Dove Award Winning Singer-Songwriter Cheri Keaggy
Cheri Keaggy: Life’s Journey is Expressed Through Her Music
Written by Samantha Baer
Eight albums, nine number one songs, three Dove Award nominations and one win. That’s been the journey for singer-songwriter Cheri Keaggy, who has come a long way from her worship leading days at a small southern California church. But the thing that has remained consistent in spite of life’s difficulties, is that Keaggy chooses God’s truths every time and encourages others to do the same. She opened up with Risen about faith in her life, handling divorce and balancing her music career.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Nashville, Tennessee
Risen Magazine: How did you get into music and when did you know you could turn it into a career?
Cheri Keaggy: I always loved playing the piano as a little girl and I eventually got involved with church music and was a worship leader at a small church in southern California. That was the place where I wrote a lot of my first songs and it was a springboard into singing at a broader level. My first album was released in ’94 called Child of the Father. That contained many of my first songs and it was a very exciting time in my life to see that God was giving me a larger audience for this music that was originally shared with a very small congregation; so I was really grateful for that. I’ve done several recordings throughout the years and my most recent recording is the eighth release. Throughout that time I’ve enjoyed traveling and ministering, largely in churches, and recently I have done a lot of women’s events where I’m not only singing or leading worship, but speaking too. I’ve enjoyed being stretched in that way and God has been able to use my life experience –which as it seems we do come by some wisdom because of our life experience–and that has been certainly true for me. God has brought purpose through pain, and he is now enabling me to encourage others and offer hope with whatever they might be facing from my home stories.
Risen Magazine: How much of a role does faith play in your life – from your lyrics to your regular routine?
Cheri Keaggy: Oh, it is just the center of who I am. It has played a significant role in my life. My faith in God has been my absolute foundation, my anchor. Through the storms in my life, I have tethered myself to him and he has just proved himself trustworthy. God has really taught me in his Word everything. I don’t know that I would be singing if it wasn’t for my faith because my faith is what gives me something to sing about. When we think of Facebook terminology where a link is “share worthy“, I think of my faith and how that gives me share worthy material… whether it’s singing or songwriting or speaking. I really write out of my own experiences and my own struggles. I would say I have a very melancholy side to me. I’m absolutely a very joyful person and have learned the discipline of choosing joy in those hard circumstances; because that’s the thing we’re able to do as believers is to choose joy. So when it comes to song writing, I often write out of those really hard times. I’m sort of working out my faith within these song’s lyrics and I’m reminding myself, almost speaking to myself, of the things that I know are true because I need to rehearse that too. Thankfully, it seems that God has been able to use my songs to encourage others as well.
I often use scripture in my lyrics and to me that gives it credibility, a strength, a power that’s beyond the little ol’ me, because we know that his word does not return void, so I love including scripture in my songs. Also a lot of times my songs have a vertical lyric, because these are heart cries, things I sing to the Lord in all honesty. It’s almost like song writing is part of my devotional life. Personally I love to journal. I know some people like to journal or paint, but how they express themselves that way is similar to songwriting for me. Songwriting is a huge part of how I express my heart to the Lord.
Risen Magazine: Divorce is never easy, especially when it involves people in the spotlight. What were your feelings on how your divorce was perceived by fans and what has helped you move on with your life?
Cheri Keaggy: This is a great question. It is difficult. I have really received a lot of support and I strongly believe it’s because God is the one that brings beauty from ashes. What I’ve experienced is God specifically using the pain of divorce and everything that I’ve gone through for me to convey positively on a platform. I think that it has been perceived well because I’m able to convey my brokenness. People could think, “Oh she has it all together,” or “She has a privileged life“. But the more that I’ve been able to say, “No, here is where I’ve been broken,” or “Here is how I’ve been broken, yet through that here is also how God has been able to knit me back together, brought me through, strengthened me and even ministered to me.” I’ve seen how it can give others hope that God can lead them through their own brokenness as well. I think it has really opened doors where people just want to come up to me afterwards [singing or speaking] and share their stories, giving me a lot of one-on-one ministering which I don’t think I would have before. That in itself is just miraculous and shows what God can do with a life surrendered.
People have seemed to appreciate this candor of mine. I think that people want to see how Jesus is real to you. What has specifically gotten me through is the body of Christ because in the year 2010, within a six month time, I went through significant change and loss. It was my daughter’s high school graduation, my son’s wedding, my grandmother’s death followed two months later by my grandfather dying, and I had to do a short sale on the house we lived in as a family for a number of years and move across town, and in all of that my 22 year marriage was unraveling and ending in divorce. I was married to my high school sweetheart and I never in a million years would imagine that I’d be in this “club,” – this “divorced club.”
I discovered in that time that God is bigger than the thing you fear the most, whatever it is. He conquered the grave. Several years back I got to go visit inside the tomb that Jesus was laid and it was empty of course. Empty because he conquered the grave. So I say that to people to encourage them because whatever impossible and seemingly incredible circumstance [they are facing], God is bigger than it — bigger than even the death of a marriage. That is what I’ve discovered and his grace is sufficient for me moment by moment.
Risen Magazine: How has family life balanced with your music career?
Cheri Keaggy: I think that with anything we wear many hats and I think there is wisdom taking things one day at a time. I was just having a conversation today with my daughter about this; she is 21, living at home and a junior in college. She was talking to me about being overwhelmed with her work load, she is a lead designer for the college’s publishing and she just has a lot on her plate. I said how I so get that – I have times when I feel so overwhelmed by everything that all I need to do is the next thing, because if you look at all of it sometimes it is overwhelming, but if you just do the next thing, it’s helpful – that is sort of like my little motto. I think that the Lord gives you wisdom in balancing and what I’ve learned is that he has a way of filling us up. A lot of times we try to run in our own strength and do do do… I’m a doer, I’m a list maker and I like to feel that I’ve had a productive day. But I’ve learned over the years that sometimes what is most needed is to rest at his feet and to get my love cup filled up again by his word, journaling, or whatever is your thing that fills your cup so that you can be reenergized well. He is our source of strength, but we have got to plug in. It might sound cliché, but there is some real truth to that. It’s a discipline and I do a lot of studies with Beth Moore [Bible teacher] and she says, “Time with God is never wasted.” And that is so true.
Risen Magazine: What advice would you give to other artists hoping to make a name for themselves in the music industry?
Cheri Keaggy: I would say spend time honing your craft. I think if you have something really special, like you have a level of gifting that God has given you – go. But it’s up to us to nurture and foster that gift and be faithful to share that gift where opportunity presents itself. Before I did my first record, I was just sharing whatever amount of gifting I had. I was being faithful to share that gift that God has planned for me not knowing that he would grow my platform. There are steps that I think that we can take, but focusing on being a good steward of your gifting and being prepared is important. Always have something on hand so if the door opens you are ready, you never know if somebody hears and they know somebody else. What I do believe is that God has called some artists to remain at a more local level, and he has called some artists to have a broader influence – neither of which is of greater importance in the Kingdom of God. I think that with man and this culture we somehow see someone with a greater platform as a more valid ministry, but that isn’t necessary true in the Kingdom economy.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2013
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