I Wish I Could Have Known Her…..

Funerals.

Historically, I’m not a fan.   Too often they are a depressing exercise and I can’t wait for them to end.    But yesterday I had the rare privilege of experiencing a celebration service for a lady that I never met, yet I left wanting to hear more about this sweet woman.    The lady, Christy Mosteller, passed away unexpectedly last week and I went to her service because her son, Justin, is the lead singer of a band that am blessed to work with,  Carrollton.

Everything about her service was inspiring and Christ honoring.     I don’t believe that I can capture the sweetness of the service in these few words  – but there were several takeaways that I hope I don’t soon forget.

The Mosteller’s pastor shared one of the first truths in the early part of the service.     As a part of the welcome, he stated that “everyone will have their day on the front row, but until you’ve been on the front row, you’ll never know how important the people behind you are.”     I hope the Mosteller’s know that I was blessed today being one of the people behind the front row – and even more blessed just being in the room with such great people, and honoring Christy with them.

Another surprising reminder today came through the music.    I have known and worked with Carrollton for over two years – and have had the pleasure of hearing the countless number of songs that they’ve been writing for the last two years.       In February their EP, Breathe in Deep, was finally released with 6 great songs that I absolutely love –  one of those songs was the first song played in the service, You are Faithful.

I’ve been in the music world for almost 20 years…….and was reminded again that  God uses music to heal and stir our hearts.     It is  incredible that a song that Carrollton would write and record over a year ago would be used to start a service to celebrate Justin’s mom.

Even more poignant was the song that closed the service.   Carrollton returned to the studio several weeks ago to record a new song that they had just written.      An incredible testimony on the value of holding on to our God,  “Holding on to You” has become one of my new favorite declarations –   with the verse

I’ve been lookin’ for / Peace of mind / I’ve been lookin’ for / A reason why

and the chorus that ends –

When I can’t catch my breath and there’s nothing left to hold on to… I’m holdin’ on to you

Justin sent me the demo of the song on April 16th –  3.5 months before it would be used to close the celebration service for his mom.    I know he never could have imagined how those words would ring true in his own life.    The song will be released to radio in a few weeks –   but regardless of how God uses the song around the country,   it’s purpose was evident yesterday.

I will always marvel at the ways of our creator God and how he uses his children.

This was clear in the time that I spent yesterday in a small Kentucky town  hearing the stories of a single mom who cared for her children, who met the man of her dreams, and with him, raised her two sons to love Jesus, and now both of those boys are making a difference for the Kingdom.      I’m thankful for her oldest son Chad, a pastor in Louisville, KY,   who gave perhaps the most incredible message I’ve ever heard at a celebration service.     His mom would be glowing with pride to hear how he honored her,  and more importantly honored his Lord today.

I left yesterday with a new view of funerals —   and the way they are supposed to be!

I left also wishing  I could have known her………but  knowing I will one day!

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Counting the Days……

I’m not a fan of birthdays – historically.     I’m sure my parents threw a party or two…….and I can remember dear friends in Waco throwing me a bash for my 30th birthday – which happened to be a major transition year for me.   I’ll be forever grateful for those sweet friends who reminded me of the blessing of friendship in what had been a challenging year.

So to acknowledge this birthday year…..one I would choose to ignore – has been difficult.   Perhaps its because I think I’m still 25.       Or perhaps I feel only 33.     Or I still have great memories of 40.       Or more importantly……I can still recall being 16.

But reality has set in –   and 18,250 days of life have passed.   I have to accept it.   I’ve crossed the river.

I recently read a great book, “20,000 days and Counting” by Robert Smith – which challenged me on the value and beauty of living each day to its fullest – and choosing to make a difference.   And it reminded me that there could be still a lot of time in my dash-   “-“   :   the time between 1964 and ??

So I’m taking on this next year!

I want to care for orphans in Moldova,   to save for college for my own kids,   and make more music.    I want to drink sweet tea and not gain weight.    I want to eat dessert first like the author of “20,000 Days” and I want to wake up grateful for another day.

Mostly,   I want to be sure that my family and friends know how important they have been on the last 18,250 days,   how lucky I am to have journeyed this far –   and that the best is still to come.     (At least that is what I’m telling myself)

What’s In A Name?

Working with artists,  it’s important for me to stay informed when any of them are written about in the news or online.    Thankfully Google provides a great tool called “google alerts” that notify me when any of my artists are on news pages, websites, and/or blogs.

Of course when I was setting up alerts for all of my artists,  I had to put my name in as well for an alert.     Doesn’t everyone want to know when someone is talking about them?   Thankfully my days as an artist are behind me,  but it is always interesting when my name pops up!

Recently I received an alert that Jeff Berry had died.   Shocked to see of my passing, I quickly realized that it was another JB that had ‘transitioned’ on.       And then I continued reading,   “Berry,  former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, died of head injuries from a fight…..”.

WHAT?

So I have been sharing a name with the Grand Wizard?     I remember hearing this many years ago, but I had conveniently forgotten this tidbit and forgotten the joy of sharing a name with this fellow.    Though I never met him,  and can’t say that I know much about him,   his values and mine clearly are at odds.      Its kind of like if you shared the name of  Hitler, or Dahmer…..or Judas.

It got me thinking about what will be said of me one day when I go Home.    I’m confident that it won’t say that I was with the organization of this other Jeff Berry.      And on that “Google Alert” (if it shows up) –   for what will I be remembered?

My hope is that it says  “Jeff Berry, husband to Anna,  and father to Jake, Parker and Elliston,  loved well and served many……and he had a dog he wasn’t fond of”.      And I really hope my passing is not from head injuries from a fight.     I hate to fight!

50 Years of Marriage and the Half-Marathon

Last Saturday I crossed the finish line of the Country Music Half-Marathon –  having finished the 13.1 mile run in soaking rain for two plus hours on the streets of Nashville!    This was my first 1/2 Marathon and I picked a doozy to start in…….rain was falling at an inch an hour which ultimately ruined my phone and my ability to listen to music, podcasts, or the news.  

So I thought……and thought…….and thought some more.

About mile 4 I began to think that my running this race was much like my parent’s 50 year marriage.    A month ago they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with the minimal fanfare they requested – a testament to so many things that are true in marriage and in marathons.    And then I only had 9 miles more to think about marriage and marathons!

I decided to run the race several months ago and spent much of the winter training.   I’ve always been a fair weather runner –   very willing to run when its sunny and warm –   but avoiding the winter rain/snow runs at all cost.     But in order to make it through to the end of a race in April,  I had to make the decision to run in spite of my comfort.    So in November, my wife and I began the training –   of runs in the cold,  on the hills,   and even in the snow (which turned out to be one of the most spectacular experiences).    Most days never felt ‘good’ – and certainly in the beginning I pretty frequently didn’t think i could make 6 miles, much less 13,   but we kept running.   

I truly believe my parents made a similar decision.   I wasn’t privy to any of their “Come to Jesus” meetings over the years (except the ones that concerned me) –   but having now been married for almost ten years,  I know that they had to have pressed on in their training, even when the circumstances in their marriage weren’t comfortable or convenient.  

My parents also knew they wouldn’t be able to make it on their own – and so they surrounded themselves with encouragers – fellow ‘runners’ who would keep them on pace and get them to their goal.       It was overwhelming to be surrounded by 30,000 runners (and sometimes frustrating when trying to keep your pace) –  but there was great community in the process that made those first 7 miles not seem as bad.    

I’d love to think it was my personal fitness that made the run seem smooth, but in truth it was running alongside the tapestry of people – the lady with a completely bald head who must have had cancer;   the dad pushing a running stroller with a child with Downs syndrome;   the guy with no legs but running on blades.   All of these individuals made my limited exhaustion seem not so bad.    

AND then there were crowds on the streets (and the bands every few miles).    These gracious people had donned their rain jackets,   umbrellas, and their rain boots to step out on that miserable Saturday morning to encourage –  to cheer, to give out water and gatorade,  and to tell me that I was almost there.      Incidentally, I personally loved the women at mile 2 who was screaming “You’re doing great – You’re almost done”……Liar!

My parents have modeled for me and my sister the value of surrounding yourself with encouragers with whom to walk through life.   My mom still has a girls weekend each year with some ladies with whom she went to college and even one lady that has been a friend since Junior High (50+ years!).     Encouragers who have been on the streets in the sun and the rain telling her that “She’s gonna make it”     

They also have been blessed with an amazing church where they have connected and served and found close friends who have cheered them on.      When I was growing up some of my fondest memories are Saturday night dinners with “The Gang” – a group of 9 families who shared life together.  Together we experienced  baby births, and later high school graduation,  then college graduations, weddings, and now grand-babies births.      We celebrated Christmas Eve together, vacationed together,  went to eat after church on Sunday and lived life together.  Basically stood on the streets for each other and cheered.    

I don’t know if my parents intentionally set out to have ‘community’ – I should ask them that one day –  but I’ve been blessed by the by-product of it.    I had not one,  but 9 sets of parents in whom I could see Christ,  in whom I believed loved me unconditionally, and in who I knew would stand and cheer for me –  even in the rain!

I did see some runners stop and walk – and even sit  on the curbs –  but  most kept running in spite of the awful conditions.     “The Gang” has experienced some divorce, and a death of a spouse,  but the majority of these couple have kept running –  heading toward the finishing line and modeling for this kid what it looks like to run, regardless of your circumstances.    

There was probably a time where I didn’t think that I would get married –  in part because I didn’t know if I would ever find someone where I could have the marriage like my parents.       Thankfully, the Lord blessed me with my own encourager who has “run” these last ten years with me.      She had run the 1/2 marathon before – so she let me do this one,  but she still trained with me to be sure that I could make it.     She ran the long runs with me on the hills, and in the snow to get me ready.    We had long talks,  even some pretty good fights – and one 10 mile run with me in Dallas and she in Franklin.  That day she texted me every few miles to make sure I was going to get my miles in!     I clearly wouldn’t have made it to the end last Saturday without her help!!

I’m not sure what the finish line is in a marriage –   I might argue that 50 years is pretty darn close to it!       Because I waited so long to marry,  I may not make it to that milestone –  or if i do,  I probably won’t remember it!      There was a sweet euphoria when I crossed the line last Saturday morning.     I was drenched.   My legs were burning.   I was hungry.   But I was finished – I had accomplished the goal I had set 6 months ago!     

I believe my parents have accomplished theirs as well.    They raised two kids who both went on to marry great people – and whom have awesome kids of their own.     And they survived 50 years of moving, job changes, kids and drama (especially from their daughter) 🙂 –  and they still hold hands when they walk.      My dad cares for my mom when her MS is causing her to not be 100% –   and my mom still laughs at my dad’s jokes – and every once  in a while,  joins her on the dance floor of their living room.    They have modeled for their kids unconditional love and finishing strong!

I think they’ve crossed the finish line –  and I pray that they are getting all the praise and encouragement they deserve from a race well run!     

 

 

 

Journey to the Well

On a February evening in 1999,  over 1200 students gathered in a 1950’s auditorium, with sketchy air-conditioning to sing, pray, clap, listen, share –   worship!       Starting in 1994, Grace Bible study became a fixture for many students (and myself) every Thursday night (and changed to Tuesdays on 9/11/01).     When it was launched, I’m not sure that any of us would understand, or comprehend the impact that it would have on our lives….and the lives of  so many students.

Worship was always one of the key ingredients along with great teaching over the years from Steve Hardin, Matt Chandler and Luke Norsworthy.     I have so many amazing memories over the years of our worship time –  of students transparently worshiping before their creator.

In early ’99 we decided to attempt to capture the sweet experiences that we were having week after week at Grace.   So we hired an engineer to bring his ‘good mics’ and we practiced really hard for the service.     Looking back we were crazy.    We pressed record and then just captured the night –    not on digital,  but on good ‘ol 24 track analog!

Years later – I now know there are easier and more ‘professional’ ways to record a worship night.   But we were young, dumb, and dreamy back then – and all we wanted to do was to try to get a picture of the sweet experience that we all were having at Grace.

So later in 1999,  Journey to the Well was released.   When I  listen to it now,  I hear countless imperfections –    how we tried to record a record without a click track for all the musicians to  play together –  what were we thinking?     I hear all the wrong notes I sang.     I hear the little attempts we made to improve the mistakes that happened.     Inspite of all of that, more importnatly  I  hear 1200+ students singing their hearts out.   I hear the presence of our Lord in their midst.   I hear and remember the sweetness of that moment –  and many other moments like it.

Strangely,  of all the records that I did,   I’ve never had as many requests for an album like I have over the years for this one.    It was one of most successful projects we released-  and I think its because we all felt the presence of the Lord that night.

My pride has kept me from releasing this project on iTunes for years (and the fact that I didn’t have any CDs left and  I don’t know where the Masters are).   But over Christmas while cleaning out the attic, I found one in an old box.     This project is far from perfect.     Over the years, I’ve been jaded by the ability to digitally improve our recordings and began to feel it a requirement.  But there is something very pure and innocent about recording a moment in time –   and enjoying it.

So for all of us who lost, misplaced, or threw away our Journey CD –  here it is again:   Journey to the Well

12 Years later – I continue to be thankful for all the wonderful people involved in that night –  many who have gone on to serve on amazing platforms –   Steve Hardin, Matt Chandler, Jeremy Kirles, Caleb Lain, Becky Middleton, Julie Nance Benson, Crista Schwalk Bailey, Billy Bob White, Joseph Bailey, Terrance Jennings, Mike Milford, Wes Martin, Matt Wilks, Luke Ayres, Matt McCoy, Rob Albert, and Michael Henry Martin –  Thank you for serving!!

So for all of us who remember the sweet moments in that strange looking building in Abilene –   Journey to the Well will be a reminder of the greatness of our God – and the incredible privilege it was for us all to be involved in His work.     Maybe one day a great reunion will happen that will include us all back at University Baptist Church –    but if not in Abilene,    Heaven will certainly have better air conditioning.

What’s Your Stew?

Last week I was fortunate to get to attend Catalyst, a great leadership conference held in Atlanta. I went with some of the other staff from Centricity and was treated to some challenging insights from church leaders, business leaders/authors, and social justice innovators. The opening session featured   (as it had the two previous times I attended)  the teaching of Andy Stanley.

I always love Andy’s teaching – but he shared some insight from a familiar passage of scripture that I had never seen. I’ll try to share my takeaways – but I highly recommend you look for the message online in a few weeks – you won’t be sorry!

Andy shared that each of us have an appetite and the only word in our appetite’s vocabulary is “more”.   3 key truths:
1. God created our appetite and sin distorted it.
2. Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied
3. Our appetites always whisper now and never later.

How we respond to our appetites may affect our life and our calling.

In Genesis 25:29-33, we see a story of two brothers – the older, Esau, coming into his house and asking his younger brother Jacob for some stew.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. [a] )

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Because of his appetite (he was famished) Esau sells his birthright, his future,  his inheritance…..it all to his brother for a bowl of stew.     In one simple action, because of a momentary hunger Esau’s world was changed.

There was no one in that moment to help re-frame Esau’s appetite –   to put in perspective how detrimental that decision would be.    How silly it was to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew.   Had someone been there to remind him that generations would speak of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Esau;     that the lineage of Christ described in Matthew would be  Abraham, Issac and Essau.

But no one was there to reframe that appetite,  and he changed his history over a bowl of stew.   And that has made all the difference.     For as we now know,  the scripture reads that generations speak of the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

10 Years from now what do I want my life to look like?     What do you want your life to look like?   The appetites that come our way  –  the bowls of stew –  all have the power to impact our future and change our story.

What’s your bowl of stew?     And who do you have in your life to help you re-frame your appetite?

It’s TOO Quiet!

A strange thing happened this week!    My house was hauntingly quiet.     With three kids, including two fighting brothers, and a one year old toddler,  our house is never quiet!     But my wife left to visit her sister in Indiana, leaving me the house and its silence.

I’ll confess on many a day that I’ve longed for the quiet –   I’ve said many times how much I wanted to be able to hear myself think.    But when the quiet finally arrived,  it made me realize how much I love the noise of my family.     Its strange to think that 10 years ago, every night was this quiet in my life –  living a single life in my own house, with my own stuff, all in its perfect place – and all the quiet I wanted.     Never realizing that there is something so sweet about small voices fighting over the X-box,  or a little girl screaming in glee over her baby,  or the smell of a home-cooked meal (I don’t cook!).

I’ve tried to fill my week with noise of work, or business meals, and even a jog or two,  but it hasn’t compared to the sweet sounds that are coming home tomorrow.     So I will anxiously be waiting by the window to see that car pull up with all the insanity that it will bring –   and the toys on the floor, dishes in the sink,  sleepless nights,  and indescribable joy.

I’m even more grateful that the LORD opened my eyes to the beauty of walking through life with an incredible woman –  who is more beautiful today than when I met her –  and who has made my life truly happy!       One of the artists on our label recently wrote a song called “Dancing in the Minefields” –   and as I’ve watched this video over and over –  its reminded me (especially this week) how lucky I am to be dancing with my wife!

Here is the video –   it is amazing!!

If you’re looking for me Friday night…….I’ll be by the window!

Discovery!

There is something so sweet about discovering new things!    I see it all the time in my little girl Elliston who turned 1 last month.      Her world is opening before her very eyes…..including what her feet taste like as she has learned that she can suck on her toes.      A trait I hope she abandons before she becomes an adult.

Anna & Elliston, Mothers Day 2010

I was reminded of my own discovery as I was running this weekend.     I love Crockett Park in Brentwood and remembered the first time Anna and I found this park right after we moved here.   There was something so exciting about those first few weeks after we moved here –    new running trails,  new restaurants, new views of the beauty of Tennessee.

And then the deeper reminder.

There is something so sweet about discovering new truths about the LORD.     When I was traveling full time it was fairly easy to discover new truths –  I spent the bulk of my weeks hearing messages from various communicators of the Gospel –   and I usually walked away with some nugget.        And now the reality sets in that my schedule and occupation don’t ‘give’ me those truths –  I must go and find them .

And so my work begins……

You’re a Handsome Man

Everyone loves a compliment! Especially when It involves our appearance…..and when we don’t hear them as often as you’d like.

This weekend as I was visiting my 95 year old grandmother in the nursing facility she now calls home I was cornered by an elderly women in a wheel chair. Now I realize that sounds odd, but she genuinely cornered me.

This lady dressed in a pink nightgown smock with wide eyes like she was on something grabbed my hand and held it tight….and said,” I’ve got a word for you”.

Now I’ve had people in my past who have stopped to give me a word….most of them spiritual in nature. And a couple of times it was actually encouraging. So I was waiting anxiously for what this elderly lady in her nightgown in a nursing home was going to share….I thought it potentially life-changing.

So I leaned in to hear this word…..and she said “you’re a handsome man”. Not what I was expecting. And then the killer line….”you wanna come back to my room with me”?

Huh?

Stunned I tried to get her to release my hand so I could make a quick exit. But she held tight. And said “come on handsome man”.

Now completely freaked out and ready to make my getaway, I said thank you

She said “for what?”

Me: “for what you said”

She: “what did I say”.

Me: “you know…. That I was a handsome man”

She: “you are a handsome man……you wanna come back to my room”

And so I pried away my hand and made a quick exit….unsure if i should be flattered or scared.

Regardless….it’s nice for her to think so! Just wish she could remember

The last Breakfast

Had breakfast this morning with my friend Jason Orme who is leaving in two days for a two year stint in Hong KOng. Weve met for breakfast almost every week this summer and its been a rich blessing!

Jason challenged me this morning as he was talking with something he said.

As a parent it is so easy to want to give my kids a great life. To have them know that they are the focus of my world. But as they grow, it’s easy or them to have a view they they are the center of the world….because I’ve communicated that to them with my actions.

What would be the result if my actions showed them that God was the center of our family’s world…..that our decisions were about Him and not them. Could this Give my kids a greater world view.

I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet…but I know I want my kids to know there is a world out there in need. And I want them to want to sacrifice their wants for the needs of others

Of course….i guess I have to model that for them first! Thanks Jason for the reminder…..may the Lord use you to make his name known to the people of Hong Kong.