Nell, the Mandolin

05F8907C-968E-4A1B-90E8-2FA860E3848E 2

When I was a little boy, my great aunt, MaryNell, introduced me to a rather peculiar instrument –– the mandolin. Often relegated to the distant fields of Kentucky or orchestral chambers, it serendipitously found its way into my hands.

It was the first instrument I learned to play, somewhere around 6 or 7 years old. Honestly, I was not a fan. It looked funny, sounded strange, and the action on the neck was rather high. It required more strength to press down the rusty strings than my little fingers possessed.

Beside the need for callous development and finger dexterity, I did not find bluegrass or southern gospel music to be in any way cool. The Gaither Vocal Band was a far-cry from the rock anthems I enjoyed. My musical preferences leaned more toward Genesis, Journey, and Eagles. However, Aunt MaryNell was undeterred.

She was an endless reservoir of encouragement. I remember sitting next to her on her piano bench with mandolin in hand. We would play through a simple tune dozens of times. At some point in the song, she would stop, smile down at me and say, “That was beautiful, Andrew. Let’s try again.” But I, in fact, knew it was not “beautiful.” Quite far from it. I was largely unable to get the chords to ring true. But that’s how she was. Always encouraging and ever-patient.

She was an amazing pianist. Her style always reminded me of the Wild West saloon scenes in movies. But we both shared a love for Jack Johnson’s music. Soon after she first heard his album, In Between Dreams, she set out to learn the song “Banana Pancakes.” It was an amazing amalgamate of musical genres. We shared a lot of laughs over that album.

In 2011, she passed away. It was a devastating loss to our entire family. She was a matriarch and a friend. It seemed surreal for a long time. I often found myself almost turning onto her street to say hello, but as if roused from a dream, I would suddenly remember. She was gone –– and the realization and emotion would wash over me again. I suppose that’s how we often find just how much of an impact someone has made in our lives; the hole they leave behind.

In 2015, I bought a mandolin of my own. I had been thinking about it for several months and decided to take the plunge. The first time I picked it up, I thought of Aunt MaryNell and all our lessons on her piano bench. I knew she would be happy I decided to play again. I wanted to honor her and her eternal patience with my mandolin playing. I named the mandolin, Nell. It means, “The Bright and Shining One.”

It’s a beautiful instrument. I was happily surprised by how much easier it was to play than I remembered as a boy. My fingers are now far stronger and calloused from decades of playing both bass and guitar.

I began practicing 2+ hours each day for several months. I found myself on a journey of unlocking the beautiful mysteries hidden inside an instrument I long ago dismissed. I was quickly falling in love. I had never thought the mandolin was a versatile instrument, but I began finding several artists who were venturing into uncharted waters. I took it upon myself to follow in their wake.

At this point, I have played at one wedding, dozens of worship sets, one studio recording, and a couple of Irish sessions. I love how the mandolin cuts through a mix with growling chops and twinkling highs. I recently had the opportunity to lead worship with a few friends at Revival Group in Redding, California. They both played guitar while I played mandolin. I absolutely loved it.

I have had several people approach and tell me they have never liked banjo or mandolin before they heard me play. Quite the compliment. I once counted myself among them. The mandolin is interesting in that way. It first appears to be a one trick pony with little to offer, but if given the chance, it surprises you immensely.

I have been wanting to make a leather mandolin strap for quite some time. I started the project almost two years ago, but time got away. I finished it early this morning. The strap has some Sheridan patterns and the name “NELL” tooled upon it. I think Aunt MaryNell would like it.

She taught me far more than some simple mandolin chords. Through her example, she taught me to love God, love people, love music, and to love life –– laughing all the way.

Aunt MaryNell, I want to say thank you for sharing your passions with me and your endless encouragement. It has all meant more to me than I was ever able to say.

I’m still pickin’.

I love and miss you.

AR

 

 

Screenshot 2020-03-16 12.00.22

Yes, I play bass guitar.

For those of you who do not know, I am attending Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California. Quite a big move from Texas. It’s been an amazing experience thus far. I have met so many incredible people from all around the world, and I am privileged to be taught by some of the foremost movers and shakers in the church on a daily basis. Wild.

There’s a tremendous amount I could say on any given area of the journey I’ve walked so far while being here, but there’s one area that has been an area of great intrigue to me lately.

When I came here for school, I auditioned for the worship team on bass guitar. I made the worship team and have been playing bass for the school since late August/early September. Strangely, it already seems like a lifetime ago.

I began playing bass guitar when I was about 10 years old – so about 21 years ago. Time flies. I remember loving everything about the bass and pouring myself into it. Sting was a hero of mine. However, my perception of bass changed somewhere around my junior year of high school. I was playing with some friends in a band, but I began to realize the bass player was largely out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

It was difficult to feel I was destined to be relegated to the background. Second-fiddle, forevermore. That’s when I bought my first guitar. I loved the bass, but I wanted to be heard and feel proud of what I brought to the table. Enter guitar, stage right.

I spent countless hours over the course of many years learning to play guitar. There were more than a couple of years when I spent at least 2-3 hours everyday working on guitar theory and techniques. I love guitar, but I always found it interesting – no matter how hard I tried, it never quite felt hand-in-glove.

Opportunities would come whether playing in churches or bands, and I always tried to introduce myself as a guitarist. But without fail, they soon found I also played bass. And then regardless of my fruitless endeavors, I was assigned the role of bassist. It was annoying.

I have often said bass is like a boomerang. No matter how far I throw it from me, it always comes back. It seemed I was never going to escape a bass guitar hanging from my shoulders. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

Over the last couple of years, I had finally begun playing lead guitar for two different churches. It was really exciting to be able to step into a role I had been working toward for so long. It was always fun but also stressful. I figured with time, the stress would diminish. And it did to some extent but never entirely.

When I came to BSSM in Redding, people would ask me if I was on the worship team because I looked familiar. I would tell them I played bass, but somewhere inside, I would feel a pang of shame. Weird. I didn’t really know why I felt shame. However, I noticed the shame caused me to quickly explain that back home in Texas, I played lead guitar for two churches. Somehow, I felt the need to show I was more than “just a bassist.”

As this happened more and more, I began to take note of what was going on inside. I felt ashamed to play bass guitar. When did that happen? Somewhere along the way, I learned that a bassist was needed but not really wanted. Countless sets buried in the darkest shadows on every stage. Soundmen perpetually turning my volume down to the point that I’m now unseen and unheard. After two decades of those experiences, I absolutely hated it. Thousands of hours of practice seemingly all for nothing.

I wanted to play guitar, specifically lead guitar – to be seen and heard. I wanted the 20+ years of hard-work I had put into music to mean something. I wanted to feel proud of what I had accomplished and proud of what I brought to the stage.

When I first came to Bethel, every time I walked on stage, I was very stressed. My identity was 100% tied up in how well I played that day. Ad nauseam. It was difficult for me to fully trust the other band members because I was bracing for their disapproval, spoken or unspoken. It’s very hard to have fun when that is the tune marching around your head.

At some point, my walls began to fall, and I began to not only trust those I played with but truly love and respect each of them. Small, subtle, changes sneak up on you without you realizing. The critical voice in my head perpetuating shame was becoming less and less apparent.

I found myself with people who celebrated me and the instrument I played, the bass guitar. After each set, smiles and hugs abound as we champion each other. It is by far the most beautiful and healthy worship culture I have ever seen or experienced. I am forever grateful for what Bethel has cultivated here.

As I spent some time with God praying into these things rumbling through my brain, I realized it was always something far deeper than just bass guitar. The Lord has had me in a process of learning to love and trust myself and resting in who He has made me to be. I don’t have to be something more or something different.

It is difficult to quantify the liberation this has brought me. With each day, I feel more and more comfortable in my own skin. And I’m learning to love myself just as I am and extend grace to myself when needed. I don’t listen to the voice of shame in my head anymore. And strangely enough, bass guitar has become a symbol for this journey.

A couple of weeks ago, when I began processing this, I decided to sell the last of my guitar pedals back in Texas. The money I made from selling it, I bought a new bass microsynth pedal and power supply. I then decided to build a pedalboard for my bass rig. This was my way of saying, I’m all in.

Yesterday was my first worship set with the new bass pedal and pedalboard, and it was the most fun I have ever had playing bass guitar. As amazing as my setup is – what made the difference is I’m now playing from my heart in a way I have not done in a very, very, long time. And it’s just fun. Stupid fun.

So yes, I play bass guitar.

And I love it.

AR

C74BB62D-DED1-40FC-B801-323519A9EF99

The person sitting alone

steven-hwg-1143561-unsplash

Have you ever found yourself sitting alone? Praying to God someone would say hello. Hoping someone will smile or at least acknowledge that you are there because the thought of sitting alone again without one single interaction is more than you can bear. I have.

I have felt so alone that I have driven somewhere, anywhere, just to find myself among people. And even just a smile from a stranger across the room meant more to me in that moment than a thousand words could express. There is a level of loneliness that chips away at the soul if it is left unaddressed.

The sad thing about this is that there are people feeling this all around us everyday. Whether we are at work, a restaurant, the gym, church, at home – even when surrounded by people, there are so many who feel utterly alone. They long to know and be known, but it is viewed as a weakness to express such a need. It requires an uncomfortable level of vulnerability. We are supposed to be independent. We are supposed to not need anyone. Rugged individualism.

When some brave soul ventures toward that person sitting alone and asks how they’re doing often times the reply is little more than, I’m good. Just busy. Just tired. Just something. These are nothing more than knee-jerk responses said before we even realize what we are saying. We don’t want to be perceived as weak. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We push it down a little bit more and work up a smile in hopes of seeming to be a little bit less of a mess than we presently feel.

Maybe you can relate to this or maybe not. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can all remember times we have felt alone. Regardless, this is a reality for a growing number of people. People have a need to belong. And there is no worse feeling than to realize when you need a friend, there is no one to call. There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere you belong.

In the seasons when I have experienced this, it has forged in me a deep compassion for people who feel they have no tribe, no community. I have been praying as I have tried to find how to be intentional about making a difference for these people. The statistics are abysmal, but it hits home when it is no longer just a number. It is a face. It is your face.

I was thinking today about when I have been the person sitting alone, and how I have seen those who are in conversations around me. It is easy to see they are friends who know each other well. You halfway hope they make eye contact with you and motion for you to join in the conversation. The other half feels uncomfortable being seen as the one who is alone, so you hope to remain unnoticed. I believe this is one reason why so many turn to their phones. It helps numb the awkward feelings, but at the same time, it walls us off from the connection we so desire.

Today, I saw something different. While we are looking at those around us who community comes easily hoping they will see us and end our plight, we fail to see others just like us –  alone and as uncomfortable as we are. Instead of waiting for someone to extend kindness to me, I am fully able to be the one to speak with the others who are hemmed in by their isolation.

I have done this a few times, but honestly – I imagine it would be an embarrassingly low number if I could recall each instance. But I remember how I felt each time. Whether young, old, man, woman, or child – we all have a need to belong. And I have the ability to connect with someone and let them know they matter, and I see them, and they belong right here.

I’m no longer going into new places to find those who are among their friends and hope they will welcome me into their group. If that happens, I will warmly welcome it, but instead of waiting – I will be looking for the person sitting alone. I will seek them out. I want them to know they are not invisible. I want them to experience kindness. I want them to be able to put an end to the question that tirelessly runs through their mind. Yes, you belong here. And as long as I have something to say about it, you will not sit alone again.

If you already do this, I thank you a thousand times for your kindness. If you are like me and have not approached the person sitting alone as often as you would like to say, I invite you to start today. Everything in life is about intentionality. Your smile and kind words may very well be the hope a person at the end of their rope latches onto. People are amazing. They are beautiful. They are a treasure worth your effort. Every single one of them. Embrace the awkward moments along the way. I promise it will be worth it. We can shift culture round about us and ensure that every room we walk into – there is no person left sitting alone.

Isolation ends when we each decide it ends. I choose to create community wherever I venture. Alone we crumble. Together we build. Will you join me?

AR

Introduction to the Markets

With eyelids still heavy from a long night of tossing, I made continued effort toward finding the edge of the bed where an infernal alarm lay growing more bold in its tones with every passing second. By the time I found relief from its rhythmic, belching, rackets, my mind was already roving through the morning tasks ahead. Perhaps, today would be the day.

Sizzling water made its way through the coffee grounds and filter into an old, trusted, mug. My mind drifted here and there as I awaited the frothing sounds that signaled coffee-making completion. It’s funny. I had no desire for coffee until a trip to Tennessee, earlier this year. It has become a near daily ritual, at this point. I believe it’s the aroma that signals morning as much as any level of caffeinated jolt it may provide.

Coffee in hand, I made my way upstairs to prepare for another morning’s work. Fridays are notoriously slow in this business. Summer months tend to be as well. As you can imagine, a Friday at the end of summer does not usually elicit tremendous enthusiasm, but I like to leave room to be surprised.

I have spent most of this year studying a business within the finance industry with untold potential. But with such potential, it can be fraught with risk as well. I have found I enjoy the challenge of it all, but this summer has been frustrating. I have attempted to capitalize on the markets downtime by studying as much as possible each day. There have been days where I have worked and studied 14 hours straight, and others where I have only been able to study for 2 or 3.

The last time I wrote, I spoke at length about the importance of goals and giving yourself over to it and its process. I have been living this out this year, and though it has been difficult and required sacrifice in most every arena, I have enjoyed it. I know I will find success. It is only a matter of time.

AR

rick-tap-uJhgEXPqSPk-unsplash