HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn
My dad is a big fan of Southern Gospel music. We grew up listening to quartets like The Cathedrals on the way to school, and every single Christmas was highlighted by a viewing of the Gaithers’ Christmas Homecoming Celebration. (Just try to listen to “Come and see what’s happenin’ in the barn” without getting into the Christmas spirit. Dare ya.)
Gospel music tells great stories, and often lends itself to real-life stories of redemption. My dad’s favorite example of this has to do with a Gospel music queen, a fallen country superstar, and the song “Angel Band.” Here’s what happened, according to country music broadcaster Ralph Emery:
Singer George Jones had a serious, alcohol-related car accident in 1999. A long-time drinker, Jones was severely depressed in the days following his accident. As he struggled to recuperate from his injuries, no one could make him feel any better about anything, and he became more and more isolated. But he said he’d be willing to visit with his friend Vestal Goodman, the centerpiece of a group called The Happy Goodman Family, and owner of the most ground-shaking alto voice you’ve ever heard.
Emery helped connect Jones and Goodman, and sure enough, Jones started to take a turn for the better. In an interview about the meeting, Emery said, “As Vestal said, ‘I went out to George’s and ran the devil off.'” They later had a hit duet with the song “Angel Band” (Here’s a link to their performance of the song, but you have to promise me that you won’t make fun of anything when you watch it. Remember, country and Gospel music have their own rules when it comes to sound and fashion, and we need to let them have that.)
Here’s the lesson: Vestal didn’t have much to gain from a visit with George. He was down and out, and probably a pariah in the relatively straight-laced world of country music. And I’m certain he wasn’t any fun to talk to. But she went anyway, to “run the devil off” and remind him of God’s goodness, mercy, grace and forgiveness, and to bring him some hope. The fog of his depression lifted, and Jones was able to sing again. And I know you can’t read too much into the songs a singer sings, but check out these lyrics from “Angel Band”:
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly won.
My strongest trails now have are passed,
And my triumph is begun
Oh come, angel band.
Come and around me stand.
Bear me away on your snow white wings,
To my immortal home.
It appears, at least in the song, that Vestal’s words hit their mark. Who has shared that kind of hope with you? And who in your life needs to hear of the lasting hope only Jesus can provide?