Category Archives: Thoughts to Ponder

Out Of Nashville Comes Beauty That Is Colorblind: Introducing Neely

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                                   http://neelymusic.com

The streets of Nashville are paved with the blood, sweat and tears of many a musician – and frankly, many who fancy themselves as such. Also walking the streets where musicians dream is a duo made up of two incredibly beautiful human beings, a husband and wife team: Jeremy and Kaci Neely, collectively known as Neely. There are not enough words in written language to explain these two and their approach to music, and sharing it with the world – but, that won’t stop me from trying.

The music industry as a whole likes people to fit into a cookie cutter mold of a single musical genre. Neely, however, defies this with their approach to music and the people who they know are listening. They do not fit into a neat little packaged box. Nor do their beats and lyrics fit neatly into one single musical genre.

There may be a country twang, or a bluesy feel – maybe a touch of rock. No matter what beat or sound their music entertains you with, you can be sure of one thing; they connect deeply with the human condition. They are unafraid of pain, or of emotion. Their transparency in music comes from life. They have a past, and it’s not all a bed of roses. They don’t hide the parts of their past that they may not be proud of. As storytellers, they allow their lives, the good and not so great, to tell of the journey that brought them to where they are today. Theirs is a story of grace and redemption – full of hope, and backed by love.

I had the honor and opportunity to have a conversation and ask a few questions – an informal interview of sorts. I have seen the love that fuels the duo play out time and time again on social much media, but in talking to them – their words matched their online persona.

In speaking with Jeremy, I watched his love for people, all people, play out. I asked if the duo has a target audience, and any age range they seem to cater more to. His answer did not surprise me, though it was precious. He thought for a moment and said that their music’s goal is, as previously mentioned, to be in touch with the human condition. People everywhere. All people. From the young to the old – all are important in their eyes. People have all experienced life in different ways, but many common threads exist.

What Neely does is play an epic game of connect the dots.

They connect with any living breathing person with ears to hear. They are able to connect those dots and meet people where they are – whatever walks of life they come from, and with whatever they bring to the virtual table.

The passion in his voice was undeniable when I asked Jeremy if there was any one message Neely would like to share with anyone reading this. With many examples of life, pain and even brokenness – They want people to know that they are not alone in their struggles – that they are truly loved, where they are, and who they are.

They have a heart for God, and also for people. Neely strongly values family, and community – and have coined the hashtag #NEELYFam on social media. They strive to create a community that is close, and forms bonds like family. I learned all this without having heard word one of their lyrics or music. Their hearts, and their mission- those things shine through like a bright beacon in a dark and dreary land. I knew they were musicians, but, I hadn’t actually known their music also. Fast forward. I listened, and it grabbed my heart in an undeniable way.

This is the effect their music has. On people of all ages. I have had the honor of watching several live reactions to Neely’s remastered for radio edit of their song – actually releasing today, Colorblind. People reacted differently hearing Colorblind for the first time. In those reactions were smiles and also tears; people found hope, and people made choices to be intentional with seeing people and life from outside the status quo – stepping outside comfort zones to impact their world. 

I had the opportunity for a sneak peak at this remastered version of the song, and immediately felt compelled to share it with you, my friends and readers – and the entire world at large. This song is pertinent to our world, and especially the state of our Nation.

“…Everything changes. Everything changes when we see inside. Everything changes when we become colorblind.”

That, if I could sum up the entirety of this song – it would be those lines. However, this song encompasses more of the human condition – and shows how pain and brokenness can collide with love – and the hope, unity, compassion and community form as a result of us just seeing things from an different vantage point, when we become colorblind.

Please do your heart a favor and listen to this song today. If you feel led, and I pray you do, please consider supporting them and downloading it from one of these sources: ITunesApple MusicAmazonGoogle, and Spotify. Neely isn’t represented by a producer, or any major labels. Instead, they are supported by their fans, and in a huge way, by their local church. Any download of this song would allow their mission to continue, and allow YOU to link arms with them, and the people desperately needing their mission and music worldwide.

Jeremy mentioned the love and incredible support of his church community and family, and the multinational congregation they have. He explains that there are more than 17 different countries represented, all under the same roof. In the same way, he says on any given day, he watches as people join together simply as people – business people, politicians, musicians, people with jobs of varying degrees, people with expensive homes, and people with no homes. The homeless person locking arms with people of incredible influence within their community and beyond. People being people. Doing life together. Love. That is God’s heart, and also the heartbeat of Neely. 

No matter who you are, and no matter your status in life – or what brings you to where you are today, please allow me to echo something I have said before (and will likely say again) – and as I mentioned, the heart of Neely: you are not alone! You are loved, right where you are – who you are. For YOU. Please know that the world is brighter with you in it, and your life matters. Take time to listen to some music. Take time to take care of YOU. You are valued. If you are in a place right now where you need help, know that it’s okay to not be okay. Reach out. Allow others the honor of reaching back.

If any of these thoughts, or any of Neely songs resonate with you today, it would be an honor to hear from you. You can feel free to post in the comment section below, or for more personal replies, you can reach out through my “contact me” page. I will also gladly pass along anything you’d like shared with Neely, other readers or just the general public. Anonymity, if needed, is offered. It is an honor to do life alongside you.

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When Pain And Love Collide – How Music Is A Healing Balm For Shattered Hearts

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If you know me at all, you know that I like my music. Music always has been, and remains a safe place. I have had life giving and life changing experiences related to music, and at concerts where I have the opportunity to feel and experience the music live. One week ago provided another chance to experience this breath of fresh air, and to be in a safe place. But, it was so much more than that. It was life. It was love. It was God in action.

Leading up to that Sunday, I won’t lie – mentally, I simply hadn’t been in a wonderful place. This season of life just hasn’t been easy to navigate. Pain and loss, brokenness and a shattered heart seemed to forge whatever path I was walking. It was nearly impossible to see anything other than pain. And, then this concert happened. Dan Arnold and DCA Events brought some incredible talent under one roof. Such great music – but more than music, was a really great message and experience. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

I was over the moon excited on Friday when a friend messaged me to ask if I needed tickets since she had purchased tickets, and would be working. The tickets were available if I needed them. I did. That was a direct answer to my hope and prayer. I love music, and I wanted to be there.  But, had not been able to purchase tickets. So, God made a way where there had been no way.
With my daughter in Heaven, and now my brother also with her – my heart has been shattered. It hurts, and feels irreparably broken.  Enter the power of music.

 


First up was our church’s worship leader, and my friend, Chris Habermehl. The one whose last name has many different pronunciations – go ahead, try and sound it out in your head. It really isn’t that hard. I digress. This mans heart for Jesus, and for people speaks so many volumes. Chris has a burning passion and desire to lead people intothe presence and heart of God through Christ centered worship. He believes that while music is definitely a form of praise, the true heart of worship is a lifestyle expressed through love and compassion. He did exactly that, as he shared with the audience beautiful words from his album, Galaxies. His down to earth attitude and the way he connects with people through song is unbelievable. It is truly a blessing to know this Chris and his entire beautiful family. They’ve stood by my side through some of life’s most heart wrenching moments. Love and compassion definitely lead the way and shows others what Jesus looks like.

 

Taking the stage after Chris was Tyrus Morgan. The words of his songs back up his incredibly beautiful heart. From his about me page, he’s quoted saying, “There are earthy, tangible things through the body of Christ that show us something greater than ourselves, something to believe in.” An encouraging word. A quiet compliment. A pat on the back. Tyrus Morgan believes these small gestures are important ripples in an ocean of eternal impact. He believes that we were created to not simply go through the motions, but to do life together. He also had his beautiful daughter with him. I had the opportunity to chat with her a few times during the evening. It did this mama’s heart good to connect with an incredibly beautiful little girl with a heart of gold like her daddy has. I’ll remain forever grateful for the entire evening, but especially the tender moments I got to just connect with her.

 

We Are Messengers followed Tyrus, and was the final group to take the stage. Their portion of the evening went quickly from a concert to a worship service, to an outreach, and so much more. Having never been to one of their concerts before, I couldn’t tell you if they were all that way, or not. It seemed as if, several times during their set, they veered offer script a bit. They took time to connect with people directly, and share the heart of God in such a real, tangible way. They reminded everyone with ears to hear, that it’s okay to hurt and to have pain – but, reminded us to go back to a place of God’s love. Pain blinds us from finding or even believing hope even exists. Ask me how I know. Wait. No, don’t.   On their biography page, their lead singer, Darren Mulligan shares, “We can’t fix people, but what we can do is holds people’s hands and stay with them in their pain and doubt.” He is also quoted, saying, “We want to tell people about the goodness of God. Music allows us to have that conversation. We want to live people the way He loves us.” They clearly take this mission seriously. Their mission to love people right where they are, and to connect them with the heart of God was lived out in every second they were on stage, and off.

After the concert concluded, I had the opportunity to connect with each of the bands, and talk with some of them individually as well. These people became the hands and feet of Jesus, in human form. I was asked about my tattoos, and had the opportunity to share a bit of my story, my daughters journey, and even shared about my brother. The pain. The brokenness. The overwhelming nature of it all.

What allowed God to grab ahold of my heart was that they didn’t greet my pain with silence. They did sit with me in the pain. They allowed me to cry, and even had tears of their own. It was mentioned that is okay to hurt, and to not always be okay. I was given a hug, and they prayed right then and there. This is God in human form.

From the moment I walked in, to the drive home (that’s another story for another day) and every musical beat along the way – my heart felt something it’s recently been hard to latch onto: hope. I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t have the answers, and maybe that’s okay. What I am saying is this. I’m profoundly grateful to a God that cares enough to orchestrate music, and undeniable moments of faith and love to instill hope like a healing balm for my broken heart.

How Love Leads The Way When Shit Hits The Fan

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How would our world look different if love led the way??

Love. It’s almost like a four letter word. Oh wait…

In a perfect world, love would be the first thought, the forefront of everything we say or do.  When life is painful – when life isn’t fair, I just wish love led the way.

The bigger picture, in the great big world we live in…

In a world where love led the way, small children wouldn’t have to hide from daddy because he might hurt them again today. In that same world, the terrified wife wouldn’t have to cover up her bruises or hide in the shadows because of domestic violence. Husbands wouldn’t have to feel less of a man because he is the victim of domestic abuse. Men wouldn’t feel the need to “man up” and “grow a pair” because of their pain and brokenness. The sexual predator wouldn’t set out to destroy lives. Rape wouldn’t control destinies. When husbands and wives are more of a partnership than a dictatorship, love is allowed to lead the way. If love led the way, broken marriages and families would be a thing of the past.

In the perfect world, there would be much less pain, and much more love.

In that aforementioned perfect world, suicide also wouldn’t be a thing that tears apart lives, hearts, families and generations.  Love would lead the way. People would be loved, and love others. People would know others, and be unafraid of being known. People could live and love, hurt and cry – and just be in the world where love led the way. When people hurt, and saw no way out of their pain, love would surround them, and messy grace would hold them up. People would sit with them when their pain is blinding.

In my little corner of the world, I wish these same things on a smaller scale, I guess. When life hurts like hell, and all I see is pain, I wish love led the way more often. What does that look like, exactly? It can vary from day to day – from moment to moment.

Just one example. When my daughter died, if love truly led the way, people would be less afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing (and thus doing nothing) and would still be standing and walking with me. The people who drew close, and who were welcomed close like family, wouldn’t cease contact almost within days or weeks of her death. They would still be there. I need them differently now, but I still desperately need them.

When love leads the way, little threads of hope and strength are found – giving way to glances at peace unlike any other. When people come alongside others in their time(s) of need, grief, or sometimes insurmountable pain – this is how love leads the way. With love leading the way, people wouldn’t shy away from pain, and wouldn’t greet pain with awkward silence.

Let’s stop treating love like it’s an evil four letter word. Let’s be love. Let’s strive to let others see the meaning of love by looking at our lives. There’s enough hate and pain in the world. Let’s meet that with love. Can we let love spread like wildfire? Let’s let love lead the way!

Traversing A Tornado – When Life Seems Like A Whirlwind

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This past week, I cannot count the number of times I heard that it just felt like we were being caught up in a whirlwind. I can relate. 

You see, my big brother died last week. There are still more questions than there are answers. The pain associated with his death seems unbearable some moments.

 

When I look at this picture, and one I’ll share in a few moments, I’m a mixture of emotions. I smile, and I cry. You see, he was just 40 years old. He’s supposed to still be here. My big brother. 

I wrote, and had the honor of reading a eulogy at his funeral. It was not without tears, but it was also not without giggles. Fitting for the dichotomy that walks alongside losing someone you love. The following words are my hearts voice: 

Steven was a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, he was my big brother. He is a son, a grandchild, a nephew, husband, daddy, an uncle, and a friend. He was my friend. 

If you knew him, you’d know he wasn’t any cookie cutter mold of what society thinks of as normal. But, that’s what made him, well, him. He could be out there at times, but he was passionate. He had such a tremendous heart. He loved his family deeply, and he valued himself as a protector. He would do just about anything for those he loved. 

I know that many of us feel like this is a nightmare, one we wish we could simply wake up from. It feels so surreal, and it’s hard to even believe at this point. 

In his honor and memory, I would like to ask and challenge each person here to live life on purpose. Be intentional with your time. Love people like tomorrow isn’t promised. Tell them you love them. Make sure you know what they mean to you. Treat people with compassion and kindness, and make sure people know their value. 

None of us know how much we mean to others. But when I looked around the room last night at the visitation, and I look around the room right now, I see love. I see people who my big brother touched in some way, shape or form. He had a tremendous impact on this earth, and his absence this side of Heaven leaves a giant Steven shaped hole in a lot of hearts. Nothing can or ever will take his place. And it shouldn’t. 

One of the last things I want to leave you with is a reminder. It’s okay to not always be okay. It’s okay to hurt, and to mourn a loss of someone pretty incredible. Just don’t stay in that place forever. Connect with other people, and connect with hope. Celebrate that he lived, don’t only mourn that he died. 

Please, do not ever forget my big brother. Let’s always strive to remember all the good, or even downright amusing moments that bring joy and make us smile or laugh. Those same moments may also bring tears at times, and that’s okay. 

Heaven welcomed an incredible person, and I’m proud to be his little sis. I know we’ll all miss him greatly, but we’ll be okay somehow, because we have each other, and none of us will carry his loss alone. Thank you.

I meant every word. Though miles apart, we knew love. He often joked that I was his little big sister, because he was able to come to me with “some really big shit” and he knew I would be honest, and I would help him in any way I could. He also knew he could trust me to tell him the truth, even if he didn’t really want to hear it. 

That’s what love is. Love does. It’s an action word. My brother walked through hell on earth, but he wasn’t alone as he traversed his tornados. Even literal tornados – just ask me about his treehouse one day. 

Just as he wasn’t alone, none of us traverse life’s most difficult whirlwinds alone. 

I won’t lie though; right now, life feels really heavy. It hurts. I think of Heaven, and I long for the reunion(s) that will one day happen there. But, reality then sets in, the here and now reminds me that life isn’t always fair, fun, or even good – and sometimes I’m just sad, really sad. And, I know that’s okay too. 

I will echo something I’ve said a lot of times. I firmly believe we were created as community people. To know others, and to be known. To love, and to be loved. The key here is: not alone. I’ve been reminded a great deal very recently – it’s okay to not always be okay. 

Grief needs to happen, and what grief looks like is very individual. If you’re sad, know that it’s okay. If you’re hurting, know that the pain won’t always feel as intense as it does in these moments. I’m there. I get it. These words are as much for me as the next person reading this. 

With that all in mind, let me share an open invitation: please walk with me. Don’t greet my pain with silence. Give my heart a voice, even if that voice may be a little shaky. I need you. 

And let me offer that same hand of friendship – If you need someone who won’t ever give up on you, and who will simply sit with you in your pain- allow me that honor. 

The Date That Would Alter Realities

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 This is the face of hope…of courage…of faith. This is my beautiful, then 4 year old daughter, Janet. Until this day, she had never had a hair cut in her life. Cancer treatment would take her hair away, and eventually her life. But, the smile you see here – it never really faded. She had a smile that could melt an iceberg.

This day in history. On some calendars, it is merely but a day. On mine, it will forever mark the day (four years ago today, if you’re reading this in 2017) – that our lives changed forever. It was this day, 2013, that our sweet little Janet was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That was the day that life as we knew it – it would never be the same. The normal we once knew, would never be heard from, or seen again.
 
From that day forward, however, we would also learn an indescribable love.
Yes, this journey would become not a sprint, but a marathon. A journey of epic proportions. A journey so painful, it is hard to breathe some days…but so full of love. It would be the beginning of our journey fighting childhood cancer alongside Janet. She was so very loved, and never alone — and knew both of these things to be truth.
 
With all the love in the world, it’s still a journey marked by intense pain and heartbreak. This day, 2013, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor…and three years later, she would breath her last breath this side of Heaven. Friends, I hate the fact that this is our reality. It shatters my heart, and I wish with everything I am that life wasn’t this way.
 
But, it is…and here we are. Continuing to breath, and continuing to have a heart that beats. I made some statements and promises to Janet just before she died. I told her that we were going to miss her like crazy, like there’s no tomorrow…and that it would hurt when she was gone, but that we would be okay, because we’d be together. I did tell her that we would ALWAYS #RememberTheLove. And, that is a promise I will never break.
 
For those of you following, and who share love and support – and also prayers, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I say thank you. Please, please don’t ever stop.

This Is What Compassion Looks Like In Real Time

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So, today is Resurrection Day. It’s Easter.  A day of hope rising, and of life. A day where hurting gives way to hope.

Today was good, and today was hard. Both. I find that’s a dichotomy I live with routinely.

I went to church, and I could not have predicted or in any way prepared for the rush and sheer flood of emotions that followed my just walking in the door. This is what grief does, folks. It just shows up, like the unwelcome guest that shows up unannounced to your celebration. 

It started with a hug from a precious little friend. I love her hugs. She was close to my daughter, and to our family. Her hugs are beautiful, and they’re magic. Then, I found out a beautifully touching moment from their lives this week. They had a little bunny that died. And, their mama shared with me about how my daughter now has her own little Easter bunny. It was an incredibly sweet moment for me. It showed love unlike many other things. But, yes, it also tugged at my heartstrings. Then I walked into the bathroom, and there were beautiful flowers. All I could think was that my daughter would have loved them. More tears.

A random assortment of hugs later, I went into the service – just as the beginning of the service, the songs were starting. As I walked to my seat, again with the emotions. Tears streaming down my face. Unstoppable emotion flowing freely from my eyes. I cried lots of tears. Sitting in front of me was a man with two beautiful girls. So sweet. I could see my daughter in the innocence and playful nature of the youngest. She was a sweet girl, full of smiles.

After a very good, and also challenging service, I exited the auditorium and walked around – just connecting with people. Lots of hugs, and so much love. Did it solve all the worlds problems, or my heartache? No. But, did it act as a balm to some open wounds? It did do that. I did leave in tears. It had been an emotional morning, to say the least.

As I started on my way towards getting lunch and heading home, I ran over the edge of the shoulder as I wiped away tears that were randomly escaping my eyes. At this exact moment, a police SUV going the opposite direction happened to be passing. Yep, you guessed it. It wasn’t long that the very same officer was in my lane, behind me, pulling me over. Cause that seems like a fun addition to Easter.

But, what happened next was unexpected. The officer walked up to my window, and told me why I had been pulled over. He asked if I was alright, and if I could explain what had happened. I shared with him my pain, the loss of my daughter, and the rush of emotions that have been present today. His response was one of compassion. He asked about her – how she died, how old she was, how long it has been, etc. He listened, and he cared. He could see my pain, but didn’t ignore it, or run from it.

I did receive a warning for my driving infraction, and I’m sincerely grateful for the grace that goes along with not actually getting a ticket. He inquired about my plans for the rest of the day. He asked if I was okay, but didn’t stop there. He asked the questions he was trained to ask – the hard questions. He asked if I was really okay, and if I had thoughts of hurting myself or of suicide. I explained that I’ve had those thoughts before, but that I think every human being alive would be hard pressed to say they never have. He not only made sure I was safe, but that I remembered (and no, I haven’t and won’t ever forget) I have two precious children waiting at home, and that need me. He reminded me that they (the police department) were there – just a phone call away if there ever was a need. His concern is only one reason that I stand by the fact that we live in a community I’m proud of – backed by a police force I’m sincerely grateful for.

While there is a lot of pain attached to any day (Easter, or otherwise) – there is also a great deal of compassion and love. It is those things alone that keep any version of hope alive.

Waiting On Sunday To Dawn

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Today is Saturday. Yes, it’s the day of the week, but it marks the beginning and end of so much. It’s the day after Good Friday. Let’s take a look at that. 

The death of Christ ushered in grief unspeakable. Saturday became a day where many lost hope in all they knew. The Savior of the world, now dead. All people knew was the hope of the world, their world, had suffered intensely and then died. What is good about that? 

Good Friday would NEVER in a billion years be considered good…unless you knew Sunday was coming. The grief of Saturday, and the tears of pain and heartache – those would give way to life. The impossible. The good became part of Friday when the Savior of mankind rose from the dead on the third day. 
That is one of the most general looks at the Christian story of Jesus being crucified, dead and entombed, and rising from the dead – leaving an empty tomb. He had risen, and hope restored. 

This season of my life is arguably the most difficult and painful of any I’ve ever walked through. Some days the guiding force of life seem to be pain, grief, and hopelessness. Those things dictate the way I feel and relate to life on a given day. 

Today is my Saturday. The biggest motivating force that keeps whatever hope alive is that Sunday will dawn. Just as those in Jesus day found hope was in fact alive, I have to believe that there is life yet to be lived; life still possesses the possibility of hope for something beyond pain. I have to believe that Sunday will dawn. I’m not there right now, and frankly, I don’t know how to hold onto that hope. 

Today is Saturday, and I will perhaps learn to embrace the whatever is, right now. When I feel like life is impossible, and don’t know how to keep walking, I’ll just know that maybe – just maybe, Sunday will dawn.