I was running out of options. Nothing had worked. The doctors kept telling me nothing was physically wrong. Most people would consider that good news, but I didn’t. I’d been poked and prodded and had a scope stuck down my throat, all to no avail. The voice specialists and otolaryngologists at the Vanderbilt Voice Center told me my vocal chords looked healthy and everything appeared to be normal. “Then why can’t I sing?” I asked. They didn’t know. I expected them to tell me I’d overstressed a vocal chord or that a polyp had developed that had to be removed. I wanted the doctors to say that I needed surgery and that after six months of rest and rehabilitation, my voice would be as good as new. Instead they gave me a clean bill of health but no answers. I was running out of options.
I was also running out of time. Weeks were quickly turning into months, and I wasn’t getting any better. The problem with my voice had shown up a few months earlier when I came down with a sinus infection during a tour stop in Savannah. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I usually get at least one sinus infection a year. The show had to go on, so I sang through the infection as best I could. That wasn’t saying much. I couldn’t hit the notes my songs demanded. On the rare occasions I did, I couldn’t hold them. Still, everyone was supportive. They knew I was sick. I thought I could attack the illness with antibiotics and rest and be back to normal in no time.
Obviously, God didn’t answer my prayer. My plane didn’t crash, and I made it home safely. Walking through the door helped me regain a bit of my sanity, and I convinced myself I’d been a little too hard on myself on the plane. I told myself I wasn’t perfect and there were things in my life that probably shouldn’t be there, but that only made me like everyone else. My real problem remained what it had been before I got on the plane: my voice. I had to find an answer for my voice. And soon.
My search for an answer led me to call Chris Beatty, a highly respected voice coach in Nashville who has worked with everyone from Keith Green to Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay. If there was nothing wrong with me physically, then something had to be wrong with my vocal technique. I hoped Chris would be able to point out some defect in the way I was singing. Maybe then I could recover what I’d lost and get my voice back.
I walked into his studio and flopped down in a chair across from his keyboard. Chris sat on the opposite side. “So, what’s going on with your voice?” he asked.
His question opened the floodgates. I told him my life story in a nutshell, starting with growing up in Memphis and my dreams of becoming a singer. From there I told him about sending out demo tapes and praying for the big break that finally came. Everything centered on my voice: how it once worked, the range I had, and the day it let me down in Savannah. While I talked, Chris just leaned back in his chair and listened. Occasionally he would nod as if to say, “Yes, I’ve heard this before. I can fix this.” His eyes never left mine as he sat and rubbed his chin, taking it all in. When I finally finished, I let out a long sigh and sank down in my chair. “So,” I asked, “can you help me?”
Chris is a tall, fatherly figure with thinning gray hair and eyes that seem to look right through you. He didn’t say anything for what felt like forever. I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable with his silence. Finally Chris leaned across his keyboard, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Clay, are you a man of God?”
What? I thought. This wasn’t what I had expected to hear. I thought this expert voice coach would tell me I wasn’t holding my head right or that my breathing techniques were wrong. I came to him to fix my vocal mechanics, not dive into my personal life. But I didn’t say what I was thinking. I didn’t say anything.
Chris paused before hitting me with another question. “Do you have a daily prayer life, and do you spend time each day in the Word?” he asked. He paused again while I sat in silence, looking up at him. Finally he asked, “Clay, how’s your marriage? What’s your relationship like with your wife?” Then he leaned back in his chair and waited for me to answer.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t say a word. A man I’d known all of ten minutes was asking for intimate details of my personal life. I am not sure why I didn’t jump up and tell him, “What right do you have to ask me that? Tell me what’s wrong with my voice!” But I didn’t. I was caught. I had no place to hide.
Chris’s eyes never left me. He didn’t say another word; he didn’t need to. The Holy Spirit had already said enough through him. Later Chris told me God had prompted him to ask me those three questions. He knew nothing of my secret. But in that moment I thought he did. I felt as though Chris could see right through my lies to the real me. Rather than dealing with my sin head-on, I had swept it under the rug and hoped it would take care of itself. It hadn’t.
Sitting before Chris, I knew I couldn’t hide from my sin any longer. Another lie tried to rush through my mind, telling me that because I would sometimes go weeks without watching porn, I couldn’t be addicted to it. I looked over at Chris and knew I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I dropped my head in shame. Tears began to well up. I opened my mouth to speak but couldn’t. As all the games I’d played with God and all the lies I’d told myself to justify my sin crumbled to the ground, my tears grew into uncontrollable sobs, and I shook all over.
Chris walked over to me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and began to pray. It was as though God Himself had entered the room and was speaking directly to my soul. After Chris prayed, I prayed. My words were nothing like my pitiful prayer on the plane. I came clean with God. I had known I had sin in my life, but I had chosen not to notice the incredible distance I’d kept between God and me. I felt incredible shame for the images in my head and the thoughts I entertained day in and day out. But more than that, I felt ashamed of the grief I’d caused God. I pleaded with Him to forgive me. Chris’s simple questions made me realize that the direction of my life was wrong and had been for a very long time.
After the tears stopped, Chris gave me some basics on how to rebuild my relationship with the Lord. He told me to spend time in prayer each day using the Lord’s Prayer as a model. He also told me to read a chapter of Proverbs every morning. Above all, he stressed to me how my career meant far less than my relationships with God and with my wife and daughters. If they weren’t right, my music was nothing but noise.
As I left Chris’s office, I knew this was only the beginning. Though I was finally moving toward God instead of running away from Him, one afternoon of confession and prayer didn’t suddenly make me immune to temptation any more than it made me a man of God. That would take time. Lots of time. I still had a long way to go to get where I needed to be. I needed to set some things right; I needed to talk to my wife.