Whenever I meet someone new it doesn’t take long before they find out that I am a HUGE Michael W. Smith fan. I’m not sure how this always comes up so quickly in conversation. I mean, it’s not like I go around wearing an “I ♥ Michael W. Smith” t-shirt…well at least not every day!
My love for Smitty (yes, he is totally OK with me calling him that) is just one of those things that is core to who I am — like having brown eyes…or ten toes…or, you know, breathing. It is a deep-seated love that spans nearly 25 years. Don’t worry, my husband knows and he is OK with this. After-all, Michael was in my life before I met David.
To truly understand how I earned my “number one fan” status, you have to know how it all began. When I was 13 my friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape for Christmas (if you are under 25 ask your parents what a cassette tape is) . I remember opening that gift and thinking “umm, thanks? I have no idea who this is.” She assured me I would love him. And boy was she right! (Years later I offered her my second and third born children as payment for introducing me to Smitty, but she decided to settle for being their godmother, instead.)
That year I was 13 and it was a particularly difficult time in my adolescence. I had just moved in with my dad and step-mom, leaving behind all of my friends in another state, and a strained relationship with my mom. I was in a new home, new town, new school, and recovering from a traumatic experience that had happened earlier that year. It was a little more than your average 13-year-old-girl-angst. As I listened to that tape I felt like every song had been written just for me.
How did this man from Kenova, WV know how I was feeling or what I was going through? I blasted his music at top volume in my bedroom, singing along and memorizing every word. In fact, I listened to that tape so much it finally broke!
Three years later I got to attend my first Michael W. Smith concert. I was so flippin’ excited, it was like my very own Beatlemania moment. And to top it off? They were taping the concert video right there in Fairfax, Virginia! Five months later, when the concert video came out, I found out I was actually on the video!! Ok so it was like for two seconds, and if you blink you miss me…but let me tell you, if the concert was the highlight of my year, being on that video was the highlight of the decade! (I still have that video tape and I made EVERYONE watch it…even if they didn’t know who Michael W. Smith was. I even marked on the back cover where I could be found — right between “I Wanna Tell the World” and “Color Blind”, in case you’re dying to dig out your copy and find me.)
Over the years my love for Smitty grew, and his music became the soundtrack to my life. When I was graduating high-school and saying goodbye, I listened to “Friends” over and over again. When I graduated college, I cried along to “Pray for Me” for months. When my husband and I got married, our first dance was to “Love of My Life.” When I was in the hospital in labor for 26 hours with my first born I had the Freedom album on continuous play. When she was a baby I sang the song “Anna” to my eldest daughter (changing it to Hannah). You get the point.
But the highlight of my long-time fandom came in 2008. The year before I found out that Michael W. Smith had a cruise. Back then this was a relatively new thing to be able to cruise with a favorite band or musician and I could not believe that this existed. As a joke I sent a link to the cruise website to several close family and friends with the subject line “Guess what I want for Christmas?” My friend Erin was prepared to start a fundraising campaign for me, complete with T-shirts that read: “Cruise tickets: $2,500. Airfare from Washington to Ft. Lauderdale: $300. Getting to see Jelise put suntan lotion on Michael W. Smith: priceless.” I still totally want one of these t-shirts.
It was an expensive trip and we had three young children; I had absolutely no expectations of going. So you can imagine my surprise when my mom and step-mom came together to buy two tickets to the cruise for my husband and I to go. It was my birthday and Christmas presents for the next five years, but I totally didn’t care because to me this was the trip of a lifetime. Finally, I would get to meet the man. I mean, how excited would he be to finally meet his number one fan?!
But then, it got even better. I found out that in addition to all of the concerts, events, and exotic ports we’d get to experience there was something called Smitty-oke that would be played on the ship. This is where you get to go up on stage with Michael W. Smith and his band and sing one of his songs with him!!
Can you even imagine? OK so maybe the idea of singing with Michael W. Smith doesn’t excite you. But just think of your all-time favorite singer or band. Now, imagine getting to go up on stage and sing with them! Are you with me?
Now you should know that I am a terrible singer, and not particularly thrilled about sharing that in front of a room full of people, but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I had to do it. Here is the evidence:
There were many other super-cool experiences from that trip. Like, there was this other artist on the cruise — her name is Amy Grant. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? Also, Michael and his whole family were in a cabin four doors down from us, so we passed him in the hall daily; I talked to his wife once on the elevator; I got to play a version of Family Feud against his mom and in-laws — you know your normal vacationing with a celebrity stuff.
The thing is, as much as I joke about my love for Smitty, what has made me a life-long fan is that his music continues to speak to me and touch my life. A few years ago he released a new CD with a song on it called “You Won’t Let Go”. It’s a phenomenal song, and the bridge of the song goes like this: “neither height, neither depth, highest height or deepest depth, nothing can, nothing can separate.” When I first heard this song I had just made the decision to start building this blog and call it Neither Height Nor Depth, inspired by my all-time favorite Bible verse. I had started to write posts but not yet published anything. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, quite frankly. I doubted if I had what it takes to write new content each week, or that anyone would be interested in reading what I had to say. But when I heard that song, it suddenly became my anthem, and I knew God was with me in this writing thing.
Not unlike that 13 year-old-girl who felt so lost and alone until she heard the words: “If there are millions down on their knees, among the many can you still hear me? Hear me asking where do I belong?” And she suddenly felt like everything was going to be OK.