Navigating our journey as newlyweds
During the fall of 1998, Christy and I were newlyweds on the campus of Milligan College. I was finishing up my final semester of classes and Christy was working at a local childcare center. We were young, in love, and broke (as opposed to being old[er], in love, and broke like we are now 😉 ). In many ways, this final semester of mine was like a minor diversion before we took off on our journey of life dancing in minefields together.
When we first arrived on campus, we were the celebrities. It’s one of the advantages of being part of a small college community. Professors went out of their way to come see us on move-in day. It was…nice. Actually, it was pretty cool. I’m not sure you’ll find that kind of “welcome back, newlyweds” reception on most college campuses around the nation. But Milligan is pretty special.
Of course, many of our college friends had graduated and moved away. School and work and figuring out how to do this thing called marriage together took a lot of energy. So we really didn’t spend much time hanging out with our friends who were still in the area. And with Married Student Apartments being on the edge of campus, it’s not like we were in the middle of the campus commotion.
Looking back, I feel like the colder months of that final semester, with the early nights and living on the edge of the campus scene, it was kind of isolating. We didn’t really hang out with anyone else. Just each other. Don’t get me wrong. That was pretty awesome. But we were in a different life stage than the majority of the campus population. Even in classes, it felt like I didn’t really relate to any of the students anymore. It’s like I was just biding my time until it was time for us to move on.
I realize that was the wrong perspective to have. But that’s how it feels like it all went down. Don’t get me wrong. It was a magical time with my new Bride as we began discovering the joys of the shared life called “marriage.” But there was also a hint of loneliness, too. Perhaps I could say this was an experience to help prepare for the isolation that can come when serving on a church staff in a pastoral role. But I’m probably putting too much stock into that.
Man, this sounds depressing. I promise it isn’t. It wasn’t. It was a great time and I really wouldn’t trade it for the world. We learned so much about ourselves and marriage and our faults and how to work together. We leaned into each other as we leaned on Jesus. It was a great time of growth and love.
A favorite memory
We did get to make some memories with our “old” college friends. One moment stands out above all others. It was towards the end of that final semester of mine at Milligan. We knew we were moving away. Signs were starting to point towards central Kentucky. It was a bit bittersweet. We knew it was time to go, but Upper East Tennessee had become our home. But it was time to spread our collective proverbial wings and fly away from the nest.
Sarah, one of Christy’s old roommates (and also a good friend of mine), had married a “local” and put down roots in the region. One night, she invited us to a special coffee house environment that had been set up on campus. It was nice to hang out with an “old” friend. We laughed. We shared stories. And we marveled at the “young” underclassmen in our midst.
They had a concert lined up for this coffeehouse setting. Sarah had heard him before. I think it was at her church. But don’t quote me on that. She thought we’d like him. That’s why she invited us.
That musician was Andrew Peterson.
I instantly fell in love with his Rich Mullins-esque folksy storytelling through song. And as the years went by, I followed his career. I even tried to get him to come play for my youth group. Unfortunately, that never came to pass.
Then there was Behold the Lamb of God. I’ve attended and participated in many different Christmas presentations. Behold the Lamb of God is still the best Christmas performance I’ve ever encountered. And I’m saying this twelve years after Christy an I saw the concert. It’s that good. And I’d love to hear it live again some day.
Then there’s the books. Aiden and I love the Wingfeather Saga. I know he has read through the series several times. I’ve only read it once. But I soaked in every word. And the final installment made me weep.
Do you know how hard it is to read something while you’re crying? It isn’t easy, friends. Not at all. Only two books have ever made me cry while reading them. The Warden and the Wolf King, the final book in the Wingfeather Saga is one of them. In case you’re wondering, American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland was the other.
More than tears
But Andrew Peterson doesn’t just make me cry. He inspires me. He challenges me. Whenever I encounter Andrew’s creativity, it reminds me that I, too, am made to be creative. Because I am made in the image of the Creator Himself. And so are you. I get the impression that the two of us took different avenues to arrive at this conclusion – he has referenced Tolkien in his discussions (“because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker”) about creativity; my understanding comes from Francis Schaeffer’s argument. And whenever I encounter Andrew Peterson’s creativity, I am challenged to put my creative nature to use, too. Sometime’s it’s a gentle nudge. Sometimes the challenge feels more like a pounding. Although they may be at different degrees, the results are the same. His creativity urges me to create.
That’s the sign of a powerful artist. Don’t you think?
When I sit at the feet of Andrew Peterson, either at a concert or through his writings, it’s like I am taking a Master level class on creativity. And it gets my juices flowing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting him on a pedestal. He’s a sinner in need of a Savior. And so am I. Just want to keep things in the proper perspective here. He’s no idol of mine. But I certainly respect him, look up to him, and learn from him.
So when Christy and I discovered that we would have a rare opening in our crazy calendars, we were delighted to be able to head over to Plainfield, Indiana, for an evening of stories and songs with Andrew Peterson. And he did not disappoint.
The concert in Plainfield, Indiana
We were just days away from celebrating our 19th anniversary. Our oldest is about to turn 17. We were also a little more than a month away from the twentieth anniversary of Rich Mullins’s surprising and untimely passing. Pour all of this into a blender and toss in the fact that we’ve followed Andrew Peterson’s development as an artist for nearly twenty years, I think it’s safe to say that I was an emotional powder keg ready to ignite at the slightest spark.
I made it halfway through the concert. Then that slight spark went off.
Andrew shared the story of his faith journey, about how he was the son of a preacher and was baptized by his Dad. He told us about how he wound up in a rock and roll band, convinced that all Christian music was lame. He might have had a point. There was a lot of not-great Christian music in the 90s. But then a friend introduced him to If I Stand by Rich Mullins. And it changed the direction of his life.
Perhaps this is why I feel a connection with Andrew and his music. Rich’s songs and his ministry had a profound impact on my life. I was moved by his passion to follow Jesus. And he was another great storyteller, warts and all. Even in the days where I wasn’t a fan of much of the Christian music scene, there was always Rich. His lyrics challenged me. His stories at his concerts pushed me. And I was devastated when his voice on earth was silenced.
After telling his story around midway through the concert, he sat down and played a song about the Good Confession. This song has always made me think of Aiden, who was also baptized by his Dad.
So when he hit the chorus, that powder keg went off and the tears began to roll down my cheeks.
And I believe
He is the Christ
Son of the Living God
So simple. Maybe a bit reminiscent of Creed by Rich Mullins. And oh so powerful.
I wept. I tried to keep it in because I didn’t want to distract anyone from the performance. So aside from the occasional sniffle, I wept as silently as I could.
And then he started to sing “There’s more that rises in the morning than the sun. And more that shines in the nigh than just the moon…” as he began a moving rendition of the Rich Mullins song that took Andrew Peterson by the hand and led him home.
Holy cow. I just got teary-eyed again as I wrote that.
After all these years, I’ve come to realize that while Rich’s music has always been there for me when I needed it, Andrew’s has been there almost as long. In the midst of all of the chaos and uncertainty and exhaustion and cruelty and heartbreak and emotional roller coasters and the craziness of having three high schoolers at the same time and the bittersweet moments when you realize your oldest is heading off to college sooner rather than later and that two more are not too far behind…it’s in the midst of this that Andrew Peterson’s creations are there to lend me a hand and lead me home.
There’s no place like it.
I left the concert with renewed vigor. Sometimes it’s necessary to circle back and make sure you’re centered on the important things of life. The Andrew Peterson concert did just that. I was able to contemplate the past twenty-ish years of my life through the lens of the One Who Loves me, thanks to his performance. It was an incredible feeling.
It still is.
Thank you for an amazing evening @AndrewPeterson
— Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) August 12, 2017
Because after the last tear falls and we celebrate the Victor of the Battle, we’ll see that there is love. Love, love, love. Only love will remain.
And that sure sounds like Home to me.