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Something BeautifulThe Stories Behind a Half-century of the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither
By Gloria Gaither
FaithwordsCopyright © 2007 Gloria Gaither
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBecause He Lives
BILL AND I WERE MARRIED and started our family in the sixties. Suzanne was born in 1964; Amy came along in 1969. It was a turbulent decade. Racial tensions had torn the country apart. In Los Angeles, Watts had erupted in riots that nearly burned that part of the city to the ground. Civil rights activists had suffered and some had been killed as our country was forced to look at the gaping chasm between the celebrated American promise of freedom and the reality for many of its citizens.
The Vietnam Conflict (we refused to call it a war) would drag on through three administrations and eighteen years, taking fifty-seven thousand American lives. It would be the first war in our history in which there would be no winners. Young men had fled the country to avoid the draft. Many who stayed to serve were uncertain of America's objectives and would feel deserted themselves by the very citizens they marched off to defend.
A young generation of Americans felt disillusioned and unable to find answers to insistent questions few had previously dared to ask aloud. Many asked good questions about the materialisticlifestyle their Depression-era parents had relentlessly pursued, but few went to the right source for answers. "What's It All About?" was more than the name of a song; it was an unanswered question this generation drowned in alcohol and obliterated with drugs.
New "designer drugs" concocted in laboratories began to surface. LSD and "angel dust" promised "a spiritual experience" and soon even a few college professors were giving these drugs to their students to "expand their minds" and broaden their horizon of experience.
The hippy generation felt increasingly estranged from society. While some took daring risks to get involved and make a difference, others chose to "get high" and "drop out." They called themselves flower children and advocated free love, yet all too often what they experienced was not so much love as deep disappointment and burned-out minds.
In this climate, Bill and I were writing songs about what we saw as real and lasting answers to the turmoil of the human spirit, about truths that had preceded us and would be around long after we were gone. On weekends, we traveled, singing our songs and sharing from our own daily experiences-how a deep commitment to the lordship of Christ had given us purpose, direction, and stability. Then, in the fall of 1969, several things happened to make us test the reality of our convictions.
Bill's sister, Mary Ann, went though a divorce that was devastating to her and to our whole family because it was the first time divorce had touched us so closely. We felt helpless.
About this time we realized we were expecting another baby. Suzanne was four and Amy was three months old, and although we had always planned to have three, we were not expecting to have a baby so soon. My body had not quite recuperated from the last pregnancy. And Bill, about this same time, contracted mononucleosis, which left him exhausted and depressed.
Then a person close to us, whom we loved and in whom we had invested a great deal in terms of time and energy, asked us to financially support a project we felt was unwise. When we turned him down, he stormed through our home and shouted at Bill, "You're just a phony! You wouldn't believe this Jesus stuff if you weren't making your living at it!" He slammed the door and walked out of our lives.
I know of no one who searches his heart more deeply or questions his motives more often than Bill, but the person who is the most conscientious is often the most easily destroyed by unjust accusations. Already depleted and discouraged by the drain on his energies due to the mononucleosis and filled with anxiety by the world situation, Bill was thrown into deep depression and a time of self-analysis.
He would sit in a big chair in our family room and go over his life, his words, his actions, his motives. Could there be even a hint of truth to this man's accusations? Bill couldn't pray. And the long, dark tunnel before him seemed to have no end.
Bill and I would talk about all the circumstances of the world, and about this new discouragement, and wound up saying, "If this world is like this now, what will it be in fifteen or sixteen years for our baby? What will this child face?" We were filled with fear and uncertainty.
One day a dear friend, Sid Guillen, came by the house. Knowing that Bill was feeling defeated, Sid had asked God to show him what to do, and it was obvious that he had heard from God when he walked into our family room. "This is not just discouragement, Bill," he said, "this is an imposition of Satan. I would like to anoint you with oil as the Scripture commands and rebuke this spirit of fear in the name of Jesus." He proceeded to do just that, and then he gave us both a big hug and left.
Gradually, Bill felt better. Physically and spiritually he saw a growing ray of light in the darkness. Yet we worried about the world situation and about the baby I was carrying.
On New Year's Eve we were scheduled to sing, but a day before we were to leave, it began to snow-not a few flurries, but a major blizzard. The next morning the driveway was buried in a couple feet of snow and roads were impassable. Bill dug out the driveway and tried to get to the highway, but the state police turned him back, saying they were arresting anyone out driving, except for emergency vehicles. As I remember, it was the only time we ever missed a singing engagement because of the weather.
That evening I lay on the couch looking at a large piece of art my mother had painted in oils and given to us for Christmas. It depicted a farmer's hand, resting on an old fence post encircled with barbed wire. The farmer's hand was rough and cracked by years of digging in the soil. Dirt was under his fingernails. His palm held a mound of black, rich soil from which sprouted a tiny seedling that he obviously intended to plant.
As I looked at Mother's painting, it seemed that God spoke to me in the silence: Look at how fragile that seedling is. Think of all that could happen to it: flood, drought, pests, disease. But that seedling is going to make it. It will grow up straight and strong because of the tenderness of the farmer's hand. He knows the threats; he's committed to that plant, and he will take good care of it. One day it will bear a crop. It will not only live, it will thrive.
Early that spring, that New Year's insight took on greater significance for me. The previous fall we had paved the parking lot behind our office. We had watched as the graders had prepared the bed. Then heavy rollers had embedded crushed stone into the surface. Next had come smaller crushed stone, then pea gravel, then sand. Each time the heavy rollers had stamped the layers down flat and smooth. Finally, the workmen had poured hot tar-blacktop-on all the prepared layers and rolled it again and again until it was packed, firm and smooth.
After the winter Bill's dad, George, came into the office. "Come over here a minute," he said to Bill and me, beckoning us outside. He was a quiet man of few words, so when he said something we listened. We followed him to the middle of the new parking lot. "Look there," he said, pointing at the pavement. There, poking up through all those layers of stone, sand, and blacktop, stood a tiny blade of green grass. George just grinned and walked back into the office, leaving us there to marvel at this amazing story of Easter from a tiny blade of grass. It was confirming a truth that had been pushing its way to the surface of our souls: Life wins! Life wins!
That summer, on July 19, I gave birth to a perfect, precious baby boy. After the winter of our discontent, this child seemed like the blade of grass pushing up through the pavement.
We hadn't written a song for what seemed like a very long time, but as that season of our lives ended, we would soon put words and music to what God was teaching us: it isn't because the world is stable that we have the courage to live our lives or start marriages or have children. The world has never been stable. Jesus Himself was born into the cruelest and most unstable of worlds. No, we have babies and keep trusting and risk living because the Resurrection is true! The Resurrection was not just a onetime event in history; it is a principle built into the very fabric of our beings, a fact reverberating from every cell of creation: Life wins! Life wins!
We took that little baby boy home. We named him Benjamin-"most beloved son." And a few weeks later this song poured from our hearts:
God sent His son; they called Him Jesus.
He came to love, heal and forgive-
He lived and died to buy my pardon;
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.
How sweet to hold our newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still, the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.
This song took on even wider dimensions for me about five years later. About four o'clock one morning Bill and I, staying in a Kansas City motel, were awakened by a phone call. It was our pastor: "Gloria," he said, "I don't have very good news for you; your dad just passed away. Your mother got up to check on him and found him gone."
I couldn't believe it. Daddy had been seeing a doctor for congestion in his chest. The condition hadn't improved, and on Friday, before we left town, he had seen another doctor who had told him the congestion was not in his lungs but around his heart. On Monday he was to talk further about insertion of a pacemaker.
There were no words to express my grief. Bill held me as I wept silently until dawn. We flew home to Indiana to help Mother with arrangements and to explain Grandpa's death to our children, who were staying with my parents that weekend. I prayed that a little four-year-old boy, a five-year-old girl, and a daughter who would be nine in two days would somehow understand a bit of the promise of the Resurrection.
I went through that day acutely aware of every detail, yet mercifully numb to pain that waited on the edges of my consciousness, like wolves on the circumference of a campfire. I went with my mother to talk to the mortician. He took us into a big room filled with caskets of all types. He explained the advantages and drawbacks of each: walnut, mahogany, bronze. He showed us the linings: blue, peach, ivory; in satin, taffeta, velvet. My brain was exploding with the absurdity of it all. "Which one do you want your loved one in?" he asked.
None of them! I wanted to scream. But I didn't. Instead, with considerable reserve, I helped Mother and my sister make a moderately priced choice, sign some papers, write an obituary, and choose a time and place for the service.
After making these arrangements, Bill and I got back on a plane and flew to Chicago for a sold-out concert at McCormick Place. We did not mention the events of our day to the audience but tried to give the concert they anticipated. At the end of the first half, we started our usual song before intermission. As Danny, Bill's brother and the third member of our trio, sang the last verse, it was as if I had never heard it before, much less written the words myself:
And then one day I'll cross death's river;
I'll fight life's final war with pain-
And then as death gives way to victory,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He reigns.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
The truth of the Resurrection warmed the frozen edges of my soul, and the seeds of hope that had been buried under the chill of death quickened in my spirit. It was as if I could hear my father saying, as I had so often heard him from the pulpit, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." And I knew that death had been dealt a fatal blow by my risen Lord. Death had no sting; we could face tomorrow.
Over the years this song has returned to reassure us that this is the central truth of life. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow. Many times since then, as our children grew, our business life changed, our fortunes shifted, or our direction clouded, our family has found assurance in "our song." It has been a joy and somewhat of a surprise that this song, so personal to us, has been so meaningful to others.
This has been the song we've held to as our promise from God for the precious lives entrusted to us. When Benjamin was in the turbulent adolescent years and felt confused by life, we often found ourselves saying, "Just hang on, Son; we'll get through this. The song that has been the most meaningful to people across the country is your song. It is God's promise to you; He is making you into a man of God."
"Because He Lives" has been our family's song-for living. And when we have said good-bye to close loved ones, it has been our song-for dying. The Resurrection is the truth that brings victory and hope. Life wins! Life wins!
Because He Lives God sent His Son; they called Him Jesus. He came to love, heal and forgive- He lived and died to buy my pardon; An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, Life is worth the living just because He lives. How sweet to hold our newborn baby And feel the pride and joy he gives; But greater still the calm assurance This child can face uncertain days because He lives. And then one day I'll cross death's river; I'll fight life's final war with pain- And then as death gives way to victory, I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He reigns. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, Life is worth the living just because He lives. Lyric: William J. and Gloria Gaither Music: William J. Gaither 1971 by William J. Gaither. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from Something Beautiful by Gloria Gaither Copyright © 2007 by Gloria Gaither. Excerpted by permission.
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