You asked for it... :-)
I was born in Philly and grew up in the burbs. My mom and dad adopted my brother Skip after 8 years of trying to have a child. I was very much a surprise 4 years later. So was my sister, Jill, who arrived the following year.
We all moved from Springfield, PA out to Valley Forge and it was there I first taught myself guitar. I became interested in it because of my brother. Each year our family would travel around the country to various national parks in our Jayco pop-up camper, hitting lots of KOA's along the way. We were always singing in church (my brother, sister & I) and we learned early how to harmonize. But I noticed how all the girls in each campground would come around to our fire pit whenever Skip would play and sing. It became evident that learning to play the guitar was a worthwhile pursuit. Not the most spiritual of motives, I know, but motivational nonetheless.
Anyway, I got a hand-me-down Lori guitar of his with inch-high action and a really wide neck. I found the only way I could play that thing without pain was to speed up the process of growing calluses on my fingers. So... each morning when my mom wasn't looking, I would hold my fingers on the toaster like G. Gordon Liddy til they smoked. It worked. No more nerve endings. (Of course, it wasn’t until many months later that I realized that Lori guitar would never sound good... because it was a piece of junk :-).
Fast forward... I played in bands through college and actually headlined The Main Point a few times- which was saying something back in the day. We did mostly originals, and covers by JT, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, typical coffeehouse faire. Loved singer-songwriters who could capture real life in a pop song with a good hook. Broken relationship songs seemed to be my forte, since I had the most material. But there, drowning in my "fountain of sorrow," I met Jeannie, my college sweetheart and wife of 30 years. Pretty amazing... (and she's both).
When I got out on the street after graduating with my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I soon understood the term "starving artist" and took whatever jobs I could find: plaster painter, visual display assistant, racquetclub manager (played a lot of r-ball back then). Nothing we could get married on. I ended up applying at PECO, the electric utility company where my father worked. They called us PECO babies- because the company was so good that folks were always trying to get their kids to work there. (Guess there's no place like that anymore... even PECO). Nepotism aside, I applied and beat out 100 other guys in written and mechanical tests for an even more creative job: nuclear power plant operator. That's right, my Fine Arts degree and musical gifts helped me become the original Homer Simpson.
12 years of rotating shift work: turning valves, pushing buttons, climbing down manholes, running boilers, running the sewage treatment plant, donning SCBA's, moving spent fuel, being a "rad sponge" and receiving all those "glowing personality" jokes. (Btw, my kids are the reason I lost my hair). But anyway, working there allowed us to get married and live the American dream. I still played my music. Sang on the worship team at church with my sister (Jill actually sang some songs on the Word recording label). And I kept writing songs. Sometimes, sitting between the cooling towers on night shift, I'd look up at the stars and ask God if this was all that He had planned for me. Then one day I realized He was about to change everything...
In 1988, with our first child, Lauren, just a couple years old, Jeannie became pregnant with twins. She ended up having a condition called twin-twin transfusion, where the babies were sharing the same line. The doctors expected Jeannie to carry long enough to do a c-section when their lungs were ready, but at the 24th week, we lost the littlest one (Stephanie). A few weeks later Jean went into premature labor and Amanda was born... just a little over two pounds.
Amanda had multiple handicaps. Couldn't see, walk, talk, was tube fed and needed round the clock care. But her toothy smile would melt your heart. And she knew your voice. She loved to be read to and she loved to be rocked. All our kids would learn to read by making tapes for Amanda to listen to. And I learned how to worship God with a broken heart. She changed everything- or I should say, she changed the way I saw everything. Holding her was like holding an angel, she was so... other-worldly. No matter what stressful thing was happening at the time, she took me out of it and pointed me to heaven.
I always believed in a heaven. But Amanda helped me long for it like it really was better than here. I mean, I was raised to believe in God and Jesus and the bible, heaven and hell... all the things you hear about in church. And my grandmother was a saint that got me reading the bible and helped me to develop a personal, conversational relationship with my Creator after trusting His Son as my Savior. But Amanda took things to another level. She helped me realize this was not my home, no matter how comfortable I tried to make myself. Her blind eyes were truth staring me in the face, and her wordless cries spoke volumes to me about God.
My songs began to reflect that truth and that longing. And as He helped me to see Him as He really is, both loving and sovereign, He began to use me to help others see Him that way. Especially those who were struggling with the storms of life (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Spurgeon called those storms "Blessed Hurricanes" because when everything you trust in life is being blown away, you're driven to the only thing that isn't moving... the Rock that is God alone.
In 1990, the Lord blessed us with a son, Benjamin, and in '92 with a wonderful daughter, Allison. Pretty soon, Lauren was singing with me in concert (her hidden trax on my CDs are more popular than my stuff :-). She's married now, but we just started singing in church and I'm hoping to get her on the road again soon. Ben isn't giving up his day job just yet, but he's been writing and performing some really creative stuff with his own band. He's won some local radio station contests and I think his stuff would be great in movie sound tracks and commercials. And Allison is an awesome piano player but she chose to persue her real passion- writing. She devours books like I do cheese steaks and recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fordham University. She's now an official New Yorker (how did this happen??) though she promises she will always be an Eagles fan. She took accelerated courses while working three jobs and hopes to graduate with her masters this Spring. Obviously her brains come from her mother's side... but I digress.
I won some national songwriting contests and awards with Word Music and The Gospel Music Association, and had my first song (Heart of a Servant) recorded by Christian Music pioneer Kelly Willard. More ministry doors started opening, and in '95 we left Homer behind and answered the call to full-time concert ministry. Integrity Music and Maranatha recorded some of my songs and I was honored by Bob Kauflin to sing and play on a number of Sovereign Grace recordings. I was asked to help oversee the chapel worship with some great students at Eastern College for a couple of years. In 2001, I accepted the call to Pastor the Worship Ministry at Calvary Fellowship Church in Downingtown, PA, and made some wonderful friendships and memories. I was invited to lead worship from the main stage of the Creation Festival in 2004 and 2005. In the midst of all the joy, however, a few more blessed hurricanes blew through those years...
My brother Skip passed away of a sudden brain aneurysm, leaving behind a young wife and my two nieces. And in November of 2003, our dear Amanda succumbed to double pneumonia. Only 15 years old, but such a profound gift. A life well-lived and a race well-run... right into her Father's arms. I held her that early morning when her lungs finally gave out and her palsied muscles for the first time all relaxed. She truly looked like an angel. Smiling as she did her whole life. I cried because she was my compass, always pointing me towards heaven. But right at that moment, the Lord reminded me she still is- even more so now.
Only God can heal that kind of pain. And, hallelujah, only He can bring lasting joy in the morning.
It's been quite a journey. New trials, new victories, new turns in the road. But after 20 years of concert and worship ministry, the Lord is still giving me songs to sing and He's still opening doors around the country. I'm amazed and grateful that someone so holy and perfect would use someone so sinful and broken for His glory. And nothing gives me greater joy than helping others worship this King who saved and healed me.