Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23, 2012: RIP Seth...


Sorry I've been MIA... I've been trying to get more sleep at night...  So much to catch you up on, but really there are two things to direct you to...

1.  Our dear friend and EB mom Trisha Knuth's heartbreaking post on her caringbridge.  Please CLICK HERE to read and show your love.

2.  Our dear friend and EB mom Patrice Williams does a wonderful online auction for DebRA each year, and it goes live tomorrow night.  We'll be traveling this weekend, so I don't know when I'll post again, and I wanted y'all to know about it and support DebRA.  We will forever be grateful to DebRA for all they did for us when Bella was first born, and we still happily support the New Family program every year.

That's it.  Life is good here.  Go send Trisha some love tonight, and Patrice some love over the weekend.

God night.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 14, 2012: Happy Valentine's Day!


[fell asleep typing this last night... here it is a little late]

Valentines cards on the dining room table.  Check.
Coffee brewing.  Check.
Tooth fairy Valentine under Ali's pillow?  [Mommy]: Check.
Pink and red socks on everyone?  CHECK.

A big thank you goes out to Ali.

Ang and I aren't the biggest Valentine's peeps out there, and two days ago, Ali schooled me on Valentine's Day.  I had approached the crotchety old-man gumpus attitude about Valentine's Day being a boon for Hallmark.  We got our obligatory cards for Ali's classmates, and that was gonna be about it when Ali asked me what we were doing for each other for Valentine's Day.  I shrugged it off saying something feeble and lame, and Ali responded with...

"But daddy, Valentine's Day is for people who love each other, and I LOVE YOU!" to which she gives me a big hug and a smooch on the cheek.

That was Sunday.

Fast forward to last night, where I am standing amidst the other idiots at the Target Valentine's Day card trough trying to salvage cards for everyone with 12 hours to go before they get opened.

FAIL... almost.

Even if you are a schmuck and buy your gift on December 24th, as long as that gift is under the tree when everyone wakes up the next day, you're good, right?  That's how I felt putting everyone's cards on the breakfast table before they came down this morning!

On top of all that, Ali lost her tooth at school yesterday, so when she awoke this morning to see what the toothfairy left her... she came running downstairs because, "THE TOOTH FAIRY LEFT ME A VALENTINE'S DAY CARD!!!"

Nice one, mommy!

Somehow, they got on "the" or something like that and found out alllll about the personal toothfairy Ali has assigned to her (too funny).  So, Ang printed something that resembled a business card from the toothfairy and signed it, and it sent Ali into outer space.

Awesome.  The parenting ride is a never ending adventure!

God night.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 12, 2012: Intimacy (Into Me See)...








Last night we shared "our story" at a campfire worship service at church.  We were gathered on the lawn of our church (you can do that in Feb. in southern California) with a campfire, blankets, food, music, a little bible study, small groups that shared prayers and concerns with each other, and our story.

It all was good.

Our family is relatively new at our church, and it is a really tight church family here... only one service on Sunday.  It's a community that thinks that 1.  Christ is a pretty good example to follow, 2. all are welcome to his table, and 3. we're all in this together... the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the homeless, and that if Christ was not above any of them, neither are we.  There is a sense of humility and service like a thread that moves through everything here.  I am reminded of the great quote I once read," Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints."  I love that imagery... all you who have ever felt imperfect, unworthy, quirky, dorky, wounded, discriminated against... you who have sinned, shunned, drunk, hurt, belittled, taken advantage of others, YES, YOU, TOO...  

You are welcome here.

I am sitting in our "fireside room" which is our fellowship hall right now listening to Tenth Avenue North on Pandora while Ali practices with the children's choir in the next room.

There was a really funny moment earlier in the week when it dawned on me that we would be coming to church 3 times in two days this weekend, and that old obligatory attitude spoke up saying, "We have to go back on Sunday?  But we were just there on Saturday night... doesn't that count?"

Have you ever gone to church or prayed in order for it to count?

C'mon... be honest... ;-)

... as if there is some report card or scoreboard somewhere, right?  I laughed at myself.  I like it here.  My heart feels good on these grounds... it heals a little more every time I pull into this parking lot, because each time I do, I am coming to bare myself to this community, and to God.  

But back to the title of this post...

There is no better feeling than being known, being accepted, and being loved.  It's what babies need in addition to clean diapers and food to live.  It's at the core of who we are.  Last night, we were given the opportunity to be known by our new community.  The congregation here sees Angelique, Julian, Ali, and me smiling and participating on Sundays, but most of them don't even realize that perhaps the one in the family that has made the biggest difference on this planet isn't even with us physically.  They think we are a family of 4, but we are a family of 5.  Last night we got to introduce them to Bella, her journey, our journey with her, and our subsequent journey through faith and prayer.  It felt so good to share about it all.  Some there knew the whole story, some knew a little, many knew nothing.  Now, we are known in our entirety.  Our true identity was revealed, and that felt so great.  

This morning, our music director paid me the nicest compliment.  He said, "... just meeting you, you are the most chipper guy around... more chipper than me, and that's hard... and yet you have been through this extraordinary ordeal.  It's amazing."  I really appreciated that statement, because we all have a choice in how we relate to the world around us, and by continuing to look for God's beauty and perfection in even the toughest moments, it seems to show.   (I tribute that skill to my mom. No matter what is going in her life, when you meet her and hang out with her, she delights in you and in your company)

Practice makes permanent.

It's like my guitar student, who only two months ago had barely ever touched a guitar... and it showed!  Now, he's cranking out the melody to "Ode to Joy" on his guitar, and it is starting to really sound like music!  How did he get there?  A coach, and a lot of practice.

God is the ultimate coach, and he has armies of assistant coaches here on the ground for you to work with as well.  I call one of my "assistant coaches" here on earth 3-5 times a week in the morning to just check in and get me head set straight for the day.  We've probably had about 200 conversations since he intervened in my grief journey in late November of 2010.  I give him permission to give me honest constructive feedback based on what I share... he's not just there to listen, agree, and enable whatever is running through my head.  

What area are you struggling in?  Find a coach and start to practice.  Could be a minister, elder, counselor, life coach, sponsor, priest, friend, family member, colleague, mentor, teacher... whoever it is, consider that they get to fulfill their purpose on earth by coaching/mentoring/guiding/supporting/serving/teaching... so don't feel intimidated asking for one.

I got off a coaching call on Friday where at the beginning of the session, the person was confused, intimidated, and frustrated. When we got off the call, she was clear, confident, relieved, and ready to go with a defined plan of action.  Listening to her transformation over the hour brought so much joy to my heart.  I could literally hear the weight lift off her voice.  It was such a privilege and honor to share such an intimate place with her, where she laid bare her struggles, fears, and confusion, and was willing to look bad to another human.  I honor that trust so much.  So when you consider enlisting someone to divide your fear and multiply your joy, don't worry.  God has placed an army of us here on the ground to support others.  It brings us joy to the deepest level.

Practice intimacy.
Practice seeing Providence.

They have been game changing tools, and they are available to us al, free of charge.

God night.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 9, 2012: Good Stuff...

Thanks to Kristina Wyatt for painting this beautiful picture of Bella, and thanks to Christie Zink for commissioning it.


Thank you to all of you that commented on Tuesday's post.  It was REALLY great reading your thoughts and feelings on prayer.  What a healthy dialogue.  What else should we talk about?  :-)  Isn't it nice to have a forum where we can share our thoughts on a subject a little deeper than whether Madonna lip synced during the Super Bowl Halftime show?  Seriously, though.  I am so grateful to all of you for making this a community.  I noticed on the stats page that since June 2009 when this blog was set up, we have had 1,021,000+ page views.  Over a million page views.  I can't even wrap my little brain around that.

One of my heroes is Jim Rohn.  He talks about numbers, and that the real power of numbers is the story they tell.

Long ago, after my five best friends were murdered in 1995, I played a song I wrote for them at their funerals.  It was about the beauty of having a place to come home to.  It was called Homeward Bound, and here are the words for your enjoyment:

The friends that I had when I was young
Are from the same little town I am from
Whenever I feel I’ve lost my way
I know they’ll be waiting there for me

That’s why I am homeward bound

The year that I had to leave home
I learned what it means to be alone
I searched around for some glimpse of my friends
But all I had were the memories in my head

I long to be homeward bound

Well a year’s passed and maybe a day
My friends have all gone their own way
I’m far from the land where I was small
But I’ll never forget my friends from home

So now I am homeward bound
I long to be homeward bound
That’s why I am homeward bound

People told me that the song brought peace to their hearts hearing it.  The night of the last funeral, I went to a concert, and for two hours, the music that Steve Morse played on his guitar brought me peace.  Then, I had one of those thoughts again...  

Once you sell a million records, the recording industry says your record has "gone Platinum."

But what do those numbers mean?  

Imagine your record is an hour long.
Imagine everyone who bought it only listened to it once.
Imagine that when they listened, it brought them peace.

You just brought a million hours of peace into existence.

Never mind those who listen more than once.
Never mind those who see you play live.
Never mind those who listen to your song on the radio "just when they needed it."

I had this idea that someday, Sonic Divinity (which at that time I envisioned might be a record label or a non-profit) would give out a "Platinum Peace Award" to artists who had sold a million units of their record, because THAT is really what it is all about.

I've got a long way to go before this blog has brought a million hours of peace into the world, since the average time someone spends on it is between a minute and a half and two minutes, but that means we've (hopefully) brought a million minutes of peace into the world through this little place on the web.

This is why WE ALL matter.  We exert something into the world by us just being in it.  We are not inert.   In 3 years, we've brought about a million minutes of peace, love, and inspiration.  I plan on being able to say the same three years from now.  For many of us, that moment three years from now will come either way, but for some of us, it won't.  

Don't take for granted you'll be here (I don't-trust me).  Live, love, and laugh like this is it.

THIS is it.
this IS it.
this is IT.

Tomorrow doesn't necessarily follow today.  Bella never saw "tomorrow" when she awoke on October 11, 2010.  Tripp didn't see "tomorrow" when he awoke on January 14, 2012.  Learn from us.  Let it rip, whatever it is, and if you're still here three years from now, you'll be able to look back and say, "Wow, I made a difference while I was here."

Isn't that what we all live for ultimately?  To make a difference in some way?  Sadly, I don't think everyone walking this planet is awake to that purpose, but to those of us that are...

MAKE it happen.

God night.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

February 7, 2012: (more) Thoughts on Prayer and Faith...


Things are good around here.  Ali is marching her way through kindergarten and absolutely yelling at me for not getting her 3rd and 4th installments of Ali's Art World online yet... LOL.  Fire that guy, I tell ya!  Julian is still the sweetest thing around.  Seems like he's biting himself more often and leaving marks!  Teething, anyone?  Good times.  He's trying to figure out the crawling thing... take your time, buddy... take your time.

This Saturday, Angelique and I are preaching at our church.  We are sharing our story of faith.  We are so honored to have this opportunity!  We spent a lot of time yesterday brainstorming how to put all of THIS into 15 minutes!  LOL.  First off, I shouldn't even open my mouth if we want to keep that brief! LOL.  Seriously, though, it is challenging to take our journey and re-tell the story in the specified time we get to the specified audience.  It's not like we have one stock story we tell the same way every time.  We really labor with it to make sure that we are reaching the audience we are in front of each and every time.

While we were talking about the different pillars of the talk, prayer really rose to the top.  Many of you have read my posts on prayer and faith before, so some of this may not sound new to you, but humor me... this is partially me working out my thoughts, but at the end, I'd REALLY like to hear from you on your own thoughts on the subject... we ARE a community, and I LOVE hearing about YOU, and I know that you enjoy hearing from each other as well.

Today, I had a patient in the infusion center that I treated as an inpatient over the Christmas holiday.  When I saw her then, the chaplain specifically wanted to me to work with her husband as she knew our journey with Bella and figured I could help him out with the struggles - particularly in faith - that he is having.  How generous is that?  This is the chaplain referring me for spiritual care!  I love my team at work.

Anyway, just as I was about to leave today, he started to open up to me.  I got the hint that he really needed to talk, so I stayed.  He just poured out his anger and frustration with God.  He's mad because he feels like God hasn't answered his prayers this time, and because he doesn't understand why God is letting his wife deteriorate, he's questioning his faith.

Can anyone else relate to that line of thinking at all?  It's incredibly honest, and even a little understandable...

...when you have accidentally tried to relate faith and understanding.

we figured out that his fundamental flaws were that he:

1.  thought he could or should be able to understand God's will all the time, and
2.  that he has tied his faith to that position.

The thinking went like, "I've prayed many times before, and (I thought) God answered my prayers.  Why won't he this time?  Maybe there's no one there after all."

For me, faith is not related in any way to understanding.  That's what makes it distinctly faith, and not knowledge.  I don't think I have the capacity to understand the enormity of God's plan as this tiny human I am.

I used to think I did.

Ah, the arrogance of youth.

I'm now at a point where I see that faith is related to trust, not understanding.  For me, it's like this... "God, I don't know if I'll ever have the capacity to understand what you understand, but you know what?  I'm stickin' with you, no matter WHAT the view looks like from down here.  No matter what, I TRUST that from where you sit, you are orchestrating a perfect story, and allowing perfection in all things.  I just can't see it from down here.  But you know what?  I don't really need to.  You got me, I trust you.  I'm IN."

However, I am still back to square one over prayer... prayer as petition... not conversation and communion.  Growing up, prayer first was obligatory praise and attention I had to give or I was going to hell.

That was a drag.  I didn't like that so much.

Then, prayer became a wish list.

Then, I got enlightened, and prayer became a gratitude list.

Then, when Bella was born, some well meaning supporters encouraged me to "pray for that miracle of healing."  I wasn't planning on it, but it was too seductive to resist.  Maybe, just maybe, if I either prayed hard enough, long enough, and "the RIGHT way," Bella would be healed of EB.

Then, prayer became me watching for signs that God was there.

Thus the book was written, Bella's Blessings: a Humble Story of Providence.  

I thought that because I could observe God's signs, that I knew God's mind.

Nope, that wasn't it, either.


Would someone just let me know how to pray (to get my way) already?  I'm tired of playing this game... I want the cheat codes! LOL.

So, here I sit.  39 years old, 30+ years into this praying thing, without a clue about prayer.

I love it.

It has been the most humbling experience of my spiritual journey.

Thank God.

There is so much more to God, prayer, and faith than meets the eye.

Life long learning, eh?

Has any of this resonated with you?  Where do you find yourself on your journey of prayer and faith?  Please comment!

God night.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February 5, 2012: You Matter...


Our Associate Pastor, Rev. Olivia Updegrove, gave the best sermon today on "What matters most."  She touched on too many great points to recall or reiterate, but she got me thinking...  (who me... thinking?)

Somehow, you (the person reading this) and we, the Ringgold clan, found each other.  However that initially happened, here we both still are.  Together.  We matter to each other.  You matter to us.  We matter to you.  Otherwise, we wouldn't have a blog, and / or you wouldn't take the time to read it.

That alone is special.

In this world where 24 hours of video are uploaded to You Tube EVERY MINUTE... where there are over 150 MILLION blogs in existence...

We are here.






This isn't virtual.  The emotions I feel when I read a supportive (or mean) comment aren't virtual, they're real.  When this blog was a carepages blog in its early days, Angelique and I read the comments EVERY SINGLE NIGHT before going to bed.  Those comments are what gave us the spiritual strength to be the best parents we could for Bella and Ali when we arose the next day, and the best husband and wife to each other as well.  That's why they are included in Bella's Blessings: a Humble Story of Providence, because they were every bit the reason we rose to the occasion the way we did.  It's a mutually beneficial circle of nurture.

You matter to us.

Thank you for being here with us in our life.  Our life is better because of you.

Here is the duet I had the honor of playing with our Music Director, Dean Erick, today during the offertory.  It's by a pianist named Kevin Kern.  I love being exposed to new music, and I figure, since it's so easy to share a YouTube video on here, I'll do it more often!

Thank you for mattering.

To God.

To your family.

To your friends.

To us.

God night.

Friday, February 3, 2012

February 2, 2012: More postcards from the front...


So I finally invested in a iPad for work just before New Year's.  Man, has it already paid dividends.

On Tuesday, I saw my patient I told you about last week, whose dad was buried on Thursday.  My patient, "C", fell asleep while I played classic rock for him on my classical guitar.  On Tuesday, I found out he never awoke, and that on Tuesday, he was still with us, but only had "hours to days" left.

I went to see him.

Alone in his room, with the light shining in from the window across his massive chest, "C" struggled to breathe.  He was sedated, but not peaceful, and I could immediately tell he was not comfortable.  I told him that I was back to share some of the songs we sang together last Thursday, and I began with a more subdued version of The Eagles' "Take It Easy" (I can do a mean Glenn Frey, but stink up Don Henley... too high for me).  I then went into Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville," and while I sang about easy going beach-inspired times, C's wife and daughter came in the room.  This was the first time we met, so I introduced myself and explained how we worked together on Thursday.  I asked if C or the family had any favorite classic rock songs they'd like to hear, and the wife said, "Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" was C's theme song."

Enter the iPad.

I haul around probably a good 25 pounds of paper music with me in my rolling cart, and it is an infinitesimal sliver of the music that has been recorded and released over the past 60 years.  However, I have this great app called Ultimate which I pay $7.99 a year to have access to an unbelievably in-depth library of songs from every genre known to man, woman, and child.

So... I pull out my handy dandy iPad, and within a few seconds, I'm playing the chord progression to "Won't Back Down" silently humming the melody to myself for review.  I bust through the song, and while I'm singing, C's other daughter and her boyfriend enter the room.

"That was dad's theme song," the younger daughter who just entered reflectively says.  The wife is tearful at this point, as is the older sister, but they are good tears, because under the tears was a smile of gratitude that C got to hear his theme song one more time.

Then C's wife asks if I know any hymns.

I say, "I sure do, but with your permission, may I share one of my own?  I think it would be just perfect."  She brightens at the idea, and I sing, "His Love Is Everlasting."  Remember, this is THE hymn written through me years before entering music therapy that was given to me as a gift for those passing over.  I sing my song, and the younger daughter looks at me and says, "You really wrote that?  All by your self?"

Sometimes, a compliment is funny when it is a little too incredulous.  ;-)  It was really sweet, though.  I replied, "Well, it wasn't so much that I wrote it as it was written through me.  In 1999 when this song was born, I didn't write hymns, or lyrics at all for that matter.  I was so stunned when it came outta me that I signed it and dated it; I had a gut feeling it was something special for later on..."

Then the mom says, "Your song reminds me of "By your Side" by Tenth Avenue North.  It's like Jesus is talking right to you.  That was C's favorite song."  I had never heard of it, so I went to write myself a note in my trusty iPad, when I had this bold idea.  You see, they didn't have a portable music player, so C wasn't gonna get to hear this tune again.

I opened up You Tube, searched for the tune, and BOOM, there's a video of the song.  The best part?  the video is made by a fan since no official video was ever produced by the band.  Wanna guess how many hits it had received?

Over 4 million 3 hundred thousand.

I officially live under a rock.

Where have I been?

That is the nature of popular music.  You simply cannot stay on top of every genre out there.

So, like John Cusack in "Say Anything,"  I turned up my iPad, held it out in front of me, and hit play on the video... and Tenth Avenue North FILLED THE ROOM.

When the song finished (and it is an AWESOME SONG, by the way as you can see below), tears and smiles filled the room.

"I am SO HAPPY C got to hear that song one more time.  Thank you."

C passed away the following day... yesterday.

This is for C...

There was no going home and learning it and coming back.  That was it.  THE moment... and thanks to my iPad, that moment was captured, and will never be forgotten by that family, much the way I will never forget that Enya was playing for my dad when he went to heaven.

Work has been intense lately, but to be a part of such a tender moment is such an honor, I can't even begin to put words to it.  I'm not gonna lie, it's not easy for me, and I certainly couldn't handle more than the 10 hours a week I put in currently in such a setting. However, some of those 10 hours each week are the holiest, most sacred hours of my life.  They are exactly what this long journey of faith, loss, and music have uniquely prepared me for.  I think I lost over 12 family and close friends by the time I was 25... probably a bit more than most guys my age in suburban america... and remember, the very vision I had when I heard Enya playing for my dad was, "Man, if I could be the soundtrack of someone's transformation from life to afterlife, THAT would be the highest use of my God-given gifts."

This is my ministry.  And I am so lucky and blessed to see it unfold in front of me.  I am so lucky.

God night.