Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bonding on Bains Gap

This was an email I sent out to some friends on December 16, 2010, explaining what happened the night before on Bains Gap Road, located near Anniston, AL.

Well, I've had quite the adventure yesterday and just want to thank those who helped out a few folks stranded on Bains Gap Road.

First, I would like you to know that the report I'm about to tell you is not fiction. I lived through it and it involves a magazine editor, a school nurse, a school bus driver, a school aide, an emergency room nurse, two school transportation workers, two Anniston police officers, a state trooper, two guys in a tow truck and a crew of county transportation workers, plus a host of AT&T cell phones which were useless and a few good Verizon cell phones with low batteries. 

Somewhere along the way a hunter was seen in our midst but he went back into the woods and was not seen again during this adventure on Bains Gap

On my usual trek across Bains Gap Rd to White Plains yesterday I had no worries. It was around 2:10 p.m. and on the top of the mountain, I pulled off the side of the road to talk on my cell phone. I hung up, waved to a Calhoun County Sheriff's Deputy car as he drove by, then watched as he slowly drove down the mountain. I pulled out to make my way down the mountain and immediately hit black ice. 

Now my mini-van endures quite a lot on a daily basis but when it hit that ice, the poor thing was sliding towards a guardrail. I happened to notice that on the other side of the guardrail was a rather steep incline that closely resembled a cliff. I really was not in the mood to die, so I turned the wheel of my mini-van to the left and decided the ditch was better than the cliff.

A few moments later, a big burly SUV drove up the mountain and attempted to pass me. The ice would not have it and so, the SUV slid back, slightly embracing my mini-van, then came to a halt.

It was at this point that I started to seriously hate AT&T. As I sat in my mini-van, in the ditch, my finger was tired of dialing the Anniston PD and getting no signal. So, I was lucky enough to have my son's cell phone with me, which is with Verizon. I dialed Lt. Stemen with the Anniston PD, my old buddy from the Crime Bulletin days, and he said that he would have a car sent our way. Meanwhile, I notice that the driver of the SUV, Allison, is a dear friend from high school and a nurse with the Calhoun County school system.

Allison and I notice a school bus coming up the mountain. The bus driver, Kim, stopped the bus when she realized that the SUV and I were not merely hanging out on the top of the mountain for the fun of it. Meanwhile, a truck came up the mountain and he didn't see the ice. His truck slide back and almost hit the bus. Then, he came to a halt. We later find out that the driver, Chris, was on his way to work at Stringfellow ER and he was pulling around the bus to see if we needed any help.

So, there were all were, on the top of Bains Gap Rd waiting on the Anniston PD. Then, cars started to show up and we had to get out and direct traffic. It occurred to me that Bains Gap Rd needed to be closed. So, I walked around in circles staring at my two cell phones until I had service on the Verizon phone. It was so cold that my eyelashes are frozen. I called Robin Scott with the McClellan Development Authority and told him that people were coming up Bains Gap Rd, we were all stuck and someone needed to close the road. He probably thought it was a prank call, but needless to say when I called my husband he said that he heard Bains Gap Rd was closed.

Long story short, the Anniston PD arrive but are not sure who has jurisdiction because it was US Fish & Wildlife owned property. And, as luck would have it, the local office had been shut down in recent months. They wait and wait and are finally told it is the state's jurisdiction. So, then we wait for the state trooper. 

We realize that we need sand. The Anniston PD are trying to find out how to get sand but are told that no one is sure who controls the road and if Fish & Wildlife will allow the Calhoun County road crew to get us sand. We sing Mr. Sandman while waiting on the school bus and all of the stranded passengers bond. We talk, we wait, and we dig into our purses for candy. We stare out of the window as it begins to sleet. Very hard, cold sleet. We laugh a little and then we begin to wonder why on earth no one is sending sand.

My Verizon cell phone battery is almost dead and my AT&T phone, like everyone else’s, is useless. Allison has a Verizon phone so I call Sherry Sumners, my dear friend at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. Trying not to laugh so she won't think I'm pranking her, I tell her that I'm stuck on the top of Bains Gap Rd and need sand. Could she possibly call someone to find out who controls the sand and who can get some to us?

The state trooper is now on the scene and he attempts to pass the school bus and the truck. He slides back. His car has now joined the group of cars stuck in black ice. He does his duty of filling out the accident report. He bonds a little with everyone on the bus and he leaves us to bond with the Anniston PD. My husband had called a tow truck and now they show up. They park behind the bus. They only slightly slide. Jason and Mr. Hammonds with Howell Body Shop now join the wait for the sand. 

Finally, we are told the sand is on its way but the truck couldn't make it up the mountain. Cause of ice on the road. We are beginning to wonder if perhaps we are part of a psychological experiment. From the warm school bus, we wait more, we eat more candy, we bond, and we watch Trooper Putman, the Anniston PD and the tow truck crew freeze in the elements.

The EMA is also keeping in touch to make sure that everyone is ok. At one point they called to tell us to stay on the bus and not go out in the cold weather. They ask if we need anything. We tell them sand. 

The Calhoun County transportation crew finally arrives. Their truck slides, pours sand, and slides some more. Conversations get a little heated, we hear, because the county does not wish to hand shovel sand. Cause it is sleeting and you can't wear a Snuggie and shovel sand. It's really cold!

We kind of feel bad when it's reported to us that the trooper tells the police that he will "take in" anyone from the crew who does not assist in hand shoveling sand. We are not sure what exactly happened but the sand truck puts more sand on the road and they are all working hard. Then, they run out of sand. The truck travels back down the mountain and comes back. Eventually the men are shoveling sand and are able to move the SUV and the truck belonging to the ER nurse. My mini-van sits alone and will be towed. I leave with Allison in her SUV. The school bus, the wrecker, and the trooper are still trying to figure out what to do.

Allison and I feel extremely guilty as we drive down the mountain, go through McClellan, back to Oxford and get something to eat through a drive-thru window. We feel as if we've deserted our new friends, the bus driver, the school aide, Howell Body Shop, Trooper Putnam and the road crew. We discover that Allison's husband, John, has called everyone trying to find out why no one can get us off the mountain. He tried to locate my husband so they could get on four-wheelers and drive up to Bains Gap Rd to get us. Bless his sweet country heart!

By the time we get home, it is almost 9 p.m. We still can't stop laughing because we were stuck on Bains Gap Rd for six hours. I'm just glad that my eyelashes have thawed.

So, through it all, I learned there still are knights in shining armor, or perhaps in this case, knights in four-wheelers. It also pays to keep cell phone numbers of people who get things done. On behalf of the Bains Gap Posse, I want to thank Sherry Sumners, Lt. Rocky Steman, Robin Scott, the Calhoun County sand crew, the Anniston PD, State Trooper Putman and Howell Body Shop. Also, Mr. Fincher with the Calhoun County school system who made sure to keep in touch via the bus cb and the EMA. 

I'll never forget my six hours on the school bus with my Bains Gap Posse: Kim and Melony, who normally transport a group of special needs children everyday and kept us all entertained by feeding us candy; Chris Smith, the ER nurse who would have saved us should we have needed medical aid; Kevin, who we renamed Ricky for some reason, who works for the school system as a mechanic and deserves credit for all the work he does to keep the school buses in top shape; Mr. Hammonds with Howell Body Shop who might want to consider a job in stand up comedy; Jason with Howell Body Shop who took action when everyone else was trying to figure out who was in charge and Allison, my dear sweet friend from high school who made sure that everyone laughed more than cried.

Note: I learned a few days later that a special meeting was called by the Calhoun County Commission and that Bains Gap Road can be monitored by the county. Also, Howell Body Shop had to tow my van and had to pull the county truck out of the ice.

Hug someone you love today!


Friday, December 03, 2010

Sandi Patty opens up about her life in new book, album

Sandi Patty

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
November 4, 2010

Looking over the edge of a cliff is sure to make even the most adventurous person nervous. But for Sandi Patty, it’s a chance to see the divine.

“Living on the edge isn’t always the most comfortable existence, but it’s a place where we tend to do more looking around for help, which, for Christians, means looking for God,” Patty said.

In her new book, “The Edge of the Divine,” Patty reveals how she looked for and found help in dealing with both internal and external struggles through her relationship with Christ.

Her first original album in seven years bears the same name, and both projects are very personal in nature, offering an insight into why the Dove and Grammy Award winner took the bold step of having lap-band surgery Aug. 26, 2008.

One of the most difficult challenges in the post-surgery process was changing her focus on food. Breaking up is hard to do, Patty admitted, so she wrote a breakup letter to food, which she shares in her book.

“I’d seen that overeating is more about what’s happening in my head than in my stomach,” she said.

The surgery didn’t come without risks either. A year after the lap-band surgery, Patty had an anxiety attack. With the help of her doctors, she realized she had to take special care when on tour.

Having the surgery was not easy, Patty admitted. She has lost between 75 and 80 pounds and said she would like to lose 10 more pounds. But to tackle the external issue of being overweight, she had to face serious internal issues.

“I kept coming back to that point of realizing weight loss is an inside job,” Patty said. “Jesus didn’t go through (His) ordeal so that we could merely survive. He said He did it so we could have life and that we might have it more abundantly.”

So the surgery was only part of Patty’s journey, as she had to come to terms with a dark secret and the reality of forgiveness. When she was 6 years old, she was sexually abused by a female friend of her family.

“She did not hurt me, but she touched me in ways that traumatized me,” Patty said.

The daughter of a minister of music, Patty’s family often went on tour singing at various churches around the nation. The abuse happened when she was left in the care of a trusted family friend, as her parents were on tour. When they returned, she kept silent about the abuse and buried the memories until adulthood.

Patty wasn’t hindered by the abuse in regard to her music. Her life was fairly normal, and she joined her family on tour and crafted her singing ability. Then, when she was 18 years old, she discovered the “perfect” role and auditioned for The Kids of the Kingdom singing and dance team at the Disneyland Resort in her home state of California. Confident from her audition, she called the office a few weeks later after not hearing anything. She was devastated to learn that they loved her voice but felt she was too heavy.

But Patty was not about to let the rejection stop her. She enrolled at Anderson University in Indiana and eventually joined Bill and Gloria Gaither on tour. Her voice and name would become one of the most recognizable in Christian music with songs like “We Shall Behold Him.”

Patty also married, had four children and continued to focus on her music. Everything seemed to be perfect. But her marriage to John Helvering was literally falling apart. Crisis would follow when she admitted an adulterous relationship during her marriage, and the backlash from Christian radio stations and fans was harsh.

In the turmoil, Patty fell in love. “Before the court finalized the divorce (from Helvering), I fell in love with Don Peslis, a handsome, talented singer who performed with my backup group during national concert tours,” she said. They married in August 1995.

In the book, her music and her conversations, Patty is open and frank about her struggles with weight and relationships. She said her current projects and journey have helped her to see the first step in change is forgiveness, the second step is preparation for change and the importance of truth shouldn’t be ignored.

Patty said forgiveness was the key to healing in all aspects of her life. “I think that in order to really make a change you have to really forgive yourself and (others),” she said. “You have to unearth some not-so-pretty chapters in your life story and come to peace with some very difficult ones. I really do believe in my favorite verse, John 8:31–32, “and the truth will set you free.”

Looking back is not something Patty does. She continues to do the one thing that honors God and brings Him glory — sing.

“For so many years, I really didn’t know how to be verbal,” Patty said. “I would find that I would be drawn to those songs that would say what I wish I could say. For so long, the songs were my heart. They still very much are, but I’m learning to use my words.”

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Friday, October 15, 2010

MercyMe’s latest album brings fictional character to life

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
Published May 27, 2010

It’s not every day that a fictional character comes to life. But through MercyMe’s latest release, “The Generous Mr. Lovewell,” one does just that.

About a year ago, lead vocalist Bart Millard had the idea to create a character and use it as a way to promote a “pay-it-forward” and Christlike mentality. So he had a concept for the character, Mr. Lovewell, but nothing else. Millard said after a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit a child the band sponsors, the songs on the album began to take form.

Millard said joining the fictional character concept and the message of love was not very difficult once the band sat down to write everything. “We wanted a creative way to influence. It’s about knowing your neighbor enough to know their needs and those type things,” he said of the album concept. “(Loving people) is really not asking a ton from people, but it’s a big task that’s worth it.”

And loving people is the message of all the songs, said Jim Bryson, MercyMe keyboardist. “It’s pay it forward but based around the cross. It can be simply mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor or buy someone’s meal,” he said. “You can leave a note with a Bible verse or tell them why you are doing it.”

There are even “Mr. Lovewell was here” business cards available at Mr. Lovewell also can be found on Twitter (, offering real-life advice about how to “pay it forward” and love people in Christ’s name.

On both Twitter and the website, the band members hope people will share the good deeds that Mr. Lovewell has done either through them or for them. “We are just trying to create conversations,” Millard said of using the website and Twitter.

Characters and good deeds aside, the new album also has a different sound than previous works by MercyMe. While this album has the usual worship-style songs that the band is known for, it also has songs that are more upbeat. Millard said the band wanted to get out of its comfort zone a little with the sound of the music, so it brought in Dan Muckala, an award-winning producer whose resume includes working with CeCe Winans, newsboys and Backstreet Boys. What resulted are songs that reflect the personality of the band members.

While all the songs have a serious message about Christ, loving others and living a Christ-filled life, not all of them are slow melodies. Some of that is intentional. Bryson said when MercyMe debuted its first album “Almost There” in 2001, the members were still trying to figure out who they were as men and musicians.

With Bryson on keyboards and Millard singing lead vocals, the two started playing together in June 1994, when they traveled to Switzerland to lead worship for a camp. When they returned home, they decided to pursue music as a full-time ministry.

A hometown friend, Mike Scheuchzer, joined the band as guitarist, and the three of them returned to the camp the following year officially as MercyMe. Nathan Cochran (bass), Robby Shaffer (drums) and Barry Graul (guitar) later joined the group. MercyMe eventually signed with INO Records and released their first album in 2001, which included the song “I Can Only Imagine.”

So with this project, they felt the freedom to play around and not be limited to one sound. “The longer you do music, the more you learn how to put your personality in the music,” Bryson said. “We do this for the love of music, and today I’m more patient and I know more than I knew even eight years ago.”

Also on this album is probably one of the shortest songs the band has recorded. At one minute and 36 seconds, the last song on the album, “This So Called Life,” is a dramatic song that speaks of good deeds without Jesus being completely in vain.

Millard said he wrote the songs’ lyric first as poems and then the band worked on the music so they didn’t really think about how long, or short, the songs were going to be. He simply felt as if everything that needed to be said had been said in this case.

“I think the success of the decent songwriter is showing restraint,” he said, noting “This So Called Life” is everything he wanted to say. “It’s very powerful. I hope it keeps people coming back for more.” Already it seems people are listening to the music and the message.

“The Generous Mr. Lovewell” has given MercyMe their highest debut on both the secular and Christian charts. It’s No. 3 in the nation on Billboard’s Top 200; No. 1 on the overall Contemporary Christian chart; No. 1 selling record at LifeWay Christian Stores; and No. 1 iTunes Christian album. Both Millard and Bryson said they are excited about the success but stress the mission of the band is the same today as when they founded it 16 years ago — for people to know Christ.

Copyright The Alabama Baptist 2010.