The attorney’s desk was large. At first, it felt like we were sitting far away from him. He was the executor of the estate that owned the old, now vacant, post office building in Broderick, California. Our mission that morning was to convince him to rent the large building to us, a couple of wide-eyed idealists. We wanted to start a soup kitchen for the down and outers that had become our friends.
For nearly a year, we had taken our message of hope to the little community. A Baptist church had partnered with us, hosting our Vacation Bible School and other outreaches. Steve had walked the streets, inviting many of the men to our meetings. Our little team of mostly young couples (all in our 20s) had come to realize that we needed a venue. We needed our own place to host all the programs we had envisioned. We had no funding, no big organizational sponsors to back us. Our own church thought we were a little over the top at times. All we had was our trust that God was leading us to help the poor in whatever way He led us and we were idealistic enough to believe He would make a way.
The lawyer listened intently as Steve told stories of how God had come through time after time for us. A family “happened’ to make an extra loaf of bread when we needed. Our house rent was “somehow” in our checkbook right when we needed it. Steve told him about Joe who lived in one of the one room shacks in the area, yet walked with the dignity of a statesman. He told him about Red who’d accepted our invitation to dinner in our home, but had difficulty finishing the food. Apparently, the sight of our little family reminded Red of what he had sacrificed for his life of alcoholism. We soon learned that Red and Joe were just two Wounded Soldiers, wounded by life and their own decisions.
We knew we had no special gift to give them except our friendship and a warm meal. We hadn't made a vow of poverty, exactly. What we had determined, though, was that we chose to live as simply as possible so we could remain as authentic as possible. Thus we didn’t have a lot of money to offer this lawyer or his estate.
Suddenly, before we knew it, the attorney stood up, shook Steve’s hand and said, “If you can trust God, I can trust you.” We got the building and while there, we never missed a payment.
In the late 70s, Steve was asked to write two songs for an album to be called "Christmas Country Style." He wracked his brain trying to think of material. Then he remembered Christmas of '78. We were living in a tiny two-bedroom house in Mid-town Sacramento. We had just opened a Mission in West Sacramento feeding transients and providing Bible Classes and Crafts for the children in the neighborhood. A few churches supported our little project, but always there was the neighborhood that provided volunteers and now and then some cash support. In the future, Steve would begin a music ministry to help raise the funds to support it. In the meantime, we always had our needs met for both the Mission and our family, but not a lot for "extras".
That year was especially challenging. We had decided before the kids were born that if we were going to seriously live out what we understood to be a life of faith that we would trust God to take care of our material needs. We also felt that we needed to live pretty simply to have some credibility among the people to whom we felt we were called to. Then came Christmas. Do we choose a Christmas tree or save the money for a few gifts for the kids?
The house had an odd layout. The living room had been a porch so there were two doorways into the kitchen. We had crudely blocked one doorway with a piece of furniture. Steve got the idea to create a manger scene from the kid's toys. Some pretty impressive angels cut out from paper hung from the top of the doorway. It was one thing to imagine Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus from their doll collection but what about the animals? We spotted a donkey, Eeyore! The kids then rushed to grab Tigger, Pooh and others. Thanks for our generous family and friends, our kids never lacked for toys. It ended up being a fun project and thankfully was the only Christmas that we didn't have a tree, but we sure learned that Christmas is Very Special Made of Simple Things. Below is the song and two others that Steve wrote, Christmas Country Style and the Unsung Carol in two styles. We really appreciated Adam Davis doing the art for the Simple Things single. Rick Garcia and Ross Petersen did the mixing for the album and a great group of Steve's friends helped be the band back up. Our son, Steve produced it, did saxophone and background vocals, then: Gunnar Olsen-Drums, Bass-Jeff Roffredo, Guitar-Mandolin-Oscar Rodriguez, Piano/Organ-Raynier Jacildo, Pedal Steel-Klaus Caprani, Trumpet-Nate Perkins, Trombone-Dennis Hennessy. Steve, Sr's sister flew in from Tennessee to help with back up vocals and our daughter Pam would have also done back up, but came down with laryngitis at the time. All songs are available on I-tunes, Amazon, Google Play and Spotify. Have a Merry Christmas everyone from our family to yours.
"When we hear someone else sing about the jagged edges of heartache or the unspeakable nature of grief, we immediately know we're not the only ones in pain. The transformative power of art is in this sharing." Brene Brown in Braving the Wilderness.
I was still a child when my heart was torn with the grief of Skeeter Davis singing, "Don't they know it's the end of the world. It ended when you said, goodbye." Conversely, I remember the thumping in my heart when I was only eleven in 1962. I was in the Cow Palace in San Francisco for the worldwide conference of the church I was a part of. The pageantry of people from over 100 countries dressed in the clothes that represented their nation dazzled my young eyes. Then we all began to sing together. I still feel the thrill, that sense of belonging and being part of something bigger than me.
There is something powerful in agreement. There is excitement at a basketball game when the entire arena is packed, but that energy is compounded exponentially when that team is scoring and the place explodes with the roar of the crowd's approval. It's pleasant to enjoy a hilarious comedy that you watch on Netflix, but how great is that feeling when an entire theater of people burst out in laughter together. I watched Schindler's List by myself. I'm sure it was years after the rest of you did. How can you not cry at the combination of human suffering juxtaposed against one man's heroism? Yet, what it caused me to remember is coming out of the theater in the 70s after watching the Hiding Place with a large group of strangers sharing the same sorrow.
We were created for community and music and other art creates a platform for us to share both pain and celebration. We were not meant to be alone when we cry or when we are rejoicing.
Our son wrote two songs on his first Satori album that contrasts these two emotions. Finding Your Place and Celebration.
Songs can tell a story. Songs from the 50s and 60s are etched deep into my psyche, possibly because the radio was on more often in those days or possibly because so many of those old songs were stories. Marty Robbins, "El Paso," told the tragic tale of the young cowboy that fell in love with the mysterious Felena only to end up dying before he could forge a relationship with her. Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John" met a similar end inside a mine, but not before he could save a bunch of his fellow miners, "And with all of his strength he gave a mighty shove. Then a miner yelled out, 'there's a light up above!' And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave Now there's only one left down there to save, Big John." Yes, Big Bad John died to save twenty of the men who called him Big Bad John.
Steve, I also tells stories with some of his songs. Most are about real-life people that we have met over the years. Some are about the children we met when we operated a soup kitchen mission in West Sacramento in the 70s or about the men and women that frequented it. There is one song that is a story that he just made up. The Song is "Love Never Grows Old." Here is the history behind that song.
In the 70s, my oldest sister's husband died. Pete had been a career Army Sergeant and had fought in three wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Tragically, he survived those only to die from a then-incurable intestinal disease. Sadly, Cleo was left to raise her four children. The youngest was only 4 at the time. The oldest was near college age. I was in my 20s at the time. Though already a nurse, I would go with her sometimes to help clean houses. Also, she enrolled at the local college and started taking classes, knowing that her financial future would bring new challenges. Sometime after he died, she also began work with a multi-level marketing firm that offered home decorations. One of the things that we bought from her was a picture that has been in our various living rooms all these years. It is a picture at the top of this post.
The old man, by the sea. Him in his boat was a normal scene.
Times are tough. His life is rough. But it's all he's known, his whole life long.
Then one day, she came to him. Her mama had died. Dad left home.
Oh, please, "Grandpa, please take me in. I don't want to face being lonely again."
Love never gets old. It only grows. It's not something you lose, but through it
others you'll win. So take the chance. Relight the flame.
Your life will never be the same.
To hear the rest of the story, here is a link to the YouTube version. You can also get the CD, "Home as Soon As I Can" on our store or download the whole album on I-Tunes, Amazon or your favorite digital music source.
"We're wired for story," writes Brene Brown in her book Rising Strong. She continues, "Story is literally in our DNA."
I believe it. Watching our grandchildren brought a fresh awareness of this truth. From their infancy on, they have craved stories. Stories come in all different formats from books, magazines, tv and movies. The more personal and intense, the more engaged we become. Our children and grandchildren loved it when we would create bedtime stories that featured them or their parents as the protaganists, especially if the story was based on real events. The idea of her gray haired grandma screaming over the Beatles in the sixties elicits a fit of giggles from our granddaughter. Pulling out old books that had been read to her dad and her aunt AND their older cousins brings another element to story time: it connects her and her brother to their roots.
I loved hearing the late Richard Twiss share stories from his Lakota tribal upbringing. He shares about the 7 generations that inform how he lived his life. How the stories of the three generations behind him and the three generations that will succeed him inform how he lived in the present. These stories informed his decisions, his political views and his actions. He was thankful for the infrastructure that had been laid and he was cautious about how those decisions, views and actions would impact those who followed after him.
Songwriters are storytellers. They tell their own stories and we sit digitally at their feet hearing of their struggles and their triumphs. They sing of their hardships and in the lyrics we find language to feelings that we could not articulate. Who doesn't ache when they hear Jimmy Ruffin singing, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" Song storytellers also connect us to an era that has passed or awaken us to the stirrings of a new generation. We tap our toes and lean forward to hear what is in the hearts of these young ones.
Finally, we all love a well-told story in whatever form it comes to us because as Brene Brown says, "We're wired for story."
It is in art that we find a common thread that connects us to each other in our humanity. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pelican Brief and the Color Purple have been read by people from all walks of life and all nations. Similarly, various people can enter into discussions with complete strangers about movies, television shows or pieces of art. Then there is music as art, music as storytelling. Music transcends the spirit of people like no other art form. I'm not sure we need the research of the National Institutes of health that explain the profound healing power of music. For us music lovers, it is instinctive. When a songwriter tells a story, it takes on a form that lodges not just cognitively, in our memory banks, but far deeper into our soul. The songwriter also connects with deep ideas and deep emotions that were vaguely haunting inside of us and puts them into words and notes. It is in these words and notes that our tears find exit points or our laughter presses against our bellies. Sometimes the songs stir our conscience or our patriotism. They call us to action:
How can I make a change? When I am willing to just stay the same? (from Change by SJBII)
Love is more than just an action. (from Love is More by SJBI)
Celebration is appreciation of the present. (Celebration by SJBII)
Can we just stand by and wish them well? Hoping someone else will care or will we be the ones who hold them close in our arms. (from Someone Cares by SJBI)
What songs have moved you?