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.”