Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Tribute

Me & Al at UCO 30 year reunion & celebration of Al's work at APU

I was 17 when I first met him. I was on my very first un-chaperoned trip with my best friend Emily. We were visiting APU in the spring of our senior year of high school for their Preview Days. We stayed in a dorm. We had all kinds of activities and fun ice breaker games, we had a tour of the campus an an awesome time of worship in the chapel services.

But what I was really there for was to audition for the music groups that would consume much of my time in college. As a freshman, I was only allowed to participate in certain groups. I had been waiting a very long time time in a very long line for an audition with the director of those groups. Sitting in the hall way of the music building, low-pile carpet just on top of concrete...the faint music of many students practicing instruments, voice and piano muted in the practice rooms. There were lots of other students nervously glancing around the hallways waiting for their turn too. There I sat with Emily, giggling and enjoying our first freedoms.

A door just down the hall opened and Al Clifft stepped into the hallway, his tall slight frame was anything but scary! He said, "Anyone want to come and audition for me?" Emily raised my hand before I could protest. Al locked eyes with me and I knew I could not say no know. Those eyes. I walked into his office and handed him a cassette tape (hello 2000). I took a deep breath and let the music and my voice go. I sang an old hymn like my life depended on it. I wish I could invite you all into that office--that intimate safe place where all the fear and nervousness that should be in audition melted away by looking into those eyes that say "I believe in you! God has great purpose for you" all without saying a word.

"I'd rather have Jesus, than silver or gold.
I'd rather have him than have riches untold.
I'd rather have Jesus, than houses or land.
I'd rather be lead by his nail pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin's dread sway
I'd rather have Jesus than anything t
This world affords today

I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause,
I'd rather be faithful to his dear cause
I'd rather have Jesus than all fortune or fame
I'd rather be true to His holy name.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin's dread sway
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today"

When the song ended, Al sat there with tears brimming. Not a testament to my singing--a testament to his heart. There was nothing more that Al wanted than to have Jesus fully at the center of his life, all he did and who he was. I saw this flow out of him for the next four years! On the spot he gave me the highest available scholarship at the time. He asked if I knew what that meant and of course I smiled and nodded my head--I really had no idea! I walked out of the room knowing that I had a place in Bel Canto, but also a reservation of sorts in UCO when the time came.

When I began APU in the fall (through a variety of miraculous circumstances you can read here)
I had no idea what college life would be like. I had no idea what classes I had or what schedules would be like. There was someone who had seen everything in his days at APU and became sort of an anchor for me. Al. He was my freshman music theory teacher...I was horrible but he was great! That started a great relationship. My sophomore year I was in UCO. The first week of choir camp I was in love with Al--no not that way. I felt like I had another grandpa on campus. I was safe. I was cared for. I was loved. I was known. I was valued. And you know what, I know just about every other person in UCO who had come before me or after me felt the same way. No Al was not perfect--but he loved Jesus more than anything. He loved excellence from us. He LOVED to lead us students and in turn the audience into worship. He loved Jesus and it was so obvious. I wish that all could experience being lead by this man to worship--in life too. His whole body was involved in communicating and evoking just what was needed in each song. It was glorious to watch--but even better to know. 

Sometimes on a bad day, I would walk to the music hall and on my way pray that Al would be in his office...he had the tiniest window in his door and if you walked by just right, you would catch his eye. There were several times when I would be in need of encouragement and he would wave me into his office and ask me what was on my mind. Those moments are gifts. He was so busy, but never too busy to point me to Christ.

Al had a tradition on choir tour where he took one person each day or so and asked them to come to the front of the room. He invited the 100+ members of the choir and orchestra to shower that person with encouragement. I had the great blessing of being the recipient of this gift at one time in my life--some of the words shared there are some that I STILL TREASURE.

Al "retired" my junior year...someone that good, that gifted and that heaven blessed never truly retires! We had the opportunity at the end of our choir tour to return the favor to Al. We sat in a room and encouraged him. For about 2 1/2 hours--every single person in the room had something to say about who Al had been to them. Me? I did not say anything to him. I simply locked eyes with him like he did at every concert and communicated without saying a word. Ask anyone in UCO and they know what I am talking about. A whole conversation said without saying a word. I don't know how one person can make every person feel like they are the only one--and yet, each one fully knew that they were not the only one! GAH! Such a gift.

Even 9 years after my time at APU Al and I were in occasional communication. He and his lovely wife Glenna chose to support us financially and in prayer for our adoption. Just a few months after they gave to us, their life became very difficult. It pains me to know that I was not able to share with Al our "1 year report" as a family of 6...I bet he has a pretty good view at the moment!

I will fly back to APU and say goodbye to this great man of God. I cannot wait to worship God for all of his wondrous deeds and remember the ways that Al helped me become more aware of them.