Mitt Romney Speaks to Liberty University Graduates…And to Me

Controversy and confusion surrounded Liberty University’s announcement that Governor Mitt Romney would be the keynote speaker at its 39th Commencement ceremony. The decision was immediately labeled a political move by local and national media. Liberty students took to Facebook and boycotting in order to protest the decision. Questions of whether Liberty was compromising on its fundamental principles, whether it was legitimizing Mormon theology, or whether this signalled political support for Romney from LU administration, all became topics of debate. I found myself defending both Mitt Romney and Liberty’s administration, on Facebook pages and on Lynchburg’s local ABC station WSET. I also wrote a rather lengthy article that can be found on this blog. Mitt Romney is a nationally known person, so it’s no surprise that there was no shortage of opinions on this matter.

When I walked out onto Liberty University’s football field, surrounded by over 6,000 of my peers all dressed in the regalia, as well as 25,000 guests, I wasn’t surprised to sense some tension in the air. CNN and other news outlets had already published stories on the controversy, and I knew they would find a few in the vast crowd who would protest the school’s decision in front of news cameras. I somehow found my parents in the vast crowd, waved, and found a seat. I waited anxiously for the speech that had been the topic of conversations since mid-April.

But before Romney spoke a word to the 30,000 in attendance and hundreds of thousands more watching online, Mark DeMoss gave a stirring introduction. DeMoss is an Evangelical longtime donor to Liberty University, which is the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world with over 80,000 enrolled in its residential and online programs. DeMoss has also been an adviser and friend of Romney’s for the past six years. In his introduction, he described his relationship with Romney and his family. “There’s a difference between knowing about someone and knowing them,” said DeMoss. To emphasize his point, DeMoss asserted that, “Over the years, we have prayed together, shared Scripture together, and talked about life together. And here is what I found: I do not have two better friends than Mitt and Ann Romney.”

It was as if DeMoss was trying to cut through the public perception of Romney as a robot politician and to introduce, to the mostly Evangelical audience, the person Mitt Romney, not the politician. It was then that I realized that although I was familiar with stories of Romney’s heart and service, though I do not know him personally, the vast majority of Evangelicals know him only as what the media has labeled him: a Mormon, Republican politician. Today, I realized, might be bigger than I could know.

As DeMoss continued to speak, Romney appeared to be getting emotional as he sat waiting for his time to speak.

“I trust him,” DeMoss said with conviction. “I trust him to do the right thing, to do the moral thing, to do what’s best for our country. I trust his character, his integrity, his moral compass, his judgment, and his perfect decency. Finally, I trust his values, for I am convinced they mirror my own.”

Clearly, DeMoss believes that Mitt Romney is someone worthy of respect and counts him as one of his most trusted friends, and he wanted to help ease the concerns that some Evangelicals have. Before DeMoss could return to his seat, Romney stood and embraced him.

I wondered what Governor Romney would say. Although the administration would present him with an honorary degree, he had earned three previously, including two Masters degrees: He graduated with honors from Harvard University with MBA and law degrees. Perhaps he would speak from his college experiences. Or maybe he would reflect on his 25 years in the private sector, in which he built a fortune for himself and others by taking on businesses that were failing, addressing the problems, and turning those failures into successes. Perhaps he would point to his experience in fixing the 2002 Winter Olympics as a testament to overcoming great obstacles. Maybe he would talk about taking on a secular culture with stories of how he confronted the liberal establishment in Massachusetts and won. Or would he reflect on what he considers his greatest achievement: raising his five sons with his wife of 43 years, Ann. Surely this wouldn’t be a political speech as some feared. Or would it?

But when Mitt Romney stepped up to that podium, he did exactly what he should have–he made it about the graduates. “Today, thanks to what you have gained here, you leave Liberty with conviction and confidence as your armor. You know what you believe, you know who you are, and you know Who you will serve. Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence.”

He reminded us of our mission, and he acknowledged the difficulties ahead while expressing hope in our future. “Your values will not always be the object of public admiration. In fact, the more you live by your beliefs, the more you will endure the censure of the world. Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable, or the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls.”

He emphasized service, love, family, and hard work.  “Moral certainty, clear standards, and commitment to moral ideals will set you apart in a world that is searching for meaning.” In just 19 minutes, he put the lives of 6,000 attending graduates accompanied by some 25,000 guests, all in perspective. And, I believe he did something even more important: he won our trust. Although he garnered several standing ovations and more than a dozen rounds of applause, one simple line won him the most raucous reaction: “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.” The stadium’s occupants jumped to their feet with hoots and hollers, many knowing quite well that President Obama had just days ago told the world he had changed his mind and was now in favor of legalizing homosexual marriage.

Romney quickly moved on to trusting God with our lives. “All you have heard at Liberty University about trusting in God and in His purpose for each of us makes for more than a good sermon. It makes for a good life.” He spoke from his own personal life, noting that often we will have to choose between professional life and family life. “I never once regretted missing a business opportunity to spend time with my family.” Later, he would again affirm the conviction that the eternal outweighs the temporal. “The best advice I know is to give those worldly things your best, but never your all. Reserve the ultimate hope for the only One who can grant it.”

After it was over, I stood and made my way to the stadium’s exits along with everyone else. The graduates were abuzz with Romney’s speech. “Mitt Romney seems like an amazing person,” I overheard one young lady say. “He’s going to be a great President,” another graduate said. “I’m glad he made it about us,” one young man said. That’s when I realized: Even though these graduates disagreed vehemently with Romney on theology, they recognized that, more often than not, they are going to agree with him.

Like him, we stand for our first freedom: the freedom of religion. Like him, we stand for traditional marriage. We stand, together, on the side of life. We stand, together, in shared values and worldview. We both recognize that God, not government, is the giver of all good things, including freedom. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder when it comes to putting God and the people in our lives ahead of worldly responsibilities. We believe in personal responsibility and hard work and character.

That’s why Mark DeMoss could call him his most trusted friend. That’s why Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced him as “the next President of the United States.” And that’s why I can count him as one of my great heroes.

To watch Mitt Romney’s speech, please go to one of the following links.

Liberty University’s official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT2HAluw63Q&feature=share

CSPAN video with introduction by Mark DeMoss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muHK5Hqgar8&feature=related

Remarks in Text

For the graduates, this moment marks a clear ending and a clear beginning. The task set before you four years ago is now completed in full. To the class of 2012: Well done, and congratulations. Some of you may have taken a little longer than four years to complete your studies. One graduate has said that he completed his degree in only two terms: Clinton’s and Bush’s.

In some ways, it is fitting that I share this distinction with Truett Cathy. The Romney campaign comes to a sudden stop when we spot a Chick-fil-A. Your chicken sandwiches were our comfort food through the primary season, and there were days that we needed a lot of comforting. So, Truett, thank you and congratulations on your well-deserved honor today.

There are some people here who are even more pleased than the graduates. Those would be the parents. Their years of prayers, devotion, and investment have added up to this joyful achievement. And with credit to Congressman Dick Armey: The American Dream is not owning your own home, it is getting your kids out of the home you own.

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about life in four-year stretches. And let’s just say that not everybody has achieved as much in these last four years as you have. That’s a theme for another day. But two observations. First, even though job opportunities are scarce in this economy, it is not for nothing that you have spent this time preparing.

Jerry Falwell, Senior, long ago observed that “You do not determine a man’s greatness by his talent or wealth, as the world does, but rather by what it takes to discourage him.” America needs your skill and talent. If we take the right course, we will see a resurgence in the American economy that will surprise the world, and that will open new doors of opportunity for those who are prepared as you are.

Of course, what the next four years might hold for me is yet to be determined. But I will say that things are looking up, and I take your kind hospitality today as a sign of good things to come. I consider it a great life honor to address you today. Your generosity of spirit humbles me. The welcoming spirit of Liberty is a tribute to the gracious Christian example of your founder. In his 73 years of life, Dr. Falwell left a big mark. For nearly five decades he shared that walk with his good wife Macel. It’s wonderful to see her today. The calling Jerry answered was not an easy one. Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the Gospel who never feared an argument, and never hated an adversary.

Jerry deserves the tribute he would have treasured most, as a cheerful, confident champion for Christ. I will always remember his cheerful good humor and selflessness. Several years ago, in my home, my wife and I were posing for a picture together with him. We wanted him to be in the center of the photo, but he insisted that Ann be in the middle, with he and I on the sides. He explained, by pointing to me and himself, “You see, Christ died between two thieves.”

Maybe the most confident step Jerry ever took was to open the doors of this school 41 years ago. He believed that Liberty might become one of the most respected Christian universities anywhere on earth. And so it is today. He believed, even when the first graduating class consisted of 13 students, that year after year young Christians would be drawn to such a university in ever-greater numbers.

And here you are. Today, thanks to what you have gained here, you leave Liberty with conviction and confidence as your armor. You know what you believe. You know who you are. And you know Whom you will serve. Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence, but it will be among the most prized qualities from your education here. Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning. That said, your values will not always be the object of public admiration. In fact, the more you live by your beliefs, the more you will endure the censure of the world.

Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or of the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls like Wesley, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, John Paul the Second, and Billy Graham. Each showed, in their own way, the relentless and powerful influence of the message of Jesus Christ. May that be your guide.

You enter a world with civilizations and economies that are far from equal. Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life. The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family.

The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Senator Rick Santorum brought to my attention. For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor.

Culture matters. As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.

The protection of religious freedom has also become a matter of debate. It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government. But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution.

And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action. Religious freedom opens a door for Americans that is closed to too many others around the world. But whether we walk through that door, and what we do with our lives after we do, is up to us.

Someone once observed that the great drama of Christianity is not a crowd shot, following the movements of collectives or even nations. The drama is always personal, individual, unfolding in one’s own life. We’re not alone in sensing this. Men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all, sincerely strive to do right and lead a purpose-driven life.

And, in the way of lessons learned, by hitting the mark or by falling short, I can tell you this much for sure. All that you have heard here at Liberty University – about trusting in God and in His purpose for each of us–makes for more than a good sermon. It makes for a good life. So many things compete for our attention and devotion. That doesn’t stop as you get older. We are all prone, at various turns, to treat the trivial things as all-important, the all-important things as trivial, and little by little lose sight of the one thing that endures forever. No person I have ever met, not even the most righteous or pure of heart, has gone without those times when faith recedes in the busy-ness of life. It’s normal, and sometimes even the smallest glimpses of the Lord’s work in our lives can reawaken our hearts. They bring us back to ourselves – and, better still, to something far greater than ourselves.

What we have, what we wish we had – ambitions fulfilled, ambitions disappointed … investments won, investments lost … elections won, elections lost – these things may occupy our attention, but they do not define us. And each of them is subject to the vagaries and serendipities of life. Our relationship with our Maker, however, depends on none of this. It is entirely in our control, for He is always at the door, and knocks for us. Our worldly successes cannot be guaranteed, but our ability to achieve spiritual success is entirely up to us, thanks to the grace of God.

The best advice I know is to give those worldly things your best but never your all, reserving the ultimate hope for the only one who can grant it. Many a preacher has advised the same, but few as memorably as Martin Luther King, Jr. “As a young man,” he said, “with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

In this life, the commitments that come closest to forever are those of family. My Dad, George Romney, was a CEO, a governor, and a member of the President’s Cabinet. My wife Ann asked him once, “What was your greatest accomplishment?” Without a moment’s pause, he said, “Raising our four kids.” Ann and I feel the same way about our family. I have never once regretted missing a business opportunity so that I could be with my children and grandchildren. Among the things in life that can be put off, being there when it matters most isn’t one of them. As C.S. Lewis is said to have remarked, “The home is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose, and that is to support the ultimate career.”

Promotions often mark the high points in a career, and I hope I haven’t seen my last. But sometimes the high points come in unexpected ways. I was asked to help rescue the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. I’m embarrassed now to recall that when this opportunity was first presented to me, I dismissed it out of hand. I was busy, I was doing well, and, by the way, my lack of athletic prowess did not make the Olympics a logical step. In fact, after I had accepted the position, my oldest son called me and said, “Dad, I’ve spoken to the brothers. We saw the paper this morning. We want you to know there’s not a circumstance we could have conceived of that would put you on the front page of the sports section.”

The Olympics were not a logical choice, but it was one of the best and most fulfilling choices of my life. Opportunities for you to serve in meaningful ways may come at inconvenient times, but that will make them all the more precious. People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview. The best case for this is always the example of Christian men and women working and witnessing to carry God’s love into every life – people like the late Chuck Colson. Not long ago, Chuck recounted a story from his days just after leaving prison. He was assured by people of influence that, even with a prison record, a man with his connections and experience could still live very comfortably. They would make some calls, get Chuck situated, and set him up once again as an important man. His choice at that crossroads would make him, instead, a great man.

The call to service is one of the fundamental elements of our national character. It has motivated every great movement of conscience that this hopeful, fair-minded country of ours has ever seen. Sometimes, as Dr. Viktor Frankl observed in a book for the ages, it is not a matter of what we are asking of life, but rather what life is asking of us. How often the answer to our own troubles is to help others with theirs. In all of these things – faith, family, work, and service –the choices we make as Americans are, in other places, not choices at all.

For so many on this earth, life is filled with orders, not options, right down to where they live, the work they do, and how many children the state will permit them to have. All the more reason to be grateful, this and every day, that we live in America, where the talents God gave us may be used in freedom.

At this great Christian institution, you have all learned a thing or two about these gifts and the good purposes they can serve. They are yours to have and yours to share. Sometimes, your Liberty education will set you apart, and always it will help direct your path. And as you now leave, and make for new places near and far, I hope for each one of you that your path will be long and life will be kind. The ideals that brought you here … the wisdom you gained here … and the friends you found here – may these blessings be with you always, wherever you go.

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Switchfoot’s “Vice Re-Verses” EP Album Review

Debuting at #8 on Billboard’s Top 100, Vice Verses charted new territory for Switchfoot. Building on the new-found freedom on their own independent label called “lowercase people,” Switchfoot expands the sound of Hello Hurricane, experimenting with beats and styles reminiscent of the hip-hop genre. Vice Verses has been critically acclaimed and one of Switchfoot’s best reviewed albums to date. Their eighth studio album includes the radio hits “Dark Horses” and “Afterlife,” not to mention “Restless” and the fan-favorite “Where I Belong.”

From left to right, Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keys), Jon Foreman (lead vocals/ guitar), Tim Foreman (bass), and Drew Shirley (guitar).

Inspired by spontaneous re-mixes of singles from Hello Hurricane, the San Diego rockers have put out a seven-song EP titled Vice  Re-Verses, letting various musicians remix singles from Vice Verses.

Adam Young of Owl City does a phenomenal job of re-mixing “Blinding Light,” adding his unique sound but leaving the original song intact and actually making it even better. The other standout from the album is the winner of Switchfoot’s “Afterlife” re-mix contest, launched so that amateurs could have a platform to show off their skills. The winner, credited as Neon Feather, makes “Afterlife” into an epic masterpiece of flash and soaring sounds that echo the soundtrack of the movie Tron: Legacy. 

Adam Young’s remix of “Blinding Light” is the standout song of Vice Re-Verses.

The rest of the album is hit-or-miss. JT Daly of Paper Route had the honor of producing two remixes: “The Original” treads the line between energetic and obnoxious with nasally “Na-nas.” Conversely, “Dark Horses” is much quieter, sounding like it was recorded in a vacuum, as if the listener is traveling through space. Both are good in their own way.

“Selling the News” is remixed by Photek. It has really interesting background sounds, but overall it strips down the song too much and is extremely repetitive. In truth, it’s hard to remix that song, because the original version is so well-produced.

Darren King remixed “Vice Verses,” which isn’t really a remix kind of song. He distorts Jon Foreman’s voice and adds an array of echoing drums and electronic sounds that overpower the lyrics.

Finally, the remix for “The War Inside” is produced by Drew and Jerome, who play guitar and keyboard respectively as members of Switchfoot. They slow down and strip down the song, letting selections of the lyrics breathe while featuring the catchy progression of the keys, which are featured at the end of the original version.

For longtime Switchfoot fans, Vice Re-Verses is a great item to include in your collection with a unique spin on each song. For the more casual fans, there are a couple songs that you should definitely consider purchasing. Overall, it’s more proof that Switchfoot is a band willing to take risks and stretch their sound into new territory, while staying true to their alternative roots.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5  ||  Favorites: “Blinding Light” by Adam Young,  “Afterlife” by Neon Feather

The Dear Hunter “The Color Spectrum” Album Review

The Dear Hunter is a rare gem of a band. With every project, they create an epic auditory experience built on a cocktail of sounds and styles. The best way I can categorize them is experimental/alternative rock, but they are so much more than that. The band is the brainchild of Casey Crescenzo, who was part of The Receiving End of Sirens. The Dear Hunter put out three albums, or “Acts,” that weave heartbreaking stories of love and loss. Acts II and III are about 80 minutes each of unadulterated genius with a symphony of different sounds that somehow mesh. A single song will use the piano, harp, and electronic elements to haunting effect, then climax in a barrage of clashing cymbals and Casey biting off the lyrics with furious intensity. Each album is a unique and special journey, both musically and lyrically. Crescenzo sings with god-like range.  (If you’re new to The Dear Hunter and want a sample of their style, check out “Red Hands” from Act II. Its deliberate, catchy beat and heart-wrenching lyrics are why it will probably always be a fan favorite). The band hopes to produce seven “Acts” in total.

However, their latest project, “The Color Spectrum” EP, is a departure from the “Act” format, and a very special one. Crescenzo set out to create a four-song EP for each of the variations of the color spectrum, plus black and white. Each EP would be recorded at a different location with unique musical talent and producers. What might seem like an impossible feat to pull off resulted in a 36-song masterpiece with a running time of around 150 minutes. Most music stores carry a 12-song sampling, but you can find the complete collection plus a “Making of” DVD for under $30 online. Most of the project is a stark departure from what The Dear Hunter has done before as Crescenzo set out to define each color with unique themes and a specific sound.  Here’s a breakdown for each “color” of the Color Spectrum.

Black

The first EP of the collection is grating, dark, hopeless. Everything we normally associate with Black. The unnerving elctronic synths compunded with loud guitar riffs and bitter, hopeless lyrics make it a tough first-listen. However, once I had adjusted to the sound, this four-song journey became one of my favorite of the nine colors because it embodies its subject so well. “This Body” yells out, “This body’s not a temple, it’s a prison,” punctuated with obnoxious “Yeaaaahs.” It may be an interesting peek at Crescenzo’s worldview, which seems to be Agnostic. If you can weather the sometimes cringe-inducing sound and a few mild profanities, this is probably the most unique offering from the entire Color Spectrum.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 || Favorite: “Filth & Squalor”

Red

Picking up where Black leaves off, Red is largely driven by “angry” guitar riffs with high energy and often grating vocals. In interviews, Casey insisted he didn’t so much want to associate Red with rage, but more so with arrogance and rebellion. If you try to sing along with the Red EP, you’ll undoubtedly feel these emotions.  “Deny it All” features stinging lyrics: “Nursing stale history, and the apathy it brings. Too fascinated by the most material things, while we wait carefully and see.” The symphony of screams, cymbal crashing, and raging guitar riffs distinguish Red from the “Acts” with an adolescent-like sound.

Rating: 3 out of 5 || Favorite: “A Curse of Cynicism”

Orange

This EP highlights Casey’s knack for creating a unique atmosphere in a song. Although elements of “Red” are still present, such as more guitar riffs that remind you of the 1980s, “Orange” sets out towards brighter territory. “A Sea of Solid Earth” is probably the strongest lyrical output of the EP: “The walls are humming with a soft suspicious song, suggesting that I’ve been mistaken all along. But the words become deformed, while the notes fall and distort.” Still, Orange is probably my least favorite of the EPs as it seems to be a toned-down “Red,” but Casey really shows off his incredible vocal range.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 || Favorite: “Stuck on a Wire and Out on a Fence.”

Yellow

“She’s Always Singing” represents a turning point for the Color Spectrum. In contrast to the previous 12 songs, Yellow kicks off with a catchy, romantic anthem. The four songs of this EP feel very sunny and almost beachy with guitar strums and beats that recall music of the 1960s, particularly The Beach Boys. “Misplaced Devotion” is about convincing a lover to leave her man: “Hey girl, let’s lose ourselves today. We can go anywhere we need to get away. So say the word and we’ll turn around and leave this place behind.” The intricate guitar progressions and background vocals add to this catchy group of songs.

Rating: 4 out of 5 || Favorite: “She’s Always Singing”

Green

Giving more time to acoustic guitars, mandolins, and harmonicas, Green is a quieter collection of introspective, sometimes nostalgic lyrics. “Things That Hide Away” croons life’s most basic questions: “Why are we here, why do we die? Maybe we’re just never meant to know why.” On the other hand, “The Canopy” is a light love song of sorts, reflecting on a young couple’s feelings of newfound love, telling the listener to “Slow down, take time, and see the forest for the leaves. I know I should practice what I preach.” This is a great collection of catchy tunes with acoustic sound, perfect for car rides.

Rating: 4 out of 5 || Favorite: “The Canopy”

Blue

Slowing things down even more, the Blue EP lets the songs breathe. Crescenzo has such talent at letting songs come almost to a standstill in order to emphasize the lyrics and put the focus on emotion. For these songs, the emotion is primarily depression and uncertainty. In “What You Said,” the lyrics ache of heartbreak: “Starved eyes looking for something soft. Don’t go astray. You were in love before tonight. What made you change your mind? Was it what she said? Was it what you said?” This collection captures the “feeling blue” attitude perfectly.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 || Favorite: “The Collapse of the Great Tide Cliffs”

Indigo

Indigo might be the most unique of the nine EPs, because it heads off into territory that Dear Hunter fans will not associate with the band: electronica. Sounding a bit like The Postal Service at times, Crescenzo dazzles the auditory senses with sweet sounding piano progressions, high energy beats, an array of background vocals, and unique electronic elements that smooth out and make the songs feel very full and complete. The lyrics trend more towards the genius of the Acts. In “Mandala,” Crescenzo croons, “You’ve been here before. You’ve seen it all. But your conscience won’t recall. Your eyes are barely wide enough to recognize what your heart keeps giving up.” The Indigo EP also contains the one and only instrumental piece on the entire project, titled “Therma.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 || Favorite: “What Time Taught Us”

Violet

Violet is my favorite EP, probably because it’s the only one of the collections that echo the “Acts” sound with newfound inspiration. With orchestra-like elements driven by pianos and electric guitars, choruses that yell, and breakdowns that whisper, I often listen to this EP a few times through. “Mr. Malum” paints the portrait of an unprincipled politician: “Mr. Malum’s got a secret. He keeps on giving speeches. Just a whisper in precision that cuts through hesitation, with a sharp and evil whip to keep the dogs at bay.” But the Violet EP is also similar to the “Acts” in terms of tone and theme. “Lillian” and “Too Late” both speak of the loss of innocence in a woman. In “Lillian,” the singer pleads in hushed tones, “Entertain, but don’t get stuck in something painful. Something worse than nothing.” Every song of Violet is insanely catchy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 || Favorite: “Too Late.” But it’s close. They’re all so freaking good.

White

Just as Black screamed of bitterness, White soars with hope and promise. It’s Casey Crescenzo at the height of his powers. It’s the kind of sound you imagine to hear if you’re soul had left your body and you were riding on a stallion through the pearly gates of Heaven. The White EP focuses on the triumphs of life and redemption. Home shouts, “Help will come. Yeah, you can come back home. Help is on the way. So come back home.” Meanwhile, “Fall and Flee” sings, “I’m hoping it’s showing. My heart never stopped growing. I’ll take comfort in knowing, this melody has never been sung with these words…” With a symphony of background vocals and triumphant musical progressions, White is an epic conclusion to The Color Spectrum.

Rating: 5 out of 5  || Favorite: “Home”

If you just want a sampling of some of the best singles from The Color Spectrum project, I suggest looking for the 12-song version. But adding the complete project to your music collection ensures that you will own one of the most unique and special music experiences of all time.

The Avengers Movie Review

WARNING: The following review contains some plot details. 

The Avengers is any superhero fan’s dream. It’s the team-up of legendary comic book heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk. It’s a nonstop flurry of action, suspense, and humor. It’s breaking box office records both domestically and worldwide, and for good reason.

Thor’s stepbrother Loki wants to be the ruler of earth. To do so, he has to create a portal that links the skies of Manhattan to the far side of the universe where his extraterrestrial allies, the  Chitauri, can unleash havoc on the city for the last 45 minutes of the movie. After Loki steals the Tesseract that will open the portal, Nick Fury decides to re-initiate the Avengers Initiative, scouring the globe to bring the members of the Avengers together for the first time. But none of that matters. All we really care about is how cool it all looks.

Before they can take on Loki as a team, first the Avengers must work out their personality differences. What results is a superhero fan’s dream. One scene features Thor vs. Iron Man vs. Captain America. Another scene pits the Hulk against Thor. And when the final battle commences, there are plenty of epic heroics and eye-dazzling explosions.

One of the primary strengths of the movie is that it never takes itself too seriously. With so much acting talent filling the screen featuring characters that each have their unique ego, the characters are always trying to outdo each other, and it’s outrageously funny.

Though Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are the lesser known members of the Avengers, writer/director Joss Whedon (Serenity) makes every character integral to the movie and awards an adequate of amount of screen time. For a movie that includes the ever-popular Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America, I was impressed that no one was overlooked. In truth, Tony Stark steals the show, which is appropriate given Robert Downey Jr.’s genius portrayal and the enormous success of the Iron Man movies. But everyone gets their due.

And as with the previous Marvel movies focusing on the origins of the Avengers characters, once the credits start rolling, you’re going to want to stick around for both sets of credits. There’s not one but two bonus scenes.

Although Mark Ruffalo is brilliant as Bruce Banner, one of the few flaws of the movie was the apparent inconsistency with the anger problems of the Hulk. For the first half of the movie, there is the dread that Bruce Banner could become Hulk at any moment. When it happens involuntarily, he is beyond reason, and nearly kills certain members of the Avengers. But when the final epic battle scene arrives and the bad guys are coming into Manhattan with guns blazing, one character says to Bruce Banner, “Now would be a good time to get angry.” Bruce Banner answers, “That’s my secret. I’m always angry.”

He then seems to voluntarily become Hulk, and even takes orders from various members of the Avengers, saving a couple members of the team at various times. Hulk punches one Avenger with apparent playfulness. Bruce Banner seems in complete control of Hulk, which is fine… Except there was no reason to think that Bruce Banner had learned to control himself in between the first half and the second half of the movie. Maybe someone could explain it to me, but I guess it’s all in the spirit of, “This is just a fun superhero movie, you’re not supposed to think.”

The Avengers is ridiculously violent, but it never forgets that the audience for its source material is primarily made up of kids. The movie contains only a handful of mild profanities and no sexual references. I commend Whedon for crafting a clean superhero movie that emphasizes self-sacrifice, humility, and teamwork.

And judging by the haul it’s bringing in, (an $80 million Friday, an estimated record $200 million weekend, and over $500 million worldwide), there will be plenty more Avengers movies. At this pace, The Avengers has an excellent chance to cross the $500 million mark domestically and cash in at around $1.5 billion worldwide on a fairly average $225 million budget.

Though the movie is nonstop thrills, the outcome was never in doubt. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, and everybody goes their separate ways. And I guess that was the point. The Avengers isn’t so much a movie as it is a platform for kids of all ages to see their superheroes in live action, together, doing the things we could only imagine them doing. Until now. The makers of The Avengers clearly recognize that this was to be the “fun” event of the year. It is, without a doubt, the most entertaining superhero movie ever released, made to be seen on the big screen, and worth every penny of the price of admission.
4 stars out of 5

Why this Graduating Senior is Proud that Mitt Romney is Speaking at Liberty University’s Commencement

The Atomic Bomb that was Dropped on April 19

I knew from the moment I learned of the announcement that this was going to create a firestorm of controversy. A Mormon is speaking at the Commencement for the largest Evangelical university in the world. Seconds after Liberty University posted their decision on Facebook, the page was lit up with comments expressing fervent disagreement and bitter disappointment.

It immediately caught the attention of the local ABC station WSET. Since I had posted a few comments trying to calm things down and received support from other Liberty students, a reporter from WSET contacted me and I agreed to a brief, spur-of-the-moment interview. I wanted to support the university’s decision and provide my opinion of Mitt Romney, but unfortunately I am not as eloquent with the spoken word as I am with the written word, so I would like to clarify my position.

Let me preface the rest of this note with a statement of my appreciation for everyone who has respectfully disagreed with me. As of yet, I have only had pleasant conversations with the few people who have confronted me on this, and I hope to continue to foster a spirit of civil discourse and mutual understanding. I’m very proud of these people. Okay, enough introduction! Bear with me as I make my case, and feel free to comment.

Well, there goes another Christian university down the drain!”

This is the first thing I want to address, because some are accusing Liberty of being something it is not. One of the common misconceptions is that LU is a liberal Christian institution, and this decision seems to strengthen that narrative. That was actually the reason in 2007 that I said I would never attend Liberty. But I had been misinformed, according to one alum I spoke with. So I visited Liberty to see for myself. I was impressed beyond words.

As I am now completing my fourth year at LU, I can state with absolute confidence that Liberty University is a conservative Christian university that has not compromised on the fundamental Biblical truths it was founded on by Jerry Falwell in 1971. Every professor and every administrator, is a born-again, blood-bought Christian. These men and women of God are vetted and then required to sign documents that state their agreement with LU on the fundamentals of the Christian faith: God created the universe in six literal days. There was a worldwide flood that wiped out all but eight members of the human race. Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, born of a virgin, who died for the sins of the world and resurrected. One day He is coming back for His people and will establish his Kingdom as part of a millennial reign…. The list goes on.

But every student that comes to Liberty is not necessarily a Christian. And if they haven’t heard the Gospel, it doesn’t take long for them to hear it. Each student, regardless of major, is required to take eight semester-long Bible courses: two courses in Theology, Old and New Testament Surveys, Contemporary Issues I and II, Evangelism, and Philosophy. Every student is required to record 20 hours of Christian service per semester. Every dorm has a team of student prayer leaders which lead groups of five students to fellowship, study Scripture, worship, and pray on a weekly basis.

Every week, there are three mandatory services where the entire campus of 10,000+ students gathers to worship God and pray for 30 minutes, and hear from a speaker for the additional 30, usually from a Christian. (This year’s speakers included Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick, Vernon Brewer, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Brad Stine, Cal Thomas, founder Elmer Towns, Pastor Jonathan Falwell, and campus pastors Johnnie Moore and Clayton King). Each semester there is Spiritual Emphasis Week where an evangelist or pastor leads a campus-wide revival over the course of several days. Without fail, Christ saves hundreds of young people at these services, every semester. There is also Campus Church on Sunday and Wednesday nights, although Liberty encourages students to get involved in local churches.

The Liberty Way, a rulebook, enforces strict policies. There is to be no drinking, smoking, or drug use. There is to be no cursing or crude speech. There is to be no lying, cheating, or stealing. There is to be no suggestive dancing, kissing, or sexual activity of any kind. There are to be no R-rated movies. There is a modest dress code for both men and women.

We believe there is ONE way to Heaven: that is through Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As a human race, we mucked it up in the Garden of Eden, and we continue to muck it up to this day. We rebelled against God and separated ourselves from a right relationship with Him, destined for eternal damnation and separation from Him in a place of eternal torment. But God made a way, and the physical resurrection of Jesus was representative of His victory over sin and death. By trusting our souls and lives to Him, we are restored to a right relationship with God, and can now live a life that honors Him by following His Word, the Bible, and loving others and Him with all of our heart, mind, and strength.

I do not believe I am overstating it when I say that Liberty University is the single greatest force for God on the planet. With 13,000 residential students and 70,000+ online students, Liberty’s influence is felt around the world. With over 200 fields of study, Liberty continues to fulfill its motto of “Training Champions for Christ” that grow into leaders within their communities and professional fields. I don’t think anyone can say what Liberty University has meant for the cause of Christ, and it was the childlike but insatiable faith of the late Reverend Jerry Falwell that built it.

So Why Is a Mormon Speaking at Liberty’s Commencement?

Many know that this isn’t the first time a non-Evangelical has spoken at Liberty University’s commencement ceremony. In fact, Mitt Romney will not even be the first Mormon. I believe Glenn Beck had that honor a couple years ago, and it caused a similar controversy then. When Beck came on stage to address the graduates and guests, he made his sentiments clear by declaring, “I know that the invitation for me to speak to you today was not an endorsement of my faith, but my acceptance of this invitation was indeed an endorsement of your faith.” The year before Ben Stein, a Jew, spoke at Commencement.

Why would Liberty invite non-Evangelicals to speak at its Commencement? Because Liberty is committed to securing world-class leaders to speak. There is much we have in common with these men, and they often speak out on issues using the same arguments and words that we would use if we had their influence. If anything, these men are an inspiration to achieve and succeed at pursuing big dreams and audacious goals. I’ve heard these men take stands in favor of life and creationism. I’ve heard them cite a need for God in the hearts of men. Why should we deny them a chance to speak to tens of thousands of people who are going to agree with everything they say?

I have heard it said that Commencement should be a final spiritual charge for the graduating class, but I think it is unnecessary, although the Baccalaureate certainly serves this purpose (renowned evangelist Luis Palau is speaking at that the night before Commencement). Every graduate of LU has been educated with a foundation in Biblical truths. Our entire education is explicitly built on the goal of being a light for Christ, with whatever gifts or passions He has blessed us with. There is no need for another speech on that topic. Jesus Christ provided the only one we ever needed in Matthew 28 when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” What other charge do we need, as Christians?

I freely recognize that Commencement is a chance for Liberty University to celebrate its influence and broadcast its popularity. I think it is a positive thing that the Republican nominee for President of the United States would be brave enough to want to speak at LU, recognizing its influence. A speech given by anyone else would be less meaningful to the university and frankly less memorable to the graduating class. I believe that God will use Mitt Romney’s speech to inspire thousands and perhaps draw many people to attend Liberty who would not otherwise have attended, and who may not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But what better place for those people than to be immersed in the Gospel from day one of their education? And when those students repent and become lights for Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that is so prevalent on Liberty’s campus, how much more will the Kingdom of God be furthered by the resulting influence of those students? I think it would blow my mind to know the answer to that question.

To put it simply, if Mitt Romney were to be preaching beliefs contrary to the truths of Scripture, or if he was speaking as a pastor, then I would have a huge problem with it. However, because he is merely present as a public figure and inspirational speaker, I am thrilled that I will be hearing from Romney at my Commencement ceremony.

It’s Mitt Romney, for Pete’s sake, he’s a member of a cult”

Thank you for weathering this far through my note, now for the meat of my reasoning. First, I will emphasize my support and admiration for Mitt Romney, and secondly I will make an observation of the Evangelical community, and finally issue a challenge to my Evangelical friends.

Mitt Romney may be a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, but that also means he is amazingly similar to the Evangelical Christian. He believes in the right to life, governing Massachusetts as a pro-life bastion and wants to see Roe v Wade overturned. He would appoint traditionalist justices to the Supreme Court. He has been endorsed by several pro-life groups including National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony List, and other state-based pro-life groups. He also stands on the side of traditional marriage and favors a constitutional amendment that would require marriage to be between one man and one woman. He stated in his speech on faith in 2007 that he worships Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and he reportedly reads the Bible on a regular basis. He believes that God is the giver of our rights and our freedoms, not government.

Not only does Romney share our values, but he also has lived a tremendous life of integrity and accomplishment. He, along with his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years Ann, have raised a tremendous family of five boys and 16 grandchildren. Romney spent more than eight years as a leader in his local church, being responsible for at least 4000 members, tending to their personal, financial, and spiritual needs. He volunteers his time and energy on a regular basis, including when he helped out a family after the California fires in 2007. This wasn’t a publicity stunt; there were no members of the press, only a curious bystander taking pictures like this one.

When a fellow employee named Robert Gay confessed to Romney that his daughter was missing, Romney shut down the entire company. He set up a command center to systematically search the city, communicating with local authorities and police, organizing Bain employees to physically search the city, and even participating in the physical search himself. They eventually found Gay’s daughter via an anonymous tip, and Gay continues to express extraordinary thankfulness for Romney’s leadership and kindness.

He never smokes or consumes alcohol. He gives about 15% of his income to charity (20% last year), and declined all salaries when he was CEO of the Olympics and Governor of Massachusetts.  Romney graduated with honors from Harvard University with both MBA and law degrees. He went on to found Bain Capital, which helps turn around and start companies like Staples and Dominos, leading to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.

In an attempt to stand up to the liberal establishment in his home state, he launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senator Ted Kennedy in 1992. However, after returning to Bain Capital to lead it out of a fiscal crisis and into its most successful years, he accepted a job as CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics which was $500 million in debt and marred with scandal until he took the reins; the Olympics ended up generating a $100 million profit. He then was elected Governor of Massachusetts in a time where the state was losing jobs and over $2 billion in debt. By the end of his term, Romney had succeeded in lowering unemployment to below five percent and built a $1 billion rainy day fund for the state, all while cutting taxes 17 times and issuing 800+ vetoes to a Democrat-controlled legislature.

This is a man who through hard work and service to other people has led by example. He is a problem solver, and a true leader of tremendous character. The co-founder of Bain capital wrote a glowing article about him for Time’s list of the world’s 100 Most Influential People, and some of the most prominent men in the country have named Mitt Romney as one of the most intelligent men they have ever met. And even with all of these accolades and accomplishments, it seems that Romney doesn’t let it go to his head. Though he is worth about $200 million, he insists on washing his own laundry by hand and eating peanut butter and honey sandwhiches for lunch. What better man to speak to Liberty grads than a man who has accomplished so much and by doing it the right way—with hard work and integrity. I cannot claim to be able to judge the heart of Mitt Romney, but I do carry a deep respect and admiration for the man and all he has accomplished and stood for.

Furthermore, I believe that Mitt Romney will be the next President of the United States. The last time that Liberty University had an opportunity to host such a prominent speaker was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was a GOP candidate for President and of course went on to become one of America’s greatest Presidents. Now, we have a chance to see history repeat itself, at a time when America so dearly needs restored to its founding principles, a time of economic crisis and instability and uncertainty. Just as Ronald Reagan took on the failed Jimmy Carter, Mitt Romney now will take on the failing Barack Obama. In both cases, Liberty University will have given these men a platform to speak to the principles and the beliefs that we so hold dear as conservatives and as Christians who recognize that we should not be dependent on government but on God.

Additionally, Mitt Romney has received praise and support from prominent Evangelicals like Franklin Graham, Chuck Colson, Bob Jones III, Mark DeMoss and even Jerry Falwell. Shortly before his death, Falwell had this to say about Romney: “I have no problem voting for a person who is not of my faith as long as he or she stands with me on the moral and social issues. Mitt Romney may be a candidate for president. He’s a Mormon. If he’s pro-life, pro-family, I don’t think he’ll have any problem getting the support of evangelical Christians.”

A Call to Love

I have to admit, I was somewhat ashamed of the response on Liberty’s Facebook page. Many of the angry comments were unbecoming of those who profess to follow Jesus Christ, who loves all people, even those that may reject Him. It earned us a headline story on CNN’s website. This type of response does not reflect well on the school or its students, nor Evangelicals as a whole. This is not what Liberty trained us to be nor what Christ calls us to be. We are to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry. We are to use reason, not resort to knee jerk reactions. Does an outcry against Mitt Romney speaking at Commencement make anyone more open to the Gospel? I doubt it.

Mormon. For whatever reason, the word can evoke strong emotions. It is like a bad word within the Evangelical community. In my opinion, it is because the label “cult” is usually slapped onto it. There are such strongly negative emotions regarding Mormons among Evangelicals. In my own personal experience, these words distanced my heart from Mormons and provoked me to “righteous” anger, not love. Perhaps I do not know what I’m talking about in this regard, but if I am to believe that Mormons are lost without a saving knowledge of Christ as God and Savior, then are they any more lost than an agnostic family member or Buddhist friend? What about a Catholic or a Muslim or a Jew? Why is it that Mitt Romney is viewed with such disdain among some Evangelicals, but not Ben Stein (a Jew) or Newt Gingrich (a Catholic)?

I think that Mormons are not the enemies of Evangelicals, but our friends. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us on social issues, and they are very giving people. When it comes to eternal salvation, reconciliation with God is an issue of the heart.

In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” In Romans 10:9-10 Paul says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” I firmly believe that God doesn’t look at the affiliation of my church membership. He looks at the condition of my heart. It is not our good works which earns us salvation, but it is our salvation that provokes us to good works. Eternal salvation requires repentance from sin and complete and total trust in Christ as our loving Savior and Lord.

Scripture says to “speak the truth in love,” not in righteous anger. Are we so adamant about our views, that we forsake the potential influence that the Holy Spirit can have on someone’s soul? It is such a responsibility to carry, as Christians. But to love as Christ does is of the Holy Spirit, not of our own ability.

In conclusion, I would just like to state that bringing Mitt Romney to Liberty University is a decision that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell would likely have agreed with. The Moral Majority coalition was all about uniting those with a common passion: that our country remain one nation under God. Mitt Romney is a man we can proudly support without any reservation.

 

Links:

Romney’s speech on Faith in America: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IJ_i-4dH-0

WSET original story: http://www.wset.com/story/17587453/lu-students-eager-to-hear-mitt-romney

WSET followup story: http://www.wset.com/story/17590846/liberty-students-react-to-graduation-speaker

http://www.whyromney.com/prolife_conversion.php

Evangelicalsformitt.org

http://www.amazon.com/Evangelicals-Should-Support-Romney-ebook/dp/B006WRFMPI

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2011/December/Exclusive-Franklin-Graham-on-Voting-for-a-Mormon/

http://www.christianpost.com/news/chuck-colson-stop-quibbling-over-romneys-mormonism-58555/

http://2012.republican-candidates.org/Romney/Issues.php

http://w3.newsmax.com/romney/

http://www.amazon.com/Believe-America-Romneys-Economic-ebook/dp/B005LEY5Q0

Fragile Dreams

Recently I wrote a short story loosely based on a 30 page script that I wrote titled “Folded Dreams.” Feel free to comment with your critiques and questions.

Fragile Dreams

Jacob walked briskly down the hospital hallway, clutching the flowers tightly to his chest. They were white roses. Her favorite. He was afraid if he squeezed them any tighter, the stems might break.

I shouldn’t be here.

The pungent smell of chemical odors wafted through the air like deadly gas. The sound of heart monitors faded as he turned the corner and came to a stop. A sign reading Intensive Care Unit hung above closed double-doors. He looked to the nurse at the nearby reception desk, and she nodded at him. Jacob had been here so many times the past eight days, he didn’t need to say a word to anyone.

A loud buzz sounded, and the doors clicked open. He stepped inside. There were hospital beds lined up along the walls, separated by only curtains. Taking a deep breath, he headed straight for her bed. Bed Eleven. He came to a stop right in front of it. Her heart monitor beeped rhythmically, slowly. She was asleep as she had been for most of the past week. With no parents or family around, Jacob had been her primary visitor.

He took the visitors seat next to her bed. Rachel didn’t move. A nurse walked by in light blue scrubs.

I shouldn’t be here.

Jacob removed the wilted Gerber Daisies from the vase on the corner table and tossed them in a nearby waste basket, carefully replacing them with the white roses. He took out a pitcher of water and poured some into the vase. He glanced at Rachel, but she remained motionless besides the occasional rising and falling of her chest.

She was so young. And yet so close to death. He had to tell her the truth about what happened. But not until she was strong enough. For now, he would do the only thing he could. It was the only thing he had ever wanted to do—be with her.

He could still remember the first day of college, and he’d caught a glimpse of her. Now, five years later, she was just as beautiful. Her tangled ash blonde hair cascaded on and around her pillow. A thick bandage was wrapped around the back of her head and attached to her chin. A large patch of hair had been shaved off for the surgery. Another smaller bandage patched her right cheek where shards of glass had lacerated her face. Her right leg was propped up above her. The translucency of her skin was exaggerated by the fluorescent lights. The color in her cheeks was gone. Her arms had lost most of their muscle for lack of proper nutrition. Hospital IV bags could only go so far.

The nurse had told him that she had lost about twenty pounds. But at least she was stable now. She looked pitiful and sickly, but no less beautiful. Her hands looked soft and fragile on top of the bedsheets. The nurses had removed her engagement ring and given it to him for safekeeping. He reached into his pocket just to make sure it was still there, sealed in a small envelope. He closed the curtain around her bed, leaving it open just a crack in case the nursing staff got curious.

His heart ached for her.

Rachel’s foot twitched at the end of the bed, uncovered. Jacob took the entangled piece of the blanket’s end and wrapped the foot. By accident, he brushed her toes. They were ice cold. Jacob placed both hands and rubbed softly to warm it faster. He immediately thought of a night in his apartment where they had dined in, worn each other out with the latest game system called the Wii, and cuddled on the couch while making fun of a bad movie with her legs propped up in his lap, as he massaged the soles of her feet.

But that was a long time ago.

“Jacob?”

Rachel’s voice was soft, like a child’s, but clear. Her eyes were half-open but no less striking. Jacob fumbled for the pitcher of water, poured it into the cup, and held the straw up to her lips. She sipped eagerly until nearly half the cup was gone. She inhaled deeply and leaned back against her pillow again. She held his gaze and smiled.

Jacob couldn’t help but smile too. Her eyes still shined like stars, in spite of everything. He didn’t want to tell her. He didn’t want to break this moment.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I guess,” she looked at the cup in his hand, and he offered her another sip. She licked her bottom lip where some water had leaked out.

“You look so tired,” she said. He couldn’t help but be entranced by those eyes of hers, locked on his, like time had stopped just for them. Like nothing could stop them from being together now. That’s when he realized—Rachel was in love with him. It was that familiar look in her eye. He didn’t know how to feel or what he was going to do. She suddenly grimaced a little.

“Are you okay? Is there pain?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“I can get the nurse, she can give you more morphine.”

“No. I don’t—I need to know, Jake.”

He felt his heart sink.

“About what?”

“They aren’t telling me. What happened?”

Jacob felt his breath catch in his throat. She knew something was wrong. He was going to have to tell her. He cleared his throat.

“What do you remember?” he asked. Her eyes misted.

“I remember—you.”

Jacob almost broke down right there, but he bit his lip.

“I remember you,” she repeated. She glanced at the vase. “And I remember white roses are my favorite,” she smiled. Jacob grinned, and she giggled, shaking her head a little. Her smile faded, and they both grew somber again.

“Did I kill someone?”

“No, no,” he said, putting his hand in hers. She squeezed back.

“Then why won’t anyone tell me?”

Jacob shook his head once, running his thumb over her finger.

“They said when you finally woke up, you were asking for me,” he said. Rachel nodded. “You don’t remember the accident at all?” She shook her head, her face somber. Jacob took a deep breath. For her to understand, he had to tell the beginning.

“Do you remember the time when we went cliff jumping at Leopard Falls?”

After a moment, Rachel nodded.

“I remember that.”

“Do you remember what I told you?”

Rachel said nothing, though her brow furrowed. Jacob took a deep breath.

“I told you, that day, that I was taking a job in Philadelphia. And then, you said you wouldn’t be coming.”

He could see in her eyes that she was remembering.

“How long ago was that?” he asked.

She held his gaze a long moment before answering in a hoarse whisper, with great effort.

“A month?” She looked lost. She shook her head back and forth.

“Two years.” He said it, searching her face, wishing he wouldn’t have to spell it out. She looked down at her hand in his and released her grip. Jacob pulled his own hand away.

“There was someone else.” Her eyes darted from Jacob’s face to the bed to her own hand, and all over again. She stroked the fingers of her left hand absentmindedly.

“You were—” Jacob paused, searching for the words.

“I was engaged. Wasn’t I?”

Jacob nodded, a lump forming in his throat.

“It’s been two years, Rachel,” he said, fighting to control his emotion. He willed himself not to say anything more.

Jacob reached into his right front pocket and removed the plain white envelope, opening it with a tremor in his hands. The engagement ring fell into the palm of his hand. This was a moment he had known was coming, but he had hoped it never would. Jacob placed the ring in her hands, then returned his gaze to the tile floor.

“I should have told you sooner,” he said. His stomach turned, and he clenched his jaw. Rachel sniffed, and he summoned to courage to meet her stare. Her brow was furrowed and her eyes damp. Jacob felt his own eyes well up.

It had been over two years since she had loved him, but he had never gotten over her. He didn’t think a coma from a car crash would be the thing to bring her back. He wanted to hold her. Wanted to tell her so many things. He stood up, and she immediately reached for the “emergency call” button and pressed it.

“I need to be alone right now.”

Her eyes were closed, tears leaking through the edges. She didn’t want him there. Jacob couldn’t move. He mouthed his sorrow, and the tears began to stream down his face. Two nurses elbowed their way past him.

“Please, sir, we need some privacy right now.”

Jacob left.

He shouldn’t have come. He had caused her enough pain two years ago. And every living moment since then, he regretted. He had thought Rachel the selfish one after refusing to go with him. The only option had been to follow his dreams.

It felt like he was losing her. Again. Jacob had gotten on with his life as much as possible over the past twenty-six months. Now, everything was coming back. All the memories, good and bad. All the reasons he fell in love with her the first time. They made sense again.

*                    *                  *

“My parents are over there,” she said, pointing to a plot about twenty yards to their right. Jacob pushed Rachel’s wheelchair along the gravel path that wove its way through the old graveyard behind Saint Paul’s cathedral. Thick gray clouds hung over them like a sign of foreboding.

A month had passed, and Rachel’s leg was still severely broken, but she had regained most of her normal body weight and the color was back in her cheeks. They had removed the bandage from her face, revealing some awful scarring. She looked directly ahead, very somber, finding little to draw the attention of her gaze. Finally, he stopped the wheelchair next to a newly-carved gravestone.

The name was Marcus Becker, age twenty-six.

“Do you want to be by yourself?” he said, barely above a whisper.

“No,” she said in monotone. Jacob couldn’t see her face, so he stared at the back of her head and at her hair, which she had pulled up into a bun.

He didn’t know where they went from here. Every day for the past month had felt like agony, though it was the only thing he knew to do. Without parents and without someone close, Jacob thought himself responsible and willing to care for her. His love for her was now resurrected from the tomb inside his heart. He feared he would never learn to accept the way things had gone.

Rachel opened her mouth to speak.

“You know, I hated you that day,” she said, gripping the wheels of the wheelchair tightly. “When I realized you weren’t him.”

“You should have,” he said. “I just didn’t want—”

“You didn’t want to lose me again?”

Jacob swallowed. Rachel spun her wheelchair around to face him. Tears were streaming down her face, and her lips were trembling.

“Yes,” he said, dropping his gaze to the ground. “I’m sorry.”

“The truth is, when I woke up and saw your face, I had never been so happy to be alive. You made me feel loved.”

Jacob stood awkwardly in silence.

“When I look at that tombstone,” she said, “I don’t feel a thing.” The tears really started to flow, and she buried her face in her hands, sobbing violently.

Jacob kneeled beside her, and she placed her head against his neck.

“We—” she gasped through a sob, then sniffed. Jacob removed a handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed at her eyes, brushing back the lock of hair that had fallen in front of her face.

Jacob searched her face and swallowed. Could he become the man of her dreams? Perhaps that man died in a car crash, never to return. Would Rachel ever let go of the one she had loved, though she couldn’t even remember that person?

Rachel turned back toward to the tombstone and reached into her pocket. She removed a ring, the engagement ring she had been wearing during the accident. She looked at the tombstone a long time. Then, with great effort, she reached out and placed the ring on top of the tombstone.

She sat back in her wheelchair and stared at the tombstone for several more minutes. Then, she reached for Jacob’s hand and squeezed it.

“Let’s go,” Rachel whispered. Jacob nodded, and turned the wheelchair back down the path the way they had come. The future was uncertain, but his mind was made up.

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