Where It All Started

My work life, for the most part, puts me in contact with high school kids.  Specifically, those who are performing arts kiddos.  Not too long ago, I made a comment something like this – “Music has always been a part of my life.”  Later that day one of the students who had heard my comment asked me a question – “I know you say that music has always been a part of your life.  The reality is there was a time, even if it was a short time, when you couldn’t play an instrument and weren’t really soloing yet.  Where did it all start for you?”

The short answer is one word – home.

Okay – this might need some more explanation.  My parents constantly had music playing.  My mother owned a piano before I was born so I grew up with an instrument prominently featured in my home.  They owned a record player that allowed you to stack several albums onto the spindle.  When the bottom one was done, the next would drop down.  It was the early version of a “playlist”.  And there was always a stack on the record player in my house.

Both my parents sing.  Daddy is a bass – and I mean a BASS – and mom is an alto.  I remember sitting in a church pew between them, watching mom’s finger trace the text of the hymn that was being sung.  As I learned how to read, mom’s finger moved to trace the alto line so I could start to connect the harmony she was singing with the notes on the page.

I have VIVID memories of sitting in the sanctuary at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, New Mexico, and watching the adult choir rehearse.  I didn’t know it then, but I was already beginning to understand that rehearsal is a process; preparing for a quality performance takes time.

A week after I turned 4 1/2, I took my first piano lesson.  The only time I ever wanted to quit was the first time I had to play both hands together.  It wasn’t that I was too frustrated to keep going to lessons; I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to keep trying.  But my parents didn’t give up on me and didn’t let me give up on myself either.  Now I get paid to play, have the opportunity to be a part of the praise team at church, and still find so much solace from time spent alone, just me and my keyboard.

Music is embedded in so many of my memories – my first vocal solo at age 12 (I sang Amy Grant’s “Father’s Eyes) in a tiny little church in southeast Michigan, finding myself in the rotation to play for the Sunday evening services in that same building, the children’s choir I was in that sang in Cobo Hall, band and choir all throughout school, my first part-time job teaching beginning piano students, honor bands, collegiate performance experiences . . . so many of my dearest friends are people I’ve met during my performing arts experiences.

Like I said earlier – the easy answer is “home”.  I have parents that were themselves musicians and they never pushed, bribed, or cajoled to get me involved.  They simply listened and participated and I witnessed it all.  To say I’m grateful to them would be the biggest understatement of my life.

Sing Over Me

I took my first piano lesson one week after I turned 4 ½ and I’ve been playing ever since.  I was classically trained but my mother made sure that I learned some of the basic improv skills used by church pianists and I’ve played in services off and on since I was about 12.  I began accompanying soloists and ensembles in 7th grade (right about 1980) and have been doing it ever since.  I sang my first solo in church at the age of 12 and have sung in choirs at all levels of age and experience since then.

To say that music is a central piece of my life and my worship experience would be an understatement.  It’s one of the ways that I cope with stress, express joy, work through sadness . . . it’s the cheapest therapy I know!

You can imagine my delight when my sister introduced me to a verse that talked about God singing over his children!  The idea that my obedience and walking in faith delights God to the point that he sings over me?!  This musician was delighted at the concept!  Then there came a time where I had to seriously evaluate a ministry involvement that came close to tapping into my passion without going quite all the way.  I was being asked to give preference to opinions of others over the leading of the Holy Spirit and it was beating me up spiritually.  I was unsettled and lacking in peace.  I realized, after some serious soul-searching and the gift of the lyrics that would become this song, that I needed to back away from that ministry.  It was harder than you might think because it wasn’t a perfect fit with my passion, but it got close.  Stepping away meant there would be nothing.

So I stepped away and the personal healing began almost immediately.  When I start to struggle with choosing to follow man’s preferences or the Spirit’s leading, I go back to this song.  There is only one audience who truly matters when all is said and done.

“Ev’ry melody I sing, ev’ry note of praise I bring
I lay humbly at the feet of my Savior and my king.
With ev’ry single rhyme, from now until the end of time
I seek nothing more than just to hear him sing
Sing over me.”

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

Welcome Home

My sisters and I are all Michigan “born and raised” but we have all ventured to live in other states at various points in our adult lives.  Currently, hubby and I are in North Central Iowa while the middle sister, Becki, and her two boys are in Richmond,VA (my parents live with her as well) and the baby sister, Andrea, lives in San Antonio, TX with her hubby and their three kids.  Becki also lived in the Dallas, TX area for a while and it was during that time that God used her to inspire a song.

This was in the days before Skype or FaceTime or social networking of any kind.  We relied on emails, “snail mail”, and phone calls.  During one of our weekly (most of the time) phone calls, we discovered that, in a spiritual sense, we were walking down similar paths.  Both of us were learning about our true identity as children of God.  There were a number of times when one of us would talk about a realization or a new understanding and the other person would respond with “Oh my gosh, me too!”

At the end of one such conversation, Becki told me she was going to email me a poem she had recently written, sort of a way for her to capture the lesson in a concrete way for when she needed reminding down the road.  I opened the email and read the poem.  Before I was done, there was a melody line running repeatedly through my head connected to a specific line she had written.  So I emailed her back and begged her to let me turn the lyrics into a song.  With a couple of small tweaks – mostly for rhyme and rhythm – “Welcome Home” was born.  For reasons I won’t go into here, the parable of the Prodigal Son is a family favorite and this song captures that story from the father’s perspective – the idea of a loving father waiting and watching for his child to return home.  No judgment, no conditions; just unbridled love, restoration and healing.

The concept of being God’s cherished daughter has been a powerful one in my life.  So much so that I bear a tattoo that says “Daughter of God” in Hebrew.  The chorus of this song has been a balm in the rough spots of life and the fact that my sister and I had both had a hand in “birthing” this one is special to me.

“Welcome home, my child, I’ve been waiting
I’ve been watching and I love you
Let me fix your broken pieces.
Won’t you let me carry you?
My child, you’ve been gone away so long.
Welcome home.”

John 1:12-13

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Luke 15:22-24

But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet: and bring the fattened calf kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  And they began to celebrate.

Legacy – The Story

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.