I'm sure I have it documented somewhere, maybe on a piece of notebook paper, but I can't recall it. I do know it was several years ago--several years before Natalie Grant released it--when I first heard the stories which prompted the lyrics that became the song called Held. Because I am still being asked the background of that song, how it came to be, I thought perhaps I should write a little something about it.
I could talk all day about the three women whose lives I so greatly admire, who so inspired me and continue to mentor me in one way or another. But for now, I'll briefly introduce each one and tell you how they participated (unknowingly) to this song.
Patti had been a widow for less than five years when we first met. And she was only about 40 years old. With three young daughters. My first encounter with Patti's family was when I heard her then 10-year-old daughter sing...wow. Her raw talent and beauty were stunning. We soon met her other two daughters who were equally remarkable and we thought: How is she doing this?? Patti had only had a year to prepare for her husband's death. And her husband, by the way, was young, tall, handsome, strong, athletic, intelligent, devoted and successful. How does this happen? Toby and I fell in love with Patti's family instantly...here was a woman who had lost her HUSBAND, the FATHER of her very young children and she was still LIVING. She was transparent in her grief and questions and struggles and she was determined in her faith. She shared her heart and her story with us over dinner, coffee, in the swimming pool...I particularly remember her talking about the idea of us "giving" everything over to God, except for some unspoken "sacred" parts of our life. We mean to say: "Of course, you won't ask this of me."
Vaneetha was already a survivor before the tragic death of her baby boy. She had contracted polio as a baby and spent her childhood in hospitals around the world. She continues to live with the effects of the disease, but when I met her she was (and still is) a beautiful, vibrant wife, mother, friend, leader. A handful of months after we met, but before we became real friends, her infant son, Paul David, died from a heart defect that had been treated at birth. Paul was doing remarkably well and had just been celebrated at a church-wide baby shower, when he died unexpectedly in the night. The first verse of "Held" refers to Vaneetha and her son, Paul. She has always spoken to me about how knowing sorrow has allowed her to also know joy...and about the strange reality of feeling God's presence most keenly in the moments of deepest grief.
Sherry is my mother-in-law. She had mentioned her daughter Erica to me at different times, but I remember one conversation in particular when she talked about Erica's birth and death in detail. She spoke through tears about the pain of carrying a child to term and then having to let her go without even getting to take her home from the hospital. She told me about the still, small voice that spoke to her in the delivery room, saying: You have to choose how you will carry this loss after this moment. You can choose bitterness. Or you can choose to let me wrap you up in peace that can't be explained and that will lead to hope. You can choose to trust that you are not alone, and that everything you suffer here will someday be redeemed.
This conversation with Sherryeventually helped write the third verse.
Other words from these women became the second verse, taught me that no person of faith since the beginning of time has ever lived without suffering. In fact, they said, those who are students of Jesus have been promised that we certainly should expect pain and suffering in this life.
But. In the middle of that heartache. At every lonely, dark, lost moment...the Truth.
That in those moments, even then, especially then...we are held, held up, held together, by the the One who has walked here and knows the pain, and who also holds all of time, every story, my story, your story, the Greatest Story in his hands.
Every word was chosen with loving care, because I didn't write this song for a market, or any audience, but for those three women. I wrote it and recorded it with my old 8-track and made a cassette copy for each of them.
What has become of "Held" has meant a whole lot to me. It has meant something to many people--maybe to you and your story. And it has meant a great deal to Patti, Vaneetha, and Sherry--to see their stories used to minister to so many others is an affirmation that John, Paul David, and Erica lived and died for at least this purpose...there is so much we can't see or fathom. But at least this one beautiful, healing thing existed because of them.