This Older Song Writer’s Ultimate Goal

Hopefully, friends reading the title of this blog will pipe up and say, “You’re not old. At sixty-nine, you have many good years left.” I hope they’re right.

But my outlook on music has changed a lot since I started learning to play guitar during the “folk fad” of the 1960s. After moving away from Norfolk, Virginia, where I belonged to a trio, and becoming a soloist, I continued to take music seriously. Even more seriously than before.

I recall telling someone that I wanted to transfer from my junior college to West Virginia University because traditional folk expert Dr. Patrick Gainer–how many people’s names can you still recall fifty years later?–taught there. But I wanted to major in music.

I didn’t. Go to WVU or major in music. Instead, I majored in English at Frostburg State.

I’d written my first song as a theme song for the trio in Norfolk and I wrote a few more songs in the ensuing years. Folk was on its way out–or at least it was being replaced by “folk rock,” something I wasn’t interested in trying. So what was I to write and perform?

As a Christian, that question wasn’t hard to answer. I would write Christian songs and use them whenever and wherever I could. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to sing in prisons, nursing homes, migrant camps, and even churches. My own church and other churches as well.

I also wrote half a dozen or so musical dramas, four of which were performed one or more times.

Throughout the first twenty or thirty years of my song writing, I had several goals. I was realistic enough to know I would never become a popular, well-known Christian singer myself, but I very badly wanted some of my songs to get published and–who knows?–maybe some popular, well-known Christian singer would use one or more of them.

Do you remember the first Christian youth musical Good News? It was written and compiled by Bob Oldenburg and began an explosion of other youth musicals. I met Bob at the conference center where I was working one summer and actually got to do a couple of songs on closed circuit TV for the youth one week. Bob asked me to send him a copy of that music. He was getting ready to work on his second musical and thought he might be able to use one of my songs.


Unfortunately he wasn’t able to. That was just one of many disappointments in trying to get my songs into the hands of someone who saw their value and would make good use of them.

Years later, I chanced to correspond with someone who had a good publishing friend in Nashville. He had me send a CD–okay, I admit it, it was a cassette tape back then–and he forwarded it to his friend. Nothing came of it. Not even useful feedback. Or any kind of feedback at all.

I kept writing and singing wherever I could. I recorded many of my songs at home and gave cassette tapes to friends I thought were non-Christians. The funny things is I had a Jewish friend in Australia who shared those tapes with her American boss. No telling who ended up listening to some of my music.

In 1991 I went on my first mission trip, and I’ve been on numerous other trips since then–to Australia, England, Wales, Romania, and Nicaragua. And I’ve been able to use my music there.

Now I’m pretty much limited to two musical outlets: Singing in our church’s nursing home ministry. I have to give those old folks credit. They love my songs! The other is the youngest children’s choir at church. Their director periodically teaches them one of my songs and I play guitar for them to sing with in church.

I also post many of my recordings on my website,

But what is my ultimate goal? Other than pleasing God, Who I believe is the biggest fan of my songs.

Don’t laugh. Not where I can hear you, anyhow. I would love to have one song–I’m not greedy; one will do–published in the Baptist hymnbook. Or some other hymnbook or collection of songs that are going to be around for a while.

Like many other songs in collections like those, it might not get noticed by a large number of people, but at least it would be “out there” where God could lead the people He wants to use my song to find it.

That way it will become part of the legacy I leave behind.

What about you? Have you pursued a goal that’s slipped further and further away? Have you altered your goal and changed the way you’ve gone about pursuing it? How about sharing in a comment?


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Adoption: Nothing Like It

When I wrote about the similarities between my father and me this past Wednesday, I purposely omitted one important fact: I’m adopted. So those similarities have nothing to do with my adoptive father. Not knowing the identity of my birth parents or anything about them, not even their medical history, I can’t say which of my characteristics are like those of my birth father.

But that’s okay. This post isn’t about heredity vs. environment.  So let me move on.

Several days ago I was talking with an author friend who adopted a baby from China. When I say “from,” I’m being literal. As I understand it, she actually traveled to China to pick her baby-to-be up and bring her back to the States. She was raving to me about what a wonderful experience raising an adopted child was for her.

It’s no wonder she had this to say about adoption. “Adoption is a wonderful thing! Any child who was adopted can know that they were truly wanted.”

Of course she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. My adopted daughter, Kristi, will be twenty-nine this year, and she, her husband, her son, and her yet-to-be-born second son live way too far away in another state. But one of many things my adoptive parents did right was to rear me to be independent, and that’s a quality I gladly encouraged in Kristi.

My (now ex-) wife and I had never had any reason to think about adoption. Especially once she got pregnant. Beth’s birth in August of 1976 was a joyous time…until she died unexpectedly three days later. It turned out that her heart was not properly formed and the condition she had would normally have resulted in her death at birth. For whatever reason–most likely a gift from God–she didn’t. If you want to read what I wrote about that time in our lives, go here. But make sure you have a good supply of tissues nearby.

Debbie never got pregnant again, and it wasn’t for lack of effort. She even arranged to have microsurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital to correct what seemed the likely problem. That didn’t help.

Eight years later we found ourselves living in Richmond, Virginia. Still childless. We decided to adopt, even though we were all too familiar with the stories about how long it takes to get a baby. To the best of my knowledge, we never considered adopting a child or someone with known medical problems.

We learned of Kristi’s availability during November of 1987. She was six or seven months old at the time and had been living in a foster home. The adoption agency provided us with basic family medical info, but nothing more except her birth mother was an unmarried upper teen and she’d been born in Newport News. (Even now Kristi periodically calls or texts and asks, “Once more, where was I born?” Too funny.)

We fell in love with her instantly, although that red hair should’ve made us think twice about possible temperament problems. But that wouldn’t have stopped us even if it had made us apprehensive. We already loved her. Do you recall the Savage Garden song “I Loved You Before I Knew You”? Even though that’s a love song, it describes our feelings for Kristi perfectly.

For the greater part, Kristi was a wonderful child and has grown into a fine adult. One we’re quite proud of.

One thing her adoption did perfectly was to make her a pro-life advocate. How could it not have done that?  She knows that her birth mother loved her enough not to abort her…and enough to allow her to become the child of a couple who could provide her with the kind of family she herself could not have done.

We know other people who’ve adopted. Jenny and Athos, close friends who adopted while living in Brazil and have now become birth parents to a second son and are awaiting the birth of a girl now; Isaac, a former co-worker, and Alice, who somehow learned of a baby available for a private adoption. Jonathon and his wife, who made numerous trips to Africa to finalize the adoption, even though they already had two kids; a sweet couple at church. And my author friend.

Ask any of them. They’ll all tell you the same thing.  “Adoption? There’s nothing like it.”

What’s your take on adoption? How about sharing a comment?


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Best regards,

Like Father, Like Son

I don’t know how many sons see some of their fathers’ characteristics  in themselves, but I suspect some traits don’t show up until later in life. And when they do, it may take someone else’s observations to make a guy aware of them. Sometimes in ways we’d rather not be like our fathers.

My father was smart. Probably brilliant. He got a law degree from the College of William and Mary and practiced law several years before feeling the call to go back to school, get a seminary degree, and become a Christian minister.

I am reasonably intelligent, although I would never consider myself to be in his league. And I, too, have had multiple careers. Three professional careers prior to my retirement. And now four as a published author. And although I never felt called into the ministry, I share his love for missions and have been on a number of short term mission trips.

He loved reading and owned hundreds of books. Mostly Bibles and theology books of various kinds. I’m not nearly the bookworm he was–in fact, I tend to bog down when I try to read nonfiction–but I have quite a library of novels, many by authors I’ve met through the years.

He had musical talent. He enjoyed singing and participated in a community choir. That was one of his few non-church activities. And if the situation was sufficiently desperate, he could play the piano for hymn singing at the mid-week prayer service. But, the first to admit he was no musician, he did everything he could to avoid doing that. Having heard his piano playing, I understand why.

I seem to have done better in the music department. I’ve been playing guitar for over fifty years, writing my own songs, and singing and playing them. I’ve also been an amateur recording engineer, moving from a four-track analog recorder to an eight-track digital recorder over the years and using drum pads and keyboard sounds in my recordings, even though I would never claim to be a drummer or keyboardist. And I’ve been more outgoing in my desire to share my music with other people

He was no athlete. We were completely alike that way, although I did enjoy backyard baseball as a child. But my enjoyment didn’t make me good at it. I suspect we were pretty equal at preferring indoor activities to outdoors.

We shared a number of other qualities: shortness, baldheadedness, love of classical music, introversion, the bneed for hearing aids, a hatred of telephones… I could go on forev–

Huh? What do you mean I’m rambling just the way he did when he grew older? And telling some of the same stories over and over? You mean I’m like my father in those ways, too? Bite your tongue!

Are you especially like one of your parents? How about sharing in a comment?


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Who Are You? What Are You?

Meeting someone you didn’t know used to be simple. At its worst, it was a matter of extending your hand to a stranger and saying, “I don’t think I know you. I’m so-and-so. And you are…?” One of the smoother variations of asking, “Who are you?”

Only in the rarest of circumstances would a question like that result in an irritable or negative response. Uh, okay, maybe more often when teen boys who were anything but “hot” finally got up the nerve to try to meet the new girl and hope she hadn’t already met the real “hotties.”

I’m not really thinking of teens, however, but of full-fledged adults.

Especially if the meet-er and meet-ee were both men–and often if the meet-er was a woman–the “what are you?” question was a frequent follow up. “What do you do for a living?” or “I see you’re driving a Porsche. It would take me a lifetime to save for the insurance alone. You must work really hard. You, uh, …?”

Perhaps that second variation wasn’t the most subtle one, but it still served the purpose of acknowledging interest in the other person’s occupation. Along with showing a little friendly jealousy. At least the well-practiced man would attempt to make it sound friendly.

It’s not surprising that men often asked one another a question like that. Then, as now, they not only took pride in their jobs–or at least in their ability to provide for their families–they were apt to think of themselves as being what they do. I must admit I still prefer thinking of myself as a published novelist rather than a bald-headed sixty-nine-year-old man. And I especially prefer saying, “I’m a novelist” to “I’m retired.”

I started this post by implying that these introductory practices might belong to the past. The “Who are you?” is probably still safe, but the “What are you?” might result in unexpected answers. Especially t if asked that bluntly.

Let me explain.

Years ago while working in a state job service office, I noticed someone sitting in the waiting area. This person wore jeans, a very loose-fitting flannel shirt, and a short haircut. The overall appearance was that of someone who had lived a hard life and probably needed a job badly.

How I prayed that I wouldn’t have to be the one to process this person. Before learning that she was a woman–at least in theory–I could’ve flipped a coin just as successfully as try to determine her gender from her features.  She didn’t have the first distinguishing gender characteristic. Not any sign of a woman’s figure or a woman’s face. Or a woman’s mannerisms.

And yet she didn’t look like a man, either. Her appearance was utterly neutral. I thanked God that day that I didn’t have to ask her what she was.

Sure, that was an isolated incident, and it took place many years ago.

But let me share something a little more relevant. I was the editor of the store newsletter where I was working, and a particular young lady had written an article she wanted me to publish. The best I can recall, it was on tolerance in the workplace. I thought it worthy enough and well written, but she shocked me when she expressed doubt that it would be well received by her co-workers. I didn’t ask why, and apparently she thought I understood.

Not until months later did someone tell me this young lady was a lesbian. Although I was shocked, part of my reaction–I only thought this–was something like “what a shame for some nice man not to have any chance of romance with a nice, attractive gal like her.”

I’d never had a reason to ask what she was, nor would I have done so.

But now that so many people have come out of a very crowded closet and have gained wide acceptance except among conservative Christians like me, I’m doubly thankful I’m a happily married man. I’d hate to think I’d have to ask a woman what she was before daring to ask her out. And whether she’d always been what she was now.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.


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More on “Snow Is Beautiful, But…”

While in junior college, I was living in Cumberland, Maryland. A very snowy place. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet–that’s a story for another time–and frequently mooched rides with friends and girls I wished were girlfriends.

I’ll never forget the night–I don’t recall the time, but the fact this event took place at night is important–when I was riding back from somewhere to my parents’ house. Keith’s car was slipping all over the street, but it wasn’t until I said something about it that he admitted he liked to make his car slide on snow and ice. I grant you he had his car as perfectly under control as anyone could under those circumstances, but I never rode with him again in bad weather.

I don’t know if he’s still alive or not.

No, that’s not the snow story I told you on Sunday that I would talk about today. But it should help to give you a better understanding of just how cautious I feel when the roads are snowy and/or icy. Fortunately, Kathleen agrees totally.

Here’s the the way the story has worked out.

Kathleen’s father had been in bad health for a number of years. Although he was a likable fellow when she and I married twelve years ago, he had become a grumpier and grumpier old man, plagued by pain and easily irritated.

We knew that J. A.’s  (he only has initials and goes by “JA” as if his name was “Jay”) health was declining and my mother-in-law, Anna, felt the end was getting close. Although as a former nurse she had a good understanding of health issues, she didn’t have a God’s-eye-view of JA’s actual condition, though. When he suffered a stroke in November, his problems proved more complex than the stroke itself.

Although he was soon moved from the hospital to a rehab facility, he didn’t make any effort to cooperate with the therapists. He seemed to have given up. With the encouragement of the doctors, who agreed with Anna that JA would die soon, she moved him to a hospice location.

Although he survived Christmas, he continued to decline.

Kathleen had already planned a trip to visit her mom near the end of January, and her plane tickets were unchangeable.  We were in a real quandary. We had always intended to drive to Memphis when the time came, but a major snow storm was expected this past Friday.

JA passed away away early last Thursday morning. We’d thought maybe we could still drive if we got away from the east coast that day, but we learned that Memphis was already getting bad weather. We wouldn’t be able to drive until this past Monday at the earliest.

But Kathleen was still scheduled to fly out today. Rather than make me face the possibility of driving the whole way back by myself, we thought the best solution was for her to go ahead and fly, extend her stay, and pay the $200 fee to reschedule her return flight. Fortunately, a very understanding Delta agent didn’t charge her for the change.

No, this snow wasn’t convenient. Although it necessitated quite a change in our plans, we believe things have worked out for the best. But it sure had us making and remaking tentative plans until JA’s actual death permitted us to make the final decision.

I promise to let the subject of snow thaw out and evaporate now.

Do you have a story of a time when snow or some other weather problem has changed your plans drastically? How about leaving a comment?


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Snow Is Beautiful, But…

I love to watch snow falling, especially when the flakes are nice and big. I’ve written previously about how I used to walk in the snow during college to buy a slice or two of pizza and eat it while walking back to my rooming house. Ever since then, eating pizza on snowy days has become a tradition.

But I’m the first to admit that snow isn’t always convenient.

I’ll never forget the Christmas my first wife and I were driving to visit her family in Illinois and stopped overnight at my parents’ house in Cumberland, Maryland. I don’t recall whether it snowed any before we got there or not, but it literally “snowed up a storm” that night.

The snow wouldn’t have been such a problem if we hadn’t received a call that night that Debbie’s grandfather had been killed in a tractor accident that day. But when we left the next morning, burdened by shock and grief, we found the road to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where we were to catch the turnpike, to be so impossible to drive–it took more than an hour to drive twenty miles–that we had little choice but to return to my parents’ house. The weather didn’t let up for several days, and–by no fault of ours–we couldn’t get to Illinois in time for the funeral.

That snowfall might have been beautiful from inside, but…

Another time when we were on our way to Illinois, this time for my former sister-in-law’s wedding, we again ran into snow. A very blinding snow. I have two very specific memories of that trip.

The first was of the interstate when it was so covered that we couldn’t even see the surface of the road. And there were no tracks to follow. We soon learned they’d already closed the interstate. Fortunately, we were right at an exit and the nearby Holiday Inn  had a room. Staying there two nights until the highway reopened wasn’t in the family budget, but we didn’t have any choice. I’ll never play Uno without thinking about the hours we spent there.

The other memory was of the strangest eighteen wheeler accident imaginable. You know how underpasses have support columns and then are apt to angle uphill at what I’d guess to be a thirty-to-forty-five degree angle from the roadway itself? Well, we passed a tractor trailer that had somehow slid and gotten wedged between a support column and the adjacent hillside.

We made it in plenty of time for the wedding, but still encountered snowy conditions that forced us to make a few strategic detours when we got close to our destination.

Beautiful snow, but…

I have another snow story to relate, but I think I’ll save it for Wednesday. Since the blizzard didn’t start until several days after I wrote this post, some of the story hadn’t happened yet.

What about you? How has weather–snow, rain, or whatever–affected you at times? How about sharing a comment?


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Life Matters–All Life

While I thoroughly agree with those who say that “black lives matter,” I prefer to take it one step further. A gigantic one. ALL LIFE MATTERS.

God is the giver of life, and He loves each of His human beings. Everyone is His favorite. He loves you as much as He loves me, and He loves me as much as He loves you. He loves the members of every race and nation equally. He even loves the world’s worst sinners as much as He loves His own Son. Some of you may disagree with that point, and I don’t blame you. But why would God the Father have sacrificed Jesus the Son for our sins if He didn’t love His human beings as much as John 3:16 says so beautifully:

“God loved the world so much that He gave up His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Bruner “translation”)

Let’s take those ideas a step further. He also loves the unborn child as much as He loves the newborn. And He loves the baby–I refuse to place less importance on the unborn by saying “fetus”–who’s been cruelly aborted as much as he does the old person who dies of “natural causes.”

He created us all, and He made us all to be the people we’ve become and have yet to finish becoming.

Hmm. Those of us who weren’t murdered prior to birth, that is.

I don’t know the circumstances of my adoption, but I’m sure I could’ve been aborted if circumstances had permitted; but abortion wasn’t as readily available or as widely accepted in 1946. And my daughter, born to a single upper teen in 1987, could have been far more easily aborted.

People may not look at my daughter and me and question what the world would’ve been like had we not been born. It’s not something I think about, either. But I want to believe that our lives have made a difference to the people who’ve known us and sometimes even to people we don’t even realize our lives have touched.

I’ve read far too many times that America began its drastic decline with the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion and the subsequent “sexual revolution,” which in turn brought about the need for increasingly more drastic forms of birth control.  I can’t argue with that opinion.

For thousands of years, the Bible has been the standard of human behavior. “Do not commit adultery” just as easily translates to “Do not commit any form of sexual sin,” heterosexual or homosexual. And “Do not commit murder” applies just as validly to murder of the unborn, who are alive and human from the moment of conception.

I’m afraid history books of the future will look back on the current era as the time time when biblical standards were totally dismissed as old-fashioned and inapplicable. Not to mention “inconvenient.”

But maybe it’s not too late. Let those of us who still believe in biblical standards “step up to the microphone” and make our voices heard. Without regard to the intolerance of those who oppose us.

Taking a stand isn’t always easy. But are you on my side? Can you say with me, “All life matters”? How about leaving a comment?


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