March 2012 – Nashville song writer Steve Siler is overwhelmed when he thinks of the stages God has put him on through the years – from the glitzy bright lights of a 2000 Dove award for his song “I Will Follow Christ” to the gritty dark nights of ministry to incest survivors and caregivers.
It was an incest survivor who planted in Siler’s heart the concept for Music for the Soul, a not-for-profit ministry he founded in 2001. After hearing him sing “Innocent Child” at a conference, the survivor told Siler, “People have been telling me that I was an innocent child my whole life, but I never believed it until I heard you sing it today.”
Siler said the MFS mission is to change lives through “the healing power of songs and spoken words that resonate with human experience and reflect the redemptive love of Jesus.”
In its first decade, MFS has produced CD and/or DVD projects that use stirring music and spoken messages to minister to victims and families who struggle with many of the hard issues of life: porn addiction, cancer patients, suicide, self-esteem, aging and more.
AFA Journal recently interviewed Siler about his Dignity project, a CD to minister to caregivers and care recipients as well. It is scheduled for release in March. See the June 2008 AFA Journal for an earlier article on MFS and the February 2012 issue for our first article on caregiving. MFS resources are available at 877-298-9081 or www.musicforthesoul.org.
AFA Journal: How did your Dignity project come into being?
Steve Siler: In 2008, the phone rang, and a lady named Carmen Leal said she was doing a Christian caregiver’s conference, and she would like me to lead the worship.
So I wound up in Asheville, North Carolina, where this event was held finding myself, for the first time in my life, leading the act of worship. It was a wonderful experience, just leading the worship.
AFAJ: What happened there to inspire you on this subject?
SS: I got to sit and have meals and hear stories from these people who were in the caregiving or care-receiving role. One couple in particular really touched me – Dick and Elizabeth Peterson. Elizabeth began to lose functionality and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
She got to the point where she couldn’t comb her own hair. The simplest of tasks eluded her, so Dick was pressed into a full-time caregiving role. (For the Peterson’s story, see AFA Journal, 2/12.)
I was overwhelmed at the helplessness that Elizabeth would feel and what this put upon Dick, but even more overwhelmed by his tenderness and his care for her, and watching them interact and thinking, “This is the most beautiful act of love I’ve ever seen.”
As a songwriter, you go away from an experience like that, and one day you find yourself sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and processing what you’ve experienced. I wound up writing a song from the first person point of view of the one receiving the care. That’s how the song “Dignity” was born.
AFAJ: Was this the deciding factor in pursuing the entire Dignity project?
SS: Not yet. The next year Carmen invited me back to the conference, and I told her I’d written this song. She said, “Why don’t you start the conference with that song?”
I was a little nervous, because I thought, “What if it’s not right?”
But I opened the conference by playing “Dignity,” and the moment I finished it, from all around the room, people began calling out, “Play it again. Play it again.”
At the end of that conference, I came back home, and I was telling my wife about it. We were talking about what MFS should do next. I always look for God’s leading in that.
I mentioned the Dignity project and caregiving, and she immediately sat up and said, “Oh, I think that’s the one you should do next.”
AFAJ: So what was the next step?
SS: What happened next was miraculous. What happened that following morning had never happened to me before. I woke up with the music and the lyrics to a song about caregiving playing in my head as a finished piece.
Of course, I scrambled out of bed and went right to the piano and played it out and wrote it down so I wouldn’t lose it. That song is called “We’ve Never Done This Dance Before.” It’s a waltz, and it’s the story of an elderly couple and he is now caring for his elderly wife, and they compare what they’re going through together to dance steps they’ve never done before.
Not long after that, I was being interviewed on a Coral Ridge program. We were actually on the air talking about another project, and they went to a commercial break. During the break, they did a promo for the next segment, in which they announced, “The next guest is Shelly Beach, author of Ambushed by Grace, a book for caregivers.”
I had to leave, but I asked the host to have Shelly call me. About an hour later, my phone rang and it was Shelly Beach.
Here’s where God’s hand just gets all over this; you don’t even have to be bright to recognize it. She was on the way to a film festival where she was going to a screening of “Somebody’s Daughter” [MFS’s earlier project on pornography addiction]. She has turned out to be a great resource for our ministry.
AFAJ: When dealing with these difficult issues in music, does it require an emotional investment from you?
SS: Oh, yes! I began to work on the songs and on the themes that we needed to talk about based on Shelly’s writing and things I heard from Carmen. I just started to talk to more and more caregivers and sort of fill in the blanks – What do we need to say on this record? What are the different perspectives we need to bring?
You start hearing the nightmares and you start realizing that these home caregivers are taking care of all the medications, all the doctors’ visits, all the bathroom stuff, and all the stuff with the disease. On top of that, there’s the financial burden, the emotional burden.
AFAJ: Tell us about some of the songs.
SS: There’s a song on the project called “The Middle of the Mess” that deals with the anger that bubbles up in this situation. There’s a song titled “Love Will Have to Do It” that talks about what happens when you get to the end of yourself and you just don’t want to do this any more.
Another example of a really hard song is the song “I’m Gonna Lose You” which is the song where the caregiver realizes that they can do their job perfectly, and when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the person they’re caring for is going to go home and be with Jesus.
The reward for your hard work is you lose the person.
AFAJ: Why do you believe music is a valid tool for ministry in these tough issues?
SS: Language is processed primarily in the left hemisphere of the brain. Melody is processed primarily in the right hemisphere of the brain.
Marriage counselor Greg Hasek explained to me that trauma tends to reside in the left hemisphere. So what happens when you play a song is that the right hemisphere kind of cracks open the seal on that left hemisphere, reaches in with the melody and draws out the trauma.
Also, melody is a mnemonic device, it’s a memory device. People remember twice as much of what they hear in music as of what they read, and almost 10 times as much as what they’re told.
That’s why advertisers sing jingles to us. You can’t forget it even if you want to. That’s the thing that makes a song an especially great way to communicate.
While producing the Dignity project, Steve Siler discovered many resources for caregivers and their friends and families. Among them are:
▶ Dr. Greg Hasek, marriage and family therapist at Misty Mountain Family Counseling in Portland, Oregon (www.mistymtn.org; 503-670-7277)
▶ Someone Cares Conferences, coordinated by Carmen Leal, author of The Twenty-Third Psalm for Caregivers (1-808-372-0274; firstname.lastname@example.org)
▶ Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers and Ambushed by Grace, books by Shelly Beach (209-430-4688; http://shellybeachonline.com)
▶ Joy-spirations for Caregivers written by Annetta Dellinger (704-857-1187; www.annettadellinger.com)
▶ Embrace Caregiving, an organization led by Charles Puchta (513-377-7965; www.puchta.cc). Puchta is founder of Aging America Resources and director of the Center for Aging with Dignity at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing.
▶ Mama Moves In, a book by Thomas Dyke with countless practical pointers for caregivers (512-547-3769;