I realized this evening, after seeing a note from my older brother, that this is indeed September 19. “Yes,” you say, “you can read the calendar. And your smartphone… and this matters because…?”
Nineteen years ago today marked a loss from which I’ve still not fully snapped back. But as I contemplate this evening, I think that’s okay. I think Rich would have liked knowing that his steps ruffled things up a bit.
I’ve written of Rich Mullins’ impact on my life several other years also, and I’ll do it here again. His own life was filled with “invisible issues,” some of which he shared in ways only he could, and many of which he kept hidden.
One song of his, “Elijah,” was particularly poignant, with poetic imagery that touched my heart as far back as my high school years. Take a look at my 2012 reflections on Rich’s special forward to my high school photographic essay. (Step back in time for a look at school projects completed with paper, pen, crayola markers, scissors, and scads of rubber cement. Color printers? Not in 1988.)
I continue to hear Rich’s music in my head at various times, but I find it happening most when T.R. and I are reading scripture together. So much of the imagery, the stories can be tied to scripture. As we’re trodding through Revelation, with its fantastical and frightening imagery (though I know a triumphant end is coming before the book is complete), I find myself offering the same prayer as Rich in his song, Be with You: “…when the sky is crossed with the tears of a thousand falling stars as they crash into the sea, can I be with You? Can I be with You?”.
Yes, it’s been nineteen years. And I thank Rich and the legacy he has left for continued little lessons I learn, from reflecting on teenage times to hearing the scriptures continue to sing today. May his songs live on.
songs still speaking beyond the years, beyond the scars
Eighteen years ago, life changed in more ways than I would have predicted. On July 30, I received a diagnosis for multiple sclerosis. On August 14, my heart was lightened as I attended an absolutely wonderful concert. Rich Mullins had been my very favorite musical artist for a while already – this was likely my fifteenth of his concerts. In fact, I wrote a review for an email list, as I was very touched by Rich’s words and music. But after August came September, and I received a phone call the evening of September 19 that caused my heart to drop.
My younger brother called to share news he had just heard on the radio: Rich Mullins had been in a car accident… and he had died almost immediately. His song “Elijah,” and my high school photo essay, flashed through my mind. As I leaned against a large oak tree in our back yard, a few silent tears trickled down as I stared into the clear, starry sky.
But this was eighteen years ago. Last year, a new piece of Rich’s legacy was shared in the form of an independent film, Ragamuffin. Like any story, Rich’s true tale was multifaceted, and the movie does share some of Rich’s scars that were not outwardly evident on this multi-talented musician, poet, speaker, writer. The lyrics of “Hold me, Jesus” ring even truer as we get a glimpse of Rich’s inner struggles.
and I wake up in the night and feel the dark
it’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart
so hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
won’t You be my Prince of Peace
Each of us does have “invisible issues” of some kind, and I’m thankful to Rich for being willing share some of his struggles, to admit of the “blisters on his heart.” And to remind us where true peace comes from.
Growing up in a medical sort of family, life was a bit different for me than some, I’m sure. For one, doctor’s offices weren’t frightening places. Physicians themselves weren’t intimidating to me, and I found that doctors could be found with different personalities, hobbies, specialties, sense of humor, the whole gamut. The same is certainly true of nurses, who would chat quite nicely with patients of all shapes and sizes. I even learned not to fear hospitals, as Sunday dinner would sometimes be purchased in a hospital cafeteria, then carted back to the Doctors’ Lounge if Dad was on Call.
As life has progressed, I’m glad I learned to trust doctors. Also to be patient when they are delayed. And to appreciate the doctors and nurses who not only demonstrate a wealth of professional knowledge, but also show care and compassion.
So why the medical treatise? Well, today was what I call “Doctor Day.” The trifecta – a brain MRI, an hour-long medication infusion, then a visit with my friendly neighborhood neurologist. And I must say, there is plenty to be thankful for!
5 things of thanks on “Doctor Day”:
1. MRI – It is so nice that the doctors can view pictures of my brain without cracking my cranium! The spinning magnets around a tube in which I lay are truly fascinating! I wrote about this five years ago – this will explain what I mean when I share thanks that there were “no new glow worms” today. 🙂 (The doctor said there were no active lesions, but I knew he was really talking about those durn glow worms.)
2. nurses! – I must admit that I am generally partial to those in this profession, as my mother is an outstanding one. But I so appreciate the nurses in Fort Wayne, where I visit each month for my Tysabri infusion . They get thing going with a smile!
3. insurance folks – I so appreciate the behind-the-scenes folks who cut the red tape and jump through hoops needed to finance the medical hullabaloo that is our health system. Thank you!
4. Dr. Stevens – Since he offered my official diagnosis, Dr. Stevens has shown himself to be knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring, and more. We noticed today (his diploma was on the exam room wall) that the good doc graduated from medical school the same year T.R. graduated from college. So I don’t need to worry about him retiring too soon! 🙂
5. Dad – the doctor who first taught me to trust the medical profession, who demonstrates what a good doctor should be (with his work at the free clinic each week near their home), who gave me a ride to Fort Wayne today (as my dear husband got to take our daughter to the orthodontist at the same time in another part of the state). Thanks, Dad!
Imagine a gawky sixteen-year-old girl, one with oft-braided (otherwise frizzy) hair, untanned complexion betraying a love of reading and music and speech and drama (but not sports). She was fine being out of touch with the “popular” sect; for 1988, her musical tastes weren’t what one would call average. Not particularly caring for typical radio fare, she was fonder of lesser-known artists who were part of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) scene. Sure, there was Amy Grant, whose music she did adore, but another artist had been on her radar since she was in sixth grade.
Sixth grade Angie enjoyed it when guests would stay at the family’s home, often those giving concerts or speaking at church. Many were memorable, but none quite like their visitor of ‘84. Rich Mullins had dinner at the Lyons home, and he even went with her father to buy a new pair of sneakers. He also played a bit on the family piano, which never quite sounded as nice in coming years, though they certainly tried. …this player seemed to have charmed fingers, and he certainly had a way with words. Musical poetry of an almost magical sort.
But what’s with the 16-year-old Angie? More than three years after having Rich as a houseguest, she was able to attend a Rich Mullins concert, one with his second album, “Pictures in the Sky.” Her favorite song of Rich’s, though, was one from his first album. The final track on the second side. “Elijah” was beautiful, with a gently building piano accompaniment and words that just painted pictures of the way life often is, seemingly futile in the midst of beauty and pain. Her junior year in high school, Angie was preparing for a large project in English class, a photographic essay. A scrapbook of sorts, the said essay was to take poetry or lyrics and bring them to life through photos and illustrations from magazines and such. The text Angie wished to use: “Elijah.”
Enough of the third person… thinking back twenty-five or so years, here is the rest of the story from that Autumn 1987 evening. Attending the nearby concert with family and friends, I brought along a pen and paper, not certain it would matter. But after the concert, my family went up to chat with Rich at the edge of the stage. And 16-year-old me had the guts to ask an awkward question. “Um… Rich, I’m going to be putting together a photo essay of ‘Elijah’… would you write a little about the song for me, why you wrote it? Just a sentence for the opening of my essay.” I had heard that he had written the song for his grandmother, so I expected to see something along those lines. Rather, there was something much deeper, the reason this high school assignment has a special place on my bookshelf.
There are those gaps in our lives that have been created by the lack of heroes – people who have integrity and courage – people who inspire those things in us. I have been blessed enough to have met a few and this song is a tribute to the desire they have awakened in me – the desire to be a person with integrity
This was the third concert of Rich that I attended. There were fifteen total, from 1984 to 1997. The most memorable was his final Indiana concert in August 1997, but I’d have to say this 1987 one is also treasured in a special way. Today, September 19, marks fifteen years… I recall that September day in 1997 when my younger brother called to let me know of news he had just heard on the radio. “Rich Mullins died in a car accident tonight…” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I do recall what I did next. I walked out the back door of our house, leaned against a large oak tree, and I wept. Then I looked up – the stars were so bright – and I softly sang the final line of that photo essay song, “And when I look back on the stars, it’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park, and it won’t break my heart to say goodbye.”
My heart did feel like it was breaking that evening, but I have said ‘goodbye’ as my faith has continued to be challenged through Rich’s music and ministry. He wrote that song as a tribute to those who helped him become a man of integrity and courage, and I continue to thank this talented musician, writer, poet, ragamuffin for teaching us the same. What touched the 16-year-old still reaches this 40-year-old… thank you, Rich.
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Here is the photo essay… before the days of PowerPoint or the World Wide Web, magazines and rubber cement were my most valuable tools here. And scissors, markers and construction paper, of course.
A few days ago, we were listening to a CD I love, Cantlcle of the Plains. This is the musical written by Rich Mullins, and it tells us the story of the life of St. Francis of Assisi… but as if “Frank” had lived in the Wild West. The musical was only officially performed once before Rich’s death thirteen years ago – how I wish I could have seen it! But even without witnessing this performed, Rich’s musical poetry still digs deeply into the human condition and love of God, and it speaks quite clearly. And poignantly. Or as my friend Barbie commented, “His words never become trite.”
The song that really had me contemplating was “Heaven is Waiting,” one that I enjoyed playing repeatedly after we purchased the Canticle of the Plains CD at Rich’s Indiana concert in August 1997. This was the first venue at which the CD was available for purchase… little did I know that this, the final concert of Rich’s tour, would be the only time he’d have the CD available after a performance. Thirteen years ago today, Rich died in an automobile accident, and a little piece of my life was never quite the same.
One thing I noticed about Rich, from the first time I met him and heard his music in 1984, is that he didn’t just go through life haphazardly, but he LIVED and FELT so deeply… and as I aged and heard Rich’s music grow, I could see little windows into his soul (only the windows from which he chose to lift the blinds). Rich felt so much, he thought so much, he struggled so much that I have to wonder – did God perhaps choose to call Rich “Home” so that his heart could be at peace?
Rich may not have realized that one of his Canticle songs would be autobiographical. “Heaven Is Waiting” was written by Rich, his friend Beaker, and Mitch McVicker (who also sang the role of “Frank”). Here is the last section of the song, the one that requires a tissue on my part, each time I hear it:
So don’t ask for no lengthy explanation
when there ain’t no reason quite wild enough
no words could be as tender
it’s greater than the fears that we imagine
more than the warmth that we remember
it’s always just beyond the pass – and I must go…
‘Cause heaven is waiting
just past the horizon
just over the mesas
across the great divide
and faith is blazing
this trail that I ride on up this mountain I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb Oh, heaven is waiting.
Thank you, Lord, for giving us the gift of Rich and his life and his music. Please continue to teach me through Your word and the words and music of Your children here on this earth – and for those of us left behind who continue to struggle with parts of life, please continue to give us glimpses into Your truth. For as Rich and “Frank” reminded us, heaven is waiting.