I’m in my bunk on the tour bus, which is in some ways like a coffin, in other ways like a berth on a ship. Some nights it feels more like a bunk bed at a sleep over with a bunch of friends, only your friends have whiskers and wives at home. To my left is a curtain that opens onto a little hallway of other drawn curtains where the other members of the tour are probably sleeping now. To my right is a book by Mark Helprin (one of the finest writers I’ve ever read) called Winter’s Tale. I’ve been reading it for six months or so and just can’t seem to finish it–not because it’s not good, but because it is. I don’t want it to end. Beside that is a book of poetry called Nine Horses by Billy Collins (which I highly recommend, especially if you’re like me and you don’t usually like poetry).
Let’s see, what else? A pair of dirty socks, my backpack, my cell phone, and a framed picture of a fourth grade class. The picture was a gift from a school teacher at our show in Charlotte. She gave each of her students a copy of one of my albums to coincide with a series of lessons and took a picture of the kids for me.
So now you know what it’s like in my secret chamber. Oh, I should probably also mention that it’s 3:31 am.
This morning, with David Mead’s song “Nashville” rolling down the road of my brain, I crawled out of my bunk and lifted the blinds to see the fine sight of my hometown, draped in fog. The Ryman Auditorium is a red brick beauty, a 118-year-old building kneeling among the skyscrapers in a kind of stately humility. It is a place that is thick with history both American and musical, and the spirits in its halls sing of the precious intersection of Place and Time.
In minutes the bus door flew open and my three kids barreled in to deliver hugs, kisses on the cheek, and a hundred questions at once. Jamie and I took the kids back home so we could sign some papers, start the laundry, and rush out the door to meet my parents for lunch once their plane landed. We ate at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, whose burgers are my current favorite. We talked about home and my dad’s ministry and the fact that I had just gotten word that the Ryman was close to selling out. I wiped the grease from my fingers, bade my family farewell for the afternoon, and headed back to the Ryman for soundcheck.
This is my favorite part of the day, I think. I saw friend after friend arrive at that grand ole concert hall with their instruments slung over their shoulders: Pierce Pettis and his guitar, Ron Block and his banjo, Michael Card and his bouzouki, Stuart Duncan and his fiddle. In walked Marcus, the violinist who helped me find the melody for “Deliver Us” nine years ago, Andrew, my boys’ old violin teacher, Randall Goodgame with his gentle grin, Kurt and his daughter. Then the rest of the band trickled in: Gabe, Garett, Ben, the Brothers Henry, Gullahorn, Cason, Biggs, Osenga, Jill, Bebo, Todd–all of them bearers of the Spirit and willing to use their gifts in this way for the sake of the Kingdom. I love bouncing from place to place, checking in on the little clusters of conversation to be sure everyone has what they need and knows where they need to be. I hear snippets of laughter and sincerity everywhere I turn. There’s an outpouring of goodwill and patience and service that astounds me. Every year, it astounds me. And I can only think that the reason for this goodness is the Gospel about which we have gathered to sing.
That Gospel draws us like the call of a jubilant voice deep in the woods. We hear, and we follow, and though we scarcely know how we know, we believe the source of the voice is good and the only thing worth knowing. All at once, we emerge from all sides in a clearing. We are cut by thorns and weary to the bone. In the center of the clearing swirls a warm, symphonic light within which glows–depending on the tilt of the head–a patient eye, or an open hand, or the slender form of a man with his hands on his hips, laughing. And you know that it’s Him. Then the skill in your fingers, the ache in your heart, the talent in your soul–all of it–strains to do His work. It strains like a warhorse pawing the ground in the moments before the charge.
Then comes the downbeat, and the crowd falls silent as the story is told.
After the show, after the pictures are taken and the thank-yous are spoken, Jamie and I escape to the nearest Waffle House. It’s a tradition. We sit in a booth and decompress over a plate of bad/good food. We pray before we eat and speak quietly so the people in the next booth won’t eavesdrop. Now that I think of it, this is my favorite part of the day. And it’s because of the company, not the food–honest. Near midnight, my bride dropped me off at the bus for the last three shows of the tour, and she went home to the Warren where our children and my parents are sleeping.
I am grateful for precious days like this one, when light, love, and music make it that much easier to believe that there is a God in whose heart lies a secret chamber for each of us, where there is rest and comfort and safety. In our Father’s house there are many rooms. Do not let your hearts be troubled.