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

Updated: Mar 19

For most of my career, what motivated me as a musician (besides love of music) was the paycheck, the partying, and the praise. I took jobs in genres I wasn't particularly interested in, if at least two of the 3-P's was decent. My least favorite genre was Top 40 cover bands, but in the 90s they paid well and offered lots of partying and praise. I can think of many shows when I was as intoxicated as the audience, or had trouble fitting my giant ego-inflated head through the door. I was a party girl. I was also a confirmed atheist. Debating believers about the existence of God was a favorite hobby of mine. I felt sorry for them.


A regular at my shows back then, a born-again Christian named Sam, was always trying to talk me into believing in God. One night he offered me $100 to go for coffee and listen about Jesus. I said sure, easy money. I thought he was misled, but after our conversation I did decide to kneel and pray, just to see what it was like. I invited Jesus into the car crash of emotions that was my life. I thought I sensed a presence, but then I felt silly so I stopped and went to bed. Looking back, I wonder if this may be when the wheels were set in motion for what happened years later.


My favorite gig was singing in the Christmas rock band Wizards of Winter. The pay was good, the partying was epic, and audiences formed long lines to ask for autographs and compliment us. So all 3-P's were there with bells on. By the time I was on my fifth national tour with them, being on the road was getting difficult for me as a mom but I loved the job and my bandmates.

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 experiencing 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. "Hi, 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. "If you keep hanging up, this will take a while. Come on, let's go."


Day 4: ring ring. "Good morning. Did you dream of a great blue heron? And he explained my plan for you? Look out the window. I just made one land on your roof. Go out and see. He'll sit and look you in the eye, like he did in the dream.

Do you believe me now? I can do this all day."


The Day 4 thing 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 waiting to gaze 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 this a mid-life crisis? Bad well water causing hallucinations? But no, too many experiences were being verified by outside sources. So many that I kept a list. 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 on January 30, and by April, Mom was in hospice. One night I was waiting by the phone for the news that she'd passed on. 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 Daddy's presence, as if he were standing right there. He said, "You'll know I'm with Mom when she crosses over, because the number 9 will be involved."


9 was our special number together; our birthdays are on the 9th. After hearing this, I thought the call might come at 9:00. The call came next morning, at exactly 5:40am (5+4+0=9). When the death certificate arrived, the coroner had signed the time of death as 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 decided that there is an afterlife, and there must be a God. I thought of him as a distant, uninterested "consciousness" that floats around randomly interacting with us. I still thought Jesus was a myth. 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 callings continued, even while on tour. My bandmates must have wondered why I spent so much time in my bunk; the visions and "divine downloads" were so overwhelming (and beautiful) at times that I couldn't come out and have a normal conversation. I learned later this is called a spiritual awakening, and is not uncommon.


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

I announced this would be my last tour with the band. That was tough; I knew my spot would be snatched up by another singer, permanently. But the callings were too powerful to be denied. Although the public reason I gave was true (that being on the road was a burden for my family), when my friends asked me "Why? 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 planet Krypton."


They'd look at me like I'd gone crazy and ask, "Christian music? Why? How?"


My answer: "I have no idea."


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


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

Jesus completed our U-turn. I made some missteps musically as I tried to understand what I was supposed to do next. I had not yet embraced a concept that 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 did learn how to recognize the trail of bread crumbs 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. After a while, it's easy to spot the bread crumbs in your life.


Soon, my party bus was cruising life's highway with me chillin in the backseat, obediently acting on God's bread crumbs whenever they appeared. I don't know where he goes when I take action and digest them; he tends to disappear at those times and leave me on my own. Maybe he's getting gas? He always returns and takes the wheel again when I whine and doubt.


I had a number of piano students whom I taught during the Wizards off-season. A trail of bread crumbs led me to book their recital at a church. As the church's sound man helped me set up, he mentioned they were looking for a Director of Music. Then 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 bread crumb God wanted me to pick up.


My brain warned, No! You are not qualified! How many times have you set foot in a church? A few Easters with Grandma? The 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 was not easy, but I understood now what it meant to be driven. I spent late nights studying hymns and sheet music, which isn't used much in rock/pop; we mostly play by ear. Working in this new genre of sacred music brought me back to my childhood roots in classical piano and school choir. I grew in ways I could never have imagined. 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 stuff like, "Hey you fishermen, throw down your nets and follow me" after He died. He still does it every day, all around 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 as the son of God, Jesus is a very strong, clearly lit way available to anyone who asks. A relationship with Jesus is like hitting the speed dial for a direct line to divine presence in your life. Not everyone needs the speed dial; they have their own way and I respect that. I believe that Jesus comes to people like me, who either 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 about what it felt like to finally believe. I got baptized. Fame and fortune had not come knocking, but I grew more peaceful, more positive, and gravitated towards a 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 magical new lens.

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

It's not that there is anything wrong with the person I was before, or the music I was playing. Not at all. 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 glamour and applause, but I don't need two of the 3-P's anymore (still need the paycheck). There isn't much ego-stroking or applause when playing music in church. You aren't singing to entertain, you're singing to inspire. To praise God and call attention to the wonderful things he 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 25 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, although I take comfort in terms such as "Our Father..." I do not personally feel that God is of any gender. God is infinite and cannot be limited by human constructs such as gender identity. Thank you for reading.


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