My amazing wife is giving me the greatest gift I can think of for my 40th birthday: the chance to share the beauty and joy of dancing and swaying, eating and drinking, together with family and friends to the live music of one of my favorite bands. (And my favorite part will be watching my mom and dad out-dance everyone!) Romantica is led by Irish frontman, Ben Kyle whose lyrics and rhythms have been the soundtrack of my last decade of life as I have fumbled and grown as a husband, dad, pastor and follower of Jesus.
Please mark your calendar and join us!
Ben and I went to college together, and I still remember how much more sophisticated Ben sounded than the rest of us, when he contributed a thought with his soft-spoken Belfast accent in our dreaded class Reading and Writing in the Western Tradition. I’m guessing he actually read and enjoyed The Confessions of St. Augustine that semester, while I read just enough pages to complete the assignment. My intellectual faculties would be awakened the following fall.
As I think back on my 30s and prepare for my 40s, I realize my blessings have far outweighed my struggles so far. Life is unfair and many better souls have suffered greater trials. A few years back Ben became ill with a hard to diagnose ‘neuro-toxic’ condition where his brain and body started to revolt against him. He lost his ability to reason, his memory went whacky (he didn’t recognize his own children and wife at times), and he couldn’t do the most basic tasks. He couldn’t write, perform music, or just go out of the house. After 18 months and many doctors, it was confirmed he was battling Lyme disease.
As he came out of the fog, he would share very personal updates with his friends and “fans,” and his deep faith and strong soul would shine through those reflections on his suffering. ‘Gratitude’ seems to be the theme of his life-song these days. His journey into the dark and out the other side saturates his songwriting these days. Knowing his personal story has only made my appreciation for his music grow.
Friends, I really hope you will all come out to celebrate my 40th birthday and get to experience the music of Ben Kyle and Romantica for yourself — up close and personal in the intimacy (and stump holes) of our backyard. Invite friends and bring the entire family — kids will dig it! Here’s the latest update from Ben:
The sea is wide but we can swim over. The valley is deep but we will prevail. The storms they will rage like a tempest before us. But we will arise and we shall overcome.
In one of my darkest hours, my friend Sara Groves sent me a song from her new album for me to learn and sing back-up vocals on. In my right mind I would have said no because I could barely hold my own sanity together, let-alone contribute creatively to someone else’s work, but I knew the act of saying yes was what I must do, to continue contributing, to continue affirming the creation of something beautiful, and to continue saying a fighting yes to life – in the face of what seemed an over-whelming affliction.
So in those darkest of hours, when I felt the most alone, the closest to death, and the furthest from my sanity, my family and any semblance of a loving numinous presence, it became my job to listen and inhabit the words of this song. And so inhabit I did, crying myself to sleep as I listened on repeat.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.
I had to lie there, and harmonize with Sara singing the words. And as I let the music seep through me, the delicate surprise, in saying yes, even when it felt almost impossible, was receiving the most immense comfort and presence. A holy presence, the everlasting arms that hold, sustain and continue to create the foundations of the universe sang to me through the song. “Even in your darkest, most helpless, most abandoned hour, when you can barely, barely feel it, you are not alone. Abide with me. I am with you.”
As I reflect upon it, I remember there were many many times in my journey through illness when I was asked to do something, where I was invited to sing or play for some engagement. And I thought, no, it’s impossible, I’ve got so little to give, I am so depleted, I’m so messed up. I have to say no. But deeper in me I was saying, you’ve got to say yes. You’ve got to keep giving the little you have to give.
I barely went out in public. I stopped going to church. And then there was one morning when I knew I had to go, and as I was sitting there in the pew with next to nothing left, the minister began telling the story of the boy with a few loaves and fishes that fed five thousand people and the widow who had just a few coins, but whose offering was considered greater than the richest of the rich. Both of these had barely anything to offer, but they gave the little that they had, and those gifts turned out to be magnificent.
That resonated deeply in me when not much else was resonating. Keep on giving the little you have to give. And so I resolved to. And every time I would go and sing…. I would get healed.
And so I’m still singing. And still, I am being healed. And that’s one of the reasons we’re going to Spain and Belfast – as well as to swim in the Mediterranean Sea!
For this much is true my friends, giving is receiving.
Be well. Truly,