Category Archives: A Long Road Traveled Slowly

What Is

Some pretty incredible things happened this weekend. Potentially life-altering types of incredible things, and it was capped off by this epiphany:

My adult thought-life has been a battle of a) “What might have been” versus b) “What is”, when it needs to be a dance involving b) “What is” and c) “What might still yet be.”

From the time I started taking lessons on the drums in second grade through high school, playing music was an integral part of my life. I wasn’t the most disciplined kid when it came to practicing, but I was gifted. I won lots of awards, was first chair in the Maryland All-State Band for three years straight, et cetera, et cetera.

When I graduated high school in 1994, my life seemed pretty planned out. I was accepted into the music department at the University of Maryland campus, I was in a band with some good friends, and we had just recorded our first album. I was a drummer. Life was great.

However, through an unexpected set of events that I’ll leave to explain at another time, God made it plain to me that there was a much different plan that I should adopt instead. I packed up my stuff, left my plans behind, and moved back to where I was born in northern Indiana.

To this day, I’m convinced that decision was the best one for me to make. However, when I chose to move to Indiana instead of attending the University of Maryland to study music, my mind started comparing my life from two different perspectives: a) What might have been, and b) What is.

“What might have been” was that, if I’d studied music, I would have been spending hours of every day practicing.

Honing my craft.

Pursuing more opportunities to play.

Becoming a better drummer.

“What is” was that I was someone who didn’t have time to do any of those things because I needed to work to make ends meet. Thankfully, music didn’t completely disappear from my life, but I didn’t feel like I could focus on drumming.

Because of that, for all of my adult life, I haven’t felt like a drummer. I’ve been someone who enjoyed playing the drums, but if you were to ask me what I do, I would not respond with, “I’m a drummer.”

Whenever I’ve played, I’ve been comparing my actual, “What is” skill level, technique, and style with the “What might have been” fantasy drummer that went to college, majored in music performance, and made music my full-time pursuit.

My entire adult life, I’ve considered myself to be about half the drummer that I could have been if I’d gone to college. I’ve never been able to measure up with the fantasy in my head. “What might have been” Drummer versus “What is” Drummer has been a mental war that I’ve been fighting for over 20 years now, and “What is” Drummer has never had a chance of winning that war.

Over the past few years, I’ve been drawn toward practicing more, improving my playing, and to “get ready.” Playing and recording for my wife, Nikki Lerner, has opened up opportunities to perform alongside some phenomenal talents, both nationally and even globally. It’s been an incredible experience, but I haven’t felt worthy of the opportunities, because I’ve constantly been comparing myself to what might have been.

This past week, Nikki celebrated her 40th birthday by holding a free concert. She invited our friend Mark Lettieri, one of the guitarists for Snarky Puppy, to come play with us, and even to open the evening with a set of his own music.

And Mark agreed.

Because he’d be flying in from Dallas, Nikki offered for our band to be his backing band for the evening.

And Mark agreed.

To let me play the drums for his set. The set of a two-time Grammy award winning guitarist, who’s played with a ridiculous number of world-class musicians. And now me. Wait, what?

I immediately had a mental list of a dozen drummers locally who would absolutely crush Mark’s set. But I kept that list to myself, decided to accept the challenge, and immediately began praying that I had chosen wisely.

I practiced my ass off for weeks in preparation, because I knew that I had one shot. I wasn’t just doing this so Mark would be pleased with our performance. I was doing it so that I might finally win the war.

The show was this past Friday night. Not only did I not pee myself (which was a victory in and of itself), but it was a rare moment when I was actually proud of how I performed. And we even got to play with him again on Saturday for a clinic that he held in the area. And again on Sunday for our church’s services.

It. Felt. Great.

You see, throughout the years, people have often spoken to me quite kindly about how much they appreciate my playing. People whose opinions I highly respect and value. I’ve thanked them, of course, but my internal response has always been, “Well, if you could only see what might have been, you’d realize how flawed your opinion is.”

What this weekend has helped me realize is this:

Everyone that I’ve ever played with, and everyone that has ever complimented me, has no idea about “What might have been.” They’ve only ever seen and heard “What is.”

“What is” was worthy of appreciation in their eyes.

“What is” was enough for me to be chosen to play some incredible music with some incredible people, throughout my life and especially this weekend.

There is no “What might have been” to anyone else. There is only “What is” and “What might still yet be.”

I am a drummer.

So I’ll keep practicing and working on honing my skills. Because this story isn’t over yet. It is, and has only ever been, “What is” and “What might still yet be.”

May we all keep striving to move what is toward what might still yet be, and stop trying to compare it with what might have been… because it doesn’t even exist.

l-r: Mark Lettieri, Nikki Lerner, Stephen Waddy (in the back), me, David Phillips
l-r: Mark Lettieri, Nikki Lerner, Stephen Waddy (in the back), me, David Phillips

Let There Be

“Darkness hovering Grasping everything it sees Void empty Absent life and absent dream…”

Darkness didn’t take long to stake its claim on me. I was still very much an impressionable kid when I was thrown into some horrifically adult situations that no one has any business being subjected to.   I hadn’t even made it through elementary school before I was both sexually abused and introduced to pornography. I still have moments when, decades later and completely out of the blue, images from the first porn movie I ever saw will expose themselves in my head.  They are burned in my memory, and I have had to make peace with the fact that these broken pieces will remain with me until I am gone from this earth. I wasn’t at all old enough to be aware of the effects these images, and the ones that I added on my own to my mental library over the years, would severely disable my ability to look at women without Darkness hovering over me, grasping at and distorting everything I saw.  By the time I realized what was happening, the damage was already done, and I felt powerless to know how to stop it, much less reverse the damage. As I became a young adult, I was already slipping in and out of depression.  It came to a head during the Great Depression of ’97, when I was unemployed, living with my folks, and barely able to get out of the house at all.

“Let there be…”

It was during this Great Depression that I was introduced through concentric circles of friends to a young woman named Nikki Laws.

“Angels toil and crack open scrolls of ancient dreams Countless worlds of his Brilliant stars and breath and stream…”

For reasons that I still have yet to completely fathom, Nikki took an interest in drawing me out of my house. She would invite me out to her youth group meetings, and afterwards we would go to a Denny’s or Bob Evans or somewhere for food, and she would ask me about what I was going through.  I would tell her quite honestly about things.  And, instead of running away in fear, she would sit there and ask more questions. After a few months or so of this, Nikki kissed me.  Through my depression-induced fog, I realized that she wasn’t just a really cool person that I liked being around.  There was something else that had sprouted up out of the ground. Nikki was an absolute angel to me, and she was instrumental in helping me process a lot of things and work my way out of the depression (at least to the point of being able to carry on living again).  About a year and a half later, we were married. For years, I have tried to keep my eyes and my mind pure for my wife.  However, despite my best efforts, the Darkness has always been close at hand, waiting seep out of the brokenness.

“Let there be…”

Nearly three years ago, while I was in the middle of losing a hundred pounds, I came to the staggering realization that I can change.  It started with the diet, but I began to wonder if perhaps the Darkness could change, too. It took nearly a year after making that realization for me to actually find the courage to place my feet inside a therapist’s office to ask for help. I’ll never forget that day, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to walk in and ask this particular therapist. But truth be told, I was terrified.  Please, God, surely not this therapist? She’s roughly my age. She’s a SHE, for crying out loud.  This is a joke, right? But I felt compelled to.  I had to. “Yes, child.  This therapist.” I couldn’t not go in and talk to her.

“Where there is darkness Let there be light Where there is nothing Let there be light…”

It’s been about two years now that I’ve been facing my Darkness, slowly exposing it, bit by bit, to the light.  There’s been a lot of change in me.  I am not the same person I was when I first set foot in my therapist’s office. But there’s a lot of change yet to be made in me, too.  The more Darkness that I shine the light on, the more I realize that there is yet more Darkness in me. To be honest, there are days that feel like the Darkness might still yet overwhelm me.  This fight is taking a ridiculous amount of effort, and I still sometimes doubt that I have enough strength in me to see it through to the end. BUT… I keep fighting.  I have seen enough victories in the past two years to have hope that I have not yet seen my last victory. My marriage is worth keeping up the fight for.  My life is worth keeping up the fight for. So I steel myself for the next round.  Darkness may have grasped a lot of time in my life… but I will not let it grasp Me. Let there be light…

Un-Pressing Pause

If you’ve ever read anything about writing a successful blog (or even if you just have a modicum of common sense about you), you’ll know that Step One is to… you know… write something.

If you look closely at the dates on my posts, you can see that I haven’t even been following Step One. I have a number of hats that I try to wear professionally, relationally, and creatively, and sometimes I grab too many hats and try to cram them all on my head at once. This is, of course, just as ridiculous as it is impossible, and that’s when hats start falling to the floor.

This blog was one of those hats, and it fell to the floor with a startlingly severe case of writer’s block. It doesn’t seem that writer’s block should set in when you haven’t even been writing for a month, yet here I am.

But here you are, too. Over the past couple months, a number of folks have come up and poked me with a stick to make sure my writing wasn’t completely dead. So thanks to each of you that has gently encouraged me to pick the hat up off the floor and keep writing.

Rest assured, I’m here with every intention to keep writing, and even with a couple of things in mind to write about.

Even the process of writing seems to be a road that I’m traveling slowly. I suppose that sort of thing shouldn’t surprise me anymore, since it’s all still part of my long road…

When We’re Alone

I cannot count how many times I’ve been writing something over the past couple of weeks (throughout my life?) and the fear in my head says, “So what?  Why are you even writing this?  What do you even have to say about this that’s worth mentioning?  What do you think you can accomplish with this?  Why bother?”

And the first answer that I always come up with is, “I don’t know.”

So I stop.  I lose focus, I lose sight of the trail I was following toward whatever point I was hoping to make, and I stop.

There are a number of drafts that are saved on my blog that haven’t been published, and countless more ideas that I haven’t written, because I’ve questioned myself, lost my nerve, and stopped before they were done or even started.

Even though I’ve already launched this site, and even though a lot of folks have told me how much they appreciate what I’ve been writing…

I’m still not sure I should be doing this.

Purchasing the domain name for this site was a complete spur-of-the-moment, do-it-before-you-lose-your-nerve-and-back-out-of-this decision.

I’ve taken such a long time learning to believe that maybe I have something worth saying.

Sometimes I am so unsure of what I’m even trying to say when I sit down and start writing.

I don’t feel like a writer.


I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that stop me.

Because I know I’m not alone… and neither are you.

We’re not alone in doubting our skills, our voice, our life.

We’re not alone in feeling lost sometimes.

We’re not alone in feeling stuck sometimes.

We’re not alone when we feel like we’re in way over our heads.

We’re not alone when we feel like we’re stumbling around in the dark sometimes.

We’re not alone when we feel like it’s taking far too long to learn life’s lessons.

We’re not alone in feeling like we have a world of questions but so very few (if any) solid answers…

That’s why I’m writing, and that’s why we all have to keep going, keep doing what we can’t not do.  To keep asking questions, and sharing any answers we may stumble upon.  To keep reminding ourselves that we’re not alone, and to keep reminding each other that they’re not alone, either.

Because we’re all on this long road of life together.

Celebrating the Underdog

There is no feeling in the world quite like seeing people that you know and care about doing what they love to do.  So last March, Nikki and I drove down to Roanoke, VA with a group of our friends to see the band Snarky Puppy film a live recording.

The night was magical, and featured some great singers, including the legendary Lalah Hathaway, who shocked everyone in the room when she sang entire chords.

By herself.

That’s three notes coming out of one throat at the same time.

Just let that sink in for a second.

She even had the guys in the band tripping out when she did that, as you’ll see in the video:

Continue reading Celebrating the Underdog