Each year I love to sit down with the kids and make our mix of favorite songs. The rules are simple: in order to make the mix the song has to be either new (came out in 2018) or just new to us as a family. We have to pick from songs that we liked in private and now we have to admit it publicly.
This years mix reflects this year well. The first half of the mix has so much joy; the second half of the mix was so hard to put together.
We had so much joy as a family this year: Jami (8) being recognized by the principle and school board for a painting she made of her school, we went as a family to see U2 in DC for the kids first concert ever, Zach (6) and I went to NYC to see U2 and experience the big apple together, taking Jami to Philadelphia Art Museum with my dad, summer vacation, Disney World… There was so much fun.
One of our highlights in 2018 was our Dairy Queen in York became the #1 DQ in the nation for raising money for critically sick kids at our local trauma hospital. For us, the money went to Penn State Children’s Hospital. This isn’t just a reflection of our family’s passions, but a reflection of our business, customers and community. We wrote a check this year for $71,369.23 that we raised. Every dime went to kids fighting for their lives. Many of our friends joined us in so many events during the year.
We also experienced, and are still feeling, so much pain from the loss of my sister Ashley. She went to be with Jesus on September 9th, and we buried her on my 41st birthday. I got to turn another year old, and feeling utterly powerless, had to watch as my sister slipped from this world into the next that feels impossibly distant. When people ask how I am, I’m honest: not well.
My heart breaks for her lost dreams, my family, my parents, her husband Dave and above all, her three amazing kids: Layne (16), Max (14) and Jack (11). They are being forced into the most impossible and heart breaking questions with no easy answers. Their mom, my sister, is an amazing person. She loved so well. She lived fully. And the pain we all feel is a reflection of how well she lived and loved. Because she loved so well, our loss is all the greater. I cried so much making this years mix. Like it or not, this is a sadness we can’t go around. Like one of our favorite kids books Going on a Bear Hunt, “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we have to go through it.”
The temptation when making this years mix is to reflect on either how great we felt in the beginning, or to get lost in how awful we feel right now with the beauty of Ashley physically gone from our family. I didn’t want to ignore the pain, nor to I want to wallow in it. With courage, I want to follow Ashley and go through it.
With her husband Dave’s permission I’ve included clips from a talk Ashley gave when she knew the cancer was closing in on her in 2015, another talk that Dave gave after her death and a private recording of my last chemo treatment I spent with Ashley on December 13, 2017.
This mix turned into a Holy journey walking an impossible path no one ever wanted to walk down.
Joy is mixed with Sadness, and just like Ashley says, Jesus and suffering go together like chocolate and peanut butter; and the end result is hope. This years mix we didn’t ignore the joy or the suffering, but embraced both.
I hope at the end of this mix you feel hope that isn’t superficial but real.
Welcome to the 2018 Track List
1. Zach’s Favorite Songs in 2018 (Zach)
2. Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way – (U2, Remixed by Beck)
I can’t think of a better song to start out with. It’s the perfect mix of hope and grief. If we are honest; there is so much in the way on our journeys. But love is bigger than anything in it’s way. This song was re-envisioned this year by Beck with this amazing upbeat take. I love that U2 is fearless to look deeply into brokenness. Bono wrote this album last year reflecting on his own death and what he would want to say to his fans and family if he was gone. Death is big. But love is bigger.
/ The door is open to go through /
/ If I could I would come too /
/ But the path is made by you /
/ As you‘re walking, start singing and stop talking /
/ Oh /
/ If I could hear myself when I say /
/ Oh /
/ Love is bigger than anything in its way /
/ So young to be the words of your own song /
/ I know the rage in you is strong /
/ Write a world where we can belong /
/ to each other and sing it like no other /
/ Oh /
/ If I could hear myself when I say /
/ Oh /
/ Love is bigger than anything in its way /
/ If the moonlight caught you crying on Killiney Bay /
/ Oh sing your song, let your song be sung /
/ If you listen you can hear the silence say /
/ When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun /
/ Love is bigger than anything in its way /
/ Love is bigger than anything in its way /
3. Jami’s Favorite Songs in 2018 (Jami)
4. Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)
There is always a song I am forced to put on the mix because the kids love it so much. This song came out in 2012 and here I am 6 years later listening to it all the time. Jami danced and sang this song so much that it became a house hold staple. I love the trumpet. I love Jami enough to put this song on the mix. Even though I’m sure it’s about someone being tempted to cheat, for the Miller kids it’s really about being happy and dancing on their beds at night.
5. Frosty Rap (Zach)
6. Native Tongue (Switchfoot)
Switchfoot is a house hold staple for the Millers. Love the beat, love the message in our increasingly divided America. I love watching my kids grow in their ability to love and help me love other people. Our native tongue was supposed to be so beautiful and bring hope… but it isn’t always pretty and needs a lot of grace.
/ I want the world to sing in her native tongue /
/ Maybe we could learn to sing along /
/ To find a way to use our lungs for love and not the shadows /
7. I put Ketchup on my Ketchup (Zach)
8. Lash Out (Alice Merton)
This song just flat out rocks. It made the cut early on for 2018. But as the rage of this year showed itself, this song transformed into therapy. Sometimes, actually quite often, we need space to lash out.
9. The Sounds of Lillies in the Fields (Lilly)
Before Ashley passed she spoke to me three times privately about her pug. She wanted her pug, Lilly, to be cared for. I’m a big dog guy. I really loved and still miss my Golden Retriever, Tara. Pugs are like pigs. Lilly has managed to wiggle her little body right into the center of my family. Ash would love to know how loved she is in her new home.
Enjoy this clip of what she sounds like when she sleeps. For real.
10. Lilly is a Pig (Jami)
11. Kids in Love (Kygo feat. The Night Game )
Following some of Kygo’s music, Jami and I fell in love with this song. At first I thought so much of our amazing neighbors: the Jones Family. Their kids are staples in our home as much as ours are in theirs. I thought about them looking back at this amazing time in their lives full of innocence and easy to resolve arguments. Kids in love.
Looking at the song now, I think of Dave and Ashley, meeting each other at youth group when they were just kids. Ash was 14, Dave was 17 when their friendship started and it didn’t take them long to start dating. They met when they were kids. Got married young. Started a family young. And because of this early start in life Ash got to watch so much of her family grow that I’m so thankful for. She started so young and got to see so much because of those choices. I’m so thankful for her story.
12. Voicemail from Jami’s Principle (Principle Snare)
It’s a joy to share private moments with my close friends. This is one of those moments. Pam and I were in Orlando for a conference to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network. DQ paid for Pam and I to go since in 2017 we rose to the #2 DQ in the nation raising money to help kids. While we were there we got a phone call from Jami’s principle praising her. Let me explain. For Jami’s 8th birthday I bought her a big canvas for her to paint whatever she wanted. She wanted to paint her school. Jami loves her school so much. She feels safe. She feels cared for. She loves her teachers. The deal I made with her was she needed to sketch it out before she painted to give her some direction since the canvas is more expensive. We went through a couple of stages (seen below) and then when she finished it was a true moment of wonder. She created something beautiful. When it was done she said she wanted to donate it to her school. I was so nervous for her walking into the school with this work she put so much of her heart into. How does an 8 year old donate a paining to a school? What will they do? Pam cried when she got this voicemail praising Jami. Jami was honored by her teacher, her principle, she was honored in front of the school and finally at the township board meeting. The painting is still on display at Hayshire Elementary School. Later this year, Jami experienced a big loss of her own when she was transferred to a new school due to rezoning. Jami was heart broken to leave a school she loved so much. But she left her mark, a trace of her own beauty, at Hayshire Elementary.
13. Lights of Home (U2, Remixed by Beck)
Jami’s artwork and recorded voicemail from her principle is the perfect transition into Beck’s new remix of this song by U2. The chorus of this song comes from one of the last things Bono remembers about his mom saying to him in the weeks before she died when he was 14. She said, “Paul, don’t be afraid to be yourself.” Bono, reflecting on his own death reimagined her words to his own children, his desire to see them as he sees them, his desire to watch them to grow into who they can become. Jami is like me, she has a hard time seeing herself and taking pride. So here is this amazing story of how her parents are proud, her teacher, principle and school board. Free yourself, to be yourself.
*This song does include a bad word for little kids. Bono is asking Jesus a real question on the other side of the painful turns that life takes: What is next for me? Who knew we were about to face our own questions.
/ Free yourself to be yourself /
/ If only you could see yourself /
/ If only you could /
/ Free yourself to be yourself /
/ Hey now /
/ Do you know my name? /
/ Hey now /
/ Or where I’m going? /
/ If I can’t get an answer /
/ In your eyes I see it /
/ In your eyes alone /
/ I see the lights of home /
14. Pennsylvania (Jami)
My dad called California home. My brother-in-law Ian called Colorado home. But I was born in Pennsylvania. It’s my home. It’s Ian’s new home. My dad’s new home. It’s what my kids know, all the beauty and brokenness that is our state. It’s a part of our story. And it might be where we are laid to rest too. We have adopted Tennessee as our own song too.
15. Tennessee (Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors)
Ashley was a Jesus loving woman and her husband Dave is a lion hearted man. This song is the turning point on the mix, where like it or not, I have to face my story and the seeming end of my sister’s story.
16. One Lost Sheep (Zach)
I read the parable of the lost sheep to Zach. Turned my iPhone on record and asked him to tell it back to me. This story, and the story of the prodigal son are the heart of the Bible for me. I feel all the stories in the Bible can be boiled down to these two stories of Jesus doing all what is in His power to rescue us. One friend on facebook said that death sinks us deep. So deep. But Jesus sunk deeper so he could catch us. Jesus did not answer my begging for Him to rescue her from cancer and keep her alive. It feels like He didn’t rescue her. But the gospel forces me to see that Jesus sunk deeper. He died too. And he was there to catch my sister when she died. She fell into the very presence of Jesus.
To people who don’t believe, this sounds like a broken person creating a story to make the pain more palatable. For those of us who believe in Jesus and feel His love for us, it makes me step out into the world with the courage to love others and not give up in the midst of so much pain and loss. That pain and loss isn’t as permanent as it feels. We will be rescued one day. I choose to believe this.
17. Rescue (Lauren Daigle)
This is the first Holy song. Ashley in our last Chemo treatment forced me to listen to Lauren Daigle with her. She loved her voice and her messages of hope. Ashley never got to hear this song. It was released 2 days before she died. Every time I hear it I cry. My crying is a mixture of confusion: why didn’t God rescue her in a way I could see and understand? My crying is also gratitude: thank you for rescuing us from death’s final blow. My crying is also a mix of hope, that one day I will see the Great Rescue with my own eyes.
Now, the ones that need rescue are us. It’s become to me a prayer for Ashley’s husband Dave. Her Children: Layne, Max and Jack. That God hears their heartbreaking SOS over and over. That their prayers, even not prayed are heard. That He will catch them in this awful, unwanted, unwelcome path of loss.
/ You are not hidden /
/ There’s never been a moment /
/ You were forgotten /
/ You are not hopeless /
/ Though you have been broken /
/ Your innocence stolen /
/ I hear you whisper underneath your breath /
/ I hear your SOS, your SOS /
/ I will send out an army to find you /
/ In the middle of the darkest night /
/ It’s true, I will rescue you /
18. The Prodigal Son (Jami)
I read one of the greatest stores in the Bible to Jami. I asked her to tell it back to me and recorded her version. It’s a Holy Moment for me.
19. The Wild (Mumford & Sons)
My last lunch with Ashley was at Ocean City, NJ at the Varsity Inn. Her health was so bad this summer. All of my family were like lovable cockroaches: we were everywhere. We wanted to be with her in any open door and crevice to spend time with her in any way we could. One on One with her was the prize. I got to have that prize and we spent a couple hours at breakfast mourning the great loss of her story. I wish I had words that lifted her pain for even a moment, but I was really only able to listen and try to love her. She had so much faith, and in the end she was so hurt that God didn’t answer her own prayer to be healed. She was reading Job at the time and we put our questions at the feet of God. I reminded her how she ran the Half Marathon with me in OCNJ a few years back and how poorly I ran compared to her. I didn’t train, and she trained with her heart and soul. She finished well. And she finished this life well too. My medal is at the bottom of a box, because it reminds me of not training. I asked her where her medal was and she replied, “it’s hanging up where I can see it everyday.”
After Ashley passed from this world to the next, I opened up the book of Job and started at chapter 38 where God finally speaks. In other parts of the Bible God shows himself as a quiet whisper, but not in Job 38. After Job’s questions of loss and suffering, God speaks, and He answers Jobs impossible questions from the center of a violent storm:
And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said:
2-11 “Why do you confuse the issue?
Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about?
Pull yourself together, Job!
Up on your feet! Stand tall!
I have some questions for you,
and I want some straight answers.
Where were you when I created the earth?
Tell me, since you know so much!
Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that!
Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?
How was its foundation poured,
and who set the cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang in chorus
and all the angels shouted praise?
1-2 God then confronted Job directly:
“Now what do you have to say for yourself?
Are you going to haul me, the Mighty One, into court and press charges?”
3-5 Job answered:
“I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.
I should never have opened my mouth!
I’ve talked too much, way too much.
I’m ready to shut up and listen.”
The response from Job is where I am right now: God is Holy. I don’t see what He sees. I can’t. God does listen to my cursing. My tears. But I don’t see the full picture. And my response, like Job, is to be speechless. To be in awe. I feel ready to shut up and listen.
This song by Mumford, the Wild, is about this moment. These Holy Moments. It starts out:
/ We saw birth and death /
/ Can’t we be still /
We lost Ashley. A few weeks later my sister Emily gave birth to a beautiful baby, Elizabeth. It makes me still. Then it leaves me looking into the Wild, feeling the fear of God, of what I don’t understand, but make it day by day, hour by hour, a choice to believe in what I can not see or fully understand. This is the path I choose.
/ What’s that I see? /
/ I think it’s the wild /
/ Puts the fear of God in me /
Then the song just ends with music. Something beautiful that puts me in awe. Again, on Holy Ground.
20. Aligning to the Rhythm of His Heart (Ashley Frearson)
In 2015 Ashley gave a talk in her church on Daniel chapter 3. She gave this talk after her cancer came back and she was at Stage 4. You and hear her full talk here. This is the first of three clips from that talk.
Next to her bed is the painting that she describes here by an artist named Christine Labrum. It’s what she looked at when she was in bed recovering from each chemo treatment. Ashley, in the midst of suffering, did more than keep her eyes on Jesus, she buried her head in His fur and aligned her heart with His. She was this faceless girl, running to her Father in Heaven for comfort.
21. His Heart Beats (Andrew Peterson)
My Brother-In-Law, Ian, introduced me to this artist and song this year. It’s the perfect follow up to Ashley’s longing to align with the rhythm of Jesus’ heart.
Jesus died too. But His heart beat again. And one day, so will Ashley’s. So will everyone we lost.
Another Holy moment.
22. But If Not, You Are The LORD Of My Life (Ashley Frearson)
The heart of Ashley’s talk on Daniel 3 was in this paragraph:
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c]from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Ashley, full of courage and faith claimed this verse a million times. “But if not, let it be known that even if I face a short life, you are the LORD of my life. I will choose to fight everyday and make the choice to worship you with my heart, soul and mind by trusting fully in Jesus.”
All of us in the family now have this plaque in our homes:
23. Even If (Mercy Me)
Right after Ashley died our church was doing a sermon series on Daniel. The book of Daniel is amazing, but when it came to chapter 3, it was another Holy moment. The sermon by Bob Reidy was amazing. I remember hearing most of what I could through my grief, knowing that Ashley didn’t get the same story ending as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
At her funeral, her husband Dave reminded us of so many other messy stories. Ones where the heros are hurt and look at their stories and cry out to God.
Uriah was the first story. He was a Godly man who loved his wife and his King. But David used him and slept with his wife. David tried to cover it up by getting Uriah to sleep with his wife, but Uriah refused to be with his wife while his men where in battle. Since David couldn’t cover it up, he had Uriah sent to the front of the battle lines and get killed. In the Disney version of that story, Uriah would have intercepted the letter commanding his death, turned back home and dethroned David. But Uriah died. Being faithful. Where is justice for him?
The second story was John the Baptist. He knew Jesus in the womb (he lept!). He grew up with Jesus as cousins (the conversations!). He prepared the way for Jesus in the desert. He baptized Jesus and witnessed the Trinity. He saw miracles. He was family with Jesus. Jesus himself said that there is no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet, it came to be that John was in prison. Looking at his own death, his life ending in his early 30’s. John questioned whether he got it right and sent his friends to Jesus looking for answers. Did he get it all wrong? John the Baptist was full of doubt and questions, even after all he witnessed. Jesus sent them back to John with the message: “The blind see, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the wretched of the earth have God’s salvation extended to them.” Then, a short time later, John was beheaded. His life ended at the punch line of a party. His head on a platter. Where is the justice for John? Why couldn’t he see the story unfold? He was so close!
So Ashley’s words are from Daniel, and this song came to life for her and all of us in 2018:
/ It’s easy to sing /
/ When there’s nothing to bring me down /
/ But what will I say /
/ When I’m held to the flame /
/ Like I am right now I know You’re able and I know You can /
/ Save through the fire with Your mighty hand /
/ But even if You don’t /
/ My hope is You alone /
24. Intro to Good Old Days (Dave Frearson)
Shortly after Ashely died, her husband Dave gave a talk on prayer. Dave’s words are enough here, and there is nothing left to add. I’m thankful for his permission to include this clip from his talk. I’ve left it unedited.
25. Good Old Days (Macklemore feat. Kesha)
26. Peanut Butter Cups (Ashley Frearson)
This is the third expert from Ashley’s talk on suffering and Daniel chapter 3. When I made CD’s for my family this Christmas I handed out Reeces’s Peanut Butter Cups because of what Ash says: Jesus and suffering are like her favorite candy and the outcome is hope. My dad responded with, “Can we eat them now?” Ash would have loved that he said that!
27. It is Well (Bethel Music & Kristene DiMarco)
Ashley’s Celebration of Life service was so beautiful. She wrote the whole service. She had two of her friends from Church sing this song, her favorite Jesus song of 2018. Every time I hear it I’m taken back to her service. Every time I hear it I want to skip it, because it’s truth and beauty are so hard to look at. Because of Ashley’s faith and courage I can.
28. My Last Chemo with Ashley, December 13th 2017
Last year Ashley invited me to 5 chemo treatments with her. She wanted someone to laugh with. I loaded my phone with episodes from The Office and we watched Michael Scott make a fool of himself for hours. It was so great to laugh with her. In between episodes and IV check ups… in between all the beeps from the machines around her we loved each other well. She listened to what was going on in my life, my marriage, my kids and my job. I listened to her story and what was going on with her kids, her love for Dave… They were amazing visits.
I recorded this from my last chemo treatment with her.
29. 13 (There is a Light) (U2)
U2’s closing song of their last album, and the tour in 2018 was, 13 (There is a Light).
The line about “stealing children from your room” is about innocence being stolen from us by life. This song is the closing track on an album that explores regaining innocence again on the other side of life’s experiences. While it seems impossibly far off, we have hope in heaven. In things to come. But we also have hope that a new thing will grow from our greatest loss in Ashley. While it seems far off now, there is a light.
Ironically, I believe the song title is a reference to Psalm 13. I look forward to all of us being rescued one day.
1-2 Long enough, God—
you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.
3-4 Take a good look at me, God, my God;
I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
or laugh when I fall on my face.
5-6 I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
I’m so full of answered prayers.
30. She Didn’t Know She Was A Saint
Two years ago Pam challenged me that I know the Bible so well, she wasn’t sure I was really reading it anymore. She was right. So I started my reading using The Message by Eugene Peterson. I’ve had a copy for years, but now, it’s my daily heartbeat. It’s opened me up to God’s Word in a new fresh way. Eugene Peterson’s writings have made a tremendous impact on my life.
This is a clip from before he died, not too long after Ashley. Ashley is our Saint. And God isn’t done with any of us yet. Our stories are still being written, no matter how much or little time we have left to write them.
This benediction is for Ashley, for my family, for her husband Dave and for her amazing kids.
31. Up&Up (Coldplay)
As the final benediction, I give you Ashley’s favorite Coldplay song. Dave told me it was her anthem last year when she was sick. It was her song to the Frearson family; that she was going to get it together somehow. Her movement to hope. She fought so hard.
When I listen to it I think of Ashley that last summer. Her with the kids at the beach all summer. Dave fixing up the Jeep for Layne. That Ash did everything in her power to fight as long as she could. Any other person would have lasted 1 year with what she fought for more than 5 years.
Now, I feel this is Ashley’s benediction to us. On the other side of this incredible loss, this is our song, that somehow, we will get it together.
/ We’re gonna get it, get it together right now /
/ Gonna get it, get it together somehow /
/ Gonna get it, get it together and flower /
/ Oh oh oh oh oh oh /
/ We’re gonna get it, get it together I know /
/ Gonna get it, get it together and flow /
/ Gonna get it, get it together and go /
/ Up and up /