As I deck the halls and shop the malls, it’s a time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Even though we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, this is when we celebrate His birth, the greatest gift to mankind.
The stores are filled with Santa Claus as the symbol for Christmas, and I’m afraid that for many people that really is all there is. You may receive a gadget that you don’t need, or a sweater that’s too small, but the Greatest Gift perfectly fills the God-shaped hole within us all. Santa just can’t compete with that!
Will You Accept?
God desires a relationship with us, but none of us are holy enough to be in His presence, so He supplied the perfect lamb, His only son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins and wash us clean with his blood so that we would be fit for eternal life with Him. However, it’s up to us to accept this perfect gift, as it won’t be forced upon us. And whether we accept or refuse The Gift has eternal consequences.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)
Jesus is the Reason
Scripture tells me to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within me.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Jesus is the reason for the hope that is within me. I accepted Him as my savior and was baptized many years ago. Without Him I would have no hope of eternal life in heaven. Without Him I would have nowhere to turn for peace and comfort. He is my compass that helps me make sense of all the nonsense, and helps me see through Satan’s lies.
My #1 reason for homeschooling our children was to teach them everything from a Christian perspective. Have you ever noticed that “history” is His-story? The underlying importance of history is the story of the Gospel, and it makes a huge difference to study it that way.
I endeavor to be a holy sacrifice to God, to be a willing tool for Him to work through. Whether it’s to reach my children, someone whose path I cross, or someone who stumbles upon my blog.
If you haven’t accepted the greatest gift of all, then I encourage you to do that today. None of us are guaranteed even one more day, so please don’t put it off.
Make Jesus the reason for your season!
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (NIV)
While writing about “I’ll Fly Away’s” role in Greaterthemovie, I wondered if I might also be able to interview David Hunt, its Director and Co-Writer. Since we are both homeschooling families, we had something in common, and that gave me the courage to contact him. Even though Mr. Hunt had a hectic schedule, he made some time for me to interview him by phone. I truly appreciate the opportunity to write about him.
I started by asking David how he came to be involved with Greater. He recounted how Brian Reindl, the Producer, had approached the Burlsworth family eleven years ago about writing Brandon’s story, and with their permission he wrote the first script. In the beginning he looked towards Hollywood for financing and screenwriting, but they wanted to strip Brandon’s faith from the story. Deciding that it would be better if he financed it hisself, he began to hunt for someone who could help him tackle this giant story. David Hunt had made a low-budget movie that was shown in some film festivals. Mr. Reindl happened to see it, and contacted him to talk about working on Greater.
David grew up in Northwest Arkansas and had some first-hand experiences with Brandon Burlsworth. As a youth, David’s All-Star Baseball team played against Brandon’s, and his last high school football game was against Brandon’s Harrison team. They attended the University of Arkansas at the same time and had friends in common. He remembered the excitement of the 1998 season, and the shock that radiated through the region as news spread of Brandon’s tragic death. Those first-hand memories gave David a unique advantage as a writer in retelling Brandon’s story. Brian Reindl took David Hunt on as co-writer about 4 1/2 years ago, and together they rewrote the script.
According to David, Brian was warned that actors wouldn’t want to be involved with the movie because the project didn’t have a major producer or director. In spite of that, Brian defended his selection of David. “We proved them wrong,” David said. “The actors responded to the story.”
David had a certain type of actor in mind for the role of Marty. He remembered that Neal McDonough had famously lost a television role because, in honoring his marriage, he refused to do an intimate scene with an actress. David wrote a personal letter to Neal, enclosing the script. While stuck in a traffic jam, Neal’s wife began reading the script to him and he became emotional. Neal responded to David’s personal contact and committed to Greater. Later he told David that he knew whoever wrote that script had to know what they were doing.
In speaking of Leslie Easterbrook, who plays the role of Barbara Burlsworth, David had worked with her back in 2004. He remembered her and contacted her directly as well. She loved the script and was instantly on board. David said he knew the role would bring out something he had seen in her. Although she didn’t have children of her own, she was maternal, and the role offered her a chance to play a supportive mother which was something she had not done recently.
There were a few surprise cameos in the movie. Houston Nutt appears early, unassumingly, as the custodian.
Frank Broyles recreates the announcement of hiring Houston Nutt as Head Coach.
Quinton Aaron, who played the lead in The Blind Side, appears briefly in the role of Coach Aaron.
The real Marty Burlsworth appears as a photographer and advises the character Marty to put his lens on.
I asked David if he felt inspired, or led by God, to make Greater. He decisively responded, “Yes.” He went on to explain that in the year prior to being contacted by Brian Reindl that he had undergone a process of studying philosophical issues of Christianity – the biggest of those was of evil and suffering. He felt like he had been divinely prepared for the core of Brandon’s story: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
David also said that the budget for Greater was about 1/5 of competing movies, very small for telling this story. There were many times that he felt like they were “bailed out from above.”
In talking about the casting, I wondered if God’s hand might have also been in that. Some scripts were sent out but never responded to. Later, when Neal McDonough came aboard, he told David that he thought many of the actors might not have ever seen the scripts. It had been during “pilot season” and their agents didn’t pass them on to them. Could God have been closing doors and opening windows?
We’re Just Too Small
Throughout our conversation, David spoke of his theological beliefs, and often as he spoke I remembered a scene from the movie where one of the characters said the same thing. So, for example, as he spoke of one of the themes, “we’re too limited to see day-to-day, how can we see the eternal picture?” I saw Barbara saying those things to Marty.
That theme is carried out in the movie when, during a game, Brandon refers to the coach in the press box where he can see the whole field. And again in the graduation scene where Brandon is able to see his father in the back because he is looking down, but from his position, Marty can’t see him. There are other references as well, but we’ll leave some surprises for you to discover. Brandon believed that there was a game plan.
I was eager to ask about “the farmer.” His craftsman explained that “he represents the inner dialogue of doubt that people have in hard times. The questions he raises are not easily dismissed, and they aren’t answered in the movie.” David warned that they were questions that Christians need to be able to answer before they are in a period of pain or trouble. He also disclosed that there were Christians who were uncomfortable with the farmer and advised them to cut him out. Why did he choose a farmer? Like a farmer, the Devil plants and harvests, too. He takes his time tending to people before he finally reaps them. Notice that he whistles “Bringing in the Sheaves” as he whittles away at Marty.
I’ll Fly Away
Since I recently wrote about “I’ll Fly Away’s” role in Greater, I asked David if he could tell me about why it was chosen. He said that it was in Brian Reindl’s original script. Brian had heard it sung during the Bikes, Blues, and BBQ Rally, and thought it was appropriate. David agreed, so when they rewrote the script they expanded it’s role. It occurs many times in the film, and toward the end there is a scene of Brandon driving home and listening to the radio. For this version they asked Bob Brumley to sing “I’ll Fly Away” while accompanying hisself on a guitar. They wanted the recording to sound old-style, like an AM radio.
When asked about working with Bob Brumley in recording “I’ll Fly Away,” David said, “He was great to work with – down-to-earth and willing to do anything. We couldn’t ask for a better working experience.” Originally, Brandon sang along with the radio and that had already been filmed, so Bob was asked to play along with, and match, what was already on screen.
The scene of Brandon singing along ended up being cut. David explained the best he could that the cut just happened, because of what the film was. The decision was made to respect the story’s momentum, the way it came together.
Brandon Burlsworth Foundation
While researching for this post, I discovered that Brandon Burlsworth was born on September 20, 1976. He would have just turned forty years old. As a mother, my heart breaks for his family’s loss. Through the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation they are able to honor his memory by helping underprivileged kids through a variety of programs. “Do it the Burls Way,” was a saying coined by former Razorback coach, Houston Nutt, which meant to do it the right way, even when no one was looking. That saying became the foundation’s motto. For more information about the programs, scholarships, and awards offered, please visit the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation.
I always enjoy seeing God at work, and I’m struck by two things. The first is the timing of this article – the day after, what would have been, Brandon’s 40th birthday. The second is that the Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally is this weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Coincidence? I tend to think God-incidence.
Take the First Step
In talking about being chosen to work on Greater, David referred to Brandon’s belief that if he took the first step that other things would happen. I was really impressed with that in Brandon’s story, how he persisted despite setback after setback. It sounds like David Hunt and Brian Reindl had to have a similar determination in producing their wonderful movie. I couldn’t help but think about myself, too. If I hadn’t taken the step of contacting Mr. Hunt, I wouldn’t have had this amazing opportunity. Greater was an inspiration to me, and I feel sure it will inspire you as well. If you haven’t already seen it, please do. What might it inspire you to do?
The Greater dvd is now available for pre-order. You can check to see if it is in a theater near you by visiting the Greater website.
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My husband and I went to see the movie, Greater, not really knowing what to expect. Greater was co-written by a local homeschool father, David Hunt, so I wanted to support the movie because of the homeschool connection. My husband, a University of Arkansas alum, was interested in seeing it for the football story. It ended up being one of the best movies we’ve ever seen!
Greater is about Brandon Burlsworth, a walk-on to the the University of Arkansas Razorback football team, and the effect his faith had on others. Early in the movie, when we first heard “I’ll Fly Away,” my husband and I looked excitedly at each other because we live in Powell, Missouri, the home of it’s writer, Albert E. Brumley. As the movie progressed, “I’ll Fly Away,” was woven through it in different forms, playing a prominent role. At the end of the movie I remained in my seat to watch the closing credits. I saw one giving credit for “I’ll Fly Away,” but then was surprised to see a second one, thanking Bob Brumley for singing.
Thinking back through the movie I wondered which voice had been Bob’s. As soon as I got home that evening, I wrote an email to the Brumley Music office, asking about it. Bob’s daughter, Elaine, was kind enough to respond, explaining that it was towards the end of the movie, when Brandon was driving home and listening to the radio. We went to see the movie a second time, and sure enough, there was Bob singing. How had I missed that before?! You can watch the clip here.
Since I recently wrote about Bob’s father, Albert, in “Memory Valley,” I knew that I wanted to write a follow-up about “I’ll Fly Away’s” role in Greater. I was so excited for Bob and his family, for his father’s song to be chosen for such a wonderful, inspiring movie! Bob was gracious to grant me another interview.
A New Experience
Bob said that even though he’s been in the music business his whole life, this was his first experience being in a movie and that it was exciting to see his name in the credits. I was surprised to learn that Bob made the actual recording in March of 2014, almost two-and-a-half years before the movie’s release. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned it to me in our earlier interview, and that explained it. Of this experience, Bob said, “It was an honor for me to be able to do that. It was so well done, I was glad I was a part of it.”
The recording was made at Haxton Road Studios in nearby Bentonville, Arkansas, using a 1937 Gibson guitar. Owner, Neil Greenhaw, gave me permission to include this statement he made about the session:
“The experience with recording some of the music for the movie, Greater, was powerful. I remember standing there listening to what was going on in the room and helping produce some of the musical aspects and all of a sudden, the moment happened for me. I’m watching playback on the screen while recording a song with Bob Brumley playing a song on my 1937 Gibson acoustic guitar in the living room. This wasn’t just any song, but the most recorded gospel song in history, “I’ll Fly Away.” It dawned on me; this man’s father wrote this song and it changed the world. It changed music. It shaped culture. It was a very meaningful moment for me at the studio seeing this song performed by Bob. Thanks to the Brumley family for sharing that moment with us!”
Albert was first inspired to write “I’ll Fly Away” while working in the cotton fields of his boyhood home in Oklahoma. He often sang “A Prisoner’s Song,” and had the idea to adapt it as a gospel song. However, it wasn’t until after his marriage to Goldie Schell in 1931, that he submitted it for publishing as a result of her encouragement. “I’ll Fly Away” was published by Hartford Music Company in 1932. Considering it’s popularity, it was interesting to learn of Goldie’s influence. I asked Bob about that, and nodding, he elaborated, saying, “Dad had self-doubt and was discouraged about making a living with music.” With the resounding success of Albert Brumley’s songs, it’s amazing that at one time he lacked confidence.
When “I’ll Fly Away” was used in the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” they wanted to add a verse that included shackles and chains. They were given permission to do so, and Greater also used that version.
Originally, Brandon was supposed to sing along with the radio when Bob sang, “I’ll Fly Away,” but that was changed.
“Victory in Jesus,” was also used in Greater. It was originally published by Hartford Music company, but is now owned by Brumley Music Company.
Keep it Simple
“I’ll Fly Away” has been recorded thousands of times and translated in different languages, including Spanish and Japanese. I wondered why it is so endearing. Bob said he thought it was because it was simple, but had a great message. “It’s a 3-chord song,” Bob explained, “using only G, C, and D chords. It’s easy to remember, easy to sing, and has a rousing message. Dad always said, ‘Keep it simple.'”
I found another viewpoint in this excerpt from the Neosho Daily News archives:
“In the years of the depression and the struggles of the country before World War II, the new fangled invention, radio, carried Brumley’s songs across the country. “Turn Your Radio On,” “I’ll Meet You In the Morning,” “Jesus, Hold My Hand” – these were the songs that America listened to, sang, and looked to for inspiration. Few song writers did more toward helping America retain her hope and heart than did Albert Brumley. There’s no wondering why his popularity has endured.”
Even though it doesn’t specifically list “I’ll Fly Away,” I suspect it also deserves some of the credit.
Brumley Music gets a lot of inquiries about licensing, so I asked Bob how he initially felt about “I’ll Fly Away” being used in Greater. Bob said that he was contacted by Producer and Co-Writer, Brian Reindl, and “there was just something about him…he believed in the movie so much.” When asked what he thought of the end result, Bob replied, “I thought that was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen! David Hunt did a great job as a director.”
I couldn’t help but ask how Bob thought his father would have felt. “I think he’d think it was great. He lived to see some success, but I wish he lived to see what happened with movies and television. I think he’d be well-pleased, that song being used a lot.”
In fine print inside The Best of Albert E. Brumley, it states, “He (Albert) has never had a publicity agent. Instead, he has preferred to let his songs speak for him, his religious beliefs and his whole philosophy of life in general.” While Albert’s music spoke for him, Brandon’s testimony was his character both on and off the field. Both men lived lives of faith that inspired those around them, and legacies that continue to do so.
The Best of Albert E. Brumley and other books are available from Brumley Music.
Thank you for letting me write about you, Bob. It was an honor!
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Occasionally we lose electricity for no apparent reason. I’m sure there is one, we just never find out what it is. That happened one day this past May.
It was a beautiful Spring afternoon and the electricity suddenly went out. These occasions are a stark reminder of how dependent I’ve become on electricity. The only thing I could think of to do housework-wise was sweep, so I did that, but just about everything else was dependent on electricity. We have a well, so without electricity we have no water, either. So no laundry, no vacuuming, no cleaning. Okay, well now I’m thinking I could have dusted, but that day I decided not to overheat my brain trying to think of housework I could do and to instead take the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful afternoon. I made a cold drink, grabbed some gardening magazines, and went to sit at a table in my front yard in the shade of a huge oak tree.
A Taste of Heaven
The soft breeze made the flowers nod and surround me with their sweet scents. Sitting beside the hummingbird feeder, I got to enjoy the whirring of hummingbird wings as they flitted around, visiting the feeder, nearby flowers, and defended their territory. Other birds sang from surrounding trees. To say it was delightful would be an understatement.
I spend as much time as I can in my front yard garden, planting and tending flowering plants, but I hardly let myself enjoy it. Oh, I try. I sit on my front porch fully intending to relax and take it all in, but it doesn’t take long before my eyes see faded flowers that need to be deadheaded or weeds that need to be pulled, so I either have to get to work or go back in the house. This particular afternoon was like a gift, like God was telling me to just “be still” and know that He is God.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
I can’t be outside in this beautiful country and not be aware of how God provides for me, both for practical needs such as food and shelter, but also spiritual needs such as peace and relaxation. Sometimes I wonder what heaven is like. Scripture speaks of pearly gates and golden streets, but I hope He also has beautiful trees, gardens, and birds. Gardens were His idea, afterall.
Country life is simpler, and being further from city services we sometimes go without power, water, or travel for longer periods than city folk. It can be an inconvenience, but it can also be an opportunity to just Be Still.
One of the ladies at the rehab facility where I volunteer was distraught because her chronological Bible was lost when she was transferred there. I made a mental note, planning to go to the thrift store to check for one when our Bible study was over.
I went, fully expecting to find that exact Bible. I felt sure that God would want her to have it. I started by looking on the “Bible” shelves. When I didn’t see one there I started looking in the more general “Religious Books” section, thinking that possibly someone had misplaced it. I was so sure, that I spent 15-20 minutes searching, and searching again. I even asked a volunteer to check in the back. At last, I had to admit that it wasn’t there.
There was another thrift store in town that I considered. They didn’t usually have much in the way of books, especially Bibles, but it wasn’t too far so I decided to run by and look anyway. Once there I went straight to the bookshelves and they were just as I had remembered. The book section was small and there didn’t appear to be any Bibles. Regardless, I slowed my eyes down and started to look more carefully. Suddenly, they caught exactly what I was seeking. There was the exact chronological Bible that I had in mind. It was brand new, still wrapped in plastic with the original store’s price sticker of $21.99. However, there wasn’t a price for the thrift store. Suppressing my excitement, I took it to the front counter and asked how much it was.
“One dollar,” the sales lady replied.
I keep wanting to write that I couldn’t believe it, but I could.
I couldn’t wait to take the Bible to its intended recipient and tell her how God had provided it especially for her. I was hoping that she would see how much she was loved and that it would help strengthen her faith. It did mine.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
The term “God-incidence” first entered my vocabulary about twenty years ago, and through the years I’ve learned to see God at work in everyday occurrences. Many of them have become treasured memories.
I’m afraid that oftentimes people write things off as “co-incidences,” when it is really God at work, thereby robbing themselves of a faith-strengthening event. It might be hard to believe in air when it can’t be seen, but then it moves, causing leaves to flutter or water to ripple, making its presence known. If one were struggling to believe in God, then being aware of a God-incidence might be just what their faith needs. I’ve been in the company of people like that – I’ve heard them question God’s existence and say that they feel separated from Him.
A few times a week I volunteer at an addiction recovery facility where I help lead a voluntary Bible study. I’m very much aware of the spiritual battle that is going on, so it’s my practice to pray before entering the facility, and again when I enter the room where we meet, asking the Holy Spirit to come fill the room with His presence.
Do Not Be Anxious
One day I was teaching on the topic of “prayer,” and in the middle of class one of the ladies began to have difficulty breathing. She said that she was having an anxiety attack and that she might need to go to the hospital. Someone called a nurse, who quickly came to get her. When they had left, the remaining ladies asked me to lead them in prayer for her. Afterwards, when asked if they wanted to finish the Bible study, they said that they did. Finding the place where we had left off, one of the women read:
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16 NIV)
One of the ladies remarked, “Wow! I’m floored!” The next verse was:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV)
This God-incidence was not lost on the group – the ladies excitedly chattered about it. Let’s just say that I appreciated the Holy Spirit’s help with the lesson, for bringing it alive as only He can.
I try to be watchful for God at work and careful not to dismiss it as coincidence. I don’t want to be robbed of God’s awesome presence. Do you have a God-incidence that you’d like to share?
Many years ago I had a favorite song called “Not Too Far From Here,” sung by Kim Boyce. I had her cassette tape and listened to it over and over, singing along, of course. With permission from its writer, Steve Siler, I want to share the lyrics with you before continuing my story:
Not Too Far From Here
Somebody’s down to their last dime,
Somebody’s running out of time,
Not too far from here
Somebody’s got nowhere else to go
Somebody needs a little hope
Not too far from here
And I may not know their name
But I’m praying just the same
That You’ll use me Lord to wipe away a tear
‘Cause somebody’s crying
Not too far from here
Somebody’s troubled and confused
Somebody’s got nothing left to lose
Not too far from here
Somebody’s forgotten how to trust
Somebody’s dying for love
Not too far from here
It may be a stranger’s face
But I’m praying for Your grace
To move in me and take away the fear
‘Cause somebody’s hurting
Not too far from here
Help me, Lord, not to turn away from pain
Help me not to rest while those around me weep
Give me Your strength and compassion
When somebody finds the road of life too steep
Now, I’m letting down my guard and I’m opening my heart
Help me speak your love to every needful ear
Jesus is waiting
Not too far from here
Oh, Jesus is waiting
Not too far from here
Almost exactly 12 years ago, while I was living in Rockport, Texas, there was a tragic accident. I vividly remember reading the article below the large photo on the front of our small town’s newspaper. It was Memorial weekend and a family was coming to Rockport on vacation. Just as they were about to cross the bridge into town, they were hit by a drunk driver. The article gave so much detail. It was a family of four, just like mine. They were driving a Ford Expedition just like mine. Their daughter was a year younger than mine (almost exactly) and was seated behind the driver’s seat where mine normally sat. Their son was the same age as mine and sat in the center of the third row where mine normally sat. These similarities made it easy for me to put myself into this mother’s shoes and imagine myself in her place. The article went on to say that the father and daughter were taken to a hospital in Aransas Pass where the daughter later died, and that the mother and son were taken to a hospital in Corpus Christi where their son was in ICU with internal injuries. This all happened not too farfrom our home.
It just so happened that my son was scheduled to take a standardized test the next morning at a church not too far from the hospital in Corpus Christi. I couldn’t help but imagine what the mother must have been going through, being separated from her husband and daughter at the moment that they lost her, and I didn’t think that she would have family or friends with her since they didn’t live in the area. I felt like God was nudging me to go see her. Even though it was way out of my comfort zone, I made some brownies and gathered a few magazines to take to her the next morning, while five-year-old Margaret drew a picture to give her.
Acting in Faith
After dropping my son off at the testing site, I took my daughter and went to the hospital. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot imagining a variety of scenarios and summoning my courage. How would she respond to a perfect stranger bothering her at a time like this? Would the hospital even let me try? What would I say? I went up to ICU and when a nurse asked if she could help me, I did my best to explain why I was there. The nurse went to tell the mother while Margaret and I went to sit and wait.
“You Must Be a Christian”
When she, the mother, came through the doors and approached me I felt so awkward. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but something to the effect that I was from Rockport and that I had read about her family’s accident in the newspaper and that I just wanted her to know that I cared. I do, however, remember exactly what she said to me. She said, “you must be a Christian.” I don’t think there is a more wonderful thing that could have been said to me. We embraced and cried together. We sat down and I gave her the things we had brought, and after talking a little while longer, Margaret and I excused ourselves and left. The mother and I kept in touch for quite awhile after that. About a year later when she became pregnant, she shared the happy news with me and even sent me an ultrasound picture.
Some time later I was reminiscing about that encounter. I had acted in faith to try to comfort someone else, but it also blessed me. It was then that I remembered the lyrics to that song I had loved so much. While singing it I had prayed that God might use me, and that I wouldn’t shy away from such an opportunity. I realized that He had answered my prayer, and that it had all happened not too far from here.
You can read more about this beautiful and moving song in Music For The Soul, Healing For The Heart, written by Steve Siler. I gratefully thank Mr. Siler for giving me permission to include his lyrics in my story. It wouldn’t be the same without them!