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In the darkness, I fumbled around under the covers, desperately searching. Finally, my panicked fifteen-year-old hands clutched it: the bright orange New Testament from the Gordons. The rational part of my brain knew that it did nothing to actually bring me safety, but it represented the safety I hoped would get me through the dark night. “Dear Jesus, please protect me,” I would pray. I needed God’s protection from the demons (“spirit guides”) that were living across the hall in my brother’s bedroom. I needed deliverance from the temptation to call out to Satan or try to “crossover” or astral travel.
I now know that these were what mental health professionals would call “intrusive thoughts,” and that my severe anxiety from having a brother pursuing the occult and Wicca was causing me to develop compulsions. Among these compulsions were a nighttime attachment to my tiny, orange New Testament and praying whenever I passed a graveyard – which I unfortunately I had to do every time I went to (and returned from) church four times a week.
While I lived a life far more sheltered than most, I was very versed in everything that could be known about Wicca and the occult, as my parents went through the immense grief of trying to parent a newly-adult child who was rejecting everything he had been taught and embracing the darkest of evils.
These are a bit of a blur to me. There were times he lived with us. There were times he didn’t. There were times he disappeared with no notice. There were times he showed up out of the blue.
I fasted. Even when I wasn’t fasting, I struggled to eat. I prayed. I lived in terror. We talked and talked and talked as a family. I overheard scary conversations whispered in hushes. I cried…a lot. We all did. I observed both of my parents sobbing, the depths of grief unlike anything I had ever observed to that point (or since). Those were dark days.
Then would come the even darker nights. I would grasp the New Testament tightly, my own talisman of protection. If I struggled to find sleep, I would pray prayer obsessively: “Dear Jesus, please protect me, in the name of Jesus.” I knew that the name of Jesus had power to make the demons flee. It became another supernatural thing I clung to. Ironically, an instrumental version of Your Great Name is currently playing on Pandora as I type this paragraph.
Every fear has no place
At the sound of Your great name
The enemy: he has to leave
At the sound of Your great name
When sleep didn’t come, I would recite Bible verses, like Psalm 4:8: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.”
Then, I would quietly sing hymns. On these darkest of nights, I began hearing new tunes for the familiar lyrics. The first was for the hymn Whiter Than Snow. Next came More About Jesus. I began using NoteWorthy Composer, music notation software to write out sheet music for these new tunes. Our church began to use some of my arrangements, including two two-part arrangements I did for our kid’s choir: To God be the Glory and Who Is On the Lord’s Side? For my 18th birthday, my parents bought me new notation software, Finale. I continued arranging hymns, like the verses of He the Pearly Gates Will Open. By the time I graduated in May of 2005 at the age of 18, I had written my first original song, which I sang for my homeschool graduation ceremony.
Among my similarly sheltered peers, I had higher ambitions than most. I wanted to go to Bible college (most of my friends planned to stay at home under the authority of their father’s until marriage), study church music ministry, and hoped that God would bring me a husband who was in vocational ministry, or as I would have called it then, “full time Christian service.” I hoped to serve alongside my husband in ministry as a church pianist. I also had dreams of seeing some of my music published through some of the Christian music publishing companies I knew of then, a dream which came to fruition in the following few years. I had More About Jesus published in a duet book produced by the Bill Rice Ranch, and Who Is On the Lord’s Side? published as loose sheet music through Grace for All Publications.
When the music fades…
But while I was seeing these two songs published (and submitting others), the song slowly went out of my heart. A broken courtship and having to leave Bible college rocked my faith. Being told my hard work wasn’t good enough and I needed to get more serious as a music major was devastating, and the 20+ hours a week I spent in tiny practice rooms and unheated auditoriums for 3 semesters of college left left me with nothing but embers. For a few years, I shifted my attention and efforts to writing love songs. First there was the song I wrote for our wedding. Then, it was love songs for military wives, like We Never Say Goodbye, with two additional songs being made “YouTube public” with A Hero’s Wife and The Best Gift of All.
I kept trying to cling to the gift, teaching piano lessons and attempting (and sometimes failing) to insert myself into church music programs as we bounced from one church to another. But in my personal life, I spent most of the time listening to secular country or pop music or worse – Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), often blasting it on the way to church, then turning it down just before I pulled into the parking lot of my fundamentalist church. In 2011 and 2012, I had a brief opportunity to be a pianist for the local chapter a multi-denominational Christian Bible study organization for military wives, which meant trying to teach myself how to play contemporary music and understand syncopation.
Most of that came to a halt when Ezra (who was a toddler) began showing a lot of symptoms of sensory distress. I began to go months without touching my piano. I was filled with so much guilt that something that used to be such a big part of my life – and a true love – was reduced to almost nothing. I even purged my music collection in 2014.
But God was faithful in pursuing me, drawing me back to Himself. As I began to have a fuller understanding of the gospel, I moved from anger and skepticism into faith and freedom. Spiritual healing and emotional healing came slowly but steadily. Music was a big part of that. Feeling God’s love for me through music was then augmented by music that was more focused on doctrine (particularly the music of Sovereign Grace Music), tracks that ran parallel to what I was finally understanding about what the gospel meant for me in my daily living.
In 2017, I was given the opportunity to be a substitute pianist at our church, a role which increased in frequency through 2018 and 2019. In 2020 I was asked to take over the role full-time. As I settled into the role and our music director realized my arranging skills, I began adding arranging projects back into my free time, including an arrangement of O Holy Night at the end of 2020. Most of the projects are more “music surgery” than arranging, such as adding in other songs as medleys or taking lead sheets and converting them into arrangements to reflect the way our group actually sings them. I also do a lot of “transitions” between the songs we sing, sometimes involving key changes as well as extended introductions and outros. Only a fraction of these get written out, but the more complex ones do.
The Songwriters Guild & Our First Song
Members of our music team have been going to the SING! Music Conference hosted by Keith and Kristyn Getty since 2018. (I have yet to attend, because the conference is held the same week as my sons’ birthdays.) Our group comes back refreshed and inspired to learn more new music and make other positive changes to our music ministry. At the 2022 conference, the attendees were encouraged to go back to their own churches and begin writing music of their own. Thus, our music director selected an individual (who has an immense love for poetry) to facilitate such a group.
Our Songwriters Guild is made up of people from ages 17 to nearly 70. It’s been amazing to see what God has been able to do with this group, and to see the gifts that we all bring to the table. Our group started meeting in November of 2022. November is basically the worst time for me to take on anything new, because I’m drowning in learning new songs that our music director brought back from SING! while simultaneously learning a bunch of new music for Christmas. Knowing my limits, I opted not to participate until after the holidays were over.
Our youngest fellow guild member introduced lyrics for a song he wanted to do based on Psalm 118, and the guild already had potential tune. When I was finally able to attend in the new year, I was able to notate what they had started and helped to shape the melody for a chorus.
We then spent a lot of time trying (rather unsuccessfully) to nail down lyrics for this song, while consuming copious amounts of coffee and making a lot of jokes about bees. (See Psalm 118:12)
Our church spent 6 months pursuing a potential church merger. This brought a lot of emotional work and new music to learn, and I had to step back from the guild again. The group kept meeting, continuing to work on the Psalm 118 lyrics as well as some other songs. At a meeting in July, I again helped with the Psalm 118 music, but most of that meeting was still stuck on the lyrics for several lines, which seemed to elude us. I also spent a few hours spread out over the months working on the accompaniment, adding the additional verses (what we had of them at least) and adding a key change (in my head – I hadn’t gotten around to notating it).
On September 11, 2023, the group met (without me) and declared the lyrics to be finished, but they had scrapped the key change and 3rd verse and added a bridge.
Just a few days later, on September 16, our music director (who is a part of the guild) informed us that our pastor would be preaching through Psalm 118 in the month of November. To my knowledge, he was unaware of us working on a song based on Psalm 118, nor were we aware of his sermon plans until that date. This revelation came on the heels of a tumultuous August and early September in which it became evident that the church merger was not meant to be. The timing was definitely God-ordained. I think it gave us all something to focus on anew and gave us hope for the future of our church.
With the merger not happening, I also now had more mental and emotional space to devote to the project. I work well under deadlines, and I began working anew on the song in earnest. But every time I sat down with the music, I struggled to understand the new format of the song (without the 3rd verse and key change). Sunday night of September 24, 2023, I fell asleep humming the song and heard, clearly, some very interesting chord progressions that we could use on the chorus, that were far different than anything else we had used. I realized either that night or the next morning that the chord progression was familiar – something out of a Beethoven piece used on a story set to music called Beethoven Lives Upstairs that I had listened to as a child. On Monday, September 25th, I spent the first hour of my free time while the boys were at their homeschool co-op combing through YouTube recordings of Beethoven Lives Upstairs to try to find the piece, which I finally did. Then I Googled it to find sheet music, identified the particular chords, then attempted to fit them into the existing accompaniment. It gave the Psalm 118 a very different color in places, and I was ecstatic.
On Thursday, September 29th, our music director (who is the strongest vocalist on the music team and really the only vocalist in the guild) came over to show me what the group had done at the last meeting, to look over what I had done, and to try to piece something together. After reviewing all the existing versions of the song and the lyrics, we decided to go back to having a third verse and key change. She also approved of my “Beethoven Chords.” By our next guild meeting on October 6th, I had the accompaniment done except for the last 8 measures.
I’d love to tell you that it was smooth sailing after that; but honestly, that’s where the hard work began. As I’m the only person in the guild with the knowledge of and access to music notation software, the work of turning our ideas into music that could be used and performed in our church fell to me. This meant finishing the score, adding chords notation to the score, using said chords to make chord sheets for our guitarists (in two separate keys), a lead sheet for our flute player, and a hymn sheet for the congregation. I still also need to write a keyboard reduction (which I’ve started, but not finished). So basically, I was drowning in music notation for the next month.
I learned a LOT from the process, particularly all the ins and outs of what my software could do. Even after using it for almost 18 years (and upgrading it throughout those years), there was still much I didn’t know how to do – or even that I COULD do. So that was exciting, in a very exhausting way. The work was meticulous and draining, and after spending 2 hours on one tricky measure on the hymn sheet the other night, I called my mom in tears of exhaustion.
I don’t tell this part of the story to gain any sort of extra praise or recognition at all. This song truly was a collaborative project. I didn’t have the idea for it, write the rough draft of the lyrics, or even come up with most of the tune. Every. Single. Person. (there were eight of us) who worked on this song made significant contributions; so much so that most of us can’t remember which lyrics came from whom.
I tell this part of the story because it was in that phone call with my mom when she reminded me of my college training, my desires as a teenager, and the fact that this is exactly where God has wanted me to be. She also reminded me of all of the things I was telling myself: above all, this song was for HIS glory. And HE will receive the glory whether my scores are perfect or the audience knows how to sing a duplet!
We debuted this song to our congregation this past Sunday, November 5th, just before our pastor preached his first sermon based on Psalm 118. Our music director sang the verses, and the rest of the team (and then the audience) sang the choruses. It was incredible, and the congregation participated in worship with us with all of their hearts.
The Redemption in the Song
I was nervous as I was doing my hair and makeup that Sunday morning. (Nervous, mostly, because I tend to write accompaniments that hard enough that I actually have to practice them quite a lot to play them skillfully!) But as I was going through the song in my head, thinking through the things my mom and I had talked about, I was overwhelmed at how God has brought me to this place. I also had another realization:
The song I wrote for my graduation was based on Exodus 15:2, my life verse, and part of what is known as the “Song of Moses.”
“The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”
Before the world began,
God had for me a plan,
He fashioned me and made me by His hand;
He wanted me to serve Him,
To glorify His name;
Now His will is my ambition,
His design, my only aim.
Take me, Lord, and use me;
I give my life to you.
I’ll honour You and to Your Word be true.
Strengthen me and teach me
To do Thy perfect will,
To follow in Your footsteps,
Your calling to fulfill.
I will exalt Him,
My Strength and my Song!
I will exalt Him,
A charge I have that I must keep:
A God to glorify, my God to glorify,
A God to glorify, I will exalt Him!
Here are the lyrics to the song from our guild based on Psalm 118:
Let us give thanks to the Lord
Steadfast love that endures forever
In the Lord we will take refuge
We will not be afraid
When surrounded by all of the nations
We sing glad songs of salvation
In my distress, the Lord answered
And freed me from prison and chains.
He’s my Song in the night, My salvation
The Author of all my days
Oh, hold fast to me, Lord, I pray
You’re my Refuge, my Rock, and my Strength
Open the gates of the Lord
Come recount all His marvelous deeds
The name of the Lord is exalted
His right hand does valiantly
The light of the Lord shines upon us
He’s the cornerstone of the Righteous
The love of the Lord endures
Yes, the love of the Lord endures
Oh Lord, we give You thanks
We will praise You all our days
We rejoice and are glad on this day You have made
You stand by our side as our Helper and Aide
For the love of the Lord…
Are you seeing the similarities? I asked my pastor if Psalm 118 was a quote from Exodus 15, this is what he said: “It was common for Hebrew praise to reference the rescue from Egypt as an
example of God’s deliverance. If it was a thing in that time – we would not have been surprised to see a footnote referencing Exodus 15 in the text of the 118th Psalm.”
Something further fascinating to me. I began writing music when I was 16, a scared girl who found comfort in God – my “song in the night.” The originator of our Psalm 118 song was our youngest guild member, who began writing this song when he was 16. This is what he says about the song:
“I was fasting one day and with fasting comes Scripture reading. And while at work I was reading some Scripture when I stumbled upon this psalm and each line just kept resonating with me. This all happened around the time the guild started so that’s why I started writing it and sent it in.”
I can’t wait to continue to watch this young man grow and see what further ways God continues to use his talents. God has used him, our Songwriters Guild, and our music team in my life to bring me back to “my song in the night.”