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.