The Homecoming Friends recount the moments in their walk of faith that brought wisdom into their lives and how taking that road has made all the difference…
I’ve been a Christian now for the past 40 years. My journey has had many ups and downs, just like most people. One quality that I feel has been lacking in my life is patience! As much as I try, I feel like I need results—now. This may be an inherited characteristic or just one I’ve developed over the years. So, God is teaching me daily that patience is something I must work on. I sometimes have to sit down, take a deep breath and say “OK God, help me to just wait on You.” Many situations in life are out of our control. I don’t think I’m a control freak, but I just seem to have a problem with waiting! I feel like I’m learning to do that. And this has made me wiser.
It’s amazing to read the many times that the Bible talks about being wise. Two of my favorite scriptures lately have been Ephesians 5:17 and Ecclesiastes 7:10. I’ve always been a very lighthearted person, but sometimes I’ve found myself wearing my feelings on my shoulders. In Ephesians 5:17 it says in my Bible footnotes that understanding the will of the Lord is not based on a feeling or an emotion but from the Word of God. The more I read God’s Word, the more I understand His will in my life. Maybe it’s an “age” thing but the things that used to bother me just do not bother me anymore. When situations come my way, I just “understand” that God has it already planned out. Ecclesiastes 7:10 has stayed in my mind for so long now. Every year when New River would record an album, the next year, I would rack my brain trying to figure out how to top the last album. It took me a while to realize that I don’t have to top anything. I just keep doing what I’m doing and God will bless it as He sees fit. Then … according to His Word, understanding and knowing His will means that I haven’t seen my better days because my better days are ahead of me! So that means that I haven’t sung my best song. I haven’t written my best song. I haven’t had the best memory with my precious husband and kids. I haven’t eaten my best meal. I haven’t watched my best sunset. I haven’t laughed my best laugh. Understanding and knowing all of this definitely makes me wiser—at least I hope so!
Intimacy with God can only be achieved the same way intimacy with a friend can — it takes time, sacrifices, honesty, love, trust and communication! Throughout my journey of faith, I’ve learned to listen as well as speak, and to set aside a specific time — I love mornings with coffee, devotions and prayer — in order to remind myself daily of how important this relationship is to me and to my sense of wholeness. This sometimes means that I sacrifice some of the busy-ness of my schedule in order to do that which is necessary for me to be my very best. I take time to praise and thank God for the many, many blessings in my life. I realized early in my walk that without complete honesty with God, I’m only fooling myself. If you’re angry, tell Him; if you’re hurt, tell Him; if you’re confused or lost or simply overwhelmed, tell Him — He understands. Recently, I’ve started adding a tiny phrase to any of my prayers that I might be anxious about. I quietly add, “I trust you, Lord.” Many times we give Him our concerns and we don’t yet fully trust. And lastly, I’ve learned it’s important to have an open line of communication with God. He wants to hear from me!
I’m much wiser during this part of my journey from the cradle to the cross to the grave because of some very important things that I learned as far back as I can remember— honesty, celebration and a decent work ethic from my mama and daddy, Lillie and Ernest Sanders, back on that cotton farm in Mississippi.
By the time Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around each year, the crops were “laid by” and we could rest from the “work” (and it was work), begin the celebrating mostly in the kitchen, and honestly just enjoying it all—slipping around to hide Christmas gifts, helping Mama in the kitchen, shooting firecrackers with Mama (Daddy didn’t like the loudness)—just living out the last part of the year in traditional ways handed down from both sides of my family.
I confess we didn’t discuss the birth of Jesus, probably, as much as we talked about some other aspects of Christmas, but I really do believe Mama and Daddy and my sister, Lavern, instilled in me a love for that glorious gift of eternal life that was born in that stable by the simple ways of loving and caring and giving. It was easy to fall in love with that Jesus at age 9 ... I knew I mattered to Him because I mattered to them ... and I knew they loved me. Thankfully, I can still celebrate!
I grew up with the classic Norwegian Christmas carol “Nå vandrer fra hver en verdenskrok,” which became brand new to me in the summer of 2008. I was driving through winding roads of the hill country of southern Norway, playing one Christmas album after the otherin a search for songs for my upcoming Christmas recording. I popped in one by the Oslo Gospel Choir of which I am an original member. And there it came on the stereo and took me off guard—I was so gripped by its message, I nearly had to pull over. I thought of how the Spirit of God still draws people of all ages, ethnicities and social status to Himself, and of hearts responding, some to great adversity from their friends and family still today, to the wonder of the virgin birth in the stable crib in Bethlehem. The visual imagery of this, although not in a physical, geographical sense, but as His Spirit draws us to Himself, is a truth at which I find myself marveling.
(As a gift to Homecoming readers, Solveig is offering a free download of her new Christmas song, “Wondrous Invisible Pilgrimage,” at tinyurl.com/solveig-gift.)
Twelve years ago, I found myself in a very strange state. I had reached a point where I had become very judgmental. These “judgments” I was making began to affect my relationships and, ultimately, my marriage. My wife and I decided to go to a Christian counselor because we both felt like we had reached an impassable point.We explained our issues over a couple of sessions. The first question the counselor asked me was, “Do you have the power to send someone to Hell?” I bowed my head and cried for a long time. I knew the answer to the question. “No,” was my reply. He said, “Good, there’s hope for you!” He instructed me to ask God for forgiveness, repent, and go to these people that I had judged and apologize. That was a hard thing to do. I had always thought of myself as a humble person. Pride blinded me to the truth. I need forgiveness and so does everyone else. Everything is not black and white. My views aren’t the only views and I’m not always right. Today, I was listening to one of my favorite preachers, T.D. Jakes. He said something very profound: “God help me to see others the way you see them.” That’s wisdom!
I have found on this incredible journey that life’s road is not always straight and easy, but sometimes includes bumps and curves. The best part is that we don’t travel alone. At times we feel like we have lost our way and can’t seem to make it back. It’s during those curves and bumps that we realize our total need of this great Savior we serve and sing about. I tear up just thinking of how He has loved me and been so compassionate to me when I needed Him the most! What a wonderful thought to know that he has traveled before us and behind us and continues to be all around us! I’m blessed to have Him travel with me on this road!
I think after singing for so many years and being gone as much as we are, I’ve learned not to take my time with my family for granted. I get asked all the time, “Don’t you get tired of being around your family 24/7?” And my answer is always, “Absolutely not!” My family means the world to me, and I would die for them. I hear stories of so many children whose parents have to work long hours to keep food on the table and at times they miss out on basketball games or recitals. I’ve never had to deal with that. God has blessed me with the privilege to travel with my family and spend every day together. For that I’m forever thankful!
Growing up in this industry and constantly being under the microscope has been a tough concept for me to grasp. It’s hard, because some people don’t understand what their words can do, but because of my situation it has definitely given me tougher skin. For that I’m very grateful — and as the years go on, it’s become a lot easier to brush things off.
I started with this group — the Hopper Brothers & Connie — in 1958, the year that I graduated from high school. I didn’t know anything about gospel music, and when Claude asked me about playing, I didn’t even know that groups traveled. When he asked me, I agreed so I could keep playing — I had thought my music days were over after high school. Then, after I heard the words to the songs, I realized that it was a lot more than music. It was after that that I asked the Lord for a hunger for His Word, and He began to transform my life. I’d look around and see groups who were so successful and I thought, “We’ll never be that way.” But the Lord taught me patience and to wait on Him. I used to stay on the bus sometimes after we’d traveled so many miles, thinking, “What are we doing at this little place?” He’d give me a scripture like “Be ye not weary in well-doing, because if you faint not, you’re going to reap a harvest.”
Then when I had cancer, that’s when I really learned more about Him in another way that I’d never known before. I found out that there’s power in the name of Jesus. The word “cancer,” is a trauma. When you’re a young person and nobody in your family has ever had it, that word just possesses you, day and night. Satan is always there to say, “This is the end of you.” But the Bible says if you submit yourself to God and resist the devil, he’s gotta flee, and I would just pound the bed and say, “Satan, get out of my mind,” and he’d leave. I’d do it in the name of Jesus, because I knew I didn’t have any power. And I would fill my mind up with the words of faith. I like to tell people, “Don’t get ahead of God. Be patient and wait to see where He wants you to go, because He will make a way for you.” God has a word for whatever we need — if you look in His Word and read and pray and ask Him, He’s got some encouragement.
I’ve learned some things in the past several months, and a lot of it started when I took the job with Gaither and my life got really hectic … I’m still full-time at Bethel University. But looking back over the past year — I’m living the dream, the job of my dreams. I was so caught up in anticipation and worry and doubt — all those things. I wish now that I could go back and change that. Something that I’m working on is not missing what God is trying to show me today and to recognize the blessings He’s giving me and enjoy them.
Growing older, as a 28-year-old now, I’m starting to realize, “Slow down and take it all in.” I try not to worry as much and try to make the most important things take precedence over the other stuff. Even though I’m on the road a lot, my wife and kids are number one — so important. People have told me often how proud they are of me for being the piano player for Bill Gaither. And believe me, I appreciate that so much. But do you know what’s more important? I get to go home every week to a very supportive and loving wife and two gorgeous, healthy children. The most important thing is for me to live my life as a husband and father in such a way that when my kids get to the age of accountability, I can lead them to Christ. That’s the important thing; it doesn’t matter how fast I can play the piano or how many licks I can do or the suits that I wear or any of that. I have made it to my pinnacle — growing up, all I wanted to do was to play for Bill Gaither, and you know what? I’m still not completely satisfied. And that’s what I’ve found. You cannot stake your hopes, dreams and futures on anybody! It’s got to be Christ-centered.
I’ve become wiser from circumstances and experiences that I have come through and trials that I have overcome in the past five or six years — wisdom doesn’t happen overnight — it happens when you really understand that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I love these quotes: “Fear and faith have something in common — they both ask us to believe in something we cannot see” and “What you fear the most reveals where you trust God the least.”