"In Jesus' Arms (Jesse's Song)"
On a clear, beautiful Monday evening, July 20, 2009, I was alone in my car and on my way to teach piano. I was teaching 2 evenings each week at the time, at two Music Centre Canada stores in Calgary, and I was now driving to the north location. Even on the busy freeway I would normally have been relaxed and enjoying the time alone, listening to my favourite songs cranked on the stereo. Today was different. I was crying, bawling really, coming to a realization of what had happened. It had been a trying weekend . . .
Saturday, July 18th, my husband Peter and I were about to settle into a quiet evening, and I had been looking forward to it all day. I had spent the past week prepping for teaching, as well as doing last minute prepping, arranging, and rehearsing for leading worship in our church that Sunday. I was ready, and so were my band and singers. Just as Peter and I were about to start a movie, Pastor George, called to say that we would need to change things for Sunday. I was immediately annoyed at the fact and asked why. “Jesse took his own life today.” Immediately stunned, I was also humbled. Jesse was one of our older youth. While I couldn’t recall Jesse, I knew who his parents were. Pastor George reassured me that Jesse had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour, therefore being fully forgiven by God, he was now with his Saviour. Pastor George and I discussed our church service details, then asked me if I was willing to prepare and lead our entire service with worship singing and prayer. I said that I’d be honoured to. We chatted a while longer, then said goodbye.
To begin I spent time calling each of my band members and singers to explain the situation, and comforted them in their own time of shock. I also thanked them for their willingness to serve and their time, but I would be leading solo instead. They understood and supported my decision. They also said they’d be praying for me, and I appreciated that as I knew I’d need it.
Now 10pm, I sat down to work. I reviewed my sets, and seeing the upbeat songs about peace and joy that I had chosen to lead, I knew I needed to start over. Feeling quite overwhelmed and lost, I prayed. “God, numb me. I want to lead tomorrow morning, but don’t know how to under such awful circumstances. I need to choose music and scripture, and don’t know where to start.” Where WOULD I start? How do I begin, going to God with such shock and pain? Over the next 2 hours I combed through countless songs and Scripture, and created my set lists. For our opening song, I chose “The Power of Your Love” by Geoff Bullock – “Lord, I come to You; let my heart be changed, renewed; flowing from the grace that I’ve found in You...Hold me close, let Your love surround me; bring me near, draw me to Your side...”. To end the service, I chose, “You Are My All in All” by Dennis L. Jerniga – “You are my strength when I am weak; You are the treasure that I seek; You are my all in all; Seeking You as a precious jewel; Lord, to give up I’d be a fool; You are my all in all...Taking my sin, my cross, my shame; Rising again I bless Your name; You are my all in all; When I fall down you pick me up; When I am dry You fill my cup; You are my all in all...”. By midnight I had my set lists finalized and e-mailed them to the Power Point Creator. He then worked through the early morning hours to create our Power Point presentation of slides, and was finished in time for our service.
Sunday morning, July 19th, came quickly. After a few hours of restless sleep I arrived at the church early, feeling strangely calm and collected. Pastor George and I, both exhausted, cried and prayed together, and discussed the service outline. The service would be, of course, not what our congregation would be expecting. The only people who had heard the news were Jesse’s close friends and family and those involved in the service. Once the service started, and the news was shared, a wave of shock, pain, and sadness flowed through the sanctuary, and it was heavy. It was now my time to lead. God remembered my request and gently calmed me and gave me the numbness I’d asked for. I led the an hour of worship singing, Scripture reading, and prayer. I asked God to comfort us, heal us, bring peace and strength to Jesse’s parents, brother, and sister, and give us wisdom in knowing how to respond to them. People cried and hugged one another, crossing the sanctuary to be close to their loved ones. It was, by far, the most emotional time I’ve known in a church service. But, within our grief, we knew that God would keep his promises.
While teaching at Music Centre Canada, I have come to know that staff there quite well, and have a fun banter with them – “I’ve come to watch you play in the bars, so when are you going to come to see me play in church?” That day, one of my closest co-workers, Brent, decided he would come. Brent came that morning, and witnessed first-hand the news, the grief, and the outpouring of support within the church family. He thanked me for inviting him.
I spent the rest of the day with Peter and our boys, with a stronger appreciation for all of them. We spent the afternoon at a park – walking along the river and skipping stones. Watching my boys play, I thought, “That was Jesse. Jesse was once a little boy, and his parents never would have known this is how his life would end.” It was painful to think about.
Monday, July 20th, late afternoon, I made my way to Music Centre Canada’s south location to collect music needed for teaching at the north store that evening. While there, I saw Brent. He thanked me again for inviting him to church, and said, “I can’t stop thinking about yesterday.” I concurred. We reminisced about the service and talked about Jesse and his family. He asked how I was able to lead during such a hard time, and I told him about my prayer to God, asking for strength and numbness. We chatted a little while longer while I gathered my things, and then I left.
Driving off of the Music Centre Canada lot, the numbness wore off. It was if a heavy curtain fell in front of me, and I could see and understand completely what had happened. Jesse was gone. I started to consider how his parents, Darren and Kristy, especially Kristy, must have been feeling. It was horrible. I thought of the shock, pain, grief, anger, and utter sadness that she must have been feeling. As I thought about those emotions, I started to cry. Driving down Southland Dr., eastward to the Deerfoot Trail exit, I cried as I thought about how it would feel to lose my son. I thought about what I would miss – the great things I loved about him, and even his annoyances...”I miss your clothes on the floor”... I repeated that line and realized it wasn’t just a feeling, but something that could be used in music. During my commute through Calgary on Deerfoot Trail, crawling at thirty kilometres per hour through rush hour traffic, I was bawling. Drivers beside me saw me crying and asked if I was alright. I tried to give a pathetic nod and smile.
I finally arrived at the north MCC store to teach. I walked in sobbing, my face tear-stained. My boss, Jaymz, saw me and asked if I was alright. I said that I was, but needed to be alone in my lesson room for a while. He understood and said he’d be around when I needed him. I thanked him, and went to my room.
Once in my room, I pulled out my paper and pencil, sat down at my piano, and started playing and writing. Within 20 minutes, “In Jesus’ Arms (Jesse’s Song)” * was now a song . . .
"In Jesus' Arms (Jesse's Song)
Music and Lyrics by Rhonda Louise
“I miss the smile on your face I miss the way we’d embrace I miss the way you cared And the memories we shared I miss hearing your steps I miss seeing you do your best I miss you But I know
You’re o.k. You’re home safe You’re in Jesus’ arms You’re smiling You’re resting You’re in Jesus’ arms Now
I miss your clothes on the floor I miss your shoes at the door I miss you rolling your eyes At my endless advice I miss your friend’s constant calls I miss your noise down the hall I just miss you But I know
You’re o.k. You’re home safe You’re in Jesus’ arms You’re smiling You’re resting You’re in Jesus’ arms
Though it hurts real bad Though I feel so sad I know Though I can’t help but cry Though I still wonder why I know I know
You’re o.k. You’re home safe You’re in Jesus’ arms You’re smiling You’re resting You’re in Jesus’ arms Now.”
Between teaching my students and tweaking my song, I called Music Centre Canada Recording Studios and talked with Dave. I explained what had happened and asked if I could possibly get into the studio to record the song for Jesse’s parents, preferably the next day. Dave was able to rearrange scheduling at the studio, and gave me time at the studio the next morning.
Returning home after teaching, I played and sang the song for Peter. He loved it. We shared a moment and talked about our own boys.
I recorded “In Jesus’ Arms (Jesse’s Song)” the morning of Tues., July 21st, with Johnny at MCC Recording Studios. I recorded the piano track, and when it was time to record the vocal track I prayed once again for God to numb me, to help me get through the song. After a few tracks I felt too emotional and wanted to stop. Johnny assured me that I did well and it was fine the way it was. He said that he’d mix and master it for me, and would have it ready for me the next day.
Later that day I passed the lyrics on to Kristy, Jesse’s mom. She loved the song, but had a question - “How did you know about the ‘shoes at the door’?” I didn’t know what she meant, so she went on to tell me why that line was significant... Darren and Kristy had made an arrangement with Jesse - If Jesse had plans to be out late with his friends, he would, beforehand, choose a pair of shoes to wear. He’d show his parents, and then leave. Seeing those shoes sitting at the door the next morning told Darren and Kristy that he was safely home. Hearing this, I was stunned, and so was she. She asked if I could play the song at his memorial, and I said I’d be honoured to. On Wednesday, the studio sent my disc with my song, and I prepared a copy for Darren and Kristy.
Thursday afternoon, July 23rd, Jesse was remembered. Roughly 500 people packed in our church. Friends, family, neighbours, classmates, and team-mates, all gathered together to remember Jesse. Through stories both funny and sad, Jesse’s life was honoured. Throughout the service, photos of Jesse scrolled up on a screen, pictures of Jesse and friends and family and memories to now be held. Darren and Kristy both spoke of their precious son, and Kristy challenged everyone there to come to know Jesus as their personal Saviour. In that still, quiet room, I performed, “In Jesus’ Arms (Jesse’s Song)”. Afterward, Darren and Kristy hugged and thanked me. I was able to give Darren and Kristy a disc with a copy of the song. The label I had chosen for them was printed yellow with blue font, bright to resemble hope (without my knowledge, yellow had been Jesse’s favourite color. Kristy appreciated my choice.)
While I have performed “Jesse’s Song” only a few times, each time has been special in its own way. Everyone who hears it, especially if heard live, is touched and moved, and the response has been amazing. People have approached me afterward, thanking me for putting their feelings into song. Some have shared painful stories, and we’ve then spent time praying together. Some have asked me how they should go on, and I cry and pray with them, also.
Jesse will be forever missed. While I didn’t know him, I’ve seen the impact his life made on those who knew him. His family and friends still post messages on his Facebook memorial page from time to time, telling him how much they miss him. His family has been an inspiration and Godly example of continuing restoration and hope.
My hope and prayer is this – That after losing a loved one, who knew Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, you will find peace and comfort, knowing they are in Jesus’ arms.
* "In Jesus' Arms (Jesse's Song)" Copyright © 2011 Rhonda Louise International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved