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Up With Susan Ashton
By Michael Dalton
Years ago Susan Ashton debuted in the Christian music scene singing, "Thereís an agony in living, but a comfort in the truth that no one knows my heart better than you." She had no idea how prophetic those words would be.
After several hits in the mainstream Christian market, followed by a record deal with Capitol to sing country musicóa long held dreamóthe bottom fell out. When extensive touring and concerts in support of her first Capitol release ended, she spent three years making a follow-up album that was never released. To this day, she is still not sure why.
Her parting with Capitol, a divorce and going through a difficult relationship caused her to take a break from the music scene. "I just really felt that I needed to be still and let God heal me and give me some clarity before I walked into anything else."
Having always been passionate about working with children, she spent a year working as a nanny while pursuing Godís direction for her life. Part of it came in an unexpected form. Producer John Hartley asked her to join Michelle Tumes and Christine Dente in the Worship Together praise project Lost in Wonder: Voices of Worship.
She had no idea how significant this would be. "At the time I was doing the work, I was so broken that when Iíd go in to sing, Iíd have to stop because Iíd be crying. To walk into the studio and sing a song like "I Believe In You," which is one of my favorite songs, was hard because itís such a strong statement of faith.
"When I was singing it, I was so completely lacking in faith at that point in my life. The only thing I believed in was God. I had literally lost my belief in everything else in life. I didnít believe that there could ever be anything good for me in life. So to stand there singing that, it wiped me out. It was exciting, yet absolutely terrifying at the same time, because, What are people going to think? Am I going to get judgment or mercy? Is anyone going to believe my heart in this when Iím struggling so hard within my own heart right now?"
Susan had always wanted to work on a worship recording. She grew up in a Houston church where worship was an essential part of the service. Attending a worship conference in England that became another turning point. "I stood there at the service and started weeping, and in that moment, I was so grateful I lost my deal at Capitol. In that moment I thought, Perhaps this is the thing God has been moving me toward my entire life from childhood and I just didnít know itóand all of my life experiences were just preparing me for this."
Susanís story recalls a similar time in the life of the prophet Elijah. After a great victory that was followed by a fearful letdown, God not only restored him but also revealed Himself in an unexpected way.
Perhaps all that Elijah had gone through had been to bring him to that place where his perspective was changed, and he realized that God was not finished with him. As David Roper writes, "The events that we call tragedies, setbacks, and failures are opportunities for God. He knows how to draw glory even from our ruin."
There is an agony in living because life is difficult. But there is comfort in the Truth. As Our Daily Bread writer Joannie Yoder said after a breakdown, "Finally I experienced the odd relief of hitting rock bottom, where I made an unexpected discovery: The rock on which I had been thrown was none other than Christ Himself. Cast on him alone, I was in a position to rebuild the rest of my life, this time as a God-dependent person rather than the self-dependent person I had been. My rock-bottom experience became a turning point and one of the most vital spiritual developments of my life."
The psalmist David echoes
the thought in Susanís song that God sees and cares about our suffering.
"I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen
my affliction; you have know the distress of my soul, and you have not
delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad
place" (Psalm 31:7-8 ESV). What must have seemed like a fall from difficult
situations, God has made into a broad place for Susan. He put a new song
in her mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and
put their trust in the LORD (Psalm 40:3 ESV).