Three years ago, I interned at a church and met a woman there named Annie. Although we are very different in many ways, Annie and I instantly became friends. So what happens when a black woman in her sixties meets a white guy in his thirties? They form a rock band, of course. Actually, a gospel/blues/rock/funk/soul band. Does the genre really matter?
I’ve been playing guitar for almost twenty years. After playing in a couple of bands during and just after college, I became a basement legend over the next ten years. I had no one to play with, work and life happened, and the guitar became an afterthought.
Annie has wanted to be a singer since she was a teenager. We found that we both really enjoyed blues and gospel music, so we decided to get together and see what would happen. Annie doesn’t play any instruments and doesn’t know any music theory. She had some lyrics, I had some melodies. We also met someone at church who played harmonica, so we all met a few times and just started jamming. Several possible songs started to emerge.
A couple of months into our journey, we were practicing at the church. At this point, I had not really paid attention to where Annie’s lyrics were coming from. I was too busy trying to fake not being rusty on guitar after a decade of inactivity. Our harmonica player left to go to the bathroom. While he was gone, I started playing something that I came up on my own a few days prior. Annie liked it and told me to keep playing it.
She reached into her bag, pulled out a manila folder, found a piece of notebook paper with a bunch of scribbles on it, and started singing over what I was playing. She came up with fully formed verses and a chorus on the fly based on the lyric ideas from that piece of paper. We had a nearly-completed song by the time the harmonica player got back from the little boy’s room.
I learned that Annie had been writing down these lyrics as they came to her for many years. She flipped quickly through some of the sheets in that manila folder, and I noticed that she would put dates on them to indicate when she wrote the lyrics. Some were five years ago, ten years ago… a few dated back to the 1990’s. God had been giving Annie lyrics for years, and she had been patiently stashing them in this folder, just waiting for a musician to come along and help her put them to music.
And then, having learned a bit about Annie’s life story, I started putting the pieces together. Some of those lyrics were dated during times when Annie’s life was really tough… even at the proverbial “rock bottom”. God spoke to her even when she was straying far from God, and she would still write it all down, put a date on it, and save it. Every song tells a story, but there’s an even deeper story behind each story.
The deeper story is about God’s faithfulness. Today, we often prioritize our theology to talk about having “faith in God”. Not nearly enough is made of the faithfulness of God. Like a lot of us, Annie grew up in the church. A lot of us have faith in God, and for better and for worse, it is often framed as a one-time decision that we made at a point in time. As we get further removed from the starting points or high points in our journey, our faith often loses steam. But God’s faithfulness to us never loses steam. It never runs out of vibrant energy that pursues us in spite of our circumstances, our poor decisions, or even our rebellion.
When Annie was at rock bottom, God kept on speaking and was never closer. Looking back at my life, when I was at or near rock bottom, God was never more available and open to me. The problem wasn’t that God had been hiding from me, but that I needed to hear the thumping sound of my self-sufficiency hitting the pavement for me to depend on God again. That songwriting session was a very real reminder of just how unfailing God’s faithfulness to us is.