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
I love words. Books, poems, short stories, song lyrics . . . I love them all. I’ve been a voracious reader for the vast majority of my life and have even dabbled in a bit of poetry and fiction writing. No big career aspirations, just a creative outlet. And, as the occasional songwriter, I’ve crafted a few lyrics in my adult years.
When you take my love of music and combine with my love of a well-crafted turn of phrase, something magical happens. Song lyrics can leave me breathless, remind that I’m not alone in this weird journey we call life, or serve as a gentle nudge of conviction.
In my own songwriting, the lyrics are always a reflection of a moment. Maybe I was learning a lesson or struggling through a challenge. On occasion, a specific scripture passage as spun around in my brain to the point that I was inspired to write. Whatever the motivation, each and every song reflects a piece of my own personal faith journey.
I’m hoping to make this “words and music” feature a regular feature on this website. The focus will be on the lyrics of others that I have been inspired by. It’s been my experience that the creative expression of truth sometimes has a longer-lasting impact than any lecture or sermon ever could.
In his song titled “Hello, My Name Is”, Matthew West gives us this powerful reminder of our identity in the song’s chorus –
These are the voices,
these are the lies
And I have believed them,
for the very last time.
Hello, my name is child of the one true king
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
Amazing grace is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true king.
It’s one of those songs I cannot help but turn up and sing along at the top of my lungs!
Over the last several years (since 1991 to be exact!) my sisters and I have given our parents nine grandchildren. Between three of the households (including my parents) we have hosted about the same number of exchange students with two more joining the family for the 2016/2017 school year. In my own experience, my work as a choral director, band staff member, and theatrical director has provided me with several honorary kids who call me mom. And there is one lesson that has become crystal clear to me over the years – every child/teen needs to know that there is someone in this world who is absolutely crazy about them. Preferably more than one someone.
My sisters and I have discussed – and even occasionally explored – the idea of foster parenting or adopting. I’ve met a number of students over the years who came from homes where mom and dad were too bogged down in their own “stuff” to be there for their kids so these young men and women were starving for someone to notice them, challenge them, push them to be better. I’ve discovered this world is full of kids who just need an adult to care enough to call them up to be the best possible version of themselves!
Right about the time my sister, Becki, found out she was pregnant with her first, I wrote this song. Yes, it was mostly for my biological children. But it was also for all of those I’ve sort of “adopted” over the years who needed to know that someone cared and was taking them before the throne on a regular basis. It means that the prayer list for “my kids” is getting pretty long but I’m okay with that!
The inspiration for the chorus of the song came from the Old Testament story of Hannah. She wanted to have a son but had remained barren for years. During a trip to the temple with her husband, she begged God for a son and promised to give the boy back to God. God heard her prayer and answered it with a resounding yes. After she had weaned the boy – most scholars figure he was about 3 or 4 – Hannah took him back to the temple and left him there in the care of the high priest.
“For this child I have prayed,
I have knelt before the Father,
Placing all my hope and trust in him
I set my heart on things above.
And now I know he heard my cry
For I have seen his answer
In this precious life before me
A priceless gift of love.”
I Samuel 1:27-28
“For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
If you’ve read some of my other stories, you know that I rarely (almost never) sit down and say, “Today, I will write a song.” The song “In Your Eyes” is an exception. My sister commented that she thought it would be great if I wrote an original song for the wedding she hoped she would soon be planning. I was still struggling with the idea that I was writing faith-based songs. A love song?! That was a whole new territory I wasn’t sure I wanted to delve into.
Then I got the “brilliant” idea to write a song for my husband. The year was 2001. We were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he was working for UPS at the time. A promotion took him to Columbus, Ohio, for a couple weeks of training. He got to come home the weekend between but he was in Columbus Monday through Friday for two consecutive weeks. This trip just happened to occur right around Valentine’s Day so I decided the song would be his gift.
Once it was written, I realized I had inadvertently fulfilled my sister’s request with one condition – it was really “Jim’s song” so he had to say yes. I knew he would – he and I met when said sister was only 8 years old so he really thinks of her more as a sister than a sister-in-law – but I wanted him to know that the song was intended originally for him and I wouldn’t be tossing it out to brides on a whim.
It’s first audience was just him, in the front room of our home. That might have been one of the most nerve-wracking performances of my life! But thankfully he loved the song and two years later, when my baby sister got married, I shared that song as a part of their wedding. It’s been performed a couple of other times since then for special couples. But it will always be “his song”.
“In your eyes there is joy and there is laughter
A hope for happily ever after
And love’s unending song.”
Song of Solomon 8:6
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy[a] unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.[b]
7 Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it[c] would be utterly scorned.
December is one of my two favorite months of the year. The other is October. . . but I digress.
I love Christmas music. I mean I would listen to it all year if people weren’t so prone to being cranky about it. But December means all restrictions are off and I can blast Christmas music to my heart’s content!
So I thought I’d take a few minutes to share with you some of my most favorite songs as well as the reasons why. Lyrics can be every bit as thought-provoking as a good book, a powerful sermon, or a deep philosophical discussion.
This first song wasn’t a favorite when I was younger. Frankly, I found it annoying for a time. Somewhere during middle school I was able to get past the “nonsense lyrics” and really hear what was being said and my opinion was radically changed. Let me show you what I mean –
That’s fit to give our king
The ox and lamb kept time
I played my best for him
Me and my drum