I believe I had just turned 16 when my Mom & I started attending a non-denominational full-gospel church high atop a hill in central PA. It was beautiful yet rustic, with the unique look of solid machined logs visible both inside and out. Even at this early age, I had several years of experience with sound equipment, and the love for music was as natural as the blood in my veins. Eventually I was asked to take the soundman’s seat, and I found myself involved with the music team which at that time was under the energetic direction of a man named Jimmy. To me at the time, he seemed middle-aged, although I realize now that he was very much in his prime. You need to understand Jimmy’s aura to properly appreciate his passion, so let me try to paint you a picture: imagine if you will, a guitar-playing Chris Farley – but radically saved. Yupp, the image that just hurtled wildly into your brain – that was him!
I loved Jimmy to death – and who couldn’t? His passion for life and God was evident in everything he did. When I was fresh out of high school, he helped me to land my first job at a brand new Ace Hardware home center where he also worked. I remember him chuckling at me when the tractor-trailer loaded with 80-lb. bags of concrete mix rolled into our lot – one week before our forklift showed up. We all remember that day when we graduated into the real world, and that was my day. I remember too when a new Kohler bathroom display came in, all the fixtures emblazoned boldly in a color that was kind of a teal-green metallic. The toilet’s tank lid was broken in shipment, and Jimmy, who absolutely adored the color, sent a piece of the lid to a custom shop along with his beloved Fender Strat to have it’s factory paint job “hot rodded.” Eventually the guitar came back looking every bit as uniquely stunning as the bathroom display, and I soon nicknamed it the “Kohler Strat.” This beloved guitar remained Jimmy’s ax of choice every time he stepped up to lead praise & worship at the church.
Jimmy had his own long list of “-isms” – those phrases and sayings that are peculiar to every individual. Like in the middle of music practice when he’d totally nail a wrong chord. Sometimes he’d just keep playing it long after the rest of the team had stopped, hoping it would magically become sweeter. It usually didn’t, even if he’d dream up a complex name for it. Other times, a wrong note or missed verse would cause him stop and throw his head back with his eyes clenched tightly shut while he exclaimed, “Excuse me while I go to the Bahamas!” Usually, after these 10-second trips to paradise, he seemed much recovered and ready to roll on again. But there was one “ism” that I hadn’t thought about in years, until reminded through a recent email I got from a friend who was also a beneficiary of Jimmy’s wit and wisdom. If life got challenging or you were up against a rough decision, Jimmy would often say, “This is your OTO,” (pronounced “oh-toe.”) It was his word that meant “opportunity to overcome,” and he never missed the chance to point out when one of these opportunities was dropped on you. He recognized that life isn’t inherently easy, and that temptations seem to multiply whenever we make a stand. But with God’s grace we can overcome whatever life throws our way. Jimmy found a way to view the struggle as an opportunity. If we can think this way when the next decisive moment is staring us in the face, we’ll come out the other side stronger and more ready than ever to face the next “opportunity.”
It’s been quite a few years since life drew Jimmy and I to different parts of the country, yet I often see him in my mind reacting to the situations I face from day to day. I have to imagine that if Jimmy had ended up in southern VA where I now live, his line would sound more like “Here’s you an OTO!” But no matter where we live or how we say it, everybody has their share of OTO’s – the question is: What will you do with yours?