TWILA PARIS has recorded an album that is hitting both rock, pop and easy listening audiences. Jan Willem Vink reports.
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"We listened to the songs and one thing that I felt really early on in the production process that the album should be more guitar oriented this time. That accounts for some of the sounds and of course the fact that most of the songs are positive and upbeat, musically and lyrically.
"Secondly, I took about a year off the road in 1992, during which time a lot of these songs were written. I've been on the road for 12 years and I felt the Lord was telling me to take a sabbatical to spend time with my family, be able to spend more time with my home church, resting physically, spiritually and mentally and allowing him to restore me. I felt like Psalm 23 where it says: 'He restores my soul and he leads me beside still waters.' I felt the Lord wanted to call me away for a time of being quiet, of restoration from the business of life and ministry. At the end of that time I was very much refreshed with a new vision and enthusiasm for what God has given me to do. I think that a lot of the joy and the freedom in the music is partly because of that."
One of those positive songs is definitely "God Is In Control", which was released on single on New Year's day in the US, not insignificantly, given the encouraging tone of the song. But how can she sing so positively of God's control with, for instance, such ongoing tragedies as the war in Bosnia?
"Well, I think that a lot of it has to do with perspective. I know that it's easier to say that from my point of view than it is from someone who is suffering through a war at this moment. I hope that my faith would be strong enough that if I personally had to go through a war I would still be able to say with confidence, 'God is in control and his perspective is different than mine.' He understands the eventual outcome. God gives us freedom and he allows us as humans to make our own choices and to manoeuvre within a certain sphere. But ultimately, essentially God is the bottom line. And he has control. I don't pretend to have all the answers and to understand why God allows certain things he allows. He certainly did not cause the war in Bosnia, humans have, and we cause so much suffering to each other. God doesn't always instantly intervene. He allows humans to make their choices, even when it affects them personally and others negatively at times. Like I said, I don't pretend to understand everything that he understands. There is a line in the song that says, 'He is watching over you and watching over me/Every little sparrow and every little king.'
"With this king I don't mean to belittle those in power. But if we try and think from God's perspective - those people are really small to him. He created them and he does have the ultimate authority even though for reasons we may or may not understand he has given them the freedom to make their choices. Ultimately he is the one who will say: That's enough, I'm in charge and I'm drawing a line and it's going to be very obvious.' And so I personally take great comfort and I have a lot of confidence when I just think of how different God's perspective is from mine - that to him these things are not frightening, they're not scary, he has a greater, wider perspective."
God is in control is not always a lesson that can be learned very easily. Twila had to struggle with that herself, when shortly after marrying her manager Jack Wright in 1987; he became ill with the Epstein-Barr disease, a chronic fatigue that has plagued him until the present time.
"I think that's the lesson illustrated on a small scale," comments Twila. "It is interesting when I wrote 'God Is In Control' I was thinking about society but I had a lot of people write me or talk to me and they have been employing the message in their own lives, in the intimate details of their lives.
"And yes, it was difficult for me. I'm always tempted to take control myself. When Jack first began to get sick, we were going from doctor to doctor, trying to figure out what kind of treatment he was going to get. He kept on being sick, so much that he couldn't travel with me for years, for long periods of time. And I got so frustrated because for the first time in my life I was encountering something that no matter what I did I couldn't fix it, it was beyond my control. And it really led me to a point of having to reassess my faith and having to say: This is something that's very difficult for me and frustrating and painful, I wish I could change it but I can't.' I believe that God could but in his wisdom he is not choosing to do it right now. And so I had to answer the question whether I trust him and whether I submit to his hand at work in my life. Although I continued to struggle and resist, I came to a place where I said: 'Okay, whatever you do, I may not understand it, but it's okay with me.' And there was a new joy that came into my life at that point even though the circumstances did not change dramatically back then. I was able to have joy in the midst of the circumstances. It sounds like a cliche or it sounds trite but after you've been through some real life situations you find that the things that we suffer from in difficult times bring the growth. The fine, exciting, wonderful successful times really don't bring much growth, eventually. And God's ultimate goal for us is that we would be brought into the people that he created us to be and to become like him. He understands that if we come to that place, that's going to be more fulfilling, that's going to be the ultimate joy."
Twila says Jack is doing a lot better now. "He has seen much improvement. He is not completely healthy all the time, but he is much better than he was. A lot of people have been praying for him, I know, around the world. We're really grateful for them."
In closing, I asked Twila to explain the background of the song "Neither Will I", one of the most compelling tracks on 'Beyond A Dream'. "I have a good friend, I think possibly we all know one person like her, at least one person whom we pray for and encourage and who seems to want badly to serve God in a faithful way yet over and over they stumble. It's of course discouraging for them. But it's discouraging for us too. It is heartbreaking when you really believe and hope for someone.
"On this particular occasion I had heard that a friend of mine who had been doing well for a couple of years had made an old mistake again, had gone back one more time and stumbled with her walk with the Lord. And I was so disheartened. I thought this time she was really going to make it. And my initial reaction, which is a very human reaction, was to give up, I'm not going to pray for her anymore! Prayer doesn't do any good 'cause no matter what I do, she'll always mess up again. I felt God really convicting me and speaking strongly: 'You don't have a right to do that. I haven't given up on you, you certainly haven't been perfect and you've made some of the same mistakes over and over again, and maybe they're not the kind that are so obvious and seem like such a big thing to other people.' If I respond to someone in a spirit other than love, then perhaps to God that's not any different than someone who is an alcoholic and who falls back into alcohol abuse. God works on the heart and he doesn't measure things the same way as we do, I think. So that was basically him saying to me: 'Look, you are saved by grace, the same way that other person is. You think you've earned your salvation? You haven't! I've been very merciful to you and if I'm willing to extend mercy to your friend, then who are you to stop extending mercy and hope and grace? You don't have a right to stop hoping, you don't have a right to stop praying, you have a responsibility to keep praying and encouraging her.' I was rebuked, frankly, by the Lord for my emotions, and the song was born out of that experience."
Twila tells me she has talked about touring Europe with 'Beyond A Dream'. "One of the reasons we haven't toured outside our own country as much is because of Jack's health and some of the limitations that's put on what we would like to do. But as he's feeling better, and depending on what God enables us to do, I really would love to come back to Europe. I would say I really hope so."
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