Author and Photographer: Jonathan Stark (Stark Raving Mad Photography LLC.)
This article represents my beliefs, opinions and views. It does not represent the beliefs, opinions or views of Headrush Tv, Epitaph Records or Thrice and the members thereof.
Greetings to all good men and women. Twenty months ago, I was driving my wife, whom I had impregnated with our fifth child, to an OB appointment. Fifth child and fifth boy, in case anyone was wondering the ratio. Same wife. A deer had ended its life on our family transport just prior to this point and I was driving a rental. It was a rental with an XM Satellite Radio and on that magical radio signal from outer space I heard a song titled The Grey by a group named Thrice. I had stumbled onto a treasure trove of wondrous sounds spanning almost two decades.
Upon returning home from the appointment, I promptly started mining the depths of Thrice and the lead singer Dustin Kensrue’s solo gems. There was not one thing I heard that wrinkled my nose. Every single song was fragrant, potent and delicious. The songs were deep, meaningful, purposeful, well-constructed and beautifully executed. For me personally, there are a few groups like this such as Bad Religion, Rancid, Needtobreathe, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Demon Hunter, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd.
While listening to Thrice, of course Black Honey floored me. Talk about painting a powerful picture of selfishness and greed. Beggars also resonated with me. It is such a fantastic melding of the content to the sound. I knew an old theologian who said that he was just one beggar showing other beggars where he found bread. There was another one as well by Dustin Kensrue titled It’s Not Enough that made me pause with emotion. Yes, I’m old and yes, I’m a warrior, but I’m allowed to be touched by a work of art.
Anyways, to my joy, Thrice was on Epitaph Records. Epitaph Records had been and continues to be a pleasure to work with. Having shot some of my favorite artists from the label, I reached out to them for approval to behold Thrice’s Vheissu Tenth Anniversary Tour.
To be fair, I had the honor of shooting Thrice on the Rockstar Energy Disrupt Festival this past summer. It was my first time seeing and photographing them. I found the performance absolutely amazing. Everyone involved does a top-shelf job.
Fast-forwarding, Thrice played a sold out show at Summit Denver on January 28th on their Vheissu Tenth Anniversary Tour.
The last sentence was the last sentence I wrote before my son passed away. I had planned to finish this article the following day, but instead I was laying on the couch in tears as our friends came and went. That first day I just wanted to lay there and listen to worship music, then about halfway through I wanted to hear Thrice. I had been listening to so much of their music leading up to the concert and when I write an article, I listen to live performances. Some of the songs brought me comfort. It’s true; we are all beggars. There is no them and there is an artist in the ambulance. But the song that really struck me over and over was It’s Not Enough by Kensrue. One of my kids asked why I kept playing it and I said because it’s important to me.
My wife and I, along with our family, had been wandering around in the desert for 7 years. My son who died had been in the foster care system, abused and neglected, and at the age of two months he was placed in our home. We knew he was our son from first sight, the first sight of his little misshapen head from being left laying on his back, the sight of unknown sores all over his body, and the sight of his drooping left eye socket. We knew that he wasn’t like our other biological babies as we loved him through the endless angry screams. Through years of severe challenges and stresses we fought for him in court and in doctors’ and specialists’ offices. We fought for him in our home and on our knees.
Shortly after he came into our home, I stopped being able to see God’s hand in our circumstance. My son was diagnosed with autism pretty early in his life. We had little support from our church and friends, except for one friend. We felt that hot sand, the never changing landscape and no nourishment. We watched others walking through rich flowery fields with their foster children. Their stories seemed perfect.
My wife and I had loved doing missions together in the past and had arrived at the decision to foster as a way to continue to serve the least of these. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world.” Additionally, we had hoped to adopt. I’m adopted and knew that one day I would adopt a child as well. In my ignorance I thought there was an equation here. We care for orphans plus self-sacrifice equals God’s blessing, God’s provision and praise. I had failed to read the preceding verses in James 1 which talked about trials and perseverance.
Three years ago, we were able to adopt our son. It was also three years ago that the diagnosis of autism was thrown out and he was instead diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. We had not heard of it before; few have. We had no idea of what this meant. However, we are his parents and we would labor to find solutions. Turns out there’s no real solution and no real cure for this disorder, for this mental illness.
I kept our daily trials from the majority of people. He is my son. This is my family and it’s my job to protect them. Therefore, I’m not going to write in detail about it here. Those who were really close to us knew, his doctors knew, and his psychiatrist knew. My wife was amazing and resilient. She worked so hard for our son, fighting daily on the battlefield of life for his protection and healing.
Undeniably my son loved some things in life- his baby brother, trains, bowling, spaghetti, spaghetti pizza (his own invention), control, Mr. Rogers, the Triune God, the Bible, his Daily Bread and the mountains to name a few. With his disorder, had he decided not to love God, he would have shredded his Bible. But instead he loved it. It calmed his mind. At the time he passed away he had memorized Ephesians chapters 1 and 2 and hundreds of other verses. He had just turned 7. Additionally, a couple of years prior, he had just started reading out of the blue, without anyone’s assistance, and he loved to read the Bible. God’s provision.
I don’t mean to go on and on, so I’ll get to the point….perhaps. My son’s disorder was like The Nothing in The Neverending Story. So often it swallowed up all and so often I felt like the Rockbiter. I’ve also got big strong hands, but it seemed that I, that we, were not enough to hold onto our loved ones. However, near the end there were more good days than bad. We had a good Thanksgiving, a good Christmas; he had a good 7th birthday, and my wife’s birthday in the months preceding his death. That was so rare, and I was so grateful.
The night he passed away I was praying about him and felt the Lord tell me to have my wife go and lay down with him. She came to me just after and said she thought the Lord was telling her to go lay down with him. She did and got to pray over him, sing to him and tell him she loved him. We thought he was having another mental health crisis, which we had seen in the bad times in the past. As I put him in the car to go to the hospital, I got to tell him that I loved him. I was able to look him in his face and tell him, “Daddy loves you.” I thought that he’d be home the next day as I sent him and my wife down the mountain to the children’s hospital. I’m eternally grateful for that moment to hold him and tell him I loved him. So many don’t get that opportunity.
Moments later he was gone, absent from the body and present with the Lord. I know that many of my friends don’t believe in God; many of you who read this don’t believe either. It’s my position to love, but in that love, I want you all to know the peace and joy we have in the sorrow and where that comes from. Jesus was only harsh with the religious leaders. He was compassionate with the lost, the humble, with the lowly, the sinners, the adulterers and the broken. He was compassionate with me. I was against Christians, against the God of the Bible up until God saved me kicking and fighting against him when I was in my mid-twenties. I get it. I so get it, and my heart breaks for you. I love you where you are, and He loves you where you are too.
Seven years in the desert, seven years as the Rockbiter, seven years looking for the star of Bethlehem. Then all of a sudden, the fire, the light, the burning bush surrounded me, surrounded my family. In our grief and anguish there was a tangible peace, joy and love present. In the fire another was with us. It’s hard to describe because the grief is still there, but it’s not the same; it’s not hopeless. There is hope. My son is no longer is consumed and troubled. He wanted to do better. He wanted God to change his heart. He wanted to be rescued. All I wanted was to be his dad but The Nothing is a thief and so often stole moments from us. In that moment God entered and said, “He is mine.” What belongs to another can’t be taken or stolen from us when the one with ultimate claim demands a return. I see God’s hand through all of this from the smallest things like my friend Steve randomly showing up to plow our drive the day before my son died. The next day our driveway was lined with grieving friends that never would have been able to park if that small act had not been performed. To every need being taken care of, love, emotional support, playing with my other children, taking them out, financial help, food in abundance, the empathy and compassion of the law enforcement community, love from the community at large, and love from the schools I work with. A local pizza shop, Altitude Pizza, specially made twenty-five of my son’s spaghetti pizza creations for the memorial service and would not accept payment. The funeral home was exemplary and loving like a friend. A friend supplied handmade Minion cupcakes that were outstanding and hosted a tamale party to give us a large supply of frozen meals for the future. But the biggest evidence was the peace, the peace and joy in the midst of the storm. In the midst of the tears.
Don’t get me wrong, the pain at times pierces me like a knife. It’s a pain I’ve never felt. Morning and night I cry, but I’m so grateful for his peace. I miss the missing. I just wanted to be his dad completely, to hold onto him like the Rockbiter. But in the end, it wasn’t The Nothing that took him. No darkness, but the Light, the King of King’s, the Warrior King.
A few days after he passed I woke up around 3 or 4am. My wife had gotten up; I knew she was writing, that God had given her an outlet. It turns out that He had given her the words to say at the Memorial Service. As I lay there praying, the words of It’s Not Enough kept coming to my mind and I felt God telling me to use it at the Memorial Service. An odd choice I told God, but I rolled with it. I’m not in a position to argue. I’ve learned to listen, and God would show me why the song needed to be included.
Around that time my friend Mark had text extending his condolences and asking if there was anything he could do. Mark had joined me at the Thrice concert having been a long-time fan. Mark is also a pretty talented singer and guitar player. I asked if he could perform the song. He immediately said he would. I had imagined an acoustic version, so when he sent back a link for an acoustic version and asked if that would be ok, I said it was excellent.
God had revealed to me the purpose of the song being included. No matter how much money we had to try and heal our son, no matter what I did to try and find peace in our stormy life, no matter how much sacrifice was made, it would never be enough to make him whole… to make my family whole. To make me whole. Only God makes broken things whole again. Broken hearts, broken minds, broken lives and broken souls made whole through Him. That’s the point. In spite of all our striving we are incapable of making ourselves whole, of making others whole. There will always be something left to be desired. God is enough though, enough to make my son whole. To make us whole and it's beautiful.
Feel free to reach out to me if you like, feel free to watch the memorial service on Facebook or just drop me a message.
I would like to give a big thank you to Thrice and Dustin for making music that spoke to me, my family and friends during this hurricane. Thinking back now I can hardly remember the concert. What I remember was that they were outstanding. If I were to summarize, it would look like this- spot on, on point, and awesomeness. What I will remember is the comfort I received, and that God gave me It’s Not Enough for my son’s memorial service.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I wanted to honor my God, my son, my family and the band in the writing process. It was healing to a degree. Thank you for allowing me to have this outlet.
Just Another Beggar
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