On August 24, I walked from my parents’ house to a college performing arts center. Skillet’s buses and semi were huddled around the back of the building, and a small crowd of concert-goers in emblazoned t-shirts clustered around the front. I checked in at will call for my pass, got my camera’s settings in place, and settled in for a night watching Skillet bring their blistering live show to East Texas.
Ten years ago, I stood in that same room to see that same band. Skillet was touring the record Comatose at the time, and it was my very first rock show. Then, I had a general admission ticket which I’d kept on display in my bedroom for months in advance so I could see it whenever I was having a bad day. When the concert day finally came, I was so excited–and nervous–I couldn’t sit down. A crowd pressed against the front of the stage. I edged into the center of it, holding to the railing, ready.
I remembered this as I scoped out the photography situation. I walked past the spot where I had staked my claim ten years earlier, smiling at the memory of how hard I had to hold on once things got rowdy.
The room dropped to black, with an introductory swell of music that had the crowd screaming. Then John Cooper’s voice boomed out over the room: “I feel, I feel it: invincible.”
The room was instantly captivated, singing along in a roar. The band was electric. Korey Cooper seemed in constant motion, practically dancing with her guitar. Seth Morrison’s guitar work, a marriage of grungy distortion and precision, won the admiration of the metal heads in the room. And Jen Ledger carried herself with effortless grace through her vocal lines despite the sheer intensity being poured into the drum kit.
Skillet followed with “Whispers in the Dark,” a familiar tune that had older Skillet fans screaming every word. I sang along quietly as I snapped pictures, remembering singing along at the top of my lungs ten years ago, when the song was new. Two songs from concept album Rise followed, “Sick of It” and the title track. “Lions” and “Back From the Dead” bridged us back to the present before cellist Tate Olsen took the stage under a single spotlight, signaled the beginning of 2009 smash hit “Awake and Alive.”
Around this time I was standing halfway back in the room, resetting my camera, when a mom approached me. I could see her eyes bright with tears, so I moved closer to her so I could hear her.
“Are you with the band?” she asked.
“Kind of,” I answered, a little hesitant. “I know them, a little bit.”
“They saved my daughter’s life,” she said.
I dropped my camera and gave her my full attention. “I’m so glad,” I told her.
She started to tell me, through tears, that her daughter had been planning to attempt suicide when she came across Skillet’s music. The songs met her where she was, gave her hope, lifted her out of the dark. “I just want them to know that,” the mom told me. “Could you tell them, if you ever get a chance?”
I promised her I would. I told her it mattered. I asked her daughter’s name so I could hold it with me, carry the story. She pointed her out to me, dancing and singing on the front row in a white dress.
That story was the same story I’d been living in that room ten years before. I’d been the one who had been planning suicide, who had scarred up arms and a desperate spirit, who caught and held Skillet’s music as literal whispers in the dark–whispers that maybe there was more for me. Whispers that maybe I could survive into adulthood, against all odds. And when I saw my first Skillet show, with all those songs fresh and vital in my new steps into a recovering life, I stood on the front row and screamed every word in living defiance of the dark.
The rest of Skillet’s show continued to be infectiously passionate, touching on hits like “Hero,” “Monster” and “Rebirthing.” An acoustic performance of “Stars” centered the evening on the message of hope. A special performance of Jen Ledger’s solo single “Not Dead Yet” gave Jen the chance to show her incredible growth as an artist, while rallying fans in life-giving determination. The evening ended on “The Resistance,” with plenty of firework style pyro canons.
The show had a lot more bells and whistles than that first Skillet show I saw ten years ago. I’ve seen Skillet somewhere around 25 times since, and their performances only continue to get tighter, more raucously enjoyable. But beyond the exceptional musical offering, I found myself thinking about the way music grows with us.
These songs met me in a place of deep desperation, and it would change everything about me–set me on my trajectory to work in the music industry, change the way I viewed God. Those days are long in my history now, fond memories of a time when I was a different person. Now, I get to see the story repeat itself, get to champion the life-giving cycle perpetuated. I was given what I needed, when I needed it most, through these songs. Now others are having that exact same experience. I am lucky to even get to witness it. I am gifted beyond belief when I get to be a small part of helping people connect the dots between their pain and the songs that meet them in the middle of it.
And that is a great grace in the progress we make, in the things given to us for healing: they don’t end with us. We get to turn around and give them to others as we grow. In this way, a small seed of life creates life abundant.