What I’m Thankful For

Such an obvious Thanksgiving post here. But probably like you, I’ve thought a little more this week about what I’m thankful for.

Last Friday evening I was grumbling under my breath as I finished a slow day at my golf cart tour guiding job and started to vacuum out my car to get it ready for what I planned would be a long night of driving for Uber (which it turned out to be). With colder weather coming in, I was sad about a job I like so much slowing down. I was worried about finances. I was tired. I was anxious for this reason and that reason. Yes, I briefly prayed about what I was thinking about, but I quickly got distracted with my worrying again and whatever else was at hand (or on the radio) to actually finish the prayer. My night continued on and sort of faded into the past as I eventually went home after work at 2 or 3 AM and went to sleep. Another day, another dollar.

That was my last Friday night. While I was vacuuming my car, a terrible tragedy happened in Sumner County just down the road from where my wife and kids were hanging out at the house. A car with teenagers veered off the road and the 16 year old in the backseat lost his life later that night. I didn’t know this boy, but we go to the same church as his family does, so lots of people I know knew him. It goes without saying that his parents had the worst Friday night anybody can imagine. I can’t imagine. I don’t want to. My heart hurts terribly every time it crosses my mind and I’m just a guy who doesn’t actually know these people. By all accounts the young man was an incredible christian teen who was very beloved by all who knew him. Doesn’t make it any easier though… I mean, I guess it doesn’t. I don’t know because the things I was worried about last Friday night were trivial and incredibly minor in comparison to the real life, gut-wrenching, ask God “why?” kind of stuff that other folks are facing.

All I had to do was hear that news and it was easy realize how blessed I am to have my family close and to have the life I have this Thanksgiving. To put it simply- I played with my 3-year old son a little longer than I normally would have every single time he asked me to this week. I held on to and made my nearly 1-year old daughter giggle a few more times this week than I did last week. I complained less. I worried a lot less. I prayed a lot more without distraction. I smiled a few more times than I did last week. I hugged my wife a few more times and actually held on a few seconds longer than usual when we are going though our day. I was going to work for Uber tonight, but I stayed home instead and watched a sappy show with my wife on the couch after the kids went to bed. Before the kids went to bed, we ate cookies. We laughed. We listened to Christmas music. I strummed my favorite guitar later after everyone went to sleep. I thought about how much I still love Nashville and I’m so glad I came to TN when I didn’t know anybody here. I got to play a 4 hour gig last night for lots of really nice, enthusiastic people who liked our music. They want us back! I have amazing friends. One of those friends played mine and Amy’s song on the radio today and people seem to like the project that we (my band, my wife, and more) worked SO hard on for the last year. Wow, come to think of it, we’ve got it made.

I actual replaced a leaky faucet today, which is a miracle that I did something that represented plumbing and it was successful. I didn’t get mad when I was working on it either… which is an even bigger miracle! Instead of running off that same 3-year old, Avery, and telling him that I need to focus on the task at hand, I asked him to help me. I pretended and told him that he was actually helping me as he drug out all the tools I didn’t need from my toolbox and made a huge mess (then climbed on me multiple times as I was trying to reach under the bathroom counter). After “we” got it fixed, he proudly proclaimed that he was a “fixer boy” and confidently asked if I needed anything else fixed. I looked around at our busy, crawling, then smiling baby Aria, I saw my beautiful wife, Amy making Christmas ornaments at our kitchen table, then I looked back at my little man who was still looking at me awaiting an answer. I fought back tears and said “I think we are good now. You fixed it.”

Happy Thanksgiving from the Pope family.





On the road with “I Am Spartacus” and “Labor of Love”

 Last week I had the privilege of going on a 5 and a half day tour that started on the coastline in Mississippi Wednesday night and ended Sunday morning just south of St. Louis, MO. I joined forces with christian rock group “I Am Spartacus” as we played stripped down, acoustic, “songwriter” concerts in living rooms and backyards, and led worship when in church settings.

 First, I’ll tell you about the people who hosted the house concerts- It’s a group of folks who collectively call themselves “Labor of Love.” They are made up of everyday Americans who are tired of waiting on someone else to fix things. So they take it upon themselves to grab their tools, paint, trash bags, pressure washers, ladders, shovels, and anything else that can be useful to give a hand up (not just an empty hand out) to neighbors across the street or across the country. This service work not only brings old friends together (the original group met on a bus in Israel in 2011 and decided to do more than just be Facebook friends, they began serving their fellow man together when they got home and developed an amazing bond along the way), but it also attracts new likeminded folks who are tired of seeing our country torn apart and long to be the solution to the problems we face. Families from all over the nation take their vacations and drive cross-country with their children to join in whatever the service project may be. They smile, hug, sweat, laugh, pray, eat, work, quilt, talk, cry, and connect in the way that we as people, who were created in the image of God, are supposed to connect. The end result isn’t simply that someone’s house unexpectedly looks better, that their deck has been repaired, or that a pile of quilts were hand-made and delivered; it’s that those who do the work and those on the receiving end of the service can have hope restored in their fellow citizens. “Labor of Love” literally wants to just love their neighbors as themselves and find small ways to show this love while holding up each other’s arms along the way. That is the only agenda. They spend their own money to do this.

 I have been honored to know these folks since 2013 when I “accidentally” ended up at a service project in Salt Lake City by the invite of a sweet family I had only known a few hours. Since then I’ve attended at least 1, 2, or even 3 events per year, and each time I’ve come away with deeper friendships made and rediscovering that so many people really do care.

 So my buddy, Ben Peeples (front man in “I Am Spartacus”) and I decided to do some house concerts this summer after having a successful run at it in 2015. We connected with our “Labor of Love” friends and a short tour was planned that involved local service projects hosted by members of the group starting in the suburbs of Dallas, TX on Thursday, Jones, OK on Friday, and a town north of Wichita, KS on Saturday night. The band and I bookended the tour with 2 churches where we led worship and performed some originals. It’s a strange combination- a cool Christian Rock band singing about falling in love with Jesus traveling around with a hillbilly who follows them with a song about a pig that “mama fried.” Yet somehow, this works! 

 We left SUPER early Wednesday morning to get to the Mississippi coast for a Wednesday night church service. The folks there were happy, energetic, and very hospitable to us. We slept good but not long enough after a satisfying late night supper at Wattaburger, and were up early Thursday morning with another 10 hour drive to south Dallas for another show. We did the same thing everyday…wake up, load up, drive, set up, eat great food provided by kind-hearted strangers and friends, perform, tear down, shower, lay down, and do it all over again.

 But it’s the moments in between the points on the itinerary that I remember the most when I get home. I can’t forget the 2.5 hour loud argument Brady Ridings (the band drummer and the guy who gave me the honor of being in his wedding last month) and I had about the Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals series months ago with Ben moderating and Michael (bassist, and quiet instigator of these arguments) egging us on via text from the backseat; or when I promised young Brady that I would buy his lunch if he turned off the pressure washer being used by a hardworking man at a gas station (Brady, of course, took the bet).

 I’ve always been under the impression that I don’t move when I sleep, because I always wake up in the same position I last remember. But Ben says this is not true, based on his experience as we shared a bed in Oklahoma. I have been hesitant to dig any deeper into that subject. 😳

Then there’s the unsung hero moments- like when Michael stayed up ALL night keeping Ben, then myself awake as we drove from Kansas late Saturday night after the show to lead worship Sunday morning in Fenton, MO. We arrived at 8 AM (later than we thought because we ate IHOP at 1am then I drove to the wrong “First Baptist Church”) and we set up our gear. I think we somehow managed to look awake as we played worship songs in front of an awesome, God-led, Spirit-filled group of people that we have come to love and look forward to seeing the last few years.

 Another great hero moment was when Ben convinced me that we shouldn’t try to drive home and instead should rest in our sleeping bags on a hard, tile floor in a sunday school room after lunch. I couldn’t imagine how this was a good option, but I actually slept like a log for a solid 3.5 hours and woke up feeling good while I could hear the Sunday evening service starting in the sanctuary. I’m convinced that I did not move at all while sleeping that time. 😴 We were then rested enough to safely make it home…great call Ben.

 These guys are my brothers. They are the real deal. They live out their principles when nobody is around, and they keep each other (myself included) accountable. They sacrifice for their families, yet they haven’t given up on their calling. It’s uplifting to be around, regardless of the all the passionate arguing, yelling, and good-hearted picking we do at one another.

 Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be a part of the actual “Labor of Love” service events this time, so I only got to hear the stories. But I saw more kindness in the eyes of exhausted strangers than I can remember. These ordinary, yet extraordinary Americans were happy to eat a pot-luck and sit down to hear a concert after spending the day together serving strangers with people who were also strangers to one another in many cases. But we were all friends by the time the service, supper, and the concert ended.

 Friends…I take them for granted so often. I sometimes forget how rare true friends are. True friends are the ones who make us better people and validate the best of who we are. They challenge the parts of us that need to grow, change, and mature. They might not even have to say anything to do this, all they have to do is be an example of that shining Light. If enough of these friends come together, then they become that “shining city on a hill” that we’ve all heard about. That’s who Americans are at their best. Heck, that’s who humans are at their best! That’s what I want to be, and it’s what I want to surround myself and my family with. That Light is still here folks, and the growing darkness in our world only makes it brighter.

 I thank God that I got to spend 5 and a half days surrounded by more true friends than I can count on one hand. I saw the Light in almost every direction I looked in last week! Now I just have to do my part so I can see that same Light while looking in the mirror today and tomorrow.

Adam Pope

Sad songs are good

Today I ran across this note that I wrote late one night in the spring of 2015 while we were working on the “Story and Song” album. I’m not sure why I didn’t last year, but I think I should share this-

 “I’ve been thinking about divorce today. We did some tracking in the studio and one of the songs we cut is a cold, sad song called “If our love.” 

 The first verse I wrote while thinking about someone I knew who was going through a divorce-

‘If our love was a house, sitting on a piece of land

With a picket fence surrounding what we’d build with our two hands

Good intentions could not hold what was built upon the sand

If our love was a house, it would be condemned’

 I know SO many folks who have gone through a divorce, and I’ve experienced them from the perspective of being the kid, twice. The 1st one happened when I was 8, the 2nd one when I was 13. During this time I was becoming aware musically and I was beginning to understand what songs like “The Dance” really were all about. I paid close attention to lyrics and I remember crying when I heard Roy Orbison sing “Love Hurts.” Oh, how I knew he was right. I wondered what it would be like to be in love like when George Strait sang “I cross my heart” and I dreamed about what that must feel like! 

 The 1st original song that ever came to me was when I was about 12. I stillremember the words and the tune-

‘Oh rain, wash my tears away

My baby has left me in such a bad way

I know I can’t help it, so please come and wash them away

Wash my tears away’

It’s crazy how after all these years and no matter how happily married I may be, I can still get in touch with that kind of hurt. Having my kids has brought it all to the surface even more these days, as I now consider what it must feel like to go through a divorce as a parent. Sheesh…I can’t imagine. 

 I think we can all summon pain from the past. Most of us bury it, and I honestly don’t blame those who do. But sometimes I like to get ahold of it again. I have this curiosity to dig up the sad bones from my subconscious and start “resurrecting memories from a love that’s dead and gone” (Randy Travis), even if it’s a love gone wrong that I only witnessed, not necessarily experienced. Maybe I think just getting down and wallerin’ in it every once in a while will remind me that divorce can happen to anybody, including me. 

So that’s why I write sad songs. That’s why I go in the studio and stir that old pile of sadness. It’s therapy, and songs are my psychologist.

 Tonight I’m filled with sensitivity and sadness about all those who are blindly heading straight to the death of a marriage. Please see things for what they are and CHANGE the path you are headed down! I pray that I’ll not miss any signs that pop up along the way and that we’ll seek God and His truths. I wanna build my house of love on His foundational truths, the solid rock, not the sand I spoke of in the new song we cut today. 

 I think sad songs are positive when they wake us up. It is good to feel. We are meant to feel pain and feel happiness. If you’re numb to both, watch out! If you have to manufacture happiness to hide pain, then find a way to waller’ in it for just a little while. After that, maybe you can do something positive with it moving forward. Hard times make the good times good. 

 I personally think that todays country music could reflect a little more hard times, because God knows our lives still do.”

The truth is not yours or mine

There have been countless reactions to Bruce Jenner’s transformation from dude/dad to woman/dad (but is he still a dad?). I have basically ignored much of this story because it’s just annoying to me. Most people see it all for what it is, but there are obviously lots of folks, especially the media, who see him as one who is courageous and in need of praise.

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