Running Free

To say that the beginning of 2019 has taken me by surprise would be an understatement. I am in completely new territory.

Let me explain.

Typically, I dread January’s arrival. I bask in everything December represents. I thrive in the busyness of rehearsals. I give my attention to every last detail. I sit in the glow of the Christmas lights in the evenings, but even thought it might look like I am relaxing, it is quite the opposite. I am listening to music, memorizing new material, and arranging set-lists in my head. Christmas music is beautiful, but it is difficult to play for a play-by-ear pianist. When it is December, I am running around like crazy— literally— and the wheels in my mind are turning too. I hardly ever shut down.

I’m sure other musicians, pastors, and church employees can relate to this. December is arguably the busiest time on the church calendar, with a close second maybe going to the time of Lent and Easter. When a busy season like Advent concludes, there is an immediate let-down for me. All of the songs I learned and memorized in December don’t really lend themselves to being utilized in January. I can’t just carry over into the new year with my musical momentum. Everything kind of comes to a halt.

I confess to experiencing a bit of situational depression in January. Yes, I’m working and I have a job to do, but the workload is a bit lighter and less challenging. It provides me ample time to focus on things that I let slide during December, but quite often, I’m not in a good headspace to focus on anything too important. I am usually distracted, lonely, and a bit off-track because I’ve lost some of December’s determination.

Last year, I cried when I packed away the Christmas decorations. I had embraced every beautiful moment of Christmas, 2017. I loved looking at the lights and singing songs of joy. My heart was full because my vision was healing after retina surgery, and I was excited for my upcoming album release in 2018. I had studio time scheduled for January, so I thought I would transition pretty easily from the busyness of December to an equally busy January, but the tears still came…

But as you might expect, my situational depression couldn’t last long when I had so much on the horizon. Before I knew it, I was recording, spending lots of money, and getting very little sleep. My body doesn’t respond well to stress and anxiety, but even so, I reveled in being productive. I only had two significant moments of panic and anxiety, but I was proud of myself for seeking out help when I needed it throughout the course of the year.

2018 was crazy, and life was lived at a chaotic and frenetic pace. I didn’t spend much time on Facebook, nor did I watch very much TV. A team member’s young child recommended that I watch his new favorite movie, and I promised I would— when I found the time. I am happy that I have since watched that movie— twice— and he’s right; it’s good! But for most of the year, I didn’t see much of my family and friends. It kind of reminded me of the six years I directed Camp when I was constantly working and never sleeping.

After I released The Dawn in late September, I hit the road that same week to attend a conference for work. While in Michigan, I was able to share the album with new listeners and perform/ lead worship at various events. I wasn’t embracing the same hectic pace from earlier in the year, but I was still busy and very much fulfilled.

As October moved into November, I began to look toward Christmas. But it was weird; I wasn’t as excited or motivated as I typically would be at that time of year. I even delayed putting up my Christmas tree. News of a church member’s sudden death rocked our congregation, and as I sat in the glow of the Christmas tree, I cried. I also felt saddened and burdened for the family of a missing teen just an hour’s drive from my home. Would this child return home safely? Would a grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins spend Christmas without their sweet Jayme? And what about Jayme herself? Was she okay? Was she alive?

But December wasn’t a complete loss. Before long, I became immersed in the memorization, rehearsals, and preparations. By Christmas Eve, I was my typical self— jittery, nervous, and hyper-focused. It was hard to shut down after our Christmas Eve service. For the first time in a long while, I would be traveling to visit my family in Minnesota. My typically quiet, uneventful Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree and blazing fireplace would be replaced by a two-and-a-half-hour drive. But even in the car, I couldn’t relax.

December 25 dawned with the reality that it was Christmas (yay!), but I was exhausted with a pounding headache. I guess that’s what happens when you’re speeding along at 100 miles-an-hour and you suddenly come to a stop. There was something about being in Minnesota for Christmas that also helped put the breaks on my productivity. I was away from my normal routine, and I wouldn’t be returning to work until the 30th. I also would not be leading worship the Sunday after Christmas, which was also atypical for me.

When I returned home and settled in after church on the 30th, I fully expected the first inklings of January depression to arise. But surprisingly, I found I was okay. What wasn’t okay, however, was my ankle. I began to experience excruciating pain each morning when I stepped out of bed. I had been dealing with moderate ankle discomfort for a few months already, but I had been trying to ignore it. I had worked through an ankle injury last fall, and I figured I had just exacerbated it with my walking, biking, and tapping the piano pedal.

As I packed away the Christmas decorations on January 2nd, I kept myself further occupied by doing three loads of laundry and recording practice videos for my worship team. I didn’t cry; I was too busy running around the house, somehow knowing my ankle would probably pay later for the added stress. Once everything was packed away, I settled in my recliner to watch a TV show while sipping some nonalcoholic sparkling cider. I couldn’t believe it! I was actually relaxing without the nagging January heartache. Granted, nothing had changed. There still wasn’t much to do, my ankle was very much in pain, and sweet Jayme was still missing. My prayer in the coming days was that God would help me work through the quieter days of January and that I would find purpose.

I spent nearly a week immersed in peaceful, quiet rest. I wasn’t depressed, but I was now facing a completely different reality; I was complacent. My typical day consisted of reading, listening to music, watching some TV, and limited exercise on my stationary bike. I didn’t go anywhere other than the office. In fact, I was home for such a long stretch that my smart thermostat in my living room altered me that it hadn’t heard from my phone’s location in awhile. Yeah, it hadn’t heard from my phone because my phone never moved!

The only thing that wasn’t complacent was my ankle. It made its presence known in the morning and at various points throughout the day. I tried to ignore it, convincing myself that the pain would pass, just like the dark days of January. But then I read a post on Facebook that asked those who commented to share about their new year’s resolutions. I don’t typically set new year’s goals, but I felt the nudge to find some accountability, so I posted that I wanted to be better at working on things that I could change and have a better attitude about the challenges that came my way. I realized in that moment that I had the ability to change something and the pain radiating from my ankle was the catalyst.

Thanks to the connection from one of my team members, I soon had a chiropractor appointment booked for a few days later. After two treatments and some athletic tape, I can happily report that I am feeling better, but it got me thinking— good grief; what took me so long? I had the ability to seek out help and I held off for so long. I was unnecessarily miserable, and it was all because I was too complacent to make a move and do something about it.

I recognized there is a huge difference between my 100-mile-per-hour 2018 and my seemingly stalled 2019. I went from hyper-speed to practically no movement in a matter of weeks and it drastically altered my motivation. Instead of situational depression, I had become numb to everything around me… that is until severe pain broke me out of my complacency. I chose to do something about my discomfort, and I’m hoping that this will be a good starting place for the rest of 2019. I may not be recording an album this year, but I’m sure there’s plenty ahead to keep me busy. I need to get to it, but in order to get there, I need to be mobile. So here’s to quick healing, effective treatments, and no further injury.

When my friend dropped me off at home after my most recent treatment, I made the comment that I sometimes wished I could just take off running. Realistically, I amended this by pointing out that running was hardly possible since I would probably stumble over potholes on the road and have trouble breathing thanks to my asthma, but a girl could dream about running, right? My friend laughed and said, “No, you don’t want to run. Running is bad for your knees. How about you just stick to walking and your tricycle?”

Sure, okay… but in my mind, I’ll be running free!

P.S. Jayme Closs escaped her captor and was found alive on January 10. Praise God for His faithfulness. I celebrate her safe return and I pray that she will find healing and restoration as she moves forward.

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.”

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.”