Friday, October 26, 2012
For the last several years, I have been privileged to be the song leader for various seminars held at 'The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.' In addition, I have been blessed to play at special 'Christmas at the Cove' programs hosted by Cliff Barrows, with George Beverly Shea providing cameo performances. I have been blessed by the opportunity to partner with these amazing men, along with their impressive wives. My wife, Jennifer, and I even had the joy of meeting and ministering with Dr. Billy and his estimable bride, Ruth, who has since gone on to her eternal reward.
'The Cove' is the gift of the Graham's to the body of believers, dedicated to train people in the scriptures in order to share their faith with a needy and sin-sick world. It also serves as a place of rest and refuge for the family of God, where everyone is treated royally, like children of a king, (which indeed they are)! The hallways are filled with pictures depicting the life of Billy Graham, from past to present; display cases show mementos from their years of ministry; the decor reflects Ruth Graham's desire to make everyone who visits feel as if they are in their family home.
Should you ever decide to go there, you'll be fed with the finest of food; not only the culinary delights, but also the sumptuous servings of the Word of God, in which is our true delight! All this will be experienced in the most beautiful of settings, the rolling hills of Asheville, North Carolina!
I have so enjoyed my continuing sojourn with the good folks at The Cove. It is, indeed, as close to heaven as one can find on earth!
There is only one problem I have when I am there. I find myself surrounded by the evidences of Dr. Billy's 'life well lived!' It is awe-inspiring to trace the history of what God has done with and through him these many years. One can only marvel to observe what can be done with and through a person wholly given to the Lord and His Gospel! (And that is only the 'witness' of The Cove; there is a whole library in Charlotte testifying to the life of this ambassador for our Messiah, his family, and his ministry partners!)
My problem? I can't help looking at my life in the light of what I see there...and it's sometimes painful to consider! (As we say where I come from: Oy vey! That's Yiddish for, 'woe is me!')
The good news is that Dr. Graham never takes credit for his historic life; he always gives glory to God, exhorting people to think on what God--not he--has done. Even his autobiography bears the title, 'Just As I Am,' taken from the hymn by Charlotte Elliott that says:
'Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.'
With this title, Billy Graham is communicating to all of us that it is only the sacrifice of the savior, Yeshua (Jesus), that has made us acceptable to the Lord. None of us can glory in ourselves; only in Him who has saved us and sanctified us and 'delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love!' (Colossians 1:13)
Still...I can't help wondering if my life could have been...and could be... more fruitful, more effective for God, if only...(fill in the blank)!
Will my biography be titled: 'Just As I (Wish I Could Say) I Am?
That remains to be seen! These day I lean hard on the promise that states: 'He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ)!' (Phillipians 1:6)
However, I thought I would simply share some of my thoughts with you, my friends, with whom I have not communicated for a long while! (Sorry!) With these musings, I hope to 'nudge' myself into sharing some more in the days ahead!
Pray for Dr, Graham and his family; the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Cove; and would you please pray for me!
Jenny and I, along with our daughter, Misha, would covet your prayers, and we thank you for your faithful interest in what we are doing.
In the meantime, I will meditate on a 'hymn' from our CD, 'Hope of Glory':
'Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.' Psalm 90:12
'Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Yeshua from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Messiah Jesus, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.' (Hey, that scripture is sung on 'Hope of Glory' as well!)
Please forgive the shameless plug!!
Thanks for listening!!
Just As We Are,
Monday, February 27, 2012
I have a confession to make: I watched the 84th annual Academy Awards. I have been watching the Oscar ceremonies since I was a litttle kid. I have always loved watching them; and it's been an annual ritual for Jenny and me since we've been married!
I have another confession: I always watch with a slight tinge of 'Gee, I wish I were one of those people!' They seem so together, so talented, so beautiful...so everything I wish I were!!
I know, I know! It's silly...it's vain...it's so, well...Hollywood!
I lived in Hollywood in days gone by. I know some of the folks that are in that business. Jenny and I are good friends with one fellow who is now a movie star...and soon to be a HUGE movie star!! One of the most celebrated movie composers in the world used to play piano for 'Bert and Marty', a singing act I had way back in my youth in New York City!
I can't help thinking sometimes, while watching the Oscars, that, as Marlon Brando so famously said in a scene from 'On the Waterfront': "I coulda been somebody; I coulda been a contender!" If only I'd done things a little differently, if I'd met the right people, if I'd worked a little harder...!! Perhaps I coulda had what those lucky folks have!!
Yet, strangely enough, after watching this year's presentation, I found myself grateful to have something many of them don't seem to have: SHAME!
Let me explain! I know that Yeshua---Jesus---took away my shame when He died on that cursed tree! I realize I am 'saved by grace' and don't have to bear the shame of my transgressions against my God! I know...and rejoice...in all that! That's not what I'm talking about!
True: Many folks who win the coveted Academy Award thank their peers, their wives and families, their mom's and dad's and...very occasionally...their God! There are numerous hard working, down to earth, truly professional people who just happen to work in the movie business.
Then there are the others; the ones whom the world adores and strives to be like; the ones who are the reason we watch the Oscars in the first place! The movie STARS!
Even amongst the stars there are strong families, normal children, healthy relationships with friends, family and co-workers. That is truly admirable in that environment, and they are to be commended for it.
But then there are the others. The ones over whom the media fawns and the public clamors to see and be around. It's amazing to observe people who follow Hollywood celebrity; you know---the ones craving to know every detail about stars' lives, existing vicariously through them, hoping to maybe...someday...hopefully have a life even remotely as glorious and glamorous as theirs! You know...people like me!! (Kidding...I HOPE!)
So, I reflected on this year's festivities, as one does the morning after the night before. For some reason, this time, I couldn't help thinking that the hype about the Academy Awards exceeded the actual event. There was a camera shot of a well known---but not particularly celebrated actor---sitting in the hall, not surrounded by adoring fans, empty seats flanking his, and surrounded by what seemed to be a noticable lack of excitement. It was just a guy---in a theatre---watching the proceedings, registering nothing notable on his face, either of pleasure or displeasure.
Up in the front rows, however, were other celebrities, movie moguls and screen stars. Amongst that group were folks living together outside of marriage, having children outside of wedlock and engaging in 'alternative' lifestyles. Yet...they sat there...smiling and taking it all in, being feted by the press, honored by their industry, celebrated by an adoring public worldwide.
I'm not begrudging them that. As a matter of fact, they should enjoy their reward here..in this age...in this world. For there is a time coming when they...as well as all of us...will stand before our Creator and give an accounting for the lives they---and we--- have lived here on earth. (Gulp!)
In that day, 'Oscar' will be of no help to them. Only Yeshua--- Jesus---is up to that role!
In that day, we will all cast our 'crowns'...and our gold statuettes, if we have them...down at His feet and bow and declare Him, LORD!
Don't get me wrong! I am not sitting in judgment of them. I STILL fancy what it would be like to be part of that world. But, as once was said by the biggest star of them all...the Bright and Morning Star, in fact...: "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man---(or a woman)---give in exchange for his (or her) own soul?
That's where the aforementioned 'shame' comes in! Believe me: I KNOW I will have much to answer for when the envelope is opened and MY name is called! Let's put it this way: I don't see myself giving any long speeches thanking the 'academy' for my award!
Perhaps, in that final day, there will be some 'reward' coming my way. I certainly hope so! Should there be, I will accept it on behalf of my Lord and Savior who--through His mercy and grace---made my performance---such as it is---possible!
But I know this above all: I will be truly grateful I was a person who had the capacity to be ashamed of my sin!! Yes---I mean sin!! We don't talk much of it these days, but that's what it is! Just plain old sin! And I am prone to it and guilty of it! Apart from the shed blood of the Man from Galilee, the perfect Son of G-d, I would be lost forever! But I'm not.
Furthermore, I have no ability to judge who, in that august Academy gathering, is lost---or found! This I know, however: the best thing that could happen to their career---and their lives--- would be, not the recognition of their accomplishments by their peers, but a recognition of their accountability to the God who created them!
I can't believe I'm saying this; I who am no celebrity, not famous, not one of the 'beautiful people': How sad that they can receive the applause of men, telling them that they're great, and not feel the slightest bit of 'shame' over the lives they are living, in front of God and everybody!
It's not that they're bad people. It's not that they don't have a heart and are not trying to do their best.
It's not that I am any better than they!
It's simply this: I give thanks to God that I am sorry for my sin and can feel shame for all the ways I have not lived up to His holy standards, bringing dishonor to myself and to His precious Name! I am glad I never 'succeeded' in 'show biz' in such a way that I might never come face to face with my sin---and find forgiveness in my Messiah, Jesus!
I can't say I won't watch the Academy Awards again. I can't say I won't be feel tempted to feel a bit envious of celebrities and privately wonder what it would be like to be a movie star. I can't say I wouldn't like to have the experience of saying: 'I want to thank the Academy for this award!'
I simply know this: I will be FOREVER grateful that I bowed my knee to the Lord of everybody and everything---even Hollywood---and pray that, when that final 'award' ceremony happens, I will be able to walk that carpet---'red' with the blood of my Redeemer---with those of whom it is said: ''Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness like the STARS forever and ever." (Daniel 12:2)
May I hear, after it is said, 'The envelope, please!': "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"
That is the one and only true award worth having!
May it be---for all of us!
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the L-rd of hosts will perform this." Isaiah 9:7
I have been inspired today; so inspired that I have FINALLY mustered the wherewithal to write a short blog about an important event that happened this morning of May 24th, 2011. At approximately 11 o'clock CST, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, addressed a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. He visited 'our House' representing 'his house'---the modern day 'House of Israel'! In the midst of 24 hour cable news, a worldwide web, ubiquitous virtual communication and constant and continuous media distraction, he delivered what I believe--I hope---is a significant and historic address, cutting right to the heart of a matter which has persistently perplexed nation after nation, generation after generation: that is, the issue of 'peace in the Middle East.'
I will not---and cannot--- in this brief blog, add anything to what he said. It is so eloquent, so direct, so clear, that anything I say would simply detract from his message. Rather, I would like to respectfully suggest---nay, strongly urge---you who read this, to find his speech and listen to it. It is a 'must hear' presentation, framing the debate about what to do in that region of the world in terms that are full of truth and undeniable realities. His passion is palpable, his reasoning impeccable and his facts indisputable. Not only that, he speaks with the time-tested and 'forged in the fire' authority that is so rare in these days of political posturing and poll-driven equivocation.
Two lines that stand out to me were the following: "Israel has no better friend than America and America has no better friend than Israel." He also said: "Israel is not what's wrong about the Middle East; Israel is what's right about the Middle East!"
Truth be told, I have grown weary of the description of what's going on between Israel and the Palestinians as a 'peace process'. Israel IS at peace with it's Arab neighbors---and with the Palestinians who live in their midst. It is those who want to deny Israel's right to exist that are at war with her! It has been said---and I paraphrase---that if the Arab world was disarmed, there would be no war in the Middle East; but if Israel were disarmed, there would be no Israel. Another Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir once famously said: "We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us."
We who read and believe the Bible know that, ultimately, peace will only come--- not only for Israel but also for the whole world---when Yeshua, the Messiah, returns to Jerusalem to establish His kingdom! He alone is 'Sar Shalom', the Prince of Peace, spoken of by Isaiah the prophet; and He will reign forever and ever, seated upon the 'throne of David'. What a glorious promise; what a privilege to be invited to be part of that kingdom.
As a believer in Yeshua, I know that Israel's deliverance---and safety---comes from G-d alone. There is no salvation for her---nor for anyone else---apart from Messiah. "My heart's desire and prayer to G-d for Israel is that they may be saved." Rom. 10:1
This hope of Paul the Apostle is my hope as well; and the hope of all who believe that the gospel is "the power of G-d unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (gentile)." Rom. 1:16
Consequently, I am under no illusion that the current State of Israel is the final 'state' of the people of Israel. There is coming a day when "all Israel will be saved"; and a renewed and regenerated Jewish people will be regathered to a restored land "in which righteousness dwells." That day is coming soon...
...but on this day, I am encouraged by what I have heard---and I want you to hear it. too!
I want you to hear the 'clarion call' issued by Benjamin Netanyahu in 'our House'! I want you to see the warm and enthusiastic welcome he received from our leaders and the repeated ovations offered in response to his call. It is essential that America---and all the nations of the world---understand what he so eloquently expressed: that Israel is here to stay, that Jerusalem must remain her 'undivided' capitol, and that she is ready and willing to 'make peace' with anyone willing to forsake violence and 'make peace' with her.
In the hour in which we live, it is imperative that we know where and how to stand regarding the poorly named 'Arab-Israel peace process'. Believers in the L-rd Yeshua and people of all faiths---indeed all people of good will---need to see this issue clearly and understand it's implications.
That is why I recommend you avail yourself of this truly inspiring speech made by the Israeli Prime Minister. I pray our American President---whom Netanyahu repeatedly and appropriately honored with his words---will take those words to heart and make the correct decisions regarding the future of Israel and the Middle East. We are at the 'hinge of history'---to use Netanyahu's expression---and we must swing in the direction which will bring about true and lasting peace; that is, on this side of G-d's eternal and everlasting 'kingdom of peace'!
If we can find it within ourselves to do the right thing, '..history will applaud you (America)!' That was the promise Mr. Netanyahu made; and I believe it is G-d's promise as well. After all, He has already said:
"I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse (those) who curse you." Gen. 12:3
What I---and the rest of the world---observed today, cut across party lines; Democrats and Republicans alike stood side by side, applauding what they heard. Though there have been disagreements between our two countries, Netanyahu reaffirmed and reinforced our historic friendship and mutual interests and values, expressing eternal gratitude for all that America has done to help Israel survive and thrive. He congratulated our President on his recent success in ridding the world of one of her worst terrorists, and thanked the Congress for inviting him to come and share his heart. It was to me a thrilling moment; one I pray will not be overlooked or swept aside by the tide of unrelenting news items and all-pervasive pop culture happenings.
Once again, I urge you; find the speech and listen. Share it with friends and family and members of your faith community. Pray about what you hear, as I hope to do.
Thank you for listening to my 'call'---from my house to yours---to 'pray for the peace of Jerusalem'; and for the final peace to come with the return of Yeshua HaMashiach, Messiah Jesus, the Prince of Peace!
Shalom---Peace to you and yours,
Marty (and his!)
Friday, February 4, 2011
In Jewish tradition, family and friends wait one year before placing a headstone on the grave of a deceased loved one. This 'stone setting' ritual is a ceremonial conclusion to a season of grieving; a kind of closure for those who are still shaken by a great loss. Though the pain of that person being gone does not go away, permission is given, in a sense, to 'move on' with life, knowing that the one being mourned would want that for you as well.
Tom Howard is a man who would have had that sentiment. In that spirit, I note his one year passing with this brief post to you who are visiting us here.
As you may know, Tom was a well respected pianist, songwriter and composer, our producer and arranger for over twenty years and, most of all, our very dear friend. He passed away unexpectedly on January 29th, 2010, approximately one year ago. I shared with you then some thoughts on his life, his death and his memorial service. Oddly, it seems a long time ago that all this happened -- and like yesterday!
Tom's loving wife Dori wanted to mark the day of her husband's passing in a special way.
It was a Saturday when she and Tom had set out on a walk on an unusually snowy weekend. The Howard's were from Minnesota and snow was their natural environment! And so it seemed fitting they would join some of their friends on a trek through a Nashville park. It was on that walk that Tom had a heart attack and passed away. What would have been a pleasant, leisurely afternoon turned into a traumatic and tragic day for her and their companions.
Yet, that terrible memory was turned into a beautiful memorial by Dori and others who loved Tom Howard.
Tom has no gravesite, so there was no headstone to be set. Instead, a gorgeous granite bench was built in his memory. A simple brass plaque bears his name, with an inscription written by his family, punctuated with a verse from the Bible -- Ephesians 2:6 -- which reads:
"...and raised up together (to) sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus..."
Strangely, it was a Saturday -- January 29th -- exactly a year since Tom's last day on earth, that a small band of friends joined his wife and his children to dedicate the bench to his memory. Quite coincidentally, it had been placed in the very spot where Tom had passed from this life into the next. Near it was an older bench, bearing the name's of a couple who had been some of the first new friends Dori and Tom had made after their move to Nashville from Los Angeles. Tom had sat on that bench before breathing his last and leaving us -- for a time.
And that was the reality of which we all spoke -- and the truth we acknowledged in our commemoration; that we will see Tom again; that we all will be together again one day in the presence of our Lord Yeshua -- Jesus!
Memories were shared; stories were told; poems were read; prayers were said; laughs were had; tears were shed. It was a sweet and fitting tribute to an irreplaceable soul. One of the realizations we all had was that, to each of us, Tom was our best friend! He made each of us feel that we were the most special and treasured person in his life, even though we knew there were others with whom he enjoyed that same closeness! Somehow, he could share himself completely with you -- encouraging you, inspiring you, building you up -- and still have enough left over to do the same with myriad others who had the blessing of knowing him -- and calling him friend!
None of us will ever have another like him -- and the loss is still palpable. Therefore, it was fitting -- and comforting -- to have the opportunity to remember him on that day and to consecrate that location to his memory. People walking there -- as he and Dori did so often -- will be able to pause and reflect, hold hands and pray, talk and laugh and embrace the moment, all the while reposing on the bench that bears Tom's name.
One colleague of Tom's commented that he thought of it as a piano bench. That was a perfect reflection, creating in all of us the picture of Tom sitting there, surrounded by the beauty of nature, playing hymns of praise to his Creator!
He would like that.
Should you ever have the chance to take a stroll in Edwin Warner Park, Nashville, Tennessee, perhaps you'll be able to sit for a spell and enjoy a moment with God and His handiwork -- courtesy of our friend, Tom Howard.
He would like that as well.
We miss you, Tom; and we will see you again -- but not yet, not yet.
Shalom -- and thanks for listening.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
My Dear Friends,
My most sincere apologies to you for my not having written anything on this site for a long time. You who know us---and keep in touch with what we are doing--- have been so faithful and supportive, expressing interest in our lives and our work through all these years. Before I share some of my thoughts, I wanted to share my feelings; feelings of gratitude to "all y'all," (as we say here in Nashville) and heartfelt wishes for the fullness of all the blessing our God has for you.
In regard to the long duration between "blogs", I must tell you that recent circumstances have affected me more than I could have imagined they would.
Sending our one and only daughter off to college, having to put our dog Maggie to sleep, mourning the untimely death of our good friend and long-time producer, Tom Howard---not to mention the problems I've had with my eyesight---have all conspired to put me a bit "on hold" this last little season. Once again. I'm sorry---and I so appreciate your patience, prayers and understanding.
Anyway, here we go.
After that build-up, I hope you won't mind the brevity---and randomness---of these musings of mine.
So, Jennifer and I were chatting after our morning prayer time. We were wondering aloud about "this new generation"---(how's that for old fogey speak?)---and talking about how many young folks have embraced "social justice" thinking and a "one world-progressive" mentality. (And this was all on our first cup of coffee!)
As we spoke, I resisted the temptation to cluck my tongue and grouse about how the world was going to hell in a hand basket and how much better things were when we were young and how our generation...blah, blah, blah...
It then occurred to me how our generation---(aging baby-boomers to be specific)---spawned so much of what we observe---and often bemoan---in these perplexing days.
It seems just a moment ago that we were ushering in "the age of aquarius"---peace, love and all that jazz! That era morphed into a time characterized by the "me" generation, which indulged all the "freedoms" unleashed years before in the tumultuous 60's. Fast forward through disco, punk, grunge-- eight tracks, cassette tapes and cd's---(to keep things in a music vein)---and we find ourself in a--virtually-- new world.
Like an agrarian society yielding to the industrial revolution, our civilization has been technologically transformed. It happened gradually--almost imperceptibly--but it's advent has seemed sudden and overwhelming to those of us who were unaware and unprepared.
I find myself--- (though I hate to admit it)---feeling often like a stranger in a strange land, scrambling to learn new languages and unfamiliar ways, trying desperately just to keep up! I'm making very SLOW progress!!
Back to our morning conversation. As my daughter Misha sat on the couch, recuperating from "wisdom tooth" surgery and my wife began planning her day, I reflected on the fact that we would all, later that day, be using sleek, efficient machines, adorned with an interesting logo; an apple with a bite taken out of it. (Where else have we heard of a piece of fruit having been bitten into?) Hmmm?!
Jenny expressed the opinion that this current generation appears to be quite self-centered. I opined that we were, as well; but we didn't think so because we were concerned about "the war" and other social concerns.
In addition, we have passed through many different permutations of the faith we embraced in the 70's---a belief in Jesus---Yeshua---as Messiah and Lord.
Some of those forms were less---or more---than the gospel of the kingdom. Many of them encouraged a self-oriented, "I can have everything I want 'cause I'm a king's kid" kind of thinking.
I do believe Jesus' words; that "it's (the) Father's good pleasure to give (us) the kingdom". (Luke12;32) However, much of our preaching and teaching seemed to emphasize personal aggrandizement while neglecting "weightier matters" such as loving your neighbor, caring for the poor, rejoicing in suffering and expecting trouble in this life "as sparks fly upward". (Job 5:7)
The deficiencies in our worldview are not lost on today's young people, it seems.
At the risk of generalizing or dealing with issues with which I am not fully conversant, permit me to say that I find myself often shaking my head in amazement as to where our world is heading; and that includes the faith community in which we find ourselves.
A current commercial on TV is an iconic representation of where things are these days. Down a busy city street walk two separate individuals, gazing down at their "hand-held devices", completely engrossed in their screen-sized world, ignoring everything around them, never looking up, even for a second. (One only has to walk through any modern airport to see how true to form this image is!)
Everyone---or so it seems---is on their i-pod, i-phone or i-pad. The observation is not original with me, I'm sure: we are in the midst of the "i" generation. It's all about "I", isn't it? OY!!
Yet, the message of the young is a "we" one; the current mindset being one of equality for all, social justice, concern for the poor---all noble aspirations, to be sure. Because of the "collective" and "community" oriented nature of this ethic, it seems to be envisioning a "better" society: wealth redistributed, boundaries broken down, history redefined, everyone equal, everything environmentally friendly; a truly "smart" and "green" world.
Consequently, the aforementioned "I" obsession is obscured---but it's there---big time! and it's not new!! It's as old as the proverbial bite out of the fruit. As a matter of fact, that's where it all started, isn't it?
I can relate. Through my most recent trials, I have become aware that I don't simply have an eye problem; I have an "I" problem! Yes, indeed!! I can sit in judgment of no one, no how!!!
Still---I know there are things happening today that demand our attention and require our response. During our morning time, Misha had us read a prophetic word delivered by a powerful woman of God; a word that exhorted everyone to---WAKE UP! She exhorted us to see current crises as wake-up calls, urging all with "ears to hear" to fast, pray, vote wisely in upcoming elections and---most essentially---to not turn away from Israel!! Amen and amen!!!
I write this on the heels of a return from New York City. I love it there; walking the streets and looking up, seeing sights unseen in any other place. I've included a photo from a recent stroll there.
In the midst of all these things about which I've mused, it serves as a reminder to me---and to anyone who might be simpatico with anything I've shared---to think about what was said many years ago by someone we love, whose words are supremely relevant to us today:
"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up,
and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh."
(Yeshua in Luke 21:28)
Another TV commercial---(please forgive all the media references)--says, "Take the scary out of life." A good way to do that? Remember the axiom: "things are looking up!"
That's what I'll be doing.
Even so, come Lord Yeshua.
Thanks for looking us up!
Love and shalom,
Marty and his family
Friday, February 12, 2010
"A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one's birth; Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)
The phone call came, as all such calls do: suddenly, unexpectedly, unnerving. My wife answered and screamed, "No, no, that can't be!", stomping her feet and shuffling backward; wide-eyed, as if she were attempting to flee from something horrible. And indeed she was.
On the line was John Coates, who wanted to know if we had heard about Tom. We had not.
John informed us that Tom Howard, our mutual and beloved friend, had suffered a heart attack and passed away. We didn't think he was lying---but we didn't want to believe him.
Jennifer rushed to the computer and checked Tom's facebook page. Already, there were postings of condolences and words of sympathy to his family. We were shocked and saddened. We still are.
In the midst of an ordinary day---Jenny and I were cheerfully making our bed when we got the news---our world was shaken. It's still shaking.
In fact, I haven't even been able to write anything about it. Even now, I feel inadequate to express myself in a way that would, either sufficiently express my heart, or properly honor my buddy, Tom. Allow me to simply share a few thoughts.
For two weeks, (he passed away on Friday, January 29th), there has been a hole in the soul of Nashville, Tennessee, at least for the many here who knew and loved Tom. There is a palpable sorrow in the hearts of his friends; they are bewildered by this sudden and tragic loss. In the days following the news of his death, we have shared much with his family and friends; an evening of remembrance, a Sunday service at the church where he served as an associate music minister, a moving memorial service and numerous conversations, recalling life with Tom---and contemplating life without him.
Jenny and I already miss him. Tom was a bit of a night owl, Many evenings he would drop by our house, just to talk and eat and laugh. Often, my wife would go to bed and Tom and I would stay up late, discussing anything and everything; arts, family, politics, popular culture, theology. Sometimes he would fall asleep on our couch and I would stay awake until he awoke and I could send him home!
Any time spent with Tom was a joy. He was hysterically funny, deeply thoughtful and amazingly insightful. He had the soul of a poet and could paint vivid pictures with his words, leaving you in awe at his eloquence---then crack you up with some goofy remark, accompanied with some strange, indescribable vocal affectation! When he would leave our house, I would always feel grateful for such a friend. However, I must admit, there were times when I would tell him I was too tired to get together. Fortunately, he had numerous others with whom he could hang out. Still, I would give anything for one more impromptu visit.
For you who know us and the work we do, you will miss him too, whether you know it or not. You see, Tom has been producing and arranging our music for over twenty years! We were friends in Los Angeles and our first project together was "I Call You Friend." Jenny and I were amazed at what Tom was able to do. We never ceased to be amazed.
Jennifer says he was 'the music behind my songs.' He invested himself so completely into everything we did. An inspired pianist and composer in his own right, Tom orchestrated and conducted our recording sessions as if the songs were his own. One of our greatest thrills was going to the studio and waiting for that first downbeat. With a wave of a baton, he would create a masterpiece around the sketch of my compositions, filling them with color--- and us with excitement.
He would accomplish all this, seemingly effortlessly, quietly going about his business with skill, excellence and loving care for the music. That is something I will miss so much: the love he had for what we were doing and the passion he expressed in helping bring it to fruition.
Tom was an encourager. He would give me insights into my own work that I either didn't see or fully appreciate. He made me feel that I was an important artist with a significant contribution to make to the world. (Often, I didn't share that opinion but his eloquent affirmation had a way of trumping my own insecurities!) That gift he gave me is precious and irreplaceable.
There is no other way to say it. This is a huge loss, not only to Jenny and me, but also to everyone who knew and loved Tom. His memorial service was packed with friends, family, artists, musicians, all fellow travelers with this most unique, inspiring and lovable man. The sanctuary at St. Bartholomew's was filled with beautiful music from the choir and various artists with whom Tom worked---including yours truly; I sang Psalm 23.
What was particularly stunning---and moving---was the music that Tom had written himself, underscoring the entire service. It would have brought a smile, (or embarrassment, knowing Tom), to hear the people whom he loved--- and who loved him---singing his songs. It was as if he was with us---yet, conspicuously absent.
In the fellowship hall afterward, there was a slide show of his life accompanied by yet more of his music, the sharing of stories and tributes, and a nostalgic rock and roll set by some of his brilliantly talented buddies. When it all wound down and came to a reluctant end, we all dispersed into different groups, talking late into the night about Tom, not wanting to say a final goodbye.
Tom is still alive in his wife, Dori, his daughter Katie and his son, Joseph. Their words for him that day were a beautiful declaration of his success as a husband and father. He would have been so blessed to hear that. No one was more dedicated to seeing his family prosper in every way; yet he struggled with his own ability to accomplish that. They, of course need your prayers.
He is alive in his music: his solo piano recordings, the gorgeous string arrangements he provided for countless artists and projects, and, of course, our albums. We will, of course, continue to produce our music; but we don't yet know how we will do it without Tom. (You may pray for us, as well.)
It's snowing here in Nashville as I write this; it was snowing the day Tom died. I spoke to him that morning. We were experiencing a rare snowstorm which was turning everything white, an unusual occurrence in this part of the country. I commented to Tom that it looked like Minnesota. Tom and Dori were from Minnesota, and decided that day it would be fun to go for a walk in the park with some friends. Tom never returned from that walk.
We like to think that God provided a touch of home for the day of Tom's going home. Wouldn't that be just like our Father?
Jenny tells me that, at the end of my phone conversation with my friend, on what would be his last day with us here, I said before I hung up, "I love you, Tommy!" I will be forever grateful that I said those words!!
Tom deserved to be loved---and he was.
We will not see his like again.
And yet---one day---we will! I'm looking forward to that.
Thank you, Lord, for our brother, Tom Howard.
And thank you all for allowing me to tell you a little bit about him.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Dear friends and visitors,
I wanted to share with you a sad event in the life of our family.
Today, a short while before writing this, I, along with my wife Jennifer, had to put our little dog Maggie to sleep. She had been suffering for a long time with a collapsing trachea, a condition common in small white dogs. We had taken her twice to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to help us decide how to treat her. We considered surgery, but opted instead for a less invasive treatment with special medicine, processed by this top-notch veterinary hospital. It worked for a few years and we were thrilled with how she was doing on what, to us, was a miracle drug.
However, just this last week, she began to gasp for air almost constantly. She wouldn't eat and, when she did drink water, she would spit it up. She was miserable and listless; her sleep, (which was all she was doing), would be interrupted with frequent coughing spasms. It was awful---and upsetting!
We took her almost every day to her wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Woody, at the Animal Health Clinic in Franklin, Tennessee. He-- and we-- tried everything we could to help her. She got shots, pills, steroids, and all kinds of medicine; but it eventually became clear that Maggie was suffering greatly, without any hope of relief.
Dr. Woody told us to consider a thought in the heartbreaking process of deciding what to do. He advised us to ask ourselves this question: are you doing all these things "for her--- or to her."
After one tortuous night for our dog, (which was also emotionally excruciating for us), we knew what we had to do.
We brought her in to what had become her second home, due to our many travels. They love her there; and we were greatly comforted to know that her last moments would been spent with folks who had shared so much of her little life.
They were almost as upset as we were to see her go; but go she did.
The other day at the clinic, after discussing, at length, Maggie's dwindling options, I asked---whimsically: "Well, Dr. Woody, do dogs go to heaven?"
He said, thoughtfully, "I'll answer you with a paraphrase from Will Rogers: 'I don't know if dogs go to heaven but, wherever they go, that's where I want to be!'"
My wife, Jennifer, my daughter, Misha, and I, mourn the loss of our good, good friend, Maggie Mae Goetz. She was a Bichon Frise who would have been 14 years old on January 29, 2010.
We first said hello to her when she was two; shared with her twelve wonderful years; and said goodbye to her today, January 14, 2010.
Thanks for listening.
Love and Shalom,