So, last year, I celebrated one of “those” birthdays.
You know, the ones that end in “0” and make you think about your being, your journey and your purpose. That’s the Christian way of saying “where am I, how did I get here, and what am I doing here?”
Fortunately the body blow of these thoughts was eased by a sand-covered, sun-soaked oceanfront view of a picture perfect day that only God could create, and that my wife Lisa lovingly arranged several days of to ease my transition into this new decade.
I’d brought a golf magazine in the never ending and marginally successful quest to lower my handicap, but got caught up watching the waves crashing into the rocks that carved out the shoreline. God didn’t bless me with the ability to swim well, but did instill a great appreciation of being along the water. By His grace I grew up near Boston and the ocean, two places I love and that bring me great peace.
I had a lot to think about. I’m not exactly a Pastor’s kid. Far from it. I didn’t grow up in a Christian house. I didn’t have Godly parents, VBS, youth groups, mission trips, or any of the trappings of a young life in Christ. I think my childhood could best be defined as Catholic In Name Only. I did go to CCD into my teen years, usually wearing my hockey equipment as I shuttled between practices and games, pausing for an hour to hear someone talk about a God I believed in but wasn’t learning how to have a relationship with. There was no time to change into street clothes, and CCD wasn’t instilled in me as a priority. Slap shots trumped the Savior. Goals beat the Gospel. Body checks blocked out the Bible. I just didn’t know better. For a variety of reasons, I would leave the Catholic church the night of my confirmation, starting a decades-long journey in the wilderness.
That wilderness included a deteriorating family life that would in just a few years totally disintegrate. It would later include a marriage of my own, children, health issues, multiple cross country moves, financial struggles, divorce, family members passing away, friends passing away, my nearly passing away, and keeping a roof over my head that didn’t have a license plate as an address.
God also didn’t bless me with the ability to play an instrument (unless you count Smoke on the Water on Guitar Hero), but He did bless me with a love and appreciation of music. All those years that could and should have been filled with scripture, became filled with music. There is no true replacement for scripture, but when you don’t know what you’re missing you grab on to what is available. I spent a lot of years defining myself by the music I listened to, rather than the scripture I could’ve been holding on to. I had long hair and a fast car. I was also a multiple sport athlete, and while all of that should’ve been a ticket to high school popularity, I was on the distant fringes of the “in” crowd. I also didn’t care about being a part of that crowd.
Before Jesus became my rock and the Gospel my foundation, music was my anchor in good times and in bad. Early on I filled that gap with Deep Purple and The Who. Over the years it got a little bit more cerebral, becoming U2, the Alarm, and Van Morrison. I would find out later that the last three bands were all Christians. These musicians wrote songs I could relate to. Some were filled with anger, some filled with desperation, some filled with hope. All had lyrics that I could understand and words I could hang on to in the best and worst of times. You know, like the Gospel.
Freshman year, my college roommate Jay would introduce me to a British singer-songwriter and guitarist named Mark Knopfler. He led this band you may remember called Dire Straits. Dire Straits was gaining popularity as I started at Boston University. Their first big hit was called Sultans of Swing. I was still deeply into harder rock, but was hooked the first time I heard it. I listened to their first album (and I do mean album, as in vinyl) endlessly. This guy got it. I could relate to the people in his songs. I could relate to the pain, the struggle and the victories he wrote of. His music became the soundtrack of my adult life. It’s been everywhere with me. It’s been a part of celebrations and mourning and more celebrations. After all these years, his lyrics and playing can move me to tears and lift me to new heights, sometimes in the same song.
I vividly remember more than one occasion of being in a dark apartment, alone, headphones on, trying to escape the world while wondering what was going to happen to me next or when things would get better, and grasping at these lyrics:
“when the things that you hold
can fall and be shattered
and run through your fingers like dust.”
“I’ve run every red light on memory lane
I’ve seen desperation explode into flames
and I don’t wanna see it again…”
“There should be sunshine after rain,
there should be laughter after pain,
these things have always been the same
so why worry now…”
As I’ve grown in Christ, I have often thought about what scriptures I would’ve been meditating on had I known Him at the time.
Would it have been Luke 9:62? “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Philippians 3:13: “Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Fast forward a bunch of years and I’ve seen Knopfler perform dozens of times. Most recently I got to see him several times on a swing through Florida. Lisa is not into music nearly as much as I am, but accompanied me to one of the shows. She doesn’t understand my fascination with his music but was curious to see what it was about. The idea for this blog didn’t occur to me until I tried to explain to her that Knopfler’s music spoke to me in ways nothing else did until I received Christ and started studying the Gospel.
I know now that God has brought me to and through that laundry list of ups and downs to shape my character, even before I came to know Him. He has brought people into my life that have changed it forever. He has taken people out of my life who’s time (in His plan) has come and gone. He has kept me on a straight and narrow path, and opened doors for me that I never thought possible. He has blessed me with skills that I honed in the secular world but now use to serve Him.
Our God is a god of restoration. He has stripped me down to the point that all I had left was my life and some possessions, and as written in Joel 2:25-26, restored the years the locusts have eaten. The beautiful thing about the restoration is that none of it came until I accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior.
He is a God of protection. He is a God of provision. He is a God of restoration.
I’m not sure if Mark Knopfler is a Christian…but do believe that he had a point when he wrote:
“I wanna live on solid rock
I’m gonna live on solid rock
I wanna give I don’t wanna be blocked
I’m gonna live on solid rock”
The solid rock of a life in Jesus Christ.