This is my story (songs in the night)

Its an interesting journey at 40-something to think back to the significant things that impacted who you were growing up. My hope with this series of posts is that my kids will see a bit of what made me, and by extension, what their heritage is. And I want to write it down, because its easy to forget to share this stuff. After the last post, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stories that I can remember and what had the biggest impact on me. Today I want to share about a series of memories that were a common theme in my childhood.

Songs in the night

When my girls where young and I was getting them settled for bed, I would sing. I would sing the first songs that came to mind:

He is my peace, that has broken down every wall
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name
Majesty, worship His Majesty
In moments like these, I lift up my hands

These are  old church choruses and the reason that they were the first songs to come to mind at bedtime, is because they are the songs that I went to sleep to… hundreds of times.

When I was in 2nd grade, my parents worked for a church in New Orleans, LA. My dad taught in their Bible college and ran a printing press for them (it used to be the only way to mass produce flyers and bulletins and such, to run a full sized, plate and ink printing press), and my mom did the graphic design and layout work for the printing press. Then on Wednesdays we would pack up and take our school work with us and drive to Bay St. Louis, MS, where my parents were starting a Church.

I don’t remember much about what we did then, but I know that we had a place at the Walnut Grove apartment complex in New Orleans for half the week and we rented a house in Bay St. Louis, I think on Melody Lane, for the other half of the week. I also remember sitting in the back of a home or two, some that smelled of sulfur and too many people and slightly past my bedtime, and falling asleep while the meeting was going on.  My dad was pretty much a one man show. He sang and spoke and did everything.  What I remember most is going to sleep to the sound of a man singing songs that gripped my heart.

When my dad lead that group of people in singing, he played guitar and sang songs that were simple enough that you didn’t really need words printed out to follow.  He would close his eyes and sing these songs, to God; not like a religious figure from long ago or following some liturgical pattern, but like God was right there in the room, and like when he closed his eyes it was just him and God, and he sang like that might be his last moment to share with this God all the love and adoration and respect that he had… and he had a lot.

Thinking back, I remember many times like that.  I remember going to sleep in a dark room and a wood-slat floor with my mom sitting beside me and my brother while my dad was in the next room singing and talking, some in English and some in Indonesian; I would have been 3 or 4. I can still remember some words to some simple Indonesian songs that I learned listening, while I fell asleep. And though the language wasn’t his strong suit, it was the same passion and intensity and honesty.

And then he would reach that point in the singing where he would keep playing his guitar and he would make up a song right there. He had taught everyone in the home meeting about this type of worship and so all at once, the group would go from singing one song together, to singing 30 or 40 songs at the same time, and they would all get loud.

I don’t think my dad ever gave a second thought in those moments to his two young sons laying down in the back of the room, but nothing could have had a bigger impact on me than to feel the reality of God in a room while 30+ people shouted words of love and adoration, that should have sounded like chaos, but instead had the most amazing harmony and unity.

At 7 or 8 years old, I had no idea how rare these moments would be. Throughout my life I have rarely encountered anyone that would sing with the emotion that my dad does. But this is the foundation that I had to build on.  When it was my turn to go and find God for myself, I didn’t have to look very hard. My dad showed me how to connect with Him, not in words or theory or religion, but in pouring out my heart in emotion.

So today, you will notice that when I sing, I sing loud. I don’t like music that is sung without emotion. U2 remains my favorite band, because Bono brings raw emotion to every song. And songs like this make me cry…

This is my story (the girl in the phone booth)

As my girls get older its clear that they are heading out on their own, and my influence is winding down, or at least its going to change. Which means that I find myself wondering if I have passed on everything that I can, that truly makes a difference.

That leads me to think about the things in my life that have truly made a difference. When I filter out my thoughts to those things, I am left with an odd but profound assortment of stories. I want to write out those stories for now, for tomorrow, for the next decade… so that my kids can come back here one day and remember who they are and where they came from.

phone-boothThe Girl in the Phone Booth

When I was 22, I was newly married and had my first daughter on the way, and I was a youth pastor in Vancouver. We had no money and were in-between places to stay and were crashing at my in-laws’ house in Langley (about 40 minutes east of Vancouver). I got it into my head that I could be lead by God in my day-to-day activities and I would think about this while I was driving. I would ask God to lead me, and show me where to go and then I would be driving down some street and “feel” like I should go right, and so I would take the next right and I would “feel” the next turn and the next turn until I was either mostly lost or trying to turn up a one-way street or something.

No matter how many times I ended up somewhere ridiculous I became committed to this experiment… and it was obvious that I was not hearing God almost ever. In four or five months, I probably made 20 or 30 of these side trips that went nowhere.

Then, one night I was driving my brother in law home and I was within a few blocks of their (our) home and I “heard” something that sounded completely different than all the other times and it said, “keep going straight”. I told my brother in law about my experiment and he was excited about it and so I kept going, and it kept saying “keep going straight”. The road went from being a major road to a smaller road, to a residential lane, and I was about to give up when I saw.

On the corner up ahead of me was a strange scene. There was an old phone booth with a girl inside. Outside the booth was a car with two people, one inside the car and one outside the car. The girl in the booth was crying and had her foot up holding the booth door closed and the guy outside the car was screaming at her. I knew right at the moment that I saw that scene that we were there to save that girl.

My brother in law got out and started talking and then yelling at the people in the car, while I convinced the girl in the car to come with two new random strangers. She did not need any convincing and ran to our car. My brother in law and I got back in and drove away and made some attempt to make sure that we weren’t being followed.

Here’s her story.

She was from Kelowna and had run away from home. She arrived at a big mall in the Vancouver area and was befriended almost immediately by a guy with a small entourage of friends.  They gave her food and a place to crash and some clothes and probably some drugs and it was great for a few days.  Then the guy explained to her that he’d had a bad turn of events and needed her to do something to pay for all the stuff he’d done for her… and she got scared and somehow got away from him. I have no idea how she got to a phone booth deep in rural Langley, but somehow she did and the people in the car were ‘his’ people and had tracked her down and were trying to get her back.

We took her to my in-laws’ and my mother in law looked after her and she acted like it was the most peaceful moment in her life. It was very late, but we called her parents and they were overjoyed to hear from their daughter and they drove all night to come get her. They were there early in the morning. And I never heard from that girl again… can’t even remember her name.

I don’t know if she had any clue the living hell she was about to enter. I don’t know what kind of hell she lived in that made running away seem better. I don’t know a lot, but what I did find out for the first time, is that an average guy can be lead by God if he listens. And I learned a lot about how God values people, because it was His direction to save that girl.

I wonder how different the world would be if more people tried to listen and offered up a little time once in a while to do something unexpected. I wonder how different the world would be if I did that a little more often. I wonder what ever happened to the girl. (If anyone in the Kelowna area knows a lady in her 30s that has the other side of that story, I would love to meet her again.)

But, for my sons and daughters, this is one of the things in my life that changed me and made me a bit of who I am.