Singer in the King's Service

Album Credits

Compositions, arrangements, lead vocals, keyboards – Doug Howell • (except "Real with You" and "Finally Found Love," lyrics by Joe Becker; "Appeal to a Dying Race," music adapted from "Recitative and Song," Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell) • Production and general inspiration – Mike Kuzma • All selections published by Creative Measures [originally published by Love's Music] (except "Jesus Never Fails," published by Lexicon Music, Inc.)

This album is dedicated in Jesus' name to Steve: I have written and rewritten this dedication so many times. Somehow, nothing ever seems to make it. I should have known that—you've told me yourself that there are some things words just can't say. Some people will hear this album and think it's a collection of songs—a casual combination of words and music. But not you. You will know that somewhere in the middle of it all is my life. And you'll know that's what I'm really giving, not just an album.

Thanks to Charlie for not playing the tambourine, and to Carolyn for enduring the fan!

Background vocals – Bobbi Page and Doug (except "Just To Think About You," Lonnie Hull) • Drums – Fred Satterfield, Jack Gilfoy • Bass Guitar – Jeff Catron, Steve Dokken • Electric & Acoustic Guitars – Dan "Wonderknucks" Leonhardt, B. James Lowry • Banjo – Aaron Brown • Woodwinds – Greg Imboden • Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Larry Brubaker, Larry Hall, Larry Meregillano • Trombone – Mark Gersmehl • Bass Trombone – Dave Shank • Tuba – Sam Gnagey • French Horn – Greg Leffler, Jill Boaz • Harp – Martha Burwell • Percussion – Steve Hanna • Mixed Chorus – Bobbi Page, Sara Posthuma, Cozette Byrd, Crystal King, Greg Meyer, Bob Rist, Steve Green, Brian Benjamin • Violin – John Geisel, Gillian Findlay, Erec Mueller, Elizabeth Liderbach, Cheryl Mengle, Margaret Chapman, Tad Lauer, Paula Royce, Mike Shelton, Pauli Ewing • Viola – Donald Kidd, Maureen Michels, Margaret Miller • Cello – Peter Gelfand, David Pereira • Bass – Wayne Anderson • Odds & Ends & Special Effects – Mike Kuzma

Recording Engineer – Brent King • Remix Setup – Brent King, Christopher Banninger • Remix – Mike Kuzma, Doug Howell, Brent King, Christopher Banninger • Recorded at Pinebrook, Alexandria, Indiana (Thank you, Dan Posthuma and Crystal King!) • Half-Speed Mastering, egg rolls and technical assistance beyond the call of duty – Bob "the Pro" Dennis, Superdisc, Detroit MI • Mastering Equalizers "To Go" – Ben Gross, Pearl Sound, Ann Arbor

Packaging Concept – Mike Kuzma & Doug Howell • Photography & Effects, Titles & Layout – Mike Kuzma • Calligraphy & technical assistance – Petra Renee Jeter • Color Lab – Meteor Photo, Troy MI • B & W Lab – Jack Wolak, International Album, Dearborn • Color and Duotone Separations – Precision Colorplate, Detroit MI • Steinway piano (and hacksaw) courtesy of Friends University, Wichita KS

Everlasting life and purpose – Jesus Christ • (Correspondence welcomed!) • Manufactured in USA

Digitized from the original master tapes July, 2005, by World Class Tapes • Compact disc mastered by Doug Howell

℗ © Love's Music 1979, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP) • All songs © Love's Music 1979, assigned to Creative Measures (ASCAP)

Note: See The Old Albums Revisited for general notes on the how's and why's of creating CD versions of these albums from the 1970s and 80s.

Diary Notes

All Diary notes, song lyrics and music written by Doug Howell, except where indicated. • All songs © Creative Measures, 7565 Hashley Rd, Manchester MI 48158, 1979, except "Jesus Never Fails," © Lexicon Music, Inc., 1976. Printed in USA

Singer in the King's Service

3 Feb 1978

I haven't got no four-piece band
to accompany me across the land
I ain't no comedian
at times I'm hard to understand
I'm not gonna fool you, I'm no hockey player
and I sure ain't no big word sayer
I'm just from the run of the mill
I'm just an ordinary old taxpayer, but

I'm a singer in the King's service
I'm just gonna say what I know
I didn't come here to put on a show—no!
I'm a singer in the King's service
I've just got to sing what I've heard
the King is coming back to this world

I ain't got no limousine
to shuttle me from scene to scene
I don't dine on fine cuisine
what I am is what I seem
well, I may be just a plain and simple man
but I'm included in God's plan
and I will go wherever He leads me
you can come along
won't you give me your hand?

I'm a singer in the King's service
I'm just gonna say what I know
I didn't come here to put on a show—no!
I'm a singer in the King's service
I've just got to sing what I've found
Jesus is the best love in town

and I've got my dreams
yes, I've got some dreams
they're in between the lines
they're hiding in the rhymes

1979 Notes:

This is a song about who I am, and who I am not.

A while back I was singing at a family camp and just before the concert began, a toe-headed little boy walked up to me and demanded, "Are you somebody famous?" He had caught me a little off guard and all I could manage for a reply was, "No...no, I'm not really very famous." Whereupon he looked me squarely in the eye and announced, "Then I'm not gonna listen to you."

Reminds me of one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, "Real Good for Free." One of the stanzas goes:

"Nobody stopped to hear him
though he played so sweet and high
They knew he'd never been on their T.V.
so they passed his good music by."

Really, though, sometimes I get so bombarded with what people think I am and expect me to be that I forget who I really am. I want to stand up and shout, "Look at me—I'm human! I've got flesh and blood. I've got some of the same problems you do, the same hang-ups, the same joys, the same dreams—and a few of my own, too."

Saw a Carole King concert a few years ago and was a little awed by the whole thing. Ever since then, it's been a dream of mine that someday I'd do a concert tour with a band—complete with lighting, sound equipment and the whole works. But for now, it's just me and my piano.

2007 Notes:

Still no four-piece band. Although I did have a shot at 55 members of the Royal Philharmonic when we recorded Hinds' Feet! (They declined to do a tour, however. Ha-ha.)

Reading over the original notes now, I start to smile a little at all my protestations. I think I overdid the humble thing a little. Not that I wasn't, but then there is that spotlight thing. I don't think I was quite as good at self-deprecation as it sometimes seemed. If any of you have seen the excellent movie, Shadowlands, about part of C. S. Lewis' life, you may remember the time when Joy challenges Jack at their first meeting (something she did often afterward). He is uncomfortable with Joy's rather conspicuous method of finding him in a crowded room and says, "I'm not what you'd call a public figure, Mrs. Gresham." To which she replies, "Oh, you're not? You mean you write all those books and give all those talks and everything just so everyone will leave you alone?" He had been found out, and I can relate to that awkward moment.

These days, though, I receive a lot fewer awe-struck looks than I used to. (Well, at least for the same reasons I used to.) There are a lot fewer performances; a few more gray hairs, and quite a few extra pounds. Time has conspired, it seems, to teach me what it's like to be truly ordinary. But you know what? There's a real peace in being ordinary. You can make a lot of friends there, too. And, it turns out, there are some things you can learn there that you can't learn anywhere else.

And then there's the bridge. That cryptic, yet not-so-cryptic, lyric. Sort of like the bridge on "I Just Wanna Talk About Jesus," on Freed. And with good reason. I was trying to say the same thing. The "things aren't quite as simple as they seem" message. Yes, we are to be singers and tellers in the King's service, but we are human, too. It is multi-dimensional human beings God sends on this mission. And the more we are what we are, the more God can be seen for who He is. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels."

Real with You

(words by Joe Becker, music by Doug Howell)
31 Jan 1978

I want to be real with you
touch your heart
and tell you all my feelings true
let you know just who I am
and what I like to do
all I really want to do is to be
real with you

I need someone to tell my secrets to
someone to make me laugh
whe I am feeling blue
someone to make me feel the way
you always seem to do
all I ever really need is you

all my life, people have been hiding
deserting and disguising themselves
never getting off of the shelves
when will they come down?
stop fooling around
saying that they're free
when they're nowhere to be found

I wanna share me with you
feels so good
to finally let myself come through
no more fear, and I don't have
to hide my love from you
please let me show myself I'm real
like you

1979 Notes:

A friend of mine sent me two poems he had written. He said they had been inspired during a concert of mine he'd attended. People do that occasionally—send me poems, I mean—but for some reason, they just never seem to work as songs. Well, these particular poems were different. Something clicked, and everything fell into place.

I guess part of the reason has to be that I actually feel like I wrote the lyrics myself. They say what I want to say: Let's not waste any more time than we already have. Let's be real. Can anyone possibly imagine what in this world might happen if we'd only be real with each other?

2007 Notes:

Basically what would happen is just what I mentioned at the end of the "Singer" notes: If we could only be real, we'd show ourselves for the earthen vessels we are, and the treasure would shine through, unencumbered and undimmed.

I really believe that. I think that these songs are used by God in direct proportion to the amount of pure, honest feeling that was poured into them. In fact, the ones that seem too honest, too particular—those always seem to be the ones that speak the loudest. I can't tell you how many times I would make up my song list before a concert, and I'd put down one of those "too personal" songs. Then I'd think, "No, I can't do that one. No one will understand it. It's too personal. It's too particular to my own situation." But after the concert, it never failed. Someone would come up and tell me how that particular song spoke to him or her. Strange, isn't it? The more we try to make things generic, something that'll speak to everybody (and sell to everybody), the more that mark gets missed. Then one day you write something that you think could only ever mean something to you yourself, and it ends up speaking to everyone.

The more you're real, the more your vessel can be broken and the more that light within can shine on those around you. Don't hide the light by trying to keep the vessel all spiffed up on the outside. It's what's inside that counts. It's what's inside that will change the world.

New Wine

2 Sep 1976

why do we pretend to hold Your life
in forms that just can't bend?
we just maintain
how can we confine the good, good news
to names on dotted lines?
it's such a strain
if we could only take down
all the umbrellas we have built
we could receive His latter rain now

Jesus, I am thirsty for new wine
I have been so dry for such a long time
long, long time
only let me bear the fruit of Your vine
then lead me to Your winepress
and drink me
while I drink You

how can we describe Your sweet, holy fire
in words so cold we strive
to freeze the heart
how can we exchange Your sweet, freedom song
for bonds and prison chains
that hold us apart?
if we could only see
all that You want us to be
but we're much too scared to start now

1979 Notes:

What I'm talking about is, in part, institutional structures. In the beginning there was life, but as time went on we added "safeguards" and "fail-safe mechanisms" because we were afraid the life might someday run out. And before we knew it, all we had left was an empty wineskin, a great program, a well-oiled machine that could run smoothly—with or without the Spirit.

But what of our lives? If there is to be renewal on a large scale, it certainly must start with each one of us. We must, deep down, commit ourselves to following the Spirit's leading, instead of fitting Him into our already well planned lives.

When I suddenly find myself dying of thirst, it's usually because I have—either consciously or unconciously—allowed the flesh to take over with all its old nature patterns and habits, and ceased to follow the Spirit.

There is only one cure for thirst: Come to Him and drink (Jn. 7:37-39). And somehow as we drink, we are giving up all of ourselves and receiving all of Him.

2007 Notes:

Yup. And now that I've had a few years' experience with a "day job," I've seen the same thing happen over and over again in the workplace, too. What every company wants is that spark. That mysterious, all-important quality that just seems to catch on and make things work. But instead of making sure the conditions are right for the spark to happen, they try to "organize it" (and reorganize it!) into happening. Guess what? It don't work that way, folks.

I have to use my current music buddy, Ann Doyle, as an example here. I feel like what we create is magic. But there are some very important reasons for that. One is that we value each other's contributions to the whole. I value her beautiful songs, her delivery, her stage presence, her soul. She values my perspective as a composer and arranger in my own right, and rewards my contribution by being generous to me—to a fault. If we get $100 for a gig, she's likely to give the whole hundred to me, usually over my protests. And I've come to see the importance of that. Not the hundred dollars, but the real, tangible expression of how she values my contribution. Put all these elements together, and the work we do, at its best (like our last CD, and especially my two favorite tracks, "Let's Not Do This" and "Bruised Peach"), becomes art.

Corporate America today wants that spark but doesn't want to pay the bill. It's trying to take an awful lot of shortcuts to get it, and that just doesn't work. Often the part that's left out is the willingness to show employees how they're valued by expressing it on the bottom line. (Yes, unbeknownst to corporate America, employees have bottom lines, too.)

It's the spark we need. In life, in work, in play, in worship. It's the spark we long for. But we can't manufacture it. All we can do is do everything we can to make the conditions right, and pray for fire.

Falling Star

31 Aug 1976

ah, Falling Star,
You fill my eyes with such surprise
and the sky seems
more empty than before when You're gone

oh, how You shine!
You can break right through
this darkness of mine
oh, how You shine!
You can take away
this darkness of mine

ah, Morning Star,
You fill the night with such pure light
and You cause the morning sun
to blush for shame
when You rise

ah, Morning Star,
You fill me with such glory when You rise
Falling Star,
You fell down from the sky
to give me light

1979 Notes:

Often on a summer night, I like to go out under the stars, away from the distracting lights, and lie on my back, facing the sky. I try to imagine the universe as it really is: me, a mere speck of matter, pressed against the surface of an insignificant planet called Earth, whirling through space in an orbit 93,000,000 miles away from the sun—which is in itself only a modest-sized star in a galaxy made up of millions and millions of other stars... And there I am, looking out (not up) on the far distant past, feeling very small and insignificant indeed.

And then, suddenly, a blaze of light streaks across the sky. And I am reminded that in this awesome universe God created by the Word of His power, I am somehow important. For some unfathomable reason, He Himself became a "falling star" that burned up in our stifling atmosphere of pride and hate. And because He gave His all to give us light, it was given Him to rise again, the Morning Star.

And then I thank Him in silence for surprising me in my darkness, and for rising to banish it forever.

2007 Notes:

Grandpa Regis bought my brother a shotgun when he turned 12 years old. When it was my turn to turn 12, he must have had an inkling that I might want something else, so he gave me a choice. I chose a telescope. After all, I belonged to a science fiction book club, loved the sci-fi shows on TV, and even taught myself to type so I could submit the little sci-fi stories I wrote for publication; so it made sense.

People around me made allowances for my obsession, too. My Great-Grandpa May used to hold me on his lap and he'd say, "Now, what do you think about flying saucers? Do you think they're real? Do you think there is life on other planets?" For someone like him, who seemed to know everything, to actually treat the subject as if it were worth talking about... That was something I'll never forget. Even my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Dodson, used to indulge me by having serious discussions about whether or not Ezekial's "wheels" may have really been flying saucers. And Pastor Mitchell used to come over, bring his telescope, and open the whole, vast amazing sky full of constellations and double stars and galaxies to my amazed little mind.

I have a better telescope now (Davey got me a nice one for my last birthday), but the amazement is still the same, whether the images are blurry or clear. The One who made all these wonders loves me. That is the one wonder that trumps every other wonder I've ever known.

Can't You See Me?

11 Nov 1975

how can you look without seeing?
your eyes look at me almost every day
and yet you never see me
not the real me
that lives behind my eyes
you never let your eyes
touch mine for very long
you know that touch could
make us so strong
tell me—would touching be so wrong?

how can you listen without hearing?
your lips ask me questions almost every day
but you can't wait for answers
I can see the clock that's there
behind your smile
you never give yourself
to feel my pain
and as long as I can smile
we just maintain
tell me—what do we hope to gain?

how can you touch without feeling?
your hands come upon me
in so many ways
and yet you never feel me
you don't send your soul to greet me
and reach beneath the skin

and even though
I leave my heart wide open to you
you always pause at the door
and then you're gone
somewhere else to go
something else to do
someone else to see
can't you see me?

1979 Notes:

There is a pain that happens in a relationship when you long to go deeper, but realize that the one you love is satisfied to stay on the surface.

There is no greater pain than opening the door, only to find that no one wants to come in.

2007 Notes:

The reason I wrote the song in the first place was that there were no words to describe what I was feeling and I guess there still aren't.

Appeal to a Dying Race

17 Oct 1971
(music adapted from "Recitative and song" from Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell)

sometimes I see people crowding by
in sorrow they die
in sadness they cry
and follow after a lie

when the whole world cries out
in torment and despair
how can I stop the pain?
Lord, hear me and help me to care
a tender touch—a healing touch
as You came to me come to them
You died for them
now gently lead them to life that's new

now He is pleading for you
to open your heart
don't just turn Him away
don't shut Him out
invite Him in to stay
O are you blind?
He loves you so
Do you know what it means to die?
He died for you
and now He wants you to live
with Him

1979 Notes:

This was written in my second year of college (U of Mich). In Music Lit. we were studying an excerpt from Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell, a "recitative and song," and the melody haunted me everywhere I went.

At the same time, I was also being haunted by an endless procession of faces—the faces of people I knew, the people I saw in my classes, the strangers I saw every day as I walked across campus, the friends I lived with in the dorm. Even in my sleep I couldn't escape the eyes that had lost hope, the lips that had forgotten how to smile.

And it just didn't make any sense to me that they should have such an emptiness in their lives, all the time restlessly searching, when my Master wanted nothing more than to satisfy their deepest longings. So I wrote an appeal to them, and a plea to God to reach them somehow—set to the music that played in my head.

Now, seven years later, the faces have changed, but the haunting is still there. And so is the appeal.

2007 Notes:

These days I'm doing rather less in public and rather more in private. We've thrown our lots in with a small group of worshippers at a nearby Episcopal church, getting involved and trying to make a difference. It's a "total ministry" congregation, where the members use their gifts to do the work that needs doing, without a full-time priest. Everyone commits. It's a wonderful experiment, and so far, it's working remarkably well...

We all have some high ideas when we're young, don't we? As Joni Mitchell says, the dreams sometimes lose some grandeur coming true. But they've gained a few things, too. And they have, after all, come true!

Just To Think About You

1 Aug 1973

just to think about You, Lord
makes me feel like singing
and just to think that You still care
it makes me feel like bringing
all my love to You
and I do
just to know a love so true

just to think how You have made
this empty life worth living
and just to know that You'll be there
it makes me feel like giving
my whole life to You
and I do
makes the sky seem so blue
just to think about You, Lord

I will never understand the reason for Your love
or the reason why You think that I'm worth thinking of
maybe that's what makes Your love so wonderful to me
thank You, Lord, for sharing such a precious gift with me

oh, it makes me feel so fine
it's the greatest feeling in the world
to know that You are mine
and I love You so
don't You know?
makes the sunrise seem new
just to think about You, Lord
just to think about You, Lord

1979 Notes:

This is a good song to sing when I don't feel like singing. (There are times like that, you know.) No matter what the problem is, by the time I finish the first line, it doesn't seem to matter anymore. Isn't that the way it always is? (It is with me.)

If we could ever just turn our eyes upon Him and His love instead of the circumstances that beguile us so, we would find all the frustrations melting away like snow under the summer sun.

2007 Notes:

It seems like such a cop-out sometimes to say, "all you have to do is just turn your eyes upon Him." And yet it really is just that simple. All you have to do is look in the right direction to get things going in the right direction.

On another note, I just love hearing Lonnie sing with me on this one. (We're actually neighbors these days again. If you'd like to hear more of her, check out the Truth album. She sings a lot on that one. (By the way, Lonnie has done a few other wonderful things in life besides singing on my albums. She is also a prize-winning poet, and began working in the publishing arena in the 1980s, holding editorial positions at Guideposts Books, Harper San Francisco and Thomas Nelson, before becoming Director of Acquisitions at Revell/Baker.)

Measuring the Distance

25 Aug 1977

when I say you're a part of me
I'm not just making rhyme
there's a bond of love between us
that grows stronger with the time
I can feel your loving touch
no matter where you are
and I know you're right here with me
thoug it seems so very far
and I am

measuring the distance between our hearts
measuring the moments since we've been apart
counting all the times I've felt the warmth of
your smile
falling more in love with you each day
and every mile

I feel just like a magnet
and you're my counterpart
I feel the most contented
when I'm nearest to your heart
all the world makes sense to me
when you are in my arms
I'm stuck in Minnesota
but it might as well be Mars
cause I am

1979 Notes:

I am constantly aware of the distance between us. When we are apart—a mile or a thousand, no matter what my body may be doing, my soul is always turned toward you, reaching out.

The closer we are, the nearer I am to rest, but the more intense the awareness of our separation becomes. It is when I look into your eyes that I am both the most content and separated from you. I can't explain it. Can a flower explain why it must forever reach up on tiptoe toward the sun?

If I could understand the secret, I would understand many other things as well. But the riddle remains.

2007 Notes:

If you've ever been in love, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about here.

My buddies in Minneapolis never did like this song very well. Can't say as I blame them. But I didn't mean to insult them. After all, I suppose a couple of books could be written about all the wonderful things and people that I experienced up there. It's just that when you want to be somewhere else, no place seems good enough, no matter how wonderful.

Bass Drum

5 Jun 1976

if I was a bass drum, I would beat for You
and if I was a bird, You know, I'd tweet for You
if I was a lemon I'd be sweet for You
but all that I can do is love You
oh, if I was a river, I would run for You
and if I was a playground, I'd have fun for You
if I was the West, I would be won for You
but the best that I can do is love You

I only wish that I had more to give
I only wish I had more lives to live for You
but everything I've got belongs to You, Lord
so take me, I am Yours—what else can I do?

oh, if I was a cannon, I would boom for You
and if I was a flower, I would bloom for You
if I was a building I'd make room for You
but the best that I can do is love You

oh, if I was a clock, I'd find the time for You
and if I was a poem, I would rhyme for You
show me any mountain and I'll climb for you
but as it is I have no sense of time
and I have never been too good at making rhyme
but show me any mountain and I'll climb
for You

1979 Notes:

During the recording of the Freed album, Bobbi's parents came to listen as we did the vocals. Once when we went inside the control room to listen back, her mother had the strangest look on her face. I wondered if it really sounded that bad. (No, just kidding.) I asked her what was the matter and she said, "Oh, if only...if only I was a bass drum!"
That has to be rated as one of the weirder things anyone's ever said to me. But after a little thought—and a little explanation—it made sense. She just couldn't think of a single word to express the thankfulness she had in her heart. And she felt that if she were a bass drum she could at least begin to communicate it.

Well, I'm no stranger to that kind of frustration, and, unbelievable as it may seem, I spend a good deal of my time speechless.

All He wants in return for His countless blessings is our love. Often, it just doesn't seem to us to be enough... Sometimes it's a struggle even to give Him that much.

2007 Notes:

I always have liked puns, and I've always been a little silly, so there you have it. In fact, my good friend, Nance, coined the term "Doug Howell humor" at one point. Apparently, she felt that my sense of humor was in a class by itself. (Now that I think of it, though, she would probably say the word "class" shouldn't even enter into the discussion.) Oh, well, I guess that weird sense of humor, or whatever it is, was bound to come out in a few songs now and then.

Song

28 May 1972

there are so many reasons in the world
to write songs
but You are the best reason I've got
and there's so many songs in the world
to sing
I will sing the song You taught me

let me sing this song for You
and then, Lord, when the song is through
teach the song to someone new
and let him sing it, Lord, for You

there are so many reasons in the world
to love
but You are the best reason I can think of
and there's so many people
who need to care
I will love the way You showed me

there are so many ways in the world
to give
but You are the best way I know
and there's so many people
who need to know
I will share the things You give me

1979 Notes:

I really enjoy going into record stores. I can look around for the longest time. Not for anything in particular—just to see what's happening in the market. There's just something about records that captivates me.

But I can hardly go into a shop anymore without being overwhelmed by how many records there are! It seems everybody and their dog has just released an album. Inevitably, the question comes to me, "Why on earth are you doing an album? There are already so many that say it better than you." Seems like a good question. After all, I always wanted to be an astronomer.

But the Lord has the perfect answer (as usual), and when I listen, I can hear Him say: "I have given you a very special song that no one else can sing. And there are some people in my world who will never know my love unless you share what I have given to only you."

How can a body argue with that? So here's my song, here's my album—and maybe it's just for you.

2007 Notes:

And the Lord's been showin' me again, little by little, over the last year or so, that there still might be more to say. Stay tuned. Don't give up yet.

Thankful for the Sunshine (Drivin' Down the Road Song No. 2)

24 Sep 1976

I'm thankful for the sunshine
shining through the trees
I'm thankful for the rainbows
the blues and greens, and in-betweens
I'm thankful for the moonbeams
and every dream come true
I'm thankful for the sparkle
in drops of morning dew

but most of all I want to thank You for
the joy within my heart
let the storm clouds frown on me
I'll just smile and let it be
I'm thankful for the sunshine
thankful for Your love

I'm thankful for the wildflowers
and every butterfly—You've got such an eye
for making things that make me
smile a smile, and every mile
I'm thankful for the people
You've let me come to know
I'm always making new friends
everywhere I go

1979 Notes:

One of the songs Dad used to request quite often was "Five Foot Two." So I guess it was inevitable that someday I'd write my own version.

When I left Good News Circle after traveling with them for two years, I took a few weeks and went back home to our apple orchard near Sidney, Michigan. working there for a couple weeks made a lot of things clear to me. One of those things was how much God cares for me. I saw Him smiling in flowers, reaching out to me in trees, whispering in the wind. And soon a melody sprang up in my heart.

When lunchtime came, I went inside, and at the keyboard it all came together—a song of joy, just to say, "Thank You, Lord!"

2007 Notes:

Maybe it's because I was raised there, but living out in the country still tends to clarify things for me. Maybe it's an elemental thing. There's less protection, less insulation out here. You feel the intensity, the danger, the beauty of nature in the first person.

We moved out in the country a few years ago and have never looked back. Boy, if you thought I used to talk too much about nature, you should hear me now. I can go on and on and on about a bird I just saw. (And that happens a lot here: goldfinches, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, hummingbirds, cedar waxwings, Baltimore orioles...) And every time I see a new one, I think of Grandma. Oh, how she loved birds. She used to get so excited when she'd spy an unusual or especially pretty one that—well, frankly, I thought she was a little touched sometimes, it's true. But now I understand. And I've apologized to her so many times just this summer. The older I get, the more all those little things mean. And I'll sure have a lot to talk to Grandma about one of these days...

Color in My Eyes

18 Jan 1977

this morning when the sun rose
there was a rainbow in the clouds at the horizon
it made a circle 'round the sun
to warn the fleeing darkness
a multicolored halo
a ring to wed the weeping with the joy

and when the night had broken
the colors ran to take there proper places
the blue filled all the sky
the yellow crowned the sun
the green was told to wait another season
and whiteness fell to cover all the rest
and some fell in my eyes
and in my heart

You are the sunrise in my morning
You are the rainbow in my sky
the darkness must run
when I look in Your face
You are the color in my eyes

the moment I first saw You
there was a rainbow in the hope
so deep inside me
it made a circle 'round my heart
to warn the fleeing sadness
a crown for my Beloved
a ring to wed the laughter with the tears
to tell me I am Yours
and You are mine

1979 Notes:

I closed my eyes and to my utter amazement found myself in a world completely different than the one with which I ws so familiar. It was a land filled with the most vibrant colors imaginable. There were blues and reds and yellows such as I had never seen. They seemed to swirl about in the very air I breathed. And over everything—a blanket of purest white.

And just as the Singer described it—there was a rainbow. I had seen many rainbows in my life, but none of them ever seemed to have much to do with me. They were of the sky—I was of the earth. I had no wings, and had not the strength or faith to run after them. But this rainbow, made of the same intense colors that were everywhere, began right at my feet and soared upward toward the sun. I could not see where it led for the brightness, and yet it seemed there was someone—a person, clothed with light, sitting in the sun.

2007 Notes:

This is one of the most "romantic" songs about the Lord I've ever written. My 1979 notes were pretty metaphorical, but they also pretty much describe the scene as it really was. I was on the road, heading North; it was a cold morning; there were sun dogs; then there was a rainbow, then a circle 'round the sun... It all fell into place. All. Every single thing had a meaning. Each color. In fact, everything had more than one meaning. The presence of one, the absence of another. The positive, the negative. It all had a purpose, somehow. There was such clarity. And hope. May we all have more moments like that!

Every Sign on the Road

19 Mar 1977

my heart is lyin' in pieces
all over the world
I can't pass a sign on the road
without thinking of something I once heard
"Don't spread yourself too thin in life,
or you'll wind up all alone"
I don't know what you think
but it's true for all I know

every sign on the road reminds me
of faces in my mind
I miss so much the loving touch
of people I've left behind
if I had my way I'd follow
every sign I see
but as it is, I'm thankful
for precious memories

I've seen some beautiful places
all over this land
but you know, I'd trade all the mountains I've seen
for one touch of your hand
someday when this road ends
I'm gonna know the reason why
but until that day, all I can do
is smile when I go by

1979 Notes:

There was a time not too long ago when I'd have said you were crazy if you had told me I would someday be singing full time. Not that I don't like to travel—I do. But it's traveling alone that doesn't excite me too much. Falling in love with someone, only to find them gone the next day. (How many times that's happened I don't know. I've lost count.) Hate to do this to you again, but it reminds me of another song, one Anne Murray sings, which goes:

"and there's just 30 faces in this whole world
and they keep exchanging names
Just when I'm getting to know them
well enough to call them friends
I have to go back out on the road again"

Couldn't have said it better myself. Believe it or not, I'm really a homebody at heart—oh, a few excursions here and there for spice, but always coming home. And there are times when I'd give it all up just to stay here long enough to keep the weeds out of my garden. But people are more important than gardens. So I pull the weeds I can and leave again.

One thing you have to watch for is that things can get pretty shallow when you're constantly on the road. Oh, don't misunderstand, there are some very deep times, too, but then—it's always the same—you have to leave. There's no accountability. There's no day-to-day, eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with someone who knows you to make you deep and keep you real.

So I try to spend at least half my time at home. I guess when you come down to it, it's the call—if He calls you, go—but don't seek this kind of life on your own.

And when I begin feeling lost and alone in the Outer Tundra Regions or somewhere, I remember Jesus had no place to lay His head, and He walks with me.

2007 Notes:

Well, I'm certainly getting plenty of time to play the homebody these days. And as I've hinted before, the reviews are mixed. (Ha-ha.) No, but really, I sometimes miss singing up on that stage. Without those concerts for all you good folks, there aren't nearly as many record sales, which means there is less chance—time-wise and money-wise both—to record songs. (And there are still a lot to record. Even if I never write another one.)

So, I said yes when Davey asked me again to do a house concert soon. I'll let you know how it goes...

Picture Show

16 May 1973

and I'm just not safe anymore
I can't go anywhere
but there's empty eyes and words and smiles
and lives that never touch
but long to be touched
and I walked into a picture show
I wanted to laugh
I just wanted to be uninvolved for a change
and then there you were

how could you touch my soul from the screen?
why was the smile on your face meant for me?
how could your shining eyes have seen the
tears in mine?

I guess apathy is a luxury I can't afford
and if money buys it
I pray I never have enough
and I don't know your name
but at least I know your needs
if you were here, I wonder how I'd tell you
how your life is a part of my life
would you understand that
I love you?

I know that Jesus wants to reach you
He wants so much to set you free
you only have to let Him teach you
how to live

I know if I don't sing this song
I'll start to cry
and the way I feel,
I just might cry anyway

1979 Notes:

If it is still shrouded in mystery, let it be so. Heart and mystery—ah, some things must remain unspoken.

2007 Notes:

It doesn't seem all that mysterious to me now, really. Remember Willie (see Bluer notes)? Well, same character. Funny how just the sight of one face can make your whole Program for Uninvolvement fall apart. And make songs and dreams and prayers start tumbling out of you. But in one sense, of course, the face was already there, inside of me. I just recognized it up on the screen. And I've come to know that face, the one within me, a lot better through the years since that fateful night. Seems like the better we get to know the faces inside us, the less we're driven by the faces on TV and movie screens and in crowds and audiences and everywhere.

We'll never get to know all the faces, though—not in this life—so rest assured: there will always be plenty of mystery.

Finally Found Love

(words by Joe Becker, music by Doug Howell)
3 Jan 1978

I've been looking for a person
I can always turn to when I'm down
looking for someone who doesn't care
that I'm a clown
looking for a special friend—
like the one that I just found

I've been searching for Jesus for so long
it don't seem real
I've been searching in places that I
never could reveal
all I found was heartaches
looking everywhere for love
but when I finally found the Lord
then I finally found love

now I've stopped my running
I don't have to look for happiness no more
my heart has found what it was looking for
all the love I'd dreamed of
all I'll ever need and more
and all I did was open up
I just opened up the door

1979 Notes:

God is love, and Jesus is God. So Jesus is love. Simple. Then why can't we see that we won't find love until we find Jesus?

I've looked in so many places—and people—that I couldn't list them all—and wouldn't want to if I could. You can say, "I've searched longer and farther than you." You can say you've searched your life away. But none of that changes the simple equation. Jesus is love.

So, if you still want love, seek Him first. And you'll find it. Then you can write this back to me on one of those days when I forget.

2007 Notes:

Remember, back in the "Real with You" notes, how I said a friend of mine sent me two poems? Well, this is the other one. Thanks, Joe! (I recently had the privilege of seeing him again after a very long time. He happened to be passing by on the street at an Ark concert I was doing with Ann Doyle, he saw the poster and came in. What a nice surprise!)

I've heard many people through the years say that happiness is a by-product, that you can only find it when you're looking for something else. Maybe love is the same way. Maybe you can only find it when you look for God. In Jesus; in each other...

I Saw You in the Mountains

14 Oct 1974

Jesus, I saw You today
in the mountains
You spoke to me
in fervent whispers of cool, sweet air
Your trees were standing sentinel
below the snowy heights
while You spoke to me of greatness
and love
and condescension

and I just sat in silence
when I saw what You had made
and I wondered at Your love for me
when I saw You in the mountains today

Jesus, I saw You today
by the waters
You spoke to me
in rhythmic whispers of warm, salt air
Your white seabirds were daring me
to follow toward the sun
while You spoke to me of patience
and time
and faithfulness

and I just sat in silence
when I saw what You had made
and I wondered at Your love for me
when I saw You by the waters today

and why'd You give up
everything You made
to come down here
and die
for me?

1979 Note:

On the first trip I took with the Good News Circle, we went to Colorado. On our day off we drove through the mountains and stopped for a while at the Maroon Bells. The clouds shrouded the top of the highest peak and snow graced the upper slopes and the whole scene was reflected in the mirror-like surface of a little lake nestled in the valley. A couple of the guys started for the top of the nearest mountain. For a while I kept up, but soon sat down on a grassy slope to rest. Looking out across the lake at the majestic heights, I felt an extreme sense of smallness come over me.

And as I watched in awe, the Creator spoke to me in cool breezes that pushed gently against my ear. It was as though He took me into His confidence and told me many hidden things which I had never heard—or even imagined.

Sitting there on the mountain, listening to Him and seeing His incredible handiwork, it seemed the whole world was in order—even my fragmented life fit into His plan—and everything made sense. It seemed at that moment that all the questions were gone. Except for one: "Why do You love me?"

2007 Notes:

I'm sitting on my front porch now, with Murphy (our 14-year-old cocker spaniel) on one side and Kayla (our twenty-month-old German shepherd) daydreaming under a gentle summer breeze, and many, many years have passed, but the question remains. It never dims. His ways are as high above mine as the heavens are above the earth, yet He somehow finds me lovable. Supremely lovable. It's that same supreme mystery I've spoken of earlier, and it is a recurring theme in song and in life. When I listen now, I hear: cicadas, grasshoppers, bird chirps and tweets, a hot breeze rustling through the cherries, oaks and hickories, and a snoring doggie. And that same, clear, voice.

So Far To Go

23 Sep 1976

Your Book is like a mirror (oh, dear)
and today I finally took
took a good look
at myself—I looked at myself
the very things I hated most in others
I saw today in me
what I say and what I am
they seem to disagree
with me

You know every time I think
I've got it made in the shade
that's the time You choose to show
what You know to be me
the real me
and I see the foolishness of judging others
when You've forgiven me
Lord, forgive me once again
and teach my eyes to see like You see
and start with me

yes, I know, I've got so far to go
so very far to go
I've got so far to go
but even though at times I feel this way
that's when I hear Him gently say
"Just put your hand in my hand
and I'll lead you on home"

since You've shown me who I am
what can I do? (boo-hoo)
don't just leave me with my head
a-hangin' down to the ground
with a frown
You promised long ago
that I should be the image of You
but, Lord, that seems so far away
oh, can it still be true?
I'm trusting You

yes, I know, I've got so far to go
so very far to go
I've got so far to go
but even though at times I feel this way
that's when I hear Him gently say
"Just put your hand in my hand
and you're already home"

1979 Notes:

James says, "If anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does." (Jas. 2:23–25)

Sometimes I avoid looking in the mirror early in the morning—I guess I'm afraid of what I might see. And, likewise, I'm sometimes afraid to look into the Word, because I know that even the "thoughts and intentions of my heart" will be exposed for what they really are (Heb. 4:12).

The solution is not to turn away, but to look even more intently, so the One who wields the sword can do His work in us.

2007 Notes:

As I was saying before, we are Episcopalians these days. Both Davey and I were headed that direction—toward a more liturgical approach, and less center-stage-pulpit-preaching—when we met, and we've continued on that journey together. It's really been wonderful getting to know the liturgy, the mystery, the meaning through the age-old prayers and collects and rubrics and all that. Davey is the liturgy expert around here, and it's nice being able to ask him when I have a question. Our whole church is really learning it together, as we progress down our "total ministry" track. It's very exciting.

One of the things that really resonated with me back when we first stepped out on the "road to Canterbury" was the message of a little pamphlet called Episcopalians and the Bible. It said something like this: "As Episcopalians, we don't stand in the Word and read Christ. We stand in Christ and read the Word." In that little transposition rests a difference as big as all the world. The Word is meaningless, lifeless, just a heap of do's and don'ts without Christ. It's our living relationship with Christ that breathes Spirit into it and gives it—and us—meaning.

Last Sunday we had a Morning Prayer service, and I was the reader. I scanned through the readings a couple of times, as usual, to get the meaning and check for difficult names, and everything seemed fine. But every once in a while, there's something, some truth in a passage that just pierces me. Right through. If you come to it as if you haven't read it and heard it preached on your whole life, if you come to it in all your vulnerability, it just floods in like the tide. So I started reading Ephesians 4:11–16. I made it as far as verse 15: "But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love." I paused a long time. I took a couple of deep breaths. I blinked away the tears. I barely got through it.

One person thought it was because I was nervous (he assured me he'd felt that way before, too). One thought it was because my Dad was very ill. He was, and that was probably a big reason I was feeling so vulnerable. But really, mostly, I think it was just because it was true. The Lord had somehow broken through and showed me a vision of what our little congregation could be like if we really allowed ourselves to be "joined and knitted together," building ourselves up in love.

Nothing happens without the truth. Nothing happens without the love. Nothing.

House on the Ocean

12 Jan 1978

I've always wanted a house on the ocean
all made of glass, perched high on a hill
then every morning I'd wake with the sunrise
and every night rock to sleep with the waves
all down the stairway that leads to the water
flowers are dancing in time with the breeze

but I'd be content with a room in the city
if you'll just live with me
we could grow flowers in pots by the window
you could whisper the breeze in my ear

I've always wanted to be a composer
I'd write refrains in my house by the sea
I'd fill all the country with music and dancing
laughter and teardrops would walk hand in hand
and no one would think what they feel unimportant
all would be one and would not be the same

but I'd be content with a tune to be humming
if you'll just live with me
I'll hear a symphony each time you touch me
and your love is the song I will sing

since I remember, I've always wanted
to live in a future just like my dreams
everything I'd wish—that's what would come true
think about flying and flying I'd be
riding on clouds over moonshadowed mountains
sliding on rainbows and chasing the stars

but I'd be content with only this moment
if you'll just live with me
I'll find my future in vows left unspoken
I can find all the stars in your eyes

1979 Notes:

This song is only for you.

2007 Notes:

I can still remember being there. I was on the freeway, heading North. (I almost always headed North in those days.) It was playing in my head, and I was writing it down, like dictation. I think this is my favorite song, really. It's just always seemed perfect to me. Maybe that's because the person I was writing it about seemed perfect to me, too.

Lonnie and Joe were over once and we were talking about rhyme schemes and types (I was reading Jimmy Webb's book about songwriting at the time, and had just read the part about perfect versus imperfect rhymes). Lonnie loves the song, too (and, by the way, she can sing it like nobody else; in fact, she sang it for our ceremony), so we were both anxious to figure out what kinds of rhymes the song had. I went and scrounged up the sheet music and we started reading through the lyrics. Slowly, it dawned on us. Wow, that's funny, we realized. There's no rhyme scheme at all! It was true. The song seemed perfect, but it didn't rhyme.

Of course, at the time I wrote it (or took it down as dictation, depending on your point of view), I wasn't really concerned about rhyming anything. It was a plea, that's all. A desperate plea that didn't work. But somehow I lived on, and years later I finally came to see that the song was as much about me as it was about him.

Hallelujah, Jesus Loves Me

7 Oct 1976

all my life I've lived alone
they just can't seem to remember my name
I'd live and die—and still I'd be unknown
guess there's really no one else to blame

but then You came into my world
You gave me love I'd never known
You sang me songs I'd never heard
and then You touched me
and made me Your own

Hallelujah, Jesus loves me
Hallelujah, Jesus cares
Hallelujah, Jesus loves me
Hallelujah, praise His name

now I need no place to hide
I know I've found just what I'm looking for
and now I know I've got love on my side
how could anybody ever ask for more?

and since You came You've made me see
that every day holds something new
to think I used to say,
"Love's not for me"
and now I've fallen in love
with You

1979 Notes:

Some people hear my albums or a concert, come up to me shyly and say, "May I ask you a question?" I answer, "Sure." So they drag me off into a corner and whisper, so that only I can hear, "Are you ever lonely?" It's all I can do to keep from laughing. I usually share with them a saying I learned from Bill Gothard: "Loneliness can be our friend when it forces us to appreciate the friendship of God as much as we appreciate the friendship of others."

And my mind wanders back to a time when I lived by myself in an apartment. It was after a great tour, and I had an awful lot to share. But when I came in and closed the door—it echoed. I sat on the sofa for a long time, just staring at the floor and feeling sorry for myself. But soon I realized that Someone was standing there. The Kind of the universe was standing in my livingroom—waiting for me!

Well, I realized I had, in effect, been saying by my actions—"Lord, You're OK but I'd rather have somebody else to come home to." So I asked Him to forgive me. And I decided that I would sing a concert just for Him—I hardly ever sang just for Him, without an audience. So I turned out the lights, went to the piano and, closing my eyes, began to play. (That's my favorite way to play, although I do make a few more mistakes.)

In my mind I could see Him sitting in the corner, leaning back in the easy chair, smiling at me. He could see through all the subtle little word changes, and yet I knew he loved me—though He alone could truly see what I was. It was the same love that led Him long ago to a lonely cross—for me.
And it is that perfect Love that fills my life and, time after time, drives away my despair.

2007 Notes:

No, I'm not as lonely as often these days. But I've known loneliness. There's no doubt about that. And once you've known it, you never forget how close you are to it. Once you've loved and lost, you always carry around within yourself the knowledge that you could lose again, that you are always perilously close to losing.

I love to drive to work down our country roads, but every now and then I think to myself, when approaching a gravel hauler going 60, just how easy it would be for that truck, or my car, to veer over a few inches. It would only take a second to change everything. I don't mean to be morbid, but it does cross my mind.

At my Dad's memorial service last December, Pastor Jamey quoted the verse in Ecclesiastes about it being better for a young person to attend a funeral than a party (chapter 7, verses 2–6). I guess the point is the same one I was trying to make: that it's always a good thing to remember just how fragile life is.

We had a freakish ice storm a few weeks back. The ice built up on the tree branches a quarter to half an inch. Usually it all melts the next day, but not this time. The trees stayed that way, tops bent over, branches groaning under the shimmering weight, the power lines drooping with icicles, shining white as if someone had pushed an eraser across the sky. The whole world looked like a photographic negative. Everything that was supposed to be black was brilliant white. And it all stayed that way for days. For a week. For almost two. Walking back along our winding driveway after getting the paper one morning, I thought of Damocles. Walking out to get the paper was like walking under the sword of Damocles. A branch, a tree could drop on my head at any moment. One second could change everything.

Every day holds something new. To think I used to say, "Love's not for me." And now I've fallen in love with you.

Jesus Never Fails

23 Sep 1975

Jesus never fails
Jesus never fails
I've got a friend who won't
ever forsake me
Jesus never fails

He gives me songs in the night
when the sleep won't come
He holds me tight
when all my other friends are sleeping
He hears me when I'm weeping
with lullabies so sweet
with love He bids my sorrows cease
with hands that knew the pain of nails
He wipes the tears away

1979 Notes:

If I had to leave with the world only one song, I would probably choose this one. In all my life I have never known three truer words: Jesus never fails.

Everything in my life changes. Dreams and disappointments change place so fast it leaves me bewildered and grasping at straws. But through all the inconstancy and instability there's one thing that remains eternally unchanged: the deep, deep love and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus.

I have chosen to follow Him. He will never fail me or forsake me.

2007 Notes:

My sister, Doreen, read a devotional passage based on Joshua 1:1–9 to my Dad not long before he died. Joshua 1:9 goes something like this: "Be strong and courageous. Don't tremble or be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. He will never fail you or forsake you." (I know, that last bit isn't from Joshua, it's from Hebrews, but I've gotten into the habit of quoting those verses together. I used to introduce this song by quoting those two verses together every time I performed it in concert.)

Anyway, Doreen thought Dad was sleeping while she was reading all this, but as soon as she finished, he squeezed her hand and said, “I have to have courage to make it through all this, don’t I? God is beside me now to help me, right? Can we pray now?” When Doreen stood up to take his other hand, he pulled her close in one of the tightest hugs she ever remembers, and he prayed. You would think he would have prayed for himself, for relief from the pain and the cancer that was gripping his body tighter each day, but he didn't. He thanked God for all his blessings, for us kids, for bringing us to Florida safely, and for the time we'd had to visit him, and for Mom. Then he said, “Goodbye God, talk to you tomorrow.”

The way you can depend on your parents, you can depend on God. But much more so. You can't even depend on your parents not to leave you. Not your brothers and sisters, not your doggies, not your friends. Not your spouse. Nobody can ever say to another, "I will never leave you." No one except God. How amazingly blessed we are that the one and only Person who can say that to us does.

The hymn writer put it this way: "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I'll never, no never desert to its foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake." ("How Firm a Foundation," lyrics by John Rippon, 1787)

End Notes

Thank you, Scotty, for the blue jeans, and for understanding. Thanks from Mike, Bruce, for use of the VW!

Special thanks to: my parents, Leon, Jr. and Joyce Howell; my grandparents, Norval and Twilah Regis; Paul and Margaret Pauley; Mrs. Jean Gragg Morgan; Mr. Russell Davis; and my Wichita family, the Charles Schultz's; whose belief in me stretched all the way to their wallets.


Lyrics & notes © 1979 Love's Music, later assigned to Creative Measures. 2007 Notes © 2007 Creative Measures. All rights reserved.