The FORGIVEN Story
(Not to be confused with the Greatest Story Ever Told)
By David Stephen
A person can tell a lot about the author of a song by the lyrics and mood of the music. Eric Clapton wrote and performed a song "Tears in Heaven" after the death of his son. I like the song, but when I analyzed the lyrics and listened to the song, I was left with the opinion that Eric was not a Christian and that he did not believe that he would go to Heaven. I share several things with Eric Clapton. We both play the guitar, we both like rock 'n roll music, and we both experienced the premature loss of a child. In 1994, my 12-year-old daughter, Genevieve Rae Stratton, died unexpectedly from kidney disease. She was in the sixth grade at Desert Winds Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ.
Now let me take you back to the seventies. I began singing and playing the guitar in various R&R and Country & Western bands. I had wanted to write songs and experience the joy of performing them for people, a dream of mine since I was about 11 years old in Boy Scout summer camp. I started to live out part of that dream in 1972 after writing a few songs and performing them as part of a couple rock 'n roll bands that I was in. During that year, I came up with a chord progression and a melody for a song, but I could never seem to find just the right words to complete it. I always had a feeling that the lyrics never matched the song. I gave it one last shot in 1976, but the other members of the group and I were stumped. I enlisted in the Army and abandoned music altogether. Fourteen years had passed by before I picked up the guitar and realized the amount of joy I had given up. I began to play and sing in my church. My little, red-haired daughter Genny was my biggest fan. Her favorite song was "My House" by a Phoenix Christian recording artist named Randy Thompson. Genny always brightened when I played that song. We sang it out loud in the car whenever I played the tape.
After her death, our family was going to hold a memorial service and we found out that the entire sixth grade class was being bussed to the church to attend the service (unusual for a public school). I felt the need to lift up their hearts, so I called Randy Thompson and discovered that he was not able to attend. I decided that I would perform Genny's favorite song. On the day before the service, I picked up my guitar and began to warm-up by playing my unfinished song - the chord progression from 1972. This was my normal routine since returning to playing music. As I warmed up, the words to the chord progression that I had been looking for came to me and I wrote them down. After 22 years, my song was complete, and I was able to share it with those who came to the memorial service… once again living out part of a dream made a long time ago. I named the song "With Me". Mark Burton was one of my friends who attended the memorial service. I saw him leave the church when I began to sing "With Me". He later told me that he experienced a moment that helped him to strengthen his faith in Jesus.
In 1996, Mark and I (along with another friend) performed "With Me" at a Cub Scout family campout. This led to the formation of our music ministry - the CampFire Christians Ministries, and our ministry mission became to - 'Share God's Love Through Music'. "With Me" became our foundation song. Under our ministry name we began to play at several Phoenix area nursing homes / adult care facilities, churches, backyards and anywhere we were asked to play.
In 1997, Tom Knapp joined the ministry. Since all of us were primarily employed outside of music ministry, our "regular job" work commitments kept us from performing on occasion. So when Tom became part of the ministry "two is a gig" became our practice, as we could almost always schedule at least two to perform. Tom had written and started numerous songs and one afternoon Tom and I worked together and co-authored several songs. Mark also began to write songs, and the first Christian song that he wrote was "Do You Hear The Lord Talk To You?" which won a Certificate of Achievement award from Billboard Magazine. The first song the three of us wrote together was "Come As You Are" (Mark was the originator of the song concept). We began to play our original songs with other Christian praise songs that we performed as part of the ministry. We began to get requests from the residents and visitors at the care facilities for copies of our music. It seemed that the Lord was leading us toward recording our original music.
We continued to write and perform our original songs until we had about two dozen songs. We then began recording our performances at the various care facilities until we had 18 songs to produce on a 'demo tape'. We sent these tapes to various people from many backgrounds (and also gave some out to residents) and reviewed their comments and opinions. We prayed for guidance and then met to determine which 12 songs would be on our first album, and to come up with a band name. We agreed that our band name would be "Forgiven" after one of the songs on the album that could be used as our theme song. God then led us to Bryan Kuban, a Christian who had just purchased equipment to start his recording studio (later to become Arrowhead Productions). Bryan offered to produce and engineer our album at a reduced rate since we were his first recording project. God also provided a means of funding that enabled us to pay for our recording time without having to use money needed to support our families. We began recording after Christmas in 1998 and finished in August 1999, complete with the peace and joy only our Lord can provide.
I began this story with the statement that a person can tell a lot about the author of a song by the
lyrics and mood of the music. We ask you to listen to our music and allow God to speak to your heart.
Only then will the goal of our ministry be complete, to 'Share God's Love Through Music'.
Genny received the ultimate healing from our Savior Jesus Christ, as she has gone to be with Him in
Heaven. I pray that Eric Clapton and you will come to know that same peace, hope, and healing that
only Jesus can provide, and that you also, will be "With Me"…..
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. ... John Chapter 3, 16-21