It lasted from October 28th to December 6th, 2018. Fifteen states were traversed (5,000 miles), thirteen families welcomed us into their beautiful homes, seven concerts were sung, one mission trip was experienced, and many memories were made throughout our family sojourning 2018 Trip.
In this first of three entries, I will cover our trip South as we ventured toward Mexico. We will cover how the Lord provided concerts and host families, and a lesson from Him at each visit.
1. Dubuque, Iowa (1 Night)
Our first stop was Dubuque, Iowa. We were hosted by an older couple who loved to read. Actually that is quite an understatement. They didn’t just love reading, but preserved the truth by making their house a sort of library. They literally had books up to the ceiling in almost every room of their house. Every room had its own theme, from theology to philosophy to history to novels as well as subgroups of countries such as England, U.S.A., Russia, and more. Their faith was tangible and we enjoyed our conversation with them immensely. Our short visit with them has inspired us to read more and look at screens less. The Lord clearly taught us through this stop: Watchfulness.
For Christmas, we purchased new books for our children and for ourselves. We have also enacted a policy of locking up our phones and ipad in our roll-top desk each night to encourage reading at night and in the morning and just in case we can’t sleep in the middle of the night. Our host family in Iowa generously gave us a box of books! In a future blog, we are going to put together a recommended reading list.
2. Omaha, Nebraska (9 Nights)
We next made our way to Omaha, Nebraska to be with Calena’s family. Out of all places on our trip, Nebraska was the easiest place to find housing since Calena’s family lives there! Blaise especially enjoyed dressing as the Clown of God for Halloween and as Jesus for an All Saints Party at the FSSP Immaculate Conception Parish. There we met many nice families and talked of our trip and music. We enjoyed our time with Calena’s side of the family as our time in early November together was replacing our annual Christmas visit.
I performed both a song before the start of the weekend liturgies and a Sunday afternoon Concert at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Plattsmouth, NE. After the liturgies but before the concert, we met an older couple and hit it off with them. The husband ended up playing bass with me at my concert and afterwards we shared dinner together. The Lord taught us: Littleness
For some time, I had been striving to coordinate a concert at a big parish in Omaha. I had been recommended to contact a number of specific parishes in the area that would be receptive to my music. After a lot of phone calls and emails, nothing was coming together and I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to share my music at all in Nebraska. I sent out an email to the pastor of Holy Spirit Church and got a fast response and immediate green light to do a concert. It was only about a week in advance. I was overwhelmed by how everything fell into place and how God provided through this small parish.
Looking back, it is clear God knew what He was doing. For our time in Nebraska ended up being our last time on earth with Calena’s grandma, Eileen. As Blaise, Ksenia, Calena, and Calena’s dad Clete went for a walk, I stayed back at Grandma Eileen’s house to take a nap in the rocking chair. She and her daughter were engaged in a conversation. I began praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I felt a strong tangible peace and very close to God. I was praying for her soul, as it seemed that the Lord was going to take her soon and I thought perhaps this will be the last time I see her. It was truly the grace of God. Hard to describe, I longed for Heaven for Eileen and simultaneously for everyone I know. It was a joy for me to have Eileen come to my concert a few days later and hearing her say with a smile, ‘I enjoyed the songs.’ That was the last time I saw her as she passed away on December 10th. Calena and the kids flew to attend the funeral as I stayed back to work on my upcoming album.
3. Wichita, Kansas (1 Night)
After leaving our family in Omaha, we felt that the journey was now truly in full swing. Equipped with an Amazon toy catalog from Nana, Blaise ferociously studied every toy in detail and we laughed at how it kept him occupied. It was this catalog that we give praise to God because it absorbed his attention for much of the 4,500 miles of our entire road trip! On the road, we visited the National Guard museum in Topeka. Our stop there was inspired by Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun (from Pilsen, KS) who served God as a priest and our country as an army chaplain. He was truly heroic and his story is great. One thing I have always admired was his sense of humor in the midst of suffering. As him and his fellow soldiers were starving and being ill-treated in a prison war camp, he kept moral up by constantly cracking jokes. Learn more about him: (https://aleteia.org/2017/02/21/father-emil-kapaun-the-saint-in-the-foxhole/)
Through Fr. Kapaun and our host family, the Lord was teaching us Cheerfulness. They gave us a beautiful dinner, a son gave up his room for us to sleep in, and they shared their toys with Blaise and Ksenia. At the concert, I played and spoke to the Religious Education students of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish. I wove my songs with stories of our trip and my past journey with Christ. I especially had the students attention when I shared a funny glory story from literally two hours before arriving to be with them. For as we were entering Wichita, Blaise was beginning to grow restless and was saying (even demanding… three year olds do that?) he wanted Santa to bring him every Matchbox toy in the catalog. Immediately as we arrived, our host ‘mother’ directed Blaise to their bin of toys. She asked Blaise if he liked matchbox cars and Blaise in his shyness and awe nodded as she proceeded to put together a giant matchbox race track, one of the exact toys featured in the toy catalog!
4. Tulsa, Oklahoma (1 Night)
We left early the next morning leaving Kansas behind continuing our descent of the Central Great Plains. As we traveled through the unpopulated terrain and the empty roads, the dark clouds began to cry and weep upon our dodge caravan. It was solitude mixed with concern for safe travels and appreciation of God’s blessings and His power.
As the earth received the rains, so we were to receive a shower of God’s love upon us. For that reason, the lesson the Lord taught us through Tulsa was Receptivity. We were welcomed by yet another beautiful host family. Retired restaurant owners, they prepared wonderful dinner and breakfast feasts for us on our short stay. This concert had been possible thanks to the help of my dear friend from seminary, Fr. Duy Nguyen. Through email and phone, I told him of our trip and he not only organized the concert but also our host family arrangements. It was a joy to share a meal with Fr. Duy while becoming acquainted with our host family.
The concert continued the theme, as I shared my story and songs with the parishioners of the Church of Saint Mary. The acoustics and equipment were wonderful and the period of Adoration following my short concert was filled with beautiful voices and melodies of the musicians and parishioners alike. Afterwards, I had some great conversations with the staff and parishioners.
In the morning, we ventured to the Gathering Place. It was an awesome and unique park with ziplines, a music forest, castle, and elephant slide- to name a few of its features.
An Aerial Tour of Gathering Place from TulsaPeople Magazine on Vimeo.
5. Dallas, Texas (3 Nights)
Through a contact from my time as a youth minister in Brainerd, MN, we were received by another generous and faithful family as we entered the Lone Star state. After getting settled into the home, I traveled alone to the opening night of the National Leaders Charismatic Conference. As I traveled, I took in the night lights of Dallas, along with its giant highway ramps. It was perhaps the first and last time being by myself on the trip. I prayed a distracted rosary and arrived at the hotel. The lesson the Lord was teaching us was Trust as right away I was taken aback by the location of my ministry table. I was put into the corner by myself along a hallway where not many people would be passing by. I remembered that this conference was a gift, as we were participating at no charge, had free housing (we had almost booked a hotel before finding host family), and our ministry booth had been provided for by the apostolate running the conference. I had emailed them telling them of our journey and mission trip in Mexico and they had graciously reimbursed our conference fee and provided a free table.
After meeting the family next to our ministry table, we made friends and it became clear by both of us how God had orchestrated the placement of our tables. They were a family who did art and traveled, just like we were currently doing. They make beautiful St. Benedict crosses out of exotic woods and support themselves through commissions and by traveling to conferences around the country. You can hear their families testimony, as told by their father Patrick in the video below. Blaise enjoyed their company, they encouraged me in my music, and even entertained us with their own original music, including a nice song about Our Lady of Fatima. I traded them a CD for an awesome St. Benedict Cross T-Shirt. Find out more about them and their work by visiting: http://www.crossofstbenedict.com/
On Saturday during the conference, I participated in both sessions of the park evangelization at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas. I am grateful that I had two shots at it, because the second session was very blessed! I ended up bringing my guitar and was accompanied by a friend I made at the conference. We were a great team and we shared prayer, song, and conversation with four different groups of people.
After the conference, I took Calena and the kids to the same park and there Calena encountered Jesus in need through a homeless woman. It was inspiring to see the joy that Calena brought to her by simply talking and listening to her.
6. Coupland, Texas (4 Nights)
Following the conference and after spending some time with Calena’s sister and boyfriend at an Art Museum, we made our way down to Coupland, just 30 minutes from Austin. We stayed with my brother-in-law’s sister and her family. It was my second time ever meeting them and the first time for Calena and our kids. It was refreshing to be in an oasis of rest at their house after the back to back days of travel and concerts combined with the long days of the conference. They are a Catholic homeschool family of seven and live in the country. Blaise enjoyed playing almost every board game they owned throughout our stay with them and we are grateful for the kids teaching and playing with him. I also enjoyed playing their piano in the dining room every day as well as our conversations about parenting, homeschooling, technology, and the Church.
Being Boldly Pro-Life was the lesson the Lord was teaching us here in Coupland, through the example of this big homeschool family and an evening event I attended.
Our host family bought me a ticket to the St. John Paul II Life Center Annual Gala Dinner. It was great to see so many supporting the work of this apostolate and being a loud voice for the pro-life movement. Terry Beatley gave a wonderful talk that covered the true story of the conversion of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws — NARAL in 1969. Both Planned Parenthood and the NARAL were the driving forces to make abortion legal in the United States. Up until he watched the film, The Silent Scream, he was one of the greatest advocates of abortion by promoting it politically and medically. The film broke through the deafness of his consciousness and through natural law he instantaneously became pro-life. In 1974, he stated referring to his work as an abortion ‘doctor’ and medical training given to future abortion ‘doctors’: “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.” Our speaker for the Gala, Terry, had a private interview with Dr. Nathanson before his death and it was the Doctor himself who urged her to tell the world his story. There was a specific political strategy of deceit and manipulation that succeeded. The Catholic Church was a specific target that the NARAL went after as they successfully made leaders and laity tolerant of abortion. Committees were paid and commissioned to coin and popularize phrases such as ‘I am personally against abortion, but who am I to tell a woman what to do with her body.’
Her book, What If We’ve Been Wrong covers is on my to-read list: https://www.amazon.com/What-If-Weve-Been-Wrong/dp/1498480829
7. San Antonio, Texas (1 Night)
Yet again, the Lord surprised us with his providential care when we found ourselves in the driveway of yet another generous Catholic family’s home. We had the perfect set-up. A small and clean guest house to organize what we would take into Mexico and what we could leave behind. Our van would be safe in their driveway all week as we were dropped off by our host family at the rendezvous point, which was a hotel in San Antonio.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our host family and even their relatives. Tonight, the Lord was teaching me was Spontaneity as I ended up giving a full concert with stories to our hosts. We were far from home but close to the Lord. We were anxious about how we would hold up in Mexico as we would now no longer be in control of our schedule, no longer driving ourselves, and entering a new country.
In our next blog, we will tell you about our 8 day mission trip in Allende, Cuahuila, Mexico. Until then, please enjoy the music video below which was filmed in Texas, Mexico and Georgia while on our trip.
Please comment below!