Top Songs of 2018

At the close of 2017, I offered up a list of the songs that had impacted me throughout the year. I would like to do the same at the close of this year. The following songs have played a significant role in my life over the course of the past year. Some were used for corporate worship, while others ministered to me on a personal level. Where they are available, I have included YouTube links for the songs so you might be able to listen to them. Please consider supporting these artists by purchasing their albums or downloading their songs.

“Awakening” by Chris Tomlin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljr6lqu2-ec

“Daylight” by Remedy Drive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzyYii4ZXRw

“Faithful” by Chris Tomlin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJFlY0mwFks

“Hope has a Name” by River Valley Worship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZrdtaevu0Y

“Known” by Tauren Wells https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xckDgX8xNfg

“Satisfied in You (Psalm 42)” by The Sing Team https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7O7LQpQaoc

“Titanium” cover by Madilyn Bailey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7c9kRDgck8

“While I Wait” by Lincoln Brewster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb9M5vzUyZ0

Before we Say Goodbye: “The Lord’s Prayer” Song Story

The Summer of 2016 brought a great deal of unknown as I faced my first season without directing Camp. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the change, but God knew what I needed. He had been preparing my heart even as I had resigned from my position the previous September. I hadn’t wanted to go, but my mental and physical health demanded I take a step back and regain perspective. I also needed to refocus my attention on my work as a worship leader. My pastor was preparing to take a three-month sabbatical and I wanted to be present for my congregation and concentrate on my leadership role.
I wasn’t prepared for the leadership role that came upon me early that Summer, almost before my pastor’s sabbatical truly began. A good friend called me one day and proceeded to tell me about her aging mother-in-law. She was a resident of the local care facility, and my friend wondered if I might be willing to visit her now and then. She told me that her mother-in-law didn’t have a connection with a church, and she was hoping for a pastoral call of sorts. I quickly reminded my friend I was a worship leader and not a pastor, but my words didn’t seem to register. My friend was convinced I would be the perfect person to call on her mother-in-law and she was quick to set up the first visit.
To say I felt largely unqualified would be an understatement. I was overwhelmed at the reality that I would be this woman’s pastoral contact. Sure, I could handle some friendly conversation and a visit now and then, but I had never filled the shoes of a calling pastor. I had taken a training course to serve as a hospice volunteer, but that had been nearly ten years in the past. I brushed up on the curriculum even as I reminded myself that God would carry me through this. I was comforted that for the first few visits, my friend and her family would be present, and I wouldn’t be on my own completely. The family also didn’t set any core expectations. As long as I visited their loved one on occasion, they would be okay with the arrangement.
I learned a great deal from my interaction with this sweet, elderly woman. We had a lot in common and our interaction was fairly effortless. At the end of each visit, I would say goodbye and tell her I would return soon. Before I could make my exit, she would say to me, “Before we say goodbye, could we say the Lord’s Prayer?” I readily agreed, quickly being reminded of the difference between our denominational backgrounds; I would say “debts” and debtors” and she would say “trespasses.” Our first few attempts were fumbling, but we soon made it a regular occurrence to say the Lord’s Prayer before I would leave her room.
I envisioned myself calling on my elderly friend throughout the Summer and even into the Fall. But little did I know, much more would be required of me and far sooner than any of us expected. It was early August when I got the call that made my mouth go dry and my hands tremble. My friend called to say that her mother-in-law was unresponsive and asked if I would go see her as soon as possible. I didn’t delay— hurrying over to the Care Center on my tricycle. I was relieved to learn that my elderly friend had awakened and was talking again, but she was certainly weakened. I sat and talked with her, occasionally reading Scripture and praying.
Eventually, I sensed that it was time to go. I stood to my feet, told the woman I loved her, and backed away from the bed.
“Wait… before you go…” came her weak voice.
I knew what was coming and I choked on unexpected tears. “Yes,” I said. “Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer.” And so we prayed together one more time.
When I left the care facility a few moments later, my heart was heavy. I had evening plans and I needed to run through the music for the service the next day. I went through the motions of rehearsal and I went forward with my evening plans, but I was distracted. I was constantly praying for my friend and her family. I had told only a few others of my pastoral calling, so I carried the burden of my worries and fears alone.
I returned home late in the evening, knowing that I needed to sleep but unable to find a peaceful state of rest. I went into my home office to retrieve my hymnbook. I didn’t know what I was looking for until I stumbled upon the musical arrangement of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Immediately, I was swarmed with memories. I had sung the piece at several funerals over the years, often with piano accompaniment. The song had always been too intricate for me to replicate on the piano, so I had always enlisted the help of another accompanist. Over the past few years, I had managed to craft an acapella arrangement of the song so I could eliminate needing to ask for help on the piano.
With hymnbook and cell phone in hand, I knew what I needed to do. I turned off all of the lights in the house and made my way to the garage. I closed myself inside the empty space (my parents’ vehicle was not parked there). I placed my phone in the basket of my tricycle and hit record. Then without rehearsal or any prior run-through, I sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” It was raw, emotional, and a worshipful moment I will never forget.
I could have edited the recording; in fact, some editing was probably in order because the air conditioning was running in the background and it created a high-pitched hiss. But I knew I couldn’t sing it any better or differently, and I saved the track to my phone.
Over the next few days, I returned to the care facility. My friend was unresponsive once again, and as I sat by her bedside lost for words, I thought of something. I placed my cell phone on the bed next to her pillow and played my sung version of “The Lord’s Prayer.” It was all I could offer her as she slowly slipped away to meet her Savior.
When my friend left this life to join the Lord in eternity, her family asked me to officiate at her funeral service. I was honored to fulfill the request but terrified as well. I had never fulfilled such duties before, and I was overwhelmed with the reality. But the family was kind and considerate; they allowed me to journey with them in their time of loss, and I gave their loved one the best memorial I could as I relied on the strength of the Lord.
Never before had the words of the Lord’s Prayer resonated so clearly in my mind and heart. A co-worker had always said to me: “If ever you can’t sleep or don’t have the words to pray, just say the Lord’s Prayer.” The Lord taught us how to pray, after all, and what better example than to speak the words He provides for us in the Scriptures.
When it came time to record The Dawn, there was no question how the album would end. But there was a great deal to consider if we were going to record this anthem acapella. The producer told me that it might mean several takes in the studio without a clear, usable version. We both knew how challenging it would be to punch in and out to perfect the vocals when pitch and phrasing would have to be on point. There was no margin for error, and we needed the right settings in place on the microphone if we were going to make it happen.
On vocal day, I powered through the first ten songs. Some required multiple takes; some were a bit more straightforward. By the time we got to track eleven, I knew my voice was fatigued. For a moment, I debated scrapping the whole idea for “The Lord’s Prayer.” Only the producer and I would really know the difference— whether it was on the album or not. But then I thought of my sweet, elderly friend and her parting words: “Before we say goodbye…”
It was then I knew that I had to try. So I took a deep breath and gave it my best effort, just as I had done when I officiated at the funeral. Three takes later, we had a promising recording and vocal day was complete. It seemed fitting to conclude the recording process with the timeless message of “The Lord’s Prayer.” I truly believe it was the best way to commemorate a project rooted in God’s promises and His faithfulness through suffering. As the “Amen” is uttered at its conclusion, it brings closure to the entire album. From the first track of high praise to the final “Amen,” The Dawn is a prayer— a longing for hope and peace.
“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

 

It will not Let me Go: “Let the Music Linger” Song Story

February, 2017 began uneventfully. The middle of winter has never been my favorite time of year, and so as you might expect, I was longing for Spring. I was planning out The Dawn, but there was nothing pressing on the horizon. I was scheduled to play at a few funerals, so I was kept busy with music memorization and piecing together routine Sunday morning services. Everything was typical… pretty ordinary.
Until February 15…
I returned home from providing music at a funeral and went through the motions of practicing for the upcoming Sunday service. Then I made my way into the kitchen to prepare dinner. It was while I was waiting for my meal to finish cooking that I checked Facebook. And that’s when the world came to a devastating stand-still.
I was scrolling through friends’ posts when I saw something that stole my breath. There were several posts regarding my friend, John. I scrolled down his timeline, reading things like: “RIP,” “You will be missed,” “I love you…” The posts went on and on, and I began to shake. This couldn’t be real. But the more I read, the more I began to comprehend that it must be real. All of these people were mourning the loss of my dear friend, and I didn’t know anything.
What had happened? Had he been ill? Where was he when he died? These may not seem like questions a close friend would be asking, but the truth was, I didn’t know a lot about John’s activities. He was a concert organist, and quite often, he was traveling. Although we stayed connected through Facebook, email, texts, and phone calls, we didn’t see each other in person very frequently. He lived in New York, and I was in Wisconsin. Throughout our seven-year friendship, we had only been together in person on two occasions.
We may not have connected often, but when we interacted, it was meaningful and memorable. John was one of those people who made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. Music brought us together, and he was my cheerleader of sorts. When he learned I was a songwriter, he made it his mission to ask about my creative process.
“Have you written any songs lately?” he would ask early on in many of our conversations.
“No,” I would often respond. “I’ve been really busy.”
Sometimes, I would make other excuses: I hadn’t been inspired, it was too difficult, I didn’t have any ideas, etc. But John didn’t accept those excuses. “You’re a songwriter,” he would tell me. “Songwriters write songs. So go write something.”
I’ve said it before. Songwriting doesn’t come easily to me. I really have to be intentional to make it happen. In the seven years that I knew John, I only wrote a handful of songs, and you’ve probably guessed it by now, but the excuses continued. When I started leading worship at FRC, crafting arrangements and memorizing songs took priority, and songwriting was shoved to the back burner.
When I learned that John had passed away, I trembled at the reality. I had never made any contact with John’s family, so I had to rely on the posts from friends to piece everything together. It was weeks before I saw an obituary, and it wasn’t until I read the words “funeral” and “in memory,” that it began to sink in. It was hard to imagine that my songwriting cheerleader would no longer call me again and encourage me to create. The loss was staggering.
It was a week after reading those initial Facebook posts when I woke up in the middle of the night to a striking, haunting melody. The lyrics “Please, will you stay with me” were a constant refrain in my consciousness as well, and I found I couldn’t sleep any longer. Frustrated, I rolled over and willed my mind to calm so I could get some rest. I think I dozed off, but it wasn’t long before the melody and lyrics returned again. I recognized that this was probably a song that needed to be written, but I was tired and I longed to sleep. I told myself that there was no way I could forget a lyric that practically begged to be remembered: “Please, will you stay with me.” I rolled over again and tried to sleep.
At 7:00 a.m., I could no longer fight it. Sleep had eluded me, and the melody had etched itself so deeply into my heart that I didn’t need to record it to retain it. I stumbled into my home office and forced myself to put pen to paper. It was the typical songwriting process for me— messy and meticulous, but I stuck with it. Somehow, I knew this song was a gift, and John wasn’t far from my thoughts as I crafted the lyrics.
“Let the Music Linger” was unlike anything I had ever composed before. It was a song of longing— missing and loving someone deeply. It wasn’t a worship song, nor was it rooted in my typical lyrical style. In a way, it served to give me the encouragement to carry on, to write again, and sing— even as tears streamed down my face. It was startling to think that even in death, John had cheered me on to compose something so special that I longed for him to hear it.
In the coming months, I worked on the album at a feverish pace. “Let the Music Linger” was the fourth song we tackled in the studio, and it was set aside pretty early on so we could focus on the songs that needed more immediate attention. It wasn’t until August, 2018 that we started working on final mixes, and I heard “Let the Music Linger” in its completed state for the first time in months.
I was alone in my living room, multi-tasking because the Packers were playing pre-season football and I had an album to finalize. The TV was muted and my noise-cancelling headphones were in place. The song began to play, and I was transfixed. I was concentrating on the details: balance, volume, reverb, etc… But when I heard the organ enter as the final chorus began, I was reduced to tears. I sobbed for a long time. You see, I hadn’t grieved John’s passing in a healthy way for months. I had been so busy, so focused on the album, that I had forgotten how to embrace the music and the gift that this song had given me.
“Let the Music Linger” was a song that needed to be written. It wouldn’t let me go that first night in my bedroom, and as we finalized the album it still had a grip on me. As I dried my tears, I played the song again on repeat. I found myself smiling, and suddenly, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I had hope that the songs contained on the album would have an impact— that somehow my lyrics and lines could offer comfort and share God’s love from the depths of my own loss.
“Make the melody a memory. Let it never fade away. Let the music linger. Let it live. Let it stay.”