A southern gospel legacy

One of the first things my husband ever gave me was a business card.  I was 14; he was 16.  That was soooo incredibly cool to me.  It was a business card for his family’s singing group, The Shannons.  It had his phone number on it, which is why he gave it to me in the first place.  I knew from the beginning that he was part of a southern gospel family.   I would come to learn through our years of dating and then marriage what that meant, especially when I became part of the group myself after we said “I do.”

It’s a family affair. I learned that my mother- and father-in-law started singing together in churches right after they got married.  They traveled and sang wherever they could.  When each of their two sons were born, the boys went with them, too.  It wasn’t long before my brother-in-law, who is almost six years older than my husband, was joining them on stage.  Then my husband did, too.  They have an incredibly cute video of my husband around age 6 or 7 sitting on stage playing a snare drum during a performance.  He looked bored — and adorable!

I’ve heard the stories about my husband, in particular, when he got up as a young child to sing a song and belted out the theme from the “Dukes of Hazard.”  Or another time when the pastor of the church where they were singing asked folks to come to the alter.  Evidently the turn out wasn’t so great because my husband admonished the congregation: “Didn’t you hear him?  He said to come down here!”

It’s taken lots of sacrifices. Aside from cute stories like these, there are other stories that go with this southern gospel family.  Things like packing a jar of peanut butter and loaf of bread in the car to feed the family in an economical manner.  Things like saving and sacrificing in order to go and do what God called them to do.  Things like buying a bus to save money on hotel stays instead of buying a new home.  Things like buying music equipment rather than a bigger television.

It’s a God-given musical gift. One of the things I learned very early on was the talent within this family.  It run deeps, yet they are incredibly humble about it and don’t do it for attention or glory.  It’s something they do for the love of the Lord and the love of music.  While I was classically trained in music as a youth — taking piano, violin and trombone lessons — my in-laws don’t have as much training.  Both of the boys had some classes and my husband and I met in high school band.  But, their parents don’t really even read music.  Yet, they can play music and compose songs.  They have an ear for it completely.  My father-in-law has written more than 700 songs, many of them on the back of time cards from the factory where he worked for years before retiring.

I had a music professor in college who said people who play by ear aren’t actually talented at music.  He didn’t think it counts.  I think just the opposite.  I love music, and I love playing it.  But, I can’t create it.  I can’t just hear something and pick it up.  That’s true musicality.  And my in-laws and husband are great at that.

My mother-in-law and kiddo on stage practicing for my kiddo's recent stage debut.

It’s a lot of love. There is a lot of love that comes with a southern gospel legacy.  The first is a love for the Lord.  None of them would work a 40- (or more) hour week then take their weekends traveling to sing if it weren’t for the love of the Lord and their music ministry.  After my husband and I got married and I started traveling with them, too, I realized how exhausting it is.  It’s not something you’d do without a love for what you’re doing and for Whom you’re doing it.

It also takes a lot of family love.  After all, you’re stuck together in a car (or bus) for hours upon hours traveling on many weekends.  You’re sleeping near each other, helping set up, tear down, practice, get ready — all sorts of things.  With close quarters and sometimes stressful situations, you’ve got to support one another.  I have a good set of in-laws.  While there were stressful moments (like the Easter we got carbon monoxide poisoning on the bus), more than anything there were fun moments.

The other love component that is perhaps unique to me as someone coming into this legacy is how much love I feel for my husband when I see him on stage playing his bass or singing.  I’m always overwhelmed, grateful and blessed.  I feel the same with my in-laws.  It’s a sort of pride and bond with them.  They are good at what they do, which makes me proud, but I’m more proud because of their hearts and love for the Lord.  I feel blessed to be part of their family and involved in their group in any way.

It’s tough. While there are so many good things, it is tough.  Yes, there are sacrifices to be made, as I mentioned.  But there are also just challenges on the road.  I remember the time we were recording a CD in Nashville, Tenn., and I was so incredibly sick thanks to a bad reaction from an antibiotic.  My mother-in-law has had more than her fair share of health struggles after having a heart attack in 2001.  It can be a challenge.

There are smaller challenges along the way, like not getting a chance to eat because there isn’t time or food available.  Though most churches are incredibly welcoming and accommodating, there are always a couple that make being there challenging.  And then there are just logistical issues that pop up.  I’m not sure how else to word that other than to share a story.  The very first trip I made with The Shannons was about a month after we were married.  We went to a small church in Ohio.  It was in the middle of nowhere.  It was a tiny church; I’m pretty sure the bus was larger than the church building.  But, it didn’t have indoor plumbing.  Mind you, this was in 1999, so we’re not talking olden days.  I remember heading to the outhouse and finding a spider on the door who’s body was literally the size of the palm of my hand.  THAT was a challenge.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

It’s really a legacy. Since having our kiddo back in 2009, we’ve not really been part of the group.  Traveling so much with a baby or toddler in tow is a challenge to say the least.  But, the music ministry is carrying on in our daughter already.  Since she found her voice, she’s been singing.  First it was just random noises, then some words and now full-blown songs.  She sings songs she knows.  She makes up songs of her own.  She sings a LOT.  At 2-1/2, she is most definitely showing an interest in music and in singing.

And this past weekend, we were able to join my in-laws at a singing.  It was the kiddo’s first one.  My mother-in-law was hopeful she’d come on stage, but none of us had any expectations.  My husband and I both sang a song.  Then Lexiana surprised us when my mother-in-law invited her to come up and she climbed down from my lap and walked up there like she owned the place.  She then proceeded to sing a couple of lines of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” into the microphone.  When she stopped singing and my mother-in-law took the microphone back, Lexiana told her she wasn’t finished.  I don’t think she is finished.  She is young, but she is already learning a few things about this southern gospel family into which she was born.  It is a legacy.  It is an awesome legacy of ministry and love for God.  And it is one I’m very proud my family is a part of.

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