Selah: You Deliver Me
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CBN.com HOPE IN THE FACE OF TRAGEDY
When the members of Selah chose to record “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” for their 1999 debut, Be Still My Soul, they had absolutely no idea how such potent hymns would help them through unfathomable tragedy a decade later. Selah knew the remarkable circumstances under which the timeless classics were written. (Horatio Spafford penned “It Is Well with My Soul” after all four of his young daughters died in an 1873 disaster at sea. In 1932, renowned musician Thomas A. Dorsey composed “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” out of grief when both his wife and infant son succumbed to complications during childbirth.) Even as Selah marked its 10th anniversary by recording the new album, You Deliver Me, the group was working on songs that would soon seem more intended for them than Selah’s fans.
Todd’s wife, Angie, was 18 weeks pregnant with their fourth daughter, Audrey Caroline, when they received the news. A routine ultrasound revealed that their developing baby was experiencing complications. Doctors said her kidneys weren’t functioning and her heart was much too large. Each of these was a lethal condition. There was no amniotic fluid, and Audrey’s lungs were not developing. Overwhelmed, Angie and Todd sought the opinions of other doctors and specialists. The general consensus was that baby Audrey would die in the womb, and that if she did survive her actual birth, she would likely gasp for breath, living for a minute at the most. The primary doctor voiced expectations that Angie and Todd would choose to have an abortion.
“Four months before we got the news about Audrey,” recalls Todd, “we encountered a couple who had lost a trisomy baby that had lived about eight days. And they were just incredible, the way they handled it. I remember thinking, ‘How could anybody go through that?’ And one of the things they said was, 'We wanted to be able to say before our three-year-old daughter that we praised the Lord regardless of what He chose to do with our baby, that He would get the most glory.' And I was just blown away by that, thinking, ‘I could never do that. There’s no way.’ And then when we found out about Audrey, that was one of the first things that came to my mind and really stayed with me.”
As Angie and Todd anticipated Audrey’s birth, they concluded a C-section would be the best way to approach it. “That would give Audrey the greatest possibility to live,” he explains. “Angie was just so brave,” says Todd. “She was in so much pain because there was no amniotic fluid. She just sacrificed her body.” And then the moment arrived. “When Audrey came out, we got to hear her cry, which we thought we would never get to do,” reveals Todd. “And I got to see her move just a little bit. We brought her over to Angie, and we just wept. Everything that we could think of to tell her right there, we did. She just had this beautiful little face. And her sisters and many relatives got to see her. She lived for about two-and-a-half hours and never gasped for breath. There was no screaming. It was just so peaceful. In fact, it was the most peaceful day I’ve ever experienced in my life. I would have never thought that was possible, but there was so much joy. We were with our girl, and we wanted to show her off to everybody. God just really turned a horrible experience into something amazing.”
Shortly after learning Audrey’s condition would be terminal, Angie found herself compelled to write a love letter, a song, to the precious daughter living inside her. Angie wrote “I Will Carry You” as a way to tell Audrey about experiences she longed to have with her, but knew the two would never share. Once Todd and their friend Christa Wells (who wrote the hit “Held” for Natalie Grant) put the finishing touches on Angie’s song, Todd, Amy Perry and Allan Hall recorded it for Audrey’s forthcoming memorial service.
As the Smiths spent the weeks following Audrey’s death trying to come to grips with what they had experienced, life unleashed yet another harsh blow. Merely a month-and-a-half after Audrey’s passing, Todd’s sister Nicol Sponberg suddenly lost a child of her own. She had laid her two-month-old son Luke down for bed one evening. When she checked on him a short while later, she noticed he looked different. She turned him over, knew immediately he was gone and let out a scream for her husband Greg. Paramedics rushed to the scene and worked on baby Luke extensively to no avail. “He was this beautiful boy, super strong, really big,” says Todd. “It was SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). We just couldn’t believe it. It’s like, ‘God, what are You doing? Why is this happening again? We’ve had one life taken and that’s enough!’ I actually started to wonder, okay, who’s next?”
Amidst unimaginable grief, the Smiths and their extended family had a foundational choice to make. “What were we going to choose to believe? Is God going to be the God of just the good times, or is He also good and faithful in this horrific time that we just don’t understand? We chose to trust Him. And it’s not been easy, there have been—and still are—major ups and downs, but we believe He is good,” says Todd. “You need to be honest about your desperation and honest about how awful it is. And it is horrible. You deal with these different contrasts where you have disbelief and incredible pain and anger and frustration and unanswered questions, and, at the same time, there’s this incredible peace and this hope, and you’ve got nowhere else to go. You find strength through prayer, and people praying for you, and in God’s word. We’re still going through it, and Nicol and Greg are still going through it, and we don’t try and candy-coat it.”
In 2005, Nicol, who co-founded the group with Todd and Allan, left to pursue work with her husband’s ministry and a less-demanding solo career. After Melodie Crittenden, a friend of Allan and Todd’s from college, filled in for seven months, Allan and Todd were at a loss for Nicol’s permanent replacement. Throughout Selah’s career, the group’s key decisions had always been made with relational integrity in mind. The only option left at that point—holding impersonal auditions with vocalists they had never even met—was anything but relational. “That was a scary time,” says Todd. “We thought Selah might be done.”
After much prayer and wise counsel, Allan and Todd became convinced the group should continue. Stepping into personally uncharted territory, they auditioned 15 recommended vocalists. When Amy Perry stepped up to the microphone, her stunning soprano voice mastered both Selah’s melodies and harmonies. Even though Amy had never heard Selah’s music when she was tipped off about the group’s opening, a mutual friend assured her the fit would be excellent in more ways than one. “Not just musically and vocally,” says Amy, “She insisted I would click with them spiritually and relationally, and she was right.”
Amy debuted on Selah’s Broken Road: The Duets Album in 2006. “They learn she’s more than an incredible vocalist,” explains Allan. “Each night when she speaks from stage, God uses her to minister to broken, hurting people in unique ways.” As she explains, “There are two things I talk about in concert. My husband went through a divorce before we ever met. His wife left him, and he was devastated. God eventually brought him to a place of healing and really restored him into direct relationship. After hearing me talk about God’s restoration the first time, Todd and Allan urged me to share it every time we’re on stage, especially since 50 percent of Christian marriages—like others—end in divorce.”
Amy’s honest, relatable approach takes her into more immediately vulnerable territory as well. “I also share about my struggle with my weight,” she says. “How I had a boyfriend who told me I was too overweight to marry, and how I lost a bunch of weight for the wrong reasons. God has really allowed me to have this platform with Selah where I can say, ‘I’m a real girl, I have real problems—look at me, I’m clearly not thin—but I’m okay with who I am, and it’s taken me this many years to get here.” She adds, “I believe the best ministry is when you’re just being yourself and telling your story of what God’s done for you.”
Selah performs “Unredeemed,” a hopeful and deftly-produced song about unfulfilled dreams, painful experiences, and other circumstances yet to be made right. “Every time we hear that a person’s life has been changed through what happened to us, it gives weight to Audrey’s life,” he says. “My little girl, who was in the womb for 32 weeks, has made more of an impact on people than I probably will my whole life.”
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