Matthew 11:28-30 - Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Joshua 24:15 -
Choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Musical Hero(es)

Those of you who know me know I love music.  Listening, playing, singing music is all good to me.  I've enjoyed most styles of music at one time or another in my life, but for the last 16 or so years, Christian music (some contemporary, some traditional) has been the main focus.  There is just nothing like a song whose melody and lyrics lift us up to God or place us in his presence.  Once you have listened to this kind of music, other styles sound like a pale imitation of something real.

When something touches your heart at its deepest levels, you want to share it with those around you.  For that reason I'd like to share with you about my favorite singer, songwriter and performer bar none, Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC).

With his 56 Dove Awards, 5 Grammy’s, 1 American Music Award, 16 studio projects, and 45 career number 1 radio singles, SCC is hardly a big secret of mine or anything, but I'm always amazed how many people I meet have not heard of him or listened to his music.  If you are wondering what possessed me to write this today, we saw Steven and a lot of his family in a very special concert night recently, but more on that later.  Let me start with the introductions.

He is a singer, songwriter, plays mostly guitar but does some fine keyboards as well.  Born in Paducah, Kentucky, he currently hails from Franklin, TN and the Nashville area.

The picture to the left (one of my favorites of SCC) I believe is from the sessions for an awesome acoustic album he recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, former home to the Beatles.  How cool is that!

He and his wife Mary Beth were both born roughly in the mid-60s, around the same time as my wife and I.  They have three biological children and have adopted three times the same as we will soon have if all goes well.  Although they are roughly our ages they were married a good bit before us, so as we approach any milestone in life, we find the Chapman's have recently been there before and usually have some wisdom to share through their story and music.  Steven is a very gifted preacher and story teller, and has a way of sharing sacred scripture that is both accessible and memorable.

As far as those life milestones go, Patty and I saw Steven on tour the first year we were married when we were expecting our first child.  It was in Worcester, MA with the Newboys on the "Heaven in the Real World" tour.  The child we were expecting during that concert turned out to be our son Caleb, somewhat coincidentally the same name as the Chapman's oldest son (2nd child) Caleb.  It would be about 10 years before I would have a chance to see SCC live again.

In the intervening 10 years our family would grow from three to six members, two more by birth, one by adoption.  The Chapmans adopted a little girl from China.  We adopted our little Gabriela from Guatemala. Once again they were one step ahead of us leading the way.  Never ones to do things halfway, the Chapmans established an orphan ministry called show Hope after their first adopted daughter Shaohannah.

While we were busy with our first adoption and raising our new baby girl and other three children we lost track of the Chapmans, while continuing to listen to his music all the time.  The next thing you know we heard the wonderful news that the Chapman's had adopted not once more, but twice more, and were now the proud parents of three little girls from China.  This did not seem the typical family story of a super affluent Nashville family.  We were pretty impressed.

In 2005, I saw him live in Albany, NY with my two oldest children on the "All Things New" tour with Casting Crowns and Chris Tomlin.  I had never heard of either artist before that night, but Steven introduced me through that concert to what would become two of my other favorite Christian groups/musicans over the next 6 years.  Sure enough during the concert that night Steven shared a video and lots of stories about their three little princesses back at home.

Life rolled along for the Lococo family. In May of 2008 we heard with shock and horror that the Chapman's youngest daughter Maria Sue had passed away in a tragic accident in the family's driveway.  Our hearts grieved for this family and the little girl they loved so much that they sought her out to bring her home from the other side of the world.
Maria Sue Chapman Memorial

Like many around the world interested in their music or adoption ministries, we prayed for the Chapmans.  Around the same time we began to feel called to adopt again.  The story of our second and third adoptions (last one still in progress) are covered in more detail on our adoption blog "Hope for Every Child".  As we pursued that second adoption we waited to see how God would work in the Chapman's lives following this sad, sad event.  We didn't have to wait for long.

Within the year after Maria's death, Steven somehow found the grace to write again, and begin to process all they were going through.  He created a set of simple, raw, beautiful songs to describe the process that would ultimately become the recording "Beauty Will Rise".

Steven's good friend Michael W. Smith offered to create a joint tour titled simply "United" where they could go on the road together and try to begin a return to normalcy (in a professional musician's interpretation of that word).  Amazingly the show came to the wonderful Palace Theater in Albany, NY near us, so we got to see the show.  In an added treat, Steven's boys Caleb and Will Franklin, were traveling with him to learn the music business.  Caleb played backup guitar for the band and did really well!  The night was truly one of the best concerts of my life, with outstanding contributions from both the SCC and MWS camps present.  The amount of hope and strength exhibited by the Chapmans despite what they had been through was nothing short of inspiring.

It is in times such as these that you see if a person's faith is real or make believe.  Steven once again used every bit of his faith, speaking and writing abilities and musicianship to tackle this situation head on and search out his Father's will in it.

This concert was around November and we were in the middle of the process to bring home our son Addisu from Ethiopia the following June.  It was a beacon of light and hope to us during this process. 

That beacon ended up being much needed because the following Easter our entire Ethiopian adoption dossier was lost in transit to the orphanage.  Anyone who has ever prepared an adoption dossier knows this is not a small deal.  We actually got to see Steven and the boys twice during that adoption.  They came back even closer to our home to a nearby church in Poughkeepsie, NY in June 2009 shortly before I left for Ethiopia.  Seeing the fine musician's both  Caleb and Will were growing into was refreshing.  They were joined by Steven's good friend Geoff Moore for some good times during the evening as well.

Which brings us up to today. We are nearing the end of our third adoption as I said before.  The Chapmans and Show Hope have completed building a wonderful facility in China for special needs orphans called Maria's Big House of Hope.

And once again the Chapman's came to visit us.  This time for the "Night with the Chapman's" tour.  It was a wonderful chance to see the boys new band "Caleb", see Steve playing his new custom/signature model Taylor guitar, and hear Mary Beth's side of the story.

Two years after the tragedy the family seems to be doing really well.  Their work in orphan ministry and proclaiming the Gospel continues, and for now that is enough.  They know Maria is safe in her saviour's arms and they will be with her again in God's time.

Musically the performances were outstanding, and the boys proved their band can stand on its own with fresh, compelling, original songs of their own.  They still backed up Steven for his set and did a great job at that.  And Mary Beth got to poke some fun at SCC in a way that only a wife can.

So, what does this saga of adoption, family and Christian music mean, and why did I bother writing it?  I think it means, when you put yourself in he middle of God's plan and engage yourself in his work, wonderful things will happen.  Sad things will also happen, but you will be able to bear them, and even turn them for good.  It means we are all kind of the same regardless of if we live in Nashville or New York, are famous or regular, because we are all made is His image ultimately.

Thank you Steven and Mary Beth for your witness.  Caleb and Will Franklin - keep on doing your thing - you are on your way!  We love you all.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Keep It Simple Silly

Do you ever find yourself making the simple complex unintentionally?

Do you ever find yourself wondering what to do next when the answer is as plain as day before your eyes?

Do you sometimes find yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about, causing you to miss doing the thing that is needed right in front of you?

I must confess I struggle with all these things at times.  Ok - probably even frequently.

Like today.  It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  I happen to be near New York City today, and thinking of what happened there 9 years ago on the fateful and sad day of September 11th.  What can I do about all the sadness and strife in the world?

Then I read the prescribed (Lectionary) readings for today from Holy Scripture.  I just love the Psalms.  There is so much wisdom in them.  Today's verse from Psalm 116 says:
12 How can I repay the LORD
       for all his goodness to me?
 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
       and call on the name of the LORD.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
       and call on the name of the LORD.   
18 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
       in the presence of all his people
or as one translation says "I will offer a sacrifice of praise"!

There it is.  A question, and the answer, right in front of my face.

Thank you Lord.  Thank you for this day, for my family, for our freedom and each breath that I take.

Let us never take your gifts for granted.  Let us never fail to serve you and our neighbor.

Guide us in the paths of righteousness all our days.  Amen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cathedrals of Light

I have always loved churches.  The architecture, the artwork, their choir lofts and pipe organs.  The way they reach to the heavens and honor God by their very existence and the blood, sweat and resources invested by their builders.  I love to take and look at pictures of churches.  In fact, I have a collage of such photos posted to the web.  The cover photo for this album is a church I attended in Kingsworthy, England as a young boy.

This collage album has other church's of significance from my life.  Where we were married.  Our first church as a couple away from home.  The church where our firstborn received his first communion.  You get the idea.

Here is an album of our mostly renovated parish church, St. Peter's in Kingston, NY.

This church is part of a convent where my grandmother once studied.

Which brings us up to today. We were in the New York state capital of Albany doing some paperwork for an upcoming adoption and saw this beautiful cathedral.

Hope you enjoyed this little whirlwind tour through sacred architecture.  While God is everywhere and we can and should talk to him wherever we are, a proper church can give us a glimpse of what eternal worship will look like on the other side of life's veil.  Next time you drive past a church, stop and take a look inside.  God may have a message there just for you.