Back in March when Meagan and Nathan were visiting us, she took me out to lunch for my birthday. After we’d finished eating and were just sitting and chatting she said, “I have a favor to ask. I would love for you to write a song for our wedding as a surprise for Nathan. Would you be willing to do that?”
Well, you have to understand that I had not written a song in about nine years (ever since Sarah was diagnosed with cancer) and I did not feel at all qualified to write anything as special as a wedding song. But how could I say no to such a precious privilege?
I told her I would be willing to try and she went on to say, “I’m picturing the first verse being written from your perspective, maybe looking back to when he was a boy. The second verse would be written from my perspective as his wife and the chorus would have lyrics that would be appropriate for both a mom and a wife so that we could sing it as a duet.”
A couple weeks after that conversation, Meagan sent me an email with a few sentiments to base her verse on and the songwriting began in earnest. Over the next few weeks, I spent hours at the grand piano in the church, writing down words, scratching out words, reworking melodies and even doing some crying over all the emotion involved. Sometimes I’d get discouraged and say, “I just cannot write this song!” and then other times I’d get excited when things started to coalesce.
Finally, after eight or ten hours of work, I had a rough draft ready for Steve to listen to. As I sang, I was encouraged to see that he also got choked up on the verses, just the way I did. (A songwriter always feels happy when she is able to move a listener emotionally.)
Steve complimented the song and said that he loved the melody and the overall feel of it; however, he added that he didn’t think the chorus was as strong as the verses so we sat down at the piano together and started working on a rewrite. When he had finished with his input, I spent a few more hours on it myself and finally had a semi-finished rough draft ready. (This was about three weeks before the wedding so the deadline was looming large.)
All during the writing process, when I was feeling inadequate and not quite up to accomplishing such an intimidating task, I kept comforting myself with the thought, “Well, this song is not going to be a big feature of the ceremony; it will no doubt be played in the background while they’re doing something else and no one will even notice it very much.”
However. My cell phone rang one day and it was Meagan. She said, “Oh, I have such a great idea about the song you’re writing!”
I tentatively asked what that great idea might be and she said, “I have decided that I am going to have your song playing while I walk down the aisle! Isn’t that just wonderful?”
I closed my eyes. I felt my heart flutter in my chest. I saw my life flash before my eyes.
Did I just hear my son’s future wife say that my song was going to be used as the music for the processional? The Big Important Processional? My song? The song I was so sure would be somewhere way in the background of the ceremony?
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I didn’t think I should share my chaotic misgivings with the excited bride-to-be so I just said, “Meagan, that’s a great idea. Let me look at the song again before I send it to you and just make sure the lyrics and the melody are suitable for what you’re envisioning.” We chatted a few more minutes about other wedding stuff and then hung up.
I sat there at the kitchen table with my phone in my hand and stared out the front window as an amalgam of anxiety, joy and consternation rippled through my brain. You have to understand that this conversation took place just a couple days after the whole song critic episode when one of my best songs had gotten ripped apart. My confidence level as a songwriter had dipped to an all time low.
That evening, I headed back over to the piano at church to play through what I already had and to my joy, I realized that the words I had written for Meagan’s verse would actually do very nicely as a processional. (Big sigh of relief.)
I spent a couple more hours fine tuning the lyrics to make them even more appropriate and then sent the song off so that Meagan could hear it for the first time. After a little while she texted me and said, “I love the verses; they are just perfect!”
And that was all. Nothing about the chorus. Which meant that I still had some more work to do.
We talked the next morning and she said that she would love the chorus to talk more about love and emotion than it did, so I set off to work some more, looking for words that were evocative, joyful and love-filled but still suitable to be sung by both a mom and a wife. It was a bit challenging and my confidence started drifting even lower. And lower. Just two weeks to the wedding and what I had wasn’t working. And even worse, as much as I pondered various ideas and solutions, I couldn’t seem to make anything work.
One night at about 8:30, I sat alone at the piano in our dark, empty church auditorium and worked for over an hour with no results. I finally lay my head down on the piano and started crying. I was so frustrated and so intimidated by the whole songwriting process, especially after all those years of not writing anything. And in my head, I heard echoes of the online critic telling me I was a horrible writer who wrote disaster pieces instead of masterpieces. The wedding was coming up soon and the song wasn’t working and I had no idea how to fix any of it. I was so incredibly honored to have been given the opportunity and yet I was starting to believe I just wasn’t up to the challenge.
After a few minutes of sinking into a morass of creative self doubt, I quietly prayed, “Help me, Lord.” Almost immediately, a tiny thought stood up and knocked at the edge of my consciousness and I lifted my head from the piano and spoke aloud into the quietness, “Why don’t I just get rid of the chorus altogether?”
In its current permutation, my song was set up in the most common form which is verse, chorus, verse, chorus. That’s fine for most songs. However, by virtue of where it comes in a song, a chorus is almost always bigger than the verses and provides much of the lift and the drama of a song.
I realized that it wouldn’t work to use that formula in a song destined to be a Wedding March because of the roller coaster effect of a quiet verse followed by a big chorus and then back to a quiet verse again. In a song used for a processional, there can only be one Big Moment, and that is when the back doors swing open and the bride enters the sanctuary.
In just half a second, I saw my problem and in another half a second, I found my solution. I suddenly understood what would give the song wings.
I finished the song that night and sent it off to Meagan the next day with a note explaining why I had taken out the choruses. She told me later than when she read the email she couldn’t quite imagine what I was talking about. A song with no chorus? But when she actually heard the recording, she understood the concept. And loved it.
When we got to Florida last week, she told Nathan she was going out to “run an errand.” The errand consisted of meeting me at her parent’s church, along with her brother-in-law, John, who would play the song on keyboard and oversee the recording of it. (John also co-performed the wedding ceremony.) Even though I had written the song at the piano, I told John I would like him to play it on the recording since he is an accomplished keyboardist and could throw in some wonderful musical extras to really make it shine.
On the morning of the wedding, the bridesmaids came down the aisle to music played on the piano. As that musical piece finished up, my "mom verse" of the recorded song began to play while Nathan and his groomsmen walked to the front of the church and the flower girl and ring bearer started down the aisle. Nathan, resplendent in tuxedo-clad handsomeness, looked happy but slightly puzzled as my voice came out of the speakers; he was expecting the Wedding March which had been played for the rehearsal the night before.
However, his puzzlement quickly faded away when the song began its transition into the key change and the grand chords leading into Meagan’s verse burst out of the speakers. The congregation stood, the back doors swung open and Meagan appeared on her Dad’s arm, smiling brighter than any bride I have ever seen--even as her voice came over the speaker pledging her love and her life to the man who was waiting for her.
I reveled in the sight of her loveliness for a moment and then I turned around to catch a glimpse of my son’s sweet face. It is a face I know so very well and up until that moment, I thought I had every single Nathan expression memorized.
I was wrong.
Nathan was trying so hard to smile but he could only cry, his hazel eyes filling with tears and his lips trembling with emotion. The look on his face was as though he had just caught a glimpse of something quite glorious. And he had.
As I watched him I wondered if maybe part of the sweet emotion of that moment was due to the fact that he and Meagan had made and kept vows of purity to each other until marriage. But whatever the reason, there was a holy electricity in the air, a settled peace, a deep joy.
That moment was meaningful to me personally on so many levels. As I stood and watched Meagan walk toward my son to the music I had written, I was grateful to feel my songwriting insecurities fall away.
All I felt was the happiness of two jobs well done—raising a son and writing a song.
Here’s the song; lyrics are below.
1. When you were just a little boy
You brought me flowers, you brought me joy
And I never thought those days would ever end
But here you stand, all grown up now
To take a wife, and make a vow
That you’ll love her as a husband and a friend
I remember younger days, when you would go outside and play
And I’d watch you through the window and I’d smile
Rosy cheeks and skinned up knees, “Will you kiss my owie, mommy, please”
How I love the man, who used to be that child
Yeah, I love the man, who grew up from that child
2. Today I’ll pledge my life to you
Today I’ll stand and say, “I do”
I will take the name of the blessing God has sent
Can’t help but stand in awe of what
The Lord has done to build our love
I have prayed for you, my husband, and my friend
I can still remember when, we first met, you were only ten
And every time we talked, you made me smile
And now a new day has begun, oh what a treasure you’ve become
How I love the man who used to be that child
Yeah, I love the man who grew up from that child
Love is the song, we are the melody
Today we’ll start writing our own memories
ENDING (It was Meagan's idea to slightly re-write the first part of her verse and include it here; it was a perfect way to end the song.)
Today we’ll pledge our love so true
Today we’ll stand and say “I do”
We will thank the Lord for the love that He has sent
Can’t help but stand in awe of what
The Lord has done to grow our love
I have prayed for you, my husband, and my friend.
I won’t have any pictures of Meagan coming down the aisle in her gown until we get the professional photos back, but here is Meagan walking down the aisle to the song when we played it during a “pre-rehearsal” rehearsal. (In other words, Nathan wasn’t present for it.)