Who I Am

Who I Am

My Facebook friends might recognize this photo from a post from this summer. My daughter, Kerra, and her family were visiting when then four- year-old Emaline made her singing debut at Grandaddy’s church. “Amazing Grace”–and it was a sweet sound indeed!

Just a few weeks ago I came across the printed version of this image and when I held it in my hands I was struck by two things: I am a tactile person and holding the photograph to look and reflect on the moment it was taken gave me a whole different perspective than just looking at the same photograph on a screen; and wow, how this picture tells the story of who I am.

Certainly there is more to me than a man in ecclesial vestments, clutching a guitar and a precious grandchild. Indeed! But those three things, drawn together in one place, go as far as I can imagine to speak to the deepest, truest and best me.

There is that little girl.

She is my first grandchild and my first granddaughter. She was the first to award me with the title I coveted so–first owned by my own grandfather, who I knew and loved for thirty seven of his ninety two years. It took her two iterations: “Da-da-daddy,” and “Gran-daggly” before she finally got to “Grandaddy.” [I must admit, “Gran-daggly” sure made me smile!]

Emaline stands in this photo to represent the family that I love so. As long as I can remember, I have been loved and have loved lots and lots of people that I am related to by blood, or by being married into the messiness that is sometimes known as “family.” I would not trade all of your good family memories for all of my hard ones if it meant giving up my family. I love them warts and all.

There are those fancy robes.

The green chasuble was handmade by women of my congregation. The wooden pectoral cross was hand-carved by a dear man from my congregation from local cedar. Under the chasuble I wear a pastor’s stole that was given me when I was ordained. The vestments are all symbols of what I do on Sunday mornings. But they don’t begin to speak to the honor, the joy, and the privilege of wearing them.

When I was on Sabbatical in the summer of 2018 I came to the conclusion that the book I hoped to write would still have to wait. I would not beat myself up over that unfinished and important (to me) work. I remembered that I wrestle with words for a room full of people every week. It is obviously God’s Word first, and then I listen and pray and do my best to make a connection between that Holy word and the Holy happenings of everyday life, where sometimes we notice God showing up and sometimes–to be quite honest–we wonder where God might be hiding? At the end of my Sabbatical I came to this conclusion:

I see myself as the “writer in residence“ at Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Lebanon Tennessee. The good people there call me “Pastor” and I get to do all sorts of amazing things with them in addition to writing. They let me lead worship on Sunday mornings and preside at the Holy Supper and baptize their babies into the death and resurrected life of Jesus Christ. They invite me into their thoughts and hearts and joys and sorrows, and ask me to say words to God at their bedside before surgeries, and during other important events of their lives and the lives of those they love. I even have the high and holy privilege of saying the last words for their loved ones before they are laid to their final rest. I get to invite them to the table to share a meal in a specific moment and place, which, through the mystery of faith, connects all of us in every time and every place.

I have imagined myself as a pastor since I was about seven years old. After almost fifty years I finally got to be one. I have not been disappointed.

And finally, there is that guitar.

There is no way I would say the guitar is more important than anything else in the picture. But the guitar is really what nudged me to say the truth of who I am.

As I was looking at the picture (the day I first held it in my hand) I was thinking of what I needed to say about the guitar. It started something like this: “The guitar is a 1969 Gibson J-50.” I imagined in my writer’s mind telling the true story of buying it from my friend, the late Pete Cummings, the end of the summer after we had both graduated from high school in 1973. I paid $200 for the guitar–mostly to impress the girl I was taking on a date for the second time, who I thought would never go on a first date with me in the first place. But about the time I started painting a narrative picture in my mind I realized 1969 was fifty years ago.

Fifty. Years.

The guitar has accompanied me through some of the most memorable events of my life. I have played it for people I loved more than life, and people I didn’t even know. I have played it at friends’ and strangers’ weddings, funerals, church camp, camp fires, on a beach at night and by a dear friend’s deathbed. I played twice a week for five years, for tiny tots at a Mother’s Day out program. I have played it for more hours than I can count just for me–and those were some of my most important performances. It has helped me tell my story in ways I could have never imagined to people I never dreamed would hear my story.

Live at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville

Who am I? I am a grandaddy and a pastor. I have been a student, a warehouse worker, Gospel Music business executive, worked in the TV and film production industry, had a career in insurance sales and management, worked as a lay professional at a church, and now am an ordained Lutheran pastor. All along the way–across every single one of those jobs and vocations and even between them (when that happened a time or two along the way) I have been a guitar player. And I have been a singer. And I am so thankful that who I am is held together by the strong thread of music.

The girl I wanted to impress is long gone. The guitar is still here, and has brought me so much joy and so much life in the 46 years I have owned it. Sometime in this year of 2019 that beautiful instrument turned fifty years old. I wonder if I was playing it somewhere on its actual birthday?

“Happy Birthday” seems sort of strange for an inanimate object. But then, that guitar sure seems to come to life sometimes. And it has sure brought me to life many, many times.

Gordon Kennedy, (who co-wrote the Eric Clapton hit “Change the World”) played my guitar at a songwriting workshop. So did Beth Nielsen Chapman (who co-wrote the Faith Hill hit “This Kiss”) sitting to the right in this photograph. It played as well for them as it always does for me!

What He Saw

My father’s backyard view.

This is the last picture I took of my dad in his home. June 3, 2016, my mom and I brought him home after a three-day stay in the hospital for a mild heart attack. He would go back to the hospital the next morning and would go to his eternal rest less than 24 hours after that.

I remember after he drove his power chair up the ramp of his home, instead of going straight through the sliding glass door that leads from the deck into the house, he pivoted to where he could see this magnificent view (that this photograph barely even captures). It made me grin to think this was the first thing he wanted to do after getting home from the hospital – take in this view that he had experienced for 60 years. So I tried to capture with a picture one of the things that he loved.

As I look back now, on this anniversary of my father’s death, I can’t help but reflect on all the things that he saw in his almost 91 years of life. This particular view of his beloved Old Hickory lake changed almost by the hour. The clouds one can see in this picture would eventually transform into the backdrop for a multi-hued sunset of gray and rose and blues and flecks of gold sparkling on the water. My mother reminds us that every day they woke up and looked outside, the lake provided them a new and different vista.

It seems that most every thing my father saw was filled with possibility and new potential. I can hardly remember a discouraging word coming from his mouth. About the only times I remember him raising his voice at me was was for parental guidance that was wholely deserved. However, I do remember him (surprisingly) fussing at his grandchildren on occasion. It was when he heard them say: “I can’t!” He would respond with a firm: “Don’t ever say ‘you can’t.'” And he would leave it at that. I think even as youngsters they got it – that this man who had walked with a brace from the time he was 7 years old, and whom they had witnessed not being slowed down a single step by that “handicap,” was gently reminding them that sometimes it is nothing but our attitude that gets in the way of our achievement.

My dad was amazing at seeing things the way they could be and should be, and then figuring out a way to get involved in moving his vision as close to reality as he could. He did that as a PTO dad, as a State Legislator, as a member of the city planning commission, as a leader in his church.

He was also amazing at seeing things that would never be and loving them just the same. When Leann and I were expecting our third child I had already decided if it was a boy I was going to name him John Mathias Steinhauer, IV. But I was not naming him after me. I was naming him after my dad. A few hours after Matt was born, and we discovered he had Down syndrome, I was really torn about what my father would think about having a retarded grandchild named after him. I never asked my dad what he thought about that. I didn’t have to. He was always as proud and involved with Matt as any of his seven grandchildren. What he saw was “one of his grandchildren.” He didn’t see the imperfections and obvious differences that the world would see in Matt.

If I see half the things my father saw – the way he saw them – I will be OK.

Last Dance

My brother, Steven, rightly claims that he got the first dance with my first daughter, Kerra. As I recall, we were at a family wedding reception when he picked up my toddling daughter and grinned while informing me: “Looks like I’m getting the first dance with Kerra!” He reminds me of that just about anytime we are at a wedding and there is dancing involved.

I have recently been revisiting my journals that I have been keeping for almost 25 years, and was given a gift to relieve some of the sting of not having had that first dance with Kerra.  Whatever cards and notes and written memorabilia I collect during a particular season of journaling goes into a pocket of the cover of that journal, or simply tucked into the inside cover when my journal has no pocket.  I came across an undated “Thank You” from Kerra, and it referred to “that extremely sweet note” that I had written her.  In her note to me she shared: “The thought of you even chaperoning my dance in middle school made me want to kill you guys! Even though it was just dancing! But to let you come in and dance! (Ha ha) what a change.”  She continued: “I also was honored to have my last dance of the junior prom with my father.… I will remember this prom forever though. Thanks for the dance. XOXO I love you.”

It made me smile on many levels. Kerra has given us our first granddaughter, Emaline, and it is just fun and rewarding to think on her life transitions from middle-school-paranoia of the highest order – one’s father threatening to “hang out” at a middle school dance – to high school proms, to marriage, and finally to motherhood. The writing gods rewarded me with the details of what transpired to cause our writing each other. As I leafed through the volume of my journal where I found the note, I came upon an entry in April 2004. I wrote from Washington DC, where I was ironically chaperoning a middle school trip with my younger daughter, Lindsay.

From my journal: Kerra had told us about a week before prom (this past Friday night), parents of officers were expected to help with decorating. So Leann and I arranged to be present and help her do that. What we didn’t know until just 24 hours or so prior to the event was that we also had to help tear down at 11:45 PM!  I lovingly and jokingly told her, “Okay, but I get the last dance!” She laughed and said “Okay.” 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Friday night (we weren’t supposed to be there until 11:45) she called me about 11:15 to ask where we were, and to say she and her date we’re ready to go and that they already played the last dance and I missed it and she wanted to dance with me! So we hustled over to Vanderbilt Stadium Club and found Kerra. She got the DJ to play one more slow song and we got to dance! I was so happy and delighted and almost “lost it” as we stepped out on the dance floor – her looking radiant and beautiful in her aqua blue gown and her hair fixed so pretty. I made it through about half the dance before I had to turn it back over to her date to finish the dance so I could go back and collect my thoughts. I hope she knows how much I love her and appreciate her asking me to dance with her!

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There were a couple more things in the thank you note that I did not mention. One of them was Kerra’s admission of crying when she read my note to her. Because she was honest with me about that, I guess I should be honest with her – that when I dictated my journal entry into this blog post, I had to stop about three times. Would you like to guess why? There are many thoughts and ideas, much musing and pondering that I could share on this blog. It seems that I devote most of it to writing about my children. The truth is that I will never be able to share all that I have learned from them by being their father – there’s just not enough white space to write it all.  The other truth is I could write every day for the rest of my life and never express the joy and gratitude and thanksgiving that I have at being given my beautiful children: Kerra, Lindsay, and Matt.

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 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!! 🙂