By Caitlin Woodward
Give yourself away.
Give yourself away… now.
Motivated to do something? Anything?
Why is it difficult for Americans to be selfless? What is that wall that prevents us from sharing with others? Whether it’s our possessions or ourselves, we need an earthquake to shake our apathy. Literally. Most times we understand how to throw money at people or problems. But only when we can afford it. What’s the point of surrendering when it doesn’t cost us anything?
Russ Lee of NewSong shared a portion of his infectious passion and heart. When we talked, he didn’t focus on the album or the credentials or the concerts. He just focused on what is most important – the point of it all.
Growing up in a church town in southeast Tennessee, Russ was the oldest of four children. With his mother’s mental disorder and his father’s alcoholism, it seemed the family became survivors of the daily tragedies. There were times of great joy and there were heartbreaking moments that stopped the family in their tracks. At 15 he was doing things that people in their early twenties shouldn’t be doing. By 17 Russ started selling drugs.
On a Thursday in October, he was playing music at the Rocky Top Lounge. Russ would play and they would pay him with an open bar tab. It was that night the Lord began to open his eyes to see more of what life offered. That night he gazed across the audience. There were older men living dead-end lives, messed up and abused. Russ saw his life ending the same if he continued the path he chose. Desperate and alone he came to God that night and he prayed.
“God I don’t know You… but please find me,” he pleaded.
That Saturday an old uninvited friend came over for a divine appointment. Though they had grown up with similar stories, this friend was a new Christian full of the thrill and hope of a new believer. From then on Russ wanted nothing less than everything the Lord had to offer. He quickly traded in his gig playing at the lounge for a “red satin moo moo” to join the choir. This former addict was now craving a new stimulant.
A few short months later after being “discovered” while singing at a Christmas program, Russ joined a traveling band. Russ later met his wife, Mary, on a business trip and joined NewSong in 1993.
In 2000 Russ left NewSong to pursue other ministry opportunities. He traveled with his family for six months visiting third world countries offering free concerts. God was changing his heart and his family’s perspective on life. It was amazing and life changing for the whole family. They came back with a fulfilled exhaustion and motivation to continue serving.
After returning to the states with his family Russ came on staff with a church that February. Being a part of the community and ministry was refreshing. This strengthening community would become a major support for the Lee family.
In May of that year Russ’ wife, Mary, was diagnosed with cancer. God’s deliberate love was over Mary and Russ during this storm. Even as the clouds were rolling in, God prepared the family to have this church around them as they walked through Mary’s illness.
The song, “God Hears”, tells of the lessons and hope Russ gained during the time Mary was ill. He became fearlessly angry with the Lord. He told God he’d never speak to Him again if she died. Russ recalls God’s response, “And I sensed God saying to me, I know you’re mad, and that’s okay, because you don’t understand what I’m doing… I’ve already set this apart, and I’m going to use it for My glory. You need to trust in Me.'” Russ got to a point where he could fully trust the Lord in this situation. And as he puts it, “God used a series of miracles to get us through that.”
Mary went through nine long months of treatment and has been cancer free for two years. This unexpected storm strengthened the Lee family more than they could have hoped for. God brought His shining glory and has allowed Mary to share her story to inspire and bring hope to others.
About a year ago Mary shared with Russ how she appreciated all that he had done for her while she was sick but now it’s his time to do what he does. Through a mutual invitation Russ was quickly back playing with NewSong in February 2009.
Russ has new hope and trust in a God. His journey brought new depths to the heart and soul of the music. NewSong provides that same dedication and trust in the Lord throughout their album Give Yourself Away. Only God can define the motivation to “give yourself away”. The music and lyrics of this album flow with inspiration to share the life of Jesus that is in all believers. NewSong encourages people to not only risk but to dive into the risky business of relationships. You get more than you give when you give yourselves away. Russ learned this from his wife just by her example. She would also say to him that though he was on stage performing “if you don’t love someone within reach you’re just making noise.”
So don’t assume these guys are on stage for the show. Russ’ life is a great example of obedient love in action. With passionate speed in his voice he shared with me, “Go do life! It’s about loving God and loving people. This is how the Church can prove that it’s the Church. Peoples lives are in shambles so why not just go across the street.” With an overflowing heart of joy he told me briefly of a few of his neighbors. Russ just listens to their story.
This is a bunch of guys rescued in grace that have been given a platform to faithfully serve. They know that they are to hold whatever God gives them with open hands. Sometimes they’re evangelists and sometimes they encourage the church. They live simply, yet fully: Music. Art. Truth.
After spending 17 of the last 28 months overseas, Caitlin is working hard trying to figure out the American lifestyle again. She likes Jesus, dreaming big, good conversations, miracles, meeting new people… and writing about it.