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The Sun Sets on the Bethlehem Skyline

December 16, 2008

File-7Last night we wrapped up the Bethlehem Skyline tour in my neck of the woods, North MankatoMN.  Taya and I usually keep our music/ministry lives and home lives separate (it’s one of the reasons why we haven’t moved to Nashville yet) so it was a little surreal to have the tour bus pull up in front of our house yesterday morning in our sleepy little town.  We spend about half the year in Nashville and we’re always mooching off of people to feed us and let us stay at their homes, so it was a great joy for us to get to practice some hospitality and make breakfast for some of our dearest friends in our own home.  

It was a full house!  Having to make enough eggs to feed 13 of us brought me back to my short order cook days.  It was a sweet moment when it got quiet and we said grace while Sufjan Steven’s Christmas records were playing in the background.  Here in our dining room were friends who have become as close as family for all the life we’ve shared together. We often talk with other artists about how though our vocation provides little in terms of financial security, we are rich with experiences and a wonderful cast of characters who populate the story of our lives.  I was reminded again of this as we all crammed around our little dining room table laughing and sharing stories.  For Taya and I this moment was the highlight of the tour. 

After a bumpy start with cramming four rehearsal days into one, then losing our drummer/road manager on the first night of the tour due to his wife going into labor 3 weeks early, and then a few really challenging dates that were booked too late to get the right kind of promotion needed, the tour continued to grow, change, and develop into something quite special.  Like the young couple making their way to Bethlehem, we ventured out looking for our own Bethlehem Skyline, reaching, finding our way in the dark, and finally by the end of it arriving at the manger.

As we found our way, it seems like the tour found it’s way, too, with each date of the 2nd leg being richer than the one before.  We were blessed to see old friends and a packed house on Saturday in MI though we didn’t expect anyone to be there due to a very high profile Christmas tour playing the same night only 20 minutes away.  In WI, I got to surprise Taya on our 17th anniversary (we got married in the 4th grade, because we are neither of us that old 🙂 with flowers and by serenading her with the first song I ever played for her:

“Even though we ain’t got money
I’m so in love with you honey
And everything will bring a chain of love…”

And then I tagged one of our favorite songs of all time on the end of it:

“In a land there’s a town
In a town there’s a house
And in that house there’s a woman
And in that woman is a heart I love
I’m gonna take it with me when I go…”

I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong over the years, but this moment I got it right and was surprised to find that there was hardly a dry eye in the house, including mine and Taya’s..  I’m not gonna lie, I looked like a superstar husband in that moment ;-).  Of course she deserves it and the true test of my love is not whether I can sing her a song while hundreds of people are watching but whether or not I’ll do the dishes for her when no one is watching.

We then wrapped up the tour by coming to Mankato and playing for the church where I first performed publicly.  It was 19 years ago when my youth pastor, Dave Flavin, talked me into singing with him on a song he wrote for that year’s Christmas concert.  It was a sweet moment to see his investment in me come full circle as all these years later I returned to sing my own Christmas songs.  It was our biggest show and a wonderful way to end the tour.  I was so proud when I stood in the back of the sanctuary and saw my Nashville friends bless my hometown friends, and also proud of how my hometown friends made my Nashville friends feel so loved and welcomed.  

The highlight of the night was when I was comparing the songs we’ve written with the homemade gifts you sometimes get for Christmas, of which one of my personal favorites is the macaroni necklace I received recently.  “I made that!” came a little voice from the audience, “it’s me, Gus.”  As you can imagine, it got a good laugh.

As great as the tour was, though, I’m grateful to be home with my boys and am doing my best to take a little time off for the next couple of weeks to prepare to receive the Christ child.

One of the things I spoke about every night at the end of the concert was about how we are told that the Magi came with gold, frankincense, and myrrh – which is to say that they brought their best.  And Jesus deserves our best, to be sure.  He is worthy.  But what is most remarkable about Jesus is that he also takes our worst – the worst that we are in all our pride, pettiness, and selfishness as well as the worst that has happened to us, that has hurt us and left a mark, all the wounds that have made us older than our years.

Maybe of all Christmas miracles none is so precious as the hope that Christ is able to take all of these things and use them to sanctify and redeem us.  In any case, it is a season pregnant with wonder.  We often think of Christmas as a holiday for children, and in a way this is true. The manger is after all an invitation for us to come as the Magi did to lay our best, our worst, and the worst that the world has done to us at the foot of the manger throne and let the Christ who came as a child  make us childlike again.

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