Tag Archives: love

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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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.

Love Like Tomorrow Isn’t Promised 

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Love. 

I will quote one of the most inspiring people on earth, Jamie Tworkowski; founder of To Write Love On Her Arms. I’m grateful for Jamie’s heart, and for the worldwide Army of people loving people exactly where there at, that he has created and continues to help grow.  He recently shared these words (and clothing with this coined phrase) :

Love is still the most powerful force on the planet. 

I talk about love often. We all should. Why, you might ask? It’s simple. 

Love is the backbone of strength. 

Every human being needs and deserves to be loved. We all do. But, taking that a step further, we also need TO love. 

My daughter, unbeknownst to her, created #RememberTheLove. (Feel free to search Facebook with that hashtag) This is something that she lived and breathed. It’s something I strive to do more of every single day. Yes, in her honor and memory, but also to make an impact and love people well. 

Think about it. 

If we loved people in the same way we’re loved, or how we *should* be loved – we would strengthen ourselves, our relationships, families, communities, our Nation, and yes- the world. Dramatic? Sure. But it’s truth. Love (kinda right up there in connection with hugs) makes the world go round. 

My daughter was dying, and she knew she was going to die. She didn’t want everyone to be sad  (even though she knew they would be) when she went to Heaven – but, instead, she asked that we would #RememberTheLove. She GOT it. She understood.  Friends, at 7 years old, this sweet little girl knew more about love than many know in a lifetime. 

That is where strength comes in – at least for me. When the moments come, and they come often, that I am overwhelmed, and maybe feeling kinda hopeless – it is love that sustains me. It is grounding, and produces strength.  Love is this powerful force that gives strength unlike anything else possibly could.

So, yes, you’ll find that I talk a great deal about love. It’s because love is life changing, life giving, and even life saving. Will you join me in this journey of loving people well? Oh, and I should add – loving people well also includes YOU. Self care is vital. As you show yourself love, it’ll be easier to reach out with and in love. 

To all who read my words, who love my daughter and our family – thank you more than words can ever express (though, clearly it won’t be for lack of trying) for being strength for us every single day. I need you. Our family does. And, we are grateful for the continued love, thoughts and prayers, and support – in whatever form it takes. Love and hugs, all the way around. 

Mental Illness Is Screaming – Church, Do You Hear Her? 

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Dear Church, 

I need you to listen. Right now. Please put on your listening ears and hear what I have to say. 

Mental health is important. 

Mental illness is real. It is no joke. You cannot simply pray it away. While prayer is powerful, and works tremendously – it is not always the kind of healing that’s needed. 

My best friend almost died today. She may not pull through. Her suicidal thoughts won the battle raging between her heart and head. You see, she has been diagnosed with mental illness, and lives this roller coaster every day. She felt she could no longer handle all the ups, downs, twists and turns. 

She is a person of deep rooted faith. 

But, even still, she is unwell. 

She often wonders if life will ever be okay again, let alone good. The pain cuts so deeply, into the very fabric of her being. Today, emotional lies convinced her that it was time to give up. She could hold on no longer. She was ashamed, angry, and wanted to die. 

How does this have anything to do with you? 

She is a faithful member of your church. You know her. You are placated by her feeble smile. 

She has come to you for help. 

You were all she knew she could trust. You did what you knew to do. You told her you would pray – and even offered to pray with her then and there. You even told her that God never gives people more than they can handle. This is the place, the exact instant, that she started distancing herself from a God who would “give” her all this. 

She takes medication to help fix a chemical imbalance. She feels like less than a person, and like she’s broken. 

She questions her faith,  and asks you for help. 

With compassion, you tell her how much Jesus loves her – that He died for her, and wants her to be healed of this sickness. You share that you believe medication isn’t always needed, that Jesus blood, and God’s healing power will meet her needs. 

But you weren’t 100% correct. 

God does love her, but He hasn’t healed her. She feels like a disappointment to this God you speak of. She knows she must be unworthy of His love because, after all, her faith isn’t good enough to get healed. She took your words to heart. And they broke her. She looked in the mirror and saw someone that even God couldn’t love. 

She called to tell you a final goodbye. Secretly, she hoped you’d talk her out of it. She wanted to be talked down, but felt this was impossible. You heard the pain in her voice, and her shaky voice as tears streamed down her face like a monsoon. You asked her to breathe, and to calm down. You told her that everything would be okay – that she can survive this moment. She took a few deep breaths, and calmed down temporarily. You were appeased. You prayed for her. She thanked you and, after a bit of small talk, ended the phone call. That may have been the last time you would hear her voice. 

You did great things. Truly. But, they were not enough. This may not be your fault, but things need to change. 

Instead of trying to placate her in matters you may not understand, please familiarize yourself with all mental health – including mental illness. Know warning signs. Take them seriously. 

You don’t have to have all the answers. 

If you don’t know how to handle her situation, take time to explain that to her. Tell her how much Jesus loves her, and tell her you do too. You can explain that you are unfamiliar with medications in her situation, but see to it that she isn’t led to feel ashamed for needing and taking them. Assure her that God loves her, exactly where she is. She is worthy of His love, and His grace is a free gift. Remind her that God can and does heal people, but it isn’t a strike on her character – or a lack of faith – if He doesn’t take her illness from her completely. Keep showing her love, and let her know you’re with her, care about her, and will sit with her in her pain. Offer to be there during the painfully brokenness. Mean it. 

But, there’s more. 

Tell her about resources outside of your church. Ask her if she’s willing to talk with a counselor or therapist. Remind her that there is no shame on needing help – that it’s okay to not always be okay. 

Loving her well includes pointing her towards help – even if that help is not inside the four walls of your church. Explain that mental health professionals are there, and can also be trusted. Remind her that you’re not turning your back on her, but rather adding layers of helping hands able to assist her. 

It’s okay that she needs help that you can’t adequately provide. 

You can still be a safe place, and talk to her when she needs. Give her heart a voice. But, in so doing, make sure psychological help or mental health resources are available. Point her on that direction while doing life alongside her.

Have you heard me? Did you listen? Please pray for her, and the multitude of others like her. Help her not walk through the journey of life alone. Learn how to see her through eyes of grace – while also pointing her to help. 

Church, you can change the world.