Music and Me – Legacy

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.

 

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.

Remember – Editing is Allowed!

This won’t be terribly long or profound.

Something creative keeps wiggling around in my head trying to get itself out.  I’m certain that this “something” is musical in nature.  Been toying with some lyric phrases/lines that seem like they might be able to go somewhere.  But the going is slow. . . really slow. . . like, I’ve seen sloths move faster than my creative process is moving right now.

So I keep toying with/crafting/testing lyrical possibilities . . . no clue what’s gonna happen in the end but sometimes I learn more from the process than the actual product!

Stay tuned . . . something new may be in the works!

Unbreakable Connection

My earliest memories of church revolve around music.

– My mother’s alto voice on one side of me while dad sang bass in the other ear.

– My mom’s finger tracking the verses of hymns she knew by heart just so my eyes could follow along and learn how to read a hymnal by myself.  Once I got the lyrics figured out, her finger would track her voice part until I understood how the notation worked.

– Watching adult choir practices as a child (and I wasn’t even in school yet).

– The high school – or maybe they were in college? – kids at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, New Mexico, performing “He Lived the Good Life” in the “old” sanctuary.

– The powerful stories in cantatas like “The Apostle” or “Fabric of Freedom”.  My parents were not only a part of these performances at church; they also bought the albums so we could listen at home.  As a child, I didn’t fully understand the finer details involved in the stories but their impact and power were easily felt!

On the flip side, my earliest memories of music involved expressions of faith, both from the singer and the listener.

– “Because He Lives” always made my mother tear up.  It still does.

– Our record player got plenty of use and our home was frequently filled with faith-based music – Andrea Crouch and the Disciples, The Gaither Trio, The Goodman Family, the Imperials, the Peterson Sisters and more.

– I remember one Sunday, when I was in elementary school, my grandmother closed her eyes during the “special music” portion of the service.  She had the most contented smile on her face and I asked her later why she had closed her eyes while someone was singing.  I’ll never forget her answer – “I was just enjoying the way that the lyrics touched my heart.”

One of my favorite memories of being in a church is sitting in the sanctuary of Emmanuel Baptist Church (the new sanctuary this time, with the beautiful rose window in the balcony that made the platform look so colorful when the sun hit it just right!) and watching the adult choir rehearse.  There was child care provided for those in the choir who needed it.  But I begged my mom to let me sit in and listen.  I’m ever so grateful that she did.

What struck me the most was that they didn’t just sing through each song once and call it good.  They went back and corrected mistakes.  Choir members asked questions or wanted to review certain challenging sections.  As a child – who had started piano lessons at the age of 4 1/2 – I knew even then, when I was too young to articulate it, that they were striving to be well-prepared.  It was important to them that they give the very best performance they were capable of.  Their performance was an expression of their relationship with their Savior.  Nothing but their personal best would do.

This heritage combined with my own experiences playing piano, playing in the band, and singing in various choirs has led to one simple reality – the most authentic expression of my faith is found in music that is done to the very best of my ability.  With a legacy like mine, would you expect anything else?

For This Child – The Story Behind the Song

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.

In Your Eyes – The Story Behind the Song

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]
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.

Lyrically Inspired – Little Drummer Boy

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 –

I have no gift to bring
That’s fit to give our king
Shall I play for you
On my drum
Mary nodded
The ox and lamb kept time
I played my drum for him
I played my best for him
Then he smiled at me
Me and my drum
I took out the “pa rum pum pum pum” lyrics because this is the phrase that first captured my attention and I wanted you to see the words clearly.
All the drummer boy had to offer was his ability to play.  When he did so, the infant smiled at him.  As simple as that – the drummer gave the very best that he had and it pleased the Messiah.
There is a sad tendency in some churches to allow for shoddy musicianship in services because the thinking is “We’re doing it for Jesus so it’s the thought that counts.”  I doubt most churches would feel that way about the sermon.  We expect the Pastor to put in time preparing the sermon.  Reading scripture, praying, consulting the original language when needed . . . none of us would be happy with a pastor who got into the pulpit on Sunday morning and said, “I haven’t really prepared anything.  I’m just gonna kinda wing it today.”
But church musicians?  People have actually been known to get angry that they rehearse; that they come to the Sunday morning service well-prepared.  But this song gets it – “I played my best for him”.
Wouldn’t be a bad epitaph, now that I think about it – She played her best for him.

Welcome Home – The Story Behind the Song

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.