31 Songs: Back Home Again

As a teenager, I joining the Columbia Record Club – unbeknownst to my parents. I slipped a ragged
$1 bill into an envelope, agonized over my selections and used my signature to make my first financial commitment.

All day, every day, I waited anxiously for those 13 records to show up, all the while trying to figure out how to explain it to my folks. As I recall, this is where I first learned to “act first; apologize later”.

This is not necessarily a good thing. When I look at my kids and hope they behave better than I did, the Columbia Record Club comes to mind.

That, and the Dillard’s credit card I signed up for at 18.

(I didn’t really understand that I’d have to actually pay for those clothes.)

(Common sense – not my forte.)

Anyway, I sent off my little envelope. It seemed like a lifetime, but finally the box arrived.

Honky Tonk Chateau
The Eagles Greatest Hits
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

And two John Denver records; Greatest Hits, Volume 1 and Back Home Again.

I had the sheet music to Sunshine On My Shoulders and Annie. I loved Poems, Prayers and Promises.

/ / /

And this memory just came back like a sucker punch, as I researched the track list for John Denver’s Greatest Hits on Wikipedia.

I sang ‘For Baby (For Bobbie)’ as a duet with my dad.

I had completely forgotten that until this moment, as I write.

/ / /

Just a few days ago, my uncle (Dad’s brother) gave me a few old photos. I saw my dad, in a way that my husband never knew – before the stroke. I was reminded of that big personality, the sense of humor, the flashing, charismatic smile. The big hugs and the gentle teasing.

I visited my mom and dad tonight and recognized, again, that time is moving rapidly. The hemorrhagic stroke changed my dad; tears come more quickly. Words are slower.

The impact of the brain bleed is still obvious. My dad is a different man now, in some ways. Different.

But still my dad.

And I have this memory, sparked tonight by a list of song titles; clear, classic harmony – the centered place where I learned to sing harmony. With my dad, it was simply there. You sought out the harmony because the melody was too safe, too simple. In church, standing side by side, we sang the first verse by the book. Verses 2, 3 and 4 were for experimenting. We alternated –  alto, tenor and bass; we sang strong and loud and, too often, irreverently.

My dad sang in the church choir most weeks. Looking out at the congregation in his robe and stole, he would stick out his tongue and make faces at me when the choir director wasn’t looking.

My mom would sigh and roll her eyes.

These days, at 74, dad sits back in his recliner and explores the past. Just tonight, he showed me photographs and genealogies of his maternal ancestors. Sometimes he looks at a photograph and chokes up.

He doesn’t sing much anymore.

But there is harmony in the way he points to the photo of his mom – my grandmother. There is resonance when he laughs, that particular sound that is as much a sob as a chuckle, when I say, “Dad, your brother spoke highly of you…

There is everything in me that was grounded in the deepest, heart-and-soul connection with music. It lived in my dad, too; and it bloomed in my brother and in me because of my mom’s determination to water it.

My dad loved John Denver. I know that I chose two Denver records from Columbia Record House because it would appeal to (and maybe appease) him.

We sang all these songs. In harmony.

I started this post thinking of Back Home Again, but it has obviously spiraled into something different. But I am glad that these lyrics are true:

…hey, it’s good to be back home again…

I felt it tonight, in my parents’ home. I felt it in my own home, with my little family. And I feel it settled in my soul, in the dwelling place of my spirit. So it’s an appropriate title.

But the song singing in my memory tonight is the one that I hear with the strong, clear tenor voice of my father beside me.

I’ll walk in the rain by your side
I’ll cling to the warmth of your hand
I’ll do anything to help you understand
And I’ll love you more than anybody can

And the wind will whisper your name to me
Little birds will sing along in time
Leaves will bow down when you walk by 
And morning bells will chime

31 Days: I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

We’re home, after two weeks of driving a gazillion miles.

No, wait.

Three-thousand six-hundred twenty-nine miles.

Seriously; 3,629 miles.

So that’s a lot of miles.

And we’re home now, and the bonus of home, sweet home and our own bed and familiar places is maximized by the presence of my eldest son and two of his friends. They’re hanging in the kitchen and this song is pulsing through their computer speakers.

I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more…

I’m glad I’m home.

PS – Now they’re listening to Sleeping At Last’s cover of “Safety Dance” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Music is an incredible thing; it transcends trends and decades and speaks the same language in fresh ways. 

This is a cool album. Check it out.

31 Songs: Things Left Undone

The last few days of our life together as a couple and as individuals have been remarkable. There’s been a theme, of sorts. It’s centered on family, mostly, along with a few unique friendships.

Some of those friendships have been, until recently, little more than memories of the good ol’ days.

In the past week, those friendships have been resurrected. And the impact is remarkable – not just on the major players, but those of us who are watching from the sidelines.

My husband reconnected with three men that he hadn’t seen for over 30 years. I stood back and watched as they embraced one another with a unique affection and power, a masculine expression of love that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. The words flowed back and forth, with inside jokes and nicknames flying, along with the occasional high five and fist bump. I saw a side of my husband that I’ve never known – through new eyes – in the way a few of his oldest friends appreciate and love him.

And then today I connected with a friend I’ve “known” for a few years – whom I’ve never met in person. We moved quickly toward one another in the parking lot and when we hugged, I didn’t want to let go. Words and pictures and videos and status updates and blog posts can go a long ways towards getting to know someone when authenticity is highly valued and expected – but only so far. At some point, you have to look into someone’s eyes and hug them and hold their hands and marvel at what almost feels like creation, right there in front of you.

It is, I guess; the creation of a reality, flesh and bones, life and substance.

Life and substance.

It’s been created on a daily basis during these travels. And deep in my soul, I know that it matters; that there is something important about this time that goes beyond a short vacation or a road trip.

Over pizza and beer today, one of my husband’s old friends talked about people who have moved on, those no longer with us. In the course of the conversation he mentioned – twice – a song by Paul Thorn. I didn’t know it; but now I do. And I won’t forget it.

Life and substance.

It matters.

And we sleep well tonight, knowing that the list of things left undone – and people who deserve our attention – got a little shorter in these past two days.

When your life is over, you’re reaching the end
And the river of Jordan is around the bend
Will you be counting all the trophies you’ve won
Or will you look back on things left undone

When a stranger came knocking did you let him in
Was there food on your table for a down and out friend
Did you hide in the shadows, did you walk in the sun
Or do you regret the things left undone

Somebody you cared for broke your heart
You let foolish pride keep you apart
Why didn’t you learn how to forgive someone
So many years passed with things left undone

31 Songs: That’s The Way Love Goes

We climbed up in the pickup truck and rode, all three in the front bench seat, through the creek crossover and up the hill. The scrubby mesquites and the oaks stretched their gnarly branches towards the sky; cactus grew wild, scattered everywhere.

The road was little more than a cleaning, a scattering of rocks and gullies dug into the dirt from the last good rain.

Which has been a while.

We saddled up two horses; well, they saddled them up. I watched. And then I climbed aboard, some 20 years since I’d been on a horse.

I remembered galloping through the fields outside of Tolar, Texas, with Dawn Tanner, proud and excited to show me her horse and the wild land she rode.

I remembered little more; I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been on a horse since that time with Dawn.

It was hot – not for Texas, of course, but for this girl whose Virginia and Ohio climate conditioning has led to mild expectations for October. It was hot, and it was beautiful.

The horses were strong and sure, and at the top of the bluff there was no sound; nothing but the breathing of the horses and the rocks as the scattered past their hooves.

Utter quiet. No cars, no noise, no phones, no music.

Silence and stillness.

Such a great gift.

When we got in the truck, a Buddy Miller tune was on the radio. It’s only fitting; he just oozes Texas to me, and one of the most powerful songs I know came out of time in Texas, when he and his wife Julie sang Is there any way you could say ‘no’ to this man?

I am seeing Texas with fresh eyes.

I am grateful.

31 Songs: Best Of Friends

I am perched on a wooden bench facing the front door of a house nestled into the rise overlooking a creek that flows into Lake Travis. This house sits in the heart of the Hill Country of Texas.

There is a fire burning hot and smokey in what once was a propane tank; converted to a useful object by the owner of this house with its wide front porch littered with rocking chairs and wicker.

We ate outside this evening, ribs smoked on the homemade grill. The scent of mesquite and the sound of the frogs and crickets made the atmosphere thick; the chocolate lab ran up and down the creek bank chasing a golf ball that we threw again and again and again.

This home and everything around it and in it grew out of a vision for the way life could be lived. Scavenged materials became walls and doors and sinks and floors. Sweat and labor laid stone. Rain water collects on the roof to serve the house. There is an art and a craft to the way everything within my line of sight has become house and home.

Flesh and blood here; ministry happens, people are loved, children are raised.

I have held these friends in my heart for 20 years now. We lived first as neighbors, right across the railroad tracks from one another in a little Texas town where religion raised us up and broke our hearts. We met again, seeking Jesus, and spent time in one another’s homes. Our kids spent a few years of their lives together and our boys, promised of God, are the same age.

Live has dealt difficult cards at times and we have moved in and out of contact with one another. We’ve moved all around the country.

And now I’ve come to visit, with a major fault line in my life and a new introduction into the long line of our friendship.

After the dinner, after the fire and the laughter, I mentioned to Diane that I needed to go write my blog post.

“What’s your blog about?” she asked. “Well,” I replied, “It’s about me. My life. My perspective. My stuff.”


“Sometimes I write about parenting. About ministry stuff. About God…”

“I’m going to write a book someday.”

I’m going to write a book someday.

I’ve never said that out loud before, but it came easily tonight. It was natural. This quiet, calm space and time with friends who have known me over many, many years made room for that still truth to slip out.

Billy Crockett has long been one of my favorite singer / songwriters; his music is exquisite. Unfortunately, some of the old stuff – including tonight’s song – is out of print. I have the cd somewhere at home, but it’s tough to find the song online.

But I remember the words, and I have the song hidden in my heart. We share beginnings…we share the ends…it’s worth it all, in these days to be best of friends….

Hide and seek, snakes and ladders
I remember when
You and me and all that matters
Best of times, best of friends

These days of sunshine, these days of rain
We pull together in days of pain
We share beginnings. we share the ends
It’s worth it all in these days to be best of friends

Stand and fall, hurt and healing
Say goodbye again
Through it all, the gift of feeling
Worst of times, still best of friends

Here and now, make a promise to take it to the end
Heart to heart, God is in us
All this time, still best of friends…

31 Songs: The Power Of Two

So we’re in Texas, and I could go all sorts of ways with the blog tonight.

Such as: I’ve been singing the opening lines of this song – loudly – at random times throughout the day, just because; I remember Dad singing it and I remember doing a little swing dancing to it and who doesn’t love a little Texas swing and the master of it, Mr. George Strait?

But other than blurting out the first four lines at random, there’s not much resonance here. I suppose I do have a few exes that live in Texas, but I’m not very concerned with them. In fact, now that I think about it, I ought to delete this and start over, because talking or thinking about exes is not a direction I was interested in going. At all.

The other possibility is this tune from the 70’s; it was playing at IHOP tonight and I mouthed all of the lyrics – with great dramatic flair – to my partner, over pancakes. It was a moment, for sure.

He rolled his eyes at me; and then Olivia Newton-John started singing “Have to believe we are magic…” and we decided it was time to leave this land of maple syrup and bad pop music…

Here’s what I really wanted to write about tonight; follow my short rabbit trail.

Cruising the flat land between Little Rock and Texarkana at 6pm, I did my usual Saturday night routine; I found an NPR station. Prairie Home Companion is one of the most rewarding, stimulating, entertaining and engaging two hours of my week. I love the whole premise of a variety show; I am a big fan of Garrison Keillor’s story-telling, and I just get the humor. It’s my happy place.

I also discover a tremendous amount of good music – there’s the thrill of turning on the radio and finding out that Chris Thile is with Garrison, or somebody like Emmylou Harris. Chet Atkins was always a favorite, and I’m quite partial to Rich Dworsky’s mad B3 and piano skills.

I love this show.

Tonight, we heard a new-to-us singer/songwriter, Lera Lynn. Her voice was magical, and I made note of her record and intend to buy it and listen deeply in the next week. The songs – and the singer – made me think of The Indigo Girls, a band I discovered in college and rediscovered in the late 80’s.

But here’s the point, for this post; I remember, with amazing clarity, hearing their tune The Power of Two for the first time. I was in a dressing room at JC Penneys at Chesterfield Town Center. My ear caught the rhythmic pulse of the acoustic groove; I recognized the voice and knew the band, but hadn’t heard the song, although it dated back to the mid 1990’s. I stopped trying on clothes and stood still to listen.

So we’re okay, we’re fine 
Baby I’m here to stop your crying 
Chase all the ghosts from your head 
I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed 
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart 
We’ll look at them together then we’ll take them apart 
Adding up the total of a love that’s true 
Multiply life by the Power Of Two

At the moment I was standing in that dressing room I was working through the possibility of new love in my life; love and partnership that would be permanent and steady.

I was skittish. Not because of him, but because of me. One of the things I had learned in counseling after the end of my marriage to my kids’ dad was that I’d likely take the same baggage and the same issues into any new relationship – and end up with the same problems.

(That statement provided motivation to continue counseling and get better…for sure. Because it was true.) 

I knew there were tremendous risks. But I also knew that there was something significantly different about this man and this relationship.

Standing in the dressing room in Penneys, trying on clothes, I had a powerful moment. This became – for me – “our song”. We have other songs, thank the Lord, because he never connected with this song the way I did. But, for me, the lyric encapsulated almost everything I was feeling about the great, grand step of faith into a future that included him, and included us, together.

You know the things that I am afraid of I’m not afraid to tell 
And if we ever leave a legacy it’s that we loved each other well 
‘Cause I’ve seen the shadows of so many people trying on the treasures of youth 
But a road that’s fancy and fast ends in a fatal crash 
And I’m glad we got off to tell you the truth

So today, flying down the highway on a road we’d never travelled together, I heard Lera Lynn and thought of The Indigo Girls and had a moment of deep gratitude for the man in the driver’s seat. Now my husband, he is the necessary halve of the power of two that works in my life. The closer we are bound in love, the closer I am to free; and I believe that I am privileged, in this coupling, to sense the grace and glory of all that God promised when he created us and said, It is not good for man to be alone. I love this man, and I am grateful.

We left IHOP and walked the short journey on broken pavement to the Motel 6. We were laughing about something ridiculous; a swimming pool that had been filled in with dirt (Motel 6 is apparently giving up on outdoor recreation). I grabbed his hand and leaned into his shoulder.

“I love you. I can’t imagine being anywhere else, with anybody else but you.” 

Nothing like a road trip to make you fall in love all over again.

Now the parking lot is empty 
Everyone’s gone someplace 
I pick you up and in the trunk I’ve packed 
A cooler and a two day suitcase 
‘Cause there’s a place we like to drive 
Way out in the country 
Five miles out of the city limit we’re singing and your hand’s upon my knee 

‘Cause we’re okay, we’re fine 
Baby, I’m here to stop your crying 
Chase all the ghosts from your head 
I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed 
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart 
We’ll look at them together then we’ll take them apart 
Adding up the total of a love that’s true 
Multiply life by the Power Of Two 

All the shiny little trinkets of temptation, something new instead of something old  
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it’s fools gold 

Now we’re talking about a difficult thing and your eyes are getting wet 
I took us for better and I took us for worse 
Don’t you ever forget it 
 The steel bars between me and a promise 
Suddenly bend with ease 
The closer I’m bound in love to you 
The closer I am to free

31 Songs: On The Road Again

So, we started a road trip with a fairly well-thought-out plan. A wedding, a short time with family, a quick stop to see a newborn baby and his parents, touching base with some friends along our route in multiple states, eventually ending up in the Lone Star State, where we’d revisit old haunts, hang out with some church people and eat as much Mexican food and chicken fried steak as possible before returning to Virginia.

Headed southwest…

That’s how we thought it would go.

And it did, up to the point when we left our first stop, drove three miles down the road and realized that the request that we stay “Just a few more days….” came from a place and a person worth listening to.

And so we did.

Already packed, already headed south – we turned the car around.

“We came back. We decided you were right; we need a few more days.”

There was much rejoicing.

/ / /

But today, we did leave, for reals, and we went to visit that little miracle of a 2 pound 7 ounce baby. I cupped my hand over his tiny little head and his heart rate accelerated. He squirmed. I cupped his bottom instead and he calmed; I felt the fragile body underneath my suddenly ginormous hand. I sensed the tremendous gift of life, of that I knew you before you were born line that always seemed to refer to something prior to conception, before time, within the heavens. That word shifted for me this afternoon, in the rapid breathing and the determined passion for life I sensed in little Elliot. Born at 27 weeks, by all rights his little body should have been nestled within his mama, still; but here he was, wide-eyed, greeting the world. Tiny. Fighting.

Holy and sacred.


/ / /

And so now we point the big red Suburban south and roll down the interstates in relative ease, thankful for the gifts we’ve been given. The car runs well. The company is good. We have Malley’s chocolate and fresh brownies in the back seat.

Nothing like a road trip to remind yourselves of why
you love one another. #wearethebestoffriends

I’ve run up and down this road many times; when my family moved from western Pennsylvania to Texas in the 1970’s, we drove back home about once a year. Columbus, Cincy, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock….then miles and miles of Texas. I remember the sheer joy of navigating – when I was old enough to read a map – while Dad drove us homeward. I loved the heavy atlas, the way the bigger states would get two pages and the big cities got their own cut-away section. I loved to see where we’d been, where we were going, and then calculate – with the little triangle markers on the highways – how long it might take to get there.

(Will anyone born after GPS and smart phones ever know this joy? I suppose not)

(Sigh. Feeling old…)

The intrigue of the surrounding towns fascinated me, whether on the map or through the window as we passed by. All my life, I have found myself drawn to the idea that an entirely new life was possible – if only we lived in this other place. I have easily – maybe too easily – imagined what life might look like in pretty much any town I’ve ever visited. Or driven through.

The world is full of possibility, and I am drawn – always – to what is possible.

What I know for sure, halfway through this trip, is this: Sometimes it’s good to turn around and stick with what’s familiar, at least for a few days. We forfeited a good bit of our intended adventures, and there are several friends’ faces we will miss seeing this time around. But I am confident that we will never, ever find ourselves in a place where we regret spending just a little bit more time with those whose blood we share.

The road was waiting for us all along. We’re on it, again; and richer for the delay.

And the song is more than just a phrase; it’s three minutes of melody and harmony that I learned, driving up and down these interstates with my dad. Willie and Waylon and The Eagles Greatest Hits and the Beach Boys and Merle…as my dad imagined his own possibilities, back when he was younger than I am today, the trickle-down of the songs he loved engaged and shaped my own soul.

No regrets.

31 Songs: Autumn Leaves

My mom.

She’s the one who said, “You haven’t posted. For two days.”

At least I know who is paying attention. And isn’t it great – that’s it my mom?

Moms rock. Always.

Within a 24-hour span, I talked to all five of my kids on the phone. I’m away from even the youngest at the moment; but we can connect on the phone, and it means more than I can say, to know these young people, to have a glimpse of their lives as they broaden and swell with possibility. And to know that it matters to them, too, that we talk.

And then my mom calls and says You haven’t posted on your blog. Are you okay?

My mom has always been in the periphery of our musical adventures. My brother, my dad, the kids – we all explore our emotional landscapes with music. Family gatherings almost always include bursts of music at some point.

Mom is usually there, but one step back. She might sing a little bit, but she’s never carried on with us in a loud or extravagant fashion.

But she loves music; and of a certain type. Mention Doris Day or Barbra Streisand, maybe a little Louis Prima and Tony Bennet, and her eyes light up; somewhere in her generous heart flickers the passion of a young woman whose soul stirred with melody. She likes the great voices, mostly those of the past, because there aren’t many of them singing their songs in our current musical landscape.

So here’s a little Doris Day, for my mom; and for the season. I am surrounded by the red and gold of summer’s farewell, and it will indeed be time for winter’s song.

31 Songs: Poison And Wine

Is it possible to see your life in two very separate but closely aligned places?

Is it possible to feel so at home and settled in two different towns – at the same time?

Is it possible to believe that you belong in one place and yet belong, just as much, in another?

The truth is this: There is ego, and it longs to be satisfied. There is affirmation that seems a necessary thing. We lie to ourselves, all the time.

But in the midst of the selfishness is a resounding truth that cannot be ignored.

Many truths, in fact.

There is family, the tug from all directions.

There is the arc of memory, the feel of the road and the knowledge of every curve.

There is the sweet sticking point of moments that marked turning points, points of no return, the very place the paradigm shifted.

There is the sense that the soul was knit together in certain surroundings, and that it truly and finally came to life when it returned.

I’m reading and living in the midst of a book called Yes, And these days, and though I find great comfort in the theological context of what leaks into my soul out of Rohr’s writing, it seems to be causing more consternation in the tangible circumstances of my own life.

So the song, the one singing itself, is a definitive pronouncement of what is. And what is not. And the strange, compelling dissonance of what, in this moment, seems to be tugging at my heart.

I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will
I don’t love you but I always will

Have you ever wanted to be in two places at the same time?