Ashes, birthdays, and legacies

By Oskar H. Solich (Rhingdrache) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Eleven years ago, I celebrated a significant birthday milestone by participating in an Ash Wednesday service. You know: the service that’s all about reminding you that you came from dust/ashes and you will eventually return to dust/ashes. It was a memorable experience for several reasons.

The service was conducted by two seminary professors of mine. Considering how I come from a non-(some might even say anti-)liturgical church background, I had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service until I was a student at Emmanuel. My first Ash Wednesday service was eye-opening. And awkward. And memorable. It wasn’t a foreign experience for me this second time around, but it was still unique. And it didn’t hurt that two of my professors were imposing the ashes.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Blowers. That’s exactly what you want to hear the day you turn thirty. “You’re gonna die soon.” I know, I know. Thirty is the new twenty. Or is it forty? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really matters all that much. The point is that time keeps on ticking. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. Continue reading “Ashes, birthdays, and legacies”

Todd Bussey: More than an old youth group minister

Leigh was part of our high school youth group. I asked her to share some memories from her experience with Todd Bussey as our youth minister. I knew she would have some stories to tell. I’m glad I asked. Because she delivered!

Thanks for sharing, Leigh!

Todd Bussey!

I met Todd Bussey 30 years ago when I first went to youth group on a Sunday night in 1988.

Young, energetic, silly, larger than life in personality and stature…he drew us all in and, quite frankly, made us a family.

He often met us for chips and salsa at Hacienda after youth group and made the mistake of showing us where he lived.  Now, I personally never used a credit card to break into his apartment, but I was often sitting on his living room couch when he came home…along with anywhere from 5-20 other kids.

Todd arranged goofy skits and fun outings.  He encouraged us to get messy and let go of the typical high-school drama.  Along with Scott & Corri Brooks and Brian & Dawn Gower, he put up with constant attempts to get him off-topic, countless shenanigans, and some very reckless new drivers in the church parking lot.  He moved to a new apartment, and he didn’t even bother to lock the door.  

Todd Bussey, Dawn Gower, Brian Gower

He took us to Summer in the Son and led us to think maybe we’d go to Kentucky Christian College someday.  He forced us to stop at Cracker Barrel whenever we were traveling.  He kicked us out of the church van if we complained about his driving. He wore a skin-tight Batman costume and climbed down from the balcony in the sanctuary.  We were all super-proud that we were the ones who got to go back home with the hilarious guy who started each morning there with a grin.

I knew he loved everyone, but he found a way to make each of us feel special.  

I witnessed his true caring, and I know he spent long nights with a few people who needed him.  He sent me flowers to celebrate my birthday when he found out it had been overlooked one year by some of my peers. It was an endearing gesture I have not forgotten all this time later.

When we graduated from high school, he came to our open houses, let us know what we’d meant to the youth group, and prayed over us.  Because of the bond he’d fostered between us, we kids kept in touch with each other even though we all went our separate ways…and then when we came home from college on breaks, we now went to his house on Lincoln Avenue.  The door was always unlocked.

He sent me Audio Adrenaline’s new CD  when I graduated from college (a nod to our time at SITS when they used to be called A-180). I got my first teaching job, and I still came home on breaks to visit.  He counseled me through the break-up of a serious boyfriend…and then called my now husband by the old boyfriend’s name at our wedding rehearsal.  (He managed to use the correct name at the wedding, thankfully!)

Todd Bussey officiating Leigh's wedding

He was just “Todd – my old youth group minister…”

…until a family crisis made him “Todd – the person you call when everything is falling apart.” At a moment’s notice, he simply showed up and was the example of Christ we needed at a time of true despair.

It’s pretty powerful to realize that God placed this man in my 12-year-old life so that he could be a source of strength in my adult one.

And my story, of needing Todd as a grown-up, is not unique. That youth group family still keeps in touch, and I know he’s been there for others during times of confusion, pain, sorrow, and deep loss.

When Todd left Evansville this morning to move his dear family to Florida, he left behind a building that housed a ministry that touched my life — and that’s been weirdly hard for me to come to terms with. However, the friendship, admiration, and deep connection remain…no matter what state Todd lives in.

I’ll still celebrate his February 26th birthday that he shares with another important man in my life…my dad.  

I’ll still reminisce with my parents about the time the entire extended Bussey family stopped by our cottage in Michigan just to say hi.

I’ll still send him our Christmas card — how did that goofy girl end up a teacher, wife, and mom of 4 kids?

I’ll still text him selfies of me and random (or maybe not so random?) people that show up in my life who happen to know the legend that is Todd.

I’ll still seek his advice for big decisions and his support in times of trouble.

I’ll still fondly remember youth group on Sunday nights.

Love you, L. Todd!
Leigh Blackburn Stella

Perhaps as a testament to the positive effect that Todd had on the lives of those young kids in the late 80s, you might not be surprised to find that he moves to his new position in Florida at a church under the direction of Jason Cullum, a Cullen Avenue Christian Church High School Youth Group Class of ‘92 grad like myself.  I’m sure his new flock will enjoy these throwback photos of their new/our old partners in crime.

Todd Bussey and Jason Cullum

Todd Bussey and Jason Cullum

Thanks, Todd Bussey

I’ve shared this story on several occasions in several different ways. I don’t think I’ve ever shared it here. Todd Bussey might be tired of it. But I’m not. And I’ve decided that it is altogether fitting to share it today as we wish Todd countless blessings as he begins the next chapter of his ministry life.
Todd Bussey with me before my wedding, 1998

There I was –

some 40 feet in the air. A helmet was strapped to my head. A harness was firmly fastened around my body. I was safe. But I was stuck. I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was one of my first years as a Boy Scout and we were participating in the high ropes team building course the National Boy Scout Museum in Murray, Kentucky. The climax of the afternoon was climbing a giant tower and then walking across a high wire from one tower to another. I could choose to take one of thee routes to this second tower. I chose the path that was most difficult.
Of course I did. I had to look cool in front of my friends, didn’t I?

I chose the path called The Hourglass.

The Hourglass is made up of a single wire to walk on a wire to hold onto. As you’re walking across the wire that’s suspended among the treetops, the wire that you’re holding onto is gradually sloping downward. Once you’re in the middle of the path, the wire that you’re holding onto has descended enough that it is actually attached to the foot wire.
How high did I say this course was? Forty feet? Felt like 75.
So there I was, 125 feet in the air, squatting down on a wire, holding on to another wire for dear life. Behind me was another wire that was attached to the wire at my feet. That second wire slopes upward and leads to the second tower at the end of the course.
There was a trick. One I didn’t expect. There, in the middle of the course, 235 feet in the air, I had to let go of the wire in order to adequately turn my body and grab hold of the other wire and make my way toward safety.

 Let go.

My head knew what I needed to do. I think my heart even knew. But my body? Not so much.
Let go?
That was crazy talk. I was hanging 376 feet in the air. That cord at my feet was my only lifeline. And I was supposed to let go? There was no way I was letting go of that wire.
So I squeezed harder. My knees started to shake. The wire I was standing on started to sway. Sweat ran down my brow and started to sting my eyes. I was in bad shape. Things were looking bleak.
I was certain I was going to die up there. I just wasn’t sure how. Maybe I would shrivel up and die from dehydration. Or maybe I would just shake myself into oblivion. Or maybe my safety harness would wear out and I would tumble 563 feet to my doom.

So I stayed there and waited for my certain death. At least I had my safety helmet on, so when I finally fell to oblivion, the staff could sweep up all of the pieces into my helmet, wrap it up, slap a sticker on it and send me home on my way.

Friends down below were shouting encouragement. “Just let go with one hand! Everything will be OK!”

Of course, every time I tried that, the tightrope would shake. I’d panic. And then I’d find myself gripping the wire even tighter.

After an eternity, which was probably no more than five or six minutes in realtime, something unexpected happened. I heard a familiar voice from the tower.

“Matt,” the voice said. “I’m coming to you. We’re going to finish this together.”

It was Todd Bussey, my youth minister. He had come with our Troop on this camping trip, and had already taken his turn on the high ropes course. He had strapped on the safety equipment and was already making his way towards me on a nearby obstacle.

It only took a few seconds after he came out to me. He calmed me down. He coached me through the next steps and encouraged me as I let go of the wire and grabbed the other one. The rest was a piece of cake.

I survived the Hourglass. And I owe it all to Todd Bussey.

Todd is wrapping up a ministry at my home church that began back in the 1980s. He’s moving his family to Florida to write a new chapter of ministry with some new church work.

I know.

Florida.

Tough life, huh?

But he’s going to help turn the region upside down. Perhaps he’ll even shock the world. Because that’s what Todd does. It’s what he’s always done.

Todd Bussey at the Welcome Back sign at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990

Todd baptized me. He co-officiated my wedding. He ordained me. And if something unfortunate were to happen in the near future, I hope he’ll bury me, too.  We went on our first Philmont trek together. And he coached me through some important merit badges in Scouting, including Communication and Citizenship in the Nation. Of course, he was also a spiritual mentor of mine. We have some pretty great memories from five Summers in the Son together. Oh, and we were the Summer in the Son volleyball champions of 1990, even though we were the clear underdogs. And he even introduced me to A-180/Audio Adrenaline.

His story has been wrapped into my story for the past 30 years.

And I share this story about the high ropes course because it’s a nice little illustration of what he has done for me over and over and over again.

As a ministry coach, a spiritual advisor, a pastor, and a friend, Todd has always been there for me. He was there when my dad had a heart attack. He was there when I needed a listening ear after I left my first professional ministry. And he helped guide me through preparing for my first funeral as a preacher.

Just like when he was there for me 722 feet in the air, I have always been able to count on Todd Bussey to be there for me. And I know there are many other people who feel the same way.

This leaves a large hole in my home church’s leadership. Shoot, it leaves a large hole in the entire Tri-State area. But Evansville’s loss is going to be Jacksonville’s gain.

This most definitely is not goodbye, it’s “see you later.” In Florida. I can’t wait to see how God uses Him in this new chapter!

Why cast iron makes me think of David Rinehart

David Rinehart playing the grand piano at the Villa Philmonte at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990
David Rinehart playing the grand piano at the Villa Philmonte at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990.

One of the few bright spots from my middle school experience was my involvement in Boy Scouts. Scouting had a huge impact on my life because of the adults who were there to mentor me. We also had a great group of older Scouts who would guide us and teach us. One of those older Scouts in my early days in Troop 322 was David Rinehart.

I looked up to him. A lot.

I know he was flawed. We all are. This is no hagiography. I know David wasn’t perfect. But to a kid entering his preteen and teenage years, David was about as close to the embodiment of the Scout Law that you could get. He ultimately went away to a small Christian college in Kentucky and then came back to our home church to serve as a worship leader.

I hadn’t really been in contact with him after I left Evansville. Unfortunately, that does tend to happen. Even in this hyper-connected age of social media. I was still happy to see him whenever I returned home. I think it’s safe to say that I still looked up to him. And I thought about him often.

In fact, I think about him every time I use a Dutch Oven or a cast iron skillet.

I think I was in seventh grade, serving as Assistant Patrol Leader. It was late one evening and we had just finished dinner. I’m not sure why, but I was the one in charge of my Patrol. The Dutch Oven we had used had burnt food that was caked onto the bottom of the pot. We decided to fill the Dutch Oven with water and sit it on our camp stove. This was somewhat standard procedure. The idea was that the hot water would help release the burnt food while you scraped the bottom with a metal spoon.

Shortly after turning our camp stove to a high flame, all patrols were called to an evening Troop meeting. Thinking it would be a quick meeting, we left the camp stove on so the water would reach a boil. I know. Big mistake. But I wasn’t really thinking. And even if I was thinking, I’m not convinced I would have known better, anyway.

With the stove set to high, the water started boiling pretty quickly. During the Troop assembly, I forgot about the Dutch Oven. We took our time getting back to our campsite. When we did finally make it back, I was shocked to discover that all of the water had evaporated and the camp stove was just burning the burnt food even more. Our Dutch Oven was a carbonized, unusable mess.

I went to the adult leaders. They asked David to come to see if there was any way he could help salvage the Dutch Oven. Late into the evening, we scrubbed and scraped and rinsed. At one point, as we started to make some progress, he stopped, looked up at me, and chuckled, saying,

“Don’t ever do this again.”

Then he continued scrubbing and scraping away.

cast-iron-skillet

This moment is etched in my memory. I think of it every time I cook with cast iron. In my mind’s eye, he looks up at me and says “Don’t ever do this again.” Then I chuckle and go back to cleaning the skillet or Dutch Oven. It reminds me of his servant’s heart. And the more I look back at those middle school and early high school days, the more I realize I really looked up to him.

Things will be different now.

In the early hours of Sunday, November 13, David, his mother, and one of his daughters died in a horrific traffic accident. They were on their way home from an amazing, season-ending performance at the Bands of America Grand Nationals here in Indianapolis.

Since learning of the news, I’ve seen countless testimonies about how David led worship with all of his heart, ushering others before the Throne and joining them in praise to Our Father. I’ve been reminded of how passionate he was when he directed a choir. And I can only imagine what kind of choir music he might be directing in heaven. What a glorious sound that would be.

David Rinehart leading worship
image via the Crossroads Youth Choir & Babd facebook page

After seeing David kneeling down with a servant’s heart, I hope I see this image in my mind’s eye the next time I’m cooking with cast iron. I hope to see him leading worship with everything that was within him. Maybe I’ll even catch a hint of the melody. And I’m sure I’ll have to swing and sway along with the beat. Just like he did.

In that moment, I will remember that there will be a day when He will wipe away every tear, as I shed a tear of my own. And I will long for a day when there will be no more death, no more mourning. No more crying or pain. I will see the beauty that will rise out of these ashes.

But for now…Now I weep. I weep for a man I haven’t seen in over a decade, but who had a much larger impact on my life than I ever realized. And I know he touched countless others with his life, too. So I join the chorus of those countless others, saying (or singing) the words that I long to hear someday. I am confident he heard these words early that Sunday morning.

“Well done, David. Well done.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I think I need to find a cast iron skillet and fix some dinner tonight.