THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN! Really? As the preacher’s long finger pointed upward, these six words would thunder through the canvas and bounce off of the metal poles of the old Gospel tents. As a child, such a simple phrase would scare the living daylights out of me each and every time. Roll in a summer storm with the wind clanging the tie-down hooks against the metal poles while the lightning dances about and you have something right out of a Benjamin Franklin experiment.
I am no stranger to the hell-fire and brimstone way of life. This was my life. I, so well, remember my very tall dad carrying me in his arms across sawdust floors with my head grazing the flaps on the tent. This was raw faith in its purest of forms to these folks. Some of the tent evangelist greats: T.L. Lowery, H. Richard Hall, Rudy Teague, John Todd, and more of whose names I cannot recall. However, I do recall a night the metal chairs parted as the evangelist walked across the tent and stood in front of me, announcing to my big sister sitting beside of me, “She is unusual. There is something very different about her.” If he only knew now.
With the fading away of tent revivals, W. Earl Armstrong, another great preacher in his day, built the Armstrong Tabernacle in our town to host the many traveling evangelists. The tabernacle was really a huge auditorium – complete with sloped flooring and a massive high stage. The tabernacle was an amazing structure for such a small town in the 1960’s.
An evangelist, from the list above, came to hold revival at the tabernacle. No set dates, as these could start out as a week event and go into two or three weeks and even longer depending on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Predictably, my family was among the multitudes who found their way there, night after night.
On one given night it came time for the evening offering. Folks were asked to bring their offering up front and lay it on the platform. For those who could not reach the platform, a couple of tall men would take the offering and place it there for them.
Putting a few crumpled dollars in my hand, dad said, “Go, take this to the front.” Walking down the slanted floor, I became much smaller and the stage much bigger. Almost at the front, the evangelist stopped the music to a dead silence and calmly requested, “Pick her up and bring her to me.” One of the tall gentlemen did just that. I found myself in the arms of a slick-backed dark hair and black-suited stranger – face-to-face with the most comforting smile that I remember to this day. In that moment, I was not afraid anymore.
I believe the evangelist was trying to make the point of “coming as a little child”. However, he needed to close the service and I am not sure that he knew what to do with me. The tall men were seated and dangling me from the high stage would seem a bit “off”. Still in his arms like a doll and still in the air, the evangelist asked of the congregation,
Within that same breath, he pitched me from the stage to land in the soft cushioned laps of three ladies sitting on the front row. From the pitch, to the cement floor, to the connecting metal chairs and all in between could have gone badly in so many ways. But, it didn’t. After the closing prayer, dad came down front and collected me from the ladies as if nothing had ever happened.
Many revivals and many years following, I grew up to stand eye-to-eye with this now aging, still gentle evangelist. To him and perhaps even to myself, I remained that little child.
From that little child, the transition from his arms to standing on a piano bench to sing, somehow, seemed natural. Being so deeply rooted in old time religion has served me well. The smell of sawdust, the prayer lines that lined the entire tent circle, the amazing, echoing sound of the Hammond B3 organ, and the Sunday afternoon river baptisms – all of these things have served to lay the foundation for who I am today. No matter where I go or to whom I go, my song is firmly grounded in the humble of yesterday.
Before the piano bench, singing began, for me, by not knowing that I could sing and not before getting reprimanded for it. Adult fellowshipping after church led me behind the piano mimicking the church music leader and singing to a gathered, rather interested, audience of kids and unsociable adults. All was well until I looked up into the eyes of the music leader sporting a less-than-pleased expression over top of the piano. Two things I learned that night: don’t do that anymore and that apparently, I could sing.
Even in my parent’s less than humble home in the tiny living room, there was always a piano, organ, accordion, and a couple of guitars. The beautiful sound of the steel guitar would join in when old Mr. Peeler would stop by. Living just down the road from an old landmark church, would find bored evangelist’s musicians roaming in and out of our house during the daytime and nights off of revival. We had no idea that we were in the midst of some of the greatest musicians and private music jam sessions. How was this not normal?
A gentleman who worked on the old oil furnace would come by every so often to band-aid whatever was broken. Preparing to leave, he would set his toolbox down at the door and turn to me, “Sing that song for me, something about a lighthouse.” Picking up his toolbox again and saying nothing more, he would then walk out of the door with a slight smile on his face. Uncertain if he had ever stepped inside of a church.
From all-night singings, revivals, homecomings, and camp meetings; singing became as familiar to me as breathing.
Nothing compares to warming by a flaming oil drum with a group of big, burly Harley guys sharing stories and Gospel music. Or, doing a memorial service at a small church in the middle of nowhere for a fallen Vietnam Veteran, surrounded by his remaining combat brothers. CDs and books placed in truck stop chapels for the lonely and weary truckers who find themselves there in the middle of the night, CDs mailed to foreign countries and receiving messages in broken English of how they “felt something”, the prisoners who wander into the prison library and pull out a CD or a faith book – all precious, no one memory treasured above the other.
There is no greater honor than to hold in my hand a letter that goes something like this: “I am a 3rd year Civil Engineering Student in Mekelle University, Ethiopia. The main thing is, most of the time I hear the Music of Christ through my life, then one day, suddenly, I hear a music CD-Rom on my campus and I ask an address to write that publisher. Please, if possible, give me one CD to hear or anything about Lord Jesus Christ. With Thanks!”
Beyond all these beautiful memories is one that brings me back to that soul-saving feeling all over again. That moment, walking into a funeral home for a deceased that I have never met, singing for the grieving family who has no one else to do so, and witnessing that glimpse of grace and peace rolling down the faces of the loved ones. That, my friend, is sharing the Gospel for me.
This is the amazing life that God has chosen for me.
Challenges have certainly been part of my journey, but too few to mention when compared to the rewards. However, I would be amiss in not admitting that the toughest audience to sing for is one of so blessed folks that an author’s song, forged out of the darkest of places, is somewhat foreign to them. Life has been kind in that they have not yet been plunged into the depths of faith testing. Perhaps, why my passion is often pulled outside the walls of the church and off of the stage.
With the music part of my family now playing in Glory, God has allowed my path to cross with some of the greatest talents in the music, artistic, and professional worlds.
The pleasure was all mine to have a chance meeting with an artist from Paris, his original painting becoming the artwork for one album cover.
My Friend, Mr. Danny Woods: To say that I miss you is an understatement. One can only imagine your rendition of Amazing Grace echoing off of the hills of Heaven.
An abrupt summer thunderstorm postponing a beach music concert right outside my office door produced a face-to-face introduction to the legendary singer, Danny Woods of the band, Chairmen of the Board. From that God-designed day of him sitting across from my desk, grew an amazing friendship to go faith-blind into the studio and record a Gospel album. Having never sang together before recording day proved God in the details.
Weaving this all together is one of the absolute finest musicians in the business, Richard Putnam. Over the past twenty something years, Richard and I have shared each note, each verse, and each chorus covering over fifty original songs and eleven albums.
My journey has taken me to the heights of beauty and grace, as well as to the depths of places that I am not sure that I could ever travel again. Down through the years and in the middle of so many long, dark nights; this is the place where each bitter tear arose into a hallelujah note.
My journey has certainly not been a bed of roses, but rather shady, green pastures where I found rest, peace, grace, and the courage to run the race that God has personally set before me.
What started out as penning my thoughts so as not to forget God’s grace along the way has transformed into six books. When you can see God in everything, every breath, every step you take, from where you came and all the way to where you are going; there rests riches beyond measure.
No two journeys and no two races are the same. Yes, we all are on a journey. Oh, what a journey and oh, how it ends.
“My Journey”, the song, is not just a song, but rather a life-story lived. I count it only a gift of God to pen this calm after a weathered storm. I will remain eternally grateful to all those who carried “My journey” to the charts and allowed it to rest in the Cashbox/Southern Gospel Music Top 100 for nine straight months.
My life is one long testimony. I am living proof that from a poor Mountain/Melungeon ancestry, God can mold a polished vessel out of anything. Consistently molding me – from infant double pneumonia, a near fatal auto accident that spiraled into crippling anxiety attacks, severe anemia having no detectable pulse, and so many silently heart-held recalls that are too personal and too painful. Yet, God in his mercy, looked beyond the mess that I am. How could I not give my all to Him? I would not change one moment of my journey. There will always be a song.
In this moment, I have no clue where God will carry my latest single, “Where No One Wants To Be (Lord Send Me)”. The beauty is in watching His plans unfold before the eyes and being a part of the ride. Most Jeep rides entail not knowing where I am going, but the scenery is always breathtaking.
Where No One Wants To Be is my simple desire. This is me. If there be any gifts, graces, or talents bestowed to me; they are freely shared. My all is in Christ and Christ is my all. (For Your glory, I would do anything.) So, feel free to ask – be it music, writing, or whatever of me that proclaims Christ. Here I am. I’ll go.
At all times be grateful for that one crossing your path. Through all doubts, fears, and questions, in the end, all will fall gently and wonderfully into His plan – in spite of our human selves. Some of man’s greatest accomplishments have occurred just beyond Satan’s declaring, “It’s over.” Never, ever fold your hands in surrender before the purpose and the journey are finished. Until God folds the hands, we are to ever be about our Father’s business.
The mind of our Lord is inconceivable and therein lies the mystery of, His thoughts are not our thoughts and our ways are not His ways. Faith guides through all that we will ever need to know. Of all that we may not know, one thing remains. He was, He is, and for all eternity, there will be a God in Heaven.
Furthermore, I know something about a God in heaven. I know something about a place called Calvary. I know something about a Savior who gave his life for you and me. I know something about His walking with me day by day. I know something about travelling a life’s journey. I know something about that glorious day, soon, when Christ returns and all past is forever past.
Whatever we do for Christ should reflect that old, old story – simply shared in new and different ways. I have no desire to know much else. My one desire for my music, my writing, and my life is simply to be real and genuine. Being real and having a sense of humor that is a little off can sometimes translate onto written pages as a bit “rough around the edges”. My only response to this is, “It doesn’t get more real than Jesus and if there be any small reflection of Jesus in me and should it fall over one soul that is hurting, lonely, or lost, well then, nothing else matters.” May this always be my prayer, “When I show up, Lord, take it from here. Please don’t let me embarrass myself and most importantly, please don’t let me embarrass you.”
Oh, what a journey! Walking with Christ, we can face life, love life, and laugh with life.
THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN! YES, REALLY! And, He loves you more than you could ever imagine.
May all of your days be filled with Music, Love, and Light!
-Deborah Baliles Music & Publishing
Pull up a rocking chair – may you find your place of warmth and refuge here.
Show Me, The Beauty Of The Cross, One Drop Of Blood, I Choose To Believe, I’ve Got To Reach Jesus, Lord Have Mercy, My Journey, There Is Peace, Holy Spirit Flow Down, All That Matters, I’ll See You At Home
I Cry Jesus/What A Lovely Name, Goodbye World Goodbye, The Anchor Holds, It’s About The Cross, Heaven Only Knows It’s About Time, Home In A Heartbeat, Is That The New Jerusalem, The Blood Is Still Flowing, Where No One Wants To Be, The Battle Is The Lord’s, Amazing Grace, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, How Great Thou Art, The Old Rugged Cross, I Have A New Song
The First Noel, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Away In A Manger, O Holy Night, Go Tell It On The Mountain, What CHRISTmas Means
Deborah “Dobby” Baliles – Author, Singer, Songwriter, & Publisher
Richard Putnam – Music, Arranger, & Producer
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