A Few Words Against Safety

Yesterday I asked you all to tell your story, of a time when an adult’s words or actions left you positively different. Then Jessica chided me in the comments to go first.

Smack talk is highly motivating for men. Here’s my story.

I can remember hearing my father’s baritone voice mumble through the sheetrock and into my room after lights out. I crept from my bed and knelt in the hallway eavesdropping. My parents were sitting at the kitchen table shuffling through bills. I was too young to understand all that was being said but I caught enough to know there was a problem.

Now I know everyone has a month or year like that. It was probably no big deal. But back then it left me scared.

When I was a boy, on long road trips to visit relatives, I’d lay on the floor of the backseat singing to the thumpty-thump of the highway. In middle school I took up the saxophone. I’d practice an hour before school. At lunch I’d eat quickly and then practice until the class bell rang. After school, I spent another hour or so practicing. I loved music.

When high school rolled around I had to choose between that love and fear. My sister is five years older than me, gorgeous, charismatic, popular – though humble enough to tell you she’s never been any of those things. Back then she was our family’s resident expert on high school and her word was gospel to me. According to her, guys in high school band were dorks and their life was hard.

Now that I’m a parent I understand well why my mom did what she did next. I’m constantly shielding my kids from the sharp pieces of life, reminding them to “be careful” and “watch out.” My mom loved me like that too. For my safety, she agreed with my sister, but left the choice up to me.

Then she made a mistake. She let me work in my grandmother’s flower shop that Summer.

I told my grandmother how much I loved making music. I told her about what dorks band guys were in high school. She asked me what my mom had to say and I told her mom thought being in band could make high school, already a hard thing, even harder for me.

“Your mom was in band,” she said. “All your aunts and your Uncle Joel were in band.”

I had no idea I was part of a band nerd legacy.

And my mom doesn’t know this – until now – but somewhere in that conversation my grandmother told me not to listen to her daughter. She told me God gave me a gift, He made me a musician and I had to be what He made me no matter what.

That’s why I was in the high school band. Yes, I was a dork. But I had all the friends I needed, even if they weren’t homecoming king material. It wasn’t so bad.

I met my wife right after high school. I was 19 and she was 23, freshly graduated from college and on her way to grad school. We were just friends when she listed the requirements for her future husband – the man I desperately wanted to be. I was lacking one thing: a stable income. I knew music would likely never lead to stability. I thought about giving up music for Becky. I thought about just staying at the title company where I worked, being a businessman or maybe even a lawyer. I was stuck. So I stalled; went to junior college, and applied to music schools.

Two of my friends had older sisters who’d quit music school. They told me horror stories about how hard it was and one even told me I could never do it. Life in a suit and tie was looking safer every day.

Then, about this time of year, our family gathered around my grandmother’s bed and sang the hymns she’d rocked all of us to sleep with as kids. She was dying of cancer. One by one we told her goodbye. Her last words to me were “I’m proud of you. Don’t be afraid.”

I went to college and studied music composition. And it was hard – the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I got the girl too, who, by the time we were more than friends, had become a woman who loved me more than stability.

We married and moved to Nashville. My mom, understandably, worried that I didn’t have a teacher’s certificate to fall back on. But the choice was mine. I signed a record deal, dedicated my first album to my grandmother who spoke courage into me, and I’ve been making music for a living ever since.

There have been months when Becky and I have shuffled bills around on the kitchen table after lights out, deciding what we could pay and what would have to wait. But it’s been worth it.

Today, more than 15,000 kids have daily bread because of the generosity of people who listen to my music. And to think, I almost exchanged their lives for a life of safety.