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The Guardian Heart

There are all sorts of hearts in this world. Some are cold and hard, impenetrable and insulated from any emotion, good or bad. Others are soft and tender, feeling every little thing that comes their way. However, a precious few seem destined to help those who need it, giving what love, peace and protection that is to be had to all that heart encounters. They exist to give, often without any expectation of recompense. I call these guardian hearts.

I’ve haven’t had the fortune to find many of these in my 50 plus years of travels on this Earth. Part of the reason for that is that not only are they unbelievably rare but also that those who possess these tend to have a limited shelf life. These are sensitive souls who feel things so much more keenly than others do, and often they come with their own special demons. I can’t say that all of them burn brightly and flicker out, but that is often the case. That’s why when one is encountered, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to nurture and preserve those who possess one.

Sometimes, I’ve run into them not so much directly but by proxy; they can be recognized not just by what they do but by those who are touched by them. One such guardian heart belongs to a gentleman by the name of Scott Stapp.

Some of you may recognize the name. Yes, I’m talking about that Scott Stapp. Lead singer of Creed. Yes, yes, the “Arms Wide Open” guys. No, I’m not crazy. Not about this anyway.

Creed was never the most fashionable of bands and they took a whole lot of critical lumps. Stapp’s vocal style is a bit over the top, I’ll admit. The band has a hard rock edge but a very strong patina of Christian faith. They may not necessarily always be overt about that faith, like a Stryper for example, but nonetheless they weren’t shy about it either and bands with a message of faith tend to make mainstream critics uncomfortable. Their upbeat lyrics tended to make the bloggers snarky. Nothing brings out the snark than a message of hope, after all. That kind of thing never made sense to me; not everybody has to be the Smiths. Of course, it became fashionable to bash the Smiths too. I think it basically becomes fashionable to bash everyone. That’s just the culture of destroy everything we touch that we live in these days. It’s so much easier to bring down than to build up which is one of the things that makes the guardian heart all the more special.

Stapp grew up here in Orlando (went to Lake Highland Prep if I’m not mistaken) and formed his band among friends at Florida State. The market at the time wasn’t receptive to straight ahead rock bands and they had trouble finding gigs, often having to create them themselves in restaurants and in other venues. Their powerful live shows and Stapp’s soaring vocals and immense presence got them noticed and after they recorded an album for $6,000, they found a label as well – Wind-Up Records who remixed the album and sent it back out into the world. That album would be My Own Prison and would generate four number one singles on the Billboard rock charts, the first debut album to accomplish that feat.

A second album, Human Clay brought even further success and a Grammy for “With Arms Wide Open.”  While preparations were underway for touring for their third album, Stapp was involved in an auto accident which would eventually help get him hooked on prescription pain medicine, in addition to his already growing dependence on alcohol. The tour eventually went on but was something of a disaster, leading to a show in Rosemont, Illinois at which Stapp was admittedly intoxicated and was accused (and later sued for) being so incoherent he couldn’t remember the lyrics to a single song. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed, incidentally.

With tensions between Stapp and the band intolerably high, the group broke up. Stapp started a successful solo career while the rest of the band reformed as Alter Bridge. However in 2009 they reunited and released their fourth album, Full Circle which brought back the band’s fan base, and which spawned another triumphant tour. However, plans for a fifth album were abandoned after once again Stapp and the rest of the band had another falling out. While Stapp has kept the door open for a further Creed project, guitarist Mark Tremonti has been less hopeful about any more touring or recording by the band.

Since then, Stapp’s drug use and alcohol abuse have spiraled out of control. In November 2014, his wife Jaclyn filed for divorce after receiving bizarre messages from her husband, taking custody of their two children as well as his son from a previous marriage. Later that month, Stapp posted a video to his Facebook page stating that he was homeless and living in a Holiday Inn with severe financial issues. He has also made several 911 calls that alluded to him being chased by people who wanted to kill him.

It seems likely that Stapp is suffering from mental illness; there are some who believe he may be Bipolar. There is no doubt that his life has unraveled and he is facing some of the most darkest days that anyone could ever face and he seems to be doing it alone.

You might be asking yourself here what makes this man worthy of attention. After all, he’s just another drug-addled rock star that had it all and blew it, right? Well, that would only be part of the story.

Stapp has a history of giving to those in need. He began his With Arms Wide Open Foundation in 2000, giving aid mainly to needy children not just here in the states but around the world. In 15 years the foundation has donated more than a million dollars to various causes mostly related to children in crisis. Eventually he renamed his charity the Scott Stapp foundation; there is currently another organization using the Arms Wide Open name to battle childhood cancer which so far as I know is not affiliated with Stapp’s charity. Stapp has donated a portion of ticket sales to his foundation for years; all of the proceeds from the “With Arms Wide Open” single went to his charitable foundation. While it is largely inactive now due to Stapp’s difficulties, it has made a difference in a good many lives and largely under the radar.

But that’s not what qualifies Stapp in my book for the truly high praise. A good friend of mine, whose husband at the time worked as a monitor engineer for Creed’s road crew, told me a story about how her daughter had gotten very sick, to the point where doctors felt she wasn’t going to make it. She called her husband and pleaded with him to come home to say goodbye to their child. When her husband told Stapp what was happening, not only did he give his crew member leave to be with his family, he also found out about the little girl’s condition and discovered that there was some cutting edge research being done at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He arranged for the girl to be flown to Baltimore where she was treated and eventually recovered and is alive to this day because of Stapp’s intervention, which he paid for out of his own pocket.

That’s not a story many people know about, and I only heard about it because I know the girl’s mom. When Stapp’s troubles became public, she asked me to write something about him, something that maybe he might read one day and hopefully get from her a return on the gift that he gave her – the gift of love that led to life. I don’t claim to be close to Scott Stapp, nor do I claim to really be able to even have any sort of understanding of what he’s going through. Normally, I’d just wish him well and hope for the best.

And yet there’s that story, a little girl alive today because of his direct involvement and hundreds and thousands maybe millions of people whose lives today are better not just because of his charity but because his music inspired them to hope for better things and maybe even find them. Lives like his that touch so many lives that way are to be treasured and preserved. I do hope that he can find his way off the precipice that he is on to a safe place to land and gets the help that he needs. His kids deserve to have their dad around. His friends deserve to have him back. HE deserves the happiness of a life well-lived. I hope his guardian heart remains strong and beats hard for many years to come.

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