It was the summer of 1999.
I had moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan six months prior to be a part of a church plant. I was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant and wasn’t making enough money to pay rent.
I stayed with friends, and they put up with it.
That’s the summer I met Kris.
Have you ever met someone and just immediately felt like you’d known each other for 100 years?
He was tall, kind and had the best laugh. He was young. 19, actually. I was 26. I didn’t want to date him, but I didn’t want anyone else to date him, either.
Selfish? Yup. But that’s how I was back then.
We became fast friends when we learned we were both musicians…he played percussion, I sang and played guitar.
We spent the next year and a half playing music together at coffee houses and church basement youth group meetings and for anyone else who would have us.
I remember that December, we played our first show together…a Christmas dinner banquet for a church singles group. I thought I was Karin Bergquist from Over the Rhine.
Or at least I wanted to be.
I was always a basket case right before a show. If I wasn’t having a tantrum over the sound check, I was having a panic attack over the forgotten mike stand. Or the lost guitar picks. One time I cried for 10 minutes because I forgot my lipstick.
Yes, unfortunately I am serious.
And Kris was about to learn this first hand.
Five minutes before that Christmas show, I was having a Sybil moment because I’d forgotten the lyric sheets to O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I’d had the sheets out at home, working on the strumming pattern and timing of the entrances, and I’d left the sheets on the living room floor.
I was borderline hysterical.
Kris, being young and having only known me for less than a year, looked on in silence (and likely a small amount of terror) as I lost my ever-loving mind. And right as I was about to go jump off the roof, Kris grabbed me by my shoulders and loudly said, “ANGIE, STOP IT.”
I stood there in shock.
No one had ever done that to me before.
He said, “We’ve practiced this song 100 times. You know it forward and backward. Now let’s open with it.”
So that’s what we did.
I walked out on that stage, and to my memory, it is the best voice I have ever found in myself for a performance.
Two weekends ago, the kids and I threw our stuff in the car and we drove to spend the weekend with Kris and his family.
He is married now and has 4 kids.
They live in a beautiful old wooded neighborhood right outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The view from the back deck looks like a scene right out of Bambi.
And in the basement of their massive house, there is a movie theatre for the kids. And a recording studio for the adults.
So while our kids played and laughed and romped around together all weekend, Kris and I sat in the studio and tried our best to relive our twenties, and start working on the Christmas album we always wanted to record together.
My guitar callouses are gone. My voice is too.
Kris recorded me singing our version of Silent Night. It was painful to hear.
It sounded like a cat in heat.
Being run over by a truck.
So I said, “Well, it sounds like the dream will remain just a dream.”
And Kris, true to form, said “So that’s it? Um…no. You start practicing. You retrain your fingers and your vocal chords. Nobody just stops singing for 15 years and then walks into a recording studio and sings flawlessly. You keep coming back here to visit, and we keep working on it.”
And suddenly I was 26 again, and that 19 year old kid was grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, “ANGIE, STOP IT.”
Sunday morning I woke up to fresh coffee. Kris had made breakfast for everyone, and Lisa was giving the baby his bottle. Their oldest daughter, Grace, who is 7, sat down at the grand piano and played the sweetest little song.
And as I listened, the tears poured down my cheeks.
That was me 36 years ago. And I spent my entire life singing, playing instruments, and just loving music.
But a year or so before my daughter was born, I got my feelings crushed. I let one person tell me I wasn’t good enough to perform.
And I left that life. And started this one.
Grace’s song was short and sweet. I had to excuse myself to go weep in private.
How did I let my kids grow up without a house full of music?
Why was the negative opinion of one person so much louder than the positive response of the masses?
Why must I always be obsessed with the one person standing outside of the room who can’t stand me, instead of the 500 people sitting in the room who love and support me?
And I decided right then and there, that it is never too late.
So that day I played until my fingers nearly bled. The next day, I did it again. And every day since, I have been rebuilding those callouses on my fingers, and retraining my voice.
I don’t know if I’ll ever perform again. Or record anything worth listening to. But what I do know is that this experience has ignited something in me that I thought was long gone.
My love of playing music.
Thanks, Kris. Grabbing my stupidity by the shoulders since 1999.