Piano – May 21, 2016

I was blessed to be raised in a musical family.  My grandma was/is an excellent piano player, my grandfather has an excellent Bass voice.  My Mom has a great voice as do my aunts, and family, my Dad.  My Dad has played guitar since he was 16, and he can play keyboard and bass.  He also owned the best recording studio in St. Louis for a long time.  He has been involved in music his whole life; live audio and in bands.  He got his inspiration from his Dad who, I didn’t have that much time with unfortunately.  But he was a great guitarist as well.  Then we can go further and talk about my step-mother’s beautiful voice and my sister, Sarah (not her real name).  So as you can tell, I have been surrounded by music my whole life, which has been wonderful.

Well, I sang my first solo when I was a lamb in a children’s play at church. I was like 5 or 6.  Then I sang a solo as Stan, Stan the Garbage Man in the first grade play.  Then I was given the opportunity to play violin in the second grade.  My name was picked out of a hat to start a year early.  In Pennsylvania, they have orchestra and band in Elementary School.  I don’t know if they still do, but they did back then.  The next year, my grandmother bought me a piano and lessons for my birthday.  I was so excited, and I started taking lessons.  I will come back to that in a bit.  Then in 5th grade, I started playing trumpet.

In Middle School, I joined Choir and by High School, I was mainly into singing.  I was in the Choir, the auditioned Concert Choir, Band and my baby, the High School Barbershop Club, which me and the other three guys, Ben, Joe and Jason (not their real names) in my High School Barbershop quartet started.  I dropped violin and piano.  Occasionally I would accompany the church choir on an anthem or two.  All I cared about really was barbershop singing.

That adventure could really be a couple of blogs.  My grandfather got me into that, and I love it.  It is definitely a passion of mine.  Okay.  So back to piano because that is the name of the blog.  Haha!

Now this blog isn’t meant to toot my own horn.  It is actually to present a moral message.  So hang in there.  I started piano in 3rd grade.  What I found out was that I was good at it.  Really good at it.  Honestly, I was good at all the instruments, but that’s just it.  I was just good. I wasn’t fantastic.  Excellent, a pro, mesmerizing or any other amazing word you can think of to glorify my talent.  I was just good, okay, and so on.  See I got to a point where I was playing college level classical songs in Middle School.  In fact, when I got to college, I heard piano performance students play some of the songs I played in Middle School.

Yea, so it’s not like I couldn’t do it.  Even when I got to college, I had to take a class piano course, “Basics of Piano”.  I was bored out of my mind.  So they gave me hard songs for me to do for my exam.  I started working with the piano teacher and he kept trying to get me to change my major to Piano Performance.

Here I was, 20 years old, still not getting the message.  Now I am 31 and a little more at peace in my life, and willing to listen to people.  Even as I am writing this, I am realizing something. I realized this past week that I could be an excellent, fantastic pianist.  I mean, I could be really good.  However, I have never listened to people.  I have never listened to God’s message.

My first piano teacher’s only complaint about me, was “He doesn’t practice.”  When I practiced, I put my mind to it and learned these songs.  I was her best pianist/Student.  For real, but I never really wanted to practice.  I wasn’t great, excellent, fantastic, because of my choice to be mediocre. I settled for mediocrity, and it was my downfall.  I never embraced my passion, and realized that it was my gift.  I was too busy saying, “I can’t be that good.” Or comparing myself to other people, like my best friend, who is amazing at piano.  I mean fantastic, professional, amazing.  He is incredible.

This week, I went up to the Chaplain’s Office and practiced for 2 hours straight and would have longer if he didn’t have to go home.  I learned 3 songs last week, and I am learning a different style of playing.  I believe that God has been telling me something my whole life:  To bless people with my gift of playing piano.

I am ready. I am listening.  Let’s do this!  I now see that I can be excellent, and that I love it.  I am now going to be the keyboard player for the Praise Band!  Yay! I am super excited.

What about you?  Is there anything in your life;  a dream, that you just gave upon or you settled for mediocrity, and never met your full potential?  Face it, and don’t settle for failure, lost dreams, or mediocrity.  Go after it!

The Kairos Weekend – May 21, 2016

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending Kairos.  Before I get started with this blog, I just want to tell you that it will probably be the longest blog I have ever written.  Also, I am going to write as stuff comes to mind like I always do.  Kairos is a worldwide prison ministry.  They have weekend retreats for people who are incarcerated.  You have 42 inmates and 42 Kairos volunteers.  The purpose of the weekend is to share that God loves you and forgives you for your sins, no matter how small or big.

So we went down Thursday night to the Gym.  Well they had very beautifully turned the gym into a chapel, community room and food prep area.  So we all met in the chapel part and were assigned a mentor. Then we sat down with our mentor in the community room.  Then we introduced ourselves and answered questions about ourselves and the Kairos team members did the same.  Well one of the questions that the team members had to answer was “Where do you worship?”

So shortly before I was to introduce myself, there was a Kairos team member named Matt (not his real name) who started introducing himself.  He said something like this.  “Hi.  My name is Matt.  I am married with kids. I worship at Seacoast, Asheville.”  Then he went and answered the rest of the questions.  I about jumped out of my seat.  Before I got locked up, I worshipped at Seacoast – Greenville and was an active member of the men’s group.  To give you a brief idea what Seacoast is about, Seacoast’s main campus is in Charleston (Mt. Pleasant), South Carolina, and they have satellite campuses.  Everyone gets the same message from the main campus over a screen.  Now each campus has freedom with their music, small groups, men’s groups, etc.  So of course, at our first break I went to Matt and said “Hey my fellow Seacoast brother!” and we hit it off.

Then I found out that there were 2 other Seacoast Asheville brothers there too.  Then I found out that the 3 members that were there were the Worship band from Seacoast – Asheville.  As the weekend went on, we had all agreed that we would keep in touch and write each other.  The pastor, Russ, at the Greenville campus writes and visits.  And 4 other brothers that I grew close to also writes me.  So now I have 8 Seacoast brothers to write.  I am so excited.  I love Seacoast.  They truly care and love people.  No matter how broken you are, they are there for you.  They realize that “We are the church.”  People are the church.  So while we are on the Seacoast thing, I have one more thing.  Another Kairos team member came up to me and said, “Are you the guy that attended Seacoast – Greenville?”  I said, “Yep”.  Then we started to talk, and he was telling me how he lives in Greenville and he and his wife were talking a few days ago about checking out other churches.  So he started asking me about Seacoast.  He and his wife are going to give it a shot.  I also grew very close to this man and we shared a lot about our weaknesses and are going to keep writing!  J

So on Friday we went to the Gym at 7:45 a.m. and were finished at 7:15 p.m.  We were put into families and it was 6 inmates, 1 clergy, and 2 Kairos table leaders.  So Friday consisted of “Talks”.  They were about 15-20 minute talks.  We had 5 talks “Choices,” “You are Not Alone,”  “Friendship with God,”  “The Church,” and “Opening the Door.”  After each talk we had to write a group summary and draw a poster.  We had no artists in our group, so our posters weren’t great but they meant a lot.  So I have a confession.  One of the inmates in my group was really frustrating me. He was criticizing everyone’s summary.  So he took it upon himself to re-write every summary to what he wanted it to say.  He also had to design every poster.  He would admit that he wasn’t paying attention.  So none of our summaries or posters made any sense, and they all missed the point of the talks.  So I was frustrated.  Everyone was giving great input, but it was all ignored.  I was in a semi-bad mood.  I remained silent. I am going to come back to this.  In the middle of the day, we went to chapel and one of the Kairos team members got up to speak.  He started talking about accepting yourself and forgiving yourself.  In the beginning he opened up about his life.  For some odd reason, I broke down crying.  He was hurt, in pain, he was crying and I felt this pain.  I felt connected to this man. I wanted to run up and hug him. I am going to refer to this man a lot.  I don’t like giving names, so let’s call him Joe.

After chapel, we went back to the Community Room and our families.  We had a break, and I went up to Joe. I had never talked to this man before.  I went up to him and hugged him.  We both started crying (no words).  We had this connection.  We hugged for about 2 minutes.  I said, “I have no words to explain how I feel, but I felt your pain.”  He hugged me again.  I said, “I will pray for you” and walked away.  That night he spoke again in Chapel and he was talking about forgiveness. He paused and Kairos team members and inmates started asking forgiveness for things.  In that moment it hit me…. Through my spiritual journey I have faced a lot of my flaws, faced my past, I have asked for forgiveness and repented of my sins, have forgiven others and myself.  I have built walls in the past, and I have been tearing them down for 2 years.

During that time of asking forgiveness, I realized that recently and in the past, that I am very critical of people and judgmental of people; especially in here.  I spent half the day criticizing the guy that I thought was being a jerk, which later in the weekend, he admits to being a jerk, and the group worked better as a team. However that doesn’t give me the right to judge him or criticize him. So I realized that I needed forgiveness for being critical and judgmental.  Then that led to me realizing that because of these faults, it has hindered me of showing God’s love to people in here and being the disciple that God made me to be.  Needless to say, I cried my eyes out the rest of the night, back to the block, in my room and all the way through about 4 p.m. on Saturday.  I was an emotional mess.  Something else that was awesome that during this event, I looked around and saw some sex offenders, gang members, loners, old, young, black, murderers, drug dealers, etc. lifting each other up, loving each other.  Then when we got back to the block, they act like a totally different person.

I would love to see more love in this prison.  I know with God’s help, it is possible.  I had a great conversation with the young guy who wants to try Seacoast out.  I told him I wanted to be like the demon-possessed man in the tombs.  See, sometimes people don’t realize the WHOLE story.  Jesus walked into the tombs unafraid to talk to this man, who everyone disowned.  They left him naked in the tombs away from everyone.  Jesus casts out the 1000’s of demons into the pigs.  The man leaves the tombs clothed in this right mind.  The man goes to town with Jesus and the people were afraid.  They couldn’t believe it.  Jesus tells the man to tell everyone what Jesus has done for him.  The townspeople tell Jesus to leave.  Here is where it gets better.  The miracle where Jesus feeds the 5,000– well that is the same town, where the demon-possessed man was living.  This happened after the demon-possessed man was clothed and in his right mind.  In the town that cast him out, there were 5,000 people waiting to hear him speak.  Why is that?  Because the man told everyone what Jesus had done for him.  That is the life I want to lead.  I told everyone, stood up in front of everyone and shared this with them.  People were crying and no one else spoke.  Well when we had another break, Joe, remember him?  Came up to me, hugged me and said, “I was like the man in the tombs.”  I said, “So was I.”  We talked for 15 minutes easily.  He told me stuff about his life he hasn’t told anyone.  I am not going to repeat them—that is between me, him and God.  I shared as well.  We made a connection this weekend.  He told me he wants to keep in touch through letters.  Tonight we wrote people that we wanted to forgive and people that we wanted to forgive us on rice paper.

We had a ceremony where we dropped the paper with the names in a big bowl of water.  The paper dissolved in the water.  We gave it to God.  Powerful.  Tomorrow is graduation. I will write about that tomorrow.  I also got some very meaningful letters from Kairos team members.  These men are amazing examples and really know how to express Gods’ love.

Kairos Sunday – May 29, 2016

This day was very emotional for a variety of reasons; One, because it was the last day and two, because there were about 100 people from the outside yelling, cheering, clapping and showing authentic Agape love for all of us.  If that doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.  I don’t think that one inmate didn’t cry.  It is amazing how much Agape love helps a person; helps them to have hope again.  Helps them to see that even though they are broken, have sinned, have fallen, that people still care and love them.  It was amazing!

It was sad, because we didn’t even really get to say goodbye to all our Kairos mentors.  That stank really bad.  They are coming back on May 14th, but over the weekend we had grown very close to them.  I have seen some genuine changes in inmates on the block.  It is amazing.  I hope that we don’t get discouraged and keep supporting and encouraging each other.

So the conclusion of the weekend was: Accept God’s grace, love and forgiveness and spread his love to others.  “Christ is counting on you!”

Tough Turkey – April 18, 2016

So about 2 weeks ago I had a problem.  See we had Turkey Ala King for chow.  Well I had a huge piece of tough turkey, and it took me forever to chew it.  I was getting pieces stuck in my teeth and my jaw started to hurt.  However it tasted good.  When I got back to my room, I started picking my teeth and got a couple pieces out of my teeth.  It was crazy!  Anyway, so I don’t know if you remember the blog where I talked about how I DON’T brush my teeth.  I brush them before I go to the dentist, so twice a year.  Okay, well keep that in your mind while I finish this tough turkey story.

So confident that I got all the turkey out of my teeth;  I went on with my nightly activities then I went to bed.  I slept great that night, but when I woke up I had an awful pain in my gums.  Well apparently a piece of turkey was stuck up underneath my gums.  I tried to get it out with my tongue and finger… no luck! I said, “Man, I am going to have to brush my teeth.”  I very slowly, hesitantly. and with much agony, opened up my tooth paste, put it on my brand new, never used tooth brush, and brushed my teeth.

Now some of you are probably saying “Halleluja!”, especially if you come and visit.  I brushed and a long strand of turkey came out.  My gums and teeth felt normal after 10 minutes.  I will have to admit that it felt good to brush my teeth.  I might go back to regular brushing.  Now that I think about it, when I was in Central Prison, I went to the dentist, and she said, “You should brush your gums.”  I looked at her with a face, and she said, “You don’t have to use toothpaste.”  How did she know!  She said my teeth looked great.  I don’t know what to do.  I might just Emergency Brush…. You know when I get that tough turkey in my gums!  🙂

Horticulture Update – April 18, 2016

Hey everyone!  I haven’t written in a while so I thought I would give you some updates.  I am absolutely loving Horticulture Class.  Over the last 2 weeks, we have transplanted over 2,000 flowers.  They all look great.  We boosted them today with bloom booster.  Our flower sale is May 10th and 11th.  The petunias I planted are beautiful.  They look great, especially the hanging baskets.  We had 50 but we donated 2 to the volunteer banquet for the raffle.  There are 3 petunia plants in each basket.  The baskets were a huge hit at the banquet.  I have also been doing some cuttings of sage, clerodendran and begonias.  In a couple of weeks when the mist bench isn’t filled with flowers, I am going to do an aloe vera project.  We have a lot of aloa vera plants.  Some of them look terrible, some of them look great.  I am going to throw away the bad and take cuttings of the good and hopefully have a bunch of good looking plants.  I am excited for that project.

Also about 7 weeks ago, I had an orange in the chow hall.  Well, I took 2 seeds/pits and decided I would try planting them.  I didn’t think they would sprout.  But after much research and proper care, I was successful. So I have 2 orange trees growing.  Haha!

Unfortunately, I don’t think they will get big enough to produce fruit, but it is still cool.  That is about all that is going on in class. I have found another passion.  🙂

Last Hope – March 10, 2016

“And there was a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.  She had heart the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment.  For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”  And immediately the bleeding ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “who touched me?” And he looked around to see who had done it.  But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, case in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”  –Mark 5: 25-34

I am currently reading a book about the healing miracles of Jesus.  The author’s views on this miracle touched me.  There is so much to this miracle that I could write pages about it.  However, I am going to just make some highlights:

First, this lady was very brave and you could say, desperate.  To go out in public around all those people brushing up against others was really against the law.  If a woman had a discharge of blood for many days, it was illegal. She had been bleeding for 12 years.  The law regarding this is in Leviticus 15:25-27.  Here she was out in this massive crowd making people unclean.  Then to top it all off, she touched Jesus’ clothes.  This brings me to my second point.  She was desperate, it was her last hope.  She had been to every doctor and tried every remedy known to man at that time.  But nothing healed her disease.  She put everything she had into Jesus.  She put her whole faith — in him.  He was her last hope.  She realized that with him, she would be healed.  Even if she just touched his garment.

However, my favorite part of this miracle was Jesus’ response, his words, his actions.  Right here we see Jesus doing what he does best, attending to the human need.  He stops in the middle of this huge massive crowd and talks to her.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people trying to get his attention. He turns around, blocks out the crowd, forgets about the law and focuses on the one woman.  He has a one-on-one moment with this woman and he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

He doesn’t say much.  He doesn’t spend that much time with her, but what he does say is beautiful, loving and compassionate.  It was enough for her to be healed, happy, joyful and at peace.  To feel special.  It is what Jesus does.  He has compassion and cares about each one of his people.  The author tells about this girl who was studying how to play violin.  Well a famous violinist came to town to do a concert.  Her teacher played her some of his songs, and she wanted so badly to go to this concert.  She went to go buy a ticket, but they were all sold out.  She ran into the violinist, and he was the one who told her that they were sold out.  The girl was so upset.  The violinist told her that she could still hear him play.  She questioned him and reminded him that the tickets were gone,  sold out.

He said, “sit”, went and grabbed his violin and played his whole concert to her.  This guy’s whole goal in life was to use his gift to make people happy; even if it meant doing a whole concert for one person.  Wow!  Just imagine if we had the same mindset.  I challenge you to give yourself up to that one person that calls you to talk, to listen or to be a friend to someone who needs it.  I challenge you to take time out of your busy day to attend to their need as Jesus would have.  You never know what 30 seconds or 5 minutes or even an hour can do for a person whose last hope might be… you.   🙂