Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sadness and Excitement

I don’t know if I have ever spent more time in one single month talking to my bride. Maybe before kids, maybe while dating, but September of 2014 is one for the books. I’m pretty sure we set some new personal bests. When you sense a major life transition may be approaching a lot of deep conversation is required and that’s exactly what we did. Not only that but much time in prayer seeking what the Lord wanted for us and much time listening to friends, family, pastors and others who the Lord may speak to us through.

The result of all this time and these conversations is I have decided to move on from my position at the Williamsburg Community Chapel. I say this with sadness and excitement. The Chapel has been a real gift to our family in so many ways, more than I can go on about here. The friends we have made, the spiritual growth, the opportunity to learn, the welcome to this community and continuing support, all of this has been overwhelming in a great way. We have been embraced by a large community of people and hope that in some way we have been able to return the favor.

The excitement is found in the unknown of what lies ahead. In all of our conversations and prayer we feel confident that the Lord is at work here moving me out of this role. I have ideas of what could be next. I always have business start up ideas! Maybe that time is now, maybe not. We want to remain open to what the Lord may have for us and the Chapel is being very generous and supportive in giving me till the end of January, if needed, to make this transition.

I'm sure Sherri and I will have many more late night conversations in the coming weeks as we do our best to be on the same page. I'll be sure to update my blog as things progress!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Tribute

I recently had to do something I never wanted to do! Give a tribute at a funeral. Public speaking combined with mourning never seemed very appealing to me however, I keep learning that the difficult things in life are often gifts in disguise. In this case I was forced to stop and remember and consider all that my 99-year-old Grandpa French meant to my sisters and me. Forced to put it into words and really think through the impact he made on our lives. This was the gift, lots of great memories and experiences, which I may not have thought of otherwise. If you knew Herbert Alfred French but were unable to attend the funeral, or you are just interested in reading more about a man who lived life well and to it’s fullest, here are my notes from my tribute.

I consider it a great honor and privilege to stand before you today on behalf of my sisters, Tracy and Krista, and myself to pay tribute to a man who has had such a huge impact on so many people including us. When I think about what he has seen in his lifetime and how many people knew, loved, and respected him I am truly humbled to be here. Thank you.
We called him Grandpa French before he was “officially” our Grandpa. We knew him and his first wife Elizabeth from church and loved going to their cottage. Elizabeth, was also Krista’s PAL in the PAL program, which partnered children with senior adults. Krista got to know her well and just loved her sense of humor. After Elizabeth passed and our Grandpa Lavender passed, Grandma marrying Grandpa French just made sense. We didn’t have to get to know some new person; this man who was already kind and generous to us was now becoming part of our family. And we were already calling him Grandpa anyway so it all made perfect sense to my 12 year old brain. Krista remembers their very hot wedding day in July of ’88. She teared up as Grandma walked down the aisle. She just loved seeing her so happy again. Grandpa French was a real gift for Grandma and our whole family, which we will forever be grateful for. I was also happy the cottage could become a more regular part of our lives! And that it did.  
We became very familiar with the short “dip” in the cold pool Grandpa French would always come in for. A jump off the diving board, a swim to the other side and out! A dip is right. We learned how to navigate around the goose grease that Grandpa French was always battling to get to the water and take out the canoe. As much as the geese must have annoyed him I always heard him talk about it as a problem to solve and not something that was infringing on his rights. He had a love and respect for God’s creation, which I’m sure has influenced me to this day. Occasionally Grandpa French would even take us out in the motorboat for a very very slow ride.  
Now that Grandma and Grandpa French were married and living at the cottage, we were going to the cottage in the winter too and getting to enjoy the wood burning stove and skating the frozen lake. That stove mesmerized me. I’m sure that particular stove is why I’m always trying to find a way to get one into whatever house we live in. We’d come in after a cold afternoon of trying to skate on snow covered bumpy ice, feet aching, and warm up by the fire. Grandpa French would always remind us how burning wood would warm you up three times! Once when you cut the wood, once carrying it in, and then of course when you burn it. He was green long before it was cool.  
As a teenage boy I always loved spending time in Grandpa French’s shop. It seemed like such a cool little getaway spot to get work done. The tools were organized on the walls, each one had its place and there was always a distinct smell in there. Varnish, or paint thinner or something that communicated to me experienced craftsman at work. Speaking of green, he did a great job repurposing the frame of an old waterbed. Dad bought a new stereo and I got to have the old one in my bedroom but I wanted to put the speakers up in the corners and didn’t know how to do it. Well, I explained this to Grandpa French and he took that frame to his shop and made a couple of corner shelves for me to put those speakers on in my bedroom, as well as a TV stand for Mom and Dad and eventually a CD case for my wife Sherri and I.  
Eventually it made more sense for Grandma and Grandpa French to move out of the cottage and in with Mom and Dad. If it wasn’t clear before, Grandpa French’s sweet tooth became quite evident to us all now. Tracy reminded me how he used to always say “apple pie without cheese is like a hug without a squeeze” and we used to enjoy date squares which he liked to call “matrimonial cake”, since it was “two things brought together by dates.” This is also where he perfected his apple pie made in a toaster oven recipe! We will definitely miss his apple pies.  
We can’t imagine the loss Grandpa French had to deal with in his life, being widowed twice and outliving pretty much all of his contemporaries. He was a man of strength, routine, discipline, commitment, love and generosity. He always greeted everyone with a warm smile and a twinkle in his eye. He ate oatmeal on odd days and cereal with milk on even days or maybe it was the other way round. He did his stretches every morning and was always sure to get his nap in! In the last few years he would leave Mom and Dad’s after Sunday dinner saying, “That’s my cue to go for a rest.”  
He gave of himself. He truly loved us and adopted us as his own which has helped us all to know and experience what unconditional love is. I’m sure his ability to show this love stemmed directly from his relationship with Jesus, the author of love. He so clearly lived a life influenced by Jesus, so full of love and joy.  
Grandpa French has left a wonderful legacy for all of us. We have been challenged these last few days and will continue to be as we remember how he lived and how much it has affected our lives. Tracy, Krista and I hope that remembering Grandpa French today will also inspire you and challenge you to follow his example in how you live and how you love each other.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thoughts On Ending

I picked up my boys from school yesterday right after I got home from the airport.  This was the first time I picked them up with no more tours looming on the horizon.  It was a moment I hadn't expected or prepared for.  They were expecting Mom to pick them up so it was a great surprise that was immediately obvious on both of their faces.  I think it was Bram telling me that he missed me that snapped everything into focus though.  He got me choked up yet again.  There's been a lot of that lately!  I can pick these guys up nearly every day now if that's what we want to do. Extended away times are done!

For how great that is I still found myself, just a couple of days ago, suddenly weeping because of this ending.  Although parts of this job have been so very difficult, we have endured so much together that it makes it difficult to finally stop.  The drive that has kept me pushing through all the tough times has an incredible amount of momentum behind it.  But here we are.  It has stopped.  Everything eventually does.  We loaded the trailer for the last time, slept on the bus for the last time and set up all our gear for the last time.  I've been marking so many of these "last times" I've lost track.  Now it is time to enter the next season and there is so much to look forward to yet again.

I have shared an incredible 12 years with some of the most talented people I know. Jason, Marc and Jeremy, we have made a great team over the years and it has been a privilege to share the stage and to share life with each of you!  My life has been enriched and will continue to be by your friendship.  I sure hope we have another album in us when the dust settles!

A good chunk of those 12 years was also spent with Dave and Jessica Lewis and Wesley Morris.  I sure have missed all of you since you have left this circus but I'll always think of you when I think of the road.  You are some the dearest friends I have!

And to those of you who have listened to our music, come to shows, bought the t-shirt, hosted us in your home, shuttled us around, promoted shows, told your friends about us, etc... A HUGE thank you! It is because of you we were able to record as many albums as we did and stay on the road as long as we did.  But the biggest thank you needs to go to our wives.  If you are a fan of Downhere then by default you are a fan of the ladies who have supported their husbands throughout this whole process.  Words will never truly describe the thankfulness and awe I have for these ladies and what they have endured to keep the music coming.  Thank you girls and much love to all of you!

And now;
A new day, a new dream, a new life
This is only the beginning


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Yes, this really is what we are doing...

My life is in a serious change of seasons right now.  For the last nearly 12 years I have spent most of my working hours with the same few guys.  Together as the band Downhere, we’ve seen all but one of the U.S. states, all but one of the ten Canadian provinces, plus ten or so other countries in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.  It has been grueling, rewarding, fun, frustrating, exhilarating, and many other emotions.  That focused time together is coming to an end this year which means something will need to take its place.  I’m going to write a separate blog post altogether at a later time to reminisce about our time as a band.

But now I want to write about what is coming!  I have accepted a job in Williamsburg, Virginia as Director of Worship Arts at Williamsburg Community Chapel.  We were not planning on leaving our home in Cambridge, Ontario anytime soon so this is coming as a surprise to us too.  My family came to Virginia for a position I had with the Chapel over the summer and it gave us a great opportunity to get to know the people, the community, and the potential job.  We have come to know and be a part of a wonderful church family in Williamsburg over the past ten weeks.  But we have deep roots in southern Ontario and there will be a lot of difficult good byes.  It is definitely home and a place we love, full of people we love.  Making this decision has been so very difficult.  There will be so many changes that we feel like we can’t even keep up with them all.

So here I am on the eve of making this announcement to the church body, feeling a little nervous about even publishing this post.  It’s almost like it makes it more real.  It’s not unlike how I felt before posting the Downhere announcement in July.  It’s a choice I/we have made and we have peace about it but it still doesn’t seem real.  This big of a change seems to require many times of saying, “Yes, this really is what we are doing.”  So yes, this really is what we are doing!

Even though we are truly sad to be leaving family and friends we are excited about this next season.  It is one that is going to look so much different.  For starters, I’ll see my family every day and that is HUGE!  I’ll also see a regular pay cheque where I can actually expect the same amount each time.  WOW!  Plus, I’ll be in the same church every Sunday. 

Speaking of church, I have had the pleasure of visiting and participating in so many churches over the past decade and I can say that the Williamsburg Community Chapel is truly a great group of people.  It has a focus on intergenerational ministry, which was a big part of my experience growing up in The Salvation Army.  The value of having both seniors and young people living out their faith together is one that I think is often being forgotten but is so sorely needed.  I love that there are elements of tradition that need not be discarded as well as a willingness to try new things to see what works.  In the end, it’s about more people getting to know Jesus.  If it works, keep it.  If not, throw it out.  And this church is committed to that.  That is something I want to be a part of and can get excited about.

So we’ll be back in Ontario until mid October as I finish up my time with Downhere and as we try to tie up all the loose ends we need to deal with before leaving.  One thing is certain, that life following Jesus is an adventure, a rewarding and costly one at that.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reading Chaim Potok

I have friends with great taste in literature.  Last summer I ventured out to read Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev as recommended by one of these friends.  I mentioned it here.  I enjoyed it but it was definitely a different style of reading for me and pretty thick with unknown terms (to me) used in the Jewish culture.  What I loved about it was that it placed me in an environment and culture that I really knew very little about.  And it also made me feel very smart to be reading a book that wasn't by Dan Brown and also was not intended for children!  

So when I was looking over another friends bookshelf and he told me that The Chosen by Potok was one of his favorite books of all time I thought I would check it out.  I would also feel smarter too!  Well I once again immersed myself into the war time Jewish culture of Brooklyn and wasn't disappointed.  I was pulled into this book much quicker than Asher Lev.  Perhaps the fact that it started with a tense baseball game was helpful.  I love the way Potok develops his characters and the pace at which he moves the story along.  It's definitely slower than most modern novels but I was still finding it difficult to put down.  His attention to detail and emotions really kept my attention even though there wasn't any kind of quick paced action.

Upon completing The Chosen my friend told me there was a sequel.  Well that was a good piece of news.  I felt like I had said good bye to two friends when I finished that book and now I would get to spend another week or two with them!  So I dove into The Promise.  I think I actually enjoyed this one the most out of the three Potok books I've read.  As I am no literary critic I'm guessing I just finally understood his style of writing and was able to get into the story quicker.  I found it interesting how so much of the story was based around one of the characters and his time in class with a particular teacher and how tense Potok made me feel while reading those passages.  I would finish reading a chapter and think back on it and wonder how I was so wrapped up in it.  A simple thing like students reading to their teacher and then explaining what they read was quite fun to read.  Potok did a great job in these classroom settings of not getting too technical with the content but still being able to explain why there was so much conflict about what they had read.  

Anyway, all that said I look forward to reading more Potok.  Maybe Davita's Harp will be next.  But right now I have some pop culture to take care of.  Hunger Games 1 complete, 2 half way done and 3 soon to be.  As well as the best seller Heaven Is For Real.  I'll post about these as I finish them up.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Marc Martel's Queen Audition

I've been seeing so many questions since all of this has blown up.  As of this point the views just passed 1 million.  How are you feeling about all of this?  Does this mean Downhere is done?  What's going to happen to your upcoming tour dates?

When Marc sent me the link to this contest I replied with "Tell me you are doing this!"  So I am totally supportive of this whole adventure.  After spending the last 10+ years together, 9 of those in a 15 passenger van, we all know each other quite well.  Any success that one of us has is shared by all of us.   So many of us have known Marc was capable of this for such a long time, it was just a question of when an opportunity like this would come along.  

As for what happens next . . . God only knows.  Downhere has no intentions of stopping.  In fact, our Called To Love tour is about to kick off on October 1st.  We're touring with our good friends Jason Gray and Aaron Shust which will be a blast.  Then we're pretty booked up till after New Year's so we're about to head into a busy season.  Likely a busier season than we originally anticipated but it should be fun!   Time to hold on!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Presenting The Chicken Coop

Over the past few years I've been reading books about becoming self sufficient like this one by John Seymour. I like the idea of being a better steward of what I have and this book really connected with me. I don't really have the kind of property that's ideal for living the total self sufficient philosophy but there are things that are possible even in a small urban environment.

Composting and gardening are a couple of easy things to start with. For those of you who know me, you know how much I dig composting! We have three separate composting bins/piles in our yard and a compost thermometer to monitor the temperature of our pile. We've also had some success with our gardens and berry patches in the last couple of years so that is all coming along.

I've also been on a beekeeping kick since reading John Seymour. Not actually doing it but reading lots and lots about it. My plan is to build a few hives between now and spring and hopefully get some bees come late spring. Yes, I would like to be your beekeeper! Everyone needs one you know?

Another thing that had interested me is keeping chickens for the sake of having fresh eggs everyday. I like the economics of it and I like the stewardship of it. So this summer my project was to build a coop and get some chickens! I started designing my coop by hand and going through all the different designs I saw on Then a friend recommended I try out Google SketchUp to design my coop. It's a free 3D AutoCAD type of program. This way I could essentially build the coop without cutting any wood and figure out exactly what I wanted to do. With some free time during a summer camp we were at I designed the coop! A screen shot is below.

The plan for the roof is to become a strawberry garden too. I didn't take the time to make it look like one in SketchUp.

This took more hours than I expected but I was geeking out with it and having fun so the time went by quickly. I was designing the coop based on some free lumber I knew I had access to which is why it ended up being somewhat of a tank of a coop. Below are some pictures of the process which also took a while. You see part of the deal here is that I have no history in woodworking and felt like I needed to impress my wife with my abilities. I made her a box when we were dating which was quite terrible. It was time to make up for it!

The boys could not get enough of this door. I was tempted to remove it so they would stop opening it every time they walked by. It was a temptation they just could not resist. I admit, it is pretty cool!

And here it is, the finished product with our first two chickens in it! Big Boss Lady and DeChick! They should start laying eggs in October. The roof is flipped over for the winter. I didn't see any point in starting a garden this late in the year so that will happen next spring.

And now we are at capacity with four chickens. The newest two, Isa and Babs are supposed to be old enough to be laying but so far . . .

. . . only one of them has laid. Yes, this is proudly our first egg thanks to Babs!

So there you have it! That's been summer around the Lavender backyard. I've discovered that my coop has already inspired one person to build a new coop and another to build one labour day weekend!! I love that! Maybe you want to keep a couple of chickens too??


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Books, Books, Books

One of the great things about travelling so much is the amount of idle time I have waiting at airports, sitting on planes and just travelling in general which enables me to read a lot. And one of the main reasons I set up this blogwas to keep track of what I read and learn so here we go!

Ever since I got into reading Stephen Lawhead, my interest in history has definitely increased. Lawhead is an historical fiction writer which is a genre I hadn't been interested in in the past. Reading his stories though take me right into historical Britain or Scandinavia or wherever hehappens to be writing about. I know nothing of the history of these places or their culturesand it is so fascinating to me to see how Lawhead puts them all together. All this to say, I have been on somewhat of a history journey lately. (Is it a history or an history? Article confusion!)

This history journey took me into the arctic in the last 6 months. It all started with a book I read back in 2009 called The Ice Master. I talked about that in this post. More recently I read Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail: The Quest For Northwest Passage and the North Pole. This is an exhaustive history of what went on in the arctic during the 1800's. The main storyline being how so much of the western world was occupied withfinding a trading passage through the arctic. One interesting thing that stood out to me was how there seemed to be a belief among many well educated people back then that once you got beyond the pack ice of the arctic - closer to the north pole - there were temperate waters which could easily be travelled. Perhaps even temperate or even tropical land with people living on them. This belief caused many boats and lives to be lost.
This time in history would have been an exciting time to be alive. The Earth hadn't been fully mapped yet so these men were truly exploring the islands of the north arctic. Naming them after people who had helped fund their journey or even after themselves. Not knowing what layahead of them - more ice, temperate waters, land, being the first to discover the northwest passage or the north pole, these trips must have been exhilarating for these men. I enjoyed living vicariously through them for sure. And yes, I did look up adventure trips to the north to see if some of these places were available to visit. Indeed they are and they have now been added to my mental bucket list! I haven't even begun to tell of one of the main characters/explorers of this era, John Franklin. His story alone is worth the read. If you have any interest in history, exploration, the arctic, the British navy or Canadian history I think you would enjoy this book.

The Arctic Grail led me to more Pierre Berton books as I was really enjoying his writing. He is somewhat of a Canadian icon which was another reason I wanted to get acquainted with more of his writing.After spending some time in history I moved on to a book called Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis which I discovered through the Canada Reads program. I read about the author's journey to creating this book and I was hooked there. The story about him writing thestory was so interesting that I wanted to read this book.

Terry Fallis's publishing journey is a cross between a Cinderella story and a DIY show. When his manuscript for his first and very funny book, The Best Laid Plans, was passed over by literary agents, he began podcasting the story, one chapter at time, in 2007. The podcast became so popular that Terry decided to self-publish his manuscript.

Then, on a whim, he submitted his book to the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. It won! The following week, Terry signed with McClelland & Stewart and the happy ending to this Cinderella story seemed complete.

But there were more glad tidings to come. The Best Laid Plans made it onto the Canada Reads Top 10, and subsequently was selected by Canadian-born CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi for this year's debates.

For one who is not into politics this was a good foray into the life of Canadian politics in Ottawa. Some very funny moments and some rich characters. I'm looking forward to reading his next book which apparently is on the way.

After reading Best Laid Plans I asked a friend for some book recommendations. One suggestion was My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. This story was unlike any other book I had read. It is about a devout Jewish boy named Asher Lev who grows up with an unusual talent in art and his family and community and how they and he deal with this talent. To his father, who is an important man in the community, spending ones life on drawing is of no value and is an embarrassment.The Rabbi however seems to make an allowance for it. The book moved along nicely for a while and I didn't want to put it down until about two thirds of the way through where it just seemed to slow down. It was definitely a book I wouldn't have chosen but I'm glad I read it. It wasn't a foray into unknown history but rather one into an unknown culture which seems to me may be just as valuable.

While reading Asher Lev a new friend suggested reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the true story of a man who's determination, tragedy, resilience and redemption are very rare and maybe even unequalled. Here's a quick summary of Louie Zamperini's life. (spoiler alert) He went from a poor thieving immigrant child to a high school track star to an olympic runner who meets Hitler, to enlisting in the war against Japan, to crashing in the Pacific andbeing stuck on a raftfor 30??? days to being captured by the Japanese to becoming a POW and fighting everything that entails, to surviving the POW camps and returning to America. He gets married, is tormented by vivid dreams of his time as a POW, has trouble coping and becomes an alcoholic, becomes abusive to his wife, they almost divorce, the thought of going to Japan and killing one of his POW guards is the only way Louie believes he can get on with his life, Louie's wife gets saved at a Billy Graham crusade and convinces/forces Louie to go. Billy Graham's words reach Louie and he becomes a Christian. Overnight the drinking stops and the dreams stop, he still wants to go to Japan but now to forgive his captor. This is an incredible story and one that will not disappoint you if you pick it up. Highly recommended!

Unbroken was read while I took a break in reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I didn't know what to expect except for a very long book when I picked up this one. I'm half way through Anna as I write this but it has had some of the most beautiful writing in it I have ever read. A chapter on cutting down hay with a scythe in the Russian countryside with the peasants was so vivid and surprisingly moving. I had to earmark it to go back and read again later. This is my first experience with Russian literature and culture and so far I am really enjoying it. There is a lot I don't understand as I read so I'm glad there will be no test but I'm still greatly enjoying the depth of the characters and the complexity of the story. Maybe I will be on to War and Peace next. I don't know, that looks really long!

Below are all of the books I can remember reading in the past few months although I feel like I am missing one or two. You'll see the reference to fly fishing. I took out three or four books on fly fishing which may be a future hobby. Turns out I live next to some of the best fly fishing in Ontario so why not?

If you have any recommendations based on what you see here or know of me please pass them along!

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
Fly Fishing - various books and authors
My Name Is Asher Lev - Chaim Potok
The Best Laid Plans - Terry Fallis
The Battle Of Lake Erie - Pierre Berton
Attack On Montreal - Pierre Berton
The Ice Passage - Brian Payton
The Search For The Arctic Grail and the North Pole - Pierre Berton



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