Things finally started to stabilize as 1999 drew to a close, but even as I startled to settle into the “normal adult world”, I still felt a lot of pressure and this sense of time running out, as if I would be old and have missed out on most of my life before I had a chance to realize what was going on. I felt like my prayers about how I’d be provided for were being answered, and yet I couldn’t calm down and be at peace despite no longer having the job search looming over my head. I think I had just been used to the stress for so long that my system had adopted worry as my default mood. Now I needed to figure out how to get out of that mode and learn to enjoy life again, which wouldn’t happen until midway through the following year.
In with the New:
Pete Stewart (as a solo artist – appears earlier with Grammatrain)
Out with the Old:
It Was Worth a Try:
Listen on Spotify:
An unbelievable thing happened in late October 1999: I got a job! After lots of dead-end interviews, I finally got smart and submitted my resume to a professor I knew from college who worked part-time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. It got forwarded to some other people, and before I knew it, I was interviewing for a position at Raytheon, whose Pasadena department is mostly contracted out to JPL, doing various IT jobs for them. Based mostly on the cheesy website I had learned to build for myself during my spare time in college, and an interview spent convincing them that I was a quick learner, I got a job as a web developer, which I still have to this day (though my duties are vastly different now than they once were). Though not a very interesting picture, I though it would be fitting to capture a glimpse of the first office I occupied – a way of saying, “Welcome to corporate America.” Working 8 hours a day for 5 days straight with no variance took some getting used to (especially when nearly all of that time was spent staring at a computer screen), but I got used to it and learned to enjoy it.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Throw Me”, Chasing Furies (With Abandon, 1999)
Perhaps an unorthodox start compared to the peppy, happy songs that follow it on this mix, but I kind of felt like the plea in this song was important – take me, stop me from running, throw me back to where I need to be even if You have to be a little rough with me. I came into the working world kicking and screaming, but I kind of knew this needed to be what I devoted my time to now, since I had to provide for myself, and God gave me the skills to do that. I wanted to change my frame of mind so that I could be happy with this new life, but I knew God was going to have to force me into it, because right now, the whole idea seemed repulsive.
2) “The Rumor Weed Song”, The W’s feat. VeggieTales (Trouble with X, 1999)
VeggieTales cartoons are supposedly entertainment for little kids, but when this song showed up on the WoW 2000 compilation (yeah, I bought those things before I had a means of burning my own mix CD’s with all of the music I was enjoying), I had to admit that it was pretty catchy, and fun to hear a band that I liked collaborating on a song from the series. I’ve decided since then, after seeing a few more episodes of the series, that this will be the #1 thing I try to get my kids into when I have them. Thankfully, the girl I ended up marrying many years later agrees with this stance.
3) “Unforgetful You”, Jars of Clay (If I Left the Zoo, 1999)
The first single from the much-anticipated new Jars record (oh, I say that about all of their records!), which Sharon and I first heard on KDUV during a fall break trip back up to Fresno. It definitely got a “What the heck?” response because it was much more of a quirky, carefree song than anything on Much Afraid. But I kind of needed the whimsical mood to cheer up those dark days. It was a reminder that despite all my childish complaining about How God wasn’t doing what I wanted; He didn’t forget that He loved me and wasn’t going to abandon the wiser plan that He had for me. I was bummed that, when this album came out, I couldn’t even afford to buy it with my own money if I wanted to be able to pay my bills for that month.
4) “Took My Place”, Third Day (Time, 1999)
At 2:15, this song was a quick, peppy little Southern rock party, and that’s the main reason why I was drawn to it. I believe I first heard it on the local Christian station while Sharon and I were driving down to Orange to visit her brother James at Chapman, where he had just started college.
5) “Sure Shot”, Supertones (Chase the Sun, 1999)
Pretty basic “I wanna do the right thing and be a good Christian” type of song, but this one was a fun little jam track that I figured was appropriate for the season due to the little brass riff on “Angels We Have Heard on High” during the bridge.
6) “A Little More”, Jennifer Knapp (Listen: Louder, 1999)
This one has gone down as a classic CCM song that ruminates on the nature of grace, and that was a concept that I desperately needed to understood during those pre-third-millennium days when I was quaking in my boots about God judging me for being scared and confused as my life radically changed around me. Interestingly, this electric version that I initially fell in love with, which gave me great expectations for Jennifer rocking out on her upcoming album, didn’t even end up being the final version of the song that became popular. It, like the album, ended up being more acoustic and intimate in its final rendition, but I still prefer this take.
7) “Land of the Lost”, Bleach (Static, 1998)
There’s no denying the catchiness of that “Da da da da da da” at the beginning of this song, and the cowbell. (More cowbell! Oh wait, this song predates that SNL sketch.) Tim dug this one up after much searching as one of the latter songs that went on the mix he made for Krista when he proposed to her – I think they caught a Bleach acoustic set at Spirit West Coast or something.
8) “The One”, Pete Stewart (Pete Stewart, 1999)
Pete Stewart was another great find that Tim and Krista made during those acoustic sets at Spirit West Coast. I had no idea that his solo stuff would end up being so catchy, compared to Grammatrain’s grunginess. I really latched onto this song, about Pete missing his wife while out on tour and wanting nothing more than a private retreat where the two of them could just run away together. I’m a sucker for those “escaping on a romantic retreat” type songs, and this one seriously rocked, and this was kind of what I wanted for myself and Sharon at that point in time, since we were both adjusting to busier schedules than we were used to, which made our available time for each other a bit scarce.
9) “Love Liberty Disco”, Newsboys (Love Liberty Disco, 1999)
This was the epitome of novelty songs, perhaps – Sharon thought it sounded like it was mostly just an advertisement for their upcoming concert tour. But it was catchy and we all had fun with it. Tim was hoping that it wouldn’t be characteristic of the album’s sound, noting that the album cover really made it look like the Newsboys were gonna rock out on this one. Sorry dude, maybe next time. It turned out to be one of their most poppy and lightweight records – a bit disappointing, but for some reason, the smooth sound of it was a comfort to me during a difficult winter.
10) “Company Car”, Switchfoot (New Way to Be Human, 1999)
This tongue-in-cheek song was basically my tribute to my new job, a salute to the “corporate America” that I was joining. It’s still my favorite Switchfoot song despite some stiff competition. Thankfully, having a desk job and a shared hard-walled office (later a cubicle) hasn’t yet turned me into a selfish, bottom-line-oriented, money-grubbing slimeball who has given up on his idealistic dreams. Hey, God blessed me – it’s a good job that I enjoy. All the same, I will admit that it was a relief to finally have a paycheck (Sharon and I celebrated our first anniversary as a couple the week before I got hired at Raytheon, and I barely had enough in my account to take her out for dessert), so after I got hired, she jokingly asked, “So are you gonna spoil me when you make your first million?” I told her I’d happily spoil her when I made my first thousand, which at the time was an inconceivable number to me.
11) “Follow”, Delirious? (Mezzamorphis, 1999)
Switchfoot opened for Delirious? at a concert that November that I anticipated quite eagerly, having never seen Delirious? live before. So I felt it appropriate to follow up a Switchfoot song with another interesting and quirky number from the Delirious? album that I just couldn’t get enough of (Sharon had finally purchased me my own copy for our first anniversary).
12) “God-Shaped Hole”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
This song – one of Plumb’s more cliche and Christian-ese, to be honest – was popular on the radio at the time. It kind of struck me while Sharon and I were driving around Fresno during fall break, and I remembered a tearful confession to her that weekend that maybe part of why I felt so depressed was because I had failed to be faithful about my situation and separated myself from God in some way – I had a “God-shaped hole”. She was kind of running out of patience with my constant hysteria, and replied that what I really had was a “job-shaped hole”. And I suppose that was a major source of stress for me, but even after I got a job, I couldn’t easily un-learn that stress, so perhaps there was still some stuff to get straight between me and God. Still, God hadn’t abandoned me, and it wasn’t like by worrying about getting a job, I had somehow relinquished my status as a Christian or anything, so I don’t really know what I got so worked up about. It makes sense that Sharon got so frustrated with me that year – I was so constantly needy!
13) “River”, Out of Eden (No Turning Back, 1999)
Another fun, pretty song that I had heard on KDUV and that appeared on the WoW 2000 CD. I didn’t actually realize until later that I was being robbed of the full version of the song. WoW CD’s were always funny that way.
14) “Cave It In”, Margaret Becker (Falling Forward, 1998)
There was a growing sense as 1999 drew to a close that I had put up a wall between myself and God. Call it my second major depression, I guess, following the dark period I went through back during my sophomore year. I wanted so desperately just to reach out in faith, bust through that wall, and say “I believe and I’m not gonna let the circumstances shake me!”, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to be that confident. It felt like there was a muzzle on me when I tried to pray. I didn’t know what was going on, but I figured that invisible barrier shouldn’t have been that difficult to overcome. “I know the wall between us is just paper thin – why can’t I just cave it in?”
15) “Breathe”, Sixpence None the Richer (Streams, 1999)
A wonderfully beautiful oasis of calm came to me in the form of this song, a brilliant collaboration between Leigh Nash and Michelle Tumes. Sometimes I got so worked up by the tension in my own body that I didn’t realize that sitting still for a few minutes, taking a deep breath, and letting my racing thoughts slow down was really all it took to remind me that God hadn’t gone anywhere. Not that any sort of relaxation technique can prove God’s existence in and of itself, but for someone like me who supposedly already believed he was a child of God, I had a funny way of getting ahead of myself and forgetting that. There’s a lot of logic to the commandment “Be still and know that I am God”. The part of this song that managed to sweep me away most effectively was the gorgeous bridge, with all of its “savor”s. Gorgeous stuff; I’m glad it’s survived as one of Sixpence’s “greatest hits”.
To celebrate the New Year, I went to visit Sharon, who was spending the holidays with her family in Fresno as always. To be honest, I kind of bought into the Y2K hype and was worried that something bad would happen, so I figured I’d be safer there than in L.A. if a worldwide technology meltdown occurred. I think a lot of my fear was just the accumulating stress of all the life changes I went through in the preceding months finally becoming too much for me to process. Anyway, one evening while staying there, I followed one of her cats out of her bedroom window and onto the roof, and took this picture of Huntington Boulevard while I was out there. I always thought that was a really pretty neighborhood, even if that can’t really be seen in this picture.
Where in the world is this?
1) “Collide”, Jars of Clay (If I Left the Zoo, 1999)
This was my most anticipated song on the new Jars record, after hearing a preview of it when they played at the L.A. County Fair back in September. The ghost-movie-meets-raw-rock approach didn’t disappoint when the album (most of which took a lot of getting used to finally came out). This song’s lyrics really cut to the core of the spiritual issues I was dealing with in those days – “You’re waiting for the ax to fall, but can’t you see it lying on the ground?” There was a part of me who was trying to atone for my unfaithfulness in some sort of way, and expecting some sort of punishment for being so afraid, and it was like God looked down and said, “Dude. It’s already done. Stop flogging yourself over it.” Years later, in 2003, when I finally broke down and got myself a cell phone, I actually used this song as my first ringtone.
2) “Pick Your Poison”, Plaid (Understanding God, 1998)
I was listening to that short-but-sweet Plaid CD a lot in those days. They did well for such an obscure band. I don’t remember the exact reason why I picked this particular song other than for its revved-up guitar riffs, but there might have been something about the way it described the futile efforts we go to in order to save ourselves and not depend on God that I related to in those days.
3) “I Surrender”, Chasing Furies (With Abandon, 1999)
This song was major weirdness – awesome riffage at the beginning and then it falls apart as if the cassette tape’s being eaten. (Except that I first heard it on CD, so what the… ?) This one was kind of the pinnacle of the slapping-myself-in-the-head-over-my-own-rebellion songs that I was drawn to at the time. It was desperate and edgy and I could so feel what the Meeker siblings were describing here. “Please don’t let me live without You”. That was my plea after having lived so many months thinking I had a taste of what it felt like to go it alone.
4) “Worlds Collide: A Fairy Tale”, Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops, 1999)
Sharon and I came to an interesting and difficult crossroads that fall. A lot of it had to do with her role in InterFaith and the things she had become convicted of after working closely with people of several different faiths. I still had a lot of knee-jerk, conservative responses to various things, and she challenged me, rather just writing off every person who followed a different religion as if they had nothing good to say, that I put on a different set of “glasses” and begin to see how they were all, ultimately, trying to reach for the same thing. I faced a clear choice at this point – I could declare her point of view to be pluralistic and break off the relationship on grounds of being “unequally yoked”, or I could try to see things from her point of view and realize that maybe what she was saying wasn’t all that controversial. I opted to stay in the relationship – obviously – but it did come at a price. Part of me was becoming more and more willing to disregard prayer and careful consideration of what the Bible actually had to say in favor of just going with the flow of what my girlfriend believed. And I think there was some grain of truth to what she said – she and Tim and I actually participated in an “InterFaith” service where members of various religions that were represented on campus simply showed how they worshiped. We sang the praise song “Isaiah 40”. I remember watching a Muslim student face Mecca and utter a prayer of some sort, and while obviously I knew there were some glaring differences in our beliefs, I wondered, what if he’s ultimately reaching toward the same being, or at least wanting the same relationship with a spiritual being, that I want? Many years later, I’m not so sure that it was wise for me to jump to conclusions based on these observations, but at the very least, I was taught to be more careful before thinking I knew what someone else’s beliefs were all about, so that’s actually made it easier to talk with people from other faiths (or no faith at all) and come across as respectable even if we can’t come to an agreement. So I thank Sharon for teaching me that. Still, I think I assumed all too soon that I should just trust everything that she said she believed, so that I wouldn’t have to rock the boat in a relationship that I was desperate to keep.
5) “In Not Of”, Avalon (In a Different Light, 1999)
I finally caught up with the latest Avalon album when Lina gave me a gift certificate that Christmas, and I remember listening to it while walking back to my Mom’s house in Pasadena from the now-defunct Wherehouse Music, during the break while Sharon was away in Fresno and I was, for the most part, alone with my thoughts and my small family. This song enchanted me almost immediately, and I wondered – what does it mean to be in the world, and not of it? I felt liberated by being able to look at the world through these new “glasses”, and the shackles of my old legalism were starting to fall away. But how could I wisely engage the world around me, with its myriad of beliefs, and not just end up blowing in the wind and going along with whatever pop psychology sounded good at the moment?
6) “Spinning”, Pete Stewart (Pete Stewart, 1999)
An underrated, but solid, song from the back half of Stewart’s solo album. I remember one Saturday night, Sharon was off doing something with the Zetas and I was hanging out in her room, listening to the radio, reading or doing something else to distract myself while I waited for her to be finished so that we could hang out. This song came on the radio, and there’s this quiet moment during the bridge where it’s just a guitar echoing off into the night, and I just felt so peaceful during that moment. I had a lot of questions “spinning ’round my mind” about sin and about what God thought of me, but one thing was becoming clear – I didn’t have to have all of my questions completely resolved in order to have faith that God loved me and would keep me from getting lost in all of my wanderings.
7) “This Day”, Audio Adrenaline (Underdog, 1999)
This song points to another peaceful moment for me, this one during the daytime, on a sunny afternoon in October (perhaps a warmer and less smoggy one than the typical autumn day in L.A.), when I had just returned from a job interview in L.A. and was finally starting to feel comforted by the number of opportunities that were out there. I didn’t think I had a good chance at getting the temp job I had interviewed for, and I wasn’t sure that I even wanted it anyway, but just the fact that I was getting regular interviews and feeling confident going to them, that was reassuring. I was listening to Underdog that afternoon, and this slow song – very uncharacteristic of the album – kind of jumped out at me with its mantra of “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and watch the day begin.” It wasn’t over for me – new opportunities were just around the corner and I had to trust God to lead to me to the right new beginning.
8) “Next 5 Minutes”, Steven Curtis Chapman (Speechless, 1999)
I had a strong love for unorthodox rhythms, so of course I was going to fall for this song, one of SCC’s most experimental and amusing, with its various bits of 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, and 4/4. What would my life look life if I stopped stressing about the fact that I didn’t have the future all figured out, and I just focused on the one step ahead of me? If I stayed paralyzed about the entire big picture, I’d end up wasting a lot of time due to fear of failure. I’ve never been good at taking life “one day at a time”, and not that I think it’s bad to have long-term plans, but was starting to realize in those days that God would always require some flexibility from me, even after having the guarantee of a full-time job. I still struggle with that, insisting on a “routine” that only gets broken when I choose to break it. I don’t handle surprises well because I have difficulties taking on my circumstances one thing a time.
9) “Speak”, The Waiting (Unfazed, 1999)
Another song I came to appreciate after hearing it on KDUV. Waiting for some sort of a sign or signal from God about where you should go next and whether you’re doing right can be agonizing. You don’t know what form that “voice” will take. I longed for the easy way out, just to detect a tangible sense that God was telling me to do something specific that would magically alleviate my worries. I don’t think I allowed room for God to “speak” in more subtle ways, through my circumstances or through wise Christians who loved me. I was looking for the big burning bush, kind of limiting God in my mind. But whatever form that “voice” was going to take, I knew I would listen and respond once I knew I was hearing it.
10) “Shout to the Lord”, The Insyderz (Skalleluia Too!, 1999)
I always thought The Insyderz were a patently ridiculous band, particularly when they did that atrocious worship album with the version of “Awesome God” that would have made Rich Mullins turn over in his grave. However, they came up with some surprising arrangements of well-loved worship songs the second time around, and this Skillet-esque take on “Shout to the Lord” really caught my attention when Tim played it for me. Sharon and I had been attending Tim’s church in Pomona on and off, and a few times we had James in tow with us, and I remember during their college group meetings how he had this uncanny ability to harmonize with any song. I wanted to learn how to do that. Along with dc Talk’s “In the Light”, this song was one of the first that I was able to teach myself how to do that with.
11) “Metamorphis”, Delirious? (Mezzamorphis, 1999)
This song, which I originally thought was a bit bland and clumsy, became a highlight for me when I saw Delirious? perform it live. The visual imagery was striking to me when he knelt during the final verse of the song, and sang “My cynical clothing will fall from me” as he detached the sleeves of a shirt/sweater he was wearing and let them fall to the ground. Had I become cynical? When was I going to see the change inside of myself that I longed for God to do, or was He trying to do it already and I was resisting it?
12) “One of These Days”, FFH (I Want to Be Like You, 1998)
It’s kind of funny that I actually put an FFH song on one of my mixes, because I absolutely loathe this group now, but back when they only had one album out, I really enjoyed this song (another one which KDUV played quite a bit – they did that with all of FFH’s singles, actually). I think it was because I was really nervous about the whole concept of Heaven, because I worried about whether someone like me would really be “allowed” there. I guess I longed for the day when I’d know what Heaven was like and I wouldn’t have to just hope I’d end up there. Again, I’m not sure why I was so convinced that God was ready to just end it all and let me end up wherever my soul was supposed to end up, but I did a lot of thinking about eternity in those days.
13) “This Is Your Time”, Michael W. Smith (This Is Your Time, 1999)
This is MWS’s famous song about a girl who (as the story goes) said “yes” when asked by one of the Columbine shooters if she believed in God, and was killed for that belief. Because I was thinking a lot about “the end”, part of me wanted to be assured that I’d be found faithful if, say, the world was thrown into catastrophe when midnight hit on December 31st. I wanted to be able to face the fear in that moment and say I believed, and know my eternity would be secure. A lot of things changed for me when New Year’s Eve actually did come and go with a relatively uneventful celebration in downtown Fresno (and around the world for everyone in general). I kind of relaxed a bit and wrote off my previous anxiety about everything coming to a tragic end for me. I decided that I was tired of living my life in fear, and that I was gonna take control and so some soul-searching, try to free myself from this constant guilt that left me wondering about my spiritual status. If I was a Christian, I should be able to get a point where I knew I was OK with God and didn’t have to constantly re-evaluate that due to something that I had supposedly done wrong. Sharon was part of this influence on me – I think she saw how much my old legalistic beliefs were tying me down, and she kind of challenged me to take a long, hard look at the more “liberal” side of Christianity. So I agreed that I’d do some reading up on books from sources on both sides of the coin, and kind of re-evaluate my beliefs based on that. The beginning of 2000 became that turning point for me – I wasn’t going to suddenly become a self-proclaimed “liberal”, but I was certainly determined to find a bit of liberation. This was my time to be set free. I was tired of living with so many legalistic beliefs.