Check That Off the Bucket List! (First of two installments)

This blog was written on June 23, 2013.  I felt like there was something “unfinished” about it, and so I never posted it.  Little did I know that the “unfinished” part had little to do with the writing, and ALL to do with the fact that (unknown to me in the summer of 2013) the story was not yet over.

I would like to think I am not star-struck.  Here are some “famous” people I have met.

When I was maybe eight or nine my dad was instrumental in organizing a telethon for Cerebral Palsy that was produced in Nashville, and I went with him to the airport to pick up Jayne Mansfield and Ed Ames (Mingo on “Daniel Boone” at the time).  To show how young I was, I was a whole lot more excited about being in the car with “Mingo” than I was being in the car with a glamorous movie star!  When I was in fifth grade I played guitar and sang “Green, Green,” on my elementary school stage at a talent show, and Nashville session picker, Harold Bradley, played backup for me.

Steve Shaw and Burt Reynolds in W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings

Burt Reynolds (R) and Nashvillian Steve Shaw (L) on the set of “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings” in the early 1970’s

While in high school I watched a scene from a Burt Reynolds movie being filmed in Nashville (my cousin was a stunt double and stand in for Reynolds), and I met Burt.

During my few years in the music and publishing business I worked with Bill and Gloria Gaither, B. J. Thomas (Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head), Jeannie C. Riley (Harper Valley PTA), legendary football quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach, and I was invited to the White House for an “All Day Singing and Dinner on the Grounds” with President Jimmy Carter and met him and Rosalyn.

I palled around with comedian Jerry Lewis for about three days while he was acting in a commercial that was being filmed at a sound stage I worked at in Dallas, Texas.  I worked on an Amy Grant music video.  I was on the production crew and the scene (Angels Watching Over Me) involved her almost being run over by a car.  The “prop” car was a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and it was a straight shift. I was the only one on the set that knew how to drive a straight shift so I was tagged with the task of trying to run over Amy Grant (look for the video on Youtube).

When my wife, Leann, was singing backup for Opry Star, “Whisperin’ Bill Anderson,” I sat by Reba McIntyre (before she was particularly famous) on the stage watching the Opry, and had a nice conversation with an “up and comer.”  I was in a couple of charitable organization committee meetings with Minnie Pearl.  I sat by Michael Johnson (Bluer than Blue) at the Nashville Symphony one night.

Of all of those people – some of them famous in their particular context, but some of them internationally famous – I think the only autograph I have is Roger Staubach’s.  His autograph is inside a book that he wrote which was published back in the early 1980’s.  I was given thirty minutes in his office to meet with him and interview him for a radio show.  The producer and I talked about what “amateurs” we would come off as if we asked for an autograph when we got through with the interview.  I told the producer I didn’t give a flip.  Staubach was my boyhood hero of my favorite pro football team and I wasn’t ever going to see him again anyway!Matt and Gene Stallings

There are two other famous people I have met, and those were both because of Matt.  Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach, Gene Stallings, and Brad Paisley.  Leann and I took Matt to a local speaking engagement of Coach Stallings, and our copy of the book he had written about his son, Johnny, also with Down syndrome.  Matt was probably three years old.  We hoped to get Coach Stallings to sign the book and sure enough, after the presentation they had a book signing.  We stood in line and when we got in front of Coach Stallings he looked up, took one look at Matt, put his Sharpie down and reached for our sweet son.  Coach Stallings acted like the other fifty people behind us weren’t even there, and took very special time talking to Leann and I and encouraging us.  I’ve never been much of an Alabama Crimson Tide fan.  But that encounter changed all that!

A couple yearMatt and Brad Paisleys ago we were able to get tickets to a Brad Paisley concert – Matt had talked non-stop about him for a year or two before that.  Matt knew practically every word to every song that Brad sang.  A friend arranged to get us backstage after the show and we got to spend about ten minutes with a super star.  Brad’s person had put us at the end of the line on purpose.  We had to wait a while to see him, but once we got there no one else was behind us waiting to see him so we had a wonderful, comfortable, casual visit.

It is to that Brad Paisley experience with Matt that I can credit getting a “picture with…” of my own (Hey! If he’s brave enough to do it can’t I?), and, at the same time, marking something off my bucket list – getting to meet an amazing writer, picker, and performer.

There are really just a few “famous” people that, if given the opportunity, I would be thrilled to have an hour or two in their presence. One of those people is Nashville singer/songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman.  I have been listening to her music for about twenty years.  You may have never heard her sing, and you may have never heard of her.  But I bet you have heard one or more of the songs she has written: Martina McBride’s “Happy Girl,” and if you haven’t heard Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” you have been under a rock somewhere! What has always moved me about Beth’s writing is that she is not afraid to write truthfully out of challenging circumstances in her own life.  She writes about faith, hope, and love, by speaking the truth to doubt, disappointment and loss.  Out of her powerful lyrics and beautiful melodies come a more relevant story for many of us whose lives have been full of surprises – some of them disappointing and difficult.  It seems that across the past twenty years every time I was struggling with something going on around me I have discovered some CD of Beth’s that I had not heard before and as soon as I listened to it there was a song whose words and melody spoke deeply and truthfully to me.  (If you don’t believe me try the CD’s “Sand and Water” and “Back to Love” and if you are not deeply moved by at least one song on each CD….well, you just have a heart of stone!).

Beth Nielsen Chapman is one of those artists who is in Nashville on a pretty regular basis singing for a “writer’s night,” or some concert raising funds for something.  So it is not like she’s not accessible, but it seems that every time I have been aware of her singing live somewhere I find out about it too late to get tickets, or they are too expensive, or I’m booked doing something of my own.  For years I have wanted the opportunity to meet her and be able to tell her what her music has meant to me.

This past May (2013) I attended a continuing education event for preachers: “The Festival of Homiletics.”  In addition to preachers, theologians and other experts in the field of preaching lecturing and delivering sermons, there was a concert to open the event.  Beth Nielsen Chapman and Ashley Cleveland (another Nashville singer/songwriter) were the artists who would perform.  After the concert, a worship service, and a lecture, Beth and Ashley were hanging out selling their CD’s.

If you remember my long list of famous people and my short list of autographs, you might figure I just don’t care about autographs.  While I don’t particularly place a huge significance on them, the main reason I don’t have more is just that notion to not want to “bother” people that I know get asked all the time – get interrupted in the middle of dinner – and who get put on the spot in public because they are famous.  With Beth Nielsen Chapman it wasn’t so much the autograph, as it was the opportunity to have even a brief conversation with her.  I bought four CD’s that I already had and asked her to autograph them…only so I could have an extra ten seconds to tell her, “Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!.”  And I did.

Over the next few days (of the Festival of Homiletics), Beth and Ashley would sing a song or two for the small-group-breakout sessions and be present to sell their CD’s and so I happened upon Beth’s CD table at a time when most people were in sessions and so it was slow and I didn’t feel too “imposing” to ask if she would mind taking a “selfie” with me (mostly so I could prove to my wife and daughter’s that I actually met my hero!). She was kind enough to let me get our photo together.  I was not at all surprised.  But I think I must admit, after all, I really am just a bit star-struck!

Beth Nielsen Chapman To be continued….


What he didn’t say…..

What he didn’t say….

Twenty two years ago today I stood in the hallway at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, in great sorrow.  Earlier in the afternoon Leann and I were informed at a three-times-weekly ultrasound that our daughter, Gretchen, had died before she was born.  Her twin sister, Lindsay, would be delivered by C-Section and had a tentative start at life, but celebrated her 22nd birthday today as a recent college graduate – healthy, beautiful, ready to make her own mark in the world.

My friend, Joe Walker, showed up after he heard the news.  I remember we stood there in silence.  I remember thinking how I could not imagine being him right now…what could I possibly say to somebody in this dark and sorrowful reality?  He said nothing.  He did just what he was supposed to do.  He was there – present with me at a time when that is really what I needed more than anything.  Just somebody to be present.  So I post this poem I wrote about ten years later remembering that very hard day.

The premise set forth in the title comes from the notion of the famous person that is proclaimed to have done something important some place(IE: “Washington slept here.”)

God Wept Here

If God wept everywhere they say he did,
he would be a God of a river of tears.

I stood in silence
waiting on my bride
but not with a crowd,
not to walk down the aisle,
not to stand beside her
making promises
that would carry us through the years.

A light blue hospital hall,
a wall painted with hope
where sometimes there is none,
and a man,
my friend,
just an ordinary Joe
with his head bowed
and no words to say,
a good thing because
God cannot speak
at a time like this;
God can only weep.

The nurse calls me in,
my double pregnant wife
flat backed down,
the bridal gown traded
for a blue paper tent
draped from her chin
and poled pup-tent like
before her knees,
as if we need to
what is going on behind that wall
to be frightened
by this scene from our wonderful life.

The nurse seats me
by the sad bed
head bowed, elbows on knees,
leaning my face almost
to a mother’s shoulder
where our babies should be.
The mother reaches her ringless hand
for my inadequate help,
for wordless silent prayer
bathed in tears.

A human font of baptismal water
and wine-colored blood will flow
from the ballooned stomach
when they cut the bulging chrysalis
and open the grave
where our baby girls now lay.

One will be exhumed
for me to hold and sing
a final lullaby,
the other to open her wings,
receive the breath of life
from the weeping God,
salted soft wind breath
breathed into virgin lungs
that provide virgin birth
all over again.

And Joe still stands outside
or has Jesus taken his place
with a face like my friend?

“God wept here,”

the mental memorial reads
that I hung in the blue hall
with walls I still lean against
when I see my friend,
when I see God.

Matt Steinhauer – April 25, 2001



What She Said…

If you go back and look at my (Facebook) timeline it is only occasionally that I have much to say. I hope that is because every week I spend lots of hours listening, reflecting and unpacking what I think God wants me to say in a few minutes on Sunday morning to those good people who have made the effort to come listen. My Lindsay, who will celebrate her 22nd Birthday next week, has discovered something every pastor wishes every person that ever asked: “Where is God” would discover….and believe….and hold on to when it just seems like there is nothing else to hold on to. So thank you Lindsay for giving me something to share that you said worth saying today and everyday on Facebook and everywhere else in the world. I love you!
Here is what Lindsay wrote on her Facebook post:

Well THIS is pretty crazy. I know that we live in a society where people are always wanting something more or something better. I struggle with this too, and it’s also been really tough since I don’t have a job right now, and well, I kinda thought that almost 4 months after graduating that I’d already be making my own money in the “real world”. So I was doing my bible study and had turned to Hebrews 12 for that. I stopped doing my bible study and felt that I needed to pray to be content with where I am in my life right now and with what God has given me, and to stop always wanting something else. I glance down and my bible study book was covering my whole bible except for Hebrews 13:5 which is “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Real funny God, thanks for always showing me that you know a little bit more than I do about life!! 🙂

Something’s going on here!

In August of 1990, I wrote the first pages of a journal that stuck.  Like many people, I had made numerous attempts at writing my thoughts and feelings and after a week (or less) never wrote again.  But this time I kept writing.  Having something very deep and dear to write about: my wife’s very complicated twin pregnancy, that less than a month from the beginning of my journaling would end with the death of my daughter, Gretchen – before she was born – and the birth and tentative start of my now 20 something year old daughter, Lindsay, has a way of keeping the story going.  I continued to write in my journal faithfully.  I continued to record my story as our third child, Matt, was born and surprised us with raising a son with Down syndrome.

In the fall of 2000, while enrolled at Belmont University in Nashville, to complete my Bachelor degree, I took a class titled: “Telling Stories – Experiencing Life.”  Through the process of writing essays, coloring pictures, telling stories to one another, I realized and confessed aloud that I was a writer.  It didn’t matter if I sold insurance for a living (what I was doing at the time), or serving as a Lutheran pastor (what I had really wanted to do since I was a child…and what I do now), I was born and wired to write.

And so in the spring of 2003 I worked my way out of a 20 year insurance career, took a year of sabbatical and began work on a book.  A year later I took a staff position at my home congregation as Director of Christian Education and Family Life, and in the summer of 2007 began the candidacy process to become a Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, being ordained on January 3, 2011.

Needless to say the book took a back seat to all my life and career changes.  The work I have done – most of it nine years ago – has sat under lock and key since then.

A long story in a short version…

I seem to get “messages” in three’s.  That has happened in the last week (I will tell that story later).  It is time to write.  I don’t even think there was such a thing as a blog when I was writing before (at least not one that I could manage).  So here I go.

For those of you who are going with me, I covet your prayers and conversations and comments along the way.  You are free to be honest as long as you are not mean.  I sold insurance for 20 years so, trust me, I’ve heard most anything that could be said about me that might hurt my feelings.  However, until you are paying for what I am selling, I am not obliged just to take it laying down!!

Let the writing begin!

Matt Steinhauer