Rock and Roll Helps My Family Overcome

In the Bible, James 1 reminds us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. These words are a lifetime challenge, one that I’ve been wrestling with since growing up in a Christian conservative household.

As I grow in age and gain wisdom, these words have taught me that by taking time to listen to others, it turns out everyone has a story of struggling through difficult seasons. Not everyone has an addiction to overcome, or actionable suicidal thoughts, but everyone– if we’re honest– has struggled with some form of anxiety or depression.

This is the story that has been written so far about my family, our shared struggles with depression and anxiety, and how rock and roll has been therapeutic in bringing us together.

As with most true stories, this story has a beginning. The term “beginning” might be misleading, because I don’t believe anyone just wakes up one day and starts to experience depression or anxiety. These mental health challenges are deeply rooted and creep up on us over the course of time. Often we don’t even realize it’s on us until we are at a crossroads, which is where this story begins.

A few years ago on one of the last hazy days of summer vacation, my wife and our four kids were visiting my mother-in-law and swimming in the pool. At the time our oldest son was about 7 or 8, and our youngest was an infant. I was working about a 3 hour drive away from where they were for the day. It was a routine kind of day, nothing out of the ordinary– until I got a phone call from my frantic mother-in-law. My wife had passed out while swimming. Emergency help was on the way.

By the time I arrived at Hershey Medical Center, my wife had been flown there by helicopter and was awake and seemed well at the time. She would have a type of pacemaker installed when a heart condition was determined to be the root cause. Later, lab testing would reveal that three of our kids also share this genetic heart condition. Our story, and our battles with anxiety and depression, began on that hazy, routine summer day.

My oldest son had the composure to go ahead and call 911 when my wife passed out in the pool, then sat with our younger kids watching the scene unfold. He didn’t know how to process this emotionally at the time, so I suspect there was a lot of buildup that festered over time.

Fast forward to February 2017 on Super Bowl Sunday.

I’d recently had battles with my own depression, to the point where I had contemplated and even researched suicide. At that time, I chose not to seek help for myself .

Our oldest son came home from church that day, rabid to play video games. I shut that down because of concerns I had with behavior that morning. His response was unexpected, to say the least: he went to his room and covered himself with his blanket in a fit of rage. He made what we assumed to be empty, unknowing threats of self-harm and suicide. As parents, we took the first step of discussing it with him, hoping he’d understand that those are not words to speak lightly. He doubled down, so we took him to the Emergency Room, hoping to prove that what he was saying was serious and that we care so much about him that we will seek medical attention.

What they don’t tell you in the parenting handbook is that mental health is not to be messed with. I think he got so nervous at the hospital that things escalated to the point that he simply didn’t know how to respond, and we wound up staying two nights in the ER. After that, my son would be graciously admitted to an outpatient psychological center for further counseling and evaluation– about 3 months of outpatient, daily counseling for him. During the ER stay, I really connected and felt I fully understood “Love Feels Like” by Toby Mac (featuring dc Talk). I truly was “poured out, used up, still giving; stretching me out to the end of my limits.”

Later that summer, we had to say a very hard goodbye to our dog, who was 12 years old when we put him down. That was particularly hard on my oldest son, who had become attached to our dog while going through counseling. It was at this time that I started to introduce my kids to Skillet songs like “Invincible,” and my older boys used the Echo Dot to find more and more songs by Skillet.

Shortly after these traumatic events in 2017, my wife and I had the privilege to set sail on the Jesus Freak Cruise. This cruise was much needed for us after a difficult season. It also connected me with my roots as a Disc Jockey and writer in the CCM industry, and even more so my passion for positive rock and roll (dc Talk was one of the original Christian grunge rock bands I listened to).

Earlier this year I experienced another season of extreme thoughts and high anxiety. Life has taught me that this will be a lifelong ongoing battle, and the best thing to do is find a community to be a part of (enter the influence of the rock and roll community). Getting involved again in the music industry last fall (first with NewReleaseToday, and now with Rock On Purpose) has helped me to connect with my family in so many ways.

One of those was a shared interest in Skillet. Turns out, boys really enjoy banging their heads and screaming lyrics about feeling “like a monster.”

We went to Uprise 2017 together to see Skillet live, which ignited a passion for singing and rock and roll in my boys that help us to relate well together. Matt Baird, lead singer of Spoken, took time to take a picture with my boys and I and to sign posters for them. He was genuinely interested in chatting with us. I think those moments can have a lasting impact for our children.

My son is doing better now, and music is still a very important thing in his life.  He listens to Imagine Dragons and Skillet, both bands having a big impact with a positive message.

As for me, after walking through a very dark time in December and into winter of 2018,
rock and roll music has kept me alive and fighting on many days. Lacey Sturm, Skillet, Seventh Day Slumber and the community of fellow rockheads and the various rock shows I’ve attended this year help to be a reminder to me that life is worth the pain, and we’re not in this thing alone.

I stand here to say this: the struggle with depression and anxiety is real, but positive and deeply meaningful music with an edge to it has been a therapeutic escape. It’s also OK to seek professional help.

Our community that is rock and roll is an example of the best medicine: love each other well, remind those around you that tomorrow needs them. Remain so tightly connected, pray for one another and make sure absolutely nothing is off limits in our conversations with each other.

The best part of it is that our fellow rockers have James 1 figured out: listen well, speak slowly.

The Bands That Grow With Us: A Skillet Concert Review

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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For a full gallery of photos from this concert, click here. To find out when you can see Skillet in a city near you, visit skillet.com.

Stories: ‘Awake and Alive’ by Skillet

The Song: “Awake and Alive” by Skillet

The Story: “I got into Christian music completely unintentionally. My family was Christian, I was Christian, but I was never really into praise and worship,” Amy shares. “I preferred modern music.”

It would be Pokemon that unexpectedly led Amy to music that would change her life. “Soon, I started watching AMVs, or anime music videos, with Pokemon and any song that sounded catchy. There was one that stood out from the others, genre and lyric wise: ‘Awake and Alive’ by Skillet.”

Two years later, that initial discovery would snowball into something much bigger. “I gradually started listening to some of their most popular songs, such as ‘Hero,’ ‘Monster’ and ‘Rebirthing,'” Amy says. “Another two years later, I was a full fledged panhead. Now (another two years), I’m still proud to call Skillet my all time, number one, absolute favorite band. Disciple, RED, TFK, The Afters and Manic Drive are also some of my favorites.”

“I find it way easier to connect to God through their songs than through most worship songs,” Amy explains. “At first, I thought this was wrong, but really, it’s still worship, just not the specific genre. About three years ago, I started my YouTube channel (AMyV), with the goal of bringing AMV watchers to Christian music, particularly Skillet.”

You can see Amy’s video creations on her YouTube Channel AMyV.

If you have a story like this of ways a song has changed your life, visit our contact page or email directly to maryrosenikkel@gmail.com.

Chester Bennington: What We Do, One Year Later

This post originally published on Threads of Stars on July 20, 2018.

All afternoon on July 20, 2017, my phone was going off: “did you see the news?”

And I had; all of us in the rock community had, the news spreading through our tight knit family like a blackout, lights suddenly switched out. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park and easily in the top 5 most influential voices in rock for the past two decades, had died by suicide. Just months after their latest record. Just months after all the interviews saying he’d been in a dark place but was in so much therapy, getting so much better.

It’s early to call it, but this might be the Kurt Cobain of my generation.

It matters because we’d identified with him for so long, processed our own emotions through his own words. I know it well; of a thousand memories, I remember being 17 and watching and re-watching the music video for “Numb,” because it was me. That was simple fact for millions: somehow, these songs were about us. And when we find ourselves echoed in someone else’s journey and then it ends in the dark– what does that say about our journey? What does that say about the possibility of hope?

And what do we do next, after and during the grieving?

First: we take from lives like Chester’s a legacy of the full sum, not the tragic mistake of a moment. His stories of rehab, of healing, of fighting to be more than an illness or addiction: those are still just as true as they were 24 hours ago. They are perhaps the truest things about his life. We will not remember the tragedies of others as their definition. We’ll be braver and paint the whole picture, light and dark.

And this does not have to be an indicator that the inevitable end is in shadow. It can instead be a reminder of how costly it is to continue to leave issues of depression, suicide, addiction, and mental health unaddressed for a single second longer. It can make us kinder to each other. It can make us fiercer in our fight against the killer that’s eating whole generations alive, leaving holes in families, in schools, in churches– on stages.

We can take to heart the reminder that fame and fortune aren’t any kind of antidote, and that sometimes the people who seem to have it best need help the most. And even if sometimes all the right methods of treatment can’t erase the choice of a moment– those methods are still worth pursuing, because if there’s a chance that they can keep one person alive for five more minutes, that’s a chance worth fighting for.

We should be sobered. We should never be without hope.

“They say that I don’t belong
Say that I should retreat
That I’m marching to the rhythm
Of a lonesome defeat
But the sound of your voice
Puts the pain in reverse
No surrender, no illusions
And for better or worse
When they turn down the lights
I hear my battle symphony
All the world in front of me
If my armor breaks
I’ll fuse it back together.
My battle symphony:
please just don’t give up on me.”
– Linkin Park

Let’s fight together, my friends. It’s what we do.

Chester Bennington’s wife Talinda Bennington has risen as an incredible voice of advocacy and life in the year since losing Chester. For more about her mental health initiatives or if you need help, please visit changedirection.org. You can also follow Talinda on Twitter to join the conversation.

You can also read Linkin Park’s reflections on one year without Chester on their Facebook here

10 Tattoos Inspired By Lyrics

Happy National Tattoo Day! Tattoos can be a powerful way of telling our stories, of marking life events, of honoring the processes of our soul. For anyone who processes the world through the lens of music, the intersection of tattoos and songs just makes sense.

We asked you to share the stories of your lyrical tattoos. Here are your stories, your works of art.

The Song: “The Rose” by Memphis May Fire

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Molly designed this piece with artist Spencer Minor, inspired by the Memphis May Fire lyric “we are the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete.”

The Song: “Times” by Tenth Avenue North

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“A few months after my dad was killed in a traffic accident, I heard the song Times by Tenth Avenue North. My dad was a farmer that loved sunsets, and in the midst of the time of grief, and now in the time without my dad, God was and is still over under inside and in between.” – Dan

The Song: “Stars” by Skillet

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“This is Inspired by the Skillet song Stars. I’m a huge long time fan, but I love the lyrics to this song and the story behind it…that God is there for you no matter what!” – Sharayah

The Song: “Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot

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“‘Dare You To Move’ by Switchfoot has played a huge role in the last several years of my life. Wanted to get this as a reminder of where I’ve been (and all I’ve still yet to do.)” – Sarah

The Song: “Unbroken” by Disciple

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“[This is] Disciple’s Attack album cover with the artist’s flare put on it.” – Courtney

The Band: Random Hero

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“It wasn’t so much song lyrics, but it was inspired by Aaron from Random Hero message that he gives to the crowd at shows. He always stresses how we can not avoid pain, but can chose to be miserable or do something to change it.” – Jennifer

The Song: “Feed the Machine” by RED

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“My ‘Feed the Machine’ tattoo inspired by the Red song of the same name.” – John

The Song: “Invisible” by Disciple

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“This song came into my life during a broken time. I had been dumped by a not so serious boyfriend at the time in a very lousy way. I felt like I was undeserving, a vapor. I was crying every night feeling completely worthless, like I could never be loved and was all alone… When that Disciple album came out, I had set it aside and didn’t listen until one night I was driving home from picking up some of my belongings from my ex’s house. That song came on, and I had never felt God’s presence so harshly until that moment… I felt like he had just wrapped me in his arms, telling me that I am deserving and I’m not alone or invisible. To this day I still cannot listen to that song without crying because it reminds me of a time where God physically comforted me when I needed it. The Bible verse is what the song was inspired by straight from the CD booklet.” – Breanne

The Song: “I Am A Stone” by Demon Hunter

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“DH has been a huge and important part of my life since they began and these lyrics are a daily reminder to me that God in his unshakeable love and faithfulness to me and his unending pursuit of me is and always will be by my side…even in the darkest moments when we tend to forget that He is there and we are not alone.” – Amy

The Band: Day of Fire

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“This is Day of Fire’s logo. Got this done a few years ago by the former lead singer, Josh Brown. It’s supposed to represent the Holy Spirit.” – Jeremy

Do you have a special story about how a song has impacted you? You can share the story by clicking here!

Stories: ‘Control’ by The Protest

The Song: “Control” by The Protest

 

The Story: “I said for years I needed to stop drinking because it wasn’t good for me. Yet I never was able to,” Courtney shares. “Early 2015 God said it was time to put the bottle down. I told God I thought that was impossible. I told the creator of the universe something was impossible. Over and and over God told me I could do it and that it was time to put the bottle down. Over and over I ignored him.”

That’s where The Protest’s song came in. “I got The Protest’s Great Lengths album in mail. It felt like it came out of nowhere through friends. I stuck it in my car. I decided to drink before church because I thought I could endure it better. So I had a buzz at church on a Wednesday. I got in the car to leave and ‘Control’ came on.”

That experience became a turning point for Courtney in her process of defeating addiction, although it was still a process. “That song became God’s anthem to continue telling me to put the bottle down. I still didn’t listen. I put the album down for a while even because I couldn’t stand hearing God talking to me. July 2015, I finally decided to have faith that if God said I could quit drinking that it must mean I could. I dumped out what I had left of a bottle of Jack Daniels and gave it up.”

You can see some of Courtney’s art inspired by songs like this at Photography Art of an Eccentric Sheep.

If you have a story like this of ways a song has changed your life, visit our contact page or email directly to maryrosenikkel@gmail.com.

Stories: ‘Watch it Burn’ by Disciple

The Song: “Watch it Burn” by Disciple

The Story: For Courtney, “Watch it Burn” became an anthem in the middle of extreme anxiety. “When I first started experiencing an allergic reaction to disposable gloves, it triggered immense anxiety and compulsions. I was terrified of dying. I worried about contamination and infection all day every day. I never felt clean. Yet I was working with urine samples in a lab that probably would glow like the sun in a black light. I was out of my mind with anxiety.”

“For some reason, Disciple’s song ‘Watch it Burn’ is the one that kept my sanity together,” Courtney shared. “It was just something about singing that line, ‘to all the hell inside that’s been controlling me, set it off, watch it all burn down,’ that got me through many bouts of panic.”

You can see some of Courtney’s art inspired by songs like this at Photography Art of an Eccentric Sheep.

If you have a story like this of ways a song has changed your life, visit our contact page or email directly to maryrosenikkel@gmail.com.

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