Magic

I was taught that every story has a beginning, middle, and an ending. From an early age our stories end with “happily ever after.” At the head of the tale, this is the only ‘tail’ that will do. It’s certainly what we all hope.

But life spins a different story for each of us. Whether easy or hard, every life has moments of magic. The big ones are easy to spot. The tragedy is missing the magic in the everyday.

Sometimes it’s easy to miss any of these moments. Especially when the story is framed by dark words and darker deeds. We look for an Enemy without…but the true enemy is within.

No one starts as the antagonist, and the journey into villainy is a story in itself. My crime is believing words spoken about me even before entering my own story.

Cripple,’ she said. God’s punishment for sin and shame. Doctors repaired the deformities but they couldn’t remove the scars.

Don’t tell anyone,‘ she said. Even now I cannot tell.

You’ll never be good,’ he intoned. By this time in the story I was learning to use the rage. I would be good in spite of jealous prophesy. But never quite good enough.

Then the day comes when pride turns fall. Mighty are the fallen…

Like the loneliness of early days in hospitals, overwhelming waves of abandonment come flooding back. But you are the betrayer. Your body is whole but your spirit is crippled.

You are alone even when never alone.

The words cling to your hoping heart. Descriptors of your fall haunt through the decades.

You come to the last act of the story. The arc is not complete, but the incline is steepening toward the end. Mistakes are made and lessons learned and unlearned, a student of life even still.

And the words remain as surely as the scars upon your flesh.

“Rich man, poor man. Beggarman, thief. Liar, betrayer, sinner chief.”

At least I can see the magic…and remember how the tale could have ended.

Five Years With the Father

Five years ago my sister Cookie came into the presence of the Father. It has been a day of struggle, and I have struggled to find a new way to write my heart and honor my sister. I have failed to find any words more appropriate than what I shared at her memorial.

Marie Georgette ‘Cookie’ Vinson Holmes
1957-2009
“All Things New”

We’ve gathered here today to remember and to say farewell to Marie Georgette Vinson Holmes. On Wednesday, September 30th at approximately 1:30 p.m., Marie succumbed to a sudden pulmonary embolism. Her passing was both quick and peaceful. She was 51 years old.

She is survived by her two children, Jason Holmes (Mobile, AL), and Laura Holmes (Pinson, AL); her father Melvin J. Vinson, Sr. (Rockledge, FL); her sister Donna Faile (Birmingham); brothers Gary Poellien (Rockledge FL), Melvin J. Vinson, Jr. (Birmingham), and myself, George Vinson (Nashville, TN). She is also survived by Jerry Holmes (Byhalia, MS), her ex-husband and special friend. Marie leaves behind a host of family and friends.

Preceding her in death are her mother, Virginia Vinson, brother Jerry Poellien, and sister Patricia Vinson.

Marie was a loving mother and a special friend to all. She worked for eight years as a dedicated childcare worker, most recently at the First United Methodist Church of Trussville. Born in Dothan, AL as the sixth of seven children, she was raised around the world. Marie was proud of her children, with Jason graduating from the University of South Alabama, and Laura from Jefferson State Community College.

At the end point in our journey, each of us will have his or her life reduced to a few paragraphs like the preceding…of about two hundred words or less. To the people who read this entry, these were the pertinent facts in the life of my sister. But this was not the sum of Marie’s journey. The truth of it is far richer and compelling. Let me admit that I don’t know Marie Holmes. Lest you think that grief has addled my wits, I am indeed her younger brother. But the person I wish to remember today will always be known to me…as ‘Cookie’.

Vinson family legends tell that when Marie Georgette Vinson arrived, our sister Patti couldn’t say the name ‘Marie’. When asked what we should call this newest daughter, the response was ‘Cookie’. How you get ‘Cookie’ out of Marie I have no idea, but the nickname stuck, even through high school and beyond. I’m sure there are those of you here today that only knew her as Marie, but please indulge me, because I will invariably use her nickname.

Cookie was probably one of the most laid-back people I have ever known. It was quickly apparent that she would never be accused of being early for anything. ‘Cookie-time’ was a phrase that we used to describe the extra fifteen or twenty minutes she usually needed to get ready to go or to do anything (a fact that would drive friends and family to distraction).

And Cookie became my alarm clock during school years. Without fail, the first word I would hear each morning would be her name. ‘Cookie! Where’s the shirt/pants/skirt/boots/whatever else Cookie would have borrowed or loaned to her friends that belonged to Patty’. Admirably, Cookie was very generous to her friends with anything that was hers (or anyone else’s for that matter).

Cookie inherited from our Dad his open and warm manner, an easy way with people, and a quickness to laugh. She was ‘an easy hang’ as many of you know. From our Mom Cookie received her deep sense of family, a love of reading, and an incredible curiosity. And even though she was ‘laid back’, you would underestimate her at your peril. I know that at a gathering such as this that it’s customary to remember only the best qualities, but let me be clear…Cookie could be mean, and sometimes downright devious!

One hot, Southern summer afternoon, my brother Melvin and sister Patti had decided to grab some rays and work on their tans. But they chose the roof of our little house in Center Point to do so. Cookie comes out and wanted to join them…but of course they decided it was a ‘members only’ roof and she was not invited. So what does dear, sweet Marie do? She parades into the house and informs Dad that Patti and Melvin were on the roof. This provokes the expected parental response of ‘tell them to get down…now!’ So Cookie saunters back outside and delivers the following; ‘you’d better get down from there’ (omitting the tiny detail that this was not a suggestion, but our Army veteran father issuing a command). Not wanting to be bossed around by their baby sister, Melvin and Patti laugh and taunt her with ‘they’ll stay up on the roof as long as they want’. Cookie dutifully delivers this message back to Dad, this time with stunning detail and accuracy. Needless to say, the roof was vacated and my brother and sister learned to stay on Cookie’s good side!

Growing up as we did in the Sixties and Seventies, music was a huge part of our lives. Many of you know that I am a musician, but the first time I ever ‘performed’ in public was on a back-yard stage, pantomiming “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, alongside of Cookie and Patty and Melvin. And while Cookie never did learn to play an instrument, she loved music and helped instill that love in me as well.

She also loved to read, and was quick to turn me onto her latest literary discovery. Cookie passed along J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy to me when I was eleven or so…books that filled me with a sense of wonder and of the ‘rightness’ of Good triumphing over Evil. I have read these books many times since then…and I will always be in her debt.

It was this very sense of wonder that informed my sister’s faith. A Christ-follower of many years, Cookie’s relationship with God was deep and central to the way she lived. While never openly ‘religious’, this spiritual center was a large part of her peace and contentment, even through trial and adversity.

And so we come to this final page of our remembrance. It is the very nature of being human to want to understand the ‘why’ of things. Why did Cookie have to leave us so soon? As a minister of the Gospel, I know the truth and comfort of Marie’s Hope. But as a grieving family member, I have no words that can truly assuage the emptiness we all feel at this time.

Since Marie’s passing, I have been shocked and saddened, and yes, even a bit angry and confused. I have questioned God in this, and thought long and prayed for comfort…I have especially prayed for the right words to say this very hour…in this very moment. And the ever-faithful God that knows our coming and going, who knows the very hairs of our heads answered my prayers, and brought comfort and even insight…through a song.

I have mentioned that Marie loved music. In 1964, British soul singer Petula Clark released a single destined to be her only Number One international hit. The record was “Downtown” and Cookie LOVED this song. I can remember one day wanting to listen to a Beatles LP, but Cookie had just gotten the 45 of “Downtown” and had commandeered our little red record player. We must have listened to “Downtown” in it’s 3 minutes and 8 seconds of glory…about 50 times that afternoon! I wanted to so break that record…literally!

But in thinking back to that day…to that song…there must have been some kind of prophetic sense to the lyric. It foreshadows the faith and hope Marie has in Christ, and hints of the place where those of us who know the forgiveness of his grace and mercy will one day gather in worship.

When you’re alone
And life is making you lonely
You can always go, downtown
When you’ve got worries
All the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know
Downtown
Just listen to the music in the traffic of the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon lights are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown
Everything’s waiting for you

Revelation 21 says it this way:

The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City.

And finally:

I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

This is the Hope my sister shared and lived and died anticipating. One day I will see Marie again…young and healed and whole…“new!” I’ll see her arm in arm with all our loved ones who’ve gone before, basking in the light of Christ illuminating the City of God.

Cookie…Marie…save me a spot and I’ll meet you…Downtown.

GV, October 2009

Postscript:

Since that day, Dad followed Cookie home. I can think of no worse hell than to bury your children. I had questions for God then, and have them still today. I have been told not to question…to simply have faith, and there was a time when I would simply accept said advice. But so many questions demand answers, and I cannot help but be reminded of the faith heroes who questioned and yet dared call God friend. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…Moses, Joshua, and the prophets who proclaimed truth and paid with blood. Even Christ had His questions and moments of dark abandonment. My God can handle my rage and my questions…I just don’t know how much more I can handle.

I am indeed looking forward to a homecoming. But until then, I’ll continue with my questions and my journey.

GV, September 30, 2014

“The Hand and the Heart”

Heart_and_Hands_George_Vinson_Project_150

While I love the technology of iPads and laptops, I have rediscovered the immediacy that comes with connecting my head and heart to my pen and allowing that to spill out onto a blank page. It seems more real, though no less difficult.

Typing onto a screen is clean and neat, but writing by hand is chaotic and mesy. But it’s more like real life…like my life at least.

There is a post I’m struggling to write. It’s messy and is demanding a transparency that my own inner fears seldom allow.

Fear has always been my greatest enemy. Praying for freedom from fear, and for the courage to trust in the One who is always trustworthy.

GV

“The List”

Courage. Talent. Skill. Dedication. Vision. Belief…

I am a musician. And a songwriter, and producer, and dangerously enough of an engineer to understand how to make all those other jobs work together to create music.
I’ve been doing this now for longer than some of you have been alive. I don’t really consider myself to be ‘old’ but I certainly don’t fall into the ‘young’ demographic…

I began this post with a list. The page of my journal was blank and begging to be filled.

You have to start somewhere.

So I made a list of the qualities I believe you should possess in order to attempt this music thing. I suppose they apply to any endeavor if you think about it. Charlie, my mechanic who speaks in ‘rich and colorful metaphor’ has kept my aging Hyundai Elantra alive and kicking (388K+ miles), and he possesses these list-qualities in no small measure. He is truly an artist of the automotive.

But I’m not Charlie, and this is my post. The fact that I took the time to introduce you to him underscores the following about me:

Of all the items listed, I struggle with very first one.

(I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling back)

Courage. I believe I have enough of the other items in order to ‘do my thing.’ But I SO struggle with courage, or the lack thereof.

I have filled post after post and song after song with my musings and thoughts and feelings. Only on occasion have my shields lowered enough to allow my heart to peek through.

And that’s just wrong.

Art without courage is just noise.

I’ve been working on a post the past few days about war, sadly always a timely topic. But I’m struggling, not because I lack an approach or even words I desperately need to share. I lack the courage to tell my tale of war as a metaphor.

There’s a war in my world and I’m afraid to face it, much less write about it.

But I hear a call to courage. To find the bravery to raise my hand and admit to being human.

If I follow courage, my list would be different:

Cowardice. Insecurity. Anger. Loneliness. Fear.

All the qualities that prevent and negate the art I long to present.

So here’s to the lists we have in our lives. Admit it, we all have them. Choose ye this day which one to believe…

There is a fire inside of me that longs to create. It flames up a bit here and there. Just enough, I suppose.

But I want more…

I want to immolate my fears in a bonfire of creative passion, in the gifts that I’ve been given. Not for accolade or reward, or even for anyone else. I want the freedom that creativity brings to be true to being me.

If I’m honest, I am afraid of this fire, of losing control. Fear keeps me isolated and in slavery. And alone.

Courage can only be found in loneliness. The ‘bravery’ of the crowd is hollow at best.

Father, thank You for the gift of this day, for courage modeled and found. You created me to be an artist. May this be a day of creativity and boldness, with freedom to all who fear.

Now I have a post to write about war.

May you find your courage today. It can be found in the most unlikely of places. Inside of your heart…

“Forgive the Drama. I’m a Dad.”

Tomorrow (Friday) Carol and I will bundle up our 8 year old Audra Grace well before dawn, load in our trusty Ford Windstar van (the vintage 2001 model) and drive the 32.3 miles to the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Upon arriving, we’ll proceed to the surgical ward on the 3rd floor. After all the pre-op is done, at approximately 8:30am a surgeon will make an incision in Audra’s lower abdomen and remove what is hopefully a benign fatty tumor called a lipoma.

Forgive the drama. I’m a dad. And my precious baby has something in her that must be removed.

When Audra broke her right arm recently, we were of course helping bathe her (as a fully functioning 8 year old adult, this was not necessary nor allowed prior to her accident). It was then that Carol noticed the swelling down below. I didn’t because…well, uh…still not used to having a daughter. Just saying…

Initially our doctor thought it could’ve been a hernia or something caused by her trampoline accident. But our docs are way thorough and way precautious thankfully. Sitting in the room with X-ray techs, we picked up on the body language and what they didn’t say. An MRI was scheduled and performed after what felt like forever. Results were 98% certain the mass they detected was nothing. But…

We were referred to a surgeon, who gave us the news about the 98, and told us what that 2% could mean. That tiny percentage point is not a good one.

Forgive the drama. I’m a dad. And my precious baby has something in her that must be removed.

I fully trust the medical team that will perform this procedure. I trust our doctor and how she cares for our children like her own.

I trust the Father with my baby girl. In all likelihood, the biopsy will come back with the words we want. Audra will have a tiny scar but she will run free like she does, laughing and living and trusting in typical Audra fashion.

Her name is Grace and she is aptly named.

But I’m her father. My precious baby has something in her that must be removed.

We are made in God’s image. Our thoughts and feelings and emotions are reflections of Him. Could He have felt this way when sin invaded his children?

Forgive the drama. I’m your Father. And my precious children have something in them that must be removed.

So pardon the Sunday School ending to this post. You know I hate that crap. But my mind works that way, and I can’t help but think the Father worries over me and you like we do our own children.

And I trust Him.

GV
041113

My Dad (the Director’s Cut)

It’s been a day or so shy of 27 months since my dad, Melvin Joseph Vinson passed away. After posting the eulogy I composed for his memorial, I felt a tremendous relief… a lightening of my spirit. I felt that I had followed the Spirit in honoring a man I admire and still love deeply.

But as is often the case, words and phrases were edited from the story. Key scenes left on the cutting room floor.

To understand this “director’s cut” you’ll need to read the story here.
Don’t worry… I’ll wait.

The backstory:

I’m the youngest of seven kids. The tiebreaker, the baby, the spoiled one, etc. Best for last, right? Not quite…! Far from the perfect specimen you all imagine me to be, there were a host of issues.

A club foot requiring numerous surgeries, casts, wheelchairs, and even some Forrest Gump-approved leg braces (exactly like in the movie, no joke). Add to this a cleft pallet, severe allergies as a child… you name it. God and doctors performed some miracles to be sure. But I grew up a shy and introspective bookworm, hobbling on casts and crutches in the shadows of the giants that were my siblings. It was only after finding Christ at age 13 that I found music and the Call that has defined my life ever since.

Out of the whole clan, my sister Patty (child number five) was the only one of us to attend college (she became a teacher). But like my brother Melvin (number four of seven), Patty got heavily involved in drugs and drink. She eventually came through all that, became a believer, and was doing well. 

But one night she fell off the wagon, as it were. Long story short.. it was ruled an accidental overdose. For good or ill, her struggle with substance abuse and depression was at an end.

As I stood by Patty’s coffin in the viewing room of the funeral home, Dad and I were both numb. My always strong Army dad had tears in his eyes, and probably in a state of shock. Of all the things a parent should never experience, this was it. To outlive your child… oh my God. The pain Dad emanated was palpable. I wanted to be there with and for him… whatever it took and as long as it takes. 

I placed my hand on his broad shoulder and leaned close to give what comfort I could. In a thin and weak voice (that alone shattered me) he said…

“Of all you kids, she was the smartest one…”

For a guy like me, born with a club foot, a cleft pallet, and all that… self confidence had always been a quality in short supply. And to hear I was down the line of the smart list? A guy who never did any or all the things to bring pain and heartache to my parents that Patty did…? I think what hurt was not that he called me stupid (he didn’t) or say those words in anger (he was out of his mind with grief)… but was that what was in his heart when he thought of me?

It seems petulant to say that in the days and weeks following Patty’s funeral, I had very little to do with him beyond the usual… the expected. Somehow work got busier. The time between visits and phone calls grew wider with the passing years. Moving to Nashville helped justify and assuage the guilt I reluctantly felt from my cowardly absence.

Time does heal some wounds. And the passing of my Mom and sister Marie required a closing of the gap. I began to realize the stupidity of my one-sided estrangement.

Time grew short for Dad as a host of illnesses began to take their toll. Honestly I think the loss of his children and soulmate hastened the end. He did find a few years of contentment living in Florida with one of my oldest brothers Gary and his family. Phone calls became more frequent and heart-felt words of love and affection passed my lips more often.

I went down to see him when it was apparent he was dying. You’ve read the story so you know most of it. Those of us who made this final journey gathered around his hospital bed, talking, singing, praying etc. But he was completely unresponsive. I stayed there as long as I could but finally had to come home.

What I could not say in my original post was this. It was so overwhelming… so real. So raw and real that it’d require a restricted rating.

The last time I saw my Dad, we were alone… for a final time I leaned in very close and told him how much I loved him… how proud I was to be his son… and prayed to be half the man he was.

I kissed his cheek, expecting to feel nothing but the stubble on his cheek… to hear nothing but the hiss of the oxygen and the slowing beep of the monitors…

I felt and saw his face twist with sorrow… and he sobbed.

Sobbing, I turned and left. 

2 hours later he passed away. 

Finally, in my journal entry you read how I prayed for a word that would sum up the life that was my Dad. A word from the Father that would define him… to be his spiritual legacy.
What still is awesome and unbelievable is that the very moment Dad slipped away into eternity was the very moment that Holy Spirit whispered the word I sought…

“Scandalous”…

So why tell the story now? What prompted this unedited/unrated version?

The scandalous story of my Dad is still being told. It’s still reaching and inspiring.

Holy Spirit is still using Dad…

To reveal truth…

To redeem the captive from bondage…

And to restore the hopeless and broken to courage and wholeness.

I want to follow in my Dad’s footsteps as he followed the Father.

Reveal… Redeem… Restore

God is still doing all three.

GV

The Father

Yesterday, January 13, 2010 at 10:50 am Eastern, my father Melvin Joseph Vinson Sr. passed away at a hospital in Cocoa, Florida. Dad was suffering from a variety of illnesses, but ultimately succumbed to complications arising from a large clot in his lung. He was 83 years old.

There is not space to describe what our family is feeling, and certainly not room to even begin to tell you about my Dad. I have been asked by the family to lead a very informal gathering in Birmingham, AL on Saturday, January 30th (place and time to be determined). Over the next days I will prayerfully attempt to compose a message worthy of the man who was my father.

“Joe” Vinson… 1927-2010 A life fueled by love and illuminated by Grace.

I love you, Dad…