Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Remembering Mom

Today is the 6th anniversary of my Mom's passing. These are the words that I wrote about her in my Christmas letter that year:

I will remember a woman. A woman who I called Mother.

I will remember a woman who was beautiful of face and equally as beautiful of heart. I will remember a woman whose heart overflowed with love, generosity, and selflessness. I will remember her incredible warmth, her unfailing kindness, and her endless patience. I will remember her wonderful sense of humor, her hearty laugh, and her electrifying smile. I will remember her innate sense of fun and adventure, her wide range of interests, and how she was always game for just about anything. I will remember her inherent goodness, her integrity, and her unfailing sense of right and wrong. I will remember her intellect, her sharp mind, and her passionate love and concern for our community, our nation, and our world. I will remember the lessons she taught us about the value of hard work and perseverance. I will remember the home that she provided for us, a home that she filled with love and peace and cheer and fun, a home that she opened to everyone without thought or hesitation. I will remember how hard she worked, how much energy she had, and how tireless she was. I will remember what a great event planner she was, so much so that we began calling such an event “A Linda Werner Production”. I will remember how she always made sure that we, her family, knew that we were the most important thing on earth to her, often saying, “My children are the joy and the reward of my life.” I will remember how she took such delight in even our tiniest victories, even when we were well into adulthood. I will remember the example she set for us as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, and a friend. I will remember how she taught us, in word and in example, to love wholeheartedly and with great compassion. I will remember how courageous she was throughout her battle with illness, and how, even when she became physically compromised, she never lost her enormous capacity to give and love. I will remember what a wonderful friend she was to me…to all of us.

And I will remember standing at her deathbed, struggling to find the perfect final words to say to her, and finding that the only words that my lips kept forming over and over again were “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you”. For so great was my mother’s love, that even at the very moment that I was losing her, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude for having had her in my life.

May she rest always in the loving arms of God.

I love and miss you so much Mom!

Until we are together again,
All my love,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Caleb Koke - Some Reflections

Last year, I wrote the below essay about the passing and funeral of Caleb Koke, the 17-year old son of my longtime friends Rob and Laura Koke. Caleb passed away in a car accident on July 14th, 2009. Today is the one-year anniversary of Caleb's passing, which his parents refer to as the day that Caleb was "relocated to Heaven." I have been incredibly moved by the stories behind this boy's life, and the amazing faith and courage that his parents have shown in the face of this unimaginable loss.

Hi Friends and Family,

I am writing to share something with you that I have desired to share with you for some time now. I have taken a lot of time to put this message together, as I wanted to craft these words very carefully.

This is something that happened very recently, and it has had an extraordinary impact on my life, and in particular, on my personal faith. Like most of the correspondence I send, this is a bit long.

But if you read nothing else from me this year, please read this.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 14th, I received news of the death of Caleb Koke, the 17-year old son of our friends Rob and Laura Koke. While driving home early that morning, Caleb fell asleep at the wheel, ran into a tree, and passed away at the scene. I know many of you have heard about this, and have been in prayer for this family.

My family and I were utterly shattered to hear this news. Caleb’s mother, Laura, was one of my sister Julie’s best friends in high school, and spent countless hours at our house in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I was in elementary school at the time, and thought that Laura hung the moon and quite possibly the stars as well. She was a cool, beautiful teenager. I was a goofy and probably over-eager 10-year old, but Laura never made me feel that way. She treated me like a sister and made me feel cool too. She also made no bones about her deep love of Jesus, which I found so intriguing as a child, and which, in retrospect, was very likely instrumental in planting the early seeds of my Christian faith. After all, she made loving Jesus seem pretty darn cool.

Throughout the years, Laura has remained a dear friend to our family. While pregnant with Caleb, she was a bridesmaid in Julie’s wedding. She sent beautiful correspondence to us following my father’s stroke. She and my Mom had a very special relationship, and indeed, Laura was with my family for several hours in the ICU hospital room on what would be the last day of my mother’s life. She is now a regular customer at the restaurant where I work, and our conversations there invariably seem to turn to our mutual faith in Christ.

As a family, we don’t see Laura often, but she is a vital part of our history, and she, her husband Rob, and her children are very special to us. The news of Caleb’s death left us all utterly heartsick.

Upon hearing of Caleb’s passing, my sister Julie made immediate arrangements to fly to Austin from Atlanta. Julie’s life is not an easy one from which to pick up and leave, but there was no question or hesitation on her part. She was coming to Austin. Period. Together, we attended Caleb’s funeral on Friday, July 17th. The service was held at Shoreline Christian Center, the church at which Rob and Laura are the founders and co-pastors.

I would like to share with you what I witnessed there.

Because I cannot shake the things that I saw and heard at this funeral.

And I pray that I never do.

I watched this grieving family walk into their church as the worship band played and sang “Everlasting God”:

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord,
Wait upon the Lord,
We will wait upon the Lord…

As they took their places on the front row, the song continued:

You are the Everlasting God…
You’re the Defender of the weak,
You comfort those in need,
You lift us up on wings like eagles…

And then, I saw Rob and Laura raising their hands in praise of God.


Now, let me be clear. These parents were grieving intensely. I had visited with both of them the night before at the Visitation for Caleb. They were shattered. They were heartbroken. Their grief was new and severe and raw and real. Their pain was unfathomably, inexpressibly deep. Their tears flowed freely. And yet, here at their son’s funeral, they praised God.

I watched as they praised the God who now held their son.

I watched as Caleb’s 20-year old brother Luke and 15-year old sister Danielle courageously spoke individual eulogies over their brother. Both told stories that you would recognize from your own family – stories of good family times and family trips. Stories of basketball court rivalries between brothers. Stories about a big brother who included, loved, and defended his little sister. Stories that demonstrated how their sibling relationships were now transforming into deep and abiding friendships. But what struck me the most were the promises that Luke and Danielle made to their parents, Luke vowing “to be strong and be the rock for our family” and to “always love you and protect you”, and Danielle promising to “be strong for you and love you ten times more.”

These are sentiments that I recognized from my own life. When you grow up in a home in which you are deeply loved, and you see your parents in pain – when you are confronted with their humanity, their vulnerability – you want to love them through life’s heartache the way that they have loved you through yours. You want to reciprocate the amazing love that has been lavished upon you. I watched as the Koke children showed us just how deeply they had been loved.

I watched as Rob and Laura took to the altar to speak to the thousands who had come to mourn their son. I listened as they spoke of a pain so deep and of a loss so jarring in its suddenness and randomness, that they could not find words to express it. I listened as they spoke of a son who was “beautiful”, “loyal”, “tender-hearted”, and “so easy to love”. Of a boy who was a cool and popular star athlete, but who was so very much more than that: a young man who cherished family and friends, who was growing in his faith, who had recently given his entire suitcase of clothes away while on a mission trip, who boldly shared the love of Christ with others, and who was just beginning to consider a future in full-time ministry.

More remarkably, I listened as Laura and Rob spoke of the faithfulness of God throughout this unimaginable grief. About His presence and His promises, and how very, very real they are. That He promises to be “close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), and that He will turn our “wailing into dancing” (Psalm 30:11). Finally, they shared of a “deep-seated joy in knowing that Caleb is with Jesus”, and that even in the throes of their devastation, it was well with their souls.

Wow again.

Peace in the midst of pain. Mercy in the midst of mourning. Hope in the midst of despair.

There is no rational explanation for this. This is not logical. This does not make earthly sense.

There is only one explanation for this:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

It has to be.

In fact, I’ve never been more sure of it.

Which is interesting, because the death of a gifted, beautiful 17-year old boy who was on the cusp of his life – a life he would have most certainly spent serving Jesus faithfully and being a light to this dark and broken world – leaves me bewildered and angry. And in my worst moments, questioning God’s wisdom.

And yet, I trust Him. I do trust Him. And it makes me trust Him even more when I see a family walk through a fire like this with such faith in God’s goodness. It makes me want to love God more, know Him better, trust Him like never before.

Put simply, I have been changed – really changed – by this. And I just had to let you know.

I will leave you with Rob’s final words to us at Caleb’s funeral. They are, indeed, words to live by – words that I am going to strive to live out: “I’m gonna ask you to honor Caleb’s life by adding a little bit more tenderness to your life, a little more loyalty to your family, a little bit more fight against adversity, a little bit more commitment to giving your best, and a little bit more love for God. And if you do that, you’ll honor the purpose that God put Caleb on this planet for. And maybe at the end of the day, also honor God.”


Thank you for listening.

Love you all,

Friday, April 24, 2009

News On The Music Front!

Hey Everybody!

Wanted to give you the latest lowdown on me music! Lots of fun stuff happening here:

- Celebrate Recovery: You can read all about Celebrate Recovery in my previous post! I am playing and singing with the worship band on Monday nights at the Celebrate Recovery meeting at Hill Country Bible Church here in Austin. Had my first night with the band this past Monday night and it was a privilege and a blast. This opportunity affords me the chance to learn new songs, collaborate with other musicians, and minister to those in recovery from all manner of "hurts, habits, and hang-ups."

- Open Mics: I will be doing a number of Open Mics the next several weeks, including the following:
Gateway Baptist Church's Open Mic for Jesus, Friday, May 1st

Genuine Joe's Coffee House Open Mic, some Thursday nights

The Loading Dock (in Georgetown) Open Mic, some Thursday nights

Hanover's (in Pflugerville) Open Mic, Monday nights

Nat's Pub Open Mic, some Wednesday nights

Detour Bar & Grill, some Tuesday nights

I'll send you specific dates and times at the start of each week.

- Preparing to Record : I'll be going into the studio again in June and July in preparation for the Gospel Music Association Festival and Competition in late July. Hope to lay down 3-5 tracks and hopefully with some additional instruments as well!

- Songwriting: I just want to share with you that my songwriting has just been exploding lately, and I think it is getting better. Conventional wisdom is that you'll write 100 bad songs before you write one good one. Well, I think 100 is a bit high, but regardless, I can feel myself growing as an artist and writing better songs. Gonna keep focusing on this, with hard work and God's help! As the saying goes, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

Thank you for all of your love and support!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrate Recovery!

Hey ya'll!

Just wanted to share with you a VERY cool opportunity that has come my way. I am going to start playing and singing on Monday nights at the Celebrate Recovery meeting at Hill Country Bible Church here in Austin!

Celebrate Recovery (CR) was first launched at Saddleback Church in California. (Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life", is Saddleback's pastor). CR is a Christ-centered and Bible-based 12 Step Recovery Program. The purpose is to focus on God’s healing power through fellowship with others. By working the 12 Steps and the 8 Beatitude Principles, attendees can open up, share experiences, and explore hope. In this way, they become willing to accept God’s grace in solving their problems. There are no requirements for membership. Anyone may attend with a desire to work the steps for healing with any number of "hurts, hang-ups or habits."

Each program begins and ends with a few songs by the band, and I will be singing and playing with this band 2-3 Mondays a month. I am very excited and grateful for this opportunity and have been looking for something like this for some time now! I will continue to keep you posted.

Many of you are familiar with the 12 Steps, but the 8 Beatitude Principles might be new to you. I have listed them below.

The Road to Recovery
Based on the Beatitudes

Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. (Step 1)

“Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.”

Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover. (Step 2

“Happy are those how mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. (Step 3)

“Happy are the meek.”

Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. (Steps 4 and 5)

“Happy are the pure in heart.”

Voluntarily submit to any and all changes God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. (Steps 6 and 7)

“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires”

Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others. (Steps 8 and 9)

“Happy are the merciful.”

“Happy are the peacemakers”

Reserve a time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will. (Steps 10 and 11)

Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and my words. (Step 12)

“Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.”


Monday, March 2, 2009

Bean Burritos, Baby, Yeah!

Ok, ya'll.

I recently saw this poster in the window of a Taco Bell.

Are people who work at Taco Bell really this happy?

I mean, seriously! These people are positively ebullient!

Maybe it's all those enchiritos they get to eat...

I'm sorta jealous.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Vision

A few months ago, I was co-chaperoning a Youth Lock-In at my church. While some may dread this sort of all-night gig, I actually love it. In the course of the night, I get to really hang out with the youth, talk to each of them one-on-one, and really catch up with what's going on with their lives. I never leave a Youth Lock-In without having had some pretty precious conversations.

At the last Lock-In, I sat for a while with my friend Phillip, an incredibly bright 16-year old whose mother Cindy is a dear friend of mine. We chatted for a while, and I got a good little update on his life. Then he asked, "So, how is your music going?" I was touched by his question, as I found it pretty thoughtful that this teenage boy would even remember that I was working on my music. "It's going great," I said. And just as I was about to give him more detail, Phillip said, "So, what is your vision for yourself as an artist?"

Oh my gosh! From the mouths of babes! My vision for myself as an artist?

"I...I don't know," I panicked to myself.

"Well, Phillip, ya know...I...I actually need to figure that out. I've done a ton of writing these last 18 months, and I am ready to put it out there." vision for myself as an artist? Phillip had really given me something to think about. And it was long overdue.

Now don't get me wrong. I didn't upheave my life, move out of my home, and leave my high-five-figure salary at Dell to pursue my creative endeavors without some sort of vision in mind. I knew that I wanted to live a creative life, and I knew that I wanted to make music that moved and ministered to people. But I also knew that part of the risk in leaving Dell was in not knowing precisely what lay ahead, in not having an exact plan. I wanted to try many different things, be open to unexpected opportunities, expose myself to lots of learning, let things evolve, and watch and wait for God's direction.

But after 18 months at this, I decided it was time to start implementing some definitive goals, to establish my artistic vision and purpose, and most importantly, to determine how I was going to bring that vision to fruition. And so began many weeks of prayer, thought, and reflection, which have culminated in my finally having some real clarity about the direction of my music career. I will, of course, continue to remain open to opportunities that may lead me slightly off the path and in different directions. After all, the God I serve is a God of surprises, and because of this, my real life has often exceeded my dreams.

So, here we go! This is how I envision my career progressing. I'll start first with WHAT the vision is, and then HOW I plan to get there (all with God's help and provision, of course!).


- In the immediate future (the next 1-3 years), I would like to perform live at churches, retreats, and other faith-related gatherings, in the hope that this will take me all across the country. I envision that my ministry will focus primarily on pre-adolescent girls, adolescent girls, and grown women, with a particular emphasis on body-image issues, insecurity, and surviving the sex- and beauty-obsessed popular culture and its objectification of women. I want to help women fully realize their true worth as wonderfully made, tremendously loved children of God! (I'm still working on a name for this ministry. Open to suggestions. Brang `em!).

- I would love to be a reguarly gig'ing Austin artist as well. Performing on a consistent basis in the Live Music Capital of The World would be a dream come true. For gigs such as these, I will perform what I call my "Life Music". (See first item below under "The HOW").

- I want to become an Artist on behalf of World Vision. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice, and responding quickly when disaster strikes. As one of WV's artists, I would make presentations to my audiences about their work, and encourage them to become child sponsors. I will need to be gig'ing regularly in order to be eligible to do this.

- I will record as an independent artist with a backing band.

- For the long-term future, I would like to get a publishing deal as a songwriter. I will be consistently working toward that.

The HOW:

- I will continue to write songs in two genres: The first is Christian Music, which has at its center my personal faith in Jesus Christ and my walk with Him as my Lord and Savior. The second is "Life Music", which is a term I coined as an alternative to the term "Secular Music". Life Music, while not explicitly Christian in nature, is positive, clean, fun, edifying, encouraging, and life-affirming. These are songs that you should hear and recognize your own life in.

- I will once again attend the Gospel Music Association Festival and Competition, which will be held in Nashville, Tennessee July 29th-August 2nd. When I first attended this festival in 2007, I was new to all of this - very green, and mostly concerned with attending its many classes and educating myself about the business. This time, I will be going to compete, and will do so in both the Performing and Songwriting categories. I will also come prepared with a demo, photos, and a promotional package.

- I have identified a number of Open Mikes around town, and will begin playing these SOON. Most of these are at coffeehouses, clubs, and restaurants, but some churches have started hosting open mikes as well. The main benefit of doing these is to gain live performance experience, and to gain the exposure that will hopefully lead to some regular, paying gigs.

- I will be putting a band together for the purposes of recording and performing as an independent artist.

So there have it! You read it here first! Whaddya think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

In the meantime, thank you for your support and prayers as I continue to pursue this dream!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And The People Said Amen...

Saw this at Hobby Lobby this week. It spoke to my heart. And it cracked me up.