A wise and insightful mentor once gave me this observation from her years of working with people: most people get into trouble because they hang on to what they should let go of and let go of what they should hang on to.

Now, as I look back on our experience with artists, students, friends and audiences from all walks of life, I have found this statement to be true. And in my own life I would have to admit that my failures and successes, my growth spurts and setbacks can be traced to my own choices of what to hang on to and what to let go of.

Great wisdom of the ages should not be disregarded lightly. The book of Proverbs is full of warnings and encouragements focused on what to hang on to and what to let go of. And Jesus was wisdom, walking — so much so that many biblical scholars suggest that we could substitute the name of Jesus for the word “wisdom” as we read through Proverbs. In the gospels we see Him living out the “cling to” and “relinquish” tension with every breath.

The great saints, the prophets and many deep seekers who have gone to the desert or the seashore to step back from the politic of life and current skewed public opinion to gain perspective, have given us stories and poetry, songs and principles for living in the hopes we who have come after them could steer a clearer course and avoid some of the “shipwrecks” they had in trying to find their way.

There is a recent movie, intended for children, called Frozen. Nearly every 3-year-old in America (and, I would venture, their parents and grandparents, too!) can sing every word of the theme song, “Let It Go!” If anyone had brought us the lyrics to this song, suggesting it would be perfect for a kids’ movie, we would have undoubtedly rejected it for being too complicated and profound for a child. But never underestimate the mind of a child. The kids “get” this song!

“Let it go! Let it go!” the children sing, spinning around with their hands in the air just like the ice princess. And, indeed, even children are experiencing in our culture the discovery that there are hurtful things, things out of their control, that they must “let go” if they want to survive and move on unencumbered.

I guess I am hoping for a sequel hit that says, “Hold it close! Hold it close! Never let this treasure go!” Because as important as it is to let go of grudges, pain, betrayals, hurtful memories, damaging habits and untrue beliefs, there are some things we must hold on to.

For a short list, the words of Paul are a good place to start:

Now that you look back over your life, what did you hang on to for too long that you wish you had let go, and what did you let go of that you wish you’d held on to at the time?

I held on to the belief that I could change people’s actions and behaviors through my own actions and behaviors. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get people to transform into what I wanted them to be. For a period of years, there was addiction in my family. One of the things I learned rather quickly (being the one who could see the self-destruction and potential destruction TO others) was that no matter how badly I pleaded, no matter how many boundaries I set up, I could not get them to change. I couldn’t make them want to choose sobriety and freedom over the bondage of addiction. Once I learned this concept, it set me free.

My son is going to college. I can’t believe the time has passed so quickly. I do not want to let go of my baby. I know he is 18, but I still see him as a little boy wanting me to help him with things. I know that I have to let him spread his wings and fly. It is not easy letting go. I believe that God has great things for his life and I will always be a part of his life. Letting go is hard but that is what is best for our children. Praying, trusting and believing God is in control helps me to let go when I keep wanting to hang on. I am excited to see what God has planned for my son’s life.

Hanging on/letting go … what an interesting concept! And haven’t we all struggled with it at certain times in our lives?

The season when I consumed myself with an addiction to drugs and alcohol would certainly be one I wish I had let go of long before the 14-year addiction had taken its toll. Thankfully, when I was finally desperate enough to reach completely to Christ, I was at able to let go of the shame and hang on to His unconditional love and overwhelming grace.

But have you noticed that deception wears many disguises? I’ve written music since I was a young teenager; composing melodies to accompany great lyrics is my passion. Somehow, after writing hundreds of songs in my career, in my late 40s I began to believe the lie that my creative days were behind me. Why I believed that nonsense is something that still baffles my thought process today!

For whatever reason, I shelved the God-given gift of creativity for over a decade. But I remember my awakening as if it were yesterday. In January of 2009, I took a look in the mirror and something in my deepest soul said, “Your gift never left you. You left your gift.”

Weeping, I immediately took that to heart and somehow made my way to our writing room and my patiently waiting piano. In less than three months, God poured the music to almost 50 songs through my listening fingers. Each composition proclaimed the story of redemption, beginning with Genesis and ascending to Revelation. Since that moment, there’s been an avalanche of creative flow and it seems there is no end in sight. I‘ve learned … He never runs out of music.

Thank God that even in moments when we let go of His gift, it never lets go of us!

The first part is easy for me — what I should have let go of before I did: I’ve had a tremendous sweet tooth all my life. I’ve always been a fairly healthy eater, except that I had a real weakness for desserts. About five years ago I was diagnosed as being diabetic, and I’ve always wondered if maybe I could have prevented that by a bit more moderation in my younger days.

And the thing I wish I’d held on to far longer than I did was my brand-new 1957 Thunderbird. I loved it and was proud of it. I ordered it, paid $2700, and the man delivered it to me in Florida, where I was singing with the Oak Ridge Quartet. I’d had it about six months when I had a flat tire. Got out to change it and couldn’t get the continental kit off the back to get to the spare tire. I got frustrated and called someone to come change the tire for me. I immediately took it to the Oldsmobile dealer and said I wanted to trade it in on a new Olds. He was delighted to make the trade. I’ve priced the ’57 T-Birds since then (wishing I could have another like it someday) and the cheapest I’ve had quoted to me is $40,000. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to kick myself since then!

I seriously racked my brain on this one ... I’m slow to move and Jeff ’s quick, but the combination really leaves us with few regrets. Neither of us could think of a time where we held on too long or let go too soon!

However, Jeff does offer this lesson: He remembers swinging out over the river when he was a kid and many times held on too long or let go too soon and landed on the bank! So there’s some Mayberry wisdom for you!

Being a list-making, ever-organizing kind of person, I have to struggle against the “what’s next” mindset. Forever looking down the road, ticking off the mental lists, I can easily miss out on the wonder of what’s right before me. I wish I had held on to the everyday moments more. Looking back, I wish I’d lingered a little longer at the craft table with my kids. How wonderful it would be to listen once again to those same old stories told by loved ones whose voices are now silenced in this life. These are the things I wish I’d held to more tightly.

If I had to choose one thing that I held on to for too long, I would say pride. Part of that inclination comes from never wanting to appear weak or needy, I suppose. Over time, brick by brick, the need to keep up appearances can construct some pretty high walls. So often the things we do to keep out hurt and disappointment can keep out joy, encouragement and life-giving relationships. I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve rid myself of pride entirely, but it’s much easier for me to be real and vulnerable these days. I’m reminded of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s so true! We all have struggles and tender places we’d rather keep unseen, but we must remember, we’re in this together. Reach out and love one another, and let others love you.

think one of my main problems in life is letting go of now, and moving on to the next thing. I don’t like change. I savor moments and I never want them to end. A vacation, a great “New River” concert weekend, a shopping day with my mom, and the list goes on. I wish that I could let go and just be happy instead of being sad when it is over.

I still have favorite stage outfits that I wore 30 years ago! They are sentimental. I wish that I could let them go, but I can’t. I may want to wear them again some day when I lose 500 pounds or they may go back in style ... no judging, please! However, with this said, some of the greatest blessings in my life happened when I let go and let God move. I would have never met Rickey and have the blessed life that God gave me now if I had not let go of the things that were holding me back. Letting go can be painful at times, but oh, the freedom that comes with it.

Early on, as I was moving from adolescence to adulthood, I let go of just about anything that I felt reflected my parents’ worldview or values. Thus church, conventional morality, vocational direction, where to live, whatever—if it had anything to do with their generation, then I wasn’t interested. Instead, I held on to virtually anything my generation was touting as the next big thing, certainly if it pertained to music, art, sex, politics, or anything, for that matter, that was working to redefine the culture at large. Looking back, there were many things that were wrong with my parents’ generation that needed to be questioned and reformed, or even eliminated. But that’s always the case in any age, and I was too naive and inexperienced to know that then. Later on, as my generation began to show its shortcomings and failures, I learned the hard way that a good bit of what my parents had tried to instill in me was well worth preserving.

Now, with my own children entering adult society and finding their vocational calling, I face a different dilemma. A lot of what I want to hold onto remains from the time when I could more easily speak “wisdom” into their lives, during their childhood and formative years. Back then, it was so easy to speak into their lives and know they were listening, and (mostly) appreciating what their parents had to say. Now, as young adults, I see them making choices on their own that I know will affect their whole lives, and I, whether I’m asked or not, want to weigh in and make sure they’ve heard from “the voice of experience.”

But, I’m learning to bite my tongue, to let go, and trust that the Lord is leading them as He’s led Vicki and me. Theirs is a different world, in many ways, than the one we’ve known, and they’re going to have to learn to navigate it on their own. Vicki and I have taught them all along that God loves them, that He is Lord and King of this earth, that true wisdom comes from knowing and listening regularly to His word to learn His purposes, and no matter how the world changes, these tenets remain true. So a lot of our letting go has to do with trusting the One who has brought our whole family this far. It’s that old Ebenezer principle at work, that always applies for God’s people: we can let go of a lot by holding on to the One who’s brought us so far…

I remember it like it was yesterday—that old country church called Walnut Grove. Simple farmers, coal miners and good ole saltof- the-earth folks gathering to worship on that sacred hill. I loved those sturdy hand-hewn wooden benches (so uncomfortable yet cradling) and our old upright piano that hadn’t been tuned in many a year. Our air conditioning was wide-open windows and donated cardboard funeral fans from Beshear’s Funeral Home. Still … we worshipped and sang like it was a majestic stained-glass cathedral.

I must have “got saved” there at least 50 times as a child. My mama would look down from the platform to the mourner’s bench as she sang the invitational song for the altar call. Without fail, I would be kneeling, weeping and wailing like the world’s most hardened sinner. Usually my grandmother, Ma Rambo, and some other dear saint would gather on either side to help pray me through. One would say, “Let go!” The other cried fervently, “Hang on!” I was an emotional, confused wreck. I realize now that even at such a young age, I was filled with the fear I could never be good enough to deserve the love of God. It was all about my works, my sins.

I must have worn out most of the prayer warriors in Hopkins County, Kentucky. Even though they were so committed and lovingly patient, I struggled and felt like a failure.

Thankfully, on June 13, 1964, I heard and comprehended in my heart a simple message on the unconditional love of God. That night, a beautiful peace and joy swept over me at the altar. I realized both concepts were true; I needed to let go of the past and my slanted thoughts concerning Father God and hang on to the truth of the finished work of Calvary. I was washed in the blood and filled with Holy Spirit. That night my dad, Buck Rambo, led me into the watery grave of baptism. I had never before felt so clean and happy.

It reminds me of Mama Dottie’s song, “Let Go of This World, Get Wrapped Up in God!”

Let go … hang on. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Looking back over my life, I think I hung on to feelings of resentment for people that hurt me! I seem to have put up a wall to protect my heart and it prevents me from opening up to feel any emotion—pain or joy. I have a tendency to surround myself with SAFE LOVE from people that love me with no expectations. Guess I just need to let it go and trust more.

I wish I had embraced my musical career when I was a teenager. My friend Maria and I landed a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1968. It was a surreal moment in my life! I was a young teenager and very inexperienced, so it just went by so quickly! I wish I could just soak in every experience during that year of my life. Seems like opportunities like that just slip by and it’s like they never happened. A vague memory of the audition and the recording process, the photo shoot and the finished product seems like a dream. If I could only re-live that moment. But I’m grateful for the experience. These things make me who I am today!

I am never lost for words, but this has me stumped! This is the question of life. Important things never cease to prove themselves with time, and neither does the unimportant cease to remind us of the fact that it really didn’t matter! God always has a way of laying down proper perspectives even when we are throwing a tantrum to get what we want. God’s timing lays it all straight. So many things I’ve held on to! I’ve held on to “things” that were even telling me to “let go!”—only to have it work out anyway because of God’s redeeming ability filled with His love. It’s when I do let go of what I want so bad that God steps in, in His timing, and gives me the desires of my heart! He never fails ... but I do! I’m the wrong one to talk to about “letting go” and “holding on.” I haven’t mastered the art of it; however, I trust the Master of the Art who does! Help me, Lord, to trust You more!

I had to let go of my parents. Let me start this by saying that I will never completely let go of my parents (When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. I Corinthians 13:11). When I got married, my dad, Joel Hemphill, was my boss, the head of our family gospel group, the Hemphills, and my confidant. I always treasured his leadership, guidance and opinions in my life, and when I married at age 27, it was difficult for me to trust any other influence in my life above his. I always seemed to second guess my husband’s opinions, which in a young marriage can be very hurtful, and went to my dad and mom for their input and advice. But I began to pray about it and asked God to help me trust the man that He had given me. My husband is a man of prayer, wise beyond his years, and the Lord put him in my life to guide me in this new journey we had embarked on together.

Although I love my parents so very much, the Bible says, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Ephesians 5:31). As I began the difficult transition of letting go of this part of my relationship with my parents that I had valued so deeply, the Lord began to show me that in letting go, I could then embrace a new and equally as treasured relationship with my parents that I had never known before. We can never receive the new things God has for us, until we trust Him in letting go of the past. Behold I do a new thing. Isaiah 43:19.

In the turmoil of this world I sometimes find it hard to hear the voice that says hold on. Seems like everyone around me is letting go of hope because of fear of the future — whether it’s our jobs, our families or our health. We as Christians tend to forget the promises God gave us to hold on to and believe in. God has been the constant mover and shaker in our lives and to this day we must cling and hold on to His Word.

In Joshua 2:3-8 the Bible speaks of how the children of Israel held on or cleaved to the Lord just as you have done to “this day.” The day that the Bible was speaking of was the day, “this day,” when things aren’t going as you have planned; “this day” when the nations among you try to get you to fear all the other gods by calling on them for help in the time of need. These gods can be camouflaged as jobs, government resources or even people you associate with that you depend on for support. Just like Israel we must hold on to God’s promises. We tend to let the world dictate what we know to be true by yielding to what man says is normal and needed to make it in this world. The world says store up treasures on earth, so we spend most of our days focused on our jobs as the sole source of our future. Don’t get it twisted that we shouldn’t work, but we have to hold on and know that God is the holder and the sole source of our future. He will lead us and guide us where He wants us to be. If we listen and follow His direction God will give us “this day” our daily bread. For the greatest story ever told included the words “this day”: For unto you is born “this day” in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Choose “this day” whom you will serve and depend on.

But as for me and my house we will serve, lean, depend, defend, trust and hold on to the Lord God of heaven and earth. The one who walked on the water, opened blinded eyes, the one who split time into BC and AD. I know He died for you and me. He’s my Alpha and Omega, my beginning and the end. He is Jesus the Christ, not just another man.