Sent: “Send me” Song Story

The late Summer and early Fall of 2017 was like a whirlwind for me. I started recording at Bailey Park in late August, and then headed off to the state fair with friends to catch a concert. Then I spent the week surrounding Labor Day with my family in Minnesota. I watched the Packers play, went shopping with my sister, cuddled my little nieces and nephews, and began considering music for my pastor’s upcoming sermon series. All the while, creativity flowed through me like I had rarely experienced before. I composed the lyrics to “Hope is Waking” and made changes to “We will Sing.” I also crafted arrangements for some of our worship songs, and it seemed like I couldn’t get enough of arranging and composing at that time. Then came “Send me.”
I returned home after my week-long vacation to hear the first sermon in my pastor’s new series called “Sent,” based on John 20:21: “…As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
We were given bracelets that day in a variety of colors, bearing the name of the series and Scripture reference. I wasn’t leading worship that day, so I sat in the sanctuary among the congregation. One of my team members invited me to sit with her and her family and I accepted. To this day, I can’t recall exactly what was said as Pastor shared his message. I latched onto a catch phrase of sorts that Pastor used when he introduced the series: “Sent every day, everywhere, everyone.” The key question was “What does it mean to be a sent people and followers of Christ?”
My team member apologized to me after the service, marveling that I could even pay attention when her grandkids were noisily playing beside us in the pew. I quickly assured her that the children hadn’t bothered me; in fact, I had managed to tune them out completely. I was focused on one thing only— the chorus for what would eventually be called “Send me.”
I longed to hurry home and finish the song, but I had commitments. I had agreed to attend a housewarming party at noon, and then I would be back to church to offer special music at a funeral service. There was also the Packer game later that afternoon, but that would have to wait until my commitments were fulfilled.
When church ended a little bit earlier than usual, I took off for home without a moment to lose. Maybe I could carve out a few moments before heading to the housewarming. Thankfully, I managed to write the verse in about 15 minutes, just as a melody began to come together. I hummed the tune into my cell phone voice recorder even as I ran out the door.
Once the housewarming and funeral were complete, I hurried home again. I was ready for some football! But I found that I couldn’t concentrate on the game. The lyrics and melody to “Send me” were swirling around in my head and they wouldn’t let go of my heart. During commercial breaks, my focus was glued to my composition book, and as soon as the game was over, I was at the piano crafting the arrangement.
As the song came together in a sudden flurry of lyrics and lines, I couldn’t help but correlate it to the nature of its message. To be sent is certainly an urgent calling— to share the hope and salvation that exists in Christ is the most time-sensitive task there will ever be, and I felt that drive to finish as if I were sharing the Gospel with a dear loved one.
I had no idea what the next few weeks would hold for me. I never imagined my songwriting and worship leading would be on hold as I recovered from emergency eye surgery. I didn’t know the road ahead would cost me my creativity and independence. But as I removed my watch and “Sent” bracelet before surgery, I said a quick prayer that no matter what happened, He would still use me to spread His message.
My prayer was quickly answered. As an OR nurse administered eye drops before I was wheeled into surgery, she remarked on my upbeat attitude and joking remarks. “You’re a breath of fresh air,” she said. “I would think you would be nervous and scared right now, so good for you. What’s your secret?”
“Oh, I’m definitely scared,” I told her quickly, even as I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I willed them away and took a deep breath. “But there’s a lot of people praying for me, and I know I’ll be okay.”
“Praying, huh?” she said as she gave me another drop. “That’s good, I guess.”
I couldn’t tell from her response if she shared my faith or if she was simply being polite. But just in case she had little exposure to Christian faith, I figured the least I could do was plant a seed. I didn’t have time to share anything deeper because moments later they were wheeling me into surgery. But I think of that OR nurse even still today a year later. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if we had been given more time to talk. Had God sent me to her at just that time to give her even a glimpse into eternal salvation?
I could beat myself up with words like: “You didn’t say enough. You could have told your story. You could have asked her if she believed.” But today, I’m going to choose to believe that God is faithful, and he can use my fumbling witness to make a difference. I may not know the future for that OR nurse, but I can pray for her and leave her salvation to the One who loves her with an everlasting love.
“Every day that I awake, everywhere— each step I take, to everyone this vow I make to listen, follow, and to go.”

Hope Renewed: “Hope is Waking (Peter’s Song)” Song Story

I have always been a storyteller, and although most of my stories have been contained in fictional novels, there has been an element of storytelling in my songs as well. From depicting the aching loneliness in “Jesus is Your Friend” to the pain of separation depicted in “Waiting here,” my songs have walked the listener through real-life circumstances in relation to a person’s faith journey. Most often, I am telling my story or what I have observed in the world around me. But sometimes, someone else’s story touches my heart, and I have to find a way to share it with the world.

This is true of my song “Hope is Waking (Peter’s Song).” As we were working on mastering the album, someone asked me if I had written any songs specifically for The Dawn, and I answered immediately that yes, I did. I think I had always wanted to tell Peter’s story through song, but the lyrics had never come together until I spent intentional time in the Scriptures. I studied the connection between Jesus and His disciples in the Gospels; I sought to immerse myself in their words and actions, particularly focusing on Peter and his perspective. I had always identified with Peter. He has always seemed “real” to me— quick to act and speak (sometimes seemingly without thinking it through), loyal to a fault, and a disappointing display of denial (wow, that’s some alliteration there).

I was on vacation at my parents’ house in early September, 2017 when some mild boredom overtook me. I’m not very good at vacationing; I always need to be doing something— reading a book, listening to or making music, writing, getting things done around the house. So that day when my tablet was dead, my phone had very little reception, and my mom’s daycare kids were sleeping (so I couldn’t play the piano), I was bored. I have never liked the messy process of writing a song, but I figured I had nothing to lose that afternoon, so I gathered up my composition book and Bible and settled in the basement family room to compose my masterpiece.

The storyline of the song was easy to piece together, but crafting the lyrics was definitely a challenge. How do you condense someone’s lifelong faith journey into just a few verses and a chorus that encapsulates it all? To make matters even more challenging was the fact that someone had left the baby monitor turned on, and it wasn’t long before I heard a fussing baby from the room upstairs. But I pressed onward, and nearly two hours later, I had a satisfactory lyric. At that point, I didn’t have a melody, but I was happy with my progress. I went upstairs to investigate what had the baby so upset, and I ended up cuddling the little one until his mother came to pick him up.

I finished the song almost a month later, once I had regained enough eyesight to see my lyric sheet again! Even though I had written the song, it didn’t mean I could recall the lyrics without a boost to my memory. As the song came together, I realized two things; first, this song would be hard to sing and second, it wasn’t going to be brief. My first rough recording of the song stretched past seven minutes in length, and I struggled to find the right range for my vocals. One key was too low, but when I transposed even a step higher, it was too high. Finally, I settled on the original key I had used while composing the song.

Of all of the songs on the album, “Hope is Waking (Peter’s Song)” proved to be the most challenging to record in the studio. I literally played and sang everything on the track: lead vocals, back-up vocals, synthesized orchestration, acoustic bass (through the synthesizer), and basic percussion. Eventually, Alex came in and re-worked the percussion (which was a good thing because my version was pretty much a train wreck). But I essentially saw the song through from start to finish. It was rewarding and draining all at the same time.

I thought about Peter as we crafted the arrangement. I have always wanted to meet this faithful follower of Jesus face-to-face; maybe I will some day in eternity. I wondered if my experience in recording this song was anything like Peter’s life. I imagine him striving in service to Christ— serving whole-heartedly, loving hard, and giving his all to the Master. He had to be exhausted but yet experiencing fulfillment like nothing I could ever comprehend. Yes, he often fumbled— taking His eyes off Jesus while walking on the water and denying His Lord that terrible Good Friday— and those moments had to be excruciatingly traumatic for Peter and draining too. Oh, the highs and lows that Peter experienced as He walked with Jesus!

Peter’s story is more than just a story. I think in some ways we can all relate to his struggle. I can’t even comprehend what it must have been like to hear that rooster crow that Good Friday morning; dawn was breaking, but Peter’s heart had to be breaking too— shattering into a million pieces as he recognized his denial as Jesus had predicted. Oh, the despair that must have torn at his heart when he witnessed the brutal crucifixion of his teacher and friend. I’m thinking of the fear that must have been a living, breathing thing among the disciples as they huddled together in that house, thinking that the soldiers would come and drag them all away too. I’m sure they were all fatigued, sleeping little and barely functioning in their grief.

Then on Sunday morning, three days later, Mary comes running with news that is simply unreal! I wonder if Peter thought he was dreaming when he heard Mary’s tale. What do you mean the tomb is empty? It doesn’t make any sense. I love how Mark 16:7 specifically mentions Peter when the angel instructs the women at the tomb to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection: “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter…” {emphasis mine}. I almost want to jump up and dance for joy when Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself. What a gift that the angel specifically mentions Peter as he sends the women out with the joyous news! Peter, who denied Jesus and experienced immense grief and regret was not forgotten! He was forgiven and remembered by name!

What a Savior! What love and redemption! What faith and hope must have sprung anew in Peter’s heart! That’s why I called my song “Hope is Waking.” Throughout the course of Peter’s story, the dawn seemed to play a role in his journey. Jesus called him to be a fisher of men one early morning when the nets were empty; but then Jesus came and the nets overflowed. It was also early morning when Peter came walking toward Jesus on the lake. His crushing denial also came at dawn as the rooster crowed. But it was the dawning of that first Sabbath, Easter morning that paints the most beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness. Peter’s hope was renewed that day in a breathtaking, awe-inspiring display— arguably the best sunrise this world has ever seen!

“Dawn is breaking; hope is waking. The Light of the World with His glory unfurled has come to save. The sun is rising; I’m realizing Messiah is here! I have no cause for fear for He gave… so I might believe.”

Beauty from Pain: “It is Well with my Soul” Song Story

“I’m making Christmas gifts,” one of my sisters told me a few years ago. “I just need to know your favorite hymn or worship song.”

“How can you even ask that of me?” I remember saying. “I’m a worship leader! I like too many songs to count!”

But if I was honest with myself, there was one song that had always resonated with me. It had been a favorite because of its rich harmonies and equally rich lyrics. In fact, I can remember raving about its depth while having lunch with a co-worker one day.

“I love “It is Well,” I said when asked about the hymn. “I mean the poetry of the lyrics: ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll…’ Nobody writes like that anymore…”

My co-worker agreed. There was just something about the beauty of the lyrics and melody that melded into a song that had touched both of our hearts. And once I learned of the circumstances that inspired its writing, I was even more drawn to its message of hope.

I included “It is Well with my Soul” on The Dawn because I couldn’t imagine the project without it. Since the song is Public Domain, I knew I could record it without worrying about copyright infringement, and I would be free to put my own spin on this classic favorite. When Jenny agreed to play violin for the project, I knew this song had to be arranged to showcase her skill. There is something about piano and violin that grips at my emotions, and it was a combination that lent itself well to the track.

Most of the songs on The Dawn detail my journey to finding hope in the midst of sorrow. Although I didn’t write “It is Well,” I take ownership of the lyrics because I feel as if I have lived them and believe them beyond a shadow of a doubt. I may not have walked through the trials that Horatio Spafford experienced prior to writing “It is Well,” but I have found that I can identify with his sentiments. Yes, life can be filled with suffering and unimaginable grief, but no matter what, God is good, and we can say with full confidence that it is well.

Let me share with you the story of “It is Well with my Soul” and its writer, Horatio Gates Spafford.

Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna lived in the Chicago area in the 1860s. Spafford was a successful lawyer, prosperous businessman, and an investor in real-estate along Lake Michigan. He and his wife were blessed with five children, and he was a devout Christian.

In 1871, Spafford’s investments and business dealings were ruined as a result of the great Chicago fire. In light of these significant losses, Spafford and his wife agreed to travel to Europe. But just as the family was about to depart, Spafford was delayed by some business transactions. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him, promising to meet them in England later.
While onboard the SS Ville du Havre, Spafford’s wife and daughters encountered great tragedy. The ship was struck by another vessel and quickly sank, resulting in the worst naval disaster to take place until the sinking of the Titanic almost forty years later. Spafford received a telegram from his wife Anna, conveying these simple words: “Saved alone.”

Soon after, Spafford boarded a ship to Europe in order that he might be with his grieving wife. It was as the ship passed over the place where the SS Ville du Havre had gone down that Spafford was inspired to pen the lyrics to “It is Well with my Soul.”

The Spafford family was later blessed with three more children, although they were not free from sorrow. Their only son contracted scarlet fever and later died. Life was certainly not perfect for Horatio Spafford and his family. In fact, one could easily say that they faced their fair share of unimaginable grief and pain. But from deep sorrow came a beautiful song that would later resonate with generation after generation. I am grateful for this timeless reminder that “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

A Work of the Heart: “Letting Go” Song Story

There is a constant struggle in my life as a worship leader— a persistent drive to do all and be all to everyone and everything. When I formally became a worship leader in 2011, a co-worker made an observation: “You didn’t realize when you accepted this job that you would be doing more than just playing music. You are going to have to work with others, collaborate, and embrace different personalities.” This same person later approached me to impart some tough-love advice. “Sometimes you may have to sacrifice perfectionism for compassion.”
In my early days as a worship leader, I quickly learned that I was indeed a perfectionist. I was blessed with like-minded female vocalists to make up my first worship team, and we called ourselves OneVoice because we truly sounded like one voice— a pleasant-sounding unison that blended seamlessly. Singing with OneVoice was easy and low on the stress scale.
But then less-than-perfect dynamics began to bump into my music-making. I struggled to collaborate with one of the other worship teams. I fumbled through the summer of 2014 when all of our teams were mixed up and in chaos. We began to welcome new members into our teams who changed the easy and once in sync sound we had established. Instead of simple unison, we branched into harmony. New songs were being introduced frequently. I was creating new arrangements and trying to keep up with piano accompaniment. All of it was rewarding, but it was hard too.
Then one day, I was too critical of a fellow musician, and not-so-gentle words were exchanged. I felt lower than low and as far from being Christ-like as I could possibly be portrayed. I doubted my role as a worship leader who was prominently visible on Sunday mornings. In many ways, I felt like a fraud because of the conflict that sprang up in our department. Another team member pulled me aside and wanted me to explain how worship team members were selected. Were there standards that needed to be upheld in order to participate in ministry? I felt crushed that someone would even question those standards. Again, I felt like a fraud because obviously something was wrong with me and my leadership of our teams. I began to wonder if we were even effective. Were we fulfilling our mission to lead others in worship and bring our congregation into His presence? When others saw me on the stage did they see Christ reflected in me? Or did they see someone who was failing miserably?
I thought back to when I had just graduated from college. I performed anywhere I had an invitation as long as someone was willing to drive me there. I was confident in my abilities. I had a voice and I knew I was talented. When I was asked to provide special music for a Sunday morning service, I usually chose a song that was flattering to my voice and would showcase my skills well. I was pretty egotistical, and leading worship was definitely not on my radar.
Then to my absolute horror, my pride and joy (my voice), was taken from me. I battled through nearly eighteen months of debilitating sickness and weakened breathing. I coughed and wheezed to such a degree that I no longer had the breath support to sing, and my voice was raspy and fatigued.
I cried out to God, devastated that the one thing I loved so dearly— singing— was clearly not going to be a part of my future. I questioned my gifts and talent, my calling, and purpose. I spiraled down into deep depression. My world was shaken, and my once intimate relationship with my Savior was now strained.
I was a mess, but little by little, God began to love me back to life. Those dark days between 2009 and 2011 taught me that I was never too far gone to be deserving of His compassion and mercy. My voice gradually returned to full strength, although I still relied on medications to keep my breathing clear and calm. As my physical healing took place, God also worked in my heart. Spiritual healing did not materialize overnight; instead, it has continued to be an ongoing process, as I witnessed in my interactions with my worship teams. As the dynamics changed, I had to make room for the new and unknown. I couldn’t be afraid of the questions and potential conflict. In the end, I wasn’t leading worship for my own glory or notoriety. I was leading worship to do just what my title implies: lead worship. With leadership would come struggle and challenging circumstances, but it didn’t mean I was a failure. I needed to realize that the most important factor in all of this was that I simply needed to let the Lord into my life. I had to embrace imperfect progress and move forward. I had to let go of all of my intentions and let Him work through me.
“I’m letting go to let You in.”