The best songs can hold memories of people and places. Many of my songs are my own personal memories, or firsthand experiences. Empathy and a good book can fuel better songs. As we live our life—weddings, funerals, struggle, travel, culture—the more we take in, the more we have to pour out.
And the most central influence on my writing has been Scripture itself. God’s Word has informed the way I interpret the world, the way I engage in relationships, and in the way I feel about what I sing. At the intersection of songs and Scripture, I have found friendship with Jesus. He has been beside me from those early days in the passenger van until this very day as I type these words sitting on the porch. He is with us before we realize it, before we cry out to Him, before we know even how to reciprocate His pursuing affections.
William Gadsby has a published hymnal that I have worn out. It’s formatted as poems without music, which makes it a useful resource for melody writing. I have set a few of these to music since my friend Kevin handed me my first, blue copy of Gadsby’s Hymns. This one has been in rotation for me since 2005:
“Jesus the Lord my Savior is, my shepherd and my God, my life, my strength, my joy, my bliss. And I his grace record.
And through the wilderness I roam, his mercy I’ll proclaim
Until I safely reach my home, I’ll still adore his name.
Mercy and truth and righteousness and peace most richly meet
In Jesus Christ the King of Grace, in whom I stand complete.”
– William Gadsby, “Jesus The Lord My Savior Is,” from my album, The Builder and The Architect (2005)
living records of God’s grace
Our lives are a living record of God’s grace as we have seen it with our own eyes. Sometimes it is clear and sometimes we can see it only in retrospect. When we’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to get our bearings, hard to know what’s meaningful or if our compass is accurate. We record His grace. He guides us home, through the wilderness, directing us along the way.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you . . . your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” – Isaiah 30:18,20-21, ESV
We often have to wait, to be still to hear His voice. And I love that this verse says that the Lord waits (that line could also be translated “the Lord longs”). Given the choice, I would not choose to wait. But He demonstrates the way to walk. He sets the pace. I’m slowly learning to rely on what I have seen and what I have come to trust. God is good. What we have seen and experienced becomes a doorway back home, back to the beginning.
When I remember back to the middle seat of the passenger van where I sat when I was a kid on vacation, I can bring insights as I have lived years in the growing confidence of God’s presence—“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word, just to rest upon his promise, just to know, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’”
Trust grows in every patient circumstance. Pain shines brightest in the places of darkness, in the places when we feel our limits of control.
Marked and Remembered
Author Dan Allender proposes that there are two fundamental questions that spring up in all of us from our childhood, “Am I loved? And can I get what I want?” In my relationship with God, I am frequently asking these two sacred questions.
When our perspective is limited, when we see things from one spot, it would be easy to assume that your story goes unseen. But your life is seen, marked and remembered. God holds and guides us as He shows Himself most vividly in the middle of the wilderness when we feel lost. It is in those times especially, He shows His skill as a master Teacher.
In Genesis 1, God made Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into his lungs. Then He took a rib from Adam while he slept and made Eve right there beside Adam. We’ve been imprinted by these two original parents, this creation narrative. We’ve been given this divine life and breath in our lungs, too.
We are made to be beside each other and to breathe out God’s divinely given life. Whatever continent you are from, whether you grew up in church, left home early, quit your job, quit your dreams, this is God’s invitation. Maybe you still haven’t found what you’re looking for. Or maybe you found it and then some providential freight train tore right through the center of your life and you’re not sure if what you were looking for can be put back together again.
From the days when I sat in the center seat of our family van, I have come to know God’s Spirit to be a patient teacher, who is still at work within me in ways that I do not fully understand.
“It’s in my blood, it’s in my hands
This is my great-grandfather’s land
The earth is sacred where we lightly walk
From there to here.
Half of a floor left and some rusted nails
A run down shed and a dry well
A sleeping history of generations
From there to here.
This is where I’m from
We will pass it on
So take it as it comes
It belongs to me.”
(From my album Gypsy Flat Road, 2001)
No matter where you are from, God’s light carries us all from our earliest days all the way through. God’s light is determined, and it will bring us into His radiance. Though the beginning of your story may not recall scenes from a family van, a Missouri farm, or a big family, wherever your story began, you have been attended by God’s presence, even in times you may not have seen or named before.
God is a patient teacher, who is ever at work within you and me—perhaps in ways we do not fully understand. He sends out His light through Scripture and songs, dawning on us all in different cadences and through different passages at different times. Yet one thing remains certain and common for us all: He is making a soundtrack of grace in our lives.
This post was adapted from Sandra McCracken’s new book, Send Out Your Light.