The year was 1996. My husband, Jim, was serving as the youth pastor at First Evangelical Free Church, a small congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The job was mostly volunteer with just a small stipend attached. He was also working at UPS in management. I was pregnant with our fourth child and an ultrasound had revealed that we were having a son.
In late March, Warren, one of the founding members of the church passed away rather unexpectedly. He was the grandfather of one of the youth group members and had really been the significant “father figure” in that young man’s life. In early May, the Pastor of the church, Dr. Frederick Moore, went to the National Institutes of Health for the continued treatment of a rare genetic condition he suffered from. I will never forget the morning that phone call came in.
A pastor of a sister church north of the city called and wanted to know how my husband was doing. Needless to say, we were a bit confused since there was no reason for him to be anything but fine. Or so we thought. That’s when we got word that Pastor Fred had died early that morning. Complications following surgery. This man was more than “just” the pastor of our church. He was my husband’s mentor in ministry. His impact on my husband’s life was so powerful that my son bears the middle name “Frederick” in his honor. Pastor Fred had two boys still in the youth group and his oldest was in college. “Our kids” lost two very significant individuals in just a few weeks. They were reeling.
Fast forward five years – I was helping to “run” the music ministry of the church and Warren’s widow approached me with a touching request. She didn’t want a big fuss made but she wondered if it might be possible to have a song done as special music on some random Sunday. While the grief of losing a spouse never really goes away, she had been having an especially difficult time of late and it would be a comfort to her to have just a little memorial in the form of a song.
I started looking but nothing stood out. I just couldn’t find the right song. I wasn’t even too concerned with finding a song specifically for me to sing. That church was rich with vocal talent and there were any number of vocalists – of all voice parts – that could have done a beautiful job sharing this gift. I vented my frustration to my husband, who knew about the request I was trying to honor.
“I can’t find a song that will work to honor the memory of Warren and Pastor Fred. But I promised we’d do something. What am I going to do?”
“Maybe,” he replied with a smile, “You haven’t found the right song because it hasn’t been written yet.”
Now I do not consider myself a songwriter. By that I mean I don’t wake up in the morning and think “today is a good day to write a new song.” Usually an experience triggers a lyric or melodic line and I just kind of work from there. When my husband and I had the conversation mentioned above, I had only written a few songs. I never would have come up with the idea on my own. But my husband had said it so there it was. Was I really supposed to create something completely original to honor these two much-loved individuals? Was I even capable of living up to the task?!
Then one morning, while standing in the shower, of all places, a lyrical phrase ran through my mind – “They left a legacy, built on the solid rock.” As quickly as was reasonably possible, I finished the shower and got dressed, then grabbed a note pad to jot down that phrase. I knew at that moment that the song would be about ordinary individuals with no earthly fame who left behind a legacy of faith. When it was finally written and shared as special music in a Sunday morning service, the sound man made sure to record it. We passed CD’s on to the family members that those two faithful servants had left behind. Since that time, that recording has been played at my grandfather’s funeral and my grandmother made me promise I would sing it live at hers which, by some miracle, I was able to do.
I continue to be humbled by the impact this song has on those that have heard it. It seems that those of us who claim the name of Christ often have those individuals in our lives, past or present, who have left an imprint on us because they embody the truth of the lyrics –
“They left a legacy built on the solid rock;
Their footsteps led the way to the firm foundation.
Their faith in Jesus you could see in the way they lived.
They knew the greatest gift that they could give
Was the legacy of Heaven.”
Hebrews 12:1 (NASB)
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Not gonna say much about this one except to share the lyrics that can reduce me to grateful tears in a moment –
Is Love’s Old Sweet Story too good to be true?
Do you find all this hard to believe?
Has the cruel world we live in so battered your heart
That the hurt child inside you can’t grieve?
I can’t say I blame you
I’ve been where you are
But all I can say is
You’re the love of His heart
And the old rugged cross was for you
It’s not a song till it touches your heart.
It’s not a song till it tears you apart.
After what’s left of what’s right and what’s wrong,
Till it gets through to you,
It’s not a song.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard song lyrics and thought “Yes! That’s it! I’ve never known how to say but that it’s right there.”
In my teen years, I was a huge Amy Grant fan. To be honest, I was one of MANY teen girls who loved her music. I still “go back” and listen to those songs. Especially to this one. Theses lyrics jumped out at me the first time I heard the song. It’s exactly how I’ve always felt about music. And I listened to this song so often that I wore out the first cassette tape I owned and had to replace it. After all these years, these lyrics still hit me right in the heart and this is a song I still go back to again and again because I find myself in these lyrics every time.
Today’s post won’t be terribly long. But since these Monday posts are supposed to be about my personal musical history I thought I’d share this quick memory.
I was 12 years old and we were getting ready to visit my grandparents for the weekend. I’m not even sure how it exactly came about, but I was asked to sing special music for the Sunday morning service while I was there. I was more than a little nervous. I had played for the occasional Sunday service but this was different. It wasn’t going to be happening while others were singing. It would be just me.
I sang a song called “My Father’s Eyes” originally recorded by Amy Grant. I had loved the song for a while and jumped at the chance to perform it. But, yeah, I was nervous! I hadn’t had a single private voice lesson at that point so I was simply going with what came naturally. I can’t remember much of what anyone said to me after. It didn’t really matter. There was something about that moment that felt so very “right”. Music and faith have always been so intrinsically linked and that experience simply helped build on that.
I’ve sung in many venues and in front of crowds of various sizes. I’ve sung in churches, at conferences, at camps, in theatrical productions . . . but there’s something about that first one that will always be special.