Mike Rimmer talked at length to one of America's most gifted and distinctive CCM singers, KIM HILL.
The recent release of Kim Hill's 'Broken Things' brought back to the public's attention one of the GREAT voices of CCM. I've long been a fan of Kim. In 1990 I was excited to hear that Kim Hill was touring the UK, having fallen in love with her recent album 'Talk About Life'. I scheduled an interview and it being 1990 lugged my heavy old Uher reel to reel recorder to capture 20 minutes of chat with the singer. When I came to see Kim play the concert at Birmingham Christian Centre, she was amazing, filling the venue with her huge, warm, alto voice. However the surprising thing for me at the time was how few people came to the gig! This was a huge, big American CCM star.
Kim was born in 1963 in Starville, Mississippi. Signed to Reunion Records her debut 'Kim Hill' (1988) produced major Christian radio hits with such songs as "Refuge" and "Faithful". Her 1989 album 'Talk About Life' was even more successful producing a number one radio hit in the Wayne Kirkpatrick penned "Testimony" and the classic "Snake In The Grass" while 1993's 'Brave Heart' which Hill joked was essentially a White Heart album with Kim depping as the veteran rock band's lead singer, was acclaimed by some critics as her best album. In 1994 Kim made a pitch at the mainstream country market with her 'So Far, So Good' and though the song "Janie's Gone Fishin'" attracted interest it wasn't a huge hit. By 1997 she was back with Christian music though her Star Song album 'The Fire Again' was more inspirational than the edgy pop of old. Her next album 'Renewing The Heart: For Such A Time As This' won Kim a Dove Award, amazingly Kim's first, as 1999's Praise And Worship Album Of The Year. More projects followed, 'Surrounded By Mercy' in 2003 and 'Hope No Matter What' in 2005 but it's only with the release of 'Broken Things' that this most gifted of singers has returned to top creative form. So does she see the new album as coming full circle? She laughs, "I've decided I'm either just continually lost in my journey or just exploring new and old territory over and over again. I'm not sure which."
How did she feel about her return to working as an edgy singer/songwriter? "You know it was really fun. I think in some ways as I've gotten older and I've moved into the women's conference world I kind of was mellowing out a little bit with all the worship stuff. I really love that. That's one of my favourite things and I love what I get to do at those conferences. But towards the end of the day at the conference I would throw in a few more rocking tunes and the women would just love it. Everyone I think is a kid at heart and women would let their hair down a little bit by the end of the day. It would make everyone feel so young and like, 'Hey, we're not too old to do this!' When I first started talking with Paul Ebersold, who produced my new project, the whole reason he wanted to work with me was, he actually used to be in a small group with my brother. He told my brother, 'I know your sister's doing all this worship stuff. If she's really a rock chick then she needs to make a record with me.' So he really encouraged me."
She continues, "He persuaded me that I'm not too old to do this! And he was saying, 'You also really need to write because you have things you want to say that no one's going to be able to say for you. You really need to get back to writing more.' I have a bad habit of writing some but then kind of handing it off to someone to finish it for me and Paul wouldn't let me do that. He said, 'I'm gonna make you write them yourself.' So we wrote several songs together where he wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics. I haven't done that in a really long time. Probably way too long to remember! So it was really a great experience and a real stretching experience for me as a writer and as a singer to try to do some things that I had not done. I think this is my 13th or 14th CD and I think sometimes when you've made a few you kind of need someone to challenge you to do something a little different. So it was great to work with Paul and have him do that."
I must remember to send my "thank you" note to Paul Ebersold for getting Kim to make this kind of album again! One of the life experiences that Kim has drawn upon for the subject matter for some of the songs was her painful divorce. Sadly, divorce is not unknown in the Christian music world and it's made more painful when you're a Christian because there is such a stigma attached to it. How did she cope with it? "I do think you're so right," she says thoughtfully. "There's a huge, HUGE stigma. I know for me, I was in one of those marriages that was bad literally from the honeymoon. It was bad from the beginning. I got pregnant the first month I was married and I thought, 'What have I done to my life?!' I'd so messed up my life because the person I married was not at all who he'd portrayed himself to be. I felt so stuck because I was like, okay, I can't get divorced. I have to make this work. And after years, literally, six years of going to counsellors and pastors and trying to find a way to make it work it did end in divorce. I felt so much shame and so much personal failure. I felt like I was going to walk around with this big 'F' on my chest for the rest of my life that said I had failed."
She continues, "There were several points where I thought, nothing I ever do will matter again. It won't matter what I do because if I fail at this it'll just ruin everything. I talk to so many women at conferences who feel that way, who feel like they can never be all that God created them to be because they have this big mark and this big unpardonable sin if you will. Unfortunately that is just what a lot of people are even taught in their church, or maybe they're taught that by their family. It makes what I think is already very difficult even more difficult because you feel so alone and ashamed. I think it's a very big problem and a very real problem in the Church in America. I say this frequently at conferences; we all know the verse, God hates divorce. I KNOW that God hates divorce but he doesn't hate divorced people and he doesn't hate children that are products of divorce. He hates divorce because of what it does to us. The picture that he wants for us; he wants our marriages to represent how Christ loves the Church. What I've had to come to realise is that unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a very broken and a very fallen world. When I was younger I thought the choices were so black and white between good and bad and what I had to come to terms with was that I was faced with bad and worse. So do I choose to stay in something that's really bad and really bad for my children, or do I choose to do what to me might be bad but was a better choice?"
In her ministry at women's conferences, Hill comes across many women who have been affected by divorce or who are struggling within marriages. "For me, I had to realise there ARE worse things than being divorced. At several points along the way, because I was leading worship at really big women's events, like Focus On The Family and Moody Bible Institute, a lot of people told me, 'You know Kim, you're career will be over. No one will ask you to lead worship if you get divorced.' I had to really privately deal with that and really come to terms with it and decide that if my career is over or if my ministry is over, then that's okay. I need to do what I need to do for my boys so that I can be a good mom to them. I don't encourage people to get divorced but at the same time I try to encourage people that have gone through divorce that there is life after divorce. Sometimes that IS the option that we have to choose. I've just seen it over and over again in my own situation how God has been incredibly faithful to me and to my children. I think that I'm doing what is best for them and that's what allows me to keep going on hard days. That belief that God is honouring my decision to put them first, maybe over.especially over things to do with my own personal wants with my career or my ministry."
One of the biggest challenges when life doesn't go the way we expect it, is that we can easily be filled with regrets or disappointments and have our life soured by our experiences. Kim Hill strikes me as a woman who has looked those disappointments in the face and decided to keep going. The song "Million Pieces" on the new album reflects on these issues. "That song came out of a conversation with a couple of women friends of mine that are also speakers and writers - Angela Thomas and Lisa Harper. We were talking about, basically, what do you do when your life doesn't turn out the way you hoped? And really that's the majority of people. They have a life that maybe is not what they had dreamed of when they were a little girl. Lisa is 43 and never married. Single. Would love to be married. Would love to have children. Angela went through a similar situation as me and is now divorced. Single mom with four kids. We were kind of talking about how when your life gets blown into a million pieces you want to try to put it back together but you can't. And really, ultimately, you have to really trust God to put it back together the way he wants to. I really tried to write it from the vantage point that it could fit for anybody, not just someone gone through divorce but just any women. I was so excited when I first played it for my little sister, who looks like the perfect little wife, mother, has three kids and bakes home-made apple pies. She heard the song and started crying in the car. She said, 'I'm gonna be so embarrassed Kim because people are gonna know that you wrote this about me.' I was so excited because I was like, well if you think this is about you then we've scored because I really hoped that pretty much every woman that heard it would find herself in the song. It's crazy to think that you're alone in your circumstance because you're not."
These days Kim is a single mother who hasn't remarried. Is that for theological reasons or has she not had any good offers? She laughs, "It's kind of a mix of both! One day my dad asked me, 'Kim, so do you want to get remarried?' And I said, 'Well daddy I would love to get remarried one day but it's not like people are lined up at the door. It's not that easy.' But honestly I feel like for my children right now the best thing for me to do is to really try to provide as much stability as I can for them. Their lives are kind of chopped up enough going to their dad's every other weekend and feeling the loss of not having both parents at home. I really try to focus on making our home as stable as I can and I can't really see how introducing another person and possibly other children into that mix would make things better. I know some people do it and it works for some people but for us I just feel that the time is not now. I've been divorced now about five years and these years have been really important to help my kids have some consistent, safe place to be at home."
She pauses and then observes, "If Mr Right comes along I'm not saying I wouldn't do it but I'm not really pursuing that. Especially because I try to travel every other weekend when the boys are with their dad and so that doesn't leave me a lot of time to go out on dates or anything. So I can't really figure out how I could make all that work."
Would she be scared of starting another relationship after the failure of her marriage? "I think scared probably wouldn't be the word that I would use but I definitely think that I would go in with my eyes a lot more open. I think I was very naïve when I first got married. I'm a little too trusting of people, even today. You'd think I wouldn't be but I give people trust automatically until they prove otherwise. I don't know that that's the wisest thing to do. I think a lot of times it's wiser to really get to know people and build trust with them. So I think I would go about things a lot differently the second time around."
One of the outstanding songs on the album is the story song "Wide" and Kim explains the background of writing the song. "I wrote this really based on a lot of different women that come up to me at conferences." She elaborates, "What breaks my heart is women who come up to me who are like my mom's age; they might be in their early 60s. They tell me that when they were younger they were divorced and that a lot of times the people in their lives don't even know about it. And maybe now they've remarried and they have children and grandchildren and they're seen as this really wonderful Christian woman but they have this secret and everybody doesn't know - that they were divorced when they were younger. They tell me that's kept them from doing different things and they felt like all they could do was maybe work in the nursery at church or something, but that God could never use them really because they had this past of divorce. It breaks my heart to hear someone my mom's age tell me that. They tell me a lot of times that today, at the conference, God's freed them from that shame and they realise that they had believed something that wasn't the truth. And that they saw God use me that day and they thought, well if he's using Kim and she's divorced then maybe he didn't throw me away? Maybe he could still use me? I just stand and pray and cry with these women. It is so redemptive for me to get to be a part of their redemption and their healing but it's also so sad for me that there's so many women of that generation who walk around feeling that way. Feeling like they are second class or feeling like God couldn't use them."
She continues, "So I had the idea for the song and I called my friend Margaret Becker and asked her if she would try to write it with me. I went over to her house and we wrote it and we both laughed because we had written a song together for my very first album almost 20 years before and we had not written together since then. We both laughed that we couldn't have written this song 20 years before because neither one of us had lived enough life to write it. So it was really a cool thing for me personally just to get to do that with Margaret."
Whether it's divorce or any other major disappointment that can encroach on our lives, there comes a time when we have to decide to get up and start again and engage in life and in a relationship with God deeply. When the disappointment has been public, it's sometimes harder to do that. Life's hurts affect us spiritually and can have the result that we feel fenced in and washed up. Kim went through that but how did she get past that point? I can imagine her sitting on a sofa thinking, "Well that's it God! I'll keep on going to church but I know I'll never be able to do anything." How did she get from that point to being able to minister again?
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