So… America’s Got Talent: 2016 Edition

I’ve spent weeks worrying myself sick over this day. I couldn’t pick a song, convinced myself I wasn’t good enough, didn’t look good enough, and didn’t sound good enough. And what if I bombed, having to go home and tell everyone I failed? Worse, what if I got chosen to move onto the next round? Would I have to say goodbye to my job and my church and my life? Even if for only a few months for filming, that’s a long time to put your life on hold. I really just didn’t know what to expect. I knew I’d have a decent chance, or at least better than most, just because the producer I’d spoken with before knew I was coming.

At 3:30 in the morning, my alarm went off. Needless to say, I hit snooze.

At 5:15AM, I found myself outside the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. Thankfully, I started talking to two other auditionees who helped to ease my mind.

By 7, the first group was being allowed into the building. My number was 610.

7:30, I registered and was told “good luck” by the hottest British man I’ve ever seen. Then proceeded to trip over a cello case. And onto my face.

At 9, I began the long journey of finding a restroom. I made a few wrong turns and ended up in a kitchen area for employees only. This big, scary lady comes out of nowhere. In a deep Bertha voice, she says, “You lost?” After crapping my pants, I decide to go back to the holding room and wait it out.

By 9:30, the announcement was made for 600-650 to start heading back.

At 9:31, I panicked.

At 9:32, my guitar strap broke. And I had a stroke.

By 10, we were in the last room before the audition room. About twenty of us were sitting in three rows, waiting for our 90 seconds to shine or flop. Some girls were frantically singing with their headphones in, while a couple of us with instruments quietly strummed in the back. (At this point, we got the chance to see inside the CNN newsroom where all the media magic happens. That was pretty cool.)

At 10:20, my number was called along with ten others. I had another stroke.

Ten contestants were piled into this room. Some chairs lined the wall, and off to the front was a yellow X to stand on, a camera that would film my every moment. I was the very last singer in the group to go. By the time I’d listened to the other people sing, I wasn’t sure I had any right to be there anymore. They were all so talented.

11:12, I went on.

The producer was so nice. I was visibly shaking, stuttering, and couldn’t get my words out. We were instructed to say our name, where we were from, and what song we would be doing. I’m assuming it was for the camera, because they had all of our information on a paper in front of them. I told them in my paperwork that I get nervous (yes, it is bad enough that I felt the need to warn them). The producer knew it, gave me a minute to get my breath, and told me to remember to breathe through the song, too. I laughed.

If I had done any other song, I would have bombed. But at the last minute, I chose a song I’d been playing for years and knew like the back of my hand. Thank God I did. I applied every weapon I had in my arsenal. And ninety seconds of fasting, cold sweating, and desperate praying later, it was over. So, how did I do?

I learned something from the experience, and it was something the Holy Spirit had been telling me all along. I just hadn’t listened. I realized that I enjoyed nothing about the last two months; the constant worrying, the late-night practices, the guinea pig gigs, and the useless, useless lyrics I had to pour through. I hated every moment of it. But I was so caught up in doing a good job that I didn’t even realize that I was beginning to detest the gift God had given me. I perverted it into something He didn’t design it for. After I left the audition, I walked over to a nearby park, got my guitar out, and played for anyone and everyone who wanted to stay and listen. Sometimes, I just played for myself. And of all the things we did in Georgia, I enjoyed those few moments with my guitar on a park bench more than anything.

My audition went great. I sang better than I’ve ever sang before. I don’t think I made it… Last time, they wanted to keep me behind and talk to me, and I got asked all kinds of questions, where nobody else was asked to stay. This time, I walked in and right back out. It was nothing. So, I doubt I made it. I might be surprised come April, but for now, I doubt it. Still, I know I did well. Great, even. (Oh, hell… I rocked it out. Can I say that? Just did.)

No matter what the outcome is, I can’t say this experience is something I care to repeat a third time. When you get into competitions and publicity stunts and TV shows, pressure is created that will destroy your love for what you do. God has something for me planned out. Something big. But for now, I’m totally content just to strum some Hillsong in the privacy of my own home.

So, there you have it. That was AGT 2016. And thank you, everyone who put up with me the last two months as I slowly turned into a bundle of open nerves.

I’ve Had My Moments

Remember when I said I was terrified? I wasn’t kidding. I decided tonight that I wasn’t going to America’s Got Talent this year. But…

When I had my wreck, the actual impact itself only lasted about ten seconds. But what was more frightening than the impact itself was knowing that only moments before that, my life was good. Actually, it was going incredibly well. I’d gone through a bit of a depression, and I was finally finding my happy again. Then, just like that… That one quick moment, that tiny little hiccup in the momentum of my life, changed everything.

In one moment, one quick moment of my life, I found myself on my knees in an old, almost abandoned house. I went into the house as an orphan atheist, and came out a child of the living God. One moment in my life, and it changed my entire life.

In one quick moment, our house was engulfed in flames, and my entire life was in ashes and ruin. The room where the fire started was where my instruments were kept. My flute, my keyboard, my guitar, my cornet, my everything. But in that same moment where I lost everything, I gained everything, too. My guitar survived the fire. The rest is history.

In a fluke of a moment, my dad and my brother hit a large rock while out in our boat. They weren’t wearing life jackets. They were plunged so deeply into the water that they later said there was no way to tell if you were swimming up or down. Before that, they were along for the ride and enjoying life. In a moment, they were in the water fighting for life. And somehow, they made it. But that moment could have changed my life. I could’ve lost them both.

Today, I was cutting up and laughing with a friend over something relatively childish. Both of our lives were okay. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least. We were both about our business as usual. Just a moment later, she gets a call that her friend died.

The power of a moment, just a single moment, is so strong. Moments can make or break our own little worlds. They bring laughter and tears and frustration and pain and joy and downright agony. They bring the best of times and worst of times. Moments can leave us breathless and anxious for more, or they can leave us a broken mess. There are moments that create what we call the “good ol’ days” that we can’t stop talking about even years later, and how awesome that time was. There are also moments that leave us so bitter and in such horrible pain that we don’t know how we can survive.

The ink used to write our life stories comes from the moments that, for the good or the bad, leave us breathless. And as I think about going to Atlanta or not going to Atlanta, I’ve learned one thing in life, if nothing else:  The ink from one moment can change an entire story. So, pursue those moments God has for you, and likewise don’t be afraid of them. Laugh when you can laugh, and cry when you need to cry. But ultimately, even if that moment rocked you to your core, there’s going to be more. And at the end, we’re all going to have some awesome, awesome stories to tell.

(Foot note:  My worst fear is that I will go to Atlanta, fail miserably, and have to come home to tell everyone that I failed. But at the end of the day, this is just a television show. Seriously… it’s TV. It doesn’t mean a thing. So in that sense… I guess I have nothing to win or lose.)

It’s 2016, Baby

Looking through the window at my workplace on any given day, it’s going to look chaotic. The front end is about the size of a walk-in closet, and there’s usually six to eight people up there. Bells and buzzers go off, people shout to each other to be heard above the noise, and we’re all moving around. It’s crazy most of the time.

One of my supervisors has the most adorable baby you’ve ever seen in your life. One of the blonde-hair-blue-eyes type. His wife brought the baby to the window one day, and the baby started whining and reaching inside. He wanted to get to his dad. Finally, my supervisor takes him in his arms, and the baby settles down. Everyone has an “awww!” moment before we get back to work.

So far, 2016 is presenting an abundance of opportunity for me. I’ll be starting a new job soon (in addition to my now part-time job), and if I ever did have a concrete idea of a “dream job,” this would be pretty close. I’ve been asked to lead worship at my church’s youth services. If you guys have followed me for very long, you know that’s been a reoccurring offer I’ve been very weary to accept. I felt like God was saying it was time, so I accepted. And as you probably already are aware of, my America’s Got Talent audition is rapidly approaching. But can I be honest with you?

I’m terrified.

I’m terrified of my current job and my ability to keep up, especially when I’ve come to love it so much. I’m terrified my music won’t be effective, and I won’t contribute at all to worship. I’m terrified of being a “leader” when I know they’re judged more harshly. I’m terrified that my new job won’t work out. I’m terrified that I blew my only shot at AGT, and the producers won’t be so keen as to offer a second chance. And of the things I’ve mentioned here, there must be a hundred more fears too personal to share. I’m terrified of the future. I’m terrified of life.

I look ahead, and I see the unknown and what ifs and the long list of things that can go wrong. I look and see all the noise and all the chaos that surrounds the next few months of my life. I see and understand how things could go well, or how everything could crash and burn. But even gazing into the chaos and commotion of the future, I see something beautiful: I see my Father, standing steady and waiting with outstretched arms to catch me as soon as I get inside. I know once I’m there, it’ll be even louder and chaotic than it is now. But, He’s going to hold me there. I’m protected. I’m loved.

The new year is here. No matter how hard or fantastic 2015 was, it’s time for something new. None of us really know what we’re getting into. But thank God that no matter what it is, we have a Father who loves us enough to hold us close, to comfort and protect us, even when everything around us is in disarray.

My prayer for you is that this year, regardless of what is in store for you, you will know the comfort of the Comforter, and have absolute peace that only He can provide. And know that no matter what is happening or what will happen around you, He is going to hold you through it all.