It was November 2012. The day will be forever burned into his memory. As happens all too often in life, the tragic news caught Ben Lashey totally unprepared: Heidi, his close friend from high school, had just been killed in a traffic accident by a drunk driver. Such cruel tragedies are never easy to handle, and doubly so when the victim was a young woman whose spirit brightened the lives of all around her. But Ben was a contemporary Christian artist and worship leader at a large church. How was this soul-rending tragedy going to square with his faith? How could a loving God allow such things?
"That day was as dark and horrible as you can imagine," Lashey told me from his office at McLean Bible Church just south of the Beltway. "Heidi's mom had also been killed by a drunk driver, and that just made things all the more difficult to understand. In the instant before impact, it appears Heidi reached out to protect her 8-month-old child and Heidi was killed instantly -- but the baby lived." At the time of the accident, Lashey had been in the early stages of writing and producing his first full-length album. Dealing with the grief and senselessness of his friend's death was at first difficult to deal with. But as he read scores of Facebook and email messages from his buddies sharing memories of their friend who was "selfless and caring beyond compare," a new idea entered his mind.
"Some people have this thought that to be a good Christian means you won't suffer like everyone else. Such a concept is scripturally unsupportable," he explained. "The Bible is clear that all will suffer in life [see excerpt below], and that both the good and the evil ultimately suffer the same fate. But there is an enormous benefit to belonging to Jesus, because with Him even in tragedy there is eternal hope!" Ben decided to use his album project to communicate to others how God is alive and present among people in all seasons and circumstances of life.
(Ecclesiastes 9:1-2,7-9) For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred, anything awaits him. It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked... Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun, for this is your reward in life.
"I wanted this album to reflect what real life is like, not just some idealistic caricature," he explained. "And even from the beginning I wanted to write music that would appeal to people regardless of whether they went to church or not. So the songs speak of life; difficulties, happiness, sorrows, excitement, inspiration, hope, optimism!" Lashey said that he felt a "compulsion" in his spirit to produce an album about four months before Heidi's accident. The first few songs he had written were time consuming affairs. But late at night on the day he got the tragic news, he said an inspiration came upon him like none he'd experienced before.
Ben Lashey leading worship at McLean Bible on March 22, 2014
"After I put my children to bed that night, I went downstairs and sat at my piano. After spending months working on just a few songs, I wrote 'Heidi's Song' in, literally, five minutes!" he recalls. "It was amazing. I was feeling the spirit of her life as I rummaged through my memories, and then as my fingers hit the keys of the piano there was just this connection." Ben said he could 'hear' some of the music in his mind and just let the feeling direct his hands. Mingled with the notes came the initial lyrics. "That dynamic started feeding on itself, first music, then lyrics, then more music." As mere minutes passed, the speed of the process accelerated until the whole song started to emerge. "In five minutes it was 90 percent done."
Heidi and her baby
"It totally caught me off guard," he recalled. "I'd never written a song that fast. I believe the Holy Spirit allowed me to express what all of us felt about her. A week later I sang it at her funeral." Easily one of the best tracks on the new CD, "Heidi's Song" combines Lashey's rich and sensitive voice with an endearing lyric and melody. Clear and bold, his considerable range carries the song from a reverent beginning to a soaring height that represents the diverse and compelling quality of his friend's life and faith.
Of Heidi's value to her friends, Lashey remembered "her smile was so unique, we always said you could see it from a million miles away. She wasn't from an extremely wealthy family, but she had so many friends she was the richest woman in town!"
Ben will be sharing "Heidi's Song" and eight other original tracks at a CD release concert for the now-finished album, A Light Breaks (Vienna, Virginia in the Smith Center of McLean Bible Church on Friday, March 28th at 8pm.). Writing the song, and later the rest of the album, enabled Lashey to "turn the darkness of tragedy into a celebration of the light of life. Even in death, Heidi still makes people smile!"