remember where I was when I first heard Eva Cassidy's
"Fields of Gold." I can tell you the exact location,
the date and the time within minutes. Evie and I had just
enjoyed a wonderful dinner at my mom's home in Chevy Chase on
Christmas evening, 1996. We were driving back to Damascus, on
Connecticut Avenue. We were one of probably a handful of
listeners tuned in to a university jazz station on our car
approached the Randolph Road intersection near Aspen Hill, at
about 10:00 p.m., Cassidy's recording began to play
unannounced. I nearly drove off the road. Who was this singer?
And where did this song come from?
only a first-take live production, sung to the backdrop of two
guitars slightly out of tune with each other, it remains the
most hauntingly beautiful recording I've ever heard. To this
day, it's hard to stay dry-eyed, even just replaying it in my
out the next week to find the CD containing that track. The
large chains didn't have it, but a local store had a small
supply, and we felt fortunate to get a copy for ourselves,
plus several for friends. I was stunned to find that Cassidy
was a local singer. I had never heard of her, nor had any of
my musician friends.
itself was a homegrown production, recorded live at Blues
Alley, a small D.C. club, and released by a very small record
company in Rockville, near my home. The recording itself was
rough-hewn, with flaws left in and no studio trickery. The
band on it is good, but not unusual.
can only describe Cassidy's singing as preternatural. It draws
you in and invades you like the book in Never
I knew that this CD--Cassidy's only solo album--had little
chance of success outside the D.C. area. Female singers face
an uphill battle to begin with, and those performing only
cover songs on low-budget recordings seldom get airplay. But .
. . there's always the future.
was so unknown, that it took some weeks before I finally
connected with what "the future" meant in her case.
The song that had captivated me that Christmas evening, I
sadly discovered, had been part of a posthumous tribute to
Cassidy, who had died of melanoma the month before at 33.
now that her music had no chance of ever gaining the acclaim
it deserved. Records don't arouse popular interest without
extensive promotional performing by the artist and huge
financial investment; and radio stations don't pay attention
to deceased singers who never had the backing of a major
record company. Predictably, her Blues Alley CD went out of
print within a year.
now March 23, 2001, and I quote The Washington Post:
"Eva Cassidy, the Washington songbird who couldn't land a
record contract during her lifetime, currently has the No. 1
album in England."*
happened in these intervening years defies every principle of
marketing and commercial success known to humankind, and it
defies the most optimistic imagination. Several small labels
released compilations of live and studio recordings of
Cassidy's. One of these, Songbird, took hold in Great
Britain, after a radio station aired a single selection,
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow," then was inundated by
calls from listeners wanting to know who the singer was. Word
of mouth took over, as one listener--astounded as I was on
that memorable Christmas evening--told another of their love
for Cassidy's music. Without marketing and promotion, without
fanfare, Songbird has sold over one million copies in
Great Britain. On the United Kingdom's branch of Amazon.com,
Cassidy currently has four of the top five selling albums; her
re-released Live at Blues Alley is No. 2. Songbird
is also the top selling CD among the vast selections on
of Gold" has even captured the attention of its composer,
Sting, who calls it "a beautiful rendition. I've rarely
heard a voice of such purity."*
success of Cassidy's music is the most inspiring example I
have witnessed in my own lifetime of talent, pure and simple,
triumphing over all the odds in the marketplace. The Post
aptly notes, "Cassidy, herself, would have been as
shocked as anyone at this turn of events."
Cassidy's case as a highly dramatic and extreme example of a
dynamic that we each experience in our own lives, if we don't
allow ourselves to lose heart too easily. God gives to each of
us the ability to do certain things well. He grants us gifts,
through which we are able to help others greatly. We find
immense personal fulfillment in making use of them as well. He
also leads us in establishing dreams and goals based on our
gifts, that keep our life moving in constructive directions.
gifts we possess personally vary greatly from one of us to
another, and cover the whole range of human talent--from
homemaking to the ability to perform brain surgery. Yet we
each enjoy a unique mix of talent that perfectly reflects
God's intention for our own life and his distinctive image
within us. We are far and away most helpful to others--and
most fulfilled--to the degree that we're employing this
potential, and letting it define our major choices and goals.
honest, though, most of us will admit that we feel
underappreciated much of the time when it comes to our gifts
and dreams. Our discouragement stems as much as anything from
not receiving enough positive feedback--compliments,
affirmation and assurance that what we're doing makes a
difference. Just this week a friend who is developing an
important new ministry wrote me, "I am pledged to
perfection--or at least some level of quality that is higher
than most seem to demand--and sick about how hard I'm working
with little to no credit or reward." Call that a very
human expression, if you will; but we've all been there and
are there often.
at all normal, too, we receive criticism regarding our gifts
and aspirations that sometimes is plainly unfair. It takes
very little in the way of negative feedback to discourage us.
One unkind remark stays with us and affects us more than
be unfairly self-critical as well. Cassidy had such a low
opinion of her own work, that she almost nixed the release of
her live album, which led to the eventual surge of public
interest in her material. Had she succeeded in squelching its
production, many people--a multitude far greater than she
remotely thought possible--would have been denied the benefit
of her music. Cassidy had a hairsplitting decision to make in
this case, and fortunately decided to swallow hard and allow
the release of this recording, with all its imperfections.
face many hairsplitting decisions, where our temptation is
strong, out of discouragement, to stop using a gift or
discontinue pursuing a dream. Of course, when we cave into
disappointment in such cases, our perception that we're
unappreciated and our efforts unneeded always becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy, for we stop doing the things that
bring positive feedback. We make our own bed.
when, as an act of faith, we're able to rise above
discouragement and continue the pursuit of a gift or dream, we
find that in time acclaim does come. We receive the positive
feedback we've longed for, and discover that our work is
benefiting others significantly. This recognition can take
longer to result than we wish, and almost always comes in
different ways than we expect. But it does come--if we stay
faithful to our gifts and dreams. There simply seems to be a
law of human life that this is true.
implying that any of our endeavors will necessarily reap the
surreal success that Cassidy's music has. And life doesn't
offer any guarantees. Still, we benefit from a principle of
life--a tendency--that with high likelihood operates to
our benefit when we give it time. In time, we experience
results that are highly gratifying to us, and that
leave us immensely glad we didn't give up.
this boils down to for each of us is the need to operate at a
high level of faith as we seek to develop our gifts and work
toward our dreams. It's vital to stay focused on the long-term
results of our efforts. This means many, many times when we
need to feel the discouragement and do it anyway. And do it
not with grim resignation, but with the conviction that God is
working behind the scenes in countless ways for our benefit as
we stay on course. We need to be strongly convinced that over
time he rewards such tenacity by turning our "mourning
into dancing" (Ps 32:22), and by using our efforts to
meet critical needs of others.
similar incidents in the Gospels offer encouragement to any of
us who feel underappreciated with respect to our gifts. They also
give us inspiration to take the steps of faith so necessary to
nurture our gifts and move toward our dreams.
a woman described as "a sinner" enters a Pharisee's
home where Jesus is dining. She "brought an alabaster
flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet,
weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped
them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and
anointed them with the ointment" (Lk 7:37-38 RSV).
other incident also takes place at a dinner Jesus is
attending. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, "took
a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet
of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was
filled with the fragrance of the ointment" (Jn 12:3 RSV).
these women did something supremely creative, in light of who
they were, as an act of devotion to Jesus. And both aroused
the contempt of others for what they did.
Pharisee in the first incident assumed the woman's bad
reputation disqualified her from doing anything notable, and
viewed her act as audacious. The men at the dinner Mary
attended believed she had wasted highly expensive perfume that
could have been sold to help the poor.
interesting to speculate why the woman in the first incident
was crying. Was she overcome with gratitude to Jesus? Moved by
sheer joy in doing something creative that benefited him? Or
was she hurt--dismayed that the Pharisee disdained her
gracious act--and unable to hold it in? Since Luke is silent
on the point, and emotions are complex, I'm inclined to think
all of these factors were involved.
experience tears at times when we personally give our gifts
and dreams the attention they deserve, and for a similar
variety of reasons. The elation that comes from doing
something creative that deeply reflects who we are can do it.
So can the perception that our work is benefiting others, or
is likely to do so. And, of course, criticism can do it too,
as can the lack of positive feedback when we need it. Tears
are part of the package when we take our dreams and gifts as
seriously as we should. If we don't experience them on
occasion, we're probably being too easy on ourselves.
or not tears reflected hurt in this woman's case, she almost
certainly felt the Pharisee's disdain before she proceeded
with her act of kindness. Mary, too, given her highly
intuitive nature, probably felt the contempt of the men in
that room before she emptied the bottle of perfume on Jesus'
feet. It's to the credit of them both that they didn't let
their fears of criticism dissuade them from following their
convictions. They symbolize for us those times when we need to
take steps of faith to reap the gifts God has given us, in
spite of anxiety about how others may react.
encouraging is Jesus' response to these women. He praised them
each effusively. He went as far as to tell the woman in the
Pharisee's home, "your faith has saved you" (Lk
7:50). The implication for us personally is deeply inspiring
to think about. When, out of devotion to Christ and compassion
for others, we take those scary steps that best reflect our
creative nature, we are operating most authentically in the
realm of faith. And it's faith that is unspeakably
constructive and healing, in its impact on our own life and
the lives of others.
Mary's case, Jesus informed those present, "wherever this
gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will
be told in memory of her" (Mt 26:13). It is stunning to
realize how accurate Jesus' prediction has turned out to be.
For twenty centuries untold people have taken inspiration from
her act of faith, as we are doing at this moment. Here is one
of Scripture's most compelling examples of how the long-range
impact of a step of faith can vastly exceed one's wildest
reminded that when we personally take such steps, we open
ourselves to God's greater possibilities, which in time
abundantly override those moments of discouragement that tempt
us to put our gifts on the shelf. Staying faithful to our
gifts and dreams is the key. And farsighted in judging their
this lesson from Eva Cassidy as well. During her lifetime she
had not the faintest hint that her music would eventually
arouse the explosion of international interest that it has.
She simply gave her heart to her music, doing the best job she
could, laying it as a gift at the feet of others--and I
suspect at the Lord's, since many of her songs reflect a
spiritual side and Christian convictions. Her example is
invigorating to think about whenever we're inclined to focus
too greatly on frustrations of the moment.
Essential Paradigm Shift
now mid-April, and People Magazine has come out with a
feature on Cassidy.* As I've
already written the first part of this article, I'm struck
with a statement by former Beatles promoter Tony Bramwell:
"You remember when you first heard Eva." I feel a
little less like I'm waxing overemotional in confessing how
the memory of that moment, frozen in time, still affects me.
there is the recollection of Cassidy's bassist, Chris Biondo.
A few weeks before her death, friends organized a tribute
concert for her at Washington's Bayou nightclub. Cassidy,
walker-assisted, hobbled on stage, joked about her condition,
then sang, "What a Wonderful World." "There was
not one dry eye in the house," Biondo remembers.
that event brings home what is perhaps the most important
reminder Cassidy's experience offers us--that life is not
infinite, and choices do not present themselves forever. We
need to be about the business of harvesting our gifts and
dreams while we have the opportunity, and cherishing the time
God gives us to do so. We waste so much time spinning our
wheels, ruminating over disappointment--with people, with
ourselves, with God, with life and with doors that fail to
open as we wish.
we are able to shift our focus from discouragement to the
immediate pleasure of using our gifts, and to the long-term
benefits of staying faithful to our dreams, the effect upon
our well-being and productivity is indescribable.
truth is, we cannot afford the luxury of ruminating, certainly
not as a lifestyle. Not if we're going to realize our highest
potential for Christ, and open ourselves fully to his best
provision for us. The good news is, we can break the tendency
to brood over disappointment--even radically alter the way we
respond to it.
life deals us a substantial blow, to be sure, we need to allow
ourselves time to mourn and recuperate. Grief is important in
of our grieving, though, takes place over minor
losses--the small victories not won-the compliment not
received, the criticism too freely given, the break in daily
life that didn't occur. We can't turn our emotions off like a
spigot in these cases, and prevent ourselves from feeling any
hurt. But we can choose not to nurture the hurt feelings. And
we can choose to turn our attention back to doing those things
we do well and to pursuing those dreams that are most
important to us. When we make this shift, we're far happier in
the present, and we set in motion a pattern that over time
brings even substantial improvement to situations that are
ruminating over small losses eats up much of your energy, why
not resolve to change the pattern. Make a commitment--to God
and to yourself--that from this point forward you will
accentuate the positive when you experience disappointment.
Resolve that, when people or circumstances fail to respond as
you wish, you'll not dwell on hurt feelings, but turn your
attention back to your goals. If there's a lesson to be
learned from the disappointment, you'll learn it, but won't
browbeat yourself for making a mistake. If no obvious lesson
is evident, you'll not brood over the incident, but will keep
your life in motion.
this a serious resolution. Take some time to express it to
God, and ask earnestly for his help in carrying it out. Write
it down, and file the document in a safe and accessible place.
Make a practice of thinking back to your resolution often, of
remembering where and when you made it. From time to time,
pull out your written commitment and read it.
like this can make a major difference, especially when we
recall them often and continue to remind ourselves of the
benefits of keeping them.
all the help God gives you to keep your life on track as you
move forward. Put yourself in the most encouraging work and
social environments possible. As fully as you can, avoid
negative people; seek to be around those who are supportive
and who see your life dynamically. Expose yourself to teachers
who encourage you to be who you are in Christ, and to books
that do the same. Most important, draw on the Lord's
encouragement through worship and prayer; ask him for the
grace to treasure the opportunities life offers you for using
your gifts, and even to laugh at the situations that are
me add one further note, that seems especially appropriate for
this particular article. Music is also one of the remarkable
means God uses to encourage us, restore our heart, stimulate
us, and help us focus on what is important. We don't have to
look beyond Scripture for countless examples (2 Ki 3:15). Find
what sort of music helps you most; take time to enjoy it, and
allow God to refresh you through it.
perchance, you'd like to look to Eva Cassidy's music for such
help, I would of course highly recommend it. And you shouldn't
have trouble now finding her recordings in a record store near
word of caution.
at your own risk.