From Party Band to Praise Band: My Weird, Wonderful Journey into Christianity

Updated: Apr 17

Early in my career, I sang in a bluegrass band and a rock band down south. Being a party girl, a Yankee, and a staunch atheist in the Bible Belt made me a social curiosity to my peers. I often found myself in lively debates about religion during late-night sessions at the bar.


A born-again Christian named Sam came to my shows and bought me drinks afterwards, eager to talk me into being "saved". One night he offered me $100 to go out for coffee and listen about Jesus. I said sure; easy money! I thought he was delusional, but when I got home that night I did kneel and pray, just to see what it was like. I invited Jesus into the car crash of emotions that was my life. I sensed a presence, but then felt silly so I stopped.


Perhaps this is when Jesus set the wheels in motion; within weeks I found myself in jail, divorced at 25, flat broke and in poor health. My life falling apart so quickly led me to go back home to my parents and get my head straight again.


Decades later, I was a happily married mom singing in the Christmas rock band Wizards of Winter. By the time I was on my fifth tour with them, being on the road was getting difficult for me as a mom but I loved the job and my bandmates. The shows were exciting, the partying was epic, and I really enjoyed the music.

Singing "Just Believe" with Wizards of Winter and former TSO member Guy Lemonnier

You've probably heard the expression "Jesus, take the wheel". Well, out of nowhere he gave me a firm shove to the passenger seat, made me spill my drink, and brought my party bus to a screeching halt.


I began having prophetic dreams that came true within days, and eerie coincidences that went beyond mere chance (believers call these God winks). Many experiences I would describe as, callings:


Day 1: ring ring. "It's me. God. I'm real. There's something I want you to do."


Day 2: ring ring. "Hey you. Yes, YOU. This is not going away. It's time."


Day 3: ring ring. "Good morning. Did you dream of a great blue heron? And he explained my plan for you? I just had him land on your roof. Go out and see. He'll look you in the eye, like he did in the dream. Do you believe in me now?"


Day 3 really happened. I'd lived in my house for 11 years and never seen a great blue heron nearby. This one sat on my roof and gazed into my eyes. It was one of many astonishing occurrences that left me with a choice: a) admit God is calling me, or b) check into a mental institution.


I did consider option B. Had I abused too many substances in my life? I'd greatly reduced partying years before, but maybe my brain had a delayed reaction and was on the fritz? Was it a mid-life crisis? Bad well water causing hallucinations? But no, too many experiences were being verified by outside sources. Something supernatural was at work.


There had been one year in my life when I started to believe in God. In 2005: my mom, dad, and two grandmothers all died while I was pregnant with my first child, and some unexplainable occurrences made me realize there is an afterlife. Here's an example:


Dad died in January 2005, and by April, Mom was in hospice. I was waiting by the phone for the news that she'd passed. I was 7 months pregnant by then and after the 3 recent deaths (my dad and grandmothers), I couldn't keep vigil by her deathbed for the baby's sake. Suddenly I felt Dad's presence, as if he were standing next to me. He said, "You'll know I'm with Mom when she crosses over, because the number 9 will be involved."


9 was my special number with Dad; our birthdays are on the 9th. So I thought, the call will come at 9:00. The call came at 5:40am (5+4+0=9). When the death certificate arrived, the coroner had signed it 6:30am (6+3+0=9). Dad had a PhD from MIT... it was just like him to make me do the math.


After similar experiences surrounding their deaths and my child's birth, I knew there is an afterlife, and there must be a God. But I still thought Jesus was a myth, and frankly I didn't care to know this God who'd just killed my family. I came close to losing the baby too. If there was a God, I wasn't a fan. Eventually, 2005 faded to memory and I forgot about him.


Back to the story at hand: Jesus had taken the wheel and was turning my party bus around, with me complaining loudly. The dreams and a feeling of being "called" continued. I was experiencing a spiritual awakening.


W.O.W. tour buses. My metaphorical "party bus" looks more like the Scooby Doo van.

With mixed emotions, I announced this would be my last tour with the band. Although the reason I gave publicly was true (being on tour was too hard on my kids), when my friends asked me "Why would you leave such an awesome gig?" I answered honestly:


"God is calling me to use my voice for Christian music."


I may as well have said,


"I've decided to become Queen of the Zulu People." Or,


"Lord Zod is summoning me home to Krypton."


Ever see the movie Evan Almighty? That's exactly what it was like.


God wants me to build an ark. He's kind of bossy.

I made some missteps as I tried to understand what to do next. I hadn't yet embraced a concept I now live by: don't overthink it or try to figure out God's plan, just let yourself be driven to your destination. I learned to recognize the trail of breadcrumbs he leaves to show the way. You must take the action of picking up a bread crumb and digesting it before he'll drop the next one.


I had music students whom I taught during the Wizards off-season, and a trail of breadcrumbs led me to book their recital at a church. As the church's sound tech helped me set up, he mentioned they were looking for a Director of Music. The Pastor came in to discuss candidates for the position with him. I shamelessly eavesdropped while pretending to set up microphones, and knew in my heart this was the next breadcrumb God wanted me to digest.


My brain warned, No! You are not qualified! How many times have you set foot in a church? A few Easters with Grandma? That time you wanted to date the hot Catholic guy? No way can you do this!


When God calls you, he is speaking to your Spirit, which is ruled by the heart. The brain will usually try to talk you out of it.


I auditioned for the job and was hired. It wasn't easy, but I understood now what it meant to be driven. I studied hymns and sheet music, which isn't used much in rock/pop; we mostly play by ear. Working in this genre brought me back to my roots in classical piano and school choir. I was growing musically. My family was happier with my career choice. I began to see why God led me here.


During services I learned more about Jesus and the role he'd played in my journey. The pastor used terms like "transformed by grace" that described what had happened to me. Turns out it's a thing, and Christians are accustomed to people like me showing up.


Jesus didn't stop saying things like, "Hey you fishermen, throw down your nets and follow me" after he died. He still does it every day, all over the world. I don't believe he is the only way to experience God; other spiritual practices have it figured out just as well, but Jesus is a very strong, clearly lit way, available to anyone, even hopeless cases like me.


A relationship with Jesus is like hitting the speed dial for a direct line to divine presence. Not everyone needs the speed dial; they have their own way and I respect that. I believe Jesus comes to people like me, who can't find their phone or don't know the number, or stubbornly refuse to dial.


When I sang in church, I felt the Holy Spirit moving through me. When Covid hit, I was grateful for steady employment while most musicians were suffering cancellations. I wrote songs. I got baptized. I grew more peaceful, more positive, and gravitated towards a more sober, prayerful lifestyle which had never appealed to me before. Many personal miracles took place as I surrendered my life to God, and I saw the world through a beautiful, magical new lens.

God in all things: every sunrise and sunset feels personal now.

There isn't anything wrong with the person I was before, or the music I was playing. I'm still me, I still love to rock... I don't go around quoting the Bible and flailing myself with palms. Sometimes I miss the fun and glamour of my former musical life, but I don't need it like I used to. There isn't much ego-stroking or applause when singing in church. You aren't singing to entertain, you're singing to inspire, and call attention to the things God is capable of. Things like what he did for me, when he first took the wheel and told me to move over. If it happens to you, I suggest you let him drive you to your destiny. Not the one you thought you wanted; the one he knows is right for you.


These days I'm happy to talk about transforming from atheist to believer with anyone who's interested. I spent Sam's $100, and I guess 20 years later it's finally time to pay it forward.


Wishing you sound spirit, sound mind, sound body.


Mary


Note to reader: I use the pronoun "he" because it is traditional and convenient. However, I do not feel that God is of any gender. God is infinite and cannot be limited by human constructs. Thank you for reading.


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