The trip began in darkness in the middle of the night. It also ended in darkness in the wee hours of the morning. This fact is a good representation of the subpar choice to take the trip in the first place. It was a dark time in my life that could’ve ended very badly. When you walk in ignorance, making decisions based upon how you feel & refuse to seek wise counsel from people in your life who have wisdom & experience, your journey is bound to be shrouded in darkness & danger. It’s the danger of hiding yourself in the dark, and not sharing with someone what’s going on internally. Despite what so called “experts” may tell you, you are not your own best teacher! Can you learn from decisions you make? Absolutely! But this posits the thought that you made a bad decision/ not so good one in order to have learned from the decision in the first place. This is what happened in my case. My pastor used to tell me all the time, “It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own.” After this wayward trip to Franklin, TN, I learned this loud & clear. Oh, how I wish I would’ve learned from someone else’s mistake in this instance!
I might’ve found a better route had GPS been readily available at the time. Remember, cell phones still weren’t widespread either. Most people did not have them. My charted trip consisted of me drawing a straight line from Latrobe, PA, to Franklin, TN. That had to be the quickest way right? Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In the dark I was off for a destination that was bound to have all the answers once I got there.
How did I decide Franklin, TN, of all places? It may sound funny but I had this desire since I was 12 years old up until that particular time. I’d like to think I had become the original aficionado of a popular band at the time named “DC Talk”. When I heard their music for the first time, the music engaged my soul in a way that opened up creative parts of my imagination that I had never experienced up until that moment in my life at 12 years old. In fact, their’s was the first CD I had ever purchased. I just got a portable CD player for Christmas that year that replaced my worn out walkman. The album “NU Thang” was just released shortly after. Back in the day, when people still bought CDs as new albums were released, I was one of the first in line to purchase their album. I had their album on repeat for the entire year. No joke. I didn’t know you could wear out CDs. Turns out you can & the reflective silver stuff that’s on the plastic disc actually comes off. These guys were it! I wanted to meet them in the worst way & I determined that I would find a way to work with them somehow in my life. Remember how I was an artist? I thought, “That’s it! I could create artwork for them to be used in their promotions, CD covers, T-shirt designs, you name it!” I started drawing furiously. A couple years later, I would be old enough to join the youth group at our church & we took a lot of fun adventures together. One of those trips was called “Creation Festival”. It was located in Mt. Union, PA, a few hours away from where we attended church when I was younger. The venue was called “Agape Farms”. DC Talk was playing the festival that year. I was going to meet these guys & give them my pitch! What was going to be my “in”? I had been creating a sketch all year long that I was going to present in order to ask them if I could be hired as an artist working for them! The week of the festival was upon us. We pitched our tents & each night we lined up after the headliners show in order to get their autographs. The night of DC Talk’s performance came. I was in line to meet Kevin, Michael & everyone’s favorite, Toby McKeehan. The only thing though, is I chickened out. I left my artwork at home because I was too afraid they wouldn’t like it. Instead, I got to the front of the line, got their autographs, & in my squeaky 14 year old half-man voice asked Michael, “Do you ever consider hiring artists to do artwork for your promotions & stuff?” He actually engaged me & said, “Ya man! Why are you an artist?” I said “YES!” He said, “Come here a second.” He pulled me aside & wrote down on a paper his number to the office at Forefront records. He graciously said, “Call me & send me something so we can look at your work & consider it.” My feet didn’t touch the ground the whole way back to our campsite & no one in our group actually believed what I had just done! Which was really nothing yet, but to me felt like my whole life just changed!
Shortly after “Creation Festival” that summer at 14 years old, I called the number Michael gave me a dozen times but chickened out every time someone answered. I made up stories of why I was calling Forefront records. Wrong number, asked about hiring, & sometimes just hung up. This desire to accomplish the dream I had set out to do came back in the late hours of the night years later when I couldn’t find a new dream. I resorted to an old one because I didn’t know where I was headed or where I should be headed. I felt desperate. “Let’s do this once & for all”, I thought. I was in the hills of Kentucky when the light began to dawn. I had already been up for 24 hours at this point. I was tired but undaunted in my excitement for what I had just done. I was running on pure adrenaline. That adrenaline would soon morph into a 2 liter of Mt. Dew. I had my trusty wood paneled station wagon, a Toyota Cressida, which was affectionately called the “shaggin’ wagon” by all my friends. When you’ re sleep deprived to begin with, with having bad habits as a college student does, & then you decide to take a 600 plus mile trip through the hills of West Virginia, Kentucky & Tennessee, things are bound to get a little weird. Like how I began to see dinosaurs in the rock faces I was driving past. Thankfully I had the “guts” (stupidity) to keep going & shake it off. Less brave (stubborn) people would’ve pulled off the road & taken a nap. But I had a destination & nothing was going to stop me. I took a few stops along the way to fill up on gas & the Dew in some scary towns through Kentucky that you only see in horror movies or thrillers. Yes they really do exist, but I didn’t let it slow me down for long and for obvious reasons. A trip that should’ve ended up only taking about 10 hours ended up taking at least 13. Maybe because I had never navigated anything by myself before this. I was using the ruler method on the map. I quickly learned how you have to travel slower on smaller roads- ones I’m not sure why they are even considered roads. The kind that travel on steep drop offs, with no guard rails, & literally have signs that say “danger explosives being used”. Ya that’s real! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Especially after driving through miles of shacks that were considered homes, built under bridges. Can we say “Deliverance” anyone?
Nashville. I was close! I decided maybe it would be a good idea if I called someone to let them know where I was. I pulled off at the first payphone I saw. Thankfully I had the whole Coke bottle change bank full of coins (well, half full). I knew the friend I was talking to the night before would be in school, knowing it was their lunch time. They answered & with great excitement I let them know what I had done & what I was in the process of doing! For some reason they didn’t seem quite as excited as I was. I let them know the plan & that I would contact them later once I figured things out. Once I hung up the phone I had no idea the firestorm that was about to ensue. My friend thought it would be a good idea to let some people know what was happening. I can’t imagine why. By people, I mean everyone we knew including my parents & youth pastor & his wife.
Franklin. Only about 30 more minutes to go. Specifically, I had looked up Forefront records in the phone book & got my next destination. I had arrived. I pulled up to a very underwhelming building. It was obvious that this was a rented out space for an operation that was a lot smaller in size than I had ever imagined. In fact, Forefront was just a fraction of the conglomerate that was EMI Records (Now Capitol CMG). I had always pictured a colossal building to house the colossal names in music artists that this label represented. My eyes were surely opened to how things work in the music industry that day. I talked to the receptionist & told her why I was there. Someone from the offices above came down to meet me. I told them my pitch & my desire to design covers for albums, artist promotions etc. He asked if I had a resume. Missed opportunity #1. I did not prepare for that question to be asked. He still excitedly took me on a 30 minute tour of the entire building. I got to see where the design room was. This consisted of one graphic designer on a computer surrounded by cool covers & original designs on the walls. “Yikes, it doesn’t seem like they hire a lot of graphic artists,” I thought to myself. Missed opportunity #2. I probably could’ve asked ahead of time if they were hiring & what they were looking for? Nah. We continued the tour. I got to see a lot of neat things they were working on & my guide was super friendly & hospitable. I think he saw a 18 year old kid that was lost & searching. I ended up with a lot of swag & free CDs. He even offered me to have lunch. I declined because I realized at the end of the tour that this wasn’t a job interview but a courtesy to a kid someone felt really bad for. I was heartbroken & just wanted to get out of there & get back home. I felt so dumb. My host quickly followed me out to the car after I had thanked him for his time. He saw my artwork laying in the back seat along with lots of clothes & he deduced what was happening. He said my work looked really cool but unfortunately they weren’t hiring graphic artists right now. He actually almost pleaded with me to stay the night on the couch. Out of more foolishness & emotion, I turned him down & started driving immediately back to Pennsylvania.
Someone once told me that if you go 3 days without sleeping you are considered legally insane. I’m sure they didn’t have their facts straight, but if by chance that were true, it would explain a lot of things in my life after this point. I definitely wasn’t thinking rationally in the least. I’m not sure I was thinking at all. Somewhere on the journey back through West Virginia I finally thought maybe I should call someone else. I called my mom who was obviously very upset & concerned (but surprisingly not mad). I called my youth pastor & his wife & discovered that a lot of people were praying for me. They prayed for my safety especially. I discovered I was loved by a lot of people that day. Somehow I made it into my driveway at about 4am. I know God was answering prayers & watching over me because I don’t remember the last 30 minutes of the trip. My brain had shut down from sheer exhaustion from being awake almost 3 days straight.
My mom wanted to talk to me immediately but I was out. After awhile I came to consciousness again. I had already begun to mentally prepare for the punishment that was coming. My Dad came home from a business trip. I heard him walking down the stairs. There was only about 12 steps but it felt like an eternity for him to get to the bottom. What I experienced that day was far different than what I expected. I experienced love, grace, forgiveness & great mercy.
I learned one lesson that stood out far above all the many truths & principles I discovered in this wayward trip. My Dad wrote me a letter that day that I read. It was a way we were able to communicate a lot easier in those turbulent times of my young adulthood. One sentence seemed to jump off the page. “David, you could’ve just asked for help & your mom & I would’ve helped you get there.” “What?! Someone could’ve helped me?” This was the most foreign concept to hit my underdeveloped brain up to this point! Why had I not thought of this before?! It was making a lot of sense that someone who has lived life, someone that was older that had made mistakes too, someone that also was a young man that had dreams & desires to fulfill might actually have something to offer that could help me. I also discovered in life that sense isn’t common. There are people that surround us but we are so closed off to our emotions, our thoughts, our inward selves that we never dare ask for help or even think that someone could help. It’s ok & in fact the best thing we can ever do. Ask for help!
“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisors bring success.” Proverbs 15:22
This is a big truth I learned that day & every day since. You can’t, nor should you ever do things on your own. We all need someone, and more than someones! Many advisors is where the success comes. Seek counsel, seek wisdom, & seek those in whom you can trust that have been there before. Just like this dark trip that began in darkness & ended in darkness, I learned that it wouldn’t stay this way forever. I got the help I needed by those around me that cared for me. Many of us as individuals are experiencing these dark times we all find ourselves in just like in my story. You may feel like there’s no way into the light. The darkness just won’t let up. It’s not true. Dawn always comes after the darkest night. There’s hope. There are people around you who care for you & if you just let them into the secrets that are going on in your mind & heart you’ll see how much they care for you. Know who you can trust. Go to them & let them into your insider plans. If you do, you’ll find you never could do it yourself in the first place & that success is waiting when you bring others into the equation.