I’m rarely lost for words. However, for the past week, words have escaped me.
Last weekend I embarked on a 13 hour road trip to Greeneville, TN, a sleepy, and frankly rough looking little town on the far eastern side of the state known for being the home of President Andrew Johnson (my least favorite president) and not much else. There wasn’t even a mall to wander through, although I still managed to find a few stores and add three pairs of shoes to my growing collection. I headed to Greeneville to meet up with my sister (who had to travel 8 hours herself). Together we had tickets to go to a Jars of Clay concert being held at the local performing arts center, a beautiful auditorium connected to the newly renovated high school.
We have both adored Jars of Clay since they debuted 20 years ago. I’ve now been to 15 concerts. She’s lost count. As I headed out onto the road alone, I became reacquainted with each album they have released, heard lyrics in a new way and fell in love with their music all over again (more on that in future blogs). Songs like “Worlds Apart” and “Faith like a Child” are just as meaningful to me today as they were back when I was just a geeky high school student. The meaning behind the music has grown and changed, but the songs have remained. And new releases like “Fall Asleep” and “Inland” speak thoughts and emotions I didn’t previously have words for. Their music has very literally been the soundtrack to my life. But this isn’t really about the music, at least not entirely…it’s about the people behind the music, their kindness, and their authenticity.
The trip was intended as a way to both celebrate Kelly’s birthday and to escape real life, even if just for a weekend. Life is not easy or pain free and my sister is walking through one of those very painful times. As one of Jars’ songs says, “I have no fear of drowning. It’s the breathing that’s taking all this work.” We thought perhaps a ridiculously long road trip, some sister time, and a Jars of Clay concert would make breathing a little easier.
Weeks before the trip, I took a risk and emailed the band about our trip and the reasons behind it. (Side note: It was very late at night after a very long week and as I sought to personally thank them each by name, I managed to use the WRONG name! I realized it a second after hitting “send” which is one second too late. I was mortified. Stephen – I promise I know your name!) I didn’t expect a response. I had stood in many lines to get an autograph and shake their hands in the past, but a response to an email? Nah. They must get so much fanmail, there’s no way they’d have time to respond to mine, especially after I messed up a name! Except that I did get a response – from Charlie, stating that the story was both difficult and beautiful. I was floored, and assumed that was it. It wasn’t…
As I’m driving around Greeneville, trying to stay entertained while waiting for my sister to arrive the next day, I received another email from Charlie. “The band has read your email. We are moved and looking forward to meeting you once again tomorrow night. Do you have dinner plans tomorrow night, or may we send you somewhere special on us?” WHAT!? Did my favorite band of all time just offer to buy my sister and me a meal!? Several emails later, I had instructions to pick up a gift card in my name at the lobby of a historic hotel in downtown Greeneville where we would be having brunch. When Kelly arrived, she was as shocked and excited as I was.
The simple gesture of a meal. It meant so much. We excitedly tweeted about every part of the event and couldn’t believe it when the band themselves “favorited” some of those tweets. The concert was fabulous, as it always is. And once again, we stood in line to meet Jars of Clay as we had so many times before. However this time we didn’t want an autograph or even a picture. No. We just wanted to look them in the eyes and say, “Thank you.” Thank you for a simple act of kindness. Thank you for being authentic. Thank you for living what you write and sing about. Thank you for moving and impacting people in more ways than you’ll ever know.
As we approached the front of the line, Charlie recognized us (likely from our incessant posts on social media) and waved. All four looked us directly in the eye as they shook our hands. Each asked if the restaurant was nice and if we’d had a good time. Matt had found the restaurant. Stephen teased him for liking “old people” places and asked if the restaurant had that “old people” feel. We assured them that it had been perfect and that words couldn’t express our gratitude. And then we left…
But the impact of their kindness, genuineness, and authenticity has stayed with me. I suspect (and pray) it always will. I did not need a reason to like Jars of Clay more than I already did, but now I have a very good one. A simple gift card. A simple meal. A simple gesture. A profound impact. So what is the “music of your life”? Both that which speaks to you and that which you are meant to make for others. I’m no musician, but Jars of Clay has taught me to be my calling, be authentic. Don’t sing one song and live another. And they reminded me of the power of kindness. What act of kindness and generosity can you express today? You may never know the impact you’ll have on another.
Once again, thank you Charlie, Dan, Stephen, and Matt. You’ve inspired me to “walk inland.” Until the next concert and the next handshake…