Why Am I Like This? 

I sometimes wish I could slow down. I wish I could just live a "normal" life, where I work my job, go home, relax, hang out with friends and family when time allows, relax some more and start the cycle again. But that's not my life. My life is running, or maybe rambling is a more appropriate word. At least, that's what it is right now. I work my full-time day job. I take care of my twin sons half the time. I take classes full-time in the Masters of Divinity program at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul. And I do music. In the spare moments, the spaces between actually doing one of those four things, I'm hustling. I'm trying to be better as a musician. I'm trying to find time to be with friends and family. I'm trying to help when I can. And I'm talking with people, both face-to-face and through other forms of communication, so that I can continue to do music. Because, as this site might suggest, and as you probably know by now, I love music. I love writing songs. I love sharing them with people. I love hitting the road and trying to win over a new audience. I love music. I just wish there was more time. 

Chris Stapleton sings a song called "The Devil Named Music," in which he talks about how much he love what he does, but how it takes him away from other things he loves, like his family. My life is a bit of a bittersweet life. Like I said, I have my sons half of the time, not all of the time, which I wish was the case. Don't misunderstand me. Their mother and I aren't together for very specific reasons, and it'll stay that way. But I miss my sons when they're away. But because of that huge bit of brokenness, I am able to make a part-time living, playing my songs for people. For the most part - with a few exceptions, which I want to do away with completely - I only play out during the times when I don't have my sons. There have been a few shows scheduled on dates when I have them, and they'll stay with their grandparents. But again, I'm not scheduling those anymore. I know that the day will come - because it's already here in that I wish I had them all of the time - when I wish I would have spent more time with them, and so I'm not going to book shows anymore on those dates. And please don't misunderstand - there is nothing that has blessed me more than being a father. I love it. But it is hard work. It's the hardest work, actually, being a parent. Those of you who are parents know this fact. But my sons are my heart. They make me a better person, and they're one of two reasons that I'm still alive today. Music, on the other hand, is not that difficult. Sure, loading equipment in and out stinks. But even then, there's something to that process, because you know what's going to happen in between those moments. Music is also tiring. Playing four nights in a row can be exhausting. But as far as a job - and it is a legitimate job for me - it's the best job I've ever had in my life. I love my day job, helping people incarcerated in prisons work toward a better life, but comparatively speaking, music is better. It's the best. 

Perhaps someday, I'll sell some songs, or figure out a way to make it my full-time work. But there's this other thing, too, that I'm trying to figure out, and it's this: I have been called by God to ministry. I have been actually called by the Creator of this universe to be a pastor. And, while my actions will sometimes speak to the contrary, I take it very seriously. In fact - I was just telling a friend about this the other day - I take it seriously to the point that if God appeared in front of me and said, "Justin... I know you love music, but I need you to do this. And for you to do this, you're going to have to give up music," I would give it up. It would be extremely depressing for me, but I would do it if that was what was requested of me. But that's not what God has done in my life. In fact, it seems like the opposite is happening. And as I've wrestled with how these two passions will eventually come together in my life, the picture has started to clear up in some ways. My fellow seminarians have helped me, as have my friends and family. 

And here is where I want to share something more, something related to the mention of Chris Stapleton's "The Devil Named Music." In the past, at shows, and in interviews, I've shared the story behind a song of mine called, "Guitar or the Gun." The story goes like this: Back in December of 2016, I was at a very low point in my life, probably the lowest point I've ever been at - to the point where I didn't even realize how depressed I was at the time. Christmas time was close, and I was broke. Not only was I financially broke, but I was going through a divorce, and it was destroying me. I went to a pawn shop to sell a guitar, and the worker was going to give me $30 for the guitar. I told him that wasn't enough and asked if they bought guns. He said yes, and I went out to my van to unload my pistol so that I could sell it to the shop. He gave me about $150, I believe, for the gun and still offered to buy the guitar. I said that was fine, and that I would keep the guitar because it had actually saved my life, whereas I had never used the gun outside of the range. I went home, set the guitar on my bed and put the bullets back in my safe. As I turned back around from the safe, the weight of my depression hit me and knocked me down to my floor. I cried uncontrollably. You see, what I haven't mentioned thus far is this: I had a plan. It was a basic plan in which I would walk down to the Chippewa River, stand alongside the riverbank, pull the trigger and fall into the water. But now, that wasn't an option, because I had no gun. The darkness was still there, though. And it pushed me to my knees. It was then, as I was crying uncontrollably, that it happened. I felt an overwhelming sense of love flowing through my body, pouring out like lava almost, starting in my heart, moving downward throughout my body, before I heard the voice say, "I love you. Get up, son. You are not finished yet, because I am not finished with you. I have plans in store for you, so get up, grab that guitar and write a song about how I just saved your life." And so, I did what It told me to do - I got up, grabbed my guitar, and wrote "Guitar or the Gun" in about 20 minutes. 

What is the point of all of this? I think the point of me writing this was probably for me to remember that story. Not that I could ever forget... But I have drifted away from listening to that voice enough to where I've questioned my calling. I've questioned how these two passions go together. I've questioned whether the work is worth it in the end. And so, today at least, I remember. I remember that in all this hustle, in all this work, in all of the thinking, "Oh, man... I wish I could slow down for a while and just chill," God loves me and has me, and I am a child of The Most High. God loves me so much that God came to earth 2,020 years ago as a man named Jesus Christ to show humanity exactly what that love looks like in action. And it was so revolutionary, so unheard of, so challenging to the status quo of politics and religion, that He was executed. But death couldn't contain Him. And in a much smaller version of that story, death couldn't keep its grips on me, either. Because when I was dead emotionally, and ready to pull the trigger, He saved me. And He saved me because He loves me. I love Jesus Christ because He loved me first. 

So... this is why I am the way I am. Yes, I struggle daily. I struggle to do the right thing. I struggle in setting my priorities. But on this day, I remember why I'm here in the first place. I am here because Jesus Christ saved my life, and I'm going to sing about that fact for the rest of eternity. Peace.

This Thing Called Music 

I wanted to write today for a few reasons. First, I feel like I have some things that I want and need to talk about, as I've been struggling personally lately. I understand that I'm not alone in the struggle, and I also understand that I have played a role in the struggle. But regardless, I'll save that for counseling. That does segue into my second reason for writing, though, which is this: this thing called music has been instrumental (pun intended, I suppose) lately in helping me process through things. As I have said in the past, that's the main reason I started writing songs in the first place - to process emotions. The first two songs I ever wrote -- and I can't remember which order I wrote them in -- were about my first divorce and my grandfather passing away years before.

Along the way, I've written love songs, angry songs, songs about heartbreak, songs about my sons, songs about God, and a few fictional story songs covering the same topics. I'm not bringing this up to brag, although I am proud of the songs I've written, even if I've abandoned many of them. I'm bringing this up because I sometimes wonder how I would have ever processed those things if I wasn't able to write about them in songs. Although, some would maybe argue that I haven't processed enough. To which I would respond, I'm trying. Actually... I know for a fact that I probably wouldn't be alive anymore if it wasn't for music. Because I know that it saved my life on at least two different occasions. And I think many of us have a similar story. We have all had experiences where we're going through what's probably the hardest time in our life, and some random song - or perhaps not so random - finds a way into our heart and saves us.

Even just talking about music recently has been helpful. In conversations with friends, we've discussed the first singles we ever bought. If you're younger than 30, you might not understand that reference. And that's okay. We've talked about when MTV used to play music videos, and what we liked to watch. And we've also talked about when we remember music starting to mean something to us. The conversations have been wonderful.

So, what is the point of all of this? I'm not sure, actually... I got like two hours of sleep last night and see a small green man sitting next to me! Just kidding... about the green man part, anyway. I guess maybe it's this: As I look back on my life, I have been continuously blessed by music. Even in the darkest, saddest moments -- some of them coming recently -- music has helped lift my spirits or release some of the weight that comes with those burdens.

At the same time, music can be used to hurt. Lyrics can cut like a knife, just like our regular words in interpersonal conversation. I know because I've been on both the giving and receiving end of hurtful lyrics and words. And I'm working hard to not use either my conversations or songs as weapons. I've failed many times, including recently. Because, it often seems like the easy thing to do and the wrong thing to do are the same things.

Still, most of my experiences with music have been extremely blessed. And so, I am thankful.

I want to close this out by sharing with you one of my first memories of music hitting me in a way that made me say, "Yeah... that makes me feel good!" I believe I was in fifth grade at Southside Elementary School in Sparta, Wisconsin. That means that I was probably 11-years-old. The movie "La Bamba" had just came out on video. And at the same time, my family started getting cassette tapes from Time Life, and the first one included hits from the 1950s. On the tape were songs like "Oh Boy" by Buddy Holly, "Lonely Teardrops" by Jackie Wilson and "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran. My good friend David Day and I both loved singing, and we both loved the songs. And so, on one particular "Show and Tell Day" at school, David and I did a lip sync performance to what I believe was "Oh Boy." I think it was sometime after that when the "Rockin' Rebel Rousers" came about, but that's a story for a different day...

So again, the point of this writing is this: There are not enough words to describe how important music has been in my life. It has been a blessing that I am eternally grateful for, and I feel extremely fortunate to have this outlet. Thank you, Music. I love you.

 

Thumbs Up, Let's Do This 

Over the past year or so, I've realized something -- I can't live without writing, singing and performing music. I can't. I've tried to in the past, due to feelings of guilt or fear or trying to find all of my happiness in one basket. But as I'm thinking about my 40th birthday coming up in December, I realize that this is something I need to do for myself.

It's why I started writing in the first place. I've never been great at expressing my emotions. Part of that comes from being a guy, I believe, and part of that comes from not having practiced it throughout my life. For the past year and a half, I've been working on that part of me -- expressing how I truly feel. But before that, and even now, the best outlet I've had is in writing songs.

I was at at bar this past summer, watching an open jam, when the jam leader took a break and sat down by me. I asked him how he was doing, and he said he was okay. I asked him if he writes much, and he said no. He went on to say, "I wish I could write something that people liked, but I'm not sure anyone would listen to my songs." Now, while I understand that sentiment, I told him that I don't write for other people. I write for me. I have to write to survive. It's been the truest way for me to process everything that has happened in my life with regard to pain, brokenness, love, triumph, the Divine, and so on... For whatever reason, this bug has been planted in me, and I'm blessed to have this in my life.

To all those who have offered encouragement over the years, I want to say thank you. And to all those who have been broken, to those who have seen the rain and the sun, to those who know what it means to be human, I hope that this music brings you something to listen to as you travel this journey called life. If it's not my music, then I hope you find your song, whatever that may be.

Take care, and I hope to see you on the road...