Sunday December 24, 2017 marks exactly 17 years since I first sat down to play an organ as a Minister of Music. This year is also my 25th year of playing in church. By the age of 10 I was regularly playing the drums in church. I played drums until I graduated high school and moved to college. The training wheels were off and so was my logical reasoning. “How did I get here?” Why did I let them talk me into this?” Those were the questions that seemed to overshadow every minute of that service at Saints Chapel Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
17 years later, I am amazed at how good God has been to me. He’s been patient, He’s been right there the whole time and has opened more doors with my “yes” than I could have by waiting until I felt like I was ready. Six countries across three continents, countless playing opportunities and a growing media company that blows even my mind!
For me, the greatest lesson in all of this is understanding the roles people play in your life. Some of them lead you and some push you! Allow me to tell you about a few of them.
Some of the people we meet along life’s journey become destiny helpers for us. For me, I met some of my life’s greatest destiny helpers following my decision to enroll in college. Though Charles was a destiny helper as a contemporary, allow me to tell you about another destiny helper and mentor.
I attended Weatherford College on a drums scholarship in the jazz band though I played trumpet and low brass instruments from the sixth to twelfth grades in school. I never formally studied drums until my senior year in high school coupling my music reading skills with the natural talent I developed playing the drums at church. I performed well in the jazz band but as a church kid, I was naturally drawn to the gospel choir that met on Monday nights on campus. The choir wasn’t in need of a drummer so I found a quaint place behind the piano learning to play gospel music in real time. All I knew of the piano was what I learned while watching my sister in her piano lessons.
I did what I could which was much of nothing while Leo Vaughns played and directed the choir. At some point during rehearsals, I stopped playing along with Leo and started watching him play the organ. I would spend the week trying to emulate what he did on Hammond B-3 and try to prepare for the next week’s rehearsal. Each week came and went and I grew a little more fond of the organ and piano. By winter break, I could perform a decent impression of a Billy Preston glissando on the organ and piece together sections of the choir’s warmup songs. Because I was away from home, I played drums at a local church in Weatherford whenever I could fill in. That church had a main drummer so I used the Sundays he was in town to play the organ. I was prepping for the next semester in the gospel choir, or so I thought.
Out of nowhere, my phone rang and it was Renee Callins. Her husband Anthony was a Pastor and their church needed a musician. I was incredulous and couldn’t believe that she even called. I asked how she got my number and she told me that I was recommended to them by Leo. “But you haven’t even heard me play!” She wouldn’t take no for an answer and I knew it was time to do some serious praying.
I couldn’t believe it. “Just wait til I see Leo again…” I said as I plotted some serious revenge, but all that changed when the Lord told me to go. I was back in Fort Worth playing for a church on the south side I had never ever seen or heard of. Rather reluctantly, I began my playing career at the Saints Chapel Church on Christmas Eve of 2000. This scenario is the epitome of the moment in life that I would actually confess to wrestling with God. I basically told God “if I fail, this is all your fault!” I meant it, too. I told God “I’m nobody, why are these people pestering me about playing for them?”
Moments like these helped me truly discern the voice of God for myself. I learned in this process that God doesn’t speak to me in the old English we read in the Bible, he speaks to me in my language-the way I hear it. I heard Him that day in my dorm room and began a journey that has taken me to six countries across three continents playing the music I love.
All thanks to one, Leo Vaughns. He kept me close to him and made sure that I learned as much about the organ and church as I could. He made sure to provide for me as a mentor what he never had coming up as a young musician. Over the course of many candid conversations, I learned just how difficult his journey was. Locked organs, drawbars cleared out and left helpless and hapless all during church service.
He made sure that I knew at least the standard settings for the Hammond organ for church service. Being around Leo was always a learning experience for me. I played keyboard for his group and would somehow always end up finishing his song “Wounded for Me” when they would sing it. It never failed, I would always have to jump on the organ to finish the song because he was off somewhere shouting!
Sink or swim…it was during these moments on the organ that I learned my greatest musical lessons. I followed Leo almost everywhere as his protégé. At a musical, we both played, I was approached by a Pastor to help out their new church. In less than a year, I was playing both an early service and a main service while still learning to play. I still can’t really explain it all because well, it all just happened. Talk about the power of yes!
More than a destiny helper, Leo was a guide. He guided my transition from drums to the piano and organ and mentored my early steps leading a music a music ministry. In life, we need destiny helpers and guides to not only clear a path but to show us the way.
I don’t talk to Leo as much as I used to but what he did made possible what another destiny helper the late Steven Montgomery spoke over me years ago concerning music. Today and everyday take time to thank God for the people that cleared a path for you and brought you along to experience greater in your life.
On the eve of this anniversary, I pause to say thank you to those who ushered in my life’s greatest season and experiences. As we celebrate this season of the greatest love of all, make time to celebrate and honor those instrumental people in your life!