plane left at 12:30pm German time - we had to wake up so early because it was a 2 hour trip to the airport from my parent's house, and you have to get to the airport now 2 hours before your trip. Anyway around 11:45, we loaded on the plane and at 12:30 we took off. As we took off, I thought we were going to die. The first 10,000 feet up were the bumpiest I have ever had in my life. We were bouncing around in a 767 like a little prop plane in a tornado. It was horrible.

The next 9 1/2 hours wasn't bad. We had 2 movies and they were both ones that I had wanted to see, so that was nice. We got a little sleep: I think I got about an hour on the plane, total.When we got to Philadelphia, apparently, we were a little early because the plane simply circled the airport for about an hour. All along the way of doing circles, we got bounced around by turbulence. People were throwing up all over the plane and even I started to get a little sick. We weren't allowed to listen to music because we were on our "initial approach", so I was bored and nauseated. Not a good combination.

We finally landed. Then we had to go through to 2 lines of Customs. Then we had to wait in baggage claim to get our luggage, only to wait in an astronomically long line to go through another customs line that then lead to another long line to re-check our recently claimed baggage. After that line, we were sent to another terminal. However, in order to get to our new terminal we had to go through yet another security check. Unfortunately, the line at the next security check was about 500-600 people long and they only had 1 line. We literally stood for a half hour without moving a step. That line took over an hour and then we still had to find our shuttle that took us to our terminal.

When we got to our gate, they announced that our flight would be a little late. A little late ended up being 4 hours late. So, instead of getting home at a reasonable 8pm, we got in at midnight. By the time we reached home, we had been up for 24 hours straight. That sucks.But to top it all off, they only got 3 of our bags to us. The 1 bag they didn't get on the plane wasn't the bag that help all of our miscellanious items. It was the bag that literally holds all my entire wardrobe.

Traveling Sucks.

Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane

Originally posted 12-28-06

Well, at this moment, I am sitting in a Swiss hotel typing on a Swiss computer. Apparently, the Swiss have a different keyboard, and a lot of stuff is out ofplace on it, so it will probably take me a lot longer than usual to type this blog, but that is no worry for you, since you aren't reading it in real time. Anyway.

A coupla days ago, we left my parents house outiside of Graf, Germany to head towards Switzerland. We decided that we could go by Weisbaden, the town in Germany that I lived in from 7-17, while only making our trip about an hour and a half longer. My dad asked if I wanted to go and said that I would love would be great to take a walk down memory lane, so to speak. We left about 7:30am and reached Weisbaden about 4 hours later. It was a nice dad and I spoke about a bunch of stuff while my wife spoke with my mom on only God knows what and my brother slept.

We reached Weisbaden and went to the little town called Erbenheim where my dad's church had been located all those years. We drove around that little town and it was a little odd to see the changes that had come. Where the church parking lot had been all growing up is now an apartment complex, which is attached to the building the church was located in. Apparently, the owner made the church into a series of apartments. Smart. Very smart. He's probably making ten times the rent we were paying back then.

From there, we went over to the Army base where I literally spent much of my formative life. I have so many mermories from Weisbaden Army Base it's not even funny. During summers, in my teens, I would spend almost every day 6, 7, 8 hours a day on base playing baseball or basketball. I remembered everything like it was yesterday. It was kind of funny as I had to direct my dada round base, as he couldn't remember where certain things were. And I didn't even drive back then.

After that, we drove over to the PX, which is the Post's where the soldiers eat, shop and shop. It's the army's version of a mall. It's pretty crappy compared to what we have in the States, but for people overseas, it is awesome to have a little taste of home. In the food court, they have Popeye's chicken and Taco Bell, as well as some AAFES restaurants. I decided on Anthony's Pizza, which is the Army's best pizza. I hadn't had it in years, and it was as tasty as I remember.

We then drove up into the mountains about 35 minutes out where I lived from the age of 8-15. It was surreal to see this little mountain village that holds so many memories for me. We drove down a little bike path that lead to the large forest that was behind our village. It was on this bike path that I left much of the skin from my left side after a horrific bike accident that nearly took my life when I was 8.

I guess this blog really has nothing for anyone else, except a little insight into me. I have a lot of memories of my childhood. A lot of them were bad. Those of you who know me well know that those memories still haunt me from time to time.

But it was great to be reminded that there were good times, interspersed with the bad.

Dachau: the original German concentration camp

Originally posted 12-20-06

I flew into Germany yesterday to spend time with my family over the Holidays. My father had been sick and had been put in the hospital for a large kidney blockage, so he wasn't able to come to the airport, and because my mother had to go get him from the hospital, she needed us to go do something to pass some time until she could get back home.

About 10 years ago, in between my sophomore and junior year of high school, my family took a trip to Dachau. At the time, I was very interested in Jewish history and especially the horrors of World War II. In saying that, I wasn't interested in finding entertainment, but to remind myself of those horrors. We couldn't get enough time away to go all the way to Auschwitz, so we went to Dachau, which is another famous concentration camp in Germany.

Yesterday, we needed something to do, so we decided that Dachau was on the way, and my wife had never seen anything like that and she really wanted to see it, so we headed to Dachau.

Dachau was the original German concentration camp. It was with Dachau that the Third Reich found their model for what other concentration camps would be. Originally, when the camp opened in 1933, it was simply for political prisoners: people who took an active, vocal stand against Hitler were herded up and put in this camp. And it wasn't pretty. Then, when the Third Reich began what they called their Final Solution (i.e., let's kill all the people who don't look like us), the concentration camps that had been for political prisoners now housed - and killed - everyone.

As we walked into the camp again yesterday, I was struck, again, with a feeling of oppression. As I looked across this open lot with gravel grounding - these wide open spaces where I can only assume men were shot and killed for simply being different - I told my wife that it just seems evil. The whole place seemed evil.

We walked into the main building that had once housed the headquarters for the Nazi the building holds the memories of so many men who died in that place. We walked in and followed the story from the beginning. The story is told in English and German on giant easels that hold the prose and pictures. The prose and pictures all communicate one thing: men were killed for believing and looking differently than their German counterparts.

The story started in 1933 when the chief of police in Munich thought of the idea of a camp that would house political prisoners. Several hundred were originally placed in the camp and actually finished building the camp as they went along. Nutrition was horrible, conditions were bad (no heat, very little clothing, etc.) and over the first year several were killed and several died from lack of food and sickness.

Things continued the same until the late 1930's, when Hitler introduced the Final Solution, which was basically an attempt to rid the world of Jews, mentally handicapped, the cripples and the old - basically everyone he saw as useless. Men and women were shipped off to camps across the Third Reich and treated horribly, killed and then had their bodies incenerated to keep the Germans from having to bury millions of bodies.

When the Jews became a major part of Dachau, the conditions got even worse. Guards would take target practice using human targets for fun. Men would be thrown into "no-man's land" - a small section between the open area and the fence that lead to freedom - and would then be shot for "attempting to escape". Men would simply be shot while standing in line for role call because some German soldier felt a little pissy that day. Yes, all the horrible things you have seen in movies like Schindler's List and The Pianist were real.

Then things even more horrifying began to take place. In 1942, the director of the camp came up with the bright idea to use human research to attempt to help the Germans win the war. So, they would put Jews through horrible experiments to see how the human body could hold up. One of the experiments involved pressurizing a room as if the person were 500 feet under water, then quickly de-pressurizing the room to see how fast the human body could recover. If the person in the room died, then they would burn the body and try again with another subject until they found the timing that didn't kill the person in the room. Another experiment would put a Jewish man in an army parachute get-up and then place the man in varying degree of freezing water to see how long a person could last in freezing water before they died. The doctors experimented with different aspects of cutting out pieces of men's brains while they were still alive. Horrible, horrible things.

And as I walked around this exhibit, then as I viewed the gas chambers and the rooms where dead bodies were piled up before being burned in the ovens in the next room, I wondered how a human could possibly do this to another human. How could one person with a beating heart and fully-functioning brain possibly do these horrible things to another human with a beating heart and a fully-functional brain? How could German soldiers line men up, weaponless, against a wall and walk down the row, putting a bullet in each man's brain. For simply being Jewish.

These men must have somehow believed what their leaders told them. Maybe they bought into the rhetoric and bullshit (I apologize for the use of language here, but my anger over-runs and I can find no better word). Maybe they bought into the propaganda. Maybe they simply killed to survive themselves. I don't know.We live in a cynical, cynical world. We live in a world where the media constantly questions everything our leaders tell us. We live in a world that never simply takes anything a government says for granted. We live in a country that is at war.

But I would rather live in a cynical world that questions the morality of the Iraqi War than to live in a place and time where atrocities like the Holocaust can happen without questions.

Holidays, Schmolidays

Originally posted 12-5-06

I have never been a big fan of The Holidays. Call me crazy but the chubby kid doesn't like all the holiday foods. I hate Turkey. It's so dry it makes my mouth dry just thinking and writing about it. I despise dressing. It makes me want to throw up every time I attempt to place it in my mouth and swallow. Even thinking about that chalky stuff, it makes me ill. I hate holiday food.

So, I have decided that if I am ever in the position of great fame and/or fortune, which you never know, could be sooner than later, that I would like to propose some general rules and some changes for the holidays.

1) Buffalo Wings & Pizza should replace Turkey & Stuffing, respectively.
Come on! Turkey is outdated. We all know that killing a turkey is cruel while killing a chicken is all right! And you don't have to kill anything except flour to make a pizza, unless you have meats. Which I do!!! Pizza - the poor man's dressing!

2) All Thanksgiving Get-Togethers should include the watching of football, and the women should sit and learn about the beautiful game.
My wife still thinks that kicking a field goal is a freaking touchdown! Come on! Turkey Day is called Turkey Day for one reason: football!!! So, everyone should be forced to watch football and understand the nuances of the games, like why the players pat each other on the butt after good plays and why certain players have their groins massaged after a tough play on the field.

3) Christmas decorations and/or music should not be whipped out until 1 week before Christmas.
Since we all know that Jesus wasn't really born in December any way, then why the freak do we start to celebrate his birthday a full 5 months early (or 7 months late, depending on how you look at it). Sure, let's celebrate Christmas, but, God, please, no freaking Christmas music until a week before. It's all I can take to turn on my radio and here "Simply having a wonderful Christmas time" and it's a full month before the big day. Sure, most pop music at this point is ultimately more annoying than that song, but that isn't the point! We must have standards!!! Christmas music is for Christmas. Not the 5 weeks before Christmas. AND DO NOT PUT A WREATH ON MY DOOR!!!

4) People should not have it on their agendas to give other people the freaking Christmas spirit.
I don't like the Holidays, okay? I'm not a Scrooge, I just don't like all the hullabuloo. I love to focus on the fact that Jesus came to earth and the story of His birth is amazing. I do NOT want to have to think about all the presents that we have to buy for everyone or worry about the presents that I hope I get. Why not just celebrate Christmas all year long. If you see someone that needs something in June, buy it for Christmas time they won't need it. I get really, really tired of people being all cheery and whistling Christmas music then making pouty faces when they find out (from my friends) that I don't like Christmas. "Awww, is someone a little Grinch?" they inevitably ask. And then I bite their heads off. Literally.

5) All presents should be at the recipients request.
Oh, sure it takes the fun out of it if they know what they were getting, but at least people won't get presents that they will never use. I have someone in my life who buys me a lot of crap every Christmas that NEVER gets used because it's just that: crap. I'm sorry, but argyle socks went out like 11 years ago, and they're not making a comeback any time soon. And that tight jean jacket? Well, I'm chubby and tight doesn't work for me. So, this Christmas, go to your loved ones and ask them, "What do you want?" Then buy them one of the items they request. Don't think that maybe you know better. You DO NOT.

Well, I hope that helps you gain some Christmas spirit.

Thanksgiving Day

Originally posted 11-23-06

Well, we all have things to be thankful for, if we so desire to be thankful. Sometimes it's harder than others to find things to be thankful for. Sure, we can always go for the "at least I'm not in Africa starving", but let's be honest when you try to use that on yourself it makes you more depressed that that's all you have to be thankful for.

This year has been a year of blessings. A lot of tough times ended up working out so well that it has truly been a blessed year.

This year, my band broke up and that was incredibly tough. Though the breakup wasn't horrible and we are all still friends, it was difficult to simply let almost 3 years go...with Daniel (bass player) it was almost 5 years. But the blessing of it all was that I came away and began to make music that I wanted to make with guys who were interested in being successful with the music. So, Adam, Cole and Skid - you guys have been a huge blessing for which I am thankful.

I went a few months over the last year without work. The roofing company that I was intending on purchasing closed soon after I started to buy it. That sucked. But through that, Sarah and I have made some of our closest friends in Will and Alison Gray. It's amazing that through a hardship in both of our lives (his more than mine, grant you), a friendship could foster and grow. I don't deserve friends like these. So, Will and Alison, we love you and are thankful for you.

In May, several months after the roofing company fell through, I finally got work at BMW Manufacturing. It was a miserable job and I went my entire stay at the job without writing anything. So, I quit and found a job that I enjoy at LevelOne. Then the whole American Idol tryouts happened and as I progressed past the first round, I realized that I could not have taken a few days here and there off if I had been at BMW, and my dream of American Idol would have never taken off. So, I am thankful for LevelOne and how they have worked with my schedule.

This year, the church I work for part time as a worship leader decided to bring in someone else to act as worship coordinator. It hurt my feelings a little bit at first, but I tried to see past that and the person who they brought in has quickly become my best friends and my American Idol "good luck charm"...and my BFF (sorry, inside joke). Don Chapman has become a friend for the ages: always encouraging, always laughing at my stupid jokes, and for the most part not trying to convert me to liking robots. So, thanks for your friendship Don.

Last and certainly not least is my wife Sarah. This is the first year of our marriage where we had some tough times...a lot of it due to the financial pressures that come along with not having work for 6 months in a 12 month time. But we made it through. I could not have made it through this year alone, and so I am so thankful for my beautiful wife. So, Sarah, thanks.

Well, those are my thanksgivings.