This post is going to be long with links. Someone wanted audio, so I'm going to use audio to tell the story of my journey of faith, among a few other things. It's never really been told here. It should have been a long time ago. Now that I'm recovering from my surgery and ready to plunge back into singing, it is time to tell it.
Music has been a significant part of my faith since I was a little girl. My mother's mom and stepdad were active in the local church: he in the prison ministry and on various committees and she in managing the library and the newsletter. They both loved music, and Mom was one of the church pianists. So from the time I could stand, I heard music in the house, and it was almost always church music. Until I was a preteen, we were in the church almost anytime it was open. I soaked up what was going on there and wanted to be a part of it. It was the world I knew, and it was the world I intended to join.
When my preteen years began, my parents became slightly less active in church. They maintained their faith; but intensive work schedules often prohibited us from attending the midweek service which I had come to appreciate. I was beginning to care about the idea of having a relationship with God; and when I was 12 years old, that care resulted in a decision to be baptized and commit my life to Christ. I had been singing in children's musicals for several years; but I wanted to begin singing specials. Music was an emotional outlet for me, and it soon became a spiritual one as well.
My participation in music was both a joy and a difficult thing emotionally during my adolescent years. I was already struggling with chronic sinus illness--a doctor told my parents when I was 15 years old that my sinuses were 90 percent blocked and I probably had no idea what it was like to feel well. I was nearly always drugged on antihistamines and decongestants, but they furnished limited results. I was also an extremely anxious child, and the anxiety traveled straight to my voice. I remember falling asleep one evening listening to my mom talk with a lady from church who was visiting. She was the mother of another girl in the youth group who was an average singer. Our mothers were gushing over yet another girl in the youth group and what a beautiful voice she had. I stayed "asleep." I wished that I had a pretty voice, not a raspy one that made me sound like I needed to blow my nose 24 hours a day. I spent several years straining to broaden my vocal abilities without success--until I found a voice teacher who knew how to make me relax emotionally. The result was something I could not believe. The difference is evident in a recording of a song I sang in church just after my 15th birthday, Cornerstone, and a recording of a song from a school performance two years later, Anything for You.
Moving away from the Houston area likely helped significantly with some of the cause of my sinus problems: mold allergy. I spent my first two years of undergraduate school here in Indiana, studying music and church ministry. I wish now that I had not had such low self-esteem during that time... With some good vocal instruction, I might have accomplished what I had always wanted to do: singing professionally as a ministry. I was terrified of criticism; and I settled into the music business department, focusing my energies on music production and composition. Neither of these things are bad goals, and I was capable. Unfortunately, my life was very rocky emotionally during this time. I lost my remaining vision and got into theological squabbles with my dorm-mates over the topic of divine healing. My grandmother died during my sophomore year; and during her brief but intense battle with cancer, I learned the meaning of spiritual discernment as well as grief. I expressed it, of course, in a song which became fodder for my audio production class. I wasn't taught to use the equipment independently, and it was difficult to express in words what I heard in my head to the person assisting me. I got a D on the project. My family enjoyed the recording, and in fact there are certain aspects of it that they keep asking me to duplicate when I do it over today. I have never been able to. Here is the song: Days Ago.
I ended up transferring out of AU and spent several years at a state university in East Texas, where my allergies were horrible but I did return to voice lessons. While there, I also learned to appreciate the Pentecostal church, which was quite different from the churches where I had grown up. The church where I had spent my childhood was a hymn-singing church with choral numbers on Sunday mornings and a more "laid back" format on Sunday evening. If you were a child or a contemporary singer, you sang on Sunday evening, at least until the late 1980s. The congregation were quite enthusiastic singers, but most had grown up in glee clubs or choirs and were classical singers if they were musical at all. And hymn singing is vastly different from contemporary praise singing.
So imagine my surprise to get into the Pentecostal church, where the harmonies are extra tight and people sing with their chest voice at full volume--and quite often there are drums and guitars on Sunday mornings! I was never very comfortable with the practice of congregational speaking in tongues, but I tolerated it because of the things that drew me to the Pentecostal church.
And why was I drawn there? Because I was still wrestling with that theological debate over divine healing. It wasn't an easy thing to settle in my mind. The story runs through a number of entries in this LJ, and I should probably tell it separately. I bring it up here because it is relevant to my musical story.
My experience in the Pentecostal church was both helpful and troubling. I met some mature people there who knew how to talk about matters of deep faith without swaying me. I also met quite a few who did not. In time, I left the Pentecostal church and wandered. I spent about a year in a nondenominational church before returning to a Church of God congregation. This was a very troubled period of my life, and my time in Texas ended in a year-long separation from my husband and, ultimately, a divorce in 1998. The divorce was final shortly after I moved with my parents here to Indiana in July, 1998.
So I arrived in Indiana a very broken person in need of a lot of healing. I initially thought that I should attend a separate church from my parents in order to develop my own network of friends. It didn't work. "Community" did not develop despite some very aggressive efforts on my part over six months. Finally, I caved in and went to church with my parents.
My initial experience there was a mixed blessing. I was accosted by a greeter who forgot about greeting and took advantage of the opportunity to make me her personal informant on blindness. I was terrified of attending such a big church, and this did nothing to allay my fears. In fact, it made them worse.
But I heard this kind of music, and I was mesmerized. Contemporary worship with a classical feel... I could like this!
And then the Scripture was read... And I recognized that voice. It couldn't be... There was no way... But it was. It was an old friend from AU, now working on staff as the children's ministry director. I leaned over and told my dad that we absolutely must find her after church. He doubted that we could but said we would try.
We did find J.J. She and I began renewing our friendship, and that renewal led to opportunities for me to become active in the big church I had been so afraid of. I joined the choir, which J.J. was directing in the absence of a minister of music. In time, we gained a well-respected minister of music, and I developed a very positive relationship with him. I began singing lead on some songs with the choir in early 1999, beginning with a bit lead on a piece called All I Know. My struggle with chronic respiratory illness was in full force by this time, and I often sang when I was ill. I could never have done this when I was young; and looking back, I am amazed at some of the things I did.
On June 18, 2000, I had an opportunity that I never dreamed I would have. We had been singing songs originally recorded by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and Steve had a knack for picking me to do the lead on songs originally done by Damaris Carbaugh. I am no Damaris Carbaugh, but apparently he thought the songs fit my voice quality. On this day, I was to do the lead on a song called "All that You Need is Jesus"--in all three services. And we were having a guest speaker. The guest was a man named Duane Miller whose story had become widely known in the mid-1990s. He had lost his voice after a bout of the flu, and his voice loss was considered to be permanent. However, after three years, he was miraculously healed while he was teaching a Sunday school class with his remaining raspy voice--and the event was recorded. He had written a book about his experience called Out of the Silence. I read the book in 1998, during a time when I was battling yet another vision loss and (again) struggling with questions about the issue of divine healing; and his story had touched me deeply. It didn't touch me because he had been healed. It touched me because he knew what it was to experience the disability-related hassles I experienced every day of my life. At that time in my life, I desperately needed to know that someone else knew this, especially someone who was not blind. Oddly enough, even people with other disabilities sometimes get relegated to the status of "sighted people" in my mind until I realize that they, too, struggle as I have struggled.
So singing in those services was a privilege that I treasured deep in my heart. And I was not going to let bronchitis and a 101 fever stop me! (Perhaps all that I needed was Jesus... Then again, I went home and slept a really good sleep!) Here is the recording of All That You Need is Jesus.
This is probably enough for now. I need a break to figure out where to go from here.